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In 2004, then-State Sen. Barack Obama was asked about the half-century-old economic and political embargo of Cuba. He said, "I think it's time for us to end the embargo in Cuba — the Cuban embargo has failed to provide the sorts of rising standards of living and has squeezed the innocents in Cuba and utterly failed in the efforts to overthrow Castro, who has now been there since I was born, so it is time for us to acknowledge that this particular policy is available."

During the darkest days of his presidency, during the lost years of 2013 and 2014, you would probably be right to assume that President Obama would sneak off to an imaginary world...  More»

 
December 18, 2014, at 10:42 AM

In 2009, back before Edward Snowden showed the world how the National Security Agency had conquered cyberspace, its former director, and his then-boss, retired Adm. Mike McConnell, appeared on 60 Minutes to urge Americans to prepare for a massive wave of increasingly damaging cyber-attacks by foreign governments and well-funded terrorist groups.

McConnell, an executive at Booz Allen, a major contractor for the intelligence community, laid out a scenario in which China (or some other country) attacked the supervisory and control systems of a major public utility....  More»

 
December 17, 2014, at 7:13 AM

Jeb Bush's unexpectedly early interest in the Republican nomination is a pundit's dream. It has already occasioned a thousand and one good tweets about his language: he will "actively explore" a bid, which, yes, haha, is funny, but it's also the phrase used by the Federal Election Commission to determine whether a candidate can raise money for the purpose of a presidential campaign.

But he's in! He's a Bush! What more do we know about him?

You'll hear that he represents the "moderate" wing of the party, the party of his father, the welcoming, inclusive, pro-immigration wing of the GOP....  More»

 

Attention, those who have strong reservations about the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques: We're swimming against the tide.

Half of the American public believes that the CIA's torture program was justified, even as nearly three quarters believe that water-boarding is torture. (Only 29 percent believe that it is not; the rest do not know.)

Americans believe the program was justified even though they don't think the CIA was telling the truth. They believe it was justified despite thinking its protocols and procedures crossed the line. They admit they don't know enough about the program to justify their own opinions, and 57 percent believe that...  More»

 

The latest issue of Rolling Stone features an interview with the comedian and actor/director Chris Rock. And when the talk veered to politics, Rock had some pretty smart and subtle insights about the way American politics work.

1. There's a real distinction between knowing about current events and knowing about current events.
"I always had, like, a dumb-guy's view of current events. Always kind of know a little bit of what's going on. If I knew any more about current events, I probably wouldn't talk about it. Do I really want to talk about Tim Geithner?...  More»

 
December 16, 2014, at 7:17 AM

America is exceptional in many ways. Apologizing for our sins is not one of them.

In the past week or so, how many times have you heard someone say that what makes America unique among other nations is that even though we are capable of heinous mistakes, we alone have the moral insight to recognize them, to provide an accounting of them, and to change because of them?

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence's report on the CIA's torture program is an "act of self-examination" that "keeps us a model that others want to emulate, partner with, and immigrate to," writes Thomas Friedman....  More»

 

The image of himself on the cover of Chuck Todd's The Stranger might have seemed "lonely" to the president when he glanced across its cover at the Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington. But inside, it's as good an account as you'll read about the first five years of his presidency, and it includes a number of insights that are helpful for unlocking the puzzle that is President Obama.

1. The slow death of earmarks is one significant and overlooked reason why the White House had (and has) fewer tools at its disposal to negotiate with Republicans and keep Democrats happy....  More»

 

It would take you nearly a full day to read the full Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report on the CIA's brutal interrogation programs, and then the response of the CIA, and then the responses of former CIA directors, and then the op-eds of the "enhanced interrogation technique" amen corner.

So let me try to boil this down into one digestible blog post.

Bravura aside, the argument of the torture techniques' defenders has four prongs to it.

1. The detainees possessed intelligence related to imminent attacks on U.S. interests.

2. Traditional interrogation techniques could not, would not, and did not persuade the detainees to give up that actionable...  More»

 

Good summaries of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence's report are here, here, and here. Here's what I found most interesting and notable, beyond the flashier headlines about, say, rectal feeding.

1. Twenty-six people who were detained should not have been detained, the CIA acknowledges. That's 26 out of 119, or 22 percent.

2. Over and over, the CIA justified ratcheting up the techniques not because it had intelligence or evidence that the detainees did know more than they were sharing, but instead to increase the CIA's own confidence that the detainees had shared everything they knew....  More»

 

In prose that's both stomach-turning and succinct, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence's majority Democratic staff has produced a prosecutorial record of the U.S. government's frantic, furtive, and flawed response to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

By no means is it "neutral," as the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, told his employees today. "I don't believe that any other nation would go to the lengths the United States does to bare its soul, admit mistakes when they are made and learn from those mistakes," he added.

For the CIA, the examination is agonizing....  More»

 
December 5, 2014, at 8:54 AM

In April 1988, Mark Wahlberg, 16, set upon a Vietnamese immigrant named Thanh Lam, and, with a wooden stick, beat him so severely that Lam fell to the ground, unconscious. Later that night, according to contemporaneous accounts, Wahlberg found another Asian man, Hoa Trinh, and, calling him a "gook" and "slant eye," smashed him in the face.

Trinh lost sight in his right eye.

Wahlberg was arrested, convicted, and spent 45 days in jail, an experience that hardened him for the rest of his younger days and provided him creative fodder for many of his later projects....  More»

 

On Tuesday night, I pulled my car into the breezeway of Los Angeles's Sunset Tower hotel.

It was raining. The valet hurried up with an umbrella.

"I'm here for the event," I told him. What event? Luckily he did not ask, because I really had no answer.

I'd gotten the text with just two hours to spare. "You up for an event tonight?" my friend Patrick, a luxury goods consultant, had asked me. And there I was.

It turns out that the event, hush-hush with the high security of a presidential fundraiser, marked the unveiling of a watch. Patek Philippe, the oldest family-owned horological company in the world, was celebrating 175 years of continuous existence, and ...  More»

 

Why do Democratic voters refuse to turn out in midterms? Why is the drop-off so large? Why is it so hard to convince them that the vote is important?

This is the existential crisis for the party of Roosevelt, Kennedy, Johnson, Clinton, and Obama.

In trying to solve it, the political world has come up with a number of provisional explanations, none of them satisfying. Democratic pollsters blame the party and its message, primarily. Liberals blame the party and its lack of a message. Political demographers attribute the disparity to the over-performance, the too-blue blushing, of Democratic voters in urban areas during presidential years....  More»

 

UPDATE: On Thursday night, Obama announced his executive actions on immigration reform. For details, click here.

Tonight, President Obama will outline the executive actions he'll take to pull millions of undocumented immigrants out of the shadows. The next day, in Las Vegas, he'll fill in the blanks.

Then, all heck breaks lose. Congress might or not shut down the government. Immediate legal challenges will flood in from all sides. We really don't know how the lives of the millions who are eligible will change over the next year. A lot depends on what happens next....  More»

 

"Read Montague" is not some command your prelapsarian political science professor gives you. It's the name of a computational neuroscientist who studies decision-making. He's the latest to release research showing something unusual going on in the brains of people who affiliate with a particular ideology.

Specifically, he reports that Democrats and Republicans have different reactions when they're shown disgusting pictures, so much so that the reactions themselves can predict, reliably, whether the person looking at the image identifies voluntarily as liberal or conservative....  More»

 

Although more than 70 percent of its beneficiaries say they are happy with the coverage they receive, ObamaCare has been unpopular for two reasons among Republicans who otherwise support expanded health care coverage.

One was that their congressional leaders decided not to join the crusade for health care and leverage their participation by imposing their own cost constraints on the law, choosing instead to try to kill it before it was born. That was their mistake: it passed, with an expansion of Medicaid and only a small nod to entitlement reform....  More»

 

The Good Wife is ostensibly a show about the law. It's set in a law firm. Its characters are lawyers. Each episode features a legal cliffhanger that's solved in 48 minutes of fine television writing.

But the show, at its heart, has always been about politics. Its name comes from the iconic image of protagonist Alicia Florrick standing mute at a press conference next to husband Peter, the powerful state's attorney in Cook County, who has just admitted to having an affair with a prostitute. Shades of Eliot Spitzer.

As the wronged woman who must start her career anew to take care of her family while her husband serves his jail time, Julianna Margulies...  More»

 

What is the best way for President Obama to protect the millions of undocumented immigrants who could gain legal status from his planned executive order?

Let staunch conservatives in the House shut down the government.

Though Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), soon to be the majority leader, has come down squarely against the tactic, some colleagues, old and new, see it as the only way to force the president to back down.

They reason that Republican leaders subscribe to these Beltway nostrums: (a) that the immigration boil will somehow be lanced during the rump Congress; (b) that the Republican brand can somehow accept the grant of legal status to millions...  More»

 

Although not as well known as the Rose Garden, the magnolias planted at the White House by Andrew Jackson, or the elm and sycamore plots commissioned by Frederick Law Olmstead, or other north lawn greenery, are just as iconographic.

On September 19, at two critical moments after Omar Oscar Gonzales jumped over the north lawn fence, responding Secret Service officers assumed that an imposing row of landscape architecture would hinder his progress.

Dome-shaped bushes, between four and five feet high and more than 10 feet in circumference, ring the north lawn drive that passes underneath the north portico....  More»

 

For as long as I've been reading about alien conspiracies, it's been an accepted article of faith among believers that the government was the enemy of the people and was conspiring with an alien race, or simply with other governments in our world, to keep evidence of a sentient extraterrestrial presence hidden.

In 2012, authors Richard Dolan and Bryce Zabel became instant iconoclasts within the believer community when they published a book, After Disclosure, that laid out meticulously what the government should do to prepare the public for the "disclosure" of the conspiracy....  More»

 
November 7, 2014, at 9:33 AM

Open warfare has broken out in the Democratic Party over just how much President Obama's low approval rating led to a midterm drubbing, and whether the White House did too much, too little, or didn't care, to reduce his drag on the ticket.

Republicans did everything but obtain search warrants to find out how close their opponents were to President Obama. Some guilt-by-association was inevitable, but instead of accepting it and then pivoting, a bunch of Democratic candidates hemmed and hawed, temporized and made themselves look silly.

When Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Kentucky Secretary of State running against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell...  More»

 

The election cycle in 2016 will be tough for GOP Senate incumbents. The GOP will be defending 24 Senate seats to the Democrats' 10. And yes, Hillary Clinton, if she runs for president, will be formidable. And voters clearly do like gays, a higher minimum wage, a social safety net, and even health care reform. Sounds like good news all around for the Democrats, right?

Well, don't expect the 2016 election to be a blueberry cake walk for Democrats.

Point: Republicans have adapted rapidly to the Democratic technological advantage that's added a point or two to Democratic margins in tight races....  More»

 

Voters are angry. They are blisteringly, face-purplingly, unbearably mad. They're sore at President Obama. Frustrated with the Republicans in Congress. Wary of the candidates. Fed up with the system. Angry at the media.

But there are plenty more takeaways from the midterms. And they offer hints about the tenor of our politics to come.

First, the electorate was not overwhelmingly Republican or conservative, even though it was relatively more conservative than the country as a whole. In fact, from the national exit poll: 58 percent of those surveyed believe that undocumented immigrants should receive a legal pathway to citizenship....  More»

 
November 4, 2014, at 10:03 AM

How could the same country that voted for Barack Obama in 2008 sharply turn on him so quickly in 2010? In 2014, same question. The generic explanation: There are two different electorates.

In an earlier post, I made the case that demographics should really be only the start of any explanation about why Democrats are probably going to do poorly tonight. At most, demographics help explain why Republicans do better than they should, all other things being equal.

A related myth here is that Democrats do poorly in midterm elections generally. In 1998, they did not....  More»

 

The Democrats don't turn out for midterm elections, and figuring out why can be quite confusing.

For example: you might hear someone say, "The demographics just don't work in Democrats' favor."

Why don't they?

- "For example: the Republican Party's constituency – older, whiter, male – comprise a higher percentage of the midterm vote than they do during general elections."

Well, those demographics did not matter as recently as 2006, when Democrats regained control of the House of Representatives and self-identified at 51 percent of the electorate....  More»

 

As a diet soda addict, I knew this day would come. The day when science showed me the error of my assumptions. The day that my brain's quest for a guilt-free sugar fix would slowly begin to die.

In the latest issue of the journal Nature, scientists report a startling finding. Artificial sweeteners like saccharin (used in the military's field rations), sucralose (Splenda), and aspartame (Diet sodas) changed the microbiome inside mouse intestines so dramatically that they induced hyperglycemia — glucose intolerance — the very syndrome that these fake sugars are marketed to prevent....  More»

 

The series of events the internet has called "Gamergate" might be a seminal moment for the gaming community in America.

The Week's Ryan Cooper has a good summary of what Gamergate actually is, and how real valuable consumer products brands aren't able to figure out the core of the controversy.

Aside from a few articles, the mainstream media has also stayed away from Gamergate, perhaps because editors think it's an insular, self-referential controversy that says nothing about society at large. Perhaps it's because the media doesn't really get gamers and doesn't know how to cover them....  More»

 
October 23, 2014, at 10:04 AM

In August, after a Ferguson, Missouri police officer shot and killed a young, unarmed black man named Michael Brown, the reaction by local residents, civil rights activists, and the media instantly went nuclear. The DNA of our political and legal systems rest on principles of equality and color-blindness, and here was yet another example of a major genetic mutation that we've been unable to fix: young black men being murdered by the police because they're young and black. Still. Even in 2014, this happened, at a time when adults are supposed to be racially enlightened....  More»

 

Here's a story you won't read.

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The American public health system has largely contained the exceptionally deadly Ebola virus, despite early mistakes and some confusing public statements from official voices.

No person who contracted the disease in the United States has died. A Texas nurse who treated Thomas Eric Duncan, an Ebola patient from Liberia, has been upgraded to "good" condition. A second nurse, Amber Vinson, remains "weak," according to her mother, but is recovering.

Duncan's fiance, Louis Troh, shows no signs of the disease after a three week quarantine....  More»

 

A top Secret Service official ordered its Washington Field Office to protect an employee whose family had been threatened by a neighbor, a job that probably fell outside the scope of the agency's general duties, the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general has concluded. But the "welfare check," as described by the Secret Service, lasted for parts of only five days, and none of the agents who conducted the protective surveillance in 2011 believed that the security of president or White House was compromised.

In the context of the Secret Service scandals, it's hard to know how this will play....  More»

 
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