Analysis

White House Pushes Back on Bioterror Report

The Obama White House is pushing back against a federal panel's "report card" giving it an F for failing to prepare the country's defenses against a bioterror attack. "We think it's absurd," said a White House official, who didn't want to be publicly identified criticizing the commission in public. "We think we've done a lot." And while the official says the timing is purely a coincidence, Obama plans to address the issue in the State of the Union tomorrow night. He will announce an initiative to develop "rapid, reliable, and affordable production" medical vaccines and other antidotes to bioweapons and other public health emergencies such as last year's H1N1 threat, the official said. The White House reaction came on a day that the threat that Al Qaeda or other terrorist groups might launch a biological attack is getting new attention. A new report by a former CIA official, released by a center at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government, warned that Al Qaeda has been...

Senate Republicans Block Key Intelligence Nominations

Obama administration officials and Senate Democrats are complaining that Senate Republicans are secretly blocking approval of two nominees to key U.S. intelligence posts. Following public hearings, the Senate intelligence committee last month approved the nominations of Caryn Wagner to become intelligence chief at the Homeland Security Department and Philip Goldberg to head the State Department's intelligence and research bureau. The intelligence committee's vote on both nominees was unanimous, meaning that every Democrat and every Republican member of the committee supported their confirmation by the full Senate. 

Regina Benjamin and the Booty Pop Paradox

    by Barbara Kantrowitz Dr. Regina Benjamin, the new surgeon general, has devoted her career to caring for low-income people with little access to health care in Bayou La Batre, Ala. When her patients couldn’t come up with cash, she accepted payments in baked goods or other bartered items, and even took extra jobs to earn the money to keep her practice open. Nothing stopped her, not even the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, which wrecked her clinic. Against great odds, the 53-year-old physician fought hard to rebuild. President Obama said he picked her to be the nation’s top doctor because she’s clearly exceptional in almost every way. Except for one thing: she’s got real curves. And that makes her a lot more like the rest of us than many people would like. Two thirds of adult Americans are overweight or obese, a statistic that constitutes a public-health crisis. Almost immediately after President Obama nominated Benjamin last July, the Body Police took offense. They...

Facebook's Pointless Underwear Protest.

Last night I told the entire Internet what color bra I was wearing. Usually I try not to overshare, but it was ostensibly for a good cause. Around 4 p.m., I saw a weird Facebook status update from a friend, a journalist turned lawyer whose writing is usually smart, grammatical, and comprehensible. The update read, "rose and lavender paisley." Huh? Over the next seven hours, more than half the status updates in my feed turned out to be colors, mostly pink, beige, and black. I figured out that these were colors of bras. Then I chuckled a little at my friends who had written "nothing" and "pink" (that friend was a man) and "harvest gold" (him, too).You know what I didn't do? Think about breast cancer. That, however, was supposedly the point of the exercise. No one yet knows who started the meme, but apparently, someone kicked it off a few days ago with a chain-letter-style Facebook message to a bunch of women, asking them to virtually flash the world in the name of supporting...

This Decade, It's an Apple-Google Slugfest.

Google's new "superphone," the Nexus One, stole all the headlines yesterday, but there was another bit of tech news worth trumpeting: Apple's reported $275 million purchase of Quattro Wireless, a mobile advertising platform. True, mobile advertising isn't as sexy as a sleek new gadget. But the Quattro purchase highlighted the fact that there are really only two tech companies worth caring about anymore, and the lines between them are growing blurry. It used to be that Apple made the hardware and the gorgeous desktop software, while Google kept its head in the cloud, focusing on Web-based applications and, of course, advertising. But over the past year, Google has stepped on Apple's toes—hard. The Android operating system, a rival app store, Google Voice, and now the Nexus One are the first volleys against Apple's dominance in the smart-phone market. Now Steve Jobs is lacing up his Doc Martens and getting ready to stomp right back. Apple's purchase of Quattro is the Cupertino...

Intelligence Czar Blair Sends Pep Talk to Spy Agencies

National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair, whose office was explicitly established to ensure that U.S. spy agencies share the kind of information that could prevent another 9/11, today sent a bleak pep-talk message to the agencies under his command, warning that Al Qaeda now is trying to develop even more fiendish methods of attack than the failed Christmas Day underpants bomb attack on a transatlantic airliner. Blair told the spy workforce that "Al Qaeda and its affiliate organizations, as well as individual suicide terrorists, have observed our defenses and are designing future attacks to circumvent them. They are doing so right now, as you are reading this message. These attacks will be even harder to uncover, interpret and stop. We must anticipate other types of attacks that are within the capability of these individuals and groups, and improve our defense to stay ahead of them." Blair's tenure as intelligence czar could well be in jeopardy in the wake of President...

Yemeni Journalist Says Awlaki Alive, Well, Defiant

 The radical imam who was reported to have been killed in a U.S.-backed airstrike last week has resurfaced this week, very much alive and very much defiant, a Yemeni journalist tells Declassified.Anwar Awlaki, the Yemeni-based imam who had conducted a lengthy email correspondence with accused Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan, "called me last night and told me a lot of information," the journalist, Abdul Elah Hider al-Shaya, said in a telephone interview from Yemen.Although friends and relatives of Awlaki had already cast doubt on the reports of the controversial cleric's demise, his apparent phone conversation with Shaya seems to be the most direct confirmation so far that he emerged unscathed from a joint U.S-Yemeni military strike that was supposed to have led to his death.According to Shaya, Awlaki told him when he called, "I'm in my house. The statement that the Yemeni government put out [reporting his death] is lies." Awlaki further told Shaya that he was also at his home...

Politics Is Just Getting Started At the Water's Edge

By Tim Fernholz In a convenient twist, my two subjects thus far this week—counterterrorism in Yemen and senators abusing congressional rules to hold up President Obama's nominees—have come together: It turns out that South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint has a hold (when one senator blocks a nominee by threatening to gum up routine business) on Obama's nominee to lead the Transportation Security Administration. The TSA has become the subject of increased criticism following an incident last Friday where a man who is reportedly connected to Al Qaeda attempted to explode a bomb on an international flight to Detroit. "Erroll Southers, an experienced, highly qualified nominee, continues to be held up in the Senate by someone who obviously puts process ahead of progress," Rep. Bennie Thompson, the Democratic chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said. "If TSA is to become the kind of nimble, responsive organization the American people deserve in times like this, it will...

The Worst Human Resources Office in the World

By Tim Fernholz If you have some passing familiarity with the way things work in Washington these days, you've heard complaints—from bloggers, columnists, and even President Obama—about how increasing use of the filibuster, and the gridlock it causes in the Senate, is a real impediment to making public policy. The upper chamber's antidemocratic trend undermines the basic workings of government in other ways, though: the slow pace of approving the president's nominees to the executive branch because individual senators can put "holds" on nominees, forcing votes that often turn into filibusters. When a president's nominees aren't confirmed in a legislative session, they are typically allowed by unanimous consent to continue as nominees into the next. This year, a handful Republicans objected to three nominees, including Dawn Johnsen. Johnsen is a University of Indiana law professor nominated to be the head of the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel, an obscure but...

The Culmination of Capitulation

By Suzy KhimmThe Senate’s 60-40 procedural vote last night was indeed a historic milestone for Harry Reid, for the Obama administration, and for the Democratic Party. But in the end, the political maneuvering to corral the votes played out exactly as everyone had anticipated: the Senate leadership capitulated to the demands of a tiny number of moderate hold-outs and sacrificed major liberal provisions in the process. But while much has been made of the last-minute wheeling-and-dealing needed to get Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson on board, such capitulation was hardly unique to the last few weeks of the debate it has defined the process from the very beginning of the legislative process.Given the political makeup of the 111th Congress and the obtuse rules guiding Senate procedure the fate of health-care reform was always riding on the upper chamber. But it was Reid and the White House who essentially empowered Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus to set the tone for the...

The Democrats Versus the Filibuster: Time to Man Up

Want to really spook a senator? Just whisper the word filibuster. Lieberman is doing it over anything remotely resembling a public option, Nelson has a similar take on abortion language, and even Roland Burris is trying the filibuster threat on for size, albeit in an opposite direction.But here’s a really scary proposition: what if President Obama and Majority Leader Harry Reid throw up their hands and say, “OK, fine, go for the filibuster”? Could a filibuster attempt by the Republicans and possibly a few Democrats really be that bad? The more I think about it, the more I wonder whether the Democrats would be better off to pursue a bill they want, hold on to things they like (the Medicare buy-in and less restrictive abortion language and such), bring that to the floor, and say: this is our bill. This, of course, flies in the face of the conventional wisdom, that any concession must be made to avoid a filibuster and shore up 60 votes by the time the Senate votes on the bill. As...

Grading Obama's Copenhagen Speech

While most Americans slept, President Obama spoke to delegates Friday morning in Copenhagen on the final day of the U.N. climate conference. We reported yesterday that Obama’s speech would matter, not just because of the symbolism of the U.S. head of state addressing the world but also because until now U.S. negotiators have been unable to reach an agreement with other countries that have demanded larger steps on emissions cuts and mitigation funding.Obama’s address was brief, an eight-minute declaration that bold action is needed and that the U.S. would be part of that action. And it went over decently—it was neither stellar nor awful—because of the incredibly high tension that has built up at the end of talks. How did Obama do? We grade the different parts:Taking the lead. No U.S. president has ever squarely confronted the U.S.’s impact on global climate, currently responsible for about a quarter of the world’s emissions. Obama humbly took his knocks, admitting that his country...

What Obama Should Say About Peace in Oslo

When the shocking news was announced that President Obama would receive a Nobel Peace Prize, many pundits across the political spectrum were understandably critical of awarding the world's most prestigious honor to a president who had just assumed office. Some on the left were more opposed to giving a peace prize to a president waging two wars. How Obama will address the first question when he accepts the award in Oslo on Thursday will have to be left to smarter speechwriters than I. The second question is even more prominent now that Obama just announced his intention to send an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan. He must confront the apparent paradox head-on, and early reports suggest he will. Laying out the case that defeating the Taliban and chasing Al-Qaeda is necessary to protect the U.S. from the threat of up to several thousand casualties in another terrorist attack, as he did in his speech at West Point, is not the way to go about this. After all, far more lives may...

The Senate Abortion Debate, Did Not Matter: An Update

As predicted, the Nelson amendment on abortion failed to pass the Senate today, tabled with a vote of 54-45. Probably the most interesting votes were those of Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, who both voted to table Nelson’s abortion restrictions.In my post earlier this morning, explaining why this debate did not matter, I got a little bit ahead of myself (and of congressional proceedings), when I put the critical juncture in this debate in conference committee. Actually, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid needs to get his 60 votes in line just to get the bill out of the Senate and into negotiations with the House. So Reid must settle the abortion issue prior to conference.Nevertheless, Reid's situation remains similar to the one I described earlier. It's just happening at an earlier point in the reform process—namely, now. To get the bill past the Senate, he’ll either have to win over a centrist Republican or agree to Nelson's language in the manager's amendment at the end of the...

Was Taxi Driver Source for Key Saddam WMD Claim?

It sounds like a bad joke but it may be a true story: one of the most sensational claims made by the British government in the run-up to the Iraq War about Saddam Hussein’s supposed weapons of mass destruction may have come from an Iraqi taxi driver based on a conversation he overheard from passengers in his backseat two years earlier. That’s what happened, according to Adam Holloway, a conservative member of Parliament reputed to have “close links” to intelligence officials, in a paper published this week. The claim raises new questions about the origins of pre-Iraq war intelligence at a sensitive time for the British government. An official United Kingdom tribunal is currently examining how and why former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s government chose to join the invasion of Iraq. Among the most eye-grabbing of those claims came in an official British government “white paper” released in late September 2002 after Blair had returned from a meeting at Camp David with George W. Bush...

Life Behind Enemy Lines—in Somalia

As Declassified noted last weekend, a recent FBI affidavit in a big Chicago terror case offered an unusually revealing glimpse of life behind “enemy lines” in Waziristan in northwest Pakistan.ON Monday, the FBI provided an equally eye-opening look at the scene inside another jihadi stronghold, this one in the war ravaged nation of Somalia (which U.S. officials increasingly fear is becoming a haven for Al Qaeda). In the process, the bureau shed new light on how one Somali American from Minneapolis ended up losing his life in Somalia —as a suicide bomber. Earlier this year NEWSWEEK reported on the FBI’s concern about the strange case of young Somali Americans who were disappearing from their communities in Minneapolis and elsewhere in the United States only to reemerge fighting in Somalia on behalf of Al- Shabab, a militant terror group closely aligned with Al Qaeda. As part of its charges unveiled this week against eight defendants accused of providing material support to Al...

FBI Probes U.S. Link to Mumbai Attacks

The FBI is expanding its investigation in a Chicago terrorism case to determine whether a key suspect may have helped scout targets for last year’s massive coordinated attack in Mumbai, India that killed 166 people, according to U.S. law enforcement officials.The Justice Department announced late last month that it had charged two Chicago-area men—David Coleman Headley, the son of a former Pakistani diplomat, and a childhood friend, Tahawwur Hussain Rana-- for plotting to attack a Danish newspaper for publishing cartoons deemed offensive to the Prophet Mohammed. But since then, the case has taken some dramatic turns that have attracted the interest of Indian Government investigators and transformed it into one of the most significant international terrorism cases that the FBI has brought since 9/11, the officials say. After his arrest at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport on Oct. 3, Headley waived his rights to a lawyer and admitted to FBI agents that he had worked directly with Ilyas...

How Not to Helicopter

I’ve never bought macrobiotic cupcakes or hypoallergenic socks. Nor have I hired a tutor for pencil-holding deficiency, or put covers on the stove knobs, or used a leash on a toddler to be safe in a busy airport. At the grocery store, my kids are often in other aisles, but they’ve never felt lost. When they were babies, we weren’t scared to leave them with babysitters. Their preschool didn’t teach Mandarin, nor even worry about teaching them to read. Nor have I ever questioned a teacher about one of my children’s grades. In fact, nobody I know has done these things. The only parents I know who are superprotective are parents who have to be—and it’s totally justified—because their child has Down’s or Asperger’s. But like all of you, I still suspect these horror stories—while not representative of reality—shine a light on the unmistakable reality that we are not giving our kids anything like the freedom or independence we enjoyed as children when we were growing up. If we turned...

NEWSWEEK Explains Thinking Behind Palin Cover

As Sarah Palin’s book tour kicked off this morning, the debate continues to rage about what exactly she means for America and the Republican Party. This week’s NEWSWEEK takes a look at those questions, exploring the unique challenges posed by a would-be candidate both loved and loathed but almost nothing in between.Our choice of a cover image this week has also stirred the debate. Yesterday, NEWSWEEK Editor Jon Meacham responded to critics of the photo, explaining the magazine’s policy, which is, and has always been, to choose the most interesting image available to us to illustrate the theme of the cover.This morning, on the Today show, NEWSWEEK Managing Editor Daniel Klaidman further explained the editorial choice. “Since [Sarah Palin] has been on the national stage, there have been these questions about her gravitas and her seriousness. Sarah Palin has cultivated this image of a down-home, folksy, outdoorsy woman. And I'm not suggesting  it's not authentic, but there is a...

A Closer Look at Fort Hood Shooter’s Gun

At least one gun used by Nidal Malik Hasan at Fort Hood was an FN Herstal 5.7 semiautomatic—which also happens to be a weapon of choice for Mexican cartels who battle the military and police. It is a favorite weapon among straw purchasers in the United States, who buy guns that are then smuggled south of the border, fueling the violence there. There is a common saying among law enforcement in Arizona: the people and drugs go north, the guns go south. Earlier this year, Special Agent in Charge of the ATF’s Phoenix office, William Newell, and fellow agent Thomas Mangan gave me a glimpse of their basement vaults, overflowing with guns nabbed by the AFT en route—illegally—to Mexico. The ATF estimates some 95% of guns recovered from criminal gangs in Mexico come from the U.S.. The cramped vaults hold hundreds of guns, some of them piled in garbage bins for future destruction. Newell pointed to a Barrett .50 caliber rifle on a tripod. "The cartels are an army. These are the kinds...

Republicans Narrowly Lead Democrats in 2010 Vote

Here’s more evidence that independents will be the voting bloc to watch ahead of next year’s 2010 midterms: for the first time in seven years—and more important, this election cycle—a new Gallup poll finds Republicans narrowly leading Democrats in the so-called generic congressional ballot. According to Gallup, if the election were held today, 48 percent of registered voters would choose the GOP candidate, compared with 44 percent who would vote Dem. That’s an eight-point gain for Republicans over the last year. Just a month ago, the GOP trailed Democrats 44 percent to 46 percent. The reason for the slight GOP edge: Republicans now have a 22-point lead over Democrats among so-called independent voters. According to Gallup, indies favor Republicans 52 percent to 30 percent—numbers that were literally reversed a year ago. It’s a trend that hasn’t exactly been gradual: In July, Republicans led Dems by 1 percent among independents. Last month, there was a nine-point...

Another Reason 2010 Isn't Exactly Like 1994

Earlier this week Holly wrote a really interesting piece about the electoral parallels between now and 1993—and the fact that the GOP is hoping for a dramatic Democratic defeat in next year's midterms, similar to what happened in 1994. Holly points out several flaws in the analogy: Republicans have more baggage going into next year's elections than they did in '94, congressional Republicans have exceptionally low approval ratings, the GOP lacks strong national leadership, and there's damaging infighting between conservatives and moderates. But I'd like to add another difference to the list: health-care reform.The dismal failure of the Clinton health-care plan in the summer of 1994 helped crystallize support for the GOP. Its final whimper came just months before the '94 congressionals, ending a long, fierce battle on an abysmal note for Democrats. This time around, health-care reform will pass. It won't be an ambitious overhaul along the lines that Clinton had envisioned. And, in...

Maine Looked Like Promising Ground for Gay Rights

Maine should have been an example of strength in numbers for gay-marriage proponents but instead turned into heartache. If you don't count the District of Columbia, according to Gary Gates of the Williams Institute, a think tank at UCLA's school of law devoted to gay-rights policies, Maine "has the highest number of same-sex couples per 1,000 households (so the highest per capita) of any state." So what happened? With gains on the national front, such as gay marriages being officially counted (with figures released) for the first time in the 2010 census and the recent passage of hate-crimes legislation that includes protection for gays, the movement is seeing more momentum in the past half year than it has in decades. Maine should have been part of that momentum. The state is known for its moderate, independent electorate, and gay-right activists had mounted a sophisticated media campaign in support of same-sex marriage. But movement on the national stage, it seems, is not...

Five Things to Watch for in Tonight's Election Coverage

 1. In Virginia, things look pretty dour for Creigh Deeds. Although Obama won the state last year, Deeds has few of the traits that excited Democrats to vote for Obama in droves. But Republicans will quickly celebrate a poor showing by Deeds as proof that the president's star power is waning. Watch for the White House to subtly distance itself from the Deeds campaign, likely in the form of blind quotes on Politico or in tomorrow's Washington Post.2. In New Jersey, incumbent Gov. Jon Corzine and Republican challenger Chris Christie will be duking it out till the bitter end. It's a close race, but as the man formerly known as Stumper wrote last week, Jersey politics is often decided by the strength of the Democratic turnout machine. Tonight's vote will be an indicator of whether the base there is politically motivated enough to vote for a guy they're not that excited about just to prevent a GOP win. A Corzine loss would be the most worrying outcome of the night for Democrats....

In Memory of Michael Goldsmith Baseball Fan

Michael Goldsmith, the baseball fan who penned the NEWSWEEK My Turn column that became a game-changer for major league baseball, died this week at the age of 58. Goldsmith suffered from and finally succumbed to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. Also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, the degenerative condition robbed the Hall of Famer of his life and robs 30,000 Americans at any given time of their ability to walk, speak, and eventually breathe. It's a rare disease—striking two out of 10,000—but a brutal one, agonizing for those who suffer from the disease and those who love them. Gehrig is the most famous face of ALS, but it was Goldsmith who suggested, in a NEWSWEEK My Turn column that ran on Nov. 1, 2008, that baseball join the fight in a more public and organized way: Major League Baseball has never taken comprehensive action against ALS. Defeating ALS will require the same type of determination, dedication and drive that Gehrig and Cal Ripken demonstrated when they set...

Dick Cheney: An Irascible Witness

When the FBI questioned Vice President Dick Cheney about his knowledge of the CIA leak affair, the vice president proved to be an irascible and at times uncooperative witness: he repeatedly claimed memory loss on key questions, refused to answer others because they involved “privileged” conversations, and complained that he was “pressed for time.” In the end, he rejected a standard bureau request that he not discuss his testimony with other witnesses in the case.These and other details of Cheney’s May 28, 2004, interview with the FBI are contained in a redacted 28-page report that was released by the Justice Department late Friday afternoon.They contain no bombshells that will change the public’s basic understanding of the leak investigation, which led to the indictment and conviction of Cheney’s top aide, Scooter Libby, on perjury charges. But they do flesh out a portrait of a vice president who made little secret of his disdain for key players in the saga: the CIA, the news...

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