It turns out White House fence-jumper Omar Gonzalez made it far past the mansion’s front door. Adam Baumgartner created the above animated GIF of Gonzalez’s route based on the following description from Carol Leonnig:

After barreling past the guard immediately inside the door, Gonzalez, who was carrying a knife, dashed past the stairway leading a half-flight up to the first family’s living quarters. He then ran into the 80-foot-long East Room, an ornate space often used for receptions or presidential addresses. Gonzalez was tackled by a counter-assault agent at the far southern end of the East Room. The intruder reached the doorway to the Green Room, a parlor overlooking the South Lawn with artwork and antique furniture, according to three people familiar with the incident.

According to Leonnig, an alarm box meant to alert the Secret Service to intruders had been “muted” at the request of the White House usher staff. Joe Coscarelli adds:

That wasn’t the only failure. Gonzalez seems to have made it past the following lines of defense, according to the Post:

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Doubling Down On Afghanistan

Sep 30 2014 @ 1:39pm

Today, Afghanistan and the US signed an agreement allowing nearly 10,000 American soldiers to remain there past the end of this year, fulfilling a campaign pledge from the new president, Ashraf Ghani:

Under the agreement, 12,000 foreign military personnel are expected to stay after 2014, when the combat mission of Afghanistan’s U.S.-led NATO force ends. The force is expected to be made up of 9,800 U.S. troops with the rest from other NATO members. They will train and assist Afghan security forces in the war against the Taliban and its radical Islamist allies. The U.S. has the right to keep bases in Afghanistan as long as the security pact is in force, and in return it promises to raise funds to train and equip the Afghan security forces, which now number 350,000.

Ghani was inaugurated on Monday and called on the Taliban to join peace talks. He formed a unity government with election rival Abdullah Abdullah after a prolonged standoff over vote results that ended in a deal to make Ghani president and Abdullah a chief executive in the government with broad powers.

“Like it or not,” Ioannis Koskinas argues, “Afghanistan remains a key battlefront in the fight against extremists, terrorists, and fanatics hiding behind the veil of religious fundamentalism”:

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My old friend, Jesse Norman, is an MP in the British parliament and noted something odd in the recent war debate in the Commons:

During the past decade or two, a convention has started to develop that, except in an emergency, major foreign policy interventions must be pre-approved by a vote in Parliament. The idea springs from honourable motives and it is understandable given the present climate of distrust in politics, but in my judgment it is nevertheless a serious mistake … It is a basic purpose of Parliament —above all, of this Chamber—to hold the Government to account for their actions. It is for the Government, with all their advantages of preparation, information, advice and timeliness, to act, and it is then for this Chamber to scrutinise that action.

If Parliament itself authorises such action in advance, what then? It gives up part of its power of scrutiny; it binds Members in their own minds, rather than allowing them the opportunity to assess each Government decision on its own merits and circumstances; and instead of being forced to explain and justify their actions, Ministers can always take final refuge in saying, “Well, you authorised it.” Thus, far from strengthening Parliament, it weakens it and the Government: it weakens the dynamic tension between the two sides from which proper accountability and effective policy must derive.

In the British constitutional system, Jesse is surely right. He reminds us that when Margaret Thatcher PresidencyKingrecalled Parliament for an emergency session before the launch of the Falklands war, the motion before the House was simply: “That this House do now adjourn.” But what makes this so striking is how the American republic, meanwhile, has turned into the British one. It was long understood as a vital part of the American constitution that declarations of war had to come from the Congress and not the president – precisely to avoid the dangers of a pseudo-monarch using war to bolster his own standing, to project strength or to act as some kind of protector of the realm. None of that really applies any more, the president launches war after war (while calling them counter-terror operations), and the Congress’s only remaining role is to provide the funds. This is precisely what the Founders feared; and it is precisely what is now routine. In a stark review of a new book on presidentialism by F H Buckley, The Once And Future King: The Rise Of Crown Government In America, Gene Healy sees how far the rot has gone:

We’re hardly “the freest country in the world.” As Buckley points out, his native Canada beats the United States handily on most cross-country comparisons of political and economic liberty. In the latest edition of the Cato Institute’s Economic Freedom of the World rankings, for example, we’re an unexceptional 17th. Meanwhile, as Buckley points out, the Economist Intelligence Unit’s “Democracy Index” ranks us as the 19th healthiest democracy in the world, “behind a group of mostly parliamentary countries, and not very far ahead of the ‘flawed democracies.’”

There’s a lesson there. While “an American is apt to think that his Constitution uniquely protects liberty,” the truth “is almost exactly the reverse.” In a series of regressions using Freedom House’s international rankings, Buckley finds that “presidentialism is significantly and strongly correlated with less political freedom.”

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A reader is aghast:


Another wonders, “Are you sure you didn’t mix up the daily VFYW and contest photo?” Another gave up in about 20 minutes:

Clearly you decided to put up an easy one this week. What with the Ents in the distance, I know I won’t be the only one to pin this down to the Fangorn Forest in Middle Earth. I think I see the mist of the river Earwash ahead, putting us at or close to the site where Gandalf the White met the hunters. Heck, it’s as good a guess as any other. A tree in the middle of the forest?????

Another goes for a “shot in the dark”:

Looks like deciduous trees, the coastal range, and a fog bank. That sounds like Walnut Creek, CA to me.

Or South America?

Ariau Towes, an eco-lodge outside Manaus, Brazil:


Another looks for clues:

There are a bunch of deciduous trees. That’s less than helpful. We seem to be on a mountain. I see nothing outside to help me other than that. Given that the paucity of detail outside, I chose to focus on what was inside. There’s more to work with but … yeah, not a lot. It looks like some recording equipment (headphones, cabling, something that might possibly be a sound meter), a water bottle, and a floor with interesting swirly markings. I’m sure someone will recognize the logo on the water bottle instantly, but I got nothin. Same with the floor.

Based on the trees and recording equipment, my husband guesses Tennessee. I don’t think you’d stay in North America four weeks in a row, but I don’t have a better alternative. So, we’re going with a recording studio in Tennessee. On a mountain.

It’s not recording equipment. Another reader figures out the key characteristic of this week’s view:

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Is The HIV Divide Now Over?

Sep 30 2014 @ 12:20pm

What are your options today as a gay man with a sex life in America? You live in a community where a deadly virus has killed hundreds of thousands and is still resilient in the gay male world as a whole. It has no external or visible symptoms most of the time. Many people have no idea they have it. But the virus can be permanently suppressed to a point where it cannot be measured in your bloodstream and to a point where an HIV-positive man cannot transmit the virus to another person. And someone who is HIV-negative can also have access to a daily pill that, if taken conscientiously, all but wipes out the chance of getting infected.

Here are your options: the blue pill or the red pill. Take the one-pill-a-day Truvada (below right) and never get HIV; take the often one-pill anti-retroviral pill (like atripla, below left), and truvadayou will never give someone HIV. To make doubly sure, you can always use a condom. Except almost every man who ever had sex hates condoms – and, unlike a pill you take every day, wearing a condom means making a decision in the middle of sexual desire and passion when your rational self is at its weakest.

For me, this seems obvious – partly because I have been through the HIV mill for my entire adult life. I was dumped by an HIV-positive man when I was HIV-negative; I was dumped by countless HIV-negative men because I was positive; I have had an undetectable viral load for nearly two decades; and I am open about my HIV status – even to the point of risking deportation; I’ve been publicly shamed by HIV-negative gay men for seeking sex only with other HIV-positive men. I have navigated relationships with men on both sides of the divide – and yet the divide remained. These trials-by-fire are mercifully not always the norm any more – but that means that the young generation has fewer psychological resources or experiences with HIV to grapple with the whole issue of getting infected, or avoiding infection, or navigating sex with the issue of HIV menacingly in the way. Which may be partly why the younger generation remains the one most at risk. The trauma of the distant past still echoes in the collective psyche; this is still a disease people feel ashamed of; it is still a disease which other gay men will stigmatize and ostracize you for; it is still a disease that your friends and family regard as terrifying – even though it is no more rationally terrifying at this point than diabetes. It still compels you into denial; or fear; or blame; or ostracism.

imagesAnd so our psyches are lagging behind the science – and behind the epidemic. And one of the most powerful aspects of that traumatized psyche is the division between HIV-positive men and HIV-negative ones. It’s been there from the very beginning – this segregation of fear. But surely, at this point, there is no reason to continue the segregation. What matters is not whether you are HIV-positive or HIV-negative. What matters is whether you know your status and are on one medication or the other. Once that is true, sex can cross the bridge once more. The pills can erase the stigma and the divide – if we really want them to.

There’s a terrific new piece in Poz magazine that explores much of this territory. It weighs some of the risks of the Truvada revolution, but it also illuminates the liberation of it as well, the amazing promise that the viral Jim Crow can be dismantled at last:

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Will The Hawks Come Around On Rand?

Sep 30 2014 @ 12:03pm

Ryan Lizza’s lengthy profile of Rand Paul is making the rounds. McCain, of all people, had kind words for Paul:

John McCain, one of Paul’s longtime critics, told me in August, “I see him evolving with experience, with travel, with Senators Discuss Balanced Budget Amendmenthearings on the Foreign Relations Committee. I see him having a better grasp of many of the challenges we face than when he first got here. That doesn’t mean he is now a John McCain, but it certainly does mean that he has a greater appreciation and has been articulating that.” He compared him with Ron Paul. “His father is a person who really believes that the United States should not be engaged in foreign events and foreign countries. I think that Rand Paul is seeing a very unsettled world, one in significant turmoil, and I see him understanding and articulating what in my view is a realistic view of the United States and the importance of its leadership and role in the world.” …

McCain told me that, if Rand Paul is the Republican nominee for President in 2016, he will support him. “I’ve seen him grow and I’ve seen him mature and I’ve seen him become more centrist. I know that if he were President or a nominee I could influence him, particularly some of his views and positions on national security. He trusts me particularly on the military side of things, so I could easily work with him. It wouldn’t be a problem.”

Allahpundit is shocked:

Remember, a little more than a year ago, McCain was telling reporters that he didn’t know who he’d support if the 2016 election came down to Paul and his old friend Hillary Clinton.

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For those just tuning in, Fisher does a good job summarizing why Hong Kongers have taken to the streets:

Today, the territory’s chief executive Leung Chun-ying asked Occupy Central to disband the demonstrators, casting the disorder as a threat to public safety, but the protest leaders are demanding a face-to-face meeting with Leung and threatening to occupy government buildings if the demand is not met. Christopher Beam takes the pulse of the protest movement going into this week:

The conventional wisdom after the Sunday night clashes was that the movement had lost momentum. But my conversations with protestors on Monday suggested the opposite. Many of the people I spoke with didn’t come out until after the police cracked down. Henry Wong, 19, a student at Chinese University of Hong Kong, decided to join after seeing a live broadcast of students fighting with police. “I’m here so I can sleep at night,” he told me. Michelle Chan, 18, also said she was galvanized by the use of force: “Police don’t have to be that cruel.” Tony Wong, 24, said he was skipping work to come to the protest. I asked if his boss would be upset. “I can get another job,” he said. “I can’t get another Hong Kong.”

Ishaan Tharoor looks ahead:

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The Case For Microwave Dinners, Ctd

Sep 30 2014 @ 11:17am

Sarah Kliff interviews Sarah Bowen, one of the researchers behind the home-cooking study we covered earlier this month:

SK: Was there anything in doing this research that surprised you?

SB: How much people were cooking. We hear all of the time that Americans have stopped cooking. A lot of the families in our study were cooking every night, especially the poorest families. They couldn’t afford to eat fast food and a lot didn’t have cars. People were cooking a lot and that surprised me a little, because of how much we hear that the opposite is true.

At the same time, they felt they weren’t cooking well enough. They felt like they didn’t have enough money and weren’t able to cook the right way or the way they should be.

Linda Tirado offers some more perspective in an interview we cited earlier:

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How Do You Enforce An Abortion Ban?

Sep 30 2014 @ 10:56am

That has always been the question hovering around abortion politics – and the pro-life forces have often danced around it. My general sense is that doctors would be penalized in some way, while adoption policies would be greatly expanded – because many pro-lifers are against the best defense against abortion there is, contraception. But executing the mother? At first I thought this was a joke of some sort – or had some context I was missing:

And for some reason, this is the treatment Williamson has in mind:

I have always found Williamson – even when I’ve disagreed with him – a stimulating writer. And maybe this sentiment is simply a function of Twitter wars getting out of hand. But it seems to me, as a leading writer for National Review, he needs to articulate how his favored abortion scheme would work with the hanging of sinful women. How would they be found guilty of using Plan B, for example? What kind of police state would be required? And as for hanging, why not stoning? Williamson is, indeed, as he puts it, old-fashioned.

What Are Ted Cruz’s Chances?

Sep 30 2014 @ 10:22am

Yesterday, I wrote, “I expect Cruz to run, and I would not be surprised if he won.” Jonathan Bernstein, on the other hand, gives him the “longest odds” of any “viable candidate”:

Not just because he’s an irresponsible demagogue, or because he’s made enemies in the Senate. And not just because he’s almost certainly a weaker general election candidate given that he’s by far the one most likely to be perceived by voters as an ideological extremist. The biggest reason Cruz’s nomination bid would be unlikely to succeed is that Republican party actors mostly identify him with the October 2013 government shutdown, which, apart from a small number of radicals, is perceived as a hugely damaging unforced error. Remember, not only were Republicans widely blamed for the shutdown, it also had the side effect of distracting the press from the disastrous first weeks of the Obamacare exchange rollout. Even party actors who are itching to nominate a real conservative after suffering through Mitt Romney and John McCain (and in many cases having decided that George W. Bush was no conservative after all) are unlikely to choose a candidate whose strategic judgment has proved to be suicidal for the movement.

But Michael Tracey isn’t writing off Cruz. One reason:

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