Pondering the Pundits

Pondering the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from> around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

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Ali Soufan: Mar-a-Lago is a counterintelligence nightmare

Imagine that the White House, instead of a fortress, were an opulent country club. If you pony up a $200,000 nonrefundable initiation fee, you can have the run of the place. Wander the halls. Drop in any time on the West Wing, the Oval Office, the Situation Room. Chat freely with the president’s family and advisers, listen in on national security conversations with foreign leaders, even snap a selfie with POTUS himself. Take it all in — actually, feel free to record it, if you’d like.

Welcome to the Mar-a-Lago Club, known in Trump circles as the winter White House, in Palm Beach, Fla. When Yujing Zhang, a 32-year-old Chinese national, was arrested there March 30 after breaching security, it was hardly surprising to learn from federal law enforcement authorities that she was in possession of five cellphone SIM cards, an external hard drive, nine USB thumb drives (one with malicious computer software installed) and a device for detecting electronic signals. Zhang, who has not entered a plea , is charged with lying to a federal agent and illegal entering. The FBI is investigating whether she is a spy for Chinese intelligence.

My personal experience as a counterterrorism agent tells me that Zhang’s alleged loadout is consistent with an effort to monitor computer systems while evading surveillance.

Unfortunately, Mar-a-Lago appears wide open to such operations. Zhang’s arrest is only the latest in a string of indications that the club is far from secure. Mar-a-Lago may present the worst counterintelligence nightmare the country has faced since the Cold War.

Jill Filipovic: Death sentence for abortion? The hypocrisy of US ‘pro-lifers’ is plain to see

The Texas state legislature is debating a provision that wouldn’t just outlaw abortion, but legally qualify it as homicide. The repercussions are chilling

Do “pro-life” advocates care about life or do they care about punishment? The latest abortion debate out of Texas gives a clear answer: the goal is to hurt women, not defend life.

The Texas state legislature is debating a provision that wouldn’t just outlaw abortion, but legally qualify it as homicide. For context of how extreme that is, even in the United States before Roe v Wade made abortion broadly legal, the procedure was outlawed in most states but was not considered murder – abortion was its own crime. Texas in 2019 wants to be even more barbaric than that, and turn women who end their pregnancies into felons, killers, and even death row inmates.

That’s right: Texas, supposedly so concerned with the right to life, continues to execute its own citizens. And some members of the state legislature want to execute women, too, if those women end their pregnancies.

Eugene Robinson: Forget politics for a moment. Behold infinity.

Forget everything else for a moment, and behold infinity.

On Wednesday, scientists unveiled a fuzzy image that should blow every mind on the planet: the first-ever picture of a black hole, which is a region of space so dense that nothing can escape its gravitational pull, not even light. Black holes were predicted by Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, and their existence has been inferred from decades’ worth of indirect observation. But we’ve never actually seen one until now, and the experience is humbling.

Indulge me. I’m just back from vacation. Before I charge back into the frenzied melee of the 24/7 news cycle, let’s pause to reflect on the majesty of the cosmos.

Let’s take a moment to marvel at how weird and wondrous the universe turns out to be. Black holes, which are not rare — one lurks at the center of our own galaxy, the Milky Way — can be thought of as portals that lead to some other realm that lies forever beyond our reach. They are places where space and time as we know them cease to exist, where the familiar parameters that define our reality lose all meaning.

To see such an object is to gaze into the ultimate abyss. Dumbstruck awe is the only reasonable response.

Lawrence Douglas: Trump has unleashed Stephen Miller to inflict horrors on immigrants

In recent days, the president has given Miller power to oversee all matters involving border and immigration. The result will be disastrous

It is a deformity of the Trump presidency that Stephen Miller has the power that he currently wields. A little over a decade ago, Miller was writing vaguely obnoxious columns for the Duke student newspaper, complaining about the excesses of multiculturalism and identity politics. Now he is instrumental in transforming US immigration policy into a national disgrace, a cruel exercise in xenophobia.

Miller has emerged as the ultimate, Trump “survivor.” Having been with the president since the day he took office, Miller has managed to weather the periodic purges that have claimed an unprecedented number of senior White House officials and executive appointees. Far from simply surviving, Miller has thrived in the Trump White House. [..]

Miller has been able to consolidate and expand his power because he is at once an extremely accomplished operator, able to successfully negotiate a highly toxic environment, and an ingratiating sycophant, who has mastered the art of telling his master what he wants to hear. If the president describes himself in a tweet as a certifiable genius, Miller can be counted on to go on national television to offer vociferous support of the truth of the description. Like a minister of propaganda, he is skilled at repeating, distilling and amplifying his master’s messages.

Michelle Goldberg: Is Assange’s Arrest a Threat to the Free Press?

He deserves his fate, but it sets a dangerous precedent.

Last November, federal prosecutors accidentally revealed, in an unrelated court document, that a sealed indictment had been filed against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Many people concerned with civil liberties, including some who despise Assange, were alarmed by the idea that he could be punished for his role in exposing American government secrets. “If Assange can be prosecuted merely for publishing leaked classified documents, every single media outlet is at risk of prosecution for doing the exact same thing,” the lawyer Bradley P. Moss wrote in The Atlantic.

At the time, the public didn’t know what the actual charges were. Now that Assange has been dragged from the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, where he’s lived for almost seven years, and is facing extradition to the United States, we do. He’s been indicted for conspiracy to commit computer intrusion, a result of his alleged attempts nearly a decade ago to help former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning crack a password to a government computer.

These charges do not pose quite the threat to a free press that some feared, because hacking is not standard journalistic practice. “The indictment does not charge Assange for the act of publishing, which would have been a serious Rubicon crossed,” Ben Wizner, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s project on speech, privacy and technology, told me. But, as Wizner emphasizes, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be worried about what Donald Trump’s Justice Department is up to. Elements of the Assange indictment could still set a dangerous precedent.