Paul Waldman

Congress Tells NSA to Keep Up the Good Work

National Security Agency headquarters.
What with the important news of a baby being born in England and the further adventures of Anthony Weiner's penis dominating our attention, you probably didn't notice the failure yesterday of an amendment in the House to end the NSA's program collecting phone records on you, your neighbors, and every other American. Keep in mind that, as Sen. Ron Wyden has intimated , there are almost certainly other NSA surveillance programs that we would also be shocked to hear about, but remain secret. That this amendment, sponsored by Republican Rep. Justin Amash, got a vote at all is somewhat surprising, but from all appearances , Speaker John Boehner saw it as a way to allow the more libertarian members of his caucus to let off some steam and take a stand against government surveillance. It may not have ever had much of a chance of passing both the House and Senate, but the Obama administration pushed for a no vote and General Keith Alexander himself went to Capitol Hill to lobby against it, and...

Being Mrs. Carlos Danger

AP Photo/Paul J. Richards, Pool, File
AP Photo/Kathy Willens A s America basks in the comedic glow cast by Anthony Weiner's dirty little keyboard, made so hilarious by Weiner's use of the online pseudonym "Carlos Danger," many are asking, what about Huma? That Weiner is a dirtball is pretty clear to all at this point, and given that a year after he had left Congress over the first incarnation of the sexting scandal he was still playing these games suggests something compulsive about the behavior. An ordinary person, particularly one who wanted to stage an eventual political comeback, would say, "OK, I had my fun, but now I've been caught and humiliated—no more of that." But who the hell knows what was going on in his head? Maybe the possibility of getting caught was the whole thrill. If you want to read the texts, they're here . My absolute favorite is when, in the midst of all the Penthouse Forum dirty talk, Weiner sends this plaintive text to his digital paramour: "I'm deeply flawed." You can say that again, Carlos...

Nate Silver and Journalism's Non-Overlapping Magisteria

Flickr/JD Lasica
It was recently announced that Nate Silver would be leaving The World's Most Important News Outlet, The New York Times , to head to ESPN, where he'll work for that network and its parent company ABC on sports, politics, Academy Award projections, and whatever else he's inclined to think about. I'm only marginally interested in most of the internal politics that led to Silver's move, but from all the reporting and Silver's own comments, it seems that he felt he'd be better able to turn 538 into a more comprehensive, wide-ranging hub there than at the Times , which sounds pretty reasonable. And since he didn't rise up through the journalistic ranks where the Times is the be-all and end-all, he probably doesn't place the same importance on the Times ' prestige as many people do. But there is one interesting tidbit in the column that Margaret Sullivan, the Times' public editor, wrote yesterday about Silver that tells us something interesting about the state of political journalism: I don'...

The Depressing Picture of Economic Mobility in America

Today's New York Times has a big article by David Leonhardt on a new study of income mobility with a bunch of interesting findings, the core of which is that, especially for middle-class and poor people, where you live matters tremendously to your chances of improving your economic station. Here's an excerpt: But the researchers identified four broad factors that appeared to affect income mobility, including the size and dispersion of the local middle class. All else being equal, upward mobility tended to be higher in metropolitan areas where poor families were more dispersed among mixed-income neighborhoods. Income mobility was also higher in areas with more two-parent households, better elementary schools and high schools, and more civic engagement, including membership in religious and community groups. Regions with larger black populations had lower upward-mobility rates. But the researchers' analysis suggested that this was not primarily because of their race. Both white and...

The Privilege of Whiteness

flickr/shaire productions
A s a biracial child who spent part of his youth abroad, Barack Obama learned the feeling of otherness and became attuned to how he was perceived by those around him. As a politician, he knew well that many white people saw him as a vehicle for their hopes of a post-racial society. Even if those hopes were somewhat naïve, they came from a sincere and admirable desire, and he was happy to let those sentiments carry him along. Part of the bargain, though, was that he had to be extremely careful about how he talked about race, and then only on the rarest of occasions. His race had to be a source of hope and pride—for everybody—but not of displeasure, discontent, or worst of all, a grievance that would demand redress. No one knew better than him that everything was fine only as long as we all could feel good about Barack Obama being black. So when he made his unexpected remarks about Trayvon Martin on Friday, Obama was stepping into some dangerous territory. By talking about his own...

The Next Phase of the Obamacare Battle Begins

President Obama speaking yesterday on health care. (White House photo by Chuck Kennedy)
We're beginning a new phase of the battle over Obamacare—and the fact that we can continue to refer to it as a "battle" tells you something—one that in some ways takes on the appearance of an electoral campaign, with television ads, media events, PR stunts, and a universal assumption that the whole thing is zero-sum. If anything related to Obamacare goes well—like, say, people getting health insurance at affordable prices—then that's bad for Republicans and something they'll do what they can to stop. What we have here is something truly unprecedented: an opposition party not just insisting that a significant government program was a bad idea, not even just hoping that in its implementation it doesn't work, but committing itself to actively working to make sure the program fails and that as much human misery as possible can be created along the way, so that eventual repeal of the program will become possible. The Obama administration is facing a huge administrative task, laid on top of...

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's Face and the Power of Images

A lot of people are very, very angry over the fact that Rolling Stone put on their cover a selfie that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev took (a photo that appeared in many newspapers) to accompany a long feature article about him. "The Bomber," the headline reads, with the subhed, "How a Popular, Promising Student Was Failed By His Family, Fell Into Radical Islam and Became a Monster." Nobody's mad about the article , which is pretty well described by that subhed, and isn't too different from many other articles written since the bombing. But the cover is getting people riled up; Boston Mayor Tom Menino wrote a letter to the magazine expressing his outrage, Boston's police commissioner says, "I'm disgusted by it," the news has been filled with person-on-the-street interviews with Bostonians expressing their displeasure, and stores like CVS have announced that they won't be stocking the issue. The people I've seen aren't having an easy time articulating what it is about the cover they find...

Semantic Innovation in Immigration Reform

An immigrant inspects her new green card. (Flickr/Daniel Hoherd)
Greg Sargent gets the skinny from a House aide about a potential new immigration proposal in that body, which would include some new triggers and deadlines, but what caught my eye was this part: The new plan would take the provisional legal status and right to work granted to the undocumented at the outset and reconfigure it as "probation." The plan would require undocumented immigrants to admit having broken U.S. laws and admit guilt (in a civil sense), and enter into a probationary phase, during which they’d have very similar legal rights to the ones they would have under the provisional legal status in the Senate bill. This concession is designed to help Republicans embrace comprehensive reform. It is meant to give Republicans a response to the charge of "amnesty" — the claim that a path to citizenship will reward lawbreakers — by instead requiring the undocumented to take themselves out of the shadows, admit wrongdoing, and put themselves on a species of probation. Genius!...

Tired Columnists and Lost Opportunities

Richard Cohen, opinion-shaper.
Richard Cohen of The Washington Post may not have written anything interesting in the last 20 years or so, but yesterday he found a way to achieve some momentary relevance, by writing an execrable column defending racial profiling. For the first time in forever, lots of people were talking about something Cohen wrote (read Ta-Nehisi Coates' incisive discussion of what makes Cohen's column so vile). But this leads to a question I'm sure more than a few people are asking: Why does this guy still have a column in one of the nation's most important newspapers? After all, it's hard to imagine that Cohen has some kind of large and fervent fan base. There are other columnists who are awful in various ways, but you can understand why they're still around. For instance, Charles Krauthammer's work is a festering cauldron of venom and absurd hyperbole, but conservatives think he's a genius, so they'd be heartbroken if he lost his perch at the Post . In terms of prestige, the Post 's opinion page...

Chart of the Day

It can hardly be said too often that the George Zimmerman trial, or any one trial for that matter, only tells us a tiny bit about what happens when one person kills another and how they're treated by the justice system. Before the verdict, I predicted that Zimmerman would be acquitted, not because I'm some kind of genius, but based on two factors: There was no one alive who could contradict Zimmerman's account of what happened, and Florida law permits you to chase someone down, start a fight with them, and then shoot them if you start losing the fight. But what if we broaden our view a bit, and look not just at one case, but at thousands of cases? Does race matter? You may be saying, of course it matters, but let's look at some data. John Roman of the Urban Institute took data from 53,000 homicides over the last few years gathered by the FBI, and produced this stunning chart (h/t Richard Florida ): In case you're having trouble seeing the lines, the combination least likely to be...

The Temptation of Renown

Alas, there will be no Zimmerman juror book here; you'll have to content yourself with volumes about Duck Dynasty and people who go to heaven when they're unconscious. (Flickr/brewbooks)
*/ It's sort of quaint that when the winds of national attention float past someone who never would have otherwise gotten the chance to receive something resembling fame, their first thought so often is, "I should write a book!" The publishing industry may be dying and 99 percent of authors may never get sales out of the four figures, but everyone, even people who haven't written anything longer than an email since they were in their teens, thinks the world would be eager to read 300 pages of their thoughts and feelings. So it was that Juror B37—since she hasn't revealed her name, I'm going to call her Gladys—emerged into the bright light of a Florida morning and said to herself, "There's gotta be a way for me to cash in on this." And she decided to write a book, because like most Americans, Gladys isn't non-famous, she just isn't famous yet . She quickly retained a literary agent, who no doubt told her that this thing was going to be huge. After all, it's all over the news. Folks...

Our Coming Incest Debate

The best argument for laws against incest. (HBO)
As the "traditional marriage" forces have been in retreat, both legally and rhetorically, there's an argument we haven't heard as much as we did a few years ago: that if you allow gay people to get married, then the same logic will demand that we also allow incest marriages and polygamous marriages. Today, Kent Greenfield grapples with it here at the Prospect ; go read his piece, then come back and I'll tell you what I think about this. My hunch is that the reason the incest argument has faded is that the anti-equality forces never gave it all that much thought in the first place. It was just something outside the prevailing definition of marriage that they thought would sound crazy to everyone, so they tossed it out there. The basic argument was that once you "change the definition of marriage," you'll be changing it to accommodate any preference anybody had. A man will marry his brother! A woman will marry her cat! A cat will marry a gerbil! (Bill O'Reilly is, for some reason,...

Today's Robot News

Atlas, who is perhaps not as cuddly as he should be.
It's Friday, which of course means we have to talk robots. Yesterday, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Administration (DARPA) unveiled Atlas, a humanoid robot it's using as part of its robotics challenge , in which teams of engineers will compete to write software that best employs Atlas' human-eradicating capabilities. Kidding, of course—they'll actually be trying to perform a series of tasks that might be needed in a disaster scenario. Frankly, I've always been skeptical about the potential of humanoid robots. Sure, it helps us to relate to them if they look like us, but the human body has a lot of limitations. For instance, hands are great, but should a robot have only two? Why not four or six, or eleven? The more hands, the more things you can do with them. And legs are extremely useful, especially for navigating uneven environments where wheels won't work well, like the rubble of a building that has fallen over, or the stairs in your house. But are two legs better than...

In the South, the GOP Is A-OK with Being the White People Party

A "Moral Monday" protest in the North Carolina legislature against Republican moves to restrict aid to the poor, voting rights, and access to abortion. (Flickr/David Biesack)
We've been talking quite a bit about the split between House Republicans—safe in their own districts and opposed to immigration reform—and elite/establishment/national Republicans, worried about how the GOP will fare if it can't reach out to growing minority voting groups. But there's another group of Republicans that hasn't gotten as much attention, one that really makes up the anchor of the party: the Republicans who control state legislatures and governorships, particularly in the South. While we in Washington have been talking about the GOP's dire straits, things are very different down there. If you're a Republican in North Carolina, for instance, you aren't spending time worrying about the GOP's standing among Latinos. You're too busy running amok, fulfilling the legislative fantasies you've had for years, because now you control the legislature and the governor's office. These are the boom times. The other day, Thomas Esdell wrote a post talking about the decline of black power...

How the Conservative Media Are Eating Up the Zimmerman Trial

George Zimmerman during his interview with no-nonsense journalist Sean Hannity.
George Zimmerman's trial in the shooting of Trayvon Martin is coming to a close. For what it's worth, I think he'll probably get acquitted, since 1) the lack of any eyewitnesses leaves room for doubt, and 2) my impression is that in Florida it's perfectly legal to pursue somebody, confront them, and then when the confrontation turns physical and you begin to lose the fight, shoot them in the chest. You know—self defense. In any case, conservative media are feasting on the Zimmerman trial (as are some other media). Their basic storyline goes like this: Trayvon Martin was a thug. George Zimmerman's gated community was beset by roving gangs of vicious black teen criminals. Zimmerman was in the right. And most critically, this whole thing is being drummed up by racial provocateurs, most especially Barack Obama and Eric Holder, to continue their ongoing war on white people, who are the real victims of racism in America today. Let's take, for instance, this little story. After Martin's...

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