Paul Waldman

It's Not Your Senator's Job to Stop Ebola

Flickr/Krysten Newby
To the endless list of inane things candidates accuse one another of, we can now add this: My opponent has not done enough to stop Ebola! Or actually, in this case it's local media , and the politician in question is Pat Roberts; but Roberts' opponent is picking up on it (and may have been the source of the story, since a nearly identical report appeared on a second local news station ): On the stump and in television interviews, Senator Pat Roberts has taken aim at the White House's response to the Ebola outbreak in Africa, and in the United States, including calling for a travel ban to effected [sic] West African nations. But when Roberts had a chance, as a member of the Senate's Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee, to attend a special joint hearing with top public health officials briefing lawmakers on the virus and the fight against it—he was a no-show. If only Pat Roberts had been at that hearing, we'd all be safe. There are few criticisms more meaningless and yet...

Can Robots Offer Amazon Moral Redemption?

An Amazon fulfillment center in Scotland. (Flickr/Chris Watt/Scottish Government)
If you're like many liberals, you probably feel conflicted about Amazon. On one hand, they seem to carry every mass-produced product in universe, and they usually have the lowest price, or nearly so. Shopping with them is incredibly convenient. On the other hand, the " fulfilment centers " at which people toil to pick and pack all the products people buy are basically the 21st century sweatshops, where workers endure horribly demanding work and demeaning treatment for low pay (Amazon isn't the only company that uses them, but they're the biggest). A few years ago, we learned that in the summer at some fulfilment centers they would park ambulances outside to cart off the workers who got heat stroke, because it was cheaper than installing air conditioning (which they eventually did in the face of a bunch of bad publicity). And the Supreme Court just heard a case involving Amazon workers who want to be paid for the time they are required to stand in line waiting to be searched like...

Kentucky Candidates Agree: Coal Is the Future!

Flickr/Matt Zaske
There was a debate in Kentucky yesterday between U.S. Senate candidates Mitch McConnell and Alison Lundergan Grimes, and while there was lots of disagreement, one thing both candidates agreed on is that what their state and America needs is more of that sweet, sweet coal. McConnell accused Grimes of being complicit, because she's a Democrat, in "Obama's war on coal," and Grimes protested that she loves coal more than she loves her own mama (though not quite in so many words). Throughout this campaign they've both been so enthusiastic about coal, you almost expected them to pull out a few lumps of the stuff and start smearing it all over their faces while moaning, "Oh, coal, God yes, coal, coal, COAL!!!" Here's a dose of reality: There are only a tiny number of people left in Kentucky who mine coal. According to the state's department of energy: "At the end of 2013, coal mines in Kentucky directly employed 11,885 people." Since there are about 3.4 million people over the age of 18 in...

Maybe That Wendy Davis Attack Ad Wasn't Really So Bad, After All

(AP Photo/The McAllen Monitor, Gabe Hernandez, Pool)
O n Friday, the campaign of Wendy Davis, the Democratic nominee for governor in Texas, released an ad that was powerful enough to not only get condemned by liberals and conservatives alike, but to convince some journalists to abandon their stance of objectivity. "Wendy Davis is running one of the nastiest campaign ads you will ever see," read a headline in the Washington Post . "Outrage spreads" over the ad, said the Los Angeles Times . What has everyone so angry is that the ad refers to the fact that Davis' opponent, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, uses a wheelchair, with a picture of an empty one. I'm going to argue that Davis' ad may be less problematic than many people are making it out to be. But it does tell us a good deal about how these kinds of attacks should be judged. Let's start by taking a look: Here's the text: "A tree fell on Greg Abbott. He sued and got millions. Since then, he's spent his career working against other victims. Abbott argued a woman whose leg was...

Should the Democrats Abandon Hope of Getting Relief from Voter Suppression In the Courts?

Flickr/Theresa Thompson
Yesterday there were two rulings on voting rights cases, both of which were decided in favor of the liberal side of the argument. But don't get too excited. I hate to be eternal pessimist on this issue, but neither case is likely to turn out the way liberals and Democrats want. In fact, we're almost at the point where — until the current makeup of the Supreme Court changes — liberals should keep themselves from ever thinking the courts are going to stop Republican efforts at voter suppression. I'll get to the consequences of that in a moment, but first let's look at the two cases yesterday. The first was in Texas, where a federal judge struck down the state's voter ID law. In refreshingly blunt language, the judge called the law an "unconstitutional poll tax," and said that the legislators who passed it "were motivated, at the very least in part, because of and not merely in spite of the voter ID law's detrimental effects on the African-American and Hispanic electorate." Which is...

Sex, Lies and the Secret Service

MSNBC
Paul Waldman talks with MSNBC's Chris Hayes about the likelihood that someone either in or close to the Secret Service leaked the story of a White House volunteer's alleged dalliance with a sex worker in Cartagena while working advance for President Barack Obama's visit there in 2012—and the implications of a rift between the president's staff and the people sworn to protect his very life.

The Larger Context of Restrictions On Voting

Flickr/jamelah e.
Yesterday the Supreme Court issued an order overruling an appeals court decision about a series of voting restrictions passed last year by the state of North Carolina, which will allow the restrictions to remain in place for this year's election, until the case is ultimately heard by the Court. And in a happy coincidence, on the very same day, the Government Accountability Office released a report finding that voter ID requirements reduce turnout among minorities and young people , precisely those more-Democratic voting groups the requirements are meant to hinder. There's a context in which to view the battle over voter restrictions that goes beyond whether Republicans are a bunch of meanies, and it has to do with the things parties can change easily and the things they can't. I'll explain exactly what I mean in a moment, but first, the law at issue was passed just weeks after the Supreme Court's conservative majority gutted the Voting Rights Act, allowing North Carolina and other...

In the U.S. Senate, 'Independence' Is Overrated

Flickr/Behzad No
On Tuesday, the contenders for the Senate in Virginia, incumbent Mark Warner and challenger Ed Gillespie, had a debate in which they apparently spent a good deal of time arguing over who would be the most independent. Gillespie charged that Warner just votes in lockstep with President Obama, while Warner charged that Gillespie is a partisan hack. But here's my question: Is independence really something we want in a senator? And even if it is, might it not rank way, way down the list of desirable qualities? For the record, Mark Warner is one of the more conservative Democrats in the Senate (his DW-NOMINATE scores put him as the 43rd most liberal senator in the 112th Congress and the 50th most liberal in the 111th). And it's safe to say that there is no one running for Senate anywhere in the country less likely to be independent of his party than Ed Gillespie, who has spent his career as a Republican operative and lobbyist. But as a liberal, should I be horrified that Gillespie would be...

Americans In the Grip of Irrational Fears, Just Like Usual

Flickr/NIAID
Thomas Eric Duncan, the American who contracted Ebola in a visit to Liberia, died today in Texas. That tragedy will obviously be big news, and it will lead more people to freak out about the disease, something that will be heartily encouraged by the cable news channels (or at least by Fox News, which has apparently been going a little crazy on the "We're all going to get Ebola because Obama hates America Benghazibenghazibenghazi!" line). And freaked out we are. Let's look at some poll numbers: Gallup asked people "did you, personally, worry about getting the Ebola virus yesterday, or not?" Twenty-two percent of people said that they worried yesterday about getting Ebola. Then they asked people how likely it was that they or someone in their family would get Ebola. Four percent said "very likely," 10 percent said "somewhat likely," 34 percent said "not too likely," and 49 percent said "not at all likely." On one hand, almost six in seven Americans are still tethered to reality on this...

How Gay Marriage Could Cause the GOP Major Headaches In 2016

Every GOP candidate is going to have to take a position on the threat posed by this kid. (Flickr/Alan Light)
After yesterday's dramatic ruling from the Supreme Court effectively legalizing same-sex marriage in 11 more states (that now makes 30, plus DC), you would have thought conservatives would be expressing their outrage to anyone who would listen. But their reaction was remarkably muted. "None of the top House GOP leaders (Speaker John Boehner or Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy) issued statements. Ditto the RNC," reported NBC News . "And most strikingly, we didn't hear a peep about the Supreme Court's (non)-decision on the 2014 campaign trail, including in the red-state battlegrounds." The only one who issued a thundering denunciation was Ted Cruz. Even though the GOP's discomfort with this issue has been evident for a while, with the unofficial start of the 2016 presidential campaign just a month away (after the midterm elections are done), the issue of marriage equality is going to become positively excruciating for them. Many people saw the Court's denial of cert in the five cases they...

Is Nationwide Marriage Equality Now Inevitable? Almost, But Not Quite

Flickr/Victoria Pickering
As you've heard by now, the Supreme Court today declined to hear a set of five cases involving state bans on same-sex marriage, from Virginia, Utah, Oklahoma, Indiana, and Wisconsin. In all these cases, the appeals court had overturned the state's ban, and now same-sex marriages are legal not only in those states, but also soon in the six other states covered by the 4th, 7th, and 10th Circuits (Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, West Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina). Like many other people, I've already written today that the legal argument over marriage equality is now all but over. The way it presumably will play out from this point forward is that one of the more conservative circuit courts will issue a ruling upholding a state ban on same-sex marriage, and the Supreme Court, presented with this conflict between circuits, will take the case to settle it. And in the wake of today's ruling, it's hard to see how they (and by "they" I mean Anthony Kennedy) would rule that state...

When Every Supreme Court Justice Argued They Might Be Pro-Choice

Official Supreme Court photo by Steve Petteway
(AP Photo/Lana Harris) Supreme Court Justice nominee Antonin Scalia puffs on his pipe as he listens to questions from Senate Judiciary Committee members during confirmation hearings in Washington on Tuesday, August 6, 1986. L ast week, a panel of the Court of Appeals for the 5 th Circuit upheld a Texas law designed to make it as difficult as possible to get an abortion in the state, the consequence of which was that 13 clinics were forced to immediately shut their doors (there are only eight remaining, in a state of 26 million people spread out over a quarter-million square miles). The panel's decision, as Ian Millhiser explained , practically begged the Supreme Court to hear this case, something they wouldn't have done if they weren't fairly confident they'd win. And they have reason to be; as everyone knows, the current Court has four liberal justices who are pro-choice, four conservative justices who would almost certainly vote to overturn Roe v. Wade , and Anthony Kennedy, who has...

Republican Senate Candidate Advocates Revolt Against U.S. Government

IowaPolitics.com
The Iowa Senate race is one of the closest in the nation, and what it seems to have come down to is the following two questions: Number 1, did Bruce Braley act like a jerk when he and his neighbor had a dispute over the fact that the neighbor's chickens were crapping on Braley's lawn? And number 2, is Joni Ernst a radical extremist? You can argue that only one of these questions has anything to do with what Iowa's next senator will be doing in office, and you'd be right. But the latest bit of information on Ernst is, if you actually understand the issue, quite a doozy : State Sen. Joni Ernst, the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in Iowa, once said she would support legislation that would allow "local law enforcement to arrest federal officials attempting to implement" Obamacare. Ernst voiced her support for that, as well as supporting legislation that would "nullify" Obamacare in a Iowa State Legislative Candidates survey for Ron Paul's libertarian-aligned Campaign for Liberty in...

Why President Obama Can't Get Any Love From the Public On the Economy

White House photo by Pete Souza.
One common axiom about presidential popularity is that presidents get more credit than they deserve for the good times and more blame than they deserve for the bad times. But Barack Obama is probably wondering why he can't get any credit at all. Today job numbers for the month of September were released, and the news looks excellent: 248,000 jobs were created, and the unemployment rate is now 5.9 percent. Since Steve Benen regularly updates his chart on job growth during the Obama administration, we'll use his : That looks pretty good. In fact, we've now had 55 consecutive months of private sector job growth, the longest stretch on record (weirdly, that job-killing Obamacare hasn't actually killed all the jobs). But now let's look at another chart, this one from Huffpost Pollster : Not so good! Not good at all, in fact. Obama crossed from net approval to disapproval in October 2009, and never got back into positive territory. The latest polls have his approval on the economy at around...

Contraception, News Coverage, and Identifying Fringe Groups

The story of the day comes from The New York Times , which reports on this study in the New England Journal of Medicine showing the results of a project that provided long-term contraception to teenagers. The results were both stunning and completely predictable (we'll get to that in a second), but I want to raise a small objection to something in the Times story. It concerns how groups should be identified, and when it's necessary to alert readers to the fact that you're quoting somebody on the fringe. But first, the news: it turns out that if you offer long-term contraception (mostly IUDs and implants) to teenagers, they don't get pregnant. Take a look at this graph, which compares teens in the program (called CHOICE) to national data on young women of the same age: As I said, these results are remarkable in that the reductions in pregnancy are so dramatic, but also predictable—birth control works well at controlling birth! If you have a teenage daughter, you should probably think...

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