Paul Waldman

Scandal Makers

AP Photo
AP Photo I n case you didn't notice, over the last few days we entered a new phase in the Obama presidency: the scandal phase. What happened? It wasn't evidence of a crime being unearthed, or a confession from a conspirator. There was no sudden revelation, no arrests, no cancer on the presidency. Indeed, just a few days ago it looked for all the world like Benghazi would take its place with Solyndra and "Fast and Furious" as one more wished-for scandal that, despite the best efforts of Republicans, failed to take flight. Yet all it took was ABC News getting passed some emails between the CIA, the State Department, and the White House detailing how the administration argued over how exactly to talk about the attack in Benghazi to get things underway, and now we have calls for special committees and ramped-up coverage. There may not be anything particularly shocking in those emails—just the time-honored tradition of people trying to cover their asses—but internal deliberations being...

The IRS Controversy and the Tax-Exempt Charade

Flickr/onkelshark
As we're learning more about the IRS giving heightened scrutiny to conservative groups filing for tax-exempt status, we should make one thing clear: If what we've heard so far holds up, the people involved should probably get fired, and new safeguards should be put in place to make sure nothing like it happens again. And let it be noted that liberal publications, at least the ones I've seen, have all taken that position and have been discussing this story at length. Now, let's see if we can understand the context in which this happened. There's an irony at work here, which is that it may well be that the IRS employees involved were trying to obey the spirit of the law but ended up violating the letter of the law, while for the organizations in question it was the opposite: they were trying to violate the spirit of the law, but probably didn't violate the letter of the law. Let's take the first part, the IRS employees. When a group files for tax-exempt status, the IRS investigates it,...

They Know What You're Doing

One guy's LinkedIn network visualized. (Flickr/Luc Legay)
The big social media sites all recommend people they think you should add to your network. In most cases, it's pretty obvious, at least on the surface, how the recommendation algorithm works; Twitter offers you a few people it suggests you follow, and says they're followed by people you already follow. But after joining LinkedIn a couple of years ago, I found its recommendations to be not just highly accurate, but disturbingly so. That isn't to say they don't recommend people I don't know, but often they'll recommend someone I do know, but I can't for the life of me figure out how they did it. Like hey, there's a woman I went on one date with in 1993, haven't spoken to since, and who knows no one I know. Why in god's name did they suggest her? There's the little brother of a guy I knew 15 years ago, and to whom I have no professional connection. How did he come up? It's particularly odd since I never use LinkedIn; my profile pretty much just sits there. The first couple of times it...

Notes on a Pseudo-Scandal

OK folks, if you have the patience for some meta-blogging on the subject of Benghazi, let me share with you some of the thoughts that have been running around my head as I struggle with how to talk about this story. Whenever a topic like this comes up, you have to ask yourself a couple of questions. Do I have something worthwhile to contribute to this discussion? Is there something that needs to be said but hasn't been yet? Is this thing even worth talking about? Much as I'd like to be immune to the consideration of whether I'm doing a favor for those pushing the story for their own partisan ends by keeping the discussion going, it's hard to avoid that question popping into your head from time to time. There's an objective reality out there, hard though it may sometimes be to discern—either there was or was not actual wrongdoing, and the whole matter is either trivial or momentous—but everyone's perception of that reality is formed within the context of a partisan competition...

Eight Months Until the End of Job Lock

Flickr/walknboston
For years, even before Barack Obama was elected, one of the many complaints liberals (mostly) had about the current employer-based health insurance system was "job lock"—if you have insurance at your job, particularly if you or someone in your family has health issues, then you're going to be hesitant to leave that job. You won't start your own business, or join somebody else's struggling startup (unless they provide insurance), and this constrains people's opportunities and dampens the country's entrepreneurial spirit. That this occurs is intuitively obvious—you probably know someone who has experienced it, or have experienced it yourself. And today there's an article in that pro-Democrat hippie rag The Wall Street Journal entitled "Will Health-Care Law Beget Entrepreneurs?" Amid the worrying about the implementation of Obamacare in January, and the quite reasonable concern that the news could be filled with stories of confusion, missteps, and dirtbags like that Papa John's guy...

Benghazi Fizzles

A New York Post cover from back when Benghazi was hotter.
Conservatives want, so very desperately, for Benghazi to be Barack Obama's undoing. And you have to give them credit for trying. Yesterday's hearing, hyped like it was the Super Bowl by Fox News, wasn't the first or the second or the fifth on the topic, and each one is supposed to deliver the blockbuster revelation that will finally show America just how evil the Obama administration is. But if you look at the way they've been talking about it, you can see some faint glimmers of doubt. Sure, you can always find somebody to come on Fox and take the speculation to an absurd level ("Did Hillary Clinton order the consulate to be unprotected because Ambassador Stevens knew she's an al Qaeda operative and she wanted him killed? We just don't know"). But I think all that speculation is sapping their spirits. After a while it gets tiresome to keep harping on what might have happened or why, when it would be so much more satisfying if there were some actual incriminating facts you could bring...

When Bad Intentions Meet Bad Data

Numbers!
When the Heritage Foundation released that study showing immigration reform would cost American taxpayers a gajillion feptillion bazillion dollars, people were obviously going to pick it apart and reveal its flaws and tendentious assumptions, which they did. But today came something else interesting. Dylan Matthews read the dissertation written by one of the authors, Jason Richwine, in which Richwin writes that "The average IQ of immigrants in the United States is substantially lower than that of the white native population, and the difference is likely to persist over several generations." In order to deal with the problem, Richwine suggests IQ-testing everyone who wants to immigrate, and taking only the smart ones. As Matthews describes it, "Richwine's dissertation asserts that there are deep-set differentials in intelligence between races ... He writes, 'No one knows whether Hispanics will ever reach IQ parity with whites, but the prediction that new Hispanic immigrants will have...

Chris Christie and GOP Primary Voters, Not So Perfect Together

Flickr/Bob Jagendorf
As an aficionado of American regional resentment and distrust, not to mention someone who grew up in the Garden State, I find the question of whether Chris Christie could take his Jersey style national and win the hearts of Republican presidential primary voters to be quite interesting. Would a party whose center of gravity lies firmly in the South being willing to seriously consider not just a guy from New Jersey, but a guy who is obviously from New Jersey? Christie recently told the New York Post that he had lap-band surgery a couple of months ago, so by the time the Iowa caucuses roll around, he could look a little less like Bobby Bacala and a little more like the kind of rugged outdoorsman Republicans favor. But will that be enough? Yesterday, Philip Klein of the Washington Examiner argued that the answer is going to be no: Also, beyond any given issues, it’s questionable how Christie’s brash New Jersey style will play out beyond the Northeast. When Rudy Giuliani ran for president...

What We Talk about When We Talk about Immigration

From the Heritage Foundation web site.
If you've read or heard anything about immigration today, it probably had to do with a just-released Heritage Foundation report claiming that immigration reform will cost America eleventy bazillion dollars, or as the enormous headline on their web site screams, "The COST of Amnesty TO YOU." If you're interested in a point-by-point analysis of why the assumptions and omissions in the report skew things so absurdly, you can read Dylan Matthews or Alex Nowrasteh , but you have to hand it to Heritage: despite the questionable quality of the work and its obvious intent to scuttle immigration reform, they've gotten a tremendous amount of attention for it. That's partly a result of good timing (nobody else had attempted to put a dollar figure on reform, so they were the first), and partly due to what I'm sure is a large and skilled communication staff. The way these things work is that your policy people write the report, then your communication people work the phones and email to get...

You Think We Have Lots of Guns Now...

The first working gun made (almost) entirely on a 3-D printer.
There's even more exciting gun news today, coming from a small nonprofit organization called Defense Distributed . They announced that they have successfully test-fired a gun made almost entirely in a 3-D printer. The only part that wasn't 3-D printed was the firing pin. And the bullet, of course. Now previously, people had made gun components in 3-D printers, but prior tests of entire weapons had been unsuccessful. This raises some rather troubling questions, which we'll get to in a moment. But first, here's their short video, which shows the firing and construction of the gun, inexplicably interspersed with shots of World War II-era bombers: They may call this thing "The Liberator," but it's a little too impractical to be able to liberate anyone at the moment. It's probably highly inaccurate, and it holds only one bullet. But this is more a proof-of-concept than anything else, and if you want to, you can go to their website and download the plans, then print one out on your own 3-D...

Discovering the American Majority with the NRA and Conservative Politicians

I have a piece going up later today over at CNN.com on the NRA convention, but there's something I raise there that I want to elaborate on. If you look at the list of Republican politicians who spoke to the assembled firearm enthusiasts, it wasn't exactly the A-team. Last year Mitt Romney showed up, but this year they had failed presidential candidate Rick Santorum, failed presidential candidate Rick Perry, universally disliked freshman senator Ted Cruz, currently unpopular Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, and former half-term governor and current punch line Sarah Palin. Every one of them would like to be president one day, but the only one with even the ghost of a chance is Jindal. And what do they have in common? Some are has-beens, some have reached the pinnacle of their careers even if they don't know it yet, but what distinguishes them isn't just that they're very, very conservative. It's that—like the NRA itself—they're obviously convinced that they represent the majority of the...

Feeding the Paranoid Right

Flickr/mjb
In today's edition of Republicans Think the Darndest Things, a poll from Farleigh Dickinson University that came out the other day found, as polls regularly do, that Americans in general and conservatives in particular believe some nutty stuff. That's not news, but there are some reasons to be genuinely concerned, which I'll explain. The headline finding is this: Respondents were asked whether they agree with the statement, "In the next few years, an armed revolution might be necessary in order to protect our liberties." Forty-four percent of Republicans—yes, almost half—said they agreed. We've been doing pretty well with this constitutional system for the last 224 years, but it's just about time to junk it. The right reaction to any shocking poll result is to say, "Let's not make too much of this." And I don't think any but a tiny proportion of the people who would answer yes to that question would start in or participate in a revolution. Let's take the gun owners who email me every...

Emotion and Reason in the Gun Debate

Images from the web site of Crickett Firearms, which sells guns for kids.
You may have heard the story of Caroline Sparks, the 2-year-old Kentucky girl who was killed this week when her brother, all of 5 years old himself, took the rifle he got for his birthday and shot her in the chest. I suppose we should be thankful this kind of thing doesn't happen even more often; as a Kentucky state trooper told CNN, "In this part of the country, it's not uncommon for a 5-year-old to have a gun." I'm sure that when gun-rights advocates heard the story, they said, "Oh geez, here we go again." They'd have to deal yet again with people being upset when innocents get killed with guns. They'd have to explain that as tragic as Caroline's death is, it doesn't mean that we should change the law on background checks. After all, that 5-year-old boy got his gun from his parents, not at a gun show. Whatever you think about gun advocates, could they be right on this point? Sure, it's a little rich coming from people who are constantly stoking fears of home invasions, fascist...

Government Oppression of Religious People Continues With National Day of Prayer

Flickr/C Jill Reed
One summer when I was in college, I worked for a tiny lobbying firm, most of whose clients were disease-related. If the firm wasn't able to get you increased funding for research into your disease, at the very least it could get a friendly member of Congress to introduce a proclamation about it. Framed on the office walls were documents declaring the first week in June to be Copious Earwax Awareness Week or November to be Toenail Fungus Month. The government declares lots of national days of this and weeks of that, most of which go unnoticed. Today, however, is the National Day of Prayer, in which, that pesky establishment clause notwithstanding, the federal government encourages you to get down on your knees and implore your deity to deliver whatever you happen to lack, or to be merciful toward those he might otherwise smite. Don't confuse it with the National Prayer Breakfast; that's an entirely separate national prayer event. Here 's Barack Obama's proclamation of the day, though...

House of Representatives Now a Scene from "Life Of Brian"

The People's Front of Judea holds a meeting.
Here in America we have a long tradition of candidates who run for office telling voters that they'll be good at making laws because they know nothing about making laws. This is a longtime pet peeve of mine, particularly the "I'm a businessman, not a politician" variant ( see here , for example), but the idea that "outsiders" who aren't beholden to the ways of the Capitol can be successful in curing it of its less appealing habits is almost as old as the republic itself. In ordinary circumstances, people who don't know anything about legislating are usually equally unfamiliar with what it takes to run a successful campaign, so most of them get weeded out by election day. The last couple of elections have not, however, been ordinary. I bring this up because of a story today in Politico that makes the Republican House of Representatives look like even more of a mess than you might have imagined. I'll get to the issue of "outsider" politicians in a moment, but here's an excerpt: The GOP...

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