Paul Waldman

Not Much, But Better than Nothing

President Obama yesterday in Chattanooga with Amazon workers. (White House photo/Chuck Kennedy)
President Obama offered a "grand bargain" yesterday, and although it wasn't particularly grand, it was a bargain: Republicans would get a lowering of the corporate income tax rate, something they've wanted for a long time, and Democrats would get some new investments in infrastructure, job training, and education. Inevitably, Republicans rejected it out of hand. "It's just a further-left version of a widely panned plan he already proposed two years ago, this time with extra goodies for tax-and-spend liberals," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. At this point, Obama could offer to close the E.P.A., eliminate all inheritance taxes, and rename our nation's capital "Reagan, D.C." if Republicans would also agree to give one poor child a sandwich, and they'd say no, because that would be too much big government. Just as inevitably, in-the-know politicos are wondering, why does he bother with this stuff if he knows what the result will be? Didn't we get enough of this I'm-the-...

On Abortion, a Tale of Two Countries

Texas state senator Wendy Davis, whose unsuccessful attempt to stop a restrictive abortion law drew national attention. (Flickr/Texas Tribune/Todd Wiseman)
Conservatives may be in retreat on many different fronts these days, but in one area, they're having smashing success: restricting the ability of women—particularly non-wealthy women—from accessing abortion services. And they're doing it with a new tool: the 20-week abortion ban, offered as cover for a raft of restrictions that aren't about stopping later-term abortions but about stopping all abortions. They're succeeding not because of some change in Americans' views on the subject, but because of the exercise of raw political power. As you may have heard, opinions on abortion, unlike those on many other subjects, have been remarkably stable for decades. But that stability masks some stark differences on abortion, differences that create just enough space for Republicans in parts of the country to make abortion all but illegal. Yesterday the Pew Research Center came out with a new poll , showing some rather dramatic gaps by region on what people think about abortion. Check out this...

Pot vs. Booze: The Battle Begins

Young drug users, fresh from rampaging through their neighborhood.
Here in Washington, our NPR station airs a program on Sunday nights featuring old-time radio dramas like Gunsmoke and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar ("The transcribed adventures of the man with the action-packed expense account, America's fabulous freelance insurance investigator!"). A week or two ago they featured an episode of Dragnet in which Los Angeles is beset with a wave of juvenile delinquency. Formerly well-behaved teens start running wild, beating people up, smashing store windows, and creating general violent mayhem. Not only that, these kids commit their crimes in front of local merchants and citizens who know their names and their families—the teens are so crazed, they don't even care if they get caught. Sergeant Friday's suspicions are quickly confirmed, and the culprit is identified. The teens are caught in the grip of … marijuana! Back here in 2013, the Brickyard 400, a NASCAR race, was this weekend in Indianapolis, and the Marijuana Policy Project, a legalization advocacy...

Christian Identity Politics on Fox

Reza Aslan is surprised to find himself stranded in Stupidtown.
Reza Aslan is surprised to find himself stranded in Stupidtown. I try, with only partial success, to avoid spending too much time on the "A conservative said something offensive!" patrol. First, there are plenty of other people doing it, so it isn't as if the world won't hear about it if I don't remark on the outrage du jour . But second—and more important—most of the time there isn't much interesting to say about Rush Limbaugh's latest bit of race-baiting or Bill O'Reilly's latest spittle-flecked rant or Louie Gohmert's latest expectoration of numskullery. But let's make an exception for this interview Reza Aslan did on Friday with Fox News to promote his new book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth . You've no doubt seen Aslan on television multiple times in the last decade, and maybe even read something he's written. In the post-9/11 period, he became a go-to guest on shows from Meet the Press to The Daily Show as someone who could explain Islam to American audiences...

GOP Circular Firing Squad Locked and Loaded

Karl Rove is not concerned. (Flickr/JD_WMWM)
Apparently, it's Republican circular firing squad week here in Washington. Item 1: David Corn of Mother Jones got hold of the proceedings of a secret group of conservatives scheming to take hold of American politics and shove it where it needs to go: Dubbed Groundswell, this coalition convenes weekly in the offices of Judicial Watch, the conservative legal watchdog group. During these hush-hush sessions and through a Google group, the members of Groundswell—including aides to congressional Republicans—cook up battle plans for their ongoing fights against the Obama administration, congressional Democrats, progressive outfits, and the Republican establishment and "clueless" GOP congressional leaders. They devise strategies for killing immigration reform, hyping the Benghazi controversy, and countering the impression that the GOP exploits racism. And the Groundswell gang is mounting a behind-the-scenes organized effort to eradicate the outsize influence of GOP über-strategist/pundit Karl...

How Safe Is Train Travel?

Flickr/Dennis Bacsa
There was an awful high-speed rail crash in Spain yesterday, and according to the latest reports at least 80 people are confirmed dead. It appears that for some reason, the train took a turn much too fast and then derailed. What's notable about the accident, though, is how rare this kind of accident is. Though we haven't built much high-speed rail in the United States, it's been installed all over Europe and Asia, and overall the safety record is remarkably good. Japan's Shinkansen system, which has been in place since the 1960s, hasn't had a single fatality from a collision or a derailment. The same is true of France's TGV, which has operated since the 1980s. So how safe is train travel, compared to the other ways we get around? The answer is going to vary depending on what country you're talking about, but the answer is, very safe. For instance, in the U.S. in 2011 , there were 32,367 road fatalities, 485 air fatalities, and 570 railroad fatalities. The raw number isn't the proper...

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...

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