Archive

  • A New Phase In the Marijuana Legalization Debate

    Flickr/Brett Levin
    O n Sunday, the New York Times editorialized for the first time in favor of a repeal of the federal ban on marijuana, and did so in dramatic fashion, with a statement on the front page of the Sunday Review section and two more pieces going into greater detail. It wasn't particularly surprising, given the generally liberal bent of the Times editorial page and the fact that support for legalization has moved firmly into the mainstream. But it's still important, because the Times remains the most influential news outlet in the country, and they have an unrivaled ability to set the agenda for the rest of the media. There is a shift going on in this debate, and it isn't just that mainstream politicians and newspapers can now support legalization. It's also that the central question of the debate has changed, and changed to what legalization advocates have been asking for a long time. Instead of asking "Is smoking marijuana good or bad?", we're now asking "Is marijuana prohibition better or...
  • Today's Conservative Obamacare Baloney Debunked

    AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File
    If you were perusing the conservative twitter-sphere this morning, you would have witnessed a kind of collective orgasm, as it was discovered that back in 2012, MIT economist Jonathan Gruber gave a talk to a small group in which he seemed to support the analysis of the two judges on the D.C. Circuit who ruled this week in Halbig v. Burwell that the subsidies for buying health insurance under the Affordable Care Act should go only to people who live in states that set up their own insurance exchanges. Since Gruber advised Mitt Romney on the creation of Massachusetts' health reform (which became the model for the ACA) and then advised the White House and Congress during the preparation of the ACA reform, conservatives are now convinced they have their smoking gun: The law, they contend, was always designed to deprive millions of Americans of subsidies, and was in fact never meant to achieve that "universal coverage" that everyone involved said was its goal. Up to the point where the...
  • How Did the GOP Turn Into Such a Bunch of Clowns?

    AP Photo/Joe Marquette
    (AP Photo/Joe Marquette) F or a lot of reasons, the current era will probably be seen as unusually consequential in the history of the two parties, particularly the GOP. For Republicans, it has been a time of ideological hardening and bitter infighting. But one aspect of the Republican dilemma hasn't gotten as much attention as those: This is a time of unusual, even stunning, Republican political incompetence. Let me back up for a moment, to put what I'm saying in context. As the 2012 election approached, liberals began to understand just how deluded many conservatives were about empirical reality, and in ways that could do them serious political damage. It's one thing to deny climate change (a denial that may benefit you and your allies), but if you convince yourself that you're going to win when you're actually going to lose, you're hurting no one but yourself. When they began to rally around a guy claiming to " unskew " the 2012 presidential polls that showed Barack Obama heading...
  • The Worst Excuse for Plagiarism You'll Ever Hear

    Office of Senator John Walsh
    Yesterday, the New York Times published an article with compelling evidence that Sen. John Walsh, the Montana Democrat who was appointed to fill the seat of Max Baucus when Baucus became ambassador to China, plagiarized most of the master's thesis he wrote at the Army War College. I confess I had no opinion about Walsh before this (he was likely to lose in November anyway, and hasn't done anything of note in his brief time in the Senate), but there are two things I want to point out. You can read Walsh's entire thesis at the Times , and it won't take you that long, because not including footnotes, it's all of 14 pages. And this is my first question: What the hell are the standards at the Army War College that you can write a 14-page paper and get a master's degree? Is it like that at the colleges the other services run? It might be OK if it was 14 pages of dense calculations for a degree in economics or something, but it reads like a paper written by a reasonably bright high school...
  • Hillary for Liberals: A Conversation With Walter Shapiro

    AP Photo/Randy Snyder
    AP Photo/Justin Hayworth Campaign buttons are ready for distribution at an Iowa kickoff event for the national Ready for Hillary group led by Craig Smith, senior adviser to the Ready for Hillary group, in Des Moines, Iowa, Saturday, Jan. 25, 2014. Ready for Hillary is a so-called super PAC building a national network to benefit Clinton if she decides to seek the presidency in 2016. The gathering of Iowa Democrats included the state chairs of both Clinton and President Barack Obama's 2008 campaigns. A s a reporter and columnist for Time , Newsweek , the Washington Post , USA Today , Esquire , Salon , and other publications, Walter Shapiro has covered nine presidential elections and the nation’s politics for four decades. He is currently a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University and a lecturer in political science at Yale while he finishes a book about his great-uncle, a vaudevillian and con man who once swindled Hitler. Shapiro is also an accomplished Hillary-...
  • On Israel, Looking for Hope In a Sea of Bad Faith and Despair

    NASA/Wikimedia Commons
    I f you don't have mixed feelings about what's going on in Gaza, there's something seriously wrong with you. As Gershom Gorenberg says in his piece today, in a war, both sides can be wrong, and that's the case now. So how do we find a way to think and talk about this conflict when our natural impulse is to take a side? Complicating things even further is the fact that the people who do think that there's no ambiguity here range from the morally infantile to the unspeakably ghastly, and no matter what you say you'll find yourself on the same side as some of them, if only for a moment . On one hand you've got prominent conservatives trooping to the convention of Christians United For Israel (no fewer than five U.S. senators, plus A-list pundits like Charles Krauthammer and Bill Kristol), where they bow down before the group's leader, the demented pre-millenialist televangelist John Hagee, and proclaim that God smiles every time a bomb falls on Gaza. On the other you've got anti-Semites...
  • Health Insurance for Millions Threatened; Republicans Celebrate

    If this woman looks familiar, your insurance coverage might be at risk.
    When news broke this morning of the decision by a three-judge panel from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in Halbig v. Burwell , which states that because of a part of one sentence in the Affordable Care Act that was basically a typo, millions of Americans should lose the federal subsidies that allowed them to buy health insurance, I'm pretty sure a similar scene played out all around Washington. As word spread through the offices of conservative think-tanks, advocacy groups, and members of Congress, people gathered around TVs or computer screens, quickly taking in the decision. And there were smiles, laughter, maybe even a few high-fives and fist-pumps. Not long after, a second appeals court handed down an opposite ruling on the same question. (If you feel like you don't understand the issue, the rulings, and the implications, I'd recommend Ian Millhiser's explanation .) We won't know for some time whether the Supreme Court will hear these cases and. if it does, it's hard to predict...
  • 7 Foreign Policy Crises That Show Republicans Prefer Disaster to Solutions

    AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File
    AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File In this April 25, 2013, file photo former Vice President Dick Cheney participates in the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas. In an interview Sunday, Oct. 27, 2013, Cheney said Republicans need to look to a new generation of leaders as the party deals with poor approval ratings following a 16-day partial-government shutdown. He said Republicans need to have "first-class" candidates and look to its strategy and a new generation. This article originally appeared at The Huffington Post . I t's hard to recall a time when the world presented more crises with fewer easy solutions. And for the Republicans, all of these woes have a common genesis: Ostensible American weakness projected by Barack Obama. People in the Middle East, former Vice President Dick Cheney recently said , "are absolutely convinced that the American capacity to lead and influence in that part of the world has been dramatically reduced by this president." He added...
  • Are the Media Reporting the Gaza War Fairly?

    From the Israeli army's twitter feed.
    Are the media finally getting the Israeli-Palestinian story right? It's a difficult question to answer, particularly when it would be hard to agree on what "right" means. But it does look like we're seeing and hearing more about what's happening to Palestinian civilians than we have in previous flare-ups of this endless conflict. That's what Benjamin Wallace-Wells argues in a piece saying that Israel is losing the PR war in the American media: Earlier this month, the IDF's twitter feed had been full of images of besieged Israelis. But by this weekend Israel was so clearly losing the public relations war that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu complained to reporters, tersely, that Hamas uses "telegenically dead Palestinians for their cause." If Netanyahu is so bothered by how dead Palestinians look on television then he should stop killing so many of them. But his complaint is in itself a concession. The story of the conflict between Israel and Palestine looks a little bit different...
  • Here's Why One Day You Will Probably Fall In Love With a Robot

    Vincent Desailly for SoftBank
    Vincent Desailly for SoftBank Aldebaran's NAO robots. The company describes its "companion" robot this way: "NAO is a 58-cm tall humanoid robot. He is small, cute and round. You can't help but love him! NAO is intended to be a friendly companion around the house. He moves, recognises you, hears you and even talks to you!" I n the mid-1960s, a computer scientist named Joseph Weizenbaum wrote a program called ELIZA , which was meant to simulate a kind of psychotherapist that essentially repeats back everything the patient says. (The patient says, "I'm feeling depressed," and the therapist responds, "You're feeling depressed? Tell me more.") To his surprise, despite the simplicity of the program, people who interacted with it ended up telling it all kinds of secrets and couldn't tear themselves away; they were so eager to be listened to that they were happy to open their hearts to a computer. The more modern versions of ELIZA (whom you can talk to here if you like) are chatbots, one of...

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