As I've discussed before, there are moral judgments liberals and conservatives make about things like economics that not only underlie the positions they take on policy, but also make most of the empirical conversation we have about those issues kind of superfluous. We spend a lot of time marshalling facts to support positions that have a moral basis, when those facts have virtually no chance of persuading large segments of the population. For example, you can tell many conservatives that income mobility in the United States is lower than that in many countries, and it won't dent their belief that in this land of opportunity, everyone gets what they deserve and your wealth is a clear indicator of your virtue.
The good folks at the Pew Research Center have a new poll that includes some interesting questions probing how people think about poverty and economic fairness, and it shows how on this increasingly salient question, Republicans have a real political problem. Let's take a look at their key table:
Thirty years ago this week, the Super Bowl featured an ad (directed by Ridley Scott, no less) for the soon-to-be-released Macintosh computer, in which Apple implicitly compared the dominance of Microsoft operating systems and IBM computers to the oppressive dictatorship of George Orwell's 1984. Apple's Board of Directors apparently hated the ad, but Steve Jobs insisted that it air, probably because he understood how critical it was to building Apple into not just an identifiable brand but a statement of personal identity. If you use a PC, Jobs was saying, you're a drone, a cog in the wheel, someone who has been stripped of your individuality as you labor for the Man. Whereas if you use a Mac, you're a creative, youthful individual forging your own way in the world and subverting the dominant paradigm.
Part of the reason Apple has managed to sustain that brand identity for so long is that there was always some truth to their argument. Nobody really loved Windows, but you had to use it because everybody else used it. On the other hand, Windows in its many incarnations has usually been good enough, and even its occasional frustrations aren't exactly comparable to life in East Germany circa 1957. These days, we hear a lot about technology as a force of liberation, but not so much about technology as a force of oppression. But that may be starting to change.
Th F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (photo courtesy of Lockheed Martin).
When you're a defense contractor beginning a big new program, one of your key challenges once you've gotten the contract is to make sure the contract never goes away. One way to do that is to bring in the weapons system on time and under budget and win the thanks of a grateful nation. But since big weapons systems almost always come in late and over budget—and being over budget means more profits—the better way is to make sure a critical mass of congresspeople have a particular interest in keeping the taxpayer money flowing to your weapon.
Mitch McConnell chats with some folks about health care 'n stuff.
This morning, Greg Sargent calls our attention to this new ad for Mitch McConnell, in which a man who got cancer from his job at a uranium enrichment plant in Paducah. The man testifies that it was McConnell, fierce advocate of worker safety and health security, who made sure that workers got cancer screening and compensation.
That'll never work, a liberal might say. McConnell is not only one of the nation's foremost opponents of any and all regulations to protect worker safety, but he wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which would take away the health coverage tens of thousands of Kentuckians just got. As you may know, Kentucky has been more aggressive in taking advantage of the ACA than probably any other conservative state. They set up their own exchange, and it has proven to be one of the best in the country; they also accepted the Medicaid expansion (these developments can be attributed mostly to the fact that the governor is a Democrat). According to this site tracking signups under the ACA, in Kentucky, nearly 40,000 people have signed up for private insurance via the exchange, and another 100,000 have enrolled in Medicaid. All of those people would be tossed off their coverage if McConnell got his way. So surely no one will believe this ad, right?
To honor Martin Luther King, Jr., the White House declared a “day of service” in Dr. King’s memory, and President Obama spent a few minutes on Monday helping to serve meals in a soup kitchen near the White House. Talk about a tin ear, or a timid one.
In 1995, when John Sweeney ran the first and as-yet-only insurgent campaign for the presidency of the AFL-CIO, his platform took the form of a book entitled America Needs a Raise. If that title rang true in 1995, it clangs with deafening authority today.
Imagine you were on a corporate board, interviewing candidates for the vacant CEO position, and you asked one, "Why do you want to run this company?" He replies, "It isn't so much that I want to run the company; I have no feelings about actually doing the job. You should hire me because I alone can save you from disaster. It's really almost an act of charity on my part." You'd probably think, "What an arrogant jerk. Next?"
Yet that's how just about everyone who runs for president is supposed to describe their desire for the job. They have to profess to having no personal ambition whatsoever, and say they hadn't really thought about the presidency until they realized that either 1) things in America had gotten so bad that they had to step in and save her; or 2) even though things are going OK now, the challenges the country faces in the future are so profound that they simply had to serve.
You've seen it on CSI and other police procedurals a hundred times: the detectives take a surveillance photo and watch as their computer cycles through a zillion photos of perps and crooks until it blinks with a match, telling them who their suspect is. You may have known enough to realize that they can't actually do that—computerized face recognition isn't capable of taking a grainy, shadowed photo and identifying it positively as a particular person. Or at least they couldn't until recently. But the technology has been advancing rapidly, and now some law enforcement agencies are using powerful new software that can do just that, at least sometimes. It has a ways to go yet, but the question is when, not if, computers will be able to take the video that was shot of you as you walked down the sidewalk or browsed in a store and know exactly who you are.
Sure, he looks friendly now... (Photo from RoboEarth)
Today is the last day at the Prospect for our brilliant associate editor Jaime Fuller, who is cruelly abandoning me, much like Shane walked away from that little boy crying for him to come back. We've had a running joke for a while, wherein on many Fridays I write a post about robots, Jaime mutters, "Sheesh, another post about robots? Give it up Waldman, this is a magazine about politics, remember?" and I say "Yer damn right it's another post about robots! You'll thank me when they take over!" (This conversation actually takes place in my head; in fact, Jaime has been unfailingly tolerant of my odd Friday topic choices.)
Anyhow, I couldn't let the day end without some alarming robot news in Jaime's honor. It comes in the form of a threat from across the ocean: a robot gap! Are we going to let the Europeans move ahead of us? This is from the BBC:
By the time you read this, President Obama will probably have finished his speech outlining some changes to the NSA's global information vacuum. According to early reports, he'll propose creating an independent body to hold the phone metadata that the NSA gathers, and forcing the agency to get some kind of approval (presumably from the FISA court) before accessing it. Which is all fine and good. But the real question is whether we set up procedures and systems that constrain the NSA from doing not just what we already know about, but the things we haven't yet heard of, and even more importantly, the kinds of surveillance that will become possible in the future.
Just today, we learned from the Guardian that "The National Security Agency has collected almost 200 million text messages a day from across the globe, using them to extract data including location, contact networks and credit card details, according to top-secret documents." I can't imagine that will be the last revelation from the documents obtained by Edward Snowden. Do you find that disturbing? If not, imagine what it's going to look like ten or twenty years from now.