In 2013, the wonders of our technological prowess never cease to amaze. We can launch remote-controlled planes to smite our enemies thousands of miles away. In your pocket right now, you probably have a tiny computer with more processing power than a Cray supercomputer had a few decades ago. Literally millions of photos of kittens and puppies are but a click away, increasing the sum total of human happiness immeasurably.
And yet, when there's a fire in the engine room of a cruise ship, the thousands of people on board end up living in their own filth for days while everyone tries to figure out how to get them home. And if that weren't enough, you never know when the universe will laugh at our puny human problems and send a meteor exploding over Russia, just to let us know that we could be squashed at any time.
It was no Tunguska Event, the 1908 meteor explosion over Siberia that packed a wallop 1,000 times as powerful as the bomb dropped on Hiroshima and knocked over an estimated 80 million trees. But today's meteor was still pretty dramatic, and in 1908 the people of Russia didn't have dashboard cameras, which everyone there uses to document crashes in the event they need to successfully navigate a corrupt and incompetent legal system. Days like this remind us that our technological development is simultaneously mind-bogglingly fantastic and terribly disappointing. No flying cars, slow development of robotic maid service, and glaring gaps in humankind's cruise ship emergency plumbing systems, but on the other hand, any parent with a grumpy toddler can obtain blissful silence in but a few seconds just by whipping out an iPad. So count yourself lucky next time the heavens rain down fire upon you. The video you take of it might go viral, at least until the Earth is burnt to a cinder and tumbles into the sun.
So They Say
"Cain’s impressive résumé makes him a valuable addition to the Fox News and Fox Business lineup. As a political expert with business savvy, he brings an important voice to the nation’s debates."
—Fox News' Bill Shine, trollin'
Daily Meme: Long Time, No See
- Although deficits and Hagel nominations are still all the rage this week, some sleeper policies found their way into the national consciousness this week after earning real estate in Obama's State of the Union speech.
- Universal pre-K got a big boost after Tuesday's address, but the Prospect's been singing the praises of Oklahoma's preschool system—which got a shoutout from Obama—for ages.
- The president hung out with some four-year-olds (and took some adorable pictures) in Georgia yesterday as part of his big education push.
- He made quite an impression on the kids; one said, "I feel very good! I'm never washing my hands because I got to hug him. I told him 'Happy Valentine's Day' and I gave him a Valentine."
- Conservatives are not impressed.
- They're not stupid, after all. They can see Obama's long game: "Look what the president is doing here, it’s a repeat performance of his campaign, which is you raise taxes on the rich and you offer all kinds of free stuff to people who will vote for you in the future. Free preschool education for 4-year-olds, it’s free, here it is. Hand out the goodies."
- Obama also touted a new bipartisan voting-rights commission featuring election lawyers from his campaign—and Romney's. But ... a commission sounds pretty tame. As the League of Women Voters president notes, “We have long lines at the polls every four years. It’s not new. Sending this to a commission is not a bold step.”
- As Charles Pierce puts it, "A bipartisan commission is the Washington policy equivalent of a sock drawer. ... The commission is a bad idea because this isn't a Washington problem to be solved. This is a problem out in the states and the only real solutions are either to stop electing Republicans who pass these laws, and/or to extend Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act to cover the whole country."
- It doesn't help that Ben Ginsberg, the former Romney lawyer, doesn't have the best track record when it comes to pushing for fair and free elections.
- On the other hand, the Brennan Center thinks this is a good first step, and given that our country's default political speed mimics that of a tortoise walking through melted marshmallows, maybe this is the best we could hope for right now.
What We're Writing
- All talk of Republican soul-searching and party divisions aside, Jonathan Bernstein reports that the two-party system is as strong as it's ever been. Whether that's a good thing is debatable, but don't expect any rise of the Bull Moose in 2016.
- There's been a lot of excitement over the Hagel and Brennan and Kerry nominations recently, but one of the most important courts in the country, the D.C. Circuit, still has only seven of eleven judges. Why? Carl Tobias says it's Republican obstructionism in the Senate.
What We're Reading
- Barbara Boxer and Bernie Sanders are looking to drum up support for what might be the best carbon bill we've ever seen. Is there a schoolhouse rock song for pipe dreams?
- When it comes to personal debt, apparently lawmakers are just like us!
- A series of mega-mergers were brought up this week, with U.S. Airways and American Airways getting together, Berkshire Hathaway going after Heinz, and Dell (the guy) buying back Dell (the company). Apparently this is great economic news, and cash-strapped billionaires everywhere are rejoicing.
- There's been some debate about whether a cloture vote qualifies as a filibuster, because it really matters which specific tactic Republicans are using to retard each and every aspect of government. All the same, people, it is a filibuster.
- Saturday Night Live may never be as great as it used to be, but with a fat target, it can still hit the mark. The Atlantic takes a look at the Hagel nomination farce and SNL's committee-hearing donkey show.
- The state of Georgia has figured out why the Senate is ineffective: democratic elections. The 17th Amendment shifted senatorial elections from state legislatures to the general population, and if Georgia conservatives have their way, we'd switch it back.
Poll of the Day
A recent Gallup poll reveals that D.C. is the gayest place in the union, beating out runner-up Hawaii 10 percent to 5.1. The bottom of the list isn't too surprising, with North Dakota coming in last with 1.7 percent, with Mississippi and Montana in close quarters.