Paul Waldman

Paul Waldman is the Prospect's daily blogger and senior writer. He also blogs for the Plum Line at the Washington Post, and is the author of Being Right is Not Enough: What Progressives Must Learn From Conservative Success.

Recent Articles

Feelings, Nothing More Than Feelings.

Let’s say you’re a State Department official, and you learn that in a country with a strong terrorist presence, there may be a bomb attack on the United States embassy. Do you 1) close the embassy, thereby protecting the lives of the personnel there, or 2) Keep the embassy open, cause you know, to hell with them darn terrorists. Bring ‘em on! Before you answer, keep in mind that if you close the embassy, terrorists might interpret it as a “sign of weakness.” And how many lives is that worth? If you answered something above “zero,” to the last question, guess what – you’re qualified to be on Fox News. I give you Republican uber-pundit Bill Kristol : “No one wants State Department officials to be put at risk and all that, but that is a sign of weakness. Closing the embassy? We can’t protect our own embassy in Yemen, a place we have special operations forces, a place we say we’re working with the government on the front lines of the war on terror, and there’s a terror threat, and we...

Scareplane!

If you're wondering why we only fear terrorism at airports, it's because al-Qaeda is failing.

Passengers wait at a security checkpoint at the Lambert-St. Louis International Airport. (Flickr/Josh Hallett)
During the 2004 presidential campaign, John Kerry was asked what it would take for Americans to feel safe from terrorism. "We have to get back to the place we were, where terrorists are not the focus of our lives, but they're a nuisance," he said. Comparing this potential future to the way we now feel about prostitution and organized crime, he went on, "It isn't threatening people's lives every day, and fundamentally, it's something that you continue to fight, but it's not threatening the fabric of your life." You may recall that the Bush campaign immediately accused Kerry of claiming that terrorism was already merely a nuisance (it even made a television ad about it). But in truth, terrorism already was little more than a nuisance for us, and remains so today. Yet we continue to talk as if the next 23-year-old would-be suicide bomber might actually bring down American civilization. In the immediate wake of Sept. 11, we all thought that dealing with terrorism would be the new everyday...

Two All Beef Patties, Special Sauce, Ammonia ... Ammonia?

(Flickr/ Steve Nagata ) While you were relaxing between Christmas and New Year’s, the New York Times published this horrifying piece of investigative journalism on a company called Beef Products Inc. Seems the folks at BPI, applying their good old American ingenuity, thought, “Hey, we’ve got all these fatty trimmings so disgusting they’re normally put into pet food. Is there any way we could shove them in a hamburger and feed them to kids?” So they did. In order to kill all the salmonella and e.coli, they gassed the trimmings with ammonia before sending them off to be put into hamburgers earmarked for McDonald’s, Burger King, and lots and lots of schools. Problem was (apart from the fact that the meat smelled like ammonia), the process didn’t really kill all the salmonella and e. coli. Nevertheless, the Department of Agriculture was so impressed with BPI’s ammonia gassing method, “that in 2007, when the department began routine testing of meat used in hamburger sold to the general...

Ten Things to Watch in the Health-Care Reform Conference

It's not just about abortion and the public option. Every decision Congress faces while merging the Senate and House health bills will give it the opportunity to make reform better.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, accompanied by Sens. Tom Harkin and Barbara Mikulski, speaks during a health care news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2009. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Schoolhouse Rock undersold the excruciating difficulty involved in making a bill a law. As the health-care reform process nears its merciful end, many important questions must still be decided, most of which have received only passing attention by the media. If you only watch television news, you might think that the conferees tasked with merging the House and Senate bills really only need to work out the public option and the abortion provisions. The truth, though, is that those matters are pretty much settled. There will be no public option, and the Senate's incredibly restrictive language on abortion will probably win out over the appallingly restrictive House version. There are oodles of provisions in both bills, but here is a quick guide to what else we should watch out for as the conference committee does its work. How these questions are settled will help determine just how good this reform will end up being: Funding: This may be the stickiest difference between the two bills...

The Health-Care Ultimatum

Some progressives have called health-care reform without a public option worthless. Here's why they're wrong.

Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., talks with reporters following the announcement that he will support the health-care bill on Capitol Hill in Washington, Saturday, Dec. 19, 2009. (AP Photo/Harry Hamburg)
There is a classic economics experiment called the "ultimatum game," which demonstrates how our decision-making process isn't solely determined by rational calculations. In the experiment, one subject is usually given a small sum of money and told to divide it however he wants between himself and another subject. If the second subject accepts his offer, they both keep the cash. But if the second subject rejects the offer, neither of them gets anything. Rationality suggests that the second subject should accept any offer, since even $1 is better than nothing. But in practice, offers that are perceived as unfair (like 80-20) get rejected most of the time, while offers near a 50-50 split tend to be accepted. Our perception of fairness is so finely tuned that even in the context of an experiment, where nothing more than a few dollars are at stake, we will give up a potential gain -- in order to punish a person who has acted unjustly, or simply to make a statement about the standard of...

Pages