There aren't many people who can say, "I think somebody should build this crazy futuristic technology," give only a rough sketch of what it would be, say that he's too busy to build it himself, and nevertheless touch off a media mini-frenzy of speculation. But Elon Musk, whatever his talents as a CEO and technologist, has in a few years achieved a unique status among corporate moguls, receiving endless glowing profiles and gee-whiz coverage of whatever his latest pet project might be.
The non-fiction publishing phenomenon of 2011 and 2012 was, without a doubt, "Heaven Is For Real," an account of a three-year-old boy who during surgery visited heaven, where he met Jesus, who rides on a "rainbow horse." Young Colton Burpo's father Todd attested that it just had to be true, since Colton knew details he could never have learned elsewhere, like the fact that Jesus had marks on his hands. Sure, Todd Burpo is a pastor and the family is intensely religious, but still. It couldn't possibly have been a dream, right? "Heaven Is For Real" has sold an incredible 7.5 million copies, and is now in its 142nd week on the New York Times paperback non-fiction bestseller list.
The top spot on that list is held by this year's non-fiction publishing phenomenon, "Proof of Heaven," a neurosurgeon's account of how he fell into a coma and went you know where. It's "proof," you see, because the doctor had an extended vacation amongst the clouds, when his brain was, he says, "shut down." Could it have been a dream he had while emerging from his coma? Nah. And so what if he turns out to be something of a charlatan? Any way you slice it, near-death trips through the Pearly Gates are box-office boffo. Which is why a new study on what happens to rats when they reach the end of their terrestrial moment is particularly interesting:
Yesterday, Attorney General Eric Holder announced some policy changes meant to reduce the number of drug offenders subject to mandatory minimum sentences. Across the political spectrum, people have come to view mandatory minimums as a disaster from almost any standpoint, and as some people have pointed out today, mandatory minimums were originally a Democratic idea. Those of you who are too young to remember the early 1990s might not appreciate the raw terror that gripped Democrats in those days. People regularly lost elections when their opponent's opposition researchers found some obscure vote that could be twisted into a direct mail piece saying, "Congressman Smith voted to let violent criminals out of jail—so they could rape and murder their way through our community. Is that the kind of man we want in Washington?"
As it happens, at the time I was working for a political consulting firm that created some of those mail pieces. Our clients were all Democrats, and we produced crime attacks for both primary and general elections, targeting other Democrats and Republicans alike. In 1994, it reached an absolute fever pitch. My firm had about 30 clients, all Democrats, and we did tough-on-crime pieces for every single one. In many cases, we'd make ten or so different mail pieces for a client, and eight of them would be about crime. In other words, in every last race we worked on, every candidate was accusing every other candidate of being soft on crime. The highlight of my consulting career was when I lay down on a sidewalk so our photographer could trace around my body with chalk for a murder aftermath scene we staged.
In a major victory for civil rights and civil liberties, a United States District Court Judge has held that the New York Police Department's stop-and-frisk policies are unconstitutional. Judge Shira Scheindlin's opinion justifying the ruling is a tour de force. Carefully assessing both systematic evidence and the cases of individual litigants, Judge Scheindlin leaves no serious doubt that the NYPD's policies are inconsistent with the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution.
Today, a federal judge ruled that the New York City Police Department's (NYPD) controversial stop-and-frisk program unconstitutionally targets minorities; hundreds of thousands of people are stopped every year for little or no reason. Being stopped is most certainly what the judge called a "demeaning and humiliating experience," but it is a humiliation from which white New Yorkers have been largely exempt. After millions of stops over the last decade, things are poised to change.
Lord help us, is the balanced budget amendment—one of the dumbest policy ideas the right ever cooked up (and that's saying something)—actually back? Only time will tell, but today on the New York Times op-ed page today, two prominent conservative economists, Glenn Hubbard and Tim Kane, try to revive it with an argument so unconvincing that I worry it's going to be embraced by every Republican in sight. If you think the sequester was a terrific idea and worked out great for everyone, have they got a deal for you.
Last Thursday, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW)—the 1.3 million-member union of retail workers, chiefly supermarket employees—announced that it was leaving the breakaway mini-labor federation, Change To Win, and rejoining the AFL-CIO. Of the six unions that left the AFL-CIO in 2005 to form Change To Win—the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the Teamsters, the UFCW, UNITE HERE, the Laborers and the United Farm Workers (UFW)—only SEIU, the Teamsters and the Farm Workers (the last with probably fewer than 10,000 members) remain. Two-point-zero-something unions do not a federation make, but then, Change To Win, despite all its lofty ambitions, never really amounted to a federation.
There’s no sugarcoating what’s happening in Russia in the days since the Duma and Prime minister Vladimir Putin passed its anti-gay laws earlier this summer. In a jaw-dropping video that Moscow-based journalist and longtime LGBT activist Masha Gessen posted to her Facebook page over the weekend, Dmitry Kiselev, anchorman and deputy director of VGTRK, the Russian state broadcast holding company—in short, a top representative of the Kremlin’s media machine—makes the following statement:
President Obama at today's press conference, talking about talking.
When Barack Obama said about the Trayvon Martin case that there isn't much value in "national conversations" led by a president, it was an unusual kind of candor. After all, having a national conversation is a great way to not actually do anything about a problem, particularly one that seems nearly impossible to solve. (If there's a problem that's quite possible to solve but would require politically difficult steps, one appoints a commission to study it) I thought of that watching his press conference today, when he was asked about the various surveillance programs that have come to light as a result of Edward Snowdon's revelations.
In 1995, Abe Pollin, then-owner of the Washington Bullets, announced that he had become increasingly uncomfortable with the team's name, particularly since Washington, D.C., like many large cities, was beset by gun violence. A contest was held to find a new name, and by 1997 the Bullets had become the Wizards. While some people would like to have kept the old name, the whole process was relatively painless.
Today, another of Washington's sports teams is facing increasing controversy over its name. The main difference is that Dan Snyder, the owner of the Redskins (and someone widely reviled in Washington for a whole host of reasons), is adamant that as long as he owns the team, it will never, ever, ever change its name.
Look inside for the big version. You know you want it.
Blazing Republican supernova Rand Paul is emerging as the most media coverage-getting-est potential 2016 candidate, and while there's a good chance he'll end up being that year's Michele Bachmann, there is one thing he keeps repeating that requires a little clarification. It's become one of those things that folks just "know" about the world, even though it's utterly untrue. And since the best way to counter any piece of misinformation is with an attractive and enlightening chart or two, I thought that's what the situation needed.
It’s no surprise that Florida’s decision to once again try to scrub the voter rolls of noncitizens has prompted an outcry from voting-rights advocates and local elections administrators. While no names have yet been removed, letters went out to elections supervisors last week about the new effort. Republican Secretary of State Ken Detzner has begun creating a new list of suspect voters. Famous for its poorly run elections, the state is picking up where it left off last year, when Detzner announced that he had a list of more than 180,000 voters who shouldn’t have been on the rolls. The list—90 percent of whose voters were nonwhite—turned out (surprise!) to be based on faulty and outdated information. The previous push also happened fewer than 90 days before Florida’s statewide primaries, leaving little time to alert the voters whose registration was being questioned and allow them to bring documentation to show they were eligible to vote. Elections supervisors in many counties began raising concerns about inaccuracies in the lists they’d received. The Department of Justice ordered the state to stop the purge and soon after, the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections also recommended counties halt the process. The list later got chopped down to 1,800 names, and then to fewer than 300.
The intraparty fight among Republicans over foreign policy escalated further this week when former House Speaker and presidential candidate Newt Gingrich said that it was time to take stock of failed U.S. military interventions over the past decade, and acknowledge key anti-interventionist critics as important voices within the party.
Gingrich told the Washington Times in an interview he still considers himself a neoconservative, but said that “at some point, even if you are a neoconservative, you need to take a deep breath to ask if our strategies in the Middle East have succeeded.” Questioning the approach of exporting democracy through the barrel of a gun, Gingrich went on, “I think it would be healthy to go back and war-game what alternative strategies would have been better, and I like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul because they are talking about this.”