At a conference made up of educators, administrators and entrepreneurs, Bill Gates is bound to be polarizing. The mega-philanthropist, who’s put billions into education-reform initiatives like charter schools and data-mining to better evaluate teachers is a hero to some in the education community and an enemy to others. Last week, at South by Southwest Edu—the nerdy cousin of Austin's popular music and multimedia festival—Gates seemed to relish his role. “Software’s able to create this interactive, connective experience for the students in a way that simply isn’t economic in a public-school context,” he said at the final event of the four-day conference. Behind him, a pie chart showed a $9 billion dollar education market—a market in which technology currently has a $1 billion slice. Gates told the thousands in the audience that technology would soon make up a larger share as schools began relying on software to deliver material and provide assessments. He emphasized how software would help to collect data that would make teacher evaluations more effective and offer teachers more help by connecting them with one another. Software, it seemed, was the key to every school's success.
In February 1998, as the Monica Lewinsky scandal exploded, Lewinsky's lawyer, a man by the name of William Ginsburg, performed the then-unheard-of feat of appearing on all five of the Sunday morning talk shows in a single day. In the years since (according to Wikipedia, at least) 15 other brave Americans have completed a "Full Ginsburg," as it came to be known. This Sunday, however, the Full Ginsburg may need to be renamed the Full Jeb.
Wiz Khalifa, who recorded a song that Marco Rubio knows the title of. (Flickr/Sebastien Barre)
Can a United States senator be cool? As it happens, the current Senate has a number of members in their early 40s, and for at least some of them, that youth is a big part of what defines them. There was a time when as a 40-year-old in the Senate you'd worry about establishing your gravitas, but this group seems to be just as interested, if not more, in playing up their youth. That may be particularly true for the Republicans, since their party not only worries about its appeal to young people but wants to make sure it stays relevant in the future. But this can be tricky, especially since, with a few exceptions, the kind of person who becomes a professional politician probably wasn't the coolest person to begin with. After all, part of being cool is not looking like you're trying to be cool, and politicians usually look like they're trying too hard (because they usually are).
You may be asking, "Are you talking about Marco Rubio?" The answer is yes, but before we get to him, Rebecca Berg has an interesting story in Buzzfeed about Chris Murphy, at 39 America's youngest senator...
Juan Williams is obviously too busy to write his own columns. (Flickr/Nick Step)
Not long ago I was getting a shiatsu massage in my office when my assistant came in to tell me that he'd gathered the data on government spending that I'd asked for, and written it up in text form so I could drop it into my next column. When I read what he'd written, it looked suspiciously like turgid think-tank prose, so I asked him whether these were his own words or those of the source from which he got the data. When he began his response with "Um..." I knew he had failed me, so I flung my double espresso in his face, an act of discipline I thought rather restrained. Over the sound of his whimpering and the scent of burning flesh, I explained to him that real journalists don't pass off the work of others as their own. As part of his penance, I forced him to write my columns for me in their entirety for the next three weeks. The scars are healing nicely, and with my benevolent guidance he is well on his way to becoming the journalist I know he can be.
OK, that didn't actually happen. I don't have an assistant. I suppose if I resided at a higher tier of the Washington opinion journalism hierarchy, I would. Like Juan Williams, who finds himself in a spot of trouble today. As Alex Seitz-Wald of Salon reports, parts of a column Williams recently "wrote" for The Hill were lifted almost word-for-word from a Center for American Progress report on immigration:
The release of 2012 minimum-wage data last Wednesday—which shows that the number of minimum wage workers has fallen but is still higher than any period since 1998—has underscored the importance of making good on Obama’s pledge of raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 an hour. As many have pointed out, women stand to benefit disproportionately from the increase: Two-thirds of the country’s roughly 1.6 million minimum-wage workers are women.
There are two things you can say about the recovery: It's slow, and it's remarkably durable. Even with the collapse of fiscal stimulus, the shocks of austerity, and a dysfunctional government, we've seen sluggish growth with just enough to bring down unemployment. And at times—such as the winter between 2011 and 2012—there were signs it was speeding up.
The Prospect's Jamelle Bouie makes an important point about Rand Paul's rare Mr. Smith Goes to Washington-style filibuster on Wednesday. Before Paul started speaking to hold up the nomination of John Brennan to head the CIA, the Senate silently continued to filibuster Caitlin Halligan's nomination to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Paul's filibuster will get more attention, but the filibuster of Halligan is more telling.
Long before we thought of founding The American Prospect in 1989, I came to know Paul Starr through a prescient article titled “Passive Intervention.” The piece was published in 1979, in a now-defunct journal, Working Papers for a New Society.
Like the roomful of monkeys who eventually write Hamlet if given long enough, or the broken clock that’s on time twice a day, sooner or later an otherwise dubious political figure will find his moral compass pointing true north if he keeps spinning in place. Or maybe it’s Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky who stays in one place as the world spins, with north finally swinging into his sights. Whatever the motive, whatever paranoia fuels the worldview that drives him, whatever withering scorn he invited yesterday from fellow Republicans who found themselves in the strange position of defending a Democratic president, Paul’s filibuster of the last 48 hours was an act of patriotism more authentic than we usually see from a right that so ostentatiously professes to love a country it refuses to understand. If nothing else, Paul returned to the tradition of the filibuster some semblance of the heroism that his minority party has left in shambles the last few years with no small assist from Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid, the eminent hack who had the opportunity to rescue that tradition a couple of months back and declined. Thus we’re left with Paul as unlikely savior of not merely tradition but the filibuster’s intent, which is to provide a venue for the expression of lonely principles. Sometimes those principles are profound enough that stopping the country in its tracks to ponder them is worth the inconvenience, before such principles are flattened by the steamroller of national consensus.
For years, most Americans have labored under the delusion that a "filibuster" is when a United States senator gets up in front of his or her colleagues and proceeds to talk, and talk, and talk some more, not stopping until the opposition crumbles or voices fail and knees grow weak. In truth, these days a filibuster actually consists of nothing more than the Senate Minority Leader conveying to the Senate Majority Leader his party's intent to stop a bill or a nominee, and the deed is done. That doesn't mean, however, that a senator can't do the endless talking thing if he so chooses. And yesterday, one senator did in fact so choose, as Rand Paul refused to give up the floor and allow the nomination of John Brennan to be CIA director to proceed.
2010 wasn't just a bad year for Democrats in Congress—it saw Republican triumphs on the state-level as well. Twenty-three GOP governors were elected that year, and in eleven states—Iowa, Kansas, Ohio, Oklahoma, Maine, Michigan, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Wisconsin, and Wyoming—Republicans won governorships away from Democrats.
Like any number of liberals, I have from time to time complained about the difficulty of having substantive arguments about politics when your opponents refuse to acknowledge plain facts about the world. It's hard to have a discussion about what to do about climate change, for instance, if the other person refuses to believe that climate change is occurring. It's hard to discuss how to handle market failures in health insurance when the other person holds that markets are always perfect and government health insurance is always more expensive. As frustrating as those kinds of impasses are, at least you're talking about complex systems that require at least some investment of time to understand.
But there's a rather incredible dance going on right now in the dispute over the budget that takes every stereotype liberals have about know-nothing Republicans and turns it up to 11. To sum it up, Democrats are being forced to negotiate with a group of people who are either so dumb they can't figure out what the White House's negotiating position is (unlikely) or so incredibly irresponsible that they don't care enough to find out, when doing so would literally take them about 30 seconds (probable). It's hard to find words to describe this kind of behavior. The Republican position is that this negotiation is of vital importance to the future of the country, indeed, so important that they may be willing to shut the government down and let the full faith and credit of the United States be destroyed if they don't get what they want; but they also can't be bothered to understand what it is the other side wants. And these people hold our nation's fate in their hands.
Even if you disagree with Senator Rand Paul's broader politics, there's something inspiring about a politician willing to speak at length—and at some discomfort—for what he believes in. That's even more true when you consider the subject—civil liberties. Paul joins many other civil libertarians in his disdain for targeted killings, the administration's drone policy, and its general approach to due process.
In early December, the Michigan Legislature met for a lame-duck session that should have been uncontroversial—just a bit of housework before the next body convened in 2013. Instead, the GOP majority used the period to enact a dream list of conservative priorities: abortion-rights restrictions, a phaseout of the personal--property tax, reductions to welfare. Its crowning achievement was the passage of a right-to-work bill prohibiting unions from collecting mandatory dues.