Ringside

Daily Meme: Nate Silver's Fickle Friends

Yesterday, former New York Times numbers nerd Nate Silver—who just launched his own site, FiveThirtyEight.com—set off panic among Democratic leaders by changing his projection about the makeup of the Senate after the midterms from "tossup" to "slight GOP advantage." Cue the denounciations. In an unusual move, today the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) issued a statement discrediting Silver's analysis (while at the same time calling FiveThirtyEight "groundbreaking"). "In August of 2012 Silver forecast a 61 percent likelihood that Republicans would pick up enough seats to claim the majority," wrote Guy Cecil, the Committee's executive director. "Three months later, Democrats went on to win 55 seats." Over at his blog, P.M. Carpenter takes the DSCC to task : "There's nothing like happy-face propaganda in the sorryass face of facts. Should Silver's facts re-shift in favor of Democrats, he will again be hailed by the DSCC as America's one statistician who has never erred."...

Daily Meme: Fred Phelps, God's Gift to Gay Rights

You've no doubt heard that Fred Phelps, the terror of Topeka, Kansas, and patriarch of the "God Hates Fags" Westboro Baptist church, died late Wednesday night at 84. While Phelps came to infamy picketing the funeral of Matthew Shepard and countless other gay men, that was only the beginning of his family church's two-decade hate tour across the country, as Jay Michaelson reminds us: " they expanded their targets to include women, Jews, Barack Obama, and eventually, anyone associated with the United States itself —including dead soldiers, whose distraught relatives were mystified to find fire-breathing fundamentalists shouting at funerals." For the LGBT rights movement, there's no question that Phelps was, in Richard Kim's words, "a useful bigot." Phelps exposed the lie behind the old Christian copout, "Love the sinner, hate the sin." He said it himself: “It’s pure nonsense to say that God loves the sinner but hates the sin. He hates the sin, and he hates the sinner. He sends them to...

Daily Meme: Sanctions; So Hot Right Now

Everyone who's anyone is either sanctioning someone today, or getting sanctioned themselves. First, the Obama administration announced new sanctions on Russia, including 20 Russian officials and a Russian bank. Muttering "You spit in my borscht, I spit in yours" under his breath, Vladimir Putin imposed his own sanctions on American officials, including a few diplomats and an oddly-chosen group of lawmakers. He kindly included John McCain on the list, probably understanding that it would break McCain's heart if he was left out. In an interview from prison , Bernie Madoff says, "I don't feel that I betrayed the Jews." Excuse me? The man not only stole money from a bunch of Jewish organizations, he not only stole from Elie Wiesel, he stole from Sandy Koufax . A god among men, the very definition of class, quite likely the greatest Jew who ever lived! Sandy Koufax, for pete's sake! If there is a higher betrayal of American Jews, I can't imagine what it would be. Prison is too lenient a...

Daily Meme: The Crimean War 2.0

Diplomatic hell broke out this weekend when the citizens of Crimea, the southwestern region of Ukraine at the center of a standoff between Russia and the West, voted to secede and join Russia . Today, Russian President Vladimir Putin formally reclaimed Crimea and gave a speech which The New York Times characterized as "emotional" : “'Crimea has always been an integral part of Russia in the hearts and minds of people,' Mr. Putin declared in his address, delivered in the chandeliered St. George’s Hall inside the Kremlin before hundreds of members of Parliament, governors and others. His remarks, which lasted 47 minutes, were interrupted repeatedly by thunderous applause, standing ovations and at the end chants of 'Russia, Russia.' Some in the audience wiped tears from their eyes." Needless to say, U.S. politicians are not amused by Putin's antics. Speaking from Poland on his solidarity tour of NATO allies, Vice President Joe Biden called the move "nothing more than a land grab" by the...

Daily Meme: Happy Straight Pride Day!

It's not just the scores of 30-somethings who revert to their frat-boy days and fill the streets with their drunken antics on March 17 that have led some in the gay community to call St. Patrick's Day the straight holiday. For a long time running, parades across the country celebrating Ireland's patron saint—including the New York City and Boston's—have refused to allow LGBT groups to join in the festivities. In Boston, things looks like they might have been different this year. After weeks of tense negotiations, it appeared MassEquality, a gay-rights group, would be able to send a delegation of 20 gay veterans to the Boston parade ... ... until the South Boston Allied War Veterans' Council, the sponsor of the event, specified that the participants could not let on in any way that they were gay. "It is our intention to keep this parade a family friendly event," the organizers said . "We will not allow any group to damage the integrity of the historic event—or our reputation as a safe...

Daily Meme: The Conspiracy Theorist Inside All of Us

In 2014 we are used to stories that have neatly-defined, if contradicting narratives, and which resolve themselves relatively quickly, fading into the ether. Which is what makes the story of the Malaysia Airlines flight that has been missing for a week such an engrossing one. The narratives are muddled, the experts all seem to be at a loss, and no one's quite sure what the exact facts of the case are. Recent developments have thrown things even more into doubt, and into a place of speculation about possible dark motivations behind the plane's disappearance. According to a report from the Wall Street Journal citing unnamed sources "briefed on the matter," Flight 370 flew for five hours at a normal crusing altitude and was in touch with satellites after it lost contact with civilian radar. "The satellites also received speed and altitude information about the plane from its intermittent 'pings,' the people said. The final ping was sent from over water, at what one of these people called...

Daily Meme: Outrage City

Washington runs on many things—power, bureaucracy, and the frenzied exchange of business cards, to name a few—but if there's one resource we have more of than any other city in America, it's outrage. True, most of Washington's outrage is utterly insincere, offered up in an attempt to get people angry at one's political opponents over what are usually mundane sins (or no sin at all). But it's still the coal we shovel into the great steam engine of our politics, keeping everything chugging along at a comfortable clip. So who's feeling outraged today? Senator Dianne Feinstein is outraged that the CIA, she says, was spying on staffers from the Senate Intelligence Committee (which she chairs) who were investigating the agency's torture program. For his part, CIA Director John Brennan is outraged that anyone would accuse the CIA of sneaky, duplicitous behavior, because they would never do that sort of thing. Never. Conservatives are outraged over President Obama's appearance on the web...

Daily Meme: The Flood Will Not Be Televised

You might think, given the country's general secular drift, that Bible epics would not be Hollywood's latest cash cow. And you would, of course, be wrong. This year, no less than four movies (loosely) based on Biblical stories will appear in theaters near you. The deluge began last month with Son of God , a feature-length version of the "The Bible" miniseries (without the Satan character that just happened to look like our president ). An Old Testament story is up next. The trailer for Noah , which first aired during the Super Bowl, looks like your average apocalypse flick, except everyone is wearing scruffy linen tunics. There's thunder, flying mud, the occasional fireball, lots of monsters, and— in lieu of Jesus's flowing locks —some truly spectacular facial hair . This week, The New Yorker profiled Noah 's director, Darren Aronofsky (of Black Swan fame), who proudly declared that his upcoming film is the "least Biblical Biblical movie ever made." In Aronofsky's vision, Noah is an...

Daily Meme: Three Weeks and Counting

President Obama's plot to turn the United States into a paradise for the proletariate is going precisely as planned. According to a survey conducted by the Gallup organization last month, the percentage of Americans without insurance has dropped to 15.9 percent—the lowest rate since 2008. Left-leaning analysts like The Washington Post 's Greg Sargent are cautioning liberals not to get too excited . According to Gallup's numbers, the rate reached an all-time high of 18 percent in the third quarter of 2013 At Bloomberg , Jonathan Bernstein concludes that "[t]he new data should, at the very least, make us slightly more confident that Obamacare isn't radically increasing the net number of uninsured. I wouldn't go much farther than that." That's certainly a lot of qualifiers. The rate of uninsured African Americans showed the largest drop of any minority group, from 20.9 percent in the first quarter of 2013 to 18.3 today. But results were less promising among Hispanics—the group most...

Daily Meme: Love, Tolerance, and CPAC

For the millions of American reality-show junkies who just can't wait for the return of 2012's most outrageous hit show—the Republican presidential debates—this week's Conservative Political Action Conference has offered a tantalizing sneak preview. Just about every potential 2016 cast member was in D.C.—and everybody had something to prove. For Chris Christie, excluded last year but invited back now that he's being "attacked" by the media—instant conservative cred!—had to show he could get the 'wingers on their feet. Which, Christie being Christie, was a snap, especially with guaranteed-to-please counterfactuals like this one about Democrats: “They’re the party of intolerance. Not us.” (And hey, if you doubt for a second that Republicans are indeed the lonely beacons of open-mindedness in this land, check out the instantly famous photo of the near-empty conference room where they held their minority outreach panel on Thursday .) Bobby Jindal, who's trying to prove that being detested...

Daily Meme: "Free Mumia" Backfires Once Again

For some time, a few liberals (like yours truly), and many more conservatives, have used the "Free Mumia" cause as a shorthand for a kind of ineffectual yet harmless activism that always exists in some corners of the left. Whatever the merits of Mumia Abu-Jamal's case, if you brought a "Free Mumia" sign to an anti-war rally in 2003 (as some people actually did), you weren't doing anybody any good. But over three decades after his conviction for killing police officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981 as the officer conducted a traffic stop of his brother, Mumia Abu-Jamal's case continues to exert power, most particularly the power to strike fear and rage in the hearts of certain people. So yesterday, the United States Senate voted down the nomination of Debo Adegbile to lead the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, the reason cited by all being that when Adegbile was head of the NAACP's Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Fund filed an amicus brief in support of Abu-Jamal's appeal of...

Daily Meme: Vladimir Putin is Delusional Like a Fox

In the wee hours of yesterday morning, while you were still blissfully asleep, Russia's president and tiger-fighter-in-chief , Vladimir Putin, gave a strange, rambling press conference. In it, he insisted to reporters that there were no Russian troops on the ground in Crimea , and likened U.S. foreign policy to a dark science experiment. "They sit there across the pond as if in a lab running all kinds of experiments on the rats," he said. “Why would they do it? No one can explain it.” The strange remarks prompted immediate speculation about the state of Putin's mental health. A few days ago, the New York Times reported that Angela Merkel had tried—and failed—to talk sense into Putin, concluding that the world leader is "in another world. " Julia Ioffe says that Merkel is right—Putin has lost his marbles . But is dealing with Putin really, as Mark Halperin claims, like "playing Russian roulette" ? Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates is "amused" by the headlines. Putin, he says, isn't...

Daily Meme: Why Is Ted Cruz This Week's Shiny Object?

Hey, remember when Marco Rubio was destined to be the 2016 Republican nominee? That first week of August seems so long ago now. And so do the times we were talking about this in February . Or April . The circadian rhythms of the senator from Florida's 2016 buzz are laughably predictable at this point... ... as are the moments when his sparkle fades and another conservative star take the mic. Like Chris Christie ! Or Scott Brown (no, we don't get it either)! Or Ted Cruz ! God, there's like 12 of them. But the arc of Cruz's rapid rise and fall in the news cycle this week offered the best reason yet for choosing to tune out all this election clickbait for at least another year. Cruz started off the week dealing with a revelation (if we've learned anything about electoral ambulance chasers, it's that they love good longform ... birth certificates), which quickly veered away from actual political concerns and descended into a deep bog of grade-A maple syrup jokes. Thinkpieces were written...

A Big F@$%ing Campaign?

We haven't heard a lot from Joe Biden lately. Though he's undoubtedly influential within the White House, the public would be forgiven for not knowing just what kind of vice-president he's been. Given that his predecessor practically created his own sinister shadow government, that may be a blessing. But with whatever time he has on his hands, Biden has apparently been thinking a lot about whether he wants to take one more crack at the big office in 2016. At least that's what a bunch of anonymous "allies," "loyalists," and "people familiar with his thinking" told The Wall Street Journal . It would be Biden's third run for the Oval Office, and even though the first two (in 1988 and 2008) didn't go particularly well, he's the vice president now. And no race with Biden in it could fail to be entertaining. His gaffes—and there would surely be many more—are like no one else's, offered up with his unique brand of good-natured cluelessness. Who can forget the time he said to a state senator...

Mullets and Mayors Save the Day in Kentucky

The Kentucky town of Vicco, population 334, was little known before this February, when it did something you might not have expected from a tiny town in the heart of Appalachia. While there were a few news reports about the event in question, it wasn't until Wednesday evening, when The Colbert Report aired a segment on Vicco and its mayor, Johnny Cummings, that the whole country heard about it. The video, which has now been linked, embedded, and tweeted in a thousand places on the Internet, is both hilarious and heartwarming, because not only is Cummings gay, but he recently convinced the town commission to pass a non-discrimination ordinance. The resolution was passed in February; as The Los Angeles Times wrote at the time, "It's about time, said Claude Branson Jr., 58, a mullet-haired commissioner and retired coal miner. 'Discrimination just don't go no more,' he said. 'Times are changing. You've got to change with them.'" Vicco is the smallest city in the country to have passed...

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