Ringside

Duck Dynasty Goes to Washington?

Republicans got some bad news today when hot political commodity, Willie Robertson, said he was too busy to run for the House seat that will be vacated when Louisiana Representative Rodney Alexander leaves to join Governor Bobby Jindal's cabinet. What's that? You have no idea who Willie Robertson is? Then you must be a liberal Northeastern elitist, because Willie Robertson is one of the stars of Duck Dynasty , the reality TV show/bestselling book generator/all-around cultural juggernaut that has stolen America's heart. Robertson, with his good humor, air of relative competence, and American flag bandana always firmly wrapped around his head, sounded like just the man to help Republicans … well, help them do whatever it is they do in Washington these days. But alas, he had the sense to spurn their entreaties , so the search goes on. There's still hope though. You probably heard about the Missouri state fair rodeo that recently featured a clown in a Barack Obama mask, with the announcer...

Will the Sequester Cause the End Times?

When Congress heads out on summer vacation and the typically-frenetic news cycle is barely chugging along, it's hard to keep tabs on some of the biggest political issues, like immigration, health care, and the environment. With so few new developments, can you blame us? It's especially difficult with the sequester, which was flying under the radar even before our representatives went on break. The $1 trillion automatic spending cuts, which began on March 1, have slowly chipped away at government programs in ways that may seem invisible to many people. But peel back the conventional wisdom curtain shrouding the Beltway, and the sequester doesn't quite deserve the "Mission Accomplished" banner The Wall Street Journal gave it yesterday. Sure, many governmental agencies have been able to reduce the number of furlough days for their employees, but local news outlets continue to carry distressing stories about the costs of slashed budgets on a weekly basis. Fifty-six children are being...

Behold, the Future?

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. Not that he doesn't deserve a good deal of the praise—his Tesla Motors has, against heavy odds and most predictions, turned out to be a successful car company producing high-end electric cars that have won rave reviews from critics, and his SpaceX venture manages to send rockets into space and return them to Earth, no small feat. Musk hinted a couple of months ago that he had an idea for a transportation system, called Hyperloop, that would hurl passengers between Los Angeles and San Francisco in half an...

A Glimmer of Sanity for U.S. Crime Fighters

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. The New York Civil Liberties Union recently compiled a detailed report on the NYPD's stop-and-frisk efforts, and the data is troubling, if not particularly surprising. On the streets of New York City in 2012, police officers stopped and questioned individuals 532,911 times. That means that nearly 1,500 times a day, someone on a New York City street is answering to police officers not because they're a suspect in a particular crime, but usually because of what the police call "furtive movements." This 2012...

A Touchdown for [Redacted]!

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. As former Prospect editor Michael Tomasky explained not long ago, the man who gave the Redskins their name, former owner, George Preston Marshall, "was one of the most despicable racists in the American sporting arena of the entire 20th century," an ardent...

Crazy Is as Crazy Does

Four years ago, Democratic representatives went home for the August recess and found themselves under assault from angry Tea Partiers, who took over town meetings with shouting and fist-shaking over the Affordable Care Act in particular, and more generally, the theft of their country by the foreign Muslim usurper Barack Obama. This August, however, it's Republicans who are under attack by some of those same people. At one town meeting after another, hard-right Republican House members are being confronted by constituents accusing them of not being quite doctrinaire and reckless enough (see here , or here , or here ). Once again the immediate topic is Obamacare, but now the question isn't whether the law should pass, but whether Republicans should shut down the government in a futile attempt to defund it. The members catching the most heat are those who argue that shutting down the government is useless, because Barack Obama is never going to sign a budget that defunds his greatest...

Health Insurance, Kickstarter Style

If you're a regular reader of conservative blogs, you may have gotten an appeal in the last few days to make a donation to help Caleb Howe, a contributor to the popular blog RedState.com. Howe, who is married with two children, is suffering from liver failure but has no health insurance to pay for his treatment. His page on GoFundMe has logged over $27,000 in donations (the original goal was $25,000), many of which came from those alerted to his situation in a post on DailyKos.com. There are precious few Americans who, like the audience members at a Republican debate last year, would shout "Yes!" to the question of whether we should just let people die if they don't have insurance and can't pay for life-saving care. Unfortunately, most of the millions of Americans who lack insurance don't have friends with well-read blogs who can mount fundraising campaigns on their behalf when they get sick. When they are confronted with an accident or serious illness, they either get care that they'...

Top Gun 2: Maverick Reloaded

When a reporter sits down with Mitt Romney four years from now to see how the former presidential candidate remembers the biggest loss of his political career, which Mitt will he be? It's something that comes to mind after reading The New Republic 's interview with Senator John McCain, a wide-ranging conversation that proves the much-loved maverick of campaigns past wasn't a figment of our imagination, but merely on sabbatical. In fact, post-2008 McCain coverage exists in a constant state of wonder at the senator's undulating maverickosity , a defining quality bestowed upon the politician by his "ex-girlfriend, the Washington press corps ." McCain and Romney have been among the most exasperatingly chameleon campaigners of recent memory. The prehistory of their flirtation with the presidency is dominated by practical governance that left them well-liked by their respective constituencies. Once they catapulted to bigger stages, they each had their charms: McCain his growly charisma,...

The Slow Burn Nature of Climate Politics

During the dog days of summer, most peoples' lazier impulses take over, even more so in Washington, a muggy city built ill-advisedly on top of a swamp. President Obama, however, seems immune to the soporific effects of the heat and is filling up the days with speech after speech of ambitious agenda-making. Last week saw the kick-off of a new five-point economic plan. A few weeks before that, in a speech mostly forgotten by the amnesiatic chattering class (but not so far away as his national security speech, which seems so long ago to be nearly nonexistent), Obama laid out his administration's plan for the environment, a distillation of his views on climate change heard before only in soundbites. Much of that speech was devoted to initiatives that, like the Affordable Care Act, will burn on a slow fuse. EPA standards and weaning the country off coal are important, but we won't see how they affect the environment until decades from now. Because of the tortoise-like pace of climate...

The GOP's Unhealthy Approach to Obamacare

Ever since President Obama and other Democrats began working on the Affordable Care Act back in 2009, there was a simple hearts-and-minds fight between them and their opponents over the law. Democrats said, "This is going to be great!" while Republicans said, "This is going to be terrible!" As a citizen, you could believe either one of them, or neither, or a little of both. This coming October, however, enrollment will begin in the new insurance exchanges established by the law, with coverage taking effect on January 1st. At that point, in addition to trying to influence the public's opinions, the administration will be trying to affect their behavior. In particular, the administration will be trying to encourage young people—many of whom don't get insurance through their jobs, and who often believe that they'll never get sick or in an accident—to sign up for coverage. You won't have to work as hard to convince a 60-year-old with diabetes to get covered; Obamacare is just what he's...

Royal Baby Talk

When Prince William married Kate Middleton two years ago, news organizations told us that just about every human being on Earth was breathless with anticipation for the glorious event. Two billion people watched, said Bloomberg News . No, said the New York Times , it was three billion! Unless you were a Mongolian horseman out patrolling the steppes or a prisoner who had his TV privileges taken away, you watched, because everybody did. Trouble was, these claims were based on nothing. They were all "estimates," gathered by the journalistic technique known as "Well, that's what people are saying." No one could get a hard number, because many countries don't have systems for gathering ratings data, but given that only 23 million watched in the U.S.–a good showing for an episode of "C.S.I.," but less than a quarter of what the Super Bowl gets –the real number was almost certainly far less than the "estimates." We thought of that as we watched the hyperventilating news coverage of Kate...

Obama's Moment of Introspection

Today, Barack Obama did something he has only done a few times in the years he has been on the national stage: He talked about race. In an extemporaneous statement to White House reporters, Obama discussed the reaction to the trial of George Zimmerman for the killing of Trayvon Martin. He spent the first third of his remarks talking about where African Americans were coming from, in an implicit plea for empathy from white Americans. He didn't accuse anyone of ill will, but he did in effect say, "Here's how black people are feeling and why," in an attempt to explain the sources of people's disappointment and pain. After that, he talked about what government might do to make these kinds of tragedies less likely—training for police officers, and perhaps a rethinking of "stand your ground" laws if they make conflicts more likely. He ended on a hopeful note, saying, "as difficult and challenging as this whole episode has been for a lot of people, I don't want us to lose sight that things...

Vive La Filibuster

In the wake of innumerable warnings of disaster and accusations of bad faith, Democrats and Republicans did something unusual today: they came to agreement on how to do business, at least for a while. The topic was the filibuster, which used to be something the minority party used in extraordinary circumstances, but in the hands of Republicans has become a hurdle every single substantial piece of legislation and nominee has to jump. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid basically got fed up and told Republicans that if they didn't allow votes on three of President Obama's languishing nominees—Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Thomas Perez to be Secretary of Labor, and Gina McCarthy to head the Environmental Protection Agency—then he would move to change Senate rules and end the filibuster for executive branch nominations entirely. And in the end, the Republicans blinked, agreeing to a deal in which the filibuster rules would stay, the three nominees would...

The White Man's Burden

When Mark O'Mara, one of George Zimmerman's attorneys, was asked at a news conference after his client's trial about the role race played in the case, he should have said that his client was found not guilty, and he'd leave the speculation to others. Instead, he said that if Zimmerman had been black, "he never would have been charged with a crime." Because as we all know, the criminal justice system in America is tilted in favor of black people. Sure, whites who shoot blacks are far more likely to get off than whites who kill whites, blacks who kill blacks, or blacks who kill whites (a difference that is especially wide in states with "stand your ground" laws). And sure, white people don't need to worry about being stopped and frisked for no particular reason. And sure, there's no phenomenon called "driving while white." But with that radical black nationalist in the White House, white men are on the run. As one author wrote on the Fox News website on Friday, "it is males who suffer...

A Trial Ends, And Nothing Changes

The trial of George Zimmerman comes to a close today, and despite the endless hours of cable coverage, those waiting for profound insights into the state of race in America will be disappointed. Zimmerman's guilt or innocence turns on narrow questions, like who got on top of whom during a fight no one saw, not on the jury's opinions about our ongoing struggles with racism. That hasn't stopped some people from predicting that should Zimmerman be acquitted, those unruly black people will begin rampaging through the streets. Bill O'Reilly wondered whether, in the wake of an acquittal, you-know-who would "run out and cause trouble." Piers Morgan speculated that after an acquittal, "There may possibly be riots." The Washington Times ran an online poll asking, "Will there be riots in Florida if George Zimmerman receives a not-guilty verdict by a jury of his peers?" Oddly, no one wondered whether white people would start rioting if Zimmerman were convicted, despite the fact that the chances...

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