Paul Waldman

Where the Heart Is

This is Kansas. (Flickr/Roy Montgomery)
Today, the New York Times published a shocking revelation about Republican Kansas Senator Pat Roberts, a man about whom I'm sure you've given barely a moment's thought in the three-plus decades he's been in Washington doing the people's business. Roberts, it seems, doesn't even own a home in the state he is so privileged to serve! Apparently, he's registered to vote at the home of a couple the paper describes as "longtime supporters and donors," where he says he stays when he's in the state, though I would hope that by now they'd be actual friends. I don't know whether it's legal to register to vote at an address where you just crash now and again, but of all the things you might not like about Pat Roberts, this is pretty far down the list. It does, however, show the absurd contradiction we demand from our politicians. On one hand, we want our members of Congress to work hard, get that nose to the grindstone, represent us there in Washington! On the other hand, we also want them not...

The Police Can't Wait to Get Their Hands On Augmented Reality

Now that New York City is under the rule of a socialist dictator, the "stop and frisk" method of policing, in which hundreds of thousands of citizens who brazenly walked the streets while in a state of non-whiteness were subjected to questioning, delay, and some unfriendly touching, has come to an end. But what if the cops didn't even need to stop you to give you a virtual pat down? Imagine this: You walk by a police officer and notice that he's wearing a pair of odd-looking glasses, which he points in your direction. Almost instantly, a facial recognition program visible in those glasses identifies you, pulls up your file, and informs him that though you have a parking ticket you haven't yet paid, there are no arrest warrants outstanding for you. A combination of infrared and hopefully non-cancer-causing scanning sensors tells him that you've got keys and change in your pockets, but nothing that looks like a gun or a knife, so he lets you pass. That may have all happened without you...

If You're Tired of a Politician, It Just Means You Don't Like Them

OK, so she has been around for a while. But still.
In presidential politics, it never hurts to be the New Hotness. Who wants the old and tired, when you can get with the fresh, the happening, the now? But as in love, the intoxicating rush of discovery lasts only so long, and then you really have to bring the goods. Which is why exciting new candidates like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama became president, and exciting new candidates like Gary Hart and Howard Dean didn't. Which brings us to the bigfoot of the 2016 race, one Hillary Rodham Clinton, with whom you might have a passing familiarity. Seth Masket (responding to Kevin Drum ) makes a pretty strong case that the idea that we get tired of public figures is basically a myth. "Is there any evidence that voters 'get tired' of politicians? I don't want to get into the whole literature on what governs presidential elections, but the simple answer is no." He goes over a bunch of examples, noting that where an oldster like Bob Dole lost, it was always because of things that had nothing to...

Your Next Member of Congress Is Extremely Unlikely to Transform Washington

Everything will be different now.
As we begin an election year, a lot of people are having to make their final decisions about whether to run for Congress. Sandra Fluke decided to pass on a House race and run for the California state senate instead. Singer Clay Aiken is running in North Carolina, and though the district makes it a tough slog, the guy is about ten times more skilled in front of a camera than your average candidate, as evidenced by his first ad . Then there's Allan Levene, whose desire to serve his nation is so fervent that he's running in four different districts in four states, which is apparently perfectly legal. But the candidate I want to talk about is Ro Khanna, who, according to the New York Times , is running to be Silicon Valley's man in Washington. The Valley is split between two districts, represented by Anna Eshoo and Mike Honda, two liberal Democrats who have advocated plenty for the tech industry. But Honda's advocacy must not have been enthusiastic enough, because a parade of tech titans...

Republicans Are Really, Really Bad at Hostage Negotiations

For some time, I've been arguing that we should not just extend the debt ceiling but get rid of it altogether. It's a weird historical anomaly that serves no practical purpose other than allowing the opposition party, should it be sufficiently reckless, to threaten global economic catastrophe if it doesn't get its way. I assumed that your average Washington Democrat would share this view, but now I'm beginning to think that if you're someone like Nancy Pelosi or Barack Obama, the debt ceiling is actually quite helpful, and you'd be sorry to see it go. Because here's what keeps happening: The debt ceiling approaches. Republicans begin making threats to torpedo the country's economy by not raising it, and thereby sending the United States government into default, if their demands aren't met. We then have a couple of weeks of debate, disagreement, and hand-wringing. Republican infighting grows more intense, and their reputation as a bunch of radicals who are willing to burn down the...

Is Chris Christie Being Treated Unfairly?

Flickr/Gage Skidmore
I have no doubt that right about now, Chris Christie believes he's being treated unfairly. He sees himself beset by his political opponents, by the media (both local and national), and even by some Republicans who'd like to see the guy who a few months ago looked like the most formidable 2016 presidential contender get knocked down a few pegs. And for what? Because a couple of knuckleheads who worked for him thought tying up traffic on the George Washington Bridge would be a good way to stick it to some two-bit mayor? That's what brings down a man whose destiny it was to be the leader of the free world? How can a just universe tolerate such a thing? Like many a politician before him, Christie was elevated by an adoring media, and is now being laid low by that same media. But his biggest problem is not that unfair conclusions are being drawn about what he and his administration have done. It's that everybody's looking at everything. A reporter who gets a tip about some funny business...

Affordable Care Act Gives Workers Freedom; Republicans Enraged

No, they didn't take er jerbs.
Since I wrote about postal banking this morning, I've decided to continue the day's shameless, lowest-common-denominator clickbaiting by talking about a new Congressional Budget Office report and the Affordable Care Act. Hang on to your hats. With all the hype of a new Beyonce album, the CBO dropped its latest report on government finances and other related topics, which includes the news that the deficit has dropped to its lowest level since Barack Obama took office. This may prove inconvenient for Republicans still invested in fomenting deficit panic, but they'll be helped by the fact that most Americans actually believe the deficit has gone up in the Obama years. According to a new poll from the Huffington Post , not only do 54 percent of people think so, but 85 percent (!) of Republicans think so. In any case, the part of the CBO's report that's getting more attention is their projection that as a result of the ACA, the labor force will be reduced by 2 million in 2017, rising to 2...

Could Postal Banking Be the Next Big Thing?

This doesn't actually have anything to do with postal banking. It's just awesome. (Flickr/grilled cheese)
It's often said that being poor is really expensive, and one of the most painful ways is what millions of Americans have to pay in order to make sure their bills are accounted for. If you're poor, time and money intertwine in ways that people who aren't poor don't have to worry about. When your income and your expenses are right around the same amount, you have to worry about timing constantly. I'm not getting paid for a week, but this utility bill is due in three days, and I have to set aside enough for food and gas—how should I handle that? If I write my rent check on the same day as I get my paycheck, will the former clear before the latter? For many, the only choice to avoid catastrophes like getting evicted or having your power cut off is going to one of the payday lenders and check-cashing operations you can find in every poor neighborhood. And since those payday lenders know their customers have no other options, they make them pay through the nose. As an analysis by the...

Left Grovels to Right, Achieves Nothing

Before yesterday's Super Bowl, President Obama sat for a ten-minute interview with Fox News's Bill O'Reilly. The interview was about what you'd expect: a grab-bag of conservative grievances, discredited conspiracy theories, and attempts at gotcha questions. Why didn't you call Benghazi terrorism! Why haven't you fired Kathleen Sebelius! Why did the head of the IRS visit the White House! And my personal favorite, when O'Reilly read a letter from a viewer asking, "Mr. President, why do you feel it's necessary to fundamentally transform the nation that has afforded you so much opportunity and success?" Ah yes, the "transform America" outrage, as though that 2008 statement must have been a coded message meaning Obama wanted to destroy America, combined with the old Why aren't you people more grateful? The question is, though, why on earth would a Democratic president bother to grant an interview to an antagonistic conservative talk show host? The New York Times described the interview as...

It's Lonely At the Top

AP Images/J. Scott Applewhite
Last week, congressional Republicans got together at a Chesapeake Bay resort to contemplate their political fortunes. In one presentation, House Minority Leader Eric Cantor delivered a bit of shocking news to his colleagues : Most people are not, in fact, business owners. It would be a good idea, he suggested, if they could find a way to appeal to the overwhelming majority of Americans who work for somebody else. Their aspirations don't necessarily include opening up their own store or coming up with an amazing new product, so the prospect of lowering the corporate tax rate or slashing environmental regulations may not make their pulses quicken with excitement. They're more concerned with the availability of jobs, the security of health care, and the affordability of education. "Could it actually have taken Republicans that long to realize they should address such problems, especially when Democrats have made huge gains appealing directly to middle-class voters?" asked conservative...

Thwarting Big Brother

Nobody can tell who this guy is. Also, it's a dog. (Flickr/Davharuk)
As you know, our society is rapidly moving toward a dystopian future of mass surveillance, where every step you take and purchase you make and everywhere you drive and everyone you call and everything you eat and breathe and think is logged, categorized, and stored. Or at least it sometimes feels that way. But is it possible to take some of this control back? Here's one attempt as Technology Review tells us: A new app notifies people when an Android smartphone app is tracking their location, something not previously possible without modifying the operating system on a device, a practice known as "rooting." The new technology comes amid new revelations that the National Security Agency seeks to gather personal data from smartphone apps (see " How App Developers Leave the Door Open to NSA Surveillance "). But it may also help ordinary people better grasp the extent to which apps collect and share their personal information. Even games and dictionary apps routinely track location, as...

No, We Aren't Getting Closer to Immigration Reform

Flickr/Donna Burton
Yesterday, congressional Republicans released a set of principles on immigration reform which are supposed to guide the writing of an actual plan. This has led some optimistic people to say that perhaps some kind of compromise between the two parties might be worked out, and reform could actually pass. I'm sorry to say that they're going to be disappointed. I might be proved wrong in the end. But I doubt it, because the fundamental incentives and the dynamics of the issue haven't changed. You still have a national party that would like very much to pass reform, and individual members of that party in the House of Representatives who have nothing to gain, and much to lose, by signing on to any reform that would be acceptable to Democrats and thus have a chance of passing the Senate and being signed by the President. So it isn't going to happen. Now it's true that in the wake of the government shutdown and the various debt ceiling crises, House conservatives have slightly less power to...

Remembering What Matters About the Affordable Care Act

Flickr/Laura Smith
On the Affordable Care Act front today, there's very good practical news, and not-so-good political news. That gives us an excellent opportunity to remind ourselves to keep in mind what's really important when we talk about health care. Let's start with the good news. First, as Marketplace reported this morning, a new report from PriceWaterhouseCoopers shows that the average health insurance premium on the exchanges is actually lower than the average premium in employer-sponsored plans. And it isn't because the coverage is inadequate; according to a spokesperson, "even when you factor in all the out-of-pocket costs, the average top tier gold and platinum plans are similar to employer ones." It's hard to overstate what a success this is. If you've ever bought health insurance on the individual market before now, you know that if you could get covered at all, you were likely to get a plan that was expensive but had lots of gaps and lots of cost-sharing. The whole point of the exchanges...

American Know-How Fails

Marie Antoinette goes out the easy way. (Wikimedia Commons)
Yesterday, the state of Missouri executed Herbert Smulls, who had been convicted of a 1991 murder, despite a number of appeals and temporary stays. Smulls's lawyers had noted that the state refused to disclose where they got the pentobarbital they were going to use for the lethal injection, and apparently if the drug is not mixed properly it can create extreme pain. As you may know, in the last couple of years, pharmaceutical companies that make the drugs used to perform lethal injections have decided to suspend their manufacture, leading some states scrambling for ingredients they need to send condemned prisoners to the great beyond. Some have even considered antiquated execution techniques; there are bills in Missouri and Wyoming to bring back firing squads, and one Virginia lawmaker wants to make the electric chair an option again. Which leads me to ask this. It's the 21st century. We can build skyscrapers a kilometer high. We can send ships to Mars. We can put a powerful computer...

Is Barack Obama a Tyrant?

You can't spell "tyrant" without "rant"!
A typical State of the Union address is criticized for being a "laundry list," little more than an endless string of proposals the president would like to see enacted. The criticism usually has two parts: first, most of the items on the laundry list will never come to pass, and second, it makes for a boring speech (the pundits who make the criticism seem to care more about the second part). Last night's SOTU didn't have the usual laundry list (which of course meant that it was criticized for being too vague), but the one specific proposal getting much attention today is President Obama's idea to require that on future federal contracts, all workers be paid at least $10.10 per hour. So naturally, Republicans are crying that this is the latest example of Obama's tyrannical rule, in which he ruthlessly ignores the law whenever he pleases. As Ted Cruz wrote in today's Wall Street Journal , "Of all the troubling aspects of the Obama presidency, none is more dangerous than the president's...

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