Paul Waldman

Technology's Invisible Future

Thankfully, you no longer have to check your vacuum tubes before sending an email.
Friday is tech time for me, so here's the question of the day: What will happen when computers are so ubiquitous—and have become so seamlessly integrated into the objects that surround us—that we don't even think of them as computers anymore? It can often be hard for us to imagine what life with very different technologies might be like, particularly for those of us who are extremely dependent on current technologies. I spend most of my day staring at my computer; if you asked me how I'll do my job when computers act in fundamentally different ways from the way they do now, I'd have no idea. The possibility of computers becoming essentially invisible is raised in this BBC article : The consequences of all this will be profound. Consider what it means to have a primarily spoken rather than screen-based relationship with a computer. When you’re speaking and listening rather than reading off a screen, you’re not researching and comparing results, or selecting from a list – you’re being...

From Their Cold Dead Hands

Flickr/Jon Payne
This Saturday is the one-year anniversary of the Newtown shooting, and it's remarkable where we've come in that time. In the weeks that followed, everyone said that now we could finally pass some sensible measures to stem the river of blood and death and misery that is the price we pay for America's love of firearms. President Obama proposed some extraordinarily modest measures: enhanced background checks, limits on the kind of large-capacity magazines mass murderers find so useful, perhaps even a new ban on new sales to civilians of certain military-style weapons. Not a single thing that would keep a single law-abiding citizen from owning as many guns as he wants. So here we are, a year later, and what has happened? First of all, at least 30,000 more Americans have had their lives cut short by guns; tens of thousands more were shot but survived. Around 200 children have been shot to death in that time—another 10 Newtowns. There was no federal legislation on guns. It died, because...

The Minimum Wage: A Crash Course

After a long period in which few people outside liberal circles talked about increasing the federal minimum wage from its current level of $7.25 an hour, the issue is now in the headlines almost every day. Fast food workers will be striking in 130 cities around the country to demand a higher minimum wage on Thursday. The Washington, DC city council just voted unanimously to increase the city's minimum wage in stages to $11.50. Just over the DC border, the Maryland suburban counties of Montgomery and Prince George's voted to raise their minimums to $11.50 as well. Voters in SeaTac, WA passed an initiative raising their minimum to $15. The California legislature voted in September to raise the state's minimum to $10. Voters in New Jersey and legislators in New York , Connecticut , and Rhode Island have all passed increases this year. More states are sure to follow in 2014. This is an issue with both economic and political implications; Democrats are hoping to use minimum wage referenda...

Conservative Anger Over Budget Deal Now Purely to Save Face

Paul Ryan, still a conservative in good standing. (Flickr/House GOP)
Have we finally reached a point where the perpetual anger of Washington conservatives is no longer a threat to the republic? The budget deal announced yesterday suggests that it may well be, at least for the moment. It isn't that conservatives aren't raising a stink about it—they're displeased that it doesn't repeal the Affordable Care Act, slash Social Security and Medicare, and do more to punish food-stamp recipients, among other things—because they certainly are. Indeed, they were decrying it even before it was announced, which tells you how concerned they are about the details. But they seem to be just going through the motions. Send the press releases, say you'll vote against it, tell Fox News why it doesn't get to the real problems ... and then we'll all move on. The budget will pass, mostly because it averts the possibility of a government shutdown (at least over the budget, though not over the debt ceiling) for two more years. And even the most conservative Republican knows...

Michelle Obama Chases after Barack with a Rolling Pin

"You know how to whistle, don't you, Mr. President?" (Wikimedia Commons/Truman Library)
It's no surprise that Nelson Mandela's memorial service would produce a rain of stupidity and feigned outrage from conservatives over Barack Obama's behavior, since they see it as part of their purpose to police his every word, gesture, and blink for signs of transgression. The only appropriate reaction to this stuff ( OMG, he shook Raul Castro's hand! ) is probably mockery, but there is one thing that's worth a bit of consideration. Whenever a bunch of world leaders get together and have time to stand (or sit) around and shmooze, there are going to be interesting photos that result. That's true even if nothing weird happens, like George W. Bush looking over at the most powerful woman in the world and saying to himself, "Hey look, a dame. I think I'll stroll over there and give her an unsolicited back rub ." Any time we see powerful people just acting like people, there's something interesting about it. So when Obama, British prime minister David Cameron, and Danish prime minister...

Americans Suddenly Discovering How Insurance Works

Flickr/Eric Allix Rogers
It's been said to the point of becoming cliche that once Democrats passed significant health-care reform, they'd "own" everything about the American health-care system for good or ill. For some time to come, people will blame Barack Obama for health-care problems he had absolutely nothing to do with. But there's a corollary to that truism we're seeing play out now, which is that what used to be just "a sucky thing that happened to me" or "something about the way insurance works that I don't particularly like"—things that have existed forever—are now changing into issues , matters that become worthy of media attention and are attributed to policy choices, accurately or not. Before now, millions of Americans had health insurance horror stories. But they didn't have an organizing narrative around them, particularly one the news media would use as a reason to tell them. The latest has to do with the provider networks that insurance companies put together. This is something insurance...

The Year in Preview: There Will Be Gaffes

AP Photo/Richard Drew, file
Lots of things happened in 2013. President Obama was sworn in for a second term. We got a new pope and a new royal baby. Two bombs went off at the Boston Marathon and scared a nation. The Supreme Court stripped power from the Defense of Marriage Act and the Voting Rights Act. But these are all stories we've heard before, and if you haven't, you certainly will in the millions of "Year in Review" pieces set to be posted between now and New Year's. Over the next two weeks, our writers will instead preview the year ahead on their beats, letting you know far in advance what the next big story about the Supreme Court—or the environmental movement, immigration reform, reproductive rights, you get the picture—will be. You're welcome in advance for not making you read a dozen more retrospectives on Ted Cruz and Twerking and fiscal cliffs and shutdowns and selfies. First up, the news. AP Photo/Byron Rollins A s we all know, this is the age of information, when the entire media world changes...

The White House Press Corps Is as Mad as Hell: A Reprise

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
AP Photo Circumventing the Press 101 When Stephen Colbert gave the keynote address at the 2006 White House Correspondents Dinner, he suggested to President Bush that he ought to hire him. "I think I would have made a fabulous press secretary," Colbert said, looking out at the assembled reporters. "I have nothing but contempt for these people." These days, a lot of people think the Obama administration is even more hostile to reporters and what they do than that of his predecessor. When it comes to the relationship between the White House and the men and women assigned to cover it, there are a few things that have been true in every recent administration. The new president takes office promising to be open, candid, and accessible. Not far into his tenure, he grows terribly frustrated with the media, believing they are too focused on trivia, too quick to assume the worst and focus on his missteps, and uninterested in his accomplishments. His staff works hard to find ways to get its...

Conservatives Struggle with Mandela Tributes

Nelson Mandela in 1937 (Wikimedia Commons)
If you've been perusing conservative websites, Facebook pages, and the like since Nelson Mandela's death was announced, you would have seen two things: some kind of tribute to Mandela, and a series of comments following that tribute denouncing Mandela as a communist, a terrorist, or worse, and expressing all kinds of vile racist sentiment. It's happening not just at magazines and blogs, but to politicians as well, who are getting denounced by some small minority of their supporters for praising Mandela. That's not their fault; no one is completely responsible for their fans, after all. And as I've read through a few of these threads I've also seen some people pushing back against the racist comments. Even if, say, the National Review was for many years a fierce defender of white supremacy in both South Africa and the United States, if nothing else they're doing their best to claim that they were on the side of the angels all along, which is better than nothing. But I'm wondering about...

Presidential Primaries and Ideological Satisficing

I'm pretty sure she's a Democrat. (Flickr/Philip Marley)
Today I have a piece in Politico Magazine under the grabby but somewhat misleading headline "Left Turn = Dead End?" (So you know, for better or worse, writers don't usually write their own headlines.) My main point is that while economic populism is always good politics for Democrats, it isn't enough to just stake out the leftmost position (on economics or anything else) and hope that can win you the Democratic presidential nomination, just as it isn't enough to be the most conservative candidate in a Republican primary. There will indeed be an ideological debate within the Democratic party in advance of the next presidential election, which is a good thing. As they approach the end of the Obama years, Democrats are going to have to hash out who they are, what they believe, and where they want to go. But the reason being the most liberal candidate is insufficient is that primary voters aren't ideological maximizers, they're ideological satisficers. Satisficing is a term originated in...

Over-Interpreting Mundane Poll Results

So disillusioned he's just going to lie here until dinner. (Flickr/Corey Thrace)
Have the young turned on Barack Obama? That's the assertion coming out of a poll from Harvard's Institute of Politics, reported in the National Journal with the breathless headline, "Millenials Abandon Obama and Obamacare." "The results blow a gaping hole in the belief among many Democrats that Obama's two elections signaled a durable grip on the youth vote," writes Ron Fournier. In the poll, approval of the President among those 18-29 has fallen to 41 percent. Sounds terrible. But wait—what's his approval among all voters these days? About 41 percent . So is it possible we don't need a special, youth-oriented explanation of the latest movement in the polls? When there's a change in public opinion, it's tempting to pick out different demographic groups and impose on each of them some unique interpretation of what's happening. Here's what the poll's director told Garance Franke-Ruta: "People are disappointed because they are passionate," Della Volpe said. "They're passionate about...

On Inequality, Obama's Words Aren't Enough

President Obama speaking Wednesday on inequality.
There are times, like the speech Barack Obama gave yesterday on economic inequality, when he reminds liberals of what we found so appealing about him. The address can stand among the most progressive statements of his presidency. Not for the first time, Obama declared inequality "the defining challenge of our time," and articulated an eloquent case, based in American history and values, for the damage it does and why we need to confront it. So why was I left feeling less than enthusiastic? Because over the last five years, Obama has succeeded in doing so little to address the problem. "Making sure our economy works for every American," he said, is "why I ran for president. It was the center of last year's campaign. It drives everything I do in this office." If that's true, then his presidency hasn't been particularly successful. Now granted, it's not as though he hasn't been awfully busy. And he still has some notable achievements in this area, none greater than the Affordable Care...

With God on His Side

Does my opponent own a bible? Will he shake it at you thusly? I think not.
Mark Pryor has a problem. A Democratic senator in a state Barack Obama lost by 24 points, in a region where party identification is an increasingly rigid tribal marker, Pryor needs to get voters to look beyond the D next to his name if he's going to win re-election next year. So how does he do it? By appealing to an even higher tribal identification. Forget politics, he all but says in his new ad—all you need to know about me is that I'm right with the Lord. Take a look: The ad's first line is, "I'm not ashamed to say that I believe in God and I believe in his Word." In America in general, and in Arkansas in particular, saying "I'm not ashamed to say that I believe in God" is sort of like saying, "I'm not ashamed to say that I love my children." Such courage! But of course, these days the fantasy of persecution is de rigeur among evangelicals, what with the War on Christmas raging, so it makes good political sense for Pryor to tell voters that like them, he feels the sting of...

We Wrote a Heartbreaking and Terrifying Post about Viral Content without Lists or GIFs. Then You Clicked on It, and Magic Happened.

They had the formula down, and that was 40 years ago.
As long as people have been publishing, they've been trying to figure out what will make large numbers of people burn with a desire to read the things they're publishing. Like much of the study of human psychology, what we don't yet understand far outweighs what we do understand. But now, with the rise of social media, the search for the perfect formula to make people say both "I have to read that" and then "I have to encourage as many people as I can to also read that" has become an outright frenzy. Don't worry, this isn't some pretentious "Thus did America descend into the quicksand of triviality, never to return" pronouncement. I'll confess that I watch the number of tweets and Facebook likes all of my posts and articles get, and if a post takes off, I'm pleased. After all, writers want their work to be read by as many people as possible. We do a lot of serious journalism and analysis here at the Prospect, and we understand that much of it will never go viral, but we're no more...

CNN Losing Interest in News

Flickr/Gregor Smith
CNN has been having problems for some time, with anemic ratings and something of an identity crisis. In a world where people can get news of the moment from a million places, just what is the network that pioneered cable news for ? Not that the network doesn't still make plenty of money (it does), but unlike Fox and MSNBC, CNN hasn't seemed to have been able to figure out what its model is. In an interview with Capital New York, CNN chief Jeff Zucker, who has been on the job less than a year, said what the network needs is "more shows and less newscasts," in order to grab "viewers who are watching places like Discovery and History and Nat Geo and A&E." It all adds up to "an attitude and a take." As easy as this is to mock, I think they should go for it. Because really, would our democracy suffer if, say, we only got one hour a day of Wolf Blitzer's vaguely befuddled "take" on the news instead of the current two hours? Let's take a look at the current CNN schedule . After the...

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