When you see an article about the 2016 presidential race, your first reaction is probably, "Oh c'mon. It's three years away! Do we have to start talking about this already?" The first votes in Iowa and New Hampshire won't be cast for over two years, and even those politicians who are all but certain to run are doing only the barest minimum to prepare. So what is there to talk about? Not much, but that won't stop us. Here's a New York Times story about Chris Christie quietly building a re-election campaign that can be quickly repurposed for a presidential run, and here's a column about why Jeb Bush should run in 2016, both from Sunday's paper. Here's a Washington Post story about the potential presidential campaigns of Christie and Rand Paul. If your appetite has been whetted, you can go over to Politico's Hillary Clinton section and read any of the eight gazillion articles about her potential 2016 campaign. The Times already has a reporter assigned full-time to cover Clinton's not-yet-candidacy; the reporter says her mandate is to "own" the Hillary 2016 beat.
There's no question that this is nuts. But have some sympathy for those of us who do this for a living. We just can't help ourselves.
Look around the internet at any list of the best science fiction novels of all time, and Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game will be at or near the top (see here, here, or here). Frankly, I've always thought it was a little overrated. A good book, certainly, but better than Dune or 1984 or the Foundation trilogy? Come on. In any case, Ender's Game was published in 1985, and it's finally reaching the screen this November, in a big-budget blockbuster starring Harrison Ford, among other people. As soon as the film was announced, people started advocating a boycott of the film because of Card's views about politics in general and same-sex marriage in particular. Card is not just an opponent of marriage equality, he used to be on the board of the National Organization for Marriage, the most prominent anti-marriage-equality organization. And his writings about politics aren't just conservative, they're positively unhinged, run through with the kind of venomous hatred for liberals in general and Barack Obama in particular that we've become depressingly familiar with over the last few years.
So the question is, should that affect how we view this film, and whether we give over our ten or twelve bucks to see it, some small portion of which will presumably find its way to Card?
Today, the Republican National Committee is expected to pass a resolution declaring that CNN and NBC are big liberal meanies and they don't want to go play over at their house ever ever ever again. Or more particularly, since the two networks had been planning to produce shows about Hillary Clinton, the RNC is going to protest by refusing to allow either of them to sponsor primary debates during the presidential campaign of 2016. This bit of foot-stomping has prompted some on the right to argue that the party should just forego non-Fox network-sponsored debates altogether and have their confabs moderated by the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. I'm with Kevin Drum on this: It's a great idea.
North Carolinians wait to vote in 2008 (Flickr/James Willamor)
North Carolina recently passed what can only be described as an omnibus voter suppression law, including a whole range of provisions from demanding photo IDs to cutting back early voting to restricting registration drives, every single one of which is likely to make it harder for minorities, poor people, and/or young people to register and vote. It's not just the Tar Heel state—across the South, states that have been freed by the Supreme Court from their prior obligation under the Voting Rights Act to get permission from the Justice Department before changing their voting laws are moving with all deliberate speed to make voting as difficult as possible. Since these are Republican states, these laws are going to pass (some have already), and I think it's worth addressing what is fast becoming the main argument Republicans use to defend them.
They've always said that their only intent was to ensure the "integrity" of elections and protect against voter impersonation, a virtually non-existent problem. But they recently realized that they've got a new, and seemingly compelling, piece of evidence they can muster against charges of voter suppression. Many voter ID laws were passed over the last few years (the Supreme Court upheld voter ID in 2008), and as Republicans will tell you (see for example here or here), turnout among blacks hasn't declined, and in some cases has actually gone up. Blacks even turned out at a slightly higher rate than whites overall in the 2012 election. As Rand Paul recently said, "I don't think there is objective evidence that we're precluding African-Americans from voting any longer."
When Attorney General Eric Holder announced last week that he would be issuing instructions to federal prosecutors that could result in fewer mandatory minimum sentences for low-level drug offenders, it wasn't the risky policy change it would have been only a few years ago. With crime on a two-decade-long downward arc, politicians and policymakers don't have to worry as much as they used to about being tagged as "soft on crime." In fact, there's so much toughness already built into our criminal-justice system that unless we start lopping off thieves' hands, it couldn't get much tougher. Though the change Holder announced would affect only those convicted of federal crimes, it has brought renewed attention to our enormous prison population.
And just how enormous is it? What follows are the details.
The non-fiction publishing phenomenon of 2011 and 2012 was, without a doubt, "Heaven Is For Real," an account of a three-year-old boy who during surgery visited heaven, where he met Jesus, who rides on a "rainbow horse." Young Colton Burpo's father Todd attested that it just had to be true, since Colton knew details he could never have learned elsewhere, like the fact that Jesus had marks on his hands. Sure, Todd Burpo is a pastor and the family is intensely religious, but still. It couldn't possibly have been a dream, right? "Heaven Is For Real" has sold an incredible 7.5 million copies, and is now in its 142nd week on the New York Times paperback non-fiction bestseller list.
The top spot on that list is held by this year's non-fiction publishing phenomenon, "Proof of Heaven," a neurosurgeon's account of how he fell into a coma and went you know where. It's "proof," you see, because the doctor had an extended vacation amongst the clouds, when his brain was, he says, "shut down." Could it have been a dream he had while emerging from his coma? Nah. And so what if he turns out to be something of a charlatan? Any way you slice it, near-death trips through the Pearly Gates are box-office boffo. Which is why a new study on what happens to rats when they reach the end of their terrestrial moment is particularly interesting:
Yesterday, Attorney General Eric Holder announced some policy changes meant to reduce the number of drug offenders subject to mandatory minimum sentences. Across the political spectrum, people have come to view mandatory minimums as a disaster from almost any standpoint, and as some people have pointed out today, mandatory minimums were originally a Democratic idea. Those of you who are too young to remember the early 1990s might not appreciate the raw terror that gripped Democrats in those days. People regularly lost elections when their opponent's opposition researchers found some obscure vote that could be twisted into a direct mail piece saying, "Congressman Smith voted to let violent criminals out of jail—so they could rape and murder their way through our community. Is that the kind of man we want in Washington?"
As it happens, at the time I was working for a political consulting firm that created some of those mail pieces. Our clients were all Democrats, and we produced crime attacks for both primary and general elections, targeting other Democrats and Republicans alike. In 1994, it reached an absolute fever pitch. My firm had about 30 clients, all Democrats, and we did tough-on-crime pieces for every single one. In many cases, we'd make ten or so different mail pieces for a client, and eight of them would be about crime. In other words, in every last race we worked on, every candidate was accusing every other candidate of being soft on crime. The highlight of my consulting career was when I lay down on a sidewalk so our photographer could trace around my body with chalk for a murder aftermath scene we staged.
Lord help us, is the balanced budget amendment—one of the dumbest policy ideas the right ever cooked up (and that's saying something)—actually back? Only time will tell, but today on the New York Times op-ed page today, two prominent conservative economists, Glenn Hubbard and Tim Kane, try to revive it with an argument so unconvincing that I worry it's going to be embraced by every Republican in sight. If you think the sequester was a terrific idea and worked out great for everyone, have they got a deal for you.
President Obama at today's press conference, talking about talking.
When Barack Obama said about the Trayvon Martin case that there isn't much value in "national conversations" led by a president, it was an unusual kind of candor. After all, having a national conversation is a great way to not actually do anything about a problem, particularly one that seems nearly impossible to solve. (If there's a problem that's quite possible to solve but would require politically difficult steps, one appoints a commission to study it) I thought of that watching his press conference today, when he was asked about the various surveillance programs that have come to light as a result of Edward Snowdon's revelations.
Look inside for the big version. You know you want it.
Blazing Republican supernova Rand Paul is emerging as the most media coverage-getting-est potential 2016 candidate, and while there's a good chance he'll end up being that year's Michele Bachmann, there is one thing he keeps repeating that requires a little clarification. It's become one of those things that folks just "know" about the world, even though it's utterly untrue. And since the best way to counter any piece of misinformation is with an attractive and enlightening chart or two, I thought that's what the situation needed.
The other day Jaime Fuller and I wrote about RNC chair Reince Priebus's complaints about the fact that NBC is planning to produce a miniseries on the life of one Hillary Rodham Clinton, who could well be a candidate for president in 2016. The objection isn't completely without merit, though there's no way to know yet whether the miniseries (if it ever gets made) will paint Clinton as a hero, a villain, or something in between. But would it really matter? Is a miniseries likely to change how we think of someone who has been a national figure (and a divisive one at that) for over two decades now? My guess is that, like most movies and TV shows about politics, it'll end up being hackneyed and unenlightening. But this does touch on a more interesting question about how our perceptions of political figures evolve over time and what does and doesn't have the power to alter them. Ed Kilgore has some thoughtful words on this:
Could you fall in love with Siri? OK, let's not say Siri in particular, since Siri is as dumb as a stump and doesn't understand anything you ask her. But what about a version of Siri that's a few generations away, one with not only better voice recognition but a real personality, one that learns and changes and gets to know you, one with which (whom?) you build a complicated relationship? Could you fall in love with that program?
That's the question that Spike Jonze's new movie Her seems to be asking. Check out the trailer:
Attentive readers will recall that I'm rather interested, as a human whose body stubbornly continues to age, in the prospect that science will one day enable us to extend our lives far beyond what is possible today. Throwing the "immortality" word around tends to turn people off, since it sounds so absurd (after all, nothing lives forever, not even our sun), but what about just living a whole lot longer than most of us expect to even when we're being optimistic? Is that something you'd want?
My answer has always been, "Of course—are you kidding?" If advancements in medicine and technology can dramatically extend our lives—and assuming that we don't end up like Tithonus, the figure from Greek mythology who was granted eternal life but not eternal youth, so lived forever in a tortuous ever-increasing decrepitude—then I'm all for it. There are strong arguments that living for an extra 50 or 100 years (or more) might be great for you as an individual, but bad for society as a whole, but I've been surprised as I've asked friends and relatives this question over the last few years that most of them say that getting 80 or 90 years on Earth is just fine with them. And now, the good folks at the Pew Research Religion and Life Project have asked a representative sample of Americans the question (or at least one form of the question), and they've gotten similar answers. Interestingly enough, most people think that while they don't want to live past 120, they think most other people disagree:
The artifact of pulped wood and ink that was dropped at my house this morning.
There was a time in America when industrial tycoons would buy newspapers to be their playthings, using the editorial pages to reward friends and punish enemies, all while watching healthy profits from subscriptions and advertising roll in. Then a couple of decades ago, the newspaper industry began an era of consolidation, with firms like Gannett and the Tribune company scooping up one small and mid-size paper after another. The results were usually awful for journalism; if your local paper got bought by one of those behemoths, there's a good chance the newsroom would be gutted and you'd end up with a paper with little enterprising reporting and lots of wire stories.
But now the billionaires are back. Last week the New York Times company sold the Boston Globe to Red Sox owner John Henry. Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway has quietly bought a couple dozen small papers, making him one of the largest newspaper owners in the country. And yesterday the Washington Post announced that the Graham family, which had owned the paper for the last 80 years, is selling it to Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos for $250 million. So is this a good thing?
This was definitely not grown in a lab. (Flickr/Simon Willison)
Let's talk meat, shall we? Americans eat a lot of it. Our cow population (or "inventory" if you prefer, as the beef industry does) is almost 90 million, and total beef consumption in the U.S. is over 25 billion pounds. If you piled all those hamburgers in a stack, you'd have ... well, let's just say you'd have a really big stack of hamburgers.