Paul Waldman

The CIA and the Moral Sunk Costs of the Torture Program

This morning, The Washington Post has a blockbuster story about that 6,300-page Senate Intelligence Committee report on the CIA's torture program. The part that will likely get the most attention is the conclusion that torture produced little if any useful intelligence, which is extremely important. But even more damning is the picture the committee paints of a CIA that all along was trying to convince everyone that what they were doing was effective, even as it failed to produce results. I have a post on this over at the Post this morning, but I want to elaborate on this aspect of the story. This is a tale of moral sunk costs, and how people react when they've sold their souls and realize that they won't even get paid what they bargained for. In case you're unfamiliar with the economic idea of sunk costs ( here's a nice summary ), it's basically the idea of throwing good money after bad: once you've gone down a particular path, what you've already invested (money, time, effort) acts...

Jeb Fever Sweeps GOP; Symptoms Likely to Be Mild, Temporary

Flickr/World Affairs Council of Philadelphia
In the first of what will surely be a long string of genuflections, abnegations, and abasements, potential Republican presidential candidates journeyed to the sands of Las Vegas last weekend to speak to the Republican Jewish Coalition, though everyone there seemed to agree that there was really an audience of one: Sheldon Adelson, the casino billionaire who flushed nearly $100 million of his money down the drain in the 2012 presidential campaign. Among those arriving on bended knee was one politician who has been out of office for seven years, and was never knows as a darling of the Republican base. But as Philip Rucker and Robert Costa reported in The Washington Post , large portions of the GOP establishment look toward 2016 and feel a stirring deep within their hearts, a hope and a dream that goes by the name of … Jeb. That's right, Jeb Bush, who you may recall is the brother of one George W. Bush, whose time in office did not go particularly well. Rationally speaking, there's no...

Sunday Show Becomes 10 Percent Less Awful

Look! People who know what they're talking about!
A week and a half ago, I wrote a post over at the Plum Line with a couple of suggestions for how the Sunday shows could become less terrible. Some commenters pointed out that the real audience for these programs isn't actual people, but those within the Washington bubble for whom status and influence are everything. So my suggestion that the shows should never again interview a White House communication director or a "party strategist" of any kind—in other words, people who are there solely for the purpose of spinning—was unlikely to get much of a hearing. And my suggestion to drastically scale back on interviews with elected officials, who are also exceedingly unlikely to say anything interesting, would likewise fall on deaf ears. Which is perfectly true, and it hasn't stopped me from complaining about this topic before. But lo and behold, on yesterday's Meet the Press, something remarkable happened: They booked Jonathan Cohn of The New Republic and Avik Roy of Forbes to talk about...

Some Notes on the Outrage Industrial Complex

The lead story today on Talking Points Memo.
In past years, I would marvel at the right wing's ability to take an obscure liberal from somewhere who had said something stupid and propel him to national prominence, through the use of Fox and talk radio. My favorite example was Ward Churchill, a professor in Colorado who became a celebrity after he made some comments of the "we had it coming" variety after September 11. During one stretch, there was some discussion of Churchill on every episode of The O'Reilly Factor save one for an entire month. The point behind Churchill and a hundred other such stories the right promoted wasn't just that their audiences should be angry at this one guy, but that liberals in general hate America and want to destroy it; the individual story is a stand-in for the larger group at whom they're trying to generate contempt. But more recently, liberals have gotten, dare I say, just as good at this as conservatives were, maybe better. And I think it deserves a moment of discussion. A week and a half ago...

Is the "Mend It" Period of the Affordable Care Act's Evolution Beginning?

All of a sudden, people in Washington seem to want to fix the Affordable Care Act. And regardless of their motivations, that should be—well, maybe "celebrated" is too strong a word, but we can see it as a necessary and positive development. Is it possible that the arguments about whether the ACA was a good idea or should have been passed in the first place are actually going to fade away, and we can get down to the businesses of strengthening the parts of it that are working and fixing the parts that aren't? It might be so. Sure, cretinous congressional candidates will continue to display their seriousness by pumping paper copies of the law with bullets , probably for years to come. But with this year's open enrollment period coming to an end in a few days, a particular reality is starting to set in, namely that, however you feel about the law, millions of Americans have now gotten health insurance because of it. Repealing it would mean taking that insurance away. So let's look at...

Is It Time to Take Rand Paul Seriously?

You're up to something, aren't you, you naughty boy? (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
Some candidates come to a presidential race with a résumé that demands that they be immediately treated like serious contenders—a governor, a long-serving senator, a former or current vice president. Others have the less tangible quality we might refer to as "talent," which reporters can easily identify and can make up for a shorter list of accomplishments (e.g. Barack Obama in 2008). And there are usually one or two candidates who have the résumé but turn out to be duds on the trail, failing to raise significant money or win over significant numbers of voters (think Tim Pawlenty in 2012 or Chris Dodd in 2008), eventually getting downgraded from "serious" to "we no longer have to pay attention to this guy." But what do you do with someone like Rand Paul? Of course, at this stage you don't have to actually decide how seriously to take him—it isn't as though news outlets are stretched to the breaking point with all the reporters they've assigned to cover the campaign and need to make...

Your Virtual Future

Flickr/Sergey Galyonkin
Don't be alarmed—I'm delivering the traditional Friday technology post a day early, because I want to talk a bit about virtual reality (VR). Facebook just spent $2 billion to buy Oculus, a company that as of yet has essentially no revenue and no customers, since its first product, the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset, is still in its development stages (game developers have models, but they haven't been sold to the public). Facebook thinks it's buying the future. Is it? And should you care? Well, Oculus itself may or may not be the future, but virtual reality is, for real this time. And yes, you should care. It's reasonable to be skeptical, since we've been told that virtual reality is coming any day now since the mid-1980s or so. But now it really is around the corner. The hardware is getting there (the Oculus Rift has gotten the most press, but Sony is also developing its own version), and the technical problems (like the "lag" between moving your head and seeing the images move...

Are Iowa Farmers Better Than the Rest of Us?

Flickr/Paul Adams Photography
With the midterm elections just over seven months away, it's kind of remarkable that we've gotten this far without being sucked down into the land of endless ridiculousness that is the Republic of Gaffes, where no expression of outrage is too insincere to be dismissed and no faux controversy is too silly not to occupy the press' attention for a few days. Do I speak of the horror of Mitch McConnell and the microsecond of Duke , in which a montage of all-American stock footage in an ad showed, to the particularly eagle-eyed, a flash of the hated Blue Devils? Or the betrayal of his opponent's NCAA bracket, which had Wichita State beating Kentucky? Indeed—obviously, neither of these two care at all for their home state or are fit to lead. But they stand a much better chance of moving past their controversies than Iowa Representative Bruce Braley, who, we now know, hates farmers. Braley, you see, got taped at a fundraiser with a bunch of lawyers, telling them that if Republicans took over...

The Political Roots and Ramifications of the Hobby Lobby Case

Flickr/Sara C
The Supreme Court has completed the quasi-religious ritual of oral argument in the Hobby Lobby case, which will decide whether a corporation can declare its piety and thus absolve itself of the need to follow laws it finds unworthy of divine blessing. Now all we need do is wait for Anthony Kennedy to deliver his judgment, and the question will be settled. The consensus of those watching yesterday's arguments ( see here , for example) was that though nothing is certain, Kennedy seemed to be leaning toward the position of the plaintiffs, and thus of every Republican in America. And it's that last part I want to talk about. It's easy to know why the owners of the company themselves wanted to bring this case. Hobby Lobby's ownership mistakenly believes that if you use an IUD, you're committing little abortions left and right, and therefore that if their insurance covers IUDs (and a few other forms of contraception) then they're complicit in abortion. But what I'm wondering is, why is it...

If a Candidate Goes to Iowa and No Reporter Pays Attention, Has the Presidential Campaign Begun?

Flickr/Angela Radulescu
There's a ritual we go through around this time, in which reporters and commentators start writing about the next presidential campaign, but while making sure to alert their readers that they feel kind of guilty about it. It's absurd to talk about this stuff when the actual election is still two and a half years away, and now that we've admitted that, let's go ahead and dive deep into who are the leading candidates to be Hillary Clinton's field director! After the midterm elections in November, the obligatory mea culpas, which were never all that sincere to begin with, will begin to disappear from the articles. I say they weren't sincere because those of us who do this for a living love writing about presidential campaigns, no matter how far away the next one is. It's our thing. That, in fact, was number 6 on a 7-point listicle I wrote all the way back in August of last year, explaining why there's so much coverage of the presidential campaign so early. And today, Alex Seitz-Wald of...

What the Koch Brothers Can Do For Liberals

Flickr/peoplesworld
If there was a high point of liberal energy and activity in recent years, it would have to be the period running roughly from 2004 until 2008. New organizations like the Center for American Progress were founded, the netroots came into its own, and whenever a group of liberals got together, you just got the feeling you were at the start of something big. Years hence, it seemed, people would look back on what was going on that moment and say, "This is when it started." Only time would tell what "it" would turn out to be. What actually came of all that and how we should judge it will have to be a topic for another day. But why then? The answer seems pretty plain to me: George W. Bush. I've argued before that when he came along, Barack Obama seemed to embody everything liberals wanted to be and therefore what they wanted in a president. He was young, from a big city, multiracial, erudite, cosmopolitan, cool, and seemingly unafraid of Republicans. These surface features made lots of...

The GOP's Racial Dog Whistling and the Social Safety Net

AP Images/J. Scott Applewhite
Y ou've no doubt heard the famous quote about race in politics spoken by the late Lee Atwater, the most skilled Republican strategist of his generation. Liberals have cited it for years, seeing in it an explanation, right from the horse's mouth, of how contemporary Republicans use "issues" like welfare to activate racial animus among white voters, particularly in the South. Race may be an eternal force in American politics, but its meaning and operation change as the years pass. It's time we took another look at Atwater's analysis and see how it is relevant to today, because it doesn't mean what it once did. Atwater may have been extraordinarily prescient, though not in the way most people think. If a certain word unsettles you, you might want to read something else with your coffee, but it's important we have Atwater's quote, spoken in 1981 during an interview with a political scientist, in front of us: " You start out in 1954 by saying, 'Nigger, nigger, nigger.' By 1968 you can't...

The Decline of Conservative Publishing

Available for pre-order now!
As a liberal who has written a few books whose sales were, well let's just say "modest" and leave it at that, I've always looked with envy at the system that helps conservatives sell lots and lots of books. The way worked was that you wrote a book, and then you got immediately plugged into a promotion machine that all but guaranteed healthy sales. You'd go on a zillion conservative talk shows, be put in heavy rotation on Fox News, get featured by conservative book clubs, and even have conservative organizations buy thousands of copies of your books in bulk. If you were really lucky, that last item would push the book onto the bestseller lists, getting you even more attention. It worked great, for the last 15 years or so. But McKay Coppins reports that the success of conservative publishing led to its own decline. As mainstream publishers saw the money being made by conservative houses like Regnery and the occasional breakthrough of books by people like Allan Bloom and Charles Murray,...

Some Thoughts On New Journalistic Ventures, Internet Time, and Your Media Diet

This man is unstoppable clickbait. (Flickr/Greg Peverill-Conti)
This week, I've been substituting for Greg Sargent at his Plum Line blog at the Washington Post , which has been a lot of fun. I've enjoyed getting exposed to a new and larger audience. But it has also been challenging, particularly since I've tried to keep posting here on the Prospect as well. Greg's blog runs on a pretty strict schedule—his readers expect a post to be there when they get to their desks at 9 am, then a couple more through the day, and finally a roundup of links to other stories at the end of the day. They also expect writing that is pegged to today's events, but gives a broader perspective that will still be relevant tomorrow. So that's demanding, even if there are people out there who write a lot more than that every day (Bekah Grant, a former writer for VentureBeat, recently wrote how "I wrote an average of 5 posts a day, churning out nearly 1,740 articles over the course of 20 months. That is, by all objective standards, insane." And don't even ask about the...

Why the GOP Won't Change

Flickr/Rob Chandanais
Exactly one year ago, a committee of Republican party bigwigs issued the report of its "Growth and Opportunity Project," better known as the " autopsy ." The idea was to figure out what the party was doing wrong, and how on earth Barack Obama had managed to get re-elected when everybody knows what a big jerk he is. There were some recommendations on things like improving the party's use of technology and its fundraising, but the headline-grabbing message was that the party had to shed its image as a bunch of grumpy old white guys and become more welcoming to young people and racial minorities. It was always going to be a tricky thing to accomplish, both because the GOP is, in fact, made up in large part of grumpy old white guys, and because "outreach" can only go so far if you aren't willing to change the things you stand for. Mike Huckabee, that clever fellow, used to say, "I'm a conservative, but I'm not angry about it." Which is all well and good, but if, for instance, you say to...

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