Paul Waldman

Vaccine Fear Mongers Are Wrong, But They're Not Ideological

President Obama possibly being injected with Kenyan socialist nanobots. (Flickr/ Rene Najera)
It's been true for some time that conservatives are far more likely that liberals to hold a number of false beliefs about the world, some of which were always political (e.g. Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, evolution is a myth) and some which became more political over time, particularly the belief that the planet is not warming and its subsidiary beliefs, which include the idea that there is a great deal of disagreement among climate scientists as to whether warming is occurring. Sometimes when this is brought up, someone will mention that liberals believe some demonstrably false things too, like the idea that childhood vaccines cause autism. The trouble is, there has never been anything other than anecdotal evidence for this contention. Yes, there may be a parent at your kid's organic vegan locally sourced small-batch co-op nursery school who thinks it's true, and dangerous lunatic Jenny McCarthy, the nation's most prominent propagator of this theory, is a Hollywood...

Campaigns and the Human Condition

An image from "Mitt," taken at the moment when Mitt Romney realized he had lost the 2012 election.
Over the weekend I watched the Netflix documentary "Mitt," and true to its billing, it humanized Mitt Romney to an extraordinary degree. That's not all that surprising, given that the film was directed by a filmmaker who is friendly with the Romney family and obviously sought to give a behind-the-scenes view of the campaigns (it covered both the 2008 and 2012 races) that portrayed Romney in the best possible light. But in humanizing Romney, it did an excellent job of illuminating just how artificial all campaigns necessarily are. One of the distinctive things about the film was the absence of almost any talk of policy whatsoever. We do see Romney batting around some talking points to get them right, but the only moment in the film that features any discussion of an issue is when Romney delivers a little oration to his family about how Democrats support higher taxes because they're all lawyers and have never run a business, so they don't understand just how hard it is to labor under...

Once Again, Conservative Media Treat Their Audience Like Idiots

Eat up what I'm serving, rubes. (Photo of Laura Ingraham by Gage Skidmore)
Dinesh D'Souza is one of a number of people who has made a good living over the years trafficking in anti-liberal screeds, culminating in his book The Roots of Obama's Rage and follow-on film 2016 , in which he charges that President Stokely Charmi—excuse me, President Barack Obama is consumed with anti-white racism, hatred of America, and generalized fury because he's living out the "Kenyan anti-colonialism" of the father he barely knew. It's a story pitched to the deranged, but there's a healthy market for that in the right, as we know. So when D'Souza was charged by a U.S. Attorney with violating campaign finance laws with a straw donor scheme, it wasn't surprising that some conservatives ran to his defense. You might think they'd take the opportunity to attack the law as unjust, particularly since D'Souza's lawyer all but admitted his guilt, essentially saying that sure, he violated the law, but he only did so out of friendship for the candidate in question and not for corrupt...

Why Republicans Keep Calling Women Sluts

What are these strange and frightening concoctions? (Flickr/Sarah C)
As you've heard, yesterday Mike Huckabee stepped up to the plate and smacked a stand-up double in the GOP's ongoing effort to alienate every woman in America, when he said , "If the Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of government then so be it! Let us take that discussion all across America because women are far more than the Democrats have played them to be." As expected, Huckabee quickly explained to his supporters who the real victim is here ("I am apparently the worst conservative ever or at least the most annoying one according to the left wingers in Washington today"), but the question is, why do they keep doing this? After all, every Republican knows by now that their party has a problem with women; Mitt Romney lost their votes by 11 points...

The Republican Problem With Independent Voters

Still a problem.
As I've discussed before, there are moral judgments liberals and conservatives make about things like economics that not only underlie the positions they take on policy, but also make most of the empirical conversation we have about those issues kind of superfluous. We spend a lot of time marshalling facts to support positions that have a moral basis, when those facts have virtually no chance of persuading large segments of the population. For example, you can tell many conservatives that income mobility in the United States is lower than that in many countries, and it won't dent their belief that in this land of opportunity, everyone gets what they deserve and your wealth is a clear indicator of your virtue. The good folks at the Pew Research Center have a new poll that includes some interesting questions probing how people think about poverty and economic fairness, and it shows how on this increasingly salient question, Republicans have a real political problem. Let's take a look at...

Technology and Oppression, 30 Years Ago and Today

Apple's "1984" ad, thirty years old this week.
Thirty years ago this week, the Super Bowl featured an ad (directed by Ridley Scott, no less) for the soon-to-be-released Macintosh computer, in which Apple implicitly compared the dominance of Microsoft operating systems and IBM computers to the oppressive dictatorship of George Orwell's 1984 . Apple's Board of Directors apparently hated the ad, but Steve Jobs insisted that it air, probably because he understood how critical it was to building Apple into not just an identifiable brand but a statement of personal identity. If you use a PC, Jobs was saying, you're a drone, a cog in the wheel, someone who has been stripped of your individuality as you labor for the Man. Whereas if you use a Mac, you're a creative, youthful individual forging your own way in the world and subverting the dominant paradigm. Part of the reason Apple has managed to sustain that brand identity for so long is that there was always some truth to their argument. Nobody really loved Windows, but you had to use it...

Defense Spending Is the Most Expensive Way to Create Jobs

Th F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (photo courtesy of Lockheed Martin).
When you're a defense contractor beginning a big new program, one of your key challenges once you've gotten the contract is to make sure the contract never goes away. One way to do that is to bring in the weapons system on time and under budget and win the thanks of a grateful nation. But since big weapons systems almost always come in late and over budget—and being over budget means bigger profits—the better way is to make sure a critical mass of congresspeople have a particular interest in keeping the taxpayer money flowing to your weapon. Which is why subcontracts on things like fighter jets and bombers are spread far and wide throughout the land, as though Lockheed Martin were a Johnny Appleseed of employment. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, for instance, involves 1,300 subcontractors spread across 45 states. Which means that almost every senator and a few hundred members of the House would never think of killing it or scaling it back, no matter how many problems it encounters. But...

The GOP, Guardians of Health Security

Mitch McConnell chats with some folks about health care 'n stuff.
This morning, Greg Sargent calls our attention to this new ad for Mitch McConnell, in which a man who got cancer from his job at a uranium enrichment plant in Paducah. The man testifies that it was McConnell, fierce advocate of worker safety and health security, who made sure that workers got cancer screening and compensation: That'll never work, a liberal might say. McConnell is not only one of the nation's foremost opponents of any and all regulations to protect worker safety, but he wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which would take away the health coverage tens of thousands of Kentuckians just got. As you may know, Kentucky has been more aggressive in taking advantage of the ACA than probably any other conservative state. They set up their own exchange, and it has proven to be one of the best in the country; they also accepted the Medicaid expansion (these developments can be attributed mostly to the fact that the governor is a Democrat). According to this site tracking...

Breaking: All Politicians Are Ambitious

Flickr/Mark Skrobola
Imagine you were on a corporate board, interviewing candidates for the vacant CEO position, and you asked one, "Why do you want to run this company?" He replies, "It isn't so much that I want to run the company; I have no feelings about actually doing the job. You should hire me because I alone can save you from disaster. It's really almost an act of charity on my part." You'd probably think, "What an arrogant jerk. Next?" Yet that's how just about everyone who runs for president is supposed to describe their desire for the job. They have to profess to having no personal ambition whatsoever, and say they hadn't really thought about the presidency until they realized that either 1) things in America had gotten so bad that they had to step in and save her; or 2) even though things are going OK now, the challenges the country faces in the future are so profound that they simply had to serve. This is, of course, just one of the many platefuls of bull we eat up from our politicians. But I...

The Examined Life of the Digital Age

AP Images/Jose Luis Magana
You've seen it on CSI and other police procedurals a hundred times: the detectives take a surveillance photo and watch as their computer cycles through a zillion photos of perps and crooks until it blinks with a match, telling them who their suspect is. You may have known enough to realize that they can't actually do that—computerized face recognition isn't capable of taking a grainy, shadowed photo and identifying it positively as a particular person. Or at least they couldn't until recently. But the technology has been advancing rapidly, and now some law enforcement agencies are using powerful new software that can do just that, at least sometimes. It has a ways to go yet, but the question is when, not if, computers will be able to take the video that was shot of you as you walked down the sidewalk or browsed in a store and know exactly who you are. Last Friday I brought up the question of the future of surveillance, after President Obama's speech proposing new limits on the...

Today's Robot Threat

Sure, he looks friendly now... (Photo from RoboEarth)
Today is the last day at the Prospect for our brilliant associate editor Jaime Fuller, who is cruelly abandoning me, much like Shane walked away from that little boy crying for him to come back. We've had a running joke for a while, wherein on many Fridays I write a post about robots, Jaime mutters, "Sheesh, another post about robots? Give it up Waldman, this is a magazine about politics, remember?" and I say "Yer damn right it's another post about robots! You'll thank me when they take over!" (This conversation actually takes place in my head; in fact, Jaime has been unfailingly tolerant of my odd Friday topic choices.) Anyhow, I couldn't let the day end without some alarming robot news in Jaime's honor. It comes in the form of a threat from across the ocean: a robot gap! Are we going to let the Europeans move ahead of us? This is from the BBC : A world wide web for robots to learn from each other and share information is being shown off for the first time. Scientists behind...

The Surveillance State of Tomorrow

Flickr/Bryan Chan
By the time you read this, President Obama will probably have finished his speech outlining some changes to the NSA's global information vacuum. According to early reports , he'll propose creating an independent body to hold the phone metadata that the NSA gathers, and forcing the agency to get some kind of approval (presumably from the FISA court) before accessing it. Which is all fine and good. But the real question is whether we set up procedures and systems that constrain the NSA from doing not just what we already know about, but the things we haven't yet heard of, and even more importantly, the kinds of surveillance that will become possible in the future. Just today, we learned from the Guardian that "The National Security Agency has collected almost 200 million text messages a day from across the globe, using them to extract data including location, contact networks, and credit-card details, according to top-secret documents." I can't imagine that will be the last revelation...

The Scandalous Lack of Obama Administration Scandals

I f you ask many Republicans, they'll tell you that Barack Obama himself and the administration he leads are deeply, profoundly, fundamentally corrupt. It isn't just that they have the wrong values or the wrong policy priorities, but rather that they are practically a band of criminals bent on destroying America and unconcerned about what violations of law and morality they commit as they cut a swath of misery and destruction across our nation. For some on the right—the cynical politician, the carnival-barking radio host—these ideas are a tool to use in a partisan game. They understand that the picture is an absurd one, but they also know it's useful in keeping the rabble roused. But for many others, from ordinary voters to Republican lawmakers, it's something they sincerely believe. So five years into this presidency, where do we stand with the scandals that were supposed to lead to Barack Obama's downfall? The truth—no doubt a painful one for Republicans—is that there's almost no...

Marijuana Legalization Will Be the Gay Marriage of the 2016 Presidential Election

A Democratic primary voter. (Flickr/Jonathan Piccolo)
In Politico, Reid Cherlin has an article about the "Pot Primary" in which he makes the rather odd assertion that while the next Democratic president is likely to put him/herself where President Obama is on the issue, "Less predictable is what would happen under a Republican—or how the issue might play out in a volatile Republican primary. No one expects marijuana to be the deciding issue, but then again, it might well be a helpful way for the contenders to highlight their differences." Yeah, no. Apart from the possibility of some talk about not sentencing people to overly long prison terms for possession, there isn't going to be a debate amongst 2016 GOP candidates on this issue. The debate will all be on the Democratic side. The reason is that as much as Republicans would like to appeal to a younger, more diverse electorate, in the general election the candidates will be working to win the hearts of activist Republican voters. That means an electorate that is older, whiter, more...

The Internet Service Providers' Triumph

Her joy will soon turn to despair. (Flickr/collegedegrees360)
Yesterday, the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit struck down the Federal Communication Commission's "net neutrality" rules, probably opening the door for Internet service providers (ISPs) to start charging different customers different rates to send their web terrificness to your computer. I say "probably" because there's a good amount of uncertainty over what is going to happen now, which I'll get to in a moment. Chances are you're only marginally interested in the details, and it can get pretty arcane rather quickly, but I do want to point out the absurdity of the arguments the big ISPs like Verizon and Comcast make about net neutrality. This was a very big win for some of the most unpopular companies in America, but how soon they're going to try to destroy everything you love about the Web is hard to determine. There are some reasons to be worried, though. Briefly, the principle of net neutrality says that everyone providing content on the Internet should be treated the same,...

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