Paul Waldman

Your Next Car Will Be Part Robot

One of Google's self-driving cars. (Flickr/Guillermo Esteves)
Futurists have been predicting self-driving cars for decades, but for a long time it wasn't because the idea was a natural extrapolation of existing technology. Instead, from the standpoint of the 1950s or so, it just seemed like something we'd have in The Future, along with robot maids, vacations on the moon, and a spectacular network of vacuum tubes in every home. Today, almost all the technology necessary to allow cars to drive themselves is either already in existence or in the development process, and Google has already allowed its driverless cars to go hundreds of thousands of miles on their own. So the Department of Transportation has issued a policy statement laying out some of the issues that are likely to be confronted as these technologies develop, and establishing its research agenda to address the questions they'll need to answer in order to properly regulate driverless cars. The end point many people envision is that not only will all cars be self-driving, but you won't...

Cable News Is a Third of a Century Old

A snapshot from CNN's first hour on the air.
This Saturday marks one-third of a century since CNN debuted as the world's first 24-hour news channel in 1980 (if you're looking to get them a gift, the traditional 33rd anniversary gift is amethyst). Prospect intern/sleuth Eric Garcia came across this video of the network's first hour on the air, which begins with Ted Turner giving a speech about the new era of global understanding they're launching. He makes special note of the fact that he's standing under three flags: the U.S. flag, the Georgia flag (its old confederate version, which was adopted in 1956 as a protest to Brown v. Board of Education or to honor the nobility of the Confederacy, depending on your perspective), and ... the flag of the United Nations ! Cue conservative spit takes. Back in those days, of course, the UN was considered a well-intentioned if often ineffectual organization, and not a sinister black helicopter-wielding global conspiracy to take your guns and impose a one-world government with George Soros as...

Not Too Shabby So Far: Obama's Judicial Legacy

flickr/The Library of Congress
Flickr/Cliff E arlier this week, the White House announced that President Barack Obama would name nominees to fill three vacant seats on the D.C. Circuit Court, touching off a new battle between the White House and Republicans over filibusters and presidential privileges. Despite the fact that appointing judges is one of the powers given to every president by the Constitution, some Republicans reacted as though Obama were doing something horrible by fulfilling this obligation. (You'd almost think they didn't accept the legitimacy of his presidency.) In any case, this argument is likely to heat up over the next few weeks, so we might benefit from some context as charges and counter-charges start flying. To begin with, some background. The nominations at issue here are those to the circuit courts—also known as the courts of appeals—and to the district courts. There are 13 circuit courts with a total of 179 seats, and 89 district courts with a total of 677 seats. The circuit court seats...

What's Eating the Left's Media?

The liberal media may be in a funk. MSNBC is getting some of its worst ratings in years, and Digby tells us that liberal blogs have experienced serious declines in traffic since the election as well. So why might this be happening? There are two answers, neither of which would give you much solace if your job depended on raising TV ratings or bringing in more ad revenue for your web site. The first is that outside events, in the form of the natural ebb and flow of the political world, have conspired against the liberal media. The second is that the model—liberals talking about politics—is affected by that ebb and flow in a way conservative media aren't. Let's take a quick look at the last decade or so in the life of liberalism. If we go back to the early stages of the Bush administration, we see liberals getting riled up just at a time when the Internet as a source of news and political engagement began to come of age. George Bush started an insane war in 2003, then there was an...

Republicans Looking Sheepish On Obama Court Nominees

Flickr/NCinDC
One of the biggest criticisms activist liberals have had of the Obama administration is that they have not moved aggressively to put their stamp on the federal judiciary. While there has certainly been Republican obstruction of Obama nominees, in many cases the administration hasn't even bothered to nominate anyone to open seats. There are currently 82 vacancies on the federal bench, and in 58 of those, the administration has offered no nominee. So it's good news that they have announced that they are about to offer nominations for the three vacancies on the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, widely considered the second most important court in the nation, since it hears many critical cases involving the scope of government power. It looks like the administration is betting that the more nominations they put up at the same time, the more attention the issue will get if Republicans try to block them, and the more attention it gets, the more difficult Republican filibusters will be...

Atheists in Tornadoes and Foxholes

AP Photo/Charlie Riedel
I f you've watched the endless interviews with survivors of natural disasters, you may have noticed that the news media representatives, faced with someone who may be too shocked or nervous before the cameras to offer sufficiently compelling testimony, often do some gentle prompting. "When you saw your home destroyed, were you just devastated?" "You've never seen anything like this before, have you?" "Your whole life changed in that moment, didn't it?" Not everyone who survived a disaster is YouTube clip-ready, so some need to be coached. There was one such interview after the tornado ran through Moore, Oklahoma that got some attention. Interviewing a woman as they stood before the tangled pile of debris that used to be her home and discussed her family's narrow escape, CNN's Wolf Blitzer said , "You guys did a great job. I guess you got to thank the Lord. Right?" When she hesitated, Blitzer pressed on. "Do you thank the Lord for that split-second decision?" She paused for a moment...

Republican Overreach, Coming Soon

You can bet hey'll be hearing from these folks. (Flickr/SS&SS)
A number of people have asked whether the Republicans will overreach in their reaction to the current collection of scandal-ish controversies (by the way, someone really needs to come up with a name that encompasses them all). The answer to that question is, of course they will. Try to remember who we're talking about here. Overreaching is their thing. Congress will be going home this weekend, and I'll bet the Republicans are going to come back from their recess reassured that their constituents really, really want them to pursue Barack Obama to the ends of the earth. I'll explain why in a moment, but in the meantime the National Journal has details on their strategy: Congressional Republicans head into next week's Memorial Day recess armed with a strategy designed to keep the controversies that have consumed Washington in the news back home. Both House and Senate Republicans will focus on the Internal Revenue Service targeting conservative groups for extra scrutiny as well as the...

Do Parties Really Need to Rebrand Themselves?

The Republican "rebranding" effort may be on temporary hiatus as all the party's factions come together in the vain hope that they may finally have something to impeach Barack Obama over, but as soon as these various non-scandals, faux-scandals, and mini-scandals fade, the GOP will surely get back to bickering over how it can pull itself out of its electoral doldrums. In wondering where they might go, The Atlantic 's Molly Ball does the logical thing and seeks out some veterans of a prior party rebranding, the Democratic effort of the late 1980s and early 1990s, centered around the Democratic Leadership Council. Their take isn't too surprising—they think what the GOP needs now is to do what they did then. But I think there's an important point missing from this discussion and the way we talk about this history. The story everyone tells is that there are two paths to take, one of which leads to failure and one to success, and the argument is over which is which. Should the party be...

Conservative Billionaires, Oppressed by Liberal Thugs

Flickr/Donkey Hotey
Fear not, billionaire super PAC and 501(c)(4) funders. You may feel oppressed, you may fear the pitchforks and torches of the unwashed masses gathering at the gate of your manse, you may wake in the night in a cold sweat and bellow to your footman, "Dare I give Paul Ryan $10 million for his 2016 presidential race, lest some bearded plebian pen a vicious blog post aimed at my very heart?" If nothing else, Mitch McConnell has your back. Today, McConnell takes to the pages of The Washington Post to defend the right of America's millionaires and billionaires to pour their funds into campaigns while remaining anonymous. Those with long memories may recall that when the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law was being debated, McConnell and others said that the answer to the problem of money and politics was disclosure: Let the wealthy give as much as they want, but disclose contributions quickly, and with everything out in the open we could forestall the possibility of corruption. But with...

The Forever War, Still Forever

White House photo by Eric Draper
*/ AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, File T oday, President Barack Obama gives what has been billed as a major address on the status of the "war on terror," a term that the Obama administration doesn't use but that is still how we refer to the efforts the United States takes around the world fighting al-Qaeda, those affiliated with al-Qaeda, those who might be affiliated with someone who is affiliated with al-Qaeda, and pretty much any nongovernmental entity that looks at us funny. Whatever you call it, the war on terror is our endless war, just as George W. Bush set it out to be. With a Congress and most of a public willing to let him do almost anything he wanted, Bush and his administration told us all those years ago that we were fighting not al-Qaeda nor even terrorism but "terror" itself. In other words, our war would be not against a group of people or even a tactic that anyone can use but against our own fear. And that's a war we can never win. Nevertheless, when Obama was running...

Can the President Create a "Culture"?

Margaret Mead, who would not have bothered to study the administration's culture. (Photo by Edward Lynch, Library of Congress/Wikimedia)
As you may have noticed, the biggest problem with the IRS scandal (from the perspective of Republicans) is that it remains stubbornly removed from the President himself. It's all well and good to get a couple of scalps from mid-level managers, but for it to be a real presidential scandal you need to implicate the guy in the Oval Office in the wrongdoing. Confronted with Obama's non-involvement, conservatives have turned to vague and airy accusations about the "culture" Obama has created. Mitch McConnell, for instance, is warning darkly that Obama may be not too far removed from Tony Soprano: "I think what we know for sure is that there is a culture of intimidation across this administration—the president demonizing his enemies, attempting to shut people up. There is certainly a culture of intimidation." The idea that Barack Obama—whom Republicans regularly accuse of being a foreign-born anti-American socialist communist marxist who is slowly carrying out a plan to destroy America—is...

Bin Laden Photos to Stay Hidden

This will remain Bin Laden's enduring image.
Remember the Bin Laden photos? When the al-Qaeda leader was killed two years ago, people immediately began asking whether the world would ever get to see an image of his body. At first, then-CIA director Leon Panetta said photos would be released, but President Obama overruled him. Yesterday, the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled in a lawsuit brought by the conservative group Judicial Watch that the government may continue to keep the photos hidden from public view. At the time, I argued that a photo should be released—not every photo that everyone took of the body, but perhaps one shot of it being lowered into the ocean in a respectful ceremony. I went on NPR's On the Media and debated the question with The New Yorker 's Philip Gourevitch, who treated me like I was some kind of contemptible ghoul for suggesting such a thing, but I made what I thought was a perfectly reasonable argument. Here's an excerpt of the column I wrote: Might the image be disturbing? Yes, it might...

Mr. Smith Is Vaporized in the Fire of a Thousand Suns

It hasn't gotten too much attention given the other things that are going on, but there is a battle looming this summer over the filibuster, one that could be a significant milestone in the already poisonous relationship between the parties on Capitol Hill. As Republicans have moved from filibustering every significant piece of legislation to also filibustering cabinet nominees (something that was extraordinarily rare until now), Democrats' frustration on the filibuster has grown. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is threatening to use the "nuclear option," forcing a vote to change Senate rules to circumvent the filibuster (though probably only on presidential nominations). Reid would no doubt be cheered by many on the left if he did so, but others will warn to be careful what you wish for. After all, once you remove the filibuster, doesn't that open the door to Republicans running roughshod over the Democrats if and when they get the majority back in the Senate? Let's be realistic...

Hillary '16 Campaign Off to Excellent Start

Hillary Clinton campaigning in 2008. (Flickr/pennstatenews)
Breaking news: according to a report in today's Washington Post , Hillary Clinton's chances of winning the presidency in 2016 have increased by approximately a zillion percent, due to the fact that her former chief strategist Mark Penn, quite possibly the most incompetent and generally hackish consultant in U.S. political history, will not be working for her should she run again. Nor will any of her other senior advisers from 2008, which seems just as well. And did you know there's a Hillary Clinton biopic in the works? Not sure how I missed this news (which appears not to be an April Fool's joke), but the New Republic got hold of the screenplay for "Rodham," and it sounds pretty awful. Anyhow, as we enter the long will-she-or-won't-she period, which should last for another year and a half or so, there's one thing we ought to get straight. Back during the 2008 primaries, a lot of Obama supporters argued that despite Clinton's contributions and qualifications, if she became president...

Conservatives Shift Gears on IRS

Peggy Noonan is on the case. (Flickr/kylebogucki)
Something odd happened to Barack Obama's approval rating last week: nothing. With a bunch of controversies swirling about the administration, one might think Americans would be thinking less of his performance. Yet the latest polls from Gallup and CNN both show his job approval essentially unchanged, at just at or above 50 percent. So far anyway, these "scandals" are, like most scandals, an almost completely partisan phenomenon. Yes, there are some—Watergate, Iran-Contra—where the facts are so damning and undeniable that even the president's own party can't help but acknowledge them. But Benghazi and the IRS are not Watergate or Iran-Contra. Perhaps they'll turn out to be, if we find out something completely shocking. Perhaps we'll discover that Barack Obama is on tape personally ordering the Cincinnati IRS office to put the screws to Tea Party groups, just as Richard Nixon was on tape ordering his aides to get the IRS to audit his political opponents. But that hasn't happened yet. So...

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