Paul Waldman

Today's Robot News

UPenn GRASP lab nano quadrotor
The geek superstars at the University of Pennsylvania's GRASP (General Robotics, Automation, Sensing, & Perception) lab have taught their nano quadrotors—and if you know robots, you know that UPenn's are among the coolest of quadcopters—to play the James Bond theme. My judgment that this is awesome is unaffected by the fact that I went to grad school at UPenn. Just watch until the end for the guitar: And Rick Santorum thinks college is for snobs!

Mitt's Instincts Lead Him Astray, Again

(Flickr/DonkeyHotey)
Yesterday, Mitt Romney demonstrated once again why he has such trouble with his party's base. The issue was a bill in Congress sponsored by Senator Roy Blunt, which would allow any employer who has any objection to any medication, procedure, or treatment—not just objections to ladies doing dirty things with their ladyparts, which is where this all started—to deny their employees insurance coverage for it. Let's say your boss thinks people with diabetes are fatties who deserve to get their feet amputated—no diabetes coverage! Or your boss is one of the nincompoops who thinks immunizations give kids autism—no coverage for immunizations! Obviously, it's a truly awful idea, and when Romney was asked about it by an Ohio television host, he said , "I'm not for the bill. But, look, the idea of presidential candidates getting into questions about contraception within a relationship between a man and a woman, husband and wife, I'm not going there." What happened next was predictable:...

A Supreme Court Prediction

You'll drag me outta here when hell freezes over. (Flickr/DonkeyHotey)
Barack Obama has made two appointments to the Supreme Court, both of which involved replacing reliably liberal justices (Souter and Stevens) with presumably liberal justices (Sotomayor and Kagan). If Obama is re-elected, there's a fair chance he'll get at least one one more appointment. Four of the justices are in their 70s, and you never know when one might get ill or just decide that enough is enough. So here's my prediction: If Obama wins a second term, and one of the five conservative justices on the Supreme Court retires, Republicans will, for the first time, insist publicly that the president absolutely, positively must appoint a justice who reflects the ideology of the person s/he is replacing. That no one has argued this before will be irrelevant, as will Republicans' own satisfaction with appointments like Clarence Thomas, one of the most conservative justices in history, replacing Thurgood Marshall, one of the most liberal. Republican senators, legal eagles, and commentators...

Ron Paul Kicks His Opponents in the Shins

Ron Paul, the itsy-bitsy candidate
There's a time-tested formula in advertising sometimes called "Get 'em sick, then get 'em well." You show viewers a terrible problem, getting them worried and uneasy ("Do you have eyelid fungus? Probably!"), then introduce the product that solves the problem ("Thanks to EyeFungAway, I'm fungus-free!"). It works for politicians too—or at least it can. This new ad from Ron Paul is a great example of getting 'em sick without quite having the product that gets 'em well: The music is intense, the visuals are fast and kinetic, and as everything swells to its climax, we await the warrior-hero who will run through these awful men with his broadsword and save us all ... and here comes a tiny 76-year-old man in a suit two sizes too big for his wee frame. Most of the ad's remaining shots barely bother to show him, though he's in there somewhere if you squint. The best part is when after all that intensity, Paul's chirpy little voice comes on at the end to tell you that he approved this message...

Hey Girl, How's About You Slip Into Something More Comfortable—Like the Voting Booth?

OMG, Vladimir is, like, so super sexy!
In places without the mature democracy we enjoy, they do things differently. To wit: here's an ad from Vladimir Putin's presidential campaign (via Buzzfeed ). You don't need to speak Russian to get the double-entendre. The comely young lady is talking to the fortune-teller about doing it for the first time, and from what I can tell, the advice she gets is, yeah, you should totally do it with that Putin guy. "It" being voting, of course! I gather the melancholy flute music is used because they don't have Barry White in Russia. Behold: This is part of a theme for the Putin campaign, "For the first time," encouraging young people to vote. As what I think is his web site says—or at least as Google Translate says his web site says—"Now to express their citizenship in the squares—it's a trend, but to come and vote in the elections—not trendy, is secondary. The slogan 'For the first time—only for love,' equates the importance of choosing a candidate and the choice of a partner, as the first...

The GOP's White Men Problem

The GOP base (Flickr/BlueRobot)
You know the parable of the scorpion and the frog: The scorpion asks the frog to carry him across the river, and the frog says, "But what if you sting me?" The scorpion replies, "Why would I sting you? If I do that we'll both drown." Then midway across the river, the scorpion stings the frog. "Why?" the frog cries, as they begin to sink to their doom. "It's my nature," replies the scorpion. I keep thinking of this as in one election after another Republicans lash out at one large group of American voters after another in the hopes of holding on to the affections of the older white men who form the party's base. The people who run the party know that their continual efforts to stir up resentment, bitterness, and at times outright hatred at people who are not older white men do profound long-term damage to the party. But as a collectivity, the GOP just can't help itself. It's their nature. This is a topic Jonathan Chait takes up in an essay in New York magazine, in which he argues that...

The Moral Calculus of Online Shopping

Amazon fulfillment center in Scotland (Flickr/Chris Watt)
I don't know too many liberals who shop at Walmart. The primary reason is principle—the company is notoriously cruel to its largely low-wage workforce, works to crush the faintest hint of a desire for collective bargaining with a ferocity that would be the envy of any early 20th century industrialist, and imposes vicious cost-cutting all the way down its supply chain. But not shopping at Walmart is also easy. The stores are rare in the urban areas where lots of liberals live, and elsewhere, there's probably a Target nearby where you can get stuff just about as cheaply (Target's own corporate citizenship is a complicated topic for another day). So it isn't like not shopping at Walmart is some kind of hardship or costs them any money. But what about Amazon? A few months ago, Harold Pollack explained why he no longer shops there: nearly every sin of which Walmart is guilty, Amazon also commits. And the online world has its own particular sweatshop: the fulfillment center, where people...

Santorum Goes For Gold In Oppression Olympics

(Flickr/Mike Jahn)
So Rick Santorum was being interviewed on "This Week" yesterday, and he said that when he read John F. Kennedy's famous 1960 speech in Houston to a group of Protestant ministers, he "almost threw up." The context for Kennedy's speech was that the man who would become America's first Catholic president was being subjected to a venomous campaign of religious hatred, in which people like the men in that audience were telling voters that if Kennedy were elected, he would be nothing but a tool of the Vatican, doing the Pope's dastardly bidding instead of what was in the best interest of Americans. So Kennedy gave this speech , in which he asserted that he believed in an absolute separation between church and state, for the protection of both. The ministers in attendance, most of whom considered the Catholic Church an un-Christian abomination, were unmoved. The Kennedy campaign quickly cut ads excerpting the speech, which they used to rally Catholic voters. But here's how Santorum described...

The Republican Al Gore

(AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)
(AP Photo/Stephan Savoia) Democratic presidential candidate Vice President Al Gore and his running mate, vice presidential candidate Senator Joe Lieberman, of Connecticut, wave to supporters as they take the stage at the start of a campaign rally in Jackson, Tenn., Wednesday afternoon, Oct. 25, 2000. I have a confession to make: Mitt Romney is really starting to get on my nerves. It's nothing I'm proud of. I try to be as rational as possible in my writing and analysis of politics, marshaling facts to support my claims and avoiding impugning people's motives as much as possible. But I think I'm beginning to understand how Republicans felt about Al Gore in 2000. I don't mean what they thought or believed, like the phony story that Gore claimed to have invented the internet ( he didn't ). And I don't mean the simple displeasure we get from having to listen to someone we disagree with talk for a long time. I mean how they felt on an emotional, visceral level, whether those feelings were...

The Republicans' Primary Problem

The wrong analogy. (White House/Pete Souza)
Every presidential nominee faces a similar problem: In the primaries, you have to appeal to your base voters, tickling the tender parts of the ideological true believers, but in the general election, you need to appeal to independents, necessitating a move to the center. The transition from one to the other can be awkward. In the last few days, I've heard a number of Republicans give the same answer when this question is brought up. Isn't their eventual nominee being hurt by the fact that their primaries involve a lot of things like immigrant bashing and coming out against contraception? Nah, they reply, it'll all be OK—after all, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton had a hard-fought primary in 2008, and he still won easily in the fall. I suspect we'll be hearing this many times over the next few months, so let me explain why it's completely mistaken. Obama and Clinton did indeed have a hard-fought primary. It was vigorous, at times even a little ugly. But there's one thing it never was...

The Obama-ization of Everything

Man, those guys really don't like me.
For the last few years, liberals have been pointing out that conservatives radically shifted their opinions about certain ideas once those ideas were embraced by Barack Obama. The two biggies are an individual mandate for health insurance, which was conceived by conservatives at the Heritage Foundation as a way to get (nearly) universal coverage while maintaining the private insurance system; and a cap-and-trade system for reducing harmful emissions, which was conceived as a way to use market forces instead of government regulations to achieve an environmental good. All kinds of conservatives liked those ideas, but once Obama advocated them, the ideas became not just disfavored but presented as something so vile and socialistic they could only have been coughed up by Joe Stalin's decaying corpse. That happened a couple of years ago, but now we're in an election year, so it's only going to get worse. And watching the entire conservative universe get pulled toward opposition not just to...

This Fall's Media Bias Complaints, Explained Today

Mitt Romney pretends to enjoy hanging out with the press (Flickr/Paul Chenoweth)
It's only February, but I have a pretty good idea about how the election is going to proceed from this point forward. Mitt Romney is going to struggle through the primaries, eventually dispatching Rick Santorum. But unlike many nominees, instead of being strengthened by the primary process, he will have been weakened by it, demonstrating his persistence, but not much else. As the economy slowly improves, President Obama's approval rating will continue to inch up, and the Obama campaign will begin its assault on Romney's character, one that will be largely successful. The Romney campaign, meanwhile, will struggle in the face of that improving economy to come up with a compelling critique of the President, trying in vain to alter opinions about the incumbent that have been formed and solidified over the past four years. Obama will lead the tracking polls pretty much throughout, culminating in a win that is fairly close, but not uncomfortably so. In this it will resemble the 1996...

The Lorax, Soon to Infect Theaters With Insidious Propaganda

I have a friend, a strong environmentalist and all-around lefty of the kind your average conservative talk show host would just love to punch in the face, who has a Lorax tattooed on his shoulder. He got it 10 or 15 years ago, and his ink of Dr. Seuss' exasperated little dude who tries in vain to protect the Truffula trees never fails to win admiration from any and all who see it. But now Hollywood has come along, and using its impeccable logic— Kids love Dr. Seuss; kids love movies; ergo, kids will love Dr. Seuss movies! —has finally gotten around to making a full-length version of The Lorax . There's a mixed record on Dr. Seuss movies ( Horton Hears a Who , not bad; The Cat In the Hat , a soul-sucking crime against nature), but particularly with The Lorax , a rather bleak morality tale with only a couple of characters, they'd have to cram in a whole bunch of humans and events that Dr. Seuss never dreamed of to get it to 90 action-packed minutes. And did they ever; Grist 's David...

Milking the SuperPACs

(Flickr/AMagill)
Back in the dark ages when I worked on campaigns, contributions from supporters always made me feel a little guilty. Some of them anyway—not the rich guy who maxed out, or the candidate's business partner who gave his house as a crash pad for the staff to sleep in when they shuffled out of the office at 1 a.m.—but the nice little old lady who gave $50, or the earnest schoolteacher with a check for $100. I knew it meant a lot to them, but I couldn't help thinking it would go to something that wouldn't do very much to make the world a better place, like pizza or some ineffectual mailer. And that doesn't even get into the money that's milked by the armies of consultants. That's why I was actually pleased to see this analysis by the Los Angeles Times of how some of the people running super PACs are turning them into dandy profit machines. Here's just one example: Winning Our Future, a group backing former House Speaker Newt Gingrich that has been buoyed by $11 million in donations from...

Rick Santorum's Cross to Bear

Rick Santorum and this guy go way back. (Flickr/
Apparently, Rick Santorum is displeased that he's being forced to talk about stuff like contraception, and Satan's war on America , when other candidates aren't getting the same kind of questions. One of his aides made the complaint to conservative journalist Byron York: But specifically religious questioning of Romney is as rare as specific Romney statements about Mormon beliefs. Given the current grilling of Santorum, that is a source of growing frustration to Santorum's advisers. "Why is Mormonism off limits?" asks one. "I'm not saying it's a seminal issue in the campaign, but we're having to spend days answering questions about Rick's faith, which he has been open about. Romney will turn on a dime when you talk about religion. We're getting asked about specific tenets of Rick's faith, and when Romney says, 'I want to focus on the economy,' they say, OK, we'll focus on the economy." In one way, Santorum's people have a point. Reporters haven't asked Romney lots of questions about...

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