Rather than debate, the two presidential candidates get together in Texas to audition for a hilarious right-wing buddy movie
On Saturday night, Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain met in Texas for a special, one-on-one "debate." But anyone who tuned in hoping for fireworks would have been disappointed. It might have been more accurate to call it a joint campaign appearance.
The debate seemed like an extremely promising idea when it was announced a few weeks ago. Gingrich and Cain are probably the two most entertaining candidates in the current Republican field -- the former speaker with his acerbic wit, the businessman with his thunderous exhortations. Both are running "non-traditional campaigns," which is a euphemism for not running much of a campaign at all. For both men, their blundering into the top ranks of recent polls seems to have spoiled an otherwise pleasant book tour.
How exciting it promised to be, then, to see these two together on stage, without those annoying other candidates interfering in a good show. Without Mitt Romney and Rick Perry's ongoing attempt to achieve mutually assured destruction; without that cranky Rick Santorum guy; without Ron Paul's diatribes and Jon Huntsman's sanctimony, and most definitely without Gary Johnson's dog poop jokes.
The only problem: Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain really like each other. And with friendly moderators -- a local Americans for Prosperity honcho and archconservative Iowa Rep. Steve King -- there was no one asking actual tough questions, pinning the pair down when they wandered off topic or didn't make sense, or seeking to draw out differences between the men in a way that might be helpful to voters trying to choose between the two.
Naturally, this suited Gingrich and Cain just fine.
Gingrich answered the first question, about Rep. Paul Ryan's budget proposal, by conveniently forgetting that he'd once called it "right-wing social engineering." "Paul Ryan came up with some very good ideas," he said, and wound up in a detailed discussion of Medicare fraud.
When it was Cain's turn, he said: "At this particular juncture I'm supposed to get a minute to disagree with something he's said. But I don't."
And so, when Cain finished his answer -- "I like the Ryan plan. I haven't found anything in it yet that I don't disagree with (sic)" -- the moderator announced he was making an "executive decision" to suspend the clock and let the candidates take as long as they liked with each question. With that, the thin pretense of debate was dropped.
Gingrich and Cain are both nominally from Georgia, and they have known each other since the debate over "Hillarycare" nearly two decades ago. In previous debates, their mutual admiration society prompted the creation of this delightful Photoshop imagining them melded into a "Newtman Caingrich."
As the discussion wore on Saturday, one actually could discern the difference, however. It wasn't on policy, where they couldn't find any real disagreement. But the contrast in style was obvious. In the unlikely event either of these men became president, Gingrich would be wonk-in-chief, while Cain would leave the details to others and serve mainly as a cheerleader.
Gingrich, as the forum wore on, began to monopolize the floor time, reliving past glories with explanations of the ideas behind welfare reform and taking credit for balancing the budget in the 1990s. He referenced academic books and think-tank studies, invoked history and delivered tart sound bites like "This president is about as candid and accurate as Bernie Madoff in what he tells the American people." He was obviously having a ball. If you didn't already know this whole thing was Newt's idea, you could have guessed.
Cain largely deferred to Gingrich, perhaps because he didn't seem to grasp all the technical details under discussion -- at one point, when asked whether he thought Medicare should be based on a "defined benefit" or a "premium support" model, he repeated, "Defined...", trailed off, rubbed his chin and concluded, "You go first, Newt." (Gingrich was happy to comply.) He mostly spoke in generalities and made sure to get in a plug for "9-9-9."
"We as a nation are not short on good ideas for how to fix Social Security, how to fix Medicare," Cain said at one point. "What we are short on is the ability to educate people on the solutions." The president, he said, must use "that particular bully pulpit" to be "communicator in chief."
There was no mention of the scandal Cain has been embroiled in for the past week as past accusations of sexual harassment against him have surfaced. But he seemed to allude to it at the end, when Gingrich asked him what had most surprised him about running for president.
"The nitpickiness of the media," he said. "I expected to have to work hard. I expected to have to study hard. But I did not realize the flyspecking nature of the media when you are running for president, especially when you start moving up in the polls."
Then it was Cain's turn to ask Gingrich a question. And Cain showed where his true talents lie: he may not be able to tell you the ins and outs of the Social Security trust fund, but he knows how to bring down the house.
"Mr. Speaker, if you were the vice president of the United States, what would you want the president to assign you to do first?" he said.
Gingrich cracked up, guffawing and wiping his eyes. "Well," he said, "having studied my good friend Dick Cheney, I would not go hunting."
We're all going to die and we all know it. This can be both a burden and a blessing.
In the heart of every parent lives the tightly coiled nightmare that his child will die. It might spring at logical times—when a toddler runs into the street, say—or it might sneak up in quieter moments. The fear is a helpful evolutionary motivation for parents to protect their children, but it's haunting nonetheless.
The ancient Stoic philosopher Epictetus advised parents to indulge that fear. “What harm is it, just when you are kissing your little child, to say: Tomorrow you will die?”he wrote in his Discourses.
Some might say Epictetus was an asshole. William Irvine thinks he was on to something.
“The Stoics had the insight that the prospect of death can actually make our lives much happier than they would otherwise be,” he says. “You’re supposed to allow yourself to have a flickering thought that someday you’re going to die, and someday the people you love are going to die. I’ve tried it, and it’s incredibly powerful. Well, I am a 21st-century practicing Stoic.”
People look to Amy Schumer and her fellow jokers not just to make fun of the world, but to make sense of it. And maybe even to help fix it.
This week, in a much-anticipated sketch on her Comedy Central show, Amy Schumer staged a trial of Bill Cosby in “the court of public opinion.” Schumer—her character, at any rate—played the role of the defense. “Let’s remind ourselves what’s at stake here,” she argued to the jury. “If convicted, the next time you put on a rerun of The Cosby Show you may wince a little. Might feel a little pang. And none of us deserve that. We don’t deserve to feel that pang.”
Her conclusion? “We deserve to dance like no one’s watching, and watch like no one’s raping.”
Ooof. This is the kind of thing that gets Inside Amy Schumer referred to as “the most feminist show on television,” and her act in general called, in a phrase that reveals as much about her craft as about Schumer herself, “comedy with a message.” But while Schumer’s work is operating at the vanguard of popular comedy, it’s also in line with the work being done by her fellow performers: jokes that tend to treat humor not just as an end in itself, but as a vehicle for making a point. Watch like no one’s raping.
Some spoiler-y speculation on the final three episodes
With only three episodes left to go, Game of Thrones looks as though it once again has a lot of ground to cover before wrapping up a season. And so, for the curious and impatient among you, I’ll do my best to offer some quasi-informed speculation about what we might reasonably expect in these final weeks.
Note: I haven’t seen any of the remaining episodes, but I have read the books. The first five items below are spoiler-y, but the predictions in them do not derive from the George R. R. Martin novels. Rather, they’re guesswork based on what’s already happened on the show and on tidbits scattered across the web: a behind-the-scenes photo here, a close-read of a trailer there. (They could all, of course, turn out to be completely wrong.) The last four items, however, are based at least in part on events that take place in A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons, so non-book-readers may want to skip them. And obviously anyone, book-reader or not, who’d prefer to go into these final episodes without preconceptions—who doesn’t want to know at least some of what will (probably) happen—should stop reading now.
The former speaker of the House is charged with lying to federal agents and evading financial reporting requirements, reportedly while attempting to conceal past sexual misconduct.
Updated on May 29, 2015, at 4:05 p.m.
Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert has been indicted on charges of lying to FBI agents and evading federal financial-reporting requirements, reportedly while paying a man to cover up past sexual misconduct.
Hastert, an Illinois Republican, was speaker from 1999 to 2007. BuzzFeed’s John Stanton notes that there were several high-profile congressional scandals in those years. Illinois is also a notorious hotbed for political corruption, as Roland Burris, Rod Blagojevich, George Ryan, and Jesse Jackson Jr. can attest.
But Hastert’s indictment seems to involve a darker story than political corruption. In or about 2010, according to the indictment, Hastert—a former high-school teacher and coach—met with an unnamed individual from Yorkville, Hastert’s hometown. They “discussed past misconduct by defendant against Individual A that had occurred years earlier.” In effect, Hastert fell victim to blackmail, the indictment alleges: He “agreed to provide Individual A $3.5 million in order to compensate for and conceal his prior misconduct against Individual A.” (Since leaving the House, Hastert has become a highly paid lobbyist.)
Can a political system be democratically legitimate without being democratic?
The flaws in China’s political system are obvious. The government doesn’t even make a pretense of holding national elections and punishes those who openly call for multiparty rule. The press is heavily censored and the Internet is blocked. Top leaders are unconstrained by the rule of law. Even more worrisome, repression has been ramped up since Xi Jinping took power in 2012, suggesting that the regime is increasingly worried about its legitimacy.
Some China experts—most recently David Shambaugh of George Washington University—interpret these ominous signs as evidence that the Chinese political system is on the verge of collapse. But such an outcome is highly unlikely in the near future. The Communist Party is firmly in power, its top leader is popular, and no political alternative currently claims widespread support. And what would happen if the Party’s power did indeed crumble? The most likely result, in my view, would be rule by a populist strongman backed by elements of the country’s security and military forces. The new ruler might seek to buttress his legitimacy by launching military adventures abroad. President Xi would look tame by comparison.
A challenge based on four words of the law amounts to little more than politics dressed up as a legal argument.
The Supreme Court is about to decide another blockbuster case arising under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The specific issue is whether federal-tax subsidies are available to people who purchase health insurance from exchanges operated by the federal government or instead whether such subsidies are available only from exchanges established by the states. A decision in favor of the plaintiffs in King v. Burwell would most likely cripple the ACA in over thirty states and deprive millions of people of health insurance.
That the Supreme Court even agreed to hear the case is the result of an improbable conjunction of events. Two committed opponents of the ACA seized upon four words of the law out of almost 1000 pages, and through their persistent and energetic work, created a powerful soundbite that appealed to die-hard opponents of the ACA. They then took that sound bite and dressed it up in highly technical arguments about statutory interpretation that might well change how healthcare is paid for in the United States. But the soundbite is inaccurate, and the technical window dressing shouldn’t obscure the fact that the argument is based on a faulty reading of the text of the entire law as well as a misleading account of how and why the law was passed. At bottom, King v. Burwell is a political challenge to the ACA dressed up in legal garb.
An activist has made it so in France. Could he take his campaign global?
In 2010, U.S. supermarkets and grocery stores threw out 43 billion pounds, or $46.7 billion worth, of food, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). But if Arash Derambarsh had his way, that number would be zero. His goals are ambitious, but then again the municipal councilor from Courbevoie, France did manage to get a law passed in France last week that would accomplish just that.
The law bans supermarkets in France from discarding or destroying unsold food. According to Salon’s Lindsay Abrams, the law mandates that all unsold but edible food should be donated to charities for immediate distribution to the poor. Food that is unsafe to eat is to be donated to farms for agricultural purposes. Supermarkets that exceed a certain square footage are required to sign contacts with charities by July 2016; penalties for failing to do so include fines of up to roughly $81,600 or two years in prison. The legislation is one of the world’s first attempts to address the twin problems of food waste and hunger in this manner.
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
The danger of uploading one’s consciousness to a computer without a suicide switch
Imagine a supercomputer so advanced that it could hold the contents of a human brain. The Google engineer Ray Kurzweil famously believes that this will be possible by 2045. Organized technologists are seeking to transfer human personalities to non-biological carriers, “extending life, including to the point of immortality.” My gut says that they’ll never get there. But say I’m wrong. Were it possible, would you upload the contents of your brain to a computer before death, extending your conscious moments on this earth indefinitely? Or would you die as your ancestors did, passing into nothingness or an unknown beyond human comprehension?
The promise of a radically extended lifespan, or even immortality, would tempt many. But it seems to me that they’d be risking something very much like hell on earth.
Caves and tunnels have always been part of human life.
Caves and tunnels have always been part of human life. We've grown more adept at shaping these underground shelters and passages over the millennia, and today we dig for hundreds of reasons. We excavate to find both literal and cultural treasures, digging mines and unearthing archaeological discoveries. We use caverns for stable storage, for entertainment, and for an effective shelter from natural and man-made disasters. And as the planet's surface becomes ever more crowded, and national borders are closed, tunnels provide pathways for our vehicles and for smugglers of every kind. Collected below are more recent subterranean scenes from around the world.