The Prague Cemetery By Umberto Eco (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 445 pp., $27) Barack Obama is a Kenyan-born communist jihadist. The Mossad staged the attacks of September 11. Vince Foster was murdered on the orders of his lover, the notorious lesbian Hillary Clinton. The United States government is concealing the wreckage of an alien spacecraft that crashed in New Mexico in 1947. A secret society named the Priory of Sion protects the living descendants of Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene. It is tempting to think that we are living in a golden age of conspiracy theories.
Georgia’s execution of Troy Davis last week was a poignant reminder of the continued presence of capital punishment in the United States. The Davis execution generated extraordinary interest because of troubling doubts about his guilt. Some observers have already speculated that the Davis case might serve as the spark that could reignite the movement to abolish the death penalty. But lost in some of the attention that the execution has generated is the death penalty’s unmistakable and precipitous decline over the past decade.
This week, Pennsylvania Republicans created a stir by proposing to shift the way the state apportions electoral votes in presidential contests, switching from winner-take-all to the Maine plan, in which one electoral vote is awarded to the winner of each Congressional district, and then two are given to the winner of the state.
Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) was closed today as the 44,000-acre Las Conchas wildfire burning across New Mexico came within 50 feet of its perimeter. The wildfire has already forced the evacuation of 13,000 residents of the surrounding town, and although LANL safety officials say the materials located there are secure, concerns are still lingering—after all, Los Alamos is a nuclear weapons lab and home to nearly 20,000 barrels of nuclear waste. Have officials adequately anticipated or prepared for this risk? In short, given the lab’s location, they had to.
Thursday night’s Republican presidential debate in South Carolina basically consisted of one actual, viable politician who could conceivably win a presidential election—Tim Pawlenty—standing alongside a bunch of fifth-tier candidates who had no hope: Rick Santorum, Herman Cain, Ron Paul, and Gary Johnson. Indeed, by about halfway through the debate, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) had blasted out three long “fact-check” e-mails addressing things Pawlenty had said, while completely ignoring everyone else.
One little-known fact about the filibuster is that it no longer requires the minority to hold the floor and make long speeches. It actually requires the supermajority to assemble and hold the floor to break it. Here's some good news.
Greg Sargent has been reporting today about Jeff Merkley's new filibuster reform plan; in an update, Sargent writes about the question of how many votes it would take to change Senate rules (see here for my reaction to the substance of Merkley's proposal).
There are certain shibboleths in presidential politics that even the most forthright candidates feel obliged to repeat, certain topics they feel compelled to avoid. Yet talk to former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, the unorthodox 2012 GOP hopeful, and those rules go out the window. Ask about church, and he says he doesn’t go. “Do you believe in Jesus?” I ask. “I believe he lived,” he replies with a smile. Ask about shifts in position, and he owns up to one. “I changed my mind on the death penalty,” he tells me.
The nation is urgently searching for ways to transform its energy system with cleaner alternatives.
In George Packer's excellent New Yorker piece about the Senate's dysfunction, Lamar Alexander is quoted at the end offering a rebuttal: None of the Republicans I spoke to agreed with the contention that the Senate is “broken.” Alexander claimed that he and other Republicans were exercising the moderating, thoughtful influence on legislation that the founders wanted in the Senate. “The Senate wasn’t created to be efficient,” he argued.