Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Are Jews Doomed to Lose the War on Jewish Christmas?

And lo, after wandering the desert did they arrive at the promised land. (Flickr/Janne Moren)
O n this Christmas eve, the most important article of the day is undoubtedly this piece by Daniel Drezner on a deeply disturbing development in American society, namely, the War on Jewish Christmas : Chinese food and a movie. Perfectly pleasant rituals, made special by the fact that the Gentiles are all at home or at church. After a month or two of listening to Christmas music blasted everywhere, after weeks of avoiding malls and shopping centers because of frenzied Christmas shopping, finally the Jews can emerge and just enjoy a simple ethnic meal and a movie with the other minorities that make help make this country great. No longer. I don't know when it became a thing for Christian families to also go see a movie on the day commemorating the birth of Jesus, but personal experience tells me this is a relatively recent phenomenon – i.e., the past 15 years or so . All I know is that what used to be a pleasant movie-going experience is now extremely crowded. This has been my experience...

Why Conservatives Learned Nothing From Sam Brownback's Failure

Flickr/J. Stephen Conn
Kansas governor Sam Brownback had a plan when he got elected in 2010, and it was a plan that could only be enacted in a place like Kansas: Pass huge tax cuts, then watch the state transform into a kind of economic heaven on earth. Brownback surely could never have doubted it would work, since he and those in his party have been saying for decades that tax cuts deliver economic growth, rising tax revenues, general happiness, and shinier, more manageable hair. You've probably heard the story: growth in Kansas did not, in fact, explode, but what did happen is that revenues plummeted, leading to severe cutbacks in education and other state services. Brownback nevertheless managed to get re-elected, because it was a non-presidential year and because it's Kansas. So now he's had a chance to reflect, and here's how he's looking at things , according to a Topeka newspaper: As Gov. Sam Brownback's first term comes to a close, the Republican governor has one regret — no, scratch that — one...

Obama Compared to Prior Presidents On Job Creation, In Graphs

B arack Obama has some reason to crow about the direction the economy has been moving lately. As he said in his press conference on Friday, "as a country, we have every right to be proud of what we've accomplished: more jobs, more people insured, a growing economy, shrinking deficits, bustling industry, booming energy." And it's true that there are some kinds of economic data that look excellent, particularly job creation, which is what I want to focus on for the moment. We've had 50 straight months of positive job growth, since September 2010, which is pretty remarkable. Once we get the December numbers there will probably wind up being around 3 million jobs created in 2014, which would make it the best year since 1999. So how does Obama stack up against his predecessors in this department? As always, it depends how you look at it. But let's start with just the job numbers . Here's a graph showing every president since Eisenhower: A few things jump out from this graph. While we don't...

Today's Cyborg News

John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory
One of the things that bugged me about the movie "Avatar" (I know, I know) was the idea that 150 years in the future, someone who had suffered a spinal injury would be rolling around in a wheelchair, and getting him new legs would be so expensive that only some people would be able to afford it. I realize the protagonist's inability to walk on his own was central to the plot, but none of the other technology in the film required that it take place that far in the future; they could just as easily have said it was 2054 instead of 2154 and it would have been much more plausible. Why do I bring up this bit of nerd nitpickery (nerdpickery?), you ask? Because here, via Popular Science , is a man controlling the movement of his prosthetic arms with his mind, the first double-amputee to do so: This research and development is funded with your tax dollars , which is pretty cool. So how long will it be before prosthetic limbs can move with all the responsiveness, precision, and dexterity of...

More Disturbing Revelations About the CIA Torture Program

Wikimedia Commons
The most important thing to read today is this extraordinary report from Matthew Cole of NBC News about one CIA officer, the agency's top expert on al-Qaeda, and her trail of screw-ups and lies with regard to the torture program. Among other things, she was one of the models for the composite lead character in "Zero Dark Thirty," but this is much more disturbing than what was in that film. She is referred to as "the expert": At one point, she misread intelligence provided by another suspected terrorist, and the faulty information was then used to extract an erroneous admission from Mohammed, often referred to by the acronym KSM, during two days of interrogation in March 2003, the report said. Majid Khan, who was in Pakistani custody, had stated that Mohammed had sought to recruit "two to three unknown Black American Muslim converts who were currently training in Afghanistan" to carry out attacks on gas stations in the U.S. But in a cable describing the intelligence, the expert...

Why the Cuba Issue Will Not Help Marco Rubio Become President

Yeah, maybe not so much.
At least publicly, Republicans have been nearly unanimous in their condemnation of the Obama administration's decision to normalize relations with Cuba. In and of itself this isn't surprising, given their party's long history of vigorous anti-communism and the fact that this move was taken by Barack Obama, which makes it wrong by definition. As I wrote over at the Post this morning, the presidential contenders in particular are trapped by their older voters, for whom the Cold War is a living thing, not something they read about in history class. For decades, opposition to communism was one of the key pillars of conservative identity, and so for them doing something that feels in any way like being nice to Castro is tantamount to raising taxes or changing your position on abortion. But nobody was as outraged yesterday as the cherubic Marco Rubio: "Absurd," the Republican called the Cuba plans during a spot on Fox News, one of more than a dozen television appearances he made Wednesday...

Barack Obama, Set Free

President Obama on the phone yesterday with Cuban president Raul Castro. (White House photo by Pete Souza)
Here's a little blast from the recent past, a meeting of the minds between Bill O'Reilly and Brit Hume in October 2013: O'Reilly asked Hume, "Is he just not interested? Is he bored with it? Is it deniability?" Hume said that unlike some past presidents, Obama is "not a micromanager" and prefers to rely on others. O'Reilly charged that right now, Obama's performance is so bad, he's in "major trouble on the history front" and has to be "in the bottom ten" in a ranking of all the U.S. presidents. This was a major theme in conservative and not-so-conservative media for quite some time: Obama is passive, he's bored, he just doesn't care anymore, he's like a senior two weeks from graduation who just can't wait to get it over with. Here's a piece from June by Ron Fournier passing on complaints about Obama from anonymous Democrats, including "his disengagement from the political process and from the public." "He's bored and tired of being president," Fournier cites one as saying. Not long...

Is Barack Obama's Revival On the Way?

White House photo by Pete Souza
Is Barack Obama about to have a revival? Peter Beinart argued the other day that he is, for three reasons: his actions on immigration have improved his standing among Hispanics, the economy is picking up steam, and there's a natural swing of the pendulum in press coverage as reporters tire of writing the current story after a while and look for change and new developments. An Obama comeback would fit the bill. I think Beinart is probably right, and the economy is the main reason; it swamps every other consideration in evaluating the president. We could have some major shock that upends the momentum it has been gaining, but if things proceed for the next two years on the trajectory they're on, the Obama presidency will be one of the best for job creation in recent history. But it's also important to understand that an Obama revival, should it happen, is going to look different than that of other presidents. Among recent two-term presidents, George W. Bush left office with approval...

Has the GOP Become the Pro-Torture Party?

If you'll permit me a momentary bit of crowing, I'd like to take some credit for what we learned from Dick Cheney's appearance on Meet the Press last Sunday. Not that we didn't already know about Cheney's enthusiasm for torture, but we now understand better just how morally infantile his thinking is—and this man, don't forget, was more responsible than anyone for the policies instituted under the Bush administration. Because the blithe refusal of people like Cheney to define torture has been bothering me for so long (combined with the fact that they get away with simply saying things like "waterboarding isn't torture" without having to answer what torture is), I suggested to Chuck Todd last week that he might ask Cheney explicitly for his definition. Todd apparently thought it wasn't a bad idea, because this was how the interview began: You can read more of my thoughts here , but it seems that Cheney believes that there is literally nothing the United States can do to prisoners that...

Here's a Bargain Republicans and Democrats Could Make on Obamacare

Shake on it - for America. (Flickr/ClaraDon)
Since Congress just passed a budget and we are therefore at the dawn of a new era of bipartisan comity and compromise, I'd like to propose a trade, one that will allow both Democrats and Republicans to gain something significant without giving much up. The topic is the Affordable Care Act, and the trade is this: What if Republicans agree to pass a technical fix to address what it essentially a typo in the ACA, one that threatens to take insurance from millions of middle-class Americans, and in exchange, Democrats agree to repeal the ACA's employer mandate? Everybody would win. Let's start with the employer mandate. Republicans hate it, because it infringes on the prerogatives of business owners, whom Republicans tend to believe are the most virtuous among us. There is certainly a cost of the mandate, in that some employers who hadn't offered insurance before will now have to do so. Raise their expenses, and there will be some effect on employment as they don't hire as many workers...

Progressives Just Lost a Fight On the Budget. So Why Are They So Happy?

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
O ver the weekend, the "Cromnibus" budget was passed by a coalition that included the GOP leadership and the Obama White House. Neither conservative Republicans nor liberal Democrats were happy with what was in it. So why is it that the conservatives are feeling bitter and betrayed, while the liberals seem positively elated, despite the fact that they both lost? We don't need to work too hard to understand the conservatives' reaction. The budget doesn't stop President Barack Obama's executive actions on immigration, and Republican leaders decided not to force another government shutdown in a vain attempt to do so. As usual, the conservatives are convinced that John Boehner and Mitch McConnell are wimps who do nothing more than bide their time between capitulations. But what explains the liberal reaction? For the first time in this presidency, liberal Democrats feel as though something like a coherent bloc, outside of and sometimes in opposition to the White House, is beginning to form...

The War On Terror Encapsulated In One Case

U.S. Navy photo showing Jose Padilla in sensory deprivation.
As we continue to debate the question of whether torture is an abomination or actually a great idea that worked well and should be used whenever we're feeling afraid, I want to point to one case in particular, that of Jose Padilla. The entire deranged history of the Bush administration's War on Terror can be seen in Padilla's story, and now we know even more about it. In case you don't remember, on June 10, Attorney General John Ashcroft interrupted a trip to Russia to hold a press conference announcing that a month prior, the United States had thwarted a major terrorist threat by arresting Padilla, a Chicago man who had travelled to the Pakistan and joined up with al Qaeda. Padilla, Ashcroft said, was plotting to detonate a "dirty bomb" that would release radioactive material over Washington, potentially killing thousands. But we got him before he could carry out his horrific plan. By the time of Ashcroft's dramatic press conference, Bush administration officials had already decided...

Did Democrats Get Hosed on the Budget Bill?

Merry Christmas to me... (Flickr/Speaker John Boehner)
Once again, Democrats had to step in and save John Boehner from a humiliating defeat that would lead to a government shutdown (67 Republicans voted against the bill; the 57 Democrats who voted in favor pushed it past a majority). There were complicated coalitions facing off; on one side you had Boehner and the White House trying to pass it, while on the other you had liberal Democrats joining with conservative Republicans in opposition. The general conclusion in the press is well summed up by articles like this one , noting that while the liberals failed to stop the bill, this is nonetheless a potentially seminal moment, because they went against the White House, and vocally so. The question is whether this signals an important rift that will have real practical consequences in the next two years and beyond. That is important, but before we get there, there's a substantive matter we need to take note of. This budget bill was cobbled together in haste, but there was time to throw in...

Just How Delusional Are Congressional Republicans On Immigration?

Flickr/Anne
If you're enough of a weirdo to be following Congress' attempts to pass a budget before tonight's deadline, you've heard about the "CRomnibus," the oh-so-clever combination of bills Republican leaders devised to avoid a shutdown and simultaneously convince their members that they're really, truly going to give it to Barack Obama over his executive actions on immigration. The "omnibus" part is the bill that will keep every department but one operating through the end of the fiscal year (next October), while the "CR" part is the continuing resolution that applies only to the Department of Homeland Security, keeping it operating only until the end of February. At that point, tea partiers in Congress were told, we can have another shutdown fight and we'll really get that Obama, just like you want to. Now that the thing (in whatever final form it arrives) is about to pass, it's time to marvel at just what a bunch of fools those Republicans are if they think that come February they're going...

Do Republicans Want to Bring Torture Back?

A medieval use of stress positions, an oldie but a goodie. (Flickr/Curious Expeditions)
I'd like to follow up on a question I've raised yesterday and today over at the Post (see here and here ) regarding the torture program. It's pretty simple: what do the program's defenders think we should do now? Or more particularly, since Barack Obama isn't going to change his policy toward torture in the last two years of his presidency, what should the next president do? I've seen almost no one talk about the torture question as though it related in any way to the future. Even the most ardent torture advocates are talking only about the past. But if they're right that the program was perfectly legal and produced vital intelligence that could be obtained no other way, then one would assume they'd like to renew the waterboarding sessions as soon as they have the opportunity, i.e. as soon as there's a Republican president. Which makes it particularly important to get the people who want to be that president on record now about whether they have any plans to do so. When I wrote this...

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