Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

The Myth of Obamacare's Bad Sales Job

Flickr/Brent Moore
When they went forward with their plan to shut down the government in order to undo, defund, or otherwise undermine the Affordable Care Act (ACA), conservatives convinced themselves that their plan was going to work because Americans hate Obamacare. If you look at it in an extremely narrow, context-free way, that's sort of true. If you just ask people whether they approve of the ACA, you get between 35 percent and 45 percent approval. But the closer you look, the more complicated it gets. Some people disapprove of it because they feel it didn't go far enough; add them with those who say they approve, and you'll get a majority. Furthermore, and most critical for what I'd like to discuss, the actual components of the law, like giving people subsidies to buy insurance, outlawing denials for pre-existing conditions, and so on, are extremely popular (the one exception is the individual mandate). One thing's for sure, though: You can't say that the ACA as an abstract entity is...

Dancing with the Shutdown Spin that Brought You

AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite S pin is overrated. Alas, it’s never going away. If there’s one thing that political scientists try, repeatedly, to convince the reporters and correspondents who cover politics of, it’s that fundamentals tend to matter a lot more than they think, and opinion manipulation matters less. Not none—but in many cases, not very much. That’s why, for example, it was easy to predict that Republicans would lose the polling battle over the shutdown. If spin mattered, then that wouldn’t be the case; we would have to wait to see how well each side developed and delivered their “messaging” and their “narratives.” Oh, they do that; it just doesn’t matter nearly as much as structural elements, such as the advantage that a president has over congressional leaders in these sorts of situations or the fact that going into this particular battle, Democrats were united while Republicans were split. When this is over and you read a behind-the-scenes story about how the White...

The New Pornographers

AP Images/Rich Pedroncelli
C alifornia passed a law last month to prevent a form of online harassment known as “revenge porn”—explicit images almost exclusively of women posted online by their former partners. The victims of revenge porn are often left without recourse, ignored or extorted by website hosts, and discounted by local authorities who either lack awareness of federal cyber stalking and harassment laws or see little point in pressing charges. Frustrated by lack of recourse, campaigns such as End Revenge Porn have started fighting for state legislation to criminalize the practice. Until the passage of California’s law, New Jersey was the only state that had criminalized revenge porn, and a New York legislator just announced his plan to propose similar legislation last week. Revenge porn is only one form of online harassment that disproportionately affects women and often goes unreported. The attacks can range from threatening and degrading messages to the posting of personal information like home...

Daily Meme: Politics is Dumb. And Stupid.

Senator Mark Warner: "Enough is enough. Sequestration is stupid . Shutting down the government is stupidity on steroids." Timothy Egan: "Politically, the shutdown is terrible for a party trying to rebrand itself. When Bobby Jindal said Republicans have to 'stop being the party of stupid,' he swallowed a teaspoon of common sense. That’s been washed away by a river of stupid ." Paul Krugman: "These guys are cynical and dishonest — but they’re also very, very stupid ." Bill Keller: "The right-wing campaign to sabotage the Affordable Care Act has driven a lot of normally temperate people past the edge of exasperation. Pundits have described the crusade as crazy, stupid , arrogant, dishonest, cynical, ridiculous and politically suicidal. And that’s not just liberals talking." Dave Weigel: "The OMB's shutdown instructions led to a number of closures that seemed, to neutral observers, pretty stupid ." Paul Waldman: What … can I add about the latest twist in the pending government shutdown?...

Restorative Justice's After-School Special

“Education was where my heart was,” says Tyrone Sinclair in Growing Fairness , a documentary showcasing the impact restorative-justice programs can have in our nation's schools. Sinclair says he was expelled from school at 16, became homeless, and then ended up in jail. Now, he organizes young people in Los Angeles. “I knew that wasn’t the place for me,” he says of prison. “I love to learn every day.” Growing Fairness was screened at the Thurgood Marshall Center in Washington, D.C., this Wednesday, at an event hosted by Critical Exposure, a local youth group that trains high-school students in photography so they can document problems in their communities. The audience included mostly high-school students and people in their 20s, most of whom were interested in or researched education reform, though a few older community members and attorneys for civil-rights organizations were also present. The event was part of the fourth annual Week of Action organized by the Dignity in Schools...

Would You Let a Robot Watch You Undress?

Serge greets a visitor.
Let's face it, we all need a break from talking about this god-awful shutdown (acknowledging, of course, that the best break of all would be to end the damn thing). In that spirit, via Technology Review , here's an interesting study out of Georgia Tech about what kind of robots young and old people are more comfortable with, and how those preferences change depending on what it is we're asking the robots to help us with. Generally, the older people preferred more human-looking robots, while the younger people preferred more, well, robot-looking robots. That would make sense if you assume that the young are more comfortable with technology. But things get interesting when you get into details about what the robots are doing: Their preferences changed somewhat depending on what the robot was helping with, though. For example, for help in making decisions (like investing), younger people preferred a face with an in-between human/robot look. The study also found that for a robot that...

Leave Boehner Alone!

He's a very sensitive guy. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
The government shutdown is a crisis with its roots in both policy differences and disagreements about what means are appropriate to settle those policy differences. But it's also a conflict of individual people and personalities. Not that this should be news to anyone, but the key players involved—President Obama and the four congressional leaders, but most particularly Speaker of the House John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid—really, really don't like each other. Nothing too surprising there, but I'm beginning to wonder whether Democrats are helping things by the way they're talking about Boehner. Ordinarily, this kind of thing might matter only at the margins, but we're in a situation now where personal enmities and bruised egos could play a significant part in how and when this whole thing gets settled. Let's stipulate that Boehner is incredibly weak, even pathetic. Democrats look at him with contempt. It's apparent to all that he knows the shutdown is bad for the...

America's Neediest Families Are About to Run Out of Money

AP Images/Melanie Stetson Freeman
Update: Governor Jan Brewer has ordered state officials to redirect $650,000 in state funds so that families continue to receive welfare benefits. W hen Congress shut down the government, one of the many programs caught up in the fracas was Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF), the program created by the 1996 welfare-reform law. Spending on the program is mandatory, and normally wouldn’t be a casualty of an appropriations fight like the one waged now. But the law officially expired three years ago. Instead of taking it up again, Congress has simply extended the last reauthorization with each new spending bill. No spending bill, no welfare program. The biggest way the ’96 reform law changed the program was by turning it into a block grant to states: Whatever the federal government appropriated for programs designed to help poor families, they would send it in chunks to state governments that were fairly free to decide how to spend it. TANF continues to provide cash benefits to some...

Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can't Pray

AP Images/Jacksonville Journal-Courier/Robert Leistra
T im Tebow won’t be praying on the football field this fall after being repeatedly cut from NFL teams, but it’s proving more difficult to take religion out of high-school games. Despite a string of Supreme Court precedents prohibiting prayer at any school-related activity, every football season, a handful of schools come under fire for permitting students to offer prayers over the loudspeaker before the kick-off or allowing coaches to pray with their teams. One of this year’s dramas is unfolding in southwest Kansas, just a few miles north of the Oklahoma border. On September 26, the school board in the city of—wait for it—Liberal voted unanimously to allow student-led prayer over the school’s loudspeaker and over microphones on the football field. Until a few years ago, this was standard practice in the Liberal public-school system, but the use of sound systems to broadcast prayer was prohibited after administrators voiced concerns about running afoul of federal law. School prayer...

Good News About the Debt Ceiling May Mean Bad News About the Shut-Down

John Boehner apparently will let the debt ceiling rise, even if he has to rely on Democratic votes to do it . This is both good news and bad news. It’s good news because we won’t have a global financial panic in two weeks time. Boehner apparently got Wall Street’s message loud and clear: If you make the United States government default on its debts, you take responsibility for a worldwide economic catastrophe. But the flipside of Boehner’s back-off is that there’s less pressure on House Republicans to end the government shut-down. The Tea Party wing of the party, having lost what they believed was the most potent weapon in their arsenal, will likely compensate by seeking to roll the shut-down on—and on, and on. Boehner, having made a concession to reality by not forcing a governmental default, will have to go along with a prolonged shut-down. Unless there are 18 center-right Republican House members willing to threaten bolting the GOP’s ranks if Boehner doesn’t permit a vote on a...

Daily Meme: Shutdown or Not, Republicans Have Already Screwed Millions Out of Insurance

Although conservatives in the House are trying their damnedest to dismantle all of the Affordable Care Act, the 26 states that decided not to take federal money for Medicaid expansion have already done a good job screwing people out of health insurance. And, the shutdown has played its own special role in the Medicaid mayhem, as D.C. Medicaid payments have ceased until the federal government reboots. (In truth, we need to thank the Supreme Court for this mess — they upheld the law, but left a sneaky loophole for conservatives governors to stick it to the man, i.e. hurt their poorest residents.) According to a report in The New York Times , although only half of our nation's population is in these 26 states, 68 percent of the poorest black Americans and single mothers without insurance live there. "Among those excluded are about 435,000 cashiers, 341,000 cooks and 253,000 nurses’ aides ." In total, as many as 8 million Americans will be outside looking in on the new health-care...

The Cruelty of Republican States in One Chart

Click through for exciting full-size version.
Many people are talking today about this article in today's New York Times , which focuses on the particularly cruel doughnut hole created when the Supreme Court allowed states to opt out of the expansion of Medicaid in the Affordable Care Act. The problem is that if you live in a (mostly Southern) state run by Republicans, you have to be desperately poor to qualify for Medicaid under existing rules. But it isn't until you get to 133 percent of the poverty level ($31,321 in yearly income for a family of four) that you're eligible for subsidies to buy insurance on the exchanges, because when the law was written the idea was that everyone under that income would get Medicaid. When all those Southern states decided to refuse the Medicaid expansion in order to shake their fist at Barack Obama, they screwed over their own poor citizens. So millions of people will be caught in the middle: not poor enough to get Medicaid, but too poor to get subsidies on the exchanges. But when we say "not...

Can Bibi Take Yes for an Answer?

AP Photo/Seth Wenig T he weeks leading up to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday had been the most positive between the U.S. and Iran in decades. Conciliatory gestures from both sides, as well as a reportedly productive meeting between Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, culminated in a phone call between Presidents Obama and Rohani, the first ever between a President of the United States and a President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, on Friday. Netanyahu clearly saw it as his job to put the brakes on, like a sitcom father dashing down the stairs to stop the kids from making out on the couch. Except that Rohani hasn’t even gotten to first base. While Obama’s speech at the UN made clear that the U.S. desires a diplomatic solution, with the possibility of a better U.S.-Iran relationship in the future, he has also made clear that Iran’s deeds will matter more than its words. "...

Michael Bay Blows Up Detroit

Cal Sport Media via AP Images
I t's a morning in early August when Detroiters awaken to find a piece of Hong Kong rising in their midst. Beneath the shuttered skyscrapers of Grand Circus Park, the multi-story setpiece for Michael Bay's Transformers 4 buzzes with work crews painting balustrades and roofing life-sized tong lau . It has been little more than a week since Detroit became the largest city in the United States to declare bankruptcy. Under the People Mover, a monorail loop newly outfitted with sleek Chinese-language Red Bull ads, a group of professionals commute to work as if nothing were amiss. They take sips from covered cups of coffee and frown at the news on their smartphones, look towards the river and shake their heads at the distant rainclouds. To them, it's just another morning, off to the law office or accounting firm or the mortgage superbank. They aren’t incurious. It’s just that this isn’t the first time the Motor City has played host to China as a cinematic fabulation, though it may be the...

R-E-S-P-E-C-T, Find Out What It Means to the Tea Party

Newly famous Rep. Marlin Stutzman, seen here at left playing dress-up with other members of Congress. (Flicrk/SpeakerBoehner)
I'm always reluctant to make too much of any particular off-the-cuff statement a politician makes, to play that game where people on the other side say, "Aha! You have revealed yourself to the be the scoundrel we always knew you were, and this is the proof!" But sometimes, politicians do say revealing things, particularly in a situation like the one we're in now, where the outcome of a controversy that is already affecting millions of people and could threaten the entire economy is dependent on things like hurt feelings and the desire to feel like you won. So the quote of the day comes from this article in the Washington Examiner , in which a Tea Party congressman sums up nicely the fight over the government shutdown: "We're not going to be disrespected," conservative Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind., added. "We have to get something out of this. And I don't know what that even is." And there you have it. The part that's most important isn't that Stutzman doesn't know what they want,...

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