Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Would You Let a Robot Give You a Sponge Bath?

Getting ready for their shift on the pediatric ward. (Kai Schreiber/Wikimedia Commons)
Imagine it's 50 years from now, and you've checked into the hospital for a minor surgery that will require you to spend a couple of nights there. There's a nurses' station down the hall, but you know that the nurses are also caring for lots of other patients and may not be able to come quickly when you have a need, particularly if it isn't an emergency, like getting a hand walking to the bathroom, or having someone pick up the TV remote you dropped, or maybe getting a foot rub just because that would be nice. Upon checking in, the clerk says to you, "I see that your insurance provides for a robotic aide while you're here. Is that something you'd like?" What are you going to say? According to a survey the Pew Research Center did on people's feelings about future technologies, most people would say "No thanks"—or at least they think so now. The survey is fascinating in part because many of the results seem (to me anyway) to be ridiculous. For instance, 39 percent of respondents think...

Where the Death Penalty Stands

Yesterday, the New Hampshire state Senate deadlocked on a bill that would have eliminated the state's death penalty, killing the bill for the moment and leaving New Hampshire as the only state in New England that still has a law providing for executions. The bill had already passed in the state House of Representatives and has the support of the governor, so one more vote would have passed it. I thought this was a nice opportunity to look at the state of the death penalty in America and around the world. On to the charts and graphs! As of now, 32 states still have the death penalty, and 18 (plus the District of Columbia) have eliminated it. Six of those 18—Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico, and New York—eliminated their death penalties just since 2007. Even in some states that have death penalty laws on the books, capital punishment has all but disappeared. Kentucky, for instance, has executed only three prisoners since the Supreme Court reinstated the death...

The Circle of Scam Keeps Turning

Flickr/Kevin Trotman
A couple of times in the past I've written about what I call the conservative circle of scam, the way so many people on the right are so adept at fleecing each other. Here's a piece about high-priced consultants milking the Koch brothers for everything they can get, and here's one about my favorite story , the way that, in 2012, Dick Morris played ordinary people who wanted to see Barack Obama driven from office (he solicited donations to a super PAC for that purpose, laundered the money just a bit, and apparently kept most of it for himself without ever spending any of it on defeating Obama). The essence of the circle of scam is that everybody gets rich at some stage of the game, with the exception of the rank-and-file conservatives who fuel it all with their votes, their eyeballs, and their money. Today there are two new media stories showing that the circle of scam is humming along nicely. The first comes from Michael Calderone at Huffington Post , who reports on an interesting...

Daily Meme: Voting Machinations

We're all about voting and elections today, starting with t his Fox News poll showing a wide-open race for the 2016 GOP nomination. Chris Christie leads with 15 percent, followed by Jeb Bush and Rand Paul with 14 percent each, going all the way down to Bobby Jindal with room to move at 2 percent. Looks like it's time for some traffic problems in Des Moines. New York's Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill bringing the Empire State into the National Popular Vote Compact, which could effectively eliminate the electoral college if enough states join in. Rick Hertzberg explains, in case you need to be brought up to speed . The ACLU has filed a lawsuit challenging Arkansas' voter ID law . One of the lead plaintiffs is a 78-year-old man who has no birth certificate, and Republicans in the state argue that he suffers from no undue burden in voting. After all, he'll be allowed to vote if he can successfully recite Ronald Reagan's 1984 convention speech backward in Esperanto while performing a one-...

Judging Obama's "Evolution" on Marriage Equality

White House photo by Pete Souza
Years from now, Barack Obama will almost certainly be seen as the most significant American president in the history of the gay rights movement. Under his watch, the military ended its policy of discrimination against gay servicemembers, the Defense of Marriage Act was abandoned by the administration and then overturned by the Supreme Court, and a majority of Americans came to embrace marriage equality—not least, the president himself. But there's another way to look at that story, which is that on marriage, at least, Obama had to be dragged to the position he eventually took. An article in next Sunday's New York Times Magazine , by Jo Becker, details just what the process was, and if you're looking for evidence that Obama's "evolution" on the issue was purely political, there's plenty. I don't know too many liberals who would doubt it—or conservatives either, for that matter. The former see a president whose heart was in the right place but was cautious about when it would be...

Daily Meme: The Passion of Kathleen Sebelius

Let's just say that this has not been Kathleen Sebelius's year. As secretary of Health and Human Services, she absorbed much of the blame for the botched rollout of the Obamacare website. Even after the White House exceeded its health insurance signup goal--the chance for a victory lap if there ever was one-- Sebelius announced last week that she was stepping down . Republicans could barely conceal their glee upon hearing that their arch-nemesis was departing. Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn asked her Twitter followers whether they'd be breaking out "red solo cups" or "crystal stemware" to celebrate Sebelius's resignation. Ted Cruz speculated that the Democrats pushed out Sebelius because Senate Democrats were "scared." Everyone had something to say about Sebelius's legacy. Maryland Democrat Elijah Cummings generously declared that Sebelius would be a "footnote in history." (We should all be so lucky.) Now, Sebelius is on an apology tour. In an interview with Meet the Press on Sunday...

The Culture War Goes On

The Louisiana state house, threatened by the dark clouds of sin and wickedness. (Flickr/Ken Lund)
These days, liberals might be forgiven for feeling that they've won the culture war, or at least that they're winning. With the large exception of abortion (on which opinions have basically not budged in decades and conservative states have moved aggressively to curtail women's rights), on most hot-button social issues the country continues to move left. Marriage equality is now embraced by a majority of Americans, as is marijuana legalization. Basic conservative ideas about family life—that women should stay home whether they want to or not, that children benefit from a good beating now and again—live on in the hearts of many but have been vanquished from the realm of reasonable debate. On these issues and many others, young people are far more liberal than the old, particularly the oldest generations that are dying out. But the culture war has always, and will always, be with us. And just because you've lost a particular battle, it doesn't mean you can't keep fighting it. To wit,...

Uncivil Disobedience and the Opposite of Patriotism

BLM land in Nevada (Flickr/Ken Lund)
Back when George W. Bush was president, liberals were regularly accused of being disloyal or anti-American if they disagreed with the policies the administration was undertaking. As Bush himself said, you were either with us or with the terrorists, and as far as many of his supporters were concerned, "us" meant the Bush administration and everything they wanted to do, including invading Iraq. You may have noticed that now that there's a Democrat in the White House, conservatives no longer find disagreeing with the government's policies to be anti-American; in fact, the truest patriotism is now supposedly found among those whose hatred of the president, and the government more generally, burns white-hot in the core of their souls. We've gotten used to that over the last five years, but I've still been surprised at the conservative embrace of Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher who has been in an argument with the Bureau of Land Management over grazing fees. Briefly: for 20 years Bundy has...

Cuomo's Wedge

AP Images/Mike Groll
O n Monday, Mary Fallin, Oklahoma’s Republican governor, signed legislation forbidding her state’s cities from enacting ordinances that set their own minimum wage standards or that entitle workers to paid sick days. Even in hard-right Oklahoma, citizens were collecting signatures to put initiatives raising the minimum wage and mandating sick-day on the Oklahoma City ballot. Fallin has now put an unceremonious end to such egalitarian frippery. As an increasing number of cities have considered setting their minimum wages higher than those of their states, conservatives in state government have moved to strip them of that power. Most Southern states explicitly forbid their municipalities from indulging in such displays of egalitarian economics. In Washington, a Republican state senator has introduced legislation that would keep Seattle from raising its wage. In Wisconsin, Republican Governor Scott Walker is backing legislation that would strip cities of the right to enact living wage...

Hillary Clinton, Youth Candidate

Who is this hip and with-it young person? (Photo from the Clinton Library)
Our old colleague Patrick Caldwell has an interesting article up at Mother Jones about the way the Hillary Clinton campaign—or whatever we can call it at this point, since it isn't actually a campaign but it isn't exactly just a bunch of independent people doing their own thing either—is going after college students. I had forgotten how idiotically hostile the Hillary '08 campaign was toward college students in Iowa, but that's just one of innumerable mistakes that one presumes she'll attempt to correct this time around. This, though, is the part that caught my eye: I was an Iowa college student myself during the last Democratic nomination, and I remember all my friends rallying around Obama with only a handful of holdouts canvassing for Clinton. She represented everything old news to my generation. We came of age during the tail end of Bill's presidency. The Clintons were our parents' Baby Boomer obsession. The old fights over draft dodging and inhaling were quaintly out of touch...

Daily Meme: Boston, One Year Later

Today marks the 1-year anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing. Three people died in the attack, while over 270 were injured, many of them gruesomely ; leg amputations abounded amongst the victims of the attack, given the angle of the bomb. The city of Boston marked the day with a memorial service and flag-raising ceremony over the finish line of the race, attended by Vice President Joe Biden, Mayor Martin J. Walsh, Governor Deval Patrick, and former mayor Thomas Menino. A bomb scare by South Station this morning was a reminder of the sense insecurity that shook the city one year ago. This year's marathon will go on as planned on Monday April 21 . The lone surviving bomber, 20-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is currently being held in a federal medical facility, where as The New York Times reports , he remains incredibly isolated: "He cannot mingle, speak or pray with other prisoners. His only visitors are his legal team, a mental health consultant and his immediate family, who...

Strike a Pose

A salt-of-the-earth Louisianan nods approvingly while Mary Landreiu gets mad on his behalf.
One of the central dynamics of American politics in the last few decades has been the sorting of the parties, the way that the Republican and Democratic coalitions have become ideologically clearer and more narrow. There are some ways in which this has been a salutary development; for instance, if like many Americans you're a low-information voter, its easier to figure out which party to vote for than it once was. But while the GOP has become particularly unified—the northeastern liberal Republicans who once constituted a substantial faction within the party are all gone—there are still some moderate Democrats around, even in the South. That means, among other things, that other Democrats have to put up with those Southern moderates doing things that would get them excommunicated if they were Republicans, like making bashing a Democratic administration one of the centerpieces of their campaigns. To wit, this new ad from Louisiana senator Mary Landreiu, who is facing a tough race this...

Karl Polanyi Explains It All

Tim Bower
I n November 1933, less than a year after Hitler assumed power in Berlin, a 47-year-old socialist writer on Vienna’s leading economics weekly was advised by his publisher that it was too risky to keep him on the staff. It would be best both for the Österreichische Volkswirt and his own safety if Karl Polanyi left the magazine. Thus began a circuitous odyssey via London, Oxford, and Bennington, Vermont, that led to the publication in 1944 of what many consider the 20th century’s most prophetic work of political economy, The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time . Polanyi, with no academic base, was already a blend of journalist and public intellectual, a major critic of the Austrian School of free-market economics and its cultish leaders, Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek. Polanyi and Hayek would cross swords for four decades—Hayek becoming more influential as an icon of the free-market right but history increasingly vindicating Polanyi. Reluctantly,...

The Abortion Restriction That’s Too Extreme for Most Pro-Lifers

AP Images/The Columbus Dispatch/Brooke LaValley
E arlier this month, lawmakers in Kansas ended this session’s debate over abortion on a surprisingly low-key note. The Republican leadership shepherded two minor tweaks to existing abortion policies through the legislature, while staving off a far more contentious measure: a bill that would criminalize abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. The bill’s advocates say they are confident it would have passed, had it reached the floor; Kansas has strong anti-abortion majorities in both houses of the legislature and pro-life crusader Sam Brownback in the governor’s mansion. But the Republican leadership, prompted by the state’s most powerful pro-life group, Kansans for Life, used a legislative loophole to keep their more radical colleagues from attaching the fetal heartbeat proposal. Why, in a state where nearly every strain of anti-abortion restriction has taken root with ease, are advocates of the fetal heartbeat ban facing such stiff...

Daily Meme: A Brief History of the Hate Crime

Yesterday, a gunman opened fire at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City killing three people. The shooter, Frazier Glenn Miller, a 73-year-old former Klu Klux Klan Grand Dragon, had a history of violence, and once headed a movement called "White Southland." A sample of what he was peddling? Miller sent his supporters ("Aryan warriers of The Order") a points system guide for murders , as The Daily Beast reports—“'N**gers (1), White race traitors (10), Jews (10), Judges (50) Morris Seligman Dees (888).' Dees is the founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center." Given the location of the shooting, it's timing on the eve of Passover, and the fact that when he was apprehended by the police, Miller yelled a Nazi salute , law enforcement will prosecute the crime as a hate crime . That means Miller will face charges on both a state and federal level. The law didn't always treat such crimes with increased penalties, however. Here's a quick history of hate crimes prosecution in the...

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