Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

John McCain Says Ignorant, Belligerent Things; Press Swoons

Protesters in Kiev, a place John McCain knows as little about as everyplace else. (Flickr/streetwrk.com)

I'll admit that I know next to nothing about Ukrainian politics. And when it comes to the current crisis there, I don't have any brilliant ideas about how the United States could solve this problem, but that's partly because the United States probably can't solve this problem. My limited knowledge and lack of transformative ideas puts me on equal footing with John McCain. Yet for some reason, McCain is once again all over the news, now that the situation in Kiev is turning uglier by the hour. What does McCain have to say? Well, he believes that it's all Barack Obama's fault. "This is the most naive president in history," he said, citing as evidence the fact that five years ago, the Obama administration said it wanted to "reset" relations with Russia. Got 'em there, John. Obviously, if a certain someone was president, and he's not not naming any names here, this whole thing could be wrapped up in an afternoon.

What does McCain actually think we should do about Ukraine? We'll get to that in a moment. But if you had to sum up John McCain's foreign policy beliefs in a single word, that word would probably be "Grrrr!"

Federal Government Soon to Know Everywhere You've Driven

License plate cameras in New York. (Flickr/lucky_dog)

Well here we go. A few days ago, Ars Technica spotted a listing on a federal government website, explaining that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency is looking for a vendor who can assemble for them a database that brings together data from the all the license plate cameras that more and more police departments across the country are installing. You don't like the fact that the government has a file somewhere listing every call you've made on your cell phone? How do you feel about them knowing everywhere you've driven?

Arkansas's Medicaid Folly

AP Images/Brian Chilson

On Tuesday, the Arkansas state legislature failed to renew a bill authorizing its expanded-Medicaid plan, an innovative approach to Obamacare that allowed the state to use federal funds to purchase private insurance for the state's low-income residents. Arkansas's unique plan was a compromise between the state's Democratic governor, Mike Beebe, and the Republican-led legislature, and made the state one of the few ultra-conservative ones to bother expanding Medicaid. In the 25 states that didn't expand, many of the poor are still doing without insurance, because the federal subsidies weren't designed to kick in until people made above a certain threshold. If Arkansas doesn't renew its Medicaid program, 85,000 people who've gotten insurance this year will suddenly lose it again.

Needling for Change

AP Images/Jae C. Hong

For the first few years Liz Evans worked at the Portland Hotel Society, a network of homeless shelters in central Vancouver, she would arrive at her job already exhausted. On her morning walk through Downtown Eastside—a neighborhood infamous as the poorest zip code in Canada—she stepped over drug addicts passed out in doorways and sidled around alleys where people would cook dope and shoot up in broad daylight. It was 1993, and Vancouver was in the throes of an HIV epidemic. Tens of thousands of impoverished injection drug users were crammed into a fifteen-block radius. The Portland Hotel Society was one of the few housing projects in the city that welcomed drug addicts, and working there felt like triage. Evans, a nurse, trained her staff to intervene when the residents overdosed. “It was such a painful time,” Evans says. “These weren’t people who were partying or using drugs to have fun. They were poor and sick and dying.”

Daily Meme: A Brief History of Presidential Groveling

  • Art history majors, relax. The president doesn't think that you should chuck your books on contemporary color theory and go take a course in carpentry.

The Good War, Now Not So Good

Flickr/U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Casteel

When Barack Obama ran for president in 2008, he promised that he would get us out of Iraq, the war everyone hated, and concentrate our efforts in Afghanistan, the good war. We had gone into Iraq on the basis of two false premises, one implied by the Bush administration (Saddam Hussein was responsible in some way for September 11) and one stated explicitly (Saddam had a terrifying arsenal of weapons of mass destruction with which he would be attacking us any day if we didn't attack him first). But Afghanistan was the war we could agree on. Sure, we'd been there for too long, and it was a devil of a mess. But that's where the September 11 attacks came from, so we were justified in going there.

Why Can't You Miserable Commoners Be Happier With Your Lot?

This is the look of satisfaction Tom Perkins gets right after shouting, "Release the hounds!" (Flickr/JD Lasica)

Venture capital billionaire Tom Perkins may be new to the trolling game, but he made an absolutely spectacular debut when he wrote to the Wall Street Journal a few weeks back warning that resentment toward the super-rich in American society reminded him a lot of the Nazi campaign against the Jews. Then last weekend, he followed that bit of wisdom by proposing that the wealthy ought to get more votes than the unwashed masses, since they pay more in taxes. "The Tom Perkins system is: You don't get to vote unless you pay a dollar of taxes," he said in a speech. "But what I really think is, it should be like a corporation. You pay a million dollars in taxes, you get a million votes. How's that?"

That, you're probably saying, is abominable. Why not just let the richest one person choose the president? He's got the most money, so he's obviously the wisest and has the greatest interest in government, right? Although Perkins might not be too pleased with that outcome, since the richest person in America is Bill Gates, who seems pretty liberal, what with his efforts to improve global health and fight poverty rather than letting the sick and destitute contemplate their well-deserved fate while they gaze up in admiration at their betters.

Okay, so Tom Perkins is kind of a lunatic. But is he a representative lunatic? Do his peers up in the penthouse suite and down at the yacht club think the same things he does, or is he an outlier?

Conversations with My Mother

AP Images/Jacquelyn Martin

Last week I had lunch with my mother. At 86 going on 66 she’s remarkable, alert and energetic, in generally high spirits; in the last decade she’s found the church, which I figure is fair enough for anyone who knows they must be somewhere near the end. Now this enters her conversation more, which I accept as well as someone can who has a higher opinion of God than of religion. Mom and I used to talk about politics a lot, something that always unnerved my wife, who didn’t understand how our contentiousness could be so good natured. But starting with the Iraq War, which made me madder than anything in my political life (including the Vietnam War, when I was a potential draftee), and moving into the Age of Obama, we’ve tiptoed around the subject of politics, for reasons that became clear at last week’s lunch when we skirted the subjects of Fox commentator Bill O’Reilly’s Super Bowl interview with the president, health-care reform, and the weather.

Daily Meme: White Men with Money—The Story of the 2014 Midterms

  • Since 2014 is already two months in and the November elections only a short nine months away, we figured a brush-up on where all the money will be coming from is in order. As you might have guessed, this will mostly be a list of wealthy white men. Enjoy!

Sauce For the Gander

Liberal hedge fund billionaire Tom Steyer. (Stuart Isett/Fortune Live Media/Flickr)

Today's New York Times has a story about Tom Steyer, a retired hedge fund billionaire who is planning to spend $100 million ($50 million of his own, and $50 million of other people's) in the 2014 election to support action on climate change, which in practice means electing Democrats. That would put Steyer in the big leagues, though not at the top—the network of donors established by Charles and David Koch spent at least $400 million in 2012—and it raises the question of how liberals should feel about this kind of thing. If you believe that Citizens United has been a disaster for democracy, and spectacularly wealthy people shouldn't be able to swoop in to a House or Senate race with zillions of dollars and change the outcome from what it otherwise would be, then should you be bothered?

Why Don't We Have Viagra for Women Yet?

AP Images/Allen Breed

Last week, a small drug company called Sprout Pharmaceuticals announced that its version of “female Viagra”—a medication designed to enhance women’s libidos—was going back for yet another battery of tests. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) wants more data on how Sprout’s drug, the whimsically named “flibanserin,” affects driving ability.

It's Not Illiberal To Defend Fundamental Rights

AP Images/Idaho Statesman/Joe Jaszewski

"In addition to whatever else the prosecution can prove," a judge told a defense lawyer on an early episode of Law & Order, "your client is guilty of bad timing." The same is true of The Week's Damon Linker, who wrote two posts urging liberals to temper their pursuit of justice for gays and lesbians in order to to respect the religious freedom of opponents of equal rights.

There's No Place Like Homophobic Kansas

AP Photo/Orlin Wagner

Count it as yet another thing wrong with Kansas, where schools teach kids Adam and Eve rode the dinosaurs and it's safer to be a gang member than an abortion provider. Last week, lawmakers in the state's Republican-controlled House of Representatives set off outrage across the country by passing a law that would not only make it legal for private businesses to discriminate against gays, lesbians, and transgender people; it would also permit state employees—long obliged by our legal tradition to serve all customers on equal terms—to deny LGBT people basic services as long as they are motivated by "sincerely held religious beliefs." Narrow exemptions for religious and religiously-affiliated institutions have increasingly become a standard part of gay-marriage bills as more and more states begin to enact equal marriage legislatively instead of in response to a court ruling. But the Kansas law goes far beyond such targeted exemptions by sanctioning anti-gay discrimination in nearly every arena of public life. Get in a car accident? You'd better hope the triage nurse at the public hospital's not a Rush Limbaugh fan.

Guns and the Thug Life

AP Images/The Florida Times-Union/Bob Mack

On Saturday night, the jury in the case of Michael Dunn rendered a strange verdict, convicting Dunn of attempting to murder the three teens who survived the hail of fire he sent at their car, but deadlocking on the charge of murdering the one he succeeded in killing. We may never know what went on in the jury room, but if nothing else, Dunn will not be driving into any more parking lots and getting into any more arguments that end in death, at least not for some time.

This case is, of course about race, which we'll get to in a moment. But it's also about—to use a word that crops up repeatedly in Michael Dunn's written comments—a culture. It's a culture where manhood must continually be proven, where every disagreement is a test of strength, and where in the end, your fellow human beings are only waiting to kill you, so you'd better draw first.

This was the culture of violence that Michael Dunn carried with him to the convenience store, the one that ended the life of 17-year-old Jordan Davis. It was Dunn's manic hyper-vigilance, his fear, and the .45 he carried with him that brought death to the parking lot.

When Culture Eclipses Class

AP Images/Erik Schelzig

America is where class struggle gets derailed by culture wars. It’s happened throughout our history. It happened again last week in Chattanooga.

For more than a decade, the ability of the United Auto Workers to win good contracts for its members—clustered in GM, Ford, Chrysler, and various auto parts factories across the industrial Midwest—has been undercut by its failure to unionize the lower-wage factories that European and Japanese car makers have opened in the South. Daimler, BMW, Nissan, Toyota, Volkswagen—all of them ventured to the non-union South to make cars on the cheap for the American market.

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