Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Daily Meme: Must. Kill. Obamacare.

Despite the invincible conviction on the right that Obamacare is a disaster and that Americans are losing their health insurance, a newly released Gallup poll shows the number of people without insurance has declined to 15.6 percent—its lowest level since 2008. The rate of uninsured dropped among all age groups, but the Affordable Care Act has made a significant dent in the number of poor and minority Americans without insurance. As Joan McCarter at Daily Kos points ou t , the Gallup numbers are key to undermining the Republican talking point that most of those signing up on the insurance exchanges already had health insurance. The GOP's response? Must. Kill. Obamacare —also the party's strategy for winning the midterms . Fox News contributor Juan Williams says while that may have worked in 2010, it's no surefire bet this time—and Republicans have no Plan B. The question, writes The New Republic's Jonathan Cohn, is not whether Obamacare is making a difference. "The question is how big...

Daily Meme: A Rough Week for Democracy

Once, long ago, lawmakers from both parties worked together to pass campaign finance reform legislation. It was a simpler time, albeit with terrorist attacks and wars in the Middle East and a presidential administration bent on giving tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans, and in 2002, Democratic Senator Russ Feingold Republican Senator John McCain (remember him?) saw their efforts to decrease the role of money in politics turned into law, adding to an overall campaign finance regulations. But since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United v. FEC decision, which allowed corporations to spend unlimited amounts on independent political advertising, and the rise of super PACS, the whole system has been wobbling. On Wednesday , another vestige of the system fell to First Amendment claims. McCutcheon v. FEC knocked down the total limits on individual campaign donations. While there are still caps on how much donors can give to a campaign or party, they can now give to as many...

How Should Liberals Feel About the Mozilla CEO Getting Pushed Out Over Marriage Equality?

By now you may have heard the story of Brendan Eich, who was named the CEO of the Mozilla corporation, which runs the Firefox web browser, then resigned ten days later after it was revealed that he donated $1,000 to the campaign for California's Proposition 8, which outlawed same-sex marriage in the state and was later overturned. Eich's resignation came after the company came under pressure from many directions, including the dating site OKCupid, which put a message on its site asking its users not to use Firefox. This is something of a dilemma for liberals: on one hand, we support marriage equality, but on the other, we also support freedom of thought and don't generally think people should be hounded from their jobs because of their beliefs on contentious issues. So where should you come down? In order to decide, there are a few questions you need to ask, some of which are easier to answer than others: What kind of an employee was Brendan Eich? This question, which may be the most...

Hurray for Global Warming!

Flickr/chiz2008
Flickr/chiz2008 T he take-away from the latest U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report could hardly be more stark: The globe is warming, and it’s already impacting every continent and the oceans. In order to avoid widespread food and water insecurity, waves of human migration, more frequent civil war, ocean acidification, and a severe global economic contraction, governments must act quickly to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and invest in things like barriers to protect from rising seal levels and storm surges to setting up insurance schemes to cover agricultural losses during severe drought. “No matter what we do,” says Christopher B. Field, a professor of interdisciplinary environmental studies at Stanford University and one of the report’s authors, “we are already going to have impacts that we need to adjust to.” Among the more surprising findings of the IPCC report, which took into account more than 12,000 scientific papers and received upwards of 50,000...

How Our Campaign Finance System Compares to Other Countries

The world, including places that are not us.
With the Supreme Court's decision in the McCutcheon case, some people think we're heading for the complete removal of contribution limits from campaigns. Jeffrey Toobin, for instance, argues that the way Justice Roberts defines corruption—basically, nothing short of outright bribery qualifies—means that he could well be teeing things up to eliminate contribution limits entirely in some future case. Which got me thinking: if we really are headed for that eventual outcome, how would that place us compared to other countries? For instance, if you're a Monsieur Koch in France, can you write a candidate a million-euro check? Fortunately, the good folks at the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA), an inter-governmental agency, have gathered this kind of information together . Of course, a large database of laws from all over the world is going to miss many of the subtleties and loopholes that characterize each individual country's system. But...

Wall Street’s Subsidy Safety Net

AP Images/Mary Altaffer
F inancial reformers in both parties have insisted for years that the largest banks remain too big to fail, and that Dodd-Frank did not cleanse the system of this reality. You can mark down this week as the moment that this morphed into conventional wisdom. In successive reports, two of the more small-c conservative economic institutions, without any history of agitating for financial reform—the Federal Reserve and the International Monetary Fund—both agreed that mega-banks, in America and abroad, enjoy a lower cost of borrowing than their competitors, based on the perception that governments will bail them out if they run into trouble. This advantage effectively works as a government subsidy for the largest banks, allowing them to take additional risks and threaten another economic meltdown. With institutional players like the Fed and the IMF both identifying the same problem, Wall Street grows more and more isolated, setting up the possibility of true reform. The idea that big banks...

Francois Mitterrand, the Man with a Plan

AP Images
I f you can imagine Richard Nixon without his pathological unease—that is, a Nixon who was all dispassionate sang-froid and opportunistic mastery, the way he so desperately wanted to be seen—then you have a fair picture of Francois Mitterrand. I don't recall that the parallels between these two near contemporaries got much attention from the U.S. commentariat during their lifetimes, partly because we're not in the habit of comparing our own chief executives—however benighted—to foreign ones. But for American readers of Philip Short's A Taste For Intrigue: The Multiple Lives of Francois Mitterrand (Henry Holt, $40), the doppelganger effect of Mitterrand's setbacks, gambles, pragmatic self-reinventions and survivalist ploys is a bit eerie. His 14 sphinxlike years as president of France (1981-1995) outdid any French ruler since Napoleon III in longevity. Despite its somewhat trashy title, Short's richly detailed, never dull bio is a spellbinder for anyone interested in 20th-century...

Daily Meme: Fed Up, Not Gonna Take It

Out in America today, lots of people are fed up. They've reached the end of their rope. They've had it up to here. They're mad as heck, and they're not going to take it anymore. First up: Fresh off yet another victory for the wealthy at the Supreme Court, Charles Koch is absolutely fed up with commoners thinking they can talk back to him, when all he wants is what's best for America. "Instead of encouraging free and open debate, collectivists strive to discredit and intimidate opponents," he writes today in the Wall Street Journal . "They engage in character assassination. (I should know, as the almost daily target of their attacks.) This is the approach that Arthur Schopenhauer described in the 19th century, that Saul Alinsky famously advocated in the 20th, and that so many despots have infamously practiced." So he's not saying outright that people who criticize him are Hitler, but hey, if the jackboot fits… Meanwhile, the normally mild-mannered E.J. Dionne is just about fed up with...

It’s Andrew Cuomo’s Fault!

AP Images/Evan Agostini
T his year was supposed to be different in New York. After failing to pass a comprehensive public financing system during the last legislative session, advocates for the measure believed this year, they would get the deed done, and New York state would match small-dollar donations with public funds, allowing campaigns with low-level donors to compete with those whose supporters can write big checks. But on Tuesday, the effort to get public financing in New York had been dealt a major (if not a fatal) blow. Highlighting the stakes of such legislation, Wednesday morning the United States Supreme Court removed one of the last vestiges of the nation’s campaign finance system, banning caps on the total amount individuals can give to candidates in the McCutcheon v. FEC decision. Now, the progressives who formed the Fair Elections Campaign have begun a new set of strategies to pass their public financing plan, largely by going to war with the most powerful Democrat in the state—Governor...

How Barack Obama Trapped the GOP On Health Care

It was all downhill from here.
Barack Obama has done many dastardly things to Republicans. He regularly ridicules their arguments. He insists on being treated as though he were legitimately the president of the United States. And most cruelly of all, he beat their standard-bearers in two national elections. Is it any wonder they loathe him so? But one thing Obama has done to the GOP has gone unnoticed: he made it impossible for them to be serious about health care policy. By now you're well familiar with how the core of the Affordable Care Act—a ban on insurance companies denying coverage for pre-existing conditions (also known as "guaranteed issue"), accompanied by an individual mandate and subsidies for people of moderate incomes to purchase private insurance—was originally a conservative proposal. The idea was that unlike in most other western countries where a large government program like Medicare covers all citizens, you could achieve something close to universal coverage and health security through the use...

The Obscure Heroes Behind Congress’s Great Moment

AP Images
O n Tuesday July 2, 1963, Assistant Attorney General Burke Marshall caught an early morning flight to Dayton, Ohio. Six days before, Marshall’s boss, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, had appeared before a House Judiciary Subcommittee to present the newly introduced civil-rights bill that his brother, President John F. Kennedy, had committed himself to enacting during a powerful nationwide television address on June 11. The Kennedy brothers’ outspoken attachment to advancing racial equality was entirely newfound. For the first two years of the Kennedy administration, civil-rights activists had been repeatedly disappointed by the brothers’ unwillingness to live up to the promises John Kennedy had voiced during the 1960 presidential campaign. Only the horrific violence visited upon interracial groups of “Freedom Riders” in May 1961, as they sought desegregation of interstate bus stations, and white racists’ attacks upon federal officers during the October 1962 desegregation of the...

Daily Meme: The Obamacare Victory Dance Begins

In a triumphant ceremony in the Rose Garden yesterday afternoon , President Obama announced that the White House's last-minute push to enroll seven million people in private health insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act was successful. Sign-ups even slightly exceeded the administration's goal, coming in at 7.1 million newly insured Americans. This was despite the fact that the beleaguered Obamacare website crashed again on Monday , causing much consternation for health insurance procrastinators. White House officials called the rollercoaster ride of the past few days "shit-tastic," a term which Politico helpfully dissects here . Who's responsible for this unlikely victory? Hollywood actors, of course! Back in February, Bradley Cooper met with Obama aide Valerie Jarrett to figure out how to get more people to sign up. Less than a month later, Obama appeared on Between Two Ferns with Cooper's buddy and Hangover co-star, Zack Galafinakis. Regardless of who's responsible, it's...

Will Disclosure Save Us From the Corrupting Influence of Big Money?

You'll have to do a lot better than that. (stockmonkeys.com)
There is going to be a lot of speculation about how the Supreme Court's decision in McCutcheon v. FEC to eliminate the aggregate limits on campaign contributions will affect the influence of big money in politics. That's because it serves to make an already complex system a little more complex, and there are multiple ways the decision could matter; on the other hand, it might make no difference at all. For the moment, I want to consider the role of disclosure, because I think it's going to become increasingly important in the near future, particularly if the Court goes all the way and eliminates all contribution limits. It should be said that in this case, they could have done that, but decided not to (only Clarence Thomas, in a concurring opinion, advocated eliminating all limits). But there is some reason to believe that the conservatives on the Court will go there eventually. And if they do, disclosure is going to be their justification: that as long as we know who's giving money...

Roberts Court: Government Must Be By, and For, the Wealthy

AP Images/Dana Verkouteren
Everyone who thinks that the rich don't have enough influence on American politics can rest easier. In an expected but still depressing decision today, the Supreme Court struck down aggregate limits on how much an individual can donate to politicians and political parties within a 2-year window as a violation of the First Amendment. Having already made it impossible for Congress to place significant restrictions on campaign spending, a bare majority of the Court is now chipping away at the ability of Congress to place limits on donations as well. It must be said that Chief Justice Roberts's plurality opinion in McCutcheon v. FEC has a certain logic if one accepts the key underlying premise. Relying on the Court's 1976 opinion Buckley v. Valeo , Roberts argues that the only legitimate reason for limiting campaign donations or spending is to address corruption. (Under this logic, Buckley gave Congress and state governments very little leeway to restrict campaign spending, but left them...

The News Isn't the Silencing. It's the Debate

AP Images/Nanette Kardaszeski
The event was billed as a discussion about "What It Means To Be Pro-Israel." It was actually a screening of a new film ostensibly aimed at proving that the pro-Israel, pro-peace lobbying group, J Street, is aligned "with the Arab side" against Israel. The film, The J Street Challenge, features talking heads of the Jewish right haughtily describing their opponents as arrogant. It begins with a quote from George Orwell, an unintentionally appropriate touch in an thoroughly Orwellian movie. By the final credits, it turns out that the film is also somewhat mislabeled: Its ultimate target isn't J Street or its support for a two-state agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. The target is American Jewish liberalism as such. The screening took place last Thursday in a rented hall at the University of Pennsylvania, under the auspices of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia—the umbrella organization of the city's Jewish community, which could reasonably be expected to stay...

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