Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Paul Ryan: A Poor Man's Savior of the Poor

AP Images/Charlie Neibergall
AP Images/Charlie Neibergall W isconsin Republican Paul Ryan, chair of the House of Representatives Budget Committee, spent the fall touring poor neighborhoods in an effort to rebrand the GOP as the true saviors of the poor. It was both an effort to mark the 50 th anniversary of Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty, and to salve the wounds his party felt after its 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney put on a monocle and proclaimed the nation to be full of moochers while giggling maniacally over vichyssoise at a fancy dinner party. (OK, he didn’t do that, but he did do this .) Monday, Ryan released a report on the federal programs meant to help low-income Americans. He means it to be a critique of most of those programs, and use the report as a platform from which to argue for reform. If his previous budgets are a guide, he wants to turn most federal programs into block grants for the states. If our history with welfare reform tells us anything, block grants would mean funding for,...

Hey Bert, Is This Thing Loaded?

Click inside for more charts!
Since the Newtown shootings, liberal commentators have been paying greater attention to all kinds of firearm-related issues, including accidental shootings. Josh Marshall in particular often tweets the accidental shooting of the day—" Georgia Man Accidentally Shot Cousin to Death When Gun Fell From Lap " was today's, following on " Ohio Boy Fatally Shoots Brother With Handgun He Thought Was a BB Gun ." Which got me wondering, how many of these incidents are there? What interests me for the moment aren't homicides, but accidental shootings. How do they compare to other causes of accidental death and injury? We all know that vivid individual cases, no matter how vivid, don't necessarily give an accurate impression what's happening overall. So let's delve into the statistics, shall we? The first thing to understand is that accidental shootings make up a relatively small proportion of all the different ways Americans find to stumble, metaphorically speaking (though sometimes not) to their...

Conservatives Condemn Weak Weakness of Weakling Obama

If Obama started on the Charles Atlas program, no one would kick sand in America's face.
Am I the only one seeing a new sense of purpose in the old neoconservative crowd, an almost joyful welcoming of a good old-fashioned Cold War showdown with the Russkies? Nobody's saying they don't love the War on Terror, but let's be honest, it's getting a bit old. Best to forget all about Iraq, and Afghanistan isn't much better. That jerk Barack Obama ended up getting Osama bin Laden, which was—well, let's be kind and call it bittersweet. But this Ukraine thing is just like old times. It's us against them, a battle of the big boys! Well, sort of anyway. So now is the time for action! Aren't there some missiles we can move into Turkey or something? Ukraine is providing a great opportunity for the muscle-bound manly men of the right, who are totally not overcompensating so shut up, to demonstrate how tough and strong they are. Action!, they demand. Not words! We have to show Putin who's boss! He thinks we're weak! Obama is weak! We must be strong! Strong strong strong! One big problem...

The Left, Viewed from Space

AP Images/Mike Groll
It is, I suppose, theoretically possible to get the big picture right even when you can’t see the small pictures at all. That seems to be the achievement of political scientist Adolph Reed Jr. in his cover story in the March issue of Harper’s. As Reed sees it, both political parties have been captured by neo-liberalism, by Wall Street, by the cult of laissez-faire. The Democrats have succumbed while maintaining, or even increasing, their liberalism on social and cultural issues, even as the Republicans have moved rightward on those same social issues. More troublingly, as Reed sees it, the American left has acquiesced in the Democrats’ rightward movement, backing a passel of candidates and two presidents—Bill Clinton and Barack Obama—who adhered to the economics of Robert Rubin and his protégés. The Left, says Reed, has always had an excuse: If the Republicans are elected, the world will lurch to the right. Backing Clinton and Obama and the Democrats is a defensive exercise, and a...

As Good As It Gets for Oscar

AP Images/Jordan Strauss
AP Images/Jordan Strauss B y now everyone knows that—as my colleague Tom Carson pointed out last week—Oscar history is strewn with verdicts so absurd as to legitimately raise the question of why anyone cares, unless you find the Academy Awards irresistible for the way they’ve become part of Hollywood lore. You don’t have to go back as far as the notorious examples that Tom cited of Oliver or Around the World in Eighty Days upending the not-even-nominated 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Searchers in 1968 and 1956 respectively; there are examples more recent—2012, for instance. That was the year when sense gave way to vigilante justice and the actors’ bloc of the Oscar electorate, a Mercedes McCambridge glint in its eye, led the Academy in stringing up any nominee they could find who wasn’t Ben Affleck, rewarding Argo for Affleck’s omission from the Best Director cut in what turned out to be the snub of his dreams. Unhip as it is to point out, the Oscars were getting sharper and more...

Noah Goes Hollywood

Noah is obviously ready to bust some heads.
You may have seen previews for the upcoming big studio Hollywood production of Noah , which stars Russell Crowe as the famous biblical shipwright. As we learn from The Wire , Paramount Pictures, at the urging of the National Religious Broadcasters, has acted decisively to make sure that people don't get the misapprehension that the film is a literal retelling of the biblical story of Noah. For instance, in the biblical story, God has not only all the best lines, he has all the lines. Noah never says a thing, nor does anyone else, but as you can see from the trailer , this film is full of people talking. Discrepancies like that could cause mass panic, so the studio will be adding this statement to all the film's promotional materials: "The film is inspired by the story of Noah. While artistic license has been taken, we believe that this film is true to the essence, values, and integrity of a story that is a cornerstone of faith for millions of people worldwide. The biblical story of...

Daily Meme: More Tales from the GOP Civil War

All is not quiet in conservative America. Sure, Republicans are in an excellent position heading into the 2014 midterm elections—the President's approval ratings are low, and Democrats are being forced to defend more vulnerable Senate seats—but the right can't seem to stop fighting with itself. First there was Arizona, where governor Jan Brewer, under intense pressure from business interests and establishment Republicans, vetoed a bill giving the state's approval to discrimination against gay people. A happy ending, but an uncomfortable few days for a party trying to shed its image of intolerance. Then yesterday, a group of Tea Partiers celebrated the fifth anniversary of the movement with an event on Capitol Hill, at which many gleeful pledges for future infighting were made. "It would probably come as little surprise to Mr. Boehner," reported the New York Times , "that one of the biggest applause lines for the Tea Party crowd on Thursday was when Representative Tim Huelskamp of...

The Infinite Circle of Black Responsibility

Bill O'Reilly tells Valerie Jarrett what black people need.
In 2006, after being a United States senator for one year, Barack Obama made an appearance on Meet the Press . After talking about the Iraq War for a while, Tim Russert asked Obama this: "I want to talk a little bit about the language people are using in the politics now of 2006, and I refer you to some comments that Harry Belafonte made yesterday. He said that Homeland Security had become the new Gestapo. What do you think of that?" Obama said he never uses Nazi analogies, but people are concerned about striking the balance between privacy and security. Russert pressed on, asking Obama to take a position on whether some insulting things Belafonte had said about George W. Bush were "appropriate." I thought of that interview today as I watched another interview , this one with Bill O'Reilly interviewing White House aide Valerie Jarrett. I bring it up not because it's important to be mad at Bill O'Reilly (it isn't), but because it's yet another demonstration of the rules both prominent...

The Citizens United of the Culture Wars

Flickr/Mark FIscher
Flickr/Mark FIscher E ven a broken clock is right twice a day. Heeding calls from gay-rights supporters, business groups, and Republicans like John McCain and former presidential candidate Mitt Romney, on Wednesday Arizona governor Jan Brewer vetoed a "religious liberty" bill that would have allowed for-profit businesses to refuse service to gays and lesbians so long as they were motivated by "sincerely held religious belief.” A nearly identical law failed to advance in Kansas last week. Now, in light of the blowback, anti-gay discrimination bills in conservative legislatures—including Mississippi, Georgia, and Oklahoma— have stalled , and even lawmakers who voted for such measures are stepping back their support. The failure of these anti-gay discrimination bills amounts to a stern rebuke to the religious right, which sees defeat on the horizon in the gay-marriage fight. Just in the past two months, judges have overturned bans on same-sex marriage in Oklahoma, Virginia, Texas, and...

The Oscars? Let's Grouch

AP Images/DAVE CAULKIN
P icture a caravan of Edsels charging at you with tuxedoed dodos behind every wheel. You've now got some idea of how most movie fans under, oh, 40 or so apparently feel about the Oscars, and who can blame them? Not me. Hitting rock bottom—well, let's hope so—with the recruitment of jackass-of-all-trades Seth McFarlane as last year's host, the Academy's frantic attempts to rejuvenate the proceedings are based on a faulty premise. Really, the problem isn't—or isn't only, anyway—that the show and/or the nominees aren't hip enough to lure an audience not dependent on Depends and revitalized by Viagra. So far as I can tell, the kiddies are increasingly unbedazzled by the ceremony's purpose, a rather more fatal drawback. The whole, lumbering mystique of the Academy Awards derives from two outdated notions. One was that Hollywood's output had pride of place among America's pop-culture amusements, and the far from unrelated other was that Academy voters' verdict on the year's top movies and...

Daily Meme: The Slippery Slope to Sodom

Stupid, thoughtless, socialistic atheist types might view yesterday's veto of a "gay Jim Crow" measure by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer as a simple nod to pragmatism , considering the national outcry against the bill, which would have made it legal to refuse service to same-sex couples. But the far right knows the real score: Brewer is just the latest casualty of a national menace. As Rush Limbaugh put it, Brewer was " bullied by the homosexual lobby ." Bullying is wrong, of course, and gay people really must stop picking on people with twice their rights. But the growing threat of gay bullies is only a small part of a far larger—heck, existential—problem. As Tea Party Nation's Judson Phillips declared, post-veto: "Tyranny is on the march!" America's historically oppressed Christians are once again the victims, as Fox News Business host Todd Starnes tweeted: "AZ Gov. Jan Brewer makes Christians in her state second-class citizens." Who could doubt now that the "Jihad of Sodomy ," which...

The Political Failure Behind the Healthcare.gov Debacle

You haven't heard much about healthcare.gov lately, and that's because it's working pretty well. So this is a good moment to think back on both what went wrong and how it got fixed, which we get in a timely article from Steven Brill. The fixing story is an interesting one, but before it's too late, I want to do a little more blame-placing. It goes without saying that much of the responsibility lies with the contractors who did such a terrible job of creating the site. Another way to think about the problems is that there was a missing middle: you had people who understood the technology but didn't grasp the politics, and people whose job was politics who didn't understand the technological challenges. That's intuitively appealing, but I think it lets the political people off the hook. Their screw-up wasn't a result of their unfamiliarity with technology. It was a political failure, full stop. What I mean by that is that the people who are supposed to understand politics should have...

The Revolt of the Elites

Arizona governor Jan Brewer. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
For the longest time, Democrats were the party of infighting and disunity, whose squabbling never failed to find its way into the news. It's a grim inside joke among liberals that the most common headline in the political media is "Democrats in Disarray." But it hasn't been that way for a while. In fact, perhaps the most important political dynamic of the current era is the conflict within the previously monolithic Republican party. Not that there wasn't always tension between the Republican establishment, whose primary concern was laissez-faire economics, and the conservative foot soldiers spread across the country, who cared much more about social issues. But open warfare between the two was rare. Not these days, though. And after a couple of years of the establishment running scared, today they can celebrate (if that's the right word) a momentary victory. Yesterday, Arizona governor Jan Brewer vetoed the bill passed by the legislature there that would have made it legal to deny...

Will Iraq Break a U.N. Arms Embargo On Iran?

AP Images/ffice of the Iranian Supreme Leader
E arlier this week, Reuters broke the story that Iraq had signed a deal to purchase $125 million worth of arms and ammunition from its eastern neighbor and former bitter enemy, the Islamic Republic of Iran. If carried through, the deal would violate a UN arms embargo on Iran, in place since March 2007 . It’s the latest evidence of the new relationship that has steadily developed between two countries that fought a hugely destructive war between 1980 and 1988. Responding to the report, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki warned that “any transfer of arms from Iran to a third country is in direct violation” of UN Security Council resolutions, and said the U.S. was “seeking clarification on this matter from the government of Iraq and to ensure that Iraqi officials understand the limits that international law places on arms trade with Iran.” The Iraq defense ministry issued a statement that a deal had not been finalized. The fact that Iraq’s government is close to Iran’s is not...

Who Cares About Clarence Thomas's Silence?

AP Images/Michael Dwyer
8 years ago this month, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case called Holmes v. South Carolina . Justice Clarence Thomas began to question one of the litigators—"Counsel, before you change subjects..."—and pursued his line of inquiry with a lengthy follow-up. This otherwise ordinary event is now famous, because it represents the last time Justice Thomas has asked a question at oral argument. To many liberals already disinclined to take a charitable view towards a reactionary jurist, this is a major dereliction of duty at best. The latest to make this argument is Jeffrey Toobin, the invaluable legal analyst at the New Yorker . Thomas's behavior, claims Toobin, "has gone from curious to bizarre to downright embarrassing," and "[b]y refusing to acknowledge the advocates or his fellow-Justices, Thomas treats them all with disrespect." Toobin's argument is more narrowly focused and plausible than many similar critique's of Thomas's ongoing silence. But I remain unconvinced that...

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