Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

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...

Daily Meme: The Collapse of Bitcoin, the Online Currency You Never Fully Understood

Yesterday, Mt. Gox, the world's largest trading platform for bitcoins—the virtual currency that started circulating online in 2009— suddenly went blank . Bitcoin prices crashed. Bitcoin enthusiasts insisted that this was merely a minor hiccup on the currency's path to world domination . For those of us who are not immersed in this confusing online culture, the collapse of the Tokyo-based Mt. Gox raised a lot of questions. Such as, what is a Bitcoin , and how can a virtual currency go bankrupt ? Why were people investing in a currency that is "like Tinkerbell: if people stop clapping, it's going to die" ? Although you might not be directly affected by this blow to the Bitcoin economy, many others are watching the trembling of Mt. Gox with alarm. Criminals , for example. Last fall, when the federal government shut down a huge online drug emporium that took Bitcoin as a form of currency , it suddenly became apparent that Bitcoin was a great way for people to sell illegal goods with...

The Scourge of the Businessman Politician

This highly successful businessman did not, in fact, become president.
Attentive readers will recall that among my many pet peeves (and being able to complain to a wide circle of people about your pet peeves is one of blogging's greatest fringe benefits) is the candidate who proclaims that you should vote for him because he's "a businessman, not a politician." As though the fact that there are a lot of shady car mechanics out there means that when you need a new timing belt, the best person for the job would be a florist or an astronomer, because they're not tainted by the car repair racket. I've written at some length about why exactly success in business doesn't prepare you to be a good senator or governor, but the short version is that the two realms are extremely different. So it isn't too surprising that when businesspeople decide to run for office, most of the time they fail. They come in with a lot of money, flush it down the toilet on an overly expensive campaign, and quickly discover that there is a whole set of skills necessary for success that...

In Shocker, GOP Proposes Cutting Taxes For the Wealthy

Perhaps the world's only caricature of Dave Camp, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee. (Flickr/Donkey Hotey)
For some time, I've been saying , perhaps naively, that we ought to have a real debate about tax reform, and maybe actually accompish something. Sure, Democrats and Republicans have different goals when it comes to this issue—Democrats would like to see the elimination of loopholes and greater revenue, while Republicans want to reduce taxes on the wealthy—but there may be a few things they could agree on somewhere in there. You never know. So today, Representative Dave Camp, the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, is releasing the latest incarnation of Republican tax reform. And it's...exactly what you'd expect. Unfortunately. In fact, though we're waiting for details, it looks almost exactly like the plan Republicans released two years ago. The centerpiece is an elimination of most tax brackets, leaving only two, at 10 percent and 25 percent. In a total shocker, that means a huge tax break for the wealthy! I know—I too am amazed that Republicans would propose such a thing...

Should We Call the Midwife?

AP Images/Katie Collins
E arlier this month, a bill advanced in the Arizona state legislature that would ban the use of midwives in the state during births where the mother has had previous caesarean sections, is delivering multiples or might face breech birth. How best to give birth is, needless to say, a topic of perennial interest. What follows is a conversation between two Prospect staffers who stand on different sides of the midwife debate. Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux: So basically, last year, Arizona overhauled its licensing protocols for certified professional midwives, allowing them to perform high-risk births at home. Vaginal births after cesarean sections, breech births, twins, etc. And now Kelli Ward, an Arizona state senator, wants to ban midwives from attending high-risk births. She says it's a pro-life issue. Choice quote: “I see the mom and the baby as two separate entities,” Ward said. “I would love to preserve the choice of the mother for their home birth, but that child also needs to have a...

The Home Mortgage Business, Where Cheaters Always Seem to Prosper

AP Images/Carlos Osorio
O cwen is a little company with a dream: to become the nation’s largest mortgage servicer. If they weren’t so uniformly terrible at mortgage servicing, they might even achieve that goal. And while state and federal investigations, multi-billion-dollar fines, and legal threats would seemingly throw a wrench in most companies’ high-minded plans for success, Ocwen is different. Because in America, rank incompetence need not impede a corporate quest, at least not in the financial services industry. As cracks in its public image continue to surface, Ocwen is attempting to pull off one of the most brazen schemes in recent memory: getting what amounts to a cash advance for the very work they can’t seem to do properly. Let’s take a step back. Ocwen is the biggest of a group of “non-bank” servicers, which don’t originate loans themselves. They merely handle the day-to-day accounting of loans for other owners, usually big institutional investors—collecting monthly payments, making decisions on...

The Size of the Army Tells You Almost Nothing About Our Military Strength

Click inside for the full size-graph. You know you want it.
If you were watching the news in the last 24 hours, you undoubtedly saw a story about the new proposal from the Defense Department to make some personnel cuts. And if you saw one of those stories, you almost certainly saw the same factoid, whether you were reading the New York Times , watching the ABC News listening to NPR, or hearing about it via carrier pigeon: the Army is going to be reduced to its smallest size since World War II! Conor Friedersdorf does a good job of explaining why this is bunk, the main reason being that before World War II there was no Air Force; the people who did the flying and bombing were part of the Army. When you account for the 325,000 uniformed Air Force personnel of today, the Army looks much bigger than it did in 1940. But the weirdest part of this discussion is the idea that American military strength can be measured by the number of people in one service branch, or even in all the branches. If that were the case, the world's strongest military would...

Daily Meme: El Chapo and Our War on Drugs

Splashed all over this weekend's news was the capture of Joaquín Guzmán Loera aka, El Chapo , the Mexican drug kingpin ranked #67 on Forbes' s "Powerful People" list who got his billions from the being the man in at the head of the Sinaloa Cartel, responsible for an estimated 25 percent of the illegal drugs that make their way across the U.S.-Mexico border. The capture was surprisingly undramatic—he was found in bed—especially for a man who created a network of tunnels connecting six safe houses (one which emptied into a bathroom of his ex-wife's house ... cheeky of him). Now is as good a time as any to review the facts of the U.S. War on Drugs. Spoiler alert: It ain't pretty, and the capture of one guy probably won't change much about the current state of affairs. Last February, The Chicago Crime Commission named El Chapo Public Enemy No. 1 (a title once held by the irrepressible Al Capone). "While Chicago is 1,500 miles from Mexico, the Sinaloa drug cartel is so deeply embedded in...

No Credit For Trying

A few years back, when George W. Bush was still president, I attended an event at the Pew Research Center, and at one point a discussion got going about the varying opinions of Democrats and Republicans about whether their respective parties stood up for their beliefs. At the time, far more Republicans than Democrats answered this question in the affirmative, and people had a variety of explanations for the result. Perhaps it was the fact that Republicans tend to be more respectful of authority, or perhaps the greater ideological and demographic diversity within the Democratic coalition had something to do with it. Feeling rather clever, I raised my hand, and said, "Maybe it's because they're both right." At the time, Republicans did indeed stand up for their beliefs, and Democrats didn't so much. After all, this was a period in which Republicans were getting pretty much everything they wanted from their president and their national party—tax cuts! Wars! Right-wing Supreme Court...

The ACA Can't Fix Our Mental Health Crisis

AP Images/Bob Wands
AP Images/Bob Wands A s more people sign up for insurance under the Affordable Care Act, the next few months will usher in a fundamental change in mental health care. Under the ACA, insurers are for the first time required to cover mental health and substance abuse treatment as one of ten “essential benefits.” This is good news for the millions of Americans who suffer from some form of mental illness but don’t seek treatment. The question now is whether the country’s mental health infrastructure is equipped to deal with an avalanche of new patients. The answer? Probably not. Mental health care is saddled with two problems: It’s expensive and inaccessible. A 2012 survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that more than 18 percent of American adults suffered from some form of mental illness in the past year . Of the forty percent who sought treatment, more than one-third paid for it out-of-pocket. To put this in perspective, only about 16 percent of...

Israel-Palestine Peace: A Hostage to History

AP Images/Mahmoud Illean
AP Images/Mahmoud Illean O ne of Benjamin Netanyahu's best known preconditions for a two-state peace accord is that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish nation-state. That's actually the short version of the Israeli prime minister's demand, it turns out. The long version, as he laid out last week before the most amenable audience he could find, is that the Palestinians must sign off on the entire Jewish narrative of the history of the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan. Speaking in Jerusalem to a delegation of leaders of American Jewish organizations, Netanyahu asked: "Do they not know that we’ve been here for the last 3,800 years? They don’t know that this is the land of the Bible? That this is where Jewish history and Jewish identity was forged?" These, of course, were rhetorical questions. Netanyahu's implication was that Palestinians understand that these truths are self-evident, as is the conclusion that Jews have the primary claim on political sovereignty...

Daily Meme: Is Arizona the New Kansas?

As if Arizona didn't have enough of a PR problem. Four years after igniting outrage for passing anti-immigrant law SB 1070, the Grand Canyon state is going after the gays. Under the guise of protecting "religious liberty," on Friday Arizona passed a law that would allow for-profit companies to deny service to gays and lesbians so long as they're motivated by their religious beliefs—a move so radical even Kansas balked at passing similar legislation earlier this month. Social conservatives say such laws protecting religious conscience are necessary as gay marriage sweeps the nation . The bill now goes to Governor Jan Brewer, who vetoed similar legislation last year but has asserted the right of business-owners to refuse gays and lesbians service: "In my life and in my businesses, if I don't want to do business or if I don't want to deal with a particular company or person or whatever, I'm not interested. That's America. That's freedom." ... This freedom to discriminate, say gay-rights...

The Fatal Flaw in the Right's Latest Case Against Marriage Equality

Parents at a gay pride parade imparting dangerous values to their children. (Flickr/Caitlin Childs)
A trial starts tomorrow in federal court about whether Michigan's ban on same-sex marriage is constitutional, and as the New York Times explained over the weekend, it will offer an interesting test of the best research conservatives could come up with to support their contention that gay parents are bad for children. When we take a close look at what they'll put on the stand, it shows something that I think applies to a lot of areas of the conservative movement these days: when they try to play seriously on the field of ideas, what they come up with is, frankly, pathetic. After years of watching researchers fail to find any ill effects of children being brought up by gay people, conservatives felt like they had to do something, and here's what they did: In meetings hosted by the Heritage Foundation in Washington in late 2010, opponents of same-sex marriage discussed the urgent need to generate new studies on family structures and children, according to recent pretrial depositions of...

Roberts Was Wrong on Voter Rights

AP Images/Rex Features
Writing about the Supreme Court's outrageous decision to gut the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder at Talking Points Memo , Amel Amhed of University of Massachusetts Amherst writes that "the court’s decision was correct about one thing: Section 4 — and frankly, Section 5 as well — was obsolete, and it had been rendered inadequate by changing facts on the ground." To be clear, Amhed's intention in making the claim that "Roberts was right" is not that Congress shouldn't protect voting rights—indeed, she advocates going further than the 1965 Act, and I agree with many of her proposals. The problem is that under Shelby County it's not clear what Congress can do to protect voting rights, and liberals shouldn't let the Roberts Court off the hook. And while like most pieces of legislation, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was "obsolete," saying so plays into the hands of conservatives who would prefer that Congress do nothing to protect voting rights. I've outlined the problems with...

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