Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Say Thanks to a Republican Idea Day

Don't be afraid. (Flickr/House GOP Leader)
When John McCain ran for president in 2008, he offered up a health-reform plan. Nobody paid all that much attention to it, because it was pretty clear that health care was an issue McCain didn't care about at all, and much like the "patient's bill of rights" George W. Bush had touted when he ran for president eight years earlier, it would be forgotten as soon as he took office. Four years later, Mitt Romney had something resembling a health-care plan too, but once again, nobody paid much attention to what it contained, because any time health care came up, the only question was how Romney could square his stated position that the Affordable Care Act was a poisonous hairball of misery coughed up by the Prince of Darkness himself, while the plan it was modeled after, often referred to as "Romneycare," was a wonderful thing that everyone in the state where it was implemented seems to like. Both McCain's and Romney's plans were mostly an amalgam of ineffectual half-measures and truly...

Polyamory, the Right to Privacy, and Religious Freedom

Last week, a federal District Court judge in Utah struck down a law used to prosecute members of polyamorous relationships. Predictably, some conservatives immediately brought up the slippery slope to legalized adult incest and legal " teen sex cults ." However, the decision is a very rational and straightforward application of core principles of the right to privacy and religious freedom. It is crucial to understand, first of all, that Judge Clark Waddoups's decision in Brown v. Buhman did not "legalize bigamy." The lawsuit was brought by the reality television star Kody Brown, who lives in a polyamorous relationship with four women but is only legally married to one. Brown did not even contest Utah's limitation of marriage to couples, and Judge Waddoups deferred to a Supreme Court precedent dating back to the 19th century holding that bans on bigamy are constitutional. Rather, the decision concerns an unusual, extraordinarily broad provision of Utah law under which "[a] person is...

The Fed Transformed

AP Images/Charles Dharapak
AP Images/Charles Dharapak I t is a small miracle that on February 1, Janet Yellen will become chair of the Federal Reserve. She is not just the first woman to head America’s central bank but the first labor economist. While the Fed is ordinarily obsessed with inflation, Yellen has given equal or greater emphasis to unemployment. Yellen represents a break with the Wall Street–friendly senior Obama economic officials who promoted their former colleague Larry Summers for chair. Had Summers gotten the post, the Fed and Treasury would both have been in the hands of the same old boys’ club that coddled the big banks before and after the financial collapse of 2008. That the job went instead to Yellen means the Fed will be an independent power center, and somewhat to the left of the administration. With a four-year term as chair, Yellen will serve at least two years into the next presidency as well. The transformation of the Fed since the economic collapse of 2008, however, is far broader...

The Year in Preview: Pot's Uncertain Future

A fter the triumphs of marijuana reform in 2012—culminating in two successful ballot initiatives which made Washington and Colorado the first places in the world legalize the possession and sale of small amounts of weed—it was almost inevitable that 2013 would be a let-down. It wasn’t an unproductive twelve months for supporters of more lenient marijuana politics: New Hampshire and Illinois legalized pot for medical use, and Vermont decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana. The residents of cities in Maine and Michigan also cast (mostly symbolic) votes in favor of pot legalization. But a third state has yet to join the two earliest adopters in sanctioning the possession and sale of pot, which remains illegal under federal law. Part of the problem was that so few state elections were held this year. For the past fifteen years, voter initiatives have set the tone for marijuana reform, beginning with the passage of ballot measures legalizing medical pot in the late...

NYT Mag Offers Inexplicable 2006 John McCain Cover Profile in 2013

The cover of the next New York Times Magazine
In the last couple of years, every time something John McCain says makes "news," my immediate reaction—sometimes on Twitter, sometimes just in my head—is, "Remind me again why anybody should give a crap what John McCain thinks about anything?" I've never been able to get a satisfactory answer to this question. And here comes star reporter Mark Leibovich, author of the well-received This Town , with a 6,634-word cover profile of McCain for next week's New York Times Magazine . Do we need another one of these? I would have answered "no" before reading, but after, I'm even more sure. If you're doing this kind of profile, the first thing you have to do is answer, "Why?" Why do we care what McCain is up to? Did you learn anything important or interesting by following him around for a few days? Leibovich gives a shot to answering this question, and fails completely. He acknowledges all the clichés that have been attached to McCain over the years (maverick!), but then, without acknowledging...

Daily Meme: Good Night and Good Luck, Longterm Unemployed

Unless Congress passes a last-minute extension, an unemployment benefits program created in 2008 will expire for 1.3 million Americans at the end of the month. That number includes 12,700 South Carolinians ... ... 80,000 Pennsylvanians ... ... 25,000 people in Washington state. .. ... 58,000 Massachusetts residents ... ... 90,000 New Jerseyeans ... ... 17,8000 people in Oregon ... ... and 43,000 Michiganders , as well as countless more of the longterm jobless in the United States. If nothing is extended through next year, 3.6 million more people will lost benefits at the end of 2014. The White House estimates that dropping the extension would lead to a loss of 240,000 jobs in 2014. What does this all mean? Well, Matt Yglesias sums up the situation by saying, "the long-term unemployed are screwed." The program, officially known as emergency unemployment compensation, gives recipients on average $1,166 per month , and could be used for up to 73 weeks. In November 2013, four out of every...

New Documentary Threatens to Make You Like Mitt Romney

A scene from the Netflix documentary "Mitt."
During the 2012 campaign, I, like every liberal writer whose job it is to comment on politics every day, wrote many unkind things about Mitt Romney. Much of the time I found him more sad than despicable; politicians who nearly reach the pinnacle of their profession while being manifestly awful at politics are a rare and curious breed. Like Al Gore before him, Romney's discomfort with the requirements of campaigning was so close to the surface that he couldn't help but inspire a kind of pity. That isn't to say that I didn't find plenty of his statements and policy positions contemptible, because I certainly did, and said so without hesitation. But in the end, Romney wasn't as easy to hate as some other politicians might be. So a year after he joined that small, melancholy club of presidential losers, it's time that even those of us who thought it would be a terrible thing if he became president can see Romney as a human being. In January, Netflix will be releasing a behind-the-scenes...

The Year in Preview: Labor's Outlook

AP Images/PAUL BEATY
L abor—unions and the broad working class of wage workers—hasn’t had a good year in a very long time. Union membership continues its long, slow decline, as does median family income. But if nothing else, 2014 should be a clarifying year in the life of several legal and organizing struggles that will either advance or retard the progress of labor. The Cold Hard Numbers The labor year begins in early January when the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases its union-membership numbers. Despite recent high-profile fights over public-sector unionism—teachers and government workers—union density among public employees has stayed remarkably steady, somewhere around 35-36 percent of the public-sector workforce. Private-sector unionism (the iconographic male union members of yore—autoworkers, steelworkers, truckers, coal miners) continues, year by year, to creep lower and lower—last year, density stood at 6.6 percent, probably the lowest since the beginning of the 20 th century. The members of...

Daily Meme: Diners and the Politicians Who Love Them

Esquire asked House Speaker John Boehner to advise its readers on what to do in January 2014. He endorsed breakfast at a diner , an act nearly as entwined with an American politician's electoral fate as legislating and making fundraising calls. " What is it about politicians and diners? " Who knows when, but somewhere along the line, diner-hopping became the equivalent of ice-skating in the All-American Electoral Olympics. The sport involves saying "pie" as many times as possible in one speech (Obama's current record is 12 times)... ... endurance talking points-ing your way out of awkward conversations with people who disagree with you ... ... telling Dad jokes to as many old people gulping down soggy scrambled eggs as possible ... ... marathon hot dog photo shoots ... ... not dying from extreme cactus bread exposure ... ... avoiding the diners that have banned politicians from the premises ... ... and not running on "a platform of zombie preparedness , mandatory tooth-brushing and...

White Like Me

Flickr/Thomas Hawk
It might seem that an argument about whether Santa Claus and Jesus are "really" white is nothing more than an opportunity for Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert to make fun of people on Fox News, and not a matter with actual political consequences. After all, Santa is a fictional character whose current visual representations here in America have their origins in early 20th Century newspaper and magazine illustrations, but he's portrayed in different ways around the world. But before you dismiss this as just silliness, let me suggest that it does have important political effects. In case you missed it, a few days back, Fox News host Megyn Kelly responded to an article about black kids wishing they could see a Santa who looks more like them by saying, "For all you kids watching at home, Santa just is white." She went on, "Just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn't mean it has to change. Jesus was a white man, too. He was a historical figure. That's a verifiable fact—as is Santa...

Among the Common Folk, a Breakfasting Boehner

Unlike some snob, John Boehner had this for breakfast. (Flickr/Shawn Honnick)
From the "Politicians—they're just like us!" file today, we have something seemingly aimed straight at one of my pet peeves, the habit of Blue Collar Chic among politicians (and to an even greater extent, certain bigshot media figures ). Esquire magazine asked John Boehner to "endorse" something, and what he came up with was "breakfast at a diner," which he says he has "most mornings when I'm in Washington." You may have thought the Speaker was a merlot-sipping , golf-playing gent who had risen above his hardscrabble roots. Au contraire! I sit at the counter in jeans and a ballcap. Order eggs, and sometimes sausage, but never on Fridays. (And never the bacon. My diner makes lousy bacon. I don't know why.) I'm there maybe 15, 20 minutes. It's pretty much the same thing on the road. I'm always looking for new diners, and when I find one I like, I stick with it. It's an anchor to my day, a way to feel like I'm home in Ohio no matter where I am. That's why I endorse breakfast at a diner...

The Year in Preview: Obama's Last Stand

AP Images/Evan Vucci
M argaret Chase Smith, the pioneering Republican moderate senator from Maine, was asked by a reporter in the early 1950s what she would do if she awoke to find herself in the White House. She replied, “I’d go straight to Mrs. Truman and apologize. Then I’d go home.” Anyone trying to concoct an agenda for Barack Obama during his remaining 37 months in office should approach the task with similar modesty. The rocky terrain of 2013 is a reminder that life in the Oval Office usually becomes more dispiriting even as the furnishings grow more familiar. After five years, every two-term president (not just unequivocal failures like George W. Bush) has assembled a lengthy list of if-only and had-I-but-known regrets. As Obama’s average approval ratings have dipped to just above 40 percent in the polls (eerily similar to Bush’s numbers at an analogous point in his Oval Office tenure), the president is being offered more free advice than a puzzled do-it-yourselfer at Home Depot. Everyone has...

Four Takeaways from Yesterday's NSA Ruling

Flickr/passamaquoddy eagle
Flickr/Cliff Y esterday, U.S. District Court Judge Richard J. Leon ruled that the National Security Agency's extensive collection of "metadata"—as revealed by Edward Snowden earlier this year—is likely to have violated the Fourth Amendment. Justice Leon stayed his ruling ordering the government to stop the warrantless surveillance of two plaintiffs pending a trial. Given the inevitable appeal, we're a long way from the end of this NSA program—even if Judge Leon rules again in favor of the plaintiffs. Not every legal challenge to the metadata program was successful. Judge Leon dismissed a challenge based on the theory that the NSA's program exceeded the statutory authority granted by Congress. The court ruled that it lacked the jurisdiction to hear the claim under the Administrative Procedures Act. Judge Leon did, however, find that he had jurisdiction to hear the constitutional claims against the program. "While Congress has great latitude to create statutory schemes like FISA," the...

Google to Begin Building Robot Army

Boston Dynamics' Atlas marches over the rubble of our shattered world.
When Amazon bought a robotics company called Kiva Systems last year, it made perfect sense. Kiva makes robots that move things around warehouses; Amazon has a lot of warehouses full of a lot of stuff that needs moving around. Google, on the other hand, would seem to have no obvious need for robots, which is why it might appear odd that they just announced the purchase of Boston Dynamics, a company developing robots that mostly resemble animals and are designed to do things like carry equipment for soldiers , run fast , and jump really high . In fact, it's only the latest of a bunch of robotics companies Google has bought. So what are they up to? In some ways, Google increasingly resembles a corporation out of a near-future sci-fi novel, one that begins by making some nice but (seemingly) not exactly world-transforming product, then that product turns out to be bigger than anybody imagined, then it gradually expands into one area after another until it controls practically the entire...

Daily Meme: The President Is Hitler, a History

Over the weekend, North Carolina state Senator Bob Rucho tweeted : "Justice Robert's pen & Obamacare has done more damage to the USA then the swords of the Nazis ,Soviets & terrorists combined." Rick Santorum : "We think, well, you know, it'll get better. Yeah, he's a nice guy. I mean, it won't be near as bad as what we think. This will be okay. I mean, yeah, maybe he's not the best guy after a while. After a while you find out some things about this guy over in Europe who's not so good of a guy after all, but ya know what, why do we need to be involved? We'll just take care of our own problems." Bill Flax : "Hitler’s election platform included 'an expansion on a large scale of old age welfare.' Nazi propaganda proclaimed, 'No one shall go hungry! No one shall be cold!' Germany had universal healthcare and demanded that 'the state be charged first with providing the opportunity for a livelihood.' Obama would relish such a 'jobs' program." Arizona state Representative Brenda...

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