Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Stevie Sings for Martin Luther King

AP Images/Carolyn Kaster
I f we ignore 1979’s soundtrack to The Secret Life of Plants (though it featured “Send One Your Love,” 28 on the Billboard R&B chart), when Hotter Than July came out in 1980 it marked Stevie Wonder’s first album of newly recorded music since Songs in the Key of Life in 1976. It was his longest break between albums since he started cutting LPs at age 12. Critics don’t hold Hotter Than July in as high a regard as the classic Songs , though it does include an oddly charming imitation of a country singer (“I Ain’t Gonna Stand for It”) and a reggae number inspired by Bob Marley (“Master Blaster (Jammin’)”). The album is more important for its historical significance: It marked the beginning of Wonder’s three-year campaign to create a national holiday in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. The single “Happy Birthday,” which hit No.2 in the UK, states Wonder’s position: “There ought to be a law against / anyone who takes offense / at a day in your celebration,” he sings before the chorus,...

Today's Robot Threat

Sure, he looks friendly now... (Photo from RoboEarth)
Today is the last day at the Prospect for our brilliant associate editor Jaime Fuller, who is cruelly abandoning me, much like Shane walked away from that little boy crying for him to come back. We've had a running joke for a while, wherein on many Fridays I write a post about robots, Jaime mutters, "Sheesh, another post about robots? Give it up Waldman, this is a magazine about politics, remember?" and I say "Yer damn right it's another post about robots! You'll thank me when they take over!" (This conversation actually takes place in my head; in fact, Jaime has been unfailingly tolerant of my odd Friday topic choices.) Anyhow, I couldn't let the day end without some alarming robot news in Jaime's honor. It comes in the form of a threat from across the ocean: a robot gap! Are we going to let the Europeans move ahead of us? This is from the BBC : A world wide web for robots to learn from each other and share information is being shown off for the first time. Scientists behind...

Daily Meme: Obama Puts the NSA in Time-Out

After months and months of revelations spurred by Edward Snowden's files from the National Security Agency—including one yesterday about the 200 million text messages that the NSA collects every day—Obama took the podium today to unveil a massive rework of our country's surveillance systems. As of last night, the president was still unsure of how big the changes his administration is making would be. The most important bits of the speech? As The New York Times sums up , "Mr. Obama said he would end the vast collection of phone data as it exists today. He will also restrict the ability of the National Security Agency to throw a net well beyond the data of an individual target and collect unlimited numbers. And the president said he would sharply restrict eavesdropping on the leaders of dozens of foreign allies, the disclosure of which ignited a diplomatic firestorm with friendly countries like Germany." Or, as Gawker condensed the speech , "NSA Surveillance Is Awesome and Also Awful...

The Surveillance State of Tomorrow

Flickr/Bryan Chan
By the time you read this, President Obama will probably have finished his speech outlining some changes to the NSA's global information vacuum. According to early reports , he'll propose creating an independent body to hold the phone metadata that the NSA gathers, and forcing the agency to get some kind of approval (presumably from the FISA court) before accessing it. Which is all fine and good. But the real question is whether we set up procedures and systems that constrain the NSA from doing not just what we already know about, but the things we haven't yet heard of, and even more importantly, the kinds of surveillance that will become possible in the future. Just today, we learned from the Guardian that "The National Security Agency has collected almost 200 million text messages a day from across the globe, using them to extract data including location, contact networks, and credit-card details, according to top-secret documents." I can't imagine that will be the last revelation...

Free at Last: A Gay Republican Leaves the Fold

Photo courtesy of Jimmy LaSalvia
Photo courtesy of Jimmy LaSalvia J immy LaSalvia has spent part of his political life explaining himself to people like me: gay liberals who don't understand why he's a Republican. LaSalvia, who remembers putting up signs for Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush in junior high, left his native Kentucky in 2006 to join the staff of the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay conservative group. Dismayed at what he saw as the Log Cabin's leftward drift—the group declined to endorse George W. Bush in 2004, and barely came out for John McCain—and its focus on social instead of economic issues, he co-founded GOProud in 2009. The organization, which co-sponsored the 2010 Conservative Political Action Convention before conference organizers decided to exclude the group in subsequent years, made headlines for outing Rick Perry pollster Tony Fabrizio after the campaign released a homophobic ad and hosting conservative firebrand Ann Coulter at its annual fundraiser. It has affiliates in several states and...

David Brooks’s Worst Column Ever

Well, this is getting to be a habit. Alert readers may recall that a few weeks ago, I wrote a piece about Tom Friedman’s worst column ever, plugging efforts by a billionaire hedge fund friend to persuade college students that their enemy was Social Security. Now, Friedman’s colleague David Brooks has written an even worse column . It’s really hard to determine Brooks’ worst column ever, since he seems to turn out one every week. Brooks’ latest piece, in Friday’s Times , begins inauspiciously, “Suddenly, the whole world is talking about income inequality.” (Where has Brooks been, Jupiter?) He goes on to argue that the inequality debate is miscast. Income inequality, according to Brooks, has two entirely different parts—the pulling away of the very top (he’s surely right about that); and the poverty of the bottom. The trouble with the bottom, says Brooks, is that poverty isn’t just economic; it has complex socio-cultural roots, etc., etc., and you don’t solve it with measures like the...

The Penultimate Watergate Baby

georgemiller.house.gov
The 1974 midterm elections, held in the wake of Watergate, were a Democratic landslide. The party increased its strength in the House of Representatives by more than 50 new members, many from suburban districts that had previously elected Republicans. The Watergate Babies, as the new members were called, were a different breed of Democrat than the veterans who represented more urban districts. They were not only more liberal on cultural issues and more committed to environmental causes than many more senior Democrats, but many of them were also less committed to the kind of bread-and-butter New Deal economic policies with which the party had been identified. In 1974, Jerry Brown was first elected governor of California preaching that the nation had entered an “era of limits,” by which he meant, limits to social spending. Gary Hart was first elected senator from Colorado, disparaging the politics of old labor Democrats. Today, just two Watergate babies remain in Congress, both from...

Falling Down the Rabbit Hole of NYC’s Lena Dunham Obsession

Vogue Magazine
Flickr J ust as twentysomethings aren’t the ones writing about millennials ( that would be Ross Douthat ), Lena Dunham’s contemporaries aren’t the demographic that considers Girls its television muse. No, that would be over-twentysomething men, who make up over 20 percent of the show’s viewership and a perhaps even healthier percentage of the bylines featuring name drops of Dunham in the New York media ( this would also be Ross Douthat). Everyone who’s been having heart palpitations over Hannah Horvath’s desire to be a voice of a generation seems to have missed the New York old guard’s intention of making her the voice of the whole damn city. Since 2001, The New York Times has published over 300 articles mentioning Dunham, about 99 percent of which have been written in the past four years. And, except for the early days, right when Tiny Furniture became a thing and Girls screeners became zeitgeist incarnate, she’s hardly ever the subject matter. Any story with a wisp of beard, a hint...

Why Are So Many People Still Protective of Woody Allen?

AP Images/Chris Pizzello
T hey may be a big deal these days—the prelude to the Oscars, like that's something to brag about—but some of us remain secure in our knowledge that the Golden Globes are a joke. Not the judgment by one's presumably qualified peers that gives the Academy Awards their claim on validity, the Globes aren't the verdict of particularly qualified critics either; the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which bestows them, is notoriously a pack of nonentities. All in all, the GG's might as well have been named for the late, great Anna Nicole Smith's not-found-in-nature gazongas. So it logically follows that last Sunday's Cecil B. De Mille Lifetime Achievement award to Woody Allen should be a joke as well. But it wasn't one to Mia Farrow and her family. Both during and after the show, they took to Twitter for their latest commando raid on a rehabilitation that leaves them understandably indignant. "Did they put the part where a woman publicly confirmed he molested her at age 7 before or after...

Director's Cut: A Conversation with Cary Fukunaga

AP Images/Richard Shotwell
AP Images/Richard Shotwell C ontemporary television’s writer-creators are celebrated, while its directors are often hired guns on set for an episode or two. But the entire eight-episode arc of the new HBO miniseries True Detective , starring Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson as Louisiana criminal investigators, was directed by 36-year-old Cary Fukunaga. Fukunaga researched his first feature film, Sin Nombre , by spending weeks riding the violent Mexican railways. Since then, with Ang Lee–like versatility, he has taken on projects ranging from Jane Eyre to science fiction. Jessica Weisberg spoke to Fukunaga about movie directors working in TV, how he finds stories, and the early episodes’ look of Southern Gothic grounded in the photogenic blight of Louisiana oil refineries. True Detective ’s launch last week was HBO’s highest-rated debut since Boardwalk Empire in 2010. The second episode airs Sunday night. JW: What about the script of True Detective compelled you? CF: Originally...

Daily Meme: What We've Learned about Politicians from Their Roommates

Bill Delahunt, Dick Durbin's roommate : “He will kill them with his bare hands." George Miller, Chuck Schumer's roommate : “French poets lived better than Schumer was living." John Tyson, Al Gore's roommate: "I always knew he'd be President. He does well in an environment where there is a lot of pressure.'' Al Gore, Tommy Lee Jones roommate : "Both Mr. Gore and Mr. Jones, who grew up in Texas and lives there still, recall nearly killing an elm tree near where they lived in a monthlong knife-throwing contest, 'testing our ability in that backwoods skill.'" Connie Britton, Kirsten Gillibrand's roommate on their time together during study abroad in China : “We were there over the summer so …the American Embassy had a big Fourth of July party,” the actress shared. “And part of that was doing a lip sync contest. And Kirsten and two other girlfriends of ours who were in the China program did a Madonna song. Can’t remember exactly which one it was, but let me just say, we won the contest.”...

The Scandalous Lack of Obama Administration Scandals

I f you ask many Republicans, they'll tell you that Barack Obama himself and the administration he leads are deeply, profoundly, fundamentally corrupt. It isn't just that they have the wrong values or the wrong policy priorities, but rather that they are practically a band of criminals bent on destroying America and unconcerned about what violations of law and morality they commit as they cut a swath of misery and destruction across our nation. For some on the right—the cynical politician, the carnival-barking radio host—these ideas are a tool to use in a partisan game. They understand that the picture is an absurd one, but they also know it's useful in keeping the rabble roused. But for many others, from ordinary voters to Republican lawmakers, it's something they sincerely believe. So five years into this presidency, where do we stand with the scandals that were supposed to lead to Barack Obama's downfall? The truth—no doubt a painful one for Republicans—is that there's almost no...

New Year, Same Intellectual Dishonesty

AP Images/NBC News
AP Images/NBC News The new year searches for a theme. Sometimes annual themes come ready-made; a presidential election looms, or a war. As far as can be seen from the American Rubicon called California, the theme (for the rest of you, anyway) that ushered in the new year is: It’s fucking cold, even as those of us on the West Coast lament every dip of the thermometer below 50. The media so abhors the vacuum of manmade conflict that it rushes to render even the weather controversial. Thus Fox Nation turns the designated polar vortex into a personal taunt of Al Gore—“What global warming?”—either truly or willfully ignorant that climate change is not about vanishing winters but meteorological extremes growing more so. Nonetheless this provided temporary solace to a right unsettled by reports that Obamacare might work after all. The truth is that it’s too early to tell about Obamacare, and arguments about its success or failure are pointless except for their reflection of wishful thinking...

Marijuana Legalization Will Be the Gay Marriage of the 2016 Presidential Election

A Democratic primary voter. (Flickr/Jonathan Piccolo)
In Politico, Reid Cherlin has an article about the "Pot Primary" in which he makes the rather odd assertion that while the next Democratic president is likely to put him/herself where President Obama is on the issue, "Less predictable is what would happen under a Republican—or how the issue might play out in a volatile Republican primary. No one expects marijuana to be the deciding issue, but then again, it might well be a helpful way for the contenders to highlight their differences." Yeah, no. Apart from the possibility of some talk about not sentencing people to overly long prison terms for possession, there isn't going to be a debate amongst 2016 GOP candidates on this issue. The debate will all be on the Democratic side. The reason is that as much as Republicans would like to appeal to a younger, more diverse electorate, in the general election the candidates will be working to win the hearts of activist Republican voters. That means an electorate that is older, whiter, more...

Daily Meme: And There Was Much Rejoicing (and Gloating)

The New York Times editorial board : "He said Tuesday that New Jersey’s citizens 'deserve better.' He is certainly right about that." George Packer : "I was there in Tampa in August, 2012, for Governor Chris Christie’s keynote address at the Republican National Convention, and from the first line I knew this guy was trouble." Katha Pollitt : "Maybe if he hadn’t fired all those people, they would have told him that if you have to tell people you’re not a bully, you probably are one." Jonathan Chait : "Anything can happen, but the combination of obstacles appears, at the very least, far greater than most analysts are figuring at the moment, and at the most, completely insurmountable." Margaret Carlson : "The Christie brand is compromised. It’s going to be harder to get away with yelling at teachers or telling stupid people to get the hell off the beach." Patrick Murray : “He can still tout his accomplishments—but not with all of the bravado." Jeffrey Kluger : "Yes, Chris Christie’s a...

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