Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Europe Limps on in the Year Ahead

T he last meeting of the European Council in December 2013 was absent of much concern for economics. Instead the Council, a body made up of heads of EU states, who come together twice a year to discuss big picture policy issues, decided to focus on security and foreign policy instead. It was a sign that the region was no longer in an acute economic crisis and that other issues like the protests in Ukraine and the NSA’s spying program were of graver concern. In 2014 don’t expect the troubled waters of the eurocrisis to recede completely, but do look forward to a year full of small scares and pseudo-crises that might seem big but will amount to little. While the political calendar is sparse and there are no major elections in any important EU states, one of the core EU countries, Italy, remains a political mess. And with the Italians taking over the rotating EU presidency in June, some analysts are worried the current Italian government might fall before then, which would create an...

Daily Meme: Ghosts of Sister Souljah Moments Past

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a politician in possession of bad fortunes must be in want of a Sister Souljah moment. sister souljah moment (n) : "The public repudiation of an extremist person or statement perceived to have some association with a politician or his party." " Bill Clinton invented the Sister Souljah moment. Is having one still a political requirement or more a political cliche?" "The sordid George Washington Bridge scandal offers Chris Christie two choices: Continue to deny, deflect and dissemble in a manner that is so common in the politics of today, and most recently exhibited by President Obama during a spate of controversies in 2013; or … pull a Super Sister Souljah ." "Chris Christie Steals Somebody Else's Sister Souljah Moment" "Barack Obama leads a charmed life. He finally had his Sister Souljah moment and didn't even have to show up. Jesse Jackson did it for him solo." "Thus the main reason Obama’s severance from Wright doesn’t really qualify as a...

The GOP's Poverty Problem

Poverty is all the rage among conservatives this week, and will be for, oh, another few days at least. My guess is that this is happening largely because Democrats have made clear that income inequality is the issue they'll be pressing from now until the November midterm elections, and Republicans are concerned that it might work. So they're going to head it off by showing voters that they care about people who are struggling, too. The question is, how do you do that when you're fighting against extending unemployment benefits, trying to cut food stamps, preventing poor people from getting health insurance through Medicaid, and arguing against increasing the minimum wage? The answer, it seems, it to make public statements in which the word "poverty" appears. Marco Rubio and Eric Cantor gave speeches on it, Paul Ryan will be doing interviews on it, and you'll probably be hearing more from Republicans on the topic. Mixed in will be some advocacy for policies they've pushed for a long...

Want to Rock the Vote? Fill the Election Assistance Commission.

AP Images/The Roanoke Times/Joel Hawksley
J ust days after the 2013 elections, former Congresswoman Mary Bono and I were on MSNBC discussing voter-ID laws. A moderate Republican, Bono tried hard to shift the focus to a universally hated aspect of American elections—the lines. “There should be no reason there should be long lines, ever,” she said. “Why [can’t they] orchestrate and engineer a solution that you get to the polls, and there’s 15 minutes, guaranteed in and out, and you vote?” It’s a good question. Even if we forget about the disturbing rash of voting restrictions—the ID laws, the cutbacks to early voting, the efforts to make it harder to register—a basic problem remains: We don’t invest enough in our elections. Across the country, machines are old and breaking down, and we’re failing to use new technology that could clean up our voter rolls and make it easier to predict—and thus prevent—those long lines. The odds of Congress allocating the billions it would take to help localities buy new voting machines and solve...

Israel's Ultimate Rightist Smiles at Kerry. Be Suspicious

AP Photo/Brendan Smialowski, Pool
AP Photo/Brendan Smialowski, Pool O n Sunday morning it seemed that Israeli scientists, or perhaps John Kerry, had learned how to do personality transplants. The first operation was reserved for Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, heretofore the growling voice of unreconstructed Israeli ultra-nationalism. "I want to express my true appreciation of the efforts of Secretary of State John Kerry, who works day and night … to bring an end to the conflict between us and the Palestinians," Lieberman told a conference of Israeli ambassadors who were home from posts around the world. Kerry's positions on a peace agreement, Lieberman added, were better than "any alternative proposal that Israel will receive from the international community." Two days earlier, Lieberman had met with Kerry and issued an upbeat statement declaring that the American-brokered negotiations "must continue." Was this the same man who began his first term as foreign minister in 2009 by declaring that the previous round...

A Scandal We Can Sink Our Teeth Into

The scene of the crime. (Flickr/Shinya Suzuki)
During the Lewinsky scandal, our nation's brave pundits spent a good amount of time fluttering their hands in front of their faces and expressing dismay that they had to spend so much time talking about something so lurid. The truth was that they loved it like a labrador loves liverwurst, but some scandals are just more fun than others. Does it concern a lot of dull policy arcana, or something a little more human? Is there room for lots of speculation about people's motivations? Are there interesting characters—your Gordon Liddys, your Linda Tripps—to liven up the proceedings? These are the things that make a scandal. We haven't yet met the people at the heart of the Chris Christie George Washington Bridge scandal, but since they're people in New Jersey politics, I'm guessing that if we ever get them in front of the cameras, a new media star or two would be born. And what I find glorious about this story is that the action in question had no practical purpose whatsoever. It didn't...

Daily Meme: Scandalous Bridges in History

The George Washington Bridge (because the reason for its traffic jams can be summed up as "it's in New Jersey" ) The Bridge to Nowhere (because it suffered from a heady cocktail of pork, Palin, and populationlessness) Bridge to Nowhere , a 1986 New Zealand film (because it features a psychotic cattle rancher and teenagers in very short shorts) Seattle's 520 "ramps to nowhere" (because they are ugly and not green) Dike Bridge (because of the Chappaquiddick incident) The West Bay Bridge (because residents in the Hamptons are notoriously fun when it comes to taxes and infrastructure) The Tampan Zee Bridge (because it was probably built in the worst possible place) The Columbia River Crossing (because taxes) The Bridge (because it's about law enforcement on the U.S.-Mexico border) The Atlantic Beach Bridge (because ''It should be renamed The Weather Bridge because everybody talks about it but nobody does anything about it. It is a testament to the inertia of government.'') The Lake Marion...

The Doomed Wars

White House photo by Pete Souza.
Washington loves few things more than a tell-all memoir. Even if a memoir doesn't tell very much, the media will do their best to characterize it as scandalous and shocking. So it is with the book by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates which will soon be appearing in airport bookstores everywhere. From the excerpts that have been released, it sounds like Gates has plenty of praise for President Obama, and some criticisms that are not particularly biting. Sure, there's plenty of bureaucratic sniping and the settling of a few scores, but his criticisms (the Obama White House is too controlling, politics sometimes intrudes on national security) sound familiar. Gates' thoughts on Afghanistan, however, do offer us an opportunity to reflect on where we've come in that long war. The quote from his book that has been repeated the most concerns a meeting in March 2011 in which Obama expressed his frustration with how things were going in Afghanistan. "As I sat there," Gates writes, "I...

The Flying News

AP Images/Daniel Reinhardt
I t was a damned-if-you-do/damned-if-you-don’t contract that Boeing offered its workers last week, and its workers responded accordingly. Confronted with a contract that transformed their pensions into 401k’s, and with the company’s threat to relocate production of its new 777x to some other, lower-wage state unless its workers took the deal, the members of the International Association of Machinists Puget Sound/Boeing district approved the company’s offer by a suitably ambivalent 51-percent-to-49-percent margin. Two months earlier, the same members had rejected management’s offer by a two-to-one margin—whereupon Boeing invited other states to offer it relocation deals. Shortly before the second vote, the company announced that 22 states had responded with proposals—promising tax abatements, free land, anti-union public policies, and Lord only knows what else. If the company took one of those states up on its offer, as many as 10,000 of the 80,000 Boeing jobs in the Greater Seattle...

The Government Guide to Screwing Poor Homeowners

AP Images/Carlos Osorio
AP Images/Carlos Osorio T he December 28 th expiration of extended unemployment benefits, which cut off payments to 1.3 million recipients—and will cut off 3.6 million more over the next year—has dealt a painful body blow to the most vulnerable members of our society. Rolling back unemployment insurance to a maximum of 26 weeks when the average duration of unemployment is still 36 weeks puts millions of families’ lives in jeopardy. Another recently expired provision could cause comparable damage to the same population, but it has yet to trigger similarly urgent attention from lawmakers. The end of the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act, which lapsed December 31, means that any type of debt forgiveness on a mortgage will result in a giant tax bill—one that a stressed homeowner cannot usually afford. Even homeowners entitled to compensation for past abuse by the mortgage-lending industry would be subject to unfavorable tax treatment. This will lead to more economically debilitating...

Daily Meme: Foretelling Yellen

Yesterday, the Senate confirmed Janet Yellen as Ben Bernanke's replacement as the head of the Federal Reserve, with a vote of 56-25 —a lackluster show of support that beat Bernanke's former distinction as the most-opposed Fed chair in history. The vote could have been even closer if not for the Polar Vortex. Yellen's predecessor gave her some job advice in a press conference last month: “Congress is our boss," which translates roughly to "Have fun storming the castle." She is the first woman to head the 100-year-old institution, and she definitely isn't inheriting the healthiest of economies. Unemployment is high , the government keeps cutting spending, preventing a much needed infusion of cash from hitting the economy, and the Federal Reserve has to figure out when the wisest time is to change up the emergency measures first pursued when the recession hit ... or perhaps have, as some fear, our fragile budding growth combust in their hands. Dealing with quantative easing definitely...

The Moral Calculus Underlying the Debate Over Unemployment Insurance

The FDR memorial's depiction of Depression-era moochers. (Wikimedia Commons/Stefan Fussan)
The Senate is working its way toward (possibly) overcoming a Republican filibuster of an extension of longterm unemployment insurance, after which the measure will die when John Boehner refuses to bring it up for a vote in the House. Or perhaps not; Boehner's current position is that he's "open" to allowing a vote if the cost of the benefits is offset, presumably by taking money from some other program that helps the less fortunate. Boehner might also allow a vote in exchange for a fun-filled afternoon in which a bunch of orphans and widows are brought to the Capitol building so Republicans can lecture them about their lack of initiative, then force them to watch while members of the Banking Committee and a carefully selected group of lobbyists eat mouth-watering steaks flown in from an exclusive ranch in Kobe, Japan. I kid. But there is a particular kind of moral clash at play in these negotiations, one that we don't think about very often. It has to do with the question of what...

We Haven’t Heard the Last of Liz Cheney

AP Photo/Cliff Owen
Across North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia Monday morning, members of Al Qaeda were popping the (non-alcoholic, of course) champagne corks. Why? Because the news had just broken that Liz Cheney would be dropping out of the Wyoming Senate race . With this bold warrior-patriot no longer standing guard, America moved one tick closer to sharia rule, and Al Qaeda closer to ultimate global victory. Nonsense, of course, though when one considers the way Cheney announced her candidacy as the urgent and necessary response to a president who “has so effectively diminished our strength abroad that there’s no longer a question about whether this was his intent,” (yes, she suggested that Barack Obama went to the trouble of entering political life, running for Senate, then running for president just to make America weaker ) one could be forgiven for wondering if she actually thinks that. Cheney’s stated reason for her withdrawal from the race was that “ serious health issues have recently...

New York’s Pot Legalization Is Still Kinda Square

J ust days after the first state-regulated marijuana shops opened in Colorado—to the delight of everyone who loves a good pot pun in their morning newspaper—reports began to circulate that New York’s Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo, was poised to bring his state into line with the 20 others that have legalized marijuana for medical use. This week, according to the New York Times , Cuomo will announce an executive action allowing 20 New York hospitals to prescribe marijuana to patients with glaucoma, cancer, and a handful of other chronic diseases, to be determined by the Department of Health. The governor is skirting the state legislature, where four medical marijuana bills, including one that passed the House last spring, perished in the Republican-controlled Senate. The legislative proposals would have allowed patients with a dozen illnesses, including epilepsy, post-traumatic stress, diabetes, and arthritis, to possess two and a half ounces of cannabis, and set up a system for...

Daily Meme: Midterms 2—The Search for More Money

Dark money may have been outed as not the most fool-proof weapon to have in your arsenal during the 2012 presidential elections, but let's not forget—the smaller the election, the greater the impact of a big money drop. Which is why midterms are a donor's best friend. Recall, if you will, 2010 . As our own Bob Moser noted last January, "In 2010, when more outside money was spent in the states than ever before, state senate candidates raised an average of just $132,000; assembly candidates averaged $66,000. Throw a hundred thousand into a state legislative race, and you can blow it up with drone-like precision." Which is exactly what Art Pope and many other donors did. And with some of the groups, like the network of fundraising organizations affiliated with the Koch brothers, which raised at least $407 million in the 2012 election cycle, you can't even tell who's doing the donating. This network's plan for 2014? According to David Koch, they're "going to study what worked, what didn’t...

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