Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

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...

Liz Cheney Goes Home to Washington

Liz Cheney takes a break from campaigning to spend a few minutes thoughtfully considering America's future.
Liz Cheney, who was trailing in polls by somewhere between 30 and 50 points, announced today that she is ending her Senate primary campaign against Republican Mike Enzi, a campaign that had been launched on the premise that Enzi, a man with a 93 percent lifetime American Conservative Union score , was a bleeding-heart liberal whose efforts in the upper chamber were not nearly filibustery enough. Cheney cited "serious health issues" in her family, implying that it has to do with one of her children, though she couldn't help wrapping it some gag-inducing baloney: " My children and their futures were the motivation for our campaign and their health and well being will always be my overriding priority." In any case, if one of Cheney's children is ill, everyone certainly wishes him or her a speedy recovery. But what can we make of the failure of Cheney's campaign? For starters, it's a reminder that celebrity comes in many forms, and guarantees almost nothing in electoral politics apart...

The Media's Morality Play and Melissa Harris-Perry

From Mitt Romney's Twitter Feed
Here's a can't-miss prediction for 2014: Some time this year, a media figure will say something offensive about someone who does not share their political ideology. There will be a chorus of feigned outrage. Apologies will be demanded, then grudgingly offered. Those insincerely expressing their displeasure at the original statement will criticize the apology for its insufficient sincerity. In fact, this little routine will happen multiple times this year (and next year, and the year after that). It will happen with both media figures and politicians. That's just how we do it in America. There's so much umbrage taken in politics that it practically constitutes its own industry. Last week we saw one more of these cases, but it was different from most, in that the eventual apology not only contained what an actual apology should, it was obviously earnest as well. That's so rare because the insult-apology morality play, in politics at least, is always enacted against a background of...

Dan Cantor's Machine

Timothy Devine
Timothy Devine E lection night, New York City, November 5, 2013. Mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio, the candidate for both the Democratic and Working Families parties, is racking up a huge victory after running on a platform that calls for raising taxes on the rich and raising wages for workers. Shunning the usual Manhattan-hotel bash, de Blasio has decided to celebrate in a Brooklyn armory, where his supporters have gathered to mark the end of the Michael Bloomberg era and, they hope, the birth of a national movement for a more egalitarian economy. In one corner of the packed armory, Dan Cantor is talking with old friends and young activists who either work for him or used to—two groups that, combined, probably include about half the people in the hall. Cantor, who is 58 years old and of medium height, is wearing a black suit and tie but exhibits a touch of the willful schlumpiness that comes naturally to certain New York Jewish males. His most prominent features are a white streak...

Daily Meme: If They Were Invisible ... We'd Probably Be Better Off.

Today, the Washington Blade announced that Clay Aiken is interested in running for North Carolina's 2nd congressional seat. Yes, that Clay Aiken , the one who lost the election that likely features the highest turnout in the country, American Idol . Now that it is finally 2014, we expect similar candidates with ... unique qualifications ... will start coming out of the woodwork with their primary paperwork. Not that we've been exactly starving for entertainment thus far. The frontrunner for least consequential yet most news guzzling candidate of the year obviously goes to Steve Stockman, who ended 2013 on a high note . If you don't count his many problems with the FEC , that is. If Texas's thirst for weak if well-GIFed tea proves less than resounding and Stockman loses, Texas Monthly 's beautiful fever dream of a reality show — co-starring Louie Gohmert—seems like a promising alternative. Then, there is Allan Levene, who is running for a handful of seats in Georgia. Multiple...

David Brooks and the Modern Marijuana Confession

I've long held that much of American politics is a neverending argument between the hippies and the jocks, as Baby Boomer politicians and commentators replay over and over the cultural conflict of their youth. And no issue brings that conflict more clearly to the fore than the question of marijuana legalization. Today, David Brooks wrote a predictably mind-boggling column on the topic, in which he reveals that he smoked pot as a teen but thinks legalization would mean "nurturing a moral ecology in which it is a bit harder to be the sort of person most of us want to be." I'm not going to spend time dealing with Brooks' argument, since plenty of people have done that already (if you want to read one takedown, I'd recommend Philip Bump's ), but there is one aspect of this debate I want to take note of: the change in the nature of marijuana confessions. It isn't just public opinion on marijuana that has evolved. Now, it seems, offering your opinion on legalization requires you to reveal...

Why Medicaid Patients Using the ER More Isn't a Bad Thing

Flickr/Rob Nguyen
As they argued that we needed to get coverage for the millions of Americans without health insurance, one of the problems advocates pointed to was the fact that many of the uninsured ended up showing up at the emergency room with relatively minor ailments, because they don't have regular doctors they can see and they know the hospital will have to treat them regardless of whether they'll be able to pay. This leads to crowded ERs and lots of uncompensated care, which is bad for everybody. So what happens when you give a bunch of formerly uninsured people Medicaid? According to a new study from the Oregon Health Insurance Experiment, a unique data set around a randomized experiment made possible a few years back when the state of Oregon distributed new Medicaid enrollments by lottery, people went to the ER more once they got on Medicaid. Liberals might find this disheartening. But not only is it not all that surprising, it doesn't undermine the case for Medicaid expansion at all. Keep...

The Menagerie of Lesser-Known Experts

The New Yorker
expert : “An ‘expert,’ judging not by dictionary definitions but by common usage, is a young man who is hired by a newspaper to make prophecies which are never fulfilled and to express opinions which are ultimately proved to have been all wrong.” It's hard to flip through a newspaper without seeing the assembled attitudes of the world's many experts ( defined by Urban Dictionary as "someone with a blog or a dude with an opinion"). Each reporter has their go-to legal expert, their reliable election expert, their immigration and education experts, who can be called upon when a story gets just too chewy to tackle alone. A cursory examination of today's print editions reveals the opinions of environmental and health experts , climate experts , medical experts , earthquake experts , and Matthew McConaughey (expert-in-training). The sheer magnitude of experts referenced regularly seems to hint at a bit of expert inflation (we blame millennials), but sometimes an expert quoted in an article...

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