Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

No, Obama Isn't Trying to "Pack the Court"

AP Photo/Evan Vucci
Like a not very bright seven-year-old with a shiny new toy, the National Review has found an inane talking point to run into the ground. "Republican AGs vs. Obama’s Court-Packing Plan" announces one headline. "House Testimony on D.C. Circuit Court-Packing Plan" says another. Then there's the straight-the-point " No Court Packing ." The sheer dumbness of the argument hasn't stopped it from appearing in columns with the byline of members of the United States Senate, also published in a journal that may stand athwart history even if it has little comprehension of it: It is one of the most important battles raging in Washington, a fight that will have far-reaching consequences for everything from health care and the regulatory state to gun rights and the war on terrorism. Yet most Americans have heard nothing about it. I’m talking about Democratic efforts to pack the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. What conservatives are whining about, of course, is the Constitution. President...

The "War of the Worlds" Myth

Wikimedia Commons/Henrique Alvim Correa
Seventy-five years ago today, the CBS radio network aired Orson Welles' radio dramatization of H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds . Welles took Wells' book and transformed it into a series of radio news reports, duplicating in form and presentation what people would hear if Martians were actually invading Earth. As you probably know, mass panic ensued, with millions of Americans running screaming through the streets, having heart attacks, and generally believing that the world was coming to an end. It's a great story; the only problem is, it didn't happen that way. Not that there weren't some people who flipped out, because there were a few. All indications were that those who believed it was real were socially isolated and highly suggestible for one reason or another. But there was no mass panic, nobody firing their guns at passing clouds, nobody committing suicide rather than be scooped up by the alien invaders. So why has this tale persisted? The simplest answer is that it's a great...

Texas's Ruling on Abortion Law: A Silver Lining to a Storm Cloud

AP Photo/Eric Gay
AP Photo/Tamir Kalifa, File W hen the court ruling came down on Texas’s law restricting abortions, media outlets didn’t hold back. The Huffington Post went with the headline “Texas Abortion Restrictions Declared Unconstitutional by Federal Judge” while CNN blared “Judge Blocks Parts of Abortion Law.” Let’s just be clear: The law still bans abortions after 20 weeks and the state is still in the process of creating codes so that next year abortion clinics will have to meet the same building code standards as hospitals that perform invasive surgery. The lawsuit instead, focused on two other provisions of the law—one requiring doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at hospitals, the other requiring anyone using abortion-inducing pills to follow an outdated medical regime, approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2000. U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakal’s ruling, knocking down the admitting privileges requirement, while approving the outdated FDA protocol, helps to...

Daily Meme: A Bike Ride in the Shadow of Keystone

Anniversaries always prove a convenient shortcut for news organizations to create content, and we've all replied in kind to commemorating the year since Hurricane Sandy belted the East Coast. Climate change has unsurprisingly been a repeated refrain. Especially since our rapidly changing environment means that an upcoming line-up of similar storms is all but certain. By 2050, annual flood losses around the globe could total $63 billion. In 2005, it was $6 billion. "Of course coastal storms aren't the only hazard," says a climate scientist at NASA. "We also need to think about extreme heat events, which could be an even more deadly killer in the future." Great. And the poorest and least able to weather the problems that follow in a environmental disaster's wake are of course the most affected by these events —as well as the least able to advocate for policy changes to prevent this from happening in the future. Despite all the scary statistics and incontrovertible proof offered by the...

He's a Mean One, Mr. Boehner

John Boehner just read his latest poll numbers. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
What place does John Boehner hold in the American psyche? That's a question that, according to the National Journal , Democrats are going to test out in next fall's congressional election, when they try to tie every Republican in a competitive race to the honey-hued Speaker of the House. Will it work? I'm a little skeptical, but it is true that Boehner's approval ratings have plunged. In fact, they've gone down as low as Nancy Pelosi's were before the debacle of the 2010 election. They made this nice picture from CNN polling data comparing the two: This is mirrored in other polls ; on average, around a quarter of the public likes Boehner, and around half dislike him. But there's a difference between telling a pollster you have an unfavorable opinion of a political figure and being persuaded to vote against said candidate when that political figure's picture is thrown up next to someone they don't particularly care for. As that article points out, while Boehner is at the same overall...

Oklahoma's Abortion Battle Goes National

AP Images/Peter Morrison
(AP Photo/J. David Ake) O n Tuesday, the Oklahoma Supreme Court handed down a ruling that will help determine how the U.S. Supreme Court handles its next big abortion case. But Cline v. Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice hasn’t been scheduled for oral arguments just yet. The law in question, which deals with abortion-inducing drugs, was messily written, leaving room for considerable doubt about whether the state of Oklahoma intended to require doctors to follow a particular set of dosage requirements (the state attorney’s argument)—or ban the use of the drugs for abortion entirely (the Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice’s argument). When it accepted the case, the U.S. Supreme Court sent it back to the Oklahoma court for clarification about the law’s original aim. After several months of deliberation, the Oklahoma justices decided that the law effectively bans all medication-induced abortions by prohibiting the use of one crucial drug. Now, the U.S. Supreme Court will...

Super Sad Spy Story

AP Images/Julian Stratenschulte
AP Images/Julian Stratenschulte L et’s face it, unless Democrats win back the House in 2014, Obama will soon become a lame duck president. To some degree or another, it is a universal truth that second-term presidents turn to foreign policy to burnish their historical legacy. Yet the continuous drip of revelations about the National Security Agency’s vast array of surveillance programs is not only shaping up to be the biggest headache for the Obama administration. It's potentially primed to be part of its defining legacy. And that is sad. Super sad. The latest news centers on allegations that the NSA has been tapping the cell phones of over 35 heads of state, from Brazilian president Dilma Rouseff to German chancellor Angela Merkel. Originally reported last week by the German magazine Der Spiegel , the shock waves from Berlin continue to ripple throughout the globe. Foreign governments everywhere are now scrambling their intelligence agencies’ best and brightest to see if they were...

Time to Investigate Those Insurance Company Letters

As a follow-up to this post , I want to talk about the thing that spawns some of these phony Obamacare victim stories: the letters that insurers are sending to people in the individual market. People all over the country are getting these letters, which say "We're cancelling your current policy because of the new health-care law. Here's another policy you can get for much more money." Reporters are doing stories about these people and their terrifying letters without bothering to check what other insurance options are available to them. There's something fishy going on here, not just from the reporters, but from the insurance companies. It's time somebody did a detailed investigation of these letters to find out just what they're telling their customers. Because they could have told them, "As a result of the new health-care law, your plan, StrawberryCare, has now been changed to include more benefits. The premium is going up, just as your premium has gone up every year since forever...

Daily Meme: DeBlasio and McAuliffe and Christie, Oh My!

We're a week out from Election Day, which means the local media markets in cities and states with consequential races will be saturated with 24/7 coverage from here on out. For those of us who don't live in a place with a sexy campaign to obsess over, here's the CliffNotes version of our off-season elections. In the Virginia gubernatorial race, Democrat Terry McAuliffe has a double-digit lead over Republican Ken Cuccinelli. Molly Ball writes, "if you're just now Rip Van Winkling in from the 1990s, that last sentence was not a joke ." Bill deBlasio is leading the New York City mayoral race by 45 percentage points , ready to become Bloomberg's successor in a historic landslide. Chris Smith's New York Magazine profile of the public advocate and longtime politico is a must-read primer on what kind of mayor deBlasio just might be. And here's a profile of his political consulting firm , which knew exectly the kind of New York voters wanted to imagine during the primary. Mike Duggan is set...

Another Phony Obamacare Victim Story

NBC News' Obamacare victim, who it turns out is not actually a victim.
In the last couple of decades, a particular technique of news-story construction has become so common that I'm sure you barely notice it as something distinctive. It's the use of a device sometimes referred to as the "exemplar," in which a policy issue is explained through the profile of one individual, whose tale usually begins and ends the story. It's ubiquitous on television news, but print reporters do it all the time as well. As the Affordable Care Act approaches full implementation, we're seeing a lot of exemplar stories, and I've been noticing one particular type: the story of the person who seems to be getting screwed. If it were true that most Americans were indeed being made worse off by the law, that would be a good thing; we'd learn their stories and get a sense of the human cost of the law. The trouble is that in the real world, there are many more people being helped by the law than hurt by it, and even those who claim to be hurt by it aren't being hurt at all. To see...

Reviving the Los Angeles River

One hundred years ago next week, the water came to Los Angeles. On November 5, 1913, civic dignitaries gathered at the north end of the arid, undeveloped San Fernando Valley for the opening of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, a marvel of both engineering and chicanery. Five years in the making, the aqueduct pumped the water out of the Owens River Valley (to which the spring runoff from the melting snows of the Sierra Nevada descended) and carried it over 223 miles of mainly desert to the L.A. suburb. Raising his voice to be heard over the noise of both the crowd and the water cascading downhill, the project’s chief engineer, William Mulholland, proclaimed with epic succinctness: “There it is—take it!” And the city did. When the project was first announced in 1905, with the city council’s recommendation of a $25 million bond measure that L.A. voters subsequently authorized, no one argued that Los Angeles didn’t have enough water to meet its current needs. The 1900 census had turned up a mere...

Mailer's Mark

AP Images/Kathy Willens
AP Images/Kathy Willens I t sometimes chagrins me that there is no author whose work I’ll ever know the way I do Norman Mailer’s. An adolescent immersion in Alexander Pope (unlikely) or Stendhal (if only) might have stood me in better stead, but it wasn’t to be. Until I came up for air sometime after college—Mailer as lodestar didn’t survive Edith Wharton, let alone Nabokov—I was an avid member of the boys’ club inflamed by his example. I’ve never met a woman who clamored for admission. Or much of anyone under 50 who wants in even as a kibitzer, which is bad news for the immortality Mailer craved. As he himself told us, he “formed the desire to be a major writer”—note the crucial adjective—shortly before turning 17, thanks to discovering John Dos Passos’s U.S.A. , James T. Farrell’s Studs Lonigan , and John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath . In his Depression-era boyhood, though, Mailer had thrilled to the romances of Rafael Sabatini, the immortal (well, more so than James T. Farrell)...

Daily Meme: Looking Back at Hurricane Sandy, and Preparing for Its Successor

Tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy smashing the tri-state area , and many news outlets and locals are marking the occasion by looking at what's still broken , and who saved New York and New Jersey from suffering even more than it did. After a fractious battle, Congress appropriated billions of dollars to help homeowners left adrift by the storm early this year. Most of that money has yet to reach its intended recipients . Staten Island residents have been filtering back to the borough for months , unwilling to abandon their homes. Stories of success in the Rockaways percolate in the news now and then, but the dominating narrative from this beachy neighborhood looks grim. The place is still a mess. The National Climatic Data Center estimates that the storm cost $65 billion. Many people ( at least 200 ) across the city are still homeless , and tangled contractor politics is making home repairs difficult in many areas. Transportation systems in New York City and...

The Biggest Design Flaw in Healthcare.gov

The pathway to disaster.
In my column today , I argue that the Healthcare.gov disaster has its roots in the government-contracting system, where big projects that go past deadline and over budget is standard operating procedure. There is one particular design flaw, however, that I didn't get a chance to discuss there but is worth noting. My guess is that it wasn't given all that much thought, or at the very least, somebody had what sounded like a good reason at the time to do it the way they did. But the result was that the administration needlessly multiplied the headaches it would have with the rollout and made everyone's experience significantly worse, and it didn't have to be that way. Before I tell you what it is (the suspense is killing you, I know), let's stipulate that Healthcare.gov did indeed present an extremely complex challenge, much more so than just creating an ordinary website. That's because it isn't a closed loop, but rather needs to communicate in real time with a bunch of outside systems,...

The Next Battle at the Fed

AP Images/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
AP Images/Pablo Martinez Monsivais W ith the Administration’s stunning decision to name Janet Yellen to chair the Federal Reserve, at least one major government institution will weigh in strongly on the side of economic recovery, right? Well, maybe. First, of course, Yellen has to be confirmed. That, thankfully, seems a good bet. But there is also the problem of three vacancies on the seven-member Fed Board of Governors, which President Obama will soon fill. If the wrong people are appointed to these jobs, Yellen’s ability to aggressively use low interest rates to strengthen the recovery will be destroyed. But why would Obama do that? The Treasury and Wall Street crowd who dearly wanted Larry Summers rather than Yellen will now be focusing on the three other seats. If they can’t get their man in as chair, at least they can narrow the options of the woman who got the job. The same insiders who pressed Obama to go out on a limb for Summers will be pushing hard for Wall-Street-friendly...

Pages