Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

America in Words and in the Crosshairs

AP Images/Alex Brandon
T his has been a week in the crosshairs of history past and present. A century and a half ago the most besieged president ever, under whom half the country went to war against the other half, made the most compelling case since the Declaration of Independence not only for union but for union’s noblest requisites. Now this week is haunted equally by that declaration spoken at the edge of the Gettysburg killing field and the cruel rejoinder to it almost exactly a hundred years later, by another assassin’s shot echoing the one that murdered Abraham Lincoln. Apparently gunfire is the common American answer to those who call upon a common destiny for the America of our dreams. Of the 10 sentences that constitute the entirety of President Lincoln’s speech at Gettysburg—following the battle there of the previous summer and on the occasion of a mass burial—eight are about the speech’s inadequacy. The final two have rendered inadequate almost everything that’s been said or written about them...

Razing Arizona Women's Health Care

AP Images/The Fort Worth Star-Telegram/ Dave Kent
L ike Napoleon forging into the Russian winter, anti-choice politicians are loath to give up on abortion restrictions, however minor, until the Supreme Court forces them to. On Wednesday, Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne asked the Supreme Court to reinstate a law that would strip Medicaid funding from doctors and clinics who perform abortions. Poor women already can’t use federal dollars to cover abortion procedures—that’s been illegal since the late 1970s. The law, which was struck down by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in August, instead would prevent the state’s abortion providers from being reimbursed by Medicaid for providing any kind of care to low-income women, whether it’s breast exams, cervical cancer screenings, or contraceptive services. The law’s supporters allege that public money is trickling into abortion providers’ pockets because they offer preventive care services, enabling them—however indirectly—to perform more procedures. If it hadn’t been overturned, the...

Harry Reid's Triumph

At least when it comes to executive branch and (most) judicial branch appointments, to paraphrase Leonard Cohen, democracy is coming to the United States Senate. Senate Democrats responded to the Republican minority's blockade against any Obama appointments to the D.C. Circuit by eliminating the filibuster for most presidential nominations. This vote will likely be the most important congressional vote of President Obama's second term, and Senate Majority Harry Reid and most of the rest of the Democratic caucus deserve immense credit for pulling it off. I have explained at length why I believe that the filibuster is an indefensible practice. The short version is that the American political system already has an inordinately high number of veto points, so anyone favoring additional extraconstitutional ones should face a very high burden of proof. The filibuster, with its long and dismal history of allowing overrepresented minorities to prevent Congress from addressing the interests of...

Daily Meme: Mutually Assured Obstruction

Life in the Senate plays out predictably in the 21st century. It serves as the older sibling to the House, coming off as more logical and responsible by comparison, but when the Senate carries out duties that are its sole purview, it proves that the two legislative bodies share the same DNA. Yes, we're talking about the confirmation process for executive appointments. It's the same nearly every time. Obama nominates someone to fill a vacancy in his administration. Republicans in the Senate accuse said nominee of being a raging lunatic liable to run naked around the Lincoln Memorial when not turning the United States into a Pastafarian commune. Then, they filibuster. The nominee sadly retreats. Democrats complain that Republicans are the worst, and threaten to nuke the filibuster. Lather, rinse, and repeat. It's not a new phenomenon. Senate Democrats in the minority during the Bush years were also loath to confirm conservative nominees , but they were a bit more discerning with their...

Don't Believe the Republican Cries of Vengeance

Behold my terrible rage! I will drink your blood and feast on your entrails! (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
So now the Democrats have exercised the "nuclear option," which is not particularly nuclear. They've changed existing Senate rules so that judicial nominations can not be filibustered, but can pass with a majority vote. Over the next couple of days you'll hear Republicans say that this is the most horrifying power grab since the February Revolution of 1917. They will weep and beat their breasts, lamenting the death of fairness and democracy, predicting all manner of horrors, perhaps culminating in a zombie apocalypse, now that a judge nominated by the president can be confirmed with a vote of a majority of senators. But then, their grief will turn to steely determination. "You shall rue this day!", they will cry. "Revenge shall be ours!" And that might sound like a reasonable argument for why this rule change was ill-advised. After all, as Iowa senator Chuck Grassley recently threatened , "So if the Democrats are bent on changing the rules, then I say go ahead. There are a lot more...

America, Where Even the Desperately Ill Say They're Healthy

More graphy goodness like this inside.
The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development has released their latest health indicators report , and while you may not find 200 pages of charts and graphs on cross-national health comparisons as fascinating as weirdos like me do, let me just point to a couple of interesting things. Most of the findings will be pretty familiar to people who have followed the health-care issue in the last few years, but there's at least one thing that surprised me, which I'll get to in a minute. First though, I have to point to this graph, which shows just what an outlier the United States is in terms of what we spend on health care and what we get. It shows the relationship between spending and life expectancy: OECD As you can see, there's a strong relationship between health spending and life expectancy—for everyone except us. Japan, for instance, has a life expectancy of 82.8, compared to our 78.7, despite the fact that they spend less than half as much per capita as we do. But here's...

Things Aren't Looking Good for Reproductive Rights in Texas

AP Photo/Eric Gay, File
AP Photo/Tamir Kalifa, File On Tuesday, there was at least one good piece of good news for supporters of reproductive freedom, as the proposed post-20-week abortion ban the Prospect 's Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux covered earlier this week was defeated by an encouraging ten-point margin . At another venue, however, there was bad news for the reproductive rights of women. A bare majority of the Supreme Court allowed the draconian new abortion restrictions passed by the Texas legislature to go into effect, and did so in a way that represents bad news for the possibility of the law being struck down by the Court. The question the Supreme Court was considering was an appeal to a decision written by ultra-reactionary Circuit Court Judge Priscilla Owen "staying"—that is, preventing from going into effect—a District Court ruling holding some parts of the Texas law unconstitutional. Owen's absurdly narrow reading of Casey was not surprising, and unfortunately it's not necessarily an inaccurate...

Apology Silliness, Foreign Policy Edition

I apologize for these pastries. (White House photo by Pete Souza)
We're now negotiating the terms of our sort-of-departure from Afghanistan, and there's no doubt the Afghan government needs America more than America needs it. Imagine, if you would, that we just packed up and left. There would almost certainly be a full-on civil war, one the Afghan government would be hard-pressed to win. And back here, we'd pay about as much attention as we do now to the river of blood flowing through Iraq, which is to say, every once in a while we'd see a news story and say, "Gee, that's terrible," and then go back to wondering how long it'll be before Miley Cyrus and Lindsay Lohan go on a cross-country crime spree. So if you were the Afghan government, you probably wouldn't want to drive too hard a bargain in negotiating the terms of the future American presence there. And it's all getting hung up on whether the Americans are going to apologize for killing Afghan civilians, and whether they might offer an apology that isn't really an apology, and whether they can...

The Real Roots of the Filibuster Crisis

As fake as the moon landing, obviously. (White House photo by Sonya Hebert)
We're about to have ourselves a little filibuster crisis, and the only surprising thing is that it took so long. We've now reached a point where Republicans no longer accept that Barack Obama has the right, as president of the United States, to fill judicial vacancies. Unlike in previous battles over judicial nominations, we're not talking about the nominees' qualifications or their ideological proclivities. It's merely a question of the president's constitutional privileges. Republicans don't think he has them. This is only the latest feature of a long descent for the GOP away from considering any Democratic president—but particularly this one—as a legitimate holder of the office to which he was elected. There has never been a president, at least in our lifetimes, whose legitimacy was so frequently questioned in both word and deed by the opposition party and its adherents. Even today, many Republicans, including some members of Congress, refuse to believe that Obama was born in the...

Daily Meme: Seasonal Shopping Disorder

The holiday season is upon us! Which means that companies are going to spend the next month and a half treating their workers even worse than usual. Fortunately, the National Labor Relations Board is finally staffed up, and the Labor Department's new head, Thomas Perez, is expected to put up a good fight for workers too. On Monday, the NLRB made headlines by telling Wal-Mart it needed to stop firing its protesting workers , which is illegal. The ruling means that more workers might feel emboldened to fight back on Black Friday, the unofficial national holiday that is unquestionably the bane of every retail worker's existence. Wal-Mart has been pre-emptively striking back by waging an ambitious marketing campaign , featuring TV spots soaked in smiling faces and so saccharine that they must turn the stomachs of Scrooges everywhere. Some retailers are forcing their workers to punch in before the turkey's even cold on Thursday, but not all—Costco and Nordstrom, among a few others, are...

No, Ladies—Birth Control Pills Won’t Make You Go Blind

AP Images/Jens Kalaene
Over the course of the past day or so, you may have seen some alarming news: Long-term use of birth control pills, according to a study released at the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Ophthalmology , may be linked to glaucoma, one of the leading causes of blindness in the US. If you happen to be one of the more than 80 percent of women who has used oral contraceptives during her life, you’d be forgiven for feeling a little nervous. Long-term contraception is pretty much unavoidable for sexually active women who would rather not get pregnant. The researchers, undoubtedly aware that a link between birth control and blindness would make millions of women just a tad uneasy, were careful to emphasize that their findings are not conclusive. One of the lead authors told NPR that women shouldn't stop using birth control pills based on this study, adding that a lot more work needs to be done to find out if this apparent connection is real or just a coincidence. But most media reports...

LBJ and Dallas's Mink Coat Mob

November 4, 1960, four days before the presidential election, LBJ travels to Dallas in a last-ditch effort to carry his home state. He is greeted at his hotel on Commerce Street by a group of angry protesters brought together by Republican Congressman Bruce Alger. The crowd, mostly women, is largely made up of Dallas high society—city leaders’ wives and daughters, former debutantes, and members of the Junior League. Several are wearing fur coats purchased at Nieman Marcus, just down the street. Onlookers joke that the unlikely gathering looks like a mink coat mob. A s the Johnson motorcade speeds into Downtown Dallas, escorted by motorcycle-riding policemen, one of the cops signals to LBJ’s driver. “They’re having a little disturbance at the Baker Hotel,” the policeman says coolly. The convoy decides to avoid the Baker’s front entrance and instead pulls to a side street. Out in front of the hotel, Bruce Alger is whipping up the crowd: If Khrushchev could vote, he’d choose Kennedy-...

How Both Republican and Democratic States Are Helping Obama

Last week, President Obama announced a "fix" to the problem of people in the individual health-insurance market getting cancellation notices from their insurance companies: he'd allow the insurers to offer those substandard plans for another year. Does he want the fix to work? We can't read his mind, but depending on how you define "work," it would be better for the Affordable Care Act's ultimate success if it didn't. As things have played out over the last few days, there are reasons that as a political problem this could fade. As you may know, insurance markets are governed by officials in each state. If a state's insurance commissioner doesn't want to allow the substandard plans to be sold, he or she can say no, no matter what the President might want. A few of those insurance commissioners—from Vermont, Rhode Island, and Washington state—have already said they won't allow it. So what you have here are heavily Democratic states not supporting Obama. But here's the key to the story...

Daily Meme: Republican Governors Get Ready for 2014 ... and 2016

Republican governors from across the country are descending upon Tempe, Arizona for this year's Republican Governors Association meeting. They've kind of got a big year ahead, with 36 gubernatorial races to fight in. Given their party's ... less than sterling reputation lately , the governors, who manage to mostly toe a more moderate line, think they are the right people to lead the way. And, they're kind of having a moment . And totally eating it up. New Jersey governor Chris Christie is set to take over as RGA chair , which will make him very cozy with the party's most benevolent donors. Those in charge of the 2016 primary preseason events seem to think this is more evidence that Christie plans to run. Meanwhile, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker seems to be the hot 2016 will he/won't he du jour , thanks to the buzz he's getting for his new book (another frequent opening act for presidential bids ). He's already started raking in the crucial and game-changing 2016 listicles . Walker...

Liberals' Special Snowflake Syndrome

Flickr/tanakawho
When a bunch of Democrats voted last week for a Republican bill meant to sabotage the Affordable Care Act, a lot of liberal commentators, myself included, reacted with, "Ugh, here we go again." While there had been some remarkable unity on the Democratic side in recent months, particularly during the budget showdown, the default status of Democrats is not just cowardice but fractiousness (though obviously, it's easy to stay together when things are going well). This is representative of the broader liberal movement, where it's extraordinarily difficult to get ostensibly allied people and groups to act in concert. Liberals are always looking with envy at their conservative counterparts, who seem to be much more unified, both in beliefs and action. Conservatives would tell you that they spend plenty of time at each other's throats, but this broad stereotype—disconnected liberals, unified conservatives—has its origins in truth. Today I read a study that sheds some light on why this might...

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