Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Could You Live on $11,940 a Year?

A couple of months ago, Fox News host Neil Cavuto went on a rant against fast-food workers striking for higher wages, explaining that when he was but a wee pup of 16, he went to work at an Arthur Treacher's restaurant for a mere $2 an hour, setting him on the road to becoming the vigorous and well-remunerated cheerleader for capitalism he is today. For all his economic acumen, Cavuto seemed to forget that there's a thing called "inflation," and the two bucks he earned in 1974 would today be worth $9.47. That's less than the striking fast-food workers are asking for (they want $15 an hour), but significantly more than the $7.25 today's minimum-wage workers make. Not to mention the fact that so many of them are not teenagers but adults trying to survive and support families. (According to the Economic Policy Institute, 88 percent of those who would benefit from an increase in the minimum wage are over the age of 20; that and much more data on the topic can be found here .) Yesterday,...

Obama's Crippling Ambivalence

AP Images/Charles Dharapak
AP Images/Charles Dharapak B arack Obama’s presidency is a series of crossroads. The crossroads are moments of decision for a president who is utterly indecisive except, of course, when he’s not a ruthless tyrant trampling the Constitution (or, on more banal occasions, saving the national economy or pressing forward on health-care reform or ordering the execution of the mass murderer of 3,000 Americans). Unlike the topographically comparable term of Bill Clinton when such junctures were psychodramas of his own making, Obama’s junctures are of his own being, which many regard as despicable irrespective of anything he actually does; and now events, dread, myopia, and the congenitally and hopelessly, inevitably and eternally fucked up state of affairs whose address is Syria have conspired to put the president in a lose-lose situation he may win anyway. That no one yet offers a single cogent assessment of just what Syrian policy should be apparently pales beside the president’s handling...

Meanwhile, in the Refugee Crisis

AP Photo/Bilal Hussein
AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty T wo million refugees from Syria. The figure was announced last week and easily missed amid headlines about the Tomahawks that would or would not be fired at targets dear to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Refugees are less dramatic than cruise missiles, less dramatic even than wrangling about a Security Council resolution on Syria's poison-gas arsenal. Yet the exodus from the civil war-torn country represents a humanitarian crisis no less stark, a moral demand no less pressing, than the use of chemical weapons. It is a crisis which has policy responses that do not involve bombs, that do not require a debate about America and Europe re-entering the Middle East's wars. They do, however, demand spending money and a willingness to take in refugees on a new and much larger scale. In the end, these costs pale in comparison to the costs of war. Two million refugees, in truth, is a careful understatement. It's the number of Syrians who have registered as refugees...

Blinded by the Gun-Control Fight

Photo by Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor
AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, File T he Republican Party hasn't been known for its sterling record on disability rights lately. Last December, 38 GOP senators memorably tanked the UN Convention on Persons With Disabilities over the pleading of former Senator Bob Dole, walking past his wheelchair to cast "no" votes and sparking widespread outrage among disability rights groups. In the past week, however, many disability groups have applauded an Iowa law allowing blind residents to carry concealed handguns, a rule change that has raised eyebrows from Iowa sheriffs to The Colbert Report . The permits have been issued as an effect of 2011 conceal-and-carry legislation that made Iowa a "shall grant" state—"shall grant" being the legal equivalent of Heston's infamous "from my cold dead hands" in terms of who can be denied a permit by a state sheriff—a law that’s now getting national attention thanks to a report in the Des Moines Register . There are exactly six restrictions on who can and...

The Known Known of "The Unknown Known"? Rumsfeld Has No Regrets

AP Photo/Wally Santana
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais T he best news at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF for short) is that Brit director Steve McQueen’s much anticipated 12 Years A Slave— starring Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup, a free man of color who was kidnapped and sold into bondage in the Deep South in 1841—is as extraordinary as everybody says it is. Aside from Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity, a very different sort of cinematic coup, no other movie I’ve seen here can touch it, and I’m pretty sure no other movie on the subject of slavery can either. If you couldn’t stand Django Unchained, McQueen’s far more ruthless and perceptive dismantling of the Peculiar Institution’s social and sexual pathologies opens stateside next month. Then again, what with TIFF’s usual salad bar of touted, untouted, and never-to-be-heard-of-again offerings no doubt I’ve missed a lot, and not always by choice, considering that a rare technical snafu—TIFF is usually sterling—turned the mobbed press...

Daily Meme: Putin Takes to the Grey Lady

In the film Manhattan , a character at a cocktail party mentions a "devastating satirical piece on the op-ed page of the Times. " To which Woody Allen responds, "Whoa, whoa. A satirical piece in the Times is one thing, but bricks and baseball bats really gets right to the point of it." In the international battle over Syria, it seems that while Obama sides with our neurotic-intellectual-in-chief, Russian president Vladimir Putin sides with The New York Times opinion section. A sidenote: Putin has a real affinity for publishing opinion pieces in the United States when expensive gifts of booze have failed to work their magic on White House officials. To wit, his former contributions to The Huffington Post . He ends his devastating criticism of U.S. foreign policy in today's Grey Lady by saying, "My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust. I appreciate this. I carefully studied his address to the nation on Tuesday. And I would rather disagree...

The Rapid Rise and Humiliating Fall of a Middle East "Expert"

One of Elizabeth O'Bagy's many appearances on Fox News.
It seems as though every few months, some Washington institution—a government agency, a think tank, or the like —finds themselves surprised when one of the people working for them turns out to be a fraud, a purveyor of offensive ideas, or otherwise an embarrassment. After a few days of controversy, the person's resignation is accepted, and they disappear forever. Back in July, a guy working for Rand Paul turned out to be a neo-Confederate. In May, a scholar at the Heritage Foundation, Jason Richwine, turned out to have some colorful ideas about Hispanics and IQ. The latest, and one of the strangest, is the case of Elizabeth O'Bagy, an expert on Syria employed by the Institute for the Study of War, a right-leaning think tank. This often happens when the person achieves precisely the goal they've been working for: wide dissemination of their ideas, and an elevation in their visibility. It's that sudden visibility that leads people who disagree with those ideas to say, "Who is this...

Just What Cable News Needs: More Bickering

The new Crossfire, just as interesting as you'd expect.
Back in 2004, Jon Stewart went on the CNN show Crossfire and begged the hosts to "stop hurting America." The clip became an early viral video (this was before YouTube), and it was like the young boy shouting that the emperor has no clothes. Evidently, people at the network looked around at each other and said, "He's right. This is just awful. We have to cancel this show so we can look ourselves in the mirror again." Within weeks it was off the air. I'm not saying that in the entire two decades of its previous incarnation, Crossfire was uniformly pernicious. But by the end it had reached a truly ghastly low, with Tucker Carlson and James Carville shouting over each other while a studio audience whooped and hollered in the background. Why anyone voluntarily subjected themselves to watching it remains a mystery. And now, Crossfire is back on the air. The obvious question is one you might ask yourself after a hurricane flooded your house or a bear killed and ate your favorite great-aunt:...

Bloomberg's Rocky Mountain Rout

AP Images/John Minchillo
Tuesday’s recall elections in Colorado—the first ones in state history—resulted in two Democratic state senators losing their seats. It also resulted in an excruciating amount of spin about what the losses meant for gun-control efforts in other states and at the federal level. Colorado was among the first states to pass gun-control legislation in the wake of two mass shootings, one of which occurred at a movie theatre in a Denver suburb. But though the recall was undoubtedly prompted by anger over the vote, as I wrote last week, the actual elections results were never going to tell us much about gun-control opinions one way or another. While the National Rifle Association and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns both got involved in the race, the elections quickly became about a broader swath of issues. Americans for Prosperity, the Koch-funded Tea Party group, lambasted the two senators for their positions on taxes and Obamacare, getting pretty far...

Yet Another NSA Violation

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File
L ast month, it was revealed that the court established by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) had rebuked the National Security Agency (NSA) for using illegal search methods. Not surprisingly, this incident wasn't an isolated one. In another judicial opinion responding to a lawsuit by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), further illegal abuses by the NSA were unveiled . Like the previous revelations, this story tells of the dangers posed by a NSA conducting searches with far too broad a scope and too few constraints. The latest NSA abuses involve the database of phone calls made by Americans compiled by the NSA. Phone companies have been ordered to turn over "metadata" about the calls made by their customers. The NSA keeps five years of this metadata on file at any given time. When the agency makes queries into the database, however, it is required by the FISA court to have a "reasonable articulable suspicion" that the call involves communication with a terrorist...

Trumka's Ploy

AP Images/Carolyn Kaster
The AFL-CIO Convention concluded Wednesday, having made some major structural changes in the way labor will operate—though nowhere near so major as the changes that the Federation’s top leader was advocating in the weeks leading up to the convention. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka iterated and reiterated that labor would no longer limit its members to those who had successfully convinced their employers to recognize their union. With employers able to flout labor law with impunity, illegally firing workers who sought to organize and refusing to sign contracts with those whose unions had won recognition elections, the number of workers who actually emerge with a contract grows smaller with each passing year. So the Federation’s unions would welcome workers who had tried to organize their workplace but didn’t prevail. It would welcome workers such as cab drivers, who were misclassified as independent contractors and legally proscribed from forming a union, though they were actually...

A New Progressive Era for NYC? Not So Fast.

AP Photo/Kathy Willens
AP Photo/Mary Altaffer "O ur mission is to change our city in the name of progress,” Bill de Blasio said to the crowd assembled in a Gowanus, Brooklyn bar after midnight on Tuesday, claiming victory in New York City’s Democratic mayoral primary with just over 40 percent of the vote. New York's Public Advocate and progressive populist appeared to have pulled it off, stunning not just his opponents but also many of the city’s political professionals and financial elites. He had forged an Obama-esque coalition in the Big Apple. Indeed, the atmosphere at the event felt eerily familiar if you followed the 44 th president’s 2008 campaign. “We understand that making big change is never easy,” de Blasio said. “It never has been. And there are those who have said our ambition for this city is too bold, and that we’re asking of the wealthiest New Yorkers too much. That we’re setting our sights for the children of this city too high. That we’re guilty, guilty my friends, of thinking too big. Let...

Larry Summers and the Economists’ “Greed Exception”

AP Images/J. Scott Applewhite
AP Images/J. Scott Applewhite I t is said that the late economist Milton Friedman was once asked how much money it would take for him to change his position that humans are primarily motivated by greed, which was at the core of his free-market fundamentalism. Friedman wisely dodged the question. He understood that if he said he could not be bought, it would undercut his economic theory. In order to avoid doing so, he would have had to admit that he, like everyone else, had his price. Lawrence Summers is certainly not a Milton Friedman conservative. But of the top candidates to succeed Ben Bernanke as chairman of the Federal Reserve, he is the leading exponent of free-market dogma. He was an architect of financial deregulation, and champions unfettered global trade and limiting government intervention in the economy. He has also become wealthy selling his services to corporate bankers and brokers who benefit from such policies. Summers and his supporters insist that his ties to Wall...

Upper East Side Snubs de Blasio

The most impressive aspect of Bill de Blasio’s victory in yesterday’s Democratic primary for the post of New York’s mayor is its breadth. He ran first in all the boroughs, carried parts of the city ‘s most African American neighborhoods in Harlem and Brooklyn, despite the presence of a prominent African American candidate in the race (William Thompson, who may yet squeak into a run-off depending on the count of the outstanding ballots), and romped through such white liberal strongholds as Greenwich Village, the Upper West Side, and Park Slope. The New York Times website has a precinct-by-precinct map of how the candidates did. What’s particularly striking is that de Blasio ran either first or second in what was effectively a five-candidate field in every one of the city’s neighborhoods—with one exception. The exception was Manhattan’s Upper East Side, or more precisely, the precincts that encompassed Fifth, Madison, and Park Avenues and their side streets between 59th Street and,...

Daily Meme: Falling Down the Foreign-Policy Rabbit Hole

In the immortal words of Shep Smith, " politics is weird. And creepy ." And the past two weeks in American foreign policy have been especially bonkers for the way our plan forward in Syria has taken a chutes and ladders path to where it is now. Last night, Obama gave a speech answering many of the critics of his airstrike plan : "Many of you have asked: Won’t this put us on a slippery slope to another war? One man wrote to me that we are still recovering from our involvement in Iraq. A veteran put it more bluntly: This nation is sick and tired of war. My answer is simple. I will not put American boots on the ground in Syria. I will not pursue an open-ended action like Iraq or Afghanistan. I will not pursue a prolonged air campaign like Libya or Kosovo. This would be a targeted strike to achieve a clear objective: deterring the use of chemical weapons and degrading Assad’s capabilities." Unsurprisingly, his words didn't lead to a ceasefire with said critics, although Andrew Sullivan...

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