Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

It's Hard Out There for a Minority Leader

To many people, a poll released today by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling probably came as a surprise. Mitch McConnell, the Minority Leader in the Senate, is shown trailing his challenger, Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, by a point. But he's a Republican in a conservative state, and one of the leaders of the Republican party. How could he be in danger of losing?

The Least We Could Pay

AP Photo/Jim Mone, File

In his campaign to drum up public support for a post-recess budget deal with Congress, President Barack Obama has repeated a call he first made in his 2013 State of the Union speech: an increase in the federal minimum wage. This past January, he called for a $9 minimum wage, up from the $7.25 rate that has remained unchanged the past four years. This week, at an Amazon packaging facility in Chattanooga, Tennessee, he said: “[B]ecause no one who works full-time in America should have to live in poverty, I will keep making the case that we need to raise a minimum wage that in real terms is lower than it was when Ronald Reagan took office. That means more money in consumers’ pockets, and more business for companies like Amazon.”

A $9 federal minimum wage is higher than any current state’s minimum wage except Washington’s.

Top Gun 2: Maverick Reloaded

When a reporter sits down with Mitt Romney four years from now to see how the former presidential candidate remembers the biggest loss of his political career, which Mitt will he be? It's something that comes to mind after reading The New Republic's interview with Senator John McCain, a wide-ranging conversation that proves the much-loved maverick of campaigns past wasn't a figment of our imagination, but merely on sabbatical.

The Obama Administration's Unhealthy Obsession with Whistleblowers

Yesterday saw a mixed verdict delivered to Bradley Manning, who was charged with various crimes under the Espionage Act for leaking classified materials to WikiLeaks. Colonel Denise Lind, who presided over the court-martial, acquitted Manning of the most serious charge brought against him while finding him guilty on 20 of the 21 lesser charges. Lind's ruling is at least a partial victory, acting as a partial break of the Obama administration's overreaching war on whistleblowers. But many aspects of the case remain disturbing.

Not Much, But Better than Nothing

President Obama yesterday in Chattanooga with Amazon workers. (White House photo/Chuck Kennedy)

President Obama offered a "grand bargain" yesterday, and although it wasn't particularly grand, it was a bargain: Republicans would get a lowering of the corporate income tax rate, something they've wanted for a long time, and Democrats would get some new investments in infrastructure, job training, and education. Inevitably, Republicans rejected it out of hand. "It's just a further-left version of a widely panned plan he already proposed two years ago, this time with extra goodies for tax-and-spend liberals," said Mitch McConnell. At this point, Obama could offer to close the E.P.A., eliminate all inheritance taxes, and rename our nation's capital "Reagan, D.C." if Republicans would also agree to give one poor child a sandwich, and they'd say no, because that would be too much big government.

Just as inevitably, in-the-know politicos are wondering, why does he bother with this stuff if he knows what the result will be? Didn't we get enough of this I'm-the-reasonable-one-here-even-if-it-doesn't-produce-anything posturing in his first term? What's the point?

That's not an unreasonable question to ask. But the better question is: As opposed to what?

Going Rogue for Marriage Equality

AP Photo/Matt Rourke
AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Tamara Davis, left, and Nicola Cucinotta kiss after obtaining a marriage license in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania despite a state law banning such unions.

Many Things, But Not a Traitor

Today, Bradley Manning was found guilty of violating the Espionage Act by releasing hundreds of thousands of documents from the military and the State Department to WikiLeaks in 2011. Though Manning had already pled guilty to some charges, the government wanted to convict him not only of violating classification rules, but of something far more serious, and on that, they failed. And a good thing, too. 

On Abortion, a Tale of Two Countries

Texas state senator Wendy Davis, whose unsuccessful attempt to stop a restrictive abortion law drew national attention. (Flickr/Texas Tribune/Todd Wiseman)

Conservatives may be in retreat on many different fronts these days, but in one area, they're having smashing success: restricting the ability of women, particularly non-wealthy women, from accessing abortion services. And they're doing it with a new tool: the 20-week abortion ban, offered as cover for a raft of restrictions that aren't about stopping later-term abortions but about stopping all abortions. They're succeeding not because of some change in Americans' views on the subject, but because of the exercise of raw political power. As you may have heard, opinions on abortion, unlike those on many other subjects, have been remarkably stable for decades.

But that stability masks some stark differences on abortion, differences that create just enough space for Republicans in parts of the country to make abortion all but illegal. Yesterday the Pew Research Center came out with a new poll, showing some rather dramatic gaps by region on what people think about abortion. Check out this graph:

Young Detroiters Double Down

The American Prospect/Aaron Cassara

Margarita Barry was nursing her eight-month-old and browsing the news online when a headline caught her eye: “Detroit Declares Bankruptcy.” Pretty soon, her inbox and Facebook feed were clogged with reports from family and friends sharing the news that Detroit had become the largest U.S. city ever to file for Chapter Nine. Barry, a 28-year-old African American web designer and entrepreneur who was born and raised on the northwest side of the city, knew it would happen eventually. “It was only a matter of when,” she says.

Iowa's High-Tech Abortion Battle

Free Verse Photography (http://www.flickr.com/photos/ennuipoet/5479828006/sizes/l/in/photostream/)

One night in 2007, Jill June, CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, couldn’t sleep. She was grappling with a problem that vexes rural pro-choice advocates everywhere: the lack of access to abortion. At the time, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, which performs most of the abortions in Iowa, had 17 clinics in its network but only three with an on-site physician. Doctors would travel, sometimes as far as 200 miles, to three other clinics in the state to perform intermittent care. The remaining 11 clinics did not offer abortion services. In all, 91 percent of Iowa’s counties, the more sparsely populated regions that are home to more than half of the state’s women, lacked an abortion provider.

The Slow Burn Nature of Climate Politics

During the dog days of summer, most peoples' lazier impulses take over, even more so in Washington, a muggy city built ill-advisedly on top of a swamp. President Obama, however, seems immune to the soporific effects of the heat and is  filling up the days with speech after speech of ambitious agenda-making. Last week saw the kick-off of a new five-point economic plan. A few weeks before that, in a speech mostly forgotten by the amnesiatic chattering class (but not so far away as his national security speech, which seems so long ago to be nearly nonexistent), Obama laid out his administration's plan for the environment, a distillation of his views on climate change heard before only in soundbites.

Pot vs. Booze: The Battle Begins

Young drug users, fresh from rampaging through their neighborhood.

Here in Washington, our NPR station airs a program on Sunday nights featuring old-time radio dramas like Gunsmoke and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar ("The transcribed adventures of the man with the action-packed expense account, America's fabulous freelance insurance investigator!"). A week or two ago they featured an episode of Dragnet in which Los Angeles is beset with a wave of juvenile delinquency. Formerly well-behaved teens start running wild, beating people up, smashing store windows, and creating general violent mayhem. Not only that, these kids commit their crimes in front of local merchants and citizens who know their names and their families—the teens are so crazed, they don't even care if they get caught. Sergeant Friday's suspicions are quickly confirmed, and the culprit is identified. The teens are caught in the grip of…marijuana!

Back here in 2013, the Brickyard 400, a NASCAR race, was this weekend in Indianapolis, and the Marijuana Policy Project, a legalization advocacy group, thought it would be interesting to buy space on an electronic billboard outside the entrance to the event to show this ad:

The Filner Scandal Isn't a "Sex Scandal"

AP Photo/Gregory Bull

San Diego mayor Dan Filner has refused to resign amid multiple allegations of sexual harassment, saying that he will undergo therapy instead. As Alexandra Petri of The Washington Post notes, it seems implausible that two weeks of therapy can fix Filner's very serious issues with women. But there is a much deeper problem with Filner's refusal to resign. His invocation of therapy suggests that the scandal is a purely private affair without direct implications for his conduct in office. This is dead wrong. It's crucial not to conflate consensual and nonconsensual actions together into a single catch-all category of "sex scandals."

Moral Mondays and the South’s New Liberal Gospel

Jenny Warburg

By the time the North Carolina General Assembly ended its six-month session last Friday, the state’s first Republican supermajority had done everything in its power to transform the South’s most moderate state into a right-wing dystopia. No state in recent American history has been pushed further to an ideological extreme by a single legislative session. Among many other measures, Republican lawmakers rejected Medicaid expansion under Obamacare. They ended federal unemployment benefits for 170,000 North Carolinians and slashed them for everyone else. They severely cut public-school funding (while making room for a voucher program that will send public dollars to private schools). They drastically decreased access to abortion. They quashed the earned income tax credit for working, low-income families. In the last days of the session, they passed an astonishingly far-reaching bill that makes voting harder in just about every way—from cutting down on early voting to creating a strict voter-ID requirement to ending same-day registration to prohibiting state-sponsored voter registration drives. On every conceivable front, the newly ascendant Republicans rapidly did—to borrow from the outraged New York Times editorial board—“grotesque damage” to the state.