Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

If Obama Wants the GOP’s Help in Syria, He Must Deal with Torture First

AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File
A mong the lessons of Syria for Barack Obama, there is one that stands out: The destruction of the Republican foreign policy establishment makes his job harder, and the president is now suffering the consequences of his choice to avoid, as much as possible, dealing with the fallout from torture during the George W. Bush administration. What is missing, specifically? The Republican side of “establishment” foreign policy. That is, a group of people who are certainly Republicans, but are not particularly partisan and who are comfortable working with the similar set of Democrats. Think Dick Lugar; think Colin Powell; think, perhaps more than anyone over the last 50 years, George H.W. Bush. Those Republicans, as Lugar’s defeat for re-election last year demonstrated, have been driven to the fringes of their party (or perhaps out of it; Powell is still a Republican, but supported Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012). Why does that matter for Barack Obama? There just are not very many Republicans...

Mobile Phones Continue Inexorable Conquest of Globe

Flickr/Kohei314
Yesterday, Apple released its new iPhones, one a slightly updated version of the iPhone 5 with a fingerprint reader, and one a cheaper version ("unapologetically plastic," in the term the PR wizards came up with) meant to attract new customers in developing countries. In case you didn't catch any of the eight zillion articles written about the release, minds remained rather unblown. Apple may still be an unstoppable engine of profit, but there are only so many times you can tweak a product and convince people it's totally revolutionary (not that that will stop Apple cultists from standing in line to get the latest version). In any case, this is as good a time as any to step back and look at the remarkable spread of mobile phones across the Earth. There are few other technologies that have found their way into so many hands in so short a time. Mobile phones actually date back to the 1940s, when AT&T set up a system that would allow truckers to make calls from certain cities and...

What Happens If Immigration Reform Fails?

AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta
AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta House Speaker John Boehner outside the White House last week H ouse Republicans' latest excuse for not passing immigration reform —that the congressional calendar is too stuffed with shutdowns and Syria dilemmas—is pretty silly. First, the debt ceiling hasn’t dropped into the fall session unceremoniously from the sky—this is an annual responsibility they knew would return since the last hellish time they raised our borrowing limit. Second, there’s absolutely nothing stopping the House from passing immigration reform ASAP. In a single day, Republican legislators could bring the Senate immigration bill for a floor vote in the House, where conventional wisdom says it has the votes to pass . "This is no longer a debate about policy. We've had ten years of debate," says Muzaffar Chishti, director of the New York office of the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank. "Every element of the policy discussion has been held and held repeatedly." It's...

Playing Russian Roulette with Syria

The strategy outlined in President Obama’s speech Tuesday night was 180 degrees from where it stood when it was announced he would address the nation, so much so that it’s worth asking why he went ahead and went on prime time. As I wrote last week in the Prospect , going to Congress was a way for Obama to build domestic support that could in turn generate greater international support for military action. With the Syria resolution all but dead, and the Russians and Syrians saying yes to John Kerry’s maybe-serious-maybe-not plan to remove Syria’s chemical weapons under Russian auspices, it now looks like the course of action has been reversed. Last night the president announced that he had asked leaders of Congress to postpone the vote while his administration worked to build international support around the proposed plan, the admittedly complicated details of which are still being worked out. If that process fails, or simply proves, as many reasonably suspect, to be a Russian stalling...

Government-Shutdown Crisis Proceeding on Schedule

Eric Cantor, liberal stooge. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
What with all the attention being paid to Syria, most people have forgotten that we're just three weeks away from a government shutdown unless Congress passes a continuing resolution (CR), which is the (relatively) quick-and-easy way of keeping the government operating at current funding levels without writing a whole new budget. As you may remember, Tea Party Republicans in the House would like to use the threat of a government shutdown to force a defunding of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, while the Republican leadership, conservatives to a person, realizes that this is spectacularly stupid. If they hold up the CR with a defunding demand, Barack Obama will say no, the government will shut down, Republicans will get every ounce of the blame, and it'll be a complete disaster for the GOP. Eventually they'll give in and pass a CR, but only after having caused a crisis and eroding their brand even further, and by the way not actually defunding Obamacare. So House Majority Leader...

Daily Meme: Do We Want to Live in Post-9/11 America Anymore?

With the war on terror over, at least on paper if not in practice , and Hizzoner Bloomberg's never-ending reign over City Hall coasting to a close, we seem to be finally asking ourselves, do we want to live in a post-9/11 world anymore? In the New York City mayoral race—which reaches its climax with today's Democratic primary—the backdrop isn't tomorrow's anniversary, but Bloombergism and the niggling thought of what New York would be if a mayoral primary was, as assumed beforehand, the big local story of September 11, 2001. Peter Kaplan described New York's millennial prehistory as a time when "Sincerity, purpose, emotion were déclassé. Incomes and real-estate prices climbed ceaselessly and so did exhibitionism, steeped in wealth, full of avarice without apology. Needless to say, it was also somewhat of a gas." The merits of such a New York are up for debate, but it's hard to argue that Bloomberg's legacy doesn't include a return to that New York, with one crucial modifier—it all...

Investigative Journalism Producing Change, Local Edition

Last Sunday's Post.
One of the main arguments for why it's a bad thing if the newspaper industry dies is that newspapers cover local affairs in a way that nobody else does, and that has demonstrable effects on people's lives. Most of the time we don't see those effects, but every once in a while, a story comes along that proves all over again why newspapers are so vital, not just because of what they can expose but because of the change that can come from it. The Washington Post is in the midst of a series of articles about an unbelievable scam victimizing some extremely vulnerable citizens of the District of Columbia. It's one of those combinations of government incompetence, private greed, and sheer immorality that just makes your blood boil. Here's what happened. The D.C. government, like any local government, has lots of outstanding tax bills from citizens it would like to see paid. Some of these are large, and some are small. Since it doesn't have the resources to go out and hound people to pay...

A True Liberal Mayor At Last?

AP Images/Bebeto Matthews
New York City is on the verge of electing its first progressive mayor in a generation. In most polls, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio is well over the 40 percent threshold required to avoid a runoff in the Democratic Primary. And in the Big Apple, the Democratic nomination is tantamount to a win. Even if he is pushed into a runoff, DeBlasio is strongly favored to come out on top. The early front runner, Christine Quinn, stumbled badly, partly because of her close association with Mayor Michael Bloomberg. As city council chair, Quinn was the key enabler of Bloomberg’s overriding of the city’s term limits law. All of Bloomberg’s latent unpopularity among the non-affluent began culminating during his final months in office, and it cascaded onto the unfortunate Quinn . Even among women, she has only 19 percent support in the polls. Quinn had been poised to become not only New York’s first female mayor but its first lesbian mayor. But that historic breakthrough is on the verge of being...

Unions—Not Just for Middle-Aged White Guys Anymore

AP Images/Carolyn Kaster
During the floor debate yesterday on a resolution expanding the AFL-CIO’s commitment to take the workers excluded from labor law’s protections into its ranks—domestic workers, taxi drivers, day laborers, and the like—one delegate to the union’s quadrennial convention likened the proceedings to the 1935 AFL convention, when a sizable group of unionists wanted the Federation to expand its ranks to include factory workers. The more conservative Federation leaders, including its president, William Green, believed that unions should represent only workers in skilled trades—carpenters, masons, plumbers, and so on. But John L. Lewis of the Mine Workers and Sidney Hillman of the Clothing Workers believed that there were millions of factory workers who would flock to unions if given the chance. Lewis and Hillman’s motion to organize factory workers was put to a vote and lost. They were not happy. Indeed, Lewis decked Big Bill Hutchinson, the president of the Carpenters, and stormed out—to form...

The War on Terror Is Still Everywhere

AP Photo/Doug Mills
In May of this year, Barack Obama gave a speech effectively declaring the end of the "War on Terror." Like many people, I was pleased. The War on Terror, which embodies the idea that terrorism is such an existential threat that all other threats the United States has faced pale before it and therefore we had permission abandon every moral standard we ever held to and wage a global military campaign that never ends, has been a poison coursing through our national bloodstream. Its effects can be seen in things that don't on their surface seem to have almost anything to do with terrorism. And despite Obama's speech, it doesn't seem like much has changed. It was only a few weeks after that speech that Edward Snowden's revelations about the scope of NSA surveillance began to come out, and it wasn't as though President Obama said, "You know what? This just shows how things have gotten out of hand. We're going to be dialing this stuff back." He defended every bit of it as necessary and...

Is Barack Obama a Hawk?

Wikimedia Commons/DoD photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley, U.S. Navy.
Back in 2008, one of the things—maybe the main thing—that convinced liberal Democrats that Barack Obama was more liberal than Hillary Clinton was that while Clinton had supported the Iraq War and was seen as generally to the more hawkish side of national-security issues, Obama had opposed the war and sounded generally more skeptical about the use of American military power. Having been right on Iraq was a pretty rare calling card, and a lot of liberals took it as a proxy for something larger. It wasn't just that he was less like George W. Bush, it meant that he had the courage to stand up to Republicans and advocate for liberal values when other Democrats quaked in fear. In retrospect, it doesn't seem that Obama was or is more liberal than Clinton in any substantive way, aside from perhaps a small policy difference here or there. And while he hasn't started any new big wars on the scale of Iraq, that isn't saying much, since Iraq was our biggest war since Vietnam. Today Kevin Drum...

Daily Meme: Casting the Cats and Sexts Aside for a Trip to the Polls

The circus is done, and New York voters are set to choose their nominees for the New York City mayoral election. Anthony Weiner thinks his chances of winning are good. The polls tend to disagree . Emphatically . Whatever, guys. He's got this . De Blasio is miles ahead of the competition at this point , winning the support of women, blacks, whites, Catholics, Jews, old, young, and all five boroughs. Even if he doesn't cross the 40 percent threshold necessary to stave off a runoff, he'd still be likely to emerge victorious. Christine Quinn had auspicious Clinton 2008-esque beginnings, but is now trailing in third place. Apparently, dead mayors do not good endorsements make. On the sidelines, John Catsimatidis and Joe Lhota are still arguing about cats . Not only does Catsimatidis accuse Lhota of having "no heart," but he's certain his “ love factor with the minorities " will be his ticket to victory. “They all give me hugs.” Meanwhile, the city's antiquarian voting machines are getting...

What Happens If There's a Split Decision in Congress on Syria?

Flickr/World Can't Wait
As we begin the congressional debate on whether to launch some kind of strike on Syria, one of the main questions animating the political discussion is, what happens if Obama loses? People are saying some predictably stupid things about it, talking about how wounded Obama's presidency would be, and how he'd no longer be able to get Congress to do his bidding, unlike the last few years, when he got whatever he wanted from Congress. But here's a question: What if a resolution on the use of force in Syria passes the Senate, but fails to pass the House? Right now that looks like a distinct possibility. People doing whip counts based on what members have publicly said (see here or here ) are saying that in the House, a majority of members have either come out against military action or say they're leaning that way. In the Senate things are less clear; most senators haven't said how they'll vote. Of course that could change, but if it doesn't, what happens then? It isn't clear. The...

Labor Goes Community

AP Images/Jacquelyn Martin
“Community is the new density,” AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Elizabeth Shuler said yesterday, just moments before the labor federation’s quadrennial convention was gaveled to order in Los Angeles. For those who follow labor-speak, the remark was both an acknowledgement of American labor’s crisis, and a guide to the strategy with which it hopes to recover. For unions, and more fundamentally for workers, density is power. In a market with considerable union density, wages and benefits are high—or at least higher than they are in a nonunion market. In the three cities with the highest density of unionized hotel workers, for instance—New York, San Francisco, and Las Vegas—housekeepers make upwards of $20 an hour. In a city where just half the big hotels are unionized—Los Angeles, say—their wage is close to $13 or $14 an hour. In a city in which no hotels are unionized, as in the case in most of the South and Southwest, housekeepers make barely more than the legal minimum. But more and more...

A New Plot to Change the Pledge

AP Photo/Paul Sakuma
AP Photo/Paul Sakuma Fairmeadow Elementary School students recite the Pledge of Allegiance during a school assembly in Palo Alto, California. L ast week, as children across the country returned to school and struggled to remember the words to the Pledge of Allegiance, the Massachusetts Supreme Court was considering whether to make it easier for them by removing “under God.” This might seem like déjà vu. Church-State separationists have tried unsuccessfully to pry “under God” out of the Pledge since Congress inserted the phrase in 1954—more than a decade after the oath was adopted. But the case filed by the American Humanist Association (AHA), which is representing an atheist family from suburban Massachusetts, may be different. Rather than contesting the language in federal court—where any challenge is likely to come up against an unsympathetic Supreme Court—lawyers have opted to sue in state court. The legal angle is also new. Traditionally, lawsuits challenging “under God” in the...

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