Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

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.

Christian Identity Politics on Fox

Reza Aslan is surprised to find himself stranded in Stupidtown.

I try, with only partial success, to avoid spending too much time on the "A conservative said something offensive!" patrol. First, there are plenty of other people doing it, so it isn't as though if I don't draw people's attention to the latest outrage then no one will find out about it. But second and more important, most of the time there isn't much interesting to say about Rush Limbaugh's latest bit of race-baiting or Bill O'Reilly's latest spittle-flecked rant or Louie Gohmert's latest expectoration of numbskullery.

But let's make an exception for this interview Reza Aslan did on Friday with Fox News to promote his new book called Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. You've no doubt seen Aslan on television multiple times in the last decade, and maybe even read something he's written. In the post-9/11 period, he became a go-to guest on shows from Meet the Press to The Daily Show as someone who could explain Islam to American audiences. Young, good-looking, smart and articulate, Aslan could be counted on to put events like the sectarian civil war in Iraq into historical and religious context in ways viewers could understand.

This interview is really something to behold, because the Fox anchor, one Lauren Green, obviously not only didn't read Aslan's book (not a great sin, given that she probably has to interview a few people a day), but instead of asking him about it, decided to spend nearly ten minutes challenging whether Aslan has any right to write a book about Jesus, since he's a Muslim. Seriously:

Christie vs. Paul

There are a number of divisions within the GOP today, many of which are more about strategy than substance. For instance, Karl Rove is trying to get the party to avoid nominating more people like Todd "legitimate rape" Akin for office, not because he has any particular disagreement with what those people would advocate if elected, but because he thinks they tend to lose. Other forces within the conservative movement believe that the best thing is always to support the most conservative candidate, and now regard Rove as a squish who has betrayed their cause.

GOP Circular Firing Squad Locked and Loaded

Karl Rove is not concerned. (Flickr/JD_WMWM)

Apparently, it's Republican circular firing squad week here in Washington. Item 1: David Corn of Mother Jones got hold of the proceedings of a secret group of conservatives scheming to take hold of American politics and shove it where it needs to go:

Dubbed Groundswell, this coalition convenes weekly in the offices of Judicial Watch, the conservative legal watchdog group. During these hush-hush sessions and through a Google group, the members of Groundswell—including aides to congressional Republicans—cook up battle plans for their ongoing fights against the Obama administration, congressional Democrats, progressive outfits, and the Republican establishment and "clueless" GOP congressional leaders. They devise strategies for killing immigration reform, hyping the Benghazi controversy, and countering the impression that the GOP exploits racism. And the Groundswell gang is mounting a behind-the-scenes organized effort to eradicate the outsize influence of GOP über-strategist/pundit Karl Rove within Republican and conservative ranks.

I have to commend Corn for getting these documents, but unfortunately, Groundswell isn't exactly the right-wing A-Team. It's more like the C-Team. Members include Ginny Thomas, wife of Clarence Thomas; anti-Muslim zealot Frank Gaffney; religious nutball and former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell; and some reporters from "news" outlets like the Washington Examiner and Breitbart.com. Nevertheless, despite their lack of actual influence, it's interesting just to see what these kinds of folks do when they get together and try to conspire.

On Immigration, Tea Party's Bark Is Worse Than Its Bite

Flickr/Fibonacci Blue

House Republicans' justification for opposing comprehensive immigration reform just got a lot weaker. While conservatives in the chamber have expressed support for most provisions included in the Senate Gang of Eight bill passed last month—increasing the number of visas for high-skilled workers, instituting a temporary-worker program, and dedicating more money to enforcement—the mass legalization program has been the sticking point. Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee like Virginia's Bob Goodlatte and Iowa's Steve King have decried any attempt to provide a path to citizenship for the undocumented as "amnesty" that encourages lawbreaking. But the conventional political explanation for Republicans' opposition is that they fear primary challenges from the Tea Party, which strongly opposes granting citizenship to the undocumented.

Pray the Atheists Away

AP Photo/Lynne Sladky

Earlier this week, two Democratic representatives felt the sting of the old adage, “no good deed goes unpunished.” Earlier this summer, Colorado representative Jared Polis and New Jersey representative Robert Andrews tried to push through an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act—a large defense budget bill—that would allow the Department of Defense to add nonreligious chaplains to the ranks of the military. Not only did the amendment fail, its opponents were so incensed that they introduced their own amendment, requiring any chaplain appointed to the military to be sponsored by an “endorsing agency,” all of which are religious. The new measure passed resoundingly, 253 to 173.

The GOP's Unhealthy Approach to Obamacare

Ever since President Obama and other Democrats began working on the Affordable Care Act back in 2009, there was a simple hearts-and-minds fight between them and their opponents over the law. Democrats said, "This is going to be great!" while Republicans said, "This is going to be terrible!" As a citizen, you could believe either one of them, or neither, or a little of both. This coming October, however, enrollment will begin in the new insurance exchanges established by the law, with coverage taking effect on January 1st. At that point, in addition to trying to influence the public's opinions, the administration will be trying to affect their behavior.

How Safe Is Train Travel?

Flickr/Dennis Bacsa

There was an awful high-speed rail crash in Spain yesterday, and according to the latest reports at least 80 people are confirmed dead. It appears that for some reason, the train took a turn much too fast and then derailed. What's notable about the accident, though, is how rare this kind of accident is. Though we haven't built much high-speed rail in the United States, it's been installed all over Europe and Asia, and overall the safety record is remarkably good. Japan's Shinkansen system, which has been in place since the 1960s, hasn't had a single fatality from a collision or a derailment. The same is true of France's TGV, which has operated since the 1980s.

So how safe is train travel, compared to the other ways we get around? The answer is going to vary depending on what country you're talking about, but the answer is, very safe. For instance, in the U.S. in 2011, there were 32,367 road fatalities, 485 air fatalities, and 570 railroad fatalities. The raw number isn't the proper measure though, because your risk is a function of how far you might go on each mode of transportation. The better measure, then, is fatalities per a given distance traveled. And there too, we see that train travel and air travel are both substantially safer than road travel.

Why the Courts Matter to LBGT Rights

AP Images/Elaine Thompson

The eminent legal scholar and federal judge Richard Posner has a self-described "revisionist" piece on litigation and same-sex marriage in The New Republic. Since it is partly a review of Michael Klarman's From the Closet to the Altar, much of what I have to say about Posner's piece is contained in my review of the Klarman book, and I won't repeat all of those arguments in the same detail here.

Run, Women, Run!

Rebecca D’Angelo

Susannah Shakow's first impression of Tristana Giunta was that the high school junior was awkward. "Like couldn’t look you in the eye kind of awkward," Shakow says. Giunta was attending the first Young Women's Political Leadership conference—the flagship program offered by Running Start, the organization that Shakow, a lawyer with experience pushing women into politics, started in 2007 to get girls excited about governing; excited enough to run for office.

Congress Tells NSA to Keep Up the Good Work

National Security Agency headquarters.

What with the important news of a baby being born in England and the further adventures of Anthony Weiner's penis dominating our attention, you probably didn't notice the failure yesterday of an amendment in the House to end the NSA's program collecting phone records on you, your neighbors, and every other American. Keep in mind that, as Sen. Ron Wyden has intimated, there are almost certainly other NSA surveillance programs that we would also be shocked to hear about, but remain secret.

That this amendment, sponsored by Republican Rep. Justin Amash, got a vote at all is somewhat surprising, but from all appearances, Speaker John Boehner saw it as a way to allow the more libertarian members of his caucus to let off some steam and take a stand against government surveillance. It may not have ever had much of a chance of passing both the House and Senate, but the Obama administration pushed for a no vote and General Keith Alexander himself went to Capitol Hill to lobby against it, and in the end it went down by a vote of 217-205