Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

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...

The Summers Dossier

AP Images/J. Scott Applewhite
To: President Obama From: Your Political Team Re: Larry Summers Vetting Report Dear Mr. President, Welcome home. You have several immense challenges in the coming days and weeks: marshaling support for the Syria attack, dealing with the next artificial budget crisis contrived by the Republicans, and continuing to move forward with implementation of the Affordable Care Act against fierce partisan opposition. This memo on Larry Summers’s confirmation as Federal Reserve Chairman is written with all that in mind. The staff investigation of Summers in anticipation of a potentially bruising confirmation hearing is now complete, and you face a tricky decision. On the one hand, there is no single smoking gun that disqualifies him outright. With a lot of political heavy lifting, we might get Summers confirmed. On the other hand, it would eat up a lot of political capital and credibility at a time when we are seeking to rebuild both, not to incur political debts needlessly. Here are Summers’s...

What Happened to Christine Quinn’s Lead?

AP Photo/Seth Wenig
With Christine Quinn limping toward primary day, the question for many poll watchers is why more women haven’t supported her candidacy for the Democratic nomination in the New York City mayoral race. Though she’s the only woman running, and stands to be both New York City’s first female mayor and its first openly gay one, Quinn is coming in third among women. Only 19 percent of women likely to vote in the Democratic primary Tuesday support Quinn, according to the latest Quinnipiac poll —the last before tomorrow's election. Forty percent of women are behind public advocate Bill De Blasio, and 22 percent back former comptroller Bill Thompson. The latest poll from Public Policy Polling has Quinn's chances looking even longer; she snags only 12 percent of women voters, and only 13 percent of voters overall. AP Photo/ Donald Traill Women seem to split into two main camps when it comes to Quinn. In the first, made up of her stalwart proponents, the fact of her being female is essential...

Daily Meme: The Stupidest Things Said on Syria This Week

It's been quite a week for talking about Syria, which means that politicians and pundits have taken advantage, as they always do, of the ample opportunity to say the wrong thing. Senator John McCain gets a special award for saying so many conflicting and confusing things about his position on the airstrikes and the resolution that would authorize them that Congress will consider next week. However, McCain did get to earn back some brownie points after slamming the remarks of someone prone to far stupider statements than him, Brian Kilmeade . The Fox News host expressed reticence to support rebels yelling "Allahu Akbar." To which the senator was like (and we paraphrase), Yeah, shut up. New York Representative Michael Grim supported the airstrike earlier this week. And then he didn't. And then he decided it would be a good idea to try and fundraise off of his opposition to Obama. Several legislators have seized the opportunity to try and bring back their favorite topic, impeachment! Too...

Your New Robot Colleague Has Been Programmed to Put You At Ease

Baxter, a friendly robot colleague who'd love to hang out with you after work. (Flickr/Steve Jurvetson)
As robots move into more and more workplaces in the coming decades—not just high-tech manufacturing but eventually everything from hospitals to supermarkets—one of the big challenges employers will face is making their carbon-based workforce comfortable with the new arrivals. That's the topic of an interesting story in The Economist (h/t Kevin Drum ) that focuses not just on the technology but on how the robots make us feel, and what must be done to keep people from freaking out when they find out their new partner is made of metal and plastic. It seems that the psychology of human-robot interaction is going to be a burgeoning field in the next few years: To keep human workers at ease, collaborative robots should also have an appropriate size and appearance. Takayuki Kanda of the ATR Intelligent Robotics and Communication Laboratories in Kyoto says that collaborative, humanoid robots should generally be no larger than a six-year-old, a size most adults reckon they could overpower if...

How To Get Single-Payer Health Care, and More!

Based on Congressional Republicans’ apparently overwhelming opposition to President Obama’s proposal to strike Syrian military facilities in retaliation for the government’s use of chemical weapons, a new way to enact progressive legislation in the United States has become apparent. When he returns from Russia, the president should announce he is scrapping Obamacare and calling on Congress to outlaw all forms of public and private health insurance. Congressional Republicans will respond by extending Medicare to all. The president should call on Congress to repeal the 1938 legislation establishing the minimum wage. Congressional Republicans will respond by raising the wage to $15-an-hour. The president should call on Congress to outlaw unions. Congressional Republicans will respond by favoring card-check in union elections. The president should call on Congress to halve the federal government’s budget across the board, effective immediately. Congressional Republicans will respond by...

Iraq Is Still Burning

AP Photo/Hadi Mizban
In the debate over whether we should bomb Syria, a name has come up that we hadn't heard in a while: Iraq. There are all kinds of overly simplistic comparisons you could make between 2003 and 2013, but they really are nothing alike, most particularly in that George Bush wanted and got a great big war, while Barack Obama plainly doesn't want any such thing. And of course, Iraq was just kind of sitting there, while today Syria is engulfed in a bloody civil war. But this is a good time to remember that when we finally left Iraq two years ago, things didn't exactly become all unicorns and rainbows. Not that it would be any better if our troops were still there getting shot at, but the country remains awash in sectarian violence. For some perspective, think about the Boston bombing—not just the reaction of the authorities, which included shutting down a major city for most of a day, but how much we talked and thought about it, learned about the victims, debated what it meant and didn't...

The Fundamental Problem with the Argument for Airstrikes

Nicholas Kristof has a column that exemplifies why the case for bombing Syria is so unconvincing. There's a fundamental bait-and-switch at the heart of the article, using the (uncontested) fact that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is a monstrous tyrant to skate over the question of what exactly airstrikes against Syria would do about it. Over and over again, Kristof notes the death toll of the civil war in Syria: It’s all very well to urge the United Nations and Arab League to do more, but that means that Syrians will continue to be killed at a rate of 5,000 every month. So far, we’ve tried peaceful acquiescence, and it hasn’t worked very well. The longer the war drags on in Syria, the more Al Qaeda elements gain strength, the more Lebanon and Jordan are destabilized, and the more people die. It’s admirable to insist on purely peaceful interventions, but let’s acknowledge that the likely upshot is that we sit by as perhaps another 60,000 Syrians are killed over the next year. Today,...

Amid the Unwashed Masses

Flesh pressed, opinions heard. (Flickr/Rep. George Miller)
Over the next couple of weeks, we'll probably be seeing a lot of stories in which a member of Congress goes back to the home district and is confronted by worried/angry/surly constituents demanding we stay out of Syria. Here's a piece in today's New York Times about Representative Tim Murphy (R-PA) hearing from skeptical citizens. Here's a piece in today's Washington Post about Representative Gerry Connolly hearing from skeptical citizens. Here's a piece in Politico about John McCain hearing from skeptical citizens. This is almost invariably described as the politician "getting an earful." For some reason, we never refer to someone getting an earful of praise or support; the ears of our representatives can only be filled with displeasure or contempt. In the old days before polling, grizzled political reporters would literally go door to door and do their own informal polls to see what people thought about an election or a policy debate; they'd get a sense of the public will, along...

Can a Progressive Make It to Gracie Mansion?

AP Photo/Seth Wenig
AP Photo/Mary Altaffer B ill de Blasio is under attack in New York City’s mayoral race, and not just because his broad, towering frame makes for an easy target, that gray, conservatively-manicured block of hair rising above voters and the press at every campaign stop. A self-styled movement progressive with a biracial family from Park Slope, Brooklyn, de Blasio has seized the mantle of change in a city where many residents appear to crave it after a decade under billionaire incumbent Michael Bloomberg’s cold vision of financial capitalist technocracy. With just a few days left before the September 10 Democratic primary, de Blasio is way out in front of his rivals; in the latest Quinnipiac poll , he crossed the 40 percent threshold needed to avoid a run-off and advance directly to the November general election. Now de Blasio finds himself on the cusp of tremendous power over a city at a crossroads, facing existential questions over everything from expired municipal employees' union...

Class Struggle at the Airport

Settle in - you'll be here a while. (Flickr/Jonathan McPherskesen)
I've always thought that the real reason conservatives recoil in disgust from the idea of "socialized" health care is their belief that in a system like Britain's (actual socialized care) or Canada's (private care, socialized insurance), the wealthy can't buy more care than anybody else. In practice that's not really true—most single-payer systems include some kind of supplemental private insurance you can get that will give you more perks than the common folk, like a private room when you're admitted to the hospital. But the point is, American conservatives are deeply committed to inequality as a fundamental principle of resource distribution. Whatever we're talking about—iPads, cars, education, health care—rich people ought to be able to use their money to get more of it than the rest of us. What's the point of being rich if you aren't elevated beyond the teeming masses during every moment of every day and in every aspect of your existence? Maybe I'm caricaturing them because I'm a...

Daily Meme: Back to School for World Leaders

The G20 Summit—an annual meeting of world leaders focusing mainly on economics—kicked off today in St. Petersburg. The member countries combined produce nearly 90 percent of the world's GDP, and house two-thirds of the world's population. Here's what's on the agenda . But don't expect much of these topics to get much press or play. Thanks to the U.S.'s current deliberations about airstrikes in the Middle East, this weekend is going to be all about Syria. Russian president Vladimir Putin recommended that they discuss Syria over dinner , so that the more formal meetings could be saved for talk of stimulus and stock markets. So ... dinner conversation is likely to be awkward and unpleasant. Hopefully the food is good! One thing Putin won't want to talk about at the summit— the 2016 Olympics . Expect Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron to bring it up anyway. Things might get tense, judging by the death stare Obama and Putin gave each other this morning. Another topic other...

The Syria Debate Is Very Good for Some People

Flickr/Gage Skidmore
My assumption all along, one I'm still (uneasily) holding to, is that when the debate is over, Congress will give Obama the authority he's asking for to attack Syria, just as it has every other time a president has asked. (There have been a couple of occasions in which Congress voted against a military action, but in those cases the president hadn't actually requested the vote; they were congressional protests against something that had already begun.) But a congressional rebuke, particularly in the House, is starting to look like a real possibility. This is a Congress unlike any that came before it, and the unusual nature of this proposed action—offered mostly as a punishment for something that already happened, with barely a claim that it will do much if anything to stop future massacres so long as they're done with conventional weapons—may combine to set a new historical precedent. It was pretty remarkable to see Republican members of Congress yesterday yelling at John Kerry about...

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