Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Against Douthat on Abortion Restrictions, Round Two

AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
Ross Douthat has a thoughtful response to two critiques—one from me at the Prospect and another from Katha Pollitt at The Nation —of his recent column on European abortion policy. It would help to clarify some of the empirical issues that are central to our disagreement. I'll leave it to Pollitt to address the dispute about the content of Texas's new abortion restrictions and focus on the points Douthat claims that we didn't respond to. I'll handle them individually: This variation, in turn, gives us more data on the original question that my column asked: What happens to a modern society when abortion is restricted? And I don’t think that either Pollitt or Lemieux offered much of a rebuttal to my suggestion that Europe’s variations and their apparent consequences pose a problem for two commonplace pro-choice assumptions: That restrictions on abortion don’t actually reduce abortion rates (which appears to be true in neither the U.S. nor in Europe )... To be clear, I have never...

Neocons vs. Non-Interventionists: Let the Games Begin!

AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta
AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta Senators Rand Paul and John McCain T he intraparty fight among Republicans over foreign policy escalated further this week when former House Speaker and presidential candidate Newt Gingrich said that it was time to take stock of failed U.S. military interventions over the past decade, and acknowledge key anti-interventionist critics as important voices within the party. Gingrich told the Washington Times in an interview he still considers himself a neoconservative, but said that “at some point, even if you are a neoconservative, you need to take a deep breath to ask if our strategies in the Middle East have succeeded.” Questioning the approach of exporting democracy through the barrel of a gun, Gingrich went on, “I think it would be healthy to go back and war-game what alternative strategies would have been better, and I like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul because they are talking about this.” Gingrich’s comments are less interesting because of his reconsideration...

Crazy Is as Crazy Does

Four years ago, Democratic representatives went home for the August recess and found themselves under assault from angry Tea Partiers, who took over town meetings with shouting and fist-shaking over the Affordable Care Act in particular, and more generally, the theft of their country by the foreign Muslim usurper Barack Obama. This August, however, it's Republicans who are under attack by some of those same people. At one town meeting after another, hard-right Republican House members are being confronted by constituents accusing them of not being quite doctrinaire and reckless enough (see here , or here , or here ). Once again the immediate topic is Obamacare, but now the question isn't whether the law should pass, but whether Republicans should shut down the government in a futile attempt to defund it. The members catching the most heat are those who argue that shutting down the government is useless, because Barack Obama is never going to sign a budget that defunds his greatest...

Getting to Know Her, Getting to Know All about Her

Flickr/Angela Radulescu
The other day Jaime Fuller and I wrote about RNC chair Reince Priebus's complaints about the fact that NBC is planning to produce a miniseries on the life of one Hillary Rodham Clinton, who could well be a candidate for president in 2016. The objection isn't completely without merit, though there's no way to know yet whether the miniseries (if it ever gets made) will paint Clinton as a hero, a villain, or something in between. But would it really matter? Is a miniseries likely to change how we think of someone who has been a national figure (and a divisive one at that) for over two decades now? My guess is that, like most movies and TV shows about politics, it'll end up being hackneyed and unenlightening. But this does touch on a more interesting question about how our perceptions of political figures evolve over time and what does and doesn't have the power to alter them. Ed Kilgore has some thoughtful words on this: When HRC ran for president in 2008, I thought her biggest problem...

Governor, You’re No Rudy Giuliani

AP Photo/Mel Evans
AP Photo/Mel Evans Y es, Chris Christie is a viable presidential candidate for 2016. Ignore anyone who compares him to Rudy Giuliani ; that’s totally the wrong comparison. Is he a frontrunner? It’s too early to tell, but Christie boosters need to explain how he gets around some pretty serious obstacles. The basic way to assess presidential candidates, this far out, is whether they meet basic tests for viability. It’s no exact science, but viable candidates must have conventional qualifications and fall within the mainstream of their party on most issues of public policy. Fail one or the other, and as candidates from Michele Bachmann (Member of the House) to Gary Johnson (out of the mainstream) to Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich (both!) have discovered, you’ll get nowhere near the Oval Office. Christie, assuming he is re-elected as governor of New Jersey, easily meets the first test, and he almost certainly meets the second one. After all, candidates don’t have to have a perfect record of...

Welcome Back, Class of 2012

Last summer, the slew of wacky sitcom extras known as the GOP presidential slate realized their time was up. By summer, as normal people started going to the pool, Mitt Romney had the spotlight to himself and the other could-have-beens began fading into the background. But just when you thought they'd lost all relevance, the GOP gang is back (minus Mitt, who just might be eating alone at Qdoba ). Perhaps thinking that The Smurfs 2 was in fact an invitation to re-enter national consciousness, almost all of the losing candidates are suddenly getting new attention. There was the buzz after Herman Cain sent an erectile dysfunction ad to his mailing list and later as details emerged on a House ethics investigation into Michelle Bachmann’s affairs. And Saturday, Rick Perry got in on the action. He gave his audience a dose of déjà vu when he forgot which state he was in. “There are many other states that embrace those conservative values, the approach we’ve taken over the years,” he said at...

Artificial Love

Like HAL, except way, way nicer.
Could you fall in love with Siri? OK, let's not say Siri in particular, since Siri is as dumb as a stump and doesn't understand anything you ask her. But what about a version of Siri that's a few generations away, one with not only better voice recognition but a real personality, one that learns and changes and gets to know you, one with which (whom?) you build a complicated relationship? Could you fall in love with that program? That's the question that Spike Jonze's new movie Her seems to be asking. Check out the trailer: Like most of Jonze's films, Her looks to be filled with longing and melancholy. And the possibility doesn't seem too far-fetched, both from the perspective of the software and our remarkable ability to imbue non-human things—both inanimate and otherwise—with human characteristics. After all, in Japan, there are men who have deep emotional relationships with pillows . Granted, that's absurd, but have you ever had a crush on a character in a television show? You know...

God Was My Freshman Roommate

flickr/Illinois Springfield
flickr/bamaboy1941 L ater this week, Troy University, located 50 miles south of Montgomery, Alabama, will open the first ever faith-based dormitory at a public university. The brand-new building, which cost $11.8 million and will house nearly 400 students, has set off a debate about whether faith-based dorms represent a violation of the separation of church and state. To live in the dorm, students must maintain “an active spiritual lifestyle and maintain an active engagement in a campus faith based organization.” Maintaining a GPA of at least 2.5, refraining from drug and alcohol use, and participating in community service projects are also requirements for living in the cushy new quarters. The building includes a Catholic ministry—which is being leased to the nearby Catholic archdiocese of Mobile by the university—a chapel, and an office for a local priest. Three Catholic and three Baptist residential assistants will live in the dormitory with the students. Faith-based dorms are a...

Wendy Davis's Catch-22

AP Photo/Eric Gay
AP Photo/Eric Gay Texas state senator Wendy Davis W hen a politician announces she may or may not run for office, it’s usually not news. But when Texas Democrat Wendy Davis told her audience at the National Press Club Monday that she could “say with absolute certainty that I will run for one of two offices, either my state senate seat or governor,” it prompted a slew of stories across the national media. Without saying much, Davis, who became a national liberal star when she filibustered a 20-week abortion ban last month, had everyone speculating. “Wendy Davis: Ready to ride for governor of Texas?” asked the Christian Science Monitor . "It Sure Looks Like Wendy Davis is Running for Governor" proclaimed The New Republic. Among conservatives, the speech prompted RedState founder and Fox contributor Erick Erickson to dub Davis “abortion Barbie.” The national interest in Davis’s non-announcement only reflects the extreme anticipation among politicos; plenty of liberals see the stars...

How Long Do You Want to Live?

Flickr/Yann Gourvennec
Attentive readers will recall that I'm rather interested , as a human whose body stubbornly continues to age, in the prospect that science will one day enable us to extend our lives far beyond what is possible today. Throwing the "immortality" word around tends to turn people off, since it sounds so absurd (after all, nothing lives forever, not even our sun), but what about just living a whole lot longer than most of us expect to even when we're being optimistic? Is that something you'd want? My answer has always been, "Of course—are you kidding?" If advancements in medicine and technology can dramatically extend our lives—and assuming that we don't end up like Tithonus, the figure from Greek mythology who was granted eternal life but not eternal youth, so lived forever in a tortuous ever-increasing decrepitude—then I'm all for it. There are strong arguments that living for an extra 50 or 100 years (or more) might be great for you as an individual, but bad for society as a whole, but...

Frankly, We Could Use Fewer Debates

As Hillary Clinton mulls over the prospect of running for president in 2016, a couple of television networks have apparently decided that there's ratings gold in the former First Lady/Senator/Secretary of State. So, NBC is planning a miniseries on Clinton's life, and CNN is going to produce a documentary about her. One way to interpret their decisions is that Clinton is one of the key political figures of our time and a subject of enormous and ongoing fascination. Particularly if she does run, the networks will garner attention for almost any Clinton-related project. Another way to interpret it is that the liberal media is engaged in a conspiracy to get Clinton elected to the White House. You can guess which one the Republican National Committee favors, and they aren't going to take it lying down. Party chair Reince Priebus has written a sternly worded letter to each network, saying, "many are astounded at your actions, which appear to be a major network's thinly-veiled attempt at...

Post-er Boy Bezos

AP Photo/Richard Drew
AP Photo/stf/bd M ost liberals I’ve spoken with are appalled that Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos is buying The Washington Post . I’m no great fan of Bezos or of Amazon’s user-friendly though predatory retailing tactics, but here is a contrarian view of the Post purchase. A widely-shared concern is that one of the last family-owned newspapers with a sense of civic mission is being bought as a trophy property by a billionaire. But wealthy moguls have always been the owners of newspapers. Occasionally, we get lucky with a family that happens to care about the public wellbeing, such as the Sulzbergers at The New York Times , the Grahams at the Post , or the Bancroft family at The Wall Street Journal in the pre-Rupert Murdoch days. But for every one of those, there is a Murdoch or a Hearst. Alas, The Washington Post is no longer your father’s Post . It’s been a long downward slide since the glory days of Kay Graham, Ben Bradlee, Woodward, and Bernstein. The current publisher, Katharine...

Could Jeff Bezos Save the Newspaper Business?

The artifact of pulped wood and ink that was dropped at my house this morning.
There was a time in America when industrial tycoons would buy newspapers to be their playthings, using the editorial pages to reward friends and punish enemies, all while watching healthy profits from subscriptions and advertising roll in. Then a couple of decades ago, the newspaper industry began an era of consolidation, with firms like Gannett and the Tribune company scooping up one small and mid-size paper after another. The results were usually awful for journalism; if your local paper got bought by one of those behemoths, there's a good chance the newsroom would be gutted and you'd end up with a paper with little enterprising reporting and lots of wire stories. But now the billionaires are back. Last week the New York Times company sold The Boston Globe to Red Sox owner John Henry. Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway has quietly bought a couple dozen small papers, making him one of the largest newspaper owners in the country. And yesterday The Washington Post announced that the...

Chris Christie Is Just the Hottest

Since the 1960s, political scientists and pollsters have used a measure called the "feeling thermometer" to gauge how respondents feel about politicians, organizations, and groups of their fellow citizens. It's a way to get a general sentiment—do you feel warm or cool toward this person?—that fits on a convenient 100-point scale, which makes analysis tidy, even if it has little relationship to the way we actually think about political figures. If your feeling toward President Obama is a 72, and your feeling toward Vice President Biden is a 71, does that mean anything? Not really. If you didn't know about feeling thermometers, you might have been a bit puzzled upon seeing headlines today reading, " Poll: Christie, Clinton 'Hottest' Politicians ," or " Christie, Clinton Top 'Hot Politician' List ," or " The 'Hottest Politicians' In the Country? Christie and Clinton ." Perhaps the "Whaaaa?" response was just what the headline writers were looking for, but it did seem that the articles...

Burgers from the Future

This was definitely not grown in a lab. (Flickr/Simon Willison)
Let's talk meat, shall we? Americans eat a lot of it. Our cow population (or "inventory" if you prefer, as the beef industry does ) is almost 90 million, and total beef consumption in the U.S. is over 25 billion pounds. If you piled all those hamburgers in a stack, you'd have ... well, let's just say you'd have a really big stack of hamburgers. And we eat even more chicken, though a bit less pork; according to the National Chicken Council (unofficial motto: "B'cawk!"), total beef, pork, and poultry consumption adds up to more than 200 pounds a year for every waddling man, woman, and child in this great nation of ours. To a lot of people, even those who aren't vegetarians, industrial meat production is a moral compromise at best (and I say that as someone who does eat some kinds of meat). Most of us would just rather not think about the process that produced our chicken cutlet or burger. But what if you could produce the meat without actually killing an animal? And I don't mean some...

Pages