Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Shocking Public Health Ads that Probably Don't Work

Yep, that's your brain.
We've had something of a dearth of memorable public-service announcements in recent years here in America. When was the last time something stuck with you or became part of our cultural memory like "This is your brain on drugs" ? But in the UK, they try really hard to shock the hell out of you with PSAs, perhaps because they sometimes don't seem to get the difference between "memorable" and "effective." Take a look at this, which made the rounds yesterday. I'll talk in a moment about whether stuff like this actually works, but before you watch it, a warning: although it has only a bit of gore, you probably don't want to be raising a mug of hot coffee to your lips as it plays: Clever, in that "We paid an elite ad agency half a million pounds to come up with this" kind of way. But it's far from the most horrifying PSA about automotive safety; for that, I'd nominate this Welsh PSA from a few years ago trying to discourage people from texting while driving, which vividly portrays not only...

Rand Paul Plays God Politics

AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin Senator Rand Paul at a forum on immigration organized by the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles and the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference A s Senator Rand Paul delivered his keynote speech on immigration reform at yesterday's gathering of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, anxieties about the GOP’s identity crisis rippled through the room. The likely 2016 presidential hopeful spoke briefly in Spanish before discussing his Christian faith and opposition to abortion. He assured his audience he got them: “Man’s humanity to man is how we will be judged,” he said. The religious undertone of Paul’s remarks stood in stark contrast to the rest of the event, which focused on the economic and border-security provisions of the Gang of Eight’s immigration bill, currently being debated on the floor of the Senate. This highlights the competing interests pro-reform Republicans are scrambling to satisfy. On the one hand, pro-...

Ringside Seat: Breaking the GOP's Still Akin Heart

Republicans learned a number of lessons from the 2012 elections. They learned they need to reach out to Latinos. They learned that younger Americans aren't too fond of them. And they learned a lesson that was summed up in three words: "No more Akins." That would be Todd Akin, the Missouri Senate candidate whose bid was torpedoed when he shared with the voters his colorful views on the likelihood of rape resulting in pregnancy (almost non-existent, he said, if in fact it's a "legitimate rape," because "the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down"). There was also, don't forget, the equally gynecologically insightful Richard Mourdock, who opined that if you're raped and become pregnant, "that is something that God intended to happen." One party strategist after another whispered frantically, "Ix-nay on the ape-ray!" to no avail. But they just can't help themselves. Today, the House Judiciary Committee was debating a bill to make all abortions illegal after 20 weeks,...

The End of the Austerity Crusade?

Rex Features via AP Images
I s President Obama planning to reverse course on deficit reduction? You will recall that the president joined the deficit-hawk crowd in calling for more than $4 trillion of deficit reduction over the next decade; that he has offered to cut Social Security and Medicare as part of a grand bargain (that the Republicans mercifully rejected); that it was Obama who appointed the Bowles-Simpson Commission; and that his own budget for FY 2014 includes substantial spending cuts. But, with the 2014 midterm election looming and the recovery stuck in second gear with mediocre job creation, there is zero chance of a grand-budget bargain that includes tax increases, and interest rates are creeping up (which will slow the recovery further). Europe demonstrates that austerity economics are a proven failure. Even the International Monetary Fund says so . So let us read the tea leaves. First, the president has just named Jason Furman to chair the Council of Economic Advisers (CEA). Furman was a...

Where's the Intelligence Fallout?

That's what you say, but how can we be sure? (Flickr/sunnyUK)
You can make a reasonable argument for why Edward Snowden was wrong to release the information he did to The Guardian and The Washington Post (for instance, here 's Jeffrey Toobin and here 's Josh Marshall making that argument). But if you're going to turn Snowden into a villain, you'd have to show that the leaks did some kind of demonstrable harm to American national security. Even if you don't find Snowden's action heroic, it's quite possible that leaking this classified information was illegal and wrong, but nevertheless didn't do much damage or make us less safe than we otherwise were. So what is that harm? What the government has been saying so far isn't all that persuasive. While some of the details are new, we've known for years that the NSA was tracking phone and Internet traffic. This reminds me a little bit of 2006, when The New York Times reported on a government program to track and disrupt financing for terrorist groups through the banking system. The Bush administration...

Dear 2016 Democratic Upstart

AP Images/Charles Dharapak
To: 2016 White House Candidates (Democrats Only) Subject: How to Break with President Obama S ince you have time to read an unsolicited memo with such a provocative subject line, it is safe to assume that your name is not Hillary or Joe. That’s good because I am not writing for the establishment types—Clinton and Biden—who are convinced that the nomination is rightfully theirs if only they choose to run. Instead, this advice is aimed at the long shots, the crazed gamblers, and the hell-with-the-odds dreamers. You are the ones who fantasize about becoming the Gene McCarthy, the Gary Hart, the Howard Dean, and the Barack Obama of 2016. Let me start with the year 1960. Do you know its significance beyond the Kennedy-Nixon debates? It was the last time that any presidential candidate (incumbent presidents aside) was handed the nomination rather than having to fight for it. And even in 1960 Richard Nixon had to bow and scrape before Nelson Rockefeller to head off a primary challenge. What...

Ringside Seat: Obama's Plan B on Plan B

Although one can argue that the American culture war dates all the way back to the days before we were even our own country, these days we can trace most of our hot-button issues to the 1960s, when the hippies and the squares faced off. Eventually, most of the particular issues about which people argued were resolved, and in the liberals' favor. The occasional dissenter not withstanding, there's a broad agreement that the South was wrong about civil rights, the Vietnam War was a bad idea, and women deserve the same rights as men. But the cultural resentments still burn, and they can still be expressed in our policies, not only by Republicans but by Democrats afraid of Republicans. Consider, for instance, the Obama administration's position on whether Plan B, the "morning after" contraceptive pill, should be sold over the counter to any woman or girl who needs it. Today, the administration announced that after suffering multiple defeats in the courts, it is finally dropping its effort...

President Obama. Stop Talking. You're Not Helping.

pamhule/Flickr
You can attribute some of the success of the current immigration bill to President Obama’s absence from the debate. A large number of Republicans are simply unable or unwilling to support a proposal that has Obama’s name attached. By stepping away from the process and leaving it to Democratic and Republican lawmakers in the Senate, Obama set the stage for cooperation and allowed a chance for success—a permission structure, as it were. Yes, there have been hiccups and obstacles—in particular, Florida Senator Marco Rubio’s occasional threats to abandon the bill—but the general view is that, for the first time since 2007, comprehensive immigration reform has a real chance at passing. Which is why it was a bad move for President Obama to reinsert himself into the process with a speech this morning. There was nothing interesting or remarkable about the president’s address—it was one in a long list of immigration speeches that focused on a particular category of immigrants (the DREAMers, in...

Follow the Leaker

I don't know about you, but I don't feel like I'll truly understand the citizen's relationship to government in an age of sweeping electronic surveillance until I read Edward Snowden's girlfriend's blog. And this morning, Fox & Friends answered the question everyone in America was surely asking: Does Lou Ferrigno think Snowden is a traitor? (For the record, Ferrigno's response was nuanced, but leaned toward "yes.") But let's say you're glad you found out what The Hulk thinks, but you're still asking yourself, "Has Rob Schneider weighed in on this yet?" Politico has you covered . We all know that the news runs on personalities; a "story" without protagonists and antagonists isn't a story at all, it's just an "issue," and that's dullsville. But I'm sure the White House couldn't be happier that the NSA story is quickly becoming dominated by a discussion of Edward Snowden himself, which naturally crowds out discussion of the substance of his leak and whether we want to make...

Why the Public Doesn't Care about Surveillance

Pew Research Center
If there’s a major political problem faced by civil libertarians—on both sides of the aisle—it’s that there isn’t a large constituency for civil libertarian ideas. It’s not hard to see why. We have concrete examples of what happens when the federal government doesn’t make anti-terrorism a priority. The United States isn’t a stranger to civil liberties violations, but overwhelmingly, they’ve targeted the more marginal members of our society: Political dissidents, and racial and religious minorities. For the large majority of Americans, the surveillance state is an abstraction, and insofar that it would lead to abuses, they don’t perceive themselves as a target. And, in general, it’s hard to get people motivated when there isn’t a threat. Which is why it’s not a surprise to find that most Americans support the National Security Agency’s program of mass data collection. According to the latest survey from the Pew Research Center, a majority (56 percent to 41 percent) say it’s acceptable...

Our Bodies, Their Cells?

AP Images/Axel Heimkin
AP Images/Axel Heimkin Editor's note: On June 13, 2013, the Supreme Court, delivered its long-anticipated ruling in Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics. In a victory for the American Civil Liberties Union, the Court ruled that genes cannot be patented. The ruling invalidated Myriad’s key ownership claims over BRCA1 and BRCA2, two of the most important (and often deadly) players in hereditary breast cancer, and effectively overturned 30 years of patent practice. “A naturally occurring DNA segment is a product of nature and not patent eligible merely because it has been isolated,” wrote Justice Clarence Thomas in the unanimous decision. “It is undisputed that Myriad did not create or alter any of the genetic information encoded in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes." L ately I have been thinking a lot about breasts. Well, not exactly breasts, but about two of the handful of genes that influence whether breasts develop cancer. These genes are called BRCA1 and BRCA2, and among...

George Packer's U.S.A.

AP Images/David Samson
In the quest to understand what has happened to the U.S. economy since the 2008 meltdown and the recession that followed, the challenge has been figuring out how far back to pull the lens. Early books on the crisis zoomed in on airless rooms occupied by panicked CEOs and government officials during the pathetic last few months of the Bush administration and the beginning of this one. More expansively reported accounts looked at lower-level traders and fly-by-night firms, expanding the scope to recognize a decade of mortgage fraud and exploitation of would-be homeowners and investors, along with the Washington corruption that allowed the profiteers to thrive unpunished. As time passed, it became clearer that this was not a story that began in 2008 or just a story of the Bush years. It was the inevitable last act of the period since the late 1970s, when the nation became dramatically wealthier but median wages stagnated, economic insecurity worsened, and debt became a means to paper...

When the Bushies Return

Remember this guy? (Department of Defense/Denny Cantrell
Last week I noted that most people are being pretty consistent in how they're reacting to the revelations about NSA spying on your phone records, your Internet surfing, your toenail hygiene practices, and whatever else we're going to learn they've been up to (Glenn Greenwald is promising more revelations). There are some liberals defending it and some conservatives criticizing it, but most people seem to be holding to roughly the same positions they held when George W. Bush initiated these kinds of practices. Having said that, it's far from black and white. There's a very strong temptation when a controversy like this arises to just step in with your party's official position, but in this case neither party has an official position. Most liberals look to be at odds with a Democratic president, and there is some disagreement on the right between the neo-cons and libertarians despite their mutual dislike of Barack Obama, as Michael Tomasky discusses . Nevertheless, if this were a...

Justice after the Fact

WIkiMedia Commons
Although the Supreme Court is expected to wrap up its term at the end of the month, on Monday the Court declined to hand down any of the blockbuster civil-rights rulings still pending. It did, however, rule in Peugh v. United States , an important opinion that protected a vital democratic value: the prohibition against retroactive punishments. The key question in Peugh involves the application of Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution, which mandates that "No ... ex post facto Law shall be passed." This prohibition reflects longstanding common-law principles central to the rule of law. For a punishment to be lawful rather than arbitrary, it must be clear that the action for which one is being punished was illegal at the time of the offense. Permitting retroactive punishments would give the state the unlimited right to take the life, liberty, and/or property of any person state actors don't like. The ban on retroactively criminalizing criminal activity applies to sentencing as well...

Ringside Seat: USA Patriot Capitalists

If you read the 2012 annual report from Booz Allen Hamilton, the company that used to employ Edward Snowden, now the world's most famous leaker, you'll see that good news abounds. The company made $240 million in profits on a healthy $5.86 billion in revenue last year. Though "[t]he United States federal government is in a period of significant uncertainty, characterized by funding challenges and budget cuts," rest assured, investors, because "demand remains high for Booz Allen's capabilities and expertise across our diverse portfolio of clients." Granted, "diverse" may be a bit of an overstatement, since a reported 98 percent of the company's revenue comes from federal-government contracts. Booz Allen is just part of a huge and enormously profitable industry that has grown up in the last decade or so, a period that saw the passage of the USA Patriot Act, the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, the expansion of the National Security Agency's powers, and a move to...

Pages