Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Supreme Court Decides: What is 'Cruel and Unusual Punishment'?

In the 2002 case Atkins v. Virginia , the Supreme Court ruled that executing the mentally impaired violated the Eight Amendment's prohibition on "cruel and unusual punishments." Atkin s, however, did not define what constituted mental impairment, which gave states a potentially easy way of evading the opinion. If left alone to determine their own standards, states that didn't want to comply with the Court's ruling could simply make it enormously difficult or impossible for those sentenced to death to prove that the were mentally impaired. In an important ruling Tuesday, the Supreme Court refused to allow the states unlimited discretion to determine whether defendants had the mental capacity to be legally executed, restoring some teeth to Atkins . In his opinion in Hall v. Florida , Justice Kennedy, joined by the Court's four Democratic nominees, began by reaffirming the rationale of the Court in Atkins . First, "[n]o legitimate penological purpose is served by executing a person with...

How Conservatives Will React to Obama's New Climate Regulations

A mountaintop removal mine in Virginia. (Flickr/Universal Pops)
President Obama is set to announce new rules for carbon emissions today, and what we'll see is a familiar pattern. The administration decides to confront one of the most profound challenges we face. It bends over backward to accommodate the concerns of its opponents, shaping the policy to achieve the goal in ways that Republicans might find palatable. Then not only are its efforts to win support from the other side fruitless, the opposition is so vituperative that it veers into self-parody. That's what happened with the Affordable Care Act; not only was the law not "socialism" as Republicans charged, it was about as far from socialism as you could get and still achieve universal coverage. It involved getting as many people as possible into private insurance plans, where they could see private medical providers. But Republicans who had previously embraced similar market-based ideas decided that once Obama poisoned them with his support, they were were now the height of statist...

American War Dead, By the Numbers

Photo: Melissa Bohan/Arlington National Cemetery
Photo: Melissa Bohan/Arlington National Cemetery Army Staff Sgt. Juan Esparzapalomino, a supply sergeant with the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, "The Old Guard", inspect the rows of newly-placed flags in Section 27, ensuring the flags are aligned as perfect as possible for the 2013 annual National Memorial Day Observance. T oday is Memorial Day, when we honor those who died in America's wars. It's often said that Americans are increasingly disconnected from the military, since the all-volunteer force, not to mention the limited nature of the wars we've waged since Vietnam, means that most Americans don't serve or even have family members who serve. I thought it might be worthwhile to look at some figures on the number who served and the number who died, to place that change in context. The number of Americans who were in uniform peaked during the national mobilizations of World War I and World War II, particularly the latter, when more than 16 million Americans were in the armed forces:...

Daily Meme: The Immigration Merry-Go-Round

New York City Department of Parks & Recreation
It's been about a year—329 days, to be precise—since the Senate passed a comprehensive immigration-reform bill, but it seems we're no closer to seeing it become law now than we were then. Care to take a ride on the immigration merry-go-round? House Speaker John Boehner swears no one wants to see immigration reform get done more than he does, but Obamacare shows that we can't trust the president. Latino journalist Jorge Ramos, pointing out that immigration has nothing to do with Obamacare, tried to cut through the cant on Thursday: "Why are you blocking immigration reform?" he asked the speaker at a press conference. Boehner's response: "Me? Blocking?" Former Mississippi governor Haley Barbour swears that Boehner is "trying very hard." But Brian Beutler at The New Republic says it's never been more clear Republicans are killing immigration reform. Now they have another excuse not to budge. President Barack Obama unilaterally designated the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks in New Mexico a...

Daily Meme: The Immigration Merry-Go-Round

It's been about a year—329 days, to be precise—since the Senate passed a comprehensive immigration-reform bill, but it seems we're no closer to seeing it become law now than we were then. Care to take a ride on the immigration merry-go-round? House Speaker John Boehner swears no one wants to see immigration reform get done more than he does, but Obamacare shows that we can't trust the president. Latino journalist Jorge Ramos, pointing out that immigration has nothing to do with Obamacare, tried to cut through the cant on Thursday: "Why are you blocking immigration reform?" he asked the speaker at a press conference. Boehner's response: "Me? Blocking?" Former Mississippi governor Haley Barbour swears that Boehner is "trying very hard." But Brian Beutler at The New Republic says it's never been more clear Republicans are killing immigration reform. Now they have another excuse not to budge. Obama unilaterally designated the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks in New Mexico a national monument...

Government Treating Peaceful Left Activists Like Terrorists--Again

Police in Oakland breaking up an Occupy protest. (Flickr/Glenn Halog)
Both liberals and conservatives spend time arguing that the other side contains people who are nutty, highlighting extreme statements in an attempt to convince people that there's something fundamentally troubling about their opponents. There are many differences between the extreme right and the extreme left, perhaps most importantly that the extreme right has a much closer relationship with powerful Republicans than the extreme left has with powerful Democrats. When you find a crazy thing a liberal said, chances are it's an obscure professor somewhere, or a blogger with twelve readers, or a random person at a protest. The crazy people on the right, in contrast, are often influential media figures or even members of Congress, people with real influence and power. There's another critical difference that doesn't get as much attention: the extreme left is, generally speaking, harmless. That's their nature. They're more likely to meditate and form committees than hurt anyone. It's been...

Daily Meme: Who's to Blame for the V.A. Crisis?

When a scandal erupts in Washington, it spawns a circular firing squad. The unfolding drama over new reports of false record-keeping and long waiting lists for treatment within the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' medical system is proving to be no exception. The facts are bad: Not only is there evidence that veterans died while waiting for care — often simple procedures like colonoscopies—whistleblowers at some VA hospitals claim that officials kept secret lists to cover up the outrageous wait times. You know things have really gotten out of hand when allegations of evidence shredding get tossed around. A doctor who recently retired from a VA hospital in Phoenix says that administrators , seeking to evade the VA policy that requires hospitals to provide care to their patients in a timely manner, shredded soldiers' requests for appointments and told staff not to enter their information into the computer system. Investigative reporters for CNN broke the story in late April (and...

A Few Things to Keep In Mind About the V.A.

Click inside for more charty goodness.
Even though there may be somewhat less demagoguery around the scandal at the Veterans Health Administration than around some other issues, there will no doubt be a certain amount on the way. So here are a few handy things to keep in mind: This scandal isn't about the quality of care . While there are surely some veterans who have gotten poor care, just as there are plenty of patients at private hospitals who get poor care, the V.A. actually has an excellent record on this score. Surveys consistently show most veterans are extremely satisfied with the care they get at V.A. facilities, often more so than private insurance customers. And independent studies from places like the RAND Corporation have found that patients have outcomes as good or better at the V.A. as in private care. The problem around which this scandal revolves is how long vets have to wait to see a doctor, not what happens once they get there. This is an important distinction to make, because there are going to be...

The Good Scandal

Flickr/Adam Fagen
The controversy over whatever might have happened at the Veterans Health Administration, particularly the V.A. facility in Phoenix, is going to get some elevated attention now that President Obama came out before the press to address it. If there has to be an administration scandal, this is a good one to have. Let me explain what I mean. The most important reason is that there is actually a problem at the V.A., or more correctly a series of problems, that need to be solved. If some officials in Phoenix falsifying records to make it seem like veterans were getting care quicker than they actually were is what it takes to generate the will to solve it, then that's a good thing. This is something we sometimes pay lip service to with regard to scandals, but in this case it's genuinely meaningful. For instance, I'm not the only one who has said about Benghazi that if what we get out of the various investigations is a better understanding of how to protect our embassies and consulates...

Daily Meme: Is Same-Sex Marriage Unstoppable?

Marriage is all over the headlines these days. First, an anniversary: Earlier this week, Marcia Hams and Susan Shepherd celebrated ten years of legal marriage . In May 2004, after a years-long legal battle, they were the first and only people in line at City Hall in Cambridge, Massachusetts, ready to to receive a marriage license. At the time, they were worried that a protester would shoot them. Now, gay marriage is legal in 19 states, including the entire Northeast. Court rulings in favor of same-sex marriage have been coming fast and furious. The latest state to jump on the gay-marriage bandwagon is Pennsylvania; on Tuesday, a judge once endorsed by Rick Santorum struck down the state's ban on same-sex unions . On Monday, another federal judge ruled Oregon's same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional . The landscape has changed so quickly that some commentators are wondering whether the movement is "unstoppable." Americans are more and more likely to favor legalizing gay marriage: A...

In Yesterday's Primaries, It Was Money That Mattered

Flickr/Andrew Magill
The dominant media narrative about the round of primaries that happened yesterday is that the Republican establishment struck back, vanquishing a bunch of pesky Tea Party insurgents to reestablish the control of the sane and electable. That's one way to look at the results, but there's another, equally plausible explanation for who won: money. Because in pretty much every race, the person who spent more won. That isn't to say that money was the only factor, or that the arrow of causality couldn't have still originated with the establishment in some cases ( i.e., they funded someone who then won because of the money he got). But you could have predicted the outcome of most every race just by looking at the fundraising. While we don't yet have final spending totals, the Center for Responsive Politics has numbers up through the candidates' filings at the end of April, three weeks ago; it's unlikely that the broad picture changed since then. Let's look at how things turned out in the...

Daily Meme: Poll Dancing

Architect of the Capitol
They’re calling it a “mini-Super Tuesday .” Today’s round of primaries for U.S. Senate seats in six states—Kentucky, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Arkansas and Idaho—could determine the Democrats’ chances for holding on to control of the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body. In Kentucky, where Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is expected to beat right-wing challenger Matt Bevin, the prognosticators at Politico fret that unless McConnell wallops the upstart, there’ll be whispering about his weakness on the right. (Egads!) The most entertaining story to emerge so far from the primary races is that of Republican contender and neurosurgeon Monica Wehby, who would take on Democrat Jeff Merkley if she were to win the GOP nomination, depending on whether or not that story Politico broke about a police report filed against her by her onetime boyfriend sinks her chances. Speaking of elections, the New York Times ran a fascinating article about David Koch’s 1980 vice presidential bid on...

The Republican Candidate's Marijuana Dilemma

Democratic voters at a 4/20 rally. (Flickr/Jonathan Piccolo)
Back in 1992 when Bill Clinton said he kinda smoked pot, but "I didn't inhale," it was a big deal, both for the sort-of admission and for the squirreliness of the evasion. Eight years later, when Barack Obama said not only did he smoke pot, but he inhaled ("That was the point"), it was much less of a big deal, partly because Obama made no attempt to explain it away. As we move toward an era when most American adults have at least tried marijuana (more on that below), the chances that any particular candidate will have done it at least a time or two in their younger days grows higher and higher. But if you're a Republican, it's still complicated, since a large proportion of the population whose votes you need look at pot as something only done by hippies and jazz musicians. You can see this struggle in the person of Marco Rubio, soon-to-be presidential candidate and erstwhile GOP golden boy. Yesterday he got asked in an interview with ABC's Jonathan Karl whether he had ever smoked pot...

Gray Matter: 'Bush's Brain' Short-Circuits

©Jenny Warburg
©Jenny Warburg Karl Rove, former political strategist to President George W. Bush, at a forum in 2012. Karl Rove, the most brilliant political strategist of his generation, the man George W. Bush called "the Architect," the man Stephen Colbert immortalized as "Ham Rove," the pundit to whom Fox News viewers turn to give them the low-down, stuck his foot in it again. Should anyone really be surprised? In case you've been in the desert on a vision quest, last week Rove implied, with some mangled facts, that Hillary Clinton might have lingering brain damage from the incident in 2012 when she suffered a concussion and had a blood clot removed. Democrats and even some Republicans got really mad, even as all agreed that the health of presidential candidates is a legitimate topic for discussion. Then over the weekend on Fox News Sunday , Rove was on the defensive but refused to back down. "Look, I'm not questioning her health," he said, right after questioning her health. "What I'm...

Dally Meme: Delusion and Moxie, Rove and Jindal

Politics may not be for the faint of heart, but it's often for the deluded of mind. Today's meme is about those who are deluding either themselves or others, and will inevitably have their hopes dashed by cruel reality. We start with Karl Rove, who went on Fox News Sunday and said that despite all that talk about Hillary Clinton and traumatic brain injuries, "Look, I'm not questioning her health." Sure, OK. Louisiana governor and future presidential candidate Bobby Jindal penned an op-ed for foxnews.com arguing that the Affordable Care Act can still be repealed , despite what "those in the elite salons of Washington" may think. All you need is "political will," and maybe another 50 repeal votes in the House. That ought to do it. San Antonio mayor Julian Castro is going to be Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and a lot of people see that as a stepping stone to a vice-presidential bid in 2016. Phillip Bump says : keep dreaming. Almost 60,000 people have signed a petition...

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