Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

John Kerry's Middle East Mystery Tour

AP Photo/Paul Richards, Pool
AP Photo/Paul J. Richards, Pool T he mysterious Mr. Kerry has come to the Middle East and gone. The secretary of state promises to return soon, but does not tell us exactly when. In Jerusalem and Ramallah, he says, he listened to leaders' suggestions for restarting peace talks. He does not say what those suggestions were. Curiously polite things happen while he in in the neighborhood. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, for instance, postponed his previously announced trip to Gaza, lest he cause Israel grief. Kerry does not explain how he inspires such thoughtfulness. John Kerry is quite open, though, about his motives: He wants to renew Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, right away, soon, to conduct them "in a clear and precise, predetermined manner" toward the agreement that has eluded every previous peace effort. The only mystery here is the one created by broken expectations, which say that Washington should treat Israelis and Palestinians with benign neglect, that the...

Bi-Partisanship We Don’t Need

Flickr/BeckyF
John Boehner, Speaker of the House, revealed why it’s politically naive for the president to offer up cuts in Social Security in the hope of getting Republicans to close some tax loopholes for the rich. “If the President believes these modest entitlement savings are needed to help shore up these programs, there’s no reason they should be held hostage for more tax hikes,” Boehner said in a statement released Friday. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor agreed. He said on CNBC he didn’t understand “why we just don’t see the White House come forward and do the things that we agree on” such as cutting Social Security, without additional tax increases. Get it? The Republican leadership is already salivating over the president’s proposed Social Security cut. They’ve been wanting to cut Social Security for years. But they won’t agree to close tax loopholes for the rich. They’re already characterizing the president’s plan as a way to “save” Social Security—even though the cuts would undermine it...

Closing the Gun Show Loophole: Better Than Nothing?

Flickr/Brittany Randolph
Ah, bipartisan compromise, just what the country is yearning for. We saw some yesterday, as NRA favorite Pat Toomey and NRA favorite Joe Manchin got together to see if they could come up with a plan for universal background checks, which as everyone knows are supported by 90 percent of the public in just about every poll that's been taken on the subject. What they produced, however, wasn't anything like "universal." Is it better than nothing? Sure. Should it be celebrated? Eh. Toomey and Manchin's proposal would close the "gun-show loophole," meaning if you buy a gun at a show you'll have to submit to a background check. It also covers sales over the Internet. What it doesn't cover is private sales between one person and another. You've probably heard the figure that 40 percent of gun sales happen outside licensed dealers, and while the evidence for this figure is thin , nobody really knows if it's too high or too low. Furthermore, nobody knows what proportion of that 40 percent...

On Guns, "Better than Nothing" Doesn't Cut It

An estimated 3,349 lives have ended by American gun violence since 20 children were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary. We've seen roughly 120,460 years of life wasted since the New Year began. Thousands of lives extinguished. Dozens of communities wounded by fear and grief. And zero new federal laws passed to prevent the slow and deadly attrition of American life at the end of a gun. In the emotional heat of the weeks after December 14, Democrats assembled a coalition of the willing—in other words, those who weren't in danger of losing their seat in 2014—to work on passing an assault-weapons ban. The cry for that legislation has dissipated in the months since, however, as the horror at what transpired in Newtown, Aurora, and Oak Creek grows less pungent, replaced by the less-heady cocktail of electoral fear and Bill of Rights fetishism worn as armor by the right. Any hope of passing that assault-weapons ban, or a limit on the size of ammunition magazines, appears to have vanished for...

President Obama's Budget

President Barack Obama discusses his proposed federal budget. (AP Photo/J. David Ake)
Budget

The President's Morning After

Getty Images/Joe Raedle
Getty Images/Joe Raedle L ast Friday, Judge Edward Korman ruled that the federal government must abide by U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommendations and make emergency contraception available over the counter without age restrictions. Cue the freak-out about girls having unprotected orgies followed by Plan B snorting parties. Emergency contraception, often referred to as “the morning-after pill,” or by its brand name, Plan B, is designed to be taken in, well, emergencies—the condom breaks, you got carried away in the moment and didn’t ever quite get to the birth control, or in cases of sexual assault or coercion in which the victim doesn’t have much choice about contraception. Plan B was first approved by the FDA for prescription use in 1999. But the prescription requirement is onerous for several reasons, not the least of which is that the later emergency contraception is taken, the less effective it is; it loses any reasonable odds of working after about three days...

The NFL's Concussion Problem Hits the Courts

When former Pittsburgh Steelers guard Ralph Wenzel passed away, after a long battle with dementia, he had the brain the size of a one-year-old's. The defensive stars Dave Duerson and Junior Seau , both of whom recently committed suicide, were found to have a severe brain disease associated with repeated blows to the head. These and countless more cases have made the public increasingly aware that the immense profits generated by the National Football League have been made possible by players battering themselves into miserable and premature death. On Tuesday in Philadelphia, more than 4,200 former NFL players brought their case that the NFL should be liable for these injuries before federal judge Anita B. Brody. While the evidence that playing NFL football frequently leads to severe brain injuries and premature death is increasingly strong, the lawsuit faces numerous hurdles if it is to proceed. First, there is a question of individual responsibility. Tackle football is not illegal,...

Jack Lew: Obama’s Austerity Ambassador

AP Images
There is something seriously off about the mission of the new Treasury secretary, Jack Lew, to Europe. Secretary Lew has been visiting European capitals to persuade leaders there to ease up on the austerity. He has not had a good reception. Speaking at a joint press conference with the chagrined Lew in Berlin, Wolfgang Schauble, the German finance minister and uber-austerity enforcer, dressed down Lew thusly: “Nobody in Europe sees this contradiction between fiscal consolidation and growth.” Nobody among the elite, that is. Ordinary people in Greece, where output has declined by nearly 25 percent since the austerity tonic began, surely see the contradiction. So do young people in Spain, where the youth unemployment rate has reached 56 percent. Even if the cure should eventually work—which it won’t—we will have lost a whole generation. Only in the rarified power precincts of Brussels and Berlin is austerity “working.” But Jack Lew doesn’t exactly come to this mission with clean hands...

Today's Ringside Seat: Gun Bill—Bang or Whimper?

At the moment, there are 45 Republicans in the United States Senate, a number sufficient to give them the ability, should they so choose, to filibuster anything and everything. And choose they do, with only the rarest of exceptions. But we may be about to see one of those rare exceptions, on a piece of legislation regulating guns. Maybe. You see, for the legislation to succeed, Democrats must first defeat a Republican filibuster in order to begin debate on the bill, and then they must defeat another Republican filibuster to end debate on the bill and have an actual vote. According to late reports , as many as seven Senate Republicans have said they'll vote to allow debate to begin, though they won't say whether they'll vote to allow it to end. We don't yet know exactly what they'll be debating, if the debate does begin, but chances are it will involve expanded background checks and a crackdown on illegal gun trafficking. You might be asking how anyone could object to any of that, and...

Jindal Agonistes

Flickr/dsb nola
Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, whom everyone assumes will be running for president in 2016, has had a lot of ups and downs in his relatively short career. Hailed as a wunderkind, he was given a series of influential positions in Republican administrations both state and federal while still in his 20s, eventually winning a seat in the House and then the governorship. Then he had that disastrous State of the Union response in 2009, where he looked almost hilariously awkward and uncomfortable. He recovered from that, though, and things seemed to be going very well when he gave a speech telling Republicans they couldn't be the "stupid party." His bold truth-telling made reporters swoon . But alas, things have turned. Jindal recently proposed a tax plan that would cut taxes on the wealthy and increase them on the poor and middle class, and was shocked to find that people in his state found it less than appealing. He withdrew the plan, but not before his approval rating plunged into the...

Where's the Change?

AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke
AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File T he Democratic Party’s long-term prospects have dramatically improved since the November election. They will control the White House for another four years. The Republicans, who lost the total vote for the House of Representatives, remain captive of an unpopular reactionary right wing. The “Obama Coalition” of minorities and single women is growing faster than the GOP’s white male base. If demography is destiny, Democrats—and the progressive interests that they are supposed represent in the two-party system—are the wave of the future. But the American dream is about upward mobility. Ultimately, “The economy, Stupid” trumps identity politics. If the Democrats are not the champions of expanding jobs and incomes for the majority of voters who work for a living—whatever their gender, color, or sexual orientation—their claim to being the natural majority party will amount to little. So it made political sense that Barack Obama began his 2013 State of the Union...

Why Are Lists So Irresistible?

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Yesterday I gave a talk at my grad school alma mater—the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania—about what journalists and scholars can teach each other. Interestingly enough, the academics in attendance all nodded their heads when I went on a little rant about how awful most academic writing is, and made the case that just because it has always been that way it doesn't have to continue to be that way. (Though when I quoted Elaine Benes—"People love interesting writing!"—the students looked at me blankly, obviously having no idea whom I was referring to. Kids today.) The abysmal quality of academic prose is something that every grad student complains about and every professor acknowledges, but nobody seems to have the gumption to do anything about. That's a topic I'll return to later, but in discussing the current state of the media, I described how the most-read piece on The American Prospect 's web site in 2012 was "My So-Called Ex-Gay Life," Gabriel...

On Abortion, the GOP Tacks Right

Flickr/Paul Weaver
In March of 2012, Virginia governor Bob McDonnell was in trouble. The Republican-dominated state legislature had passed a measure that would require women seeking abortions in the early stages of pregnancy to have a transvaginal sonogram—a procedure in which a wand is inserted into the vagina. Pro-choice activists jumped on the bill, calling it “state-sanctioned rape.” The outrage went national, and the conservative governor with aspirations to higher office backed off. A version of the sonogram bill did make it into law, but it does not specifically require transvaginal sonograms, just the better-known “jelly on the belly” type. The debacle was only the beginning of Republicans’ problem with women voters. Two Senate candidates—most famously Todd Akin of Missouri—aired shockingly unscientific views about how pregnancy worked, generating a strong backlash from voters. Elsewhere, cuts defunding Planned Parenthood and women’s health programs only made the perception that Republicans are...

The New Deal That Could Have Been

Courtesy W. W. Norton and Company
I nvoking “dysfunction” is now the basic black of punditry about American politics. As the British political theorist David Runciman recently observed in the London Review of Books , “Commentators find it almost impossible to write about American democracy these days without reaching for the word ‘dysfunctional.’” Consider the lowlights of our political culture in just the past 15 years: a puerile impeachment; the subsequent president elected via a Supreme Court filled with political allies; a radicalized Republican Party, convinced that taxation and domestic government spending are a form of socialism; a failure by bipartisan elites even to prioritize, let alone tackle, continued high unemployment and the looming catastrophe of climate change. As Runciman’s editors titled his own essay on America’s lumbering democracy, “How can it work?” Courtesy of W. W. Nortn and Company It is one measure of the power of Ira Katznelson’s important, overstuffed new book, Fear Itself: The New Deal...

Ringside Seat: Jindal's Tarnished Brand

If presidential politics is a game of luck as well as skill, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is doing it wrong. Very, very wrong. Four years ago, at the beginning of President Obama’s term, he was touted as a new hope for the Republican Party. A skilled, competent, conservative analogue to Obama—or even Bill Clinton. But that was before he gave the Republican response to Obama's first State of the Union. The problem wasn’t content—though there’s something off about mocking government investment in the face of a terrible recession—as much as it was style . Jindal came across like an overgrown Kenneth the Page from the show 30 Rock . The fiasco dimmed his political star considerably. Wisely, it seemed, Jindal responded by removing himself from the national limelight and focusing on his job as governor of Louisiana. The thinking was straightforward: If he can improve his state and build a strong political platform, then he can make a credible bid for the White House. Now, four years...

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