Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Judging on Color

AP Photo/Susan Walsh
Pro Publica has a long and excellent take on the plaintiff behind the challenge to the University of Texas’ affirmative action program, Abigail Fisher. In short, her central claim—that UT denied her application because of her race (she’s white)—just isn’t true: Even among those students, Fisher did not particularly stand out. Court records show her grade point average (3.59) and SAT scores (1180 out of 1600) were good but not great for the highly selective flagship university. The school’s rejection rate that year for the remaining 841 openings was higher than the turn-down rate for students trying to get into Harvard. As a result, university officials claim in court filings that even if Fisher received points for her race and every other personal achievement factor, the letter she received in the mail still would have said no. Later in the piece, Pro Publica goes to legal experts on both sides of the aisle for their perspectives. Erwin Chemerinsky, founding dean of the University of...

Banks Are Too Big to Fail Say ... Conservatives?

AP Photo/Jae C. Hong
AP Photo/Jae C. Hong M embers of the Federal Reserve don’t usually make the rounds at partisan gatherings. But amid the tri-cornered hats and “#StandWithRand” buttons of last week’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC)—the largest annual gathering of conservatives in the country—was Richard Fisher, president of the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank. In a Saturday morning speech , Fisher quoted Revolutionary War hero Patrick Henry, who once said that while “Different men often see the same subject in different lights,” such quibbling had to be set aside in a time of “awful moment to this country.” Fisher described the current time as an era of economic injustice in which the nation’s largest banks threaten our financial stability and act with immunity. He said that the Dodd-Frank financial reform law did not go nearly far enough to fix the problem, and that mega-banks still profited from being “Too Big to Fail.” His solutions included a proposal to limit the total assets held by...

Asking Serious People Silly Questions

Erin Burnett, trying to keep from giggling.
I've written before about the media's inability to talk about the issue of marijuana legalization without turning into eighth graders, peppering their stories with references to Cheech & Chong and making generally idiotic stoner references ("Put down those Doritos and turn down that Dead bootleg—a new policy statement from the Office of National Drug Control Policy could be a serious buzz-cruncher!"). Whether this is changing now that Washington and Colorado passed decriminalization schemes in the last election and momentum is building in other states for similar measures, I'm not sure. But Mark Kleiman, who has done extensive research on the potential consequences of drug legalization and is now acting as a consultant to the state of Washington as it finds its way toward implementing the law the voters there passed, found himself confronted with a smirking Erin Burnett on CNN, who wanted to know whether he's a pot smoker or not, and handled it perfectly . "I don't think there's...

Ringside Seat: Don't Cry for the GOP, Reince Priebus

If you paid attention to the 2012 election—at all—you probably have some idea of why Republicans lost. Their presidential primaries showcased the right-wing insanity of their base. Their candidate, Mitt Romney, couldn’t hide his contempt for ordinary people. Their policies were clear attempts to game the system for the wealthy, with massive tax cuts and sharp reductions in spending for the rest of America. Above all, they couldn’t provide a decent reason for jettisoning a president who—among other things—was presiding over a modest recovery from the worst economic disaster to hit the country since the Great Depression, a disaster exacerbated by the previous, Republican administration. None of this is hard to understand, but somehow, it has flown over the head of the man Republicans pay to understand national politics—Reince Priebus, head of the Republican National Committee. When asked on MSNBC this afternoon whether or not the party is changing, he replied by offering a quick list of...

Weird Friends of the Court

AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
(AP Photo/J. David Ake) If you’ve felt encouraged by recent trends in favor of gay rights—including the new Washington Post poll showing 58 percent of Americans support marriage equality—swing over to SCOTUSblog and read some of the nearly 60 “friend of the Court” briefs opposing gay marriage. On Tuesday and Wednesday of next week, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in two cases—the first on California’s Prop 8, the second on the Defense of Marriage Act—that could determine whether the federal government can define marriage as between a man and a woman, and whether state bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional. The parties are represented by some of the lions of the Supreme Court bar, including two former Solicitor Generals—Paul Clement and Ted Olson—on either side of the issue (though arguing on separate days and on separate cases). Their briefs are strong. But the Court allows others to file briefs as amici curiae, or “friends of the Court.” These amicus briefs are usually...

Stuck With Each Other

AP photo/David Goldman
Imagine you're a religious right activist, used to being a serious player within the Republican party, the kind of person candidates court and party chieftains huddle with. You've done well at making sure that just about every politician in your party has the right position on your issues. You may not always get everything you want as quickly as you want, but you know that you don't have to waste energy fighting rear-guard actions within the GOP. But then bad things start to happen. We spend a couple of years talking about nothing but the economy and budgets, ignoring your favorite issues, and some in the party suggest that the real culture war isn't your culture war, it's an economic one. A couple of your favorite candidates get a little too candid with their views on rape, and end up losing at the polls, leading some influential strategists to suggest that the party needs to shift its focus away from your issues. Then one of your party's senators comes out in support of same-sex...

Visiting Israel, Juggling a Hundred Impossible Expectations

AP Photo/Ariel Schalit
AP Photo/Ariel Schalit It’s near impossible to lower expectations of a visit by the President of the United States, especially to a region as consequential in U.S. policy, and controversial in U.S. politics, as the Middle East. Obama is learning this firsthand as he prepares to land in Israel for the first time in his presidency today. The trip will include visits to the West Bank and Jordan, but it’s no secret that its primary function is to re-introduce the president to the Israeli people, and attempt to re-boot the relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose resistance to Obama’s peace efforts and differences over the immediacy of the threat posed by Iran led to a frosty relationship during the president’s first term. I visited the country and the West Bank last week, and preparations on both sides were well under way to make sure that their messages were heard. In Ramallah, huge banners were hung, proclaiming “President Obama, don’t bring your smart phone to...

Ringside Seat: Don't Give Up on Gun Control Yet

In the wake of the horrific shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in December, it seemed that the time had finally come for some real restrictions on the kinds of firearms people can buy. After years of not even bothering to propose new laws, Democrats found their courage and put forward a number of proposals, none of which got more attention than a new ban on assault weapons. But now it looks like the assault-weapons ban is dead, or at least shunted indefinitely to the side. The ban's sponsor, Senator Dianne Feinstein, told reporters today that Majority Leader Harry Reid told her that while the assault-weapons ban may be offered as an amendment to a larger bill, it won't be a stand-alone measure, and it's unlikely to pass. So it looks like your God-given right to go down to the range and pretend you're G.I. Joe is intact for the foreseeable future. And that may not be such a disaster. The truth is that spectacular massacres like Sandy Hook and Aurora notwithstanding, almost nine in ten...

War of Cluelessness

Flickr/Gage Skidmore
I have a piece at CNN.com today about what the press did and didn't learn from its performance leading up to the war that I wanted to expand on a little. You might remember Donald Rumsfeld's philosophical musings on "known unknowns" and "unknown unknowns," which I think offers a good way to look at how so many people got so much wrong, with such tragic results. There were things they knew they didn't know, but they decided that those things didn't matter (or that they just didn't care), and there were things they didn't know they didn't know. That applies to the Bush administration, its supporters, the frightened Democrats who went along, and to the press. Here's a bit of what I wrote: When there's a war in the offing, the flags are waving and dissenters are being called treasonous, the media's courage tends to slip away. Which is particularly regrettable, since the time when the government is pressing for war should be the time when they are more aggressive than ever, exploring every...

Arizona versus the Right to Vote

Flickr/Wally Gobetz
As part of a broader anti-immigration initiative in 2004, Arizona passed Proposition 200, a law requiring voters to provide proof of citizenship before registering to vote. One person affected by this law was Jesus Gonzalez, a custodian and naturalized American citizen who twice had his registration rejected by the state. Arizona couldn't verify his naturalization number and erroneously identified his driver's license as belonging to a non-citizen. Gonzalez's case has reached the Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments about the constitutionality of Proposition 200 on Monday. The Court should rule that Arizona's burdensome requirements are inconsistent with federal law and therefore illegal. The Supreme Court has dealt with Republican legislators' attempts to suppress voting before. In a highly dubious 2008 decision , the Supreme Court found that an Indiana statute—requiring a show of ID before hitting the ballot box—was not unconstitutional on its face, although it left open the...

U.S. Out of Vermont!

Flickr/Gwen Roolf
Flickr/Gwen Roolf L ast September, about 60 Vermonters met in the chambers of the house of representatives in Montpelier to celebrate the state’s “independence spirit” and to discuss the goals of “environmental sustainability, economic justice, and Vermont self--determination.” The speaker of the house had given up the space free of charge for the one-day conference. First at the podium was a Princeton-educated yak farmer and professor of journalism named Rob Williams, one of the organizers of the event, who at 9 A.M. opened the proceedings by acknowledging what he called “some unpleasant and hard truths.” Amid the twin global crises of peak oil and climate change, the United States was “an out-of-control empire.” It was “unresponsive to the needs, concerns, and desires of ordinary citizens.” Williams, who wore a T-shirt that said “U.S. Out of Vermont,” did not advocate revolution. He was looking for a divorce. He wanted Vermont to secede. “Nonviolent secession,” he said, “the...

Ringside Seat: I'm Not a Wonk. I'm You.

After Democrats lost the presidential elections of 2000 and 2004, many on the left argued that part of their problem was that they approached politics through an often bloodless perspective centered on issues, while Republicans knew it was all about character. As one of us used to say when talking about this problem, in one election after another, the Democrat would come before the voters and say, "If you read my ten-point plan, you will see that my solutions are superior." The Republican would then point at the Democrat and say, "That guy hates you and everything you stand for." Republicans understood that politics isn't about issues, it's about character and identity. Today, an RNC committee tasked with figuring out what the GOP can do to reverse its flagging fortunes in national politics released its report . "While Democrats tend to talk about people," the committee said, "Republicans tend to talk about policy. Our ideas can sound distant and removed from people's lives. Instead...

Why Now, Mr. President?

AP Photo/Ariel Schalit
AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi S ome free advice for anyone who lives in Jerusalem and hasn't been invited to meet with Barack Obama: stay out of the city center from Wednesday to Friday. One major artery, King David Street, will be shut throughout the president's visit this week, and parking will be banned on a host of others, City Hall has announced. Experience teaches that traffic will tie up in knots and buses trying to get from Point A to Point B will travel via Point Z. Beyond gridlock—in the original sense of the word, vehicles sitting in mid-intersection going nowhere—the potential impact of the president's pilgrimage remains a mystery. The trip's timing suggests that Obama feels it absolutely urgent to renew the comatose Israeli-Palestinian peace process, now, before the weekend, before it expires. The pre-trip spin from Obama himself, from sundry off-record officials and from the punditocracy of two countries suggests that the president is coming, to quote Thomas Friedman , as "a...

Just How Bad Is Television News?

Every year, the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism releases a huge report called "The State of the News Media," and this year's installment contains some surprising results, far beyond what you'd expect about declining newspaper revenues and the generalized slow death of journalism (though there's plenty of that). In particular, television news is undergoing some rapid changes, most of which are driven by finances and many of which look seriously problematic. Let's start with local TV news (we'll get to cable in a moment). For decades, it has been the most-used of all news media, despite the fact that it provides the sorriest excuse for journalism you can find anywhere. Why has it been so popular for so long? For starters, it's easy; you can just turn the TV on while you're cooking dinner or working on your toothpick sculpture of the Taj Mahal, and it won't require any concentration to keep up with. Second, it's on all the time; since news is the central profit...

The Political Is Personal

AP Photo/Mike Munden
On Friday, Senator Rob Portman of Ohio became the first Republican in the Senate to support same-sex marriage, explaining in a Columbus Dispatch op-ed that his change of heart came after his son told him he's gay. It was easy to be underwhelmed by Portman's announcement; as Michael Tomasky asked , "what if his son weren't gay? Were that the case, we have no reason whatsoever to believe Portman would have taken this step." That's true, and we might also ask what took him so long; after all, Portman wrote that his son came out to him two years ago, and that seems like a rather extended period of introspection. Portman may not be a civil-rights hero, but if nothing else his announcement is likely to force people to confront the ways public policy is or isn't shaped by legislators' own experiences. And now, many of them will be asked what they would do in Portman's shoes. That was what Speaker of the House John Boehner was asked on Sunday's This Week , and he answered, "I believe that...

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