Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

What We Have Here Is a Failure to Communicate. Sort Of.

Congressional Republicans, apparently. (Flickr/jumbledpile)
Like any number of liberals, I have from time to time complained about the difficulty of having substantive arguments about politics when your opponents refuse to acknowledge plain facts about the world. It's hard to have a discussion about what to do about climate change, for instance, if the other person refuses to believe that climate change is occurring. It's hard to discuss how to handle market failures in health insurance when the other person holds that markets are always perfect and government health insurance is always more expensive. As frustrating as those kinds of impasses are, at least you're talking about complex systems that require at least some investment of time to understand. But there's a rather incredible dance going on right now in the dispute over the budget that takes every stereotype liberals have about know-nothing Republicans and turns it up to 11. To sum it up, Democrats are being forced to negotiate with a group of people who are either so dumb they can't...

Rand Paul's Blinkered Libertarianism

Gage Skidmore / Flickr
Gage Skidmore / Flickr Rand Paul at a book signing at LPAC 2011 in Reno, Nevada. Even if you disagree with Senator Rand Paul's broader politics, there's something inspiring about a politician willing to speak at length—and at some discomfort—for what he believes in. That's even more true when you consider the subject—civil liberties. Paul joins many other civil libertarians in his disdain for targeted killings, the administration's drone policy, and its general approach to due process. Still, for all of Paul's eloquence on this sphere of civil liberties, he's decidedly less interested in the other areas where government uses the threat of force to compel action. Paul's brand of civil libertarianism—the war on drugs as assaults on freedom—doesn't extend to women's bodily autonomy. In his two years as the junior senator from Kentucky, Paul has supported "personhood" legislation (which would outlaw abortion and put major restrictions on several forms of contraception), threatened to...

Outmatched

Flickr/FergieFam07
I n early December, the Michigan Legislature met for a lame-duck session that should have been uncontroversial—just a bit of housework before the next body convened in 2013. Instead, the GOP majority used the period to enact a dream list of conservative priorities: abortion-rights restrictions, a phaseout of the personal--property tax, reductions to welfare. Its crowning achievement was the passage of a right-to-work bill prohibiting unions from collecting mandatory dues. It seemed unfathomable that Michigan, once the cradle of a thriving and unionized American workforce, could have turned overnight into a right-to-work state. But then many traditions have been upended since the 2010 midterm elections in which Republicans took control of both legislative chambers in 26 states. (Though a few states flipped sides in the November election, that number still holds.) Longtime progressive and purple states, newly under Republican control, have turned into Texas-lite. In Wisconsin, Governor...

The Rand Paul Filibuster: Raw & Uncut

Gage Skidmore / Flickr
Gage Skidmore / Flickr What was noteworthy about Rand Paul's filibuster yesterday wasn't that he held up the confirmation of John Brennan to the CIA, but that he spoke . As a procedural move, the filibuster is extremely common, but rarely does anyone take to the floor and prevent the flow of Senate business. Paul's "talking filibuster" was the first in over two years, and at nearly 13 hours, the longest since South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond's filibuster of the 1957 Civil Rights Rights Act. Unlike Thurmond's filibuster, or the vast majority of filibusters through history, Paul's was for a good cause—to press the Obama administration for more information on drone strikes, to object to the use of drones in the United States, and to spark a conversation about the administration's overall drone policy and use of targeted killings, which has gone unexamined in official Washington. For actual information on the subject, I recommend reading posts from Mother Jones ' Adam Serwer , The...

Chávez Rising

AP Photo
AP Photo/Miraflores Presidential Press Office In this photo by Miraflores Presidential Press Office, Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez, center, poses with his daughters, María Gabriela, left, and Rosa Virginia at an unknown location in Havana, Cuba. T he last official photo of Hugo Chávez shows him surrounded by his two daughters, María Gabriela and Rosa Virginia. It’s a tableau of Renaissance proportions (and probably Photoshopped) that reminds followers of a saintly leader ready to be resurrected, his daughters already mourning the loss of their earthly father but preparing him to be transported to his next life. Whether Chávez can be resurrected through the election of his self-appointed heir, Vice President Nicolás Maduro, remains the next test for the cult of Chavismo that arose around this former paratrooper and failed putchist. The iconography of a fallen Chávez should not be interpreted as the end of an era, even combined with the death of the 58-year-old leader on March 5,...

The Internet's Patriot Act

flickr/IronCurtaiNYC
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File “I believe that it is very possible,” former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told a rapt audience at Georgetown University earlier this month, “the next Pearl Harbor could be a cyber attack that would have one hell of an impact on the United States of America.” That’s a belief Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano shares—in January, she urged Congress not to “wait until there is a 9/11 in the cyber world” to act on cyber-security legislation. Subtle warnings, these are not. Over the past 12 months, hackers have broken into the networks of major news organizations, including The New York Times , The Washington Post , and The Wall Street Journal in a string of audacious security breaches. The U.S. Government Accountability Office found that cyber-security incidents reported by federal agencies have risen 800 percent since 2006. Chinese hackers infiltrated the networks of nearly 800 U.S. companies and research institutions between 2000 and 2010,...

The Internet’s Patriot Act

flickr/IronCurtaiNYC
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File “I believe that it is very possible,” former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told a rapt audience at Georgetown University earlier this month, “the next Pearl Harbor could be a cyber attack that would have one hell of an impact on the United States of America.” That’s a belief Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano shares—in January, she urged Congress not to “wait until there is a 9/11 in the cyber world” to act on cyber-security legislation. Subtle warnings, these are not. Over the past 12 months, hackers have broken into the networks of major news organizations, including The New York Times , The Washington Post , and The Wall Street Journal in a string of audacious security breaches. The U.S. Government Accountability Office found that cyber-security incidents reported by federal agencies have risen 800 percent since 2006. Chinese hackers infiltrated the networks of nearly 800 U.S. companies and research institutions between 2000 and 2010,...

Few Waves in California

Flickr/msun523
Flickr/msun523 Cuts on overtime for customs inspectors at the Port of Long Beach in Long Beach, California, may hinder its ability to process cargo. I f the sequester had come to California 25 years ago, its effect would have been catastrophic. Today, its effects are decidedly less draconian. Nonetheless, California has a considerably less robust economy than that of the late '80s, and the sequester will cool off the state’s already tepid recovery. In considering the effects of the sequester, the difference between the California economy of 1942-1992 and its economy today is critical. For the half-century beginning with the attack on Pearl Harbor, California was the centerpiece of the American defense industry. Southern California in particular was a home base for much of the aviation industry even before World War II, but wartime and Cold War spending built up aviation and then aerospace to the point that they employed more Californians than any other industry. When the Cold War...

Ringside Seat: A Plague of Slush

And lo, did the heavens open and pour down from above a wave of crystalline horror, and the people of the city did wail and moan and rend their garments in fear. Pillars of salt were spread on the byways to make them navigable by donkey and SUV alike, yet the people still cowered within their huts, Instagramming pictures of the newly alabaster land and spreading word through Twitter, with a million voices shouting, "Behold!" And parents did set their children in front of glowing boxes to quiet the incessant cries of boredom, and Madagascar 3 did unspool, and unspool again. And many looked skyward and cried, "Will this nightmare never end? Will we all die in frozen graves, our bones picked clean by the yeti and the saber-toothed tiger?" No answer came from above, but amidst the chaos, a child did emerge, and said unto the people, "It's snowing, you ninnies. That's what happens in winter. Get over it." And the people woke from their trance, gazed upon the ground, and saw that it was...

Obama Didn't Cry Wolf on the Sequester

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza
Official White House Photo by Pete Souza President Barack Obama talks with Chief of Staff Jack Lew, center, and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner as they walk on the Colonnade of the White House, Jan. 10, 2013. Over at the Washington Post , Chris Cillizza chides President Obama for "crying wolf" on sequestration: In the days leading up to the March 1 sequester deadline, dire warnings about its impact were being issued daily from President Obama. Lines at airports would be interminable. First responders would be compromised. Things would be, in a word, bad. Then the sequester hit — and (almost) no one noticed. (Sidebar: It’s kind of like the “snow” storm currently “hitting” D.C.; lots of advance warning, very little immediate impact.) The sky is falling language seemed overblown, and the devastating consequences amounted to the suspension of public tours at the White House. Obama hasn’t helped himself post-sequester — landing in a bit of political hot water with a mistaken claim...

A Tale of Two Filibusters

Gage Skidmore / Flickr
Gage Skidmore / Flickr Today has been an interesting day for filibusters. This morning, the Senate filibustered President Obama's nomination of Caitlin Halligan to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals. Halligan isn't unqualified and she isn't a radical. Her only offense is that Obama wants her for one of the most important courts in the country. As such, Republicans successfully filibuster her nomination, by a vote of 51 to 41. Sixty votes are needed to break a filibuster and move to a final vote. Shortly after this vote went down, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin announced his intent to reintroduce filibuster reform, perhaps frustrated by the Halligan nomination and the general approach of the GOP, which is to filibuster anything that might provide an advantage to President Obama: “We have tried at the beginning of this Senate session to avoid this kind of filibuster confrontation. The last several years we have had over 400 filibusters — a record number of filibusters in the Senate,”...

There is No "Fever" to Break

Google Images
Google Images The New York Times 's reports today that President Obama has invited a dozen GOP senators out to dinner, in an effort to get around Republican leadership and build support for a new agreement on long-term deficit reduction. As Greg Sargent writes for The Washington Post , "It’s not hard to figure out what Obama is telling these Senators: He’s telling them what his actual deficit reduction plan contains — a mix of real entitlement cuts and new revenues." This sounds like something Republicans should already know, but they don't. In an interview with Ezra Klein last week, one unnamed Republican lawmaker was surprised to learn that Obama had floated Social Security adjustments (chained CPI, in particular) as part of a deal for new revenue. Likewise, on Twitter, Republican strategist Mike Murphy had no idea that Obama had offered chained CPI and Medicare cuts in exchange for new revenue. But here's the important thing: When this was pointed out to him, he dismissed the...

Fake Prostitutes, Fake Terrorists, and the Trouble with Conservative Media

Remember this guy?
Just before the 2012 election, the Daily Caller , a website run by Tucker Carlson, produced a blockbuster report claiming that New Jersey senator Robert Menendez had frequented underage prostitutes in the Dominican Republic, and they had the prostitutes' testimony to prove it. Bizarrely, mainstream media did not pick up the story, Menendez was re-elected, and to almost no one's surprise, the whole thing now appears to have been a slander cooked up by Republican operatives. How did such a thing happen? The answer is, it's ACORN's fault. Hold on while I explain. It turns out that Republican operatives pitched the Menendez story to ABC News at the same time as the Daily Caller , but after looking into it ABC decided it was probably bogus, as they explain here . It was pretty obvious the women were being coached, and their stories just strained credulity: Her account of sex with Menendez in the video interview was almost word-for-word the account given by two other women who were produced...

Show Me the Policy!

Flickr/Talk Radio News Service
Republicans have been scrambling since the election to figure out what they need to improve their standing with the public and appeal to the electorate of the future. Despite trumpeting Marco Rubio and his immigration platform in a shallow attempt to appeal to Hispanic voters, things have only gotten more dire since November. In part because of the sequester fight, the GOP’s approval ratings have plummeted . According to a recent Quinnipiac poll, even a majority of registered Republicans disapprove of their congressional counterparts and Republican House Speaker John Boehner’s disapproval rating sits at a record high. I think the problem is pretty straightforward: The GOP has become a party that’s almost allergic to holding specific, real, policy positions; instead, it’s substituted a blanket knee-jerk opposition to anything Barack Obama does, along with a series of symbolic “issues,” such as American exceptionalism or a rhetorical commitment to a balanced budget (without, for most of...

Bull Market for Stocks, Bear Market for Workers

Flickr/Michael Aston
Today the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose above 14,270 — completely erasing its 54 percent loss between 2007 and 2009. The stock market is basically back to where it was in 2000, while corporate earnings have doubled since then. Yet the real median wage is now 8 percent below what it was in 2000, and unemployment remains sky-high. Why is the stock market doing so well, while most Americans are doing so poorly? Four reasons: First, productivity gains. Corporations have been investing in technology rather than their workers. They get tax credits and deductions for such investments; they get no such tax benefits for improving the skills of their employees. As a result, corporations can now do more with fewer people on their payrolls. That means higher profits. Second, high unemployment itself. Joblessness all but eliminates the bargaining power of most workers—allowing corporations to keep wages low. Public policies that might otherwise reduce unemployment—a new WPA or CCC to hire the...

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