Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Change is Bad. At Least for the VRA

Flickr/Ben Haley
On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Shelby County v. Holder , the fifth time the Voting Rights Act’s Section 5 has been challenged in the high court since it was passed in 1965. Section 5 requires nine states and portions of six others with a history of racial discrimination to have changes to election law “pre-cleared” by the government before going into effect. Every lower court has upheld the provision as constitutional, and Congress reauthorized it four times—always with overwhelming bipartisan support. But Shelby County, Alabama—the plaintiffs in this case—still wonders why it gets treated differently than Tennessee, which is not covered by Section 5 and which passed a voter-ID law—thought by many experts to be aimed at disenfranchising poor and minority voters—without pre-clearance. A similar law was blocked in Texas, which is covered, after it was deemed discriminatory by the Justice Department. Bert Rein, attorney for Shelby County, suggested before...

Automatic Stabilizers: There When Congress Isn't

Flickr/JMazzolaa
As we approach sequestration today the dominant narrative continues to be that the huge run-up in the deficit since the Great Recession has been our greatest political—perhaps even a moral—failure. But it isn’t a failure. This is exactly how the system was designed to work if the economy ever saw a downturn on the scale of the 2008 financial crisis. The deficit is collapsing through the same planned process. As the economy recovers, it is falling quickly, down to 7 percent in 2012, and an estimated 5.3 percent in 2013. These are our "automatic stabilizers" at play. Though it sounds vaguely hydrologic or like a bad steampunk creation, it’s straightforward: The economy will naturally suffer from periods of slack demand in which there isn't enough purchasing power in the economy to produce goods and employ all of our resources, including people. Automatic stabilizers then kick into motion in to counteract this. One important automatic stabilizer is the tax code, which has people pay less...

Ringside Seat: You Sunk My Tea Party Ship

Liberals, not to mention the scientific community, often wonder just what it would take to get the conservatives who deny the evidence of climate change to finally acknowledge reality. If melting glaciers don't do it, and temperature data gathered from around the world doesn't do it, and the consensus of virtually all of the scientists who study the issue doesn't do it, what would? Well, we may finally have our answer. As NPR recently reported , officials in Boston are worried about rising sea levels and future storms like Sandy, and are trying to figure out what they can do to protect themselves. That storm didn't hit Boston hard, but if a future one did, one of the first buildings to get flooded would be none other than the Tea Party Museum, which sits right on the harbor. Just imagine, the museum honoring the bit of anti-tax theater that to this day inspires seemingly sane people to don tricorner hats and shout about death panels, laid low by the effects of global warming. What...

How Much of a Market Is There on the Right for Real Reporting?

Flickr/Gage Skidmore
Four years ago, Tucker Carlson went before the audience at the Conservative Political Action Conference, and told them that instead of creating more media forums to talk to each other about what a bunch of jerks liberals are, they ought to nurture outlets that actually report news, with a commitment to accuracy. For his trouble he was booed vigorously, and I guess he learned his lesson about what conservatives are interested in, because instead of creating a newsgathering organization he created the Daily Caller. I'm sure it's doing quite well with it's target audience, and I couldn't help but think about Carlson upon seeing that Erick Erickson, proprietor of RedState.com and CNN talking mouth, issued a plea to conservatives to come work for him and actually do journalism. First though, he identified the problem: I think conservative media is failing to advance ideas and stories. Certainly part of that is because the general media has an ideological bias against conservatives, which...

Dear White House, You'll Regret This

Olivier Douliery/AP Images
The latest dust-up in the descent of Bob Woodward from fearless investigative reporter to manipulative media celebrity began with his contention in a Washington Post column that President Obama, by asking for revenue increases as part of a deal to defer the sequester, was “moving the goal posts” from the 2011 budget deal (in which Obama got thoroughly hosed by the Republicans). When the White House pushed back and an unnamed “senior official” told Politico that Woodward would “regret” those comments, someone, presumably Woodward, leaked an e-mail between himself and White House top economic strategist Gene Sperling. Since then, the political class has been abuzz with chatter about Woodward’s modus operandi, the ethics of burning a source, his longstanding strategy of trading access for friendly treatment, and so on. But far more revealing (and appalling) is the content of the e-mails . Here's what Sperling told Woodward: The idea that the sequester was to force both sides to go back...

Victory for the Violence Against Women Act

Phil Roeder / Flickr
Early this morning, the House of Representatives passed the Senate's version of the Violence Against Women Act, which includes the protections for LGBT victims, immigrants, and Native Americans that House Republicans rejected at the end of last year. As Amanda Marcotte writes , "their ongoing resistance to this popular legislation was starting to make them look like monsters," and so they caved. The bill will soon head to the president's desk, and once signed, the federal government will—again—begin providing funds to better prosecute violence against women, and to assist shelters and services for victims of domestic abuse. It's an unqualified piece of good work by a Congress that has been slow to do "good" and "work" for the last two years. There's also an important political point to take away from this. The House passed the VAWA by a vote of 286 to 138, with all Democrats voting in favor. Only 87 Republicans voted to support the bill. The remaining members of the GOP conference...

Falling into Woodward's Den of Iniquity

Flickr/Miguel Ariel Contreras Drake-McLaughlin
When I got to my computer this morning and saw how many people were blathering about Bob Woodward, a wave of despair washed over me. First, because this is the kind of stupid argument from which we thought we could get something of a reprieve once the campaign ended, and second, because Bob Woodward himself, and the deference with which he is treated, just make me depressed. It's not that Woodward isn't a good reporter, of a sort. But Watergate was pretty much the last time his reporting enhanced public understanding in a meaningful way. Woodward's modus operandi since then has been to approach powerful people and convince them to tell their side of major events through him. Knowing that if they don't, someone else will and they might come out looking bad, many of them give him their spin in great detail, which his books then pass on to a wide readership. They aren't so much a record of events as a record of events as the people who talked to Bob Woodward would like us to see them...

The U.S. Budget, By the Numbers

AP Photo/Ed Andrieski
AP Photo/Ron Edmonds I n the argument over the "sequester," the across-the-board cuts to both domestic and military programs that are about to take effect, everyone in official Washington seems to agree that the government's budget is bloated. Despite the economists telling us that this is still a terrible time for austerity (just look how well it has worked out for Europe), the argument between Republicans and Democrats seems to be whether we need to just slash the budget mercilessly, or slash the budget somewhat less and raise some taxes. But is the federal budget really so big? Let's take a look at some graphs. If you look just at raw dollars, it's true that the size of government has increased steadily in recent decades (there are a lot of reasons why that's the case). It's also true that spending went up at the beginning of the Obama administration, but it's important to understand why and how. The answer to why is simple: the Great Recession. When a recession hits, government...

Italy's Vote Against Austerity

Flickr/Sara Fasullo
Those pesky European voters have done it again. Last spring the Greek electorate, choked by recession and austerity, nearly gave the reins of government to a hard-left, anti-reform coalition. Now it’s Italy’s turn to throw the plans of the Eurozone high command into disarray. As results of the two-day parliamentary election began streaming in on Monday, Brussels, Berlin, and Frankfurt (seat of the European Central Bank)—not to mention the global markets—looked on in horror. The centre-left coalition led by Pier-Luigi Bersani and his Democratic Party (made up of reformed Communists and other modernized leftists) could not put together a majority in the Senate, even if it went into alliance with the centrists backing the outgoing prime minister, Mario Monti. The right-wing coalition led by Silvio Berlusconi had come within a whisker of outright victory. Most shockingly, M5S (the “Five Star Movement”), an anti-establishment and anti-euro party founded on the Internet and led by enraged...

A Third Intifada?

Flickr/Jill Granberg
Over the past days, growing unrest in the Israeli-occupied West Bank in response to the death of a Palestinian in Israeli custody has threatened the relative calm that has prevailed recently, a result of the considerable amount of cooperation between the Palestinian security services and the Israeli army. While it seems clear that neither of the main Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas, are interested in an escalation, the speed with which large protests erupted in the last week demonstrates once again the danger of pretending that the status quo in the occupied territories is a sustainable one. Although protests against various aspects of the occupation— the encroachment of Israeli settlements and the construction of its separation barrier on Palestinian farmland, to name two of the most onerous—have become a regular occurrence over the last few years, demonstrations have increased markedly over the past weeks in support of hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners . The...

Ringside Seat: Blame Congress

“Green Lantern-ism”—or the belief that the president can do whatever he wills—has always been common among centrist pundits, but it’s reached new heights as Washington struggles to avoid the sequester. The situation is straightforward: To duck the sequester—a series of large, across-the-board, automatic spending cuts—President Obama has proposed a “balanced” plan that raises taxes and cuts spending from retirement programs. It’s designed to satisfy the concerns of Democrats, who want more revenue, and Republicans, who constantly call for lower spending and a greater focus on long-term debt. Naturally, Republicans have rejected the president's compromise and haven’t offered anything in return. Instead, they remain opposed to any proposal that includes new revenue, and have adopted the contradictory stance of decrying the sequester and blaming it on Obama all the while claiming it isn’t as bad as the president describes. Given the degree to which Republicans are the key obstacle to a...

Scalia's Weird VRA Spat

It is hard to overstate the importance of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. At the heart of the law that ended decades of disenfranchisement in former Confederate states is Section 5, the "preclearance" provision. Section 5 requires jurisdictions with a history of discrimination to get prior federal approval for any changes to state voting laws. The necessity of this provision was clear: without it, states had been able to nullify the commands of the 15th Amendment by passing measures that were formally race-neutral but were discriminatory in practice. Regrettably, the Supreme Court appears poised to eliminate one of the proudest achievements of American democracy. As Esquire 's Charles Pierce puts it , striking down Section 5 would constitute "the final victory of the long march against the achievements of the Civil Rights Movement that began almost before the ink dried on the bill in 1965." The most remarkable example of the contemporary Republican hostility to civil rights came ,...

Today in Magical Beliefs about Racism

Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum
Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum President Johnson, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks at the signing of the Voting Rights Act on August 6, 1965. I mentioned in my previous post that the Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments on the Voting Rights Act this week. At issue is Section 5 of the law, which requires states and localities with histories of voter disenfranchisement to pre-approve any changes that effect voting with the federal government. The provision effects nine states—mostly in the South—and most areas that submit for pre-clearance are approved. It takes serious problems for the Justice Department to put changes on hold. Despite the wide flexibility of Section 5—and the extent to which some areas are more likely to violate voting rights than others—conservatives have attacked this provision as "onerous," "unfair," and tantamount to reverse discrimination. Conservative members of the Court also followed this line of thinking . Justice Antonin Scalia described...

The Titanic Wealth Gap Between Blacks and Whites

Brandeis University
The gap between black and white wealth is nothing new. Researchers have studied it for decades, people have lived it for longer, and comedians—from Chris Rock to Dave Chappelle—have used it to craft biting humor. What's novel is the extent to which its has exploded over the last 25 years. According to a recent study from the Institute on Assets and Social Policy at Brandeis University, in which researchers followed 1,700 working-age households from 1984 to 2009, "the total wealth gap between white and African-American families" has nearly tripled, "increasing from $85,000 in 1984 to $236,500 in 2009." And more than 25 percent of the gap is attributable to homeownership and other policies associated with housing. Indeed, the disproportionate influence of housing on black wealth is reflected in this staggering statistic: "Overall, half the collective wealth of African-American families was stripped away during the Great Recession." It's fitting Brandeis released this report during a...

The Five Most Terrifying Things about the Sequester

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
The latest fiscal showdown concerns the “sequester”—across the board cuts to (almost entirely) discretionary spending that will total just over $1 trillion in the next decade, and which are set to take effect on March 1. What should those who have better things to do with their life than follow fiscal policy debates know about the sequester? 1. The sequester will hurt job-growth As we pointed out during the debates raging in the run-up to the “fiscal cliff," the sequester was the second-most damaging component of the austerity bundle set to take effect on January 1, 2013. The worst component was the non-renewal of the payroll tax cut, which is already dragging substantially on the economy . All told, if the sequester kicks in the economy will likely end the year with roughly 500-600,000 fewer jobs than if it were repealed. These are jobs the economy desperately needs . To be clear, the sequester alone won’t drive the U.S. economy back into outright recession, but it surely will make...

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