Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Ringside Seat: This Is Your Government on Sequester

Today is the first day of the rest of your sequester, and the cuts are already coming—undocumented immigrants released from detention, furloughs on military bases, agencies scrambling to determine whom they won't be serving and what they won't be doing. The optimistic take on all this is that in a country where people regularly shout at their members of Congress, "Tell the government to keep its hands off my Medicare!", this could be an education. Start cutting back government services, and citizens will come to an understanding of some of the good things government does for them. Then that in turn will make the next crisis less likely, since the public won't stand for it. But how much reason is there for optimism? We've been through government shutdowns before, after all, and we've had our debt-ceiling crises, and none of that seems to have helped. Not only that, this is just the first in a trio of crises: At the end of the month, the continuing resolution under which the federal...

These Aren't the Budget Cuts You're Looking For

White House/Pete Souza
Along with his many accomplishments as president, Barack Obama has given liberals many reasons to be disappointed. Well it looks like we're going to have to add one to the list : "I know that this has been some of the conventional wisdom that's been floating around Washington that somehow, even though most people agree that I'm being reasonable, that most people agree I'm presenting a fair deal. The fact that they don't take it means that I should somehow, you know, do a Jedi mindmeld with these folks and convince them to do what's right. Well, you know, they're elected. We have a constitutional system of government." A betrayal of generations of sci-fi geeks everywhere, who thought Obama was one of them? Or a mere slip of the tongue? Probably the latter. But as everyone knows, Jedis do mind tricks , in which they convince you to do or believe something (e.g. "These aren't the droids you're looking for"), while Vulcans perform mindmelds. Obama was saying that he couldn't perform a...

Boehner on the Fringe

In announcing Thursday that he would no longer negotiate with President Obama over a deal to reduce the nation’s budget deficit, House Speaker John Boehner said that Republicans would support no more tax increases. The question, he said, came down to “how much more money we want to steal from the American people to fund more government. I’m for no more .” Proudhon proclaimed that property is theft. Boehner proclaims that taxation is theft. That’s the kind of claim more associated with fringe parties that have never been in government, parties that argue that their governmental system is no longer legitimate. It’s the language of Beppe Grillo’s xenophobic Five Star Movement in Italy or the neo-fascist Golden Dawn Party in Greece, two nations in which both government corruption and tax evasion are systemic. It’s not the kind of claim we associate with a party that has controlled the executive branch of the U.S. government for 20 of the last 32 years and one or both houses of Congress...

Yet Another Thing Guns Can't Solve

Flickr/ Texas Lightbox
The GOP is worried about women’s safety on campus. Or at least that’s what they’d have you believe of late, howling in protest at Colorado state Democratic representative Joe Salazar’s clumsy remarks about callboxes , and calling out the University of Colorado for teaching young women to vomit, pee, or tell an assailant they have their period in order to avoid rape . And they’re right: Neither call boxes nor vomit are particular effective rape-prevention strategies. Most rapists choose a victim they know, and get them alone in private before they attack—even a pathway fully lined with call boxes won’t prevent much rape, because most of them happen in rooms. And I’m not sure what vomit is supposed to accomplish; rape isn’t inspired by sexual desire, so attempting to douse it is a misdirected strategy. Rapists choose targets they think seem vulnerable, not hot. But there’s a bigger problem with Repubicans’ newfound passion for rape prevention. Their antidote to callboxes and puke is...

Stop the Madness

Flickr/K.P. Tripathi
The sequester has failed. I say that because it was intended as a deterrent, not as something that was ever supposed to go into effect. So because it has gone into effect, it has failed. What should we do now? The answer is simple—not easy, but simple. We have to end this madness, this string of manufactured crises that hamstring the economy and cause enormous amounts of genuine human suffering. Enough is enough. So Congress has to do three things: 1. Repeal the sequester immediately. I've said it before and I'll say it again, this thing just needs to be repealed, period. Not replaced with some other negotiated deficit reduction package, just repealed. Stop the bleeding, and then you can start negotiating what the government's finances will look like in the coming years. But you can't do it with a gun to all of our heads, so it just needs to be repealed. Now. 2. Pass a continuing resolution to allow the government to continue functioning, and immediately begin negotiations to pass an...

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...

Pages