Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

No More Saturday Mail? Blame Yourself.

Flickr/hajee
Later today, the Postal Service will be releasing a plan intended to deal with its ongoing financial difficulties, the most headline-grabbing part of which is that they want to end Saturday delivery. People will be displeased, no doubt. Who among us doesn't like getting mail on Saturdays? But there may be no way out, because the agency's financial situation is so dire. Why did it come to this? There are three reasons: politicians, technology, and the greedy American public. First, Congress has screwed the Post Office, imposing rules that make it almost impossible to balance its books. Second, the rise of electronic communication has drastically reduced the volume of mail it handles, cutting its revenues. And third, we all expect to get fast, efficient, and universal postal service at absurdly low prices. So if mail delivery ends up being just five days a week, we'll have no one to blame but ourselves. Since I'm guessing you're not particularly inclined to peruse the Postal Service's...

A Shiny New GOP?

(Flickr/republicanconference)
Flickr/republicanconference O n Tuesday, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor swung by the conservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI) to offer yet another "rebrand" for Republicans—the latest in a string of efforts to reinvent the struggling party. Speaking on the top floor of AEI's office in downtown Washington, D.C., Cantor steered clear of culture-war issues and refrained from talk about lowering taxes, which has become the party’s sole policy prescription over the past several years. His speech—focused on education, workers' woes, and immigration—lacked details behind the broad goals he outlined. But Cantor's vision for the Aggrieved Old Party showed a shift in emphasis, a way forward for a party that has failed to convince voters that it has an economic vision for the middle class. The biggest news from Cantor's speech was his oblique endorsement of the DREAM Act. "A good place to start is with the kids," Cantor said while discussing the need for immigration reform. "One of...

The Real Debate over Citizenship

Flickr/Aaron Webb
Flickr/Aaron Webb Voters lining the Courthouse Plaza in Arlington, VA. S ometimes we have a national conversation without realizing it. We talk about different aspects of the same larger issue without connecting the dots. That’s what’s happening now with regard to the meaning of American citizenship and the basic rights that come with it. On one side are those who think of citizenship as a matter of exclusion and privilege—of protecting the nation by keeping out those who are undesirable, and putting strict limits on who is allowed to exercise the full rights of citizenship. On the other are those who think of citizenship inclusively—as an ongoing process of helping people become full participants in America. One part of this conversation involves immigration. I’m not just referring the question of whether or how people living in the United States illegally can become citizens. (Courtesy of our fast-growing Latino population, 70 percent of whom voted for President Obama last November...

An Addictive, Imperfect House of Cards

AP Photo/Netflix, Melinda Sue Gordon
AP Photo/Netflix, Melinda Sue Gordon S o help me, I almost gave up on House of Cards. After zipping through the first three or four episodes of Netflix's new 13-part, Americanized remake of the 1990 BBC miniseries about political intrigue, I figured I'd seen enough to cook up a reasonably brainy-sounding takedown, starting with how some of the supposedly sophisticated power plays executed by Kevin Spacey as scheming House Majority Whip Frank Underwood—a Democrat from South Carolina, and how likely is that in 2013?—would have left Machiavelli yawning at their crudeness in eighth grade. The idea that a single planted piece by a junior reporter could instantly vault someone into front-running contention for the job of Secretary of State had me groaning, and so on. Then I realized I wanted to keep watching, which was annoying. Especially given today's ever increasing surfeit of programming options—gee, thanks for getting into the original-content game, Netflix—critics trying to keep up...

Wonder Warren

AP Photo/Win McNamee
AP Photo/Win McNamee Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat from Massachusetts, at the presidential inauguration S ince the start of the new Congress, liberal Democrats have anxiously awaited senior Senator from Massachusetts Elizabeth Warren’s initial moves. Celebrity entrants into the Senate—from Hillary Clinton to Al Franken—have tended to take a modest approach, immersing themselves in committee work and issues of local importance, building relationships with their colleagues, and operating as a “workhorse, not a show horse.” By contrast, Warren said during the campaign that she wanted to use her new position as a platform for her ideas . And one of her first actions suggests she will spend her time as Senator much the way she did as chair of the TARP oversight panel and at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: shedding light on the harm caused by unscrupulous financial interests. (Editor's note: Warren's daughter, Amelia Warren Tyagi, is a member of the Prospect 's governing...

Citizens? They Want to Be Citizens?

Flickr/willpix
House Republicans convened their first hearing on immigration reform on Tuesday and made clear that they were scared to death of immigrants actually getting the vote. Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia set the tone when he made clear he was looking for a mid-range position somewhere between deporting and granting citizenship to the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. A nice, safe legal “resident” status, he suggested, never to be upgraded to that of citizen and voter. San Antonio’s Democratic Mayor Julian Castro took understandable exception to this idea in his testimony before the committee. “I just cannot imagine an America where we assign these folks to an underclass status,” he told the congressmen. Then again, Southern whites—the core of the modern Republican Party—have had historically high comfort levels with just such arrangements. Perhaps they should propose counting these non-citizen residents as three-fifths of a person in the next...

Economy to Spending Cuts: Ouch!

If you went perusing big conservative web sites today— National Review , Weekly Standard , Glenn Beck's "The Blaze"—you would have searched in vain for any mention of the report released today by the Congressional Budget Office, the latest of their periodic assessments of the state of the budget and the economy. That's not because it was full of good news that the Obama administration will cheer. It's because most of what the CBO had to say undermines the arguments Republicans routinely make about these topics. You can't listen to a Republican talk for five minutes without hearing that we have to rein in Barack Obama's out-of-control spending. But here's the CBO: "The federal budget deficit, which shrank as a percentage of GDP for the third year in a row in 2012, will fall again in 2013, if current laws remain the same. At an estimated $845 billion, the 2013 imbalance would be the first deficit in five years below $1 trillion; and at 5.3 percent of GDP, it would be only about half as...

Voter Turnout in 2012: Meh

Flickr/zzazazz
Thanks to Michael McDonald at George Mason University, we have the final turnout statistics for the 2012 presidential election, and the verdict is ... eh. Not too bad, not too great. A total of 129,058,169 votes were counted, out of an eligible population of 221,925,820, for a turnout figure of 58.2 percent. How does that compare to previous years, you ask? Or rather, can you show me a chart comparing that to previous years? Why yes. Yes I can. Last year's turnout was right in the middle of the 17 elections presented in this chart—better than eight, but worse than eight. It was a bit down from that of 2008, which at 61.6 percent was the highest since 1964. And it's important to remember that there's a huge variation in turnout among the separate states. The friendly and civic-minded people of Minnesota always have the nation's highest turnout, and this year an admirable 75.7 percent of them came to the polls. At the other end, four states came in below 50 percent: Texas, Oklahoma,...

The Virginia GOP Just Made Voting More Difficult for Poor People

New York State Government
Virginia doesn’t make it easy to vote, and this afternoon, the state lawmakers have tightened requirements, passing a voter-identification bill that would eliminate several forms of ID currently accepted at the polls: Senate Bill 719, sponsored by Sen. Richard H. Black, R-Loudoun, would not go into effect until 2014 and stipulates a voter education component – the result of a Democratic amendment the chamber adopted Monday, also thanks to Bolling’s tie-breaking vote. The Senate legislation, and a companion measure – House Bill 1337, sponsored by Del. Mark L. Cole, R-Spotsylvania, which cleared the House of Delegates today on a 63–36 vote – would eliminate the use of a utility bill, pay stub, bank statement, government check and Social Security card as acceptable identification that can be presented at the polls. Voters would still be able to use a voter identification card, concealed handgun permit, driver’s license and student ID card. Put simply, voting has just become more...

What Does the Justice Department Say about Targeted Killings?

Wikipedia
In case you missed it, last night, NBC News published a Justice Department white paper detailing the criteria the administration uses to decide if it will kill Americans who belong to al-Qaeda as senior leaders. National security is not my area of expertise, but several reporters have already given excellent takes on the memo and its implications. Writing at The Week , Mark Ambinder gives a short run-down of the white paper. In it, the administration’s lawyers detail the standards that must be met before the president can authorize a targeted killing. First, Ambinder writes, “‘An informed, high-level official’ must determine that the person represents ‘an imminent threat’ of ‘violent attack against the United States.’” Second, “Capturing the dude is ‘infeasible,’ and the government will continue to assess whether capturing him is feasible.” And finally, as almost an aside, “The killing, or ‘lethal operation,’ must be conducted according to the laws of war.” Writing for Wired ’s Danger...

Can We Live Without the Assault Weapons Ban?

Flickr/mr.smashy
So yesterday, Harry Reid hinted that he'll be introducing a gun-control measure that doesn't include a new ban on assault weapons. If we assume for a moment that other proposed measures eventually pass, but an assault-weapons ban doesn't, how bad an outcome would it be? Let's start by stipulating that it is utterly insane that in this country, anybody can walk into a gun shop and walk out a few minutes later with a military-style rifle whose sole purpose is to enable its user to kill human beings as quickly and efficiently as possible. They're not for hunting, and they're not for defending your home, unless you're Tony Montana. The fact that a lot of people find shooting them fun shouldn't carry any weight as a policy argument. And as we know all too well, they turn mass shootings more deadly. On the other hand, one of the arguments gun advocates make is that the kind of weapons that would be outlawed (for future sales, anyway) under an assault-weapons ban don't kill all that many...

License to Kill

WikiMedia Commons
In a major reportorial coup, NBC's Michael Isikoff has uncovered the "white paper" that the Obama administration used to internally justify extrajudicial killings in the "war on terror." Not only has Isikoff performed a valuable service by making the memo available to the public, this will also be the first time it had been made available to most members of Congress . The memo, unfortunately, will not reassure anyone who thinks that the Obama administration has continued much of the Bush administration's overreaching. The document lays out three conditions justifying killings ordered by the executive branch. First, an "informed, high-level official" in the United States government must determine that an individual poses an "imminent threat of violent attack against the United States." Second, the capture of the individual must be "infeasible." And, third, the operation must be conducted in a "manner consistent with applicable law of war principles." When these conditions are met, the...

Paul Ryan Is Not a Fan of Electoral Vote Rigging

Wikipedia
Last month, Republicans in several swing states—Virginia, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania—floated a change that would give the GOP a decisive advantage in presidential elections. As it stands, most states, sans Nebraska and Maine, distribute their electoral votes in a winner-take-all system—if you win the state, you win the electoral votes. What Republicans have proposed is a system where electoral votes are distributed by congressional district—if you win the district, then you win the votes. The problem, as I explained last month, is that Democrats tend to cluster in urban areas, packing their voters into a handful of districts. By contrast, Republicans control more land . This scheme would privilege the GOP for having an advantage with land, and disadvantage Democrats for representing population dense areas. Outrage from this proposal exploded as soon as people realized its implications, and one by one, Republicans have backed away from it. Yesterday, the Wisconsin State Journal...

How the NRA Is Helping to Pass Gun Control

We're in the early stages of a lengthy process that will involve hearings, competing bills, horse-trading, and the usual ugliness of life in the Capitol Hill sausage factory, but the contours of gun legislation are beginning to take shape. Though President Obama is out campaigning for the full package of reforms he has been advocating, there are indications that the assault weapons ban may get dropped in order to forestall a Republican filibuster in the Senate, and a bipartisan group is about to introduce a bill in the House on gun trafficking and straw purchases. (I'll discuss the assault weapons question in a later post). In other words, the actual legislative process is getting underway. And though it's by no means assured that some gun measures will pass Congress, if any do, we'll partly have the NRA to thank. That's because, I believe, the organization fundamentally misread the role it plays in the minds of the average voter. They've become more extremist in the last two decades...

I Can Haz Internet Freedom?

Michael Gottschalk/dapd
AP Photo/Matt Dunham) Anonymous supporters wearing Guy Fawkes masks hold a banner as they take part in a protest outside Britain's Houses of Parliament in London, Monday, November 5, 2012. The protest was held on November 5 to coincide with the failed 1605 gunpowder plot to blow up the House of Lords. T wo weeks ago today, a line was crossed. Two weeks ago today, Aaron Swartz was killed. Killed because he faced an impossible choice. Killed because he was forced into playing a game he could not win—a twisted and distorted perversion of justice—a game where the only winning move was not to play. That message greeted visitors to the United States Sentencing Commission website the evening of January 25. The words were part of a ten-minute video manifesto embedded on the homepage of the commission, responsible for writing the sentencing policies and guidelines for federal courts. The death of the Internet savant and information activist Aaron Swartz, who took his own life due at least in...

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