Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Faster and Faster: The Same-Sex Marriage Momentum

Flickr/Lost Albatross
For those involved in state-level battles for gay rights, timelines are getting shorter. Take Delaware: The state's first bill that would have banned discrimination based on sexual orientation was introduced back in 1998. The state’s gay-rights community had to fight for 11 years to finally see it pass in 2009. Just two years later, however, the legislature passed a civil-unions law by a relatively large margin less than two months after it was introduced. Now, as activists turn their attention to marriage, they’re hoping lawmakers will continue to step up the pace and pass a bill this session. “We are confident that we will have the votes in both houses to pass marriage,” says Lisa Goodman, president of the state’s leading advocacy group, Equality Delaware. Across the country, marriage-equality advocates are getting their first taste of something sweet—momentum. A majority of Americans now support same-sex marriage and the number continues to rise as younger folks enter the...

Obama's Genius Defense Pick

AP Photo/Nati Harnik
AP Photo/Nati Harnik Former senator Chuck Hagel, a Republican from Nebraska, speaks at Bellevue University in February 2007. T he Republican Party is given these days to hysteria, and what appears at the moment to be a white-guy cabinet in the second Obama term is more likely the result of botched orchestration than anything. That doesn’t mean there isn’t something to South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham’s contention that the president is deliberately getting in the opposition’s face with his recent nominations. As those of us who have been supportive of the president wrestle with the moral question of whether he deserves as much grief as we would have given a newly elected Mitt Romney for filling the three biggest jobs in his administration with old white males, or whether Obama’s first term—including a female secretary of State and two female Supreme Court appointments—earns him some slack, the Machiavellian genius of the choices is lost. The Republicans are in disarray not because...

What the Economy Needs Is Growth (But Washington Isn't Talking About It)

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
If there’s anything frustrating about American politics at this moment, it’s the disappearance of mass unemployment as an area of elite concern. Now that joblessness is on the decline, Washington has moved away from efforts to further address the problem, despite the fact that unemployment isn’t expected to reach pre-recession levels for another four years. You can say the same for Washington’s attitude towards growth. Gross domestic product increased by 3.1 percent in the third quarter of 2012, up from 1.3 percent in the second quarter, and 1.9 percent in the first. Average GDP for the year will probably fall near 2 percent. Compared to the rest of the world, this is a solid recovery. But compared to what we need to close our output gap and begin to return to normalcy, it’s far from adequate. Despite this, neither Congress nor the White House seem interested in finding ways to generate more growth. Instead, both are preoccupied with austerity, with Republicans pressing for large...

How You Know Republicans Aren't So Serious on the Debt Ceiling

Wikipedia
If you’re looking for evidence that Republicans will—despite their rhetoric—eventually cave on the debt ceiling, it’s worth noting a recent statement from Rand Paul, to Business Insider , on how he thinks the GOP should approach the ceiling. Rather than force a shutdown, Paul thinks Republicans should pass a bill that would prioritize payments to bondholders if the limit is reached. This would, he says, “force us immediately to have a balanced budget.” “The only real way to have leverage with the debt ceiling is to convince people that we are not going to default on our debt,” Paul said. “We could actually direct the President to pay our interest, make Social Security payments, pay soldier salaries, the basic functions that could keep government going. That way we take default off the table.” […] “We have tax receipts to pay for about 70 percent of the government and we’re running deficits of about 30 percent, so what I would say is pay for the 70 percent we would all keep going and...

Bobby Jindal Decides Louisiana Isn't Doing Enough to Stick it to Poor People

Derek Bridges / Flickr
Derek Bridges / Flickr Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal wants to eliminate all income and corporate taxes in his state. No, really: Republican Governor Bobby Jindal said on Thursday he wants to eliminate all Louisiana personal and corporate income taxes to simplify the state’s tax code and make it more friendly to business. The governor did not release details of his proposal, but his office released a statement confirming that the taxes are targets of a broader tax reform plan. “Our goal is to eliminate all personal income tax and all corporate income tax in a revenue neutral manner,” Jindal said in the statement. He did not confirm reports that he will seek an increase in sales taxes in order to offset lost income tax revenue, but said: “We want to keep the sales tax as low and flat as possible.” If we assume that Louisiana wants to maintain its balanced budget and keep program funding at its current levels, taxes are going to have to go up on someone...

Media Violence versus Real Violence

In the days since Wayne LaPierre of the NRA blamed the Sandy Hook massacre on violent movies and video games (in particular, for some reason, Natural Born Killers , a film that came out 19 years ago and was a critique of the media's obsession with violence), a number of people in the entertainment industry have been asked about whether their products contribute to real-world violence, and they've seemed extremely uncomfortable answering the question. They seem to have no idea what the answer might be. As it happens, this is a question that has been studied extensively, although the research is a bit ambiguous and unsatisfying. Nevertheless, I thought it might be worthwhile to go over just what evidence there is for the assertion. So if you're a Hollywood big shot, read on so you'll have some idea what to say next time the question comes up. But before we get to that, I was prompted to write this by seeing this interview Quentin Tarantino did with the UK's Channel 4. When the...

To Stop Rape Culture, Ring the Bell

Very few men are rapists . Very few men are abusers. Or stalkers. Predators are the minority. The vast majority of men are decent people who want to do the right thing. What would it take to shift from a rape culture to a respect culture, and end violence against women? You have to involve the decent men. You have to let them know they are our allies, not our enemies. You have to let them know what they can do to help—to interrupt violence, to help spread new norms—without having to call themselves feminists or become full-on activists. In yesterday’s post, I wrote about some such efforts in the United States. Bystander-intervention efforts, in which groups train young men and women in what it takes to derail a situation that could lead to rape. Today I spoke with Mallika Dutt, founder of the binational organization Breakthrough, which works in both the U.S. and India to build a respect culture and prevent all kinds of violence against women—one by one, at the local, personal level,...

The NRA Must Really Want to Lose the Battle for Public Opinion

Gage Skidmore / Flickr
Gage Skidmore / Flickr NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre speaking at the 2011 Conservative Political Action Conference. If there’s a must-read story today, it’s the Huffington Post’s long look at the National Rifle Association and its connection to gun manufacturers. In short, the NRA isn’t so much an advocate for gun owners as it is a lobbying vehicle for gunmakers and distributors. There’s too much to quote, but this passage stuck out as illustrative: Close ties between the NRA and gunmakers go back at least to 1999, when the NRA publicly declared its support for the firearms industry as it prepared to defend itself from a rash of liability lawsuits filed by cities and municipalities. “Your fight has become our fight,” then-NRA president Charlton Heston declared before a crowd of gun company executives at the annual SHOT Show, the industry’s biggest trade show. “Your legal threat has become our constitutional threat," he said. From then on, the NRA has collected millions...

The Mortgage Mess and Jack Lew

Rex Features via AP Images
The more information we learn about the mortgage settlement that was announced Monday—official documents are yet to be made public—the more of a smarmy backroom deal it turns out to be. The deal lets ten major banks and other “loan servicers” off the hook for a corrupted and illegal process of millions of foreclosures, with a paltry one-time settlement of $8.5 billion. The economic damage inflicted on homeowners, and by extension on the economy, was many times that. The deal was hatched by the weakest of the federal bank regulatory agencies, the Comptroller of the Currency, and signed off on by the Federal Reserve. There was no consultation with the more consumer-oriented agencies, such as the FDIC or the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau. The Comptroller just went and did it. Nor was the Justice Department consulted, even though the deal, nominally a civil settlement, will make criminal prosecutions more difficult now that a major regulator has signed off on an bargain to close the...

To Stop Rape, Fix the Police Force First

AP Photo/Manish Swarup
AP Photo/Manish Swarup in New Delhi, India, policemen stand guard at the judicial complex where a new fast-track court was inaugurated Wednesday to deal specifically with crimes against women. I n the past few weeks, the brutal murder of a young woman in New Delhi has consumed international media and fomented a social rebellion in India. The victim, a 23-year-old medical student, was gang raped in a public bus, then mutilated with iron rods and thrown out onto the street; she died on December 29. As a woman born and raised in India, I can attest to the ubiquity of sexual violence. I myself avoided being gang-raped by a group of drunk men through sheer providence. I was 20, a junior in college here in the United States, and doing a field project on rural cooperatives in India. My guide—a local girl my age—and I had decided to stay overnight at a one-room guesthouse in a village hosting a traditional, all-night festival. Sometime in the middle of the night, we awakened to what sounded...

Faulty Hypothesis

Flickr/Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
One of the great political shifts in the past decade has been the move of scientists toward the Democratic Party, a casualty of the Republican Party’s war on reality. It’s not about politics for scientists, it’s about the fact that only one party accepts scientific findings on everything from global warming to evolutionary theory to what does and doesn’t prevent pregnancy. Only 6 percent of scientists identify as Republican , whereas 55 percent identify as Democratic. In October of 2012, 68 Nobel-winning scientists co-signed a strong endorsement of Obama, saying the President “has delivered on his promise to renew our faith in science-based decision making.” Which is why it was so strange to read Daniel Sarewitz, co-director of the Consortium for Science, Policy, and Outcomes at Arizona State University, argue in Nature that it’s wrong for scientists to throw their weight behind electing Democrats. Sarewitz’s opening sentence lays out his argument neatly: To prevent science from...

Biden versus Goliath

When President Obama announced that Vice President Biden would be chairing a task force to come up with recommendations on gun restrictions, he said, "This is not some Washington commission. This is not something where folks are going to be studying the issue for six months and publishing a report that gets read and then pushed aside." Anyone who has been around Washington for a while had a right to be skeptical; commissions and task forces—select, blue-ribbon, high-level, and every other kind—come and go, and rarely have much of an impact on policy. But perhaps— perhaps— this time will be different. After all, 695 Americans have been killed with guns since the Sandy Hook massacre, and we're now taking notice in ways we haven't in years. That isn't to say the NRA and its allies in Congress won't put up a fight over even the most modest measures to contain the carnage. But cracks are beginning to show in their heretofore impenetrable wall of opposition, and public opinion is turning...

A Standardized Testing Revolt

Flickr/albertogp123
Over the past year, there's been a steady and ongoing revolt in Texas. Not about secession or guns or the many other fringe topics that the state is usually associated with. This battle has been waged primarily by parents and teachers, and the demand is relatively simple—cut back on testing our kids. There's been similar sentiments simmering in states across the country, but in Texas a new set of tests, put in place last year, sparked the outcry. Now, the push that began in school board and PTA meetings has finally reached the halls of power. When the biennial state legislature gaveled in on Tuesday, it didn't take long for newly re-elected Speaker of the House Joe Straus to mention testing. "By now, every member of this house has heard from constituents at the grocery store or the Little League fields about the burdens of an increasingly cumbersome testing system in our schools," he said. "Teachers and parents worry that we have sacrificed classroom inspiration for rote memorization...

The Problem with "the Wrong Hands"

The other day, former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly (or as he is for some reason always referred to as, "Astronaut Mark Kelly"; I guess if you're an astronaut you get that) announced that they have started a new initiative, Americans for Responsible Solutions , to push for new laws to limit gun violence. I have great admiration for both of them and I hope they succeed, but there was something I heard Kelly say in an interview that was worthy of note, and a bit unfortunate. He noted that they're not trying to take away anyone's guns, and they're gun owners themselves. They just want to make sure guns stay out of "the wrong hands." The problem with this—and I think it's something well-meaning people probably say a lot without giving it too much thought—is that it assumes that the lines are clear between the right hands and the wrong hands, and if we could just make sure no wrong hands got guns, we'd all be safe. There are some people who should definitely...

Are Republicans Winning on Diversity?

Wikipedia
Writing for ABC News, Amy Walters notes that for all the criticism of Obama’s traditional cabinet—which, thus far, is heavy on white men—the bigger problem for Democrats is that their presidential hopefuls lean heavily on the conventional side: For all the hand-wringing over the lack of diversity in the Obama Administration’s second term Cabinet, Democrats should really be more depressed about the fact that their potential 2016 field is a lot less diverse than the GOP’s. Take away Hillary Clinton, and the Democratic bench looks more like that picture in the New York Times than it does the picture of Obama’s 2012 voting coalition. It’s true that if there’s anything you can say about the GOP’s likely field for 2016, it’s that it’s pretty diverse—for which the party deserves real credit. Two of the top contenders, of course, are Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. Beyond them are lesser-known politicians like Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval and New Mexico...

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