Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Bill Clinton: The Drug War "Hasn't Worked"

World Economic Forum / Flickr
World Economic Forum / Flickr Noted marijuana user Bill Clinton doesn't think the drug war is working. This isn't as radical sounding as it looks—Bill Clinton is only expressing regret about a particular set of operations run by his administration—but it's still a noteworthy change of sentiment from a president who greatly expanded the war on drugs: “What I tried to do was to focus on every aspect of the problem. I tried to empower the Colombians for example to do more militarily and police-wise because I thought that they had to. Thirty percent of their country was in the hands of the narcotraffickers,” Clinton says in the film, which is available free online. […] Clinton later says: “Well obviously, if the expected results was that we would eliminate serious drug use in America and eliminate the narcotrafficking networks — it hasn’t worked.” At the moment, of course, there are serious, state-based efforts to end the government's prohibition on marijuana. Both Washington state and...

What Raising the Medicare Eligibility Age Means

President Johnson signing Medicare into law in 1965.
After a campaign in which Republicans attempted to pillory Barack Obama for finding $716 billion in savings from Medicare (via cuts in payments to insurance companies and providers but not cuts to benefits), those same Republicans now seem to be demanding that Obama agree to cuts in Medicare benefits as the price of saving the country from the Austerity Trap, a.k.a. fiscal cliff. Oh, the irony! You'd almost think that they weren't really the stalwart defenders of Medicare they pretended to be. And there are some hints that the Obama administration is seriously considering agreeing to raise the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67 as part of this deal. It's a dreadful idea, and as we discuss this possibility, there's one really important thing to keep in mind: Medicare is the least expensive way to insure these people. Or anybody, for that matter. In all this talk of the bloated entitlement system, you'd be forgiven for thinking Medicare was some kind of inefficient, overpriced big...

Disaster Relief, Dot-Com Style

T wo days after Hurricane Sandy made landfall in New York City, one of many desperate pleas across the city went out: "We have over 50 seniors located at 80 Rutgers Street who are without electricity, cannot go down stairs, and are running low on food supplies." Within an hour, volunteers were rushing over with supplies. But it was not a 911 dispatcher or a FEMA representative who had heeded the call for help. It was members of the Lower East Side community responding to a message on recovers.org, an online hub that helps communities direct resources and volunteers where they're needed in an emergency. In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, four microsites sprung up on the system for the Lower East Side, Astoria, Red Hook, and Staten Island to connect victims in New York City neighborhoods with volunteers and supplies. A fifth sprung up for Hoboken, New Jersey. In the chaos following a disaster, information becomes one of the most precious—and scant—resources. Any large-scale catastrophe...

It's All About the Tax Brackets

Google
Google More and higher tax brackets might have stopped the shiny suit era from happening. Conservatives might think otherwise, but the liberal focus on repealing the upper-income Bush tax cuts has less to do with higher taxes for their own sake, and more to do with revenue—we need it—and basic distributional concerns: The rich have been well-served by the broad economic trends of the last thirty years, taking a huge percentage of all income produced since 1979 . Higher taxes are a way of adding more progressivity into the system—funds raised by a large tax burden on the rich are then funneled into more and better public services for ordinary people. But progressives ought to have another concern on top of this. One of the great conservative wins of the last thirty years was flattening of tax brackets. In 1960, there were 17 brackets above $35,000—roughly $250,000 in today's dollars—going up to $400,000 in annual income, or $3 million, adjusted for inflation. The tax-reform package of...

Down with DOMA, Up with Prop. 8

Flickr/Brian Kusler
Flickr/Renee Rivers Demonstrators against Propsition 8 at the California Supreme Court building A shrinking violet the Roberts Court is not. Since the chief justice was confirmed in 2005 promising to call “balls and strikes,” the Court unleashed super PACs in its 2010 Citizens United decision, injected itself into the middle of a presidential campaign by taking on the Affordable Care Act earlier this year, and recently heard a case giving it the chance to cut back or end affirmative action. Under Roberts, the Court has a bit of a swagger. Bill Clinton might say they have some brass. True to form, last Friday the Court agreed to hear two cases that could decide the central civil-rights issue of our day: gay marriage. One of the cases concerns the constitutionality of Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defines marriage for purposes of federal law as between one man and one woman. The second focuses on the constitutionality of Proposition 8, the 2008 California...

This Is Not Wisconsin. It's Worse.

Sheldon Dick/Farm Security Administration
Sheldon Dick/Farm Security Administration Strikers guarding window entrance to Fisher body plant number three in Flint, Michigan (1937) L et’s clear one thing up. “Right to work” laws, which permit employees working at a unionized workplace to refuse to join the union or to pay the union the cost of representing the worker, are designed to weaken the economic and political power of organized labor and, by extension, wage workers. Full stop. They allow workers to “free ride” all the benefits of a collective-bargaining agreement (increased wages, benefits, rights to adjudicate a dispute with a supervisor, safety and health requirement beyond those mandated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, etc.) negotiated by the union without paying any of the union dues their fellow employees pay. The vaunted libertarian argument in support of right to work would be far more convincing if libertarians supported the rights of employees to reject at their discretion the countless...

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid: SCOTUS Takes on Same-Sex Marriage

Flickr/Jamison Weiser
Tonight, you’ll hear on the news that the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the "gay marriage cases.” Much of the mainstream ( i.e. , straight) media will be treating the two cases they’ve taken—a challenge to California's ban on same-sex marriage, Proposition 8, and a challenge to DOMA, the federal law that prohibits the government from recognizing same-sex marriages performed in the states—as essentially the same. Don’t be fooled. The cases are very different. The fact that SCOTUS has taken both has a lot of us very worried. Let’s start with the more famous one: the Prop. 8 case. This is the one we did not want the Court to take. At its simplest, the lawsuit—brought by star lawyer team Ted Olsen and David Boies—is asking the Court to consider whether Prop. 8 is constitutional; it’s about whether there’s a fundamental right for same-sex couples to marry. When the California electorate passed Prop. 8 in 2008, you may recall, it overturned the state supreme court’s decision to allow...

Friday, Friday, Gotta Get Unemployment Down on Friday

The first Friday morning of the first 11 months of 2012 brought exciting news for political journalists. At exactly 8:30 a.m. the Bureau of Labor Statistics would upload the latest jobs report to the Internet. The agency's website would often crash as journalists rushed to pore over the figures. Cable news spent hours parsing through the shifts in the inevitable topline figure: whether the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate went up or down. Were they examining these reports to assess the state of the economy, trying to discern the next best steps for the government to correct our path out of the recession? Of course not. These speculations focused on how the new set of numbers might swing the presidential election. This once-monthly ritual of political reporters anxiously refreshing Twitter on the edge of their seats had a little less oomph today. The normal economic wonks pushed out the numbers, but beyond that the press corps noted the slight drop in the unemployment rate (it...

How Will SCOTUS Rule on Prop. 8 and DOMA?

WikiMedia Commons
The Supreme Court has announced that it will be hearing both of the major gay-rights cases it was considering this term. Facing constitutional scrutiny are key provisions of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages performed in the states, and California's Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in the state. When combined with the major affirmative-action and voting-rights cases the court will also be handing down this term, this could be the most consequential Supreme Court term in decades. The two gay-rights cases face slightly different prospects. As I've said before, the argument that DOMA infringes on states' rights is likely to appeal to both Justice Anthony Kennedy's sympathy for gay rights and his skepticism of federal power. I would not even be shocked if Justice Clarence Thomas joined an opinion striking down the heart of the law, Section 3, and at least 5 votes seem very likely. The Prop. 8 case...

In Defense of 2016 Speculation

Gage Skidmore/Flickr
Gage Skidmore / Flickr Over at The Atlantic , Conor Friedersdorf mocks the breathless 2016 speculation with a post "gearing up for the 2048 presidential election." It's genuinely funny: Although it is still early, Mitt Romney, who has 16 grandchildren, is leading among the patriarchs of America's dynastic political families, in part due to the present childlessness of George P. Bush and Chelsea Clinton, whose presence in articles on this subject is an apparent journalistic convention. Starting families now could give the hypothetical grandchildren of George W. Bush and Bill Clinton a head start on the theoretical grandchildren of Barack Obama, whose daughters are years away from having children if they decide to procreate at all. I sympathize with the (implicit) frustration here. It's only been a month since the presidential election, and Washington journalists are already obsessing over the 2016 field. This despite the fact that there are serious issues the country needs to deal with...

Who Wants Moar Medicaid?

Washington Post
At Wonkblog, Sarah Kliff has a revealing map of the states that have agreed to the Obamacare Medicaid expansion, are undecided, or have rejected it. Take a look: Eighteen states will accept the Affordable Care Act's Medicaid expansion—or are leaning towards it—17 are undecided, 7 are leaning "no," and 9 will not expand it. It's worth emphasizing how important this is: Of the 32 million people slated to receive health-care coverage under the ACA, just over 21 million will receive it by way of the Medicaid expansion. If states like Texas, Florida, Georgia, and Virginia decide to reject it, millions of people will go uninsured for no reason other than political pique. My hunch is that conservative states will be able to avoid the Medicaid expansion in the short run, but that longer-term pressure will force them to yield. Remember, the federal government is offering to cover 90 percent of the cost of the expansion, meaning—in effect—that states are receiving a huge award of free money...

What's Next for Immigration Reform?

Flickr/Anuska Sampedro
Flickr/Justin Valas An immigration rally in Washington, D.C.'s McPhereson Square P resident Obama has called it the “biggest failure of [his] first term.” Now, having once again been elected with a sizable majority of the Latino vote and with key Republicans seemingly on board, the administration has begun pressuring Congress to take up immigration reform. The president has said he plans to introduce an immigration-reform proposal shortly after his inauguration, and Senators Lindsay Graham and Chuck Schumer, who led the failed effort for immigration reform in 2009, have “resumed talks.” In previous legislative battles over immigration going back to George W. Bush’s second term, the key sticking point has been what to do with the estimated 11 million undocumented workers currently in the country. Another point of contention is whether to pass a “comprehensive” bill—one that addresses a broad range of problems with the immigration system including enforcement, the visa system for high-...

Home Is Where the Union Is

E. Tammy Kim
E. Tammy Kim Members of Damayan, a migrant domestic-worker organization in New York City T welve years ago, "Janie"—a round-faced, single mother of four—said goodbye to her children and life as she knew it in Manila. She agreed to follow a family to the U.S., where she would fulfill a contract for live-in domestic work. In her employers' Pennsylvania home, she cleaned and cared for the children seven days a week, 24 hours a day, without any days off. Her employers held her passport, and kept her at home—not once in seven years did she see friends or family. And her pay was a fraction of the minimum wage: a mere $400 per month, most of which she sent to the Philippines. When her employers moved, Janie, who asked that her real name not be used for legal reasons, found another job. She negotiated a better salary but met a new challenge: constant verbal harassment by her employer's mother. She recalls, "I cannot bear it anymore. I'm nothing to [them]. So they gave me pay, and I said I had...

Michigan: A Right-to-Work State?

AP Photo
AP Photo/Detroit News/Dale G. Young Pro-union demonstrators crowd the Rotunda at the Capitol in Lansing, Michigan after House and Senate Democrats said there was a possibility of "Right To Work" legislation coming up for a vote. L abor never ruled Michigan as such. It may have been home to the best and biggest American union, the United Auto Workers, but even at the height of their power, the UAW could seldom elect its candidates to Detroit city government. Still, the UAW dominated the state’s Democratic Party and much of state politics for decades—at least, until the auto industry radically downsized. Just how downsized union power has become is apparent from the decision of the state’s Republican governor, Rick Snyder, to support a right-to-work bill that began speeding its way through the state’s lame-duck GOP-controlled legislature on Thursday. Should the bill become law—and given Republican control of state government, it’s hard to envision how it won’t—Michigan would join...

A Small Step for the Fiscal Cliff

Despite the daily drumbeat of news coverage parsing every statement that comes out of Congress, there has been minimal progress toward a deal to avert the tax increases and spending cuts that will be triggered on January 1. Save a handful of possible apostates who have critiqued Grover Norquist's no-tax pledge, the Republican bloc has largely refused to contemplate any rate increases for the top tax bracket. Obama has all the leverage. All of the Bush tax cuts expire at the start of 2013; should that happen, the president can (correctly) accuse Republicans of grandstanding against middle-class tax cuts only to spare the upper echelon from paying a tax rate of 39.6 percent instead of the current 35 percent. But ah ha! A small bit of fresh news broke through the morass Thursday morning. Politico reported that Republicans might cave and offer to split the difference right down the middle with Obama. "Some Republicans think it’s not such a bad idea to press Obama to accept a 37 percent...

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