Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Attack of the Giant Grass!

AP Photo/Allen Breed
AP Photo/Allen Breed A rundo donax towers over the tallest man's head. It's thick, bamboo-like, and three-stories tall. It can withstand cold, and it can withstand drought. Give it water, and a little nitrogen, and it grows. Fast. Killing it can be difficult. In California, where it was introduced in the 1800s, Arundo has gotten so out of control that in some places it seems to be the only plant growing on the riverbanks. It doesn’t have seeds, but it doesn't need them: it has other methods of multiplying. A fierce rainstorm can tear up its shallow roots and spread them far downstream. There, they start growing all over again. Mow it down, spray it with pesticides—it’s all futile. If any of the monstrous reeds are left upstream, they'll grow back. Arundo doesn't need to be near water to thrive, though. It grows pretty much anywhere. It grows in Oregon, Arizona, Texas, Missouri, Georgia, Florida, Maryland, Virginia—down the West Coast and across the broad swath of the southwest and...

An Ignoble Prize

Eugene Fama, one of the winners of this year’s Nobel in economics, is the fellow who proposed that all markets are efficient all of the time—more precisely that market pricing accurately captures all available information and thus creates “correct” prices. Fama also insisted that there is no such thing as a price bubble. Somehow, the man missed one of history’s great bubbles and the collapse that followed—an epic case of markets getting prices wrong. He also missed the fact that markets have incorrectly priced carbon, leading to global climate disaster, which Lord Nicholas Stern correctly termed “history’s greatest case of market failure.” For this, they give the man a Nobel. What timing! The mind boggles in search of an apt comparison. It’s like giving a posthumous Nobel in physics to Ptolemy rather than Copernicus for demonstrating that the sun revolves around the earth. Or maybe in biology not to Gregor Mendel or Charles Darwin but to Trofim Lysenko, Stalin’s court geneticist, for...

Old Conservatives Can't Learn New Tricks

AP Photo/Alex Brandon
AP Photo/Alex Brandon I f President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats wanted to maximize the political advantage they're getting from the shutdown/default crisis, they'd agree to at least one part of the short-term deals Republicans have offered, raising the debt ceiling for only six weeks at a time. Then we'd have one default crisis after another, and the standing of the GOP would keep on its downward trajectory until—let's just pick a date at random here—November 2014. But Republicans won't do that; they're now insisting (and good for them) that the deal has to extend at least a year into the future so we don't have to keep going through this. If they get that deal, though, the issue will fade and voters could start to forget how reckless Republicans have been. They could forget, but I'm guessing Republicans won't let them. It isn't as though the ultimate conclusion of this crisis is going to result in a chastened GOP, ready to be reasonable and assure the public it can...

Mining for Victory

AP Images/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/Stephanie S. Cordle
The story of the United Mine Workers of America is the story of the American labor movement as a whole. The Mine Workers were once the single most important union in the United States: the union that broke from a stodgy labor federation in 1935 to devote its resources to organizing the nation’s factories, the union that built such dynamos as the United Auto Workers and the Steelworkers; the union that sunk so much money into Franklin Roosevelt’s 1936 campaign that FDR didn’t raise a peep when striking auto workers occupied General Motors’ Flint, Michigan, factories and didn’t come out until GM had recognized their union; the union that had the strength and cojones to strike during World War II’s strike ban; the union that transformed industrial America. Today, with membership shrunk to perhaps just 10 percent of their peak strength numbers, the Mine Workers, like the labor movement generally, have a past that quite outshines their present. Their retirees outnumber their current...

Coverage of 2012 Campaign Disappointingly Unbiased

Fox News shows its blatant pro-Obama bias.
Everybody thinks the media are biased against their side, and conservatives are particularly likely to believe it. They themselves would say "That's because it's true!", but the real reason is that the complaint of liberal bias is one that conservatives hear all the time from all of their media sources. That isn't to say there aren't some issues on which the conservative side doesn't get equally favorable coverage, because there may well be a few, just as there are issues on which liberals get the short end of the media stick. But on some you can make a case that there are legitimate reasons. For instance, I wouldn't be surprised if a systematic analysis revealed that coverage of the gay-marriage issue was friendlier to the pro side. That might be because one side is arguing for equality and the other side is arguing for discrimination, and portraying the two as equally morally valid is itself problematic (I know, conservatives would disagree). Anyhow, if there's ever a topic about...

Daily Meme: Crazy Soundbites While You Were Sleeping—Tea Party Edition

Although there may have been little news about ending the shutdown over the weekend, Tea Party Republicans managed to fill the empty space with plenty of crazy soundbites. For those of you who blissfully managed to stay away from the crazy, here's a small sample of what you missed. Ben Carson : "Obamacare is, really I think, the worst thing that's happened in this nation since slavery." Michele Bachmann : “Obamacare will ultimately be known as Deathcare." Glenn Beck : “[Obama] has the movies. He has the university system. He has television. He has the news. He has GE, Comcast, and NBC. And he still has a lower approval rating than Bush." Rand Paul : "Across the globe, Christians are under attack, almost as if we lived in the Middle Ages or under early pagan Roman rule." Ted Cruz : “This is the people’s [World War II] memorial. Let me ask a simple question. Why is the federal government spending money to erect barricades to keep veterans out of this memorial?” Family Research Council...

Values Voter 2013: War, War, Everywhere, and Not a Stop to Think

AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana
AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana W hen Senator Rand Paul took the stage at last weekend's Values Voter Summit, it was clear he needed to up the stakes. Alongside a handful of other 2016 presidential contenders, Paul was auditioning for the far right’s support in a speech to the annual conference of Christian conservatives hosted by the Family Research Council at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C. Making his task far more difficult was that fact that one of his rivals had just hit a home run. Ted Cruz, the Republican senator largely blamed for orchestrating the government shutdown in a last-ditch effort to defund the Affordable Care Act, left the podium after a barn-burner speech punctuated by yells of protest from a handful of immigration activists who had entered the conference incognito. Each time the protesters interrupted Cruz’s speech, the audience throbbed with exhilaration and rage. Cruz—who would go on to win the 2016 presidential straw poll—paced the stage like a...

The GOP Craziness You Missed over the Weekend

It's only a flesh wound!
We're at kind of a weird point in the shutdown/default crisis. Everyone knows Republicans have lost; it's just a matter of working out the details of how we get out of this mess. The sane ones are trying to come up with some sort of agreement that will end the crisis before any further damage is done to their party while providing something they can call a concession from the Democrats, thereby allowing them to save face, to the extent that John Boehner can hold the damn vote and claim that it isn't an abject failure. But alas, sanity seems to be in short supply on the right side of the aisle, even at this late hour. Over the weekend, National Review reporter Robert Costa, who seems more plugged in to the House Republicans than any other journalist in Washington, tweeted the details of an emerging GOP proposal: To decode that for you: House Republicans are proposing to allow a six-week extension of the debt ceiling, and what they want in exchange is, first, the Vitter amendment, which...

Blurred Lines at the Border

AP Images/Matt Rourke
AP Images/Matt Rourke L ast year, during the height of the “religious freedom” fracas over the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) contraception-coverage requirement, three Catholic laywomen made the church’s case to an audience at the Catholic Information Center (CIC) in downtown Washington, D.C. Housed in an unassuming bookstore on K Street and operated by the controversial Opus Dei order , the CIC claims to cater to the spiritual needs of Washington’s political elites with daily mass as well as lectures and panels featuring prominent conservative pundits and activists. The “Women for Freedom” panel aimed to teach lay Catholics to “convince rather than antagonize” the public about the church’s stances on divisive issues, and, in the words of one panelist, “share and show love.” “Our goal,” said Kim Daniels, then the head of the organization Catholic Voices and now the spokesperson for the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), “is to make the church’s case in...

Why Madisonian Democracy Still Can't Have It All

AP Photo/The Daily Progress, Jonna Spelbring
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, FILE T his hasn’t been a good month for fans of Madisonian democracy. One thing that most parliamentary systems are exceptionally good at avoiding is the kind of deadlock over policy that stilled our democratic government’s heart and has left us two weeks deep in a shutdown. As a result, those who are skeptical of our separate institutions sharing powers are out in full force . It’s no surprise; liberal preference for the British system over what the Framers concocted goes back at least to Woodrow Wilson. Not all of the current anti-Madisonians agree on exactly what they would prefer, but there’s a general critique they share: not only does the U.S. system yield gridlock and risk collapse, but it doesn’t really have any advantages in terms of democracy to justify that inefficiency. I’ve argued against the efficacy claims recently—the problem is a broken Republican Party, not the structure of government—but I think the democracy claims are wrong as well...

Daily Meme: Congress, Better than Ebola!

Americans are not impressed with Republicans right now. While President Obama's approval rating has ticked up two points this month, the GOP has seen their popularity drop to its lowest levels ever. By a margin of 22 percent, respondents in the latest NBC/ WSJ poll blame Republicans over the White House for the government shutdown. Also on the country's bad side? Congress writ large. Public Policy Polling found that 85 percent of respondents disapprove of our chief legislative body's job performance. Just to hit the point home of how bad a position the House is in, let's look at what people have said in the past about a few things people currently like better than Congress. Witches : "Her mind will always be plotting and scheming and churning and burning and whizzing and phizzing with murderous bloodthirsty thoughts." Respondents preferred witches over Congress by a margin of 14 percentage points. Cockroaches : "Catching sight of a cockroach usually inspires one of a short list of...

Virginia’s Libertarian Surge That Wasn’t

AP Images/The Roanoke Times/Rebecca Barnett
A s Terry McAuliffe and Ken Cuccinelli duked it out during the second debate of the Virginia governor’s race last month, Robert Sarvis was on the sidelines, ribbing both candidates on Twitter. Sarvis, who’s running for governor as a Libertarian, was polling at 7 percent, a surprisingly high number for a third-party candidate in Virginia. He wasn’t invited to participate in the debate, and his irritation was plain. “Audience needs a shower after all that mudslinging,” he tweeted , adding , “Debate would’ve been more substantive with me on stage. That’s a sure thing. Next time, VA!” The final debate will take place on October 24 at Virginia Tech, and Sarvis has been gunning for an invitation for weeks. But although he’s been polling between 8 and 12 percent for the past month, it looks like he’ll be exiled to Twitter once again . Under an agreement negotiated by Cuccinelli, McAuliffe, and the debate’s sponsor, a local television station, Sarvis needed to be polling at 10 percent or...

In Catalonia, a Warning on One-State Solutions

AP Images/Paco Serinelli
AP Images/Paco Serinelli F rom the balconies above the narrow stone-paved streets of Girona hung gold-and-red striped flags. A blue triangle and white star adorned most of them, transforming the banner of the autonomous region of Catalonia into the standard of Catalonian independence. Here and there a legend emblazoned a flag: Catalunya, Nou Estat D'Europa —"Catalonia, A New State in Europe." I'd taken the train north from Barcelona to see Salvador Dali's personal museum in Figueres and then explore Girona's medieval old city. I was on vacation from the Middle East. But a political writer's time off can so easily become a busman's holiday. I looked at the flags and thought of the arguments about how to solve the Israeli-Palestinian imbroglio, about political scientist Ian Lustick's very recent New York Times essay despairing of a two-state outcome, and about the furies that the late Tony Judt released almost precisely 10 years ago when he came out for a one-state solution. Nationalism...

John Boehner Is Adrift

Flickr/Donkey Hotey
At this point, I'm starting to get the feeling that John Boehner spends a good portion of each day sitting around in his office with a bunch of aides as they all stare at the ceiling. "Anybody got any ideas yet?" he says periodically. "No?" Heavy sigh. Every couple of days they come up with something, float it to reporters, and find that it only serves to confuse things, to the point that nobody knows what they're demanding anymore. First they'd only open the government and raise the debt ceiling if the Affordable Care Act were defunded. When that didn't fly, they suggested they'd release the hostages if the ACA were delayed for a year. No go on that, so they suggested that they'd accept some kind of "grand bargain" as long as it included "entitlement reform," which is Republican code for cutting Social Security and Medicare. Nope. Then they said they'd take some package of unnamed budget cuts and tax cuts. They aren't getting that either, and now it seems they've finally come to...

Daily Meme: Don't Forget the Sequester

The House is finally starting to make moves on the debt ceiling and the budget, but it's important to note that one sure casualty of this extended stand-off is all of the federal spending already slashed by the sequester earlier this year. The clean CR passed by the Senate, you may note, restores government spending at post-sequestration levels, meaning that no matter what, Republicans end this battle with a substantial, if unlikely to be splashed all over the news, policy win , regardless of how the politics of the shutdown are dissected and graded. And, it's not looking like the budget cuts are going to prompt a public outcry either, despite their myriad troubling effects. Only 23 percent of respondents in a recent National Journal survey say they've noticed the budget cuts at all. With programs and jobs being chopped up left and right, it looks more like Americans have taken our sparse and underfunded programs as the status quo, instead of something worth getting angry about,...

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