Drake Bennett is a former American Prospect writing fellow and is currently a freelance writer in Cambridge, MA. His work has appeared in the Boston Globe, the New York Times, Business Week, and the Boston Review.
The press section at the U.S. Supreme Court is a long, narrow side gallery separated from the rest of the room by sequoia-sized columns, heavy swags of drawn curtain and elaborate grillwork. Most of the time journalists have their pick of seats, but when the gallery fills up, the view of the courtroom for all but the most fortuitously placed comprises a few rows of spectators, a portion of the far wall and ceiling, and, perhaps, the enrobed elbow of Justices Stephen Breyer or Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The gallery, in other words, ensures that most journalists neither see nor are seen. It's hard not to feel like some minor courtier craning for a glimpse of the king.
As any advocate for the poor will tell you, measuring the success of welfare reform depends on how one defines success. If it's simply a matter of cutting the welfare rolls, the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program has been the social policy equivalent of winning the space race. Between 1995 and 2001, the number of welfare recipients nationwide fell more than 50 percent after having grown steadily for decades. If success means anything broader, however, the record is somewhat less spectacular. Poverty is down and employment in single-parent families is up (no shock after an unprecedented economic boom), but not nearly in proportion to the drops in the rolls. And these indicators have all started heading in the opposite direction in the past two years.
You'd think Microsoft would have had enough by now, but the software leviathan is back in court, and brazen ingrate that it is, it's taking on the Bush administration. At least, by proxy. In a rare fissure between George W. Bush and big business, Microsoft has banded together with 64 fellow Fortune 500 companies, from Alcoa to Xerox, to file an amicus brief supporting the University of Michigan in the two affirmative-action cases pending before the Supreme Court -- cases in which the Bush administration has filed an opposing brief. And card-carrying corporate types aren't the only unlikely defenders of racial and ethnic preferences.
Perhaps the most flattering thing former Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) ever said about the United Nations was buried in a supposedly conciliatory address to the organization three years ago: "Most Americans do not regard the United Nations as an end in and of itself -- they see it as just one part of America's diplomatic arsenal. To the extent that the UN is effective, the American people will support it. To the extent that it becomes ineffective -- or worse, a burden -- the American people will cast it aside."
Yesterday, in the ballroom of the National Press Club, Nancy Tate had her first smackdown. She was pleasantly surprised. Tate, who is the executive director of the League of Women Voters and has the unobtrusive demeanor of a court stenographer, shared a stage with World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) CEO Linda McMahon, U.S. Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio), state Rep. Tony Sertich (D-Minn.), three WWE wrestlers and about 30 exhilarated high-school students. They were all there to unveil the second phase of "Smackdown Your Vote!" a get-out-the-vote program spearheaded by the WWE (formerly the World Wrestling Federation, or WWF, until a lawsuit from the World Wildlife Fund forced the name change).