Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Still More BS

AP Photo/Alex Brandon
We all do things that we regret. President Obama must surely regret that he ever listened to the extreme deficit hawks back in early 2010, when he appointed the Bowles-Simpson Commission, the fiscal zombie that just won’t die. The commission is long defunct. The recommendations of its majority report never became law (because that required a super-majority). But the dreams and schemes of B-S have become the gold standard of deflationists everywhere. The test of budgetary soundness is: does it meet the recommendations of Bowles and Simpson? On Tuesday, the depressive duo were at it again, calling for additional deficit reductions of $2.4 trillion over a decade. This is almost a trillion dollars beyond what President Obama and Congress are considering. This clarion call was issued under the aegis of the corporate group, “Fix the Debt,” a bunch of millionaires and billionaires urging regular people to tighten their belts for the greater good. Quite apart from the impact of particular...

Why Republicans Should Want to Index the Minimum Wage

Flickr/FiddleFlix
If Republicans have any political sense at all, they’ll support not just raising the minimum wage, but indexing it. The economic case for raising the wage, at a time when economic inequality is rampant, working-class incomes are declining, and Wal-Mart sales are falling through the floor, is overwhelming. But while Republicans may blow off the economic consequences of not raising the federal standard, they can’t be so cavalier in dismissing the political consequences. The constituency that today’s GOP most desperately seeks to win, or at least neutralize, is Latinos—the ethnic group most clustered in low-wage jobs, and most certain to benefit from a minimum wage hike. In swing districts with substantial Latino populations, Democrats are certain to highlight Republican opposition to raising the wage in the 2014 elections. Nor is support for a higher wage limited to Latinos. On each occasion in the past decade that a state minimum wage increase has been put before voters as a referendum...

Augmented Reality Is Here, and It's Right on Your Face

You must be at least this cool to buy Google Glass.
There are some technological developments that come as a complete surprise, and some that are logical extrapolations of what we've had for a while, so obvious that we know we'll eventually get them, it's just a matter of the development of the necessary components. A wearable augmented reality device falls into the latter category. For years, we've been seeing sci-fi movies in which a character looks out at the world, or at a person, and sees a whole bunch of information pop up in front of his eyes (the best-known example is probably The Terminator , which came out in all the way back in 1984). But as of now, you can actually get one. Well, maybe not you specifically, but somebody. Google Glass, which is essentially a smartphone in the shape of a pair of glasses that are, depending on your perspective, totally cool-looking or remarkably dorky, is going on sale. You won't be able to go down to Target and buy a pair, though; for this first run, you have to actually apply to Google, and...

Ringside Seat: One Small Step for Florida

Two years after spearheading the lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act and just a few months after affirming his opposition to expanding Medicaid coverage in his state, Florida governor Rick Scott has shifted gears and indeed decided to accept federal funds to expand Medicaid. In a press conference late this afternoon, he explained his reasoning: “While the federal government is committed to pay 100 percent of the cost of new people in Medicaid, I cannot, in good conscience, deny the uninsured access to care.” This, it suffices to say, is a huge gain for the law. As a prominent opponent from one of the country’s largest states, Scott's reversal has weakened efforts to maintain a united front against implementing the Affordable Care Act. It is also a big gain for human welfare. With nearly 4 million people who lack health insurance, Florida has the second-highest rate of uninsured in the country. Part of that is because the state—under its Tea Party leadership—has become remarkably...

Should Democrats Be Afraid of Marco Rubio?

Flickr/Gage Skidmore
Ed Kilgore alerts us to this interesting Reuters story in which freshman senator Ted Cruz of Texas charges that Democrats were beating up on freshman senator Marco Rubio of Florida after the latter's State of the Union response because as a Latino Republican with such mad skillz, Rubio is a dire threat and they need to take him out now. I'll tell you what I think about that, but this also raises an interesting question about how we look at politicians on the other side and how difficult it can be to objectively assess their appeal to the public. Here's an excerpt: Sen. Ted Cruz says some of the attacks on fellow Republican Sen. Marco Rubio by Democrats are motivated by race. Cruz said today the fact that Rubio is a Republican Latino poses a threat to political adversaries. "I think Democrats and the media are afraid of Marco Rubio because he is a smart, intelligent, conservative Hispanic. And they are looking for any excuse they can to attack him, because that threatens them," Cruz...

Why 2016 is the Year of Republican Reform

Wikipedia
Bobby Jindal might say that the GOP needs to stop being the " stupid party ," and Eric Cantor might call for a new agenda that helps ordinary Americans , but the fact of the matter is that the Republican Party hasn't changed much since November, when it failed to capture the White House or make gains in Congress. So far, the Republican "reform" project has been an attempt to clothe old policies—income tax cuts, tight monetary policy, large discretionary spending cuts—in new rhetoric. Insofar that there's been a genuine attempt to rethink the GOP, it has come from the party's intellectual class. Over the last three months, Ramesh Ponnuru, David Frum, Reihan Salam, Michael Gerson, and others have attempted to provide a path out of the wilderness for the Republican Party, one that turns away from old dogmas and attempts to craft a conservatism that's responsive to today's conditions. As Ponnuru put it in a recent piece for the New York Times , today's Republicans "slavishly adhere to the...

Limbaugh Doubles Down

AP Photo/Photo Courtesy of Rush Limbaugh
AP Photo/Photo Courtesy of Rush Limbaugh L istening to the crude, discursive monologues on Rush Limbaugh’s daily three-hour radio program, which I have had occasion to do for a living, is a test of endurance for a person with minimum standards of decency. It’s a bit like being blown out of an airlock into the vacuum of space without a spacesuit. You can hold out for only so long before your lungs rupture and air bubbles perforate your brain. You lose consciousness just as your saliva starts to boil. This is by design. Since Limbaugh’s program began airing nationally 24 years ago, the goal of every episode has been to create an environment in which liberalism can’t but die. The show and its host came along at a time when the Willie Horton-ized politics favored bomb-throwing. The medium of political talk radio was just beginning its ascendance from regional media backwater to primary driver of national Republican politics. But here we are today, newly embarked upon the second half of...

Sequester Stupidity

President Obama arguing against the sequester cuts.
Next week, the "sequester," a package of severe cuts to government spending, will take effect. Although the consequences won't all be felt the first day, they will come fairly quickly, and they'll be painful. Not only to people on an individual basis—say if you're one of the thousands of government employees being furloughed, or when you're waiting in longer lines at the airport—but to the broader economy as all these effects begin to ripple outward. And so, the administration and Congress are engaging in what surely looks to most Americans like a spectacularly idiotic argument about whose fault it is. But before we start blaming both sides equally for indulging in a battle over blame, we have to be clear on who's to blame for all the blaming. The truth is that while both sides are trying to spin things their way, there's a difference in how each is talking about the sequester. President Obama's principal argument is this: The sequester is a really bad thing, so Congress needs to stop...

Why Ken Cuccinelli Might Be Virginia's Next Governor

Gage Skidmore / Flickr
Gage Skidmore / Flickr Attorney General of Virginia Ken Cuccinelli speaking at the 2012 Liberty Political Action Conference in Chantilly, Virginia. Ideology matters much less to electoral outcomes than you’d think. Yes, there are obvious examples of where it matters—see: Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock, Sharon Angle, and Christine O’Donnell—but by and large, it plays a marginal role. The fundamentals of an election will do more to drive outcomes than a candidate’s ideology. Or, put another way, a double-dip recession and double-digit unemployment would have doomed Barack Obama regardless of who Republicans nominated. In that world, even Michele Bachmann could win the White House. The point of this is to frame the upcoming Virginia gubernatorial election, which—barring a third-party contender—will pit Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli against Terry McAuliffe, former chair of the Democratic National Committee. Cuccinelli has built his national brand as a hard right, Tea Party...

A Mixed Day for the Fourth Amendment

WikiMedia Commons
Yesterday, the Supreme Court decided two Fourth Amendment cases. The results were mixed. In one case, the Court protected an individual from an unreasonable search. But in another case, the Court again watered down Fourth Amendment protections in the name of the War on (Some Classes of People Who Use Some) Drugs. The facts of the first case are relatively straightforward. The police had a warrant to search an apartment, but searched the assumed resident a mile away from the apartment after tailing him in a car for several minutes. In a 6-3 opinion written by Justice Kennedy, the Court held that the search violated the Fourth Amendment. The warrant, Kennedy persuasively reasoned, covers only the immediate vicinity of the apartment, and there were no exigent circumstances (such as an immediate flight risk or the treat of violence) that would justify the warrantless seizure of items from a person not in the vicinity of the apartment. The most interesting part of this case is the vote...

Senate Tested, Iran Approved?

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File
It’s become difficult to keep track of the all the ridiculous charges that have been thrown at Secretary of Defense nominee Chuck Hagel over the past few months, but surely one of the most absurd is the idea that the government of Iran “ endorsed ” his nomination. That this had become the latest claim to make the journey from goofy right-wing bleat to conservative political “fact” became evident during the Senate Armed Services Committee debate over Hagel’s nomination last week. Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz, doing his best impersonation of what he thinks a very serious person sounds like, gravely intoned that, with Hagel’s nomination came “something that was truly extraordinary, which is the government of Iran formally and publicly praising the nomination of a defense secretary. I would suggest to you that to my knowledge, that is unprecedented to see a foreign nation like Iran publicly celebrating a nomination.” When Senator Bill Nelson responded that Cruz had “gone over the...

The No-Brainer Argument for $9 an Hour

flickr/B Unis
Raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 should be a no-brainer. Republicans say it will cause employers to shed jobs, but that’s baloney. Employers won’t outsource the jobs abroad or substitute machines for them because jobs at this low level of pay are all in the local personal-service sector (retail, restaurant, hotel, and so on), where employers pass on any small wage hikes to customers as pennies more on their bills. States that have a minimum wage closer to $9 than the current federal minimum don’t have higher rates of unemployment than do states still at the federal minimum. A mere $9 an hour translates into about $18,000 a year—still under the poverty line. When you add in the Earned Income Tax Credit and food stamps it’s possible to barely rise above poverty at this wage, but even the poverty line of about $23,000 understates the true cost of living in most areas of the country. Besides, the proposed increase would put more money into the hands of families that desperately...

The Glocks Are Falling! The Glocks Are Falling!

flickr/ Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
Flickr/Alex P. Yeremenko T he gun crowd is so paranoid about the erosion of their Second Amendment rights that they make Chicken Little look like an actuary. The president’s recent gun proposals include initiatives such as expanded background checks, a ban on certain military-type rifles, and limits on the size of magazines. But if you listen to the gun folks, even these tepid proposals are—to quote a past president of the National Rifle Association—“unconstitutional schemes to gut the Second Amendment.” Iowa Senator Charles Grassley accused Obama of thinking “the Second Amendment can be tossed aside.” Any skeptical glance in the direction of that Glock on their hip is worth a Second Amendment yelp. These objections are overblown. There is little question that Obama’s current proposals would withstand constitutional review. (I was one of about 50 law professors who signed a recent letter saying just that .) The reason is that a constitutional right is not violated every time it is...

Ringside Seat: State House of Cards

Anyone familiar with state legislatures knows that the folks who move through their halls are a varied bunch. There are earnest, hard-working legislators, up-and-comers on their way to bigger and better offices, and old-school pols, among other types. There are also a not inconsiderable number of nutballs and idiots who managed to get themselves elected to offices no one pays much attention to before Election Day. To wit: A state representative in Missouri just introduced a bill making it a felony for one of his fellow legislators to introduce legislation curtailing gun rights. He says he knows it won't pass, but he just wanted to make a point. About freedom. It's easy to forget, with all the attention focused on the White House and Congress, that state legislatures are more than just the source of weird bills and rampant corruption. In fact, a huge amount of legislation profoundly affecting Americans' lives passes through them every day. One of the ways we'll be able to tell if this...

Why Liberals Make Better Political Pop Culture than Conservatives

An image from the libertarian animated film "Silver Circle"
In my ongoing quest to reach across the aisle and foster bipartisanship, I come to praise Jonah Goldberg—yes, that Jonah Goldberg, the author of Liberal Fascism and innumerable appalling columns, for what he writes in the Los Angeles Times , in which he recoils at the suggestion by some of his brethren that they need to buy a movie studio and start churning out conservative films: There's a difference between art and propaganda. Outside the art house crowd, liberal agitprop doesn't sell. Art must work with the expectations and beliefs of the audience. Even though pregnancies are commonplace on TV, you'll probably never see a hilarious episode of a sitcom in which a character has an abortion — because abortion isn't funny. The conservative desire to create a right-wing movie industry is an attempt to mimic a caricature of Hollywood. Any such effort would be a waste of money that would make the Romney campaign seem like a great investment. There's something Goldberg doesn't mention,...

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