Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Politicians Awkwardly Dropping Pop Culture References

Wiz Khalifa, who recorded a song that Marco Rubio knows the title of. (Flickr/Sebastien Barre)
Can a United States senator be cool? As it happens, the current Senate has a number of members in their early 40s, and for at least some of them, that youth is a big part of what defines them. There was a time when as a 40-year-old in the Senate you'd worry about establishing your gravitas, but this group seems to be just as interested, if not more, in playing up their youth. That may be particularly true for the Republicans, since their party not only worries about its appeal to young people but wants to make sure it stays relevant in the future. But this can be tricky, especially since, with a few exceptions, the kind of person who becomes a professional politician probably wasn't the coolest person to begin with. After all, part of being cool is not looking like you're trying to be cool, and politicians usually look like they're trying too hard (because they usually are). You may be asking, "Are you talking about Marco Rubio?" The answer is yes, but before we get to him, Rebecca...

How Many Big-Time Pundits Are Plagiarists?

Juan Williams is obviously too busy to write his own columns. (Flickr/Nick Step)
Not long ago I was getting a shiatsu massage in my office when my assistant came in to tell me that he'd gathered the data on government spending that I'd asked for, and written it up in text form so I could drop it into my next column. When I read what he'd written, it looked suspiciously like turgid think-tank prose, so I asked him whether these were his own words or those of the source from which he got the data. When he began his response with "Um..." I knew he had failed me, so I flung my double espresso in his face, an act of discipline I thought rather restrained. Over the sound of his whimpering and the scent of burning flesh, I explained to him that real journalists don't pass off the work of others as their own. As part of his penance, I forced him to write my columns for me in their entirety for the next three weeks. The scars are healing nicely, and with my benevolent guidance he is well on his way to becoming the journalist I know he can be. OK, that didn't actually...

Life at the Bottom

Flickr/Sport Suburban
Flickr/SportsSuburban A female cashier at the McDonalds in Spokane, Washington. T he release of 2012 minimum-wage data last Wednesday—which shows that the number of minimum-wage workers has fallen but is still higher than any period since 1998—has underscored the importance of making good on Obama’s pledge of raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 an hour. As many have pointed out, women stand to benefit disproportionately from the increase: Two-thirds of the country’s roughly 1.6 million minimum-wage workers are women. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the data show that work at the bottom of the pay scale tends to be highly segregated by gender—the three largest occupational groups, making up 67 percent of minimum-wage jobs, are 65 percent female—and includes jobs historically performed by women such as child care and home health services. According to experts, the problem is twofold: While essential, businesses tend to underpay for these types of work, a problem compounded by the...

Hello to 236,000 New Jobs

Economic Policy Institute
There are two things you can say about the recovery: It's slow, and it's remarkably durable. Even with the collapse of fiscal stimulus, the shocks of austerity, and a dysfunctional government, we've seen sluggish growth with just enough to bring down unemployment. And at times—such as the winter between 2011 and 2012—there were signs it was speeding up. If today's jobs report is any indication, the recovery is—again—speeding up. The economy created 236,000 jobs last month, the largest gain since November, and the second largest gain in over a year. Unemployment edged down to 7.7 percent from 7.9 percent, and average hourly earnings were up 0.2 percent. It should be said that part of the decline in unemployment owes itself to a smaller workforce—the household survey shows unemployment down by 300,000, but employment up by only 170,000. The overall employment-to-population ration is unchanged at 58.6 percent. Even still, this is a good report. Jobs are up significantly in construction...

The Filibuster that Matters

AP Photo/Jim McKnight
The Prospect 's Jamelle Bouie makes an important point about Rand Paul's rare Mr. Smith Goes to Washington -style filibuster on Wednesday. Before Paul started speaking to hold up the nomination of John Brennan to head the CIA, the Senate silently continued to filibuster Caitlin Halligan's nomination to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Paul's filibuster will get more attention, but the filibuster of Halligan is more telling. The most important difference? The Halligan filibuster will have practical consequences. Brennan was confirmed by a 63-43 vote the day after Paul started his filibuster. The filibuster of Halligan, conversely, continues with no end in sight. Preventing Obama from getting any nominees confirmed to nation's second most important appellate court is a very important win for the Republican Party as well as a defeat for the country. Apparently, the dysfunction of the Senate has to continue so that the Republican-dominated D.C. Circuit can continue to make the...

When Public Is Better

Flickr/Mirsasha
L ong before we thought of founding The American Prospect in 1989, I came to know Paul Starr through a prescient article titled “Passive Intervention.” The piece was published in 1979, in a now-defunct journal, Working Papers for a New Society . As Paul and his co-author, Gøsta Esping-Andersen, observed, the American welfare state is built on terrible, even disabling compromises. Progressives often lack the votes to pass legislation to deliver public benefits directly. So they either create tax incentives or bribe the private sector to do the job, thus inflating a bloated system. “The problem is not too much government activism,” they wrote, “but too much passivity.” Their two emblematic examples were housing and health care. In housing, tax advantages became an inflation hedge for the affluent and drove up prices. Low-income homeownership programs, run through the private sector, had huge default rates. In health care, the political compromises necessary to enact Medicare excluded...

Rand Paul's Lonely Stand

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak Senator Rand Paul walks to a waiting vehicle as he leaves the Capitol after his filibuster of the nomination of John Brennan to be CIA director. L ike the roomful of monkeys who eventually write Hamlet if given long enough, or the broken clock that’s on time twice a day, sooner or later an otherwise dubious political figure will find his moral compass pointing true north if he keeps spinning in place. Or maybe it’s Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky who stays in one place as the world spins, with north finally swinging into his sights. Whatever the motive, whatever paranoia fuels the worldview that drives him, whatever withering scorn he invited yesterday from fellow Republicans who found themselves in the strange position of defending a Democratic president, Paul’s filibuster of the last 48 hours was an act of patriotism more authentic than we usually see from a right that so ostentatiously professes to love a country it refuses to understand. If nothing else,...

Ringside Seat: Drone On, Rand Paul

For years, most Americans have labored under the delusion that a "filibuster" is when a United States senator gets up in front of his or her colleagues and proceeds to talk, and talk, and talk some more, not stopping until the opposition crumbles or voices fail and knees grow weak. In truth, these days a filibuster actually consists of nothing more than the Senate Minority Leader conveying to the Senate Majority Leader his party's intent to stop a bill or a nominee, and the deed is done. That doesn't mean, however, that a senator can't do the endless talking thing if he so chooses. And yesterday, one senator did in fact so choose, as Rand Paul refused to give up the floor and allow the nomination of John Brennan to be CIA director to proceed. What ensued was a 13-hour discourse about Paul's uneasiness with the American government's use of drones to carry out targeted killings, including the possibility that they might one day be used against Americans right here at home. And what do...

Why 2014 Is a Key Year for Democrats

Gage Skidmore / Flickr
Gage Skidmore / Flickr Governor Rick Scott speaking at CPAC FL in Orlando, Florida. 2010 wasn't just a bad year for Democrats in Congress—it saw Republican triumphs on the state-level as well. Twenty-three GOP governors were elected that year, and in 11 states—Iowa, Kansas, Ohio, Oklahoma, Maine, Michigan, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Wisconsin, and Wyoming—Republicans won governorships away from Democrats. Overall, Republicans hold governorships in 30 states, including nine out of the country's 12 largest states. Moreover, ten of those states were carried by Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, and 14 of those states have at least one Democratic senator. GOP power on the state level has given them an important advantage in national politics (through gerrymandering), as well as space to implement conservative policies, from reproductive rights–state legislatures are pioneers for restrictive abortion bans—to radical tax reform. In Louisiana, for example, Governor Bobby Jindal wants...

What We Have Here Is a Failure to Communicate. Sort Of.

Congressional Republicans, apparently. (Flickr/jumbledpile)
Like any number of liberals, I have from time to time complained about the difficulty of having substantive arguments about politics when your opponents refuse to acknowledge plain facts about the world. It's hard to have a discussion about what to do about climate change, for instance, if the other person refuses to believe that climate change is occurring. It's hard to discuss how to handle market failures in health insurance when the other person holds that markets are always perfect and government health insurance is always more expensive. As frustrating as those kinds of impasses are, at least you're talking about complex systems that require at least some investment of time to understand. But there's a rather incredible dance going on right now in the dispute over the budget that takes every stereotype liberals have about know-nothing Republicans and turns it up to 11. To sum it up, Democrats are being forced to negotiate with a group of people who are either so dumb they can't...

Rand Paul's Blinkered Libertarianism

Gage Skidmore / Flickr
Gage Skidmore / Flickr Rand Paul at a book signing at LPAC 2011 in Reno, Nevada. Even if you disagree with Senator Rand Paul's broader politics, there's something inspiring about a politician willing to speak at length—and at some discomfort—for what he believes in. That's even more true when you consider the subject—civil liberties. Paul joins many other civil libertarians in his disdain for targeted killings, the administration's drone policy, and its general approach to due process. Still, for all of Paul's eloquence on this sphere of civil liberties, he's decidedly less interested in the other areas where government uses the threat of force to compel action. Paul's brand of civil libertarianism—the war on drugs as assaults on freedom—doesn't extend to women's bodily autonomy. In his two years as the junior senator from Kentucky, Paul has supported "personhood" legislation (which would outlaw abortion and put major restrictions on several forms of contraception), threatened to...

Outmatched

Flickr/FergieFam07
I n early December, the Michigan Legislature met for a lame-duck session that should have been uncontroversial—just a bit of housework before the next body convened in 2013. Instead, the GOP majority used the period to enact a dream list of conservative priorities: abortion-rights restrictions, a phaseout of the personal--property tax, reductions to welfare. Its crowning achievement was the passage of a right-to-work bill prohibiting unions from collecting mandatory dues. It seemed unfathomable that Michigan, once the cradle of a thriving and unionized American workforce, could have turned overnight into a right-to-work state. But then many traditions have been upended since the 2010 midterm elections in which Republicans took control of both legislative chambers in 26 states. (Though a few states flipped sides in the November election, that number still holds.) Longtime progressive and purple states, newly under Republican control, have turned into Texas-lite. In Wisconsin, Governor...

The Rand Paul Filibuster: Raw & Uncut

Gage Skidmore / Flickr
Gage Skidmore / Flickr What was noteworthy about Rand Paul's filibuster yesterday wasn't that he held up the confirmation of John Brennan to the CIA, but that he spoke . As a procedural move, the filibuster is extremely common, but rarely does anyone take to the floor and prevent the flow of Senate business. Paul's "talking filibuster" was the first in over two years, and at nearly 13 hours, the longest since South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond's filibuster of the 1957 Civil Rights Rights Act. Unlike Thurmond's filibuster, or the vast majority of filibusters through history, Paul's was for a good cause—to press the Obama administration for more information on drone strikes, to object to the use of drones in the United States, and to spark a conversation about the administration's overall drone policy and use of targeted killings, which has gone unexamined in official Washington. For actual information on the subject, I recommend reading posts from Mother Jones ' Adam Serwer , The...

Chávez Rising

AP Photo
AP Photo/Miraflores Presidential Press Office In this photo by Miraflores Presidential Press Office, Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez, center, poses with his daughters, María Gabriela, left, and Rosa Virginia at an unknown location in Havana, Cuba. T he last official photo of Hugo Chávez shows him surrounded by his two daughters, María Gabriela and Rosa Virginia. It’s a tableau of Renaissance proportions (and probably Photoshopped) that reminds followers of a saintly leader ready to be resurrected, his daughters already mourning the loss of their earthly father but preparing him to be transported to his next life. Whether Chávez can be resurrected through the election of his self-appointed heir, Vice President Nicolás Maduro, remains the next test for the cult of Chavismo that arose around this former paratrooper and failed putchist. The iconography of a fallen Chávez should not be interpreted as the end of an era, even combined with the death of the 58-year-old leader on March 5,...

The Internet's Patriot Act

flickr/IronCurtaiNYC
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File “I believe that it is very possible,” former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told a rapt audience at Georgetown University earlier this month, “the next Pearl Harbor could be a cyber attack that would have one hell of an impact on the United States of America.” That’s a belief Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano shares—in January, she urged Congress not to “wait until there is a 9/11 in the cyber world” to act on cyber-security legislation. Subtle warnings, these are not. Over the past 12 months, hackers have broken into the networks of major news organizations, including The New York Times , The Washington Post , and The Wall Street Journal in a string of audacious security breaches. The U.S. Government Accountability Office found that cyber-security incidents reported by federal agencies have risen 800 percent since 2006. Chinese hackers infiltrated the networks of nearly 800 U.S. companies and research institutions between 2000 and 2010,...

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