Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Italy's Vote Against Austerity

Flickr/Sara Fasullo
Those pesky European voters have done it again. Last spring the Greek electorate, choked by recession and austerity, nearly gave the reins of government to a hard-left, anti-reform coalition. Now it’s Italy’s turn to throw the plans of the Eurozone high command into disarray. As results of the two-day parliamentary election began streaming in on Monday, Brussels, Berlin, and Frankfurt (seat of the European Central Bank)—not to mention the global markets—looked on in horror. The centre-left coalition led by Pier-Luigi Bersani and his Democratic Party (made up of reformed Communists and other modernized leftists) could not put together a majority in the Senate, even if it went into alliance with the centrists backing the outgoing prime minister, Mario Monti. The right-wing coalition led by Silvio Berlusconi had come within a whisker of outright victory. Most shockingly, M5S (the “Five Star Movement”), an anti-establishment and anti-euro party founded on the Internet and led by enraged...

A Third Intifada?

Flickr/Jill Granberg
Over the past days, growing unrest in the Israeli-occupied West Bank in response to the death of a Palestinian in Israeli custody has threatened the relative calm that has prevailed recently, a result of the considerable amount of cooperation between the Palestinian security services and the Israeli army. While it seems clear that neither of the main Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas, are interested in an escalation, the speed with which large protests erupted in the last week demonstrates once again the danger of pretending that the status quo in the occupied territories is a sustainable one. Although protests against various aspects of the occupation— the encroachment of Israeli settlements and the construction of its separation barrier on Palestinian farmland, to name two of the most onerous—have become a regular occurrence over the last few years, demonstrations have increased markedly over the past weeks in support of hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners . The...

Ringside Seat: Blame Congress

“Green Lantern-ism”—or the belief that the president can do whatever he wills—has always been common among centrist pundits, but it’s reached new heights as Washington struggles to avoid the sequester. The situation is straightforward: To duck the sequester—a series of large, across-the-board, automatic spending cuts—President Obama has proposed a “balanced” plan that raises taxes and cuts spending from retirement programs. It’s designed to satisfy the concerns of Democrats, who want more revenue, and Republicans, who constantly call for lower spending and a greater focus on long-term debt. Naturally, Republicans have rejected the president's compromise and haven’t offered anything in return. Instead, they remain opposed to any proposal that includes new revenue, and have adopted the contradictory stance of decrying the sequester and blaming it on Obama all the while claiming it isn’t as bad as the president describes. Given the degree to which Republicans are the key obstacle to a...

Scalia's Weird VRA Spat

It is hard to overstate the importance of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. At the heart of the law that ended decades of disenfranchisement in former Confederate states is Section 5, the "preclearance" provision. Section 5 requires jurisdictions with a history of discrimination to get prior federal approval for any changes to state voting laws. The necessity of this provision was clear: without it, states had been able to nullify the commands of the 15th Amendment by passing measures that were formally race-neutral but were discriminatory in practice. Regrettably, the Supreme Court appears poised to eliminate one of the proudest achievements of American democracy. As Esquire 's Charles Pierce puts it , striking down Section 5 would constitute "the final victory of the long march against the achievements of the Civil Rights Movement that began almost before the ink dried on the bill in 1965." The most remarkable example of the contemporary Republican hostility to civil rights came ,...

Today in Magical Beliefs about Racism

Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum
Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum President Johnson, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks at the signing of the Voting Rights Act on August 6, 1965. I mentioned in my previous post that the Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments on the Voting Rights Act this week. At issue is Section 5 of the law, which requires states and localities with histories of voter disenfranchisement to pre-approve any changes that effect voting with the federal government. The provision effects nine states—mostly in the South—and most areas that submit for pre-clearance are approved. It takes serious problems for the Justice Department to put changes on hold. Despite the wide flexibility of Section 5—and the extent to which some areas are more likely to violate voting rights than others—conservatives have attacked this provision as "onerous," "unfair," and tantamount to reverse discrimination. Conservative members of the Court also followed this line of thinking . Justice Antonin Scalia described...

The Titanic Wealth Gap Between Blacks and Whites

Brandeis University
The gap between black and white wealth is nothing new. Researchers have studied it for decades, people have lived it for longer, and comedians—from Chris Rock to Dave Chappelle—have used it to craft biting humor. What's novel is the extent to which its has exploded over the last 25 years. According to a recent study from the Institute on Assets and Social Policy at Brandeis University, in which researchers followed 1,700 working-age households from 1984 to 2009, "the total wealth gap between white and African-American families" has nearly tripled, "increasing from $85,000 in 1984 to $236,500 in 2009." And more than 25 percent of the gap is attributable to homeownership and other policies associated with housing. Indeed, the disproportionate influence of housing on black wealth is reflected in this staggering statistic: "Overall, half the collective wealth of African-American families was stripped away during the Great Recession." It's fitting Brandeis released this report during a...

The Five Most Terrifying Things about the Sequester

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
The latest fiscal showdown concerns the “sequester”—across the board cuts to (almost entirely) discretionary spending that will total just over $1 trillion in the next decade, and which are set to take effect on March 1. What should those who have better things to do with their life than follow fiscal policy debates know about the sequester? 1. The sequester will hurt job-growth As we pointed out during the debates raging in the run-up to the “fiscal cliff," the sequester was the second-most damaging component of the austerity bundle set to take effect on January 1, 2013. The worst component was the non-renewal of the payroll tax cut, which is already dragging substantially on the economy . All told, if the sequester kicks in the economy will likely end the year with roughly 500-600,000 fewer jobs than if it were repealed. These are jobs the economy desperately needs . To be clear, the sequester alone won’t drive the U.S. economy back into outright recession, but it surely will make...

Ringside Seat: Times, They Keep on Changin'

Just eight years ago, Republicans were crowing that the terrifying specter of gay people being allowed to marry was an electoral gold mine for them, persuading people to vote for the GOP and bringing their voters out to the polls in force. Things have changed a lot since then—same-sex marriage is now legal in nine states plus the District of Columbia, with more sure to follow, and most polls now show a majority of the public in favor of marriage equality. A few smart Republicans have acknowledged that their party is on the wrong side of history on this issue, and many assume that it will come around eventually. At which point, as they now do on issues of race, they'll claim they were on the right side all along. But for now, there are only a few well-known Republicans publicly favoring same-sex marriage, and it's a good bet that any elected Republican who did would get herself a Tea Party primary challenge in short order. So it was something of a pleasant surprise when we learned that...

Conservatives Shun Popular GOP Governor

Bob Jagendorf / Flickr
Bob Jagendorf / Flickr New Jersey's Chris Christie is now the eighth Republican governor to back Obamacare's Medicaid expansion. Jeffrey Young, writing for the Huffington Post , gives the details : Expanding Medicaid in New Jersey would provide new health care coverage to an estimated 291,000 people through 2022, according to an analysis released by the Urban Institute and the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation in November. New Jersey would spend an additional $1.5 billion and receive $15.4 billion from the federal government to finance the expansion during that time period, the report predicted. Politically, there's no question that this will improve his (already impressive) standing with New Jersey voters. What it won't do is help his case with conservative activists, who are angry enough with his position on guns—he supports a new, restrictive proposal in his state—to exclude him from this year's Conservative Political Action Conference. Here's the National Review with more : New...

Secret Wiretapping Cannot Be Challenged Because It's Secret

By delegating broad authority to the executive branch to engage in warrantless wiretapping of Americans, t he Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) raises serious potential constitutional issues. The Fourth Amendment, which forbids "unreasonable" searches and seizures and under which warrantless searches are presumptively unconstitutional, is difficult to square with the kind of powers claimed by Congress and the Executive Branch. Today, however, the Supreme Court decided to duck this crucial constitutional issue based on almost comically illogical reasoning. The Court's 5-4 opinion in Clapper v. Amnesty International was, appropriately enough, written by Samuel Alito, who is more consistently hostile to civil liberties than any justice in at least half a century. The Court ruled that the journalists, organzations, and human rights lawyers bringing the suit lacked the "standing" to bring a lawsuit challenging FISA on 4th Amendment grounds. The American constitutional system...

Victory for the Friends of Hamas!

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff / Flickr
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff / Flickr By a vote of 71 to 27, the Senate closed debate on Chuck Hagel's nomination to lead the Department of Defense, thus beating a Republican filibuster on his confirmation. He is now poised for a final confirmation vote later Tuesday or early Wednesday, even as Republicans continue to object to his views on foreign policy and Middle East security. The " Friends of Hamas " will be pleased.

Does the GOP Have a Forward Vision?

Pew Research Center
Yet another poll shows a public unhappy with the Republican Party's political positioning. According to a new survey from the Pew Research Center, 62 percent of Americans say the GOP is "out-of-touch" compared to 46 percent who say the same for the Democratic Party. Likewise, 52 percent of Americans say Republicans "too extreme"—only 39 percent say that's true of Democrats. Overall, as this graph shows, the public has a pretty negative view of the Republican Party: More important than the GOP's overall popularity, I think, is this finding: Only 45 percent of Americans say that the GOP is looking out for the country's future. It's hard to know exactly what that means—I'd love to see Pew explore the question further—but odds are good it refers to the complete absence of a positive agenda from the GOP. Republicans have returned to their position as the "party of no." In rejecting tax increases of any kind, for any reason, they have all but refused to compromise—either President Obama...

Conservatives Seek to Blot Bob McDonnell's Name from the Book of Reagan

Jamelle Bouie / The American Prospect
Jamelle Bouie / The American Prospect I wrote yesterday that Ken Cuccinelli was the clear winner of the fight over Virginia's new transportation bill. Yes, it passed the General Assembly and is on its way to becoming law, but Cuccinelli successfully positioned himself as an opponent of new spending and higher taxes, and in a low-turnout election where energized supporters are key, Cuccinelli bought himself a small advantage. As did Terry McAuliffe, who—in supporting the bill—positioned himself in the sensible center of Virginia politics. The only loser in this fight, so far, is the governor, Republican Bob McDonnell. In his campaign for the governorship, as Scott Galupo points out for The American Conservative , McDonnell pledged not to raise taxes to pay for new transportation projects. When fully implemented, however, the current bill would raise taxes on Virginians by $6.1 billion over the next five years . Given the trade-off—better roads, bridges and mass transit for more than 8...

Nobody Knows What They're Doing

He loves it when a plan comes together, but he doesn't work in Washington.
In his Washington Post column today, Ezra Klein makes an important point about politics generally and Washington in particular that I think isn't widely enough understood. He calls it "the myth of scheming," and what it amounts to is that in politics, things don't operate they way do in the movies. Or to put it less charitably, nobody knows what the hell they're doing and everyone is bumbling around blindly: This is the most pervasive of of all Washington legends: that politicians in Washington are ceaselessly, ruthlessly, effectively scheming. That everything that happens fits into somebody's plan. It doesn't. Maybe it started out with a scheme, but soon enough everyone is, at best, reacting, and at worst, failing to react, and always, always they're doing it with less information than they need. That's been a key lesson I've learned working as a reporter and political observer in Washington: No one can carry out complicated plans. All parties and groups are fractious and bumbling...

The Sequestering of Barack Obama

AP Photo/Susan Walsh
AP Photo/Susan Walsh President Barack Obama urges Congress to come up with a plan to avert the automatic spending cuts set to kick in on March 1, 2013 last week. P resident Obama has miscalculated both the tactical politics of the sequester and the depressive economic impact of budget cuts on the rest of his presidency. The sequester will cut economic growth in half this year. But it’s now clear, one way or another, that we will get cuts in the $85 billion range that the sequester mandates this fiscal year. All that remains are the details. Obama’s miscalculation began in his fist term, with his embrace of the premise that substantial deficit cutting was both politically expected and economically necessary, and his appointment of the 2010 Bowles-Simpson Commission as the expression of that mistaken philosophy. Although the Commission’s plan was never carried out, its prestige and Obama’s parentage of it locked the president into a deflationary deficit reduction path. This past week,...

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