Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

A Voice for Climate, 40,000 Strong

Jaime Fuller
Drew Angerer/SIPA via AP Images A llison Chin, president of the Sierra Club, knows now is the moment to think big on climate. It’s been a year of “records”: A record number of droughts have hit towns across the country, record temperatures slowly roast the planet, and storms have left record amounts of snow and rain in their wake. Finally, too, a record number of people have conceded that we’re changing the environment for the worse. “Mothers, fathers, grandparents, children, businessmen, people of the faith—it’s not just environmentalists that are affected by this,” Chin says. She knows that environmentalists need to be practical—they need concrete demands that all people left adrift by a changing climate can endorse. But facing such long odds and high stakes, how can they be anything but ardent about the environment? Yesterday’s climate rally, which supporters billed as the largest in history, proved a near perfect mix of the practical and the passionate. Facing a chilly February...

Pretty Words, Dismal Economics

AP Photo/ Evan Vucci
AP Photo/ Evan Vucci President Barack Obama at a pre-kindergarten classroom at College Heights Early Childhood Learning Center in Decatur, Georgia last week. The president is traveling to promote his economic and educational plan that he highlighted in his State of the Union address. B arack Obama’s State of the Union address last week—which called for, among other things, universal pre-K and raising the minimum wage—offered a bold program for rebuilding the middle class. But the president’s continuing commitment to budgetary austerity makes these commitments hollow, if not cynical. And just as Obama and the Democrats paid the price in the 2010 midterm election for excess caution and conciliation, the results of tokenism are not likely to be pretty in the midterms of 2014. Obama's plans for rebuilding the middle class will cost money. Universal pre-K alone would require upwards of $20 billion a year. Unless the president cynically imagines token “demonstration” programs, job training...

Ringside Seat: You Cruise, You Lose

In 2013, the wonders of our technological prowess never cease to amaze. We can launch remote-controlled planes to smite our enemies thousands of miles away. In your pocket right now, you probably have a tiny computer with more processing power than a Cray supercomputer had a few decades ago. Literally millions of photos of kittens and puppies are but a click away, increasing the sum total of human happiness immeasurably. And yet, when there's a fire in the engine room of a cruise ship, the thousands of people on board end up living in their own filth for days while everyone tries to figure out how to get them home. And if that weren't enough, you never know when the universe will laugh at our puny human problems and send a meteor exploding over Russia, just to let us know that we could be squashed at any time. It was no Tunguska Event, the 1908 meteor explosion over Siberia that packed a wallop 1,000 times as powerful as the bomb dropped on Hiroshima and knocked over an estimated 80...

On "Emboldening" Republicans

Flickr/Secretary of Defense
I want to expand on something I brought up yesterday on the utility, for the opposition party, of doing nothing more with your efforts than becoming the biggest pain in the president's ass you possibly can. As of now, Republicans have mounted an unprecedented filibuster against Chuck Hagel's nomination to be Secretary of Defense, the latest in a long line of cases in which they looked at a prevailing norm of doing business in Washington and realized that there was no reason they couldn't violate it. Sure, up until now we had an unspoken agreement that the president would get to appoint pretty much whoever he wants to his cabinet unless the nominee was a drunk, a criminal, or grossly unqualified. But Republicans feel perfectly free to cast that agreement aside. Why? Because screw you, Obama, that's why. In any case, it looks at the moment as though this filibuster will be temporary, and Hagel will eventually get confirmed. So now, there are two ways to look at this. Having caused all...

Now Hiring: A Few Good Judges

Flickr/Cliff
Flickr/Cliff C hief Judge David Sentelle’s recent opinion in Noel Canning v. NLRB holding President Barack Obama’s recess appointments unconstitutional is a trenchant reminder that the D.C. Circuit is, as is often said, the nation’s “second most important court after the Supreme Court.” It has also been, historically, a stepping stone to the high Court. The court now faces four vacancies among 11 judgeships with Sentelle’s February 12 assumption of senior status. But the Obama administration is the first in decades which confirmed no D.C. Circuit judge and has only submitted two names for consideration. The importance and complexity of the circuit caseload means it requires all eleven judges to deliver justice. For this reason—and to increase ideological balance on the court, which has four active and five senior judges whom Republican presidents appointed—Obama and the Senate must expeditiously fill the D.C. Circuit openings. Because of its location and the minuscule number of cases...

Three's a Crowd

AP Photo/Ron Heflin
Flickr/Gage Skidmore H ere we go again: the false hope, or in some cases fear, of a massive crack-up of the two major parties, with third- and fourth- and maybe more-party candidates running viable races for the presidency. It’s not going to happen. This time, it’s Ron Fournier who reports on insiders who envision the parties breaking apart . In the world of Fournier and his sources, “social change and a disillusioned electorate threaten the entire two-party system.” The result could be Rand Paul and a regular Republican both landing on the ballot in November 2016—and if Hillary Clinton doesn’t run, perhaps a Democratic splintering as well. As Brendan Nyhan documents , we've heard all of this before (and Fournier is a specialist ). I won't say it's impossible that we'll get a "serious" third-party candidate in one of the next few presidential cycles, but it's not likely, and to the larger point, the parties are most certainly not cracking up. To the contrary: The Democratic and...

Gunpocalypse Now

Imagine that after budget cuts force the dismantling of all law enforcement in your area and a natural disaster destroys any semblance of society, a horde of crazed cannibal zombies comes down your street, heading right for your door so they can kill and eat your entire family. Don't you want to be sufficiently armed to hold them off? You may say this is an unlikely scenario, but that's because OH MY GOD LOOK BEHIND YOU! This is the message National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre wants to impart to America, as he explained in a recent op-ed in Tucker Carlson's Daily Caller : The apocalypse is coming, and if you're toting a gun with a piddling ten-round magazine, you're done for. "After Hurricane Sandy, we saw the hellish world that the gun prohibitionists see as their utopia," LaPierre wrote. "Looters ran wild in south Brooklyn. There was no food, water or electricity. And if you wanted to walk several miles to get supplies, you better get back before dark, or you might not get...

The Ridiculous, Unprecedented Filibuster of Chuck Hagel

Secretary of Defense / Flickr
Secretary of Defense / Flickr A s of this afternoon, Republicans have vowed to filibuster Chuck Hagel’s nomination to head the Department of Defense. It’s not hyperbole to say this is unprecedented—the Senate has never filibustered a president’s Cabinet nominee. It would be one thing if the nominee were clearly unqualified—if Obama had nominated Diddy to lead Defense, then Republicans would have a point. But Hagel is a decorated Vietnam veteran who served two terms in the Senate and built a reputation for seriousness on defense issues. This isn’t to say Republicans can’t oppose Hagel—they can vote against him, and if they have a majority, they can defeat his nomination. But refusing to allow the full Senate to vote on this is a huge departure from congressional norms. And why are Republicans breaking from years of Senate tradition? Because the administration hasn’t released specific intelligence about the September attacks on the U.S’s diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya. Here’s...

Explaining the Farce of the Hagel Hearings

Flickr/Secretary of Defense
It's easy to shake your head and laugh at the incredible things said by some of the nincompoops who occupy the GOP's backbench in Congress, whether it's Louie Gohmert ranting about "terror babies," or Paul Broun (an actual doctor, for whose patients I fear) saying "All that stuff I was taught about evolution, embryology, Big Bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell," or any of a thousand things Michele Bachmann has said over the years. But as we laugh, we know these people don't shape policy, so the damage they can do is limited. Not that the rest of the Republicans on Capitol Hill are a bunch of geniuses or anything, but most of those who have that golden combination of crazy and stupid are pretty far down in the pecking order. But looking forward to the next four years, you have to wonder if Barack Obama is, through little fault of his own, making the entire Republican party dumber with each passing day. Fred Kaplan, a thoughtful journalist who reports on military...

A Valentine's Day Vote for Same-Sex Marriage

Flickr/Shira Golding
For Illinois's same-sex couples wishing to wed, the Valentine's Day candy should be extra sweet. The state senate is expected to vote on a same-sex marriage bill today. “This is an exciting time to be a gay-rights lawyer,” Camilla Taylor, counsel for Lamdba Legal, told me. Taylor has good reason to be excited. With a Democratic supermajority, just about everyone expects the chamber will pass the measure. Then the bill will go to the House, where the leadership is also supportive. The news is part of a larger trend. Many expect the number of states recognizing same-sex marriage to grow significantly this year; activists have their sights set on five different states—Illinois, Rhode Island, Delaware, Minnesota, and Hawaii. All have supportive governors and Democratic majorities in the legislature. In New Jersey, where Republican governor Chris Christie vetoed a marriage-equality bill last year, people are working to build enough support to overturn his decision. Nine states already...

Minimum Wage 101

Flickr/pixbymaia
In his 2013 State of the Union, President Obama proposed a $9 federal minimum wage, indexed to inflation. Here to discuss the minimum wage as a policy is Arindrajit Dube. Dube is a professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and a widely respected scholar of labor markets and the minimum wage. Along with T. William Lester and Michael Reich, he is the author of Minimum Wage Effects Across State Borders: Estimates Using Contiguous Counties (2010), a major study that found no adverse employment effects of minimum wages increases by studying counties that cross state lines. Dube has written a summary back in 2011 on the state of this research here. Narrow, technical issues have dominated so much of the debate on the minimum wage, so I wanted to step back and get a better understanding of the minimum wage as a policy mechanism. These remarks are lightly edited. What does an introductory-level Economics 101 textbook tell us about the minimum wage, and how does that...

Obama's Plan for Universal Pre-K

White House / Flickr
White House / Flickr If you haven’t already, you should read Sharon Lerner on Oklahoma’s attempt to provide high-quality preschool education to all of its students. It offers a glimpse into what the Obama administration intends with its universal pre-K push, and it’s a hopeful story to boot. In the meantime, it’s worth look at the administration’s proposals, which were released this morning. Here is an extended excerpt from the White House fact sheet : The President’s proposal will improve quality and expand access to preschool, through a cost sharing partnership with all 50 states, to extend federal funds to expand high-quality public preschool to reach all low- and moderate-income four-year olds from families at or below 200% of poverty. The U.S. Department of Education will allocate dollars to states based their share of four-year olds from low- and moderate-income families and funds would be distributed to local school districts and other partner providers to implement the program...

Game of Drones

AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Murray Brewster
AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, File T he recent release of White House memos outlining the legal justifications the Obama administration believes it has to use drone strikes— against both foreign nationals and American citizens— reminds us that while the American public was otherwise occupied, a revolution in warfare was beginning. This revolution has some ways to go—we're not quite at the point where our next war is going to be fought by nothing but robots on land, sea, and air. But drones become more important not just to our military but to militaries all over the world with each passing year. Unmanned aerial vehicles, and their use in war, have a history nearly as long as aviation itself. During a siege of Venice in 1849, Austria launched balloons carrying explosives over the city—the first recorded use of aerial bombing. In 1863, a New York inventor named Charles Perley patented an unmanned aerial bombing balloon for use in the Civil War (it proved less than reliable, so it had no...

Be Like Janet, Dammit

AP Photo/Susan Walsh
AP Photo/Susan Walsh Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano testifying on comprehensive immigration reform before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing yesterday. S peaking about the U.S.-Mexico border in San Diego, California, on Monday, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano assured the audience that "the border is secure ... I believe it is a safe border," an assessment she reprised yesterday in a Senate hearing on immigration reform. "I often hear the argument that before reform can move forward we must first secure our borders, but too often the ‘border security first’ refrain simply serves as an excuse for failing to address the underlying problems," Napolitano said. "Our borders have, in fact, never been stronger." In advance of the administration's push for immigration reform, the secretary has quietly been making the case that after a decade-long ramp-up in investment, the wave of unchecked immigration that began in the 1990s has come to an end. Indeed, in the last...

The Grand Old Jurassic Party

Flickr/Talk Radio News Service T he Republican Party is a presidential election away from extinction. If it can’t win the 2016 contest, and unless it has bolstered its congressional presence beyond the benefits of gerrymandered redistricting—which is to say not only retaking the Senate but polling more votes than the opposition nationally—the party will die. It will die not for reasons of “branding” or marketing or electoral cosmetics but because the party is at odds with the inevitable American trajectory in the direction of liberty, and with its own nature; paradoxically the party of Abraham Lincoln, which once saved the Union and which gives such passionate lip service to constitutionality, has come to embody the values of the Confederacy in its hostility to constitutional federalism and the civil bonds that the founding document codifies. The Republican Party will vanish not because of what its says but because of what it believes, not because of how it presents itself but because...

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