Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

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,...

An Empty Eighth Amendment Promise

Wikimedia commons
Warren Hill has an IQ below 70. Despite this, barring an unlikely intervention by the Supreme Court, he will be executed by the state of Georgia tonight. The likelihood of this outcome is a lesson in how Supreme Court decisions can't always be taken at face value. That Georgia is about to send a mentally handicapped man to the death chamber is, while dismaying, not in itself surprising. What is unusual about the case, however, is that the Supreme Court issued a ruling in 2002 that would seem to make what Georgia is about to do plainly illegal. In his opinion for the Court in Atkins v. Viriginia , Justice John Paul Stevens wrote that mentally handicapped individuals were categorically excluded from the death penalty by the cruel and unusual punishment clause of the Eighth Amendment. Given Hill's low IQ and the fact that even the state's expert witnesses have recanted their earlier testimony that he was not mentally retarded, the execution of Hill would seem to be a clear violation of...

White House Reporters versus the Obama Administration

White House reporters getting the story.
At some point in every presidency, the White House press corps begins to complain about how they're being treated. Sometimes these complaints are legitimate and necessary, the Fourth Estate demanding that the public be adequately informed of what its government is up to. At other times, it's little more than a bunch of overpaid prima donnas whining that the White House staff isn't treating them with the deference they feel they deserve and doing their jobs for them. So let's say you're one of those reporters, and your frustration has been mounting. How can you make sure everyone understands that your gripe is of the first kind and not the second? Well for starters, you might not want to rise up to express your outrage over the fact that you didn't get to watch the President play golf with Tiger Woods. But that's just what happened over the last couple of days. It seems that when Barack Obama hit the links with Woods over the weekend, White House reporters weren't allowed to follow...

Stopping Domestic Violence: A Radical Feminist Idea?

AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, accompanied by fellow House Democrats, discusses the reintroduction of the Violence Against Women Act. O f all the strange choices made by the GOP in recent years, the sudden opposition to the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is among the most confusing. The act had long counted on bipartisan support for its reauthorization—George W. Bush signed it without incident in 2005—but now Republicans in the House seem intent on killing it. Republicans haven’t suddenly morphed into evil comic-book villains who openly support rape and wife-beating, so what gives? Obviously, Republicans don't want voters to think they have it in for victims of gender-based violence. But the objections being offered by VAWA opponents are inconsistent or nonsensical. Some say the law represents an unconstitutional overreach and takes away state and local jurisdiction over domestic violence; in fact, the act provides federal support to local law...

The New Liberals

AP Photo/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Johnny Crawford, Pool
When he leaves office in January of 2017—provided there isn't a terrible scandal or some kind of economic or foreign policy disaster between now and then—Barack Obama will likely be hailed as the greatest Democratic hero since John F. Kennedy. He got most of the way there just by winning a second term, before we even get to his already substantial policy successes. But the real reason is that for a long time to come, Obama will represent for Democrats the moment when they and their beliefs were ascendant. You can see it in the way some Democrats are already positioning themselves to run for president in 2016. We'll get to those particular candidates in a moment, but what's important to know about them is that this new Democratic coalition you've heard so much about is going to produce its own kind of candidate. That isn't to say they'll necessarily be people you had never heard of until a couple of years ago; some will be politicians who came of age in an earlier era adapting to the...

Homeless, Hungry, Hung Out to Dry

USDA/Bob Nichols
USDA/Bob Nichols Students at Washington-Lee High School, in Arlington, Virginia. More than 31 million students from low-income families benefit from the the National School Lunch Program, a federally assisted meal program administered by the United States Department of Agriculture. T he sequester—a set of deep, across-the-board cuts to discretionary spending set to take effect if lawmakers cannot agree to a longterm budget deal—was never supposed to happen. But as the deadline for reaching an agreement ticks ever closer, Congress appears hopelessly deadlocked to avoid it. Under the original agreement, sequestration would have triggered $100 billion in cuts to both defense and non-defense discretionary spending on January 1—an 8.2 percent reduction in non-defense expenditures. The “fiscal-cliff” deal reached in December reduced that amount to $85.3 billion and pushed the deadline back to March. Under the new deal, non-defense discretionary spending would be cut by $42.7 billion each...

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...

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