Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Mass Joblessness Is Still a Problem—Someone Tell Washington

kanu101 / Flickr
The unemployment rate is a decent measure of where the economy stands, but it doesn’t provide a full picture of joblessness—it only measures the employment status of people looking for a job. For a broader sense of unemployment—and its affect on everyday life—you have to dig deeper. A recent study from Rutgers University, for example, provides a sobering look at the broad impact of persistent joblessness. In “ Diminished Lives and Futures: A Portrait of America in the Great-Recession Era ,” researchers Mark Szeltner, Carl Van Horn, and Cliff Zukin find that “nearly one-quarter (23%) of all survey respondents report being laid off from either a full-time or part-time job.” There’s a stark racial divide, 31 percent of blacks and Hispanics report losing a job, versus 22 percent of whites, and a large gender gap—27 percent of men have lost employment since the recession began, versus 19 percent of women. What’s staggering is the number of people who have been touched by joblessness...

How Hard Will It Be to Find a Gun Dealer for Your Background Check?

Flickr/xomiele
According to some news reports out in the last day or so (see here and here ), a bipartisan group of senators, including two pro-gun Republicans (Tom Coburn and Mark Kirk), one pro-gun Democrat (Joe Manchin), and one not-so-pro-gun Democrat (Chuck Schumer) are making genuine progress in coming up with legislation to approach universal background checks for gun purchases, to close what is commonly known as the "gun-show loophole," but would be more properly known as the private-sale loophole, that when one person sells another person a gun, no background check is required. Never one to pass up an opportunity to make a graph or two, I thought I'd offer some data on federally licensed gun dealers, since they're going to be key to solving this problem. Despite the fact that around 90 percent of Americans in every poll support universal background checks, the NRA says that requiring checks in private sales will impose a terrible burden on law-abiding gun owners. So will it? Right now, if...

Jobs and Growth, Not Deficit Reduction

Flickr/Andreas Klinke Johannsen
C an we just keep things in perspective? On Tuesday, the President asked Republicans to join him in finding more spending cuts and revenues before the next fiscal cliff whacks the economy at the end of the month. Yet that same day, the Congressional Budget Office projected that the federal budget deficit will drop to 5.3 percent of the nation’s total output by the end of this year. This is roughly half what the deficit was relative to the size of the economy in 2009. It’s about the same share of the economy as it was when Bill Clinton became president in 1992. The deficit wasn’t a problem then, and it’s not an immediate problem now. Yes, the deficit becomes larger later in the decade. But that’s mainly due to the last-ditch fiscal cliff deal in December. By extending the Bush tax cuts for all but the top 2 percent of Americans and repealing the alternative minimum tax, that deal increased budget deficits by about $3 trillion above what the budget office projected last August. The real...

Checks and Balances on the Western Front

Wikimedia commons
AP Photo/Brennan Linsley T he release of the white paper justifying the Obama administration's targeted killings program—as well as the confirmation hearings for President Obama's CIA nominee John Brennan —has brought attention back to the role the executive branch plays in the abuses and overreaching that have come to define the "War on Terror." This is how it should be. While the president's power over domestic policy tends to be overrated, the president is the dominant force in military affairs. It's also true that Congress shouldn't be left off the hook. The legislative branch has substantial constitutional authority over military affairs. In the case of the War on Terror, Congress has repeatedly deferred to the White House, starting with the extremely broad Authorization for Use of Military Force against al-Qaeda in 2001. While the targeted killings memo did cite the president's Article II powers to defend the country, the most commonly cited authority for the administration's...

Unenhanced Interrogation Techniques

Confirmation hearings usually go like this: Members of the administration's party praise the nominee's experience, acumen, and fine-looking family, then ask him a few questions about just how terrific a guy he is. Then members of the opposition party pull out something the nominee said years ago, take it out of context, and ask him to defend it. The smart nominee, heeding the advice he has been given by his administration handlers, answers all hostile questions with, "I look forward to working with you on that, Senator." But at today's confirmation hearing for John Brennan to be the next CIA director, it wasn't always easy to tell which was the president's party and which was the opposition. The only real way to know was that the Republicans asked Brennan pointed questions about small matters, in the hopes of catching him in a contradiction or exposing something embarrassing, while the Democrats asked him pointed questions about the broader issues of torture, the militarization of the...

The Rising Tide of Anti-Black Racism

Google
Google This image was distributed by a Republican organization in San Bernardino, California during the 2008 Presidential election. Thomas Edsall has a fascinating column in today’s New York Times on the persistence of racial resentment in the Obama-era. For those not familiar with the term, “racial resentment” is defined as the convergence of anti-black sentiments with traditional American views on hard work and individualism. It’s measured using questions that focus on race and effort. People who answer in the affirmative to questions like this—“Irish, Italian, Jewish and many other minorities overcame prejudice and worked their way up. Blacks should do the same without any special favors”—and in the negative to questions like this—“Generations of slavery and discrimination have created conditions that make it difficult for blacks to work their way out of the lower class”—are assigned a high place on the resentment scale. Edsall runs though recent research from a variety of sources...

Today's Delicious Right-Wing Infighting

Brent Bozell, Washington's angriest man. This was apparently the happiest photo his organization could find to use as his head shot.
For many years, those of us on the left have joked that all it takes is two Democratic members of Congress having trouble deciding what to eat for lunch to produce a "Dems in Disarray!" headline. Overstated though it often is, there's an underlying truth there, which is that liberals have frequently been undone by a lack of ability to herd themselves cohesively toward a desired end. And I'm sure that conservatives get no end of satisfaction from watching their opponents bicker amongst themselves. So it's hard to resist a little schadenfreude when the shoe is on the other foot. As you may have heard, Karl Rove has started a new organization whose goal is basically to stop future Todd Akins from winning Republican primaries. It's not meant to move the GOP to the center or anything, just to push aside the crazies, of whom there are already a couple (Steve King in Iowa, Paul Broun in Georgia) preparing 2014 Senate runs. But that doesn't sit well with some people, which led to this...

The Moderate's GOP Survival Guide

AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta
AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta Former Delaware Republican Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell, who made waves in her 2010 campaign when she said she "dabbled into witchcraft." K arl Rove and big Republican donors are trying to rescue the GOP from more Christine "I am not a witch" O'Donnell-type embarrassments by funding a new group dedicated to stopping terrible candidates from winning Republican nominations . The impulse is a healthy one, but it’s going to take a lot more than some attack ads to stop extremist candidates. After all, most of the ugly Republican candidates from the last two cycles were relatively underfunded in their primaries; a little more money thrown into the pot against them is unlikely to make a difference, and it might, as Salon columnist Steve Kornacki has argued , even backfire if it winds up drawing Tea Party activists into a fight they might otherwise have ignored. At best, it will help on the margins. The larger question is what Republicans who want to...

Darrell Issa's Tight Spot

AP Photo/Nelvin Cepeda, Pool
Tuesday’s House Judiciary Committee hearing on the status of the undocumented produced a united front of Republican support for legalizing those immigrants, but not allowing them to become citizens. Well, an almost united front. As Kitty Felde of Los Angeles public radio staton KPCC reported , one GOP Committee member dissented from his peers’ halfway-house stance. Darrell Issa, the sole Republican committee member from California, told Felde that he believes the undocumented should be allowed to become citizens. “I believe that that’s the inherently American thing to do,” he said. Issa is nobody’s idea of a Republican moderate—to the contrary, he’s a doctrinaire right-winger. As chair of the House Oversight Committee, moreover, Issa has consistently endeavored to inflate various Obama administration contretemps into full-blown scandals (Fast and Furious, Benghazi) despite the absence of supporting facts. But Issa also represents a district that, according to the 2010 Census, is 26...

Guns—Not the Mentally Ill—Kill People

Flickr/JenXer
Flickr/JenXer A fter a year of violent tragedies that culminated with the elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, America is finally having a conversation about gun control. For the many who want to decrease access to firearms in the wake of several mass shootings, new laws being proposed around the country to limit and regulate guns and ammunition represent a momentous first step. But running through the gun-control debate is a more delicate conversation: how to handle mental-health treatment in America. Among both Democrats and Republicans, in both the pro-gun and anti-gun lobbies, there’s a widespread belief that mental-health treatment and monitoring is key to decreasing gun violence. Shining more light on the needs and struggles of the mentally ill would normally be a positive change; mental-health programs and services have been cut year after year in the name of austerity. But in the context of gun violence, those with mental illness have become easy scapegoats...

Brennan and the Grump Bowl

Get ready: Tomorrow is the second coming of the Super Bowl, at least for Beltway junkies. Everyone who's anyone will be stocking up on wings and six-packs and flipping the channel to C-SPAN to watch the John Brennan hearings, the mid-season peak of Obama's second-term appointment marathon. The reason this is must-see television? Thank Republicans, who have turned a once routine procedure into over-the-top political theater starring Walter Matthau John McCain as the very grumpiest of old men. Dramatic confirmation hearings aren't completely unprecedented—the word "Borking" exists for a reason. But this year, just about every hearing (confirmation and otherwise) has produced entertaining television featuring scenery-chewing performances by too-tanned, quarrelsome senators . At last week's Chuck Hagel hearings, those on the Armed Services Committee asked all the wrong questions , which overshadowed the poor answers the Defense nominee was dishing back. Hillary Clinton, facing the last...

Why Fox Dumped Dick Morris

I suppose I should have weighed in on this already, given that it's been an entire day, but in case you were wondering, here's what I think about Fox News' decision to finally give Dick Morris the boot. Erik Wemple probably spoke for many people when he said , "this is a time to celebrate Fox News. It has seen the lunacy of Dick Morris, and it's taking the appropriate step to inoculate itself against the ravages." This comes fast on the heels of Sarah Palin being shown the door , some post-election house-cleaning that thankfully has left sage contributors like Karl Rove standing. So what does this show? It doesn't, alas, indicate that real accountability is coming to the pundit industry. I've always thought it's too simplistic to view Fox News as nothing more than a partisan organization, as many people on the left do. Since he started the network in 1996, Roger Ailes' genius has lied in a careful melding of business and ideology, in which neither one ever moves too far ahead of the...

The NRA Is Ruining Its Reputation

Gage Skidmore / Flickr
Gage Skidmore / Flickr NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre speaking at the 2011 Conservative Political Action Conference. Last month, I noted the extent to which the National Rifle Association was digging a hole for itself by hewing to the most extreme rhetoric in its arsenal. Rather than quietly agree to sensible reforms—like an assault weapon’s ban and universal background checks—the NRA has taken a maximalist position on gun control, pushing the view that safety requires a gun in every home and a holster on every belt. True to form, this approach has backfired in the court of public opinion, as ordinary Americans—who otherwise support the 2nd Amendment—recoil from the extreme rhetoric of the NRA and its supporters. To wit, the latest national survey from Public Policy Polling shows that the organization has lost cachet with a good number of Americans. Thirty-nine percent say they would be less likely to vote for a candidate with the NRA’s endorsement, compared to 26 percent...

Debt Reduction Is Hurting the Economy

Wall Street Journal
For left-leaning writers, at least, it’s almost cliché to note the extent to which the press defers to deficit hawks, despite clear evidence that deficits are not a pressing problem for the United States. Even still, it’s worth noting when reporters pass along received wisdom, especially when we have fresh data to show the folly of Washington’s obsession with deficit reduction. To wit, here’s The Wall Street Journal with a piece that just cedes the idea there’s a deficit problem and it requires further “belt tightening” from the federal government: A slowly improving economy and recently enacted tax increases will help bring down the federal deficit for the next few years, the Congressional Budget Office said Tuesday, but it will take another $2 trillion in belt-tightening over the next decade to begin to move the federal debt closer to historic levels. […] CBO projects that if Congress leaves current laws unchanged, the debt will be 77% by 2023, and it will be higher if across-the-...

No More Saturday Mail? Blame Yourself.

Flickr/hajee
Later today, the Postal Service will be releasing a plan intended to deal with its ongoing financial difficulties, the most headline-grabbing part of which is that they want to end Saturday delivery. People will be displeased, no doubt. Who among us doesn't like getting mail on Saturdays? But there may be no way out, because the agency's financial situation is so dire. Why did it come to this? There are three reasons: politicians, technology, and the greedy American public. First, Congress has screwed the Post Office, imposing rules that make it almost impossible to balance its books. Second, the rise of electronic communication has drastically reduced the volume of mail it handles, cutting its revenues. And third, we all expect to get fast, efficient, and universal postal service at absurdly low prices. So if mail delivery ends up being just five days a week, we'll have no one to blame but ourselves. Since I'm guessing you're not particularly inclined to peruse the Postal Service's...

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