Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Citizens? They Want to Be Citizens?

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House Republicans convened their first hearing on immigration reform on Tuesday and made clear that they were scared to death of immigrants actually getting the vote. Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia set the tone when he made clear he was looking for a mid-range position somewhere between deporting and granting citizenship to the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. A nice, safe legal “resident” status, he suggested, never to be upgraded to that of citizen and voter. San Antonio’s Democratic Mayor Julian Castro took understandable exception to this idea in his testimony before the committee. “I just cannot imagine an America where we assign these folks to an underclass status,” he told the congressmen. Then again, Southern whites—the core of the modern Republican Party—have had historically high comfort levels with just such arrangements. Perhaps they should propose counting these non-citizen residents as three-fifths of a person in the next...

Economy to Spending Cuts: Ouch!

If you went perusing big conservative web sites today— National Review , Weekly Standard , Glenn Beck's "The Blaze"—you would have searched in vain for any mention of the report released today by the Congressional Budget Office, the latest of their periodic assessments of the state of the budget and the economy. That's not because it was full of good news that the Obama administration will cheer. It's because most of what the CBO had to say undermines the arguments Republicans routinely make about these topics. You can't listen to a Republican talk for five minutes without hearing that we have to rein in Barack Obama's out-of-control spending. But here's the CBO: "The federal budget deficit, which shrank as a percentage of GDP for the third year in a row in 2012, will fall again in 2013, if current laws remain the same. At an estimated $845 billion, the 2013 imbalance would be the first deficit in five years below $1 trillion; and at 5.3 percent of GDP, it would be only about half as...

Voter Turnout in 2012: Meh

Flickr/zzazazz
Thanks to Michael McDonald at George Mason University, we have the final turnout statistics for the 2012 presidential election, and the verdict is ... eh. Not too bad, not too great. A total of 129,058,169 votes were counted, out of an eligible population of 221,925,820, for a turnout figure of 58.2 percent. How does that compare to previous years, you ask? Or rather, can you show me a chart comparing that to previous years? Why yes. Yes I can. Last year's turnout was right in the middle of the 17 elections presented in this chart—better than eight, but worse than eight. It was a bit down from that of 2008, which at 61.6 percent was the highest since 1964. And it's important to remember that there's a huge variation in turnout among the separate states. The friendly and civic-minded people of Minnesota always have the nation's highest turnout, and this year an admirable 75.7 percent of them came to the polls. At the other end, four states came in below 50 percent: Texas, Oklahoma,...

The Virginia GOP Just Made Voting More Difficult for Poor People

New York State Government
Virginia doesn’t make it easy to vote, and this afternoon, the state lawmakers have tightened requirements, passing a voter-identification bill that would eliminate several forms of ID currently accepted at the polls: Senate Bill 719, sponsored by Sen. Richard H. Black, R-Loudoun, would not go into effect until 2014 and stipulates a voter education component – the result of a Democratic amendment the chamber adopted Monday, also thanks to Bolling’s tie-breaking vote. The Senate legislation, and a companion measure – House Bill 1337, sponsored by Del. Mark L. Cole, R-Spotsylvania, which cleared the House of Delegates today on a 63–36 vote – would eliminate the use of a utility bill, pay stub, bank statement, government check and Social Security card as acceptable identification that can be presented at the polls. Voters would still be able to use a voter identification card, concealed handgun permit, driver’s license and student ID card. Put simply, voting has just become more...

What Does the Justice Department Say about Targeted Killings?

Wikipedia
In case you missed it, last night, NBC News published a Justice Department white paper detailing the criteria the administration uses to decide if it will kill Americans who belong to al-Qaeda as senior leaders. National security is not my area of expertise, but several reporters have already given excellent takes on the memo and its implications. Writing at The Week , Mark Ambinder gives a short run-down of the white paper. In it, the administration’s lawyers detail the standards that must be met before the president can authorize a targeted killing. First, Ambinder writes, “‘An informed, high-level official’ must determine that the person represents ‘an imminent threat’ of ‘violent attack against the United States.’” Second, “Capturing the dude is ‘infeasible,’ and the government will continue to assess whether capturing him is feasible.” And finally, as almost an aside, “The killing, or ‘lethal operation,’ must be conducted according to the laws of war.” Writing for Wired ’s Danger...

Can We Live Without the Assault Weapons Ban?

Flickr/mr.smashy
So yesterday, Harry Reid hinted that he'll be introducing a gun-control measure that doesn't include a new ban on assault weapons. If we assume for a moment that other proposed measures eventually pass, but an assault-weapons ban doesn't, how bad an outcome would it be? Let's start by stipulating that it is utterly insane that in this country, anybody can walk into a gun shop and walk out a few minutes later with a military-style rifle whose sole purpose is to enable its user to kill human beings as quickly and efficiently as possible. They're not for hunting, and they're not for defending your home, unless you're Tony Montana. The fact that a lot of people find shooting them fun shouldn't carry any weight as a policy argument. And as we know all too well, they turn mass shootings more deadly. On the other hand, one of the arguments gun advocates make is that the kind of weapons that would be outlawed (for future sales, anyway) under an assault-weapons ban don't kill all that many...

License to Kill

WikiMedia Commons
In a major reportorial coup, NBC's Michael Isikoff has uncovered the "white paper" that the Obama administration used to internally justify extrajudicial killings in the "war on terror." Not only has Isikoff performed a valuable service by making the memo available to the public, this will also be the first time it had been made available to most members of Congress . The memo, unfortunately, will not reassure anyone who thinks that the Obama administration has continued much of the Bush administration's overreaching. The document lays out three conditions justifying killings ordered by the executive branch. First, an "informed, high-level official" in the United States government must determine that an individual poses an "imminent threat of violent attack against the United States." Second, the capture of the individual must be "infeasible." And, third, the operation must be conducted in a "manner consistent with applicable law of war principles." When these conditions are met, the...

Paul Ryan Is Not a Fan of Electoral Vote Rigging

Wikipedia
Last month, Republicans in several swing states—Virginia, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania—floated a change that would give the GOP a decisive advantage in presidential elections. As it stands, most states, sans Nebraska and Maine, distribute their electoral votes in a winner-take-all system—if you win the state, you win the electoral votes. What Republicans have proposed is a system where electoral votes are distributed by congressional district—if you win the district, then you win the votes. The problem, as I explained last month, is that Democrats tend to cluster in urban areas, packing their voters into a handful of districts. By contrast, Republicans control more land . This scheme would privilege the GOP for having an advantage with land, and disadvantage Democrats for representing population dense areas. Outrage from this proposal exploded as soon as people realized its implications, and one by one, Republicans have backed away from it. Yesterday, the Wisconsin State Journal...

How the NRA Is Helping to Pass Gun Control

We're in the early stages of a lengthy process that will involve hearings, competing bills, horse-trading, and the usual ugliness of life in the Capitol Hill sausage factory, but the contours of gun legislation are beginning to take shape. Though President Obama is out campaigning for the full package of reforms he has been advocating, there are indications that the assault weapons ban may get dropped in order to forestall a Republican filibuster in the Senate, and a bipartisan group is about to introduce a bill in the House on gun trafficking and straw purchases. (I'll discuss the assault weapons question in a later post). In other words, the actual legislative process is getting underway. And though it's by no means assured that some gun measures will pass Congress, if any do, we'll partly have the NRA to thank. That's because, I believe, the organization fundamentally misread the role it plays in the minds of the average voter. They've become more extremist in the last two decades...

I Can Haz Internet Freedom?

Michael Gottschalk/dapd
AP Photo/Matt Dunham) Anonymous supporters wearing Guy Fawkes masks hold a banner as they take part in a protest outside Britain's Houses of Parliament in London, Monday, November 5, 2012. The protest was held on November 5 to coincide with the failed 1605 gunpowder plot to blow up the House of Lords. T wo weeks ago today, a line was crossed. Two weeks ago today, Aaron Swartz was killed. Killed because he faced an impossible choice. Killed because he was forced into playing a game he could not win—a twisted and distorted perversion of justice—a game where the only winning move was not to play. That message greeted visitors to the United States Sentencing Commission website the evening of January 25. The words were part of a ten-minute video manifesto embedded on the homepage of the commission, responsible for writing the sentencing policies and guidelines for federal courts. The death of the Internet savant and information activist Aaron Swartz, who took his own life due at least in...

GOP Slowly Realizes Free Money Is Great!

When the Supreme Court upheld the individual insurance mandate of the Affordable Care Act, conservatives' disappointment was tempered by one element of the ruling, which allowed states to opt out of the ACA's expansion of Medicaid. Obamacare might have survived, but at least they'd be able to stick it to poor people. The Medicaid expansion was perhaps the most critical part of the ACA, potentially delivering insurance to 30 million people who don't have it, but now Republican governors and Republican legislators would have a chance to give Barack Obama the finger and refuse to accept the giant pot of money the federal government was offering to insure their poorest citizens. (Though Medicaid funding today is split between the federal government and the states, the feds will pick up almost the entire cost of the expansion). Ironically, the states where Republican rule is firmest stood to gain the most, since they're the ones with the stingiest existing Medicaid eligibility standards,...

Labor Wins—in China

Flickr/notebookaktuell
Is China moving ahead of the United States on worker rights? According to a report on Monday’s Financial Times , it may be doing just that. The FT reports that Foxconn, which employs 1.2 million Chinese workers who make the bulk of Apple’s products, along with those of Nokia, Dell, and other tech companies, has decided to allow its workers to hold elections to select their union leaders. This is a radical departure from past practice in China, where unions are run by the government—that is, the Communist Party—which customarily selects the union leaders. Often, the leaders selected under this system are actually the plant managers. Under Foxconn’s new plan, workers will cast secret ballots for their union leaders, and no managers will be eligible to run. The company’s proposal, writes the FT , is viewed as a “response to frequent worker protests, riots and strikes and soaring labor costs.” In other words, just as employers in Western Europe and the U.S. once came to prefer dealing...

Free "Super-Wifi" Everywhere? Don't Hold Your Breath.

Flickr/CollegeDegrees360
We spend a lot of time arguing about whether government should be big or small, which is almost always the wrong question. Among the right questions are how government should go about doing what it has to do, and on whose behalf it ought to operate. I bring this up because of a proposal by the Federal Communications Commission, discussed in this article in today's Washington Post , to open up a big chunk of spectrum to spread wifi hither and yon, potentially creating a nirvana of free internet and cell phone access. Sound too good to be true? Yeah, it is. But here's how the Post described it: The federal government wants to create super WiFi networks across the nation, so powerful and broad in reach that consumers could use them to make calls or surf the Internet without paying a cellphone bill every month. The proposal from the Federal Communications Commission has rattled the $178 billion wireless industry, which has launched a fierce lobbying effort to persuade policymakers to...

The Nullification Crisis, Part Deux

Wikipedia
Wikipedia John C. Calhoun, former vice president and senator from South Carolina. From its inception as part of Dodd-Frank financial, Republicans have been opposed to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an agency meant to protect consumers from predatory financial practices. In a sane political world, Republicans would register through the usual channels, including elections. If you want to change Washington—or even just an agency—the first order of business is winning elections. In the world as it exists, however, Republicans have decided to simply block any attempt at enforcing laws they don’t like. For the CFPB, this means blocking confirmation for its director—former Ohio attorney general Richard Cordray—until the administration agrees to gut the agency and leave consumers more vulnerable to predatory financial practices: Senate Republicans are renewing their vow to block any nominee to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) unless major changes are made to its...

He's Not Here to Make Friends

President Obama meeting with grim-faced members of Congress. (White House/Pete Souza)
If you walked into the home of an acquaintance and found yourself facing a wall of dozens of pictures of him shaking hands with powerful people, you'd probably think, "What a pompous ass. And how insecure do you have to be to put these things up on your wall? I get it, you're important. Sheesh." In Washington, however, these "brag walls" can be found all over town, particularly on Capitol Hill, where nearly every member of Congress has one. Maybe some offices do it just because that's what everyone else does, but you'd think that if you're a senator or member of Congress, the fact that you're an important person would be self-evident, and it wouldn't be necessary to make sure everyone who comes into your office knows that you've been in the same room as presidents and other high-ranking officials. There are some commercial establishments, like your local deli, that might put up pictures on their walls with the celebrities who have stopped in, but that's an understandable marketing...

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