Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Hobby Lobby and the Return of the "Negro Travelers' Green Book"

Jalopnik
V ictor Green loved to travel. Being a mail carrier in the mid-20th century was a good, solid job, and the heyday of the American automobile was just beginning. Americans felt more mobile than ever before, especially once Eisenhower's interstate highway system expanded like a web through the country. The freedom of the open road beckoned. But Victor did not feel particularly free. As an African American, much of the nation was closed off to him and his family. Hotels rented rooms only to whites; restaurants wouldn't take his money; shops and markets kept their doors shut. Jim Crow was everywhere. So he wrote the first travel guide for African Americans, listing restaurants, hotels, gas stations, and even private homes that would aid the “Negro Traveler.” Known as The Green Book, it was an essential part of African American life for more than 20 years. By 1952, it had expanded its listings to include barbershops, bars, and nightclubs. Such a guide was essential, since each particular...

The Political Roots and Ramifications of the Hobby Lobby Case

Flickr/Sara C
The Supreme Court has completed the quasi-religious ritual of oral argument in the Hobby Lobby case, which will decide whether a corporation can declare its piety and thus absolve itself of the need to follow laws it finds unworthy of divine blessing. Now all we need do is wait for Anthony Kennedy to deliver his judgment, and the question will be settled. The consensus of those watching yesterday's arguments ( see here , for example) was that though nothing is certain, Kennedy seemed to be leaning toward the position of the plaintiffs, and thus of every Republican in America. And it's that last part I want to talk about. It's easy to know why the owners of the company themselves wanted to bring this case. Hobby Lobby's ownership mistakenly believes that if you use an IUD, you're committing little abortions left and right, and therefore that if their insurance covers IUDs (and a few other forms of contraception) then they're complicit in abortion. But what I'm wondering is, why is it...

Daily Meme: Stopping the NSA Madness This March

In January, President Obama gave a speech at the Justice Department that was basically an acknowledgement that the shady ex-girlfriend stuff that the NSA has been doing to Americans, like going through our phone records and mining our internet activity, was indeed pretty damn shady. He promised, in that vague way that politicians do, to take some action. Well, this week is action central! On Friday , the court order that authorizes the NSA's current data-collection program expires, and the administration wants to initiate a new process, via legislation, that would, in the words of Spencer Ackerman of The Guardian , "significantly curtail the practice [of mass phone data monitoring] but lower the legal standards for the collection of such information." The New York Times has the details : "The N.S.A. would end its systematic collection of data about Americans’ calling habits. The bulk records would stay in the hands of phone companies, which would not be required to retain the data for...

If a Candidate Goes to Iowa and No Reporter Pays Attention, Has the Presidential Campaign Begun?

Flickr/Angela Radulescu
There's a ritual we go through around this time, in which reporters and commentators start writing about the next presidential campaign, but while making sure to alert their readers that they feel kind of guilty about it. It's absurd to talk about this stuff when the actual election is still two and a half years away, and now that we've admitted that, let's go ahead and dive deep into who are the leading candidates to be Hillary Clinton's field director! After the midterm elections in November, the obligatory mea culpas, which were never all that sincere to begin with, will begin to disappear from the articles. I say they weren't sincere because those of us who do this for a living love writing about presidential campaigns, no matter how far away the next one is. It's our thing. That, in fact, was number 6 on a 7-point listicle I wrote all the way back in August of last year, explaining why there's so much coverage of the presidential campaign so early. And today, Alex Seitz-Wald of...

The Death of an Employer Scam

One of the most pervasive scams that employers use to lower their workers’ wages is misclassification—that is, turning their workers into independent contractors or temps when they are actually employees. Misclassification shouldn’t be mistaken for the whim of an errant employer. On the contrary, it’s a strategy that has been used to transform entire industries. From an employer’s perspective, the benefits of misclassification are clear. Turning a worker into a temp or a free agent obviates any need to provide him with benefits. It shields the employer from legal liability for health and safety violations, for industrial accidents, or from wage and hour violations. It invariably lowers such workers wages as well. It makes it impossible for workers to form unions. Over the past decade, misclassified workers have turned up in more and more industries. The Nissan employees who assemble cars at the company’s plants in Mississippi and Tennessee work alongside temps who do the same work as...

After the Midterms: Impeachment?

AP Images/Peter Dejong
As analysts and strategists and politicos keep reminding us, Barack Obama isn’t on the ballot this coming midterm election, except for the way in which he is. It’s now clear to anyone who doesn’t need it spelled out—and if you do, increasingly in recent weeks it’s being spelled out for you anyway—that the stealth issue of the upcoming congressional contest is the president’s impeachment. On the right, impeachment has become the wildfire crucible, and the purest purity test yet for those sanctified few who have managed to pass the others; that Obama hasn’t actually done anything to warrant impeachment, or at least anything as egregious as misleading a public into war, couldn’t be more beside the point. He’s Obama; his very existence calls for nullification; the historic fact of his presidency is a transgression against the national image of those Americans who more and more come to the conclusion that things started going very wrong in this country sometime around 1861. Loath as it...

What the Koch Brothers Can Do For Liberals

Flickr/peoplesworld
If there was a high point of liberal energy and activity in recent years, it would have to be the period running roughly from 2004 until 2008. New organizations like the Center for American Progress were founded, the netroots came into its own, and whenever a group of liberals got together, you just got the feeling you were at the start of something big. Years hence, it seemed, people would look back on what was going on that moment and say, "This is when it started." Only time would tell what "it" would turn out to be. What actually came of all that and how we should judge it will have to be a topic for another day. But why then? The answer seems pretty plain to me: George W. Bush. I've argued before that when he came along, Barack Obama seemed to embody everything liberals wanted to be and therefore what they wanted in a president. He was young, from a big city, multiracial, erudite, cosmopolitan, cool, and seemingly unafraid of Republicans. These surface features made lots of...

Disrespecting Your Defender

AP Images/Reynaldo Paganelli/NurPhoto/REX
M oshe Ya'alon thinks that President Barack Obama is a wimp and that Secretary of State John Kerry is mentally incompetent. If Ya'alon were a GOP senator, this wouldn't be worthy of comment. He'd be doing what has come to be the job of Republican politicians: to blame every international crisis on Obama's alleged lack of machismo and to presume that action-hero growls will attract votes this November and two years hence. The job requirements do not include providing realistic policy alternatives. Ya'alon, however, is not one of Obama's domestic political opponents. Rather, he is Israel's defense minister, responsible for the security of a client state that is heavily dependent on a superpower, of which Obama happens to be president. So it registered several points higher on the Richter Scale of rudeness and irresponsibility when Ya'alon gave a talk last week at Tel Aviv University describing the decline and impending fall of America. In Ukraine, and pretty much everywhere around the...

The GOP's Racial Dog Whistling and the Social Safety Net

AP Images/J. Scott Applewhite
Y ou've no doubt heard the famous quote about race in politics spoken by the late Lee Atwater, the most skilled Republican strategist of his generation. Liberals have cited it for years, seeing in it an explanation, right from the horse's mouth, of how contemporary Republicans use "issues" like welfare to activate racial animus among white voters, particularly in the South. Race may be an eternal force in American politics, but its meaning and operation change as the years pass. It's time we took another look at Atwater's analysis and see how it is relevant to today, because it doesn't mean what it once did. Atwater may have been extraordinarily prescient, though not in the way most people think. If a certain word unsettles you, you might want to read something else with your coffee, but it's important we have Atwater's quote, spoken in 1981 during an interview with a political scientist, in front of us: " You start out in 1954 by saying, 'Nigger, nigger, nigger.' By 1968 you can't...

Daily Meme: Fred Phelps, God's Gift to Gay Rights

You've no doubt heard that Fred Phelps, the terror of Topeka, Kansas, and patriarch of the "God Hates Fags" Westboro Baptist church, died late Wednesday night at 84. While Phelps came to infamy picketing the funeral of Matthew Shepard and countless other gay men, that was only the beginning of his family church's two-decade hate tour across the country, as Jay Michaelson reminds us: " they expanded their targets to include women, Jews, Barack Obama, and eventually, anyone associated with the United States itself —including dead soldiers, whose distraught relatives were mystified to find fire-breathing fundamentalists shouting at funerals." For the LGBT rights movement, there's no question that Phelps was, in Richard Kim's words, "a useful bigot." Phelps exposed the lie behind the old Christian copout, "Love the sinner, hate the sin." He said it himself: “It’s pure nonsense to say that God loves the sinner but hates the sin. He hates the sin, and he hates the sinner. He sends them to...

The Decline of Conservative Publishing

Available for pre-order now!
As a liberal who has written a few books whose sales were, well let's just say "modest" and leave it at that, I've always looked with envy at the system that helps conservatives sell lots and lots of books. The way worked was that you wrote a book, and then you got immediately plugged into a promotion machine that all but guaranteed healthy sales. You'd go on a zillion conservative talk shows, be put in heavy rotation on Fox News, get featured by conservative book clubs, and even have conservative organizations buy thousands of copies of your books in bulk. If you were really lucky, that last item would push the book onto the bestseller lists, getting you even more attention. It worked great, for the last 15 years or so. But McKay Coppins reports that the success of conservative publishing led to its own decline. As mainstream publishers saw the money being made by conservative houses like Regnery and the occasional breakthrough of books by people like Allan Bloom and Charles Murray,...

An Iraq War Satire with a French Twist

The French Minister
The French aren't famous for mocking their own vanities, which is why the new movie The French Minister— retitled from Quai D'Orsay, the metonymic equivalent of "Foggy Bottom"—would probably have Charles de Gaulle rolling in his formidable grave. Thierry Lhermitte plays a foppish, dizzyingly self-regarding Foreign Minister named Alexandre Taillard de Vorms—a blatant parody of Jacques Chirac's foppish, dizzyingly self-regarding top diplomat, Dominique de Villepin, best known on this side of the Atlantic for his 2003 U.N. speech denouncing George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq. Call him the father of "Freedom Fries," since that absurd renaming on Capitol Hill menus was pretty much the major consequence of his stand. Antonin Baudry, author of the graphic novel The French Minister is based on, was Villepin's speechwriter at the time, so we're presumably getting a fair amount of inside dish. Yet the movie's tone isn't acrid or score-settling; it's merry and bemused. The real, bittersweet...

Daily Meme: Sanctions; So Hot Right Now

Everyone who's anyone is either sanctioning someone today, or getting sanctioned themselves. First, the Obama administration announced new sanctions on Russia, including 20 Russian officials and a Russian bank. Muttering "You spit in my borscht, I spit in yours" under his breath, Vladimir Putin imposed his own sanctions on American officials, including a few diplomats and an oddly-chosen group of lawmakers. He kindly included John McCain on the list, probably understanding that it would break McCain's heart if he was left out. In an interview from prison , Bernie Madoff says, "I don't feel that I betrayed the Jews." Excuse me? The man not only stole money from a bunch of Jewish organizations, he not only stole from Elie Wiesel, he stole from Sandy Koufax . A god among men, the very definition of class, quite likely the greatest Jew who ever lived! Sandy Koufax, for pete's sake! If there is a higher betrayal of American Jews, I can't imagine what it would be. Prison is too lenient a...

Some Thoughts On New Journalistic Ventures, Internet Time, and Your Media Diet

This man is unstoppable clickbait. (Flickr/Greg Peverill-Conti)
This week, I've been substituting for Greg Sargent at his Plum Line blog at the Washington Post , which has been a lot of fun. I've enjoyed getting exposed to a new and larger audience. But it has also been challenging, particularly since I've tried to keep posting here on the Prospect as well. Greg's blog runs on a pretty strict schedule—his readers expect a post to be there when they get to their desks at 9 am, then a couple more through the day, and finally a roundup of links to other stories at the end of the day. They also expect writing that is pegged to today's events, but gives a broader perspective that will still be relevant tomorrow. So that's demanding, even if there are people out there who write a lot more than that every day (Bekah Grant, a former writer for VentureBeat, recently wrote how "I wrote an average of 5 posts a day, churning out nearly 1,740 articles over the course of 20 months. That is, by all objective standards, insane." And don't even ask about the...

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Retirement, and the Value of Term Limits

AP Images/J. Scott Applewhite
T here is a debate among liberal intellectuals about whether it's appropriate to urge Ruth Bader Ginsburg to step down with the Democrats still in control of the Senate and White House. It's a discussion that brings up a lot of fascinating questions of public obligation and the respect due to individuals. But the key takeaway should be this: The decision about whether to retire should be taken out of the hands of individual justices. The argument for Ginsburg stepping down now, made most recentl y by the eminent legal scholar and dean of the law school at the University of California-Irvine, Erwin Chemerinsky, is straightforward and compelling on its own terms. If Ginsburg remains on the Court and leaves the Court with a Republican occupying the White House, the most likely result would be Antonin Scalia or John Roberts being the median vote on the Supreme Court. This would be a disaster for the country and, more to the point, for the values that Justice Ginsburg has spent her life...

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