Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

The Surveillance State of Tomorrow

Flickr/Bryan Chan

By the time you read this, President Obama will probably have finished his speech outlining some changes to the NSA's global information vacuum. According to early reports, he'll propose creating an independent body to hold the phone metadata that the NSA gathers, and forcing the agency to get some kind of approval (presumably from the FISA court) before accessing it. Which is all fine and good. But the real question is whether we set up procedures and systems that constrain the NSA from doing not just what we already know about, but the things we haven't yet heard of, and even more importantly, the kinds of surveillance that will become possible in the future.

Just today, we learned from the Guardian that "The National Security Agency has collected almost 200 million text messages a day from across the globe, using them to extract data including location, contact networks and credit card details, according to top-secret documents." I can't imagine that will be the last revelation from the documents obtained by Edward Snowden. Do you find that disturbing? If not, imagine what it's going to look like ten or twenty years from now.

Free at Last: A Gay Republican Leaves the Fold

Photo courtesy of Jimmy LaSalvia

Jimmy LaSalvia has spent one part of his political life explaining himself to people like me: gay liberals who don't understand why he's a Republican. LaSalvia, who remembers putting up signs for Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush in junior high, left his native Kentucky to join the staff of the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay conservative group, in 2006. Dismayed at what he saw as the Log Cabin's leftward drift—the group declined to endorse George W. Bush in 2004, and barely came out for John McCain—and focus on social instead of economic issues, he co-founded GOProud in 2009. The organization, which co-sponsored the 2010 Conservative Political Action Convention before conference organizers decided to exclude the group in subsequent years, has made headlines for outing Rick Perry pollster Tony Fabrizio after the campaign released a homophobic ad and hosting conservative firebrand Ann Coulter at its annual fundraiser. It has affiliates in several states and bills itself as the gay Tea Party group.

David Brooks’s Worst Column Ever

Well, this is getting to be a habit. Alert readers may recall that a few weeks ago, I wrote a piece about Tom Friedman’s worst column ever, plugging efforts by a billionaire hedge fund friend to persuade college students that their enemy was Social Security. 

Now, Friedman’s colleague David Brooks has written an even worse column. It’s really hard to determine Brooks’ worst column ever, since he seems to turn out one every week. 

The Penultimate Watergate Baby

georgemiller.house.gov

The 1974 midterm elections, held in the wake of Watergate, were a Democratic landslide. The party increased its strength in the House of Representatives by more than 50 new members, many from suburban districts that had previously elected Republicans.

Falling Down the Rabbit Hole of NYC’s Lena Dunham Obsession

Vogue Magazine

Just as twentysomethings aren’t the ones writing about millennials (that would be Ross Douthat), Lena Dunham’s contemporaries aren’t the demographic that considers Girls its television muse. No, that would be over-twentysomething men, who make up over 20 percent of the show’s viewership and a perhaps even healthier percentage of the bylines featuring name drops of Dunham in the New York media (this would also be Ross Douthat). Everyone who’s been having heart palpitations over Hannah Horvath’s desire to be a voice of a generation seems to have missed the New York old guard’s intention of making her the voice of the whole damn city.

Why Are So Many People Still Protective of Woody Allen?

AP Images/Chris Pizzello

They may be a big deal these days—the prelude to the Oscars, like that's something to brag about—but some of us remain secure in our knowledge that the Golden Globes are a joke. Not the judgment by one's presumably qualified peers that gives the Academy Awards their claim on validity, the Globes aren't the verdict of particularly qualified critics either; the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which bestows them, is notoriously a pack of nonentities. All in all, the GG's might as well have been named for the late, great Anna Nicole Smith's not-found-in-nature gazongas.

Director's Cut: A Conversation with Cary Fukunaga

AP Images/Richard Shotwell

Contemporary television’s writer-creators are celebrated, while its directors are often hired guns on set for an episode or two. But the entire eight-episode arc of the new HBO miniseries True Detective, starring Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson as Louisiana criminal investigators, was directed by 36-year-old Cary Fukunaga.

The Scandalous Lack of Obama Administration Scandals

If you ask many Republicans, they'll tell you that Barack Obama himself and the administration he leads are deeply, profoundly, fundamentally corrupt. It isn't just that they have the wrong values or the wrong policy priorities, but rather that they are practically a band of criminals bent on destroying America and unconcerned about what violations of law and morality they commit as they cut a swath of misery and destruction across our nation.

For some on the right—the cynical politician, the carnival-barking radio host—these ideas are a tool to use in a partisan game. They understand that the picture is an absurd one, but they also know it's useful in keeping the rabble roused. But for many others, from ordinary voters to Republican lawmakers, it's something they sincerely believe. So five years into this presidency, where do we stand with the scandals that were supposed to lead to Barack Obama's downfall? The truth—no doubt a painful one for Republicans—is that there's almost no there there. Or more precisely, what we have are a number of disconnected screw-ups and errors in judgment, most of which are not even worthy of the name "scandal." Given the last few decades of history, and given the size and scope of the federal government, that's actually quite an achievement.

So let's take a look back and see what happened to all these affairs that never turned out to be the scandals conservatives hoped they would be.

New Year, Same Intellectual Dishonesty

AP Images/NBC News

The new year searches for a theme. Sometimes annual themes come ready-made; a presidential election looms, or a war. As far as can be seen from the American Rubicon called California, the theme (for the rest of you, anyway) that ushered in the new year is: It’s fucking cold, even as those of us on the West Coast lament every dip of the thermometer below 50. The media so abhors the vacuum of manmade conflict that it rushes to render even the weather controversial. Thus Fox Nation turns the designated polar vortex into a personal taunt of Al Gore—“What global warming?”—either truly or willfully ignorant that climate change is not about vanishing winters but meteorological extremes growing more so. Nonetheless this provided temporary solace to a right unsettled by reports that Obamacare might work after all.

Marijuana Legalization Will Be the Gay Marriage of the 2016 Presidential Election

A Democratic primary voter. (Flickr/Jonathan Piccolo)

In Politico, Reid Cherlin has an article about the "Pot Primary" in which he makes the rather odd assertion that while the next Democratic president is likely to put him/herself where President Obama is on the issue, "Less predictable is what would happen under a Republican—or how the issue might play out in a volatile Republican primary. No one expects marijuana to be the deciding issue, but then again, it might well be a helpful way for the contenders to highlight their differences."

Yeah, no. Apart from the possibility of some talk about not sentencing people to overly long prison terms for possession, there isn't going to be a debate amongst 2016 GOP candidates on this issue. The debate will all be on the Democratic side.

Daily Meme: And There Was Much Rejoicing (and Gloating)

  • The New York Times editorial board: "He said Tuesday that New Jersey’s citizens 'deserve better.' He is certainly right about that."
  • George Packer: "I was there in Tampa in August, 2012, for Governor Chris Christie’s keynote address at the Republican National Convention, and from the first line I knew this guy was trouble."

The Internet Service Providers' Triumph

Her joy will soon turn to despair. (Flickr/collegedegrees360)

Yesterday, the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit struck down the Federal Communication Commission's "net neutrality" rules, probably opening the door for Internet service providers (ISPs) to start charging different customers different rates to send their web terrificness to your computer. I say "probably" because there's a good amount of uncertainty over what is going to happen now, which I'll get to in a moment. Chances are you're only marginally interested in the details, and it can get pretty arcane rather quickly, but I do want to point out the absurdity of the arguments the big ISPs like Verizon and Comcast make about net neutrality. This was a very big win for some of the most unpopular companies in America, but how soon they're going to try to destroy everything you love about the Web is hard to determine. There are some reasons to be worried, though.

Want to Predict the Future of Surveillance? Ask Poor Communities.

AP Images/Stephen Chernin

Since Edward Snowden started disclosing millions of classified NSA documents in June, terms like meta-data, software backdoors, and cybervulnerability have appeared regularly in headlines and sound bites. Many Americans were astonished when these stories broke. In blogs, comment sections, and op-ed pages, they expressed disbelief and outrage.

Honor Lincoln and MLK by Getting Yourself an AR-15

This is what Martin Luther King's dream was really about, right? (Flickr/Mitch Barrie)

Let's say you're a local Republican party organization in a Democratic state, and you want to think creatively about how to get media attention. You could put up a "Kiss a Capitalist" booth at the county fair, or hire a local graffiti artist to spray-paint portraits of Ronald Reagan on the homes of poor people in order to inspire them to take a firm hold of those bootstraps and pull. Or, in honor of Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, two liberals who got assassinated with guns, you could raffle off an AR-15. That's what the Multnomah county GOP is doing, and you have to give them credit: people are noticing! Here's part of their press release:

Multnomah County Republicans recognize the incredible time of year we are in. In successive months to start the year, we celebrate the legacy of two great Republicans who demonstrated leadership and courage that all of us still lean on today: Martin Luther King, Jr. and Abraham Lincoln. In celebrating these two men, and the denial of the rights they fought so hard against, the Multnomah County Republican Party announces that we have started our third raffle for an AR-15 rifle (or handgun of the winner’s choice).

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