Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Bloomberg's Rocky Mountain Rout

AP Images/John Minchillo
Tuesday’s recall elections in Colorado—the first ones in state history—resulted in two Democratic state senators losing their seats. It also resulted in an excruciating amount of spin about what the losses meant for gun-control efforts in other states and at the federal level. Colorado was among the first states to pass gun-control legislation in the wake of two mass shootings, one of which occurred at a movie theatre in a Denver suburb. But though the recall was undoubtedly prompted by anger over the vote, as I wrote last week, the actual elections results were never going to tell us much about gun-control opinions one way or another. While the National Rifle Association and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns both got involved in the race, the elections quickly became about a broader swath of issues. Americans for Prosperity, the Koch-funded Tea Party group, lambasted the two senators for their positions on taxes and Obamacare, getting pretty far...

Yet Another NSA Violation

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File
L ast month, it was revealed that the court established by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) had rebuked the National Security Agency (NSA) for using illegal search methods. Not surprisingly, this incident wasn't an isolated one. In another judicial opinion responding to a lawsuit by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), further illegal abuses by the NSA were unveiled . Like the previous revelations, this story tells of the dangers posed by a NSA conducting searches with far too broad a scope and too few constraints. The latest NSA abuses involve the database of phone calls made by Americans compiled by the NSA. Phone companies have been ordered to turn over "metadata" about the calls made by their customers. The NSA keeps five years of this metadata on file at any given time. When the agency makes queries into the database, however, it is required by the FISA court to have a "reasonable articulable suspicion" that the call involves communication with a terrorist...

Trumka's Ploy

AP Images/Carolyn Kaster
The AFL-CIO Convention concluded Wednesday, having made some major structural changes in the way labor will operate—though nowhere near so major as the changes that the Federation’s top leader was advocating in the weeks leading up to the convention. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka iterated and reiterated that labor would no longer limit its members to those who had successfully convinced their employers to recognize their union. With employers able to flout labor law with impunity, illegally firing workers who sought to organize and refusing to sign contracts with those whose unions had won recognition elections, the number of workers who actually emerge with a contract grows smaller with each passing year. So the Federation’s unions would welcome workers who had tried to organize their workplace but didn’t prevail. It would welcome workers such as cab drivers, who were misclassified as independent contractors and legally proscribed from forming a union, though they were actually...

A New Progressive Era for NYC? Not So Fast.

AP Photo/Kathy Willens
AP Photo/Mary Altaffer "O ur mission is to change our city in the name of progress,” Bill de Blasio said to the crowd assembled in a Gowanus, Brooklyn bar after midnight on Tuesday, claiming victory in New York City’s Democratic mayoral primary with just over 40 percent of the vote. New York's Public Advocate and progressive populist appeared to have pulled it off, stunning not just his opponents but also many of the city’s political professionals and financial elites. He had forged an Obama-esque coalition in the Big Apple. Indeed, the atmosphere at the event felt eerily familiar if you followed the 44 th president’s 2008 campaign. “We understand that making big change is never easy,” de Blasio said. “It never has been. And there are those who have said our ambition for this city is too bold, and that we’re asking of the wealthiest New Yorkers too much. That we’re setting our sights for the children of this city too high. That we’re guilty, guilty my friends, of thinking too big. Let...

Larry Summers and the Economists’ “Greed Exception”

AP Images/J. Scott Applewhite
AP Images/J. Scott Applewhite I t is said that the late economist Milton Friedman was once asked how much money it would take for him to change his position that humans are primarily motivated by greed, which was at the core of his free-market fundamentalism. Friedman wisely dodged the question. He understood that if he said he could not be bought, it would undercut his economic theory. In order to avoid doing so, he would have had to admit that he, like everyone else, had his price. Lawrence Summers is certainly not a Milton Friedman conservative. But of the top candidates to succeed Ben Bernanke as chairman of the Federal Reserve, he is the leading exponent of free-market dogma. He was an architect of financial deregulation, and champions unfettered global trade and limiting government intervention in the economy. He has also become wealthy selling his services to corporate bankers and brokers who benefit from such policies. Summers and his supporters insist that his ties to Wall...

Upper East Side Snubs de Blasio

The most impressive aspect of Bill de Blasio’s victory in yesterday’s Democratic primary for the post of New York’s mayor is its breadth. He ran first in all the boroughs, carried parts of the city ‘s most African American neighborhoods in Harlem and Brooklyn, despite the presence of a prominent African American candidate in the race (William Thompson, who may yet squeak into a run-off depending on the count of the outstanding ballots), and romped through such white liberal strongholds as Greenwich Village, the Upper West Side, and Park Slope. The New York Times website has a precinct-by-precinct map of how the candidates did. What’s particularly striking is that de Blasio ran either first or second in what was effectively a five-candidate field in every one of the city’s neighborhoods—with one exception. The exception was Manhattan’s Upper East Side, or more precisely, the precincts that encompassed Fifth, Madison, and Park Avenues and their side streets between 59th Street and,...

Daily Meme: Falling Down the Foreign-Policy Rabbit Hole

In the immortal words of Shep Smith, " politics is weird. And creepy ." And the past two weeks in American foreign policy have been especially bonkers for the way our plan forward in Syria has taken a chutes and ladders path to where it is now. Last night, Obama gave a speech answering many of the critics of his airstrike plan : "Many of you have asked: Won’t this put us on a slippery slope to another war? One man wrote to me that we are still recovering from our involvement in Iraq. A veteran put it more bluntly: This nation is sick and tired of war. My answer is simple. I will not put American boots on the ground in Syria. I will not pursue an open-ended action like Iraq or Afghanistan. I will not pursue a prolonged air campaign like Libya or Kosovo. This would be a targeted strike to achieve a clear objective: deterring the use of chemical weapons and degrading Assad’s capabilities." Unsurprisingly, his words didn't lead to a ceasefire with said critics, although Andrew Sullivan...

Twelve Years Later, Have We Gotten Control of Our Fear?

This kind of thing just doesn't fill us with terror anymore. (Office of the President/Wikimedia Commons)
Reading an article today I came across a reference to the Dixie Chicks and their fall from grace, which happened ten years ago. It was shocking enough at the time, but today it seems beyond absurd, that a musical group could be all but blacklisted out of the American entertainment industry because they expressed opposition to the Iraq War and joked about being ashamed that George W. Bush was from their home state of Texas. Even then, a year and a half after the September 11 attacks, just expressing reservations about a foreign military adventure was enough to put them on the receiving end of a torrent of hate and fear, to the point where radio stations refused to play their songs and concert venues wouldn't book them. But today, we can say with some pride that our level of national terror has been significantly reduced. The situation in Syria and the Iraq War are obviously different in many important ways, but don't forget that despite the ridiculousness of the Bush administration's...

If Obama Wants the GOP’s Help in Syria, He Must Deal with Torture First

AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File
A mong the lessons of Syria for Barack Obama, there is one that stands out: The destruction of the Republican foreign policy establishment makes his job harder, and the president is now suffering the consequences of his choice to avoid, as much as possible, dealing with the fallout from torture during the George W. Bush administration. What is missing, specifically? The Republican side of “establishment” foreign policy. That is, a group of people who are certainly Republicans, but are not particularly partisan and who are comfortable working with the similar set of Democrats. Think Dick Lugar; think Colin Powell; think, perhaps more than anyone over the last 50 years, George H.W. Bush. Those Republicans, as Lugar’s defeat for re-election last year demonstrated, have been driven to the fringes of their party (or perhaps out of it; Powell is still a Republican, but supported Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012). Why does that matter for Barack Obama? There just are not very many Republicans...

Mobile Phones Continue Inexorable Conquest of Globe

Flickr/Kohei314
Yesterday, Apple released its new iPhones, one a slightly updated version of the iPhone 5 with a fingerprint reader, and one a cheaper version ("unapologetically plastic," in the term the PR wizards came up with) meant to attract new customers in developing countries. In case you didn't catch any of the eight zillion articles written about the release, minds remained rather unblown. Apple may still be an unstoppable engine of profit, but there are only so many times you can tweak a product and convince people it's totally revolutionary (not that that will stop Apple cultists from standing in line to get the latest version). In any case, this is as good a time as any to step back and look at the remarkable spread of mobile phones across the Earth. There are few other technologies that have found their way into so many hands in so short a time. Mobile phones actually date back to the 1940s, when AT&T set up a system that would allow truckers to make calls from certain cities and...

What Happens If Immigration Reform Fails?

AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta
AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta House Speaker John Boehner outside the White House last week H ouse Republicans' latest excuse for not passing immigration reform —that the congressional calendar is too stuffed with shutdowns and Syria dilemmas—is pretty silly. First, the debt ceiling hasn’t dropped into the fall session unceremoniously from the sky—this is an annual responsibility they knew would return since the last hellish time they raised our borrowing limit. Second, there’s absolutely nothing stopping the House from passing immigration reform ASAP. In a single day, Republican legislators could bring the Senate immigration bill for a floor vote in the House, where conventional wisdom says it has the votes to pass . "This is no longer a debate about policy. We've had ten years of debate," says Muzaffar Chishti, director of the New York office of the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank. "Every element of the policy discussion has been held and held repeatedly." It's...

Playing Russian Roulette with Syria

The strategy outlined in President Obama’s speech Tuesday night was 180 degrees from where it stood when it was announced he would address the nation, so much so that it’s worth asking why he went ahead and went on prime time. As I wrote last week in the Prospect , going to Congress was a way for Obama to build domestic support that could in turn generate greater international support for military action. With the Syria resolution all but dead, and the Russians and Syrians saying yes to John Kerry’s maybe-serious-maybe-not plan to remove Syria’s chemical weapons under Russian auspices, it now looks like the course of action has been reversed. Last night the president announced that he had asked leaders of Congress to postpone the vote while his administration worked to build international support around the proposed plan, the admittedly complicated details of which are still being worked out. If that process fails, or simply proves, as many reasonably suspect, to be a Russian stalling...

Government-Shutdown Crisis Proceeding on Schedule

Eric Cantor, liberal stooge. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
What with all the attention being paid to Syria, most people have forgotten that we're just three weeks away from a government shutdown unless Congress passes a continuing resolution (CR), which is the (relatively) quick-and-easy way of keeping the government operating at current funding levels without writing a whole new budget. As you may remember, Tea Party Republicans in the House would like to use the threat of a government shutdown to force a defunding of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, while the Republican leadership, conservatives to a person, realizes that this is spectacularly stupid. If they hold up the CR with a defunding demand, Barack Obama will say no, the government will shut down, Republicans will get every ounce of the blame, and it'll be a complete disaster for the GOP. Eventually they'll give in and pass a CR, but only after having caused a crisis and eroding their brand even further, and by the way not actually defunding Obamacare. So House Majority Leader...

Daily Meme: Do We Want to Live in Post-9/11 America Anymore?

With the war on terror over, at least on paper if not in practice , and Hizzoner Bloomberg's never-ending reign over City Hall coasting to a close, we seem to be finally asking ourselves, do we want to live in a post-9/11 world anymore? In the New York City mayoral race—which reaches its climax with today's Democratic primary—the backdrop isn't tomorrow's anniversary, but Bloombergism and the niggling thought of what New York would be if a mayoral primary was, as assumed beforehand, the big local story of September 11, 2001. Peter Kaplan described New York's millennial prehistory as a time when "Sincerity, purpose, emotion were déclassé. Incomes and real-estate prices climbed ceaselessly and so did exhibitionism, steeped in wealth, full of avarice without apology. Needless to say, it was also somewhat of a gas." The merits of such a New York are up for debate, but it's hard to argue that Bloomberg's legacy doesn't include a return to that New York, with one crucial modifier—it all...

Investigative Journalism Producing Change, Local Edition

Last Sunday's Post.
One of the main arguments for why it's a bad thing if the newspaper industry dies is that newspapers cover local affairs in a way that nobody else does, and that has demonstrable effects on people's lives. Most of the time we don't see those effects, but every once in a while, a story comes along that proves all over again why newspapers are so vital, not just because of what they can expose but because of the change that can come from it. The Washington Post is in the midst of a series of articles about an unbelievable scam victimizing some extremely vulnerable citizens of the District of Columbia. It's one of those combinations of government incompetence, private greed, and sheer immorality that just makes your blood boil. Here's what happened. The D.C. government, like any local government, has lots of outstanding tax bills from citizens it would like to see paid. Some of these are large, and some are small. Since it doesn't have the resources to go out and hound people to pay...

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