Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

The Road Forward on Immigration Reform

AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli
AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli More than a dozen marchers on the first day of a 21-day march calling for immigration reform in Sacramento, California. I t was like watching the Grinch's heart grow three sizes on Christmas . Representative Bob Goodlatte was talking about giving citizenship to "Dreamers," young undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. "These children came here through no fault of their own and many of them know no other home than the United States," the Virginia Republican said at a House Judiciary Committee hearing shortly before August recess. It was a sharp about-face: Three weeks earlier, Goodlatte and other Republicans on the committee had voted to defund the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, the Obama administration’s initiative to stop the steady deportation of Dreamers. Now he and his colleagues were talking about making these youngsters, people who had known no country but the United States, citizens. Providing citizenship for...

Duck Dynasty Goes to Washington?

Republicans got some bad news today when hot political commodity, Willie Robertson, said he was too busy to run for the House seat that will be vacated when Louisiana Representative Rodney Alexander leaves to join Governor Bobby Jindal's cabinet. What's that? You have no idea who Willie Robertson is? Then you must be a liberal Northeastern elitist, because Willie Robertson is one of the stars of Duck Dynasty , the reality TV show/bestselling book generator/all-around cultural juggernaut that has stolen America's heart. Robertson, with his good humor, air of relative competence, and American flag bandana always firmly wrapped around his head, sounded like just the man to help Republicans … well, help them do whatever it is they do in Washington these days. But alas, he had the sense to spurn their entreaties , so the search goes on. There's still hope though. You probably heard about the Missouri state fair rodeo that recently featured a clown in a Barack Obama mask, with the announcer...

Our Failure to Stop You from Voting Means We Weren't Trying to Stop You from Voting

North Carolinians wait to vote in 2008 (Flickr/James Willamor)
North Carolina recently passed what can only be described as an omnibus voter suppression law, including a whole range of provisions from demanding photo IDs to cutting back early voting to restricting registration drives, every single one of which is likely to make it harder for minorities, poor people, and/or young people to register and vote. It's not just the Tar Heel state—across the South, states that have been freed by the Supreme Court from their prior obligation under the Voting Rights Act to get permission from the Justice Department before changing their voting laws are moving with all deliberate speed to make voting as difficult as possible. Since these are Republican states, these laws are going to pass (some have already), and I think it's worth addressing what is fast becoming the main argument Republicans use to defend them. They've always said that their only intent was to ensure the "integrity" of elections and protect against voter impersonation, a virtually...

Houston Rockets Pre-K to Top of the Priority List

AP Photo/The Paris News,Sam Craft
AP Photo/LM Otero I t’s hard to find a politician these days who doesn’t at least pay lip service to the idea of “early childhood education.” But actually improving pre-kindergarten remains an enormous hurdle—and in some states the situation has gotten worse. While a number of states made investments in pre-K 10 or 15 years ago, the 2010 Tea Party wave, combined with budget crises in many states, led to big cuts even in states that already had minimal pre-K funding. In the 2010-2011 school year, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities—a progressive economic think tank— reports that 12 states reduced enrollment in pre-K programs while others shortened the number of school days or found other methods of scaling back. It’s not much better at the federal level. While the Obama administration bandies about a new plan to expand pre-K and integrate it with the rest of public education, the sequestration process meant a $350 million cut to Head Start, the public preschool program for low-...

Six Charts that Explain Why Our Prison System Is So Insane

flickr/wwarby
When Attorney General Eric Holder announced last week that he would be issuing instructions to federal prosecutors that could result in fewer mandatory minimum sentences for low-level drug offenders, it wasn't the risky policy change it would have been only a few years ago. With crime on a two-decade-long downward arc, politicians and policymakers don't have to worry as much as they used to about being tagged as "soft on crime." In fact, there's so much toughness already built into our criminal-justice system that unless we start lopping off thieves' hands, it couldn't get much tougher. Though the change Holder announced would affect only those convicted of federal crimes, it has brought renewed attention to our enormous prison population. And just how enormous is it? What follows are the details. In 1992, there were 1.3 million inmates in America's prisons and jails; by two decades later, a million more had been added (the data in this article are taken from the Bureau of Justice...

Slow and Steady Wins the Anti-Keystone XL Race

AP Photo/Nacogdoches Daily Sentinel, Andrew D. Brosig
Flickr/ Elizabeth Brossa G race Cagle knew what Keystone XL’s path through Texas meant for the state’s environment. The pipeline was going to run through the post-oak savannah, a type of forest that's drying out, desertifying. It’s one of the few places in the world where the ivory-billed woodpecker—one of the world's largest woodpeckers, a bird so endangered that for years no one had seen one alive—makes its home. Cagle graduated college at the end of 2012 and had planned to get a PhD.; she was studying ecology, biology, and chemistry. But she couldn’t just sit in a classroom while Texas was in danger. So, she took a risk. She sat in a tree. She stayed there while construction crews hired by TransCanada, the company behind the Keystone XL pipeline, came and took down the trees around her. In October, TransCanada sued the group she joined, the Tar Sands Blockade, along with other organizations employing direct action against the pipeline. As the company tried to stop the blockaders,...

Will the Sequester Cause the End Times?

When Congress heads out on summer vacation and the typically-frenetic news cycle is barely chugging along, it's hard to keep tabs on some of the biggest political issues, like immigration, health care, and the environment. With so few new developments, can you blame us? It's especially difficult with the sequester, which was flying under the radar even before our representatives went on break. The $1 trillion automatic spending cuts, which began on March 1, have slowly chipped away at government programs in ways that may seem invisible to many people. But peel back the conventional wisdom curtain shrouding the Beltway, and the sequester doesn't quite deserve the "Mission Accomplished" banner The Wall Street Journal gave it yesterday. Sure, many governmental agencies have been able to reduce the number of furlough days for their employees, but local news outlets continue to carry distressing stories about the costs of slashed budgets on a weekly basis. Fifty-six children are being...

The Unsettling Question of Israeli Settlements

AP Images/Uriel Sinai
A s if the challenges to productive Israeli-Palestinian talks—set to begin today in Jerusalem—weren’t already monumental, over the past several days the Israeli government has announced the building of over 3,000 new settlement units, and has identified a number of settlements located deep in the West Bank as “priority areas” for future development. If Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s hesitance to return to direct talks in the absence of a publicly declared Israeli settlement freeze was ever really confusing, it should no longer be. No sooner did he agree to come back to the table than the Israelis seemingly go out of their way to make him look like a fool for doing so. The building announcements, certainly not welcomed by the Palestinians and the United States, are not exactly a surprise. Briefing reporters upon the restart of talks in July, a senior State Department official warned , “I think it would be fair to say that you are likely to see Israeli settlement...

A Break in Teach for America’s Ranks

AP Photo/J Pat Carter
AP Photo/J Pat Carter T each for America is at universities, recruiting high-achieving graduates to teach in the nation’s underserved urban and rural areas. It's at school boards, lobbying districts to renew its contracts and import hundreds of its members. It's in corporate boardrooms, asking for tens of millions in funding. With more than 32,000 alumni, its former participants helm the majority of Achievement First charter schools, half of KIPP schools, and the superintendencies of D.C., Louisiana, and Tennessee. They dominate the well-funded, well-connected universe of charter schools and high-stakes testing advocacy. Teach for America is, increasingly, America. Now, it's facing a civil war. Last month, TFA alumni and members critical of the organization joined students, parents, and community activists at Chicago's Free Minds/Free People education conference for a summit titled “Organizing Resistance to Teach for America and Its Role in Privatization.” (The Education for...

Behold, the Future?

There aren't many people who can say, "I think somebody should build this crazy futuristic technology," give only a rough sketch of what it would be, say that he's too busy to build it himself, and nevertheless touch off a media mini-frenzy of speculation. But Elon Musk, whatever his talents as a CEO and technologist, has in a few years achieved a unique status among corporate moguls, receiving endless glowing profiles and gee-whiz coverage of whatever his latest pet project might be. Not that he doesn't deserve a good deal of the praise—his Tesla Motors has, against heavy odds and most predictions, turned out to be a successful car company producing high-end electric cars that have won rave reviews from critics, and his SpaceX venture manages to send rockets into space and return them to Earth, no small feat. Musk hinted a couple of months ago that he had an idea for a transportation system, called Hyperloop, that would hurl passengers between Los Angeles and San Francisco in half an...

Near-Death Experiences Getting Slightly Less Mysterious

Flickr/Telstar2000
The nonfiction publishing phenomenon of 2011 and 2012 was, without a doubt, Heaven Is For Real , an account of a three-year-old boy who during surgery visited heaven, where he met Jesus, who rides on a "rainbow horse." Young Colton Burpo's father Todd attested that it just had to be true, since Colton knew details he could never have learned elsewhere, like the fact that Jesus had marks on his hands. Sure, Todd Burpo is a pastor and the family is intensely religious, but still. It couldn't possibly have been a dream, right? Heaven Is For Real has sold an incredible 7.5 million copies, and is now in its 142nd week on The New York Times paperback non-fiction bestseller list . The top spot on that list is held by this year's nonfiction publishing phenomenon, Proof of Heaven , a neurosurgeon's account of how he fell into a coma and went you know where. It's "proof," you see, because the doctor had an extended vacation amongst the clouds, when his brain was, he says, "shut down." Could it...

When Everyone Wanted to Be "Tough on Crime"

The cover of Time, February 7, 1994.
*/ Yesterday, Attorney General Eric Holder announced some policy changes meant to reduce the number of drug offenders subject to mandatory minimum sentences. Across the political spectrum, people have come to view mandatory minimums as a disaster from almost any standpoint, and as some people have pointed out, mandatory minimums were originally a Democratic idea. Those of you who are too young to remember the early 1990s might not appreciate the raw terror that gripped Democrats in those days. People regularly lost elections when their opponent's opposition researchers found some obscure vote that could be twisted into a direct mail piece saying, "Congressman Smith voted to let violent criminals out of jail—so they could rape and murder their way through our community. Is that the kind of man we want in Washington?" As it happens, at the time I was working for a political-consulting firm that created some of those mail pieces. Our clients were all Democrats, and we produced crime...

Bloomberg's Stop-And-Frisk Program Is Unconstitutional

AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari
AP Photo/Seth Wenig I n a major victory for civil rights and civil liberties, a United States District Court Judge has held that the New York City Police Department's (NYPD) stop-and-frisk policies are unconstitutional. Judge Shira Scheindlin's opinion justifying the ruling is a tour de force. Carefully assessing both systematic evidence and the cases of individual litigants, Judge Scheindlin leaves no serious doubt that the NYPD's policies are inconsistent with the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution. Under current Fourth Amendment law, not all warrantless searches of people in public violate the Constitution. In the landmark 1968 case Terry v. Ohio , Chief Justice Earl Warren affirmed that "stop-and-frisk" searches are indeed "searches" covered by the Fourth Amendment. As he noted in one passage in his ruling—part of which was used as an epigram by Judge Scheindlin—"it is simply fantastic to urge that such a procedure performed in public by a policeman while the...

Paying It Forward on Student Debt

Chris Ison/PA Wire
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File N ext month, lawmakers will return to state capitals around the country, and as many as a dozen legislatures could consider a new proposal to tackle the growing student-debt crisis. The plan, dubbed " Pay-it-Forward " by its creator, would allow students to enter college without having to pay tuition upfront: In exchange, they would agree to pay a small and set percentage of their income after college into a public fund allowing the next generation to do the same. Senator Jeff Merkley, a Democrat from Oregon, released a plan Friday that would help provide seed money for pilot programs across the country using this model. Almost all of the new initiatives were inspired by Oregon, where the state legislature passed a bill introducing a Pay-it-Forward scheme unanimously on July 1. Barbara Dudley, an adjunct professor at Portland State University who in 2005 helped co-found the Oregon Working Families Party—a third party that has also been influential in...

A Glimmer of Sanity for U.S. Crime Fighters

Today, a federal judge ruled that the New York City Police Department's (NYPD) controversial stop-and-frisk program unconstitutionally targets minorities; hundreds of thousands of people are stopped every year for little or no reason. Being stopped is most certainly what the judge called a "demeaning and humiliating experience," but it is a humiliation from which white New Yorkers have been largely exempt. After millions of stops over the last decade, things are poised to change. The New York Civil Liberties Union recently compiled a detailed report on the NYPD's stop-and-frisk efforts, and the data is troubling, if not particularly surprising. On the streets of New York City in 2012, police officers stopped and questioned individuals 532,911 times. That means that nearly 1,500 times a day, someone on a New York City street is answering to police officers not because they're a suspect in a particular crime, but usually because of what the police call "furtive movements." This 2012...

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