Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

At the Circus

Groucho Marx said he wouldn't want to join a club that would have someone like him as a member. But some members of the exclusive club that is the United States Congress are telling their constituents something different: Please let me remain a member of a club I find so horrid that it isn't even worth saving, in a city where the only righteous path is to wage (metaphorical) war on the United States government. That, at least, is what the House Republican Conference is telling its members to say to constituents when they return home this August. As Roll Call reported yesterday, the Conference has given its members a planning kit, called "Fighting Washington For All Americans," that explains how they should talk to voters about what House Republicans are up to. There are instructions on how to use that social media the kids are all into these days, and even a sample op-ed, titled "Fighting Washington For You." "Every day I serve in Congress," it reads, "I work to fight Washington." You...

Nate Silver and Journalism's Non-Overlapping Magisteria

Flickr/JD Lasica
It was recently announced that Nate Silver would be leaving The World's Most Important News Outlet, The New York Times , to head to ESPN, where he'll work for that network and its parent company ABC on sports, politics, Academy Award projections, and whatever else he's inclined to think about. I'm only marginally interested in most of the internal politics that led to Silver's move, but from all the reporting and Silver's own comments, it seems that he felt he'd be better able to turn 538 into a more comprehensive, wide-ranging hub there than at the Times , which sounds pretty reasonable. And since he didn't rise up through the journalistic ranks where the Times is the be-all and end-all, he probably doesn't place the same importance on the Times ' prestige as many people do. But there is one interesting tidbit in the column that Margaret Sullivan, the Times' public editor, wrote yesterday about Silver that tells us something interesting about the state of political journalism: I don'...

Obama's Silence on LGBT-Rights Abuses in Russia

AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell
AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell President Barack Obama at a joint press conference with Senegalese President Macky Sall last month R ussian President Vladimir Putin wasn't kidding about cracking down on LGBT rights. On Sunday, four Dutch filmmakers were arrested under the country's new "gay propaganda" law. Signed by Putin on June 30 after passing unanimously in the State Duma, the measure bans both private and public expressions of support for gay rights deemed to be accessible to minors and prescribes fines of up to 100,000 rubles ($3,000) for violations. The filmmakers, who came to the country earlier this month to shoot a documentary about gay life in Murmansk, were taken into custody after police went through their footage and found an interview with a 17-year-old gay man (a minor under Russian law). While the foursome was fined for visa violations and let go, it is the first instance of the anti-gay law being enforced against visitors to the country. The gay blogosphere and...

A Guide to Anti-Choice Concern Trolling

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If you're a supporter of reproductive rights in the United States, you're forced to endure various forms of concern trolling. The centrist form, perfected by Slate 's Will Saletan, exhorts supporters of abortion rights to concede that abortions are icky and that the good faith of people who support criminalizing abortion must be conceded even when their arguments are a moral, political, and legal shambles . While outright opponents of abortion rights are certainly willing to use these techniques, they have innovations of their own. The concern-troll-in-chief for opponents of reproductive rights is Ross Douthat of The New York Times . Last weekend's manifestation is a particularly good example, both because the arguments are relatively sophisticated and because Douthat is frequently generous enough to provide the material that refutes his own arguments. So, as a public service, I use Douthat's latest column to provide a handy guide to the pillars of anti-choice concern trolling, and,...

Subsidizing Poverty

AP Images/Rich Pedromcelli
Want to know the problem with enterprise zones? Then check out Sunday’s Riverside Press Enterprise , one of the best midsized newspapers in California. A story in it covers Governor Jerry Brown’s successful campaign to have the legislature put enterprise zones out of their misery. (Brown recently signed the bill abolishing the zones.) Conceived by the late Jack Kemp and other unusually well-meaning right-wingers to bring jobs to the inner-city, enterprise zones have provided subsidies to businesses for creating jobs they might have created in any case. Disproportionately, the jobs created were low-paying. Also at Brown’s prompting, the legislature replaced enterprise zones with a better-targeted subsidy. Under the new law, businesses in high-unemployment and high-poverty areas will be eligible for tax credits that come to 35 percent of a new hire’s wages—provided those wages are between $12 and $35 an hour. This drew a wondrous complain from Colin Strong, the head of the San...

Royal Baby Talk

When Prince William married Kate Middleton two years ago, news organizations told us that just about every human being on Earth was breathless with anticipation for the glorious event. Two billion people watched, said Bloomberg News . No, said the New York Times , it was three billion! Unless you were a Mongolian horseman out patrolling the steppes or a prisoner who had his TV privileges taken away, you watched, because everybody did. Trouble was, these claims were based on nothing. They were all "estimates," gathered by the journalistic technique known as "Well, that's what people are saying." No one could get a hard number, because many countries don't have systems for gathering ratings data, but given that only 23 million watched in the U.S.–a good showing for an episode of "C.S.I.," but less than a quarter of what the Super Bowl gets –the real number was almost certainly far less than the "estimates." We thought of that as we watched the hyperventilating news coverage of Kate...

My Final Post

AP Images/Cliff Owen
This isn’t my last piece at The American Prospect , but it is my last post—if you follow me on Twitter, you probably know, by now, that I’m leaving The Prospect to join The Daily Beast as a staff writer. I’m not the best at goodbyes, so I’ll say this: Not only am I grateful that The Prospect hired me three years ago—despite not having any journalism or professional writing experience—but working for the magazine since has been a great pleasure and privilege. And the same goes for working with everyone who makes The Prospect what it is: I honestly can’t imagine a better team of people, or a better group of friends. Starting next month, you can find my stuff at The Daily Beast (and I’m always mouthing off on Twitter . But I will still be reading The Prospect , every day, and you should too.

The Depressing Picture of Economic Mobility in America

Today's New York Times has a big article by David Leonhardt on a new study of income mobility with a bunch of interesting findings, the core of which is that, especially for middle-class and poor people, where you live matters tremendously to your chances of improving your economic station. Here's an excerpt: But the researchers identified four broad factors that appeared to affect income mobility, including the size and dispersion of the local middle class. All else being equal, upward mobility tended to be higher in metropolitan areas where poor families were more dispersed among mixed-income neighborhoods. Income mobility was also higher in areas with more two-parent households, better elementary schools and high schools, and more civic engagement, including membership in religious and community groups. Regions with larger black populations had lower upward-mobility rates. But the researchers' analysis suggested that this was not primarily because of their race. Both white and...

The Privilege of Whiteness

flickr/shaire productions
A s a biracial child who spent part of his youth abroad, Barack Obama learned the feeling of otherness and became attuned to how he was perceived by those around him. As a politician, he knew well that many white people saw him as a vehicle for their hopes of a post-racial society. Even if those hopes were somewhat naïve, they came from a sincere and admirable desire, and he was happy to let those sentiments carry him along. Part of the bargain, though, was that he had to be extremely careful about how he talked about race, and then only on the rarest of occasions. His race had to be a source of hope and pride—for everybody—but not of displeasure, discontent, or worst of all, a grievance that would demand redress. No one knew better than him that everything was fine only as long as we all could feel good about Barack Obama being black. So when he made his unexpected remarks about Trayvon Martin on Friday, Obama was stepping into some dangerous territory. By talking about his own...

Teacher, May I Plead the Fifth?

flickr/SarahSandri
flickr/amitbronstein I n January 2008, a school resource officer —a policeman assigned to a school — named David Pritchett brought eight-year-old Anthony J. Hunt into the reading lab at Shields Elementary School in Lewes, Delaware. He planned to question him about a missing dollar, stolen from an autistic student on the bus that morning. Pritchett was almost certain that the student already waiting in the room, a fifth-grader named AB in court papers, had stolen it. Pritchett had trouble getting him to confess. After sitting Hunt down and closing the door, Pritchett began his interrogation. He warned the boys against lying and told them about Stevenson House, a youth detention center where “people are mean” and where Hunt would not be able to see his siblings. Hunt began to cry, after which AB confessed to stealing the dollar. Two years later, Hunt’s mother sued the state, and three years after that the Delaware Supreme Court ruled in her son’s favor, agreeing that Hunt’s Fourth...

What Tom Friedman Doesn’t Understand About the Economy, Part 72

AP Images/Charles Dharapak
“Average is over,” New York Times columnist Tom Friedman likes to proclaim, and in at least one particular, he’s right. Friedman no longer writes average columns. With each passing week, his efforts become steadily more moronic. His latest , in Sunday’s paper, is entitled “Welcome to the Sharing Economy,” and in it, Friedman mistakes economic marginality and desperation for innovation and opportunity. The subject of this particular essay is Airbnb, a website where travelers go to rent bedrooms in other people’s homes. “There’s an innkeeper residing in all of us!” Friedman effuses, as he recounts how Airbnb may have as many as 200,000 people per night this summer plopping down in some stranger’s kid’s bedroom. Enthralled by the sheer techno-innovation of it all, Friedman doesn’t pause to ponder just what would impel a parent to turn over junior’s room for a few bucks. Could it be that the factory closed? That Wal-Mart pays so little? No matter: “Ordinary people can now be micro-...

California's Teeming Prisons

WikiMedia Commons
N early 30,000 California prisoners are on hunger strike to protest various abuses , including the extensive use of solitary confinement. This strike is the latest reflection of just how broken the state's prison system is. In turn, the problems in California showcase the myriad messes that increasingly define American crime-control policy. The disastrous state of California prisons two years ago compelled the federal courts to intervene. The Supreme Court ruled that the overcrowding had become so dire that it violated the Eighth Amendment, upholding a lower court order that the prison population be reduced. California Governor Jerry Brown, however, has been resistant to meeting the target of set by the courts (which require California to reduce its prison population to "only" 137.5 percent capacity). Declaring the problems in California prisons solved, Brown has issued a plan that flatly refuses to meet the targets. That proposal was again rejected by the Ninth Circuit. The hunger...

Obama's Moment of Introspection

Today, Barack Obama did something he has only done a few times in the years he has been on the national stage: He talked about race. In an extemporaneous statement to White House reporters, Obama discussed the reaction to the trial of George Zimmerman for the killing of Trayvon Martin. He spent the first third of his remarks talking about where African Americans were coming from, in an implicit plea for empathy from white Americans. He didn't accuse anyone of ill will, but he did in effect say, "Here's how black people are feeling and why," in an attempt to explain the sources of people's disappointment and pain. After that, he talked about what government might do to make these kinds of tragedies less likely—training for police officers, and perhaps a rethinking of "stand your ground" laws if they make conflicts more likely. He ended on a hopeful note, saying, "as difficult and challenging as this whole episode has been for a lot of people, I don't want us to lose sight that things...

Discussing Trayvon Martin, Obama Embraces his Blackness

White House
When President Obama issued a pro forma statement following last week’s verdict in the Zimmerman trial, there was some disappointment—“Why didn’t he say more?” It only takes a small step back to see the answer; not only would it have been inappropriate for the president to question the decision of the jury, but given wide outrage at the ruling, it could have inflamed passions on both sides. But it isn’t out of bounds for Obama to speak on the meaning of Trayvon Martin, which he did this afternoon, during a White House press briefing. And unlike his earlier statement, this was a frank and heartfelt take on the racial issues surrounding the shooting and the trial. Which, to be honest, came as a surprise. Barack Obama’s entire political career has been about de-racializing his personal identity. Yes, he was a black senator from Illinois, but for white audiences at least, he wasn’t a black one. It’s why the Jeremiah Wright controversy was so dangerous for his candidacy—it emphasized his...

The Next Phase of the Obamacare Battle Begins

President Obama speaking yesterday on health care. (White House photo by Chuck Kennedy)
We're beginning a new phase of the battle over Obamacare—and the fact that we can continue to refer to it as a "battle" tells you something—one that in some ways takes on the appearance of an electoral campaign, with television ads, media events, PR stunts, and a universal assumption that the whole thing is zero-sum. If anything related to Obamacare goes well—like, say, people getting health insurance at affordable prices—then that's bad for Republicans and something they'll do what they can to stop. What we have here is something truly unprecedented: an opposition party not just insisting that a significant government program was a bad idea, not even just hoping that in its implementation it doesn't work, but committing itself to actively working to make sure the program fails and that as much human misery as possible can be created along the way, so that eventual repeal of the program will become possible. The Obama administration is facing a huge administrative task, laid on top of...

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