Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

President Obama. Stop Talking. You're Not Helping.


You can attribute some of the success of the current immigration bill to President Obama’s absence from the debate. A large number of Republicans are simply unable or unwilling to support a proposal that has Obama’s name attached. By stepping away from the process and leaving it to Democratic and Republican lawmakers in the Senate, Obama set the stage for cooperation and allowed a chance for success—a permission structure, as it were.

Follow the Leaker

I don't know about you, but I don't feel like I'll truly understand the citizen's relationship to government in an age of sweeping electronic surveillance until I read Edward Snowdon's girlfriend's blog. And this morning, Fox & Friends answered the question everyone in America was surely asking: Does Lou Ferrigno think Snowdon is a traitor? (For the record, Ferrigno's response was nuanced, but leaned toward "yes.") But let's say you're glad you found out what The Hulk thinks, but you're still asking yourself, "Has Rob Schneider weighed in on this yet?" Politico has you covered.

We all know that the news runs on personalities; a "story" without protagonists and antagonists isn't a story at all, it's just an "issue," and that's dullsville. But I'm sure the White House couldn't be happier that the NSA story is quickly becoming dominated by a discussion of Edward Snowdon himself, which naturally crowds out discussion of the substance of his leak and whether we want to make adjustments to the policies and programs he revealed.

Why the Public Doesn't Care about Surveillance

Pew Research Center

If there’s a major political problem faced by civil libertarians—on both sides of the aisle—it’s that there isn’t a large constituency for civil libertarian ideas. It’s not hard to see why. We have concrete examples of what happens when the federal government doesn’t make anti-terrorism a priority. The United States isn’t a stranger to civil liberties violations, but overwhelmingly, they’ve targeted the more marginal members of our society: Political dissidents, and racial and religious minorities. For the large majority of Americans, the surveillance state is an abstraction, and insofar that it would lead to abuses, they don’t perceive themselves as a target. And, in general, it’s hard to get people motivated when there isn’t a threat.

George Packer's U.S.A.

AP Images/David Samson

In the quest to understand what happened to the U.S. economy since the 2008 meltdown and the recession that followed, the challenge has been figuring out how far back to pull the lens. Early books on the crisis zoomed in on airless rooms occupied by panicked CEOs and government officials during the pathetic last few months of the Bush administration and the beginning of this one. More expansively reported accounts looked at lower-level traders and fly-by-night firms, expanding the scope to recognize a decade of mortgage fraud and exploitation of would-be homeowners and investors, along with the Washington corruption that allowed the profiteers to thrive unpunished.

When the Bushies Return

Remember this guy? (Department of Defense/Denny Cantrell

Last week I noted that most people are being pretty consistent in how they were reacting to the revelations about NSA spying on your phone records, your internet surfing, your toenail hygiene practices, and whatever else we're going to learn they've been up to (Glenn Greenwald is promising more revelations). There are some liberals defending it and some conservatives criticizing it, but most people seem to be holding to roughly the same positions they held when George W. Bush initiated these kinds of practices.

Having said that, it's far from black and white. There's a very strong temptation when a controversy like this arises to just step in with your party's official position, but in this case neither party has an official position. Most liberals look to be at odds with a Democratic president, and there is some disagreement on the right between the neo-cons and libertarians despite their mutual dislike of Barack Obama, as Michael Tomasky discusses. Nevertheless, if this were a Republican president, liberals would probably be far more worked up than they are now. Instead of saying "This is troubling," they'd be saying "This is an outrage!"

Well if you're looking for a reason to upgrade your anger, consider this: What do you think is going to happen when the next Republican president takes office?

Justice after the Fact

WIkiMedia Commons

Although the Supreme Court is expected to wrap up its term at the end of the month, on Monday the Court declined to hand down any of the blockbuster civil-rights rulings still pending. It did, however, rule in Peugh v. United States, an important opinion that protected a vital democratic value: the prohibition against retroactive punishments.

Ringside Seat: USA Patriot Capitalists

If you read the 2012 annual report from Booz Allen Hamilton, the company that used to employ Edward Snowden, now the world's most famous leaker, you'll see that good news abounds. The company made $240 million in profits on a healthy $5.86 billion in revenue last year. Though "[t]he United States federal government is in a period of significant uncertainty, characterized by funding challenges and budget cuts," rest assured, investors, because "demand remains high for Booz Allen's capabilities and expertise across our diverse portfolio of clients." Granted, "diverse" may be a bit of an overstatement, since a reported 98 percent of the company's revenue comes from federal-government contracts.

The School-to-Prison Pipeline Works!


Criminal justice reform activists have long argued that the “school-to-prison” pipeline—the process that places children in the criminal-justice system for misbehavior in school—has a destructive effect on future outcomes. A recent working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research gives a sense of just how destructive. According to economists Anna Aizer and Joseph Doyle Jr., juvenile incarceration—one result of getting caught in the pipeline—drastically reduces the probability of completing high school, and substantially increases the odds of adult incarceration. From the paper:

What's Next for Immigration Reform?


For the first time since 2007—and arguably, for the first time in decades—a comprehensive immigration reform bill stands a good chance of passing the Senate.

I Would Desire That You Pay the Ladies

AP Images/Susan Walsh

Fifty years ago today, in 1963, Congress passed the Equal Pay Act. The idea was simple: Men and women doing the same work should earn the same pay. Straightforward enough, right? Change the law, change the world, be home by lunchtime.

Ringside Seat: In the Name of Terror

Imagine that the government said the following: There is a terrible threat to Americans' lives that we need to address, and though in the past we've tried, we haven't done enough. This scourge has killed nearly 400,000 Americans over the last decade, and the government wouldn't be doing its job in keeping us safe if it didn't take some extraordinary measures to deal with it. This threat is known as the automobile, and to confront it, we're instituting a new system to keep it from killing so many of us. What we need is information, to understand who has accidents and under what circumstances they occur. 

How All Three Branches Conspired to Threaten Your Privacy

WikiMedia Commons

The recent revelations about the court order issued to Verizon asking them to hand over data about the calls made by millions of customers were chilling not so much for the specific information the government was asking for, but for what the order likely portended. Given its massive scope, the potential for spying into electronic communications made much more disturbing revelations inevitable. It didn't take long for the other shoe to drop.

A Shocking Outbreak of Intellectual Consistency

National Security Agency headquarters (photo from nsa.gov)

As soon as an issue like the NSA surveillance comes along (and by the way, it needs a name—BigDataGulp, perhaps?), we immediately start hearing charges of hypocrisy. When a Democratic administration does something normally associated with Republicans, we've come to expect everybody to give their partisan affiliations precedence over their prior substantive beliefs, and switch sides. So liberals should now be fervently defending the government's right to see who you called and read your emails, and conservatives should be decrying the expansion of the national security state. And most of all, everyone should be accusing everyone else of hypocrisy.

But weirdly enough, though there are some charges of hypocrisy, actual hypocrisy is in relatively short supply, outside of a few isolated cases here and there. I've spent the morning going around to web sites of various political stripes, and amazingly, most commentators seem to be taking the same positions they did on this matter during the Bush years. Yeah, there are a few buffoonish conservatives like Michelle Malkin who will go on Fox News and say they're shocked, shocked, and what Barack Obama is doing is far worse than anything George W. Bush did, and there are some Democratic members of Congress defending the program (but they all voted for it when they supported the Patriot Act, don't forget). But on the whole what you're seeing are liberals and libertarians criticizing the NSA surveillance, just as they did when Bush was president, and conservatives sort-of defending it.