Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

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...

Coming Home for the Recession

AP Photo/Bob Leverone
AP Photo/Bob Leverone This is the third installment of a four-part series on Millennials and the new economy, based on the author’s monthlong road trip with stops in the Rust Belt, Omaha, and Texas. Read the first and second . O ne mosquito-heavy evening in May, I met 30-year-old Pat Valdez near San Antonio’s old Lone Star brewery. Valdez makes $15 an hour working in the human-resources department of Wells Fargo. She takes classes part-time at an online university, where she hopes to earn a degree in journalism. With $30,000 in student-loan debt, she’s living paycheck to paycheck. But unlike other Millennials struggling to make ends meet on their own, she’s not in dire straits. After a short, “way too expensive” stint in California living with her older brother, she’s back at home with her parents. She suspects that some people from her South Side neighborhood think she is following the example of many other women in more traditional Hispanic families: staying home until she marries...

The Great Detroit Betrayal

AP Photo/Paul Sancya
AP Photo/Duane Burleson D etroit has filed for bankruptcy. Most of the spot-news coverage has focused on the immediate fiscal crisis of the city, but the immediate fiscal crisis really isn’t what got the city into such deep trouble. Certainly, Detroit’s contracts with its employees and its debts to its retirees don’t explain anything about how and why this once-great city has come to such grief. Those contracts and retirement benefits are par for the course for major American cities—certainly, no more generous than those in cities of comparable size. Any remotely accurate autopsy of the city will find the cancer that killed Detroit was the decline of the American auto industry. The failure of U.S. automakers in the '70s, '80s and '90s to make better cars at a time when foreign-made autos were beginning to enter the U.S. market was surely one factor. Another was the trade deals that made it easy for Detroit automakers to relocate to cheaper climes—most particularly, NAFTA, which...

Last Stop, the Governor's Mansion

Only two states, New Jersey and Virginia, hold their gubernatorial elections in odd-numbered years. That, combined with the latter's proximity to D.C. and the national media, mean that anyone elected governor of Virginia almost automatically gets mentioned as a potential presidential candidate, or at least a potential running mate. So it was when Bob McDonnell took office in Richmond, as it had been for Tim Kaine, Mark Warner, George Allen, and others before them. But as his term winds down, McDonnell is enmeshed in a scandal so venal, so base, so old-timey that it's a wonder to behold. Here's what we mean by old-timey. Though the average voter may not believe it, American politics today is much less corrupt overall than it was 50 or 100 years ago. The days when a railroad baron would deliver to a senator a satchel full of cash in exchange for his consideration are long past. Laws on financial disclosure and campaign records, combined with the attention of a larger news media and the...

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's Face and the Power of Images

A lot of people are very, very angry over the fact that Rolling Stone put on their cover a selfie that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev took (a photo that appeared in many newspapers) to accompany a long feature article about him. "The Bomber," the headline reads, with the subhed, "How a Popular, Promising Student Was Failed By His Family, Fell Into Radical Islam and Became a Monster." Nobody's mad about the article , which is pretty well described by that subhed, and isn't too different from many other articles written since the bombing. But the cover is getting people riled up; Boston Mayor Tom Menino wrote a letter to the magazine expressing his outrage, Boston's police commissioner says, "I'm disgusted by it," the news has been filled with person-on-the-street interviews with Bostonians expressing their displeasure, and stores like CVS have announced that they won't be stocking the issue. The people I've seen aren't having an easy time articulating what it is about the cover they find...

More Than a Hobby

AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez I n February of 2012, as the Obama administration sought to placate the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) objections to contraception coverage under the Affordable Care Act, a new wrinkle in the debate took observers by surprise. Anthony Picarello, the USCCB’s general counsel, protested that exemptions and accommodations for churches and religious charities didn’t go far enough. “If I quit this job and opened a Taco Bell,” Picarello said, “I’d be covered by the mandate.” This was the first time one of the religious objectors to the proposed regulation had raised the prospect of an exemption for for-profit, corporate entities. “We thought it was laughable at the time,” says Louise Melling, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which has filed amicus briefs in support of the government’s position in lawsuits later brought by for-profit companies. “I’m not laughing anymore.” Last month, in the first appellate...

Rhode Island’s Small Victory

AP Photo/Susan E. Bouchard, File
AP Photo/Mel Evans W hen Governor Lincoln Chaffee signed the Temporary Care Giver’s Insurance law last week, Rhode Island became the third state—along with California and New Jersey—to grant paid time off to care for a sick loved one or a new baby. Rhode Island’s law, which goes into effect in 2014, will not only provide most workers with up to four weeks off with about two-thirds of their salaries (up to $752 a week), it will protect employees from being fired and losing their health insurance while they’re out. Workers will be able to use the time to care for a broad range of people, including children, spouses, domestic partners, parents, parent-in-laws, grandparents, and foster children. And, though the maximum single leave is four weeks, each parent can take four weeks off to bond with a new baby. A mother recovering from birth could combine that with an additional six weeks paid through an existing state program, bringing her total paid time off to ten weeks. An entire family...

Liz Cheney Takes Aim

In most of the country, the Cheney name is deeply unpopular. People poke fun at Joe Biden and mock Al Gore, but Dick Cheney stands as one of the most hated and vilified Vice Presidents since Spiro Agnew. And if Republicans have abandoned George W. Bush, then in the case of Cheney, they’ve worked to erase him from their memory of the last administration. All of this is why it’s odd that his daughter, Liz Cheney, has emerged as a viable candidate for the Wyoming Senate seat currently held by Mike Enzi. Now, it is true that the Cheneys are a long-time fixture in a state known for its conservative politics. But that only explains the viability of Cheney as a candidate. It says nothing about her reason for running. In fact, it’s hard to think of one. Enzi is a model conservative, with doctrinaire stances on most issues. There’s no reason to challenge him. Even still, conservative activists like Erick Erickson have lined up behind Cheney , who seems to be running for the sake of running...

Semantic Innovation in Immigration Reform

An immigrant inspects her new green card. (Flickr/Daniel Hoherd)
Greg Sargent gets the skinny from a House aide about a potential new immigration proposal in that body, which would include some new triggers and deadlines, but what caught my eye was this part: The new plan would take the provisional legal status and right to work granted to the undocumented at the outset and reconfigure it as "probation." The plan would require undocumented immigrants to admit having broken U.S. laws and admit guilt (in a civil sense), and enter into a probationary phase, during which they’d have very similar legal rights to the ones they would have under the provisional legal status in the Senate bill. This concession is designed to help Republicans embrace comprehensive reform. It is meant to give Republicans a response to the charge of "amnesty" — the claim that a path to citizenship will reward lawbreakers — by instead requiring the undocumented to take themselves out of the shadows, admit wrongdoing, and put themselves on a species of probation. Genius!...

Why "Black-on-Black Crime" is a Dangerous Idea

Flickr Creative Commons
Flickr Creative Commons In writing about the myth of “black-on-black crime” this week, I’ve gotten a huge number of responses, from both sides. The disagreement, in particular, has taken the form of incredulousness. For example , here’s Rod Dreher of the The American Conservative , who says that the Zimmerman verdict has caused me to “lose my mind”: Jamelle Bouie today wrote a Daily Beast post tied to the Trayvon Martin situation, claiming that the fact that nearly all black murder victims in America are killed by blacks just goes to show that there is no such thing as black-on-black crime, and that the concept is ginned up by white people to justify their fear of black masculinity and black criminality. Bouie also says that NYC’s stop-and-frisk program is racist, and not justified by statistics — this, even though NYPD stats show that 96 percent of all shooting victims are black or Hispanic, and 97 percent of all shooters were black or Hispanic. These statistics are so clear, so...

Tired Columnists and Lost Opportunities

Richard Cohen, opinion-shaper.
Richard Cohen of The Washington Post may not have written anything interesting in the last 20 years or so, but yesterday he found a way to achieve some momentary relevance, by writing an execrable column defending racial profiling. For the first time in forever, lots of people were talking about something Cohen wrote (read Ta-Nehisi Coates' incisive discussion of what makes Cohen's column so vile). But this leads to a question I'm sure more than a few people are asking: Why does this guy still have a column in one of the nation's most important newspapers? After all, it's hard to imagine that Cohen has some kind of large and fervent fan base. There are other columnists who are awful in various ways, but you can understand why they're still around. For instance, Charles Krauthammer's work is a festering cauldron of venom and absurd hyperbole, but conservatives think he's a genius, so they'd be heartbroken if he lost his perch at the Post . In terms of prestige, the Post 's opinion page...

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