Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Pardon Me, Mr. President?

Flickr/Salticidae
Flickr/Victoria Pickering T his week, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced the start of a new initiative on clemency, encouraging thousands of inmates—particularly those convicted during the Drug War crackdown of the 1990s—to send in petitions to have their sentences commuted. The new initiative offers six new criteria by which petitioners will be judged, including the following: prisoners must have served 10 years of their sentence, must not have lengthy criminal records or gang convictions, and show that they would have gotten off with a lighter sentence had they been tried today. In his more than five years in office, Obama has been the stingiest president in history when it comes to granting pardons; the new program could make him one of the most generous. But the biggest news for criminal-justice reformers has been the administration’s appointment of a new pardon attorney to oversee the program: Deborah Leff , who spent her years at DOJ working on the Access to Justice...

Walmart Does Something Good

Flickr/Walmart
Walmart is able to use its enormous size and market power to mercilessly squeeze its suppliers and bring its prices down to extraordinarily low levels. Liberal elitists like the ones who read this magazine tend to believe that although those low prices provide a boon to the store's largely low-income customer base, that is outweighed by the negative effects Walmart has on wages and benefits, when it comes not only to its own employees but also those through its supply chain and the larger labor market. And that's not to mention its dependence on government—the company not only makes billions of dollars every year in sales from food stamps, because of its meager wages and benefits, taxpayers subsidize tens of thousands of Walmart employees with those very food stamps, and Medicaid insurance as well. OK, so you know all that. But what if Walmart uses its huge footprint to create a separate benefit for low-income people in an area where they could really use it, and without hurting (...

Daily Meme: The Fall of Cliven Bundy

It's media discovery day here at the Daily Meme. What's being discovered? The story of the day is of course Nevada rancher and public property thief Cliven Bundy, who, to the surprise of pretty much nobody, turns out to be a stone-cold racist. When a guy holding a press conference starts a sentence with, "I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro," the clever reporter starts writing. And so does a right-wing hero fall from his perch. Bundy will now disappear from Fox News, where he was getting round-the-clock coverage. Bundy's greatest media advocate has been Sean Hannity, who has gotten into an ugly/funny back-and-forth with Jon Stewart over the issue . We assume that with this latest development, Hannity will apologize for ever promoting Bundy, and apologize sincerely to Stewart. And that Stewart will not gloat about it at all. As Jamelle Bouie notes, Bundy's ideas aren't really all that unfamiliar : "In short, the only difference between Bundy and a whole host of...

With Cliven Bundy, the Right Is Reaping What It Sows

One of the Bundys' many interviews on Fox News.
Some great causes achieve their goals and transform the world, while others fizzle out when it's discovered that their leaders are unadorned racists who think black people were in much better shape when they were slaves. Isn't that how it goes? At least that's what some conservatives must have thought today as they learned of the New York Times report on Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher who has been grazing his cows on federal land and refusing to pay grazing fees, what you or I might consider "stealing," but what the folks at Fox News, who have given Bundy hour after hour of glowing coverage, consider a principled stand against federal overreach in the finest American traditions. Prior to this morning, Bundy's fans were a limited but influential group, including senators Rand Paul and Dean Heller, the entire Fox network (but especially Sean Hannity), and the National Review , where one writer compared him to Gandhi . Now that Bundy's fascinating ideas about "the Negro" have come to...

We Hate Obamacare (But Like What It Does)

The word on Americans—one bit of conventional wisdom that is nonetheless true—is that they are ideologically conservative and operationally liberal. They are opposed to big government but support actual universal government programs like Social Security and Medicare. Confronted with Obamacare, conservative Americans have taken this paradox to new heights. They intensely dislike the program, but they like what it actually does. The New York Times has a poll of four Southern states (Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina) out today, undertaken in conjunction with the Kaiser Family Foundation. It shows that most of those states’ residents “still loathe the law,” but that majorities in three of those states and a plurality in the fourth don’t want Congress to repeal and replace it. They just want Congress to improve it. In Kentucky, which established its own exchange under Obamacare’s stipulations, a majority believed that the exchange was working well. In Arkansas, which has...

Daily Meme: The Court's Faux Colorblindness

"A blinkered view of race in America won out in the Supreme Court on Tuesday when six justices agreed, for various reasons, to allow Michigan voters to ban race-conscious admissions policies in higher education ... " So starts the New York Times 's righteous take-down of today's Supreme Court ruling in Schuette v. BAMN , in which the Justices upheld a Michigan law banning the consideration of race in admissions. The plurality's justification—six Justices in total agreed with the ruling, but differed in their reasons for doing so—for reversing the lower-court decision? As long as the voters want it, they get it . But the real news has been Justice Sonia Sotomayor's dissent, which the New York Times 's Adam Liptak called "the most passionate and most significant of her career." It is the first time Sotomayor—whose nomination conservatives bitterly opposed—has spoken up about race. "In my colleagues' view, examining the racial impact of legislation only perpetuates racial discrimination...

The Religion of Unreason

Flickr/Dustin Grayson
I think it's safe to say that this period in history is one in which liberals have felt unusually exasperated with conservatives, perhaps more than ever before. I can say this with some confidence as a liberal who runs in liberal circles; it may well be that conservatives are also more exasperated with liberals than they have ever been. Our ability to feed that exasperation is driven by the fact that, for all the polarization of information sources, we're actually more aware of what people on the other side say than we ever have been before. Fifteen years ago, I would have had no idea if Rush Limbaugh said something offensive, but today (once it rises to a certain level of horror), Media Matters will record it and put it on their web site, the Huffington Post will put it on their web site, and half a dozen people in my Twitter feed will let me know it happened. So there are all kinds of new ways to become appalled with your opponents. And there's nothing we liberals find more...

Justice Sotomayor's Powerful Defense of Equality

AP Photo/Steven Senne
AP Photo/Steven Senne Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor Y esterday, the Supreme Court upheld a provision of Michigan's constitution that bans the state or any of its subdivisions from "grant[ing] preferential treatment to any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting." The Court was fractured; the six justices who voted to uphold the amendment did so for three independent reasons. Written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the plurality decision—to which Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito signed on—was narrow: It upheld the amendment without disturbing any precedent. Far more interesting was Justice Sonia Sotomayor's dissent, which makes a strong case for a robust interpretation of the equal-protection clause of the 14th Amendment and represents perhaps her most compelling work in her tenure on the Court so far. The case for upholding...

Today In American Exceptionalism

This graph will blow your mind. Click inside to see why.
We're going to talk about rich people and government spending, but first, some context. At some point you may have wondered about parliamentary systems like they have in Great Britain, in which the party that gets the most seats in the legislature also installs its leader as chief executive. With complete control over government, why don't they go hog-wild and completely remake the entire country after every election? The simple answer is that they know they'll have to stand for another election before long. But the other key factor is that a transition from, say, Labour to the Conservatives isn't as jarring as a transition of total control from our Democrats to Republicans might be, because there isn't as much distance between the parties. In many of our peer countries in Europe and elsewhere, some things we fight bitterly over have basically been settled. For instance, everyone in the U.K. accepts that the National Health Service is a good thing, even if there might be some...

Daily Meme: Ladies' Choice

Nothing sparks speculation in Washington like a new political memoir, but two are a true bonanza, enough fodder for days of online chatter. Last week, Hillary Clinton announced that the story of her four years as Secretary of State, the unimaginatively named Hard Choices , will appear in bookstores in June. Although Clinton has yet to officially declare her candidacy for the presidential nomination in 2016, publishing the book is as good as throwing her hat in the ring, at least according to some . Or maybe she just needs a book tour to stroke her ego , says Peggy Noonan. Just as the mania over the new Clinton opus began to wane today, Elizabeth Warren's memoir hit the shelves , bringing the debate over Clinton's chances roaring back to life. Warren continues to insist that she isn't running for president in 2016. But the book reads a lot like a campaign ad . There's also the question of why she chose to write the book in the first place. Political memoirs, after all, rarely sell well...

Future of Television at Stake at Supreme Court Today

Photo courtesy of Aereo.
Today, the Supreme Court is hearing arguments in ABC vs Aereo , a case that will (cue drumroll) decide the future of television. Or maybe it won't, but it's a fascinating case, involving the intersection of technology with political and market power. There's a comprehensive explanation here , but the short version is that Aereo is a service that allows you to get broadcast TV, i.e. the major networks and a few others that send signals over the air, through an internet connection instead of a set of rabbit ears on top of your TV. The broadcast networks and the big cable companies want to shut it down, because they'd both rather have everyone getting the signals through cable. You see, your cable company pays a license fee to ABC, NBC, CBS, and every other network, fees that amount to billions of dollars a year (and get passed on to you). Someone who uses Aereo to cut the cable cord isn't paying those license fees, and isn't paying for a cable subscription either. Aereo is, without...

Manly Men Condemn Obama's Lack of Manliness

Maybe one of these guys should run for president. (Flickr/David!)
Here's a question: If Hillary Clinton becomes president, what are conservatives going to say when they want to criticize her for not invading a sufficient number of other countries? I ask because yesterday, David Brooks said on Meet the Press that Barack Obama has "a manhood problem in the Middle East." Because if he were more manly, then by now the Israelis and Palestinians would have resolved their differences, Iraq would be a thriving, peaceful democracy, and Iran would have given up its nuclear ambitions. Just like when George W. Bush was president, right? It really is remarkable how persistent and lacking in self-awareness the conservative obsession with presidential testosterone is. Here's the exchange: DAVID BROOKS: And, let's face it, Obama, whether deservedly or not, does have a (I'll say it crudely) but a manhood problem in the Middle East: Is he tough enough to stand up to somebody like Assad, somebody like Putin? I think a lot of the rap is unfair. But certainly in the...

A Chance to Remake the Fed

J anet Yellen has only chaired the Federal Reserve for a few months, but you could forgive her if she feels like the new kid in school that nobody wants to sit with at lunchtime. With the resignation of Jeremy Stein earlier this month, there are only two confirmed members of the seven-member Board of Governors: Yellen and Daniel Tarullo. Three nominees—Stan Fischer, Lael Brainard and Jerome Powell, (whose term expired but has been re-nominated)—await confirmation from the Senate. Another two slots are vacant, awaiting nominations. One consequence of the shortage of Fed governors is that regional Federal Reserve Bank presidents, chosen by private banks, now outnumber Board members at monetary policy meetings, allowing the private sector to effectively dictate monetary policy from the inside, and creating what some call a constitutional crisis . The need for two more nominees, however, provides an opportunity to reunite the progressive coalition that prevented Larry Summers from getting...

Republicans on the ACA: Wrong, but Rational

Courtesy of earloftaint.com
I find it strange," said Barack Obama on Thursday as he announced that the total of Americans getting private insurance through the exchanges has now exceeded 8 million, "that the Republican position on this law is still stuck in the same place that it has always been. They still can't bring themselves to admit that the Affordable Care Act is working." But it really isn't so strange. The Republicans' continued refusal to grant that anything good could possibly come from a law they've fought so bitterly for five years, even as encouraging news continues to roll in, is quite understandable. What's more, it's perfectly rational, even when all the predictions they made about its inevitable self-destruction fail to come true. Therein lies one of the paradoxes of our politics: At times, the most rational politician is the one who appears to be acting like a fool. Let's say that you're a Republican running for Senate. Perhaps you're whichever congressman will out-crazy his primary opponents...

Would You Let a Robot Give You a Sponge Bath?

Getting ready for their shift on the pediatric ward. (Kai Schreiber/Wikimedia Commons)
Imagine it's 50 years from now, and you've checked into the hospital for a minor surgery that will require you to spend a couple of nights there. There's a nurses' station down the hall, but you know that the nurses are also caring for lots of other patients and may not be able to come quickly when you have a need, particularly if it isn't an emergency, like getting a hand walking to the bathroom, or having someone pick up the TV remote you dropped, or maybe getting a foot rub just because that would be nice. Upon checking in, the clerk says to you, "I see that your insurance provides for a robotic aide while you're here. Is that something you'd like?" What are you going to say? According to a survey the Pew Research Center did on people's feelings about future technologies, most people would say "No thanks"—or at least they think so now. The survey is fascinating in part because many of the results seem (to me anyway) to be ridiculous. For instance, 39 percent of respondents think...

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