Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Children of the Great Collapse

AP Photo/Bloomsburg Press Enterprise, Bill Hughes
AP Photo/Kin Cheung Here’s a piece of good news of which you might not be aware: The U.S. safety net performed a lot better than you thought during the recent downturn, which was the deepest since the Depression. Thanks to expansions to the Child Tax Credit, the Earned Income Tax Credit, food stamps, and unemployment insurance—all beefed up by the $840 billion Recovery Act—the safety net almost wholly mitigated the rise in child poverty. Even middle-income households saw most of their income losses substantially offset by tax and transfer policies that sharply ramped up to help them. That’s the good news. The bad news is that most of the Recovery Act’s outlays have now been spent, and pressure to reduce deficits leaves other spending on children and families under assault. While the safety net performed well during the worst phase of the downturn, other trends have been troubling. Families lost trillions of dollars in home equity, the largest source of wealth for working- and middle-...

Ringside Seat: McCain Does Syria

On a spring day six years ago, John McCain and some other members of Congress took a stroll through a Baghdad market, showing Americans how stable and secure life in Iraq had become. Noting that he left his helmet (though not his flak jacket) back in the Humvee, McCain waxed rhapsodic to reporters about how safe he felt. His colleague, then-representative Mike Pence, said it reminded him of a "normal outdoor market in Indiana in the summertime." They didn't mention that they were accompanied by 100 troops, three Blackhawk helicopters, and two Apache gunships, just in case, one supposes, a rambunctious but good-hearted Iraqi street urchin tried to pick their pockets. Well he's at it again, heading to a war zone for a photo op that can't possibly have anything to do with the senator's desire for self-aggrandizement. Apparently feeling that things are not moving precipitously enough in the direction of another Middle Eastern war for America to enter, over the weekend McCain gathered up a...

But Austerity Works So Well!

AP Photo/Menahem Kahana, Pool
AP Photo/Michael Sohn, pool A familiar tale: In a small country on the Mediterranean rim, the government chooses to solve an economic crisis by enacting an austerity budget. Regressive taxes will rise. Aid to families will be cut. Less will be left of the welfare state built decades ago. The novice finance minister promises this will heal the economy. As the people of that unhappy land say: Happy are those who believe. The Mediterranean country in question, this time, is not Spain or Greece, but Israel. It is not facing a looming financial meltdown. The crisis amounts to a ballooning deficit—a danger, but not a collapse. Still, Benjamin Netanyahu's recently formed government has chosen a recipe of austerity. The specific ingredients of the Israeli version were chosen by Finance Minister Yair Lapid, the ex-talk show host whose new Yesh Atid (There Is a Future) party campaigned only a few months ago on fervent Facebook promises to protect the middle class. There are several implications...

Republicans Looking Sheepish On Obama Court Nominees

Flickr/NCinDC
One of the biggest criticisms activist liberals have had of the Obama administration is that they have not moved aggressively to put their stamp on the federal judiciary. While there has certainly been Republican obstruction of Obama nominees, in many cases the administration hasn't even bothered to nominate anyone to open seats. There are currently 82 vacancies on the federal bench, and in 58 of those, the administration has offered no nominee. So it's good news that they have announced that they are about to offer nominations for the three vacancies on the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, widely considered the second most important court in the nation, since it hears many critical cases involving the scope of government power. It looks like the administration is betting that the more nominations they put up at the same time, the more attention the issue will get if Republicans try to block them, and the more attention it gets, the more difficult Republican filibusters will be...

King Obama the Magical

AP Photo/John Bazemore
Brendan Nyhan’s “Green Lantern” theory of presidential politics—the (incorrect) belief that when things don’t turn out how a president wants it was because he didn’t want it deeply enough—has been all over the Internet lately. And, no matter how false that image of the presidency might be, it’s probably not going away. The idea of the president as a Magical King serves everyone’s interests—beginning with man in the Oval Office himself. Political scientists who study the presidency have long contended that the presidency is a relatively weak office : the presidency is the single most influential position in the political system, but the president cannot get very much done just by giving orders. Not only does he have to bargain with Congress—which means 535 individual politicians, all with their own constituencies and interests and preferences, and many of whom have strong partisan reasons for opposing whatever he wants—but he can’t even, in many cases, control the executive branch...

Atheists in Tornadoes and Foxholes

AP Photo/Charlie Riedel
I f you've watched the endless interviews with survivors of natural disasters, you may have noticed that the news media representatives, faced with someone who may be too shocked or nervous before the cameras to offer sufficiently compelling testimony, often do some gentle prompting. "When you saw your home destroyed, were you just devastated?" "You've never seen anything like this before, have you?" "Your whole life changed in that moment, didn't it?" Not everyone who survived a disaster is YouTube clip-ready, so some need to be coached. There was one such interview after the tornado ran through Moore, Oklahoma that got some attention. Interviewing a woman as they stood before the tangled pile of debris that used to be her home and discussed her family's narrow escape, CNN's Wolf Blitzer said , "You guys did a great job. I guess you got to thank the Lord. Right?" When she hesitated, Blitzer pressed on. "Do you thank the Lord for that split-second decision?" She paused for a moment...

Ringside Seat: Arrested Governance

The Internal Revenue Service was closed today, as employees were furloughed due to sequestration's budget cuts. Conservatives found this to be an occasion for side-splitting humor; Sarah Palin, for example, tweeted, "The IRS is closed today, feel free to use your phones." Get it, because the IRS was tapping … um … well, never mind. In any case, today is a reminder that this scandal could be an opportunity for reform that clarifies the law on political and non-political groups, leads to a greater professionalization of the agency, and makes future misconduct less likely. Or it could wind up being just the opposite. As Kevin Drum reminded us yesterday, one of the low moments of the Gingrich years in Congress was a series of hearings meant to expose IRS wrongdoing, in which horror stories of the agency's abuse of taxpayers were told to lawmakers eager to hear them. In response, the IRS's authority was curtailed and its budget slashed. The predictable consequence was less enforcement of...

Republican Overreach, Coming Soon

You can bet hey'll be hearing from these folks. (Flickr/SS&SS)
A number of people have asked whether the Republicans will overreach in their reaction to the current collection of scandal-ish controversies (by the way, someone really needs to come up with a name that encompasses them all). The answer to that question is, of course they will. Try to remember who we're talking about here. Overreaching is their thing. Congress will be going home this weekend, and I'll bet the Republicans are going to come back from their recess reassured that their constituents really, really want them to pursue Barack Obama to the ends of the earth. I'll explain why in a moment, but in the meantime the National Journal has details on their strategy: Congressional Republicans head into next week's Memorial Day recess armed with a strategy designed to keep the controversies that have consumed Washington in the news back home. Both House and Senate Republicans will focus on the Internal Revenue Service targeting conservative groups for extra scrutiny as well as the...

Do Parties Really Need to Rebrand Themselves?

The Republican "rebranding" effort may be on temporary hiatus as all the party's factions come together in the vain hope that they may finally have something to impeach Barack Obama over, but as soon as these various non-scandals, faux-scandals, and mini-scandals fade, the GOP will surely get back to bickering over how it can pull itself out of its electoral doldrums. In wondering where they might go, The Atlantic 's Molly Ball does the logical thing and seeks out some veterans of a prior party rebranding, the Democratic effort of the late 1980s and early 1990s, centered around the Democratic Leadership Council. Their take isn't too surprising—they think what the GOP needs now is to do what they did then. But I think there's an important point missing from this discussion and the way we talk about this history. The story everyone tells is that there are two paths to take, one of which leads to failure and one to success, and the argument is over which is which. Should the party be...

Washington, Colorado, and the Headaches of a Legal High

AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes
When Colorado and Washington State passed ballot measures legalizing marijuana last November, they weren’t just the first states in the country to do so—they were the first governments in the world to do so. While other nations and states, most notably the Netherlands and California, have decriminalized marijuana possession, the drug is still technically illegal. That means that while it’s tolerated by law enforcement, the government need not concern itself with a full-scale system for regulation and taxation. But there are advantages to legalizing the drug; Washington and Colorado can have a hand in making the product safer while they benefit from tax revenues. Both states are in the early stages of creating systems for taxation and regulation; the Washington State Liquor Control Board released a set of standards earlier this month, while Colorado’s state legislature has passed a series of recommendations from a task force. The differences between the two states' approaches will...

Life in Tornado Alley

AP Photo/Russell Powell
AP Photo/Eagle-Democrat I n the aftermath of this week’s tornado in Moore, Oklahoma, I’ve heard an odd tidbit of information: That a set of twins were sitting on their front porch watching the storm before they had to run inside for cover as the funnel cloud roared closer to them. I have no doubt this story was propelled into the national news because so many people responded with confused amazement. But I didn’t find it at all surprising that people were out on their porch. I’d watched my own dad ride out the sorts of massive storm systems that produce tornadoes from a patio chair in the yard. On Monday night the same storms that hit Oklahoma passed through Arkansas, where I’m currently reporting a different article and am staying with my mother in the town I grew up in. I spent the better part of them on my porch with her two big black labs, trying to quiet the dogs down. These storms come often and everyone tells you to take cover in the most structurally sound part of your house;...

Ringside Seat: War Is Over?

To be honest, before President Obama delivered his speech today on the "war on terror," we weren't too optimistic about what new ground it might break. But it turned out to be quite significant—perhaps not completely revolutionary, but meaningful nonetheless. Even as he made a lengthy argument in defense of the use of drones, Obama acknowledged not only that we have killed American citizens in drone strikes, but that the strikes have also killed civilians. He made, as he hasn't in some time, a strong case to shut down the prison in Guantanamo, and also announced a lifting of the moratorium on sending prisoners who have been declared to not be a threat to the U.S. (because they weren't terrorists in the first place) back to Yemen. According to The New York Times, "Of the 86 detainees approved for transfer when 'security conditions' are met, 56 of them are from Yemen. In theory, this move could lead to a significant reduction in the prison population." Obama also called for repealing...

Conservative Billionaires, Oppressed by Liberal Thugs

Flickr/Donkey Hotey
Fear not, billionaire super PAC and 501(c)(4) funders. You may feel oppressed, you may fear the pitchforks and torches of the unwashed masses gathering at the gate of your manse, you may wake in the night in a cold sweat and bellow to your footman, "Dare I give Paul Ryan $10 million for his 2016 presidential race, lest some bearded plebian pen a vicious blog post aimed at my very heart?" If nothing else, Mitch McConnell has your back. Today, McConnell takes to the pages of The Washington Post to defend the right of America's millionaires and billionaires to pour their funds into campaigns while remaining anonymous. Those with long memories may recall that when the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law was being debated, McConnell and others said that the answer to the problem of money and politics was disclosure: Let the wealthy give as much as they want, but disclose contributions quickly, and with everything out in the open we could forestall the possibility of corruption. But with...

The Ted Cruz Immigration Shuffle

Gage Skidmore / Flickr
Gage Skidmore / Flickr National Journal ’s Beth Reinhard has a great look at Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s transformation from pro-immigration policy advisor for George W. Bush, to right-wing, fire-breathing opponent of reform. When he was working for Bush, he crafted the campaign’s immigration policy, which included a sped-up application process, a greater number of work visas, and a provision that allowed relatives of permanent residents to visit the United States. Now, Cruz seems categorically opposed to anything that smacks of comprehensive reform. Reinhard notes that this transformation is a little baffling to people who have followed his career over the years: The route Cruz chose, from working on the reform-minded Bush campaign to voting against the bill Wednesday as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, confounds some of those who crossed paths with him. His role on the Bush campaign is a lesser-known part of the biography of a politician increasingly viewed as a potential...

The Forever War, Still Forever

White House photo by Eric Draper
*/ AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, File T oday, President Barack Obama gives what has been billed as a major address on the status of the "war on terror," a term that the Obama administration doesn't use but that is still how we refer to the efforts the United States takes around the world fighting al-Qaeda, those affiliated with al-Qaeda, those who might be affiliated with someone who is affiliated with al-Qaeda, and pretty much any nongovernmental entity that looks at us funny. Whatever you call it, the war on terror is our endless war, just as George W. Bush set it out to be. With a Congress and most of a public willing to let him do almost anything he wanted, Bush and his administration told us all those years ago that we were fighting not al-Qaeda nor even terrorism but "terror" itself. In other words, our war would be not against a group of people or even a tactic that anyone can use but against our own fear. And that's a war we can never win. Nevertheless, when Obama was running...

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