Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Cleaning Up the Airwaves

AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin Tom Wheeler, President Barack Obama's nominee to lead the Federal Communications Comission L ast week, President Obama announced he would nominate his good friend and venture capitalist Tom Wheeler to lead the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Wheeler will replace another Obama good friend and venture capitalist, Julius Genachowski, who leaves in his wake an agency more embattled than ever. In announcing the nomination, the president noted that Wheeler is “the only member of both the cable television and the wireless industry hall of fame. So he’s like the Jim Brown of telecom or the Bo Jackson of telecom”; Wheeler was president of the National Cable Television Association (NCTA) from 1979 to 1984, and CEO of the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA) from 1992 to 2004. He is currently managing director of Core Capital Partners, a venture-capital firm, and he has been a prolific fundraiser for the president. By all accounts...

You've Got Sales Tax

flickr/Chris_Hancock
flickr/ Mr. Boger I n 1984, CompuServe launched the first “Electronic Mall,” a Pleistocene-era Amazon with which owners of a TRS-80 personal computer could browse and buy goods over the Internet. Such modern retailers as “The Record Emporium” and “The Book Bazaar” were given prominent virtual storefronts. A full page ad in the May 1984 issue of Online Today boasted, “By the year 2000, the world may catch up with the way CompuServe’s new Electronic Mall lets you shop today.” The world took less time to catch up than that: By 1995, eBay and Amazon had been incorporated; in Amazon’s first two months as an online bookstore, it averaged $20,000 per week in sales. Americans would go on to spend around $700 million online in 1996, and by 1999 sales had grown to $20 billion. Figures released earlier this year by the Commerce Department revealed that Americans spent $225 billion online in 2012—a 400 percent increase in only a decade. That number represents about 5 percent of the $4 trillion in...

Ringside Seat: Executive Disorder

Last summer, Congress passed a law reducing the number of executive-branch positions that require Senate confirmation. One hundred and sixty-six offices would now be able to be filled without endless hearings, anonymous "holds," and everything else that slows down the process of getting people to do the work of government. So, did that streamline hiring and make the executive branch more nimble? Hardly. The problem is that there are still an incredible 1,200 positions that have to go through the "advise and consent" process. We all agree that it's a good idea for the Senate to exercise its oversight when it comes to lifetime judicial appointments and high-ranking positions like cabinet secretaries. But are there really 1,200 people working in the executive branch from whom we couldn't be safe unless they had a confirmation hearing? And the problem now isn't the people working in the far corners of the Commerce or Agriculture departments, it's the jobs sitting unfilled. As The New York...

Feeding the Paranoid Right

Flickr/mjb
In today's edition of Republicans Think the Darndest Things, a poll from Farleigh Dickinson University that came out the other day found, as polls regularly do, that Americans in general and conservatives in particular believe some nutty stuff. That's not news, but there are some reasons to be genuinely concerned, which I'll explain. The headline finding is this: Respondents were asked whether they agree with the statement, "In the next few years, an armed revolution might be necessary in order to protect our liberties." Forty-four percent of Republicans—yes, almost half—said they agreed. We've been doing pretty well with this constitutional system for the last 224 years, but it's just about time to junk it. The right reaction to any shocking poll result is to say, "Let's not make too much of this." And I don't think any but a tiny proportion of the people who would answer yes to that question would start in or participate in a revolution. Let's take the gun owners who email me every...

A Roaring Jobs Report

Barack Obama/Flickr
Here is the thing to remember about every jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics: You have to wait for the revisions. Remember, the monthly jobs report is a scientific survey of households and employers. That doesn’t mean it’s inaccurate, but for any given survey, there are ways to improve the accuracy and reach a higher degree of precision. Month after month, this is what the BLS does—it tests and adjusts, in order to get the most accurate account of the where the economy stands. With all of that said, this month was a solid one for jobs; April employment grew by 165,000 jobs, a decent number, though not as good as it should be given population growth and the still-sluggish economy. The number of long-term unemployed declined 258,000 to 4.4 million (around 37 percent of all unemployed Americans). Joblessness dropped to a four-year-low of 7.5 percent. But more important than this is the revisions. As it turns out, February was the biggest month for job growth in years—the BLS...

Emotion and Reason in the Gun Debate

Images from the web site of Crickett Firearms, which sells guns for kids.
You may have heard the story of Caroline Sparks, the 2-year-old Kentucky girl who was killed this week when her brother, all of 5 years old himself, took the rifle he got for his birthday and shot her in the chest. I suppose we should be thankful this kind of thing doesn't happen even more often; as a Kentucky state trooper told CNN, "In this part of the country, it's not uncommon for a 5-year-old to have a gun." I'm sure that when gun-rights advocates heard the story, they said, "Oh geez, here we go again." They'd have to deal yet again with people being upset when innocents get killed with guns. They'd have to explain that as tragic as Caroline's death is, it doesn't mean that we should change the law on background checks. After all, that 5-year-old boy got his gun from his parents, not at a gun show. Whatever you think about gun advocates, could they be right on this point? Sure, it's a little rich coming from people who are constantly stoking fears of home invasions, fascist...

Government Oppression of Religious People Continues With National Day of Prayer

Flickr/C Jill Reed
One summer when I was in college, I worked for a tiny lobbying firm, most of whose clients were disease-related. If the firm wasn't able to get you increased funding for research into your disease, at the very least it could get a friendly member of Congress to introduce a proclamation about it. Framed on the office walls were documents declaring the first week in June to be Copious Earwax Awareness Week or November to be Toenail Fungus Month. The government declares lots of national days of this and weeks of that, most of which go unnoticed. Today, however, is the National Day of Prayer, in which, that pesky establishment clause notwithstanding, the federal government encourages you to get down on your knees and implore your deity to deliver whatever you happen to lack, or to be merciful toward those he might otherwise smite. Don't confuse it with the National Prayer Breakfast; that's an entirely separate national prayer event. Here 's Barack Obama's proclamation of the day, though...

The Isolationists Are Coming!

AP Photo
AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, File A sk yourself: Do you oppose putting U.S. troops everywhere, all the time? If you answered yes, you might be an isolationist, according to the word’s new definition. A piece in Tuesday’s New York Times , based on a new NYT/CBS poll , warned that “Americans are exhibiting an isolationist streak, with majorities across party lines decidedly opposed to American intervention in North Korea or Syria right now.” In the very next paragraph, however, we are told that, “While the public does not support direct military action in those two countries right now, a broad 70 percent majority favor the use of remotely piloted aircraft, or drones, to carry out bombing attacks against suspected terrorists in foreign countries.” In other words, if you only support bombing unspecified foreign countries with flying robots, you're exhibiting an isolationist streak. Further illustrating the crazy isolationist fever infecting the American people, the article quoted poll...

Bad Flight Plan

Flickr/vmarta, Kent Wein
Flickr/vmarta T he decision by Senate Democrats last week to restore funding to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)—money that was cut when the “sequester” took effect in March and led to flight delays that angered a wide swath of Americans—was a clear loss for Democrats in the ongoing budget wars. Rather than cave and reverse the cuts, Democrats should have used the public discontent as leverage to pressure Republicans. They squandered this opportunity. Unlike cuts from sequestration that affect the poor or will be felt down the line—cuts to Head Start or infrastructure, for example—the FAA cuts were both highly visible and affected wealthier and middle-class voters whom members of Congress tend to listen to. Sequestration was designed to slash programs important to both Democrats (broadly speaking, social programs) and Republicans (mainly, defense spending). By cutting bluntly, sequestration would force cuts to high and low-priority programs even if everyone agreed on which...

A Crossroads for Hillary

Titanic Belfast / Flickr
Titanic Belfast / Flickr H illary Clinton is making all the early moves of someone preparing to run for president, though she has given herself plenty of time to rest, rejuvenate, and review a final decision. Now, however, President Obama’s ill-conceived plan to cut Social Security benefits via a “technical” change in the inflation index will force Clinton to make an awkward choice. Most Democrats in both houses of Congress are not happy with this backdoor cut in Social Security. It is both fiscally unnecessary and spectacularly bad politics. Republican leaders are already bashing Obama for selling out retirees. After Obama released his budget, Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Greg Walden of Oregon went on CNN to accuse the president of "a shocking attack on seniors." Resolutely defending Social Security in the face of periodic Republican forays at cutting or privatizing America’s most popular program has always been one of the Democrats’ great appeals. Obama gave that away...

How to Solve America in One Easy Step

Want to receive our daily political roundup in your inbox? Sign up for Ringside Seat by creating an account at the Prospect here and ticking off "Ringside Seat" in the Newsletter-subscription options. This morning, Republican senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania made an astonishing admission : The whole reason Republicans opposed expanded background checks for gun-purchasers was President Obama. It wasn't that the president went too far or that he was making unreasonable demands; it was just that Obama supported the proposal on the table. As Toomey said, “There were some on my side who did not want to be seen helping the president do something he wanted to get done, just because the president wanted to do it.” That is incredible. It’s as if a good chunk of the GOP has regressed to kindergarten, where they refuse to play with toys that someone else likes. If there’s a silver lining to this revelation, it’s that it offers a way forward for President Obama as he tries to pursue his agenda...

House of Representatives Now a Scene from "Life Of Brian"

The People's Front of Judea holds a meeting.
Here in America we have a long tradition of candidates who run for office telling voters that they'll be good at making laws because they know nothing about making laws. This is a longtime pet peeve of mine, particularly the "I'm a businessman, not a politician" variant ( see here , for example), but the idea that "outsiders" who aren't beholden to the ways of the Capitol can be successful in curing it of its less appealing habits is almost as old as the republic itself. In ordinary circumstances, people who don't know anything about legislating are usually equally unfamiliar with what it takes to run a successful campaign, so most of them get weeded out by election day. The last couple of elections have not, however, been ordinary. I bring this up because of a story today in Politico that makes the Republican House of Representatives look like even more of a mess than you might have imagined. I'll get to the issue of "outsider" politicians in a moment, but here's an excerpt: The GOP...

On Immigration, Gay Community Should Take One for the Team

Flickr/Phil Davis
In July of 2010, Russ Feingold did the principled thing. After weeks of markup and debate, the liberal Wisconsin senator voted against Dodd-Frank. "My test for the financial-regulatory reform bill is whether it will prevent another crisis," Feingold said at the time. "[The bill] fails that test." Ironically, Feingold's fortitude only served to further weaken the legislation . In order to break a filibuster, Dodd-Frank's sponsors had to appease conservative Massachusetts senator Scott Brown, who opposed a "bank tax" that would have made financial institutions pay for the new regulatory regime. The provision was stripped from the legislation, costing taxpayers $19 billion. Gay-rights advocates should keep this scenario in mind as the Gang of Eight tries to push immigration reform through the Senate. Given that more than a quarter million undocumented immigrants are LGBT , the movement has a broad interest in seeing comprehensive reform with a path to citizenship succeed. But gay-rights...

FDA's Plan B on Plan B Is Still Not Good Enough

Wikimedia commons
Last month, federal judge Edward Korman held that the Obama administration's override of the FDA's recommendation for over-the-counter emergency contraception was illegal. The "compromise" of making Plan B available without a prescription only to women over 17, Korman persuasively argued, was "arbitrary and capricious" and hence exceeded the power of the secretary of health and human services. Yesterday, the Obama administration responded by modifying the policy . The new policy is better, but still not nearly good enough and still not in compliance with the requirements of Korman's decision. Under the new policy, Plan B would be made—at least on paper—available over-the-counter to all women aged 15 or over. Making emergency contraception available to the vast majority of women who might become pregnant is certainly an improvement compared to five years ago. But the age limit—even if lower—remains completely irrational. There is no scientific evidence that emergency contraception is...

The Frankenstein Foreign-Policy Crisis

AP Images
The last week has been not so much a case of national déjà vu as a Philip K. Dickian time-slip where the past bleeds into the present and transforms it. Syria is potentially the frankenstein of foreign-policy crises, made up of the parts of dead blunders: Vietnam, where we learned that firepower won’t overcome the unquantifiables that make for a quagmire; Iraq, where we learned that intelligence may be faulty or manipulated; Libya, where we learned both the combat possibilities and limitations of no-fly zones; Afghanistan, where a quarter-century ago we armed freedom-fighters who became accomplices in the murder of 3,000 citizens on American soil; Kosovo and Rwanda, where we ignored mass slaughter at the cost of our collective conscience; and Somalia, where we answered the call of conscience to disastrous end. Syria surpasses them all. With a warring population becoming ever more kaleidoscopically sectarian, and an air-defense system as sophisticated as any in the non-Israeli Middle...

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