Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Bin Laden Photos to Stay Hidden

This will remain Bin Laden's enduring image.
Remember the Bin Laden photos? When the al-Qaeda leader was killed two years ago, people immediately began asking whether the world would ever get to see an image of his body. At first, then-CIA director Leon Panetta said photos would be released, but President Obama overruled him. Yesterday, the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled in a lawsuit brought by the conservative group Judicial Watch that the government may continue to keep the photos hidden from public view. At the time, I argued that a photo should be released—not every photo that everyone took of the body, but perhaps one shot of it being lowered into the ocean in a respectful ceremony. I went on NPR's On the Media and debated the question with The New Yorker 's Philip Gourevitch, who treated me like I was some kind of contemptible ghoul for suggesting such a thing, but I made what I thought was a perfectly reasonable argument. Here's an excerpt of the column I wrote: Might the image be disturbing? Yes, it might...

I Don't Think We're in Kansas Anymore, Keystone

Flickr/350.org
AP Photo/Elise Amendola I t’s rare for environmental organizations to lead outside spending in an election. Even the largest don't have that much cash to burn. But in last month's Senate primary in Massachusetts, no other interest group spent more. 350.org Action Fund, the young political arm of the climate campaign group 350.org, picked this as its first race and dropped just over $50,000 during the primary. Hedge-funder Tom Steyer's NextGen Committee spent more than $500,000, according to the Federal Election C ommission—almost half of which went to the League of Conservation Voters (LCV). The LCV contributed a fair bit of its own money on the race, too, with its total spending ringing in around $850,000. All of this money went to support Representative Edward J. Markey or to oppose Representative Stephen Lynch, the two main candidates in the primary to choose which Democrat would vie for John Kerry’s old Senate seat. When climate change was on Congress’s radar, Markey was a leader...

Ringside Seat: App That

In the wake of a report from a Senate subcommittee showing that Apple avoids billions of dollars in taxes by routing a huge portion of its income through an Ireland-based subsidiary that has neither employees nor offices in Ireland, Apple CEO Tim Cook went before the Senate today to explain just why Apple does so well on April 15. The senators barely laid a glove on him. A number of them did, however, explain how much they love Apple's products, and one made a request for some tech support. "What I really wanted to ask is why the hell I have to keep updating the apps on my iPhone all the time?" asked John McCain. Though Cook had no trouble parrying the few tough questions that came his way, Rand Paul, in high dudgeon, rose to Apple's defense. "I'm offended by a $4 trillion government bullying, berating, and badgering one of America's greatest success stories," Paul huffed. "What we really need to do is to apologize to Apple." In fairness, Apple is far from the worst tax-avoider in...

How E.W. Jackson Throws a Wrench into the Cuccinelli Plan

Gage Skidmore / Flickr
Gage Skidmore / Flickr Attorney General of Virginia Ken Cuccinelli speaking at the 2012 Liberty Political Action Conference in Chantilly, Virginia. Ken Cuccinelli’s plan for winning the Virginia gubernatorial race is straightforward. Avoid outspoken statements on social issues—the same ones that alienate most Virginians but excite his rightwing base—and focus the campaign on jobs and growth. So far, he’s done exactly that. Of his three television advertisements, for example none mention abortion or same-sex marriage. Instead, the first—narrated by his wife—presents Cuccinelli as a defender of the vulnerable, highlighting his time working in homeless shelters and prosecuting human traffickers. The second is a straightforward ad on the economy—where he touts his Ryan-esque tax plan of cuts—and the third is meant to humanize Cuccinelli, and features the widow of a slain Fairfax County police officer, who endorses the attorney general. E.W. Jackson, the newly-minted GOP nominee for...

Mr. Smith Is Vaporized in the Fire of a Thousand Suns

It hasn't gotten too much attention given the other things that are going on, but there is a battle looming this summer over the filibuster, one that could be a significant milestone in the already poisonous relationship between the parties on Capitol Hill. As Republicans have moved from filibustering every significant piece of legislation to also filibustering cabinet nominees (something that was extraordinarily rare until now), Democrats' frustration on the filibuster has grown. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is threatening to use the "nuclear option," forcing a vote to change Senate rules to circumvent the filibuster (though probably only on presidential nominations). Reid would no doubt be cheered by many on the left if he did so, but others will warn to be careful what you wish for. After all, once you remove the filibuster, doesn't that open the door to Republicans running roughshod over the Democrats if and when they get the majority back in the Senate? Let's be realistic...

How the "Obama Recovery" Makes Scandals Irrelevant

(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)
(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green) President Barack Obama waves to the crowd at his election night party celebrating his victory over challenger Mitt Romney. Do you remember Mitt Romney’s election-year promise to create 12 million jobs during his first term? It came in for a fair amount of criticism, not because it was too ambitious—and thus unattainable—but because it was banal. Twelve million was the baseline for job creation over the next four years. Absent a major economic shock, the U.S. economy would have created that many jobs regardless of who was president. In essence, Romney had promised to take credit for the turning of the calendar, and the public would have given it to him. After all, they would have seen a simple causal relationship: Romney got elected, and the jobs came. Post hoc ergo propter hoc . It’s with this in mind that you should look at the latest poll from The Washington Post , which shows President Obama with a 51 percent approval rating, despite the two weeks of...

If at First You Don't Succeed, Bomb, Bomb Again

AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi
AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi I n testimony last week before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and House Foreign Affairs Committee, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman made clear that the U.S. would continue to look for ways to raise the pressure on Tehran, even as it remained committed to a negotiated solution to the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program. But she also cautioned against steps that would foreclose diplomatic options or damage the international consensus that the administration has worked so effectively to forge. “As we move forward, it will be critical that we continue to move together and not take steps that undo the progress made so far,” Sherman said. Sherman was reiterating the consensus of the U.S. intelligence community: that the government of Iran, while continuing to move forward with its nuclear program and keeping its options open, has not yet made a decision to obtain a nuclear weapon. It shouldn’t be surprising that various members of...

Dimon Forever

flickr/757Live
The main item of business before JP Morgan Chase’s annual shareholder meeting, which will convene today in Tampa, is whether JPM CEO Jamie Dimon will be stripped of his additional post as chairman of JPM’s board of directors. A range of institutional investors concerned about the over-concentration of power atop the nation’s most powerful institutions, and upset by the $6 billion loss JPM took last year at its London trading desk, won roughly 40 percent shareholder support last year to separate the two positions. This year, they hope to do better, even though the bank’s public-relations offensive on Dimon’s behalf has made the prospect of winning a majority more difficult. Dimon —the closest thing America has to a celebrity banker— was the one major financier whose reputation came through unscathed in the 2008 financial meltdown. JPM had steered clear of the worst of the mortgage market, and had managed its risks well enough so that, alone among the nation’s leading banks, it was...

Patty Murray in 19 Takes

Steve Moors
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster No. 1: The Fixer Patty Murray may be the dullest, most unremarkable member of the United States Senate. Two decades in, she lacks any major legislation to her name, isn’t associated with an issue, rarely appears on television, almost always speaks in gray generalities, and seems to have spent the bulk of her time focused on sending earmarks back to Washington state. As one staffer puts it, the most interesting thing about Murray is how uninteresting she is. She’s also the most important politician you’ve never heard of. As conference secretary, she’s the fourth-ranking Democrat in the Senate, which makes her the highest-ranking woman in the chamber. Last year, she chaired the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), spearheading the party’s surprising string of victories in the November elections. Thanks to her efforts, the Senate now has 20 women, the most ever. And as chair of the powerful Budget Committee, she is going up against Paul Ryan, the...

Ringside Seat: Leaky Scandals

Over the last week and a half of scandal-mongering, most people on the left have agreed on the basic contours of the story. Benghazi isn't a "scandal," because tragic as the killings there were, there's no evidence of malfeasance on the part of Obama administration—no crimes, no cover-up. (And no, interagency bickering over talking points does not constitute a cover-up). The IRS, on the other hand, is potentially scandalous, there having almost certainly been inappropriate behavior on the part of some of the agency's employees, but it doesn't seem to reach up to the White House. And the Justice Department's subpoenaing of phone logs from the Associated Press isn't a "scandal" as much as a disagreement over policy. What Justice did was problematic in a number of ways, but it was also legal; touching as Republicans' newfound interest in press freedoms is, you can't simply call any policy you don't like a "scandal" just because it happens to be in the news at the same time as other...

Michelle Obama Sends the Wrong Message

Over the weekend, the Obamas—both Barack and Michelle—gave commencement speeches to historically black colleges and universities. At Bowie State University in Maryland, the First Lady mixed praise and encouragement with the kind of moral scolding that is familiar to anyone who has spent time with a certain generation of African Americans: But today, more than 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, more than 50 years after the end of “separate but equal,” when it comes to getting an education, too many of our young people just can’t be bothered. Today, instead of walking miles every day to school, they’re sitting on couches for hours playing video games, watching TV. Instead of dreaming of being a teacher or a lawyer or a business leader, they’re fantasizing about being a baller or a rapper. […] And as my husband has said often, please stand up and reject the slander that says a black child with a book is trying to act white. Reject that. The perennial problem with this kind of...

Hillary '16 Campaign Off to Excellent Start

Hillary Clinton campaigning in 2008. (Flickr/pennstatenews)
Breaking news: according to a report in today's Washington Post , Hillary Clinton's chances of winning the presidency in 2016 have increased by approximately a zillion percent, due to the fact that her former chief strategist Mark Penn, quite possibly the most incompetent and generally hackish consultant in U.S. political history, will not be working for her should she run again. Nor will any of her other senior advisers from 2008, which seems just as well. And did you know there's a Hillary Clinton biopic in the works? Not sure how I missed this news (which appears not to be an April Fool's joke), but the New Republic got hold of the screenplay for "Rodham," and it sounds pretty awful. Anyhow, as we enter the long will-she-or-won't-she period, which should last for another year and a half or so, there's one thing we ought to get straight. Back during the 2008 primaries, a lot of Obama supporters argued that despite Clinton's contributions and qualifications, if she became president...

IRS "Scandal" Turning Out to be Less Dastardly than Conservatives Think

kenteegardin/Flickr
Over the weekend, the New York Times published a comprehensive, deeply-reported look at the Internal Revenue Scandal. Far from finding evidence of a White House aiming to undermine its opponents, the Times uncovered a much more banal story—that of an understaffed and under-resourced agency, straining to do its job in difficult circumstances. Here’s the Times with more: Overseen by a revolving cast of midlevel managers, stalled by miscommunication with I.R.S. lawyers and executives in Washington and confused about the rules they were enforcing, the Cincinnati specialists flagged virtually every application with Tea Party in its name. But their review went beyond conservative groups: more than 400 organizations came under scrutiny, including at least two dozen liberal-leaning ones and some that were seemingly apolitical. Over three years, as the office struggled with a growing caseload of advocacy groups seeking tax exemptions, responsibility for the cases moved from one group of...

Face It: You're Crazy (But So Is Everyone Else)

Flickr/Mark Turnauckas, Carling Hale
Flickr/Mark Turnauckas C ommonly referred to as "the DSM," the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is often referred to as psychiatry's "Bible." If that's the case, imagine the outcry if an overzealous publisher merged the Gospels of Luke and Mark, and you have a pretty good idea of the controversy surrounding the release of the manual's fifth edition. After a six-year revision process—and nearly 20 years since the last edition—the American Psychiatric Association (APA) released the DSM-5 at its annual meeting this weekend, the product of 13 working groups and input from more than 1,500 professionals. Any effort to draw a line between the normal and the abnormal is sure to ignite debate, and it's no surprise that doctors and patients who rely on official diagnoses for health-insurance coverage have scrutinized the new DSM's every word. Among the most controversial changes : Grief following a loved one's death is now classified as a form of major depression;...

Conservatives Shift Gears on IRS

Peggy Noonan is on the case. (Flickr/kylebogucki)
Something odd happened to Barack Obama's approval rating last week: nothing. With a bunch of controversies swirling about the administration, one might think Americans would be thinking less of his performance. Yet the latest polls from Gallup and CNN both show his job approval essentially unchanged, at just at or above 50 percent. So far anyway, these "scandals" are, like most scandals, an almost completely partisan phenomenon. Yes, there are some—Watergate, Iran-Contra—where the facts are so damning and undeniable that even the president's own party can't help but acknowledge them. But Benghazi and the IRS are not Watergate or Iran-Contra. Perhaps they'll turn out to be, if we find out something completely shocking. Perhaps we'll discover that Barack Obama is on tape personally ordering the Cincinnati IRS office to put the screws to Tea Party groups, just as Richard Nixon was on tape ordering his aides to get the IRS to audit his political opponents. But that hasn't happened yet. So...

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