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Let's Talk about Tax Reform

Flickr/tolworthy
A few Republicans out there, struggling to put the IRS scandalette in a larger context, are now saying it shows we need tax reform. It doesn't really, unless their argument is that we've been letting shamelessly political 501(c)(4) organizations get away with a scam and we ought to clarify the law on what such organizations can do. But that's not what they're saying. What they're saying is that the IRS matter shows we need to change the tax code to reflect the same policies they've advocated forever. It wasn't as though this particular scandal arose because filing your personal income taxes is too complicated or because the corporate tax system is riddled with loopholes. It was something very specific, the law regarding how certain kinds of non profit organizations are allowed to operate. Frankly, there's no part of the tax code conservatives care less about. What they're interested in is changing personal and corporate taxes. Ted Cruz, for instance, says, "We ought to abolish the IRS...

The End of the Solid South

Victor Juhasz
Victor Juhasz This piece is the first in our Solid South series. You can read Abby Rapoport's Texas reporting here , and Sue Sturgis and Chris Kromm on North Carolina here , and Jamelle Bouie on Virginia here . T he final rally of Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign took place on symbolically charged ground: the rolling fields of Manassas, site of the first major battle of the Civil War. It was the last stop on an election eve spent entirely in the South: Jacksonville, Charlotte, and finally Northern Virginia. In the autumn chill, an estimated 90,000 people spread out across the county fairgrounds and waited for hours to cheer a new president—and a new South. By this point, Virginians knew Obama well. In February, he had beaten Hillary Clinton 2 to 1 in the state’s Democratic primary, a blow to her floundering bid. After clinching the nomination, he’d kicked off his general-election campaign in rural Virginia and been a frequent visitor since. Bucking conventional wisdom, Obama’...

Chris Christie's Unnecessary Special

Another red-letter day in the annals of Republican fiscal prudence. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie announced this afternoon that he has scheduled the special election to pick a succeessor for the late Senator Frank Lautenberg for October 16—despite the fact that the regular election for New Jersey state government, very much including the governor’s job, for which Christie is seeking re-election, will be held on November 5th . The cost of holding a special election, rather than consolidating it with the regular election three weeks later, has been estimated by the state’s office of legislative services at $24 million. But holding the special early means that Democrats won’t be mounting a huge get-out-the-vote drive for Lautenberg’s likely successor, Newark Mayor Cory Booker, during the election in which Republican Christie appears on the ballot. “I don’t dawdle,” Christie said in announcing his decision. And, he hardly needed to add, he doesn’t do anything that might jeopardize...

Ringside Seat: Following the Law Is an Impeachable Offense

Today, President Obama continued his reign of terror with an act of tyranny that would have made old Joe Stalin blush. If you can believe it, he nominated three people to fill the vacant seats on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, often called the second most important court in the land. The gall! You might say that it's the president's duty under the Constitution to appoint judges, but that's not how Republicans see it. These appointments are just part of Barack Obama's sinister scheme to remake this great country according to his twisted socialist vision. "It's hard to imagine the rationale for nominating three judges at once for this court given the many vacant emergency seats across the country, unless your goal is to pack the court to advance a certain policy agenda," said Iowa senator and increasingly crotchety grump Chuck Grassley. Yes indeed, "pack the court," by appointing people to fill vacant judgeships. Just like every president has before him. Obama has...

The Republican Party Is Clearly, Absolutely, Broken

Iowapolitics.com
Iowapolitics.com On the domestic front, the first six months of President Obama’s second term have been dominated by two issues: i mmigration reform and the budget. On the former, a consensus has emerged between Democrats and more pragmatic members of the Republican Party, with Congress poised to vote on a bill that combines a path to citizenship with more border security and tougher enforcement mechanisms. The two parties are sharply divided on how to approach the budget, but—again—there’s room for Democrats to work with more pragmatic members of the opposition. But that’s only in the Senate. In the House of Representatives, where majorities have near-absolute control over the conduct of business, there are no negotiations and there is no agenda. Instead, there is a fractured, squabbling Republican Party. In today’s Washington Post , Paul Kane details the extent of the dysfunction. “[T]he most momentous policy decisions, including an immigration overhaul and a fresh deadline for...

Why Republicans Can't Destroy Obama

Flickr/Gage Skidmore
Over the past few years, liberals like me have pointed out countless times that the Republican party was being (or would be soon, as the case might have been) terribly damaged by the ideological extremism and general nuttiness of the faction that took over the party between 2009 and 2010. But we have to be honest and acknowledge that it didn't always work out that way. They were able to win a number of tangible victories despite the fact that the public doesn't look favorably on the things they wanted to do. In many cases, an extremist Republican ousted a perfectly conservative Republican in a primary, and now the extremist Republican is in possession of a safe seat. And of course, they won a huge victory in the 2010 elections. For all the fun we've had at the expense of people like Michele Bachmann, the damage they did to the GOP wasn't always as serious as we thought it would be. But I think we're seeing the limits that the House Republicans' extremism imposes on their ability to...

Ringside Seat: With Young Voters, GOP Pedals Backward

When a party suffers electoral losses, it often engages in a particular kind of internal debate. On one side are those who say, "We have to come up with some new policies to appeal to the voters who are rejecting us." On the other side are those who say, "The policies aren't the problem—we need to communicate better." Maybe it's the substance, or maybe it's the packaging. But what if it's both ? What if voters dislike you not only because of what you're advocating, but of how you talk to them and who you are to boot? That may be what Republicans are facing. The Winston Group, a prominent GOP polling firm, just released a focus group study of millennial voters to see what they think about issues and how they view Republicans. "The young 'winnable' Obama voters were asked to say what words came to mind when they heard 'Republican Party.' The responses were brutal: closed-minded, racist, rigid, old-fashioned," the report said. Not exactly a shock, but nor is it something Republicans will...

Scalia Gets It Right

AP Images/Charles Rex Arbogast
The collection of DNA evidence is a powerful crime-control tool, but it also has the potential to lead to greater invasions of privacy. Today, a bare majority of the Supreme Court held in Maryland v. King that the former considerations should outweigh the latter. The Court's ruling both creates important Fourth Amendment law and illustrates some important facts about the personnel on the Court. The question at issue in Maryland v. King is whether DNA information could be collected (via a cheek swab) from someone arrested for—but not convicted of—an offense. The facts of the case certainly make a superficially compelling argument for permitting the practice, as DNA evidence collected from Alonzo King was used to identify him as a suspect in a rape case. But the fact that the policy "worked" in this particular case is not, in itself, an argument that the practice of collecting DNA information from people who haven't been convicted of a crime is a "reasonable" search and seizure under...

Senator Frank Lautenberg Dies

Flickr/Talk Radio News Service
Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey died today. He wasn't the most charismatic guy around, and his record of legislation may not rival Ted Kennedy's, but he worked hard on a few issues that were important to him, particularly environmental protection and containing the spread of guns, and he was a reliable advocate for liberal values and programs over a long career spanning two tours in the Senate. A World War II veteran and one of the founders of payroll giant ADP, Lautenberg made millions in business, but unlike many others who take their wealth into politics, he didn't believe people should be punished for being poor. In the last year he made news mostly for some spats with Newark Mayor Cory Booker, the fellow Democrat who announced his bid for Senate before Lautenberg announced he wouldn't run, and for spurring some debate on when a politician becomes too old to serve. But now Governor Chris Christie, of whom Lautenberg was none too fond, will be appointing his temporary...

The Gay Recruiting Myth Dies a Quiet Death

Flickr/CT Senate Democrats
Flickr/CT Senate Democrats U nless you live in Connecticut or read the right-leaning press, you probably haven’t heard this story. Two men in Glastonbury, Connecticut, a couple who adopted nine children and lived in a fabulous remote Victorian, are accused of abusing at least two (and maybe more ) of their boys. Let me get this on the record: If true, this is nothing less than horrifying. I’ve written enough, here and elsewhere , against the sexual abuse of children that I hope I can leave that reaction as is, for now. Instead, I want to write my relief that—for the most part—this has not been used to indict gay men at large. In fact, I first heard about this story from a social conservative who got in touch to ask what I thought—and who wanted to be careful not to say anything, publicly, that could be accused of being “homophobic.” (I put it in quotes because I don’t use that word.) That’s an enormous advance. As recently as a decade ago, the fundamental libel against lesbians and...

Ringside Seat: Worthwhile Canadian Scandal

We Americans tend to think of Canadians as almost exactly like us, except less interesting. They're polite and considerate, they don't start wars, and though they can be rather brutal if you put them on ice and give them a hockey stick, on the whole, Canada is sort of the Ned Flanders of North America. There's a reason many believe that the most boring headline ever to appear in an American newspaper is "Worthwhile Canadian Initiative," which adorned a 1986 New York Times column by Flora Lewis. But that was before we met Rob Ford, the mayor of Toronto. Ford is currently embroiled in a scandal that makes our own piddling controversies look about as dull as that headline. Ford was already a somewhat volatile politician who bears a remarkable physical resemblance to the late comedian Chris Farley (or perhaps John Candy, who was himself Canadian). Then reports emerged that there was a video of Ford smoking crack, which he denied, although there are now-famous pictures of Ford posing with...

Your Next Car Will Be Part Robot

One of Google's self-driving cars. (Flickr/Guillermo Esteves)
Futurists have been predicting self-driving cars for decades, but for a long time it wasn't because the idea was a natural extrapolation of existing technology. Instead, from the standpoint of the 1950s or so, it just seemed like something we'd have in The Future, along with robot maids, vacations on the moon, and a spectacular network of vacuum tubes in every home. Today, almost all the technology necessary to allow cars to drive themselves is either already in existence or in the development process, and Google has already allowed its driverless cars to go hundreds of thousands of miles on their own. So the Department of Transportation has issued a policy statement laying out some of the issues that are likely to be confronted as these technologies develop, and establishing its research agenda to address the questions they'll need to answer in order to properly regulate driverless cars. The end point many people envision is that not only will all cars be self-driving, but you won't...

Cable News Is a Third of a Century Old

A snapshot from CNN's first hour on the air.
This Saturday marks one-third of a century since CNN debuted as the world's first 24-hour news channel in 1980 (if you're looking to get them a gift, the traditional 33rd anniversary gift is amethyst). Prospect intern/sleuth Eric Garcia came across this video of the network's first hour on the air, which begins with Ted Turner giving a speech about the new era of global understanding they're launching. He makes special note of the fact that he's standing under three flags: the U.S. flag, the Georgia flag (its old confederate version, which was adopted in 1956 as a protest to Brown v. Board of Education or to honor the nobility of the Confederacy, depending on your perspective), and ... the flag of the United Nations ! Cue conservative spit takes. Back in those days, of course, the UN was considered a well-intentioned if often ineffectual organization, and not a sinister black helicopter-wielding global conspiracy to take your guns and impose a one-world government with George Soros as...

Get Your Hands Off My War on Terror!

AP Images/Holly Ramer
AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, File P resident Barack Obama’s speech at the National Defense University last week represented the latest and probably most significant rhetorical shift away from the “war on terror” since he took office in January 2009. “Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue,” he said in one of the speech’s key passages. “But this war, like all wars, must end. That’s what history advises. That’s what our democracy demands.” “Core al-Qaeda is a shell of its former self,” the president said. “ Groups like AQAP [Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] must be dealt with, but in the years to come, not every collection of thugs that label themselves al-Qaeda will pose a credible threat to the United States.” Time will tell whether Obama puts real weight behind some of the changes articulated in the speech. There’s no question that it marked another important turn toward a more nuanced assessment of the threat posed by Islamic terrorism. But like...

Not Too Shabby So Far: Obama's Judicial Legacy

flickr/The Library of Congress
Flickr/Cliff E arlier this week, the White House announced that President Barack Obama would name nominees to fill three vacant seats on the D.C. Circuit Court, touching off a new battle between the White House and Republicans over filibusters and presidential privileges. Despite the fact that appointing judges is one of the powers given to every president by the Constitution, some Republicans reacted as though Obama were doing something horrible by fulfilling this obligation. (You'd almost think they didn't accept the legitimacy of his presidency.) In any case, this argument is likely to heat up over the next few weeks, so we might benefit from some context as charges and counter-charges start flying. To begin with, some background. The nominations at issue here are those to the circuit courts—also known as the courts of appeals—and to the district courts. There are 13 circuit courts with a total of 179 seats, and 89 district courts with a total of 677 seats. The circuit court seats...

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