Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

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...

Ringside Seat: First Sanford, Now Weiner?

Will Anthony Weiner be able to pull a Mark Sanford in the upcoming New York City mayoral race? He certainly hopes so. If you remember from a few weeks ago, Mark Sanford was the disgraced former South Carolina governor who rocketed back to political relevance after winning a special election for a vacant House seat. The voters of the South Carolina first district weren’t happy with his affair, but were willing to forgive him (it also helped that he was a Republican running in a conservative area). Anthony Weiner didn’t cheat on his wife, but he did send pictures of his crotch to random women on the internet, which is almost more embarrassing. He was forced to resign from office, and entered a long period of seclusion. Today, however, he officially announced his bid for mayor of New York City. It’s entirely possible he’ll be successful, and follow Sanford’s example. Then again, there are important differences between the two men and their situations. Mark Sanford was running to...

Can the President Create a "Culture"?

Margaret Mead, who would not have bothered to study the administration's culture. (Photo by Edward Lynch, Library of Congress/Wikimedia)
As you may have noticed, the biggest problem with the IRS scandal (from the perspective of Republicans) is that it remains stubbornly removed from the President himself. It's all well and good to get a couple of scalps from mid-level managers, but for it to be a real presidential scandal you need to implicate the guy in the Oval Office in the wrongdoing. Confronted with Obama's non-involvement, conservatives have turned to vague and airy accusations about the "culture" Obama has created. Mitch McConnell, for instance, is warning darkly that Obama may be not too far removed from Tony Soprano: "I think what we know for sure is that there is a culture of intimidation across this administration—the president demonizing his enemies, attempting to shut people up. There is certainly a culture of intimidation." The idea that Barack Obama—whom Republicans regularly accuse of being a foreign-born anti-American socialist communist marxist who is slowly carrying out a plan to destroy America—is...

Three Questions Obama Needs to Answer in His Speech

WikiMedia Commons
On Thursday, President Obama will be giving a major address on counterterrorism policy. Here are three major questions Obama needs to adequately address: What Is The Legal Authority For Targeted Killings? The first question Obama should clearly answer is where the administration derives the authority to engage in drone strikes against enemy combatants. The "white paper" outlining administration policy uncovered by Michael Isikoff was ambiguous , citing both the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) against Al-Qaeda and the president's inherent Article II powers. It is important to clarify the nature of the asserted power, particularly given the highly elastic definition of "imminent threat" the administration seems to be using. (Nobody disputes that Article II gives the president the authority to respond to genuinely imminent security threats, but it does not give the president the authority to kill people in pre-emptive response to speculative ones.) Admittedly, in the...

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...

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