Over the past days, growing unrest in the Israeli-occupied West Bank in response to the death of a Palestinian in Israeli custody has threatened the relative calm that has prevailed recently, a result of the considerable amount of cooperation between the Palestinian security services and the Israeli army. While it seems clear that neither of the main Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas, are interested in an escalation, the speed with which large protests erupted in the last week demonstrates once again the danger of pretending that the status quo in the occupied territories is a sustainable one.
“Green Lantern-ism”—or the belief that the president can do whatever he wills—has always been common among centrist pundits, but it’s reached new heights as Washington struggles to avoid the sequester.
It is hard to overstate the importance of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. At the heart of the law that ended decades of disenfranchisement in former Confederate states is Section 5, the "preclearance" provision. Section 5 requires jurisdictions with a history of discrimination to get prior federal approval for any changes to state voting laws. The necessity of this provision was clear: without it, states had been able to nullify the commands of the 15th Amendment by passing measures that were formally race-neutral but were discriminatory in practice.
I mentioned in my previous post that the Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments on the Voting Rights Act this week. At issue is Section 5 of the law, which requires states and localities with histories of voter disenfranchisement to pre-approve any changes that effect voting with the federal government. The provision effects nine states—mostly in the South—and most areas that submit for pre-clearance are approved—it takes serious problems for the Justice Department to put changes on hold.
That there's a gap between black and white wealth is nothing new. Researchers have studied it for decades, people have lived it for longer, and comedians—from Chris Rock to Dave Chappelle—have used it to craft biting humor. What's novel is the extent to which its has exploded over the last 25 years.
The latest fiscal showdown concerns the “sequester”—across the board cuts to (almost entirely) discretionary spending that will total just over $1 trillion in the next decade, and which are set to take effect on March 1. What should those who have better things to do with their life than follow fiscal policy debates know about the sequester?
Just eight years ago, Republicans were crowing that the terrifying specter of gay people being allowed to marry was an electoral gold mine for them, persuading people to vote for the GOP and bringing their voters out to the polls in force. Things have changed a lot since then—same-sex marriage is now legal in nine states plus the District of Columbia, with more sure to follow, and most polls now show a majority of the public in favor of marriage equality. A few smart Republicans have acknowledged that their party is on the wrong side of history on this issue, and many assume that it will come around eventually. At which point, as they now do on issues of race, they'll claim they were on the right side all along.
By delegating broad authority to the executive branch to engage in warrantless wiretapping of Americans, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) raises serious potential constitutional issues. The Fourth Amendment, which forbids "unreasonable" searches and seizures and under which warrantless searches are presumptively unconstitutional, is difficult to square with the kind of powers claimed by Congress and the Executive Branch. Today, however, the Supreme Court decided to duck this crucial constitutional issue based on almost comically illogical reasoning.
Yet another poll shows a public unhappy with the Republican Party's political positioning. According to a new survey from the Pew Research Center, 62 percent of Americans say the GOP is "out-of-touch" compared to 46 percent who say the same for the Democratic Party. Likewise, 52 percent of Americans say Republicans "too extreme"—only 39 percent say that's true of Democrats. Overall, as this graph shows, the public has a pretty negative view of the Republican Party:
I wrote yesterday that Ken Cuccinelli was the clear winner of the fight over Virginia's new transportation bill. Yes, it passed the General Assembly and is on its way to becoming law, but Cuccinelli successfully positioned himself as an opponent of new spending and higher taxes, and in a low-turnout election where energized supporters are key, Cuccinelli bought himself a small advantage.
He loves it when a plan comes together, but he doesn't work in Washington.
In his Washington Postcolumn today, Ezra Klein makes an important point about politics generally and Washington in particular that I think isn't widely enough understood. He calls it "the myth of scheming," and what it amounts to is that in politics, things don't operate they way do in the movies. Or to put it less charitably, nobody knows what the hell they're doing and everyone is bumbling around blindly:
President Obama has miscalculated both the tactical politics of the sequester and the depressive economic impact of budget cuts on the rest of his presidency. The sequester will cut economic growth in half this year. But it’s now clear, one way or another, that we will get cuts in the $85 billion range that the sequester mandates this fiscal year. All that remains are the details.
The last several years have been bleak for state governments. Most had to tap, if not drain, rainy-day funds—money set aside for emergencies. But that usually wasn’t enough to bridge shortfalls. Some raised taxes and other revenue, but for the most part, states relied on cuts. Since 2007, states have slashed nearly $300 billion from their budgets, with health care and education being hardest hit; according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), a progressive think tank, over the last five years 23 states have made deep cuts to pre-K and public school spending, while 20 have made major cuts to health care.