Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

When Fear Threatens Freedom

AP Images
Throughout American history, whenever the United States has felt threatened, our response has been repression. In hindsight we come to realize that the nation was not made any safer from the loss of civil liberties. This is a crucial lesson to be remembered as the country deals with the terrible tragedy of Monday’s bombings in Boston. The impulse to take away constitutional rights to gain security must be resisted because, in reality, complying with the Constitution is not an impediment to safety. If history repeats itself, there are likely to be calls to make it easier for police to search people and their possessions without warrants or probable cause or even reasonable suspicion. Once more, there will be proposals to allow the authorities to detain individuals, even indefinitely, on suspicion of their supporting terrorism. There are sure to be calls to allow law enforcement to more easily intercept electronic communications, even of those conducted entirely within the United States...

Marco Rubio's Life Is about to Get Complicated

Flickr/Gage Skidmore
Marco Rubio has had a pretty charmed political life. He rose quickly through the ranks in the Florida legislature, won a Senate seat without too much trouble at the tender age of 39, then suddenly found himself the " Republican savior " a mere two years after arriving in Washington. At a time when the GOP is desperate to appeal to Latinos, he's a young, smart, dynamic Latino who could be their presidential nominee in 2016. What could go wrong? Immigration reform, that's what. Many elite Republicans feel, and not without reason, that while supporting comprehensive reform might not win them the votes of Latinos, opposing it will pretty much guarantee that those votes will be lost to them. And Rubio almost has no choice but to be one of the leaders, if not the leader, of the party in that effort. He can't be the Great Latino Hope if he isn't. Trouble is, lots and lots of rank-and-file Republicans, particularly the kind who vote in presidential primaries, don't much like reform the way it...

The Senate Kills Background Checks, and Obama Gets Angry

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza
Official White House Photo by Pete Souza "The President reacts as John Brennan briefs him on the details of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Yesterday, a Republican filibuster killed the Senate compromise on expanded background checks, which had support from 54 senators, including its authors, Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. Skittish red-state Democrats like Montana’s Max Baucus, North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp, Alaska’s Mark Begich, and Arkansas’ Mark Pryor joined the opposition, voting to uphold the filibuster and defeat the proposal. Lawmakers are risk averse, and congressional cowardice is the norm, but this was a particularly shameful instance of doing the wrong thing. No one expects red-state Democrats to vote for new gun regulations, but there’s no reason to support a filibuster and prevent a vote. As for arguments against the bill itself? Manchin-Toomey was a modest package designed to keep guns away from...

The Fed’s Foreclosure-Relief Fail

AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, File
AP Photo/Don Ryan L ike far too many Americans, Debbie Marler of South Point, Ohio has her own foreclosure horror story. It involves one house, seven fraudulent mortgage assignments, three foreclosures, as many states, and five years. It ruined her career prospects, threatened her retirement security, and turned her life into what she calls “a living nightmare.” This week, Debbie walked to her mailbox and found what the federal government considers appropriate compensation for this odyssey of suffering at the hands of JPMorgan Chase, the nation’s largest bank. A check for $800. “I was speechless, just a complete shock,” Debbie said. “That doesn’t even pay for the damn U-Haul from when I moved out of the house in the first place.” The money is a product of the Independent Foreclosure Reviews, part of an enforcement action against 14 banks for crimes committed in the foreclosure process. The IFRs, shepherded by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) and the Federal Reserve...

Ringside Seat: Filibuster: 1; Background Checks: 0

This afternoon, the Manchin-Toomey amendment—a proposal to expand background checks to gun purchases that occur at gun shows and online—failed to be adopted, despite the fact that a majority of senators favored it. That's because today's vote wasn't a vote on the bill, it was a vote to have a vote on the bill. It was a vote to end a filibuster. The people who voted "no" were saying that they were so violently opposed to this modest expansion of background checks that they refused to even allow the Senate to vote on the bill. The overwhelming majority of the filibuster supporters were Republicans, but a few Democrats joined them as well. Remember these names: Heidi Heitkamp (ND), Max Baucus (MT), Mark Begich (AK), and Mark Pryor (AR). Even this compromise bill, worked out by two senators with "A" ratings from the NRA, was just too radical for those 41 Republican and four Democratic senators to live with. And even if it had been adopted, it would have faced an even harder time in the...

It Isn't Just Boston

Sunset at Fenway. (Flickr/slack12)
We've heard many inspiring and heartwarming stories from Boston about how people acted in the aftermath of Tuesday's bombing—rushing to aid the injured, opening up their homes to strangers, being kinder and more considerate than they would have been a week ago, in ways small and large. Many people elsewhere have expressed solidarity with the city of Boston, and I think that's great. But amidst it all there are some strange expressions about how all that admirable response is somehow uniquely Bostonian. I'm not trying to condemn anyone, but it's something we always seem to fall into when there's a shocking and tragic event like this one. It certainly happened after September 11, when stories of heroism and generosity were so often followed with the sentiment that "Nowhere else in the world" would people have acted in such praiseworthy ways, as though had a similar tragedy happened in Tokyo or Copenhagen or Johannesburg, people would have just left each other to die on the sidewalk. I'm...

Presidential "Leadership" Doesn't Work

Intel Photos / Flickr
Intel Photos / Flickr One other thing about the death of background checks in the Senate. It’s further proof that the Beltway theory of presidential power—Obama needs to show “leadership” to move things forward—is wrong. Here’s what President Obama did in the service of passing new gun laws: He gave a widely-heralded speech after the Newtown shooting, demanding action from Congress. He held an event in January, announcing his new gun control proposals, with parents and children from Newtown in attendance. He followed up at the State of the Union, demanding that Congress put new gun laws to a full vote of the Senate. He held an event in early April, again demanding action on gun laws from the Senate. And just a few days ago , the mother of a Newtown victim gave Obama’s weekly address. None of this had any effect on the Republican senators who filibustered the Manchin-Toomey compromise, nor did it affect the red-state Democrats who feared political attacks for backing new gun laws. It...

The Filibuster Strikes Again!

Google
Earlier this year, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid brokered a “gentlemen’s agreement” on the filibuster with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Democrats wouldn’t try to seriously reform the filibuster if Republicans would limit use of the procedure on “motions to proceed” to legislation or nominations. The problem with this agreement is that there was never a political incentive for McConnell to keep his part of the deal. As we saw during President Obama’s first term, Republicans can filibuster legislation without consequence—the public is indifferent to the details of congressional procedure. And so, as soon as it became inconvenient, McConnell ditched the agreement. First with the filibuster of Caitlin Halligan’s nomination to the DC circuit court, and now, with the Manchin-Toomey compromise on gun control : The Senate plans to vote on nine proposed changes to a gun control bill Wednesday, with a centerpiece proposal on background checks appearing headed for defeat. The chief...

Is the Single-Issue Gun Voter Another Myth?

Over the last year or so, I've written at more length than most readers can probably tolerate about the myth of the gun lobby's power. But there's one part of that myth that I haven't addressed too much, and it comes up today as the Manchin-Toomey background-check proposal is being voted on in the Senate (as of this writing it looks like it will be unable to overcome a Republican filibuster). This part of the myth isn't completely false, it's just dramatically overstated. As you've probably heard, one of the reasons the gun lobby is successful is that gun owners are "single-issue" voters who not only won't consider voting for anyone who isn't right on guns, they're highly energized, writing and calling their representatives all the time, while the other side is passive and disengaged, not bothering to get involved on the gun issue. That means that representatives feel intense pressure from the right and no pressure from the left, making it all the more likely that any measure to stem...

Boston, Through a Crisis Darkly

AP Photo/Julio Cortez
AP Photo/Josh Reynolds T ucked in the hipster haven of Jamaica Plain on the southern side of this brash yet neighborly city, my apartment is just a few miles from the heart of Boston. As a beat reporter who covers local politics and mayhem, it's a convenient place to live. A typical morning commute to report at City Hall or the State House takes about 15 minutes on the Orange Line, or a bit longer by bus. But even though the trains are running on time today, it takes me longer than usual to get downtown. I just can't help but stop every couple of feet to note how drastically the Hub changed since two bombs went off near Copley Square, killing three people and injuring nearly 200 others. I'm accustomed to covering craziness—from police brutality to Occupy, I've been front-and-center, if not fully embedded—but today, this landscape is a wholly unfamiliar beast. Slideshow A View From Boston That much becomes clear less than a block away from home. In a rare occurrence, the bodega on the...

A History of Domestic Terrorism

Since the invention of dynamite in 1867, ideological radicals on both the left and right have used the awful spectacle of explosives to draw attention to political causes, to protest policy, and to inspire fear.

Ringside Seat: Where's the War on Torture?

Just after the attacks of September 11, 2001, Dick Cheney said with a gleam in his eye that in order to be safe, America would "have to work, though, sort of the dark side, if you will. We've got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies, if we're going to be successful." As a bipartisan panel organized by the Constitution Project has concluded in a 600-page report released today, we did indeed go to the dark side, to our lasting shame. The bombing in Boston is a reminder that the "War on Terror" is a war without end, since terrorism is always possible. And this report is a reminder that even in a democracy as mature as ours, the government is capable of awful things. The Constitution Project's panel on treatment of detainees was led by former Democratic Congressman James Jones and former Republican...

All the World’s Eyes on the Globe’s Stage

flickr/dpstyles™
AP Photo/Charles Krupa T he Boston Globe has been through a tough year, or ten. The New York Times Company announced in February that it is putting the Globe up for sale. By shedding the New England Media Group from its holdings—which includes the Globe ’s online presence and the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester, Massachusetts—the media giant is ridding itself of its last remaining venture into print publishing outside of The New York Times . This slow attrition of the Boston Globe’s life force began in 2009, when The New York Times Company announced that it would shutter the Boston newspaper within 60 days if unions didn’t agree to $20 million in cuts. The equivalent of 50 full-time jobs were eliminated through buy-outs and lay-offs. Union employees had their pay reduced by 5 percent, and pension contributions ended. Later that year, the company tried unsuccessfully to sell the Globe . This week, potential buyers have weighed in with their initial bids, all far less than the $1.1...

Call It What You Will

President Obama speaking about the bombing in Boston.
Conservatives sometimes complain about the "language police" on the left who keep them from using the colorful words and phrases they learned at their pappys' knees, when those words and phrases turn out to be offensive to people. But the truth is that nobody pays the kind of careful attention to language the right does. They're forever telling us that the truth of President Obama's radicalism can be found not in his actions but in a thing he said one time, or on the other hand, criticizing him for something he failed to say. (For some reason, Rudy Giuliani was particularly obsessed with this. He loved to say about a speech an opponent made, "He never said the words 'islamo-fascist terror killers!' How can we trust that he understands the world's dangers if he won't say that???") It's a faith in the power of words to change the world and reveal the truth that I'm sure linguists find touching. From what I can tell, conservatives were getting only mildly pre-angry at Obama for not...

Obama's Failed Second Term?

Jamelle Bouie/The American Prospect
At the moment, President Obama is juggling three different legislative priorities—a gun control bill, a budget agreement, and comprehensive immigration reform. Of the three, only the latter has any chance at passing Congress, and that depends on whether Republicans see themselves as winning any advantage from agreeing to the legislation. At Bloomberg View , Ramesh Ponnuru looks at the situation , and—based on the scant odds for success in each case—concludes that Obama’s second term has already failed. He argues that “liberal policy gains have been sparse,” and that while liberals can “celebrate the rapidly increasing support for same-sex marriage,” it doesn’t have much to do with Obama. Ultimately, concludes Ponnuru, “It doesn’t look like he’s going to do much to advance” the “ambitious liberal agenda” presented in his inaugural and State of the Union addresses. All of this is correct on the facts, but it strikes me as a narrow view of Obama’s second term goals. Yes, the White House...

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