Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Are the Koch Brothers Getting in the Newspaper Business?

David Koch, possible future newspaper mogul. (AP photo/Carlo Allegri)
If you ask ten conservatives what they think of The New York Times , seven or eight of them would probably tell you that it's an organization whose primary purpose is advancing a sinister liberal agenda, and journalism just happens to be the tool it uses to accomplish that goal, though they'd be more likely to call it propaganda than journalism. The rest of us think that's nuts, but those conservatives sincerely believe it. So it's not surprising that some of them would dream of creating a conservative version of what they imagine the liberal media to be. Sure, they've got Fox News, and they control most of talk radio, and they have their magazines and websites. But wouldn't it be something to have some real old-fashioned newspapers to advance the cause? And not just ones that are ridiculed like The Washington Times , but papers that already have respected names and large audiences? Sounds like an interesting idea, which is why Charles and David Koch—who, depending on your perspective...

Rhode Island's Bipartisan Gay-Marriage Coup

AP Images
Same-sex marriage advocates have had their eyes on Rhode Island for a long time. Wednesday afternoon, they’ll very likely see the last barrier to marriage equality fall away, as the state Senate is scheduled to vote on a measure legalizing same-sex marriage. It’s already passed the House, receiving vocal support from Governor Lincoln Chafee, and most expect that the Senate has the votes to pass it by a big margin. The Senate has always been the biggest challenge in Rhode Island; the leadership opposes the measure, and two years ago, a similar bill died when it became clear it couldn’t get through the upper chamber. But this year, advocates expect a very different outcome. As if to highlight the shift, on Tuesday, in advance of the bill, the minority caucus in the Senate came out with a unanimous show of support. It’s the first time any caucus in any state has shown such a united front. More surprising? It’s the Republican caucus. Meanwhile it’s been Democratic Senate leadership that’s...

The GOP Still Can't Quit George W. Bush

Tech Sgt. Craig Clapper, USAF
Tech Sgt. Craig Clapper, USAF Former President George W. Bush and his wife Laura Bush give a final farewell wave to the crowd of more than 1,000 people gathered on Andrews Air Force Base, Md., to wish them a fond farewell before their final departure aboard Air Force One. This week, George W. Bush dedicates his presidential library and re-enters public life after a long, quiet hiatus. Not that he was missed. Most Americans have nothing but disdain for the former president. The failures of his administration—including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the bungled response to Hurricane Katrina, and the 2008 financial crisis—left him with an abysmal approval rating. And as recently as six months ago, a majority of voters viewed him as responsible for the poor economy. If, as suggested by some conservative pundits, America has graded Barack Obama on a curve, it’s almost certainly because he is still dealing with the fallout from eight years of neglect, disinterest, and incompetence. With...

Five Reasons Boston Has Nothing to Do with Immigration Reform

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
*/ AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on immigration reform yesterday. S hortly after Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev detonated bombs near the finish line at the Boston marathon, killing 3 people and injuring over 200, conservatives opposed to immigration reform began exploiting the tragedy. Their goal? Derailing or delaying the 844-page Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 . The bombings cast a pall over hearings on the immigration bill in the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday, where Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano fielded questions about the asylum process used by the boys' family to enter the country. Questions were also posed about the Department of Homeland Security's entry-exit system, which tracked the older of the two brothers' six-month trip to Russia, but not his re-entry. Republican senator Rand Paul sent a letter to House...

Banking Regulation: Closed for Business

Flickr/Vittorio Ferrari
T hese are heady times for the bipartisan group of reformers seeking a safer and more manageable U.S. financial system. The leaders of this movement, Senators Sherrod Brown and David Vitter, introduced legislation yesterday to force the biggest banks to foot the bill for their own mistakes by imposing higher capital requirements. The bill would increase equity (either retained earnings or stock) in the financial system by $1.1 trillion and incentivize mega-banks to break themselves up, according to a Goldman Sachs report . Brown and Vitter previewed the legislation earlier this week at the National Press Club, insisting that the new regulations on risky mega-banks would diminish threats to the U.S. economy and prevent taxpayers from having to bail out banks in the future . Vitter also said the legislation would “level the playing field and take away a government policy subsidy, if you will, that exists in the market now favoring size.” With momentum, broadening support, and tangible...

Ringside Seat: Crossfrankly

Turn on cable news at most times of the day, and you can find a "debate" in which a program's host throws questions to two guests, one a conservative and one a liberal, invited on for their ability to slog their way through five soul-deadening minutes of motive-questioning and oft-repeated talking points. If you've ever watched one of these and said to yourself, "Maybe they should just lose the host and have these two yell at each other directly. And extend it to a whole half-hour!", then there might be a job waiting for you at CNN. A couple of weeks ago, we learned that the flagging news network is looking to revive Crossfire , the horror show of partisan bickering that it featured for more than two interminable decades beginning in the early 1980s. When Jon Stewart went on the show in late 2004 and begged the hosts to "stop hurting America," it was as though the veil had been lifted and everyone finally realized how awful it truly was. The show was put out of its considerable misery...

Should You Still Despise George W. Bush?

C'mon, I'm not so bad, am I?
Twitter was alight this morning with mockery of this post from Washington Post conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin, explaining a marginal improvement in George W. Bush's post-presidential approval ratings (from 33 percent when he left office to 47 percent now) by noting that Bush won that ugly Iraq War (who started that again?), gave us a great economy, and pretty much solved the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, among other accomplishments, and also had a "tender, tearful love of country," unlike some people she could mention. I'll leave it to others to respond to the particulars of Rubin's journey to Bizarro World, but if we assume this poll to be accurate, the question is, why might Americans' opinions of Bush be somewhat less dreadful than they used to be? Let's think about it this way: How do you feel about Bush? If you're like me, your contempt for him isn't what it once was. Back in the day, I took a back seat to no one when it came to displeasure with him. But I'll admit that in...

Immigration Reform Won't Be a "Bonanza" for Democrats

Jens Schott Knudsen / Flickr
Jens Schott Knudsen / Flickr The big Politico story today is on the potential gains Democrats could reap from comprehensive immigration reform. But rather than go in a sensible direction—that Democratic support for reform will strengthen the party’s ties with Latino and Asian American voters, giving the latter a further stake in Democratic success— Politico argues that immigration reform will transform the electoral map by delivering millions of new votes to Democrats. Here’s the nut of the argument: If these people had been on the voting rolls in 2012 and voted along the same lines as other Hispanic voters did last fall, President Barack Obama’s relatively narrow victory last fall would have been considerably wider … Key swing states – [including] Florida, Colorado and Nevada - would have been comfortably in his column. And the president would have come very close to winning Arizona. Republican Mitt Romney, by contrast, would have lost the national popular vote by 7 percentage points...

The Gun Lobby's Raw Power

The Sunlight Foundation
The New York Times weighs in on the failed push for expanded background checks with a familiar take: Congress didn’t pass the Manchin-Toomey gun compromise because President Obama failed to “twist arms.” As with its columnist Maureen Dowd, the Times makes no mention of the GOP’s near-unanimous decision to filibuster the proposal; in this narrative of Washington, the choices made by individual lawmakers are irrelevant—only the president has any agency. As such, the Times —and various Beltway reporters—can focus their stories on why Obama failed to win GOP votes, and not on the calculations that led Republicans to oppose expanded background checks, even as they earned wide support from the public. For that, you have to look at the broader political landscape. President Obama won reelection by nearly five million votes, but he didn’t win a majority of congressional districts, and only won half of all states. For a large chunk of Congress, there’s no particular reason to support Obama’s...

Explosion in a Wild West

AP Photos
AP Photo/Charlie Riedel A ny other week, the explosion at the fertilizer plant in West, Texas—which killed 14 people, injured 200, and flattened 50 houses all in a town of under 3,000 people—would have dominated the news for days, with the explosion playing over and over again. Instead, most of us wound up watching the whole thing through YouTube videos. Just days earlier, bombs planted at the Boston Marathon had left the country on alert for terrorist attacks. The ensuing manhunt for the perpetrators ensured that a deadly explosion in the middle of Texas wouldn’t start the 10 o’clock news or lead Sunday talk-show coverage. The trouble is, while none of us can be fully protected from a person with a bomb, we usually assume the risks in areas under government oversight are much lower. While the incident in Boston helps illustrate the limits of public safety, the explosion in West illustrates a series of gaps in regulation—and the risks those gaps create. The investigation around the...

Decision Points Redux

George W. Bush has had, shall we say, an uneventful ex-presidency. Bill Clinton flies all over the world to raise money for his foundation and Jimmy Carter oversees elections in developing countries, but Bush is content with a slower pace. Important events shake the world, but today The Decider decides to go for a bike ride, have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch, and maybe paint a picture of a dog. If there's time after, he takes a good afternoon nap. This week, the George W. Bush presidential library will open on the campus of Southern Methodist University. He may have left office with shockingly low approval ratings, but Bush insists that the jury is still out on his presidency. "There's no need to defend myself," he told USA Today . "I did what I did and ultimately history will judge." Bush has been delivering that same line about history being the judge since before he left the White House. It's a way of saying, Sure, I may look like a screw-up to you. But just you...

Fayyad's Choice

AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed
AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed Salam Fayyad S alam Fayyad has formally resigned his post as prime minister of the Palestinian Authority. Note the word formally . In the half-presidential, half-parliamentary, mostly improvised political system of the Palestinian non-state, Fayyad will apparently stay on until President Mahmoud Abbas appoints a replacement, or until elections are held, or indeterminately as his resignation fades from memory. It would be wrong to say that Fayyad has become a caretaker prime minister, because he has always been a caretaker. Abbas appointed Fayyad to head an emergency government in 2007, when the attempt at power-sharing between Abbas's Fatah movement and the Islamicist Hamas movement ended in a brief civil war. The Palestinian parliament, where Hamas has a majority, never approved the appointment. Both the president and parliament have outlived their legal terms of office. Yet Fatah continues to rule the West Bank, just as Hamas keeps ruling Gaza. A week-and-a-...

Beware Of "Ties"

Flickr/Fernando de Souza
Something to think about as we learn more in the coming days about both Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his deceased brother Tamerlan. Everything investigators have released so far suggests that they acted alone, and you can easily find instructions to make the kind of bomb they used on the Internet. But as details get fleshed out about where they went, what they did, and whom they met in the last few years, there's a phrase we'll be hearing a lot: "ties to al-Qaeda." So before people start saying the brothers had "ties to al-Qaeda," we should make sure we know exactly what we're saying when we use that term. We still don't know much about why the Russian government contacted the FBI regarding Tamerlan, and what he did on an extended trip to Chechnya and Dagestan in 2012. Who knows, maybe Ayman al-Zawahiri himself went to Grozny to meet with him, told him how to make the bombs, and ordered him to carry out the attack. But probably not. It's a lot more likely that we'll find out about some far...

Pete Williams Is a Good Journalist, But He's Not a Hero

At one point during its coverage of the events in Boston on Friday, NBC News brought in a feed from a local station, and it seemed to be recording not the station's broadcast but someone talking on the phone, perhaps a reporter or someone in the control room. "Oh, you're not listening?" the person being recorded said to whomever he was talking to. "We don't know shit." After a pregnant pause, Brian Williams returned to say smoothly, "Well, that was a fortuitous time to dip into the coverage of New England cable news." But it was a pretty fair summary of television news' overall performance through the course of this whole drama. There was one part of NBC's coverage, however, that came in for a great deal of praise. At a time when the New York Post was publishing one piece of false information after another (including splashing a photo of two completely innocent men on its front page and accusing them of being suspects) and CNN was coming in for much-deserved ridicule for its hours of...

Obama Is a Supporting Character

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak
(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak) President Barack Obama makes an opening statement during his news conference yesterday in the East Room of the White House. The president says the economy cannot afford a tax increase on all Americans and is calling on congressional Republicans to support an extension of existing tax rates for households earning $250,000 or less. “Why couldn’t Barack Obama pass gun control?” is a bad question. Not because there isn’t a story to tell about the new push for gun regulations, but because Obama isn’t the main character. On broad questions like gun control and immigration reform, the president has a say, but the show belongs to Congress and all of its dysfunctions. The Manchin-Toomey plan for expanded background checks hit familiar barriers—the filibuster, near-unanimous Republican opposition, skittish red state Democrats—and failed as a result. The president can’t “pass” legislation—the most he can do is influence, pressure, and cajole. And even that depends on...

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