Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Of Cover-Ups and Crimes

Richard Nixon and John Ehrlichman (White House photo). These guys knew from cover-ups.
Of all the crazy things people on the right are now saying about Benghazi, I'll admit that the one that most makes me want to scream is that it's "worse than Watergate." I get that much of the time it's just a way of saying "This is a big deal," and maybe there are some of your dumber elected officials (your Goehmerts, your Bachmanns) who believe it. But the idea is so plainly absurd that sometimes it feels like they're just trolling, saying it not because any sane person could think it's true, but because they just want to drive me nuts. And as long as they keep saying it, I guess we'll have to keep reminding people with short memories what actual scandals involve. To that end, Jonathan Bernstein has a nice reminder for us about Watergate and what a real cover-up looks like, in the course of which he counters the old "It's not the crime, it's the cover-up" aphorism: "I'll stick with what I always say about this: its the crime, not the cover-up, that gets people in trouble. The reason...

Scandal Makers

AP Photo
AP Photo I n case you didn't notice, over the last few days we entered a new phase in the Obama presidency: the scandal phase. What happened? It wasn't evidence of a crime being unearthed, or a confession from a conspirator. There was no sudden revelation, no arrests, no cancer on the presidency. Indeed, just a few days ago it looked for all the world like Benghazi would take its place with Solyndra and "Fast and Furious" as one more wished-for scandal that, despite the best efforts of Republicans, failed to take flight. Yet all it took was ABC News getting passed some emails between the CIA, the State Department, and the White House detailing how the administration argued over how exactly to talk about the attack in Benghazi to get things underway, and now we have calls for special committees and ramped-up coverage. There may not be anything particularly shocking in those emails—just the time-honored tradition of people trying to cover their asses—but internal deliberations being...

Free to Work, Free to Marry

AP Photo/Jim Mone
AP Photo/Jim Mone Thousands filled the Minnesota State Capitol as they waited for word that the Senate had passed the gay marriage bill yesterday. L ast month, Rhode Island came over into the marriage equality column. Last week, it was Delaware . Yesterday, it was Minnesota. There’s progress expected in New Jersey, Illinois, and at the Supreme Court. Pick your favorite cliché or metaphor about winning—being on a hot streak, passing the tipping point, bending the arc of history—and feel free to apply. And yet few Americans are aware that in 29 states, you can still be fired for putting a same-sex partner’s picture on your desk, or rejected for a job because the hiring manager doesn’t like homos. That’s right—it’s perfectly legal in most of the country to fire, refuse to hire, demote, or otherwise discriminate against someone for being gay. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would make it illegal to fire people on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, has...

Ringside Seat: Taxghazi

Within hours after the news broke that the Internal Revenue Service singled out Tea Party and other conservative groups that had applied for tax-exempt 501(c)(4) status for extra scrutiny, conservatives were already complaining that the story wasn't getting enough play in the media. "Imagine if this had happened under President Bush!" they cried. For starters, it actually did. In that case, it was the FBI, not the IRS, that went after liberal groups under the pretense that they might be harboring al Qaeda terrorists (after all, it's well known that the first thing a sleeper cell does when they get to the U.S. is maintain their low profile by participating in an anti-war protest). Now that there are finally a couple of Obama administration "scandals" for conservatives and the media to chew on, we're going to be hearing a lot of comparisons to what went on in prior administrations, so it will be useful to get our history straight. One Republican after another has declared the Benghazi...

There Still Aren't Any Racists in America

Heritage Foundation
Byron York’s interview with former Heritage Foundation scholar Jason Richwine is illuminating, not because of any new information—it’s well-established that Richwine has written for white nationalist websites and drew ideas and inspiration from “race realists” like Charles Murray—but because Richwine follows the pattern of everyone outed for their racism. He denies it. Strenuously: Richwine knew he was in trouble the minute the first story broke. “The accusation of racism is one of the worst things that anyone can call you in public life,” he says. “Once that word is out there, it’s very difficult to recover from it, even when it is completely untrue.” […] Remember, this isn’t an idle accusation—Richwine is part of a community of race and IQ researchers who maintain that IQ differences between racial groups are partially explained by genetics, despite the fact that there’s nothing genetic that makes someone “black” or “white.” It’s historical and social circumstance that places Barack...

The IRS Controversy and the Tax-Exempt Charade

Flickr/onkelshark
As we're learning more about the IRS giving heightened scrutiny to conservative groups filing for tax-exempt status, we should make one thing clear: If what we've heard so far holds up, the people involved should probably get fired, and new safeguards should be put in place to make sure nothing like it happens again. And let it be noted that liberal publications, at least the ones I've seen, have all taken that position and have been discussing this story at length. Now, let's see if we can understand the context in which this happened. There's an irony at work here, which is that it may well be that the IRS employees involved were trying to obey the spirit of the law but ended up violating the letter of the law, while for the organizations in question it was the opposite: they were trying to violate the spirit of the law, but probably didn't violate the letter of the law. Let's take the first part, the IRS employees. When a group files for tax-exempt status, the IRS investigates it,...

Labor's Plan B

Flickr/ Fibonacci Blue
AP Photo/Mark Kegans A week ago, labor-rights group Working America launched FixMyJob.com. The text of the site reads a bit like an infomercial: “Tough day at work? Are you feeling overworked, underpaid, unsafe or disrespected by your boss?” But instead of selling a new set of knives, the writers are hawking organizing skills. “Our tool can help you identify problems in your workplace and give you info about what others have done in similar situations.” The famous raised fist of labor is sideways, holding a wrench. The website is yet another attempt by the country’s once-powerful union movement to connect to workers in an increasingly hostile national workplace. “We also are trying to find new ways for workers to have representation on the job,” writes Working America spokesperson Aruna Jain in an email. “We want to train and educate people on how to self-organize, and to learn collective action—the single most effective way of improving their working conditions. This is one way we...

Is Impeachment Only a Matter of Time?

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza
Official White House Photo by Pete Souza Over the weekend, the Internal Revenue Service faced criticism for targeting Tea Party organizations and other conservative groups for heightened scrutiny. This included nonprofits that criticized the government, as well as groups involved in educating Americans on the Constitution and Bill of Rights. It sounds bad—and it is—but there are important details worth noting. First, this wasn’t an effort to suppress dissent. Back in 2010, the IRS was saw an explosion 501(c)4 groups seeking tax-exempt status. Since this is only legal for groups that educate or serve some general welfare beyond electioneering, the office responsible for viewing all applications—located in Cincinnati—needed an easy way to sort legitimate applications from ones that needed additional scrutiny. At the time, Tea Party groups were registering for the designation in large numbers. And while many fit the criteria, there was no doubt that some existed solely to promote the...

The Transgender Candidate

AP Photo/Shakil Adil
AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen D espite twin bombings at the Awami National Party offices in Karachi this Saturday—an inauspicious start to polling day—Bindiya Rana, one of Pakistan’s first transgender candidates, remained optimistic. Rana’s spent the last several weeks canvassing the alleys of district P.S. 114, handing out self-printed promotional material between concrete buildings under tangles of telephone wires. After several tense months—130 civilians have died in pre-election violence—she was deterred by neither the danger or her slim chances of winning. “The important thing is to face this world very boldly,” she said. In Pakistan, gender issues have historically been prone to violence— Malala Yousafzai made international news when she was shot on a school bus by the Taliban last year—but overall women’s rights have been slowly improving. The country appointed its first female foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, and data from the Election Commission show a 129 percent increase...

D.C. Circuit v. Worker Rights

WikiMedia Commons
Last week, a decision by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals provided an excellent example of how both presidential action and inaction can matter. Because of the former, the National Labor Relations Board had issued a rule intending to alleviate the power disparities between workers and employers. But in part because of action by Republican presidents and inaction by Democratic presidents, the rule is no longer in effect. And while the outcome of the case is hardly surprising, the sheer radicalism of the court's holding is yet another sign of how in the tank much of the powerful D.C. Circuit is for powerful business interests. The case involved a 2011 regulation issued by the NLRB which required employers to post notices informing workers of their right to join a union and providing basic information about how to contact the NLRB. The regulation was challenged by business groups based on an assortment of legal arguments. The District Court upheld the authority of the NLRB to issue the...

Ringside Seat: Bad Heritage

When Jim DeMint left the Senate to assume command of the Heritage Foundation, some people questioned the wisdom of the move. Not from DeMint's perspective—after all, instead of being a staunchly conservative member of the minority party with a staff of a few dozen whose job was to throw rhetorical bombs at the majority and say mean things about Barack Obama, now he'd have a staff of a few hundred and rule one of the right's most important institutions, not to mention probably quadrupling his salary. No, the puzzle was why a think tank like Heritage would want someone like DeMint, not known for putting much stock in thinking, as its leader. And before you know it, Heritage is taking a huge hit to its reputation. It was always known for producing tendentious analyses of issues, but the report it released this week on immigration, claiming that reform would cost the country trillions of dollars, was a masterpiece of glaring omissions and questionable assumptions; included among the...

They Know What You're Doing

One guy's LinkedIn network visualized. (Flickr/Luc Legay)
The big social media sites all recommend people they think you should add to your network. In most cases, it's pretty obvious, at least on the surface, how the recommendation algorithm works; Twitter offers you a few people it suggests you follow, and says they're followed by people you already follow. But after joining LinkedIn a couple of years ago, I found its recommendations to be not just highly accurate, but disturbingly so. That isn't to say they don't recommend people I don't know, but often they'll recommend someone I do know, but I can't for the life of me figure out how they did it. Like hey, there's a woman I went on one date with in 1993, haven't spoken to since, and who knows no one I know. Why in god's name did they suggest her? There's the little brother of a guy I knew 15 years ago, and to whom I have no professional connection. How did he come up? It's particularly odd since I never use LinkedIn; my profile pretty much just sits there. The first couple of times it...

Notes on a Pseudo-Scandal

OK folks, if you have the patience for some meta-blogging on the subject of Benghazi, let me share with you some of the thoughts that have been running around my head as I struggle with how to talk about this story. Whenever a topic like this comes up, you have to ask yourself a couple of questions. Do I have something worthwhile to contribute to this discussion? Is there something that needs to be said but hasn't been yet? Is this thing even worth talking about? Much as I'd like to be immune to the consideration of whether I'm doing a favor for those pushing the story for their own partisan ends by keeping the discussion going, it's hard to avoid that question popping into your head from time to time. There's an objective reality out there, hard though it may sometimes be to discern—either there was or was not actual wrongdoing, and the whole matter is either trivial or momentous—but everyone's perception of that reality is formed within the context of a partisan competition...

The Military Can't Handle the Truth

Flickr/West Point Public Affairs
Flickr/West Point Public Affairs T he real scandal this week around military sexual violence isn’t the release of the latest in a string of Department of Defense (DOD) reports showing stunning levels of sexual assault—hell, even the DOD estimates 26,000 actual incidents compared with the 3,374 reported incidents. It’s not the fact that this year marks the third in a row to show an increase in sexual violence (under law, DOD has published them yearly since 2004), or that the latest report “found that among the one-third of women who reported sexual-assault allegations to a military authority, 62 percent suffered retaliation for speaking up. ” It’s not even the arrest , two days before the report came out, of the officer in charge of sexual-assault prevention programs for the Air Force on sexual battery charges. The real scandal is the degree to which the military has been allowed to continue punting on addressing sexual violence, despite knowing about the widespread sexual abuse of...

Sentimental for the Stones Ages

George Nikitin/Invision/AP
AP Photo/Schroer T he Rolling Stones aren't playing anywhere within 900 miles of New Orleans on their "50 And Counting" tour, so it's not exactly as if I have an anguished decision to make now that the Feds have confiscated my Lear jet. But unless offered a free ticket, I doubt I'd have felt any qualms about staying home with Philip Larkin's Collected Poems and my toenail clippers even if the boys had taken it into their heads to headline JazzFest in NOLA last week. (This year's crowd had to settle for lesser dinosaurs: Billy Joel, Hall and Oates, Fleetwood Mac. Word is that Billy—now inching his way back into critical respectability, since you can't deny Mr. Glibmeister's songcraft—knocked it right out of the park.) Not that I ever saw them in their prime. My one and only Stones concert was in 1994, by which time I was being paid to go and wouldn't have considered attending otherwise. As intense as it was—defining my high-school and college years from the moment a 15-year-old me...

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