Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

The Maximum Impact of the Minimum Wage

AP Photo/Mike Groll

Cristina Romer, Berkeley economics professor and the former head of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, passed judgment on the merits of raising the minimum wage in Saturday’s New York Times, and in the process made clear why she wasn’t a member of the president’s de facto council of political advisers. She argued, as some mainstream economists do, that the merits of a heightened minimum wage were slight—that it may, for instance, raise prices, offsetting the gain to low-wage workers.

The Sequester: A Mental-Health Crisis

Flickr/ranchocanyon

If you've been reading The New York Times, The Washington Post and hearing statements by Republicans denouncing the sequester "hype," you may have been lulled into thinking that it won't be so bad after all. The country has apparently reacted with a "collective yawn" to the $85 billion across-the-board cuts that began last Friday, the Associated Press proclaims. "The sword of Damocles turns out to be made of Styrofoam," the Times reports.

Gun Control’s Long Game

AP Photo/Mike Groll

You could be forgiven for thinking that recent news out of New York proves gun-rights supporters have lawmakers on the run. In mid-February, 500 outraged opponents of gun restrictions held a rally in Albany’s freezing temperatures to protest the state’s new gun-control regulations passed January 15. The president of a large state gun dealer said on January 21 that tens of thousands of assault rifle owners would boycott an April 2014 registration deadline mandated by the law. An anonymous source in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office responded like a parent who’s given up doing anything about their acting-out teen: “Many of these assault-rifle owners aren’t going to register; we realize that.”

That official called it right. Those who expect the New York SAFE Act— which bans the purchase of new assault weapons and requires registration of those owned before the law took effect—to keep new assault rifles out of New York immediately will probably be disappointed.

Local prosecutors and cops have wide latitude in how aggressively to pursue busts and convictions under state law, says James B. Jacobs, professor of constitutional law at New York University. In a wink and nod to gun-rights supporters, the New York Sheriff’s Association issued a statement on January 25 asserting that the law doesn’t require its members to “go door-to-door to confiscate any weapons newly classified as assault weapons, and [sheriffs] will not do so.” In downstate Ulster County, the district attorney told a local paper that when dealing with otherwise law-abiding citizens who have banned weapons, “(police) will take those items away, but that’s not necessarily something we would prosecute.”

All of that would seem to augur poorly for getting results on the ground with new gun laws in other states. Why pass an assault-weapons ban if it’s honored more in breach than observance?

Ringside Seat: This Is Your Government on Sequester

Today is the first day of the rest of your sequester, and the cuts are already coming—undocumented immigrants released from detention, furloughs on military bases, agencies scrambling to determine whom they won't be serving and what they won't be doing. The optimistic take on all this is that in a country where people regularly shout at their members of Congress, "Tell the government to keep its hands off my Medicare!", this could be an education. Start cutting back government services, and citizens will come to an understanding of some of the good things government does for them. Then that in turn will make the next crisis less likely, since the public won't stand for it.

These Aren't the Budget Cuts You're Looking For

White House/Pete Souza

Along with his many accomplishments as president, Barack Obama has given liberals many reasons to be disappointed. Well it looks like we're going to have to add one to the list:

"I know that this has been some of the conventional wisdom that's been floating around Washington that somehow, even though most people agree that I'm being reasonable, that most people agree I'm presenting a fair deal. The fact that they don't take it means that I should somehow, you know, do a Jedi mindmeld with these folks and convince them to do what's right. Well, you know, they're elected. We have a constitutional system of government."

A betrayal of generations of sci-fi geeks everywhere, who thought Obama was one of them? Or a mere slip of the tongue?

Boehner on the Fringe

In announcing Thursday that he would no longer negotiate with President Obama over a deal to reduce the nation’s budget deficit, House Speaker John Boehner said that Republicans would support no more tax increases. The question, he said, came down to “how much more money we want to steal from the American people to fund more government. I’m for no more.”

Yet Another Thing Guns Can't Solve

Flickr/ Texas Lightbox

The GOP is worried about women’s safety on campus. Or at least that’s what they’d have you believe of late, howling in protest at Colorado state Democratic representative Joe Salazar’s clumsy remarks about callboxes, and calling out the University of Colorado for teaching young women to vomit, pee, or tell an assailant they have their period in order to avoid rape

Stop the Madness

Flickr/K.P. Tripathi

The sequester has failed. I say that because it was intended as a deterrent, not as something that was ever supposed to actually go into effect. So because it has gone into effect, it has failed. What should we do now? The answer is simple—not easy, but simple. We have to end this madness, this string of manufactured crises that hamstring the economy and cause enormous amounts of genuine human suffering. Enough is enough. So Congress has to do three things:

Change is Bad. At Least for the VRA

Flickr/Ben Haley

On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Shelby County v. Holder, the fifth time the Voting Rights Act’s Section 5 has been challenged in the high court since it was passed in 1965. Section 5 requires nine states and portions of six others with a history of racial discrimination to have changes to election law “pre-cleared” by the government before going into effect. Every lower court has upheld the provision as constitutional, and Congress reauthorized it four times—always with overwhelming bipartisan support. 

Automatic Stabilizers: There When Congress Isn't

Flickr/JMazzolaa

As we approach sequestration today the dominant narrative continues to be that the huge run-up in the deficit since the Great Recession has been our greatest political—perhaps even a moral—failure. But it isn’t a failure. This is exactly how the system was designed to work if the economy ever saw a downturn on the scale of the 2008 financial crisis.  The deficit is collapsing through the same planned process. As the economy recovers, it is falling quickly, down to 7 percent in 2012, and an estimated 5.3 percent in 2013. 

Ringside Seat: You Sunk My Tea Party Ship

Liberals, not to mention the scientific community, often wonder just what it would take to get the conservatives who deny the evidence of climate change to finally acknowledge reality. If melting glaciers don't do it, and temperature data gathered from around the world doesn't do it, and the consensus of virtually all of the scientists who study the issue doesn't do it, what would?

How Much of a Market Is There on the Right for Real Reporting?

Flickr/Gage Skidmore

Four years ago, Tucker Carlson went before the audience at the Conservative Political Action Conference, and told them that instead of creating more media forums to talk to each other about what a bunch of jerks liberals are, they ought to nurture outlets that actually report news, with a commitment to accuracy. For his trouble he was booed vigorously, and I guess he learned his lesson about what conservatives are interested in, because instead of creating a newsgathering organization he created the Daily Caller. I'm sure it's doing quite well with it's target audience, and I couldn't help but think about Carlson upon seeing that Erick Erickson, proprietor of RedState.com and CNN talking mouth, issued a plea to conservatives to come work for him and actually do journalism. First though, he identified the problem:

Dear White House, You'll Regret This

Olivier Douliery/AP Images

The latest dust-up in the descent of Bob Woodward from fearless investigative reporter to manipulative media celebrity began with his contention in a Washington Post column that President Obama, by asking for revenue increases as part of a deal to defer the sequester, was “moving the goal posts” from the 2011 budget deal (in which Obama got thoroughly hosed by the Republicans).

Victory for the Violence Against Women Act

Phil Roeder / Flickr

Early this morning, the House of Representatives passed the Senate's version of the Violence Against Women Act, which includes the protections for LGBT victims, immigrants, and Native Americans that House Republicans rejected at the end of last year. As Amanda Marcotte writes, "their ongoing resistance to this popular legislation was starting to make them look like monsters," and so they caved.

Falling into Woodward's Den of Iniquity

Flickr/Miguel Ariel Contreras Drake-McLaughlin

When I got to my computer this morning and saw how many people were blathering about Bob Woodward, a wave of despair washed over me. First, because this is the kind of stupid argument from which we thought we could get something of a reprieve once the campaign ended, and second, because Bob Woodward himself, and the deference with which he is treated, just make me depressed.

It's not that Woodward isn't a good reporter, of a sort. But Watergate was pretty much the last time his reporting enhanced public understanding in a really meaningful way. Woodward's modus operandi since then has been to approach powerful people and convince them to tell their side of major events through him. Knowing that if they don't, someone else will and they might come out looking bad, many of them give him their spin in great detail, which his books then pass on to a wide readership. They aren't so much a record of events as a record of events as the people who talked to Bob Woodward would like us to see them. Nobody has done more than Woodward to elevate insiderism, the belief among many journalists that what matters isn't the effect government has on people's lives, but who said what to whom when, that if you can get the Secretary of State to tell you what he said to the National Security Advisor while they were at the urinals in the bathroom down the hall from the Oval Office, then you're a hero of democracy.

I'm not saying there's no value in that kind of reporting—we do want to know what policy makers are thinking, how they interact with each other, and so on. The mistake is to think it's the only thing that matters. And I think that explains why Woodward is now finding himself at odds with the White House.

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