Government

Many Things, But Not a Traitor

Today, Bradley Manning was found guilty of violating the Espionage Act by releasing hundreds of thousands of documents from the military and the State Department to WikiLeaks in 2011. Though Manning had already pled guilty to some charges, the government wanted to convict him not only of violating classification rules, but of something far more serious, and on that, they failed. And a good thing, too. The government had essentially charged Manning with treason, but since the Constitution sets a high bar for that crime, they called it "aiding the enemy." The rationale was that since Manning must surely have been aware that al Qaeda reads the internet, when he gave the documents to WikiLeaks he was for all intents and purposes giving them to al Qaeda. The judge, while convicting Manning on the Espionage Act charges, found him not guilty of aiding the enemy. It's one thing to have only limited sympathy for Manning—after all, he didn't just leak evidence of government malfeasance, he...

Republicans vs. Democracy in North Carolina

Jenny Warburg
I t’s hard to overstate the magnitude of the voting bill currently hurtling through the North Carolina legislature. What the Republican-dominated body calls a “Voter Protection” bill has a laundry list of provisions, almost all of which make voting harder for the general population and disproportionately hard for voters of color, young voters, or low-income people. “The types of provisions are not unheard of,” says Denise Lieberman, senior council for the voting rights advocacy group the Advancement Project. “What’s unheard of is doing all them all at once.” Lieberman calls the measure “the most broad-sweeping assault on voting rights in the country.” She’s not exaggerating. Simply put, the law would turn the state with the South’s most progressive voting laws, and the region’s highest turnout in the last two presidential elections, into a state with perhaps the most restrictive voting laws in the nation. In doing so, it could also provide a national model for erecting obstacles to...

Must Austerity Keep Winning?

T he EU’s extreme version of budget cutting has pushed the European economy ever deeper into its worst recession since World War II. The United States, pursuing a bipartisan target of $4 trillion in budget cuts over a decade, is mired in an economy of slow growth and inadequate job creation. Our government’s failure to give debt relief to indentured college students and underwater homeowners functions as a multitrillion-dollar twin drag on a feeble recovery. The smart money knows just how weak this economy is. Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke had only to suggest that he might nudge interest rates up a bit, and markets panicked. So austerity is the wrong medicine for the prolonged aftermath of a financial collapse. Case closed. But hold on. Winning the intellectual debate doesn’t matter, because we keep losing the politics. Until we start changing the policies, or at least begin causing more political embarrassment for the budget hawks, austerity will reign, no matter how perverse...

The Next Phase of the Obamacare Battle Begins

President Obama speaking yesterday on health care. (White House photo by Chuck Kennedy)
We're beginning a new phase of the battle over Obamacare—and the fact that we can continue to refer to it as a "battle" tells you something—one that in some ways takes on the appearance of an electoral campaign, with television ads, media events, PR stunts, and a universal assumption that the whole thing is zero-sum. If anything related to Obamacare goes well—like, say, people getting health insurance at affordable prices—then that's bad for Republicans and something they'll do what they can to stop. What we have here is something truly unprecedented: an opposition party not just insisting that a significant government program was a bad idea, not even just hoping that in its implementation it doesn't work, but committing itself to actively working to make sure the program fails and that as much human misery as possible can be created along the way, so that eventual repeal of the program will become possible. The Obama administration is facing a huge administrative task, laid on top of...

Welcome to the Future of Voting Rights

AP Images/John C. Whitehead
For months before the November election, battles raged in Pennsylvania over whether the state would require voters to show a state-issued photo ID in order to cast a ballot. Many voting rights activists saw the state's voter ID bill, passed by a Republican legislature and signed by a Republican governor, as an attempt to tamp down turnout among nonwhite and poor Pennsylvanians. Estimates of just how many people lacked ID ranged tremendously, but it was clear that nonwhite voters would be disproportionately affected by the new requirement. Mike Turzai, the state house majority leader, seemed to only confirm the worst when he said publicly that the new law would “allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.” But Pennsylvania is not a state with a long history of voter suppression. It wasn’t mentioned in Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which required certain states and counties to get new election laws “precleared” by the feds. In those states, controversial measures often...

Vive La Filibuster

In the wake of innumerable warnings of disaster and accusations of bad faith, Democrats and Republicans did something unusual today: they came to agreement on how to do business, at least for a while. The topic was the filibuster, which used to be something the minority party used in extraordinary circumstances, but in the hands of Republicans has become a hurdle every single substantial piece of legislation and nominee has to jump. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid basically got fed up and told Republicans that if they didn't allow votes on three of President Obama's languishing nominees—Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Thomas Perez to be Secretary of Labor, and Gina McCarthy to head the Environmental Protection Agency—then he would move to change Senate rules and end the filibuster for executive branch nominations entirely. And in the end, the Republicans blinked, agreeing to a deal in which the filibuster rules would stay, the three nominees would...

Three Things You’ve Got Wrong about the Filibuster

AP Photo/Columbia, File
AP Photo/Henry Griffin W ith the Senate showdown on executive branch appointments—and eventually filibuster rules—moving towards the moment of truth, it’s a good time to revisit some of the myths surrounding one of the hallowed chamber’s most perplexing procedures. Here are three: 1. Filibusters ≠ Cloture Votes Really: Filibusters are not the same as cloture votes. All those charts and fact sheets you’ve seen showing the explosion of filibusters in 2009? Well, it happened, but the explosion was due to an increase in cloture votes, which are—get it now?—not the same as filibusters. Cloture—or cutting off debate on a bill, nomination, or motion, which by rule in the Senate requires three-fifths of all Senators—is one way the majority can end a filibuster. But it’s not the only way. Filibusters can end through attrition (that is, the minority tires of doing it); through cutting a deal on some minority demand, such as allowing one nomination to go through while another is withdrawn; or...

Ending Minority Rule

AP Images/J. Scott Applewhite
The first test vote that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is scheduled to bring before the Senate this morning is that of Richard Cordray, President Obama’s pick to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Reid decided to lead off with Cordray for a very good reason: The Republicans’ insistence on filibustering him makes clear their real intent is to throttle the Bureau. They are using a filibuster of an appointment to effectively repeal legislation they don’t otherwise have the votes to repeal. Nothing could better make Reid’s case that the filibuster has been twisted into a vehicle for minority rule. Republicans have openly acknowledged that their opposition to Cordray isn’t to Cordray himself. Rather, they say, they oppose giving the bureau’s director the power to direct the bureau. Instead, they’d like a bipartisan board to run the bureau. Their reasoning is straightforward: A single director might just advocate for consumers. If there were a bipartisan board, however, it...

When Justice Is Blind and Deaf

AP Images/Matt Smith
AP Images/Matt Smith I f justice is a conspiracy between moral logic and the law, then the revelation of the 36 hours following the George Zimmerman verdict is just how complete justice’s failure has been. The shambling closing statement at the trial last Thursday by attorney Bernie de la Rionda was a testament to how fully the state was seduced—with only occasional bulletins from some larger perspective by fellow prosecutor John Guy—into allowing the terms of the contest to be defined by Zimmerman’s counsel, Second City-wannabe Don West and Mark O’Mara, who was his own greatest competition in the sweepstakes for who could make the proceedings’ most flabbergasting comment. After telling the apparently beguiled jury that his client wasn’t accountable for a single moment of the events of February 26, 2012, that led to the death of teenager Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, O’Mara declared at Saturday night’s press conference that had the ethnicities of defendant and victim been...

It Doesn't Matter Who Replaces Janet Napolitano

Flickr/U.S. Army/Sgt. Jim Greenhill
Flickr/U.S. Army/Sgt. Jim Greenhill Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano Republicans probably weren’t crying in their coffee this morning after Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano announced she would resign her post to take over as president of the University of California system. Throughout her tenure—during which the Obama administration oversaw a record number of deportations but also prioritized criminal deportation and offered the children of undocumented immigrants “deferred action”—Republicans assailed the secretary for what they say is the department's failure to enforce current immigration law. This has been a flashpoint in the debate over comprehensive immigration reform: Distrustful of the administration's commitment to securing the border, Republican lawmakers have pushed for reform to include triggers that make the legalization of the country's estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants contingent on various border-security metrics. Democrats...

The Food Stamp-Out

House Republicans’ newest tactic to dilute one of the most successful social welfare programs in the country’s history. 

AP Images/Michael Stravato
Yesterday, the House of Representatives voted to pass a farm bill—a bill that influences everything from your lovely weekend farmers market to the subsidies that have led every food in America to be made from corn—without what is normally its biggest component: nutrition programs, including food stamps. It introduces a new wrinkle into a two-year fight over the farm bill, a sleepy piece of legislation that must be passed every five years and is normally uncontroversial. Senate leadership, which passed a farm bill earlier in June, has said it won’t pass one without the food stamp portion. Senator Debbie Stabenow, the chair of the Senate agricultural committee, released a statement with a reminder of that yesterday: “The bill passed by the House today is not a real Farm Bill and is an insult to rural America, which is why it’s strongly opposed by more than 500 farm, food and conservation groups.” The split came after a bit of a ruckus: Last month, House leadership brought the farm bill...

Coming to Do Good, Staying to Do Well

D.C. is filled with young, dizzying ambition. This Town wishes the old-timers knew better.  

AP Images/Stephen J. Boltano
AP Images/ Stephen J. Boltano For 20 years, since the weekend of Bill Clinton’s first inauguration, I have rented against all financial prudence an apartment in Washington, D.C. even though I really live in Manhattan. So, at least in a real-estate sense, I can rightfully claim to be both part of political Washington and an authentic subway-riding, theater-going, real-bagel-chomping outsider. I have no regrets about moving from D.C. to New York in 1983 at a time when reporter friends were bragging about playing tennis with Paul Laxalt who—as anyone who mattered knew—was Ronald Reagan’s closest friend on Capitol Hill. Washington, then as now, was a city of truncated life possibilities: Everyone was either in government, a lawyer, a lobbyist, a journalist or in transition between two of these exalted states of being. But I still nurture a bemused attachment to Washington—the shining city of my post-college youth, the place where I once walked the corridors of other people’s power. Which...

If Republicans Want to Govern, They Should Try Winning Elections

Gage Skidmore/Flickr
Gage Skidmore/Flickr Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky speaking at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. To understand Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s renewed push for filibuster reform, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s angry reaction to the proposal—he declared that Reid’s “tombstone” would say that he “presided over the end of the Senate”—you have to look at the last four years of Senate dysfunction. Norms matter as much as rules in governing the conduct of Congress, and the most important norms change of the last decade happened at the beginning of Barack Obama’s first term, when Republicans adopted the filibuster as a routine tool of opposition. Rather than reserve the tactic for consequential or controversial pieces of legislation, Republicans—led by McConnell—invoked it on everything from judicial and executive branch nominations, to small-scale legislation with wide support, like the DREAM Act. By the second...

Making Laws No Longer Part of Lawmaking Process

Flickr/KP Tripathi
Reading through some headlines today, I came across one link that began, "House Votes To..." and I realized that no matter what the end of the headline was, you can almost always insert, "...Make Pointless Statement As Sop to Conservative Base" and you'll be on target. In this case it happened to be a vote to block energy-efficiency standards for light bulbs, but it could have been any of a thousand things. You could argue, as Jonathan Chait does , that Republican lawmakers have basically given up on lawmaking altogether, and you wouldn't be far off. But it's more than that. They've reimagined the lawmaking process as a kind of extended ideological performance art piece, one that no longer has anything to do with laws in the "I'm Just a Bill" sense. It's not as though they aren't legislating, it's just that laws have become beside the point. Granted, the lawmaking process has always involved a lot of grandstanding and occasional votes taken more to make a statement than to alter the...

Our Old History of Fights Over Voting

Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States, Howard Chandler Christy
Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States, Howard Chandler Christy I n the United States, voting rights don’t march forward as much as they ebb and flow. Often, it happens like this: The prospect of short-term political gain leads one of the two parties to make a massive push for democratic participation, which is then countered by the other side, which has an equally large interest in maintaining a smaller electorate of particular people. In the late 18th century, for instance, New Jersey was one of the few states to grant voting rights to (property-owning) women. The exact reasons for taking this path are unclear, but partisan politics had something to do with it—“As different political groups struggled to gain ascendancy during and just after the revolution, they tried to enlarge their potential constituencies, one of which was female,” writes historian Alexander Keyssar in The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States . But, he...

Pages