Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

License to Kill

WikiMedia Commons
In a major reportorial coup, NBC's Michael Isikoff has uncovered the "white paper" that the Obama administration used to internally justify extrajudicial killings in the "war on terror." Not only has Isikoff performed a valuable service by making the memo available to the public, this will also be the first time it had been made available to most members of Congress . The memo, unfortunately, will not reassure anyone who thinks that the Obama administration has continued much of the Bush administration's overreaching. The document lays out three conditions justifying killings ordered by the executive branch. First, an "informed, high-level official" in the United States government must determine that an individual poses an "imminent threat of violent attack against the United States." Second, the capture of the individual must be "infeasible." And, third, the operation must be conducted in a "manner consistent with applicable law of war principles." When these conditions are met, the...

Paul Ryan Is Not a Fan of Electoral Vote Rigging

Wikipedia
Last month, Republicans in several swing states—Virginia, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania—floated a change that would give the GOP a decisive advantage in presidential elections. As it stands, most states, sans Nebraska and Maine, distribute their electoral votes in a winner-take-all system—if you win the state, you win the electoral votes. What Republicans have proposed is a system where electoral votes are distributed by congressional district—if you win the district, then you win the votes. The problem, as I explained last month, is that Democrats tend to cluster in urban areas, packing their voters into a handful of districts. By contrast, Republicans control more land . This scheme would privilege the GOP for having an advantage with land, and disadvantage Democrats for representing population dense areas. Outrage from this proposal exploded as soon as people realized its implications, and one by one, Republicans have backed away from it. Yesterday, the Wisconsin State Journal...

How the NRA Is Helping to Pass Gun Control

We're in the early stages of a lengthy process that will involve hearings, competing bills, horse-trading, and the usual ugliness of life in the Capitol Hill sausage factory, but the contours of gun legislation are beginning to take shape. Though President Obama is out campaigning for the full package of reforms he has been advocating, there are indications that the assault weapons ban may get dropped in order to forestall a Republican filibuster in the Senate, and a bipartisan group is about to introduce a bill in the House on gun trafficking and straw purchases. (I'll discuss the assault weapons question in a later post). In other words, the actual legislative process is getting underway. And though it's by no means assured that some gun measures will pass Congress, if any do, we'll partly have the NRA to thank. That's because, I believe, the organization fundamentally misread the role it plays in the minds of the average voter. They've become more extremist in the last two decades...

I Can Haz Internet Freedom?

Michael Gottschalk/dapd
AP Photo/Matt Dunham) Anonymous supporters wearing Guy Fawkes masks hold a banner as they take part in a protest outside Britain's Houses of Parliament in London, Monday, November 5, 2012. The protest was held on November 5 to coincide with the failed 1605 gunpowder plot to blow up the House of Lords. T wo weeks ago today, a line was crossed. Two weeks ago today, Aaron Swartz was killed. Killed because he faced an impossible choice. Killed because he was forced into playing a game he could not win—a twisted and distorted perversion of justice—a game where the only winning move was not to play. That message greeted visitors to the United States Sentencing Commission website the evening of January 25. The words were part of a ten-minute video manifesto embedded on the homepage of the commission, responsible for writing the sentencing policies and guidelines for federal courts. The death of the Internet savant and information activist Aaron Swartz, who took his own life due at least in...

GOP Slowly Realizes Free Money Is Great!

When the Supreme Court upheld the individual insurance mandate of the Affordable Care Act, conservatives' disappointment was tempered by one element of the ruling, which allowed states to opt out of the ACA's expansion of Medicaid. Obamacare might have survived, but at least they'd be able to stick it to poor people. The Medicaid expansion was perhaps the most critical part of the ACA, potentially delivering insurance to 30 million people who don't have it, but now Republican governors and Republican legislators would have a chance to give Barack Obama the finger and refuse to accept the giant pot of money the federal government was offering to insure their poorest citizens. (Though Medicaid funding today is split between the federal government and the states, the feds will pick up almost the entire cost of the expansion). Ironically, the states where Republican rule is firmest stood to gain the most, since they're the ones with the stingiest existing Medicaid eligibility standards,...

Labor Wins—in China

Flickr/notebookaktuell
Is China moving ahead of the United States on worker rights? According to a report on Monday’s Financial Times , it may be doing just that. The FT reports that Foxconn, which employs 1.2 million Chinese workers who make the bulk of Apple’s products, along with those of Nokia, Dell, and other tech companies, has decided to allow its workers to hold elections to select their union leaders. This is a radical departure from past practice in China, where unions are run by the government—that is, the Communist Party—which customarily selects the union leaders. Often, the leaders selected under this system are actually the plant managers. Under Foxconn’s new plan, workers will cast secret ballots for their union leaders, and no managers will be eligible to run. The company’s proposal, writes the FT , is viewed as a “response to frequent worker protests, riots and strikes and soaring labor costs.” In other words, just as employers in Western Europe and the U.S. once came to prefer dealing...

Free "Super-Wifi" Everywhere? Don't Hold Your Breath.

Flickr/CollegeDegrees360
We spend a lot of time arguing about whether government should be big or small, which is almost always the wrong question. Among the right questions are how government should go about doing what it has to do, and on whose behalf it ought to operate. I bring this up because of a proposal by the Federal Communications Commission, discussed in this article in today's Washington Post , to open up a big chunk of spectrum to spread wifi hither and yon, potentially creating a nirvana of free internet and cell phone access. Sound too good to be true? Yeah, it is. But here's how the Post described it: The federal government wants to create super WiFi networks across the nation, so powerful and broad in reach that consumers could use them to make calls or surf the Internet without paying a cellphone bill every month. The proposal from the Federal Communications Commission has rattled the $178 billion wireless industry, which has launched a fierce lobbying effort to persuade policymakers to...

The Nullification Crisis, Part Deux

Wikipedia
Wikipedia John C. Calhoun, former vice president and senator from South Carolina. From its inception as part of Dodd-Frank financial, Republicans have been opposed to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an agency meant to protect consumers from predatory financial practices. In a sane political world, Republicans would register through the usual channels, including elections. If you want to change Washington—or even just an agency—the first order of business is winning elections. In the world as it exists, however, Republicans have decided to simply block any attempt at enforcing laws they don’t like. For the CFPB, this means blocking confirmation for its director—former Ohio attorney general Richard Cordray—until the administration agrees to gut the agency and leave consumers more vulnerable to predatory financial practices: Senate Republicans are renewing their vow to block any nominee to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) unless major changes are made to its...

He's Not Here to Make Friends

President Obama meeting with grim-faced members of Congress. (White House/Pete Souza)
If you walked into the home of an acquaintance and found yourself facing a wall of dozens of pictures of him shaking hands with powerful people, you'd probably think, "What a pompous ass. And how insecure do you have to be to put these things up on your wall? I get it, you're important. Sheesh." In Washington, however, these "brag walls" can be found all over town, particularly on Capitol Hill, where nearly every member of Congress has one. Maybe some offices do it just because that's what everyone else does, but you'd think that if you're a senator or member of Congress, the fact that you're an important person would be self-evident, and it wouldn't be necessary to make sure everyone who comes into your office knows that you've been in the same room as presidents and other high-ranking officials. There are some commercial establishments, like your local deli, that might put up pictures on their walls with the celebrities who have stopped in, but that's an understandable marketing...

Establishment Republicans Can't Blame the Tea Party for Everything

Wikipedia
When Republicans began 2012, the Senate was within in their grasp—Democrats were defending a huge number of seats, and several incumbents, like Claire McCaskill of Missouri, were deeply unpopular. They finished it, however, with a smaller minority than anyone could have predicted. Obviously, this was a huge defeat for the GOP, and blame for it has fallen on two particular candidates—Richard Mourdock in Indiana and Todd Akin in Missouri—who represent the failures and excesses of Tea Party conservatism. In an effort to avoid a repeat of this in 2014, establishment Republicans have begun an effort to recruit more pliable candidates—ones who won’t sink GOP odds with ill-considered words on rape and women’s health. According to The New York Times , the “Conservative Victory Project” is “intended to counter other organizations that have helped defeat establishment Republican candidates over the last two election cycles. It is the most robust attempt yet by Republicans to impose a new sense...

Outsiders as Insiders

Flickr/Office of Governor Patrick
Flickr/Office of Governor Patrick M assachusetts could be the harbinger of a hopeful national trend in Democratic Party politics – the reformer as regular. For 16 years, this bluest of blue states oddly kept electing Republican governors. Between 1990 when Gov. Michael Dukakis stepped down and 2006 when Deval Patrick took the governorship back, no fewer than four Republicans sat in the governor’s chair. And then Democrats blew the special election for Ted Kennedy’s seat in January 2010, when Scott Brown upset Attorney General Martha Coakley. This occurred in a state that reliably votes Democratic for president, and hasn’t sent a Republican to the U.S. House since 1994. Despite the Democratic sentiments of Massachusetts voters, the institutional party has often seemed dysfunctional, decrepit, and not welcoming of new blood. In this odd history, however, one fact screams out. The two big statewide winners of recent decades were complete outsiders—Deval Patrick and Elizabeth Warren...

New Term, New Truthers, Same Obama

(Flickr/The White House)
If I had to pick my favorite political ad of the last few years, a strong contender would be the one from 2010 Delaware Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell, in which she looked into the camera and said sweetly, "I'm not a witch. I'm nothing you've heard. I'm you." The combination of a hilarious lack of subtlety with a kind of sad earnestness made it unforgettable. And it's the message that almost every politician tries to offer at one point or another (the "I'm you" part, not the part about not being a witch). They all want us to think they're us, or at least enough like us for us to trust them. So when the White House released a photo over the weekend of President Obama shooting skeet, the smoke of freedom issuing forth from the barrel of his gun, you could almost hear him saying, "I'm not an effete socialist gun-hater. I'm you." If "you" happen to be one of the minority of Americans who own guns, that is. Even at this late date, Obama and his aides can't resist the urge, when...

What Would Jack Lew Do?

AP Photo/Win McNamee
AP Photo/Win McNamee Current White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew, whom President Barack Obama has nominated to be the new Treasury secretary, at the president's swearing-in ceremony during the 57th Presidential Inauguration. S ometime this month, the Senate is expected to grill President Obama’s pick for Treasury secretary, Jack Lew, who if confirmed will replace outgoing secretary Timothy Geithner. As the president’s chief of staff, Lew has been influential in the budget battles President Obama fought with House Republicans in the past year and has a deep knowledge of how government spending works. Conventional wisdom is that the president chose Lew to have a strong ally as the White House battles with congressional Republicans over spending and taxes. But with only a short stint at Citigroup amid a life of public service, there isn’t a deep record on what he thinks about financial reform. Nevertheless, the Treasury secretary will be responsible for the overhaul of the legal and...

The First Progressive Revolution

Flickr/Mike Chaput
Exactly a century ago, on February 3, 1913, the Sixteenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, authorizing a federal income tax. Congress turned it into a graduated tax, based on “capacity to pay.” It was among the signal victories of the progressive movement—the first constitutional amendment in 40 years (the first 10 had been included in the Bill of Rights, the 11th and 12th in 1789 and 1804, and three others in consequence of the Civil War), reflecting a great political transformation in America. The 1880s and 1890s had been the Gilded Age, the time of robber barons, when a small number controlled almost all the nation’s wealth as well as our democracy, when poverty had risen to record levels, and when it looked as though the country was destined to become a moneyed aristocracy. But almost without warning, progressives reversed the tide. Teddy Roosevelt became president in 1901, pledging to break up the giant trusts and end the reign of the “malefactors of great wealth.”...

Senator Pornstache

On the day we learned of Ed Koch's death, we also learned that someone who has been making trouble in New York almost as long is thinking of running for Senate from New Jersey, where he now lives. We're speaking, of course, about Geraldo Rivera, the man who uncovered Al Capone's empty vault, who got his nose broken in a televised brawl with white supremacists on his daytime talk show, who drew American troop movements in the sand on-air during the Iraq invasion, who will be forever defined by the New York of the same era that produced Koch. Promising to "ride my Harley to all parts of the Garden State," Geraldo may—just may—be playing this mostly for publicity. Call us crazy, but we have our suspicions. But if he were elected, he would double the number of United States senators sporting mustaches (recently elected Angus King of Maine brought the total from zero to one). An endorsement from the American Mustache Institute is all but assured. And amazingly, if you were picking the most...

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