Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Virginia Is More Moderate, But It Doesn't Help McAuliffe

Mou-ikkai/Flickr
mou-ikkai/Flickr Here’s the thing about Virginia gubernatorial contests: More so than even midterm elections, they have abysmally low turnout. From 2008 to 2009, for example, more than 46 percent of voters left the electorate, and overwhelmingly, those voters were African Americans, Latinos, and young people. This gives Republicans a built-in advantage, which is why—in most polls of this year’s race—Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has the lead over his opponent, Democrat Terry McAuliffe. The last several surveys of the race, however, have shown McAuliffe with a small but meaningful lead. In the latest from Quinnipiac University, for example, McAuliffe leads 43 percent to Cuccinelli’s 38 percent, an improvement over the last poll , where he trailed by two points, 40 percent to 38 percent. What’s more, a new Washington Post poll shows a Virginia that has moved closer to the center of American politics, which should advantage McAuliffe, who—if he has an ideology at all—is the gauzy,...

President Obama Will Not Be "Going Bulworth"

Being president is hard, and often downright unpleasant, particularly when there are scandals, legitimate or otherwise, swirling about and distracting your attention from what you'd like to be accomplishing. I'm sure it's particularly frustrating when the opposition party is so intransigent that negotiating with them is pointless. Right now Barack Obama's presidency is at something of a low point, but nevertheless, it was a bit surprising to see this, from a New York Times story this morning: "Yet Mr. Obama also expresses exasperation. In private, he has talked longingly of 'going Bulworth,' a reference to a little-remembered 1998 Warren Beatty movie about a senator who risked it all to say what he really thought. While Mr. Beatty's character had neither the power nor the platform of a president, the metaphor highlights Mr. Obama's desire to be liberated from what he sees as the hindrances on him." This is not, it should be noted, a belief on the president's part that if he just gave...

Damage Control!

White House/Flickr
Official White House Photo by Pete Souza In the last 24 hours, President Obama has gone full throttle on damage control on the three scandals that have emerged over the last week. To address concerns over Benghazi—which resurfaced last week, following a new (mistaken) report on the administration’s approach—the White House released 100 pages of emails made between the government agencies responsible for drawing up talking points for the attacks. Far from showing a cover-up, or an attempt to protect the president’s re-election bid, they confirm the administration’s long-standing position—that White House officials weren’t involved in framing talking points. This won’t kill Republican conspiracy mongering, but it should lead journalists to dismiss Benghazi as a “scandal” worthy of heightened scrutiny. Likewise, in a press conference yesterday afternoon, Obama moved to deal with the controversy at the Internal Revenue Service by dismissing the acting commissioner, Steven Miller. Now,...

Wall Street's Regulatory Rapture

The Balance Sheet is our daily economics newsletter. To subscribe, go here . The Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) will make official a Wall Street victory today when it announces softened regulation on derivatives trading. After pressure from bank lobbyists, a rule that would have increased competition in the market for derivatives—financial products that derive their value from an underlying asset—could now empower a few big financial institutions to rule that risky space. Ninety percent of the now $700 billion derivatives market that nearly brought down AIG and helped cause the 2008 financial crisis is currently controlled by the five biggest banks, yet derivatives are still traded in largely unregulated shadow markets. While a provision in the Dodd-Frank financial-reform law was designed to force derivatives onto regulatory platforms resembling public exchanges, implementation was left to the CFTC. Today's approval of the rule helps fulfill that duty, but opponents worry...

Five Voting Fights You’ll Care About Come Election Time

AP Images/Dave Martin
Remember last year when we all cared about voting policies? Back then, newspapers were filled with updates on different states’ legal battles over strict voter ID—the laws that require photo identification to cast a ballot. Republicans pushed the laws, ostensibly to combat fraud, but Democrats and voting-rights advocates argued that the actual goal was to suppress likely Democratic voters, since poor and nonwhite communities disproportionately lack ID. With Republicans controlling an unprecedented number of state legislatures in the wake of the 2010 Tea Party wave, voter-ID bills began popping up across the country in 2011 and 2012. Similar battles emerged when some states tried to remove names from voter rolls too close to an election. Then there was early voting; Republicans, most notably in Florida and Ohio, cut back early voting days and hours, and voters in several Florida counties faced hours-long lines. Then Obama won, created a commission to find solutions and everyone stopped...

Benghazi Was Neither a Terrorist Attack Nor an Act of Terror

Pinocchios for everyone! (Vladimir Menkov/Wikimedia Commons)
I am hereby declaring 99 Pinocchios on Barack Obama, all the people who work for him, everyone in the Republican party, and most everyone in the press who has reported on Benghazi. This is about what has to be one of the most inane disagreements in the history of American politics, the argument about whether Obama called the Benghazi attack an "act of terror" or a "terrorist attack." Incredibly, people are still bickering over this. The other day Darrell Issa expressed his outrage that Obama had, in his diabolical attempt to cover up the incident, used the phrase "act of terror," which, let's be honest, is almost like saying, "Way to go, al Qaeda!", instead of using the far, far, far more condemnatory phrase "terrorist attack." It's like the difference between saying "steaming pile of bullshit" when you ought to say "steaming bullshit pile"—anyone who can't tell the difference between the two obviously can't be trusted to run the country. Then the ordinarily reasonable Glenn Kessler,...

Ringside Seat: Yeah, Functioning Government!

Just this evening, the Senate voted to confirm Marilyn Tavenner as head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Of the many appointed positions in the federal government, this one doesn’t sound exciting. And it isn’t. But it is important. As head of CMS, Tavenner will be responsible for overseeing both programs and implementing large parts of the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s health care reform law. It’s a critical position, and it’s the first time since 2006 that it has been filled. That’s not to say that there hasn’t been leadership—Tavenner herself has been acting director since December 2011—but the Senate has not confirmed a director since 2006, when Mark McClellan resigned during George W. Bush’s second term. And it’s not as if the administration hasn’t tried to get a nominee confirmed—President Obama nominated Donald Berwick, and when the Senate refused to act, installed him via a recess appointment which expired two years ago. Why note the Senate’s...

Sorting Through the Scandals

Jay Carney, punching bag.
Every administration has its scandals, but what's different about what's happening to the Obama administration is the confluence of two separate scandalish stories converging at the same time. Or maybe two and a half; were it not for the timing, the Justice Department's pursuit of the Associated Press over leaks of information related to terrorist activity would never be called a "scandal," and I doubt Republicans would even have bothered getting mad about it (I'll get back to that in a moment). The whole thing is complicated by the fact that Benghazi and the IRS are so different, in ways that complicate the Republicans' task. In their minds, the two stories are part of a seamless web of corruption, two symptoms of the same underlying disease. But that only makes sense if you already believed that Barack Obama was a villain bent on destroying the nation, and most Americans don't. The trouble for Republicans is that one scandal reaches to the top levels of the administration, but it's...

Is the IRS "Scandal" Even a Scandal?

Jamelle Bouie/The American Prospect
Jamelle Bouie/The American Prospect The details of the current scandal at the Internal Revenue Service are straightforward, which might be surprising, given the reputation of the agency. In early 2010 —as right-wing opposition to President Obama reached a fever pitch—an IRS office in Cincinnati, Ohio saw a sudden sudden influx in applications for 501(c)4 status. That’s the IRS’s designation for “social welfare” organizations, which exist—ostensibly—to provide a service that benefits the broad public. As Josh Barro notes for Bloomberg, this can include lobbying and political activity, as long as that’s not the primary purpose. These groups aren’t required to pay taxes on their income, nor are they required to reveal their donors, which makes them an excellent vehicle for ideologically-motivated action—hence groups like American Crossroads, which is listed as a 501(c)4. The large majority of these applications were for Tea Party organizations—the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens...

The DOJ's Freedom of Speech Breach

WikiMedia commons
O n Monday, news broke that federal officials had secretly seized the phone records of Associated Press reporters. AP President Gary Pruitt reacted with understandable anger, calling the seizure "an overbroad collection of the telephone communications of The Associated Press and its reporters." Is Pruitt right? There are two questions that need to be answered. Was the seizure legal? And, if so, was it justified? The answer to to the first question, at least based on what we know now, is "probably." A subpoena for records as part of an investigation, as opposed to a search warrant, does not require judicial approval. Intuitively, it may seem as if the First Amendment should shield the press from government investigators. But, at least under current Supreme Court doctrine, this isn't the case. In the 1972 landmark case Branzburg v. Hayes , the Court held that "[t]he First Amendment does not relieve a newspaper reporter of the obligation that all citizens have to respond to a grand jury...

No More Playing With Money

AP Images/Peter Dejong
If you’re looking for the personification of the Washington economic establishment, you could do a lot worse than Fred Bergsten. National Security Council economics deputy under Henry Kissinger (at age 27), then head of the international desk and the monetary portfolio in Jimmy Carter’s Treasury Department, and from 1981 through last year the founding director of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, Bergsten has been a forceful advocate for what used to be called the Washington Consensus: an unflagging belief in the virtues of free trade and fiscal discipline. This Thursday, he delivers what looks to be at least a semi-valedictory at the Peterson Institute, the annual Stavros Niarchos lecture. Rather than celebrate the virtues of free trade—a topic he says (in an advanced text of his speech) that he considered and then rejected—he devotes his talk instead to an analysis of the devastating effect that currency manipulation has had on the American and other economies, and...

Do Drones Work?

AP Images/Eric Gay
Last week, the Congressional Progressive Caucus hosted an ad hoc hearing on the implications of U.S. drone policy. It was a follow-up of sorts to a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in April examining the counterterrorism implications of drone strikes. The two hearings mark the first time Congress has explicitly scrutinized drones as a stand-alone issue; previous discussions were wrapped up in confirmation hearings and Rand Paul’s dramatic filibuster in March. But in narrowing the focus of the debate over drones to encompass only the moral gray areas of the Obama administration’s targeted killings policy, Congress is failing to ask more important questions. There’s no doubt that drone strikes can have horrific consequences. Beyond the disputed numbers of noncombatants killed, there are psychological consequences to consider as well. In the Senate hearing, Farea al-Muslimi, an American-educated Yemeni writer and activist, spoke eloquently of the heartbreak and fear that drones cause...

Teachers Left Behind

Press Association via AP Images
AP Photo/Randy Snyder K athleen Knauth has had a rough school year. The principal of Hillview Elementary, near Buffalo, New York, has spent so much time typing teacher evaluations, entering data, and preparing for standardized testing, she barely had a minute to do what she used to do in her first 12 years of being a principal—drop in on classes, address parents’ concerns, or get to know students. When a school social worker stopped by her office a few months back to get Knauth’s take on which children might need her help, she realized she had hit a new low. “Normally I’d say, ‘This one’s grandma is seriously ill. This child is going through a huge custody battle. This one has clothes that are too small. I could reel off six to eight things,” says Knauth. “But this year, I had nothing.” Two weeks ago, after she was asked to raise the standards her students would be expected to meet for a fifth time this year, Knauth decided to resign and sent a public letter explaining that the...

Ringside Seat: Down Goes the Deficit

In case it slipped your mind during all this talk of scandal and impeachment, official Washington has spent the last couple of years gnashing its teeth about the budget deficit. Even as European austerity policies threw the continent into a period of extended despair, Republicans and their allies in the well-appointed conference rooms of "centrist" think tanks told us sternly that unemployment would have to wait; the most immediate crisis was the deficit. Well today, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) issued its latest deficit projection , and lo and behold, it turns out that mercilessly slashing spending and allowing some modest tax increases has an impact. They project the deficit will be $642 billion this year, lower than it has been since 2008. Not only that, the CBO's projections of future Medicare spending have been reduced as well. Hard as it might be to wrap your head around the idea, there has been some good news of late on the fiscal front. So here's a bold prediction:...

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...

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