Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

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...

Are Vouchers Dead?

AP Images/Ben Margot
When news broke Tuesday that the Louisiana Supreme Court struck down Louisiana’s voucher system, which uses public dollars to pay for low-income students to go to private schools, the fight over vouchers made its way back into the headlines. The Louisiana program, pushed hard and publicly by Republican Governor Bobby Jindal, offers any low-income child in the state, regardless of what public school they would attend, tuition assistance at private schools. It’s something liberals fear will become commonplace in other states in the future if conservative lawmakers get their way on education policy. Yet conservatives have been dominating legislatures since 2010 and there has been little success in creating voucher programs. Louisiana is one of only two states with such a broad program in place. After the 2010 Tea Party wave there was “a big spike in the number of states considering voucher legislation,” says Josh Cunningham, a policy specialist at the National Conference of State...

Congress, the Death Panels' Death Panel

The Affordable Care Act contained many provisions meant to help "bend the curve" of heath-care costs, including cuts to provider payments, incentives for doctors and hospitals to keep patients healthier, and pilot programs to test innovative new ways of providing care. It also included the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), a group of medical experts who would evaluate treatments, drugs, and the like to see if Medicare was getting the most bang for its buck. You might remember that, as part of a truly unprecedented campaign of disinformation, prominent health-care expert Sarah Palin declared the IPAB to be "death panels," asserting that despite what the text of the law might have said on Planet Earth, in her reality, the elderly and disabled would have to travel to Washington and come on bended knee before the IPAB's star chamber to beg for their lives. Palin's efforts notwithstanding, the ACA passed and became the law of the land. So what do you do if you're a Republican...

Hillary Clinton Gets Brief Preview of 2016 (If She Runs)

Titanic Belfast / Flickr
Titanic Belfast / Flickr One thing I neglected to mention in today’s post on “ demand-side scandals ” was the attention Republicans gave to Hillary Clinton during yesterday’s hearings over Benghazi. NBC News’ First Read has the details : Wednesday’s congressional hearing probing last year’s attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi revealed this political development: Key parts of the conservative movement are turning their attention from President Obama to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. “I find it stunning that four and a half months after the attack, Secretary Clinton still has the gall to say it wasn’t us,” Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) said at yesterday’s House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing. Added Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH): “Tell me, who is Cheryl Mills?… She is the fixture for the secretary of state; she is as close as you can get to Secretary Clinton.” In addition, for the first time since Feb. 2008 (when Obama overtook Hillary in the Democratic...

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