TPM Cafe: Opinion

As Congress confronts the Jan. 15 deadline to extend the United States’ spending authority, members should prioritize addressing the nation’s youth unemployment crisis. Monday, Young Invincibles released a report that for the first time puts a price tag on the country’s millions of unemployed young people. The numbers are staggering. In the United States, chronic youth unemployment results in a net $8.9 billion annual loss. That breaks down to $53 per taxpayer. Lost tax revenue accounts for nearly all of it. The takeaway is clear: youth unemployment is a problem that affects not just one generation, but the entire economy.

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At some point in 2014, many members of the punditocracy will tire of writing about the same handful of competitive congressional seats and notice elections are occurring in the several states. Let’s give them a head start, because the dynamics of gubernatorial and legislative races this year are a bit of a fascinating mystery.

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It is easy to believe now that in a short period of time same-sex marriage will be legal throughout the United States. The Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor, striking down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), followed by the recent decision by the federal District Court in Utah, Kitchen v. Herbert, holding that Utah’s prohibitions of same-sex marriage are unconstitutional, may make it seem inevitable that federal courts throughout the country will eliminate all barriers to same-sex marriage. That view, however, puts too much faith in the idea that our courts – particularly the Supreme Court – are governed by logic and precedent. They are not. Admittedly, they are influenced by logic and precedent. We might even say they are constrained by those factors. But they are political institutions. There is no guarantee that they will resist popular sentiment in states where legislators and voters oppose same-sex marriage.

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As if we needed any more proof that a war is being waged on reproductive freedom in the United States, a new report from the Guttmacher Institute definitely answers yes. According to the report, more abortion restrictions were enacted from 2011-2013 than in the entire preceding decade. From 2000-2010, 189 abortion restrictions were enacted. From 2011-2013, that number jumps to 205. Two hundred five abortion restrictions in three years isn’t just a trend; it’s a crisis.

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Over the course of 2013, congressional Republicans consistently behaved as though tough economic times are just a sad tale of days gone by. The latest example of this occurred on Saturday when, at GOP insistence -- and Democrats’ acquiescence -- federal long-term unemployment benefits expired. The expiration was part of the budget deal Congress struck earlier in December, and will halt weekly $300 unemployment checks to more than 1 million U.S. workers who aren’t able to find work for more than six months.

In response to outrage over the cuts, some Democrats are now proposing a three-month extension of long-term unemployment benefits. Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI)’s proposed three-month extension would help many, though 12 weeks is probably still too short given economic indicators showing the severity of the long-term unemployment problem. To really help those who are struggling to find work, the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program should stay in place through 2014, and supplemental programs that that guide these workers into jobs that pay also need to be part of the solution.

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We are now about to officially enter another general election year, and earlier Democratic optimism about making major gains in the U.S. House of Representatives has recently yielded to Republican optimism about retaking control of the Senate. This shift in expectations has been based in no small part on a steady decline in the president’s job and personal approval ratings, followed up by a Republican surge in the generic congressional ballot.

For the next ten months, with the exception of occasional presidential polls, all we’ll hear about is the ‘14 cycle. And if Republican good fortune continues, we’ll hear the kind of triumphalist conservative talk that was so prevalent before and after the 2010 elections. When it comes to the midterms, it may well be justified. Second midterms for the party holding the White House are usually grim. The strong alignment of pro-Republican demographic groups with those most likely to vote in midterms — generally, older white voters — gives the GOP a significant additional boost.

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Watching the pundits and the politicians on the Sunday talk shows wrap up the year, I felt that 2013 was a far more dramatic turning point in American politics than either the party leaders or the assembled press realized. Both parties as well as the Washington punditocracy have lived in a curious consensus since the end of World War II; one that assumed America’s exceptional role in global political and economic governance.

Since his announcement of his first key cabinet appointments in December of 2008 (Tim Geithner, Bob Gates, Hillary Clinton, Larry Summers) it was clear that President Barack Obama was a creature of this establishment point of view, just like every Republican and Democratic president since Eisenhower’s election in 1952.

But during the course of 2013 citizens, from liberals to libertarians, have turned against the collective wisdom of both Wall Street and the Council of Foreign Relations and so historians will regard our current moment as the end of a 60-year reign of the American establishment over our national politics. But neither Obama nor House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) seem to understand that the ground had shifted under them and that we are entering a new age of reform.

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Andrea Elliott’s masterpiece project in the New York Times documenting the tribulations of a loveable Brooklyn girl named Dasani through the unforgiving maze of social services in New York City became an instant classic. With each word in the five-part series, Elliott unmasks the countless rips in the fabric of our social safety net.

As I read through the gripping ordeal that shines a light on the corners of our society so often left in the dark, I imagined the article forming a giant exclamation mark on what’s undoubtedly been the year of exposing inequality.

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You're using a product – a phone, a credit card – and something goes wrong. The fees weren't what you thought they'd be. The phone doesn't work as advertised. You try to get relief by calling the company, waiting on hold with customer service. You write letters, to corporate headquarters and the Fair Trade Commission. You're mad, and you feel like you've been ripped off, and you decide to bite the bullet and sue. Except you can't.

You can't sue, because tucked in the fine print of the contract you signed when you bought the phone, or signed up for the credit card, was a mandatory arbitration clause. That piece of the agreement says that if a dispute arises, the only way you can pursue justice is by meeting with an arbitrator. An arbitrator picked by the company, in a place the company chooses. You can't have a day in court. No jury of your peers.

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“Blood in, blood out,” is the old, stereotypical street gang saying. Joining a gang is supposed to require an intense initiation, perhaps involving the commission of a crime to prove one’s loyalty. Leaving a gang is thought to be rare and risky – potentially even fatal. But these conceptions of gang membership are very outdated, if they were ever true to begin with.

As a criminologist, I learned these facts by interviewing former participants in various Blood, Crip, Folk, People, and Sureno gangs in San Antonio, Texas. Participants explained that gang initiations are not always required, and people often depart from gangs with no dire consequences.

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Want to contribute to TPM Cafe? Email ideas for your pieces to us at talk@talkingpointsmemo.com

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