TPM Cafe: Opinion

It is easy to appreciate that most congressional Republicans entered 2014 mainly hoping not to screw up a winning hand. The bitter 2012 presidential defeat was far in the rear-view mirror and was blurred by Barack Obama’s sinking job approval (and even personal favorability) ratings, which naturally looked to his critics like basic truths about his honesty and competence finally sinking in.

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In early January, the Delegate Assembly of the Modern Language Association Convention — perhaps the largest and most influential academic gathering in the humanities — passed, by a vote of 60-53, a resolution urging its members to "contest" restrictions on the freedom of travel for American students and faculty members of Palestinian descent to universities in the West Bank.

Another resolution, urging solidarity with scholars supporting boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel, was not brought to the floor, but referred to Executive Committee for discussion. The issues were aired at a tense session entitled, with cheerful understatement, "Academic Boycotts: A Conversation About Israel and Palestine."

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A new report from the United Nations strongly criticized how the Vatican and Catholic Church handled—or, more precisely, did not handle—child sexual abuse involving priests. And while the bulk of the report rightly blasted the Church for its policies that allowed clerics to abuse thousands of children, it also urged the Holy See to reconsider its positions on homosexuality, contraception and whether abortion can be permitted for young women when their lives are in danger. The report also warned of the dangers of “clandestine abortion,” which occurs in many Latin American countries where abortion is strictly illegal.

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There’s little doubt that "Her" is one of the best films of 2013, even the notoriously derided Academy has put it up for a Best Picture Oscar this year. The Spike Jonze film serves in part as commentary against an increasing dependence on technology and an ever-growing need for electronic devices to act as human as possible while distancing their users from other actual people. Within this examination, "Her" is also partially a love story about a lonely man who, still reeling from the demise of his marriage, connects with someone highly unlikely.

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Melissa Johnson, a 38-year-old mother of three, had worked as an administrative assistant at the same metro-Detroit law firm for 15 years—her co-workers were like family. But when the Great Recession hit in 2007, Melissa was laid off. Devastated, she signed up for unemployment benefits, and when no work appeared, she began retraining to become a nurse. Unemployment insurance paid Melissa a portion of her former salary for the duration of her training. Without those benefits, her home would have gone into foreclosure. When we spoke with Melissa in summer 2013, she remained in her home and was happily working as a nurse.

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For everyone from politicians to pundits to late-night comics, this week’s Congressional Budget Office report on the long-term impact of the Affordable Care Act on the American workforce proved even better than a Caribbean vacation at enlivening the mid-winter doldrums. Fueled by new ammunition and fulminating with righteous indignation, the usual suspects had a field day in reacting to the latest estimate that health insurance subsidies will lead to declining labor force participation.

With Republicans gloating that Obamacare will cost millions of jobs and Democrats protesting that the reduction in work hours will be voluntary, righteous indignation abounds on all sides. “People should be chained by the need for health insurance to jobs they hate -- that’s what built this country!” Stephen Colbert declared on The Colbert Report last night.

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If you’re looking for the story of the American economy right now, you can find it in the wide space between Neiman-Marcus and the Dollar Store.

When you look at income and wealth, the collapse of the middle class is apparent, but it’s even more striking when you look at the dollars people spend, not just the ones they earn.

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As President Obama said in last week’s State of the Union address, when women succeed, America succeeds. Strong enforcement of our nation’s civil rights laws is a key component of women’s ability to succeed at work, at school and at home.

An outstanding individual is poised to continue this critically important work: Debo Adegbile. The Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled a Thursday vote on his nomination to head the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.

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