TPM Cafe: Opinion

This post has been updated.

This week, employees at an auto plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee are voting on whether to form a union.

It’s interesting for a few reasons: Tennessee is a low-union-density state; the Volkswagen plant in question would be the first foreign auto facility to be organized in the South, marking a growth opportunity for the United Auto Workers; and VW itself has taken a neutral-to-positive stance toward the union, citing its positive relations with employee organizations at factories elsewhere in the world.

But the most interesting part of all is the panicked reaction of local Republican politicians, who are scrambling to find ways to attack the organizing effort and deter the formation of a union.

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Texas state senator—and the candidate that gives Democrats the best shot they’ve had at the governor’s mansion they’ve had in decades—Wendy Davis declared her support for a 20-week abortion ban. She clarified her support in an interview with The Dallas Morning News on Tuesday.

Support for an abortion ban from a politician in Texas wouldn’t be notable except for the fact that last summer Davis rose to national prominence when she filibustered a bill that would severely restrict reproductive rights in the state. That bill included banning abortion after 20 weeks. While the bill eventually passed and became law, sections of it are undergoing a legal challenge.

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To help publicize The Second Machine Age we went on a two-week book tour, visiting Berkeley, San Francisco and Seattle on the West Coast and Boston, Washington and New York on the East. The days were exhausting but hugely informative because they gave us the chance to hear what's on people's minds; we averaged about two talks each day, each of which included time for questions from the audience.

This was our favorite part: we got to the point where we knew just about exactly what each other was going to say at any point in our prepared remarks or discussion with a moderator, so we looked forward to mixing things up with questions from those who cared enough about the topic to come out and listen to us.

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In the 1950s, General Atomics emerged as the nuclear research arm of General Dynamics, one of the world’s largest government contractors. At that time, General Atomics was tasked with “harnessing the power of nuclear technologies for the benefit of mankind.” (Or so their slogan said.) That unit eventually spun out of General Dynamics working on nuclear as well as the earliest versions of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), or drones.

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Everyone agrees that it would be troubling news if America’s rate of innovation were to decrease. But we can’t seem to agree at all about whether this is actually happening.

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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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