TPM Cafe: Opinion

Earlier this month, venture capitalist Tom Perkins — who rose to recent notoriety for comparing fights against inequality to the Nazi’s ‘Kristallnacht’ — offered an idea to reduce the voting power of poor and middle-income voters who might want America’s wealthiest to share some of their bounty. He explained, “The Tom Perkins system is: You don't get to vote unless you pay a dollar of taxes. But what I really think is, it should be like a corporation. You pay a million dollars in taxes, you get a million votes. How's that?”

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In 2012, the conservative “campaign for religious liberty” looked like a smart and possibly winning strategic gambit. Aimed specifically at the Affordable Care Act’s contraception coverage mandate, nestled in a broader claim of institutional and individual exemptions from complex and sometimes unpopular laws and regulations, the campaign linked the Conference of U.S. Catholic Bishops with conservative evangelicals and both to the Republican politicians (including presidential candidate Mitt Romney) who made it a new front in both their anti-Obamacare and “family values” messaging.

Some leading Catholic Democrats (e.g., E.J. Dionne) feared it would become a crucial wedge issue. And it gave a nice First Amendment gloss to unseemly culturally reactionary impulses, while providing mainstream respectability to the “constitutional conservative” claim that church-state separation was a threat to faith itself.

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Recently the Virginia House of Delegates passed two bills ostensibly aimed at stopping human trafficking in Virginia. HB 235 forces people convicted of soliciting an underage prostitute to register as sex offenders. HB 660 enables prosecutors to seize the earnings of sex workers.

The bills were submitted by Del. Rob Bell, (R-Albemarle, pictured) who in 2012 voted in favor of a bill requiring all women to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound prior to having an abortion. In the same session, he was the primary sponsor of a bill which was widely criticized by civil rights organizations and failed to pass, requiring police to inquire into the citizenship of anyone arrested, regardless of criminal charges.

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Anti-choice politicians in the Mississippi House of Representatives recently passed a bill that would ban abortions in the state after 20 weeks. If the bill passes the state Senate, it is likely to be signed into law Gov. Phil Bryant (R), who has made no secret of his desire to ban abortion entirely in Mississippi. Like similar bills that have been passed around the country in recent years, the justification for this measure rests on the medically disproven theory of fetal pain.

The Mississippi bill is notable, however, in that the state has already created an environment where accessing abortion care at any stage of pregnancy is exceedingly difficult. Ninety-nine percent of all counties in the state lack an abortion provider; 91 percent of women in the state live in these counties. The remaining 9 percent live in the county where Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the state’s sole abortion clinic, is located. But the outcome of an appeal before a federal court could make Mississippi the only state in the country without any abortion clinics.

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Despite paralyzing partisanship in Congress, there’s some movement to revitalize the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which had been severely wounded by a Supreme Court decision last June. The new bill will restore some of the Voting Rights Act’s power – but it is a far cry from what is needed.

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As is often the case, we tend to get house calls in the middle of snow storms. And this past week was no different. I plowed out the funeral home’s parking lot, pulled out the pick-up van and we were on our way. We arrived to a packed house where family and friends encircled the deceased in a garrison of grief.

“Direct cremation,” the family said. “That’s what she wanted.” As is our modus operandi we assured them, “Take as long as you need to say your good-byes.” And with that permission, six members of the family proceeded to pull out their cell phones, leaned down and took a photo with the deceased.

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One of the big political stories of this week is a new CBO report on the possible effects of a minimum wage increase.

The CBO’s study -- the latest in a long line of conflicting analyses of the minimum wage -- suggests that a minimum wage increase to $10.10 an hour would reduce poverty, but could also cost jobs.

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Back in 1971, President Richard Nixon vetoed a bipartisan bill that would have established comprehensive child care centers across the country. To Nixon, this sounded a whole lot like committing “the vast moral authority of the National Government to the side of communal approaches to child rearing.”

Would that Nixon’s rhetoric were just a relic of the Cold War. But less than three years ago, Rick Santorum called early education programs socialists’ attempts to “indoctrinate your children.”

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What do you do when at the age of 42 you’ve been a Rhodes Scholar, a state agency head, a university president, a member of Congress and a two-term governor of your state? What if you have also been described as a “genius” for two decades, the epitome of your political party’s new tolerance and diversity, and as part of every wave of every future?

The obvious next step for Bobby JIndal is the White House, but there’s a problem: for all of his credentials and the symbolic freight he carries, his every step towards the Ultimate Prize has been frustrated from the get-go by false starts and the pesky folks back home in Louisiana (including many in his own party) who aren’t real enthused by his performance there.

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Nicholas Kristof wrote in his Sunday New York Times column that to the detriment of the American people, professors are missing from the great debates of our time. He blames this on scholars themselves and the larger academic culture that “glorifies arcane unintelligibility while disdaining impact and audience.” As long-time scholars in political science and sociology, we agree. Yet we are glad to report to Mr. Kristof that the tide is rapidly changing and scholars are much more publicly engaged than he realizes. And yes, we are happy to take some credit for that too.

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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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