TPM Cafe: Opinion

It’s easy to assume that that debate about Harry Reid’s recent invocation of the “nuclear option” to limit the use of the filibuster on judicial nominations is yet another inside-the-beltway sideshow with little relevance to anyone except senators and policy wonks. But recent research that I’ve conducted with several colleagues (Peter Enns at Cornell University, Jana Morgan at the University of Tennessee, Thomas Volscho at CUNY-Staten Island and Christopher Witko at the University of South Carolina) suggests that nothing could be further from the truth. We have discovered that aspects of the U.S. political system that contribute to political gridlock – of which the filibuster is one prominent example – helps the super-rich gain while the rest of us fall behind.

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If anyone still suspects that National Public Radio has a consistently liberal bias, listen to Robert Siegel's interview with Brigid Flaherty, organizing director for the Alliance for a Greater New York, a labor advocacy group, on Wednesday's All Things Considered.

The topic was the poverty-level wages paid to bank tellers and other employees in the bottom half of the banking industry. Siegel reminded listeners that U.S. taxpayers bailed out the financial industry when many of the nation's largest banks teetered on the brink of collapse. He also pointed out that despite the taxpayer subsidies, Wall Street banks nevertheless paid their top executives huge salaries and bonuses.

Then Siegel asked Flaherty about a new study conducted by economists at the University of California at Berkeley's Labor Center on behalf of a group called the Committee for Better Banks. Flaherty explained that in New York state, one out of three bank tellers are receiving some form of public assistance -- such as food stamps and Medicaid -- because their wages are so low. Siegel asked Flaherty: "How much do, say, bank tellers in New York City make?" Flaherty responded: "So on average, they make around $11 an hour, which yearly comes out to about $14,000 a year."

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When Rupert Murdoch bought the Dow Jones Company in late 2007, he did so to acquire its prized title, the Wall Street Journal. The Dow Jones newswires covered the world of business at a feverish pace, competing with Reuters and Bloomberg for scoops. But the Journal had global reputation and reach. It was prominent and widely circulated; it had among the most subscriptions of any paper in the US. Murdoch, like the other people populating the Forbes list of billionaires, relied on it religiously for news about business, finance, and the regulations that could affect commerce. The Journal became the jewel in the crown of Murdoch’s media empire. He loved owning it.

And yet Murdoch did not much like the Journal itself. Murdoch’s first editor at the Journal, Marcus Brauchli, had been installed less than a year before. Compact, fit, smart, with a sly smile and a deceptive wit, Brauchli had come up through the ranks at the Journal, making his mark in China and rising within the editing ranks to win the competition to replace the beloved Paul Steiger as managing editor.

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If American workers claimed the same share of national income that they did in 1979, by the middle 2000s, 120 million American private sector workers would have received an additional $600 billion in compensation, amounting to more than $5,000 extra per worker.

Most current research on economic inequality focuses on growing wage gaps between different groups of workers. It’s important work, but it misses a big part of the story. That story is that over the past few decades, the share of U.S. profits going to shareholders, owners and corporate coffers has been going up at the expense of the “labor share” that includes all workers’ wages and benefits. From 1979 through 2007, labor’s share of national income in the private sector decreased by six percent.

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As Obama cruised to a win on Election Day [in 2008], liberal commentators triumphantly wrote about the marginalizing of Fox in a progressive era. Andrew O'Hehir of Salon wrote that Fox "seemed a weak and piteous thing . . . staring mortality in the face."

Yet Fox News mapped out a strategy to ensure that times would be fatter than ever, as Bill Shine, Fox News senior vice president for programming, later told me. "With this particular group of people in power right now," Shine observed, "and the honeymoon they've had from other members of the media, does it make it a little bit easier for us to be the voice of opposition on some issues?" It did. The Fox News audience grew so much after the election that ratings estimates placed it among the highest-rated of all basic cable channels, above the usual strata of cable news.

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Rupert Murdoch is used to being able to dictate the day's news and to help influence the course of history in the countries in which he is most active: the U.S., the U.K. and Australia. Yet the reflexively unreflective Murdoch now finds himself confronted by his history in public at almost every turn. And those reminders involve all three phases of his life -- the personal life, the political and his beloved papers.

In London, several of his former top tabloid executives face criminal charges of conspiracy to hack into mobile phone voice mail messages, to bribe public officials, and to conceal evidence. (This group has pleaded not guilty, even if three former lower-level editors pleaded guilty to similar charges.)

Those newsrooms' recklessness and even criminality evolved from the brash sensibility of a single man: Murdoch himself. The scandal has tarred his reputation, cost his son James a shot at running the family-controlled media empire and cost the company hundreds of millions of dollars. That figure seems likely to rise.

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Perhaps a little known reality is the overwhelming flow of child pornography appeals into the docket of the U.S. military's highest appellate court. About two-thirds of the docket in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces consists of child pornography appeals.

This fact shouldn't disparage the largely upstanding population of military personnel. Rather, it highlights many important questions we haven't answered about what is allowable behavior online--not only by individuals, but by law enforcement and the government.

We lack answers to questions about what to do about the sexualization of children and the dark markets that Internet has enabled; how our legal rights can and should be interpreted to properly address Internet behavior and what to criminalize; and in what ways military personnel ought to enjoy rights that mirror, or differ from, civilians.

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Many gay Americans recently watched with fascination the reality show concerning the Cheney family and Mary Cheney's marriage to her spouse, Heather Poe. Particularly during the holiday season, it was agonizing to witness this all-too-familiar melodrama being played out in the media. In this case, Tolstoy was wrong: each unhappy family is not unhappy in its own way. In fact, almost every gay person of my and previous generations has experienced this type of painful conflict with at least one close family member at some point in their lives, all too often over turkey and pumpkin pie.

And while Liz Cheney, who is running for a Senate seat in Wyoming, made it clear on a news show that she loves her sister and her sister's family, the issue has moved beyond personal feelings. In its decision declaring the key section of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional last June, the Supreme Court characterized Mary Cheney's marriage as "a far-reaching legal acknowledgment of the intimate relationship between two people, a relationship deemed ... worthy of dignity in the community equal with all other marriages." For purposes of federal law, gay married couples have the same access to the rights and obligations of marriage as straight married couples. In other words, it's no longer just about love, it's now the law. 


The 5-4 decision in Windsor was a victory not only for my client Edie Windsor, but for millions of other Americans. From the very beginning, our motto in the case was that "it was all about Edie, stupid." We believed that the best way for people to clearly see the important legal issues involved was through the lives of real people, like Edie Windsor and her late spouse, Thea Spyer.
 Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg clearly agreed. In a recent speech, she described Edie's 44-year relationship with Thea as a "grand partnership."

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The Senate recently cleared a procedural hurdle for three of Obama's appointees to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to get a confirmation vote so they can finally take the bench. Led by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), the Senate effectively gutted the power for the minority to filibuster executive and judicial appointees except in the case of seating Supreme Court justices.

Blocking presidential nominees is nothing new -- though the Herculean efforts of the GOP to block nearly every appointee during Obama's tenure is ripe to become legend. But in our hyper-politicized society judicial appointments are particularly contentious.

Increasingly, so are judicial retention votes, which means that after judge is appointed, the citizenry gets to vote periodically to retain or dismiss a judge.

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This piece is adapted from Dr. Paul Farmer's foreword to the paperback edition of Love is the Cure: on Life, Loss and the End of AIDS by Sir Elton John out this week from Little Brown.

Thirty years after the advent of the AIDS epidemic, what have we learned about this disease and about ourselves as human beings?

On the first score, there's cause for optimism about the power of scientific advancements and the potential for a new view of global health and clinical medicine. Three decades after the first cases of AIDS were reported, we have identified the virus that causes the syndrome and can block its replication. We have developed, and continue to improve, tools to diagnose and treat the disease. Astoundingly, we have delivered some of these advances to millions of the poorest and sickest people in the world -- in Africa, in Haiti, in the remotest corners of Asia.

But anyone wondering why, despite these advancements, there are still so many people living with HIV/AIDS today should look to the work of Elton John AIDS Foundation and others aiming to fight stigma in the battle to eradicate HIV/AIDS. Settings as diverse as the rural South in the United States, Haiti, South Africa, and Ukraine are the frontlines of the AIDS crisis today. From the work in these settings around the world, we begin to see solutions emerge.

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