TPM Cafe: Opinion

The day after Thanksgiving, Wal-Mart employees will hold as many as 1,500 Black Friday protests throughout the country in opposition to the retail giant's persistent low wages, poor benefits, failure to promote, illegal retaliation against organizers and other dismal management practices. The protests occur just days after an Ohio Wal-Mart store held a Thanksgiving food drive for its own workers -- many of whom earn under $25,000 per year and rely on food donations -- an event that even Ashton Kutcher couldn't stomach. Meanwhile Wal-Mart made nearly $16 billion in profits in 2011, and soon-to-be former Wal-Mart CEO Mike Duke earned $18.2 million in 2012.

The Black Friday protests culminate a banner period in labor activism. Heightened organizing among workers in many sectors -- retail, fast food, domestic work -- is occurring with good reason. As the status of the American worker today continues to be on shaky ground, policymakers are barely beginning to address the problem of low wages that keeps so many workers struggling to stay afloat.

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If you're a person who, you know, uses the Internet, you've probably seen stories about women auctioning off their virginity in a click-bait sidebar or filed under "Weird News." Recently one of those stories was about Catarina Migliorini, a 21-year-old Brazilian woman who attained notoriety for selling her "virginity" to a Japanese man for $780,000 as part of an in-the-works reality show called Virgins Wanted.

You might dismiss this phenomenon as a lurid distraction on a slow work day, lumped in with topless female protestors or middle-aged men in love with anime characters, but that would be a mistake. Virginity auctions are actually a disturbing example of how we define and value female sexuality, and in covering them, the media supplies a 24/7 parade of titillating news reports barely questioning the culture that exists to support it.

I should know, having just finished a documentary called How to Lose Your Virginity, about the meaning and importance of virginity in today's culture.

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This Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year, tens of millions of Americans will travel to Wal-Mart stores to look for holiday discounts on computers, toys and cell phones as well as to buy groceries and basic household items. But at more than 1,500 of Wal-Mart's 4,000 stores, shoppers will be greeted by Wal-Mart employees handing out leaflets and holding picket signs -- "Wal-Mart: Stop Bullying, Stop Firing, Start Paying" and "We're Drawing a Line at the Poverty Line: $25,000/year" -- protesting the company's abusive labor practices, including poverty-level wages, stingy benefits, and irregular work schedules that make it impossible for their families to make ends meet.

The Black Friday rallies and demonstrations represent a dramatic escalation of the growing protest movement among employees of America's largest private employer. But they also represent the vanguard of a sharp challenge to the nation's widening economic divide and the declining standard of living among the majority of Americans.

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Imagine yourself locked in round after round of high-stakes brinksmanship with a political adversary. You thrust and parry with the opponent to gain whatever advantage you can, yet never conclusively so. Despite sharp disagreements and seemingly intractable problems, both sides not only keep at it but stay within certain bounds. As long as there's a chance the problems could still be resolved, better not to escalate.

That possibility of a mutually acceptable resolution -- or trading smaller concessions along the way --i s what binds adversaries in a limited political conflict. But then suppose you become convinced that your counterpart's true objective is to thwart you, with no intention of ceding ground or reaching meaningful compromise. None of us likes to be strung along or played for a sucker. If exercising restraint doesn't elicit anything from the other side, you have no incentive to moderate your own behavior. In such circumstances you might resort to a "nuclear option," so to speak.

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President Barack Obama has said we cannot "fail to recognize the humanity" of undocumented immigrants. He also said, during a trip to New Orleans, "We should be fighting to make sure everybody who works hard in America, and hard right here in New Orleans, that they have a chance to get ahead." So why is the Obama Administration piloting a new, unprecedented and extraordinarily harsh effort to hunt down and deport thousands of hardworking undocumented immigrants in New Orleans?

Under the Administration's new Criminal Alien Removal Initiative (CARI)--which the New Orleans Workers' Center for Racial Justice exposed at a civil disobedience action earlier this month -- Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is coordinating with local law enforcement to carry out civil immigration raids on grocery stores, laundromats, apartment complex parking lots, Bible study groups, and parks. ICE arrests and handcuffs people based solely on racial profiling, without even asking their names, then relies on new high-tech mobile fingerprinting units to make immediate deportation decisions. The consequences are severe for the immigrant workers who helped rebuild New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and their families: many are immediately separated from their families and transported to rural detention centers for deportation.

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The caterwauling from mainstream media punditry (as opposed to the insincere complaints of conservative voices who can barely disguise their eagerness to retaliate) about the new filibuster rules has already attracted some skillful and snarky rebuttals. But because it reflects so much faulty data and so many poor judgments and bad habits in political journalism, the mourning of the Senate of Yore needs to be buried quickly and decisively.

First of all, the old clubby Senate with its bipartisan friendships and compromises and its alleged taste for deliberation and civility was in many respects a graveyard for good as well as bad legislation, and frequently an impregnable fortress for reactionaries. Lest we forget, the filibuster along with the Senate's strict seniority system were the instruments whereby a defeated Confederacy significantly mitigated its much-deserved losses for a century, to the moral and material impoverishment of the southern people and the perpetuation of America's great damning injustice. Anyone singing dirges for the filibuster without acknowledging the millions of ghosts who cheer its every diminishment should be condemned to a careful reading of U.S. history.

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Alzheimer's disease is plaguing the public psyche in two ways -- both as a global economic disaster waiting to happen and up close and personal as the insidious stalker in the room that anyone over 40 should fear. The pervasive, destructive, costly effects of this debilitating disease become even more profound as Baby Boomers age; doubling every five years after age 65.

Fear this intruder if you value your brain: your intellect, abstract thinking, the ability to communicate, your independence and dignity. According to researchers, the creep of entrapment begins 10 to 20 years before revealing itself through more obvious outward symptoms, eventually depriving not only an individual, but their family, of their future. The final insult- life ends with a final act of forgetting: the brain simply forgets how to breathe. Alzheimer's disease affects as many as five million Americans and many millions more worldwide; it is, without any doubt, a devastating force in our aging planet.

Women are particularly affected by Alzheimer's disease -- almost two-thirds of patients are women. Medical research has been notoriously slow in digging deeply into gender differences, but as has been shown with heart disease, there are real and significant differences between men and women in how a disease presents, how it is diagnosed and how it is treated. The gender disparity with Alzheimer's may be due in part to women's longer lifespan, but current mild cognitive impairment (MCI) research suggests that men and women may differ in how the disease affects them.

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Variety TV critic Brian Lowry, in a piece entitled "Sarah Silverman's Bad Career Move: Being as Dirty as the Guys," warns that she is "veering into bad taste territory." in her latest HBO special "We Are Miracles," which airs tonight.

Such a critique might be appropriate on a performance review at the office, but, if your job title is Comedian, a preponderance of the evidence would suggest that veering into bad taste territory is actually, in fact, a job requirement. (See: pretty much every professional male comedian ever.)

But not if your title is Comedienne, apparently.

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Fifty years ago this November, something happened that became a "flashbulb moment" for every American alive at the time and old enough to remember anything. The indelible photographic images -- a fixture in books, movies, and television but also recounted in minute personal detail by millions who recall precisely where they were and what they were doing when they heard about President Kennedy's assassination -- have been passed on to succeeding generations.

The youngest elected President at the height of his powers was gunned down on the street of a major city, his head exploded by firepower in full view of his wife, and eventually the nation, to the horror of the entire civilized world.

The importance of that awful day in Dallas cannot seriously be disputed, but few agree on the roots of the day itself.

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Within minutes after early voting results revealed Albuquerque's proposed 20-week abortion ban wouldn't pass by a wide margin, reproductive rights activists let out a breath they had been holding for months. Early September polling had shown that the popular vote favored the city level ban, which would end the ability to provide later second- and all third-term abortions under any circumstance other than a direct threat to a pregnant person's life. Yet by the time the votes were tallied, those who had cast ballots before Nov. 19 voted against the ban. Near final Election Day results put the vote at 55 percent of voters rejecting the measure; it was clear that the majority believed that a decision to have a later abortion should be left between doctor and patient.

The pro-choice movement that has seen a frustrating number of defeats recently. They have especially seen a surge of excessive restrictions known as targeted regulation of abortion providers, or TRAP, bills at the state level that have shuttered the doors of a number of abortion providers across the country. The loss of the 20-week municipal ban wasn't just a victory for abortion rights themselves; it was also a validation of our belief that despite the vocal minorities creating laws in a number of key red states, the general population still stands with the pro-choice movement and believes that legal, safe abortion is a necessary part of medical care.

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