TPM Cafe: Opinion

In its story on Friday reporting that Mayor Bill de Blasio had selected William Bratton to head the NYPD, the New York Times noted that Bratton's "biggest challenge" would be "keeping crime at historic lows--just more than 300 murders so far this year."

The Times' statement reflects the widespread feeling that New York City has become a safe place. Indeed, the New York Post recently boasted in a headline: "NYC on Track to be the Nation's Safest City." Outgoing Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his police chief, Raymond Kelly, like to take credit for the drop in murders, claiming that it was the result of better policing, especially its efforts to prevent crimes rather than simply respond to them.

But before we celebrate too much, let's put the decline of murder in New York City - and across the entire United States - in some perspective.

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In the early years of the twenty-first century, a bipartisan consensus arose about educational policy in the United States. Right and left, Democrats and Republicans, the leading members of our political class and our media elite seemed to agree: Public education is broken. Our students are not learning enough. Public schools are bad and getting worse. We are being beaten by other nations with higher test scores. Our abysmal public schools threaten not only the performance of our economy but our national security, our very survival as a nation. This crisis is so profound that half measures and tweaks will not suffice. Schools must be closed and large numbers of teachers fired. Anyone who doubts this is unaware of the dimensions of the crisis or has a vested interest in defending the status quo.

Furthermore, according to this logic, now widely shared among policy makers and opinion shapers, blame must fall on the shoulders of teachers and principals. Where test scores are low, it is their fault. They should be held accountable for this educational catastrophe. They are responsible because they have become comfortable with the status quo of low expectations and low achievement, more interested in their pensions than in the children they teach.

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Our opportunity to work for Nelson Mandela is the most important thing many of us have ever done. He was a transforming leader but also a unique person of such judgment, strong will, and unwavering commitment to justice—not just in South Africa but instinctively. I spent a good two decades writing and working to defeat an apartheid South Africa – the greatest injustice of our time. So, when I was asked to work for Mandela and the ANC, I threw myself into it body and soul – despite the fact that I was serving as President Bill Clinton’s pollster at the time. They became such comrades in arms too.

I wrote about President Mandela in Dispatches from the War Room – and everyone touched by Madiba has their own special insights.

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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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On election night Fox analysts and reporters rightly noted that 2012 had not inspired the kind of captivating campaign that Obama ginned up for victory in 2008. At the start of the night, the Fox News chairman warned commentators participating in his channel’s election coverage: “If things don’t go your way tonight, don’t go out there looking like someone ran over your dog.” Yet the coverage on Fox proved largely dour and depressive. “President Obama will win because he ran a good campaign,” political anchor Bret Baier said early in the evening. “He will not win because of the state of the economy.”

>> Join David Folkenflik for a live chat Friday at noon. <<

Viewers would find it hard to believe that the final tally showed Obama had won by nearly four percentage points in the popular vote. Several pundits, including Bill O’Reilly and Stephen Hayes, circled back to Superstorm Sandy as a stroke of good fortune for the incumbent. “While Governor Romney was talking about bipartisanship,” Brit Hume said, “the president gave an image to Americans on television of him practicing it. That’s pretty strong medicine.”

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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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