TPM Cafe: Opinion

We hates us some poor people. First, they insist on being poor when it is so easy to not be poor. They do things like buy expensive designer belts and $2500 luxury handbags.

To be fair, this isn't about Errol Louis. His is a belief held by many people, including lots of black people, poor people, formerly poor people, etc. It is, I suspect, an honest expression of incredulity. If you are poor, why do you spend money on useless status symbols like handbags and belts and clothes and shoes and televisions and cars?

One thing I've learned is that one person's illogical belief is another person's survival skill. And nothing is more logical than trying to survive.

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid scheduled a climactic vote for Thursday on the nomination of attorney Patricia Millett to the Washington D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, who Republicans have opposed for months. They have no particular objection to Millett -- they objected to all three of President Obama's nominees to the court. The opposition was enough to make the administration withdraw Caitlin Halligan's nomination in March.

The vote Reid scheduled this week may be filibustered, and Reid has signaled -- for the third time in 2013 -- he may "go nuclear" and change the Senate rules to remove the 60-vote barrier to judicial nominations. (Technically, nominees only need a majority to be confirmed, but the Senate needs 60 senators to "file cloture," or agree to move forward with the vote.) Backers of such a change argue that obstruction and delay in the judicial nomination process is worse than ever. Are they right?

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The Koch brothers, Pete Peterson and other billionaires are spending huge amounts of money trying to cut Social Security and other vitally important federal programs. As part of this campaign, an enormous amount of misinformation is floating around. Let me try to set the record straight by answering a few of the questions that people are asking my office.

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There's a topic that never fails to provoke long, heated discussions among feminists: weddings. Should you have one? If you do, how do you have a feminist one? Can you have a feminist one? Salon's Tracy Clark-Flory wrote an honest take on her own experience as a staunch feminist planning a wedding and how she ended up going in for things she never would have thought she would, like restrictive body-shaping undergarments called Spanx and a $125 make-up brush set.

The question resonates with me personally as I plan my own wedding. I find myself facing all the same choices and pressures Clark-Flory did. I've already spent more money than I thought I would on a venue and am wearing an engagement ring -- something I swore I'd never do. I will have at least two pairs of shoes for one day of festivities and have been tempted to spend hundreds on a "wedding sash."

But there may not be such thing as a feminist wedding - it's probably an oxymoron. Marriage is a patriarchal institution through and through, rife with privilege and creepy reminders of how women have traditionally been viewed. (Just think about fathers "giving away" their daughters to future husbands or grooms lifting the veil of purity from their new wives' faces.)

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On Wednesday morning the joint House-Senate Budget committee will convene for its first session. The group, led by Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-WA) and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) has until Dec. 13 to make its report on recommendations that will then go to the full House and Senate. The committee is charged with finding a compromise between the two chamber's versions of a spending plan for fiscal 2014. Perhaps before they start the debate, they should ponder this chart of the labor force participation rate.

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Meet Danielle N. Lee, author of the blog "Urban Scientist," hosted by Scientific American.

If you haven't heard of Lee already, here's the backstory: She was recently asked by an editor named "Ofek" of the scientific site Biology-Online if she would be interested in blogging for them. When she asked for further details, including how much they paid their guest bloggers, the editor responded that the opportunity could provide traffic and exposure, but no payment. Lee politely declined the offer from Ofek, who penned a horrifying response: "Because we don't pay for blog entries? Are you an urban scientist or an urban whore?"

Even absent the continual debate about writing for free in online spaces, Lee's experience points to something deeper: It's hard to argue that Ofek would have responded to a white male writer in the same way he responded to her.

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Updated 11:12 a.m.

I am not a cancer survivor ... yet.

There's a very good chance that I'll want to be, though. I'm under no illusions that I'm exempt, especially given the amount of cancer in my family tree. Both of my parents are cancer survivors, actually -- not bad odds if you're talking about surviving -- but not particularly good odds if you're talking about escaping cancer in the first place.

So you could call it selfish anticipation of my own needs that drives my call for better support for cancer survivors. "Why support the survivors?" you ask. "They're the lucky ones." Well, yes, but that doesn't mean they haven't fought the long, drawn-out battle for life and death that consumes everything in its path and has the potential to leave one broken and shattered.

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Thanks to a tweet from sociologist Sarah Sobieraj, we learned of a powerful campaign to raise awareness about gender inequality from the arm of the United Nations dedicated to empowering women. The designers of the ads did Google searches, allowing the auto-complete to fill in word stems with the most commonly searched phrases. The results are eyebrow-raising.

I was curious to find out what my personal Google machine would spit out and, also, what the equivalent searches for men would return. Below, I reproduce the ads, followed by my own results. Eyebrow-raising. As a bonus, I did the searches for feminists.

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I'm a single mother of two-year-old twin boys. Five months ago, I was laid off from my job. I struggled to make it on 100 dollars of unemployment a week. Bills piled up. My debt was growing. And a clock was ticking: if I didn't find a job in two weeks, I'd lose my child care assistance.

I gave it my all. I scoured job lists, sent out resumes and told everyone I knew that I was looking for work. After 14 days, my deadline hit and there wasn't a job in sight. So just at the moment I needed it most, my assistance was cut off.

But I'm scrappy and don't give up easily. I cobbled together $175 to pay for two days of child care a week so I could step up the hunt. A month later, I landed a temporary job. My child care assistance started up again. Things were looking up.

Only two months into the job, I got laid off again. This time, my child care assistance was terminated immediately. My heart sank ... but I threw myself into another intense search. Day after day, I kept at it. Several weeks later, I started a new job and resubmitted my application for child care assistance. But I was told I no longer qualify. No reason was given. All I know is that I'm not getting assistance.

It's been a roller coaster. But I'm grateful to have work. Every month, I patch together $720 for my sons' child care. My boys are in a safe place and they're doing well. But, at the end of the month, after paying for rent, food, gas and other items, I'm left with almost nothing. At night, I lay awake determined to build a bright future.

--F. Guevara, Nevada

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