TPM Cafe: Opinion

In 2010, I was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to teach poetry in Hyderabad, India. The honor was a mark of distinction for Tufts as well as a thrilling opportunity for me.

To my surprise, accepting the Fulbright resulted in my being technically terminated from my job as poetry lecturer. I expected to return to Tufts - however, as a non-tenured instructor who works on a yearly contract, being in India for a semester meant that I was no longer an employee.

My Tufts medical and dental benefits evaporated. My fellow tenured-faculty Fulbright recipients from Tufts did not experience this treatment.

Just last week, I joined my colleagues at Tufts University in voting to form a union with Adjunct Action, a project of the Service Employees International Union.

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Happy birthday, income tax. One hundred years ago, on Oct. 3, President Woodrow Wilson signed into law the federal income tax that Congress had passed with bipartisan support. Our Congress is celebrating the anniversary with a purely partisan government shutdown to block implementation of a health care law because it slightly increases taxes on rich people.

There is one good thing about the shutdown: it is a reminder of why we needed progressive taxation in the first place.

The original purpose of a progressive tax was to prevent a small minority of super-rich people from holding democratically elected governments hostage to their whims. The first American to argue for progressive taxation, Thomas Paine--yes, that Thomas Paine--thought that democracy could not survive without it. Paine recognized that a king was nothing more than a rich man who inherited enough land and money to buy a whole government. He thought that was reason enough to support a progressive tax on inherited wealth. The Declaration of Independence was a good start, but it was not enough just to declare your independence from the king once. You also had to keep the next would-be king from getting that much richer than everyone else. Otherwise, you would find yourself under the thumb of a new despot.

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According to the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau, women who work full time are paid only 77 cents to the dollar their male counterparts are paid. Over the last decade, the gender pay gap has held steady at 23 percent, and it shows no sign of budging. Women and their families can't afford that loss. We need fair pay not just for women, but for our nation's economic vitality.

Part of the pay gap is explained by the types of jobs in which women typically work, the number of hours they work, and the gaps in labor force participation that occur when family issues take women out of the workforce. But the entire pay gap cannot be explained away by these factors. A recent AAUW analysis found that among full-time workers one year after college graduation--well before most men and women start having children--women were paid, on average, just 82 percent of what their male peers were paid. After controlling for hours, occupation, college major, and other factors that affect pay, the gap shrank but did not disappear. An unexplained pay gap of 7 cents remained, and it is likely that bias accounts for at least some of this disparity.

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Progressives cheered when California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed legislation last week raising the state's minimum wage from $8 to $10, effective beginning in 2016. While it's a step in the right direction -- and one that the federal government should follow suit in -- California's wage hike only scratches the surface of what state and federal policymakers should be doing to improve conditions for low-wage workers. And given that women make up two-thirds of all minimum wage workers, there is a deeper need for policymakers to address the multiple economic challenges women face.

Raising the minimum wage by a small margin of $2 more per hour still puts many women and families at risk of living in poverty -- especially in California, where the cost of living is among the highest in the nation. True, some argue that increasing the minimum wage can lower the number of available jobs for all workers. However this has not been the case in many low wage sectors such as care work and restaurant work -- sectors that have been growing steadily in California and throughout the country. Instead, such minor increases to the minimum wage do not keep pace with inflation and can still make basic expenses a challenge for workers.

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Amid the frenzied posturing of the last 72 hours before the shutdown, a bill claiming to ensure that active-duty military would receive the pay and support they need to continue to provide for our national security zipped rapidly and uncontroversially through both houses and the President's pen. The bill seemed to meet Senator Ted Cruz's call for the House to pass "mini-CRs" [continuing resolutions] to fund aspects of government it liked - Pentagon, FAA, pandacam - while letting the rest close.

This willful blindness about how government actually works - indeed, how large corporations, technology and just about everything functions in our age of complexity - meets its full irresponsibility in understanding what it takes to support the men and women who have volunteered to take a bullet in the name of each of us, our Constitution, and yes, our democratically-elected government, each and every miserable one of them. These are just a few examples:

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There are few things I loathe more than moving, and many other young people feel the same way. But for 26 year-old Allison M., the decision to move from Arkansas to Colorado was especially difficult. I've known Allison since I was 6 years old. In what should have been great news, Allison's boyfriend of three years was offered a great new job in Denver. You might ask, who doesn't love the Rockies? But for Allison, the decision to move was more than about location, it was about health and economic security.

Before her move, having health care coverage was never really a worry for Alison because she--like 3 million other young adults--was able to stay on her parents' health insurance plan thanks to the Affordable Care Act. But now, Allison has to live in constant fear because the new restaurant she works at does not offer health insurance benefits.

Allison's experience is not unique. In fact, only one in two young adults get insurance through the traditional employer system. This is precisely why young people stand the most to gain today as the new health insurance marketplaces created under the Affordable Care Act open and 6-month enrollment period begins.

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"I would certainly like to prevent, if I could legally, anybody having an abortion: a rich woman, a middle class woman, or a poor woman. Unfortunately, the only vehicle available is the [Medicaid] bill," former Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL) said as he put forward signature legislation still bearing his name, the Hyde Amendment. It's in large part due to Rep. Hyde that funds like the DC Abortion Fund (DCAF) exist.

The Hyde Amendment bans federal money from being used to pay for abortion care, meaning that any woman who has Medicaid as her insurance, or other groups like federal employees and Peace Corps volunteers, do not have coverage for an abortion should they need one, except in cases of rape, incest or to save her life. Abortion is the only medical procedure that is treated in this way. Since its passage, it has been estimated that more than a million women have been denied care.

Today marks the the 37th anniversary of the vote to pass the Hyde Amendment in Congress. By barring federal funding, Hyde has a disproportionate impact on low-income women, women of color and young women, creating often insurmountable obstacles. Indeed, restricting Medicaid coverage of abortion forces one in four poor women to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term. That we can claim to be the land of opportunity while forcing women into unwanted pregnancies, is disconcerting to say the least.

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There is a new generation of activists rising up and they are looking for leaders who are bold, for champions who are unafraid to buck convention and stand up for what is right. They want elected officials to address their needs and the needs of their communities. They want action not platitudes. And opposing the Hyde Amendment, believe it or not, just might give lawmakers that opening.

The Hyde Amendment, a law that withholds Medicaid coverage for abortion care from low-income women, turns 37 today. Spurred by the purported rationale that taxes should not go toward abortion, the measure has not only been expanded over the course of nearly four decades to deny abortion coverage to virtually any woman who receives health insurance or care from the government; it has become one of the most entrenched policies of all time.

Conventional wisdom deems any challenge to the Hyde Amendment dead on arrival, a political nonstarter. After all, the thinking goes, mix the issue of abortion with taxes and you have a potentially radioactive (Molotov?) cocktail.

But it is time for conventional wisdom to change. It is time for Members of Congress who support abortion rights to work to lift all limits on insurance coverage for abortion care. And here is why.

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For her incredible portrayal of Skyler White, the wife of the antihero Walter White on the hit show Breaking Bad, Anna Gunn won a well-deserved Emmy last week. I'm glad she got recognition for a sterling acting performance. But perhaps even more deserving than Gunn is the show's creator Vince Gilligan and his team of writers for creating such a compelling character. Skyler may be "the most fully realized female character in the history of American TV," one fan went so far as to write on Facebook.

Gilligan and his team have given fans, and women in particular, many reasons to celebrate the character of Skyler White. Smart, complex, bold yet vulnerable, she is the kind of dynamic and realistic woman that isn't portrayed often enough on TV.

So I find it all the more puzzling and disheartening that a contingent of Breaking Bad fans hate Skyler White. Hating on Skyler White became an Internet meme rife with posters calling her a bitch and a "Fuck Skyler White" Facebook page that received nearly 30,000 likes. The phenomenon drove Gunn to write an op-ed for the New York Times arguing that her character had became a "flash point for many people's feelings about strong, nonsubmissive, ill-treated women."

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Cruz does not like Obamacare
He doesn't like to care or share
He doesn't want to help the poor
He wants the rich to just have more
He likes to bully folks around
His own voice is his favorite sound
If Dr. Seuss had met Ted Cruz
He'd tell him, "Ted, I hope you lose."

Senator Ted Cruz has egg on his face. Green egg.

On Tuesday, during his 21-hour marathon filibuster against Obamacare, he read aloud to his daughters back home the Dr. Seuss book "Green Eggs and Ham." But he clearly missed its message.

In the Seuss tale, Sam-I-Am, a lover of green eggs and ham, tries to convince a friend to try them. But the man resists. He resists so persistently and so adamantly that he ends up sounding a lot like the Republicans on Capitol Hill who are determined to defund Obama's health care reforms. But in the Seuss story, the man is finally convinced to try the offending eggs and ham and, much to his surprise, he loves them.

If only the GOP would take a page from that book.

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