TPM Cafe: Opinion

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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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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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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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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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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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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