TPM Cafe: Opinion

Historical comparisons are a tricky business, and wrong examples teach dangerous lessons. Take loose comparisons between this government shutdown and the previous 17. Nate Silver and others suggest that this shutdown will not harm the Republican Party because the last one cost them only two house seats. More controversially, the sheer number of previous shutdowns legitimates this one as a political tactic. If there were 17 recently, what makes one more so awful?

This shutdown has no precedent in living memory. Our recent ones concerned budget disputes, new legislation, or substantive restrictions on the allocation of money. Now, Republicans seek to repeal a statute, a statute that has been exhaustively legitimated through all political channels, including a Supreme Court ruling, two presidential campaigns, and 41 failed repeal attempts by House Republicans. To understand our current crisis, we must travel back more than a century. In 1879, the Democrats threatened to defund the federal government unless Republican President Rutherford B. Hayes repealed laws protecting the right of freed slaves to vote against the use of terror and violence by groups like the Ku Klux Klan. The Democrats' threats backfired, and Republicans swept to victory in election of 1880. The parallel should serve as a warning to today's conservative obstructionists that their tactics are self-defeating and illegitimate.

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Let's get this out of the way up front: the shutdown is an outrage. Our legislature is behaving recklessly. People are upset, and they are right to be upset.

But it is disappointing to watch that anger channeled in destructive ways. The latest is Drunk Dial Congress, a website created by Revolution Messaging that encourages people to have a drink (or several) and call a random congressional office, presumably to yell at them.

Much like reality TV, this is sort of amusing but socially destructive.

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When the first 20 week abortion ban was introduced in Nebraska in 2010, anti-abortion advocates weren't shy about their hopes that the bill would make it to the Supreme Court. Now, three years and 12 states later, Arizona has petitioned the Supreme Court to review its 20-week abortion ban. If the court agrees to take it up, which it could as early as 2014, that might actually end up being bad news for abortion opponents, and undo years of carefully crafted strategy when it comes to overturning Roe v. Wade.

The "Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act," model legislation created by the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) and first introduced in the state of Nebraska, claims that a fetus can feel pain by as late as 20 weeks post-fertilization, and bans any abortions that occur after that point. Arizona's "Women's Health Defense Act," in comparison, bans abortion at 20 weeks conception - 18 weeks post-fertilization - claiming that at that point the "risks" of an abortion greatly increase, putting a pregnant person's health in more danger.

The disproved concept of "fetal pain" is mentioned in the Arizona bill, which was drafted by Americans United for Life (AUL). But unlike the Nebraska bill, allegations of fetal pain is a secondary consideration, where as the crux of the bill is based on the idea that abortion can be regulated as long is it is done so under the guise of protecting the health of the person undergoing it.

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Three women are killed every day in the United States due to domestic violence. That amounts to over 1,000 deaths every year. Last year, in my home state of Georgia, 128 Georgians were killed as a result of domestic violence. When the cases were reviewed by a fatality team, they discovered that in most cases, their deaths were preventable: others knew and could have intervened.

Of those 128 Georgian women who were murdered in their own homes, three-quarters of them were employed outside of the home and a third belonged to a faith community. This means that supervisors, co-workers, clergy and fellow worshipers could have intervened. Reviewing news stories about domestic violence homicide, one almost always finds mentions of family and friends. They usually say that they knew that something was going on, but they felt powerless to help.

Nearly one in five women and one in 71 men have been in an abusive relationship. That means that most of us will come in contact with a woman in an abusive relationship at some point in our lives. But how often do we ask about it?

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Two things ended when Ahmed Ismail Hassan Al Samadi was shot in March, 2012. The first was his life, just 22 years long, punctuated by school, his first job, and a nascent interest in marriage. The second was his YouTube channel, a window into the uprising in Bahrain that has been largely out of public view since it started in February 2011.

Ahmed was a citizen journalist, and he died for his volunteer profession, gunned down one night while filming a protest outside his village. His case typifies how the risks of journalism are increasingly falling to a self-trained cadre of young men and women whose stories--captured on phones and posted on YouTube and Facebook--also happen to be their lives.

Citizen journalists like Ahmed are by now ubiquitous in the mainstream press--so much so that we hardly notice them. Several if not dozens have contributed silently to each news report from Syria. They filmed the videos, wrote the tweets, and posted the photos that international reporters, fearing kidnap or worse, are unable to capture themselves. Amateur reporters underwrite each headline from Egypt; even a substantial crew of Cairo-based foreign journalists can't be everywhere in a country of 80 million. In Iraq, which the Western media has essentially abandoned, citizen journalists are almost all that's left.

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It's not something you expect to hear from a women's rights group: our prostitutes are better than yours. But that's the tone struck by Equality Now in their new campaign against United Nations recommendations that sex work be decriminalized. Claiming that the UN "ignores survivors of prostitution," Equality Now and their allied anti-prostitution organizations have offered their own experts who have worked in the sex trade - who all also happen to agree with them that prostitution must remain illegal.

The UN's reports concerning sex work weren't front page news outside of some HIV and human rights circles. To recap: after several years of consultations with a range of stakeholders, including sex workers, two reports published by the United Nations in 2012 called for an end to laws that criminalize sex workers. A joint report from UN Development Program (UNDP), the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), and the Joint UN Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) assessed laws in 48 countries in Asia and the Pacific; likewise, UNDP's Global Commission on HIV and the Law examined 140 countries. Both reports draw from hundreds of firsthand accounts; stakeholder submissions, including those made by sex workers, are available to read online. The joint UNDP/UNFPA/UNAIDS report reads, "Sex worker organizations were key partners in this study," including developing study methodology itself.

What's so galling for anti-prostitution groups about the results, then? "The legal environment in many countries exposes sex workers to violence and results in their economic and social exclusion," the Global Commission report concluded - identifying more than 100 countries that criminalize some aspect of sex work. "There is no evidence that decriminalization has increased sex work," the joint report finds. Evidence gathered also indicates that "the approach of defining sex work as legitimate labour empowers sex workers."

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If you liked Occupy Wall Street -- or if you liked their message but not their disruptive tactics -- you'll love what's happening in Richmond, California. No, folks aren't pitching tents in the parks or marching in the streets to protest banks' predatory practices. Instead, in this blue-collar city of 103,000, local officials - with support from residents and community groups - are demanding that banks sell their portfolio of "underwater" mortgages to the city so it can make them more affordable for local homeowners. If Richmond succeeds, many other cities are likely to follow its example, which has Wall Street up in arms. In this David versus Goliath battle, odds-makers might just place their bets on the kid with the slingshot.

Since 2007, when the speculative housing bubble burst, home prices have plummeted across the country. Homeowners have lost more than $6 trillion in household wealth. Almost 10 million American families--about one fifth of all homeowners with mortgages -- are underwater. Often through no fault of their own, they owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth. Many are at risk of joining the five million Americans who've lost their homes to foreclosure.

The blame for this predicament lies almost entirely with Wall Street's risky, reckless and sometimes illegal lending practices. Banks targeted working class and minority areas, often pushing borrowers into high-interest subprime loans, even when they were eligible for conventional mortgages. Not surprisingly, the nation's worst underwater "hot spots" are disproportionately black and Latino areas.

One of those places is Richmond, where home prices have plummeted by 58 percent since 2007. Thousands of homeowners have lost their homes. Nearly half of remaining homeowners are underwater. The city has lost millions in property tax revenues, leading to cuts to vital services and infrastructure repair.

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Republicans have now lost three successive elections to control the Senate, and they've lost the last two presidential elections. Nonetheless, they fought tooth and nail to kill President Obama's health care initiative. They lost that fight, but with the corporate wing of Democrats, they managed to bend it toward private interests.

So, we should be here on this: Obamacare, as it is known, is deeply flawed. Big subsidies to the health insurance industry, a bonanza for lobbyists, no public option and, as the New York Times reported this week, "Millions of Poor Are Left Uncovered by Health Law" -- largely because states controlled by Republicans refused to expand Medicaid.


Despite what they say, Obamacare is only one of their targets. Before they will allow the government to reopen, they demand employers be enabled to deny birth control coverage to female employees; they demand Obama cave on the Keystone pipeline; they demand the watchdogs over corporate pollution be muzzled and the big bad regulators of Wall Street sent home. Their ransom list goes on and on. The debt ceiling is next. They would have the government default on its obligations and responsibilities.

When the president refused to buckle to this extortion, they threw their tantrum. Like the die-hards of the racist South a century and a half ago, who would destroy the union before giving up their slaves, so would these people burn down the place, sink the ship.


At least, let's name this for what it is: sabotage of the democratic process. Secession by another means.

[Ed. note: Watch the full essay below.]

Producer: Gail Ablow. Associate Producer: Robert Booth. Editor: Sikay Tang.

Moyers is an award-winning journalist who began his latest media venture with the launch of Moyers & Company on air and online at in January 2012.

With blood caked on his face and shirt, a young man in Giza attempted to direct traffic out of the way of marchers moving through a traffic circle north of the main thoroughfares of Dokki Street and Tahrir Street that had been the site of some of the bloodiest clashes in all of Giza and Cairo early on Sunday. Further down the road, a woman wearing full hijab cried uncontrollably on the sidewalk as someone tried to comfort her, while just off of Dokki Street there was a long, straight, trail of blood that ran for about a quarter of a block.

Sunday was Armed Forces Day, an annual celebration in Egypt of one of the most powerful militaries in the Middle East that includes military parades, aerial demonstrations and flag-waving. With the military having thrown out the ruling Muslim Brotherhood party and regained control over the Egyptian government this summer, Armed Forces Day was an opportunity for protest groups to take to the streets again.

And take to the streets they did, by the thousands.

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The government shutdown has not resulted, so far, in the Supreme Court shuttering its doors and its 2013-2014 Term starts Oct. 7. The new Term might fairly be dubbed a stealth term, especially after two "blockbuster" ones that produced major rulings on health care reform, marriage equality, voting rights and affirmative action.

But the new term, like many terms, carries the potential for significant change. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg recently tagged the Roberts Court as the most activist in terms of overturning acts of Congress. It's also a Court that has made it more difficult for many Americans to access the court system and produced win after win for business interests.

So let's look at a few of the cases that should be on everyone's radar. These cases should also remind us of the importance of judges who interpret the Constitution with a deep understanding of our challenges today and the ability to apply the Constitution's broad language and principles to them. For it makes little sense as Erwin Chemerinsky notes in this ACSblog post, "to be governed in the 21st century by the intent of those in 1787 ...." For additional discussion of the forthcoming Term see the annual preview hosted by the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy (ACS).

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