TPM Cafe: Opinion

As we move into the heart of the 2014 election cycle, it’s not surprising that many Republican observers are predicting a 2010-style “negative referendum” on Barack Obama’s presidency in general and on Obamacare in particular, augering very well for Republican chances of a power-consolidating “trifecta” in 2016.

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When I think of the world’s worst boss, I think of Bobby in the movie Horrible Bosses, portrayed brilliantly by the actor Colin Farrell. Bobby is a business owner, and in his first major scene, dialogue between him and one of his company’s managers (played by the actor Jason Sudeikis) goes like this:

Bobby: "Oh yeah, we've got to trim some of the fat around here."

Kurt: "What do you mean by trim the fat?"

Bobby: "I want you to fire the fat people."

Kurt: "What?!"

Bobby: "They're lazy and they're slow and they make me sad to look at."

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It first appeared as an impassioned—if invented—attack on the Common Core State Standards. But at this point, “Common Core Syndrome” is really a description of the the truly bizarre politics surrounding the standards. Or, if that term doesn’t quite suit you, try this: the standards have been thoroughly captured by what David Brooks recently called “the ideological circus.”

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People who care about American democracy have recently been paying a lot of attention to new research by Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page, which shows that for decades wealthy Americans and business interests have consistently gotten their way in public policy – even when their views conflict with what the vast majority of Americans want. These troubling findings have many observers asking urgent questions: Why do the rich have so much influence in politics? And is there anything we can do about it?

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In February 2006, at a time when almost nobody was thinking about the future of broadband and network neutrality, we gathered a group of stakeholders at the Annenberg School for Communications to try to work out some common sense rules for the future. We had groups like Public Knowledge, former Federal Communications Commission (FCC) officials, telecom and content company executives and some of the brightest academic thinkers about networks. Over the course of a day and a half we came to a consensus and published The Annenberg Center Principles for Network Neutrality.

With the exception of Xeni Jardin at Boing Boing, almost nobody paid any attention to them. Imagine our surprise when this week we got indications that the FCC would publish a set of rules that adhere fairly closely to our principles.

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In an excruciating example of bad timing, the Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP was scheduled to bestow its Lifetime Achievement Award to Donald Sterling, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team, at its May 15 banquet. Sterling is now under fire for racist comments caught on a recording that surfaced on the TMZ website. Even President Barack Obama weighed in, condemning Sterling's remarks as "incredibly offensive." The NBA is now investigating Sterling's remarks and could invoke sanctions, including removing him as Clippers' owner.

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Andrew Garfield, star of “The Amazing Spider-Man” and its upcoming sequel, recently had a taste of his own foot during a London screening. When a young boy in the audience asked how the famous web-slinger got his costume, Garfield responded that Spider-Man sewed it himself, and that even though sewing is a feminine trait, the costume turned out quite masculine. Fortunately, co-star (and real-life romantic partner) Emma Stone didn’t allow Garfield’s remark to go unchecked and asked him to explain how sewing is feminine. Immediately on the defensive, Garfield tried to dance around an explanation and make it seem like Stone was at fault, implying that she found the word “feminine” to be insulting. Garfield eventually tried to turn his comment into a compliment, and Jamie Foxx, who stars as a villain in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, distracted everyone by poking fun at his own history of performing in drag.

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Some things in life have a high price tag: gold, high-end champagne, yachts. Democracy shouldn’t be one of them.

A set of new studies show, again, that two strong trends are putting political participation out of reach for too many Americans: the influence of the very wealthy on the political process, and a shrinking middle class with ever-diminishing economic power.

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Until recently, the Common Core initiative looked to be the most successful assessment-based education reform effort in many years, with 45 states plus the District of Columbia signing onto set of English and math standards and assessments due to be implemented beginning in the 2015-16 school year. Its most important political secret was its careful sidestepping of conservative hostility to national educational standards (which eventually made the George W. Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind initiative toxic on the Right). Drafted and promulgated by the National Governors’ Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, Common Core had powerful backing from business interests and most Republican governors.

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