TPM Cafe: Opinion

Imagine, for a moment, that Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll were to go on ESPN with an unusual announcement about Sunday's Super Bowl. He says his team will refuse to kick off to the Broncos unless the Broncos spot them a field goal in exchange.

"We're not just going to give the other team the ball unless we get something significant in return," imagine Carroll declaring. "It would be irresponsible for us to just give in to their request for the ball without getting at least three points attached to it." Carroll says that unless the condition is met, the Seahawks aren't even going to bother playing the game. They insist that if the Broncos won't sit down and negotiate, it'll be their own fault if the Super Bowl gets canceled.

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In 1997, when Mirosław Handke became Poland’s minister of education, he was an outsider. A chemist with a white mustache and dramatic, black-slash eyebrows, he looked like an Eastern Bloc version of Sean Connery. Handke was accomplished in his own world at AGH University of Science and Technology in Kraków. He’d published more than eighty papers on the obscure properties of minerals and become the head of the university, one of Poland’s best. However, he knew next to nothing about education policy or politics. His cluelessness would serve him well, at least for a little while.

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In minute three of his State of the Union speech, President Barack Obama called up a vintage line about our global competitiveness: “The United States is better-positioned for the 21st century than any other nation on Earth.”

It was the kind of rhetoric you’d hear 20 years ago and not think twice. (In fact, President Bill Clinton used the exact same line in a 1995 speech, right after he praised this wonderful thing call the Internet.) But at this particular moment in time, that bold claim did make me think twice. Is Obama right?

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As the State of the Union Address and the first partisan blows of the 2014 election cycle approach, there’s a familiar character missing from the political state: the Deficit Boogeyman. With federal budget deficits plunging and the debt-to-GDP ratio stabilizing, public concern over deficits-and-debts is gradually abating despite the massive investments made by deficit hawks in creating an emergency atmosphere conducive to “grand bargains” involving tax increases and curbs in spending on Social Security and Medicare. With Republicans refusing to consider any real revenue measures, and the two parties managing to cobble together essential spending and (we can hope) debt limit legislation, interest in big budget deals, made bipartisan by the president for the last two years, has now all but vanished.

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I met Korea’s education minister, Lee Ju-Ho, at his office in Seoul. He had a boyish cowlick and a default expression of mild amusement, both of which artfully masked the ambition that had powered his career up to this point.

Lee was a product of the Korean pressure cooker. He had attended an elite high school and Seoul National University, one of the country’s top three universities. Then he’d earned his PhD in economics at Cornell. He’d risen swiftly up the Korean hierarchy, becoming a professor, then a politician. But when he became the Minister of Education, he did so with the goal of dismantling the pressure cooker, piece by piece.

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On Friday, the board of directors of JPMorgan Chase voted to give CEO Jamie Dimon a raise. Not just a cost-of-living increase, but almost a doubling of his compensation. In Dimon's case, this means his compensation jumped from $11.5 million to $20 million.

Since 2013 was not a great year for the bank, the decision raised some hackles among Wall Street watchers, reflected in the headlines in the New York Times ("Big Raise for JPMorgan's Dimon Despite a Rough Year"), the Washington Post ("JPMorgan gives CEO Jamie Dimon 74 percent raise despite bank's legal troubles"), Business Week ("Dimon Gets 74 Percent Raise After Billions in Fines"), Forbes ("Jamie Dimon's Undeserved Pay Raise Indicates an Ineffective JPMC Board"), and the Wall Street Journal ("Dimon Gets Raise After Rough Year").

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What do a handful of businesses, bosses and bureaucrats have in common? Fierce and unrelenting opposition to the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) birth control benefit.

The ACA established minimum standards for health insurance to ensure that individuals can get the health care they need to lead healthy and productive lives. Contraception was included in that coverage. What should be uncontroversial and common sense has met swift opposition from a small minority since the law pulled out of the station in 2010. And on March 25, that train arrives at the Supreme Court.

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It’s an enduring mystery: The U.S. spends more per pupil on education than all but four countries in the world. And yet our teenagers perform unimpressively on the most respected international test of critical thinking. They score below average for the developed world in math and average in reading and science, a pattern that hasn’t changed in over a decade.

We all have our theories about why this might be: Maybe our country is much too big to compare to South Korea, too diverse to compare to Finland. Maybe our teachers’ unions are too powerful … or perhaps our education budgets too anemic?

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If you ever visit the New Jersey State House in Trenton, something to keep in mind is that there is plenty of free parking. And, of course, this being New Jersey, you’ll never be far from a highway if you need to make a quick getaway.

I learned this in 2002 when I made the rookie mistake of paying for metered parking on West State Street. It seemed like a great spot. New Jersey’s capital isn’t situated on a bucolic hill evocative of the country’s idealized pastoral origins; it’s on a street, and you can’t miss it. The architect who designed the facade was doing his best to keep up with the City Beauty movement of the early 1900s, so it looks nothing like the 19th century Federal and Greek Revival row houses and brownstones just down the block that are today used as lobbyists’ offices.

With the exception of school tours, the building is ordinarily very quiet. Despite the fact that the 120 members of the state assembly and senate are paid $49,000 per year, serving in New Jersey’s legislature is considered to be a part-time gig. Most members have other jobs; many are lawyers and until recently many actually held another elected office. This meant you could be a mayor and state senator and hold down yet another job, all at the same time – something you don’t find in many non-feudal modern states. (The state outlawed the practice of plural office-holding a few years ago. And the only plural officeholders who now remain were grandfathered in as part of the rule change.) Because of this, unless one of the legislative houses is in session, the capital can feel deserted even on a business day; everyone has somewhere better to be.

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“Macabre” seems somehow inadequate to describe what’s been going on in Texas. “Horrifying,” “insulting,” and “beyond Kafkaesque” also fall short.

For the past seven weeks, a hospital in Fort Worth has refused to take a brain-dead woman off of the machines that are keeping her body alive. This is despite the fact that keeping Marlise Munoz on life support violates the wishes of her husband, parents and Munoz herself. The hospital is continuing these measures because Munoz was 14 weeks pregnant at the time that she collapsed in her home from what is thought to be a blood clot in her lungs.

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Want to contribute to TPM Cafe? Email ideas for your pieces to us at talk@talkingpointsmemo.com
Want to contribute to TPM Cafe? Email ideas for your pieces to us at talk@talkingpointsmemo.com

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