TPM Cafe: Opinion

As President Obama said in last week’s State of the Union address, when women succeed, America succeeds. Strong enforcement of our nation’s civil rights laws is a key component of women’s ability to succeed at work, at school and at home.

An outstanding individual is poised to continue this critically important work: Debo Adegbile. The Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled a Thursday vote on his nomination to head the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.

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Almost nothing gets education arguments roiling from reasonable to rancorous like charter schools. Through one lens, charters are “aggressive and entrepreneurial…[and] loosely regulated” institutions that are ultimately a “colossal mistake” undermining traditional public education. Through another, they’re transformational places “generating extraordinary academic success with the most disadvantaged children,” in sharp contrast to moribund traditional public schools. Easy as it is to fall into one or the other of these positions, each contributes to paralyze discussions of charters’ flaws and merits.

It would be nice if we could answer the question empirically. That’s a perfectly intuitive starting point: how do charters perform vis-à-vis traditional public schools? Unfortunately, national data on charter school performance is mixed at best.

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After a heated public battle with Larry Summers last year followed by an easy confirmation in the Senate in October (after a monumental rules change), President Obama’s nominee to chair the Federal Reserve Chair, Janet Yellen, was finally sworn in on Monday. Yellen’s confirmation is historic: She’s the first woman in U.S. history to lead the nation’s central bank.

Her arrival at the Fed is remarkable in so many ways: it boasts a level of power and leadership no woman in U.S. history has never seen. Some have gone as far as to call her the most powerful woman in the world because of her role in setting U.S. monetary policy and the influence her role has on the global economy. At the same time, the power to set monetary policy, to hire, fire, set wages, determine the employment prospects of many, and control over raw wealth is still held globally by men to such a disproportionate level that it is deafening to the senses.

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Congressional party retreats are designed to pour oil on troubled waters and unite powerful egos and diverse perspectives around a consensus course of action. They generally accomplish that purpose, at least for a while.

So you have to wonder about last week’s House Republican retreat, which produced more confusion and division than was contained in its baggage from Washington to Cambridge, Maryland. Its much-heralded and heavily telegraped “principles on immigration,” written in codes and near-hieroglyphs, has created the largest and loudest row among Republicans on the subject since Marco Rubio helped Democrats build a super-majority for comprehensive reform in the Senate. The steely focus of Republicans on Obamacare is now being blurred by wrangling over alternatives. And the House GOP conference’s strategic decision on how to deal with an imminent debt limit measure has bogged down into arguments over what empty gesture to offer before surrender.

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SodaStream CEO Daniel Birnbaum appeared on Israel’s Channel One this past Friday night to explain why his star, Scarlett Johansson, left Oxfam to keep her job as goodwill ambassador for his brand. (A major SodaStream plant — if you have been vacationing on Mars for the past few days — is located in an industrial park just outside of Maale Adumim, an Israeli settlement — actually a suburb of nearly 40,000 — plunk between Ramallah and Bethlehem; yesterday, Johansson’s pouty, strippy ad for the company woke up some younger Super Bowl fans.)

“She was sick of the bullying,” Birnbaum, affable and decent, told the delighted television panel of pundits. She is for two states and against the settlements, but she sees us creating a business based on “Israeli and Palestinian cooperation.” One pundit reinforced his case with characteristic Israeli pundit righteousness: “The Palestine Authority is not creating jobs this good!”—so what’s the problem?

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Abortion is an incredibly common experience. In the United States, one in three women will have an abortion by the time she turns 45. Despite how common this procedure is and its 41-year history of national legality, abortion remains mired in stigma, a secret often relegated to shameful shadows.

Because there are so few safe public spaces in which one can speak about abortion, the messages we are fed and stories we see in fictional media carry significant weight. That’s what helped drive a new study from the think tank Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH). Researchers Gretchen Sisson and Katrina Kimport conducted an elaborate search to identify abortion-related plots in American film and television since 1916. During that time period, they found 310 plotlines related to abortion, with nearly 56 percent of the plotlines ultimately resulting in abortion. They also found that the number of abortion-related plotlines trended upward over time.

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Over Chinese food at the fabulous Lao Sze Chuan in Milford, Ct. I had the pleasure of reading Chris Christie’s 700-word-long attack on David Wildstein and the New York Times. This came moments after I opened a fortune cookie that advised me to “Enjoy yourself while you can.” (!)

I am trying to summon the requisite mood to seriously ponder the implications of the email that Governor Christie apparently sent to supporters/donors/ Politico/Beltway Republicans (as if there’s any… never mind). But I can’t. I just can’t.

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New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s finding that there’s plenty to like about being a political talisman. If he so much as eats a slice of pizza, he gets coverage from NPR and the Boston Globe. Media-appointed ideological standard-bearers never lack for attention. How do today’s progressives eat—or approach income inequality? Thanks to de Blasio, now we know.

The downside, of course, is simply the other side of that attention. In exchange, de Blasio can’t speak without inadvertently offering a lens for media analysis of the viability of capital-P Progressivism’s approach to pizza, nutrition, personal hygiene, snow removal, education, taxes and so forth.

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In the mid-1970s, a small number of economists and sociologists started noticing that academic skills were not all important. It sounded obvious, but in the rush to count and compare IQ and reading scores, this simple truth was easily forgotten. Over the next three decades, more and more studies showed that when it came to predicting which kids grew up to be thriving adults—who succeeded in life and in their jobs—cognitive abilities only went so far.

Something else mattered just as much, and sometimes more, to kids’ life chances. This other dark matter had more to do with attitude than the ability to solve a calculus problem. In one study of U.S. eighth graders, for example, the best predictor of academic performance was not the children’s IQ scores—but their self-discipline.

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