TPM Cafe: Opinion

There’s little doubt that "Her" is one of the best films of 2013, even the notoriously derided Academy has put it up for a Best Picture Oscar this year. The Spike Jonze film serves in part as commentary against an increasing dependence on technology and an ever-growing need for electronic devices to act as human as possible while distancing their users from other actual people. Within this examination, "Her" is also partially a love story about a lonely man who, still reeling from the demise of his marriage, connects with someone highly unlikely.

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Melissa Johnson, a 38-year-old mother of three, had worked as an administrative assistant at the same metro-Detroit law firm for 15 years—her co-workers were like family. But when the Great Recession hit in 2007, Melissa was laid off. Devastated, she signed up for unemployment benefits, and when no work appeared, she began retraining to become a nurse. Unemployment insurance paid Melissa a portion of her former salary for the duration of her training. Without those benefits, her home would have gone into foreclosure. When we spoke with Melissa in summer 2013, she remained in her home and was happily working as a nurse.

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For everyone from politicians to pundits to late-night comics, this week’s Congressional Budget Office report on the long-term impact of the Affordable Care Act on the American workforce proved even better than a Caribbean vacation at enlivening the mid-winter doldrums. Fueled by new ammunition and fulminating with righteous indignation, the usual suspects had a field day in reacting to the latest estimate that health insurance subsidies will lead to declining labor force participation.

With Republicans gloating that Obamacare will cost millions of jobs and Democrats protesting that the reduction in work hours will be voluntary, righteous indignation abounds on all sides. “People should be chained by the need for health insurance to jobs they hate -- that’s what built this country!” Stephen Colbert declared on The Colbert Report last night.

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If you’re looking for the story of the American economy right now, you can find it in the wide space between Neiman-Marcus and the Dollar Store.

When you look at income and wealth, the collapse of the middle class is apparent, but it’s even more striking when you look at the dollars people spend, not just the ones they earn.

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

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