TPM Cafe: Opinion

The Koch brothers, Pete Peterson and other billionaires are spending huge amounts of money trying to cut Social Security and other vitally important federal programs. As part of this campaign, an enormous amount of misinformation is floating around. Let me try to set the record straight by answering a few of the questions that people are asking my office.

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There's a topic that never fails to provoke long, heated discussions among feminists: weddings. Should you have one? If you do, how do you have a feminist one? Can you have a feminist one? Salon's Tracy Clark-Flory wrote an honest take on her own experience as a staunch feminist planning a wedding and how she ended up going in for things she never would have thought she would, like restrictive body-shaping undergarments called Spanx and a $125 make-up brush set.

The question resonates with me personally as I plan my own wedding. I find myself facing all the same choices and pressures Clark-Flory did. I've already spent more money than I thought I would on a venue and am wearing an engagement ring -- something I swore I'd never do. I will have at least two pairs of shoes for one day of festivities and have been tempted to spend hundreds on a "wedding sash."

But there may not be such thing as a feminist wedding - it's probably an oxymoron. Marriage is a patriarchal institution through and through, rife with privilege and creepy reminders of how women have traditionally been viewed. (Just think about fathers "giving away" their daughters to future husbands or grooms lifting the veil of purity from their new wives' faces.)

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On Wednesday morning the joint House-Senate Budget committee will convene for its first session. The group, led by Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-WA) and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) has until Dec. 13 to make its report on recommendations that will then go to the full House and Senate. The committee is charged with finding a compromise between the two chamber's versions of a spending plan for fiscal 2014. Perhaps before they start the debate, they should ponder this chart of the labor force participation rate.

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Meet Danielle N. Lee, author of the blog "Urban Scientist," hosted by Scientific American.

If you haven't heard of Lee already, here's the backstory: She was recently asked by an editor named "Ofek" of the scientific site Biology-Online if she would be interested in blogging for them. When she asked for further details, including how much they paid their guest bloggers, the editor responded that the opportunity could provide traffic and exposure, but no payment. Lee politely declined the offer from Ofek, who penned a horrifying response: "Because we don't pay for blog entries? Are you an urban scientist or an urban whore?"

Even absent the continual debate about writing for free in online spaces, Lee's experience points to something deeper: It's hard to argue that Ofek would have responded to a white male writer in the same way he responded to her.

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Updated 11:12 a.m.

I am not a cancer survivor ... yet.

There's a very good chance that I'll want to be, though. I'm under no illusions that I'm exempt, especially given the amount of cancer in my family tree. Both of my parents are cancer survivors, actually -- not bad odds if you're talking about surviving -- but not particularly good odds if you're talking about escaping cancer in the first place.

So you could call it selfish anticipation of my own needs that drives my call for better support for cancer survivors. "Why support the survivors?" you ask. "They're the lucky ones." Well, yes, but that doesn't mean they haven't fought the long, drawn-out battle for life and death that consumes everything in its path and has the potential to leave one broken and shattered.

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Thanks to a tweet from sociologist Sarah Sobieraj, we learned of a powerful campaign to raise awareness about gender inequality from the arm of the United Nations dedicated to empowering women. The designers of the ads did Google searches, allowing the auto-complete to fill in word stems with the most commonly searched phrases. The results are eyebrow-raising.

I was curious to find out what my personal Google machine would spit out and, also, what the equivalent searches for men would return. Below, I reproduce the ads, followed by my own results. Eyebrow-raising. As a bonus, I did the searches for feminists.

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I'm a single mother of two-year-old twin boys. Five months ago, I was laid off from my job. I struggled to make it on 100 dollars of unemployment a week. Bills piled up. My debt was growing. And a clock was ticking: if I didn't find a job in two weeks, I'd lose my child care assistance.

I gave it my all. I scoured job lists, sent out resumes and told everyone I knew that I was looking for work. After 14 days, my deadline hit and there wasn't a job in sight. So just at the moment I needed it most, my assistance was cut off.

But I'm scrappy and don't give up easily. I cobbled together $175 to pay for two days of child care a week so I could step up the hunt. A month later, I landed a temporary job. My child care assistance started up again. Things were looking up.

Only two months into the job, I got laid off again. This time, my child care assistance was terminated immediately. My heart sank ... but I threw myself into another intense search. Day after day, I kept at it. Several weeks later, I started a new job and resubmitted my application for child care assistance. But I was told I no longer qualify. No reason was given. All I know is that I'm not getting assistance.

It's been a roller coaster. But I'm grateful to have work. Every month, I patch together $720 for my sons' child care. My boys are in a safe place and they're doing well. But, at the end of the month, after paying for rent, food, gas and other items, I'm left with almost nothing. At night, I lay awake determined to build a bright future.

--F. Guevara, Nevada

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This is a national emergency.

As I walked through the neighborhoods in Boulder, Colorado several weeks ago, navigating streets that had first become creeks and then rivers, the reality of climate change truly hit home. The devastation Americans saw on the news was a true reflection of what was happening on the ground. Though I am grateful that the storm has passed, the vulnerability remains.

Just as scary as bearing witness to such a massive loss of life and livelihood is knowing that it could happen again. Of course, it took an extraordinary convergence of events -- with moisture feeding into the storm system from both the Pacific and the Gulf of Mexico coupled with an erratic Jetstream creating blocking patterns over the Rockies -- to make this seven-day tropical storm of truly biblical proportions possible. But these days the extraordinary is quickly becoming the everyday, and there's no reason to think it couldn't happen again.

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A team of senior Obama administration officials went to Geneva last week to negotiate a set of constraints that would hold Iran to its pledge not to develop a nuclear weapon. As for the chorus of skeptics, it's not clear what they want -- aside from showcasing their own toughness. In the months ahead, the talks will test the intentions of Iran's seemingly cooperative new Rouhani government, probing whether they will actually accept strict limits and intrusive verification. The process will likewise test hardliners here at home, particularly in Congress. Will they be wiling to accept Iran's acceptance of a diplomatic deal?

As we debate the issue within the U.S., the test of intentions is about making a deal Iran can live with. Of course, all of this would be so much easier if Iran agreed to all the limits and conditions we want. Unfortunately that's not how it works; the essence of negotiation is the trading of concessions. Such basics of deal-making might seem too simple to be worth reviewing, but the recent hard-liner warnings about an Iranian nuclear deal show the need for a refresher course.

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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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