Volume 2.50 (Dec. 9-15)

Pick of the WeekInvisible Child (Andrea Elliott, NYT)– Very long, but its worth every minute you will devote to this story (5 parts)

The Big Picture

The Minimum Wage: A Crash Course (Paul Waldman, The American Prospect)

The Social Movement Romance (Joel Bleifuss, In These Times)– “Too many people on the Left think that nonpartisan social movements can pressure elected officials to “do the right thing.” But how could a social movement build a demonstration larger than the 2011 Madison, Wis., protests against Scott Walker’s Budget Repair Bill? And yet even a month-long demonstration and occupation of the state capitol couldn’t stop the bill. We need to build a political structure that guarantees our politicians will be directly responsible to grassroots political activists. Leftists who don’t think we need to organize elector- ally, who think that we can “change the world without taking power,” are taking the laissez-faire, anti-statist impulses of neoliberalism more seriously than neoliberals.”

Inequality isn’t ‘the defining challenge of our time‘ (Ezra Klein, Wonkblog)– “When the left next gets a chance to make economic policy, what will they choose to do? A world in which inequality is the top concern is a world in which raising taxes on the rich is perhaps the most important policy choice the government can make. A world in which growth and unemployment are top concerns are worlds in which very different policies — from stimulus spending to permitting more inflation — might be the top priorities.”

Capitalism Redefined (Nick Hanauer & Eric Beinhocker, Democracy)– “We must have the courage to enact policies that are good for capitalism broadly, not policies that benefit a few capitalists narrowly. There can be an immense difference. We must recognize that a thriving middle class isn’t aconsequence of growth, but rather, the cause of growth and prosperity.”

Here’s how the safety net has — and hasn’t — reduced poverty in the U.S. (Brad Plumer, Wonkblog)

Big business wants to keep these four things secret (Jia Lynn Yang, Wonkblog)

The Long-Term Unemployed are Doomed (Matthew Yglesias, Slate)– “But we’re not going to do that. And we’re not going to do relocation assistance. And we’re not going to do direct hiring and public works. We’re going to do nothing. We’re going to tell people to go out and look for work, even though employers looking to hire can still afford to be very choosy and generally refuse to even consider the long-term unemployed as job applicants. The country failed these people first by letting the labor market stay so slack for so long that they became unhirable, and now we’re going to fail them again.”

Our new war on poverty (Bob Simpson, Socialist Worker)– “Our high rate of poverty is a policy of mega-corporations and their allies in government. As a lifelong socialist, I personally believe that poverty is an integral part of the capitalist system, yet some capitalist countries have a much lower poverty rate than we do.  So yes, our high rate of poverty is a policy. And it is a policy that kills. It is societal mass murder. Yet those most responsible walk free and are rewarded handsomely for their efforts.”

The Financial Crisis: Why Have No High-Level Executives Been Prosecuted? (Jed S. Rakoff, NYRB)– Rare op-ed piece from a sitting federal judge (and one who has sat on many of the most important financial fraud cases related to the latest meltdown)

War on Christmas

Declaring a Truce in the War on Christmas (Michael Hammond, Religion in American History)– “In the modern debate over Christmas, however, the shift in the dominance of Christianity over the culture is real, but the reaction to it is misguided. In defending Christmas and associating the holiday with warfare, these religious leaders may win a cultural battle, but damage the nature of Christianity in the process.  A recentstudy suggested that many young atheists followed a similar journey to unbelief.  They spoke of an initial exposure to Christianity, but they grew disillusioned when the church focused more on social issues and less on the power of the gospel message. As one of the students commented, “The connection between Jesus and a person’s life was not clear.” In the “war on Christmas,” winning the battle for cultural dominance takes away the power of the message of the incarnation.”

Guns

It’s Simple: Fewer Guns, Fewer Suicides (Justin Briggs and Alex Tabbarok, Slate)– “Are the people not killing themselves with guns simply committing suicide by other means? Some are—but not all. While reduced household gun ownership did lead to more suicides by other means, suicides went down overall. That’s because contrary to the “folk wisdom” that people who want to commit suicide will always find a way to get the job done, suicides are not inevitable. Suicides are often impulsive decisions, and guns require less forethought than other means of suicide—and they’re also deadlier.”

A Year After Newtown, Little Has Changed (Alec MacGillis, The New Republic)

Sandy Hook, One Year Later: No Gun Control in Sight (Steven Hill, In These Times)– “American media outlets often portray multiparty democracies elected by proportional representation, such as Israel and Italy, as being beholden to tiny political parties of extremists who hold hostage their coalition governments. Yet they fail to recognize how the dynamics of our own winner-take-all elections allow well-organized political minorities and “swing voter” extremists like the NRA and Florida Cubans to push their radical agendas on the mainstream. It’s important to understand how our system works if we ever hope to improve it.”

Health

The Selling of Attention Deficit Disorder (Alan Schwarz, NYT)

Tobacco Firms’ Strategy Limits Poorer Nations’ Smoking Laws (Sabrina Tavernise, NYT)– “Tobacco companies are pushing back against a worldwide rise in antismoking laws, using a little-noticed legal strategy to delay or block regulation. The industry is warning countries that their tobacco laws violate an expanding web of trade and investment treaties, raising the prospect of costly, prolonged legal battles, health advocates and officials said.”

The Case for Tolerating E-Cigarettes (Amy L. Fairchild and James Colgrove, NYT)

Funny

Spies Infiltrate a Fantasy Realm of Online Games (Mark Mazzetti and Justin Elliott, NYT)– Sounds like a good excuse to get a bunch of contractors to get free Xbox LIVE and play a lot of online games.  Sign me up.

Education

Amid All the Good Things Going on in HISD, Why Is It So Many of Our Kids Still Can’t Read? (Margaret Downing, Houston Press)

Politics

Inside the Power of the NRA (Robert Draper, NYT)

You’ve got to meet the real socialists (Danny Katch, Socialist Worker)

Mandela and the Question of Violence (Ta-Nehisi Coates, Wonkblog)– “In the shadow of our conversation, one sees a constant, indefatigable specter which has dogged us from birth. For the most of American history, very few of our institutions believed that black people were entitled to the rights of other Americans. Included in this is the right of self-defense. Nonviolence worked because it conceded that right in the pursuit of other rights. But one should never lose sight of the precise reasons why America preaches nonviolence to some people while urging other people to arms.”

The Decay of American Political Institutions (Francis Fukuyama, The American Interest)– “Many political institutions in the United States are decaying. This is not the same thing as the broader phenomenon of societal or civilization decline, which has become a highly politicized topic in the discourse about America. Political decay in this instance simply means that a specific political process—sometimes an individual government agency—has become dysfunctional. This is the result of intellectual rigidity and the growing power of entrenched political actors that prevent reform and rebalancing. This doesn’t mean that America is set on a permanent course of decline, or that its power relative to other countries will necessarily diminish. Institutional reform is, however, an extremely difficult thing to bring about, and there is no guarantee that it can be accomplished without a major disruption of the political order. So while decay is not the same as decline, neither are the two discussions unrelated”

Healthcare

Republicans are Right: Obamacare is Redistribution (Jonathan Cohn, The New Republic)– “Serious people can disagree over how many of these cuts insurers and providers will ultimately absorb—and how many they will pass on to consumers and beneficiaries in one way or another. (Politifact had a nice item on this last week.) In that sense, serious people can disagree over the extent to which Obamacare really is income redistribution. But one thing to remember is that, fundamentally, health care reform has always been about a vulnerability that the poor and the middle class share. In the old days, before Obamacare, just about anybody could end up without health insurance, which meant just about anybody could end up ruined because of medical bills. The simplest way to describe Obamacare is as a transfer from the lucky to the unlucky. And when it comes to health, you don’t have to be poor to be unlucky.”

This $2000 drug says everything about our messed up health care system (Sarah Kliff, Wonkblog)

Foreign Affairs

Mexico’s Pride, Oil, May be Opened to Outsiders (Randal C. Archibold and Elisabeth Malkin, NYT)– ““Oil has symbolic power in Mexico that it does not have in every oil country,” said Noel Maurer, a political economist at Harvard Business School. “Mexico has built up national mythologies that ‘the oil is ours.’ It’s like a flag-burning issue.””

The U.S. Approach to Ukraine in Turmoil (Steven Pifer, Brookings Up Front)

‘Brussels was Naive” (Jan Puhl and Christian Neef, Spiegel)

Sports

The Nastiest Injury In Sports (Neal Gabler, Grantland)– On ACL tears and the “pop.”

Gilt by Association (Rick Reilly, ESPN)– “You won’t even have to be in Cooperstown to smell the hypocrisy. Even the faintest scent of a rumor of PED use is enough to sink a player now.  Managers? Odorless.  Take Houston Astros great Craig Biggio. He had more than enough career to get in, and even though there isn’t a stitch of evidence against him, the writers have kept him out because they have a niggling hunch he might’ve used.  Remember, kids: If you play the game under even a single cloud of suspicion, you’re out. Manage it under one? Come on in and pull up a plaque!”

Mormonism

An Evolving Mormon Church Finally Addresses a Racist Past (Max Perry Mueller, Religion & Politics)

Mormons Officially Disavow Racist Folklore (Jana Riess, Flunking Sainthood)– “It’s good to put racism in historical context, and I’m glad to see that context here. But if that’s all we do, we deny the agency of the historical actors in question. A suggestion that “mistakes were made, but we were only following cues from the broader culture” will only take us so far in a religious tradition whose rock-solid fundamental is that we are responsible for our own sins, and not for other people’s transgressions.  We Mormons harmed people, systematically diminishing their creation as image-bearers of God.  Over and over again, we harmed people. And then we fabricated sick theological pretexts to justify that wholly unchristian diminishment.”

The Imperative for a Historical Book of Deuteronomy (“Yakov Ben Tov”, Worlds Without End)– “This is a revised edition of a recent article written by Stephen Smoot for the Interpreter Journal.  It is not meant to be hurtful or to offend. It is meant to be playful in the way that I feel that if we were to apply the same standards that are applied in his article for the Book of Mormon toward other scripture, like Deuteronomy for example, the arguments will not hold and other scriptures that are found to be non-historical will be dropped by those accepting the methods given in Smoot’s article.”

The Old Testament, Scriptures, Apostles, the Priesthood Ban and Theological Diversity: Calibrating our Expectations (Ben S., Times and Seasons)– “Scripture is not a simple rulebook or doctrinal encyclopedia we look things up in. Scripture is meant to challenge us to think and apply. So as we move on to reading the Old Testament, let’s get with Elder Widtsoe’s exhortation that “the scriptures must be read intelligently” and recalibrate our expectations.”

God, the Necessity of Scholars and the Old Testament (Ben S., Times and Seasons)– “So, when God speaks to the Israelite prophets, he’s going to be addressing their concerns, in their linguistic and cultural idiom. When we read scripture, then, we are eavesdropping on revelation directed to someone else, not us. Of course, we can benefit from it, we can receive inspiration from reading it, but we were not the primary recipient. And since the audience of that revelation, in the case of the Old Testament, lived thousands of years ago, in a very different culture, languages, and worldview, we are essentially in need of a tour guide, someone who knows those languages and culture and can explain it to us. Sure, you can visit on your own, but you’re likely to misunderstand many things, miss others completely, commit a few faux pas, and generally not get as much out of the trip as if you had a guide. And who will tell you where the best noodles are?”

Hearing Black Mormon Women: Taking a crucial step to address Mormonism’s racist history and present (Joanna Brooks, Feminist Mormon Housewives)– ” I have been studying, writing about, and teaching race-related issues in university settings and working on my own racism for decades.  During this time, I have had many, many moments where I have been faced with the uncomfortable reality of my own blindness, deafness, ignorance, callousness, and unearned privilege.  I still confront these moments, almost every day.  Hearing Black Mormon women and confronting the legacy of racism and unearned white privilege as Mormon feminists can mean discomfort. ” And Part 2 here.

Are we not all beggars? No, not really. (Steve Evans, By Common Consent)– “The theodicy issue is linked to the problems inherent in the Prosperity Gospel. It goes like this – if God is responsible for helping righteous people prosper, and is truly the source on which we should depend for gold and silver, what does it mean when we fail financially? One might answer, “it means you weren’t righteous,” which is something offered up occasionally by early Church leaders to account for why the Saints were persecuted and lost their lands — this despite their obvious devotion and fervour. Insufficient righteousness might be a valid reason for financial failure, but given the poverty of so many the promises of prosperity seem essentially unobtainable and therefore not very useful. Otherwise we are left to wonder why God didn’t make us rich even when we did all He asked – did He break his promise? The prospect of a covenant-breaking God is abominable. Similarly, the prospect of a vending machine Creator is repugnant and childish. We’re left with what, then?  We’re left with a clear injunction to aid the poor, which is pre-eminent and especially important to those of us who can afford computers, internet, and the privilege of being in the First World.”

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