Volume 2.51 (Dec. 16-22)

Pick of the WeekMaterialism: a system that eats us from the inside out (George Monbiot, The Guardian)– “This is the dreadful mistake we are making: allowing ourselves to believe that having more money and more stuff enhances our wellbeing, a belief possessed not only by those poor deluded people in the pictures, but by almost every member of almost every government. Worldly ambition, material aspiration, perpetual growth: these are a formula for mass unhappiness.”

The Real Story of Linda Taylor, America’s Original Welfare Queen (Josh Levin, Slate)– “The recent debate over cuts to the federal food stamp program, too, has featured Republican claims that we can save $30 billion by “eliminating loopholes, waste, fraud, and abuse.”  In truth, Reagan wrung savings out of the federal welfare program by slashing benefit levels and raising eligibility requirements. And with regard to today’s food stamp cuts, as Eric Schnurer explains in the Atlantic, “none of the savings actually come from fraud, but rather from cutting funding and tightening benefits.”  If Linda Taylor had been seen as a suspect rather than a scapegoat, lives may have been saved. Prosecutors have great discretion in choosing what cases to bring—that’s how the rate of welfare indictments could shoot up so dramatically in a single decade. When politicians and journalists whip the public into a frenzy about welfare fraud, the limitations of municipal budgets and judicial resources dictate that less attention be paid to everything else. Linda Taylor’s story shows that there are real costs associated with this kind of panic, a moral climate in which stealing welfare money takes precedence over kidnapping and homicide.”

itsy bitsy spider marxist analysis

Pope Francis

Untier of Knots (Andrew Sullivan, Daily Dish)– “To put it mildly, this is a 21st-century heresy. Which means, I think, that this Pope is already emerging and will likely only further emerge as the most potent critic of the newly empowered global capitalist project. In this, of course, Francis is not new. John Paul II was as aggressively critical of Western capitalism as he was of Eastern communism. But there is an obvious difference between the early 1980s and the 2010s. Back then, communism existed as a rival to capitalism and as a more proximate threat to world peace. Now, the only dominant ideology in the world is the ideology of material gain – either through the relatively free markets of the West or the state-controlled markets of the East. And so the church’s message is now harder to obscure. It stands squarely against the entire dominant ethos of our age. It is the final resistance.”

The anti-capitalist pope? (Lance Selfa, Socialist Worker)– “At best, this is a social democratic view of modern society. In its origins, it has more in common with a feudal or paternalistic view of society.  But it’s hardly a “Marxist” view. While it may recognize the existence of social classes, the Catholic orthodoxy doesn’t champion class struggle as the motor force for change in the world. Nor does it argue for a society in which workers democratically decide what to produce and how to allocate society’s resources.”

Who am I to Judge? (James Carroll, New Yorker)– Just in time for his being named TIME’s Person of the Year, two glowing profiles of Pope Francis.

The Economy

Ten theses on growth, employment and inequality (Matthew Yglesias, Slate Moneybox)

Duck Dynasty

Beards and Circuses: Feeding the Great American Outrage Machine (Michael Austin, IVN)– “The standard outrage narratives just don’t work this time because there are no actual victims in this dispute. Nobody is David, nobody is Goliath, and everybody is going to walk away from this richer and more famous than before. And this is a spectacularly bad reason to manufacture so much outrage the week before we celebrate the birthday of a guy who told us to turn the other cheek.”

Phil Robertson’s America (Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Atlantic)– “The black people who Phil Robertson knew were warred upon. If they valued their lives, and the lives of their families, the last thing they would have done was voiced a complaint about “white people” to a man like Robertson. Ignorance is no great sin and one can forgive the good-natured white person for not knowing how all that cannibal sausage was truly made. But having been presented with a set of facts, Robertson’s response is to cite “welfare” and “entitlement” as the true culprits.”

The Big Picture

It’s Not OK That Your Employees Can’t Afford to Eat (Peter Capelli, Harvard Business Review)– “One of the things that I find surprising is how many companies that pay poverty-level wages or thereabouts to their employees spend a good deal of effort to be good corporate citizens in other areas. They try to make their operations “green,” lessening their impact on the environment, some even sponsor anti-poverty programs in Africa, and so forth. They just don’t seem very interested in the poverty among their own workforces.”

Can We Reclaim the Holiday Season from Corporations? (Frida Berrigan, In These Times)– “Let’s start by asking, what do we really need? To be warm and healthy and with the ones we love, right? What do our kids really need? Love, connection, warm knee socks and not much else, right?”

Economic stagnation is not our fate — unless we let it be (Lawrence Summers, WaPo)

Foreign Affairs

Turkey: ‘Surreal, Menacing…Pompous’ (Christopher de Bellaigue, NYRB)

Just Nailing It

The ‘fake’ Mandela memorial interpreter said it all (Slavoj Zizek, The Guardian)– “Now we can see why Jantjie’s gesticulations generated such an uncanny effect once it became clear that they were meaningless: what he confronted us with was the truth about sign language translations for the deaf – it doesn’t really matter if there are any deaf people among the public who need the translation; the translator is there to make us, who do not understand sign language, feel good.  And was this also not the truth about the whole of the Mandela memorial ceremony? All the crocodile tears of the dignitaries were a self-congratulatory exercise, and Jangtjie translated them into what they effectively were: nonsense. What the world leaders were celebrating was the successful postponement of the true crisis which will explode when poor, black South Africans effectively become a collective political agent. They were the Absent One to whom Jantjie was signalling, and his message was: the dignitaries really don’t care about you. Through his fake translation, Jantjie rendered palpable the fake of the entire ceremony.”

The Documented Life (Sherry Turkle, NYT)– “Technology doesn’t just do things for us. It does thing to us, changing not just what we do but who we are. The selfie makes us accustomed to putting ourselves and those around us “on pause” in order to document our lives. It is an extension of how we have learned to put our conversations “on pause” when we send or receive a text, an image, an email, a call. When you get accustomed to a life of stops and starts, you get less accustomed to reflecting on where you are and what you are thinking.”


Hall Pass (Jonah Keri, Grantland)– On fixing the Baseball Hall of Fame.


Health Care’s Road to Ruin (Elisabeth Rosenthal, NYT)–“As Dr. Blumenthal, the former Obama adviser, put it: ‘If you put our health care system on an island and floated it out into the Atlantic it would have the fifth-largest G.D.P. in the world. It’s like saying you have to change the economy of France.'”

Health care, American style (Karen Hitchcock, The Monthly)– “I couldn’t wait to get back to our overcrowded hospitals that stink of hot chips, where bad things are called bad names and you can swear freely in the tearooms. Where you’re a patient, not a customer, so the lack of a fatal car crash is the only thing standing between you and a new set of lungs. You may have to wait months in pain for your new hip and then share a room with three snorers, but you’ll get the drugs the government lets me prescribe you, and if you can’t walk post-op you’ll have physical therapy someplace ugly, and if despite all that you can no longer leave your house, the social worker will hook you up with Meals on Wheels. Spread the cheer.”

Americans Suddenly Discovering How Insurance Works (Paul Waldman, The American Prospect)


When the Right to Bear Arms Includes the Mentally Ill (Michael Luo and Mike McIntire, NYT)


NSA Spied on Allies, Aid Groups and Businesses (James Glanz and Andrew Lehren, NYT)

The NSA on Trial (David Cole, NYRB)– “The reality of life in the digital age is that virtually everything you do leaves a trace that is shared with a third party—your Internet service provider, phone company, credit card company, or bank. Short of living off the grid, you don’t have a choice in the matter. If you use a smartphone, you are signaling your whereabouts at all times, and sharing with your phone provider a track record of your thoughts, interests, and desires. Technological innovations have made it possible for all of this information to be collected, stored, and analyzed by computers in ways that were impossible even a decade ago. Should the mere existence of this information make it freely searchable by the NSA, without any basis for suspicion? Or should we recognize, as Judge Leon did, that the collection and search of such data infringes profound privacy interests, and that the way forward is to require the government to justify its intrusion, as the Constitution requires, on the basis of individualized suspicion of wrongdoing. Right now, the NSA records every time I text my daughter to tell her I’m out front in the school pickup line, and every time she texts back that she will be right out. And it does the same for every parent picking up every child across the nation. Can that possibly be constitutional?”


This North Carolina Campus Was Meant to Show Off the Future of Online Education: It hasn’t gone according to plan (Nora Caplan-Bricker, The New Republic)

The Wrong College Rankings (Bradley W. Bateman, NYT)– “Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to the problem of how to get more low-income students into college, or how to see them through to graduation. More information may help some families make better choices about where their children should attend college, but that information alone does not address the cultural barriers to access or the structures that are most needed to help students succeed.  Nor will that data tell students whom they will attend class with, what kind of social pressures will be placed on them by their peers or what the classroom environment will be like. The data will also tell us nothing about the advising systems at different colleges. Where will low-income students get good advice about course selection or the emotional and moral support they might need when they encounter difficulties?”


Book Review: To Mormons With Love (Angela C, By Common Consent)– Thoughts from a non-Mormon living in Utah County.

Even Christ’s Body has an A$$hole (TT, Faith Promoting Rumor)– “Sometimes a lot of crap comes from the members of the body of Christ.  That crap can even make other parts of the body sick.  The thing is, all of us is at one time or another that shameful orifice.  There is no doubt, some of us enjoy that position more than others and even come to take pleasure in that role (I hear great pleasures can reside there).  There is also no doubt that some believe that they are the mouthpiece of God when they are in fact on the other end of the digestive tract. ”

Racing to Erase Race (Daymon Smith, Uncorrelated Mormonism)– “The question for me is not about race, but about power, which is almost always concealed by some other thing (in this case, ‘racial’ features and its use in excluding humans from some position).  What does it say about a people who agree to let their leaders tell them that they can select fairly arbitrary physical features in order to justify excluding some other people from all the joy and happiness they believe God would otherwise bestow upon them?  If this life is a test, there’s a lot of f’s to go around.”

For Your FHE Study: Proclamation on Race with Official Seal (Daymon Smith, Uncorrelated Mormonism)– “Would these make their words more of a Proclamation than a mere Statement? Is the difference really in the formatting? Or in who is speaking? Or to whom they speak? ”

On Idolatry, Institutional Repentance and Grace (Katie L., Feminist Mormon Housewives)– “Take the statement on the temple/priesthood ban as an example. If the church now “disavows theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of disfavor or curse, or that it reflects actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else”—all of which are concepts that were repeatedly taught by top leaders, sustained as prophets, seers, and revelators—what does this mean for today’s leadership? And what might they be wrong about now?This is a question that the church goes out of its way to avoid. The implications are too scary. The fear is that the “foundation of prophets and apostles” might crumble with the frank admission of error. And it’s true that there will be backlash. Repentance hurts; and when you have encouraged people to place their trust in the arm of flesh for years, there is no way to say, “We’re sorry, we were wrong” without consequence. The problem is, continuing in sin because repentance is difficult merely compounds the heartache.”

Mormon racism and black self-hatred in Zion (Darron Smith, Flunking Sainthood)– “Sadly, these beliefs reach further than just the white membership and have actually gone on to instill what appears as self-hatred in a number of black Mormons. Throughout America’s racist history, Blacks have sought the approval of Whites in order to gain some recognition or simply a reprieve from the everyday microaggressions of race-based mistreatment. Yet, that approval requires Blacks to accept occupying a “lesser” status in society as well as in the hereafter. More than a few black Mormons here in America have gone on record reflecting these same racist ideas about themselves as inspired by God. “


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