Volume 3.2 (January 6-12, 2014)

Pick of the Week

The White Ghetto (Kevin D. Williamson, National Review)– “It works like this: Once a month, the debit-card accounts of those receiving what we still call food stamps are credited with a few hundred dollars — about $500 for a family of four, on average — which are immediately converted into a unit of exchange, in this case cases of soda. On the day when accounts are credited, local establishments accepting EBT cards — and all across the Big White Ghetto, “We Accept Food Stamps” is the new E pluribus unum – are swamped with locals using their public benefits to buy cases and cases — reports put the number at 30 to 40 cases for some buyers — of soda. Those cases of soda then either go on to another retailer, who buys them at 50 cents on the dollar, in effect laundering those $500 in monthly benefits into $250 in cash — a considerably worse rate than your typical organized-crime money launderer offers — or else they go into the local black-market economy, where they can be used as currency in such ventures as the dealing of unauthorized prescription painkillers — by “pillbillies,” as they are known at the sympathetic establishments in Florida that do so much business with Kentucky and West Virginia that the relevant interstate bus service is nicknamed the “OxyContin Express.” A woman who is intimately familiar with the local drug economy suggests that the exchange rate between sexual favors and cases of pop — some dealers will accept either — is about 1:1, meaning that the value of a woman in the local prescription-drug economy is about $12.99 at Walmart prices.”

The Big Picture

Faulty Websites Confront Needy in Search of Aid (Frances Robles, NYT)– “While the nation’s attention was focused on the troubled rollout of the federal health care site under the Affordable Care Act, the problems with the unemployment sites have pointed to something much broader: how a lack of funding in many states and a shortage of information technology specialists in public service jobs routinely lead to higher costs, botched systems and infuriating technical problems that fall hardest on the poor, the jobless and the neediest.”

It’s expensive to be poor (Eric Samuelsen, Mormon Iconoclast)– “But being poor in America doesn’t just mean not having money or resources.  It’s expensive. The mythology is that America is a land of opportunity, a nation where poor people can bootstrap it up to success and prosperity.  Mostly nowadays, though, what we have are barriers.  You get slammed down, every time you struggle your way even a little bit up. And it doesn’t have to be that way.  We could make it easier, less expensive, more hopeful, to be poor.”

Republicans Discover Poverty.  Now What? (Alec Macgillis, New Republic)– “Why not take today’s Republicans at their word that they, too, are eager to engage on the issue?  Well, maybe because, as Josh Barro notes, ‘Republicans have no legislative agenda that would address poverty.'”

Congress Taking Food from Poor Kids (Matthew Yglesias, Slate Moneybox)– “So that’s the state of anti-poverty policy in America. Republicans are fighting for cuts in programs to help poor people, Democrats are restraining the extent of those cuts, money continues to flow to non-poor constituencies that conservatives happen to like better, and the biggest victims of the Great Recession are getting nothing.”

No, we don’t spend $1 trillion on welfare each year (Mike Konczal, Wonkblog)– “Read that again: conservatives complain that we should have less welfare and more opportunity and civil society, only to turn around and also call those things “welfare” too when the time comes.”

How Marriage Fights Poverty (Matthew Yglesias, Slate Moneybox)– “But the greater efficiency of shared expenses isn’t really what’s magical about marriage, and what’s magical about marriage isn’t really what leads to the poverty reduction.”

Marriage and Poverty (Matt Bruenig, The American Prospect)– “More generally, the point here is that low-income people, because of their economic situation, do not make attractive mates. There is simply too much risk and stress involved in getting married to a low-income spouse. Making low-income people more attractive mates for marriage will require improving their economic situation by providing them more income, more benefits, and providing them greater security against bad outcomes like job loss and wage declines.”

Economics

Abolish the Corporate Income Tax (Lawrence Kotlikoff, NYT)– “That might sound like a giveaway to the rich. It’s not.”

The Great Marijuana Experiment: A Tale of Two Drug Wars (Bruce Barcott, Rolling Stone)– “But these gains tend to obscure the dismal reality playing out in many other states. As Colorado and Washington license pot growers and sellers, cops elsewhere continue to carry out marijuana busts at a rate of one every 42 seconds. If you drop a gram of Sour Diesel on the sidewalk in Seattle, a police officer may help you sweep it up. Do that in New Orleans and you could face 20 years hard labor.”

Marx is Dead, Long Live Marx’s Ideas (John B. Judis, Dissent)– “But at a time when a professor of journalism at Columbia who has written a book about the history of economics can tell the New York Times that Marx’s Capital I and Hitler’s Mein Kampf are the ‘worst books on economics’ she has read, Marx’s ideas need to be given their due. ”

The Biggest Myths in Economics (Cullen Roche, Pragmatic Economics)– “The national debt is often portrayed as something that must be “paid back”.  As if we are all born with a bill attached to our feet that we have to pay back to the government over the course of our lives.  Of course, that’s not true at all.  In fact, the national debt has been expanding since the dawn of the USA and has grown as the needs of US citizens have expanded over time.  There’s really no such thing as “paying back” the national debt unless you think the government should be entirely eliminated (which I think most of us would agree is a pretty unrealistic view of the world).”

Education

How Should We Teach the Bible in Public Schools (Mark A. Chancey, Religion & Politics)– “[Our study] found that most Texas Bible courses crossed the constitutional line by promoting certain religious perspectives over others and religion over non-religion. While many problems appeared to be missteps by well-intentioned and otherwise well-trained teachers, others reflected overt sectarian agendas.”

Politics

Movement on the Right (David Brooks, NYT)– “The Republican style of recent years has produced a vacuum where concrete proposals should be. The emerging conservatives won’t have to argue with or defeat the more populist factions on the right; they can just fill the vacuum. Republican politicians, when they are asked to come up with specific programs, will find there is no other game in town.”

Chris Christie’s problem is that he’s really, truly, a bully (Ezra Klein, Wonkblog)– “The reason Chris Christie is so good at this is that Chris Christie is actually a bully. That doesn’t mean he’s not also a nice guy who cares deeply about his family and his constituents and his country. It doesn’t mean he’s not an unusually honest politician who’s refreshingly free of cant and willing to question his party. There’s a lot about Christie that’s deeply appealing. But there’s one big thing that’s not: He’s someone who uses his office to intimidate people and punish or humiliate perceived enemies.”

Shooting in the Dark (Jaime Fuller, The American Prospect)– “When car accidents reached epidemic levels in the mid-20th century, government poured funding into figuring out why and how they could be prevented. Public-health researchers recommended mandatory seat belts, better-designed roads, and safer cars. Public-awareness campaigns imparting the dangers of drunk driving became a familiar sight in the nation’s schools. Automobile deaths dropped. In a similar fashion, the government advertised the dangers of smoking and passed laws limiting the places where people could use tobacco. Cigarette usage dropped. Firearm researchers wanted to duplicate this success, but almost immediately they ran into an obstacle: Unlike driving and smoking, gun ownership was granted protection by the Constitution.”

The Mythical Monolith (Gabriel Arana, The American Prospect)– “It is a truth almost universally unacknowledged: There is no “sleeping giant” of the Latino vote. At least not nationally. It’s true that, by dint of their numbers, Latinos will exert increasing influence on national elections. But there’s no monolith, partly because their ethnic composition—and political concerns—varies from region to region and state to state.”

Healthcare

Maryland’s plan to upend health care spending (Sarah Kliff, Wonkblog)

A health industry expert on the fundamental problem with Obamacare (Ezra Klein, Wonkblog)– “The problem with Obamacare is it’s product driven and not market driven. They didn’t ask the customer what they wanted. And I think that’s the fundamental problem with Obamacare. It meets the needs of very poor people because you’re giving them health insurance for free. But it doesn’t really meet the needs of healthy people and middle-class people.”

Media

Writing to Win (Tim Parks, NYRB)– “I have often been astonished how rapidly and ruthlessly young novelists, or simply first novelists, will sever themselves from the community of frustrated aspirants. After years fearing oblivion, the published novelist now feels that success was inevitable, that at a very deep level he always knew he was one of the elect…. Within weeks messages will appear on the websites of newly minted authors discouraging aspiring authors from sending their manuscripts. They now live in a different dimension. Time is precious. Another book is required, because there is no point in establishing a reputation if it is not fed and exploited. Sure of their calling now, they buckle down to it. All too soon they will become exactly what the public wants them to be: persons apart, producers of that special thing, literature; artists.”

What it Means to be a Public Intellectual (Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Atlantic)– “Here is the machinery of racism—the privilege of being oblivious to questions, of never having to grapple with the everywhere; the right of false naming; the right to claim that the lakes, trees, and mountains of our world do not exist; the right to insult our intelligence with your ignorance. ”

Global Issues

Terrorism’s Fertile Ground (Kennedy Odede, NYT)– “If we pursue an antiterrorism strategy based on tactical strikes, it will only further a cycle of violence. The perpetual sense of anger experienced in urban poverty will ensure that there are always new terrorist leaders to replace those who are killed. The war on terror can be won only through education, promise and real opportunities.”

Science

The Science of Why We Don’t Believe in Science (Chris Mooney, Mother Jones)

Sports

The Steroid Hunt (Bryan Curtis, Grantland)

Mormonism

A Look at the Political Affiliations of Some Prominent Members (Marc Bohn, Times & Seasons)– Won’t be the first time they’ve been wrong and probably not the last, either.

So just what do Mormons believe about evolution? (Benjamin Knoll, By Common Consent)– “The ‘bottom line’ of all this is that there seems to be clear empirical evidence for the following conclusions:

1.  Mormonism is one of the least “evolution-friendly” faith traditions in the United States when measured in terms of popular acceptance among its members of evolution as the “best explanation of human life on earth.

2. This finding is not simply due Mormons’ higher-than-average levels of religious belief and behavior. There is something uniquely Mormon about antipathy toward biological evolution that is more intense than in other Christian faith traditions.”

‘Church Instructs Leaders on Same-Sex Marriage’ – or did it just make a bad situation worse? (Gina Colvin, Kiwi Mormon)– “The fact is, there are 20 democracies around the world that have legalized same sex marriage.  The walls of heterosexual marriage haven’t imploded in these places, and as a New Zealander I didn’t wake upon the 20th August 2013, look at my husband and wonder if I should have married a girl.    So as someone who lives in such a country let me give my assurance that its fine – it really is.  Its actually better than fine, its really rather nice and it has made our country kinder and more tolerant as a result.  So I don’t want our church experience in New Zealand to be contaminated by Utah politics fought out in a climate of nauseating conservatism.  It doesn’t fit here. “

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