Volume 3.4 (Jan 20-26, 2014)

Picks of the Week— So Money: An Oral History of Swingers (Alex French and Howie Kahn, Grantland)– Finally, one of my favorite movies of all time gets the treatment it deserves.

Before King Was Pacifist (Mark and Paul Engler, In These Times)– “To not merely adopt pacifism as a personal philosophy, but rather to stake your career and your organization’s future on a belief in the power of nonviolence as a political force, requires tremendous determination. It took years of deliberation and delay for Martin Luther King to take such a step. But when he finally did, the result was decisive: King went from being someone who had been repeatedly swept up in the saga of civil rights—a reluctant protagonist in the battle against American apartheid—to being a shaper of history.”

The Safety Net

Fixing Disability Courts (D. Randall Frye, NYT)– “The system needs to be made more trustworthy and fully transparent. The actions of a few crooks must not be allowed to threaten the disability payments of millions of people who are genuinely disabled, many of whom paid into the disability insurance fund during their working lives. An adversarial system with both sides represented and all evidence on the table is the best way to root out fraud and ensure that legitimate claims are paid.”

Law’s Expanded Medicaid Coverage Brings a Surge in Sign-Ups (Sabrina Tavernise, NYT)– “So when a blue slip of paper arrived in the mail this month with a new Medicaid number on it — part of the expanded coverage offered under the Affordable Care Act — Ms. Mills said she felt as if she could breathe again for the first time in years. ‘The heavy thing that was pressing on me is gone,’ she said.  As health care coverage under the new law sputters to life, it is already having a profound effect on the lives of poor Americans.”

What happens when jobless benefits get cut? Let’s ask North Carolina. (Brad Plumer, Wonkblog)— “First, some people who saw their jobless benefits lapse may well have found jobs — perhaps they decided to take a lower-paying gig than they otherwise would have, out of desperation. But a greater number of workers appeared to have simply given up looking altogether, possibly because jobs are still extremely difficult to come by, and they no longer have to keep searching to qualify for benefits.”

The Big Picture

A surprising map of where it is hardest to escape poverty in America (Ezra Klein, Wonkblog)

Why Paid Sick Leave is Good for Business (David Sirota, In These Times)– “For all the pro-family rhetoric that dominates America’s political discourse, U.S. law remains decidedly anti-family—at least in comparison to peer countries. This is the world’s only industrialized nation that does not require employers to provide any paid vacation days. It is the only industrialized nation that does not require employers to provide paid maternity leave. And it is the only industrialized nation that does not mandate paid sick days. That’s American exceptionalism at its worst.”

The Undeserving Rich (Paul Krugman, NYT)– “The story goes like this: America’s affluent are affluent because they made the right lifestyle choices. They got themselves good educations, they got and stayed married, and so on. Basically, affluence is a reward for adhering to the Victorian virtues.  What’s wrong with this story? Even on its own terms, it postulates opportunities that don’t exist. For example, how are children of the poor, or even the working class, supposed to get a good education in an era of declining support for and sharply rising tuition at public universities? Even social indicators like family stability are, to an important extent, economic phenomena: nothing takes a toll on family values like lack of employment opportunities.”

Raising the Minimum is the Bare Minimum (Harold Meyerson, The American Prospect)– “We could begin by shifting the tax burden from labor to capital—after all, income in America has long been shifted from labor to capital.  We could abolish the payroll tax on the first $25,000 that people make, substituting for it a higher threshold on taxable income. We could raise the tax rates on capital gains and dividends not just to the same levels as income derived from work but higher still. And we could explicitly designate some of the revenue from capital income to go to a much expanded Earned Income Tax Credit—expanded not just by making the payments more generous, but also by raising the criterion for eligibility well above the government’s poverty threshold.”

What Happens When the Poor Receive a Stipend? (Moises Velasquez-Manoff, NYT)– ” On the other hand, few parents managed high levels of nurturing while also experiencing great strain. All of which highlights an emerging theme in this science: Early-life poverty may harm, in part, by warping and eroding the bonds between children and caregivers that are important for healthy development.”

The Limits of Marriage as a Path Out of Poverty (Jared Bernstein, NYT)– “First, because changing the decades-long downward trend in marriage rates is not very realistic, and swims hard against a tide that exists for some good reasons.  Second, because policy interventions to encourage marriage have been shown to be quite ineffective against that tide.  Third, though this is not the intention of many marriage advocates, marriage advocacy can make it harder to deepen policies to support single parents.  And fourth, because it fails to recognize some of the important gains made by single mothers that push against poverty.”

Want to help the middle class? Don’t kill corporate taxes. (Juan Carlos Suarez Serrato and Owen Zidar, WaPo)

The cult of overwork (James Surowiecki, The New Yorker)– “The perplexing thing about the cult of overwork is that, as we’ve known for a while, long hours diminish both productivity and quality. Among industrial workers, overtime raises the rate of mistakes and safety mishaps; likewise, for knowledge workers fatigue and sleep-deprivation make it hard to perform at a high cognitive level.”


What Richard Sherman Taught Us About America (Isaac Saul, Huffington Post)– “But in reality, what Richard Sherman did was teach us about ourselves. He taught us that we’re still a country that isn’t ready for lower-class Americans from neighborhoods like Compton to succeed. We’re still a country that can’t decipher a person’s character. But most of all, he taught us that no matter what you overcome in your life, we’re still a country that can’t accept someone if they’re a little louder, a little prouder, or a little different from the people we surround ourselves with.”

Loud Noises (Louisa Thomas, Grantland)– “Richard Sherman makes a lot of noise, and some of the noise is football noise. But he seems like the city that he plays for — contradictory, intelligent, interesting, arrogant, and loyal. He is different. He is a teammate, and a leader and a supporter of his teammates. He’s also a pirate. I’d want to be onboard his pirate ship.”

Richard Sherman’s Best Behavior (Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Atlantic)– “There’s never been a single thing wrong with black people that the total destruction of white supremacy would not fix. ”

‘Not Everyone Wants to Hear Lee Atwater Sing the Blues’ (Andrew Hartman, US Intellectual History)– “This is not to say that we should endorse the content of 2 Live Crew, which was indeed indicative of misogyny, or of Sherman, who is perhaps an emblem of how we consume violence. Rather, we should be aware of our rampant racial hypocrisy. As Gates asked: “Is 2 Live Crew more ‘obscene’ than, say, the comic Andrew Dice Clay? Clearly, this rap group is seen as more threatening than others that are just as sexually explicit. Can this be completely unrelated to the specter of the young black male as a figure of sexual and social disruption, the very stereotypes 2 Live Crew seems determined to undermine?””

The Culture War

‘Marriage Promotion’ is a destructive cargo cult (Steve Randy Waldman, Interfluidity)– “I believe that, as a society, we should commit ourselves to creating circumstances in which the fundamentally human experience of parenthood is available to all, not barred from those we’ve left behind on our way to good schools and walkable neighborhoods. Women unlikely to marry who wish to have children by all means should. The shame is ours, not theirs. It belongs to those of us who call ourselves “elite”, who are so proud of our “achievements” that we walk away without a care from the majority of our fellow citizens and fellow humans, from people who in other circumstances, even in the not so distant past, would have been our friends and coworkers, lovers and spouses. It’s on us to join together what we have put asunder.”

Gay Marriages Confront Catholic School Rules (Michael Paulson, NYT)

The Economy

The Tipping Point (e-commerce version) (Jeff Jordan)– “The stark reality for brick-and-mortar retailers is that there currently are just too many stores. Remember, these retailers have very high levels of operating leverage, and a meaningful decline in sales can quickly render them unprofitable and eventually unviable. And $30 billion in lost sales is most definitely a meaningful decline in sales. It’s not surprising that few retailers are opening new locations, and that a large number are shuttering existing ones.The retail world is changing, and we’re seeing creative destruction play out before our eyes. And the speed at which it is happening is absolutely stunning. UPS and FedEx had better start building out their fleets, big time — these trends are only accelerating.”

Sharing and Caring (Tom Slee, Jacobin)– “The “sharing economy” has seen a rapid slide away from collaborative sharing towards further deregulated and precarious employment — the direct consequence of venture capital funding and the growth imperatives that come with that money. Such a project won’t bring us any closer to the more equitable society we want to see any time soon.”


Telling the truth on achievement gaps improves education (Arne Duncan, WaPo)

Civil Liberties

The Liberal Surveillance State (Henry, Crooked Timber)– “All this leaves Wilentz with the unenviable task of demonstrating that despite all the appearances, pushing back against the security state is an anti-liberal agenda. He accomplishes this through an intellectual sleight of hand, wherein the ‘liberal state’ of the opening sections is magically transformed into the “national security state’ that Greenwald et al. are setting out to ‘sabotage.’…This paragraph is the cornerstone of the big, teetering edifice that Wilentz is trying to construct. And it’s made out of straw and horseshit.”

The Three Leakers and What to Do About Them (David Cole, NYRB)– On Assange, Manning and Snowden


History, Memory and ‘The Act of Killing’ (Ben Alpers, US Intellectual History)– I don’t totally agree with the author’s analysis or conclusion here, but I am fascinated by this movie and have thought a lot about it.

The Online Avengers (Emily Bazelon, NYT)– “Elias felt as if he had this much figured out: Anonymous was a sharp weapon. He knew it could be misused. He had seen the self-righteousness of an op burn innocent people, and he had seen plenty of Anons and activists turn on each other, as Ash and Katherine had. But he wasn’t ready to give up the satisfaction of changing the course of events without leaving his apartment, in a place hundreds of miles away. Why set down the weapon of Anonymous if you believe you can master it?”


Dear Church, We Need Our Sabbath Day Back (Ronan James Head, By Common Consent)– “Most Sundays I really crave a Sabbath day, a day of rest. This is not a craving for a lie-in with the papers. I want to go to church but we have let it get out of control, building hour upon hour of talk upon talk as if it is some holy thing. It isn’t. I have noticed that for even the most pious of the Saints, their happiest Sunday is the Sunday they are given a guilt-free break from church: snow days, sniffly children, General Conference. Don’t say you don’t believe me. What’s that feeling you get when you wake up on General Conference Sunday and contemplate a morning in your pajamas? Happiness. Don’t lie. The angels know when you lie.”

Breaking the Airport Bookstore Barrier (Ben Park, Juvenile Instructor)

Men and Mormon Modesty Pollution (fmhLisa, Feminist Mormon Housewives)– “The thing is, when we tell people that their normal human thoughts about sex are gross and a sign of moral weakness, this does not make these thoughts go away. WE ALL have sexual thoughts. Just like we all get hungry and we all have to poop. Indeed, telling boys (as we do, like every day at church) that their normal thoughts about sex are gross and evil, is a recipe for turning developmentally normal and mild sex thoughts into crippling anxiety and obsession.”

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