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UNIT: Introduction: Clashing Values and Problematic Transformations of Social Life
The American Narrative: Is There One & What Is It? William H. Chafe, Daedalus, 2012
William H. Chafe shows that America has two major moral premises from the early Puritans until today: serving the public good and individual freedom. These more or less balance each other and over the long run serve us well. The current drive to undo the programs that assist the needy, including social security and Medicare, may destroy that balance if unchecked and weaken the country.
Is Facebook Making Us Lonely? Stephen Marche, The Atlantic, 2012
Marche provides an extensive analysis of loneliness and its linkage with social media. Isolation was increasing before widespread social media, but social media, which is designed to better connect us, has decreased our connections with family and close friends on average and increased our loneliness. The current epidemic of loneliness is making us mentally and physically ill and harming our society.
Re-evaluating the “Culture of Poverty" Stephen Suh and Kia Heise, The Society Pages, 2014
The “culture of poverty” thesis explains poverty in part by the culture that functions in some poor areas which encourages young people to believe and behave in ways that reinforce their poverty. The authors reject the culture of poverty thesis because they think that environmental conditions cause poverty more than culture does.
Free and Equal in Dignity and LGBT Rights, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Speech or Remarks, 2011
Hillary Clinton gave this speech on the international Human Rights Day proclaiming, as did the United Nations in 1948, that all human beings are born free and equal in human rights regardless of whether governments grant such rights. She reports on the wonderful advances minorities and women have made on these rights and then support the increasing demands of LGBT for these civil rights. She also attempts to deal with objections to LGBT rights.
UNIT: Problems of the Political Economy
Those Nutty Nullifiers, Nina Burleigh, Newsweek, 2015
Fringe ideas that were widely rejected in the past have become mainstream in some states. Conspiracy theories are widely believed and provide energy to the Tea Party and are generally approved by Republican presidential candidates. To a large extent they tie the hands of Congress.
Finding the Common Good in an Era of Dysfunctional Governance, Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein, Brookings, 2013
According to the authors, the constitution was created to give government a big role in protecting liberty and well-being. To achieve this they divided powers, involved debate, and provided oversight to minimize corruption. America has moved away from these principles and is now too divided and has become incapable of properly governing. Much has to change if the common good is to be provided by our government.
Kludgeocracy in America, Steven M. Teles, National Affairs, 2013
The author points to the complexity and incoherence of our government which makes it ineffective even when it tries to do what needs to be done. Obamacare is the latest example. It is a mess even if it has improved upon previous healthcare provisions.
Predatory Capitalism: Old Trends and New Realities, C. J. Polychroniou, Truthout, 2014
The present capitalist system is harmful to the interests of most people, dangerous to democracy, contrary to American values, and detrimental to the environment. Capitalism is expantionistic and creates greater wealth for its owners but keeps basic wages low. It is excellent for causing economic growth but also accelerates the concentration and centralization of capital and the dominance of finance capital. Add globalization and neoliberalism ideology and the result is predatory capitalism.
The Bargain at the Heart of our Economy Is Coming Apart, Barack Obama, Vital Speeches of the Day, 2014
Barack Obama points out how much Social Security, unemployment insurance, minimum wage, Medicare, Medicaid, laws supporting opportunities and civil rights, and other Great Society laws helped build the middle class. In the last 35 years, however, the social contract that supported these changes began to unravel. Businesses reduced jobs at home doing more with less and shipped jobs abroad. Workers lost power and the owners gained power which resulted in shockingly high inequality and the shrinking of opportunity for lower groups. Something must be done to reverse some of these trends and Obama offers his plans.
The Wages of Global Capitalism, Richard D. Wolff, Truthout, 2014
Capitalists in Europe, Japan, and the United States have the power over their governments to prevent them from stopping their relocation to developing countries. This greatly increases corporate profits while preventing income gains for the working class.
Nice Places Finish First: The Economic Returns of Civic Virtue, John M. Bridgeland and Alan Khazei, Washington Monthly, 2013
The authors are concerned about the substantial loss of upward social mobility in America. In the past, America lead the world in social mobility but now trails several countries. High levels of social mobility are associated with high levels of civic virtue which is working with others for the public good. Civic virtue greatly benefits society and is related to economic prosperity.
To Make Immigration More Fair and More Just, Barak Obama, Vital Speeches of the Day, 2014
Obama appeals to the historic American value of welcoming immigrants to push for an immigration policy that would deal with the important immigration issues of today. He advocates stronger efforts to prevent illegal immigration and just and compassionate policies to deal with the millions of undocumented workers in this country.
UNIT: Problems of Poverty and Inequality
Overwhelming Evidence that Half of America Is In or Near Poverty, Paul Buchheit, AlterNet, 2014
How widespread is poverty in America? Analysts disagree on the definition and extent of poverty. There are many different ways to define poverty. Some would say that America's poor are rich compared to the developing world. Others say that the official poverty rate is too low because the basket of goods on which it is based is not suited to today. Paul Buchheit argues that almost half of Americans should be considered poor. Almost half have no savings. He also observes that the safety net is a big help in lowering poverty rates.
Slow Growth and Inequality Are Political Choices. We Can Choose Otherwise, Joseph E. Stiglitz, Washington Monthly, 2014
Stiglitz observes the slow growth and high inequality in America and denies that these are dictated by unalterable conditions but are the outcomes of political choices and America can have higher growth and less inequality if we make the right choices. We can choose to redistribute downward instead of upward and still have a vibrant economy.
America's Misguided Approach to Social Welfare, Kimberly J. Morgan, Foreign Affairs, 2013
America’s social welfare system accomplishes much less than European welfare systems and costs almost as much when all relevant moneys are taken into account. A main reason is the much higher percentage of all welfare that goes to the non-poor.
Are You Racist? Chris Mooney, Mother Jones, 2015
Almost everyone is an unconscious racist. Research shows that everyone is biased favorably toward their own group and unfavorably to other groups despite desires to be otherwise. Bias even has evolutionary value. Mooney suggests some subtle ways to reduce these unconscious prejudices.
Black Pathology and the Closing of the Progressive Mind, Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Atlantic, 2014
Ta-Nehisi Coates acknowledges that the cultural argument against Blacks is still prevalent. The conservative version leaves out the role of white supremacy and is theoretically weak. The liberal version notes that structural conditions shape the Black culture which then is responsible for Black shortcomings. The structural conditions can be labeled white supremacy. Coates examines the facts and finds a strong Black culture that highly regarded family life and education when possible. Conditions have changed but white supremacy is still strong.
When Slavery Won’t Die: The Oppressive Biblical Mentality America Can’t Shake, Valerie Tarico, AlterNet, 2015
Tarico traces current racism and injustice toward blacks to “the ancient strands of brutality and inequality that are woven into the fabric of our society.” She focuses on police behavior toward blacks and explains how police behavior can be improved.
Back to the Real World: Why Feminism Should Focus Less on Culture, Katha Pollitt, The Progressive, 2015
Pollitt appreciates the feminist actions of young women but suggests that for the best results they should work harder on gaining economic equality and less on cultural issues though those issues are also important. Businesses control the most crucial rewards and many programs that facilitate work-family accords are greatly needed.
Sex Slaves on the Farm, Max Kutner, Newsweek, 2015
This is a painful article to read. The exploitation of women for brutal sex trafficking, attacks our values and feelings. Mercifully, Kutner also discusses the many programs which are trying to stop the trafficking and to save the exploited women.
Joe Biden Takes a Marriage Equality Victory Lap, Jay Michaelson, The Daily Beast, 2015
Though Biden came late to the side of LGBT he became a strong supporter of their equal rights. In this article he makes a good case for legalizing LGBT marriage.
Do Boys Face More Sexism Than Girls? Christina Hoff Sommers, Huffington Post, 2013
Christina Hoff Sommers focuses on how boys and girls are treated in school. She shows the many ways that the school experience is more unsuitable for boys than girls. It involves unsuitable structure, treatment, attitudes, incentives, judgments, and culture. It is time to improve the treatment of schoolboys without mistreating schoolgirls.
UNIT: Institutional Problems
It's the Parents, Reihan Salam, National Review, 2015
The main reason for the great inequality in America and the decline of equality of opportunity is the parents. Nurturing parents work hard to train up their children to have the education, skills, attitudes, and character that will get them ahead in life. Middle and upper class parents do a better job of this than lower class parents. Other factors play a role but none are as important as the parents.
Modest Workplace Reforms Will Strengthen Families and the Economy, Judith Warner, Washington Monthly, 2014
Work-family conflict has been linked to mental and physical health problems and to wider economic problems. The country would benefit by changes in the workplace which would benefit families. Inflexible job demands are both a personal problem and a social problem.
From Parent to Parenting: Children, Grandchildren, and Cultural Imperatives, Joseph Epstein, Commentary, 2015
A major social change in the last half century has been in the way parents raise their children as explained by Joseph Epstein based on his own experience. His parents left him alone much of the time to learn and work out things by himself or through his friends. Now parents over manage their children.
Myths and Reality About Student Debt and the Cost of Higher Education, Richard Ekman, Vital Speeches of the Day, 2013
Some myths that Richard Ekman refutes are that college costs too much and is a bad investment, student debt has increased greatly, private colleges are way too expensive, most financial aid does not go to the neediest students, and liberal arts majors do not get jobs. Some of the trends that support these myths have greatly expanded community colleges so average college costs have not risen that much in constant dollars. Many other adaptations to new economic conditions lead to surprising overall outcomes.
Fighting Back Through Resistance: Challenging the Defunding and Privatization of Public Education, Curry Malott, Truthout, 2015
According to Malott the movement to privatize the public schools and to reduce their funding should be resisted. He advocates less emphasis on high stakes testing as in No Child Left Behind and more emphasis on critical thinking and creativity.
A Thousand Years Young, Aubrey de Grey, The Futurist, 2012
How would you like to live a thousand years? Aubrey de Grey says that advances in medical and biochemical treatments can overcome the aging process and keep us young for many centuries.
Why Is Health Care So Expensive? Consumer Reports, 2014
Health care in the United States costs about twice as much as it does in the rest of the developed world and is not as good as the European systems. There is a lot that health insurance does not cover in America and drugs and doctor fees are very high.
UNIT: Crime, Violence, and Law Enforcement
The Criminality of Wall Street, William K. Tabb, Monthly Review, 2014
The great change on Wall Street is the immense growth of financial capital which went from eleven times the value of foreign exchange trading in 2005 to seventy-three times in 2009. Financial capital contributes almost nothing to the world economy but takes the majority of the profits. It is very hard to regulate and it is very exploitive.
This Man Was Sentenced to Die in Prison for Shoplifting a $159 Jacket, Ed Pilkington, AlterNet, 2013
Timothy Jackson was caught shoplifting a jacket and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. He has already served 16 years. He is used by the author to prove that the criminal justice system in many parts of the United States is too punitive. There are 3,281 people incarcerated for life in America for non-violent crimes. One was sentenced to die in prison for siphoning gas from a truck. The point of the article is that some laws and some judicial judgments are crazy but "the law is the law" so petty criminals die in prison. Change is needed.
South Carolina’s Police State, Kevin Alexander Gray, The Progressive, 2015
Gray reports that South Carolina has a police state by presenting a lot of statistics and by telling the story of the killing of Walter Scott who was unarmed and running away from patrolman Slager. Slager would have gotten away with the murder except his action was caught on video. Gray offers ten suggestions “for ending the scourge of police violence.”
Public Safety, Public Justice, Daniel Rose, Harlem Times, 2015
Rose argues that we must change our criminal justice philosophy and our punitive laws. Imprisonment rates are too high and unfair to Blacks who are imprisoned six times as much as whites. Rose advocates rehabilitation and many other reforms.
It’s Not Just about Race, It’s about Power, Matt Welch, Reason, 2015
Welch discusses the racial biases of the police that result in their unequal treatments of Blacks. His larger point, however, is the way the criminal justice system protects the police, thus giving the police the power.
“Broken Windows,” Broken Lives, and the Ruse of “Public Order” Policing, Nancy A. Heitzeg, Truthout, 2015
The theory that justifies overzealous policing and the oppression of Blacks is the “Broken Window” theory. It asserts that if the police come down hard on minor infractions then the more major crimes will decline substantially. There is some truth to it but it does not justify the brutal treatment of Blacks.
Wrongful Convictions, Radley Balko, Reason, 2011
Radley Balko shows that there are many wrongful convictions. DNA testing has cleared 268 convicted persons, but few cases can be tested by DNA. Balko makes a valiant effort to estimate the number of wrongful convictions and ends up with a 3-5 percent number for felony crimes, but in the end one can only guess. His careful explication of the criminal justice system shows the many ways that injustice can be committed and demonstrates the need for reforms.
Statement for the Record: Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community, James R. Clapper, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, 2015
Clapper presents the official assessment of worldwide terrorist threats. This report covers cyber-attacks, potential use of weapons of mass destruction, and other terrorist attacks. We must remain on the alert but this report does not suggest that the American mainland has a lot to be afraid of.
A Problem from Heaven: Why the United States Should Back Islam’s Reformation, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Foreign Affairs, 2015
America has largely misunderstood the Islamic threat. We look at it in war terms but it is a problem of ideas and our military might is not the answer. The problem is radical or fundamentalist Islam and the answer is moderate Islam. Islam needs a reformation like Christianity had and the reformation is in process. It may take time but eventually the Islamic reformation will take care of radical Islam.
Low-Tech Terrorism, Bruce Hoffman, The National Interest, 2014
This article is a rather extensive assessment of all (despite the title) current terrorist threats to America. Fortunately, terrorists have not yet acquired and successfully set off a weapon of mass destruction, though they have tried. The article extensively reviews Al Qaeda's and other terrorist groups' considerable efforts to acquire such weapons and their failure. As a result, most terrorism involves guns and bombs.
UNIT: Problems of Population, Environment, Resources, and the Future
Happy Planet, Robert Adler, New Scientist Magazine, 2014
The current state of the planet is very good and very bad. The current economic systems have lifted billions out of poverty and created great affluence and economic growth. They have also created too much CO2, cleared too much land, overfished the oceans, and reduced biodiversity. Robert Adler points out that continuing on our current path has considerable risks. We must live within nature's limits. He reviews many proposals and predictions and presents his vision of a sustainable world which he thinks could be a happy planet.
What Happens When We All Live to 100? Gregg Easterbrook, The Atlantic, 2014
Because of advances in science and technology which could slow down the aging process and because people are acting in healthier ways, it is likely that the next generation will normally live to 100. How will people adjust and what type of policies will they employ to avoid the possible adverse consequences?
GMO Scientists Could Save Us All from Hunger, If We Let Them, Tom Parrett, Newsweek, 2014
Parrett argues that we need the immense benefits of GMO crops and medical advances. The anti GMO movement can cite several major GMO mistakes but they are trying to stop badly needed progress, especially in developing countries. He spells out many of the potential benefits of GMO research.
Conservative Climate Panel Warns World Faces 'Breakdown of Food System' and More Violent Conflict, Joe Romm, Climate Progress, 2014
Joe Romm reviews the recent report of IPCC and highlights its more scary findings and implications. The IPCC report is freely available on the web. It is thorough, reliable, exhaustive, authoritative, and detailed but lifeless. Romm selects the juicier observations of the IPCC report in order to point out how challenging some of the conclusions are. If appropriate changes are not made, the future could be terrible.
The Moral Case for Designer Babies, Ronald Bailey, Reason, 2014
The issue of how much Parents should determine the characteristics of their children is a moral issue and Ronald Bailey argues for maximum options for parents. Surly they would want to prevent high susceptibility to life threatening diseases by gene replacement. How about height, strength, attractiveness, intelligence and other positive characteristics if they could be genetically engineered? Some people do not want to step into God's domain of forming people, but Bailey is not one of those people.
How Innovation Could Save the Planet, Ramaz Naam, The Futurist, 2013
Ramez Naam points first to the great progress the world's population has made in prosperity and health. Then he points to a bevy of environmental problems that the abundant production has caused and the potential crises that they may produce. Ideas, however, are the great resource expander, resource preserver, and waste reducer so ideas and innovation will lead to a wealthier and cleaner future.
Annual Report Card on Our Future, Rick Docksai, The Futurist, 2014
This article summarizes the 2013-14 report on the State of the Future by the Millennial Project. In general, living standards and health are improving despite environmental deterioration and serious problems with poor governance, political corruption, crime, and violence. Fifteen empirical indicators are examined over time for this report card.
Is a Digitally Connected World a Better Place? Dan Hesse, Cornell University, 2015
Hesse argues that the explosion of worldwide digital connections is revolutionizing the world and will have gigantic impacts in the next five years. There are some risks like cyber hacking but the gains from worldwide accessibility to near infinite information will revolutionize businesses, products, institutions, governments, education, media, cultures, behaviors, freedoms, etc.
Globalization Is Good for You! Ronald Bailey, Reason, 2015
According to Bailey there are many ways that globalization will benefit almost everyone. It will improve personal and national economies, benefit the poor, help the environment, make life healthier and longer, increase jobs, and make life better. To fight it is to retard progress.