by Jonah Shepp

Darlena Cunha, a mother of twins who spent 18 months on the WIC program (while working full time and paying taxes), brings some personal perspective to bear on why drug testing welfare recipients amounts to utter overkill in a welfare system that already assumes all applicants are lying:

It’s also not just a phone call and done. Women applying must be pregnant or up to six months post-partum. Children can receive services Drug Screenup to their fifth birthday, according to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Services. Once you’ve called, you have to provide proof of income for everyone in the household, proof of identity, proof of residence, proof of participation in any other program—including Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or General Assistance—immunization records for your children, pregnancy confirmation (official note from your doctor), recent height and weight measurements and a blood test for hemoglobin levels, and a WIC Referral Form from your doctor. You also have to provide documentation of any child support payments, unemployment benefits, or short-term disability money received. These requirements vary slightly from state to state, but for the most part they are consistent. …

Applying and being accepted for aid is a mentally grueling process that can stretch on for months. Add to that the humiliation of having to pee in a cup just because you can’t afford to eat.

I’ve touched on this before (and garnered some angry e-mails from readers for suggesting that Paul Ryan was on to something about how demoralizing it can be to live on welfare), but I’m always glad to see someone speak on this from a personal perspective, given how few such stories make their way into the public consciousness. I grew up on welfare in New York City in the 80s and 90s with an alcoholic single mother, so my experience in the system is very different from Cunha’s, yet I agree abundantly with the main thrust of her argument, which cannot be stressed enough: welfare is not exactly designed to make recipients feel good about themselves.

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Excessive Financial Force

Aug 20 2014 @ 1:57pm
by Dish Staff

Sarah Stillman spotlights the economics of police militarization:

[T]he economic arm of police militarization is often far less visible, and offender-funded justice is part of this sub-arsenal. The fears that [Jelani] Cobb and [Malik] Ahmed describe—court debts that lead to warrants and people who are afraid to leave their homes as a result—compound the force that can be wielded during raids or protests like those on the streets of Missouri. Debtors’ fears change their daily lives—can they go to the grocery story or drive a child to school without being detained? “It deters people who have legitimate problems from calling the police, and removes the police’s ability to do what they’re supposed to be doing—helping people in the community respond to emergencies,” [Equal Justice Under Law cofounder Alec] Karakatsanis said. It erodes the community’s trust in and coöperation with law enforcement.

Court fees are Ferguson’s second biggest source of municipal revenue. Thomas Harvey, whose “group represents low-income residents of St. Louis County in municipal court proceedings,” illustrates what this means for individuals:

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The Adaptable ISIS

Aug 20 2014 @ 1:38pm
by Dish Staff

While US airstrikes and advances by Kurdish forces have begun to reverse the gains ISIS has made in recent weeks, Joshua Keating doubts the group will be easily defeated:

Over the past few months, the group has shown remarkable flexibility in both its tactics and its targets, one of its key advantages over the national governments trying to stamp it out. If its progress against Baghdad stalls, it can turn against Erbil. If it suffers a setback in Iraq, it can simply focus its efforts on Syria (or Lebanon), where the dynamics of the ground as well as the international alliances work completely differently. If U.S. airstrikes turn the tide against it on the battlefield, it can turn back to urban warfare or suicide bombings.

In other words, a group like ISIS is perfectly positioned to exploit the hazy national boundaries, sectarian divisions, and mistrust among governments in the region where it operates. Given that those factors don’t seem to be going away anytime soon, my guess is that the Islamic State will find a way to regroup. British Prime Minister David Cameron is probably right to be warning the public of a long fight to come.

Yochi Dreazen warns that ISIS is also getting better at governing the territory it controls:

U.S. intelligence officials say the leaders of the Islamic State are adopting methods first pioneered by Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based Shiite militia, and are devoting considerable human and financial resources toward keeping essential services like electricity, water, and sewage functioning in their territory. In some areas, they even operate post offices. …

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by Dish Staff

Elizabeth’s post about sex workers as the theoretical “daughters” of those opining on the topic continues to cause a stir. Adam Ozimek argues against thinking of adults in this way, no matter the issue at hand:

Whether you’d want your kid to do something is a terrible, selfish, and self-centered way to think about policy. You hear this kind of argument when it comes to drug use too. “Do you really want your kid to be able to smoke pot?” But the laws of this country aren’t the rules of your household. Stopping your kid from smoking pot or becoming a prostitute isn’t our job, it’s yours. Quite frankly if you need the law’s help in that regard then I’m guessing you’re going to have other problems on your hands anyway.

Ozimek, perhaps spoiling for a Dish guest-blogger show-down, goes on to quote Freddie making such an argument:

On the left you hear things like this when it comes to labor standards, especially around the globe. For example, I recall Freddie deBoer once wrote of an NPR piece on labor conditions in China:

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The Ferguson Fishbowl

Aug 20 2014 @ 1:03pm
by Dish Staff

Earlier this week, Max Fisher shared his alarm at how the press have been treated in Ferguson, where at least 11 journalists have been arrested since the protests began:

This has a much deeper and more damaging effect than just suppressing media coverage. Arresting and intimidating journalists are inherently political acts, guaranteed by design to generate attention. Much as when it’s done in far-away conflict zones and authoritarian states, it’s about making a statement. It’s about demonstrating, to ordinary citizens even more than to journalists, that police believe they can exercise absolute control over the streets and anyone in them.

That police in Ferguson are targeting journalists so openly and aggressively is an appalling affront to basic media freedoms, but it is far scarier for what it suggests about how the police treat everyone else — and should tell us much about why Ferguson’s residents are so fed up. When police in Ferguson are willing to rough up and arbitrarily arrest a Washington Post reporter just for being in a McDonald’s, you have to wonder how those police treat the local citizens, who don’t have the shield of a press pass.

But Chris Hayes, who was himself threatened by a cop while reporting on the protests, nonetheless sympathizes with the police:

I think it’s a fair assessment to say police don’t really enjoy doing this job while being recorded all the time. That press freedom is beautiful is not the prevailing sentiment. In their defense, they’re in a high-stress, highly adrenalized situation. It’s dark. They’re hearing over the police radio “shots fired!” I heard that over a police radio. It turned out to be fireworks. But they’re worried they might be in danger.

Noah Rothman, meanwhile, casts aspersions on some of the media in Ferguson for essentially roleplaying:

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Foley’s British Executioner

Aug 20 2014 @ 12:44pm
by Dish Staff

The unidentified jihadist who murdered James Foley in the video released yesterday spoke fluent English with a London accent, likely placing him among the hundreds of UK citizens who have traveled to Syria or Iraq to join up with ISIS. That revelation could motivate the UK to step up its involvement in the fight against the Islamic State:

“We’ve been saying for a very long time that there are significant numbers of British nationals in Syria, increasingly in Iraq, and one of the reasons why what is going on in Syria and Iraq is a direct threat to our own national security is the presence of significant numbers of our nationals who may at some stage seek to come back to the UK with the skills, the tradecraft that they’ve learned working with these terrorist organisations, potentially posing a threat to our domestic security here in the UK,” [Foreign Secretary Philip] Hammond said.

Hammond said Britain was committed to helping the Iraqi government fight Isis and that, although the Iraqi government “has made it clear that it does not need and actually wouldn’t welcome western boots on the ground”, it did want help with surveillance and technological equipment. Asked if Britain would send soldiers to Iraq to train Iraqi forces, Hammond said this was “certainly something that we would consider”.

Josh Halliday rounds up some expert analysis of why the killer’s nationality is significant:

Prof Peter Neumann, director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation at King’s College London, said the militant was chosen to front the video to cause maximum impact in the west.

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To Be A Christian In Modern America

Aug 20 2014 @ 12:18pm
by Matthew Sitman


For awhile now I’ve been intrigued by Rod Dreher’s advocacy of the “Benedict Option” for contemporary Christians, which looks to St. Benedict, founder of a monastic order in the wake of Rome’s collapse, as inspiration for how Christians should respond to the current cultural situation. Here’s a good summary of the Benedict Option from Rod’s essay about it late last year:

Why are medieval monks relevant to our time? Because, says the moral philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre, they show that it is possible to construct “new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained” in a Dark Age—including, perhaps, an age like our own.

For MacIntyre, we too are living through a Fall of Rome-like catastrophe, one that is concealed by our liberty and prosperity. In his influential 1981 book After Virtue, MacIntyre argued that the Enlightenment’s failure to replace an expiring Christianity caused Western civilization to lose its moral coherence. Like the early medievals, we too have been cut off from our roots, and a shadow of cultural amnesia is falling across the land.

Rod goes onto describe various communities – in places like Eagle Creek, Alaska and Clear Creek Abbey, Oklahoma – living out their faith in traditional ways, largely set apart from modern American culture. In the midst of our cultural catastrophe, the Benedict Option is a way for Christians to live virtuous lives uncorrupted by what’s around them, resisting any kind of assimilation into mainstream society.

Last week Samuel Goldman argued for an alternative, the “Jeremiah Option,” drawing on the experience of the Jews exiled in Babylon, and pitched as a corrective to Dreher’s ideas:

Without being rigorously separatist, these [Benedict Option] communities do aim to be separate. Some merely avoid morally subversive cultural influences, while others seek physical distance from mainstream society in rural isolation.

But a neo-Benedictine way of life involves risks. Communal withdrawal can construct a barrier against the worst facets of modern life—the intertwined commodification of personal relationships, loss of meaningful work to bureaucratic management, and pornographic popular culture—yet it can also lead to isolation from the stimulating opposition that all traditions need to avoid stagnation.

I think those hesitations are largely right, and as a Christian, I’d add that I have to wonder what these kinds of communities do to reach out to the poor, the sick, and the lonely in the world around them. I’m not sure hunkering down is what Jesus called us to, and when, for example, a member of the Alaska community I mentioned says that “If you isolate yourself, you will become weird,” I wonder how living in a remote Alaska village is not isolation. Christians are given the Great Commission, not the Great Retreat. I’m not trying to demean the people Rod profiled, but rather express that I can’t quite understand Christianity in the same way. Jesus always seemed to wandering around, telling strange stories, mingling with the kind of people Benedict Option types might prefer to avoid.

Given the above, you won’t be surprised that I nod along when Goldman elaborates on what distinguishes the Jeremiah Option from the Benedict Option:

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ISIS Murders James Foley

Aug 20 2014 @ 11:54am
by Dish Staff

ISIS released a video yesterday purporting to show the beheading of American journalist James Foley and threatening to do the same to his colleague Steven Sotloff if the US does not immediately cease its air campaign against the militant group:

A propaganda video circulated on Tuesday showed a masked Isis fighter beheading a kneeling man dressed in an orange jumpsuit who is purported to be James Wright Foley, a photojournalist who went missing in Syria in 2012. The masked executioner spoke in English, with what sounded like a British accent, and said the slaying came in response to the air strikes ordered by President Barack Obama against Isis 12 days ago.

Isis, whose chief spokesman came under US state department sanctions on Monday, warned of further revenge – including on another man purported to be a captured US journalist, Steven Sotloff – and in the video the victim was made to read a statement blaming the US for his own murder. Foley has been missing in Syria since November 2012, where he went to report on the bloody struggle to overthrow dictator Bashar al-Assad. He was initially thought to have been captured by forces loyal to the Assad regime.

So how did he end up in the hands of ISIS? Christopher Dickey wonders:

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by Dish Staff

A reader with more than two decades of experience in law enforcement offers his perspective on police militarization:

For the record, I’m a supervisor with a medium-sized police department in Midwest who has also worked in a small town. I’ve been a patrol officer, a detective, and now a supervisor. At heart, I’m an old fashioned beat cop who enjoys walking down a main street and talking to people. I’ve never served in my department’s tactical team, nor am I a veteran.

I’ve seen a lot of changes in my career so far. One of the biggest is the nature of the threat that we face on the street. When I was in the police academy, we prepared for criminals who had cheap handguns and little training. The types of weapons that we face have changed dramatically; the police have simply evolved to meet those threats. I’ll give you a couple of examples:

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Palestinians Live What Israelis Fear

Aug 20 2014 @ 10:54am
by Freddie deBoer

Funeral of eight Palestinians from the al-Louh family in Gaza

The emails filling my box about Israel function as a remarkable document. They are a record of seemingly reasonable people who have completely lost track of basic moral reasoning. And that represents itself nowhere more consistently or powerfully than here: treating what could possibly happen to Israelis as more important than what already is happening to Palestinians. It’s such a profoundly bizarre way to think, that only this maddening issue could bring it about.

“Hamas denies Israel’s right to exist!”

Indeed– and Israel not only denies Palestine’s right to exist, it has achieved the denial of a Palestinian state in fact. What kind of broken moral calculus could cause someone to think that being told your existing state should not exist is the same as not having a state of your own?

“Israelis will become second class citizens!”

Arab Israelis already are second class citizens, and Palestinians in the territories no citizens at all. They are denied freedom of movement, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly. They are systematically discriminated against for jobs, especially in government. They lack adequate representation in government. Their leaders are kicked out of Knesset meetings for questioning the IDF. Racist, ultra-nationalist mobs marched through their streets, chanting “death to Arabs!” Their weddings to Jews are the subject of vicious protests. They live side-by-side with racist teenagers who unashamedly trumpet ethnic warfare. They must live in a society where men like Avigdor Lieberman, an explicit racist and literal fascist, serves in a position of power and prominence. Where Meir Kahane is memorialized by groups receiving state funds, where the JDL’s thugs march, where Lehava preaches against miscegenation. A society where the Deputy Speaker of the Knesset openly calls for ethnic cleansing. Palestinians live in a society where a tiny fraction of government funding is spent on their communities or their people. Where human rights organizations like B’Tselem are oppressed by the state. Where they have to endure Kafkaesque application processes to prevent their homes from being bulldozed, if they are given that opportunity at all. Where they live under fear of reactionary, fundamentalist Orthodox settlers who call for death to the Palestinian race.

“Israel is diplomatically isolated unfairly!”

Palestine is diplomatically isolated in a way Israel cannot imagine. The United States uses its veto power to unilaterally deny even the possibility of full membership status for Palestine in the United Nations. The US has used its foreign aid programs and incredible diplomatic leverage to marginalize Palestine and protect Israel. Israel enjoys the protection of the most diplomatically powerful country on earth; Palestine cannot even claw out formal recognition of its borders.

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