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Links: Middle America, phony grant writers, federal spending, and more

* The decline of Middle America and the problem of meritocracy has some observations about small towns similar to what Isaac wrote in “Blue Highways: Reflections of a Grant Writer Retracing His Steps 35 Years Later.”

* Deficit Hawk Turns Dove at Home:

Mr. Conrad’s career shows how hard it is to trim spending, even for those committed to beating down the deficit. Lawmakers from both parties routinely scramble to protect or increase funding for home-state projects. Not since 1965 has Congress approved a budget smaller than the prior year’s.

Emphasis added. Budgets have been expanding for the last 45 years, although I doubt that number is adjusted for inflation.

* Scary, yet fascinating: “A Nation of Racist Dwarfs: Kim Jong-il’s regime is even weirder and more despicable than you thought.”

* The Seattle Times says a phony grant writing scam was operating in the city.

* The Fall of the House of Kennedy links current politics to JFK’s executive order that allowed the unionization of the federal workforce.

* I’ve seldom read a more hilarious yet intellectually engaged post than Miley Cyrus and American Exceptionalism.

* “But green jobs have become the ginseng of progressive politics: a sort of broad-spectrum snake oil that cures whatever happens to ail you.” And remember that no one appears to know what precisely a green job is.

* How Nokia helped Iran “persecute and arrest” dissidents.

* “What’s a Degree Really Worth?” The answer might be “not as much as you think;” still:

Most researchers agree that college graduates, even in rough economies, generally fare better than individuals with only high-school diplomas. But just how much better is where the math gets fuzzy.

But the article doesn’t deal with a) how much different majors earn and b) what students gain outside of mere earning power, which might not translate directly into money. The first is particularly significant: hard science majors tend to make way more than liberal arts majors like me.

* More gangs use Twitter, Facebook, apparently not realizing that both services track your IP address and leave law enforcement an easy evidence trail.

(I can imagine the headline from The Onion: “Area Gang Issues Threats in 140 Characters or Less.”)

* “The Real Danger of Debt: The United States is deep in the red — and doesn’t have the political tools to get out.”

* Tony Judt on “Girls! Girls! Girls!,” which is actually about academic sexual politics a la Blue Angels and Straight Man.

* TSA arrests a student for having Arabic flash cards. Something must be very, very wrong with that institution.

* Rethinking [Dumb] Sex Offender Laws for Teenage Texting.

* Worries about drugs in “middle-class America” have persisted for decades—at least since the 1960s, as Eric Schlosser shows in Reefer Madness. Here’s the latest: “
A lethal business model targets Middle America
: Sugar cane farmers from a tiny Mexican county use savvy marketing and low prices to push black-tar heroin in the United States.”

Isaac recently finished a book named Methland that describes the spectacularly negative impact of meth on small towns in the Midwest.

* The Wall Street Journal says that “Mergers, Closings Plague Charities.” But why would nonprofits having financial difficulties during the Great Recession be surprising? Even though the Conventional Wisdom is that charities “collaborate,” in reality they compete for grants, donations, volunteers, etc. Just like businesses, some with fall or rise in the face of uncertain economic times.