Thursday, March 6, 2014

Paul Ryan's Anthem

Big Ego, Small Bulk (graphic by Kat Garcia)

Paul Ryan emerged from the ancient subway tunnel of his mind this week and unleashed his latest attempt at Ayn Rand fan fiction upon the World Council of Scholars. It was a literary hissy fit, largely and blessedly ignored because of the Ukraine crisis.

At CPAC the other day, he told the bone-chilling story of a little boy inflicted with the pain of free school lunches. And all the tyke wanted was the thrill of brown-bagging a homemade meal! The subtext, of course, is that the stereotypical Single (blah) Mom on food stamps is too strung out in her hammock in Moochville to be bothered to get up and slap some peanut butter on that wholesome,white Republican bread.

Paul Ryan has perfected the art of the dog whistle. In cynically presenting his Randian Poverty Anthem to coincide with the 50th anniversary of LBJ's War on Poverty, Ryan blew his icy cold breath all over the candles, trying to poison the whole cake in the process. It took him 200 pages and a thousand fancy footwork notes to simply proclaim that one-sixth of our population is disposable. 

(In case you hadn't already guessed, his CPAC attempt at concern-trolling poor folks was also a total fake. Wonkette took the trouble of outing him for your amusement, anyway.)

As a member in good standing of the Useful Idiot Club, Ryan enjoys immunity from peer/press oversight and accountability. He represents the far right, so the centrist "New Democrats" can represent the moderate right. And then they split their differences, as they did lately with that bipartisan $9 billion in additional food stamp cuts. With Ryan around, the corporate Dems reckon they can simply run on feebly defending the safety net rather than doing the right thing and expanding it.

Cui bono? Follow the money, all the way to the deregulated hypercapitalists running this show.

By this time (if we were living in sane times) Paul Ryan should have become a laughingstock, he is such a parody of himself And since his whole agenda was always a cruel joke, that is saying something. But since it's his Party, he can cry if he wants to, expecting everybody in the political-media complex to cry right along with him. Not the poor though, without whom there would be no distasteful Poverty and no need for the anti-poverty programs that in Paul Ryan's world are only making poverty worse for the poor. At a mere 204 pages long, his War on Poverty:50 Years Later is reportedly only a precursor, a mere novella,of the much more explicitly Galtean blockbuster expected out later this publishing season. The real drama-- boldly slashing Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and food stamps -- is yet to come.

It took Paul Ryan (or an unpaid intern) 204 pages to cherry-pick from various economic reports and academic papers to arrive at the conclusion that although some government programs help needy people, the statistics are so confusing, and the road out of poverty so deceitfully web-like, that we just can never know for sure. So let's blast the whole thing to smithereens and have a debate.

The reviews are in, and as unsurprisingly usual, they are mixed. The New York Times editorial board passive-aggressively called Paul Ryan's Anthem fan-fic "small and tired."
It's easy to find flaws or waste in any government program, but the proper response is to fix those flaws, not throw entire programs away as Mr. Ryan and his party have repeatedly proposed. It might be possible, for example, to consolidate some of the 20 different low-income housing programs identified in the report, but Congressional Democrats have no reason to negotiate with a party that fundamentally doesn’t believe government should play a significant role in reducing poverty.
Um... the Democrats have not yet gotten that message, judging from their recent compromise with Paul Ryan on those food stamp cuts and throwing another three million long-term jobless people into the gutter, just so they can use them for props in their re-election bids.

Paul Krugman, widely acknowledged as the first expert to call Ryan out on his honesty problem, is similarly unimpressed with his latest potboiler:
I took Paul Ryan’s measure almost four years ago, back when everyone in Washington was determined to see him as the Serious, Honest Conservative they knew had to exist somewhere. Everything we’ve seen of him since then has confirmed that initial judgment. When you see a big report from Ryan, you shouldn’t ask “Is this a con job?” but instead skip right to “Where’s the con?”
Krugman notes that Ryan's literary style has changed somewhat with his latest flim-flam, because this time around he uses actual footnotes instead of simply spewing undocumented assertions. Of course, the con involves the research papers being cherry-picked at best, irrelevant at slightly better, and totally mispresented at worst. He's counting on folks not reading the footnotes. But unfortunately for Ryan, some people are having the chutzpah to not only read the footnotes but unsportingly notice the disconnect from reality.

Despite it all, Paul Ryan still has his legions of fans. Take The Washington Post, still grieving over the temporary shelving of a Grand Bargain of safety net cuts in Obama's own politically expedient campaign year version of a budget. In a report presented as a straight news article rather than an editorial, Robert Costa apparently found the task of actually reading Ryan's footnotes too onerous (or too scary to contemplate):
Ryan and his aides are unsparing in how they take the hammer to current federal policies. On page after page, the report casts a critical eye on how the government administers money to the poor and related bureaucracies, using a bevy of academic literature and federal studies as evidence.
Ryan said the crux of the report is the conclusion that federal programs need to be entirely reimagined, with more than tweaks or axed appropriations, and that legislation this year should move toward broader solutions that solve what he thinks are structural weaknesses in how the government supports the poor.
Costa is unsparing in his wholesale swallowing of Ryan's specious claims. Take, for example, this terse encapsulation of Caligula Caucus talking points:
According to the report, Head Start, a federal program for early-childhood education and nutrition, is “failing to prepare children for school,” and “a consolidated, well-funded system would be better.”
Medicaid, which provides health coverage to low-income families, is the object of a sharply worded review. “Medicaid coverage has little effect on patients’ health,” the report says, adding that it imposes an “implicit tax on beneficiaries,” “crowds out private insurance” and “increases the likelihood of receiving welfare benefits.”
The report also suggests that the “breakdown” of the family is one of the main reasons that poverty afflicts so many Americans.
“Perhaps the single most important determinant of poverty is family structure,” the report says. “Poverty is most concentrated among broken families.”
Costa didn't even have to look at the planted footnotes to notice the inherent "bevy" of inconsistencies  in Ryan's own report. Headstart is federally funded and therefore does not prepare children for school. So, says Ryan, let's federally fund it and prepare children for school! Also, Headstart does not prepare children for the labor force. Then again, it offers significant incentives for kids to grow up and join the work force!

If they ever decide to award a Pulitzer for "best synergy in a political novel" Paul Ryan will be the hands-down favorite.

 Ryan naturally failed to mention income disparity as a driving force in rising poverty levels, preferring instead to blame the victim instead of the predator -- especially those repugnant "broken families."  But, as Sharon Parrott of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities writes,
The poverty story over the last half-century in the United States is mixed for several reasons.  A much stronger safety net along with factors such as rising education levels, higher employment among women, and smaller families helped push poverty down.  At the same time, rising numbers of single-parent families, growing income inequality, and worsening labor market prospects for less-skilled workers have pushed in the other direction.
Today’s safety net — which includes important programs and improvements both from the Johnson era and thereafter — cuts poverty nearly in half. In 2012, it kept 41 million people, including 9 million children, out of poverty, according to the Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM).  If government benefits are excluded, today’s poverty rate would be 29 percent under the SPM; with those benefits, the rate is 16 percent.  Most analysts view the SPM as a better poverty measure than the “official” measure because it’s more comprehensive.  The SPM counts not only cash income but, unlike the official measure, also non-cash and tax-based benefits, such as SNAP (food stamps), the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), and rental vouchers.  Also unlike the official measure, it accounts for income and payroll taxes paid, out-of-pocket medical expenses, and child care expenses, and it adjusts the poverty line to reflect geographic differences in living costs.
Even with the remedies of the increasingly endangered New Deal and Great Society programs, the United States ranks low on the global social welfare scale. As Sharon Parrott notes, nearly 50 million Americans, or at least one-sixth of the population, are now living below the poverty line in the richest country on earth. Of those, nearly 50 percent live below half the poverty line. In other words, they are downright destitute. Six out of every 10 children live in families that experience at least one financial crisis a year. According to Paul Ryan and his ilk, these children and their families are trapped in a "culture of dependency."

So how does a serial prevaricator like Ryan even survive on the national stage, let alone handily win re-election over and over again in his own financially strapped Wisconsin district?

In a nutshell, he is the Very Useful Idiot (cousin of Krugman's Very Serious Person) of the Congressional leadership and keeper of the status quo. Take away the footnotes, and his poverty manifesto is Social Darwinism presented in pulp fiction style.

Of course, his propaganda serves the purpose of making the president's own neoliberal budget look downright progressive in comparison, what with those earned income tax incentives for poor single workers balanced against means-testing Medicare recipients and reducing the benefits of disabled unemployed people. President Obama may not be calling for an expansion of Social Security, a tax on Wall Street trades, a rescinding of the sadistic bipartisan cuts to the food stamp program, but by golly, his less-cruel proposals sure do beat the swift death that Paul the Hammock Man is prescribing!

Back in his home district of Racine, Ryan's approval rating has now slipped below the 50% mark, and his one-time Democratic opponent is vowing to challenge Golden Boy once again. Ron Zerban lost the race by a slimmer margin than predicted in 2012, despite the best defunding efforts of the DCCC. 

(Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee)

As Down With Tyranny reports, the DCCC actively protects Republicans like Paul Ryan, John Boehner, and Eric Cantor who enjoy House Leadership positions by deliberately withholding campaign cash from any potential "progressive" challengers. Rep. Steve Israel (New D-NY) was appointed by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi as campaign bagman for the party because he possesses the "sufficient reptilian tendencies" to make sure that only the right corporate Dems get elected. Gaius Publius of Americablog has more on the machinations.
Paul Ryan survives precisely because of the rampant complicity of all (the media political complex)  concerned.

But who knows? Maybe all those Lonesome Rhodes moments will eventually catch up with him. The $350 bottles of wine, the serial begging for funds from the very programs he pretends to oppose.

And maybe, just maybe, the serial bipartisan hypocrisy and corruption will eventually catch up with the whole lot of them. All we can do is keep shining a light.


Fred Drumlevitch said...

I've said it before and I'll say it again --- perhaps not specifically about Paul Ryan, but about his ilk --- the reason that such people convey to some (such as the dittoheads and lazy reporters) an aura of knowledge and credibility is to a large extent due to the 1) cooptation of the Democratic Party, 2) the failure of true liberals and progressives to a) properly make the case for expansive social programs, yet at the same time b) do their very best to make them operate efficiently. (A corollary of the two above points is that if both have been done, the occasional failings of such programs would not --- could not --- be the effective "red meat" that they have been to the right wing.

Even private enterprise periodically fails, companies put out products that not only don't score home runs, they sometimes don't even rate as a base hit. Sometimes they fail spectacularly. Sometimes those spectacular failures are due not to just miscalculation of the market, not to just incidental imprudence, but rather, to a fundamental attitude that rationalizes plunder of the people and the nation, as was the case with the banksters. Yet I never hear the right wingers advocating that private enterprise should be starved and drowned in the bathtub, as they have with regard to government.

Pearl said...


I have a feeling that if the Democrats didn't have such an unacceptable opposition to complain about, they might have to focus on the failings of
their leaders. They jump to attention to react to the latest Republican pronouncements by
protecting Obama. Just read Blow's current column, trying to emphasis
Obama's good points and ncouraging the kind of response from readers whoare only too anxious to have a specific obvious enemy to blame everything on. I didn't even bother to formulate a comment to him this time.

The Democrats are losing voters as a result and even if there is no increase in Republican support in the Congressional elections looming, by default we
will probably get a stronger right wing Congress. The ignorance of the Democratic advisors who influence Obama since he can't figure things out for himself is equal to that of the opposition. Just watch them in action on
this Russian-Ukrainian crisis. No one has an inkling of the history or current complications of this situation and the more I read articles by knowledgeable people (like the ones in Truthdig Karen listed next to her column) the more do I recognize the impossibility of any permanent fruitful
outcome. I almost feel sorry for Putin. All he needs at this point is advice from the leader of the United States who can't make any headway in resolving problems
among his own people.

So we must continue to write, speak and learn because one day things could turn on a dime and allow an opening for beginning change. But history is not
encouraging in this capacity. I appreciate all the terrific comments from our Sardonicky gang which result from deep and truthful thinking, inspired
by Karen's great columns. It keeps me balanced.

Fred Drumlevitch said...

Yes, @Pearl, the Ukrainian situation is a mess, all sorts of ulterior motives abound (as @Jay - Ottawa wrote: "'I have a dream,' said the CEO of Exxon-Mobil."), and the U.S. mass media coverage is on the same low level as popular knowledge of history. I've been too busy this past week to properly follow it, via either the agenda-biased mass media or more objective internet sources — but I should, as my maternal grandmother was Ukrainian and my maternal grandfather was Galician. (

So the USSR previously gave the Crimea to Ukraine but now Russia will seize/"plebiscite" it back.

Isn't a gift supposed to be undo-able?! (But as @James Traynor recently commented, the Russians probably never envisioned the dissolution of the Soviet Empire. (For that matter, most inhabitants of the Roman Empire, of the British Empire, or the U.S. one didn't/don't envision dissolution either.))

Points that I haven't yet seen made in the U.S. press — omissions not surprising given historical U.S. efforts towards land grabs and hegemony — involve 1) the value of nuclear deterrence, and 2) the reliability of agreements with empire.

From Wikipedia: "After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Ukraine inherited a 780,000-man military force on its territory, equipped with the third-largest nuclear weapons arsenal in the world. In May 1992, Ukraine signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) in which the country agreed to give up all nuclear weapons to Russia for disposal and to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as a non-nuclear weapon state. Ukraine ratified the treaty in 1994, and by 1996 the country became free of nuclear weapons."

At the risk of promoting strong disagreement from the more pacifist portion of the Sardonicky readership (and with full awareness of this column:, I'm going to assert that Ukraine would now be better off — and more likely currently unoccupied — had it retained those weapons as deterrence against what has come to pass. And an important corollary is that when people wonder why North Korea and Iran might want a nuclear deterrent, they need look no further than the Russian move into the Crimea, or any on the list of countries not at war with the U.S. yet bald-facedly invaded in recent decades by the U.S. government — Iraq, Panama, Grenada...

One of the most important bottom lines — perhaps second only to the ease with which revolutions are co-opted — is that a treaty with an empire, or an aspiring empire, on matters of territory or sovereignty isn't worth the paper it's printed on. The Ukrainians now know that — just as Native Americans in the U.S. have themselves long known.

Zee said...


Welfare (and corporate) waste and fraud, Part I

You raise a couple of points which, I think, deserve some elaboration from a conservative perspective.

First, you say that “... I never hear the right wingers advocating that private enterprise should be starved and drowned in the bathtub, as they have with regard to government.”

That's certainly true if you listen only to the likes of Grover Norquist and his fellow travelers—of both parties—in Congress and the presidential administration.

I think that if you were listening to the downtrodden conservatives whom Thomas Frank takes to task in What's the Matter With Kansas? for not voting their “best economic interests” you might have heard a different story in, say, 2007-2008. Certainly the story would have been different coming from me or my conservative friends, who fall in the middle- to upper-middle class economic stratum.

“Save Goldman Sachs and Bear Stearns? Bail out GM? Hell no! Let 'em go under, we say! Just like those same banks/businesses would forclose on us if we fall behind on our farm/home/car payments. Business is, after all, just that: business.”

Those who approved of, and engineered those bailouts were NOT the 99%, but the servants of the 1% in the federal halls and offices of power. It is a mistake to conflate the conservative “grunts” at the bottom with the faux conservative “elites” at the top of the food chain. Even if the former—including myself—are often manipulated by the latter on social issues, à la “What's the Matter with Kansas?”

Second, you are, of course, on to something when you suggest that if federal assistance programs were better run, they would offer less “red meat” for criticism to conservative opponents, perhaps making expansion of such programs more palatable to some conservatives.

Liberals have generally dismissed...say, food stamp both inevitable and minor in occurrence. According to a recent New York Times article, it amounts to only 4.07% of the (then) $79.8B spent on the food stamp program, or a piddling—say liberals—$3.2B.

(According to the Paper of Record, not all of the 4.07% is fraud, per se, but also includes “erroneous payments to recipients because of errors on the part of the government or outright lying on applications.” Which, not to put too fine a point on it, still sounds like government bungling and fraud to me. But what do I know?)

Chump change for the Federal government, right? What's this big fuss about such little welfare fraud?

(To be continued...)

Zee said...

Welfare (and corporate) waste and fraud (cont'd.)

Well, just as I have been unable to persuade some of your fellow Progressives that many of us conservatives own guns because that's just the way we are, so I will probably be unable to persuade Progressives that an innate sense of outrage among conservatives at being played for a sucker is also just the way we are.

So rather than fighting human nature—because that's what it is—it might be better strategically for Progressives to just deal with it ( i.e., meet us halfway) rather than expressing moral outrage at our antediluvian outlook. Diversity is supposed to be a good, yes?

The better that the programs are run, the less welfare waste and fraud there would be, and the less would be conservative opposition to such programs.

And the greater the punishment for stealing from government welfare programs—which really is stealing from widows and orphans—the happier conservatives would be, too.

The guy in the NYT article who stole $4.6M from the food stamp program received a piddly 3 years in the slammer for his crime. How many people could have been fed for $4.6M? (Admittedly, the guy was 77 years old. Given that he might well die in prison even with “only” three years' time, perhaps justice is served in this instance.)

I say, empty the prisons of non-violent drug offenders and start to fill them up again with food stamp, Medicare and Medicaid fraudsters* serving real sentences for stealing from the public good.

But that's just me.

Returning to that $3.2B in “liberal chump change,” well, perhaps this will show it from a slightly different perspective: The annual operating budget for the State of Delaware is “only” $3.8B. And that $3.2B is half or more of another seven states' budgets, including my own poor state of New Mexico at $5.9B.

We sure could use the dough.


*That same NYT article puts Medicare and Medicaid fraud at a whopping 10%.

Zee said...


On the topic of nuclear deterrence, well, you're quite correct. Look at the new respect (or fear) that we accord to North Korea after only a couple of nuclear fizzles.

And the dread that we feel at the very thought of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons is also telling of the deterrent power of nukes.

Would Ukraine had used 'em if they still had 'em? Would NATO respond with force over the concern that Russian-controlled nukes once again bordered Europe?

Who know?

Happily, we're not likely to have to worry about the prospect any more.

And unless the Ukrainians had the infrastructure to "support" a nuclear deterrent--i.e. laboratory testing and analytical capabilities to evaluate weapon "aging," assembly and dismantlement facilities, and design and remanufacturing capabilities to replace degraded components, well, in the long run they would be better off without the nukes.

As the U.S. and Russia can both attest, these are fiscally draining requirements needed to support a safe and reliable nuclear deterrent which, hopefully, will never be used.

Pearl said...

Interesting commentary from the Christian Science Monitor

> Russia and the West are both being played by Ukraine's political elites