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“The Same Tired Arguments”: Paul Ryan’s Proposed War On Poverty Is Hobbled By Conservative Ideology

On Monday, House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan gave a brief address on poverty and economic mobility at the Brookings Institute. His goal? To present the GOP as a party committed to alleviating poverty. And he gestured toward ideas—straightforward cash payments and an end to means-testing—that would sit well with liberals.

But his rhetoric revealed the extent to which this concern for poverty is still bound by the right-wing, anti-government ideology that drove his budget blueprints, and continue to dominate the Republican Party.

To wit, during the question and answer session, Ryan chose to distance himself from the phrase “compassionate conservatism.” “I don’t like that term or the premise of it,” said Ryan, “Since it presumes that conservatism itself isn’t compassionate. I believe conservatism, or what I call classical liberalism, is the most compassionate form of government because it respects the individual.”

Ryan wants to present this as a kind of reform conservatism, but it’s too similar to what he’s offered before, and what we’ve seen from Republicans in the past. Indeed, like many of his predecessors, he sees existing anti-poverty programs as ineffective—despite evidence to the contrary—and the War on Poverty as a failure. “Just as government can increase opportunity, government can destroy it as well. And perhaps, there’s no better example of how government can miss the mark is LBJ’s War on Poverty.”

Why has the government missed the mark? Because it doesn’t understand that poverty is “isolation” from civil society as well as “deprivation.” To bring the poor back to their communities, Ryan wants to eliminate the “hodgepodge” of existing programs and craft a “simpler” system that provides straightforward cash transfers. He doesn’t offer any detail, but when you consider these critiques in the broader context of the GOP, it’s clear what he means: “Reforms” that would reduce spending and redirect what’s left to smaller, state-controlled programs that would be at risk of additional cuts.

Indeed, what Ryan has offered is a more attractive version of the GOP’s long-standing narrative on poverty: That it has as much to do with individual choices as it does anything else, and facilitating better choices—though marriage promotion, job training, and other programs that enhance civil society—is the core job for government.

This gets to a core divide that makes poverty a tough topic for liberals and conservatives. The former see poverty as the product of structural economic and social forces that create certain incentives and shape individual behavior. People can make bad choices, yes, but they play out differently depending on where you stand in the structure. A lazy, irresponsible rich kid can still become a stable professional, a lazy, irresponsible poor kid might find himself in jail.

Conservatives, on the other hand, are less likely to acknowledge the role of environment, and more likely to focus on choices. Yes, you can be trapped in poverty by circumstances beyond your control, but if you make the right decisions—get educated, get married, have kids—then you’re likely to escape, or at least create the conditions for your children to escape.

Speaking as a liberal, there seems to be a real limit to what the Wisconsin congressman—or any Republican—can do. An anti-poverty agenda that focuses on individual behavior and individual communities is one that can’t accommodate the fact of systemic discrimination and deep racial inequality—two realities that shape the physical and human geography of poverty.

In other words, while I think Ryan is sincere about wanting to alleviate poverty, but he’s bound by an ideology—and a party—that doesn’t want to acknowledge the role that structure plays in all of this, and remains committed to a vision of government that isn’t equipped to deal with those kind of problems.


By: Jamelle Bouie, The Daily Beast, January 14, 2014

January 18, 2014 Posted by | Paul Ryan, Poverty | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“On His Way To Irrelevance”: Ted Cruz, Suddenly The GOP’s Biggest Loser

Sen. Ted Cruz’s fearless crusade to defund what he calls Obamacare ended with a whimper not a bang Thursday, as the junior senator from Texas dropped his demand that the Senate vote on amendments to defund the Affordable Care Act before passing the $1.1 trillion spending bill.

“The majority leader and Senate Democrats have chosen not to listen to the American people,” Cruz said. The Senate voted 72-26 first to cut off debate, then to pass the bill.

Apparently Cruz’s Senate GOP colleagues spent the Thursday lunch hour begging him to drop his plan for a defund-Obamacare vote, according to the Washington Post’s Lori Montgomery. He still tried, but he didn’t try that hard.

Concerned that the freshman senator’s quick surrender might be interpreted as backing down – which it was – his office issued a statement later saying “he remains committed to keeping the conversation about Obamacare front and center as the law continues to harm more and more Americans by raising their premiums, canceling their plans and keeping them from their doctors.”

Sure. The Affordable Care Act is on its way to stability, as the number of signups continues to surge in advance of the March 1 deadline, and as people who lost coverage find better plans and/or subsidies. Ted Cruz, meanwhile, is on his way to irrelevance.

Cruz made some headlines Wednesday for picking up the right-wing staffer fired by the House Republican Study Committee (for leaking their deliberations to right-wingers in Congress). Hiring Paul Teller his deputy chief of staff was supposed to be a stick in the eye to his moderate colleagues, but nobody outside the wingnut blogosphere seemed to really care. Teller, who tried to sabotage his House GOP bosses but got caught, might be a good hire if Cruz planned to run against John Boehner for speaker, as he seemed to want to do last fall. Sadly for Cruz, he can’t do that as a senator.

His presidential hopes don’t look much more encouraging. Let’s stipulate that national 2016 polls have little predictive power in January 2014 – in fact, they’re rarely predictive later in the cycle, because the primary and caucus delegate count is the only poll that matters. Still, they tell us something about each potential candidate’s national appeal. And Cruz’s is diminishing.

Just a month ago, he was tied for fourth place in the NBC/Marist Poll, with the support of 10 percent of those surveyed. Now he’s down to 5 percent, and way behind the top-tier candidates, in seventh place – he even trails Rick Santorum. (He came in first in a late-September Public Policy Polling survey done at the height of his government-shutdown showboating.)

Interestingly, Christie is still the GOP front-runner in the Marist Poll, although he’s slipped badly in a head-to-head matchup with Hillary Clinton – from 3 points behind just a month ago to 13 points behind now. As a journalist, the stumbles of Christie and Cruz sadden me a little bit, selfishly: It would be a lot of fun to cover them going head to head in 2016. And imagine if they teamed up as running mates: Mean and Meaner. On the other hand, as a human being, it’s a relief to see two men renowned for their self-regard and nastiness get undone by it.

There’s even bad news for Cruz in Texas, where state Sen. Wendy Davis is actually outraising Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott in advance of their 2014 contest for governor. Democrats are more than ready to make Texas a blue state again, and it may not happen in 2014, but it could by the time Cruz has to run for reelection in 2018.

Ted Cruz may still run for president, but in reality, he’s mainly in the running to become Jim DeMint, the former senator and current Heritage Foundation head – a right-wing firebrand who makes enemies out of even some ideological friends, establishes no Senate legislative legacy, and moves on to a lucrative, flattering wingnut welfare sinecure.

They’re buddies now, but DeMint might want to watch his back. Cruz is smarter than he is, and makes sure everyone knows it. He’d run a crackerjack think tank, making sure to hire nobody from the “minor” Ivies.


By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, January 17, 2014

January 18, 2014 Posted by | Politics, Ted Cruz | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Data Is Digital Gold”: Beyond The NSA, What About Big Data Abuse By Corporations, Politicians?

Taking steps to end, or at the very least to constrain, the federal government’s practice of storing information on the personal communications of Americans is a good thing. There is every reason to respect initiatives that seek to prevent the National Security Agency’s metadata programs from making a mockery of the right to privacy outlined in the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution.

But the moves that President Obama announced Friday to impose more judicial oversight on federal authorities who might “listen to your private phone calls, or read your emails” and the steps that may be taken by Attorney General Eric Holder and intelligence officials to check and balance the NSA following the submission of proposals on March 28 ought not be seen mistaken for a restoration of privacy rights in America.

What the president and his aides are talking about—in response to revelations by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, congressional objections and public protests – are plans to place some controls on the NSA and perhaps to keep most data in “private hands.”

But what controls will there be on those private hands?

As long as we’re opening a discussion about data mining, might we consider the fact that it’s not just the government that’s paying attention to our communications—and to what they can reveal about our personalities, lifestyles, values, spending habits and political choices.

There’s a reason the NSA has been interested in accessing the servers of Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube and Apple. When you’re mining, you go where the precious resources are, and technology companies have got the gold.

Data is digital gold. Corporations know that. They’re big into data mining.

This data mining, and the commercial and political applications that extend from it, gets far less attention than the machinations of the NSA or other governmental intelligence agencies. Tech publications and savvy writers such as Jaron Lanier recognize these concerns. The Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Communications Commission and the Senate Commerce Committee have taken some tentative steps to address a few of the worst abuses. But that’s not enough, especially when, as Fordham University’s Alice E. Marwick noted in a smart recent piece for The New York Review of Books,

there are equally troubling and equally opaque systems run by advertising, marketing, and data-mining firms that are far less known. Using techniques ranging from supermarket loyalty cards to targeted advertising on Facebook, private companies systematically collect very personal information, from who you are, to what you do, to what you buy. Data about your online and offline behavior are combined, analyzed, and sold to marketers, corporations, governments, and even criminals. The scope of this collection, aggregation, and brokering of information is similar to, if not larger than, that of the NSA, yet it is almost entirely unregulated and many of the activities of data-mining and digital marketing firms are not publicly known at all.

Significantly, it is not just financial profit that data can yield.

As Robert W. McChesney and I note in Dollarocracy: How the Money-and-Media Election Complex is Destroying America (Nation Books), data is also mined by those who seek power.

Political candidates, political parties, Super PACs and dark-money groups are among the most ambitious data miners around. They use data to supercharge their fund-raising, to target multimillion-dollar ad buys and to stir passions and fears at election time.

Both parties do it. All major candidates do it. Obama did it better than Romney in 2012, and that played a critical role in providing the president with the resources and the strategies that allowed him to easily defeat a well-funded and aggressive challenger. The Grand Old Party’s response was to begin hiring the best and the brightest technical talent. A recent headline announced: “Republican National Committee to Build Platform to Share Voter Data.” Another reported: “RNC Pledges $20 Million to Build Data-Sharing Operation.”

So campaigns are going to do more mining. And so are the billionaires who fund so-called “independent” political operations. Last spring, Politico announced: “Karl Rove, Koch Brothers Lead Charge to Control Republican Data.”

Data already drives the money-and-media election complex that is rapidly remaking American democracy into an American dollarocracy, where election campaigns are long on technical savvy but short, very short, on vision.

So, give the president credit for wading into the debate about how the government uses and abuses phone data. Give key members of Congress, like Jerry Nadler, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, credit for pointing out that what the president has proposed is “not enough” to “safeguard against indiscriminate, bulk surveillance of everyday Americans.”

But then go the next step. Recognize that addressing governmental actions and abuses does not begin to restore privacy rights. For that to happen, there must be recognition that Marwick is right to argue: “While closer scrutiny of the NSA is necessary and needed, we must apply equal pressure to private corporations to ensure that seemingly harmless targeted mail campaigns and advertisements do not give way to insidious and dangerous violations of personal privacy.”

And that recognition must extend beyond concern regarding abusive commercial applications to include an examination of and responses to new approaches to fund-raising and campaigning that have the potential to warp our politics—and democracy itself.


By: John Nichols, The Nation, January 17, 2014

January 18, 2014 Posted by | Cybersecurity, National Security Agency | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“An ‘Impermissible Attempt’ To Coerce Women”: Federal Court Permanently Blocks North Carolina’s Narrated Ultrasound Law

A federal court on Friday permanently blocked a North Carolina law requiring women to undergo coercive counseling and a narrated ultrasound prior to obtaining an abortion. The judge permanently enjoined the unconstitutional law, ruling that “the Act requires providers to deliver the state’s message to women who take steps not to hear it and to women who will be harmed by receiving it with no legitimate purpose.”

United States District Court Judge Catherine Eagles called the law “an impermissible attempt to compel these providers to deliver the state’s message in favor of childbirth and against abortion.”

The decision is a clear victory for doctors and women in the state, and a strong indictment of similar laws intended to pressure or shame women out of accessing basic medical care.

Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, celebrated the ruling in a statement. “Today’s ruling marks a major victory for North Carolina women and sends a message to lawmakers across the country:  it is unconstitutional for politicians to interfere in a woman’s personal medical decisions,” she said. “This dangerous law would have required abortion providers to perform an ultrasound and place the image in the woman’s line of sight — even if she asks not to view it.  The provider would then be required to describe the image in detail — even over the woman’s objection.  It made no exceptions for women under any circumstances, including cases of rape, incest, or those who receive a tragic diagnosis during pregnancy.”

The North Carolina law was a clear overstep, but as Salon has previously noted, forced ultrasound laws do virtually nothing to influence women’s choices, making them little more than intentionally punitive policies intended to shame women for making sound medical choices.


By: Katie McDonough, Salon, January 17, 2014

January 18, 2014 Posted by | Abortion, Reproductive Rights | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Lives In The Balance”: Smoking Guns, The Deafening Silence Of The Assault Weapons Makers

When I hear about another military-style assault-weapon tragedy, I can’t help thinking about cigarettes.

It’s faded a bit into history now, but it was roughly 20 years ago that the heads of seven major tobacco companies were called before Congress to testify in hearings about regulating their products.

History was made when, one by one, they testified under oath that they, personally, did not believe nicotine is addictive – even though their scientists had generated box cars of data showing that creating addiction was precisely the point. One by one, the CEOs willfully deceived Congress in a roll call of commercial infamy: Philip Morris, RJ Reynolds, U.S. Tobacco, Lorillard, Liggett, Brown and Williamson, American Tobacco.

By the time the hearings were over, the CEOs were being called “The Seven Dwarfs.”

So, from cigarettes to guns: Where is that public debate with the makers of hollow point bullets, high capacity magazines, and weapons designed to harm and kill human beings as quickly as possible?

(By the way, if you want to wade into these waters, keep your facts straight. A fully automatic weapon fires bullets as long as you hold down the trigger. They’re not illegal, but they are highly regulated.  A semiautomatic weapon fires as fast as you can pull the trigger. You can get one at Walmart. There is no technical definition of assault weapon, but it generally refers to both automatic and semiautomatic rifles.  In fact, the very complexity of the 1994 federal assault weapons ban riddled it with so many exceptions that it proved largely ineffective.)

I’ve posed that question of the cigarette maker-gun maker connection in various forums, and I get some interesting, angry, and often logic- twisting responses.

Among my favorites:

– You can’t compare cigarettes and assault weapons. Cigarettes harm and kill a lot more people. Accountability for these two product-related deaths tolls, then, is a matter of degree.

– Why not regulate blunt instruments? More people are killed by hammers each year than by guns – including assault weapons. The fact is: if you torture the data long enough you can make it confess to anything.  And there is no doubt that there is a cottage industry on both sides in making statistics fit arguments.

But missing in those arguments: of all the implements used to kill people — knives, fists or a handy vase – only guns are created to do exactly that, and only assault weapons are manufactured expressly to do that as quickly as possible. Seriously – could Adam Lanza have dispatched 26 innocent souls in Newtown in five minutes with anything but an assault weapon?

And of course, there is the second amendment. I won’t try to imagine what was in the minds of the Founding Fathers. But I’m going to guess their thinking did not include high-capacity magazines (the ones Lanza carried held 30 bullets each) that serve up a new bullet as soon as the previous one is fired, and bullets designed to explode inside your body.

Still, as we debate statistics and parse definitions, the public is largely unaware of the companies that are making the weapons that are the subject of the debate. And that is exactly as intended.

Who can come up with the names of the top makers of semi-automatic weapons: like Bushmaster, Sig Sauer, Colt, Smith & Wesson, ArmaLite, DPMS and others?

The reason most people can’t name these companies is because of a very slick sleight of hand – executed flawlessly by NRA’s Wayne LaPierre, the gleefully belligerent face of the NRA who expertly draws attention away from the industry he represents.

LaPierre is very good at a job he is paid a lot of money to do. As long as we’re talking about his outrageous bluster, we’re not talking about the people who make a lot of money from the products he wants to keep on shelves of the local sporting goods store and laid out at gun shows.

His ability to do that is increasingly important to the industry. As hunting declines, so do rifle sales – even with periodic spikes driven by fears of gun restrictions. Long term, how do you replace that? A report from the Violence Policy Center argues that selling military-style assault rifles – re-branded as “modern sporting rifles” – to civilians has been a key part of the industry’s marketing strategy since the 1980s. Women, say gun control advocates and the industry alike, are a high marketing priority. The gun makers insist it’s for their protection. The lethal AR-15 (used in both the Aurora and Newtown killings) comes in pink. (Available now at Gun

As the debate over assault weapons rages on, the deafening silence of the gun makers reminds me of  a lyric in the Jackson Brown song – “Lives in the Balance.” “I want to know who the men in the shadows are. I want to hear somebody asking them why.”

Those who have been killed and injured by weapons made expressly for that purpose deserve no less.


By: Peggy Drexler, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Weill Medical College, Cornell University; Time Magazine, January 17, 2014

January 18, 2014 Posted by | Gun Control, Guns | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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