Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Prince Of Pain

I'm retired now. All the work I do is volunteer work. And the sun never rises before I'm up and working. Before I retired I was the president of TimeWarner's Reprise Records, home of Green Day, Eric Clapton, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Depeche Mode, Wilco, Fleetwood Mac, Morrissey, Lou Reed, Frank Sinatra, Barenaked Ladies, Cher, Enya, Josh Groban, Erasure, Rickie Lee Jones, Steely Dan, Chaka Khan, and dozens of other artists. I didn't work any harder then than I do now. And before that I started my own independent record company, 415 Records, which I eventually sold to CBS.

I've written a lot about what I did before my days in the record industry. I have a whole blog devoted to my travels around the world and before I started 415 Records I was tamping around Europe, Asia and Africa for nearly seven years, right out of college. I spent time in Essaouira with Jimi Hendrix, smuggled kif out of the Rif Mountains into Spain so I could finance a trip to India, a trip that brought me to Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and every corner of India. And eventually settled down in Amsterdam to work in a meditation center. I learned more-- and more useful stuff-- on that sojourn than in my 4 years at university. That trip, in fact, eventually, led to me winding up as president of Reprise, a job that paid 7 figures. But when I washed up in San Francisco in the late '70s my net worth was barely seven dollars.

Maybe I would have found food some other way-- scavenging? a life of crime?-- but without food stamps I would never have been able to start 415 Records and launch my career in the music business. That I know for sure. I've literally paid well over a million dollars in federal income taxes since then. A pretty good investment for the federal government.

Thursday, just after it passed the House by a surprisingly narrow margin, we looked at why the American Catholic Bishops have decried Paul Ryan's heartless budget as anathema to the teachings of Jesus Christ. It's a budget premised on the kind of pain conservatives feel compelled to inflict on poor people "for their own good." In Paul Ryan's world-- a world of grubby inheritance and corporate indulgence and sell-out-- pain will forge "them" into better citizens. In Ryan's world "the social safety net represents a moral threat to Americans’ character, as well as a fiscal threat to their country’s budget."
He’s incessantly warned of luring “able-bodied people into lives of dependency and complacency” and depriving them “of their will and their incentive to make the most of their lives.” In his latest budget, he introduced his cuts to Medicaid, nutrition assistance, and other support programs for low-income Americans with a warning that the safety net “can create a powerful disincentive to get ahead.”

Included in those cuts is a massive reduction in spending on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). But the Center On Budget and Policy Priorities took a look at the employment situation of Americans who rely on the program, and the reality belies Ryan’s rhetoric:

Among households with children that include an adult who isn’t elderly or disabled, 87 percent of the households receiving SNAP in a given month include an individual who worked in the prior year or will work in the following year.

Ryan actually has an ongoing problem when it comes to honestly representing the SNAP program. Last year, he claimed it was “growing at unsustainable rates”-- a notion that fails to account for the effects of the recession, that fails to differentiate spending in raw dollars from spending as a share of the economy, and which utterly ignores the program’s projected path over the next decade.

Ryan’s budget would cut SNAP spending by $135 billion between now and 2023-- requiring either 12 to 13 million of the 44.7 million people currently on the program to be kicked off, or a reduction in benefits of $190 a month for the poorest of American families by 2019. Nor did the 1996 welfare reform law-- on which Ryan models his current budget proposals-- turn out to be the success he presents it as. In the aftermath of the Great Recession, welfare’s case load grew only 16 percent, even as the numbers of the unemployed increased by 88 percent; an utter failure to keep up with the needs of impoverished Americans.

As for the safety net as a whole, CBPP cites research from the National Bureau of Economic Research that one of every seven Americans would be poor without the safety net, but are above the poverty line because of it-- a total of over 40 million people.
But Ryan and the Republican Party do not believe in investing in the American people. They believing in protecting the gains of the wealthy few-- even though Ryan himself-- like his idol, Ayn Rand-- personally subsisted on government aid for many years when they needed it to scrape by.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Paul Ryan Launches New Budget/Austerity Plan-- Rob Zerban Launches Exploratory Committee

Yesterday, Jerry Nadler (D-NY) was one of several Democrats on the House floor raging against Ryan's extremely ideological Law of the Jungle budget-- what he referred to as "merely a repackaging of the same extreme agenda that the American people rejected last fall."
“The House Republicans’ budget would again try to end Medicare as we know it by replacing the guarantee of health coverage with a private voucher program that would reduce benefits. This throws seniors back onto the mercy of the private insurance market, while every year giving them less and less of the health benefits they have earned through a lifetime of hard work.

"The Republican budget would not only make permanent the arbitrary, across-the-board budget cuts known as ‘sequestration,’ it would go further-- making even more savage cuts to domestic programs. Critical social services like food stamps, college assistance for low-income families, Section 8 housing, home heating assistance, and Medicaid-- all would face drastic cuts. Under the Republican proposal, our transportation investments would be cut by 20% over the next 10 years, exacerbating the challenges posed by our outdated roads, bridges, and airports. The bill also completely eliminates support for PBS, NPR, AmeriCorps, and the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities.

"The Republican budget makes all of these cuts while refusing to cut a dime of military spending. What’s worse, the Republican plan actually reverses planned reductions to military spending by increasing cuts to vital social programs-- a callously unfair proposal that will have terrible consequences for millions of American families.

"To add insult to injury, the bill before us today would make sweeping, regressive changes to the tax code which would raise taxes on middle class families by up to $3,000. Millionaires, however, would actually see a tax cut that averages $245,000 a year. This is just wrong. Working families should never have to pay more just so the rich can pay less, which is just one more reason why we must defeat this bill.

"According to the Economic Policy Institute, the net effect of all of these policies would decrease GDP by 1.7%, resulting in 2 million jobs lost in 2014 alone. If budgets are truly a reflection of our values, then what does it say about the priorities of House Republicans when their budget increases health care costs for seniors, cuts 2 million jobs, and hits middle class families with a tax increase in order to subsidize another tax cut for the rich?"
And just as Ryan was introducing his toxic Austerity Agenda, Cyprus' new right-wing government was verging on the brink of social collapse for adopting their own version of the Ryan Roadmap and... better news... Ryan's 2012 opponent, Rob Zerban announced the formation of an exploratory committee. (In other words... he's running against Ryan again, hopefully, this time with the support of the DCCC, which stood in implacable opposition to anyone taking on Ryan in 2012.) Last year, even with DCCC hostility, Zerban gave Ryan the closest challenge of his Congressional career-- and shaved nearly 20 points off Ryan's average victory margin, even while Ryan was on the national news almost everyday as part of the Romney presidential ticket. It was the closest 2012 Congressional election in Wisconsin and caused Paul Ryan to lose his home ward, his home town, and his home county. Rob:
"Since the election, I have been inundated with phone calls and emails from people all over the First District urging me to come forward again to give the people of Southeast Wisconsin a viable alternative to Paul Ryan. I've been listening to people from Janesville to Racine talk about their need for jobs and economic security, good schools and fair pay, and a strong social safety net for the hardships life sometimes throws our way. The formation of this exploratory committee is simply a formalizing of that process of listening to my friends and neighbors.

"My hope is that, over the next few months, we will begin to have a conversation about what the people of the Wisconsin's First District really want: a secure future, not federal austerity."
A poll released Monday by the very pro-Republican Rasmussen bunch shows Ryan's approval rating sinking like a stone. What a difference a day makes! Last August fully half the voters had a favorable impression of Ryan and less than a third was through him. Now only 35% of likely voters said they had a favorable impression of him, while 54% said they viewed him negatively. Even Republicans-- who once thought Ryan could do no wrong and backed him with a stunning 83% approval-- are not nearly as sold on the bill of good he's peddling. Only a slim majority (52%) of Republican voters approve.

Ryan's toxic budget passed this morning 221-207. Even more interesting than every single Democrat voting NO-- even the worst right-wing shills in the party (like Kirkpatrick, Matheson, Barrow, Negrete McLeod, Schrader and McIntyre)-- is that 10 Republicans voted against it. The Republicans were a mixture of Libertarians, mainstream conservatives and insane neo-fascists who found Ryan "too moderate" (like the 2 crackpot psychopaths competing for the open Georgia Senate seat, Broun and Gingrey). Raúl Grijalva and Keith Ellison, co-chairs of the Progressive Caucus, obviously both voted against it. They issued a joint statement: "Budgets are about choices, and the Back to Work Budget chooses investing in America’s working families. The Republican Ryan budget ignores the results of the 2012 elections and protects the world’s biggest corporations at working families’ expense. The country needs jobs right now, not a budget that takes away health care and gives massive tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires."

Although Ryan's detractors include many on the lunatic fringe-- like the aforementioned lunatics from Georgia-- the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops was horrified by Ryan's jihad against the poor. Although Ryan makes a show of trying to portray himself as a good Catholic, he long ago tossed Jesus' message aside for the admittedly anti-Christian greed-and-selfishness preachings of his favorite childhood story teller, Ayn Rand. Watch:

In twin letters sent to the House and Senate, the bishops said they “support the goal of reducing future unsustainable deficits, but insist that this worthy goal be pursued in ways that protect poor and vulnerable people at home and abroad.”

The bishops blasted the Ryan budget as failing to meet certain “moral criteria” by disproportionately cutting programs like food stamps that “serve poor and vulnerable people.”

...The bishops said the revamped plan would “drastically cut” spending by $800 billion over 10 years.

“This figure is very concerning, since 70 percent of the spending in this budget category goes for programs to help poor and vulnerable people,” they wrote.

The bishops warned the Ryan budget would likely slash safety net programs likes Pell Grants, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, school lunches and the Earned Income Tax Credit, among others.

Ryan first drew the ire of the bishops last year when he said his Catholic faith helped shape his budget plan.

He said that by accelerating the debt crisis, President Obama’s policies will be more damaging to the poor. Ryan also said the USCCB doesn’t represent the views of all Catholic bishops.

The USCCB shot back, saying the officials who penned the congressional letters were elected to represent the bishops on policy matters at the national level.
After you watch Rand trying to whitewash the Robber Barons during her 1959 interview with Mike Wallace, take a look at the clip below from the History Channel:

Monday, March 11, 2013