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.

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