Squeezing the Poor for Fun

Eduardo PorterArizona, where I was born, in July became the first state to cut poor families’ access to welfare assistance to a maximum of 12 months over a lifetime. That’s a fifth of the time allowed under federal law, and means that 5,000 more people will lose their benefits by next June.

This is only the latest tightening of the screws in Arizona. Last year, about 29,000 poor families received benefits under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, 16,000 fewer than in 2005. In 2009, in the middle of the worst economic downturn since the Depression of the 1930s, benefits were cut by 20 percent.

And if Paul Ryan, the Republican lawmaker from Wisconsin who is expected to become speaker of the House, has his way, poor people in many other states can expect similar treatment in the years ahead.

—Eduardo Porter
A Strategy to Ignore Poverty

Debt Ceiling Deal and a Short Reprieve

Debt CeilingAs expected, Congress and White House Reach Tentative Budget Deal. It will “modestly increase spending over the next two years, cut some social programs, and raise the federal borrowing limit.” The last bit is the most important, because it raises the debt ceiling to a point where we don’t have to worry about it until the next president is in office. But this highlights the importance of having a Democrat in the White House. I no longer think that Republicans will act responsibly if they get total control of Washington. They’ve convinced themselves that Obama has made radical changes to the country, and they are going to push back — hard. Think they won’t repeal Obamacare?! Think again.

Of course, Paul Ryan was out this morning to claim that he was shocked — Shocked! — to find that these negotiations were going on. He said that he thought the process sticks. And that’s all fine. But we know he’s lying. He knew what was going on and he is pandering to the Freedom Caucus in the House. Ryan is very much in the “libertarian” wing of the Republican Party. His biggest concern is taking care of the rich. Causing a global economic collapse is not good for the rich.

We know that the vast majority of the House Republicans will still vote against this deal. But most of them will do it because the crazies in the party will make a big deal out of a vote that increases the debt limit. They will be said to be RINOs. It’s kind of interesting that a small number of extreme Republicans can wield the word RINO as such a weapon. After all, the vast majority of the House Republicans are not of the Freedom Caucus type. So aren’t the real RINOs the people in the Freedom Caucus? I have a term that the Freedom Caucus could use: FINO — Fascists In Name Only.

A regular conservative political party would like this deal. It has social program cuts. It gets rid of one of the mandates in Obamacare. It increases spending on the military. But this is not enough. The only thing that will make these Republicans happy is if they get exactly what they want. In this case, it is the defunding of Planned Parenthood. But it is clear that even if they got that, it would only lead to greater demands. As I’ve noted in the past, the primary Republican complaint is just that they aren’t in total control of Washington.

So we continue to manage the federal government the way a junkie manages his habit: we find a fix for today and hope that we can find a fix tomorrow. And it is a curious spectacle. If you are masochistic enough to read David Brooks or Charles Murray, you know that conservatives are convinced that people are poor because of their lack of middle class values and long term planning. That’s all a crock, of course. But the Republicans who are in charge in Washington behave exactly as this conservative stereotype: no compromises to get some of what they want; no long term planning. They are just waiting until they win the proverbial lottery and have total control so they don’t have to make any compromises.

But don’t worry: soon the American people will rise up and vote these malefactors out of office. Just kidding! There’s a far great probability that we will breech the debt ceiling than that the American people will punish the Republicans. The best we can hope for is a Democratic president in 2017.

Marco Rubio Goes Back to the Past

Marco RubioLast week was much ado about Back to the Future. I liked the original film well enough — most especially Crispin Glover. The second film was just a mess, of course. So the fact that it was the very day that they land in the future is fairly meaningless. And the whole thing makes me feel that the internet is populated with people even older than I am. But I was interested to see that media superstar Marco Rubio put out this own Back to the Future political ad. From a production standpoint, it is shockingly bad. But that isn’t the most important thing.

You need to see this video in the context of Rubio’s general message. And that’s that he is the future. Those Democrats just have old ideas, but he offers something new. And to prove it, all you have to do is ask him what his favorite hip hop band is. Would an old guy know hip hop? Would a hip hop fan be offering old ideas? No, that Hillary Clinton has old ideas because she’s old. She’s not a hip hop fan! Marco Rubio has the ideas and the policies for the future — hip hop derived ideas. Follow him into the future!

So what are those new policies that Rubio has to offer? Well, let’s start with his forward thinking policies on Cuba. We’ve had an embargo against Cuba for over 50 years. It hasn’t worked. So Rubio has a great idea: keep doing it! Nothing speaks of forward thinking like continuing the same decades long failed policy. He’s also against embryonic stem cell research, because nothing speaks to the future like limiting science in the name of making a stand for your Iron Age religious dogma. He is also against the Paycheck Fairness Act, because, hey, women’s rights is so yesterday. There’s more. Lots more.

But what really highlights Marco Rubio’s bold policies for the future is his budget plan. Josh Barro called it, Marco Rubio’s Puppies-and-Rainbows Tax Plan. That shows what nonsense it is, but actually makes it sound better than it deserves. It is a huge giveaway that blows an enormous hole in the budget. But it wouldn’t be a Republican budget if it didn’t give the vast majority of the benefits to the rich. Simon Maloy called it, Marco Rubio’s Trickle-Down Nonsense. It is yet another supply side con that claims that it will all magically work out because the “job creators” will, in their singular beneficence, create jobs and spur an economic boom.

In the video, Rubio implies that the policies of Hillary Clinton are the stuff of 1989. But his supply side hokum is quite clearly the stuff of 1980. So even if he’s right about Hillary Clinton, she still has nine years on him. Of course, Clinton’s policies are not from 1989. That was clearly during the New Democratic movement when all the left had to offer was neoliberalism. She is actually offering some new ideas on economic issues. Meanwhile, Rubio’s ideas are mostly much older than 1980. I think even then, most people would have at least given lip service to the idea that women ought to get paid the same as men for the same job. That kind of thinking — which Rubio has today — is more like 1960.

I’m really tired of hearing Rubio talk about his “new” ideas. He has no new ideas. He is a Republican — straight from central casting. Other than being of Cuban ancestry and being less than 60 years old, there is nothing that distinguishes him. He continues to remind me of the Young Republicans who majored in political science and always wore suits to prove that they were adults. If Marco Rubio had any ideas, then he wouldn’t be a Republican.

Morning Music: Amadou & Mariam

Folila - Amadou & MariamBack to Mali with us! Today, we listen to Amadou & Mariam. My boss wrote to me, “My first thought about them was that they must be the coolest people on earth — black glasses and just bobbing their head’s around and singing like they can’t see anything. Then I later read that they are blind. Makes sense!” In fact, the two did meet at Mali’s Institute for the Young Blind. They married when they were in the 20s, and are known as “The blind couple from Mali.”

Today, we are going to listen to a stripped down version of their song “Wily Kataso” off their album, Folila. I have to say, that I much prefer the album track. But I like to feature live performances if at all possible. What I don’t like here is Bagayoko’s guitar work, although he’s great at the end. Regardless, it’s the vocals that really carry it. (But I recommend clicking over the album track.)

Anniversary Post: Constantine Finds God

ConstantineOn this day in 312, Constantine had his Vision of the Cross. He was marching with his men to the Battle of the Milvian Bridge — which would lead to his total control of the Roman Empire. But before that, he looked up in the sun and saw a cross and the words, “Εν Τούτῳ Νίκα.” This roughly means, “Through this sign, conquer.” He didn’t know what it meant, but luckily Jesus came to him in a dream that night and explained it to him: follow me and you can dance on the ashen skulls of their enemies.

Now some people will say that this doesn’t seem very Christian — Prince of Peace, and all. But it shows how God used to work. You followed him and he destroyed your enemies, show you could dance on their ashen skulls. It’s kind of like Christmas: you believe in Santa and he brings you presents. How many kids would continue to believe in Santa Claus if he never delivered? Yet Christians watch as God disappoints over and over again, and to them, it is all the more proof that God is on their side. So in this case, God helped Constantine destroy Maxentius. Good for him! If God had ever done something like that for me, I’d convert too.

Of course, this was really when Christianity died. No religion ever survives this kind of power. As long as people have to choose a religion, it can still be vibrant (though it usually isn’t). But the moment that a religion is able to compel belief, it is nothing but an authoritarian dictatorship. That’s what Saint Constantine brought. Oh, and don’t forget: without his 100,000 troops, Constantine would have had his ashen skull danced upon.