Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Paul Ryan-- A Career Built On A Tissue Of Lies By And For The One Percent


I'm not sure if it was Abby Melamed or Bonnie Simmons, but one of them told me when I was working at KSAN that the reason for playlists is because on the very day that a dj got completely sick of hearing a song he had played a gazillion times... well, on that day, the audience was hearing it for the very first time. The Republicans "get" that much better than the Democrats and they repeat their mindless and simplistic talking points ad nauseum, while progressives would rather debate complex, lofty principles... that don't fit on bumper stickers. We've been writing about the danger of Paul Ryan for 4 long years. Yesterday, though, Paul Rosenberg, did a searing essay on the role of lies in Ryan's career that every DWT reader should take a look at. Like any competent look at Ryan, it starts with the premise that he's a robotic pawn of the one percent and that without an ability to manipulate a lazy media with almost no ability for critical thought he would have no career. Rosenberg writes that "Last week, in an act of profound deception, the American 'fact-checking' organisation, PolitiFact, chose a true statement as its 'Lie of the Year.'" He goes on to show how misguided PolitFact is with this assertion that "Ryan's plan 'is necessary because of the programme's soaring costs.' In fact, the problem isn't Medicare per se, it's the entire cost structure of American medicine as a whole, which is roughly twice the per capita cost of healthcare spending in other advanced countries-- even those that have 50 per cent more people aged 65+ than the US has." 
Indeed, as Thomas Ferguson and Robert Johnson explained just over a year ago, in their paper "A World Upside Down? Deficit Fantasies in the Great Recession," all of the US long-term federal debt is due to just three oligopoly sectors: the military-industrial complex (the backbone of empire, with bases all around the world and almost half the world's military spending), the medical-industrial complex (with twice the per capita costs of other systems), and the financial sector (which has recently cost trillions of dollars in lost wealth and economic activity).

All three of these are enormous cash cows for the one per cent, and equally enormous cost-centres for the 99 per cent. Without the costs imposed by lack of competition, regulation and accountability in these sectors, the US would have no long-term debt problem. We would be paying it down, rather than running it up.

This connects with yet another Paul Ryan "pants on fire" lie: that his budget plan is what it claims to be-- a deficit reduction plan. It's not. In the next decade-- the maximum time-frame in which budget projections are normally done-- the Ryan Plan produces just $55bn in deficit reduction over the next 10 years, according to an analysis from the Centre on Budget and Policy Priorities. This is because $4.2tn in tax cuts (heavily tilted toward the rich) almost entirely offsets $4.3tn in spending cuts (largely targeting low- and middle-income Americans). 

Reductions in healthcare spending from ending Medicare kick in just after that, and-- as Nobel Prize-winning economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman noted on his blog last April, "spending on everything other than healthcare and Social Security… is projected to fall in half as a share of GDP in just 10 years, and eventually to fall to levels comparable to those during the Coolidge administration-- even as the US presumably maintains a post-isolationism-level military force."

In short, the Ryan Plan is really an extreme (and extremely unrealistic) government-slashing plan. That is its goal and purpose. Calling it a deficit-reduction plan is a pants-on-fire lie, which PolitiFact would surely recognise as such, if it were actually in the fact-checking business, as it misleadingly claims to be. In sharp contrast, it should be noted, the Congressional Progressive Caucus "People's Budget" plan would balance the budget by 2022, with a $31bn surplus. But there's a bipartisan one per cent consensus to utterly ignore it, as if it did not even exist as a possibility, much less a publicly offered plan.

Instead of Ferguson and Johnson's realistic analysis of special interest waste, the bipartisan one per cent conventional wisdom in Washington is exactly the opposite: the problem is "wasteful government spending" on programmes that benefit the vast majority of the American people: Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, not to mention investments in infrastructure, education, developing green energy, etc. This basic obfuscation and inversion of the politics of public debt is best thought of not as a lie-- a discrete, isolated speech act-- but as a fraud-- a continuous, ongoing practice to deceive, which is all about misleading people with half-truths, rather than outright lying to them. After all, outright lies can attract unwanted, sharply-focused negative attention. Far better to keep things far blurrier, with half-truths that take forever to analyse and argue.

PolitiFact's "lie of the year" this year is just one more part of that fraud. Drastic cuts to Medicare are not needed. A drastic expansion, to include all Americans of all ages, would be far more cost-effective for bringing the US' healthcare costs in line with the rest of the advanced industrial world. But that's the last thing that the one per cent special interests in Washington want. They don't even want you to consider that possibility. And PolitiFact is here to help them with that, presenting broadly-shared one per cent opinions as if they were facts, and not even realising what it is doing in the process.

...If Americans cannot cast off lies that directly steal money from their own pockets, and steal their children's future from them, what chance is there confronting lies that only harm them indirectly? What chance is there with lies told in their name? With lies purportedly told in their interest? Lies told for their own benefit? What chance is there to stop being, at bottom, a people of the lie? What chance to once more become a people of the dream?

Sunday's NY Times carried a remarkable OpEd by Thomas B. Edsall, a professor of journalism at Columbia University and author of the forthcoming book The Age of Austerity: How Scarcity Will Remake American Politics. The answer to that question is in the hands of American voters-- which is why the GOP has been doing everything in their power to make it harder and harder for ordinary working people to vote at all. The one percent require handmaidens like Paul Ryan, Eric Cantor, John Boehner and Fred Upton in control of the GOP and a powerful bloc of Democrats-- your Steny Hoyers, Joe Crowleys, Ron Kinds, Heath Shulers, Rahm Emanuels-- that can neutralize progressive and populist tendencies in that party if they are to continue their utter dominance of America. "Last week," wrote Edsall, both the Washington Post and the Times published illuminating stories on the growing affluence of members of Congress. Both stories-- Peter Whoriskey’s in the Post and Eric Lichtblau’s in the Times-- demonstrate how the economic fortunes of those elected to Congress have diverged radically from those of the men and women they represent."
The articles demonstrate one of the crucial differences that separate federal elected officials from the rest of America. Members of the House and Senate are treated with inflated deference throughout their working days on Capitol Hill. They have their own police force, a research service, and a cast of thousands of subordinates and special services including doorkeepers, committee aides, private restaurants, free mailing privileges, television studios, airport parking without charge and more.

Each member of the House can hire a personal staff of 18 full-time and four part-time workers, all of whom devote their entire working lives to their bosses. Each representative controls his or her own annual budget, ranging from $1.4 million to $1.7 million depending on the distance from Washington that the member needs to travel.

...In addition to the many benefits flowing to Congress, there is another factor distorting members’ view of the country at large that gets very little attention: Washington itself.

Representatives and senators work, and in many cases live, in a city that does not reflect the makeup of the country. Instead, the city magnifies and exaggerates racial polarization.

The poor in the District of Columbia are overwhelmingly black. The city’s white population has a 6 percent poverty rate, lower than the white rate in every state, according to data compiled by the Kaiser Family Foundation. The national average is 13 percent, and the closest competitors are Connecticut and New Jersey, each of which has an 8 percent white poverty rate. The Census Bureau defines poverty for a family of four as an income of $22,314 or less.

While the scope of poverty in Washington is well documented, another recent story in the Washington Post provided some insight into just how insulated the world of the city’s well-to-do has become. Reporter J. Freedom du Lac spent the day at a wine store in the city’s prosperous, virtually all-white Cleveland Park neighborhood, not long before New Year’s Eve. The store’s clientele includes Capitol Hill staffers, political operatives, political appointees, even the odd Supreme Court justice.

Hanging out in the store, du Lac writes, opened up “a window not only into the way the city celebrates, but also into its high-flying wealth. Washington boasts some of the country’s richest neighborhoods and most affluent households, many of which thrived during the economic downturn.” The store’s warehouse manager was amazed when “this guy picked up like six cases, for $3,600. That’s a mortgage right there.” Another employee told du Lac, “There’s big tickets, all day, every day-- people spending $1,100 on one bottle. That was unheard of to me, unbelievable. But it’s common. This place attracts people with money.”

Black residents of Washington have a poverty rate of 27 percent, very close to the national average of 27.4 percent. Since the population of the city is 50.7 percent black, this translates to an estimated 83,590 blacks in poverty in the city compared to 12,560 whites in poverty in the area, a black to white ratio of 6.7 to 1. In essence, for every poor white in the city there are nearly seven African-Americans living beneath the poverty line.

In the entire United States, where blacks make up 12.6 percent of the population, the ratio is reversed. There were 19.5 million non-Hispanic whites under the poverty line and 10.9 million blacks, a black to white ratio of 1 to 1.8. In other words, in the entire country, for every poor black there are nearly two whites living under the poverty line. Nationally, according to the most recent census data, the 2010 poverty rate for non-Hispanic whites was 9.9 percent and for blacks 27.4 percent.

Members of Congress are attuned to the economic conditions in their home districts and states, but living and working in Washington for much, if not most, of their time encourages the view that poverty is a black problem.

...Nationally, as the world now knows, rising inequality has been driven by the huge income gains among the top 1 percent, and, even more so, for the top 0.1 percent.

For the average wage earner, income has declined in recent years. Median income for all households, adjusted for inflation, fell 6.4 percent from 2007 ($52,823) to 2010 ($49,445), according to the census. For white households, the drop, 5.4 percent, $57,752 to $54,620, has been less severe than the 10.1 percent decline for black households, $35,665 to $32,068 and the 7.2 percent decline for Hispanic households, $40,673 to $37,759.

In terms of wealth and assets, the recent deterioration nationally, driven by the economic collapse, has been most severe among blacks and Hispanics, although whites have certainly not been exempt.

From 2005 to 2009, the median net worth of black households fell by a brutal 53 percent, from an already low figure of $12,124 to $5,677, according to the Pew Research Center. Median Hispanic household net worth fell even more, 66 percent, from $18,359 to $6,325. White households experienced a more modest but still painful 16 percent drop, from $134,992 to $113,149.

In Washington, inequality is driven almost entirely by the differences between the wages paid to whites and blacks. In 2010, whites earned $3.08 for every $1 earned by blacks. The black-white income difference is higher in the city than it is in any of the 11 surrounding counties in Virginia and Maryland. Overall, in the entire region, whites earn an average of $1.80 for every dollar earned by blacks.

The result is that the capital of the United States has a higher level of inequality than any state in the nation. Among the nation’s cities, it has the third-highest level of inequality, behind Atlanta and New Orleans, according to three different measures used by the census.

The unrepresentative character of the city serves to reinforce conservative stereotypes: That unemployment and poverty are essentially black problems, that violent crime is committed mainly by African-Americans, and that any spending to relieve these problems or any other domestic trouble will amount to a transfer of income from whites to blacks.

To top off the corrupting and warping effects of the forces pressing on House members and senators in Washington, their sense of self-importance is magnified by the power of Congress over the local government.

Congress, in one of the most undemocratic processes in the nation, can veto legislation passed by the City Council and signed into law by the mayor; all city judges must be approved by Congress; and Congress can impose laws on the city. And of course Washington residents do not have voting representation in either the House or the Senate.

This is not just a theoretical issue. At various times since 1988, for example, Congress has enacted temporary bans against the use of locally raised taxes or fees to finance abortions in the city, and most recently, on May 4,  the House voted 251-175, with all 235 Republicans present voting yes, to make the ban permanent.

Congress has constitutional authority to exercise these powers, but it would be far less likely to do so if the city’s majority population was white rather than black. If power corrupts, in America race often leads to the corrupt exercise of power and to the denial of political autonomy.

The distortion of economic and racial reality for members of Congress living and working in Washington contributes to their tendency to view the consequences of budget cuts and austerity measures as affecting primarily individuals and families with whom they believe they have little in common. They often see or choose to see these people as separate and apart from both themselves and from the mainstream of the United States.

Welcome to Paul Ryan's crabbed little world-- a world he wants to impose on your children, whose role is serfdom or indentured servitude. It's Mitt Romney's world as well, of course. A lot needs to be done to stop that-- starting this year with replacing Ryan with Rob Zerban. You can help do that by contributing $5 or $10 to Zerban's campaign at that link.

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At 10:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

showbiz will always be showbiz.


At 8:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I say put the two little cunts in uniform and send them to Afghanistan.


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