The Paul Ryan interview He's awesome

Paul Ryan InterviewJust for fun we dug something out of the recycle pile. It was the recent bit where the Wisconsin State Journal talked to Congressman Paul Ryan.

We hadn’t intended to say anything about this. We have things to do — plastic bags to recycle, sew on a button, important stuff.

But then Paul Krugman reminded us on his blog of what a profoundly incompetent predictor of our economic future Mr. Ryan has been. Jiminy. Read Paul Ryan’s various doomsday predictions from the year 2009 and you’ll find his every single economic prediction turned out to be worthless. Everything. All of it. Wrong, wrong wrong.

Now getting stuff wrong should not be surprising for anyone who, like Ryan, has been in thrall to the crank economic philosophies of novelist Ayn Rand. For years, Ryan passed out Rand’s books to his Congressional staff, because he thought she was so insightful. He’d read her books in his formative years and was quite carried away, still into adulthood. And then, a few years ago, someone pointed out that Ayn Rand was an atheist!  Somehow this had eluded Ryan, but ever since, in public, he’s been downplaying his schoolboy crush.

Of course, we might not care that Mr. Ryan got his misunderstanding of macroeconomics from an eccentric novelist if he were some ordinary guy, but alas, he’s chairman of the House Ways and Means committee, so he’s in precisely the spot to do real damage.

Paul Krugman, who is, um, an “actual economist” has for years been dismissing Mr. Ryan as con man and a flim-flam man, because Ryan’s “budgets” invariably have what Krugman calls “magic asterisks” where the savings are supposed to appear but are never specifically described. What’s more these “budgets” always seem to provide tax cuts for the rich, because that’s just common sense to Ryan. When pressed, Ryan will say his budgets are not really “budgets” so much as “roadmaps”, and indeed they have never been scored by the CBO. They can’t be, because of the magic asterisks.

Nonetheless, Ryan’s efforts are always well-received by the 1% and Republican lawmakers. And, we hafta say, the Wisconsin State Journal editorial page.

Back to Krugman:

So why have so many in Washington, especially in the news media, been taken in by this flimflam? It’s not just inability to do the math, although that’s part of it. There’s also the unwillingness of self-styled centrists to face up to the realities of the modern Republican Party; they want to pretend, in the teeth of overwhelming evidence, that there are still people in the G.O.P. making sense. And last but not least, there’s deference to power — the G.O.P. is a resurgent political force, so one mustn’t point out that its intellectual heroes have no clothes.

Enter, the Wisconsin State Journal editorial board, for a sit-down interview with the Congressman Ryan. What a fruitless little affair. Ryan was treated like a politician on Meet the Press — a question is posed, the politician offers some words he’s been practicing in front of a mirror for months or years, and then the conversation moves on to the next question. It’s only meaningful to people fond of rating a politician’s acting chops.

Now, did we actually expect the fellows at the State Journal to do better than the current multi-millionaire anchorman hosting Meet the Press? No, we did not. And it didn’t happen. Wide swaths of our media fail us predictably, week in and week out, so expectations are what they deserve to be. We certainly didn’t expect the State Journal executives to joust with Ryan on the economy, for the first reason Krugman mentioned above — inability. And in truth, it would’ve been hard, because Ryan has been practicing in front of the mirror for years.

But even if questioning Ryan about economics was too hard for the State Journal executives, they could certainly have asked him about the “partisan politics” they so often decry on their editorial page. There is no trope more common in State Journal editorials than the call for bipartisan cooperation in Washington, a call that Mr. Ryan and his party never bothered to answer. Ryan and party instead raised the bar for intransigent partisanship, and all at a time (think global warming) when we really cannot afford to dither. Ryan and party cannot reliably fund Homeland Security. They cannot agree to do such obvious, and (you would think) non-controversial things as repair roads and bridges.

Surely the State Journal guys know about the now famous meeting on the night of Obama’s first inauguration. Republican leaders met at a tony D.C. steakhouse where they agreed in advance, simply as a self-serving partisan strategy, to oppose whatever Obama would seek to do. In their plan Obama would have no accomplishments to run on for a 2nd term. And whatever that meant for the American people was irrelevant. Surely the State Journal guys watched this strategy — a pure partisan strategy — play out over the next 7 years. And surely they knew that Paul Ryan was one of the small group settling on that strategy that night.

Fellas, you had him right there across the table.

The trouble with tribalism It's the humans

from last week’s Public Policy Polling:

Public Policy Polling, Feb 20-22, 2015

There’s a tendency to say to oneself, “Well, that can’t be right, can it? It can’t be that 49% of Republicans don’t believe in evolution. And, wait, 57% want a national religion???”

We saw Steve Benen go through exactly the same head-slapping when he wrote:

…results like these are discouraging. There’s plenty to divide Americans, but scientific truths need not be one of them.

 But I continue to wonder how much of this is sincere and how much of this is the result of tribalism.

 It’s certainly possible that Republicans are, all of a sudden, turning against modern biology in greater numbers, but I think it’s more likely that in a time of stark polarization, partisans choose to stick to their “team.”

Sorry, Steve, we don’t think “team” and “tribe” really softens the reality of just how deeply divided the American people are. You can “continue to wonder how much of this is sincere and how much of this is the result of tribalism”, but really it’s just that the mind boggles at the polling shown above. Ours, too. But there’s no real reason to think the respondents weren’t sincere.

The fact is, we ALL belong to tribes. In fact we all belong to multiple tribes and overlapping sub-tribes. Our tribes don’t tell us to phony up our answers when a pollster calls.  Our tribes do actually guide us on whom to trust, and yes, how to think and what to believe.

Let me tell you about my tribe and what it means for me. One of my major tribal affiliations is the Tribe of Scientists. I revere the tribe of scientists. They’ve been steering me right all my life, or so I feel. When scientists largely concur on something (oh, let’s just say, anthropogenic climate change), I strongly tend to believe they’re onto something. Since I cannot and don’t investigate this sort of thing on my own — I’m incapable and unqualified — I believe what they say. I am in this way very like a member of a religious tribe who doesn’t really concoct his own theology — because, in his own estimation, he’s incapable and unqualified — and so he follows — at least for the most part– whatever orthodoxies his religious leaders provide for him.

The religious fellow and I are not that different when it comes to relying on our tribes.

Now having said that, let’s go back and look at those three questions from the poll.

The first two questions are scientific questions, and they have correct and incorrect answers. In the case of evolution it’s really an open-and-shut case, and yet a shocking number of Republican respondents got it wrong. In order to do that they had to be either unaware of or dismissive of 150 years of biological science. And that is a HUGE body of knowledge to be unaware of. It does boggle the mind.

And the case for global warming, being only 30 years in the making, is only slightly less clear than the case for evolution. Although the consequences of getting it wrong will be catastrophic for human civilization.

Whatever conglomeration of tribes is helping the Republican respondents know what to think, it’s a doing a terrible disservice.

And the third question about establishing a national religion is again a shocker. It’s not a factual or a scientific question. It really is essentially a matter of opinion. But there is only one answer grounded in the founding beliefs of our country, and that is… that we should have no official national religion. The founders were extremely unambiguous on this. Just to pick one quote out of hundreds:

History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government.   –Thomas Jefferson

Do 57% of Republicans now reject a bedrock principle of the founders? Well, they say they do.

 

Newspaper is opposed to corruption Well, maybe that train left the station, but still... let's talk about it

train gone by

The most recent Sunday editorial in the Wisconsin State Journal earns several compliments and one brickbat. Where should we start? Compliments?

First of all, it’s about something important – corruption in the Wisconsin legislature. There’s little doubt that the State Journal has a theoretical belief in “good government” as we saw last year with their campaign against Wisconsin’s gerrymandered voting districts. Today they warn about the danger of legislators moving seamlessly, indeed instantly, overnight, into lobbying jobs.

…Wisconsin places no time restriction, which risks corruption.

That needs to change.

When the revolving door at the state Capitol spins too fast, public and private interests mix in a potentially today relationship. A lawmaker might be influenced in public duties by the promise of a lucrative lobbying job. The result could be politics that serve a private interest, rather than the public good.

That’s true. Wrong tense though.

It’s not as if there’s a danger of corruption oozing its way in at some future time. The corruption is quite fully here, and has been. That’s really our only quibble with what the State Journal is saying in this editorial. They need to pipe up. They need to say it.

When an out-of-state mining company can march in, flash its money around, and then rewrite the state’s environmental laws — in private sessions with legislators, no less — oh, then the corruption is here, baby. It’s not “on the way.” It’s here.  When much of our legislation is drafted off-site at ALEC conventions where Republicans meet directly with corporate liaisons to draft “model legislation” far from the prying eyes of the public (and the press, too), then the corruption has arrived. It’s not one of those things we better worry about “if we don’t act soon”.

That train has already left the station.

If the opinion writers of the State Journal need a good example of how to write about corruption in Wisconsin politics, they should take a look at Blue Jeans in High Places, the new book from Mike McCabe, former director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.  McCabe doesn’t hesitate to say that corruption is now fully re-established in Wisconsin politics. And he’s careful to say that neither D’s nor R’s are doing right by the people of Wisconsin – not that they’re both the same, they’re not – but neither is doing right for the people at large. This latter bit is probably a style book requirement for the State Journal editorial page where a rigid oath of both-sides-do-it is rarely violated, even when it’s all-too predictable and dilutes whatever editorial point they’re trying to make.

But let’s be generous today. This editorial included a couple of things that we really did like. It managed to refer to some actual academic research, which is always nice when so much punditry flows

…straight from the gut. That’s where the truth lies, right down here in the gut. Did you know you have more nerve endings in your gut than in your head? Now I know somebody will say I looked it up and that’s not true. That’s because you looked it up in a book. Next time look it up in your gut.  — Stephen Colbert

And also commendable, somebody at the State Journal remembered the words of Jack Abramoff, master crooked lobbyist and convicted felon. We haven’t always been impressed with the ability of State Journal editorials to remember the past. In fact, if we remember correctly (and we do), we may have used some deliberately insulting language about memory-impaired opinion writers at the State Journal. But today we actually respect the ability of the State Journal to remember Jack Abramoff. Here’s a slightly longer version of  what Abramoff said, talking to CBS 60 Minutes’ Leslie Stahl:

Stahl: …But the “best way” to get a congressional office to do his bidding – he says – was to offer a staffer a job that could triple his salary.

Abramoff: … I would say, “You know, when you’re done working on the Hill, we’d very much like you to consider coming to work for us.” Now the moment I said that to them…, that was it. We owned them. And what does that mean? Every request from our office, every request of our clients, everything that we want, they’re gonna do. And not only that, they’re gonna think of things we can’t think of to do.

This, of course, was entirely legal. And remains so. Political corruption is frequently — usually – perfectly legal. This is precisely what the Sunday State Journal editorial was about. See how normal and easy it can be? Imagine yourself working either side of this human interaction:

“You know, when you’re done working on the Hill, we’d very much like you to consider coming to work for us.” Now the moment I said that to them…, that was it. We owned them.

 

The trouble with Milfred Where to begin?

Scott MilfredWe see over the weekend that Scott Milford, State Journal chief editorialist, has set out another nice barrel of burning tires. That is to say, he has editorialized again. He apparently cannot be stopped.

He was off to a good start by observing that ramming a new, anti-union, right-to-work bill through the legislature would “distract and divide” us once again. (But wait, isn’t that kind of the idea, the intention? Distract-and-divide works as an effective, if cynical, political strategy. It always has.)

Amazingly you can read only as far as Milfred’s second sentence before seeing him go off the rails, first by glossing over the cynical beauty of distract-and-divide, and then by echoing the bad faith talking-point. Here’s the whole second sentence:

Their hasty decision is sure to distract and divide, with little benefit to the economy and jobs.

Now what is that at the end? He’s repeating the GOP spin — namely, that right-to-work is intended to boost the economy and jobs. It’s not. It’s another bad faith argument (like voting restrictions to stop “voter fraud”, or new abortion clinic rules “to protect women’s health”).

Like the first round of union-busting, this latest is really intended to knee-cap union workers for their bad habit of supporting Dems. And intended also as a payoff to their most deep-pocketed and ideologically right-wing donors.

What’s really sad here is that Milford doesn’t even acknowledge that further union-busting could (we would argue will) harm Wisconsin’s economy by putting downward pressure on wages. That question isn’t even raised, or seemingly, imagined.

But let’s move on, as Milford does… His main point being there’s no reason to rush… except that leaders in the Senate and Assembly want it done before opposition really gets organized. Which is true. OK, Milfred’s momentarily back on track.

Oh, but wait. Then there’s this

On its face, the measure is reasonable. Workers shouldn’t have to join and give money to unions if they don’t want to.

What in the world is he saying? There’s a whole family of similar arguments that just don’t stand up:

  • I have no children, so I shouldn’t have to pay for schools
  • I’m a pacifist, so I shouldn’t have to pay for the military

Of course, schools and soldiers need a broad base of funding, and frankly that funding needs to be compelled, coerced if you like, or it just won’t work. It’s the same with unions. Voluntary dues is just not going to work.  It’s why groceries stores insist on payment, not just voluntary donations.

And what does he mean, “On its face, the measure is reasonable”? Where does this come from? Imagine a lawyer showing up in court, pointing to his client, and saying, “Look at him. He’s clearly innocent,” and then resting his case. That is not professional-grade work. How does such silliness make it into print? Does Milfred have an editor, a minder? What’s the role of the State Journal “editorial board”? Do they read this stuff before it goes to publication? It’s hard to believe that all four of them would approve, “On its face, the measure is reasonable. Workers shouldn’t have to join and give money to unions if they don’t want to.”

But let’s move on, because Milford has more:

When state Republicans approved Act 10, they could point to union excess in government that made it harder to balance budgets and improve schools. Public-sector unions were strongly influencing the election of public officials who then negotiated union contracts.

Is there truth to this? A little. The public unions with many thousands of members did have some influence come election time. But it wasn’t outsized. The state workers were getting fairly skimpy raises and even reluctantly accepting work furloughs. You’d expect them to have influence, that’s fair, but they weren’t that powerful.

Still, compared with even worse-off workers, the public workers could be, and were, painted as doing too well. This was the divisive strategy employed by the gov and his party (too-often unchallenged in the general media) during the Act 10 period.

Meanwhile, you know who was really cleaning up? It was the people who are always powerful — extremely wealthy individuals, corporations, and business lobbies. It wasn’t the teachers or the prison guards. And currently it’s not the private construction and manufacturing workers. Milfred, as he does so often, has missed the big story even as it continues day after week after month after year.

 

Why unions have enemies It's no big secret

It’s possible to have a low opinion of billionaires without ever meeting any personally. Unfolding events — wherein Diane Hendricks, Wisconsin’s richest person, will get her fond wish of crushing unionism in Wisconsin — is just the latest example.

Does she even have union problems of her own? We’ve never heard of any. It’s hard to imagine how she ever could.  As a billionaire she can buy anything buy-able in this world. So why would she yearn to crush unionism in Wisconsin? Why does she need to fuck with these [financially] ordinary people?

It’s understandable why large business owners don’t welcome unions. Organized workers ask for a share of the pie, and other benefits. Unions cost business owners money. Or they certainly might. If I were a business owner, I see where I might not welcome a union, but I hope I’d learn to live with it, and consider it just another price of operating in a democracy, because that’s what it is. Laws, rules, regulations, taxes… you might not love ‘em when they apply to you, but they can’t just be for the other guy. It’s all part of living in a decent society.

It wasn’t so long ago that the ability for workers to organize was considered a marker for democracy. You’d read about someplace in Latin America where half a dozen union organizers had turned up dead, execution-style, in a ditch by the side of the road. And not for the first time had organizers been killed. And you’d say, well, that is the sign of a very immature democracy or no democracy at all. You’d say to yourself that is one, still-backward, effed-up country, and you’d be glad to live here and not there.

Or you’d read about some other spot where a thousand workers had perished when their shoddily-constructed factory building collapsed. And you’d say to yourself, lord, it is amazing what an already-rich business man can allow himself to do just to get even richer.

And then you’d see video of the leader of a foreign textile union beaten within an inch of her life (yeah, the leader’s a woman) with an iron rod just at the factory gate. And you wonder if you would ever have the courage to agitate for a union in that part of the world.

The whole history of organized labor has been battle after battle. What’s going on in Wisconsin now is not new. The nice part is, in Wisconsin nobody gets murdered. It’s all nice and legal.

We humans have our pluses and minuses. We are excellent at convincing ourselves that we are good, and whatever we’re doing needs to be done. So the governor and his backers will have lily-white explanations for why the ability of workers to organize is no longer a marker for democracy. Why, they’re expanding workers’ freedom to choose. Yeah, that’s the ticket. That sounds real nice.

“Right-to-Work” Theater, part II Why oh why can't we have a better newspaper?

Back in December we said,

No grownup in Wisconsin believes that anti-union, right-to-work legislation would be barreling ahead in our state if the governor weren’t on board for it. (Well, with the possible exception of the Wisconsin State Journal editorial board. Could these be the most gullible journalists ever?)

On the editorial page, the State Journal was pronouncing , Scott Walker right to resist ‘distraction’. It was sprinkled with Walker’s own talking points:

“The right-to-work legislation right now, as well as reopening Act 10 to make any other adjustments, would be a distraction from the work that we are trying to do,” Walker said.

The State Journal thought that sounded great:

He’s right. Wisconsin should focus instead on improving our schools and economy, fixing a state budget deficit and building more cooperation and trust.

No, he wasn’t “right”. His talking-point may have sounded good.  Well… to the gullible. But gullibility is one of the last things we need from journalists. Taking the governor at his word is just silly and has been for a long, long time.

As we said, again back in December:

kabuki dancer bwGentlemen, it’s simple theater. First, in public, the gov claims he’s not for it (because of the “timing”). Second, over the gov’s *wink wink* objections, Republicans in the legislature quickly pass it, in January or February. Third act: What can the gov do, except sign it.

So within a week or two, right-to-work will be rammed through the legislature and signed by the governor. That little kabuki show will be done. Who believes there won’t be more?

 

An obvious problem even the Koch brothers can care about A softer side of the Koch bros...

David KochThere’s a front-page story in the New York Times about Koch Industries and the Center for American Progress working together on something. Surprising, but nice. They actually agree that the nation’s criminal justice system is broken.

And, yes, it is. Our criminal justice system produces a terrible waste of both human potential and cash-money.

Other groups on the left and right are also involved –- the liberal ACLU… the tea-partying FreedomWorks… and others. We assume some groups are more shocked by the ruined lives and other groups by the wasted money.

We had not known about this, so thank you, New York Times.

Is it an example of “bipartisanship”? The kind our local newspaper constantly yearns for on its editorial page? Not really. The local paper routinely urges our elected representatives (whom they puzzlingly call “leaders”) to come together, to cooperate, and compromise. And then when they don’t, the local paper doses off and moves on to another of a million topics.

But here we have a coming together of advocacy groups to attack a problem. Why in the world does the U.S. — compared to other Western democracies — have such high levels of imprisonment? (Even compared to other times in our own history.) Something’s wrong.

But so far, in our formal halls of power, politics, and governance, where partisanship is really played out — where laws are made — nothing serious is happening. That’s why advocacy groups are needed — to light a fire under our elected “leaders”.

“Nut-Fueled Rage” especially interesting headline

nut rageYou see a headline about “Nut-Fueled Rage” and you think maybe you know what it’s about. But it’s not what you think.

It’s from South Korea. What a relief.

It’s an update about that Korean airline executive who threw an in-flight fit, actually turning the airliner around because her serving of macadamia nuts arrived in an unopened bag instead of bowl. That was not first-class service, and she was flying first-class.

She was a vice-president of the airline.

Also — a little surprise here — the daughter of Korean Air’s chairman.

And quite surprising, she has drawn a year in South Korean jail for the incident. She’s remorseful, but plans to appeal the sentence.

The 1% is an extremely interesting group, and the 99% would buy more newspapers if this area of life were covered more assiduously, but for some reason, it’s not.

Anchorman It can all go away so quickly

Brian WilliamsIf YOU are ever elevated to become Network News Anchorman (or woman), then huge congratulations! All of a sudden, you will earn (or rather “rake in”) a cool ten million dollars a year.

Welcome to the 1%.

The lavish pay won’t be because the network needs a virtuoso of journalism. No, it’s because they need a face, a focal point, an anchor man. You will be a Brand Spokesman (or woman). You’ll be like Wilfred Brimley, the face of Quaker Oats. Or Bill Cosby fronting for Jell-O Pudding. Your role will be exactly like that, but instead of oats and pudding, you will represent your network’s supposedly-special brand of news, which you will endorse, with your Anchorman face.

So remain slim. No visible piercings or tattoos. Do not get your nose broken or your face punched. Stay out of fights. Actually, take really good care of your face in every way. Salon facials would be a good idea, but don’t let it be known. Remember, your face, plus a nightly jolt of familiarity, will be your ticket to the good life. You will go to the best restaurants and hang out with the most famous people in the world’s most exciting city. Don’t screw it up. And don’t do anything embarrassing. Remember, 10 million a year. It can all go away so quickly.

 

Are climate-science denialists fit for public office? An elephant in the room? What elephant?

Jonathan Chait, writing at nymag.com, believes climate-science denialists should be disqualified from holding public office.

If a candidate for a managerial job at your office insists that two plus three equals seven, it wouldn’t matter how well-qualified this candidate may be at any other aspect of the job…

That’s true about hiring decisions. There are some things so basic, so necessary to get right, that any job applicant with the wrong answer to a critically important question — much less insistence on the wrong answer — needs to be culled from the list of applicants. Organizations really cannot hire an ignoramus without damaging their whole operation and everyone in it.

Simple. No? And yet, for some — and here we turn to the editorial board of our local Wisconsin State Journal — it’s just impossibly difficult.

Toles-GOPSkateThe fact is, climate-science denialism is an almost universal orthodoxy among national Republican office-holders. Paul Ryan (R-Janesville), a perennial favorite at the State Journal, claims he doesn’t know whether human activity is contributing to climate change. Senator Ron Johnson (R-Oshkosh) blames sunspots:

Johnson said extreme weather phenomena were better explained by sunspots than an overload of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere…. “I absolutely do not believe in the science of man-caused climate change,” Johnson said. “It’s not proven by any stretch of the imagination.”

Alas, Ryan and Johnson illustrate the rule within their party. Almost no Republican on the national stage will acknowledge that climate change is real or that fossil fuels are the major cause of it. Even conservative pundits like George Will and Charles Krauthammer — who cannot, for obvious reasons, fear getting ‘primaried’ or losing their nonexistent public offices — will appear on Fox News and just grasp for reasons to doubt the scientific evidence.

This poses a terrible problem for the Wisconsin State Journal and indeed for all the press trying to appear sensible without ever saying that so-and-so (in fact, so-and-so’s entire party) is peddling truly dangerous foolishness, and has been doing so for at least a decade.

Talk about your elephant in the room, or rather don’t talk about it…  What kind of journalist or journalism takes this absurd oath of silence?