Paul Ryan, Ayn Rand, and Poverty

This week Paul Ryan trotted out his new, old ideas about what to
do about poverty in America. If you want details you can listen to any long
cycle news channel, but just be sure that you don’t just listen to Fox News.
Get more balanced coverage by also listening to either CNN or MSNBC. I’m just going
to discuss the pros and cons as I see them, so perhaps I can provide another
voice to help you form an opinion about his plan.
Paul Ryan did speak with actual poor people (economically
Paul Ryan did visit actual poor neighborhoods.
He did describe his plan for “lifting” people out of poverty in
much greater detail than ever before.
Mr. Ryan has not backed off one bit from his belief that helping
the unfortunate dooms them to a state of perpetual poverty by making them feel “entitled”.
He still believes that state block grants work, although there
is lots of proof that they don’t. Handing 50 disparate states a large chunk of
taxpayers’ cash begins well and ends with those dollars being diverted to “more
deserving” or “more pressing” state programs.
Paul Ryan designs a support system of counselors and of
benchmarks to be met as people (Americans) move through the process. Rewards
and punishments are built in for people who meet or do not meet their
benchmarks. This sounds like a neat and tidy system but this is a complicated
construct that relies on hiring well-trained and effective counselors. It is
unlikely, based on prior experience with such programs, that all counselors
will be equally competent in every case. It is also unlikely that small towns,
villages, and rural areas will be able to offer the same quality and extent of services
as larger urban areas, which means that equal opportunities cannot be
Ryan’s ideas show more specific recommendations than previously
but they do not postulate a system that has ever actually been shown to work.
I do not necessarily have a problem with benchmarks and
counseling or with accountability. However, I have no faith whatsoever in block
grants to the states.
I do not see any contingency plans to help those who are unable
to succeed in this system. It is not exactly “throw them in the deep end and
see if they can swim”; it is more like “give them lessons with water wings on,
take the water wings off and throw them in the deep end where they will either
swim or drown”. His structures still require a safety net.
I don’t like the idea of treating people like experimental
animals forced into a praise/blame framework with their family’s sustenance or
lack thereof on the line when the fault for failure could just as easily lie
with the program as with those the program is supposed to be assisting.
We have never been able to adopt a program that relies solely on
encouragement and positive reinforcement, with plenty of options for personal
development; options that work. Conservatives and people who begrudge the use
of tax monies paid by people-who-have for people-who-don’t-have, always insist
that shaming be part of any social welfare system. Surely by now we must have
determined that shaming doesn’t work to stimulate anything but resentment and
stubborn refusal to “cooperate”.
I believe that the cons to the Paul Ryan plan far outweigh the
pros but he does deserve some praise for digging deeper, even if he did his
research with his end conclusions already in place. According to the scientific
method, if you already have settled on unshakable assumptions it will be
impossible to conduct a truly objective study. Of course we also know how
Conservatives feel about science.
I believe that Paul Ryan is unable to be objective about
solutions that will work for the least fortunate Americans and that he needs to
turn these budget proposals over to someone who is not starting from Ayn Rand
(whose ideas are still forming the base of his construct). He is biased and
therefore not the person we should look to for restructuring our social safety
net and helping Americans rise from poverty.
By Nancy Brisson

Thank You India

My mind is wandering to a number of far-flung places and
seemingly unrelated thoughts. But, as we decided on Monday, all things are
interrelated and even Disney knew this; he said “It’s a Small World After All”
and he made a whole experience about it and he has made a fortune from it.
So I was remembering that Alanis Morissette song, which I
love, “Thank You (India)” because I just heard it over the weekend in a little
spiritual film called The Way with
Martin Sheen in which his son begins a pilgrimage across the Pyrennees to a
cathedral in Spain. His son is killed in an unexplained accident so the Dad
takes his ashes and walks the pilgrimage. He thinks he does this for his son,
and, of course, he does, but he changes his own heart in the process. It is a
movie that asks “are you just alive, or are you living.”
Then I read TGC Prasad’s blog post on in
which he expressed his concerns about his country, India. (see link below) India can be quite
volatile at times and as India comes to terms with its own income inequality
problems (which are even bigger than America’s because, although vastly
oversimplified, there are so many more people) he worries that chaos will be
unavoidable and he hopes this will not be the path India takes to the future
(as do we all).
My mind moves on to a story on last night’s edition of the
national news. Brian Williams is zeroing in on a country the size of Texas in
the center of Africa. He is telling me about tribal thuggery in the Central
African Republic. Ann Curry talks to an 8 year old young lady whose loses are
so great all we can do is cry with her and pray that somehow she makes it
through more of this wretched part of her life until she arrives at a life that
is not wretched at all. Watching the march of greed, hatred, powerlessness, and
some kind of misguided belief that good things will follow from violence gives
us all a feeling of the terrible waste of it all and the helpless wish that we
had a solution for the Central African Republic, or South Sudan, or any of
these storied nations on the continent of Africa.
Which leads me back to America, because I am as
self-centered as anyone, and because it is what I know, and leads me to that
statement Obama made that caused such rage among the “makers” when he said “you
did not make it”, and he meant you did not make it all by yourself. And, of
course, he was right, in a way. You came up with a business idea. You built it
from the bottom up and gradually hired more and more of your fellow Americans.
Or perhaps you were wealthy to begin with and your business sprang up as a big
enterprise and then just kept getting bigger. You deserve credit for your
But Obama is right also. You couldn’t have built your baby,
your business without the use of things you don’t own like workers and
consumers and deliverers, and sellers and warehousers and roads and bridges and
railroads and airplanes and power and water. Your factory and your bank balance
benefited from a convergence of historical moments which placed you at the very
heart of the Industrial Age.
Will you hold on to every last cent even as you watch your
once-beloved country subside into the same chaos that Mr. Prasad worries
about in his beloved India? We are not usually a volatile nation; it’s probably
not hot enough here or crowded enough. We will probably just accept our fate as
we gradually fall back into the ignorance and hard-scrabble lives of our forebears. 
But all I’m saying is that it doesn’t have to be that way. You were the
builders and you used to share a vision of America with the rest of us “takers”,
a vision that made America brash and indomitable. Perhaps the vision we have
for the future will be different from the one we all had in the Industrial Age,
but it can tap back into that creative spirit you used to build the old America
and produce a new and even better America, an older and wiser America that will
be a proud pioneer in the Global Age.
So thank you India, and Africa and Walt Disney and Alanis Morissette and GE and Carrier Corp. and Obama and the American workers and on and on and on ad infinitum, which I hope is how long our little blue planet lasts and thrives.
Disclaimer:  These lyrics and this you tube video are referenced for your enjoyment. I am not claiming any connection between my ideas and Alanis Morissette. Hearing this song just inspired me and sent my mind on a trip. That is all.
Thank You Lyrics
How ’bout getting off of these antibiotics
How ’bout stopping eating when I’m full up
How ’bout them transparent dangling carrots
How ’bout that ever elusive kudo
Thank you India, thank you terror
Thank you disillusionment
Thank you frailty, thank you consequence
Thank you, thank you, silence
How ’bout me not blaming you for everything
How ’bout me enjoying the moment for once
How ’bout how good it feels to finally forgive you
How ’bout grieving it all one at a time
Thank you India, thank you terror
Thank you disillusionment
Thank you frailty, thank you consequence
Thank you, thank you, silence
The moment I let go of it
Was the moment I got more than I could handle
The moment I jumped off of it
Was the moment I touched down
How ’bout no longer being masochistic
How ’bout remembering your divinity
How ’bout unabashedly bawling your eyes out
How ’bout not equating death with stopping
Thank you India, thank you providence
Thank you disillusionment
Thank you nothingness, thank you clarity
Thank you, thank you, silence
Here’s a link to a youtube video:
By Nancy Brisson
This blog post is also available at 

The Nanny State – Still?

One thing we can admire about Conservatives is their
consistency. They have not let up on their criticism of the Nanny State, the
Takers versus the Makers, since Obama took office. Although the taker-maker
argument lines up with the GOP love affair with small government, I never
remember hearing this piece of bogus wisdom during Bush’s reign, despite the
fact that the safety net was pretty much exactly the same as it is today. It is
true that the recession, still with us since 2009, is ratcheting up the need and
therefore the demand for safety net services. One example is the greatly
increased reliance on food stamps.
I think we have to be very careful to avoid giving what
sounds like a perfectly logical argument too much power. The theory goes that
when you allow the government to take care of the poor, old, disabled, and
sick, when the government provides a safety net to prevent people in a society
from “bottoming out”, the very system that saves people will turn them into
permanent government dependants. We can all agree that there may be some truth
to this. We all know people who we believe are abusing the system. We all know
families whose economic position has not changed in generations and who seem to
be content with government support, even though we know such support comes with
lots of red tape, a loss of privacy, and negative judgment from the rest of
society. It is also clear that government support does not usually provide a
very comfortable or upscale lifestyle.
You must have read some Dickens. Charles Dickens wrote about
London at a time when the poor, sick, and disabled, had little, if any
assistance. Churches sometimes helped but were so moralistic and judgmental
that most of the poor steered clear. Rich ladies often assisted the poor with their
charitable activities, but they also invaded the privacy of those they assisted
and many avoided them to keep a bit of autonomy. Children of poor parents often
lived in the streets, begged, stole, were used by unscrupulous people, were
ill-clothed, ill-fed, ill-treated and unhealthy. Their lives and the lives of
their parents were harsh and short. And their misery had a great effect on the
whole of London. Their misery created health hazards, made the streets dirty
and dangerous, and made some compassionate Londoners sad. In these ways even
the wealthy were affected by the poverty at the lowest economic levels of the
Wealthy people can enjoy their wealth more when there is
less misery and crime among the poorest members of a society. The wealthy, and our
governments which are usually, however democratic, run by the wealthy, have slowly
learned that propping up those at the bottom made life more bearable and
hygienic for everyone. It would be wrong to assume that government programs for
the less fortunate are a totally altruistic endeavor. I don’t think that the
movement to get rid of these programs is founded on an effort to save
unfortunates from themselves, as proponents suggest. Once again, selfish
interests are probably at the bottom of this movement which has come out
of  Conservative America, this movement
whose goals are to help us become more self-sufficient and thereby to make us
proud of our productivity and ingenuity. At this juncture it looks more like
the wealthy are tired of paying taxes that they feel are being used to
subsidize the sloth of people who have learned how to avoid working for a
living. If we were not so divided, we could take a really good look at this
whole issue of the nanny state and we could probably find a lot of savings and
we could find some ways to make sure that aid got to the truly needy. We could
launch a committee to conduct an in-depth study of the social safety net. We
could answer all the nagging questions like:

           ·        Should we do away with the “so-called” nanny

Should we do away with all of it, or some of it?
What will America be like if we do?
Does the safety net encourage malingering and
suppress initiative?
What about the children?
What about those who are not inspired by
Can we come up with better ways to sort those
who are truly needy from those
                  who know how to scam the system?

What are the advantages and disadvantage of
Will privatizing be used to phase out the safety
What will we do if we, the people, can no longer
afford safety net programs?
Do we have to cut back on compassion?
Do we have to give up on the goal of lifting
everyone up?

I must add that there is a liberal version of the nanny
state which shows rich folks and corporations who have become dependent on
favorable government tax rates, tax loopholes and subsidies that the wealthy
would very much like to keep. If we study the bottom for signs of dependency,
we must also study whether those at the top are addicted to the same kind of
aid as those at the bottom.

(There is yet another version of the nanny state which says
that government is passing too many laws that curtail our everyday freedoms,
such as laws about drinking, wearing seat belts, smoking, eating and sugary
drinks, etc. These are the laws that fall in the category of “big brother” laws.
I don’t think these kinds of laws can be attributed to any one political party.
Some may result from our reliance on health insurance, but these nit-picky laws
are presided over by government. This is not the definition of “nanny state”
that I am discussing here, but is a possible topic for another time.)