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'Is That You, Baby?' | The Nation

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Eric Alterman

Eric Alterman

Well-chosen words on music, movies and politics, with the occasional special guest.

'Is That You, Baby?'

My new Think Again column is called “News Corp. Hacking Scandal Still Hiding in Plain Sight,” and it’s here.

It’s an attempt to call attention to the enormity of the Murdoch story, which is, in my opinion, is being insufficiently investigated.

While I was out of the country last week, my long and frightening (to me) investigation of the shape and scope a potential Romney presidency, published in The Nation, is here.

The choice of Paul Ryan as a running mate only emphasizes the importance of the policies discussed in the article since Ryan’s presence in the administration—and general belovedness in the MSM—imply that these things will actually happen in a hypothetical Romney presidency. They are not just “talk” to keep the crazies happy.

Alter-reviews:
Before I left I was lucky enough to catch one of the two shows Jackson Browne did at the Beacon. It was a lovely show. Though billed as a solo acoustic show, it wasn’t, which was a good thing. Jackson’s band was sufficiently familiar with his catalogue to go long and deep. There were hits, sure but fans got to hear some of the stuff they ‘ve wanted to hear for decades—proverbial deep cuts from “Late for the Sky” and “For Everyman” and even “Saturate Before Using,” though, I think Jackson’s more recent work does not get the attention/respect it deserves, in particular, “The Naked Ride Home.” It would have been nearly impossible not to leave the hall in a great mood, I imagine, and if you can’t see Jackson, the solo acoustic albums and David Lindley double live cds will help. Read all about ‘em here.

I am still making my way through Roxy Music’s ten-CD Complete Studio Recordings 1972 – 1982. It’s really a beautiful thing. Each album is perfectly reproduced and sonically improved. The box itself is a real nice compact size and Roxy Music is pretty much a perfect band for this treatment because while they did have plenty of hits, their beast stuff was actually buried beneath. There are eight studio albums plus two discs of bonus tracks. containing tracks previously unavailable on CD. Roxyites will be pleased to learn that the cds were created from the original analogue master tapes (not the 1999 remasters). Bryan Ferry’s career has taken many twists and turns but it’s hard to argue that he ever surpassed the music in this lovely box set. (Its official release date is not until August 28, by the way.)

I used to be a big Kevin Smith booster. I even loved his lousy early movies and his good ones. I thought he deserved comparison to Eric Rohmer—as a kind of bad-taste American stonger-analogue to tasteful French culture. So I’ve watched with dismay and a small sense of betrayal to see how horribly his career has gone. His last straight-to-video horror movie was both unwatchable and inexplicable. And the smug, self-satisfied shows put on in this new dvd called “Jay & Silent Bob Get Old:Tea Bagging In The UK,” are mostly just depressing. It will be a while before I can enjoy Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma, Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back and Clerks 2, after spending twenty minutes with this horror show.

Columbia Legacy has also released a bunch of Johnny Cash collections to celebrate what would have been the man’s 80th birthday, number one hits, duets, gospel, etc, and a cd/dvd tribute concert package, called “We Walk The Line: A Celebration of the Music of Johnny Cash. The concert, which took place at the Moody Theater in Austin, TX., has Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, Lucinda Williams, Shelby Lynne, Sheryl Crow, Jamey Johnson, Shooter Jennings, and a bunch of other people, with a crack band Don Was, Buddy Miller, Kenny Aronoff, Ian McLagen and Greg Leisz in it and a beautiful rehearsal track in the extras of Willie Nelson singing “I Still Miss Someone.”

Now here’s Reed.

 

Brilliant Disguise
by Reed Richardson

If I were a wonk, I’d be offended. To think that someone like Paul Ryan could be so frequently identified as one of us would be galling. But for a largely innumerate press corps, that often confuses simple mathematical concepts like percentage and percentage point and commonly bungles how our progressive tax bracket functions, it’s perhaps no surprise that throwing a bunch of charts and graphs into a few Powerpoint presentations can get yourself labeled things like “smart,” “honest,” “serious,” and “courageous” by the Beltway media movers and shakers.

But, as any real wonk could tell you, the devil is in the details, and Ryan’s details are routinely bedeviled by reality. So, just for the sake of the press, I’ve compiled an updated list of all the people who have publicly questioned the brilliance, honesty, seriousness, and/or courage of Paul Ryan’s policy proposals. (I stand on the shoulders of this blog’s proprietor, who detailed Ryan’s chimerical thinking a year and a half ago.)

-Analysts at the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office

-Analysts at the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center

-Analysts at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

-Analysts at the Citizens for Tax Justice

-Analysts at the Economic Policy Institute

-U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

-Catholic “Nuns on the Bus”

-David Stockman, former budget director, Reagan White House

-Peter Orszag, former budget director, Obama White House

-Paul Krugman, Nobel Prize-winning economist, New York Times columnist (multiple times)

-Mark Zandi, economist at Moody’s Analytics, adviser to both McCain presidential campaign and Obama administration

-Mark Thoma, professor of economics at the University of Oregon

-The Economist’s American Politics column

-Ron Paul, 2012 Republican presidential candidate

-Newt Gingrich, 2012 Republican presidential candidate, former GOP Speaker of the House,

-John Boehner, current GOP Speaker of the House

-Donald Trump, erstwhile Republican presidential candidate, stopped clock

-Republican political insiders

-Majority of the American people

-And, yes, Paul Ryan himself

As you can see, it is neither a short list, nor, I suspect, a final one. And yes, there are some on the above list who now embrace the policies they once dismissed. But perhaps what’s most noteworthy about Ryan’s intellectual and policy critics is that they compose a strikingly broad bipartisan coalition, the likes of which should have the objective, centrist-loving media rapt with joy. Finally, one would think, the press has found an issue to champion that most of us on both the left and the right can agree on—Paul Ryan’s math just doesn’t add up and his budget can't do what he says it does.

And yet, despite this multi-count indictment of Ryan’s not-so-rigorous thinking, the political press still regards him as legitimate expert in cold, hard numbers instead of someone whose policies amount to little more than magically adding up 2 + 2 to get 5 for rich folks and zero (or less) for the rest of us. Instead, a few dozen extreme Republican members of Congress and a small coterie of conservative pundits have convinced most of the media to agree with them that Ryan is a “fiscal analyst par excellence.”

The press’s standard for excellence clearly ain’t what it used to be, apparently. For example, on Wednesday, in his newly minted role as GOP vice presidential candidate, Ryan falsely accused Obama of “raiding Medicare” to the tune of more than $700 billion (these “cuts” are, in fact, reductions in future spending that won’t affect beneficiaries) even though, as House Republican, Ryan twice included in his own budget this very same proposal. This policy reversal, of course, further undermines Ryan’s phony claims of being a “fiscal conservative,” since abandoning these Medicare savings, coupled with the massive tax cuts proposed elsewhere in his 2013 budget, would blow another huge hole in the deficit. The political press’s reaction to this flagrant pandering? Yawn.

That Ryan’s most recent policy adversary is himself might be seem ironic, but is really not all that shocking. In fact, to read this New Yorker profile of Ryan is to see that his political career involves numerous tradeoffs of his supposed intellectual consistency and wonkish policy principles in favor of ideological expediency and political power. (His votes in favor of large, unfunded Republican programs like Medicare Part D and TARP, for example, ring particularly hollow for a die-hard “deficit hawk.”) As an early architect of a plan to privatize Social Security in 2005, Ryan’s aggressive posture was deemed too radical even for George W. Bush. Chastened by the experience, Ryan floated a slightly less radical version in his 2010 budget. Likewise, his original 2008 “Roadmap,” which attracted only a handful of co-sponsors in the House, has undergone several iterations to make its demolition of Medicare more politically palatable, even if it’s mostly just fiddling around the margins. That’s why, after another version of his Medicare voucher plan crashed and burned last year, Ryan was desperate to find any kind of Democratic cover for the next go round. That even Ryan’s liberal partner in that effort, Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, subsequently voted against and is now rapidly backpedaling away from Ryan’s Medicare provisions is telling.

Indeed, Paul Ryan’s 13-year career in Washington—the legislative successes of which are paltry, to say the least—is, in many ways, symbolic of the modern Republican Party. He, like his party, refuses to subjugate dogma to logic and is willing to forego responsible governing for political posturing. That’s why, though the peripheral details of Ryan's budgets may have changed over time, the radical conservative core of the policy goals contained therein still remain disconnected from fiscal reality. Combine this fiscal intransigence with a thoroughly rock-ribbed stance on social policies and you have the very definition of an ideologue. And ideologues, as the leading lights in Washington’s media constellation agree, are anathema to our democracy. Yet for too long this same press corps has allowed glowing adjectives to disguise the real Paul Ryan, to the point where he's now ascended to the Republican presidential ticket. Let's hope before November arrives, the media and public figure out the truth—Ryan can talk the talk, but he can’t wonk the wonk.

Contact me directly at reedfrichardson (at) gmail dot com.

Editor’s Note: To contact Eric Alterman, use this form.

 

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