TASTE OF YOUR OWN… Paul Ryan pulled a bottle of fiscal snake oil off the shelf of his hero, Ronald Reagan, and started peddling it several years ago. The Congressman from Wisconsin got plenty of takers in Washington, where Republicans in the House gleefully bought into his claim that the best way to deal with budget deficits is to hollow out Medicare and Medicaid, begin privatizing Social Security and cut taxes for corporations. Even some Democrats sipped from Ryan’s medicine. But the people of Ryan’s own district—and other Congressional districts across the country—are having none of it.
In a twist on the 2009 Congressional town hall meetings where Tea Partisans packed rooms to raise questions about healthcare reform (and to object to any tinkering with Medicare), House and Senate Republicans who headed home for this year’s spring recess walked into meetings packed with citizens shouting, “Hands off our Medicare!”
Ryan got the worst of it. At crowded events in towns like Milton and Kenosha in southern Wisconsin, he was grilled by seniors who demanded to know: “We are supposed to give up our insurance [Medicare] for vouchers. Are you going to give up your gold-plated [Congressional] insurance for vouchers?” Ryan danced around that question and a lot of others at the Kenosha session. But it didn’t work. The star of the afternoon wasn’t Ryan but retired insurance man Bill Schroeder, who read a list of proposals for balancing budgets. “Do not renew the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy!” he began, to loud applause.
The cheers continued as Schroeder proposed ending tax breaks for corporations that ship jobs overseas and bringing the troops home from Afghanistan. From throughout the room came cries of “Let’s elect him instead of Ryan!” JOHN NICHOLS
FREE AI WEIWEI: The phrasing may not be perfectly idiomatic, but the idea rings loud and clear: “Once you discuss about art, you can’t really avoid to talk about individuals and freedom of speech.” That’s what Ai Weiwei said at the Tate Modern in London this past October, at the debut of his installation of 100 million porcelain sunflower seeds. “Why aren’t you in jail?” asked the British sculptor Antony Gormley, from the audience.
That’s no longer the question: China’s most famous and outspoken contemporary artist was detained by police April 3 and has not been seen or heard from since. That arrest was just the latest of Ai’s troubles with the authorities: his blog was shut down in 2009 after he published investigations into the deaths of thousands of schoolchildren during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake because of shoddy construction; he was also beaten by police and suffered a cerebral hemorrhage. Earlier this year, his newly built studio in Shanghai was demolished under the pretense of planning irregularities.
But the disappearance of Ai—and several members of his staff—is not an isolated case; other Chinese intellectuals and activists have been arrested and held incommunicado in recent months. It’s part of a broader crackdown on dissent. There has been no official word of the charges against Ai, although at one point he was said to be under investigation for “economic crimes.” Unverifiable reports suggest that torture may have succeeded in extracting a “confession.”