The Widdershins


Posted on: January 14, 2014

It is mid-January, it isn’t freezing and the blizzards are at bay — such are the things of wonderful Tuesdays.  At least I hope it is for all the Widdershinners.

I love seatbelts, but they choke me sometimes...

I love seatbelts, but they choke me sometimes…

Remember Thamsandqa Jantjie?  He was the guy at Mandela’s funeral — the one who seemed to keep signing, “I love to put on seat belts, but they choke me sometimes.”  At $85, he was the low bidder for the funeral gig.  The Magic-8 ball is still out on whether or not Thamsandqa is schizophrenic, but his self-awareness is robustly intact.  Upon leaving the psychiatric hospital he promptly called a press conference and proclaimed, “I am a great fake.”

Last week I was reminded of Thamsandqa when I heard Marco Rubio  talking about poverty.  Rubio made sympathetic noises about poverty and then with inspired chutzpah glibly advocated policies harmful to the poor.

There is nothing new in Rubio’s plans.  For that matter, there is nothing new with any Conservative plan in the last fifty years since they all proclaim the War on Poverty was and is an abject failure.

Let’s dissect the flights of fantasy represented in those thoughts.  First and foremost, there has not been a 50-year War on Poverty.  There was a five-year full-on War on Poverty between 1964 and 1969, but then funding began to dwindle in order to service the Vietnam War.

Even with the cuts of Nixon and then Reagan, the two pillars of the War on Poverty, Social Security and Medicare, have been unparalleled successes.  Among other things, they have reduced the 44% of seniors living in poverty in 1964 to approximately 9% today.

Poverty Rates 1967-2012Another lie fertilized with the manure of talking heads is the measuring stick used by conservative “think tanks” to measure the effect of poverty programs.  These “think tanks” use the 1963/64 affordability of food index for a family of 3.  This index purposefully inflates the number of people living in poverty without factoring in such things as food stamps or the Earned Income Tax Credit.  Both these programs greatly reduce the level of poverty.  In 2012 alone, food stamps kept 41 million Americans out of poverty including 9 million children.

So when you see the Cato Institute or the Heritage Foundation throwing around a Reaganesque statistic showing government intervention had no effect upon the poverty rate — know this one thing — their statistics are completely meaningless and are the product of endgame political manipulation.  Political sloganeering is not policy.

While shrinking the size of government and reducing taxes are the primary, if not only, pillars of conservative thought today there is another inextricably intertwined issue in the poverty debate — morality.  Political judgments on poverty are little more than ideological and moral Rorschach tests.

It is as simple as this — the tie between single-parent households and poverty is an economic, not a moral, issue.  Woman with childrenToday, the Ward and June Cleaver home represents just 20% of households.  Forty percent of all homes are single-female headed households.  Simply put, single parents find it harder to hold full-time jobs where every childhood ailment represents a decision between going to work and staying home.  Constrained to lower end employment prospects, poverty inescapably increases in these homes.

Another set of data demonstrate even if a single mother marries, she will most likely be divorced by age 35-44.  More importantly, single mothers who marry and later divorce are worse off economically than single mothers who never marry.

It is against this backdrop Marco Rubio proposes a major overhaul of all the federal poverty programs.  To be fair, Sen. Rubio started his speech with lip service to growing income disparity and the stagnation of wages.  At least he got something right before beginning the conservative mantra of smaller government and lower taxes.

Rubio proposes eliminating the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for the working poor and replacing it with direct payments to the poor and the not so poor.  He also proposes a cutting edge 1969 solution by using state block grants for virtually every other assistance program.  Of course all this is against a backdrop of emphasizing marriage predicated upon the correct anatomical plumbing.

Tent CityThe EITC has been hugely successful since the Clinton administration.  It has lifted 5 million out of poverty, but Rubio wants to dismantle it, replace it with direct payments, and most importantly, open it to single people.  Let me emphasize this:  Rubio’s plan is to replace a tax credit for the working poor with a direct cash payment and increase those eligible to include more well-off single people.  The chances of this passing Congress are slim and none and “Slim ain’t coming to D.C. any time soon.”  Knowing this has no chance of passing, it is offered only as a quieting sop to the Left.

The proposal to “lean back” to the Nixonian idea of block grants is particularly aggravating from a policy standpoint.  You need look no further than the 5 million people who are being denied healthcare by red state governors blocking Medicaid expansion to see the utter ugliness of this plan.  Block granting assistance programs is the surest way to build two failing Americas and create a preordained patchwork of “have not” citizens.  We are better than that or at least we should aspire to be.

I suppose a sense of shame is a necessary predicate to understanding hypocrisy.  Based upon bogus data, here you Marco Rubio Waterhave Marco Rubio advocating a complete reformation of poverty assistance through policies that will surely cripple aid to the poor.  This is the same Marco Rubio who is against the Affordable Care Act, who is against Medicaid expansion affecting coverage to 850,000 Floridians, who is against the unemployment renewal, and who voted for cutting food stamps by billions.  To put it mildly, young Sen. Rubio finds himself at the maw of a cavernous credibility chasm.

Clearly Rubio is looking to find a hallmark issue to replace his immigration self-immolation that was to be his ticket to the Presidential primary dance.  Obviously, understanding the drivers of poverty and solid policy solutions are not going to punch his Presidential ticket.  Rubio needs to move along, but if he doesn’t, Thamsanqa Jantjie is going to have competition in the race for the “greatest fake.”

This is an open thread.


13 Responses to "Jantjiesque…"

The Republicans know that using those state block grants is a method of giving carte blanche to the states to basically do whatever the hell they want with the money, with very few restrictions on it. They have a lot more freedom to not do what the grants are supposed to be intended for.

“Jantjiesque” is my new favorite neologism.

@1, block grants can quickly and easily turn carrots into cudgels.

One of the things that is so mystifying to me is that the red states are the hotbeds of need, particularly in healthcare, food assistance, unemployment, job training, and just about every other measure of poverty assistance, but miraculously the red state politicians believe the free market will scab over and cure the problems.

@2, Chat, Mr. Jantjie has a remarkable history. He’s been arrested and acquitted for murder, attempted murder, and kidnapping. He still has an outstanding fraud charge unrelated to the Mandela funeral. Go figure.

Prolix, the Southern Red States today remind me sooo much of these states back in the “old days” of the oligarchs.

miraculously the red state politicians believe the free market will scab over and cure the problems.

I don’t think in their heart of hearts that they really truly believe that. I think they know it’s a bunch of crap and either just don’t care or else these choices satisfy their masters at ALEC and the Koch Bros.

Arrrgghhh!!! I’m still having internet issues! 👿 it’s going very

This is the conclusion Krugman had today on the subject of poverty and the Repubs:

The point is that a party committed to small government and low taxes on the rich is, more or less necessarily, a party committed to hurting, not helping, the poor.

Will this ever change? Well, Republicans weren’t always like this. In fact, all of our major antipoverty programs — Medicaid, food stamps, the earned-income tax credit — used to have bipartisan support. And maybe someday moderation will return to the G.O.P.

For now, however, Republicans are in a deep sense enemies of America’s poor. And that will remain true no matter how hard the likes of Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio try to convince us otherwise.

Prolix@7: Krugman said it perfectly.

A wonderfully enlightening article by Mike Konczal of the Roosevelt Institute debunking the claims of the Cato Institute. It is entitled No, We Don’t Spend $1 Trillion on Welfare Each Year.

Prolix@9: That is a great article you linked to Prolix. Very eye-opening.

It will be interesting to see what happens when Ezra Klein leaves WaPo.

chat@11: Oh there will be someone waiting to put on the mantle, I bet.

What an amazing post. I heard a little about Rubio’s blatherings on the news but didn’t have the details. Thanks for explaining this all. I learn more from this site than any news show.

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