talker's blog

what happens to Welfare-to-Work when there's no work?

13 years ago, Clinton ended "Welfare as we know it" with a re-invention of the welfare system that forced those on the dole to be in school or get a job in order to keep getting assistance. Statistically and anecdotally, the "new welfare" was a success - case loads dropped and many who had been out of work for years got high on the pride of clocking in 9 to 5 (or at least that's what happened to the two women who came to work at my office in the late 90's).

But even with the hullabaloo of Welfare-to-Work's success, some wondered - just because the case numbers are dwindling, does that mean all those being kicked off welfare are necessarily succeeding themselves? The fact that, while welfare checks leveled off, other types of aid started to inch up suggested that the burden of taking care of the poor was just shifting to other governmental agencies.

Now, with a recession in full swing, wonks and activists are asking how - or if - a welfare-to-work scheme will work when there are no jobs?

a medical miracle

As part of the stimulus bill passed last week, Congress defied the pharma and medical-device lobbies and passed a measure that would compare the effectiveness of different medical procedures - to see if more expensive treatment meant better treatment.

That this measure was controversial is shocking if not surprising. Operations, designer drugs and procedures with fancy equipment are money makers and the reapers of those profits have no interest in studies that might show that cheaper treatments are actually more effective.

credit dolts

From one of citizenJoe's readers. Thought it was posting for all to see:

I'm sitting at a small used car dealership in North Carolina and it probably seems as far distant from the hustle and bustle of financial markets and Washington D.C. as one could get. Good! It is my personal belief that we have heard every story, from nearly every angle, every perspective and every political point of view out there until we quite frankly have had our fill. What about real people, real life, and actual experience to at least get a distant glance of real world life for the "common Joe?" I know that the polls and reviews are out there trying to do just that, but really now, how much can we really glean from them?

Here then, my current wonderings and comments. Today I am amazed by the young couple that just left my office. Here are there top three questions they asked that left my head aching:

#1 If we don't make our payments you're saying the bank can take our car?

#2 If we are late on our payments does it count against us?

#3 Nobody cares if we pay those credit cards do they?

the New Yorker's not offensive, but it is mindbogglingly daft

With the New Yorker's website crashing under the rage of liberals apopleptic over its current cover (for the two readers who haven't heard: Michelle and Barack dressed in Muslim terrorist garb), many Democrats and other Obama supporters will want to talk about how offensive the New Yorker is being - but rather than harping on its insensitivity, liberals should focus on the New Yorker's flat out half-brained idiocy.

The cover may be offensive, but saying so is not in the liberal tradition, which encourages freedom of expression, even - or especially - in the form of political satire.

What liberals are probably intuiting - if not saying outright - is that the cover is just plain stupid - that is, if the New Yorker has any desire to see Obama elected president, which presumably it does.

Any Republican strategist - and a growing number of Democratic political consultants - will tell you two things about campaigns: fear makes voters vote conservative and nothing evokes fear more than a picture (no matter what clever commentary it comes with).*

an election future's market?

If you think Wall Street knows how to bet on the future (and you'd have good reason this year to think not), you might be curious to see where it's putting its money in the current election cycle.

Open Secrets keeps track of how much candidates and their parties pull in from different industries each year (from individuals working in those industries, industry "PACs" that bundle money and - before 2002 - corporate and union "soft money"). Some industries are historically wedded to one party - lawyers love Dems and the oil industry can't get enough of Republicans - but Wall Street, it turns out, tends to vote for the winners.

Smart that; while it's good to keep in the good graces of all politicians and it is wise to get "your guys" in office, smartest yet is to always have the winners like you just a little more.

taxing internet's heavy users

Kevin Martin, the FCC Chairman who I have the smallest of crushes on - no, not because of his boyish good looks (which don't hurt), but because of his ability to partially satisfy and disatisfy the left and right at all times (the sign of a true moderate) - has done it again: proposed a lukewarm intervention that has no one thrilled or particularly upset.

He's going after Comcast, one of the internet's "pipelines," for intentionally slowing down customers from sharing mega-digital files - but with no guns ablaring (he's not proposing a fine). It looks like Comcast even knows that it did a no-no and has already pretty much caved.

Martin's cautious approach gives hope to "net neutrality" folk who think the web should remain an open highway - with users and providers freely exchanging digital bits without any interference of tolls or priviliged "fast lanes." 

do we really want democracy anyway?

As those readers who hastled cJ to annotate our "hey, it's your democracy too" line (see above right) will probably know, our founding fathers never had it in mind to turn the US into a democracy.

Indeed, the idea kind of scared them. Among the problems with pure democracy, "tyranny of the majority" - where 51% of us could vote to take away the rights of 49% of us or just generally drive the nation into a ditch - ranked high. Yet, today it's almost a default belief that "the more democracy the better."

Rick Shenkman, author of the at times lambasting but mostly just fun "Just How Stupid Are We?", tries to remind us that more democracy is not necessarily a good thing - especially when its people are easily taken in by political soundbytes and theatrics.

Telling "The People" that they're not smart enough to run the country (which, with the power of polling, we kind of do today) should be unpopular, but Shenkman's book is 19th on Amazon's political books' list, which suggests that some of us are willing to take a bracing look at our own ignorance.

you know it's hard out here for a record producer

That's not exactly the line from the improbably awesome film Hustle & Flow - a somewhat disneyfied story about a pimp and his, um, girls - but it's what came to mind when reading about the building battle between record producers and AM and FM radio stations.

After years of playing songs royalty-free, radio may have to start paying for the privilege - if the music makers can push their bill through Congress (which looks likely - if not this year then next).

There's a lot of silly talk about "fairness" and "closing loopholes" - but to this simple girl, it seems pretty obvious what's going on.

Once upon a time the music industry made their dough selling records - and advertising their songs over the radio. Rather than charge stations for playing their tunes, they often paid FM and AM to put their records on the air to boost sales (citation: Hustle & Flow and Ray, another darned good flic).

it's official: Mandela no longer a terrorist

If you're part of a group or political movement, word to the wise: try very hard to not get yourself list of terrorist organizations.

'Cause if you do, even showing the world you're really just trying to do some good by - like - ending apartheid in South Africa is no guarantee you'll get off any time soon.

Last week the president signed a bill, HR 5690, taking the African National Congress - the party that, yes, ended apartheid - off the US's official list of terrorist groups. You could say it's about time; the ANC has been the ruling party in South Africa since 1994 and, in spite of some of its funky ideas about AIDS, has been a role model of humanity and sound leadership for nations making the transition to democratic governance.

PATRIOT II slips through - while we sleep

I have a theory: we, as humans, are biologically engineered to react not proact.

That's at least the best way I can explain the uproar after the PATRIOT Act became law - and the almost silent somnabulence over the wiretapping bill that is now making its way through Congress.

PATRIOT wasn't a sweetheart of a bill, but - in spite of the legitimate concerns of civil libertarians - it made relatively incremental changes in surveillance law. While it may have made it easier for the feds to get a warrant to search your home or listen in to your phone calls, it at least required the feds to go to court to get a warrant.

The new surveillance gives up the idea of warrants entirely. True, if an American is the target of an investigation, federal spies would still need to go to court to get the okay to tap your phone. But if someone abroad - or someone that is "reasonably" believed to be abroad - whom the feds thinks is connected to terrorists calls you, your conversation might be being listened in on - without a judge ever knowing.