This week I'm at the most wonderful place in the world – a mid-level academic conference! Your heart would burst to learn how much fun it is. Kidding aside, I am looking forward to spending a week around people who speak in sentences, occasionally read books, and do not patronize Golden Corral. Accordingly, content will be provided haphazardly this week. I do hope to bang out a few real posts between now and Sunday, but today you get salad. Delicious, leafy salad, loaded with croutons of knowledge.

1. Boy do I feel bad for anyone stuck living in Kansas, aka Brownbackistan. Sam Brownback is a crazy person, as evidenced by his residence with a creepy cult of ultraconservative Christians called "The Family" during his tenure in DC. Can you believe that the least insane name they could come up with was "The Family"? Me neither. Anyway, now-Governor Brownback is showing that the Romney/Ryan campaign strategy that worked so well in 2012 has staying power; rather than bothering to concoct a rationale for his actions and beliefs, he's simply lying his ass off. Kansas schools are badly underfunded and, in major cities, closing? No they're not! Just…tell everyone they're not. Because fuck it, that's why. This amusing Wichita Eagle editorial explores the differences between the Kansas described by Brownback in his role as a Republican Heavyweight (of last resort) and the actual Kansas inhabited by Kansans. The GOP is really embracing this Just Lying strategy. So much easier!

2. You've probably seen this NPR piece about the rise of disability – more accurately, the assignment of SSI disability benefits – in the U.S. over the past decade. Having worked in a field involving a lot of indigent people, I was aware that disability benefits can go to people who, by any vernacular definition of the term, are not disabled. It is staggering, though, to see the growth of SSI benefits in recent years as a sort of secret, de facto unemployment dole. It has become a place where we stash people who lack, or no longer have, marketable job skills and for whom the next step down on the socioeconomic ladder is homelessness or the illicit economy. I intend to say a lot more about this piece when time permits.

3. Look! Political science that isn't useless! Larry Bartels and colleagues have started to release some of the findings of their multi-year study of the attitudes and opinions of the super-wealthy. I had the good fortune of hearing Bartels talk about this project during the planning stages but not enough good fortune to get involved with it. It was clear from the beginning that this would end up being remarkably interesting. Indeed, some of the findings are exactly what you'd expect, but others paint The 0.1% in a more pragmatic, less Evil light than we often see. Here's a brief summary or, for masochists, the whole article from Perspectives on Politics2.

30 thoughts on “PROGRAMMING UPDATE”

  • Thank you, Ed, that article on disability was an eye-opener for a bleeding-heart Socialist, who will worry just a bit less about people now…

  • Middle Seaman says:

    1. Brownback scares me with his middle ages religious conviction.
    2. The series on disability was told from a centrist's perspective. The economist consulted was associated with the rightwing AEI. In a socially backward country like ours, finding a way to support people through disability is a miracle.
    3. What is missing is the fact that most of the rich Americans are Democrats. For example, in 2008 Obama got 70% of the votes in Aspen Colorado. Being Democratic explains much of the finding.

  • Middle Seaman says:

    The American Enterprise Institute economist that the report repeated include tells you that the piece was right of center. The reporting itself was also quite mediocre

  • Before you get all crazy on that disability story, you ought to read this:

    Most of the rise in disability claims is demographics. A small part of it is liberalization of the criteria. A small part of it is is people who are encouraged to apply because they have no job and no money, and fuck it, what do they have to lose. And yes, as NPR notes, there aren't sit-down jobs for these people. 250-lb woman with diabetes, high blood pressure, and bad knees? You're either on your feet for 8 hours straight (no breaks in right-to-work states, sorry) or you're not working.

    But whatever it is, it's not a "nation of moochers" or whatever the right-wingers are calling it nowadays.

    The average disability payment is a little over $1,100/month, about $13,000/year. The entire SSI disability program costs $120 billion per year. But of course these are disabled WORKERS – they've been paying into the insurance program for their working lives. I'm not sure why it is mooching to pay for insurance and collect on it.

  • My neighbor is missing a kidney and has something like 35% function left in her remaining kidney. They're actively searching for a kidney donor for her.

    She has been trying to get on SSI disability and has had her application rejected. From what I understand this is pretty common and it may take multiple appeals before she gets approved.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    Governor D. Evolution Silverback, and his Christo-Crypto-Fascist followers in Kansas, see their state in Conservative Jesus-land Technicolor hues, as if it's Oz.

    Everyone else sees a worsening Manichean, Black & White, Kansas – soon to be even more of a Banana Republic sh*thole.

    The reality in Kansas is that things are getting worse.

    So Governor D. Evolution Silverback needs to colorize it, so the suckers, rubes, fools, bobo's, marks, idiots, morons, imbeciles, and religious idiots (but I keep repeating myself) continue to fall for his grift – that he's Oz, "The Great and Powerful" Christian Savior- so that he can plan his run for President in 2016, where, laugh as we might at the prospect, if he's elected, people in the rest of the world will ask, "Never mind Kansas. What's the f*ck's the matter with the whole United States?"

    PS: I have a lot to say about the SSDI issue, since I'm 55 and trying to get it – but I'll save my word-turds for that subject for when Ed writes a dedicated post to it.

  • Mingent Whizmaster says:

    The summary says there were 83 individual Chicagoans surveyed,
    with a median worth of $7.5 million. I am going to say therefore
    that most of these persons were not members of 'the 1%'.

  • I give a side-eye to the disability article, as well. Like Major Kong, I have anecdata: a college-educated, profesional-career neighbor, worked for 30 years, developed a debilitating bone wasting disease, is unable to stand or sit for any length of time…and has been denied a couple of times now (not sure how many) for disability.

  • I couldn't make it through 15 minutes of the This American Life version of the disability piece. Joffe-Walt's shock that the work available to poor people in the rural south is physically demanding was just ridiculous. At one point, a woman talks about how she is on disability because she had herniated discs in her back, and Joffe-Walt says something like, "My editor has a herniated disc, but he works. Who decides when that makes you disabled?" She then makes a big show of being shocked to learn that jobs sitting all day and typing on a computer are not available to non-educated poor people in remote rural areas. I didn't think she was trying to call those on disabilities as "moochers"–if anything, it was the opposite–but her pains to position herself as the centrist everyman in recounting of her reporting and the absurd naivete–either real, or put on for effect–about what these people struggled with was frustrating.

  • Thanks to those who provided links to alternate perspectives on the disability article. At the root of things I think there is a problem with not enough people being able to find jobs on which they can support themselves. But it's always good to look at more than one source when investigating specific issues like how many people are going on disability and why.

  • I was also going to mention that The Last Psychiatrist has a fascinating (and educational) take on SSI.

    My tl;dr take on his version is that SSI is federally funded and Welfare is state funded. Move them off of Welfare and onto SSI and everyone's happy.

  • As a law student I worked briefly on disability cases (2 semesters) and the commenters here disputing the accuracy of that NPR piece are right on — there are systemic and disturbing reasons that incredibly poor and uneducated people get stuck with SSDI as a last resort, and there are also incredibly perverse denials for people clearly unable to functionally produce anything but despair and heartbreak in the working world. Naturally there are also some who just want a payout, and moochers, just as anywhere, but the rise in disability is probably for exactly the reason Jon says above — it shifts to the federales and states can forget about the needy and claim "balanced" budgets (or other fantasies). What struck me about the minimal controversy was that Ira Glass claimed the piece was "fact-checked" so carefully — the facts weren't the problem, though, it was the creepy slant they gave to them, which he totally pretends isn't there.

  • I see I'm not the only one taking issue with the NPR reporting of the SSI story – this is the link that I found the most comprehensive in terms of compiling the critiques of other experts across the board. Joffe-Walt glosses over a LOT of things, not the least of which are the stringent criteria that determine whether someone qualifies for SSI. It's certainly not as simple as "my back hurts".

  • Phire says (above) "… It's certainly not as simple as "my back hurts"."

    True. But some places it's tougher than others. We have a local Chief Administrative Law Judge awarding SSI who rarely awards SSI for any disability that isn't immediately obvious to him. If you have something wrong that he can't see, it will often require several appeals and more extensive medical documentation–which most SSI applicants can't afford because they don't exactly have health insurance, either. Needless to say, the rest of the ALJs would love to "vote him off the island…"

  • @Ruthie, yes, it does seem that some places are tougher than others. Everyone seems to know someone who's milking the system, and everyone seems to know someone who is legitimately disabled who has to file multiple appeals. That's not snark, that's a plain statement of fact.

    Meanwhile, the rightwing with their black-and-white thinking has cast anyone on any form of disability as a lazy "welfare queen", and their black-and-white-thinking followers have taken that message to heart.

  • @CaptBackslap:

    My take on TLP is "one-of-a-kind prose stylist, well informed, intellectually rigorous, and generally on a raging rum bender whenever he posts these days."

  • Oh, gawd. Yet another two-minutes-of-hate about the Planet Money/This American Life disability piece, and yet again from people who appear not to have listened to any of it. If you listen to that hour of radio and really come away thinking its message was "lazy moochers pretending to be disabled," the problem wasn't with the transmission but the receiver. The comments of Jimcat, Jon and Greg reflect observations that are precisely noted in the PM/TAL broadcast. DH, if you can't tell irony from genuine shock, I can't help you. Lance Mannion, whom I generally love, appears to have missed the point entirely—Joffe-Walt wasn't denying or ignoring that disability is serving as a last-ditch welfare program by people who've been left behind by an economy that won't make room for them, she's explicitly making that very point.

    Phire, yes, the medium demands certain simplifications, and they only had an hour. But your summary is simply unfair. It's definitively not as simple as "my back hurts." And TAL just did not say that it was.

    Paul Krugman, as usual, gets it precisely right. But notice what he says! Not that disability claims aren't rising, but that in context of demographics it looks less dramatic.

    And The Last Psychiatrist is a half-wit. Outside of Newt Gingrich a better example cannot be found of a stupid person's idea of what a smart person sounds like.

  • After clicking through to the brief summary, the ads for me on LGM are 'Single? Meet Local Millionaire Singles. Join now!' Barf.

  • I laughed at Ed's Golden Corral comment but must share this. My father-in-law met his second wife at the Golden Corral and they had the wedding there (at 85 and 75, respectively). We all went to the buffet line for lunch afterwards. It was actually very nice.

  • ZeroInMyOnes says:

    Prof Taco and Commenters, thanks for a great site. You always give me some real banter to think about, and some good laffs. I wouldn't mind running in to you at a conference, if someone would just invite me…

    And now I can't wait for the summer when I have time to cruise the highways with my honey. We are going to have to check out that Golden Corral for ourselves…

  • Humph, I am a masochist so I went to the full article. Table 8 shows rich folk at 73% on increased government spending in a recession versus 31% of the general public. Interesting how the rightists (or as my friends like to call them, the Party of Hate) have driven the message of austerity as the solution to recession down to the masses, while those with money (and presumably those who did not sleep through macroeconomics) realize that Keynesian economics would favor a government spending its way out of a recession (and what a time to do so – debt can be incurred for almost nothing and the totality of the infrastructure is crumbling). Sigh.

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