Smart takes
March 17, 2014

Over at The New York Times, Timothy Egan notices a strange similarity between Paul Ryan's rhetoric on poverty, and that of the English authorities during the 19th century potato famine in Ireland:

A great debate raged in London: Would it be wrong to feed the starving Irish with free food, thereby setting up a "culture of dependency"? Certainly England's man in charge of easing the famine, Sir Charles Trevelyan, thought so. "Dependence on charity," he declared, "is not to be made an agreeable mode of life."

And there I ran into Paul Ryan. His great-great-grandfather had fled to America. But the Republican congressman was very much in evidence, wagging his finger at the famished. His oft-stated "culture of dependency" is a safety net that becomes a lazy-day hammock. But it was also England's excuse for lethal negligence.

There is no comparison, of course, between the de facto genocide that resulted from British policy, and conservative criticism of modern American poverty programs.

But you can't help noticing the deep historic irony that finds a Tea Party favorite and descendant of famine Irish using the same language that English Tories used to justify indifference to an epic tragedy. [The New York Times]

I don't think anyone really thinks dependence on charity or a culture of dependency ought to be a long-term condition. Self-reliance is an indisputable virtue. But for the truly helpless, there can be no pathway back to self-reliance if one starves to death. Famine is not honorable or virtuous. Nor is it civilized to live in a country where the poor starve to death.

Paul Ryan would do better to set out an agenda of job creation than lecture the poor on the virtues of self-improvement. There are lots and lots of people who want jobs, who want to work and want the dignity of self-reliance — so many that there are 2.9 job seekers for every job opening. People can't lift themselves out of poverty and off welfare if the economy isn't creating an abundance of jobs. Job creation comes first. John Aziz

ISIS
7:53 a.m. ET

American intelligence analysts believe the U.S. could be making better progress against ISIS if they weren't trying to prevent civilian deaths.

The New York Times reports that the U.S. has avoided targeting seven key buildings in Raqqa, Syria, that serve as ISIS headquarters. And last week, U.S. forces didn't stop ISIS from overtaking Ramadi, Iraq. American officials have admitted they avoid the large ISIS targets because the attacks could kill civilians.

The Times notes that many Iraqi commanders, and some American officers, think the U.S. is using too much judiciousness with its air power. "The international alliance is not providing enough support compared with ISIS’ capabilities on the ground in Anbar," Maj. Muhammed al-Dulaimi, an Iraqi officer in the Anbar Province, which contains Ramadi, told the Times. "We lost large territories in Anbar because of the inefficiency of the U.S.-led coalition airstrikes."

The plan is backfiring, too: ISIS militants are using civilian areas to avoid being bombed by U.S.-led airstrikes. Meghan DeMaria

Iraq
7:26 a.m. ET
John Moore/Getty Images

On Tuesday, Iraqi state television announced that Iraqi security forces, Shiite militias, and Sunni paramilitary forces have launched an expected offensive to dislodge Islamic State from western Anbar province. ISIS captured the provincial capital Ramadi, 70 miles from Baghdad, earlier in May.

Iraq is putting a brave face on the setback, with Shiite militia spokesman Ahmed al-Assadi predicting that the counter-offensive will "not last a long time" and saying that Iraqi forces have Ramadi surrounded on three sides, and are using new weapons "that will surprise the enemy." Iraqi commanders are also complaining that the U.S. isn't using its air power boldly enough, The New York Times reports, specifically as ISIS was attacking Ramadi. The U.S. says it has been limiting its aerial targets to prevent civilian casualties. Peter Weber

veterans affairs
5:58 a.m. ET
Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images/Comedy Central

For the past three years, Daily Show host Jon Stewart has been quietly running five-week-long boot camps aimed at getting interested war veterans into the television industry. On Monday, The New York Times made the program public, publishing an interview in which Stewart explained why he hasn't been touting the program — he didn't want Daily Show fans as much as vets looking to break into Hollywood, for example — and why he is talking about it now: He's retiring, and he wants other TV shows to create similar programs.

"This is ready to franchise. Please steal our idea," Stewart told The Times. “It isn't charity. To be good in this business you have to bring in different voices from different places, and we have this wealth of experience that just wasn't being tapped." Stewart said that veterans face a special challenge when it comes to getting jobs in the TV business:

There are well-worn channels into this industry that are closed off to veterans.... You get into the television industry generally by going to certain colleges known for having good television programs, getting internships, and getting to know people who work in the industry. A lot of veterans never had that opportunity because they were busy at war. This is a way to give them that chance. [Stewart]

Stewart has hired at least two vets for the show, and says they are “way less whiny” than most of his employees. Read more about the program at The New York Times.

Mergers and acquisitions
5:30 a.m. ET
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

On Tuesday, Charter Communications confirmed its bid to buy Time Warner Cable for about $55.33 billion in cash and stock. If the deal is approved, Charter would pay about $195 a share, which is about 14 percent more than Time Warner Cable's closing stock price on Friday. If you include debt, the deal is worth about $78.7 billion. The combination of Charter, Time Warner, and Bright House Networks would have 23 million customers in the U.S., second only to Comcast's 27 million. Comcast dropped its bid for Time Warner Cable last month, amid regulatory scrutiny. Peter Weber

ISIS
5:02 a.m. ET

Islamic State controls a chunk of territory about the size of Belgium, and that territory doesn't govern itself. You probably already know about the self-proclaimed "caliph," Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, but if you've ever been curious about the rest of ISIS's organizational chart, BBC News tries to fill in the blanks. Given the nature of ISIS, the BBC isn't able to provide a complete chart — al-Baghdadi's "inner circle is secretive and keeps changing as members are killed," BBC News notes — but it's an interesting look at the big picture, and in just 90 seconds. Watch below. —Peter Weber

Quotables
4:28 a.m. ET
Kevin Winter/Getty Images for AFI

If you are wondering how Art Garfunkel feels about erstwhile musical partner Paul Simon, Nigel Farndale at Britain's The Telegraph has a pretty candid interview with the singer-poet. "He's a hard man to get the measure of, Art Garfunkel," Farndale writes. "On the one hand he still seems eaten up by bitterness about his divorce from Paul Simon, yet he also talks about his old friend (they were at school together) with deep affection."

"I want to open up about this," Garfunkel told Farndale when he asked about Simon breaking up Simon & Garfunkel in 1970, at the height of their popularity.

I don't want to say any anti–Paul Simon things, but it seems very perverse to not enjoy the glory and walk away from it instead. Crazy. What I would have done is take a rest from Paul, because he was getting on my nerves. The jokes had run dry. But a rest of a year was all I needed. [Garfunkel]

Later in the interview, Garfunkel said that he is absolutely willing to tour with Simon again, as he has been since 1971. Then he seemed to rhetorically address Simon: "How can you walk away from this lucky place on top of the world, Paul? What's going on with you, you idiot? How could you let that go, jerk?"

Read the entire interview for Garfunkel's jaundiced views of Paul McCartney, his 1970s math-teaching career, and his fail-safe pickup line, among other revelations. But Garfunkel ended with a bang, suggesting that Simon has a Napoleon complex, that he befriended him in grade school because he felt sorry for his short stature, and that "that compensation gesture has created a monster." Peter Weber

It's about time
3:50 a.m. ET

"It tastes like beer," is pretty high praise for a non-alcoholic brew. It's also the surprise verdict of The Wall Street Journal's Emma Moody, when presented with Clausthaler's new Amber Dry Hopped near-beer. Reporter Charles Passy presented the non-alcoholic beer to show Memorial Day weekend drivers that there are alternatives to sparkling water or DWIs, but beer without a buzz is useful for people who aren't able to drink alcohol for whatever reason, like pregnancy or a desire to enjoy the day but drink beer with breakfast.

The usual problem with non-alcoholic beer is that it tastes awful, or at least nothing like beer. The addition of delicious Cascade hops (from Yakima, Washington, which Passy mangles — it's pronounced YEAH-kih-ma) appears to solve that problem. It isn't exactly an IPA, but it's pretty close, and "it's definitely drinkable," Moody says. "I think it's refreshing for a summer day," Passy adds. That's more than can be said of most alcohol-free beer. —Peter Weber

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