Stories I’d like to see

Questions for Ryan, working for welfare, updates on Olbermann and Facebook

In his weekly “Stories I’d like to see” column, journalist and entrepreneur Steven Brill spotlights topics that, in his opinion, have received insufficient media attention. This article was originally published on

1. Quick questions for Paul Ryan:

It’s too bad Bob Schieffer didn’t get to these questions for Paul Ryan on 60 Minutes last Sunday night:

Have you calculated how much the average American enrolled in Social Security would have lost in the 2008-2009 market collapse if he or she had been allowed to move those funds into private stock accounts, as your 2004 Social Security privatization plan would have encouraged? Does that change your view of whether we should move Social Security in that direction?

In his recent profile of you in the New Yorker, Ryan Lizza says you were “embarrassed” by the Bush years and by the votes you cast in support of deficit-widening programs such as the extension of Medicare to cover prescription drugs. Which votes, including that one, would you take back? And, more important, would you now urge a President Romney to move to repeal prescription drug coverage if you are elected?

You were on the Simpson-Bowles commission but, along with the two other House Republicans and two of the three House Democrats, you voted against the commission’s plan, which as you know was a compromise that called for cuts in benefits and spending as well as increases in tax revenues. Don’t you think that kind of basic compromise is necessary?

As you know, Governor Romney paid a tax rate of 13.9 percent on his adjusted gross income in 2010. What do you think a fair tax rate would be for someone in his income bracket? And how does that compare with what he would have paid if the Ryan budget plan had been in effect?

2. How does the welfare law’s work requirement really work?

The controversy ignited by a Romney campaign attack ad over whether the Obama administration is really trying to eliminate the requirement that welfare recipients get jobs raises a question I haven’t seen answered amid all that’s been reported so far: How does this work requirement actually work?

As Michael Crowley pointed out in this smart post on, requiring the poor to find work is especially difficult for “low-educated black and Hispanic workers, who in some urban areas face unemployment rates approaching a stunning 25%.”

So what exactly does the welfare reform law pushed by Republicans and signed by President Clinton in 1996 mandate? I know states have some latitude in applying it; in fact, it’s the question of how much latitude to give them that has sparked the Romney campaign’s charge that President Obama wants to scrap the requirement altogether by letting states waive it, which he denies. But how does the law actually operate in the various states? Can people still get checks if they only demonstrate that they are seeking work or being trained for work? For how long? And what are the definitions of seeking work or training? Let’s have a look at some real cases, and then let’s examine how the waivers being talked about would actually apply. Not only is this now a relevant campaign issue; it’s also an overdue story about how those hurt the most by the Great Recession are being treated by their government.

3. What’s happening in the Olbermann-Current litigation?

It’s now been four months since former Current TV marquee anchor Keith Olbermann sued Current and co-founders Al Gore and Joel Hyatt for $70 million for firing him. The complaint, sprinkled with Olbermann’s trademark over-the-top rhetoric, leveled assorted charges of incompetence, fraud, and other misconduct against Gore and Hyatt. For its part, Current TV filed a cross-complaint, charging Olbermann with breach of contract.

So, it might be time for some reporter to check in with each side’s lawyers - or, for better quotes, if not better information, with Olbermann himself - to find out what’s happened since, including whether any depositions have been taken or any documents exchanged, all of which should be part of the public court record.

4. The Facebook IPO suits?

Speaking of lawsuits, what’s happening with all the complaints filed against Facebook, its underwriters and Nasdaq following its poorly received and even more poorly executed IPO last May? As I wrote then and as the brothers Winklevoss know, “Facebook and CEO Mark Zuckerberg have proved in the past to be tough defendants who don’t cave.” That could set this case apart from the typical suits like this, in which the corporate defendants pay off the plaintiffs’ lawyers with a quick settlement. As Facebook’s stock continues to struggle following disappointment with the revenue growth numbers reported in the company’s first post-IPO earnings statement, have the plaintiffs dug in harder? What about the defendants?

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Steven Brill , the author of Class Warfare: Inside the Fight To Fix America’s Schools, has written for magazines including New York, The New Yorker, Time, Harper's, and The New York Times Magazine. He founded and ran Court TV, The American Lawyer magazine, ten regional legal newspapers, and Brill's Content magazine. He also teaches journalism at Yale, where he founded the Yale Journalism Initiative. Tags: , , ,