Thursday Reads: The American Dream

The American Dream - post-war abundance

The American Dream – post-war abundance

Good Morning!!

What is the American Dream? Is it prosperity for everyone? Is it access to nature and a clean environment? Is it a good job, a house, a family? Is it a good education and the chance to be upwardly mobile? Is it a better future for your children and grandchildren? Is whatever it once was dead? Is it even worth talking about?

This morning there’s a Washington Post op-ed in which Elizabeth Warren and Bill de Blasio describe their vision of “How to revive the American Dream.”

In this land of big dreams, there was never a dream bigger or more important than the one so deeply rooted in our values that it became known as the American Dream. Across generations, Americans shared the belief that hard work would bring opportunity and a better life. America wasn’t perfect, but we invested in our kids and put in place policies to build a strong middle class.

We don’t do that anymore, and the result is clear: The rich get richer, while everyone else falls behind. The game is rigged, and the people who rigged it want it to stay that way. They claim that if we act to improve the economic well-being of hard-working Americans — whether by increasing the minimum wage, reining in lawbreakers on Wall Street or doing practically anything else — we will threaten economic growth.

They are wrong.

That thinking is backward. A growing body of research — including work done by Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and the Roosevelt Institute — shows clearly that an increasing disparity between rich and poor, cronyism and an economic system that works only for those at the top are bad for the middle class and bad for our economy.


Warren and de Blasio are correct that the dream went terribly wrong after Ronald Reagan became president.

When the economy works for everyone, consumers have money to spend at businesses, and when businesses have more customers, they build more factories, hire more workers and sell more products — and the economy grows. For decades, our economy was built around this core understanding. We made big investments in the things that would create opportunities for everyone: public schools and universities; roads and bridges and power grids; research that spurred new industries, technologies — and jobs — here in the United States. We supported strong unions that pushed for better wages and working conditions, seeing those unions improve lives both for their members and for workers everywhere.

And it worked. From the 1930s to the late 1970s, as gross domestic product went up, wages increased more or less across the board. As the economic pie got bigger, pretty much everyone was getting a little more. That was how the United States built a great middle class.

Then in the early 1980s, a new theory swept the country. Its disciples claimed that if government policies took care of the rich and powerful, wealth would trickle down for everyone else. Trickle-down believers cut taxes sharply for those at the top and pushed for “deregulation” that hobbled the cops on Wall Street and let the most powerful corporations far too often do as they pleased.


All very true. But how do we return to fairness and prosperity for everyone, not just the wealthy few? Warren and de Blasio offer a familiar list of government policies that could turn things around–read them at the link–but they don’t explain how to accomplish these goals in the age of Citizens United, a Republican-controlled congress, and a Supreme Court that favors the rights of corporations over those of individuals. How do we get past the hopelessness and inertia and get Americans to get out and vote for candidates who will stand up for the bottom 99%? How do we even find those candidates?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m basically an optimist and I always have hope for change. But how do we get there from here?

I do think there are some positives signs.

Hillary Clinton is beginning to convince some folks that she’s really a separate person from her husband–a more liberal candidate than he was in the 1990s. In fact Bill Clinton might be more liberal now too. Despite what the Villagers preach, people can change and grow and develop new ideas an opinions. Imagine that Chris Cillizza!

American dream Tbird

One journalist who seems to be catching on is Charles Pierce. Here’s what he had to say yesterday: One Of These Is Not Like The Others: Two Clintons, No Waiting.

For all the noise about e-mails and honoraria, and all the passive-aggressive nostalgia for the Great Penis Chase of the 1990’s, something very interesting has been going on with Rodham Clinton’s campaign since she announced its official launch….

All during her husband’s administration, HRC was considered to be the more progressive of the two. She supported the accommodations he made to get re-elected, some of which were pretty damned ghastly. She also was one of the most vocal in defense of that administration against the organized ratfking that sought to destroy it. (The only mistake she made, as Calvin Trillin pointed out at the time was that she referred to a “vast right-wing conspiracy” rather than a creepy little cabal.) I once had a long conversation with a former Clinton lawyer. He told me that, if there were 1000 people in a room, and 999 thought Bill Clinton was a direct descendant of Jesus Christ, and one of them thought he was the spawn of Satan, Clinton would seek out that one person and spend the rest of the night and all the following day trying to change that person’s mind. That is not something anyone ever has said about Ms. Rodham Clinton. The edges of her triangulations are all sharp ones.

All of this is to point out that not only is the whole “two for the price of one” trope beloved of people whose politics came of age in the 1990’s outdated and inadequate, but so is the political strategy of the first Clinton Administration. Clinton herself seems to be acknowledging this political reality. She started talking on economics like Elizabeth Warren. Her speech on criminal justice reform was aimed at excesses many of which have roots in her husband’s law-and-order compromises in the mid-1990’s. (So, it should be noted, do many of the Patriot Act’s more controversial provisions.) For the moment, I choose to believe this is not merely a bow to political expedience, but something genuine and, if progressives are smart, infinitely exploitable.


Most of them will never get it, but maybe, just maybe Hillary can get her message out to the people who count–voters–and get them fired up enough to go to the polls in November 2016.

I also think it’s a good sign that Bernie Sanders has decided to run for president. No, he has no chance in hell of getting the nomination, but he might be able to get the media to publicize some of his ideas. He could also be a foil for Hillary, giving her an opportunity to draw attention to her more innovative and liberal ideas. Some of the latest news about Bernie’s efforts:

Reuters: Why socialist Bernie Sanders may just shake up the 2016 presidential race, by Robert Borosage.

Sanders is a funhouse mirror image of Clinton. She has universal name recognition (by her first name), unlimited funds, national campaign experience and a powerhouse political operation. He has scant name recognition, paltry funds, no national campaign experience and hasn’t begun to build a campaign staff. With a net-worth ranking among the lowest in the Senate, Sanders can be an authentic populist — the real deal. As one supporter said, he is the candidate of the “12-hour filibuster and the $12 haircut.”

Sanders’s announcement was treated with respect by a press corps eager for any kind of race on the Democratic side. Pundits dismiss his chances in part because Clinton is expected to raise a billion dollars or more for her campaign. Sanders hopes to raise $50 million.

But Sanders is likely to do far more than exceed low expectations. His candidacy could have a dramatic effect in building an already growing populist movement inside and outside the Democratic Party.

As Sanders made clear in his announcement, his focus will be on the central challenges facing this country: an economy that does not work for the vast majority of its citizens and a politics corrupted by big money and entrenched interests.

Sanders refuses to take part in politicians’ usual, incessant pursuit of large donations. So he is a political rarity: Someone free to speak forcefully to the often insidious connection between the two.


Will people pay attention? I think it’s possible. So does David Horsey of the LA Times: Bernie Sanders’ ‘socialism’ may have mainstream appeal.

Finally, conservatives have a real socialist to go crazy about. Instead of concocting dark fairytales about how Barack Obama, a very conventional liberal Democrat, is a secret Marxist who wants to destroy the American way of life, they can shriek about Bernie Sanders, the independent Vermont senator who has never shied away from the socialist label.

Sanders is now the first person to challenge Hillary Rodham Clinton in the race to win the 2016 Democratic Party presidential nomination. Clinton, though, is not his real adversary, Sanders says. He refuses to make disparaging comments about Clinton and insists he has never run an attack ad in any campaign and will not do so against her. Sanders wants to take on the billionaires, not Hillary.

Nobody gives the 73-year-old Sanders a chance of stopping the Clinton political juggernaut, but some think he could make it veer to the left. If the Vermonter gets traction in debates and primaries with his unabashedly progressive positions, Clinton might be forced to match at least some of his rhetoric. Would that be a bad thing for Democrats? Not if enough beleaguered middle class voters get a chance to consider what Sanders’ version of “socialism” entails and like what they see.

Go to the LA Times link to read Horsey’s list of Sanders’ ideas that could interest voters.


Sam Stein at Huffington Post: Bernie Sanders Raises $3 Million In Four Days.

With the help of a crew of former aides to President Barack Obama, Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) campaign has raised $3 million in four days for his presidential campaign — a dramatic indication that he won’t be confined simply to a long-shot role in the Democratic primary.

Sanders, who is running for president as a Democrat, announced on Wednesday that he has retained the services of the firm Revolution Messaging to run digital ads and online fundraising. The staffers with the firm who will be working on Sanders’ campaign include Revolution Messaging’s founder, Scott Goodstein, who ran the 2008 Obama campaign’s social media and mobile programs; Arun Chaudhary, who was the first official White House videographer; Shauna Daly, who served as deputy research director on Obama’s 2008 campaign; and Walker Hamilton, who was a lead programmer for that campaign.

“Like a lot of Obama supporters, we were looking for a candidate with a track record of doing the right thing — even if it meant taking on Wall Street billionaires and other powerful interests. A candidate who could inspire a movement,” said Goodstein. “Bernie Sanders is that candidate.”

Due to his long-standing criticism of the influence of big-money interests on government, Sanders has strong online and grassroots appeal, which he hopes to leverage to raise the money needed to fund a presidential campaign. And so far, the strategy looks savvy. The campaign has received roughly 75,000 contributions, and the average amount is $43. According to a campaign adviser, 99.4 percent of the donations have been $250 or less, and 185,000 supporters have signed up on the website

Not bad.

What do you think? What does the American Dream represent for you?

As always, this is an open thread. Post your thoughts and links on any topic in the comment thread and have a terrific Thursday!

Tuesday Reads: Dreaming a Life; Obama and Putin; NSA and Snowden

coffee shop bike

Good Morning!!

I’m going to begin with an article I came across yesterday while reading the Guardian. It’s about a story from 2006 that I remembered and sometimes think about–a woman whose skeletonized body was found in her apartment three years after she died.

On 25 January 2006, officials from a north London housing association repossessing a bedsit in Wood Green owing to rent arrears made a grim discovery. Lying on the sofa was the skeleton of a 38-year-old woman who had been dead for almost three years. In a corner of the room the television set was still on, tuned to BBC1, and a small pile of unopened Christmas presents lay on the floor. Washing up was heaped in the kitchen sink and a mountain of post lay behind the front door. Food in the refrigerator was marked with 2003 expiry dates. The dead woman’s body was so badly decomposed it could only be identified by comparing dental records with an old holiday photograph of her smiling. Her name was revealed to be Joyce Carol Vincent.

Joyce Carol Vincent

Joyce Carol Vincent

How could such a thing happen? So often we hear sad stories like this and never get any answers to our questions. In this case, filmmaker Carol Morley decided to find out who Joyce Carol Vincent was, and she has made a documentary about her quest called Dreams of a Life. She writes:

In a city such as London, home to 8 million people, how could someone’s absence go unnoticed for so long? Who was Joyce Vincent? What was she like? How could she have been forgotten?

News of Joyce’s death quickly made it into the global media, which registered shock at the lack of community spirit in the UK. The story ran on in the British press, but still no photograph of Joyce appeared and little personal information.

Soon Joyce dropped out of the news. I watched as people discussed her in internet chatrooms, wondering if she was an urban myth, or talking about her as though she never mattered, calling her a couch potato, and posting comments such as: “What’s really sad is no one noticed she was missing – must have been one miserable bitch.” And then even that kind of commentary vanished.

But I couldn’t let go. I didn’t want her to be forgotten. I decided I must make a film about her.

She began by placing advertisements in newspapers asking anyone who knew Joyce to come forward. It turned out that Joyce had lots of friends over the years. She had been engaged to be married before she died, and she had also spent some time in a battered women’s shelter.  Eventually, Morley was able to talk to many people who had known Joyce. She describes her journey in the Guardian article. It’s an amazing story, and I hope you’ll go read the whole thing.

Follow me below the fold for some news and opinion…

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Thursday Reads: Villagers Turn On Obama, Texas Tornadoes, West TX Investigations, and Boston Bombing News


Good Morning!!

It’s beginning to look like Obama’s second term is pretty much over before it begins. We’re facing years of Republican scandalmongering and “investigations” of a president who won’t fight back or even fight for his own favored legislation or judicial and government appointments.

What is Obama actually doing every day? Does he spend the time he isn’t fund-raising or doing meaningless public appearances deciding which “extremist” to drone strike next? Because he certainly doesn’t seem to be governing.

Maybe I’m wrong. Who knows. All I know is that the Villagers are finished with him. We got the news yesterday from Politico’s top gossip mavens Jim Vandehei and Mike Allen in one of their trademark “Behind the Curtain” posts: D.C. turns on Obama.

The town is turning on President Obama — and this is very bad news for this White House.
Republicans have waited five years for the moment to put the screws to Obama — and they have one-third of all congressional committees on the case now. Establishment Democrats, never big fans of this president to begin with, are starting to speak out. And reporters are tripping over themselves to condemn lies, bullying and shadiness in the Obama administration.

Buy-in from all three D.C. stakeholders is an essential ingredient for a good old-fashioned Washington pile-on — so get ready for bad stories and public scolding to pile up.

Really? if powerful Democrats weren’t “big fans” of Obama, why did they work their asses off to hand him the nomination in 2008 when they could just as easily have chosen Hillary Clinton?

Of course the “establishment Democrats” that Vandehei and Allen choose to quote in their piece are hardly current insiders, as Charles Pierce pointed out:

Not to minimize the inherent political savvy of Chris Lehane, one anonymous former Obama aide, one anonymous “longtime Washingtonian,” or Vernon Jordan — who, I admit, I’d thought had long gone off to peddle influence in the Beyond — but I think they’re pretty much camouflage here for the fiery tantrum summoned up by the authors.

(And, not for nothing, but “longtime Washingtonian” may well be the beau ideal of TBOTP sourcing. They should make it the company motto. And the two presiding geniuses are going to be shocked one morning when they look in the mirror and see Sally Quinn staring back at them.)

Nevertheless, the Villagers certainly pay more attention to Vandehei and Allen’s pontifications than Pierce’s. Here’s a little more of their venom:

Obama’s aloof mien and holier-than-thou rhetoric have left him with little reservoir of good will, even among Democrats. And the press, after years of being accused of being soft on Obama while being berated by West Wing aides on matters big and small, now has every incentive to be as ruthless as can be.

This White House’s instinctive petulance, arrogance and defensiveness have all worked to isolate Obama at a time when he most needs a support system. “It feel like they don’t know what they’re here to do,” a former senior Obama administration official said. “When there’s no narrative, stuff like this consumes you.”

Even Greg Sargent acknowledges that Politico probably speaks for the DC establishment, particularly the corporate media.

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Thursday Reads: Banks Reopen in Cyprus; An End to “Too Big to Fail” Banks (?); Vagina-Phobia; and Much More

Banks reopen in Cyprus and media jostle to get the best view - posted by Joe Parkinson (@JoeWSJ)

Banks reopen in Cyprus and media jostle to get the best view – posted by Joe Parkinson (@JoeWSJ)

Good Morning!!

The banks have opened in Cyprus with controls on how much depositors can withdraw.

Joe Weisenthal posted updates at his Business Insider blog:

At 6:00 AM ET, banks in Cyprus reopened their doors for the first time since March 16.

Wall Street Journal’s Joe Parkinson reports that only eight people are being allowed in at a time at one Bank of Cyprus branch.

However, the crowds have been orderly.

Everyone is wondering whether there will be a huge run on the banks.

So far? Not yet.

This is likely due to a set of capital controls that have been imposed on the banks.  Specifically, Cypriot depositors cannot withdraw more than 300 euros per day from any one bank.  Also, checks cannot be cashed.

These controls will be in place for seven days.

See more Twitter updates and photos at the link. International Business Times has some details about the capital controls that are supposed to prevent bank runs. In addition to the withdrawal limit, depositors can’t cash checks unless they come from another country.

In the meantime, non-cash payments or money transfers are banned unless they are related to a number of conditions.

These conditions include commercial transactions, payroll, living expenses and tuition fees.

If commercials transactions are less than €5,000, there are no restrictions, but payments above this amount and up to €200,000 will be subject to a 24-hour decision making process, in order to determine whether the liquidity of the bank would be able to incur such a withdrawal.

Transfers for paying employees will also still be allowed but relevant documents would have to be presented in order to prove the money is being used to pay staff.

Transactions on credit or debit cards are also capped at €5,000 euros per month.

According to the Wall Street Journal, some large depositors seemingly had advance knowledge of what was going to happen in Cyprus and moved their money out of the country weeks before the crisis.

The chairman of the Committee for Institutions in the Cypriot Parliament, Deputy Dimitris Syllouris, said he had submitted a letter to the Central Bank of Cyprus demanding an investigation into account holders who moved large sums of cash out of the country in the weeks ahead of Cyprus’s chaotic bailout talks…

He said he had received information about individuals and businesses moving money out of Cyprus weeks ahead of the bailout deal—a move that wouldn’t be illegal but could imply that some depositors had warning that negotiations for a bailout could, for the first time in the financial crisis that has rattled the euro zone, take a cut out of regular bank deposits.

Asked whether his suspicions focused on one specific group of depositors, he said “politicians, all sorts of people, and bankers themselves are no better.”

That figures…

Outflows from Cyprus were increasing from moderate levels from January until March 15, the officials said. Last week—especially after March 19, when the Cypriot Parliament rejected the first bailout deal that would have imposed a one-time levy on large deposits—the outflows under the central bank’s exemptions went up significantly, they said.

Several hundred million euros, but less than a billion euros, left the country despite the bank closures, according to one official.

At Bloomberg, Clive Crook says Cyprus’ Plan B is Still a Disaster.

The new deal has removed the craziest part of the agreement reached March 16 — the plan to default on deposit insurance. Let’s not dwell any further on that insanity. But the new plan still has features that, seen in any other context, would surely arouse surprise.

For instance, the so-called troika of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund wanted to be sure that the new debt Cyprus is about to take on will be sustainable — meaning, presumably, that Cyprus will be able to repay it. Yet, by writing down high- value deposits, the revised plan will also cause a sudden contraction of the Cypriot banking system, and thus of the whole Cypriot economy, which depends on banking to an unusual degree.

He concludes that,

Bailout fatigue says: “The Cypriots got themselves into this mess, and they should get themselves out. We’ll lend them a bit more, but only if we’re sure they’ll pay us back.” Cyprus didn’t get itself into this mess. It joined the euro system in 2008 with low public debt and a clean bill of health from EU governments (back then, not a word was said about shady Russians). Its banks are in trouble not because they accepted too many overseas deposits but because they bought too many Greek bonds — an investment sanctified by international banking rules (which called such investments riskless) that was destroyed by the EU’s ham-fisted resolution of Greece’s threatened default.

Europe’s sense of “we’re all in this together” seems to have evaporated entirely. Now one has to ask not merely what the euro is for, but what the EU itself is for.

Back in the U.S.A.,


Simon Johnson has an interesting post at the NYT’ “Explaining the Science of Everyday Life” blog: The Debate on Bank Size Is Over.

While bank lobbyists and some commentators are suddenly taken with the idea that an active debate is under way about whether to limit bank size in the United States, they are wrong. The debate is over; the decision to cap the size of the largest banks has been made. All that remains is to work out the details.

To grasp the new reality, think about the Cyprus debacle this month, the Senate budget resolution last week and Ben Bernanke’s revelation that — on too big to fail — “I agree with Elizabeth Warren 100 percent that it’s a real problem.”

Policy is rarely changed by ideas alone and, in isolation, even stunning events can sometimes have surprisingly little effect. What really moves the needle in terms of consensus among policy makers and the broader public opinion is when events combine with a new understanding of how the world works. Thanks to Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio; Senator Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, and many other people who have worked hard over the last four years, we are ready to understand what finally defeated the argument that bank size does not matter: Cyprus.

I can’t briefly summarize the gist of Johnson’s piece, so if you’re following this story, please read the whole thing. Could he really be right about limits on “to big to fail or prosecute banks.” I sure hope so!

In other news,

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Thursday Reads: Fiscal Cliff Crashes into Debt Ceiling, Villagers Blame Old People….And Other News


Good Morning!!

The storm has moved into New England, but it’s mostly rain up here–very hard, windy, noisy rain. I’m very grateful it isn’t snow, but I feel for all the people down south of me who are getting hit harder. Take care, everyone!!

Yesterday Tim Geithner announced that the U.S. will hit the debt ceiling on December 31. He sent a letter (pdf) (also posted on the Treasury Department website)to Harry Reid with cc’s to other Congresscritters informing them that the Treasury can fiddle around and keep things going for at the most two months before the U.S. defaults on its debts for the first time in history.

Meanwhile, no negotiations on the “fiscal cliff” took place yesterday. John Boehner appears to have abdicated all responsibility and has announced that it’s up the the Senate to act; but Senators are in no hurry to rush back to Washington DC and clean up the House Republicans’ mess.

U.S. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner on Wednesday urged the Senate to pass its version of legislation to avert the “fiscal cliff,” in a sign that congressional efforts to avoid a budget crisis are coming back to life days ahead of the year-end deadline.

In a statement issued by Boehner and his top lieutenants, the Republican leadership team said “the Senate must act first” to revive efforts to avert the $600 billion in automatic tax hikes and spending cuts due to be triggered on Jan. 1.

They promised that the House would weigh whatever legislation the Senate produced.

What are we paying these incompetent idiots for anyway? But of course no one is talking about cutting Congresspeople’s salaries–the pressure is all on Social Security recipients. Yesterday, Ruth Markus wrote a column in support of cutting benefits because seniors and disabled people (including disabled veterans) are getting too much money (the average SS check is $1,200 per month). She thinks everyone should gratefully embrace the Chained CPI.

Here’s how the CPI works. When taxes are being calculated, brackets, standard deductions, personal exemptions and the like are ratcheted up with inflation, protecting taxpayers from being forced to pay higher taxes for what is essentially the same amount of income they had previously.

Benefits — everything from Social Security to veterans’ benefits to federal pensions — are similarly adjusted upward to protect beneficiaries’ buying power from being relentlessly eroded.

Such indexing makes eminent sense. The difficulty — and the money-saving opportunity — arises because, in the view of most economists, the current method of calculating changes in the CPI overstates the inflation rate.

It fails to account for what economists call upper-level substitution bias, and what my mother would call plain common sense: If the price rises for a certain commodity in the basket of goods used to measure inflation, consumers will choose a cheaper alternative. In my house, when the price of beef soars, we substitute chicken.

The CPI doesn’t and, as a result, taxpayers are undercharged and beneficiaries are overpaid — a lot. The overestimate is small — less than 0.3 percentage points annually but, much like compound interest, it adds up over time.

What Marcus doesn’t seem to understand is that when your income is that low, beef and chicken are are both too expensive and you substitute peanut butter and dried beans. Except that peanut butter prices have skyrocketed–what’s the next step down, cat food?

Two economists responded to Markus. Dean Baker at the CEPR: Ruth Marcus Is Outraged by Overly Generous Social Security Checks.

Well, who can blame her? After all, we have tens of millions of seniors living high on Social Security checks averaging a bit over $1,200 a month at a time when folks like the CEOs in the Campaign to Fix the Debt are supposed to subsist on paychecks that typically come to $10 million to $20 million a year.

Anyhow, her main trick for cutting benefits is to adopt the chained consumer price index as the basis for the annual cost of living adjustment. This would have the effect of reducing benefits by 0.3 percentage points for each year of retirement. This means a beneficiary would see a 3 percent cut in benefits after 10 years, a 6 percent cut after 20 years and a 9 percent cut after 30 years. This is real money. Since Social Security is more than half the income for almost 70 percent of retirees and more than 90 percent of the income for 40 percent of retirees, the hit to the affected population would be considerably larger than the hit to the top 2 percent from ending the Bush era tax cuts.

But Marcus insists this cut must be done first and foremost in the name of accuracy, since the chained CPI is supposed to provide a better measure of the cost of living. She notes but quickly dismisses the evidence from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) consumer price index for the elderly (CPI-E), which shows that the rate of inflation seen by the elderly is somewhat higher than the overall rate of inflation.

Read Baker’s upteenth explanation of why the Chained CPI doesn’t accurately reflect spending for seniors at the link. He argues for continuing development of a CPI that takes into account that seniors spend greater proportions of their income on health care and basic necessities that can’t necessarily be replaced with cheaper substitutes.

Next, Jared Bernstein says he’s “convinced the Chained CPI is coming” and it is a benefit cut. He agrees with Baker that an elderly CPI would be a good thing, but says that Markus’ argument we should cut benefits now and deal with the injustices later makes no sense.

…as Dean notes, it would make a lot of sense to invest in a chained-weighted CPI that accounts for the notably different buying patterns of the elderly. Ruth Marcus critiques this point today but for reasons that don’t make sense to me. For example, she criticizes an elderly price index that would more heavily weight health care spending because “the burden of higher health costs falls unevenly among the elderly. Average costs are skewed upward by a minority who face very high out-of-pocket expenses…”

But a) all the commonly used price indexes use average costs and are thus “skewed” up and down when the underlying distribution is uneven, and b) there’s little question that the ‘old’ elderly—the ones most hurt by the switch to the chain-weighted measure—face high out-of-pocket medical costs.

Marcus goes on to endorse, as do we at CBPP, [immediately switching to the Chained CPI but protecting “vulnerable people from the impact”] and this is clearly the administration’s view as well—in fact, they’ve built in offsetting benefits to the poor, old elderly into their plan. That’s very important and salutary and one reason why I nervously support the switch.

But I’m more concerned than Ruth appears to be with the possibility that the current politics get us the chained CPI without the necessary protections.

It certainly looks like President Obama will go down in history as the Democrat who cut the New Deal off at the knees unless he suddenly realizes his legacy matters to him. Remember way back when Social Security was “off the table” because it doesn’t contribute to the deficit? Oh wait–that was only two weeks ago.

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Brace Yourselves: This Is a Campaign About Race Now

dog whistle

It has been an ugly campaign so far, but I have a feeling it’s about to get a lot uglier. Mitt Romney gave an interview to USA Today yesterday. The article is mostly focused on Romney’s complaints about Obama’s supposedly negative campaign against him and how he intends to fight back.

Naturally Romney included another dog whistle (or as Charles Pierce more appropriately calls them, “obvious racial air-raid sirens”).

“There are plenty of weaknesses that I have, and I acknowledge that,” Romney says. “But the attacks that have come have been so misguided, have been so far off target, have been so dishonest, that they surprised me. I thought they might go after me on things that were accurate that I’ve done wrong, instead of absurd things.”

He ticks off the examples he has in mind. “The Harry Reid attack, ‘Oh, he hasn’t paid taxes in 10 years.’ Ridiculous,” he says of an allegation that the Democratic Senate majority leader attributed to an unnamed friend. “The attack about how Romney’s responsible for this woman who died … and the vice president’s comments about ‘chains.’ Really? The White House just keeps stepping lower and lower and lower, and the people of America know this is an important election and they deserve better than they’ve seen.”

As if the small percentage of his income that Romney pays in taxes and the multiple tax havens he uses to keep his taxes low aren’t issues. But here comes the “obvious air raid siren.” Actually, it’s a twofer. The interviewer asks Romney about the utterly false claims he has been making that Obama “gutted” the welfare work requirement and about his recent “joke” about Obama’s birth certificate.

Romney defends the welfare ads as accurate, accusing Obama of offering state waivers as a political calculation designed to “shore up his base” for the election. He denies he was trying to stoke discredited questions about Obama’s birthplace when he said at a Detroit rally Friday that no one had ever asked him for his Michigan birth certificate.

“I understand some people don’t think we should ever joke,” Romney says, saying he was just being “human” and “spontaneous.” He argues that his attacks have been based on policy while Obama has attacked him on more personal fronts. The president’s team has tried “to minimize me as an individual, to make me a bad person, an unacceptable person,” he says.

Obama’s “base” presumably being poor black welfare recipients? And we’re supposed to believe that Romney couldn’t talk about being born and raised in Michigan without also talking about his birth certificate? Please. This is the kind of crap we’re going to be hearing from now on unless polls demonstrate it isn’t working. It’s jarring to it coming from the nominee himself instead of the VP candidate or a surrogate, but Romney clearly has no shame at all.

I know most of you have already seen this, but I’m going to post Chris Matthews’ rant about Romney’s race baiting from today’s Morning Joe show.

Matthews is absolutely right on, but notice how the rest of the talking heads patronize him and minimize the reality of what the Romney campaign is doing. Here’s what Pierce had to say about it:

If you can tear yourself away from the attempts of the hosts to tut-tut-my-good-man the whole thing to death — and poor Tom Brokaw, who freaking covered the civil-rights movement and knows good and well which party latched on to the wrong side of those events and rode them to glory, looks as though he might have a stroke — listen carefully to what Matthews says. He links the birther joke to the welfare commercials, which any thinking analyst would do, since they came hard, one upon the other, and since that was the only hymn in the modern Republican hymnal Romney had not yet sung to the approval of the choir — he’d warmed up on the melody when he was ripping up Rick Perry on the issue of immigration — his campaign was bound to get around to it eventually. Priebus dismisses the birther comment as “an attempt at levity,” and chides Matthews for failing to have a sense of humor….
“We’ve gotten to a point in politics where any moment of levity is frowned upon by guys like you…It’s a moment of levity. Everybody gets it.”

Somehow, the truthless welfare commercials, which are the really deafening sirens in the current moment, disappeared from the dialogue and never come up again. There was yet another blow-up later when Priebus smirked about the president’s alleged “European” policies, and Matthews went up the wall again, calling what Priebus said “insane,” while Mika Brzezinski suggested that everyone “work on tone.” She has her work cut out for her down here, I’ll tell you that.

Pierce thinks Matthews will be “disciplined” for his outburst. I not so sure. Matthews has been talking about the race baiting for awhile now. But most of the corporate media outlets are not going to deal with the race issue in an honest and up-front way. They’re even having trouble calling Romney out on his bald-faced lies.

Can Romney Embrace Ryan While Distancing Himself from the Ryan Budget?

No, he can’t.

This morning, shortly after Romney’s announcement of Paul Ryan as his pick for VP, CNN obtained a copy of of a list of media talking points for surrogates, designed by the Romney campaign to distance their candidate from Ryan’s plans for draconian changes to Medicare and cuts to other popular social programs that help the middle class, the elderly, the disabled, and the poor. Here are some examples:

Is Romney “adopting the Paul Ryan plan?”

Gov. Romney applauds Paul Ryan for going in the right direction with his budget, and as president he will be putting together his own plan for cutting the deficit and putting the budget on a path to balance.

So there are differences between Romney and Ryan?

Of course they aren’t going to have the same view on every issue. But they both share the view that this election is a choice about two fundamentally different paths for this country. President Obama has taken America down a path of debt and decline. Romney and Ryan believe in a path for America that leads to more jobs, less debt and smaller government. So, while you might find an issue or two where they might not agree, they are in complete agreement on the direction that they want to lead America.

On Medicare:

Do you worry that Paul Ryan’s controversial Medicare plan will hurt the campaign with independents?

– No. President Obama is the one who should be worried, because he has cut $700 BILLION from Medicare to pay for Obamacare, and put in place a panel of Washington bureaucrats to make decisions about what kind of care seniors will receive under Medicare. Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have a bipartisan plan to strengthen Medicare by giving future seniors the choice between traditional Medicare and a variety of private plans. They are committed to ensuring that Medicare remains strong, not just for today’s seniors, but for tomorrow’s seniors as well.

Actually, Ryan’s budget plan retains all of the medicare cuts that are included in Obamacare.

Of course the talking points provide no specifics about these supposed differences in the two men’s policies. I think we have to assume that since Romney’s goal so far has been to scrupulously avoid talking about specific policies, he is going to be stuck with defending the Ryan plan. And he should be forced to defend it again and again and again.

Why? Because Romney has explicitly endorsed Ryan’s plan in public on multiple occasions. Think Progress has identified five occasions on which Romney enthusiastically praised the Ryan plan:

1. “Very supportive.”“I’m very supportive of the Ryan budget plan. It’s a bold and exciting effort on his part and on the part of the Republicans and it’s very much consistent with what I put out earlier. I think it’s amazing that we have a president who three and a half years in still hasn’t put a proposal out that deals with entitlements. This president’s dealing with entitlement reform — excuse me — this budget deals with entitlement reform, tax policy, which as you know is very similar to the one that I put out and efforts to reign in excessive spending. I applaud it. It’s an excellent piece of work and very much needed.”

2.”The right tone.” Romney told Talking Points Memo, “He is setting the right tone for finally getting spending and entitlements under control. …Anyone who has read my book knows that we are on the same page.’”

3. “Marvelous.” “I think it’d be marvelous if the Senate were to pick up Paul Ryan’s budget and to adopt it and pass it along to the president,” Romney once professed while in Wisconsin.

4. “An important step.” “I spent a good deal of time with Congressman Ryan. When his plan came out, I applauded it, as an important step. … We’re going to have to make changes like the ones Paul Ryan proposed.”

5. “The same page.” In March, on a local Wisconsin radio show called the Vicki McKenna Show, Romney told the host “Paul Ryan and I have been working together over some months to talk about our mutual plans and we’re on the same page.”

In addition, Romney super-surrogate John Sununu

said on a call with reporters, “Mitt Romney supports what Paul Ryan did. He endorsed what Paul Ryan did. Mitt Romney had his own package of entitlement reform, which Paul Ryan has praised. They both meshed together.”

There is no way Romney can be permitted to etch-a-sketch all that away.

Furthermore, I think we can assume that, if elected, Romney would give Ryan carte blanche in dealings with Congress and fiscal matters. As Governor of Massachusetts, Romney only put in about two years before he got bored with governing and turned over his duties to his staff so he could start running for president.

Romney isn’t interested in policy. He’s a CEO, accustomed to giving orders, delegating tasks, and expecting admiration and obeisance from his underlings. Ryan’s already good at sucking up; he was named “biggest brown-noser” by his high school graduating class, after all. Ryan would be Romney’s Cheney–praising his gaffe-prone boss while doing things his (Ryan’s) own way.

The Nation’s John Nichols, who is from Wisconsin and has followed Ryan’s career closely, agrees.

The hyper-ambitious political careerist—who has spent his entire adult life as a Congressional aide, think-tank hanger-on and House member—is looking for a road up. And he is sly enough to recognize that, like Dick Cheney with George Bush, he could be more than just a vice president in the administration of so bumbling a character as Romney.

Ryan figured Romney out months ago.

The two men bonded during the Wisconsin presidential primary campaign in late March and early April. They got on so well that Ryan was playing April Fool’s Day jokes on the Republican front-runner—giving Romney a rousing introduction before the candidate came from behind a curtain to find the room where he had expected to be greeted by a crowd of supporters was empty.

Romney loves those frat boy stunts. Ryan would be the perfect sidekick for him. But we can’t let it happen. Ryan’s plan is a complete fraud. Now the Obama campaign has the opportunity to expose Ryan for what he is: a fake and a “hypocritical big spender” who, as John Nichols points out, has never yet lifted a finger to actually cut government spending during his decade in Congress.

I’ll let Charlie Pierce summarize Ryan’s fakery:

He’s a garden-variety supply-side faker. His alleged economic “wonkery” consists of a B.A. in economics from Miami of Ohio — which he would not have been able to achieve without my generosity in helping him out with the Social Security survivor’s benefits that got him through high school after his father kicked. (You’re welcome, zombie-eyed granny-starver. Think nothing of it. Really.) Whereupon he went to work in Washington for a variety of conservative congresscritters and think-tanks, thinking unremarkable thoughts for fairly unremarkable people. Once in Congress, however, he has been transformed into an intellectual giant despite the fact that, every time he comes up with another “budget,” actual economists get a look at it and determine, yet again, that between “What We Should Do” and “Great Things That Will Happen When We Do” is a wilderness of dreamy nonsense, wishful thinking, and an asterisk the size of Lake Huron.

This is the man whose plan Willard Mitt Romney has now signed onto. If Romney wants to “distance” himself from Ryan’s plan, then he’s going to have to start getting very specific about what their differences are. In choosing Ryan as his running mate, Romney has made this a campaign about “entitlements.” He can no longer focus on just attacking Obama and making vague promises.

I say bring it on! Look what happened to George W. Bush when he tried to privatize Social Security. Romney can no longer focus on just attacking Obama for failing to get us out of the worse economic crisis since the Great Depression. Romney is going to have to own the Ryan budget and Ryan’s plans to decimate the social safety net–or he’ll have to explain exactly where he disagrees with Ryan and why.