Thursday Reads: Villager Gossip, A Priceless Art Discovery, The Troubled NFL, And The Psychopathic One Percent

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Good Morning!!

All the villagers are talking about the gossipy new book about the 2012 presidential campaign by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, Double Down. I can’t bring myself to read it, but Pat J. said she is reading it, so maybe she can give us more detail on the story of Romney adviser Stuart Stevens vomiting backstage after Clint Eastwood’s embarrassing performance at the Republican National Convention.

Lawrence O’Donnell had Heilemann on his MSNBC show last night. O’Donnell “loved” book and was especially joyful about the anecdote about Stevens. I have to admit, it’s pretty funny. The Washington Post has a lengthy review of the book with some more interesting bits.

On Chris Christie:

According to the authors, Romney and his team were shaken by what they discovered about Christie during “Project Goldfish,” as the hush-hush veep search process was known. His “disturbing” research file is littered with “garish controversies,” the authors write: a Justice Department investigation into his free-spending ways as U.S. attorney, his habit of steering government contracts to friends and political allies, a defamation lawsuit that emerged during a 1994 run for local office, a politically problematic lobbying career that included work on behalf of a financial firm that employed Bernie Madoff. And that’s not to mention the Romney team’s anxiety about the governor’s girth.

For Christie, who is coasting to reelection on Tuesday and already laying behind-the-scenes groundwork for a 2016 presidential bid, the book’s revelations are a Drudge-ready public relations nightmare that will send his advisers scrambling to explain awkward aspects of his record and his personal life just as he is stepping onto the national stage.

Mitt Romney is apparently obsessed with fat people, and even criticized men on his staff if they went out with women that Romney deemed to be too “fat.” You can just imagine what he thought of Chris Christie. From an earlier WaPo article:

Romney initially crossed Christie off his short list. The governor’s vetting file was incomplete, and Romney had been bothered by Christie’s propensity to show up late at campaign events and by his lack of physical fitness, the book says.

“Romney marveled at Christie’s girth, his difficulties in making his way down the narrow aisle of the campaign bus,” the authors write. “Watching a video of Christie without his suit jacket on, Romney cackled to his aides, ‘Guys! Look at that!’”

It brings back memories of the tales about Romney bullying classmates in high school. What a horrible man he is! There’s much more gossip in the Post review if you’re interested.

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Corporate media and talking heads have been busy trying to interpret Tuesday’s election results as helpful for Republicans.  Supposedly the only reason Terry McAuliffe beat Ken Cuccinelli in Virginia and Chris Christie is now on the fast track to the White House–sorry Hillary.

Ed Kilgore at Political Animal: Tell Me Again Who Won in Virginia?

Before we get into any more election analysis, I have to make a preliminary objection to what we are hearing this morning about the Virginia governor’s race. Yes, we all play the expectations game, and Terry McAuliffe only won by two-and-a-half percent, which is less than most of the late polls anticipated. But to read this morning’s spin, you’d think he (and the Democratic Party) actually lost. The results are being widely read exactly as Ken Cuccinelli wanted them to be read: a negative “referendum on Obamacare.” Politico’s James Hohmann, in a piece entitled “Why Terry McAuliffe barely won,” draws bright red arrows pointing to an exit poll showing that 53% of voters said they opposed Obamacare. That’s entirely in line with about three years of polling about the Affordable Care Act, and doesn’t indicate any last minute “surge” against the law.

Michael Tomasky at The Daily Beast: The Wrong Election Takeaways From Christie’s Win, Virginia, and More:

The conventional wisdom on New Jersey: Huge Chris Christie win sets him up to steamroll his way to the Republican nomination in 2016, proving that a more mainstream conservative can win in a blue state. The conventional wisdom on Virginia: Ken Cuccinelli’s stinging loss in a purple state in an off-off-year election against Terry McAuliffe, a flawed Democratic candidate, shows not only that he was too extreme but also that Virginia is inching its way into the Democratic column. As the Times put it in its headline, “McAuliffe Win Points to Virginia Changes.”

Well, God invented conventional wisdom so people like me could beat it down. In New Jersey, Christie doesn’t emerge from his victory nearly as strong as he appears to. And the Virginia outcome isn’t really very strong for Democrats, especially down the ballot. No, I’m not buying into the right-wing spin that Cuccinelli’s narrow margin of defeat really represents some kind of loss for Obamacare. It does not.

Read the rest at the link.

Peter Beinart at The Daily Beast: Chris Christie Is No George W. Bush, and 2016 Is Definitely Not 2000:

In the wake of Chris Christie’s reelection romp on Tuesday, the press is filled withcomparisons between the New Jersey governor and a pre-presidency George W. Bush. They’re both Republican governors who appear moderate and bipartisan compared to their party’s zealots in Washington. They’re both beloved by big donors. Each has made inroads among the Democratic-leaning constituencies with whom Republicans must do better. But there’s a problem with the analogy. It’s unlikely Christie can “win” the presidency by running as a second Bush, in part [because] America still remembers the first one.

Lots more at the link.

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In other news…

Did you hear about the priceless art works stolen by the Nazis that were found in a dirty, run-down apartment in Munich, Germany? From NPR:

The revelation Monday that more than 1,000 paintings and prints seized by the Nazis during World War II were found in a Munich apartment has set off excitement in the art world and spurred anger among Jewish groups that German officials didn’t publicize the discovery when it was first made.

With a potential value of $1.35 billion, the trove of art contains previously unknown works by Henri Matisse and Marc Chagall; other artists represented include Pablo Picasso, Auguste Renoir and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

The stash of art was reported by Germany’s Focus magazine Monday, under the headline “The Nazi Treasure” (Der Nazi-Schatz). Tax officials discovered the cache when they visited the cluttered Munich apartment of Cornelius Gurlitt, a descendant of a man who was an official in wartime Germany.

Of nearly 1,400 oil paintings, prints and other works, 1,285 had been stacked in a drawer, unframed. They include work by German expressionists such as Franz Marc and Max Beckmann, in addition to a previously unknown self-portrait by Otto Dix. The trove also includes Albrecht Dürer and Canaletto, who worked in earlier centuries — a detail that could make the collection’s origins even more difficult to explain.

The paintings were found in 2011, but the stunning and unprecedented discovery was just announced this week. A couple more links:

Max Fisher at WaPo: Why Nazi-seized art is only now resurfacing – and how it will change the art world.

Bloomberg: Nazi Art Trove Surprises Family Searching for 70 Years.

This will be a story to watch for anyone who is interested in fine art. We still don’t know for sure which paintings were found.

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The NFL is back in the news, and, again, it’s not in a good way. It’s a story of racially charged bullying and hazing at the Miami Dolphins. Reportedly, a veteran player, Richie Incognito was told by someone at the team to “toughen up” rookie Jonathan Martin. Even the GM may have been involved. Incognito, who is white, chose to do so by leaving messages containing racial slurs on Martin’s voicemail. Martin, who is African American, ended up in the hospital for emotional distress and eventually left the team. If you can believe it, other Dolphins players and veterans of the team are supporting Incognito.

Here are a couple of interesting reactions to the story.

Valerie Strauss at the WaPo: If a 6’5, 312-pound Miami Dolphin can be bullied…

Jonathan Martin, the  6-foot-5-inch, 312-pound Miami Dolphin offensive lineman who left the NFL team because he was being bullied by at least one other player, has done a  favor for school kids everywhere.

How can such a big guy get bullied? Because bullying behavior isn’t about physical intimidation. It’s about mind control and creating fear — and no one, not even very large professional athletes — are immune. That’s a useful message for kids and adults working to create safe climates at their schools.

So is the way Martin ultimately handled his problem. After many months of being a victim, he got up, walked away and later accused the Dolphins of creating and allowing an unsafe work environment. He is forcing the powers that be to take a look at the problem. As my Post colleague Sally Jenkins wrote in this column:

Turns out the real tough guy is Martin, whose decision to rebel against a vicious culture in the Dolphins’ locker room has triggered a league-level investigation of [suspended Dolphin Richie] Incognito, and, if reports are true, needs to extend to other veteran players and management as well.

In schools, the programs that work best in combating bullying are those that teach kids that they can’t stand by and watch bullies go after other students. Bystanders have to get help — and everybody in the school, adults included — have to be on the same page. That didn’t happen in Miami.

Veteran WaPo sportswriter Tom Boswell: Richie Incognito bullying allegations are the latest in long list of NFL problems.

Where are we? Where is pro football? The NFL doesn’t have a PR problem. It has a reality problem. And it may be a grave one. Every month — and it seems every few days — the NFL is inundated by new, barely suspected revelations. What has the NFL become? Or is this what it has been for some time? Is the truth coming out of the shadows?

The list is stunning. Its cumulative effect, not any one particular item, is the true confidence-shaking shock.

The NFL is now the league of murder charges against Aaron Hernandez — gang execution style. The NFL is the league of murder, then suicide, with Jovan Belcher killing his girlfriend and then shooting himself in the head in a parking lot by his stadium as his coach and general manager watched….

The NFL is the league where future Hall of Famer Junior Seau, barely retired, shot himself in the heart so his brain could be studied by science to help prove that chronic traumatic encephalopathy is a core part of football, with risk of brain damage down to the smallest kids who play it….

The NFL is the league of thug bullies such as suspended Miami Dolphins guard Richie Incognito, who allegedly extorted money, texted racist insults and made death threats to a younger teammate. It’s the league of $15,000 stripper parties in Las Vegas, paid for by intimidated, hazed rookies who don’t make the trip but pay the check even if it busts them.

The article is well worth a read even if you don’t follow sports.

We’ve been talking a lot lately about the studies that show that rich people are more narcissistic, less empathetic, more likely to be dishonest, rude, and thoughtless than other people. Here a long read at Alternet about the top 1% as functioning psychopaths: Inside the Psyche of the 1% — Many Actually Believe Their Ideology of Greed Makes for a Better World.

Do the rich and super-rich tend to be psychopaths, devoid of guilt or shame? Are the 1% lacking in compassion? Does their endless accumulation of possessions actually bring them little to no happiness? To each of these, the answer is “yes”—but a very qualified “yes” with lots of subtleties. Even more important is what these issues suggest for building a society which does not ravage the last remnants of wilderness and rush headlong into a climate change tipping point.

Check out the article to get all the details.

Those are my offerings for today; now what are you reading and blogging about? Please share your links in the comment thread.


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

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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.

Read the rest of this entry »


Poor Sad Sack Romneys At Loose Ends

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Did you see the hilarious piece by Philip Rucker in the Washington Post this morning on how poor Mitt and Ann Romney are having trouble adjusting to life out of the spotlight?

Gone are the minute-by-minute schedules and the swarm of Secret Service agents. There’s no aide to make his peanut-butter-and-honey sandwiches. Romney hangs around the house, sometimes alone, pecking away at his iPad and e-mailing his CEO buddies who have been swooping in and out of La Jolla to visit. He wrote to one who’s having a liver transplant soon: “I’ll change your bedpan, take you back and forth to treatment.” [....]

Four weeks after losing a presidential election he was convinced he would win, Romney’s rapid retreat into seclusion has been marked by repressed emotions, second-guessing and, perhaps for the first time in the overachiever’s adult life, sustained boredom, according to interviews with more than a dozen of Romney’s closest friends and advisers.

Romney’s next door neighbor is renovating his house, but the Romney’s planned renovations to their La Jolla home, including the famous car elevator haven’t even begun. The former presidential candidate is now renting an office in Boston at his son Tagg’s firm, Solomere Capital. Ann Romney is reportedly more devastated than her husband.

By all accounts, the past month has been most difficult on Romney’s wife, Ann, who friends said believed up until the end that ascending to the White House was their destiny. They said she has been crying in private and trying to get back to riding her horses.

Ann apparently bought into the White Horse Prophecy, and believed–along with her husband’s pollsters–that God would keep the black people away from the polls because Mitt had been chosen by god.

But Mitt’s friends say he’s not bitter, and he isn’t going to let himself go, despite his hangdog appearance in the photo above. He’s been riding his bike around his La Jolla neighborhood, and he’s not going to balloon up and grow a beard like Al Gore did after he was cheated out of the presidency.

One longtime counselor contrasted Romney with former vice president Al Gore, whose weight gain and beard became a symbol of grievance over his 2000 loss. “You won’t see heavyset, haggard Mitt,” he said. Friends say a snapshot-gone-viral showing a disheveled Romney pumping gas is just how he looks without a suit on his frame or gel in his hair.

The article says Romney might write a book about the campaign, and he’s even thinking about starting some kind of charity along the lines of the Clinton Global Initiative. But wouldn’t that require some kind of ability to empathize with people who need help?

But here’s the funniest part. On Thanksgiving, son Josh came for a visit with his four kids–they all had to sleep in one bedroom–and no one wanted to cook dinner, so they ordered out from Boston Market.

It’s all so very very sad.


President Obama Wins Reelection, but Romney Won’t Concede Ohio Yet

MSNBC is reporting that although every network has called Ohio for Obama, the Romney campaign refuses to concede that they have lost Ohio. Chris Matthews just said that Donald Trump is calling for revolution. I hate to think about the craziness we are going to see from Republicans in the days ahead. But thank goodness the danger of a Romney presidency is over.

Here’s a fresh thread to discuss what’s happening.


Election Day Afternoon Update

Good Afternoon!!

Here’s a fresh thread while we wait for any bits of exit poll results to be leaked. Let us know if you’ve heard any!

I’ve got a few entertaining links for you in case you’re looking for something to read while obsessively waiting for the polls to close in Florida and Virginia (7PM Eastern).

Can you believe Mitt Romney is charging reporters who want to be inside his campaign headquarters tonight when the returns come in?

BOSTON — The campaign of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney appears to be setting a precedent this election year in charging journalists and news organizations for any access to a presidential campaign headquarters on the night of the election.

Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who is locked in a tight race with Democratic President Barack Obama, will be holding his election night gathering at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, where access costs anywhere from $75 for a chair in the ballroom to $1,020 for permission to use the media filing center. Broadcast news organizations will be paying up to $6,500 for workspace.

Obama’s campaign party will be held at McCormick Place, in Chicago, and although his campaign is charging for premiums, credentialed reporters are granted access, which includes a workstation, electrical power and a wireless Internet connection, at no cost.

Romney is ending his historically awful campaign as gracelessly as he ran it for the past year.

But Romney’s money men will be treated like kings tonight.

BOSTON, MASS. —Mitt Romney isn’t going to forget the folks who picked up the tab for his billion-dollar run for the White House tonight.
Roughly 2,000 mega donors and bundlers are flocking to Beantown on Election Day for one last get together —which includes some special perks — according to a source on the ground familiar with the finance teams efforts.

Some of Romney’s biggest supporters, including New York Jets owner Woody Johnson; Texan mega donors L.E. Simmons and Ray Washburn; Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute; Bobbie Kilberg, head of the Northern Virginia Technology Council; among others are expected to attend. Nevada gambling magnate Sheldon Adelson may also make an appearance, according to the source….

The festivities kick off with a dinner for the Romney Victory Council at the Westin Boston Waterfront Hotel, just a few short steps from the convention center where Romney’s slated to speak later in the evening. The group, dubbed informally as the “Council of 100,”are those that have raised significant amounts of money and includes many of Romney’s state chair network.

Unlike the press, the mega donors will watch the festivities in style.

Following the dinner, the finance team has organized two massive rooms in the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center for election night watch parties, one for the victory council and another for the national finance committee members. The finance committee room will include the campaign’s high-end donors of the founding members and partners as well as the bundlers that hit their marks in the“Stars” and “Stripes” programs.

May they all end up crying in their champagne.

Even though Romney will lose badly in Massachusetts, voters are flocking to the polls for the Senate race between Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown.

Lines crawled down hallways of schools, outside firehouses and community centers around Cambridge, Somerville and Braintree just outside Boston.

At the end of the most expensive senate race in Massachusetts history, voters cast their choice as one for the decidedly progressive politics of Warren or the sense of moderation they felt that Brown–who shocked the nation when he won Kennedy’s seat in 2009–had brought to the Senate.

A few more links:

Emptywheel has an interesting post about her day working in “voter protection” at an African American district in Michigan: On the Ground Turnout in MI Feels Like It Did in 2008

At another Michigan polling place: Southfield Twp. voter appears to die, then asks ‘Did I vote?’

TPM: Ohio Viewers Hit By Anti-Obama TV ‘Special’ On Election Eve

The Cleveland Leader reports that Sherrod Brown’s opponent, Josh Mandel got a surprise from some family members yesterday: Josh Mandel’s In-Laws Call Him Out on Anti-Gay Stance in Newspaper Ad

In Franklin County, Ohio Tea Party “observers” from “True the Vote” were “barred from Franklin County polling places.”

What are you hearing in your neck of the woods?