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Editorial: Whatever debt solution emerges will be the wrong one

Editorial: Whatever debt solution emerges will be the wrong one

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Editorial: Whatever debt solution emerges will be the wrong one

By the Editorial Board | Posted: Sunday, July 31, 2011 12:00 am | (53) Comments

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Matson: July 31, 2011

R.J. Matson

R.J. Matson/Post-Dispatch

With the nation standing on the brink of economic default this weekend, perhaps what is needed is a team of deprogrammers to descend on the House of Representatives. What we have is government not by reason or consensus or compromise. We have government by cult.

A few dozen House Republicans, most of them freshmen, have halted government in its tracks. They either don't believe the dire warnings that the government could begin to default on its debts as early as Tuesday or they don't think the consequences will be all that serious.

They don't care what economists think. They don't care what Wall Street thinks. They don't care what the leaders of their own party think. To them, cutting the size of government is everything. Some of them literally think they are on a mission from God.

Most of them don't want the nation's $14.3 trillion debt ceiling to be raised at all. Some of them might be willing to go along if (a) it were raised only modestly and they could revisit the idea in six months and (b) the deal were packaged with a balanced-budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

There's little reason to get lost in the specifics of the various plans offered by President Barack Obama, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, or Senate leaders. If a final plan emerges this weekend, it will be different from all of them.

Financial markets remained fairly calm last week. Indexes were down, but not dramatically. The markets radiated an eerie confidence that somehow, the adults in the room would prevail — if not by Tuesday, then surely before things get out of hand.

We are less sanguine. If a plan emerges this weekend, whether it is Democratic or Republican or a combination of both, it will not be what the country needs. The cultists have closed that door.

Any plan that emerges will bow deeply to the cult of cuts. It will cut spending too fast and too severely without offsetting them with revenue increases at a time when the economy is reeling. Pushing the economy into default is the worst thing to do. Fixing the debt ceiling with a drastic, shortsighted package of spending cuts is the second-worst thing.

Consider Friday's estimate from the Commerce Department that the economy grew at an annual rate of only 1.3 percent between April 1 and June 30. Most economists had predicted second-quarter growth in gross domestic product would be closer to 1.9 percent. The growth rate in the first quarter was pegged at 0.4 percent — barely moving. Meanwhile, the inflation rate for the year stands at 3.6 percent.

However much debts and deficits are a long-term problem, the bigger problem in the short term is the lack of growth and consumer spending. You fix that by putting money into the economy as fast as possible — payroll tax holidays, increased unemployment benefits. More spending, not less.

You rebuild confidence in the economy. Businesses invest and add jobs. You stabilize the economy before you trim it by eliminating tax expenditures (loopholes) and increasing taxes for those who can most afford it.

This is the rational approach to the problem. It speaks volumes about how deeply the cult is entrenched that rationality is nowhere to be seen.

Copyright 2011 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Posted in The-platform on Sunday, July 31, 2011 12:00 am Updated: 6:17 am. | Tags: Debt Ceiling, Deficit Reduction, Barack Obama, John Boehner, Economy, Inflation,

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Democratic politics in a nutshell - Glenn Greenwald

Let's begin by taking note of three facts: 

(1) Three days ago, Democratic Rep. John Conyers, appearing at a meeting of the Out of Poverty caucus, said: "The Republicans -- Speaker Boehner or Majority Leader Cantor -- did not call for Social Security cuts in the budget deal.  The President of the United States called for that" (video here, at 1:30);

(2) The reported deal on the debt ceiling is so completely one-sided -- brutal domestic cuts with no tax increases on the rich and the likelihood of serious entitlement cuts in six months with a "Super Congressional" deficit commission -- that even Howard Kurtz was able to observe: "If there are $3 trillion in cuts and no tax hikes, Obama will have to explain how it is that the Republicans got 98 pct. of what they wanted," while Grover Norquist, the Right of the Right on such matters, happily proclaimed: "Sounds like a budget deal with real savings and no tax hikes is a go."

(3) The same White House behavior shaping the debt deal -- full embrace of GOP policies and (in the case of Social Security cuts) going beyond that -- has been evident in most policy realms from the start.  It first manifested in the context of Obama's adoption of the Bush/Cheney approach to the war on civil liberties and Terrorism, which is why civil libertarians were the first to object so vocally and continuously to the Obama presidency, culminating in this amazing event from mid-2010: "Speaking at a conference of liberal activists Wednesday morning, ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero didn't mince his words about the administration's handling of civil liberties issues. 'I'm going to start provocatively . . .  I'm disgusted with this president,' Romero told the America's Future Now breakout session."

In other words, a slew of millionaire politicians who spent the last decade exploding the national debt with Endless War, a sprawling Surveillance State, and tax cuts for the rich are now imposing extreme suffering on the already-suffering ordinary citizenry, all at the direction of their plutocratic overlords, who are prospering more than ever and will sacrifice virtually nothing under this deal (despite their responsibility for the 2008 financial collapse that continues to spawn economic misery).  And all of this will be justified by these politicians and their millionaire media mouthpieces with the obscenely deceitful slogans of "shared sacrifice" and "balanced debt reduction" -- two of the most odiously Orwellian phrases since "Look Forward, not Backward" and "2009 Nobel Peace Prize laureate" (and anyone claiming that Obama was involuntarily forced by the "crazy" Tea Party into massive budget cuts at a time of almost 10% unemployment: see the actual facts here).

With those fact assembled, this morning's New York Times article -- headlined: "Rightward Tilt Leaves Obama With Party Rift" -- supplies the perfect primer for understanding Democratic Party politics. The article explains that "Mr. Obama, seeking to appeal to the broad swath of independent voters, has adopted the Republicans' language and in some cases their policies," and then lists numerous examples just from the debt debate alone  (never mind all the other areas where he's done the same):

No matter how the immediate issue is resolved, Mr. Obama, in his failed effort for greater deficit reduction, has put on the table far more in reductions for future years' spending, including Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, than he did in new revenue from the wealthy and corporations. He proposed fewer cuts in military spending and more in health care than a bipartisan Senate group that includes one of the chamber's most conservative Republicans. . . .

But by this month, in ultimately unsuccessful talks with Speaker John A. Boehner, Mr. Obama tentatively agreed to a plan that was farther to the right than that of the majority of the fiscal commission and a bipartisan group of senators, the so-called Gang of Six. It also included a slow rise in the Medicare eligibility age to 67 from 65, and, after 2015, a change in the formula for Social Security cost-of-living adjustments long sought by economists.

How can the leader of the Democratic Party wage an all-out war on the ostensible core beliefs of the Party's voters in this manner and expect not just to survive, but thrive politically?  Democratic Party functionaries are not shy about saying exactly what they're thinking in this regard:

Mark Mellman, a Democratic pollster, said polling data showed that at this point in his term, Mr. Obama, compared with past Democratic presidents, was doing as well or better with Democratic voters. "Whatever qualms or questions they may have about this policy or that policy, at the end of the day the one thing they're absolutely certain of -- they're going to hate these Republican candidates," Mr. Mellman said. "So I'm not honestly all that worried about a solid or enthusiastic base.”

In other words: it makes no difference to us how much we stomp on liberals' beliefs or how much they squawk, because we'll just wave around enough pictures of Michele Bachmann and scare them into unconditional submission. That's the Democratic Party's core calculation: from "hope" in 2008 to a rank fear-mongering campaign in 2012.  Will it work?  The ones who will determine if it will are the intended victims of that tactic: angry, impotent liberals whom the White House expects will snap dutifully into line no matter what else happens (even, as seems likely, massive Social Security and Medicare cuts) between now and next November.

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What’s in a Face at 50?

HIS hair is grayer, and the creases around his mouth have deepened. The bags under his eyes make him look a bit weary. But his brow is mostly smooth, his chin firm, his neck taut.

If it’s true, as George Orwell said, that by 50 people have the faces they deserve, then President Obama — whose birthday is Thursday — has fared well. But what’s in the face at 50? As the tail end of the baby boom reaches that milestone and looks in the mirror, the collective sigh may well be, what happened?

Time, heredity, sunlight, illness, smoking, good fortune and bad — all leave their marks on the face. People make instant judgments about one another’s age, health, mood, personality and character based on facial features, and yet we often judge unconsciously, not fully aware of the cues we’re reading. There’s more — and sometimes less — to aging than jowls, wattles and crow’s-feet.

Across time and cultures, the idea that there are secrets to be deduced from a person’s features has been irresistible. Efforts to predict character and personality — even criminal tendencies — by analyzing people’s faces and the shape and size of their skulls date back centuries and have swung through cycles, being in vogue and being denounced as fakery. In China, face-reading was an ancient art that mapped out more than 100 distinct regions and linked them to certain traits, illnesses and even fate. Today, self-described face-reading experts turn up periodically on TV shows with flakily earnest pronouncements about public figures based on appearance. One told Tyra Banks that Mr. Obama’s big ears meant he would listen to the country and that the “radiance” from his eyes meant he was a visionary.

But the face actually can reveal more than we might want to admit. At times people seem to have an uncanny ability to size one another up at a glance. Last year, researchers from Tufts University published a study showing that students were surprisingly accurate at telling Democrats from Republicans just by looking at photographs of their faces. In the students’ judgments, Republicans were more likely to look “powerful” and Democrats “warm.”

Astute diagnosticians also glean information from people’s faces. “There are volumes one can say medically about the face,” said Dr. Abraham Verghese, the senior associate chairman for the theory and practice of medicine at Stanford University and a best-selling memoirist and novelist.

Dr. Verghese is an advocate for what many say is a lost art in test-driven modern medicine: the in-person physical exam, the doctor’s ability to detect signs of illness just by looking and listening. He ran through a list of facial changes that can be tip-offs to ill health, and that doctors can pick up at a glance: a sparseness or absence of the outer third of the eyebrows can signal thyroid failure; a moon-shaped face may mean a person is taking steroids; a “laugh line” deeper on one side of the face than the other may indicate a previous stroke or other facial paralysis; a very broad forehead and large nose may signal acromegaly, a dangerous condition caused by too much growth hormone.

“One sees in airports people who have their heads tilted back and seem to be looking down at the world with a suspicious expression,” Dr. Verghese said. “Their eyes look sleepy.” The diagnosis: a neuromuscular disorder, myasthenia gravis, that makes the eyelids droop. To compensate, people tilt their heads back and raise their eyebrows.

The ears can be a tip-off to gout, if they have bumps (called gouty tophi) that look like tiny stones under the skin. A common sign of aging, though not of illness, is the arcus senilis, a whitish or grayish ring that forms around the iris in many older people.

“I can see someone in a certain light and see that they’ve had cataract surgery,” Dr. Verghese said, explaining that the lens implanted during the surgery gives off a “metallic glint” at certain angles.

A youthful look is itself often a sign of good health, Dr. Verghese added, explaining that illness tends to make people look older. “When someone looks much older, they usually have a chronic disease that’s been there for some time,” he said.

And so to gauge health generally, doctors in training on hospital rounds note whether patients look older, younger or the same as their “stated age.”

Dr. Verghese said a peek behind the ears is usually enough to detect the scars of a face-lift.

Plastic surgeons view the face far more analytically than the rest of us, with a sometimes unnerving ability to pinpoint subtle changes wrought by time.

Dr. Julius W. Few, a plastic surgeon in Chicago, said there was a “holy trinity” of changes in the face that made a person look older. First, there are wrinkles, age spots and other superficial changes, often worsened by sun exposure and smoking. Then, there is what plastic surgeons call “loss of volume,” the shrinking of the fat layers in the cheeks, which can create a gaunt or deflated look and cause bags under the eyes to stick out more. Finally, there is plain old drooping.

“Darker skin tends to show aging changes less obviously,” Dr. Few said. “The biggest reason probably has to do with the skin being able to shield itself from the harmful effects of the sun.”

He and other doctors said darker skin also tended to be oilier and somewhat thicker than pale skin; this makes it more supple and less prone to wrinkles. Blacks and Asians have still another advantage, Dr. Few said: they start out with fuller cheeks than do whites, so the fat loss that comes with middle age is less noticeable, and the face remains younger looking. But the outer corners of the eyes tend to droop more with age in blacks than in whites, he said.

The loss of fat in the cheeks is part of a reshaping of the face over time, said Dr. Sherrell J. Aston, the chairman of plastic surgery at the Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital and a professor at the New York University School of Medicine. Soft tissue slides down over the cheekbone, producing laugh lines and making the cheekbones look a little flatter. The jaw line seems to widen because of the jowls.

“So what’s happened is, if you think of the face as being an upside-down triangle, with the wide portion running cheekbone to cheekbone across the nose, that’s a youthful person, wider over the cheekbones, and narrow across the jaw line,” Dr. Aston said. “When we’re older, it goes in the other direction, wider over the jaw line, and flatter over cheekbones.”

In some people, the outer corners of the eyebrows begin to droop a bit. As a result, Dr. Aston said, “the person will look less alert, less awake almost, certainly less alert and vigorous.”

The vertical creases between the eyes (the ones commonly erased with Botox) also add to the impression of aging. Chronic stress, anger and unhappiness take their toll, too.

“If you’re frowning, rubbing your face, making a lot of expressions, I think you can see some long-lasting effects,” said Dr. Jeffrey M. Kenkel, professor of plastic surgery at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, and president of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. “Dynamic lines form perpendicular to the muscles of our face. If you’re expressive and do that a lot, you’re going to get creases in your skin.”

Some men seem to improve with age, as their boyishness fades and is replaced by lines and touches of gray that suggest wisdom and experience. President Obama, despite his acknowledged smoking, may be one of those men who has become better looking over time.

“When I look at our president,” Dr. Few said, “I see a combination of good genetics and the fact that there’s extra pigment in the skin that is protective. Contrast that with, now he has some gray in his hair, a sign that he is older, but his face doesn’t match what you see in his hair. It’s a contrast that you could say is even more attractive. His face tells you one thing and his hair tells you something else.”

Dr. Z. Paul Lorenc, a plastic surgeon in Manhattan, said that most people found a face attractive when it was proportioned in even thirds: from the top of the forehead to the eyebrow; from the brow to the base of the nose; and from the nose to the chin. “If a face fits those ratios, we think that’s a pleasing face,” Dr. Lorenc said.

Women’s looks are rarely said to improve with age. In any case, plastic surgeons say plenty of men would gladly trade their wise, lived-in faces for fresher ones.

“It’s pretty well known that Wall Street has a lot of very young men in very powerful places, and that many of the middle-aged Wall Street men want to look more youthful and more vigorous, because at 52 or 53 they are concerned about the 35-year-old who is gnawing at their heels,” Dr. Aston said. “We see people in every specialty, whether male or female, saying: ‘I’ve got a lot of young people behind me. I need to stay in the game. I have to look as young as I feel.’ ”

The mind-body mismatch can sting in other ways. A graying baby boomer told this story about himself. He was standing in a crowded subway car in Manhattan when a pretty young woman, seated nearby, caught his eye and smiled. He smiled back, pleased to think that maybe he still had the right stuff after all. Then she offered him her seat.

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DeMaurice Smith gets good marks for work in NFL lockout talks - Peter King

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DeMaurice Smith
After accomplishing many of his goals entering lockout talks, DeMaurice Smith should feel good about his work.

Time to assess how De Smith, the first-time union boss, the first-time labor negotiator, the first-time football executive, did in the 28 months he spent getting the players a new 10-year collective bargaining agreement.

On Monday, I asked two agents I respect -- smart guys, able to tone down the rhetoric and see things impartially -- how they think Smith did. One said he thought Smith got taken to the cleaners, didn't push the NFL hard enough on retired players and should have pushed for the cap to be higher than $120.4 million in 2011. The other said, simply, "He beat the spread.'' In other words, after the union lost its leverage in court, he did better for his players -- while missing no regular-season games -- than this agent believed he would.

Three weeks after Smith took the job in March 2009, I interviewed him for three hours at a Washington restaurant. I remember five points about the interview clearly.

1. He felt he was not only the voice for current players, but also for retired players and for minimum-salary stadium employees.

2. If the owners wanted more money exempted from revenue sharing, they'd have to give the players a full view of their audited financial statements.

3. If the owners wanted a 17- or 18-game regular season schedule, they'd have to present compelling evidence that players wouldn't be injured at a higher rate than normal, and they'd be paid at a higher rate. He was open to considering one or two more regular season games; if players were unilaterally opposed, he'd respect their wishes.

4. He saw no reason to reduce rookie salaries. "That's not our job,'' he said. "I haven't seen a rookie check that isn't signed by an owner.'' In other words, he wasn't going to help the owners be protected from themselves.

5. He wanted better post-career health care for players, not just the five years of health coverage they received immediately after retiring under the existing contract.

There were other issues, and, of course, other things surfaced in the labor deal. But let's look at those five points and see where the players are today versus the previous CBA.

Retired players and stadium workers. An additional $1 billion over 10 years will be spent on retirees, many of who have horrible pensions (like Hall of Famer Leroy Kelly's $176-a-month pension) and lingering health and brain issues. Some retirees don't think Smith did enough, and they think the league was more aggressive in funding this program than the NFLPA was.

Stadium workers didn't miss a game, though there's no unionized representation for them, and no indication that the guy who works in the FedEx Field parking lot will make any more money. Bottom line: This is the first time in years life-changing money has been invested to help the lives of retired players; stadium workers won't miss any money. Smith did what he said he'd do.

Fighting the billion-dollar owners' exemption. The players insisted on the owners opening the books. The owners didn't, and the players didn't budge. Now, the owners did get 60 percent of all revenue from locally produced income in the next 10 years, but there's no reason the players should get a lion's share of the grow-the-game money. Bottom line: Smith did what he said he'd do.

The 18-game schedule. This isn't dead, because the owners can choose to cut the preseason from four to two games, not replace those two games with regular season games, and force the players to go to 18 if they want to avoid losing some money. As Mike Florio wrote Monday, this could be a staredown game, with the players forced to accept 18 games if they want to continue the money growth they've become accustomed to. We'll see. Bottom line: This is incomplete, but for now, Smith avoided the extra two games his players universally despised. If he considers giving in on it, which isn't likely, his players would rebel.

Reducing rookie salaries. His words to me in 2009 were either naïve or a brave front. Owners were going to win this one at the expense of almost every other issue. Bottom line: Though players at the top of the first round won a potentially lucrative fifth-year option as part of the settlement, Smith failed to keep a rookie wage scale from being imposed.

Expanding post-career health care. Players who take the field for games at any point during the 10-year CBA term won lifetime health care, with the usual (and sometimes onerous) deductibles. Bottom line: Though this was offered unexpectedly (stunningly, as I recall) by the NFL in March before talks broke off, and Smith can't take credit for it, the fact is it's in the final deal -- so Smith delivered.

What Smith also won: a significant improvement in guaranteed contracts, whereby players with career-ending injuries in mid-contract can receive up to $1.5 million after the year they've been disabled ... players getting 55 percent of the ever-growing network TV pie ... five weeks less of offseason workouts, and fewer contact-and-padded practices during the season ... 95 to 99 percent of the cap to be spent by teams each year instead of the floor-less system that enabled teams to get by spending up to $40 million less in 2010 than the 2011 cap figure.

What Smith didn't deliver: an opt-out provision, in case players were unhappy with the deal in mid-CBA; Roger Goodell clearly won this one, insisting the network money would be less if the league couldn't guarantee uninterrupted football ... the continuation of the system mandating the player-friendly federal court to oversee major labor disputes between players and owners ... players getting less than 50 percent of all football revenue.

Smith did get a signed deal with teams forced to spend 99 percent of the salary cap 45 days before the start of the regular-season. He got a good deal without missing any games.

I believe Smith knew all along he absolutely did not want to take this conflict into the season. He knew his players wouldn't be set up for missing potential millions, so he had to do everything he could to get the best deal he could, knowing deep down he would miss games only as an absolute last resort.

One more thing. The late fight over the opt-out provision shows me the players on the union's Executive Board -- and many players leaguewide -- do not trust the owners. At all. The show of camaraderie between the owners and league notwithstanding, I worry about the relationship between the two sides going south in a hurry. I know Smith has the substance abuse and discipline policies to worry about going forward, but I view part of his job, a big part, to be sure lines of communication stay open. And not bitter.

I'm going to give Smith an A-minus for the job he did ... with the clear understanding that the job's not done. But so far, he's delivered what he promised, and more.

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In Debt Limit Showdown, Obama Edges to the Right

However the debt limit showdown ends, one thing is clear: under pressure from Congressional Republicans, President Obama has moved rightward on budget policy, deepening a rift within his party heading into the next election.

Entering a campaign that is shaping up as an epic clash over the parties’ divergent views on the size and role of the federal government, Republicans have changed the terms of the national debate. Mr. Obama, seeking to appeal to the broad swath of independent voters, has adopted the Republicans’ language and in some cases their policies, while signaling a willingness to break with liberals on some issues.

That has some progressive members of Congress and liberal groups arguing that by not fighting for more stimulus spending, Mr. Obama could be left with an economy still producing so few jobs by Election Day that his re-election could be threatened. Besides turning off independents, Mr. Obama risks alienating Democratic voters already disappointed by his escalation of the war in Afghanistan and his failure to close the Guantánamo Bay prison, end the Bush-era tax cuts and enact a government-run health insurance system.

“The activist liberal base will support Obama because they’re terrified of the right wing,” said Robert L. Borosage, co-director of the liberal group Campaign for America’s Future.

But he said, “I believe that the voting base of the Democratic Party — young people, single women, African-Americans, Latinos — are going to be so discouraged by this economy and so dismayed unless the president starts to champion a jobs program and take on the Republican Congress that the ability of labor to turn out its vote, the ability of activists to mobilize that vote, is going to be dramatically reduced.”

While Mr. Obama and Republicans have been unable to agree on a debt reduction plan for spending cuts and revenue increases to cut $4 trillion in the first decade, on Saturday they were negotiating a deal with fewer spending cuts that would ensure the government’s debt ceiling would be increased into 2013 to avoid another deadlock in the heat of campaign season.

No matter how the immediate issue is resolved, Mr. Obama, in his failed effort for greater deficit reduction, has put on the table far more in reductions for future years’ spending, including Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, than he did in new revenue from the wealthy and corporations. He proposed fewer cuts in military spending and more in health care than a bipartisan Senate group that includes one of the chamber’s most conservative Republicans.

To win approval of the essential increase in the nation’s $14.3 trillion borrowing ceiling, Mr. Obama sought more in deficit reduction than Republicans did, and with fewer changes to the entitlement programs, because he was willing to raise additional revenue starting in 2013 and they were not. And despite unemployment lingering at its highest level in decades, Mr. Obama has not fought this year for a big jobs program with billions of dollars for public-works projects, which liberals in his party have clamored for. Instead, he wants to extend a temporary payroll tax cut for everyone, since Republicans will support tax cuts, despite studies showing that spending programs are generally the more effective stimulus.

Even before last November’s election gave the Republicans control of the House, Mr. Obama had said he would pivot to deficit reduction after two years of stimulus measures intended first to rescue the economy and then to spur a recovery from the near collapse of the financial system. With Republicans’ gains in the midterm elections, that pivot became a lurch. Yet Congressional Republicans say Mr. Obama seeks a debt limit increase as “a blank check” to keep spending.

“The Republicans won, and they don’t know how to accept victory,” said Robert D. Reischauer, a former director of the Congressional Budget Office.

In his budget proposal in January, Mr. Obama declined to suggest a plan along the lines proposed by a majority of his bipartisan fiscal commission, which in December recommended $4 trillion in savings over 10 years through cuts in military and domestic programs, including Medicare and Medicaid, and a tax code overhaul to lower rates while also raising more revenue.

Even though Mr. Obama was widely criticized, administration officials said at the time that to have embraced that approach then would have put him too far to the right — where he ultimately wanted to end up in any compromise with Republicans, not where he wanted to start.

But by this month, in ultimately unsuccessful talks with Speaker John A. Boehner, Mr. Obama tentatively agreed to a plan that was farther to the right than that of the majority of the fiscal commission and a bipartisan group of senators, the so-called Gang of Six. It also included a slow rise in the Medicare eligibility age to 67 from 65, and, after 2015, a change in the formula for Social Security cost-of-living adjustments long sought by economists.

“He’s accommodated himself to the new reality in Washington,” said Tom Davis, a former House Republican leader from Virginia. “That’s what leaders do.”

But Congressional Democrats and liberal groups objected.

“The president’s proposing cuts to Social Security and Medicare has the potential to sap the energy of the Democratic base — among older voters because of Medicare and Medicaid and younger voters because of the lack of jobs,” said Damon A. Silvers, policy director of the A.F.L.-C.I.O. “And second, all these fiscal austerity proposals on the table will make the economy worse.”

Mr. Obama’s situation has parallels with the mid-1990s, when President Bill Clinton shifted to the center after Republicans took Congress and battled them on deficit reduction and a welfare overhaul. Many Democrats were angered by his concessions, by a sense of being left out of negotiations and by a fear of alienating Democratic voters. Mr. Clinton was re-elected in 1996.

But Mr. Obama is likely to face the voters with a weaker economy and higher unemployment than during Mr. Clinton’s era. Still, his advisers express confidence that voters will reward Mr. Obama either for winning a bipartisan deal, if that were to happen, or for at least having a more balanced approach that does not remake Medicare and Medicaid and asks for more revenue from the wealthy. And they suggest another potential parallel with the Clinton years of divided government: that Republicans risk a voter backlash with their uncompromising stands.

“Democrats created Social Security and Medicare, and we have fought for decades against Republican attempts to end these programs,” said Dan Pfeiffer, Mr. Obama’s communications director. “And President Obama believes that now is the time for Democrats to be the ones to step up and save Social Security and Medicare.”

Mark Mellman, a Democratic pollster, said polling data showed that at this point in his term, Mr. Obama, compared with past Democratic presidents, was doing as well or better with Democratic voters. “Whatever qualms or questions they may have about this policy or that policy, at the end of the day the one thing they’re absolutely certain of — they’re going to hate these Republican candidates,” Mr. Mellman said. “So I’m not honestly all that worried about a solid or enthusiastic base.”

Binyamin Appelbaum contributed reporting.

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Saturday, July 30, 2011

Local News Makes Police Child Look Like Criminal - Video | Mediaite

Local News Station Apologizes For Misrepresenting Child As Future Criminal

by Frances Martel | 5:07 pm, July 30th, 2011

Chicago CBS affiliate WBBM has issued an apology after taking the comments of a four-year-old child out of context in relation to a shooting in the area. The child tells a reporter that the shootings don’t scare him and that, when he grows up, “I’m going to have me a gun.” This makes the child seem to aspire to commit shootings himself, but it was taken out of context– the boy expected to have a gun because he wants to be a police officer.

The story in question involved a drive-by shooting in the area, and several locals were on about whether they were fearful of future attacks. The four-year-old in question responded “I’m not scared of nothing,” and when asked if he would stay away from guns, retorted “I’m going to have me a gun!” And that’s where the original broadcast ends. The next line that was conveniently omitted? “I’m going to be police!”

The Maynard Institute rounded up the outrage in the academic community about portraying a four-year-old black boy as a “gangbanger in waiting”– and the NAACP reacted to the piece with disgust. NAACP President Ben Jealous noted in a recorded statement that his first reaction to the video was wondering where the child’s parents were, but later called the inclusion of that clip without context “disturbing,” both as an NAACP president and as a former journalist.

It didn’t take long for the WBBM to respond, and immediately apologize for the gaffe. Gawker has the apology from the station:

We accept responsibility for the mistakes that were made, both in the reporting and editing of the story. The video of the child should not have aired. As soon as news management identified the problem, they took immediate steps to ensure that the video would not air in subsequent newscasts. In addition, we have followed up with our employees to make sure that we all have learned from the mistakes that were made.

It’s entirely unclear whether the “follow up with our employees” included pink slips, but as far as media spin goes, it doesn’t get much worse than making a four-year-old look bloodthirsty.

The video below is divided into three segments: The original WBBM report as it aired, the full footage of the child saying he wanted to be a police officer, and the statement from NAACP President Ben Jealous:

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Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling's 2008 Harvard Commencement address | Harvard Magazine

J.K. ROWLING, author of the best-selling Harry Potter book series, delivers her Commencement Address, “The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination,” at the Annual Meeting of the Harvard Alumni Association.

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Tempest in a Tea Party

SO I was chatting with Chris Coons, the new Democratic senator from Delaware who had a rare win over the Tea Party when he beat loony Christine “I’ve Dabbled in Witchcraft but I Am Not a Witch” O’Donnell in the midterms.

Coons is a smart guy who’s alarmed at finding himself in a vicious combat zone that makes “Shark Week” look like a guppy party.

He said he felt as if he were in “an alternative universe.” He wonders if the president, rather than using an analogy about late credit card payments, should explain that failing to raise the debt ceiling is like the nation’s refusing to pay its mortgage. And he glumly noted that there would be a “bouquet of blame” for everyone if Congress and the White House allowed the country to “Titanic.”

“You know,” I told the suffering senator, “there is an easy solution.”

He looked up hopefully.

“Witchcraft,” I beamed. “Too bad we don’t have a senator who knows some spells.”

Ancient incantations and eye of newt — not that Newt — would be the only way to conjure up a less embarrassing group of leaders.

The world is watching in fearful — and sometimes gleeful — fascination as the Tea Party drives a Thunderbird off the cliff with the president and speaker of the House strapped in the back. The Dow is hiding under the bed with a glass of single malt. Can it get more excruciating? Apple has more cash than the U.S. government.

Amid the chilling anarchy, there’s not a single strong leader to be seen — not even a misguided one. All the leaders are followers. You have to wonder if President Obama at some level doesn’t want to lead. Maybe he just wants to be loved.

The citizens of this country tremble at the thought that these are the people governing them. Should we stick our money under our mattresses? It’s not only the economy that gets nourished by confidence; it’s also politics.

The maniacal Tea Party freshmen are trying to burn down the House they were elected to serve in. It turns out they wanted to come inside to get a blueprint of the historic building to sabotage it.

Like gargoyles on the Capitol, the adamantine nihilists are determined to blow up the country’s prestige, their party and even their own re-election chances if that’s what it takes. (Many are worried about primary races with even more dogmatic challengers, which is a truly scary thought.) If they can drag President Obama off his pedestal, even better. They think he looks down on them and sneers at their values.

Democratic lawmakers worry that the Tea Party freshmen have already “neutered” the president, as one told me. They fret that Obama is an inept negotiator. They worry that he should have been out in the country selling a concrete plan, rather than once more kowtowing to Republicans and, as with the stimulus plan, health care and Libya, leading from behind.

As one Democratic senator complained: “The president veers between talking like a peevish professor and a scolding parent.” (Not to mention a jilted lover.) Another moaned: “We are watching him turn into Jimmy Carter right before our eyes.”

Obama’s “We must lift ourselves to a higher place” trope doesn’t work on this rough crowd. If somebody at dinner is about to kill you, you don’t worry about his table manners.

More and more, 2008 looks like the tulip mania.

When Obama came before the cameras Friday to say that “any solution to avoid default must be bipartisan,” many Democrats wish he had just gone all unilateral and taken Bill Clinton’s advice to invoke the 14th Amendment. They yearned to see the president beat the political suicide bombers over the head with the Constitution. Impeaching a constitutional lawyer for saving the economy would be an even more difficult sell than impeaching a rogue for fibbing about a dalliance.

The Gingrich revolution pulled Republicans to the right of the Reagan revolution and the Tea Party revolution pulled Republicans to the right of the Gingrich revolution. The difference, though, is existentially striking: The Reagan and Gingrich forces wanted a leaner government, but they still believed in government.

The sighing, spectral Harry Reid does not look up to the task of taking on the freshman wolfen.

The laconic president emerges from the sidelines periodically to warn about economic default, but we’re already in political default.

Consider what the towel-snapping Tea Party crazies have already accomplished. They’ve changed the entire discussion. They’ve neutralized the White House. They’ve whipped their leadership into submission. They’ve taken taxes and revenues off the table. They’ve withered the stock and bond markets. They’ve made journalists speak to them as though they’re John Calhoun and Alexander Hamilton.

Obama and John Boehner have been completely outplayed by the “hobbits,” as The Wall Street Journal and John McCain called them.

What if this is all a cruel joke on us? What if the people who hate government are good at it and the people who love government are bad at it?

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Chicago Faces $635M Deficit, Mayor Rahm Emanuel Launches Budget Idea Website


Chicago Faces $635M Deficit, Emanuel Launches Budget Idea Website
Updated: Friday, 29 Jul 2011, 9:30 PM CDT
Published : Friday, 29 Jul 2011, 12:41 PM CDT
FOX Chicago News
Chicago - Mayor Rahm Emanuel released the City of Chicago’s first Annual Financial Analysis Friday, which showed the city is facing a budget deficit of $635 million in 2012.
The preliminary estimate of $635 million in 2012 notes possible increases in 2013 and 2014. The numbers come as the mayor is attempting to negotiate concessions with unions amid threats to lay off of more than 600 city workers.
“I have committed to making the tough choices needed to put our fiscal house in order and protect Chicago’s taxpayers,” Emanuel said in a press release. “As we move forward in this budget process, my administration is open to ideas from across the city on how to tackle the challenges we face.”
The mayor promised to reorganize the city’s finances without increasing taxes or dipping into the city’s rainy day funds.
Emanuel did not bring up any new threats of layoffs, but he did reiterate his desire to work with unions to reform work rules to avoid cutting jobs.
Emanuel also announced the launch of , a website that allows city residents to engage in the budget process by submitting ideas and asking questions.
Emanuel will present his 2012 budget proposal to the City Council in October.

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The Madoff Trustee’s Bad Day By JOE NOCERA, New York Times

Jed Rakoff is one of the most respected federal judges in the country, so when he issues an opinion calling one side’s arguments “convoluted,” “conjecture” and “a stretch,” people tend to take notice.

He did so on Thursday, in the matter of Irving H. Picard v. HSBC. Picard, of course, is the bankruptcy trustee in charge of recovering money that he can distribute to the victims of Bernie Madoff’s heinous Ponzi scheme. To this end, Picard has filed something like 1,000 lawsuits, seeking more than $100 billion.

He has sued the feeder funds that funneled money into Madoff’s firm. He has sued people who were close to Madoff and likely knew he was a crook. And he has sued many innocent Madoff investors, who had the misfortune of taking more money out of their accounts than they put in. Although these latter lawsuits have been extremely controversial, “clawing back” money from net winners to create a pot of money for the net losers is something bankruptcy trustees do all the time after a Ponzi scheme is exposed. After all, the gains reaped by the net winners came from money the net losers put in. That’s how Ponzi schemes work.

What trustees don’t generally do, however, is sue big financial institutions like HSBC or JPMorgan Chase on the grounds that they either looked the other way or helped enable the Ponzi schemer. As we discovered during the Enron scandal, the courts frown on “aiding and abetting” suits, even though to a nonlawyer, they can seem more than justified.

And so it was on Thursday: in throwing out Picard’s suit against HSBC — and strongly implying that every other bank the trustee has sued is also likely off the hook — Rakoff may have used sharp language, but he was really just interpreting the law as most judges would. You can’t read his opinion without being impressed with his legal logic — and the difficulty of mounting a successful appeal. You also can’t read it without shaking your head in dismay: Even as innocent Madoff victims are being sued to pay back other innocent Madoff victims, the enabling banks get to walk away. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

In fact, the reason Picard and his top lieutenant, David Sheehan, decided to sue the banks is precisely that the pattern was so familiar. “This is the largest financial fraud ever perpetrated,” Sheehan told me not long ago. “It didn’t happen without enabling. Bernie needed a bank to facilitate what he was doing. When you see what the banks were doing, you realize that Bernie was as much a part of the financial fabric of Wall Street as any collateralized debt obligation.”

During the course of a lengthy investigation, Sheehan became horrified by the evidence of bank complicity. HSBC, for instance, funneled enormous sums of money into Madoff. It served as the custodian to a number of Madoff feeder funds. Yet whenever the bank did due diligence into Madoff’s hedge fund, it ignored numerous red flags suggesting that Madoff was operating a fraud. Various HSBC due-diligence reports actually described Madoff’s returns as “too good to be true.”

JPMorgan Chase, which is also being sued by the trustee — and has also argued that the case should be thrown out of court — was Madoff’s bank. Its bankers saw money coming into the Madoff account and going out again, without ever being invested in the market. They saw evidence of money-laundering. Yet they never uttered a peep. Madoff’s business was too important.

Ultimately, Picard and Sheehan were trying to do something that has been sorely lacking in the aftermath of the financial crisis. They were trying to bring about some justice, using the only weapon at their disposal: litigation. That’s not their job, of course, and that is partly why they were handed such a stinging defeat. But at least they were trying, which is more than you can say for the Justice Department.

There’s one other aspect of Thursday’s decision that I couldn’t help noticing. The net winners, many of them, were nearly giddy over the fact that Picard got his comeuppance so publicly — even though Rakoff’s decision will surely hurt them. Of the $100 billion Picard has sought, at least three-quarters came from lawsuits like the one Rakoff just threw out. Had Picard won those suits, he would likely have had enough to compensate not just the net losers but the net winners. The fact that he lost means that he will continue to press hard for clawback money.

It is easy to understand the net winners’ anger at the trustee. To wake up one day and learn that you’ve been victimized by a financial fraud is painful enough. But to then realize that you are expected to return money that you thought was yours is infuriating. As their fury has grown, however, they have forgotten who the real bad guy is.

It’s not Irving Picard. It’s Bernie Madoff.

Gail Collins is on book leave.

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My Very Own Captain America By CHARLES M. BLOW, New York Times

My grandfather spoke to me this week. That would’ve been unremarkable if not for the fact that he died four years ago.

I had ducked into a movie theater to escape the maddening debt-limit debacle. I chose “Captain America: The First Avenger.” Surely that would reset the patriotic optimism.

But as I watched the scenes of a fictitious integrated American Army fighting in Europe at the end of World War II, I became unsettled. Yes, I know that racial revisionism has become so common in film that it’s almost customary, so much so that moviegoers rarely balk or even blink. And even I try not to think too deeply about shallow fare. Escapism by its nature must bend away from reality. But this time I was forced to bend it back. It was personal.

The only black fighting force on the ground in Europe during World War II was the 92nd Infantry Division: the now famous, segregated “Buffalo Soldiers.” My grandfather, Fred D. Rhodes, was one of those soldiers.

The division was activated late in the war, more out of acquiescence to black leaders than the desire of white policy makers in the war department who doubted the battle worthiness of black soldiers. It was considered to be an experiment, one that the writer of the department’s recommendation to re-establish it would later describe as “programmed to fail from the inception.”

For one, as the historian Daniel K. Gibran has documented, the soldiers were placed under the command of a known racist who questioned their “moral attitude toward battle,” “mental toughness” and “trustworthiness,” and who remained a military segregationist until the day he died. In 1959, the commander commented in a study: “It is absurd to contend that the characteristics demonstrated by the Negroes” will not “undermine and deteriorate the white army unit into which the Negro is integrated.”

Yet they did show great toughness and character, including my grandfather. This is how his 1944 Silver Star citation recounts his bravery:

“On 16 November, while proceeding towards the front at night, Sergeant Rhodes’s motorized patrol was advanced upon near a village by a lone enemy soldier. Sergeant Rhodes jumped from the truck and as a group of enemy soldiers suddenly appeared, intent upon capturing the truck and patrol intact, he opened fire from his exposed position on the road. His fire forced the enemy to scatter while the patrol dismounted and took cover with light casualties. Sergeant Rhodes then moved toward a nearby building where, still exposed, his fire on the enemy was responsible for the successful evacuation of the wounded patrol members by newly arrived medical personnel.  Sergeant Rhodes was then hit by enemy shell fragments, but in spite of his wounds he exhausted his own supply of ammunition then, obtaining an enemy automatic weapon, exhausted its supply inflicting three certain casualties on the enemy.  He spent the rest of the night in a nearby field and returned, unaided, to his unit the next afternoon.”


Astonishingly, his and others’ efforts were not fully recognized.

My grandfather’s actions were the first among the Buffalo Soldiers to be recommended for a Distinguished Service Cross, according to surviving records. That recommendation was declined. In fact, only four enlisted soldiers from the 92nd were recommended for the service cross. They were all denied. It was given to just two black members of the unit, both officers, and only one of those officers received it during the war. The other received it nearly four decades after the war was over because of the investigative efforts of another historian.

As the 1997 study “The Exclusion of Black Soldiers from the Medal of Honor in World War II” pointed out, by mid-1947 the U.S. Army had awarded 4,750 Distinguished Service Crosses and only eight, less than 0.2 percent, had gone to black soldiers and not a single black soldier had been recommended for a Medal of Honor. (Roughly 1.2 million blacks served in World War II and about 50,000 were engaged in combat.) Until 1997, World War II was the only American war in which no black soldiers had received a Medal of Honor. President Bill Clinton changed that that year by awarding Medals of Honor to seven of the men who had been awarded the Distinguished Service Crosses, the only ones whose cases were reviewed for the upgrade. Just one of them, Joseph Vernon Baker, a lieutenant in my grandfather’s regiment, was alive to receive it.

Even when this news of the Buffalo Soldiers was making headlines in the ’90s, my grandfather never said a word. There’s no way to know why. Maybe it was the pain of risking his life abroad for a freedom that he couldn’t fully enjoy at home. Maybe it was the misery of languishing in a military hospital for many months and being discharged with a limp that would follow him to the grave. Or maybe it was simply the act of a brave soldier living out the motto of his division: “Deeds Not Words.”

Who knows? But it wasn’t until after he died that I learned of his contributions. My mother came across his discharge papers while sorting through his things and sent me a copy. On a whim, I Googled his name and division, and there he was, staring out at me from a picture I’d never seen and being extolled in books I’d never read. My heart swelled, and my skin went cold. I wanted to tell him how proud I was, but that window had closed.

It illustrates just how quickly things can fade into the fog of history if not vigilantly and accurately kept alive in the telling.

That is why the racial history of this country is not a thing to be toyed with by Hollywood. There are too many bodies at the bottom of that swamp to skim across it with such indifference. Attention must be shown. Respect must be paid.

So as “Captain America” ended and the credits began to roll, I managed a bit of a smile, the kind that turns up on the corners with a tinge of sadness. I smiled not for what I’d seen, but for what had not been shown, knowing that I would commit it to a column so that my grandfather and the many men like him would not be lost to the sanitized vision of America’s darker years.

This is my deed through words, for you, Grandpa. You’ll never be forgotten.

I invite you to join me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter, or e-mail me at

Excellent piece, Mr. Blow.

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For Republican Freshmen, the Power of No


WASHINGTON — Representative Mo Brooks of Alabama knew his own power when he stood face to face with Speaker John A. Boehner in the cloakroom off the House floor.

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Representative Jeff Landry of Louisiana, left, found it hard to tell the leadership, “No, sir.”
But Mr. Brooks, one of the freshman Republicans who blazed their way into Congress on the promise to tame the national deficit, did not have good news for his leader, who needed his vote to pass debt limit legislation. He stood fast, as well, when other senior lawmakers implored him to get on board with the bill.

On Friday morning, Mr. Brooks got the call that changed his mind; his demands had been met, the House whip told him. Off he went to high-five his chief of staff, who preferred, he said, to shake hands.

There is an old Texas saying, often applied to politics, of the need to “dance with the one that brung ya.” But many of the Tea Party-leaning freshmen who helped the Republican Party take control of the House last November are here to polka while their leadership is begging them to waltz.

The Republican freshmen of the 112th Congress may never see the legislation of their dreams become law, but the scope of their victory in reshaping the debt ceiling bill to reflect the fiscal hawkishness of the most conservative House members cannot be overstated.

This victory was presaged by a fight over a short-term spending plan earlier this year in which the freshmen demanded far larger spending cuts than the Republican leaders would have imagined. The power of the 87 freshmen appears sealed, at least for now.

“Certainly there’s satisfaction in it,” Mr. Brooks said of his legislative victory. “That’s why I ran for office. You want to help your country.”

It was a mere eight months ago that Mr. Boehner and his leadership team welcomed the new Republicans — many of whom had never held public office — into the fold of his conference, assuring them that they were the future of the party. “I think it’s going to reinvigorate our democracy,” Mr. Boehner said then of the Tea Party, “and be a really good thing for the country.”

But the qualities that helped the majority of the freshman Republicans cruise to victory in 2010 — their promises to challenge the orthodoxy of their own party and offer fealty to no one — have been an impediment to Mr. Boehner as he tries to negotiate a deal with Democrats to prevent a financial crisis and possible deep damage to an already weak economy.

When the debt fight arrived, “It was a huge opportunity,” Mr. Brooks said, to make a significant change to the nation’s fiscal policy.

Mr. Brooks read the bill and immediately found it distasteful, because there was not a balanced budget component. So did a lot of his colleagues, a great many of them, though not all, freshmen.

The traditional methods of browbeating members — offering them treats for their districts — is frowned upon in this new majority. But the new House members also have little truck with the other time-tested technique of persuasion, appealing to party loyalty.

Mr. Brooks recalled Friday how his senior House colleagues had announced at a meeting: “This is a team sport. Get on the team.

“Sure,” he said. “I’m a member of the Republican team. But the more important team is the American team. Never have I given my vote to somebody else just because they are somebody else.”

Late Thursday night, Mr. Brooks met with Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the House whip, with a group of other lawmakers, and told him bluntly that he needed a balanced budget amendment within the basic bill, rather than as part two of a two-step plan. Mr. McCarthy, he said, had to sleep on it, then called him Friday morning to say, “ ‘If we do it are you still on board,’ and I said, ‘Absolutely.’ ”

In the broadest terms, the Tea Party freshmen have been victorious in changing the national conversation into an almost singular discussion of debt, and creating a consensus that America must do more to live within its means. But it is still not clear whether they will translate their passion into long-term legislative and political accomplishments — or overreach and undercut their credibility and influence.

“Zealots are great on the campaign trail,” said Julian E. Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton, “but a huge problem when it comes to governance. They often don’t believe in the art of a deal, even with their allies. If they are not tamed, they can eat their own party alive.”

But the freshmen have more to consider than their own party. They also felt the heat from Tea Party activists, including FreedomWorks, which is considering its options for 2012.

“Six months from now, we might look at this vote and say, ‘Wow, that was the vote,’ ” said Matt Kibbe, the president of FreedomWorks, who compared it to the vote on the Troubled Asset Relief Program of 2008.

The current impasse in Congress has often been compared to 1995, when a Republican revolution in the House led by Speaker Newt Gingrich ultimately brought about a coup attempt and eventually Mr. Gingrich’s resignation. In this case, at least so far, there is great sympathy for Mr. Boehner among even his most intransigent members, who say that it is the system they are fighting against far more than the House leadership.

But this group of freshmen view the measure of success a bit differently than their predecessors: They are helpers to the speaker in their view, as long as he does things their way.

“The hardest moment was to look my leadership in the eye and tell them ‘No sir,’ ” said Representative Jeff Landry of Louisiana. “They were pretty agitated. I’m beat up pretty bad.”

But, Mr. Landry said, the fact that he held out until the last minute served his leadership well.

“When their backs were up against a wall we said, ‘Let’s see if we can help get you off the wall,’ ” he said. “Leadership is not about getting what you want. It’s about getting what you need. So, in the end leadership did its job.”

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Friday, July 29, 2011

Rakim Brooks: White/Minority Wealth Disparities: The Rest of the Story

There is more to be said about the white/minority wealth gap, in spite of yesterday's seemingly extensive media coverage. In particular, we need to reflect not only on how much wealth was lost following the Great Recession and the inequality that created, but also on what those losses tell us about the ability of minorities to build wealth in America.

To begin, though the wealth gap is the largest since they began recording these statistics (1984), neither the gap nor the dramatic growth in inequality was caused by the Great Recession alone. Certainly, the Great Recession helped. The white/black wealth gap grew from 11:1 to 20:1 and the white/Hispanic wealth gap grew from 7:1 to 15:1. But observe the trend from 1995 to present and it becomes clear that the wealth gap has been increasing all along.

In 1995, the white/black wealth gap reached an all time low of 7:1. This was in keeping with a longer historic trend where, since 1984, the White/Black wealth gap had remained stable or declined. But from 1995 to 2004, the gap grew by over 150 percent to 11:1.

This earlier trend has not been referenced in the recent conversation for an obvious reason: everyone is more concerned about how much wealth was lost following the economic collapse. This is understandable. The losses were dramatic and uneven: Hispanics lost 66 percent of their wealth and blacks lost 53 percent, while whites lost just 16 percent. But what if those unequal losses are related to the previous growth in inequality?

So far, the mainstream argument has ignored this connection. According to the Pew study, blacks and Hispanics lost most of their wealth because they had invested in their homes and little else: "Stock funds, IRA and Keogh accounts as well as 401(k) and savings accounts were responsible for 28 percent of whites' net worth, compared with 19 percent for blacks and 15 percent for Hispanics." Asset diversity meant that, as the stock market has recovered, White wealth was resistant to the recession's effects. Though housing values are down by an average of 30 percent, the median wealth of whites fell only from $134,992 to $113,149.

But the asset diversity story is not all there is. We need to consider the different values of white and minority assets.

It goes without saying that not all assets are the same. But this recession has amply proven that. Hispanics lost 51 percent of their home equity, blacks lost 26 percent, and whites lost 18 percent. Among those who held stocks and mutual funds, Hispanics lost 32 percent of their investment's value and blacks lost over 71 percent. The median value of the investments owned by whites declined by only 9 percent! And there are similar discrepancies to be found in the losses associated with pension plans and the value of businesses. Thus, it appears that even with a significant amount of asset diversity, minorities were still more likely to lose wealth than their White counterparts because their assets are more vulnerable.

None of the current coverage has zeroed in on this problem or its relationship to the growing inequality witnessed from 1995-2005. For that analysis, it would be worth returning to the arguments found in Thomas Shapiro's twin books covering the black/white wealth gap: The Hidden Cost of Being African-American: How Wealth Perpetuates Inequality and Black Wealth/White Wealth: A New Perspective on Racial Equality (co-edited with Melvin Oliver).

The basics of Shapiro's argument (which can be applied to the white/Hispanic wealth gap as well) is that historic and present-day discrimination have prevented blacks from acquiring high-value assets. Shapiro focuses on how the practices of red-lining, white-flight, and recently sub-prime mortgages have created situations where minorities purchase homes that have lesser value than an equally priced home that is more readily available to whites. And living in less affluent neighborhoods then leads to additional drains on wealth: higher car insurance premiums, paying for private schools rather than being able to send your children to good public schools, and difficulty accessing cheap lines of credit by utilizing your home equity.

Now, what does all of this have to do with the growth of inequality from 1995-2005? The argument that Shapiro might advance is that the cause of that period of wealth inequality was not depreciating assets but unequal access to valuable assets. That is to say, both whites and minorities saw their wealth grow across the decade, but white wealth grew substantially more because of unequal access to more valuable homes, stocks, mutual funds, and pension plans. And unequal access then has meant less security for Hispanics and blacks now.

In my view, most people ignored inequality in the late 90s and early 00's because everyone seemed to be getting a little richer, living a little better, and eating a little more. But just as the bursting housing bubble revealed that our national wealth was built upon gimmicks and cons, it also revealed that our growth was remarkably unequal. Racial and economic justice advocates like Shapiro have been making this point for a long time now. But yesterday we missed an opportunity to recognize them for their hard work and to join them in their fight for a more equitable society. Let's not let another day pass us by.

Follow Rakim Brooks on Twitter:

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Changing the Face of Medicine | Dr. Barbara Ross-Lee

Barbara Ross-Lee, D.O., has worked in private practice, for the U.S. Public Health Service, and on numerous committees, and in 1993 was the first African American woman to be appointed dean of a United States medical school.

Born in Detroit, Michigan, and raised in a housing project, Barbara Ross-Lee faced discrimination as a young African American woman. Growing up in inner city Detroit, she and her sister shared a fondness for show business, performing with their brothers and sisters in the church choir. But while Diana Ross pursued a career in music that led her from urban poverty to celebrity as the lead singer of the "Supremes," Barbara Ross made her mark in the sciences.

Barbara Ross began her pre-medical studies at Detroit's Wayne State University in 1960, during the growth of the Civil Rights movement. Although a few medical schools offered admission to minority students there were no federal or private funding to help support students from poor families. At Wayne State, her pre-medical advisor did not believe women should be physicians, and so she declined to authorize Ross's request to study human anatomy as her major. Ross graduated with a bachelor of science degree in biology and chemistry in 1965 and, abandoning her original goal of practicing medicine went on to train as a teacher.

She joined the National Teacher Corps, a federal program, in which she could earn a degree while teaching simultaneously in the Detroit public school system. After completing the program in 1969, a new educational opportunity arose. Michigan State University opened a school of osteopathic medicine in Pontiac, a Detroit suburb, and so Ross applied and was accepted. As a single mother she needed help with childcare to be able to focus on her studies, so she sold her house and moved in with her own mother.

After graduating from the Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine in 1973, Dr. Ross-Lee ran a solo family practice in Detroit until 1984, when she joined the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as a consultant on education in the health professions. As well as serving on numerous committees Dr. Ross-Lee was also community representative on the Governor's Minority Health Advisory Committee for the state of Michigan from 1990 to 1993. In 1991 she was also the first osteopathic physician to participate in the prestigious Robert Wood Johnson Health Policy Fellowship.

In 1993, Ross-Lee became the first African American woman dean of a United States medical school. She remained dean of the College of Osteopathic Medicine of Ohio University until 2001. During her tenure there, she reformulated the entire course of study, and drafted a women's curriculum, earning a reputation as a "change agent." "It is my goal," she said, "to establish a seamless continuum of education rather than all of the fragments that we have now; to be able to incorporate learning strategies as opposed to the old memorize-and-regurgitate methodology; and to train a physician who is just not technically skilled but who is also capable of being responsible and accountable for the health status of the person he or she treats." For Barbara Ross-Lee, medical education is a collaborative enterprise between teachers and students, which, in turn, influences the interaction between doctors and patients.

Dr. Ross-Lee is a fellow of the American Osteopathic Board of Family Physicians, a member of the American Osteopathic Association's Bureau of Professional Education, and the Trilateral International Medical Workforce Group. She was recently appointed a member of the National Institutes of Health's Advisory Committee on Research on Women's Health and served as a member of the National Advisory Committee on Rural Health of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Ross-Lee and her husband, Edmond Beverly, have raised five children—two daughters and three sons—all of whom have pursued professional careers.

Dr. Ross-Lee was awarded the "Magnificent 7" Award presented in 1993 by Business and Professional Women/USA. She has received the Women's Health Award from Blackboard African-American National Bestsellers for her contributions to women's health, the Distinguished Public Service Award from the Oklahoma State University College of Osteopathic Medicine and an honorary doctorate of science from the New York Institute of Technology. Ross-Lee has lectured extensively, and has published more than thirty scholarly articles addressing a variety of medical and health-care issues.

In 2001, Dr. Ross-Lee was appointed vice president for Health Sciences and Medical Affairs at the New York Institute of Technology, and in 2002, she became dean of the New York Institute of Technology's New York College of Osteopathic Medicine.

Barbara Ross-Lee, D.O., was the first African American woman to be appointed dean of an American medical school.

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