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Social Security and President Obama

category_bug_politics.gif UPDATE: 11AM PST - The co-chairs of the deficit commission have just released a draft report of recommendations. A number of the other 18 members of the commission have already indicated they will not vote for it. Talking Points Memo has posted the draft. Scroll down for Social Security and Medicare.

Did you see Steve Kroft's interview with President Barack Obama on 60 Minutes last Sunday? Here's what the president said about the budget and Social Security:

”[Y]ou're still confronted with a fact that the vast majority of the federal budget are things that people really think are important. Like Social Security and Medicare and defense.

“And so, you then have to start making some tough decisions about how do we pay for those things that we think are important. And you know, we're not gonna be able to balance the budget just by slashing the National Parks budget... “I mean, we're gonna have to, you know, tackle some big issues like entitlements that, you know, when you listen to the Tea Party or you listen to Republican candidates they promise we're not gonna touch.”

People think are important??? Tackle big issues like entitlements??? I was so stunned at this statement, I missed the next ten minutes of the interview. Richard Eskow, writing at Campaign for America's Future on Monday, confirmed that I had not overreacted:

“That doesn't just sound as if he's preparing to cut the Medicare and Social Security 'entitlement' programs,” wrote Eskow. “It almost seems as if he's taunting the Tea Party and the GOP for not being tough enough to cut them.

“When a Democratic President sounds like he wants to outflank the Tea Party by running to its right, we're in deep trouble.”

No kidding.

In exactly three weeks on 1 December, President Obama's deficit commission will issue its report. Thanks to commission co-chair Alan Simpson who, in August, compared Social Security to a “milk cow with 310 million tits” we already know what it's going to say.

Together with the president's 60 Minutes statement, that undoubtedly means we are in for an even tougher battle to preserve Social Security than during President George W. Bush's 2005 campaign to privatize it.

To be clear – for about the zillionth time – Social Security does not contribute a single penny to the deficit. It is self-funded by you and me and every other worker (with extremely few exceptions). Due to the rate of unemployment, for only the second time in history this year, Social Security paid out more than it took in, but there are funds to cover the shortfall.

According to the August 2010 Social Security Trustee's annual report, as reported in the Los Angeles Times,

“The old age and disability trust funds, which hold the system's surplus, grew in 2009 by $122 billion, to $2.5 trillion. The program paid out $675 billion to 53 million beneficiaries — men, women and children — with administrative costs of 0.9% of expenditures.

“For all you privatization advocates out there, you'd be lucky to find a retirement and insurance plan of this complexity with an administrative fee less than five or 10 times that ratio.”

Social Security still faces a long-term shortfall and the American public seems to understand better than Washington politicians how to fix it.

Across the political spectrum, Americans are opposed, in gigantic numbers, to privatizing or cutting Social Security benefits.

According to a 2010 Gallup poll, 67 percent would preserve Social Security by requiring all high-income workers to pay the payroll tax on all their wages – that is, remove the salary cap that is currently at $106,800.

Only 39 percent believe reducing benefits for people younger than 55 is a good idea and just 35 percent would increase the age of eligibility. And in opposition to their Washington leaders, a majority of the Republican rank-and-file agree: 60 percent like the idea of removing the salary cap; 39 percent in favor of reducing benefits for those under 55; and even fewer than the general population, 34 percent like increasing the age of eligibility.

In another poll [pdf], a whopping 81 percent of voters (71 percent “strongly”) reject cutting Social Security to reduce the deficit. Whatever the exact number, it's obvious that the deficit hawks out to gut Social Security are completely out of step with the public.

It's relatively easy to fix Social Security's long-term shortfall if you ignore the howling from the richest people in the country.

President Obama campaigned on raising the salary cap. It is the fairest way to secure the future of Social Security rather than further impoverishing the middle and working classes, and it is what the American public wants. The president should pay heed rather than caving to the Republicans. As Richard Eskow wrote:

“If the President and his party can be brought around again this year, Social Security can be a success story for them. More importantly, it can be a success story for the middle class, lower income, female, and minority Americans who would be hurt by benefit cuts.

"It's not too late for progressives to change hearts and minds in the White House and on Capitol Hill - but time is growing short.”

This is our job in the coming weeks and months.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Johna Ferguson: A Strange Sensation

INTERESTING STUFF – 9 November 2010

Category_bug_interestingstuff Interesting Stuff is an occasional column of short takes and links to web items that have recently caught my attention – some related to aging and some not.

All readers are welcome to submit items for inclusion. Just click Contact in the upper left corner of any TGB page to email them. There is no guarantee of publication and I won't have time to acknowledge receipt.

Beth McCarthur of Vancouver, B.C. wrote to let me know Hazel McCallion was elected in October to her 12th term as mayor of Mississauga, Ontario.

A couple of years ago, we reported on her election to her 11th term. You can read more about this year's election here and I'm repeating the terrific video interview with Mayor McCallion from 2009:

In the newly-elected Congress, Republican knives are already being sharpened to slash or kill Social Security. But several surveys taken in August in connection with the 75th anniversary of the program show that it is as popular as ever. A poll conducted for AARP

“finds that 85 percent of adults oppose cutting Social Security to reduce the deficit; 72 percent "strongly oppose" doing so.”

In addition, half of all non-retired adults said they are willing to pay higher payroll taxes to ensure Social Security for themselves and so would 57 percent of adults younger than 50.

This doesn't mean we can let down our guard when the president's deficit commission issues its report on 1 December and when the new Congress is seated in January.

Take a good, close look at this:

Carl Warner Foodscape

It is, amazingly, a landscape made entirely of food. You can see a lot of more of these creations by Carl Warner at this link. Use the icons below the photos to find even more and some animated foodscapes too. (Thank you and a hat tip to Darlene Costner of Darlene's Hodgepodge.)

Some elders don't nap when they feel sleepy during the day because they fear being branded as lazy. But researchers at the University of Surrey say that because old people wake up more frequently than younger ones during the night, napping can improve their health:

“[T]he occasional nap can make older people more able to lead a fully active life by giving them enough energy to take part in recreational and social activities.”

I've recently discovered the restorative power of a nap – not every day, but when I need it. You can read more here.

Time Goes By reader Naomi Shaiken emailed a link to this video and I couldn't resist.

Blogger Claudia Snowden was kind enough to reference me in a post about her forced retirement. Much more important, she has some no-nonsense observations:

”Adversity makes you stronger--(2) No it doesn't. Solving problems makes you stronger, and sometimes adversity stacks up so deep you're drowning in alligators. You gain strength from learning HOW to solve problems, not get beat-up.”

You can read more at her Fried Okra Productions blog.

Oregon, where I now live, has had an assisted suicide law since 1994. With certain restrictions, it allows physicians to help terminally ill patients to decide their own deaths. In 2006, after he was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease, former governor Booth Gardiner campaigned for a similar law in his home state of Washington which passed in the 2008 election.

This is a video from a 2009 documentary titled The Last Campaign of Governor Booth Gardner which was nominated for an Academy Award. (Hat tip of Alan Genocchio of The Cyberspace Dawdler)

Surely you have read about the new airport body scanners that show everything and further reports that travelers who opt out are subjected to an extremely intimate body patdown from Transportation Security Administration agents.

Recently, San Jose Mercury News columnist Sal Pizarro passed on this observation from San Jose State University professor, Larry Gerston:

"As I went through security, who should I see but the Dalai Lama being frisked by a TSA employee," he said. "Now that's what I call misguided concern.”

After a certain age, many elders check carefully each morning to make sure they're still here. I found this tune - from Stephen Sondheim's Follies - and sung by Carol Burnett on, of all places, Nobel economist Paul Krugman's blog at The New York Times.

It's good to be reminded of Burnett and all that we old folks have lived through and survived.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mimi Torchia Boothby: When I Was Six

The Pursuit of Happiness

category_bug_journal2.gif In a recent email exchange with Lilalia, a gifted artist who blogs at Yum Yum Cafe, we discussed the idea of happiness. Lilalia is also gifted at pushing me toward more serious thought on subjects I might have only glossed in the past.

Referencing a podcast she had listened to, Lilalia wrote that

“One of the leaders mention how the 'pursuit of happiness' is considered a holy right in America. Yet, this pursuit is synonymous with independence gained and almost never results in acknowledgment of responsibilities acquired.”

I doubt America's founding fathers, when including that "pursuit of happiness" phrase in our Ur documents were thinking about what it appears to have become for many people: "I can do whatever I want and screw you" and, for some, stretches to "I deserve."

If general impressions are any help, happiness among the people of the U.S. would appear to be summed up as acquisition. All the media – which is about 90 percent of our culture via television, the internet, smart phones, iPods, iPads, print, email, the majority of snailmail and movies with all their product placements – is concerned primarily with creating the desire to buy more stuff.

It cannot be that I am the only person for whom this doesn't apply and who is, in fact, regularly exhausted by the constant exhortations to spend money. Nothing I have bought has ever made me “happy” beyond satisfactorily filling a need or supplying some form of enjoyment, which is not the same thing as happiness - at least to me.

Many people pay lip service to family and friends as their happiness – and I don't mean, with that phrasing, to sound cynical. But it is the rare person I've known for whom that is enough and most families I've known, scattered to the four corners of the country and even world, manage to be together on only one or two holidays a year.

And how much happiness can be attained when, as with millions of people, the oldest generation is housed in a nursing home, not attending those infrequent gatherings?

The idea of happiness often seems related to giddiness – as the fun of a driving a fancy, new car for awhile until the novelty wears off. Such pleasures, however, are transitory and that can't be what the founding fathers intended us to pursue.

Happiness is such a mystery to me. I have never known what to answer when asked, from time to time, if I am happy. Mostly I shrug and say, “yeah, I guess so,” because I don't know what the question means.

As with everyone else, throughout my life there have been moments of joy and moments of despair but generally, I just am – rolling along in neutral with whatever is happening. I feel great when I've accomplished something that pleases me - a well-done blog post, for example (of which this is not one). Is that happiness? I laugh when the cat does something funny. Is that happiness?

Recently, a friend emailed to say that he hopes I'm not too depressed by the result of our recent election. I differentiate between personal circumstances and the world at large. I am deeply concerned, even frightened about the current political and economic trajectory of our country, but that doesn't affect my feelings about day to day living.

Aside from personal disasters – deaths of loved ones, unemployment, a miserable marriage – I am not generally unhappy which is the best I can usually do in defining happiness – lack of the negative.

What still stands out as the most powerful and profound experience of my life is the three months I cared for my mother before her death in 1992. As I wrote several years ago in my blog series about that period,

It helped me locate my last ounce of energy when fatigue invaded even my bones. It fueled my ingenuity as successive medical problems required new and untried solutions. It led me to trust my instincts. It expanded the limits of my patience and temper. It gave expression to generosity and kindheartedness I had never used.

To my surprise, I felt accomplished, competent and deeply loving then as at no other time and afterward, when she had died, I felt suffused as much with pride in a job well done as with sadness. Dare I say I was happy then? Maybe. Maybe it was the closest to happiness as I think other people mean when they use the word.

Certainly, when I was younger, there were more frequent agonies related to work or boyfriends or how I looked. Thankfully, growing old takes care of those and the last miserably unhappy time I recall was when I realized in 2005, that I would need to sell my home and leave New York.

That was a horrific blow, but I got over it faster than I would have when I was younger, an attribute that seems to come with age without effort; a better understanding of “this too shall pass” which definitely contributes to more positive feelings.

Having gotten this far, it's obvious that I do better defining what unhappiness is for me. But what happiness is? Not so easy.

Perhaps the word “pleasure” works better for me. A beautiful day, an enlightening conversation, a satisfying visit with a friend, a good movie, a tasty meal, an engrossing book - like the cat and a successful essay - give me pleasure.

Are you happy?

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Madonna Dries Christensen: It's Good For You

ELDER MUSIC: Some Classical Things

PeterTibbles75x75You never know who you're going to meet on the internet and I came to know Peter Tibbles (bio here) via email over the past couple of years. His extensive knowledge of most genres of music and his excellent taste became apparent only gradually (Peter's not one to toot his horn) but once I understood, I knew he needed his own column at Time Goes By - or, better, that TGB needed his column - which appears here each Sunday. You can find previous Elder Music columns here.

category_bug_eldermusic I’ll start today with Giuliani. No, not that Giuliani, Mauro Giuliani who was an Italian guitarist and composer, and is considered by many to be one of the leading guitar virtuosi of the early 19th century.

Mauro Giuliani

He started out on the cello and he kept playing this even after he switched to guitar. After marrying and having a child, he left Italy for Vienna (without his family) where there was a bit of hanky-panky on his part and, woops, some more kids.

He liked it there and hung out with Beethoven, Hummel and Rossini. It was there that he published the large part of his works for guitar. Alas, he ran up considerable debt and eventually returned to Italy. His daughter Emilia had become an accomplished guitarist and they often performed together until the end of his life.

This is the first movement of one of his Sonatas for Violin and Guitar played by Itzhak Perlman and John Williams.

♫ Giuliani - Sonata for Violin and Guitar

There are a few Stamitzes (Stamices?). I’ll deal with two of them. First, the father, Johann Stamitz or, as he was originally named, Jan Václav Antonín Stamic.

Johann Stamitz

Jo (or Jan) was a Czech composer and violinist born in 1717. He had a brother who was also a musician and another who was a painter. After studying violin at university, Jo was appointed to a post in Mannheim where he quickly became the gun violinist and eventually Concert Master.

He married there, had a couple of kids and was lured to Paris for a short time, but spent the rest of his life in Mannheim.

He wrote 58 symphonies, numerous orchestral trios and concertos for a whole bunch of instruments. He expanded the orchestral instrumentation, including the wind instruments regularly for the first time. He also developed the sonata form of music.

Here is the first movement of his Orchestral Trio in F Major, Op 1, No. 3.

♫ Johann Stamitz - Orchestral Trio in F Major, Op 1, No 3

Jo’s most famous son is Carl Stamitz (or Karel Stamic, but he preferred the Germanic form as that’s where he was born and bred).

Carl Stamitz

Carl’s dad gave him lessons in violin and composition. However, Jo died rather early and this task was taken up by others.

He was employed in the court orchestra as a violinist but this didn’t hold his interest for long. He resigned and became a bit of an itinerant and a vagrant for the rest of his life. He’d occasionally accept short term jobs playing the violin, cello or viola d'amore but he didn’t stay long.

He did spend a couple of years in Paris with his brother and this seems to be the most settled time of his life. Soon, he was off again – Frankfurt; London, where he hung out with Johann Christian Bach and old papa Haydn; The Hague; Amsterdam and so on.

He died in poverty, a small town music teacher who in his last years turned to alchemy in search of making gold. He didn’t succeed.

In spite of all this, Carl was a prolific and gifted composer writing symphonies, symphonies concertantes, concertos for various instruments. His clarinet and viola concertos are considered to be among the finest around.

The first movement of the Clarinet and Bassoon Concerto in B flat Major.

♫ Carl Stamitz - Clarinet and Bassoon Concerto in B flat Major (1)

I know nothing about Anton Stamitz, Carl’s brother. There were also other relatives who were musicians and composers. A mini-Bach family.

Michele Mascitti was born in southern Italy in 1664.

Michele Mascitti1

He was taught violin by his uncle and was employed in a local church. He traveled widely in Italy, especially to Rome where he hung out with Corelli. He then moved to Germany, later to Holland and finally to Paris, aged about 40. He became a French citizen and lived there for the next 57 years.

If nothing else, he was one of the longest-lived composers in history. The Duc d’Orléans was one of his patrons and so Mascitti managed to appear at court at Versailles quite a bit. During his lifetime he was considered the equal of Albinoni and Corelli.

These are the final two movements from his Sonata No 1 in D Major for Violin and Cello.

♫ Michele Maschitti - Sonata No 1 ind D Major (4)

♫ Michele Maschitti - Sonata No 1 ind D Major (5)

Mystery surrounds who Sainte-Colombe was, but the music is there so he must have been somebody.

The most likely candidate is a certain Jean de Sainte-Colombe who lived in what is now the Rue de Rivoli in Paris. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. He and his wife’s signatures appear on the marriage certificate of their daughter to the king’s maths teacher.

Sainte-Colombe held no official posts, so he must have been pretty well off, although he had a number of students to whom he taught to play the viol (however, he didn’t want them to be too good as he stopped teaching each of them at a certain point).

It seems that he may have fled France around 1685 - he was of the wrong religion it seems - and some of his works have been found in Edinburgh with the same handwriting as the marriage certificate. His only known works, of which there are quite a few, are for a couple of viols.

It’s thought that this is a picture of him.

Jean de Sainte-Colombe

Anyway, here is a Concert for Two Viols named Le Prompt.

♫ Sainte-Colombe - Le Prompt

Poor old Albinoni. All you ever hear from him is his Adagio, and he didn’t even write that. Today I’m going to rectify that a bit.

Tomaso Albinoni

Tomaso Albinoni was born into a wealthy family in Venice in 1671. Considering his stature as a composer, not much is known of his life. He didn’t seek any musical posts, either ecclesiastical or secular. I guess he didn’t need to given his background.

His early output was in the opera field but these seem to have been largely forgotten as he’s mostly remembered for his instrumental work. J.S. Bach was taken by his music and he used some of his themes. Even the best aren’t above a bit of plagiarism.

Part of Albinoni's work was lost in World War II as it was stored in the Dresden State Library. I don’t know why it was there as it’s thought that he didn’t ever leave Venice. He died of diabetes in 1751.

This is the Concerto à Cinque Op 5 No 7 in D minor.

♫ Albinoni - Concerto à Cinque Op 5 No 7 in D min

GRAY MATTERS: Misunderstanding Medicare

SaulFriedman75x75 Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Saul Friedman (bio) writes the weekly Gray Matters column which appears here each Saturday. Links to past Gray Matters columns can be found here. Saul's Reflections column, in which he comments on news, politics and social issues from his perspective as one of the younger members of the greatest generation, also appears at Time Goes By twice each month.

I read somewhere that the White House and congressional offices have been besieged by phone calls and emails from older people complaining at the news that, for the second consecutive year, there won’t be a cost of living increase in Social Security benefits.

I don’t take issue with those complaints, for most of us know that the cost of living has gone up measurably, especially for people who depend on those Social Security payments. But what caught my attention and disappointed me was the news that some seniors “erroneously believe it is the Congress and the White House that are denying them raises.”

It seems to me that people who are on Social Security ought to know enough about their most important federal program to understand that the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) is based on the rate of inflation measured by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Consumer Price Index for workers, called the CPI-W.

Some experts want to substitute the CPI-E (for experimental) which would be closer to the reality for elders, but that’s another subject.

My point is that most of us ought to know that neither the Congress nor the White House is responsible for the freeze; indeed, many congressional Democrats have been pushing for a one time payment of $250 for everyone on Social Security.

If that doesn’t happen in the lame duck Congress because of the coming changes in power, those deluded seniors who voted for Republicans because they were angry over the COLA will get what the rest of us don’t deserve – cuts in Social Security benefits or maybe an attempt at privatization.

Similarly, if the polling was accurate, millions of older voters who should have known better were suckered into falling for the ads of the phony right wing senior group, 60 Plus, the Republicans who all voted against health reform, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and, of course, the health insurance lobby, and believing that the reforms will cut more than $500 billion from your Medicare over the next decade. They were wrong.

One of the best health care reporters, Trudy Lieberman, of the Columbia Journalism Review, put the so-called Medicare cuts in perspective on November 1:

“The health reform law cuts the growth in Medicare spending by $533 billion. Some might like to call that a saving [as President Obama has done] because Medicare might not be spending as much as it otherwise would, but the term can be confusing.

“But the law also adds $105 billion in new spending for more coverage for seniors who have very high drug expenses and the elimination of copayments for preventive services. The net reduction in Medicare spending is $428 billion over ten years...

“About 40 percent of these cuts come from cuts in payments to hospitals and other providers, except doctors. That money will be used to subsidize insurance policies for the uninsured.

“Another 25 percent comes from reductions in the overpayments to Medicare Advantage plans,” which cost nine percent more than Medicare spends per beneficiary.

“Phasing out the overpayments,” Lieberman continues, “will also hold down increases in Part B premiums...While cuts to MA plans may be unpopular with those who have them, they do strengthen Medicare for everyone.”

So, why will we haggle over the price of meat or an oil change, but we will believe the very people who voted against health reform and have promised to kill the best parts of the bill that passed? How come older Americans confused over the health care selfishly voted to put Medicare itself in danger?

Democratic pollster Celinda Lake said the right wing propaganda campaign was working in the mid-term elections.

“The biggest problem Democrats have with the health care bill,” she said,“ is the dislike of the bill by senior citizens, who have been scared to death about it.”

Judith Stein, who runs the Center for Medicare Advocacy, said of the ad campaign,

“It’s a way to get seniors to vote against those who supported health reform.”

President Obama shares some of the blame when he helped sell the reforms by emphasizing that they would “save” more than $500 billion in Medicare. The so-called savings strengthened Medicare. But because the reforms were themselves complex, what got lost in translation were at least two facts: the savings extended the life of the Medicare Hospital Insurance Trust Fund, and cut only some of the overpayments to private insurance companies that sell Medicare Advantage coverage. Those policies are not good for traditional Medicare.

Let’s recall that such policies were instituted by Republicans under Newt Gingrich in 1995 to wean seniors away from, and undermine, traditional Medicare in favor of HMOs and PPOs. Fifteen years later, only 25 percent of seniors have such insurance and under the reforms, they would not have lost their coverage.

The federal government has spent billions of Medicare dollars to subsidize that 25 percent. But these short-sighted Medicare beneficiaries were willing to privatize their Medicare. Some beneficiaries even declared during town meetings that “government should stay out of Medicare,” an obvious oxymoron since the government runs Medicare.

Now they may get their wish for they’ve opened the door to a new Republican effort to get the government out of Medicare. One coming proposal would substitute your Medicare benefits for vouchers, which beneficiaries would use to buy coverage from insurance companies.

To allay fear of change, none of the MA companies, under the law, are permitted to reduce Medicare benefits. But most were remaining in business despite the cutbacks in federal subsidies.

In any case, as Stein points out, nothing in the law could reduce Medicare’s benefits; indeed, they were expanded with the savings able to pay the full cost (no more co-pays) of yearly physical exams, preventive services such as mammograms, colonoscopies, prostate tests, flu shots and vaccinations.

Republicans, who will be in control of the House come January, have vowed to kill many of the health care reforms perhaps by starving the reforms of funds. And they want to hold hearings to grill Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sibelius and the head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Dr. Donald Berwick.

But some of the reforms, like the free preventive services and coverage for children and adults with pre-existing conditions, may be too popular for Republicans to attack. In addition, the Democratic Senate can, in a turnabout, block the excesses of the right-wing House. And President Obama can use the power of the veto, if he hangs tough.

Sadly, though, nothing new for seniors - like long term care - will get done in this reactionary, penurious new Congress.

Lieberman concluded in the Columbia Journalism Review:

“Most people, especially those on Medicare, have never really understood how the program works. That made it easier for each side to get away with advertising flim-flam.”

I wonder if those older people have learned enough to protect not only Medicare, but the Republicans’ favorite target – Social Security.

Write to

Post-Election Woes

In ruminating on the election, Crabby Old Lady finds herself appalled that so many politicians are nothing better than embarrassing. Can't we just say it. Christine O'Donnell – still a girl at 41 – has the intellectual underpinnings of a gnat. Sarah Palin is incoherent. Sharron Angle, Michele Bachmann and Jan Brewer are freaks – and two of them won!

Crabby is not picking on women in particular, but they have cornered the market on crackpot politics. Anti-masturbation? Death panels? Second Amendment remedies? Nuclear strike on Iran? Decapitated bodies in the desert? Candidates apparently believe these positions are vote-getters. Worse, most were not wrong.

If you don't count Linda McMahon's knee to her husband's groin, male candidates have a greater penchant for personal violence in politics. Alaska's Joe Miller defended his security team's assault on a journalist. Carl Paladino, in New York, threatened to “take out” a reporter and brought a baseball bat to his concession speech. Larry West of Florida won on a platform of hand-to-hand combat with muskets and bayonets.

On a bi-gender basis, here are some of the extreme beliefs of the freshman Republicans who will join the 112th Congress in January, as compiled by ThinkProgress:

• 91% have sworn to never allow an income tax increase on any individual or business – regardless of deficits or war

• 79% have pledged to permanently repeal the the estate tax

• 50% deny the existence of man-made climate change

• 25% want to end birthright citizenship

Although those are all House members, the supposedly “adult” side of Congress doesn't appear to be even thinking about policy. In late October, Senate Minority leader, Mitch McConnell, told the National Journal - and repeated on television on election night - that

"The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president."

When the Congressional leadership is not abdicating its sworn responsibilities, it's delusional. House Speaker-in-waiting John Boehner reiterating in his acceptance speech his determination to repeal health care reform, referred to America's “best health care system in the world.” What planet does this guy live on?

Cooperation with the Democrats and the White House? Not a chance.

Mainstream media is equally irresponsible. It was almost devoid of cogent analysis during the long campaign, also abdicating its responsibility to point out the lies of candidates and concentrating, as usual, only on the horse race. A news organization does not have to be partisan to call a freak bizarre, but they covered the ignorant and grotesque with the same “fairness” as the competent candidates.

They can't get even the simple stuff right. On Wednesday morning, Crabby Old Lady watched CNN's John Roberts tell Senator Harry Reid he had “eked” out a win over Sharron Angle. Reid took issue with that characterization and so does Crabby. Six points is hardly a squeaker.

Voters aren't off Crabby Old Lady's hook either. Oklahoma passed legislation outlawing the non-existent threat of Sharia law. And San Franciscans voted to take away toys from kids who don't order nutritionally correct Happy Meals. On “issues” such as these, it's hard for Crabby to not agree with the tea party about too much government.

The election of know-nothings, extremists and corporate sycophants comes down on no one's head more than ignorant voters – you know, the birthers, truthers and those who think painting a Hitler mustache on a photo of President Obama is a persuasive political statement. Unfortunately, that appears to succeed.

What gives Crabby gas is that too many elders are among the witless who are eager to vote against their own interests. As Saul Friedman details in his Gray Matters column on this blog tomorrow, elders so little understand their own health care program, Medicare, that they voted for the people who want to destroy it – and Social Security too.

Many tea partiers and Republicans railed in this election campaign against what they call the elite by which they seem to mean smart, educated, thoughtful. It is a long tradition in the United States to do so - just ask Adlai Stevenson who suffered through two campaigns being pelted with the “egghead” epithet.

Even in the best of times, we need intelligent leadership and this is pretty damned close to the worst of times. Crabby Old Lady is hanging on by a thread in hope that our country is not doomed through stupidity. Or gridlock. Whichever comes first.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Nancy Leitz: Midlife Surprise

REFLECTIONS: On Conflicts of Interest

SaulFriedman75x75 Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Saul Friedman (bio) writes the twice-monthly Reflections column for Time Goes By in which he comments on news, politics and social issues from his perspective as one of the younger members of the greatest generation. His other column, Gray Matters, formerly published in Newsday, appears each Saturday.

Category_bug_reflections The word “whore” has been tossed around in this past unlamented campaign as if prostitution was no longer one of the oldest and honorable endeavors. One such epithet was hurled anonymously at a California gubernatorial candidate for doing what politicians and prostitutes do - cut deals with voters and clients. A liberal congressman called the chairman of the Fed a “K-street whore.”

Two prominent pols - one a senator, the other a former governor who used the services of prostitutes while on the job - have survived; one got re-elected and the other found new fame and riches as a journalist, of all things, despite their first hand experience with whores.

I’m sure there were others who didn’t get caught. And a former madam, who serviced politicians, was one of seven candidates running for governor of the Empire State.

I am not a prude and see no problem mixing prostitution and politics, which is the second oldest profession. Politics, after all, is a business in which the practitioner sells himself, makes deals for votes and money and shows a little leg but tries not to give it away too cheaply. But we in the press, if we are not selling our bodies, should have a different, if not a higher standard.

That sort of behavior, peddling our skills and our independence, is or should be out of bounds for those of us who cover, critique and explain the positions of the politicians. But, I’m sorry to say, that too many of my former colleagues in the press have gone to bed with the politicians, lobbyists and corporate big shots they supposed to cover.

They are the whores worth worrying about in any election. And such prostitution, outrageous conflicts of interest in journalism (as well as the law, academia and even medicine), has become epidemic. One can no longer tell the difference between prostitutes and the press except maybe the price they ask. And worse, we don’t seem to give a damn about such behavior; it’s taken for granted.

There was a time in the craft of journalism in which I grew up and served for more than 50 years, when the working reporters, editors and even publishers bent over backwards to avoid or explain conflicts of interest. One of my gods, the New Yorker’s A.J. Liebling, the best press critic ever, told me one night over a cup of coffee that the boxing writer ought to tell his readers whether or not he paid to get into the fight.

A New York Times editor said it more colorfully when he fired a woman who had been sleeping with and taking gifts from someone under investigation whom she covered: “You can cover the circus,” he said, “but you can’t screw the elephants.”

For years, I did not register for any party for fear that someone would use that information to judge the credibility of my reporting; I joined only the local press club. That didn’t mean I was not able to comment or be subjective after I had some experience and knowledge, but my lack of a party identification added credibility to my work.

And as important, sources trusted me to tell their side of the story. Would you believe that some of my best sources and stories came from Houston’s Republicans, including the county chairman, George H.W. Bush?

Some newspapers have paid for the tickets to theaters and concerts their critics covered so they could be free to write their views no matter how they hurt the production. One of my publishers turned down a position on the symphony board because of the possibility of a conflict that might discourage the paper’s critic from panning a performance or reporting on problems within the orchestra.

Another editor refused to join the local chamber of commerce because of a possible conflict with a reporter’s coverage of the organization. On another occasion, my Washington Bureau colleagues and political reporters throughout the chain raised hell with its top executive who had an interview with Richard Nixon and suggested we go easy on him. The executive relented.

Now consider the prostitution of Fox News. It’s bad enough that its owner, Rupert Murdoch, has given $2 million to Republican organizations; that is his prerogative. But what does that tell the reporters and editors who work for Fox and want to hold onto their jobs?

Even worse, Fox News has put on its payroll, as commentators, the politicians it’s supposed to cover. Fox’s claim of “fair and balanced” coverage would be funny if it weren’t a lie. How would we know from Fox what the truth is?

As Politico reporters Jonathan Martin and Keach Hagey wrote on September 27,

“With Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, (former Republican senator), Rick Santorum and (former Republican governor) Mike Huckabee all making moves indicating they may run for president, their common employer (Fox) is facing a question that hasn’t been asked before: How does a news organization cover White House hopefuls when so many are on the payroll?”

Indeed, how can you trust anything that’s said?

The report continued, calling them

“the Fox candidates....With the exception of Mitt Romney, Fox now has deals with every major potential Republican presidential candidate not currently in elected office.”

No wonder their right-wing commentaries go unchallenged by Fox’s reporters. No wonder that none is held to account for their radical views and, yes, their misinformation and lies. And no wonder they refuse to be interviewed by other, less friendly, reporters.

Even one of Fox’s better commentators, Greta Van Sustern, an attorney who should know better, was compromised and lost any remaining credibility and integrity when Fox hired her husband as a political adviser.

According to Media Matters, which has done the best job of chronicling Fox’s streetwalking, these prospective candidates made 269 appearances through the end of September. I’ll bet you can’t remember a single legitimate news story these appearances yielded. They usually decline to be on other programs for fear of making fools of themselves. But that’s the way it is with whores; they generally leave their clients unsatisfied and poorer.

It is true that MSNBC has a lineup of liberal commentators in Rachel Maddow, Keith Olbermann, Ed Schultz and Lawrence O’Donnell. But most of them, especially Maddow, make it a point to seek challenging interviews with those who hold opposing views.

And as far as I know, there are no politicians on MSNBC’s payroll. Their standards of journalism and accuracy remain high and in no way do their commentaries compare to the viciousness of Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly who are at war with MSNBC and would pounce on any error.

At a strategy meeting in October, Delaware Republican and Tea Bagger Senate candidate, Christine O’Donnell told party leaders who had withheld funds because they’d been hard-pressed to explain her nutty views, that she didn’t care because she “had Sean Hannity in my back pocket, and I can go on his show and raise money by attacking you guys.”

As far as I know, Hannity has not said otherwise; he’s been in other pockets. But O’Donnell was taking the advice of her sister, paid contributor Sarah Palin, who told O’Donnell to ignore the main stream press and “speak to the American people, speak through Fox News.”

Palin herself turned to Fox News after she embarrassed herself, unable to give cogent answers to legitimate reporters. And so did Nevada’s Sharron Angle, who boasted of the money Fox helped her raise.

There is no fear among nut case candidates of having to make sense or giving meaningful answers to Fox interviewers. Washington Senate candidate, Republican Dino Rossi, has given five interviews on Fox. One typical question from a Fox anchor: “There’s a lot of pressure on you...How [are] you holding up?”

Hannity had a zinger: “So what story is it that you want to tell...that’s going to put you over the top.”

Rossi was then given an opportunity to make a pitch for campaign contributions. Needless to say, the incumbent Democrat, Senator Patty Murray, who was ahead in the race, was not invited to Fox.

Fox’s openly unfair and unbalanced behavior on virtually all its programming would have met with government opposition until 1987; Fox, after all, gets federal dollars and tax breaks and uses public access channels.

Beginning in 1949, the Federal Communications Commission enforced a “fairness doctrine” instead of worrying about exposed breasts and dirty words. The fairness doctrine called for holders of broadcast licenses to present controversial issues in a fair, honest and equitable manner.

It worked for nearly 40 years because broadcasters were careful. But in 1987, President Reagan abolished it as part of his deregulation campaign. Democrats have been trying to restore it, but Republicans, of course, like things the way they are.

The things Beck, Limbaugh and O’Reilly say are mostly reprehensible and even dangerous, but they are entertainers disguised as journalists. My greater problem is with people who purport to be journalists and reporters but haven’t the faintest idea of the reason for the protections they have under the First Amendment.

Indeed, they may not know that they are seriously weakening the First Amendment, although I doubt that they care. The evidence? Too many Americans have as little faith in the press as they do for politicians; real prostitutes get better grades.

Liebling once said that “freedom of the press belongs to those who own one.” But the reporter has a great responsibility in enforcing that freedom by holding his/her press owner to some modicum of fealty to the First Amendment. Many is the time that reporters have all but forced reluctant publishers to run risky stories. That was the case with the Washington Post’s coverage of Watergate, and The New York Times’ publication of the Pentagon papers.

Unfortunately, despite its record for pander and prostitution, Fox News was awarded Helen Thomas’ front row seat in the White House briefing room. So I asked the president of the White House Correspondents Association whether the organization, of which I had been a member, could vouch for the integrity and accuracy of Fox’s White House correspondent. There was no reply.

A friend, Barry Sussman, editor of the Nieman Foundation’s Nieman Watchdog, faults many news organizations for putting on the air candidates and political party operatives who predictably “are only promoting their party’s interest” with lies and exaggerations rather than giving genuine opinions of people who are the subjects of the interview.

Sussman, who edited most of the Watergate stories while at the Post, criticized most of the networks and cable stations for hiring pols and legitimate correspondents as contributors.

“As to damage to journalism,” he added, “The damage isn’t being done by Fox, or Beck or Limbaugh; it’s being done by other news organizations as they respond by caving in, failing to adhere to journalistic standards and by treating Fox as though it were a legitimate news organization.”

Fox News, sad to say, is not the only media whore working the streets. In 2008, the new and naive publisher of the Washington Post, Katharine Weymouth, and her hapless editor came up with a brilliant idea, inviting Washington’s movers and shakers to come to “salons,“ dinners at her home for a hefty price to listen to reporters give them the inside story on pending issues and legislation. The first one was to be on President Obama’s proposed health reforms. Some of the invited guests were preparing to battle against those forms.

It took a leak and the outcry of staff members to force Weymouth to cancel the dinners and apologize. I do not understand why she didn’t know from the outset that the idea was a major conflict of interest. Would the late Katherine Graham or her editor Ben Bradlee have countenanced such blindness?

Too many in the press fell for the seeming grass roots populism of the Tea Party and gave it mostly uncritical coverage. Maddow was one of the first to explore the reality instead of the romanticism.

We now know, as Adele Stan has documented for AlterNet and The Nation, on October 24, that the Tea Party is not the grass roots movement it claims to be. It was financed, in large part, by several billionaires and organized by veteran right-wing activists and politicians. As she wrote,

“The Tea Party wouldn’t exist without a gusher of cash from oil billionaire David H. Koch and the vast media empire of Rupert Murdoch.”

She named the groups headed by right-wing political operatives who provided the seed millions to put on the Tea Party rallies. They included Americans for Prosperity, chaired by Koch and Freedom Works, headed by former House Republican Leader Richard Armey and financed by the Koch brothers.

Only recently have some members of the press looked behind the curtain to see whose money is pulling the Tea Party’s strings. But others of my former brethren are getting some of that money as guests of the Koches.

As the blog ThinkProgress reported, David and Charles Koch hosted closed meetings with executives from the health insurance, coal, banking and other industries to plan strategy for the midterm elections, including where their millions in campaign contributions should go to help Republicans kill the Democratic majority and the Obama administration. The tens of millions of dollars they and their corporate allies have spent is unprecedented.

The first meeting was in June and another was held more recently. Among those invited, wined, dined and paid to attend the earlier meeting, according to Joe Conason of Salon, were several journalists including Michael Barone, a paid contributor to the Washington Examiner and Fox News; Washington Post columnist, Charles Krauthammer and National Review editor Ramesh Ponnuru who has defended Christine O’Donnell’s misunderstanding of the First Amendment on religion.

I find it ironic that these veteran journalists, who call themselves Constitution conservatives, would give aid and comfort to those bankers, brokers and big business executives who, with billions of dollars would buy an election and enhance the already unseemly power of corporate America, which is no friend of democratic government, a really free press or the whole of the Bill of Rights.

Indeed, when you come right down to it, I do not think these journalists or their corporate patrons have the morals, values or the integrity of the average streetwalker.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mimi Torchia Boothby: It's All in a Name

Welcome to Campaign 2012

category_bug_politics.gif No matter what happened to your candidates, you might be thinking today that yesterday's election marks the beginning of a respite from campaign politics. If you live in a country with a parliamentary system – England or Australia, for example – you would be correct.

But not in the United States. I clearly remember groaning on the morning after the 2006 midterm election when I heard someone say then-senator Hillary Clinton was throwing her hat in the ring for the 2008 presidential campaign.

And so it goes with 24/7/365 political maneuvering. The presidential campaign of 2012 kicks off today.

Actually, it began several weeks ago. Some pundit recently said that one or more Democrats would challenge President Obama for the nomination. Someone might try, but such a bid won't go anywhere. On the other hand, there is no dearth of Republicans who are already staking their claims.

The most unavoidable potential candidate is Sarah Palin. In recent polls, only 27 percent believe she is qualified to be president, but many more Republicans think otherwise and she has been warming up for it with several announcements that she will run under certain circumstances.

In April, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney won the 2012 Southern Republican Leadership Straw Poll and he's got a lot of money left over from his previous run for the presidential nomination.

Mike Huckabee came in second to John McCain in the 2008 Republican primary and he said then that he was not ruling out a future run. He is at least as popular among Republicans as Palin and Romney.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has been trying to burnish his much-tarnished image during this midterm for a possible run for the nomination.

Others you will hear from: Rudy Giuliani, Ron Paul, Jeb Bush and Lindsay Graham.

But beyond the annoyance factor, none of that matters right now. No one had heard of Palin until 2008 and there is no way to know yet who will come out of the Republican woodwork during 2011.

There is also this: no matter who is the Republican nominee, the biggest variable for the 2012 election will be what happens to the economy next year and how the new Republican majority in the House behaves.

If they shut down the federal government as some have threatened and/or if GOP Senator Mitch McConnell sticks with his threat (“The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”), which he repeated on television yesterday, and creates gridlock in Congress, expect a lot of drama in Washington.

Nothing ever changes in the perpetual campaign machine; we the public get not a moment's rest from them.

Just what you wanted to hear this morning, right? And here in Oregon, yesterday's election continues - we don't have a new governor yet.

UPATE AT 5:55AM PT: CNN just released the results of an exit poll question announcing that respondents yesterday preferred Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin, in that order, as the 2012 Republican nominee. I'm tired already.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mickey Roger: Men Can Shop Too

Midterm Election Day 2010

category_bug_politics.gif For awhile there, I thought this day would never arrive. I'm sure my blood pressure will drop 25 points just on relief from nasty political ads.

I voted by mail a couple of weeks ago and now await the results. One of the things that has always depressed me is that with the exception of Harry Truman's surprise triumph over Dewey in 1948, the polls are hardly ever wrong or even off by more than a couple of points. Sometimes I wonder why we vote at all; just let the pollsters decide.

Nevertheless, I will undoubtedly stay awake late tonight watching the returns. One of the advantages of being on the west coast now is that some winners are announced earlier than on the east coast.

Wondering if anyone had ever said anything pithy about voting and elections, I tracked down some yesterday. Here are a few - serious, ironic, funny and mostly, cynical – in no particular order.

“Fifty percent of people won't vote, and fifty percent don't read newspapers. I hope it's the same fifty percent.”
- Gore Vidal
“We'd all like t'vote for th' best man, but he's never a candidate.”
- Kin Hubbard
“Bad politicians are sent to Washington by good people who don't vote.”
- William E. Simon
“Under democracy one party always devotes its chief energies to trying to prove that the other party is unfit to rule - both commonly succeed, and are right.”
- H.L. Mencken
“Those who stay away from the election think that one vote will do no good: 'Tis but one step more to think one vote will do no harm.”
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
“If you're black in this country, if you're a woman in this country, if you are any minority in this country at all, what could possibly possess you to vote Republican?”
- Cher
“The Democrats think Republicans are stealing elections. The Republicans think Democrats are stealing elections. And those of us independent of the two old parties know they are both right.”
- Kevin Zeese
“If the gods had intended for people to vote, they would have given us candidates.”
- Howard Zinn
“The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”
- Sir Winston Churchill
“When I was a boy I was told that anybody could become President; I'm beginning to believe it.”
- Clarence S. Darrow
“Vote for the man who promises least. He'll be the least disappointing.”
- Bernard Baruch
“Politicians are like diapers. They both need changing regularly and for the same reason.”
- Author Unknown

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Johna Ferguson: Aunt Warrena

A Takeaway From The Rally to Restore Sanity

I feel so helpless and confused
Cause I hear screaming on the left
Yelling on the right
I'm sitting in the middle
Trying to live my life

Cause I can't stop the war
Shelter homeless, feed the poor
I can't walk on water
I can't save the sons and daughters
Well, I can't change the world
And make things fair
The least that I can do
The least that I can do
The least that I can do is care

That is a portion of the lyric from a song, Care, performed by Kid Rock, T.I. and Sheryl Crow at the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear in Washington, D.C. It's a bittersweet tune, sad and uplifting at the same time, and it made me weepy as I listened to it live on television Saturday. I'll get back to that, but first:

The moment I heard Jon Stewart's announcement of this rally in September, I wanted to go and had I been living still in Maine or New York City, I would have even though one of my top two or three pet hates is crowds. But from Oregon, particularly given the pain of air travel these days (another top pet hate), it was just too far and too expensive.

(My friend and fellow elderblogger, Frank Paynter, did go to the rally – all the way from his home in Wisconsin. You can see Frank's photos and commentary at his blog, Listics.)

To attend in spirit, on Saturday morning I tuned the little TV next to my desk to CSPAN and thought I'd catch up with some personal housekeeping chores on the computer while the rally played in the background. I didn't get far with that; mostly I watched the tube.

I've been a Jon Stewart fan from the beginning of The Daily Show. I appreciate what his compatriot, Stephen Colbert, does but I prefer Stewart's brand of silliness particularly when it is at its most juvenile. Not many comedians can make me laugh out loud – certainly not when I'm at home alone - but Stewart manages to do it regularly.

And I like his earnestness. Peeping out from under the silliness, profanity, schtick, one-liners, skits, jabs, jeers and all, he really wishes our world to be a better place than it is. And it seemed to me on Saturday that that was what the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear was all about no matter who or what caused the mess we are in.

There was a marvelous moment at the rally when Stephen Colbert, in character, was carrying on about being fearful of all Muslims. Stewart interrupted to introduce Kareem Abdul Jabbar, a convert to Islam, causing Colbert – a Jabbar fan – to cave.

Would that it could be as easy to change minds as in a comedy sketch.

In dissecting, from time to time, the importance (or not) of Jon Stewart and The Daily Show, the media universally refers to his youthful audience. I hope they were watching on Saturday. There were at least as many gray heads as youngsters there, many of whom traveled the breadth of the United States to attend.

With that in mind, I wonder if anyone doing wrap-ups of the rally will make a comparison to Woodstock – sans mud, of course. There was a similar feeling of camaraderie and togetherness I felt from the crowd coming through my television screen. And, a sense of relief from the pernicious screaming and yelling that has been the motif of this midterm election campaign.

Which brings me back to Kid Rock's song.

I haven't paid much attention to popular music since disco took over in the 1970s. I know Kid Rock's name only vaguely from the celebrity noise machine that never stops, and I was surprised when I checked Wikipedia to find that he “has been an outspoken supporter of the Republican Party” and, in the 2004 presidential campaign, of George W. Bush.

But he has written a song, included on his newest album to be released later this month, that mirrors my own feelings of helplessness for us all in these terrible times.

Every day, the news reminds me there is so much that needs fixing and so little I can do. Maybe my weepy response to Kid Rock's song is the best kind of result that can come from Jon Stewart's rally – that a flaming, old liberal/progressive like me unexpectedly found some common ground with a young(ish) Bush Republican.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Marcia Mayo: Proud