Entries by Paul Kleyman

Paul Kleyman

David Brooks' "Aristocratic" Presidency: A Tale of Two Romneys

By Paul Kleyman, Jan 16, 2012 1:25 AM

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SAN FRANCISCO--No one should be surprised by the news that presidential candidates are necessarily millionaires. But last Friday, Jan. 13,  New York Times columnist David Brooks, in his thinly veiled support of Mitt Romney--anointed another class of those Americans should expect to occupy the White House. Call it the Aristocratic Presidency.

As Romney slogs toward Saturday’s South Carolina primary--through a thicket of distrust about his wealth and a briar patch of his own gaffes (“Corporations are people,” “I like to fire people”)—Brooks (“The CEO in Politics")  attempts to reconstitute Romney by enumerating the qualities of a successful United States president.

Heading Brooks’ list of the prime presidential attributes successful presidents have shared are that they tend to be “emotionally secure” and “often raised in an aristocratic family.”

The erudite pundit concludes by declaring Mitt Romney’s performance at the private equity firm Bain Capital to be “largely irrelevant to the question of whether he could be a good president.” Good character, you see, may be its own reward; never mind what those on high have actually done.

Life’s Experiences (Including at Prep School)

Brooks asserts that “the real question” is whether Romney, the son of an industrial leader who became a governor and GOP presidential candidate, has absorbed the traits “from his upbringing and the deeper experiences of life” that would manifest later as greatness.

It can’t hurt if some of Romney’s early experiences and those of past presidential successes , suggests Brooks, “were infused, often at an elite prep school, with a sense of obligation and responsibility to perform public service.”

Certainly, the advantages of wealth and position often clear a path to the top, such as for Democrats Franklin D. Roosevelt or John F. Kennedy. And Brooks’ column also gives nods to the emotional security evident among “military leaders like Dwight D. Eisenhower, and in serenely successful movie stars, like Ronald Reagan.”

Historians can argue over Brooks’ discussion of meritorious presidents, serene movie stars in politics and their attributes. But somehow the genteel commentator doesn’t quite count Romney’s decades of business practice among the factors most would regard as central to his life experience.

Mitt’s Real Rival, His Dad

The genuine question is not how Mitt Romney’s business practices and the values they reveal stack up against Gingrich, Paul and Santorum, but how well he compares to the one he can be most sharply measured against–his father, George W. Romney.

On his way to business and political success, George Romney’s leadership qualities were annealed by mien family circumstance in the Depression and a tough course at the prep school of hard knocks, where by all reports he learned the meaning of a day’s work.

The senior Romney emerged as the CEO of American Motors Corporation (AMC), and there he revitalized a struggling company by reviling Detroit’s “gas guzzlers.” He proved there was an American market for smaller, more efficient cars, notably the Rambler. George Romney rolled steel off assembly lines; he didn’t push companies and their workers off the financial edge of his desk.

George worked closely with labor, although he’d certainly bumped heads with them. And he was among a breed of CEOs who understood that it is unseemly to fract the company’s coffers for personal riches, thus sowing resentment down on the line.

During Mitt’s bid for the 2008 GOP nomination, Brooks’ New York Times colleague David Leonhardt wrote in reported that George Romney “voluntarily turned down $268,000 in pay over five years when he was chief executive, which was equal to about 20 percent of his total pay during that time.”

In 1960, the senior Romney refused a $100,000 bonus after persuading the AMC board that no officer of the firm should make more than $225,000 a year (equal to about a million and a half dollars today).

In addition, Wikipedia notes, George "was one of only a few Michigan corporate chiefs to support passage and implementation of the state Fair Employment Practices Act."

Times have changed along with what Leonhardt termed “cultural norms and basic economics.” He wrote that before Mitt left Bain in 1999, he owned 100 percent of the company’s voting stock, thereby earning “the hero status conferred on executives.”

Unlike his father’s old-fashioned model of domestic manufacturing for the mostly American market, Mitt rode an international wave of “new financial instruments like junk bonds, borrowing money to make big bets and, when they paid off, big returns.” One might add subprime mortgages, derivatives and other exotic instruments that contributed to today’s economic gulf between rich and poor—not to mention the financial collapse.

George certainly was among the super rich of his day, not merely a member of the 1 percent (or 1 in 100), but of the top 0.01 percent (1 in 10,000) in annual earnings. However, explained Leonhardt, that group absorbed 1.2 percent of all income in the United States. By 2005, the wealthiest of the swells sucked up over 5 percent of U.S. earnings.

Leonhardt praised Bain for transforming some firms and building up some companies. Mitt gets credit for developing Staples, for instance, and also Dominoes Pizza.

George Welcomed MLK, Hit Goldwater’s “Racist Campaign”

In politics, George, like any public figure, did not serve a governor of Michigan without controversy. History credits him as a champion of civil rights, welcoming Martin Luther King, Jr., to the state with an official endorsement of King’s 1963 march in Detroit. When Romney was sharply criticized by a top Mormon leader for proposing a civil rights bill, Romney stood his ground.

In 1964, as a proud leader of the now-clipped liberal wing of the Republican Party, George “picked a fight with supporters of Senator Barry Goldwater by suggesting he planned a ‘racist campaign,’” according to a 2007 Times article by David D. Kirkpatrick.

Kirkpatrick reported that while the father had kicked off his 1968 presidential campaign “with a tour of slums,” son, Mitt, in 2007, was “courting Christian conservatives and anti-tax activists” for their support.

True, George also handled Motor City’s 1967 riots poorly. But overall he's remembered as a man of integrity. On another issue as Michigan governor he promoted a tax-increase to improve Detroit schools--while his son now advocates for private universities, especially one that contributes to his campaign. And George led the way for a new state constitution to make raising revenue easier.

Of course, in South Carolina this week, Mitts opponents are vilifying him as a “moderate.” (Imagine Bernie Madoff calling Willie Sutton a moderate because he only robbed one bank at a time.) But it would be difficult to conceive of George, who built his reputation as someone who could get things done on a bipartisan basis, coming hat in hand to the Tea Party and swearing to repent his past sins--in the way that Mitt has with universal health coverage, among other flip-flops to the right.

Time will judge whether, if elected, Mitt Romney will nobly acquit himself as a successful president in the Brooksian mold. But in considering Brooks’ ruminations on presidencies from the base to the aristocratic, readers last Friday didn’t have to do more than shift their gaze to the left, of course, for a differently informed viewpoint, that of Paul Krugman.

A Whiff of Gordon Gekko

Yes, yes, Krugman is dismissed by some as a shrill liberal, while many read Brooks for his seeming philosophical equanimity. But Krugman’s 2009 Nobel Prize for advancing economists understanding of the global economy should count for something in evaluating a candidate who claims his business experience as his chief qualification to occupy the White House.

Krugman’s instructive column questions whether Mitt “understands the difference between running a business and managing an economy.”

As to Mitt’s business acumen and his character, though, Krugman cuts to the cold heart of the issue. Referring to the “greed is good” character in the film Wall Street, Krugman writes, “There is at least a whiff of Gordon Gekko in his time at Bain Capital, a private equity firm; he was a buyer and seller of businesses, often to the detriment of their employees, rather than someone who ran companies for the long haul.”

You know, a company like his father’s AMC.

Paul Kleyman

NPR News Gives Free Pass to Anti-Aging Ideologue

By Paul Kleyman, Oct 3, 2011 4:43 PM

Want to save your country from its aging decline – cut your entitlements for seniors and have more babies. Really. I’ve been hearing that refrain from international financial and investment think tanks for 20 years. And Monday’s “Morning Edition” gave unquestioned voice to the latter half of this message in a bland Lynn Neary interview on a subject that should be treated as a riptide of controversy.

I recently described a key link to the age-based attack on sovereign nations doing what they can to support their elders in “S&P’s U.S. Downgrade: What’s Age Got to Do With It?” (“In the shadows of S&P’s downgrade of the U.S. credit rating is its 2010 global aging report, calling for nations to cut their health and pension budgets—or else!”) To the casual reader/listener, the connection between slashing pensions and health care for elders (“On, Wisconsin!”) and keeping women all but barefoot and pregnant might seem remote. But Neary and her budget-obsessed fellow broadcasters at NPR News are supposedly journalists charged with connecting the dots, not casual observers nodding complacently as one might over a latte at Starbuck’s.

Neary’s unanswered interview is posted on the NPR website with the header, “How Declining Birth Rates Hurt Global Economies." Here’s the lead-in: “Around the world, there are more aging people and fewer young people to take care of them. A new study about the trend suggests this demographic shift could drag down the global economy. The report is called ‘The Sustainable Demographic Dividend.’ Co-author Phillip Longman, a senior research fellow with the New America Foundation, talks to Lynn Neary about the study.”

Longman tells Neary, “The first-order effect of a decline in the birthrate tends to be positive for the economy. A society finds it has fewer children to raise and educate. That tends to free up a lot of female labor to join the formal economy. But with the next turn of the screw, things change. As fertility rates remain below replacement levels, you still have fewer children, but now your workforce is beginning to decline and you've got more and more seniors as a percentage of your population. And so around the world today we see many countries struggling with their fiscal situation largely because of the exploding cost of pensions and the relatively slow growth of their labor forces.”

Later, Longman answers her question about the solution with, “You know, we have governments like Singapore that are sponsoring speed dating events in hopes of getting up the birthrates, right.” Italy also was paying women to have more babies some years ago, at the same time it was continuing its anti-immigration policies. Now that’s been great for their economy, right Mr. Berlusconi?

NPR’s Neary made no effort to mention that Longman, while well respected as a market-oriented policy analyst, has been flogging the deficits of the old and benefits of family values on fertility at least as far back as his 1987 book, Born to Pay: The New Politics of Aging in America. A simple Google search would have turned up a string of alarmist policy articles warning of population aging – We can’t afford all these old people! — such as “Think Again: Global Aging," in Foreign Policy, November 2010. It’s cover line: “A gray tsunami is sweeping the planet -- and not just in the places you expect. How did the world get so old, so fast?”

Well, Ms. Neary, there is another viewpoint held by a long list of experts in aging and economic policy, many of them not much farther than a Social Security number’s length from the NPR studios in Washington. Sadly, one important voice on this issue, Theodore Roszak, died this summer, but his 2009 book The Making of an Elder Culture (New Society Publishers) eloquently goes into historical detail on this issue.

Like Roszak, authorities at places like Campaign for America’s Future or the Center for Economic and Policy Research, believe that after that “first-order effect,” aging societies actually become wealthier over time and more productive, as older people are able to contribute more to society and women take a greater economic and leadership role. But, of course, it doesn’t help when institutions like the U.S. Supreme Court do something like making it tougher for older workers to file anti-discrimination cases based on age, as they did two years ago.

In fairness to Longman, I have not had time to read his 44-page report thoroughly. The executive summary suggests a careful reading to discern what he’s getting at.

For instance, one summary point of the report states, “Children raised in intact, married families are more likely to acquire the human and social capital they need to become well-adjusted, productive workers.” Another notes, “Men who get and stay married work harder, work smarter, and earn more money than their unmarried peers.” Still another says, “Nations wishing to enjoy robust long-term economic growth and viable welfare states must maintain sustainable fertility rates of at least two children per woman.”

I’ll be reading to see whether Longman calls for more economic equality and ethnic/racial justice in American society. The report does, says the summary, recommend, “Countries should increase access to affordable health care and lifelong learning to strengthen the economic foundations of family life.” And it states, “Companies should use their cultural influence to get behind positive, family-friendly advertisements and public education campaigns.”

Hmm. Social equity? Corporate social engineering? What’s Longman getting at. Calling NPR News – is there a journalist in the house to help frame questions and give context?

Paul Kleyman

WAVELENGTH: Net Neutrality Battle Rages On

By Paul Kleyman, Apr 18, 2011 2:00 PM

Here’s the link to the latest bi-weekly Wavelength e-news by Eric Arnold from The Media Consortium. This blog rounds up the latest in media policy news, including the ongoing debate over Net Neutrality, the fight over keeping the Internet open and free. It also contains highlights from the National Conference for Media Reform, new concerns about the proposed AT&T/T-Mobile merger, and new charges of possible antitrust violations by Google.

This issue features content and reporting from:

* Mother Jones
* Truthout
* Oakland Local
* New America Media
* GRITtv

Wavelength is completely free for any organization to repost or link to.

Paul Kleyman

WAVELENGTH: What's Original Reporting Worth? Plus AT&T & More

By Paul Kleyman, Apr 4, 2011 12:10 AM

Editor's Note: New America Media (NAM) is pleased  to bring you this summary of  the second issue of "The Wavelength," a new biweekly blog of news  from the front lines of media battles in the United States. It is published by The Media Consortium (TMC), of which NAM is a member. Here is the link to the full issue of "The Wavelength."

How Original?

Last week, the New York Times debuted its long-awaited paywall, and blogger Nate Silver used the launch as an opportunity to explore the value of a news organization based on the amount of original reporting it produces. While Silver’s rankings could be a valuable tool for news organizations, Mother Jones‘ Nick Baumann finds Silver’s methodology wanting.

“The results, as you might expect, made the Times [paywall] look like a pretty good value,” Baumann writes. But the real problems are in how Silver ranks “original reporting”– namely that online citations don’t always identify the outlet, and that larger, established news organizations sometimes get credit for breaking stories when smaller orgs actually had the scoop first. Rankings are valuable, but they need deeper exploration, maybe via funding from the Knight Foundation, Google.org or others.

AT&T/T-Mobile Merger still a very bad idea

Free Press’s Tim Karr weighs in on the mega-merger with five reasons why it’s not so great for consumers. According to Karr, “Consolidation on the scale being proposed by AT&T resembles the old railroad and oil trusts of the 19th century.” Karr also notes that the merger would erode competition, result in higher prices and fewer choices for consumers, eliminate many jobs, stifle innovation in the tech sector, and threaten free speech. [And that’s only when the glass is half full. Gulp!]

The disappearance of T-Mobile could have a huge impact on communities of color, which rely on unrestricted text and Web plans, especially people who don’t own computers. At Colorlines.com, Jamilah King notes that  blacks and Latinos are among the biggest users of mobile technology. If unlimited data plans end, and prices for wireless service rise for current T-Mobile users--if and when a merger is completed--the digital divide will almost certainly widen.

Buying Anti-Net Neutrality Votes

Crunchgear had an eye-opening article outlining how over the last four election cycles Internet service providers spread $868,024 to the 15 members of the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology who opposed Net Neutrality—the idea of keeping the Internet from becoming costly gatekeepers of information and likely censors.

New Study Details Women in Media Globally

In “It’s Still a Man’s World, Especially at the Top,” Inter Press Service’s Andrea Lunt reports on a new study of media in 60 countries by the International Women’s Media Foundation showing that gender inequality in the media sphere has been institutionalized. There is good news, though: The gap appears to be closing, especially at the executive level, where women have more than doubled their presence in the past 15 years.

Paul Kleyman

Can Budget Balancers First, Do No Harm?

By Paul Kleyman, Mar 30, 2011 5:15 PM

Last week on Charlie Rose, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg appeared among a half dozen metropolitan mayors and eloquently defended the need for greater investment in education, enhanced immigration and more spending on infrastructure (now, while costs are low). At the end of the show, though, Bloomberg said we must stop wasteful spending. His example: "We" spend 40 percent of our budgets on older people and only 10 percent on children.

It was hard to tell, though, which government entity he was referring to, much less which programs. California, for example, spends over 40 percent of its budget on K-12 and higher education. If Bloomberg includes both federal and state spending, certainly Medicaid and Medicare costs have escalated beyond general inflation. But don't blame seniors for that, Mr. Mayor. Even conservative economists concede that U.S. health care inflation is the source for unsettling increases in those programs — as well as in private insurance costs. Cutting Medicare and Medicaid won’t stop that cost growth.

The fallacious accusation of generational inequality in government funding is far from new. The federal budget includes large programs for seniors (Social Security, Medicare), and the biggest ticket for children is at the state level — education.

Bloomberg’s far from the worst, but his facile default to budgetary generational conflict is echoed in articles nationally in the actions of mayors, governors and legislators, whose idea of leadership is to visit the fiscal pain on the suffering and do so ineptly enough to kick the burden of false economies — quick fixes certain to fall apart and cost far more — down the lane, well beyond their next election.

Call the idea of controlling U.S. health care costs a losing cause, if you like, but it's disingenuous for politicians to blame old people and the protections they need in health and income security, so easily reviled as undeserved "entitlements."

"Old and Alone, Together"

That brings me to John Leland's fine piece in Sunday's New York Times, "Old and Alone, Together." The article focuses one of New York's 256 senior centers, where, run-down as the facility is, the place and its low-cost congregate meals offer friendship and a mental health lift to those who visit the site. He reports that the city feeds 28,000 people daily.

Astutely, though, Leland notes that the food program emerged in the 1960s, "when stories of old people living on pet food shocked the city and nation." Leland adds, "Nearly one-quarter of New Yorkers over age 65 live in poverty, according to the city's Center for Economic Opportunity, which uses a formula that factors in the local cost of living."

The center is applying one of several new alternative measures to replace the long-outdated Federal Poverty Line, you know, the one that still does not include such factors as out-of-pocket health care spending or regional variations in the cost of housing. Elder poverty, by the new measure, includes one in four people. That compares to the federal measure showing the level is now less than one in 10. Which to believe? Consider that our federal government now says the poverty line for an individual is $10,830. Try living on that.

Leland continues, briefly noting that the city closed 29 senior centers last year and the new governor, Democrat Andrew M. Cuomo, "proposed redirecting $25 million from the centers to child welfare; that, said the city's Department for the Aging, would mean closing about a third of its center."

Leland notes that last week, the centers got a reprieve when the New York Legislature voted to restore the funds. State legislatures saving Democratic governors from their hide-preserving instincts might seem like a novel notion these days, but one need only look West for at least one other current example.

California’s Contradiction

Among the stunningly harmful and myopic budget cuts proposed by California's once and present Democratic governor, Jerry Brown, was his initially zeroing out the state's 310 adult day health centers (ADHC) and slashing funds for a range of home and community care options to costly nursing homes for frail seniors and people with severe disabilities.

A subtext of these cuts was the governor's refraining from new cuts to K-12 education (for now). Education, of course, is disastrous, with California now sunk to 47th or 48th among the 50 states in per capita spending. But how many kids would think it's a good idea to shove Grandma's walker aside so they can get to their worn and torn school books, especially if Grandma is among the elders helping to raise their grandchildren?

As to the budget savings, last May a Lewin Group study contradicted a state legislative analysis showing that California would save $176 million. That was in response to former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who also proposed killing off the centers for a similar "savings." The number crunchers at Lewin calculated that rather than reduce spending, the elimination of the centers would actually cost the state an additional $51 million. Many of those dropped from the program would end up in nursing homes, emergency rooms and doctors' offices. Meanwhile, another 7,000 people would be out of work. (For more on this, see my New America Media  article, "California Budget Cuts at Odds With State's New Alzheimer's Plan."

Last Thursday, though, Gov. Brown signed a healthcare budget bill eliminating the program. California's Legislature, however, is expected to pass another bill that would reinstate about half the centers' funding. Part of the deal involves shifting the program's structure from the existing Medicaid funding to a federal waiver program — including far tighter requirements to qualify for adult day care — tighter for people who already had to be deemed by the state as being at risk of institutionalization.

Meanwhile, earlier in March, California's health and human services department and the Alzheimer's Association released its new 10-year plan for meeting the escalation of the disease. Dementias, says the report, will double in the state by 2030 — and triple among Asian and Latinos.

One main conclusion: "Unless the State takes steps to provide better support in the home and community for those who are affected by this condition, volume [of Alzheimer's cases] alone will cripple public resources." Did I mention that development of the plan was authorized by the State Legislature and involved two-years of study. The report repeatedly calls on the state to quit cutting these services and begin investing more in them.

Even Brown's brilliant 35-year-old budget director, Ana Matosantos, has at times "seriously discussed the possibility of leaving her position rather than making another round of deep service cuts to the disabled," according to another article in Sunday's NYT. She has remained on the job, realizing that if not her, someone else would have to do it, the Times reported.

While some state legislators have come to the rescue, others — well — take Florida, please! In Sunday's St. Petersburg Times (March 27), veteran reporter Stephen Nohlgren explains that the state aims to "save" Medicaid money on long-term care by moving vulnerable patients into managed care programs, both for-profit and nonprofit.

Nohgren's piece, "Florida Has Managed This Slice of Medicaid Well," shows that while other states, such as New Mexico, have turned to managed care only to see cost escalate sharply, others — notably Oregon, Wisconsin and Florida — have kept costs low and minimized nursing home placements. They’ve don this by using well managed nonprofit, fee-for-service programs that deliver assisted living and home-based care to elders and those with disabilities.

Policy analysts he interviewed told Nohlgren that to save money, the state "should beef up the two fee-for-service programs, the same ones the Legislature now proposes to eliminate." Those services have long been run by the state’s area agencies on aging.

Meanwhile, I can only wonder what, if anything, can reverse the current "first, do harm" political climate in the name of balancing budgets.

Yes, yes, I know all about the "painful" choices Govs. Brown, Cuomo and others say "we" all must “share in.” But where's the political leadership that says, "First, do no harm?"

Across the political board, federal, state and local — including a few politicians, such as Rand Paul, MD, who presumable took the Hippocratic Oath once — bold decision-making has defaulted to "pain" for those already quite injured. One hopes that the likes of Brown, Cuomo and, yes, President Obama, have a moral leadership card up their sleeves.

For now, though the political pulpit is waiting for someone to rise and be bully.

Paul Kleyman

THE WAVELENGTH: What Proposed AT&T/T-Mobile Merger Means

By Paul Kleyman, Mar 21, 2011 3:25 PM

New America Media (NAM) is proud to bring you this first in a series of dispatches from the front lines of media battles in the United States. Over the next four months, via NAM's membership in The Media Consortium (TMC), we will publish a series of news bulletins and in-depth articles on the state of the new media, and how developments in controversial areas, such as Net Neutrality, will affect Americans.

TMC is a network of the country’s leading, progressive, independent media outlets set on amplifying independent media’s voice, increasing the public policy clout of independents, and, especially, engaging the public in complicated, but vital issues of media access and freedom. The issue of  Net Neutrality, for example, is about preserving the internet as an open carrier of information, not as a paid-access service with commercial or other information gatekeepers. Other pieces will probe the wild world of Internet regulation -- and more.

Here is the link to the inaugural issue of "The Wavelength," a biweekly blog by Eric K. Arnold, about the latest trends and developments in national media policy. This week, the focus is on major mergers, holding telecom giants accountable, and the revolving door at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

The top story is on AT&T's announcement that it has reached an agreement with T-Mobile to buy the mobile phone service provider for $39 billion. As reported in the New York Times, the deal would “create the largest wireless carrier in the nation" and promises to reshape the industry.

Arnold writes:

The immediate upshot is that the number of nationwide wireless carriers would drop from four to three, with Sprint Nextel running a distant third behind AT&T/T-Mobile and Verizon. Another impact could be higher rates for current T-Mobile customers. Advocates of the deal suggest it could improve AT&T’s oft-criticized service, resulting in fewer dropped calls. However, critics note that the roughly $3 billion in projected annual cost savings will likely come at the expense of workers at the hundreds of retail outlets expected to close, if the deal goes through.

Click on "The Wavelength" link above for this issue.

Paul Kleyman

Where Are We the People? Human Impacts vs. Budget Battles

By Paul Kleyman, Feb 25, 2011 4:18 PM

What happened to “We the people?” One would think, from the red-state rotundas of Wisconsin and Indiana to the blue governorships of New York and California, that Lincoln had declared at Gettysburg the binding principle of government of the budget, for the budget and by the budget.

Don’t get me wrong. This old new lefty focuses a sharp eye on ballot measures with price tags, especially related to pensions and benefits for public employees. But then again, I’ve had to call the fire department in the past, and my daughter did go to public schools here in San Francisco.

As for my grown-up daughter, I tried to get across to her that money isn’t everything; it’s a tool and a resource the use of which should be guided by what’s important in life. It’s one element, but not the principal one. That comes in finding and working toward goals, goals motivated by dreams, sustainable ones. That’s where practical things like money come, but driven by what one wants and needs for a good and balanced life.

So what happened to America’s dreams for a good and balanced life? How is it that every level of government now routinely puts a price—in the form of line items--on life?

You don’t need to remind me that the tussle between guns-and-butter is the classic balancing act of public spending and taxation. But how is it that “bipartisanship” has come to pit those on both sides of the political aisle against pretty much the rest of us? How did the current debates reflect a recession of conscience, a lapse in loyal opposition that has placed every aspect of American life proudly on the budgetary table, as if the people involved are incidental to the dream that has sustained America?

From Gov. Moonbeam to Gov. Sunset

On Presidents Day, I was shoveling through a Minnesota-sized snowdrift of paper that mounded up on my kitchen table. It’s the weekly recycling chore that would take much less time were it not for the discoveries, the ones only mildly reminiscent of my Upper Midwestern youth in the dead of winter. (Hence, my last four decades in California.) I can still feel that cringe I’d get from that incessant scrape of shovel along concrete. And now and then a forgotten toy or missing pen would plop out as I turned the snow shovel on to a sooty drift.

What plopped out of my paper drift this week was my misplaced printout of the governor’s proposed budget. Paging through its spare prose I could see Medicaid doctor’s visits cut by $195.5 million next year, another $176.6 million trimmed by eliminating adult day heath programs for impoverished seniors and people with disabilities, jumps in premiums and copays for very poor families with children, and the axing – excuse me – the “savings” -- from the elimination of or drastic reductions in programs that often enable families to care for their youngest or oldest members.

This was not a document of budget-frenzied Republican freshmen in Congress or of red-state schizophrenia, as exhibited by Wisconsin’s Gov. Scott Walker. What I underlined and circled was the proposed budget of California Gov. Jerry Brown. It might just as well have been PDF ready from New York’s Gov. Andrew Cuomo or any partisan political figure from Left Coast to Right.

News pages run daily with the dismal prospects of immanent budgetary collapse and pledges of sharing the “pain” and “tough choices,” favorite refrains of California’s one-time Gov. Moonbeam transmuted into today’s Gov. Sunset.

The harangues and counter-railing over economic imperatives and fiscal follies goes on daily. But what struck me as I paged through Gov. Brown’s leadership-devoid budget plan was that all of the arguments beg the red-blooded American question: Where are we the people in these debates?

How did the civil society Americans have built since the shameful days of poorhouses and debtor’s prisons come to a point at which government balance sheets have so easily placed a price on human lives declared as “savings” for our grandchildren’s future?

Make no mistake about it: Budget cuts, such as Arizona’s savings by denying impoverished patients certain organ transplants or many states’ limiting of the number of prescription drugs one can fill per month, will result in deep distress or death for many people.

Why must we non-budget items be consigned to sitting on our thumbs, while our health, housing, environment, education, our very future, are held hostage to narrowly drawn line items on federal, state and local balance sheets. Never mind that many actual or proposed cuts will result in greater costs through such likely developments as accelerated emergency-room visits or premature institutionalization.

Let Your People In

Politicians at each governmental level get away daily with declaring dire consequences for the American way of life, but never seem to connect the dots between them (except for the all-important federal matching funds for this or that program)? The sheer isolation of government budgets from one level to the next – and then to genuine human needs, potential and aspirations, even from the human capital required for maximizing America’s place in the global economy – should be maddening enough for people to encircle every capitol rotunda shouting, “Let your people in.”

And letting the people in is exactly what I have in mind. Accuse me of snow-blind naivety, if you like. But why not compel our leaders to file every budget with a human impact report? Americans are well aware of the need for environmental impact reports enabling them to assess or at least debate about the effects of building projects. Only a week or so ago, I heard a business fellow on NPR’s “Marketplace” propose a Regulatory Impact Report that would reveal what bureaucratic roadblocks capital chaps like himself might run up against when they try to stoke our economic engines.

So, what about “we, the people?” My simple proposal is to impose on our political process a bit of policy analysis – to go with standard budget analysis – that I call the Human Impact Report.

WHY: Our budget-obsessed economy and political culture insist on down-to-the-penny numbers that always prove inaccurate or questionable in the long run, and on budgetary twists that now abjure revenue as politically unfeasible, as in, “No new taxes.”

WHAT: Officials proposing changes in government programs or regulations should have to include a comprehensive Human Impact Report showing exactly who would be affected, how and at what potential other cost. (Examples might be, emergency room visits stemming from ill-considered cuts to preventive measures; estimated losses in future tax revenue due to escalating raises in college tuition.)

Congress already asks for a budgetary impact report called “CBO scoring,” referring to analyses by the Congressional Budget Office to show whether and how much any given proposal will cost in tax dollars. If a bill would cost anything at all, the sponsors must show an “offset,” which is Washington-speak for demonstrating where else money can be found to pay for the program through savings or cuts.

The Great God Budget and the Satanic Tax Increase are the principal manifestation of American short-termism: sound bites instead of debates, campaign seasons instead of leadership, “bottom lines” falsely calibrated by quarterly business cycles, gains in year-to-year test-scores as a proxy for effective and appropriate education, attacks on immigrants when we need them to keep our culture and economy vibrant and – yes -- competitive.

Good measurements are important, but as guidelines and indicators. Yet, what our shortsighted system has done is replace meaning with metrics – often not even very good ones.

WE PEOPLE: If debt drives our social and political culture more obsessively into the costs of “freedom” (the American carrot) and “national security” (the fear-monger’s stick), then why don’t we have a measure required for genuine citizen security? Increase the war budget (now a separate appropriation from the Pentagon) only after the public can see – and debate about – the Human Impact Score: How many people will die, families will be affected by deployments, and so on. Presidents may well invade or deceive, as they always have, but let the human price hang openly for all to see.

Governments, of course, will balk at this, but organizations have been effective in getting such things started. For instance, the Annie E. Casey Foundation releases an annual Kids Count report card on things like the health, education and poverty among children. Another version is the Nuclear Clock put out for years by, I believe, SANE.

I believe that media organizations or advocacy groups could work with respected academics to come up with a kind of template many could adapt to measure the impact of cuts--or leave big, red question marks exposing the current knowledge deficit exposed by a given proposal, say, to cut Social Security benefits or children’s health programs.

WHO WOULD USE THESE: Besides legislative bodies, everyone, across the political spectrum would try spinning their Human Impact Reports. That would be just fine and democratic. The point is to get people thinking in up-close-and-personal terms, not merely default to human effects as a secondary factor in dollar calculations.

Paul Kleyman

TOUGH LOVING THE NYT #2: Japan's "Generational Roadblock"

By Paul Kleyman, Feb 2, 2011 3:12 PM

While the Middle East is fighting for its democratic life, Martin Fackler of the New York Times would like you to think that Japan is in a slow battle between its young and old citizens.

Writing at length about Japan’s economic woes, Fackler fell into the recurring Ground Hog Day syndrome common to economics writers of repeatedly blaming a broad demographic group for ruining the fortunes of another--thus threatening the whole society.

Paul Kleyman

TOUGH LOVING THE NYT #1 - Elder Poverty

By Paul Kleyman, Jan 31, 2011 3:57 PM

Okay, I admit it: I do tend to pick on the Gray Lady of New York: Such an easy target. But that’s because I love her – and pay lots for her to grace my doorstep every morning in California.

Well, call it tough love.

Last Saturday the usually astute columnist Charles M. Blow showed even humane writers can experience statistical snow blindness at times.

In his column, “Hard-Knock (Hardly Acknowledged) Life” Blow cites federal statistics for 2009 showing that while only 8.9 percent of Americans 65-plus fell below the federal poverty line, a whopping 20.7 percent of youth under age 18 are impoverished. Meanwhile, the rest of the population, ages 18-64, struggle at 12.9 percent, the highest level since 1959.

Blow states, "The data show that seniors are not the ones feeling the majority of pain these days." The majority of pain -- what a phrase! Are liberal columnists now going to start comparing populations groups according to which ones are more aching than thou?

The problem is that Blow unquestioningly seeks to place blame in terms narrowly defined and based on dubious demographic analysis of gross averages. I mean, on average, Bill Gates and you are billionaires, right.

To be sure, young people are being pounded by the Great Recession. But had Blow looked a bit farther, he might have seen the actual poverty evidence more clearly. For instance, at the start of the year, the U.S. Census Bureau released a research paper titled “Who is Poor? A New Look with the Supplemental Poverty Measure,” which reevaluates U.S. poverty based on a new alternative calculation.

“Who Is Poor?” is not light bedside reading. What’s important to know, however, is that policy experts have complained for years that the federal poverty measure, formulated 50 years ago, fails to include critical daily costs of living, such as out-of-pocket medical costs and taxes that squeeze seniors on fixed incomes.

The Census Bureau’s analysis shows that one in six older Americans –16 percent, not 8.9 percent – live in poverty, almost double the number of impoverished elders shown by the official federal poverty line.

No group emerges any richer through the new measure’s lens filter. The ranks of poorer whites of all ages jumped by 13 percent, while blacks and Latino of all ages saw smaller increases of from one-to-three percentage points (presumably because they can’t get that much poorer).

The Los Angeles Times quoted the “Who Is Poor?” report’s author, Kathleen S. Short, as describing the new picture of poverty drawn by the alternative measure. The poorest Americans, she said, “would consist of a larger population of elderly people, working families and married-couple families than are identified in the official poverty measure.”

The National Council on Aging (NCOA) delved more deeply into the new poverty measure and found that life is even tougher for ethnic widows and other older women living alone. The alternative poverty measure shows that 43 percent of Latino women and 34 percent of African American females living solo are in poverty.

“Too often, the struggles of elder poverty are invisible to policymakers and the public, yet millions are suffering and millions more are living on the edge of a financial crisis,” said Sandra Nathan, NCOA’s senior vice president of economic security.

None of this is new to those who have watched the debate over poverty statistics for years.

A similar alternative poverty measure, the Elder Economic Security Index, or Elder Index, developed by the University of Massachusetts Boston and Wider Opportunities for Women, is being used to measure real poverty or near poverty among seniors in several states. In its 2008 analysis, gerontologist Steven A. Wallace of the University of California, Los Angeles, and colleagues demonstrated that nearly half – 47 percent – of seniors in the Golden State are impoverished or struggling to make ends meet.

The realistic amount needed to live is about double the individual federal poverty line, which was $10,830 in 2010. In many cases, the official amount won’t even cover annual housing costs for rent or property taxes plus home repairs for owners, much less food, clothing, medicine and so on. Just to get through the year, people need about $20,000 today.

To his credit, at least Blow added, "I, for one, refuse to believe that this is an either--or proposition. We can make smart choices about protecting seniors and supporting younger America."

Sure. And how about trying that without superficial reporting that feeds into public biases against a particular demographic group?

Paul Kleyman

Pew Boomer Report: Attitude, Not Analysis, on Social Security

By Paul Kleyman, Jan 24, 2011 11:55 AM

As President Obama weighs whether to paint a bull’s eye on Social Security benefits in his State of the Union message Tuesday in the name of long-term debt reduction – despite opposition by a wide majority of Americans show in poll after poll – mainstream media continue presenting a distorted picture of the program.

For instance, New York Times reporters Jackie Calmes and Dalia Sussman, reporting last Friday on a NYT/CBS poll, conflated Medicare and Social Security as “the biggest drivers of the government’s projected long-term debt.” That’s certainly true of Medicare, although only because of fearful leaders refuse to control outrageous health care inflation in the U.S. But it’s false about Social Security. That’s because the program is barred by law from borrowing money from the federal government.

In other words, Social Security cannot contribute one dime to the federal deficit – by U.S. law. Some mainstream journalists and Wall Street advocates can argue as much as they like that the Social Security trust fund is a pile of IOUs that Congress will have to pay back by bankrupting the country, but that’s blather for the blogs, not accepted fact for news reports. Saying social Security is a load of empty promises is tantamount to saying nothing really backs the green legal tender in your pocket -- or the U.S. Treasuries we sell on the international bond markets. Not a great statement to make about U.S. solvency or competitiveness in the global economy.

My last blog post (Jan. 2) was a whine about the slanted picture of variously “self-absorbed” (New York Times) and greedy boomers proffered in national media as the first boomers stated turning age 65 this year, but it's hard to fault all of the coverage when supposedly objective sources of expertise impose their opinions in defiance of their own findings.

The media’s indulgence in generational finger-wagging was largely triggered by the report, "Baby Boomers Approach Age 65 — Glumly: Survey Findings About America's Largest Generation," by D'Vera Cohn and Paul Taylor of the Pew Research Center.

As I read the widely distributed summary report, I found myself holding my nose as the Pew authors took the liberty of going well beyond what their findings allowed. The report renders a politically loaded judgment that gratuitously chides the boomer generation for refusing to "take a bite out of their own pocketbooks" to bring down the national debt that's escalated since they were in their early 20s.

The authors wrote:

In 1970, when the oldest of the Baby Boomers were in their early 20s, the total publicly held national debt was about $283 billion, or about 28% of Gross Domestic Product. Now, as the oldest Boomers approach age 65, the federal debt is an estimated $9 trillion or 62% of GDP — creating IOUs that members of younger generations may be paying down for decades.

However, a new Pew Research survey finds little appetite among Boomers for deficit reduction proposals that would take a bite out of their own pocketbooks. For example, 68% of Boomers (compared with 56% of all adults) oppose eliminating the tax deduction for interest paid on home mortgages; 80% (compared with 72% of all adults) oppose taxing employer-provided health insurance benefits; and 63% (compared with 58% of all adults) oppose raising the age for qualifying for full Social Security benefits.

What the actual Pew research shows, though, in defiance of this accusation of generational profligacy, is stated only a few paragraphs later:

Personal Finances and Economic Views: Economically, Boomers are the most likely among all age groups to say they lost money on investments since the Great Recession began. Baby Boomers also are the most likely (57%) to say their household finances have worsened. And a higher share of Boomers than older Americans (but not younger ones) say they have cut spending in the past year.

Among those Baby Boomers ages 50 to 61 who are approaching the end of their working years, six-in-10 say they may have to postpone retirement. According to employment statistics, the older workforce is growing more rapidly than the younger workforce."

So, evidently boomers are a greedy and neglectful bunch, except for the litany reasons they have for struggling as they near retirement age. Where do references to National Debt (read in part Social Security and Medicare) come into a "survey" analysis as "IOUs" that only the selfish would not pay down before burdening posterity?

The Pew authors expose a conflict of interest that would be familiar to those following this issue – the Pew Charitable Trust’s close association with the Peter G. Peterson Foundation through the distinguished bipartisan and very conservative Peterson-Pew Commission on Budget Reform.

This private commission joined the national date in November with its one report calling for significant austerity measure to put the U.S. government back in the black. One of their main goal is to promote debt reduction in large part by attacking so-called structural deficits, code for social insurance programs with permanent and substantial funding.

Financier Peter G. Peterson is a private-equity billionaire and former Nixon Secretary of Commerce, who has militated for 30 years against Social Security and related programs, while also promoting reduced taxation for risky financial transactions.

Writers on Social Security and related issues would do well to begin tracking opinions appearing in Pew Research reports to see whether the research center has tainted its objectivity in reporting such results.

On generational issues, is Pew lifting the gratuitous language of generational goading directly from the Peterson forces? Peterson, for instance, funded the book/film/national campaign, IOUSA. Whether or not Social Security's trust fund is backed by a worthless pile of IOUs may be a fair matter of debate — but the argument has no place in a supposedly straightforward report on "poll" results.

Just think of what public reaction might have been had the section on child rearing stated that boomers and millennials were contributing to moral decline of the nation. After all, that part of the boomer pool shows that 70 percent of Americans believe the main goal of marriage is mutual happiness and fulfillment rather than child rearing, compared with those 65 and older (the "Greatest Generation").

I wouldn’t be surprised if Pew Research objects that it operates independently of the foundation’s advocacy efforts. But their slanted “analysis” here speaks for itself. What a shame Pew Research and its authors got away — thanks to an unquestioning mainstream of media — with an unfounded slight of an entire generation in an effort to promote a slanted political goal around entitlement financing.

Paul Kleyman

First Boomers Get Medicare--But Will It Treat Media Ageism?

By Paul Kleyman, Jan 2, 2011 12:26 PM

This week in journalism is bringing the inevitable tsunami. No, I'm not referring to the boomer generations taking its first plunge past age 65, but to the onslaught of media articles predicting doom and gloom. One article after another has sympathetically shown the boomers struggling against the recession's winter freeze only to turn on them with accusations that they'd fiddled like grasshoppers, who failed to save for life's winter and now expected to gnaw federal and state budgets bare. These strangely contradictory articles have been filling screens and killing trees from the Charlotte Observer to the Associated Press. Perhaps most peculiarly, one of the few media outlets to get the story at least partly right this week has been The Economist.

In an asymmetrical nutshell, these stories tell us accurately that boomers are approaching retirement in a precarious state with their retirement funds damaged by the recession, their houses underwater or, if paid for, unsalable, and college costs skyrocketing for their kids. But, somehow, they haven't saved enough, that is, they've abrogated their personal responsibility, you know, to those kids.

For instance, here's there way the AP reported the issue this week: "By far the greatest shortcoming has been a failure to save. The personal savings rate — the amount of disposable income unspent — averaged close to 10 percent in the 1970s and `80s. By late 2007, the rate had sunk to negative 1 percent. The recession has helped improve the savings rate — it's now back above 5 percent. Yet typical boomers are still woefully short on retirement savings. Even those in their 50s and 60s with a 401(k) for at least six years had an average balance of less than $150,000 at the end of 2009, according to the [Employee Benefit Research Institute]."

The problem with this and numerous other such articles is not, for the most part, in the factual reporting — it's in the failure to connect the dots to the facts presented elsewhere in the article. So, people have fallen through a trap door, but somehow are at fault for not having padded the ground below well enough. What's worse is this kind of half-baked reporting caters to one side — the well-funded conservative side — of what needs to be a serious and complete national debate on the country's priorities.

Such reporting lines up the obvious effects of the economic bubble-bursts and then defaults to the blame game. That game may be based on legitimate studies, but they are automatically suspect for faulting an entire generation for profligate behavior. This approach simply fails the human realities well documented and dangling before journalists' eyes. Instead of prattling about poor savings rates, how about citing the many studies quoted in recent articles about the decimation of the American middle class.

Let me lay out some other unconnected dots in these articles ... Wage stagnation since the 1970s; the drop in employer-based retirement pensions from about half of workers to about 30 percent; the waning of union-protected jobs to about 7 percent since the Reagan Administration; the weakening of age-discrimination laws by the Roberts Supreme Court, when older workers most need those protections to be able to meet those personal responsibilities; the fast-growing diversity of the boomer generation, so that by 2050 four in 10 seniors in the U.S. will be ethnic elders; the concentration of national income by the top 2 percent of earners since 1970 from 8 percent to the current 23.5 percent (the highest hording by the super-rich since just prior to the Great Depression) — and outright hubris (Alan Greenspan) and banditry (Goldman Sachs, etc.) and mismanagement of the U.S. economy that precipitated the current financial collapse.

Lest GBO readers think I'm seeing political spots before my eyes, here is some of how Robert J. Samuelson connected the same dots in his syndicated Washington Post column last Sunday, Dec. 26, in his usual direction — dots that go off the right margins of the screen.

Samuelson, who has been slanting economic facts against middle class entitlements — in the name of saving their children and grandchildren — for three decades, headed his piece, "On Medicare and Social Security, Be Unfair to the Boomers." The article opens, "I received my Medicare card the other day, recognizing my 65th birthday and making me part of one of America's biggest problems. By this, I mean the burden that the massive baby-boom generation will impose on its children and the nation's future." Politicians talked bravely this year "about reducing budget deficits and controlling government spending," he goes on, but they failed to accomplish those goals, because they still need to make "significant cuts in Social Security and Medicare benefits for baby boomers."

Read in vain for a reference to those politicians' failure to control runaway health care costs.

Although Samuelson takes care to acknowledge the recession's impact on retirees and near retires, he declares that not cutting social insurance programs now, such as by raising the full-retirement age for receiving Social Security benefits, would "be unfair to younger generations." Never mind that any proposal to do so would kick in as the boomers' children approached their own retirement. Well, Mr. Samuelson, I also got my Medicare card when I turned 65 this year. And I want you and your greedy patrons to keep your friggin' hands off my underfunded future and especially that of my economically struggling next generation.

I'll leave it to others to rebut Samuelson's perennially misguided missives. (See a list of experts at the end of this piece.) The point is that too much reporting that purports to be straightforward and factual isn't. Much of it merely feeds the beaks of budget hawks while disserving the full discussion, not to mention truly fair and balanced journalism.

A key factor missed by reporting that is narrowly focused on calculations about how much all these old people are going to cost our future is how much today's healthier, longer lived and better educated older Americans can continue contributing to the economy in years previously relegated to rocking chairs and golf courses. This week's entry supporting this premise comes, surprisingly, from The Economist. It's cover story for Dec. 18-31 touts "The Joy of Growing Old (or Why Life Begins at 46)."

The magazine's unsigned piece examines international studies corroborating that, far from being an inexorable slide into emotional decrepitude, people experience "the U-bend of life." That is, we hit bottom in midlife — averaging age 46 across 40 years of data in many countries — when most people are facing life's limitations and want their teenagers to stop screaming and become human beings again, and generally get happier.

To be sure, major researchers, such as psychologist Laura Carstensen at Stanford, have shown that people become calmer and more able to manage even intense emotional swings far better as we age. Some people tend to be too neurotic to benefit much from this longevity bonus. Others, who are more outgoing and positive, have been shown in various studies even to heal more quickly from minor injuries and better resist exposure to colds and the flu.

To wit: Older people tend to be happier than they were in their anxious youth or at the nadir of midlife. The upshot, says The Economist, is that "happier people are more productive."

No, this isn't the Yoga Journal or Cosmo. It's The Economist, you know, the British periodical that frequently hones the cutting edge for economic forecasts. The article concludes that "the cheerfulness of the old should help counteract their loss of productivity through declining cognitive skills, a point worth remembering as the world works out how to deal with our ageing workforce."

The Economist continues, "The ageing of the rich world is normally seen as a burden on the economy and a problem to be solved. The U-bend argues for a more productive view."

Paul Kleyman, Director of New America Media's Ethnic Elders Newsbeat, first posted this commentary in Generations Beat Online, e-news of the Journalists Network on Generartions.

Paul Kleyman

Wash Post Hit for Tainted Content Sharing with Billionaire-Backed "News" Service

By Paul Kleyman, Jan 7, 2010 1:50 PM

“Balanced and accurate reporting” is a phrase that might well clunk up against the Fox News claim to be “fair and balanced” if the first filing of The Fiscal Times (TFT) is any indication. Touting itself as "The Source for All Things Fiscal," the new wire service, co-founded and initially funded by anti-social-insurance propagandist Peter G. Peterson, the online new enterprise has already been hit by a distinguished group of progressive academics and analysts for slanted reporting. The tainted article appeared in the news columns of the Washington Post on Dec. 31, as the first entry in the newspaper’s content sharing deal with the supposedly “independent” news entity, and the Post soon was forced to admit to the piece’s lack of balance and failure to acknowledge potential conflicts of interest in the article.

Paul Kleyman

"Is There a Doctor in the House -- or Senate -- Before 2013?"

By Paul Kleyman, Dec 23, 2009 2:25 PM

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., seems to have his 60 blue ducks in order for a health care reform vote by Christmas Eve. And journalists on the political "dog watch" will start eyeing the conference committee process for reconciling the House and Senate versions to see where Democrats will have to sidestep congressional IEDs (improvised electoral detonators) for the 2010 and 2012 elections.

Paul Kleyman

Joe Lieberman's Headline Noose

By Paul Kleyman, Dec 17, 2009 1:38 PM

Yada, yada, yada! Today’s news cycle is replete with opprobrium directed at Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn. (the “I” in this case stands for Insurgent). Sources from CNN to the New York Times are chock full of chatter. But should anyone be surprised that one show-boater could freely braid a noose around health care reform given the Democrats’ insistence on a “bipartisan” process requiring a 60-vote supermajority vote in the Senate? That minor exercise in democracy never bothered the Republicans when they held the White House and both houses of Congress.

Paul Kleyman

'Bipartisan' Purple Dogs Go Rogue with 'Task Force' on Social Security, Medicare

By Paul Kleyman, Nov 17, 2009 2:38 PM

Progressive advocates for elders must be wondering, “With Democrats like that, who needs Republicans?”

Last week, the Senate Budget Committee held a hearing on the proposal by its chair Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and top GOP member, Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., to create the Bipartisan Task Force for Responsible Fiscal Action. The Conrad-Gregg task force would have the power to “improve the long-term fiscal balance of the Federal Government, including the fiscal balance of Social Security and Medicare.”

Paul Kleyman

San Francisco's 15 Seconds of Fame and Fear

By Paul Kleyman, Oct 15, 2009 9:45 AM

Editor's note: As Californians prepare to practice their earthquake-safety skills in The Great California Shake-Out at 10:15 am on October 15, and to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, NAM ethnic elders editor and commentator Paul Kleyman remembers how he spent the days after October 17, 1989.

I'll never forgot the gleeful fire in the eye of that gentle bookworm, Arthur Gibson, as he described walking past the burning houses in his search for a bite of supper, hours after the Loma Prieta Earthquake. He would not find food that night; water and power were suspended in the hard-hit Marina district that the world saw aflame.

Paul Kleyman

The John Edwards of 1884?

By Paul Kleyman, Sep 23, 2009 4:44 PM

Editor's note: Political sex scandal wasn't invented by Bill Clinton or John Edwards, EthnoBlogger and NAM Elders beat editor Paul Kleyman maintains. Grover Cleveland was doing it before the turn of the century.

The revelation that former presidential candidate John Edwards is admitting his paternity of the child that he’s denied since last year piles on to the bipartisan peccadillos of exposed political disappointments, from Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich in the faded news cycles of the 1990s, to Eliot Spitzer and Larry (“wide stance”) Craig more recently.

But don’t despair over your fallen-around-the-ankles favorite politico. He – are she scandals far behind? – is merely advancing a grand old American tradition. The Edwards news reports last week had me reaching for one of my favorite volumes of American presidential history of recent years – past my copies of John Adams and Nixonland to the delightfully dicey Scorpion Tongues: Gossip, Celebrity and American Politics (Morrow, 1998) by Gail Collins of the New York Times.

Paul Kleyman

Health Care Reform School

By Paul Kleyman, Sep 9, 2009 3:58 PM

Editor's Note: Seasoned aging and elder issues commentator Paul Kleyman remixes the news--and misinformation--on health care reform as he pronounces "The Boomers are coming!" Many conservative news sources have distorted the stats on Obama's victory, Kleyman argues, especially when it comes to the assumption of conservatism among America's elders.

As President Obama takes to the broadcast hustings to make his case for health insurance reform, the blog-blather continues to zero in on the influence of those contorted pink faces shouting Glush LimBeck slogans at this summer's town hall fiascos.

Beneath the din of old guys and gals shouting, though, I’ve also heard murmurings of ageism and racism drone like toad fish in the media night. All summer, I’ve been listing to the annoying hum of the Fox TV version of these bottom-feeders — an irritating fish common to coastal waters – to try to cut through some of the buzz for the e-newsletter I edit called Generations Beat Online. It goes to journalists who cover issues on aging and retirement – or the unretirement of the boomers. My day job at New America Media is editing the ethnic elders newsbeat.