Category: Economy

Mark Trahant

Behind Door Number Three: Calamity

By Mark Trahant, Jan 7, 2013 9:26 AM

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The goal of this blog is to help tribal leaders, and tribal communities, prepare for the austerity ahead. Over the next few weeks I want to explore how tribal governments might adapt to this cycle. And look for ways for tribes to mitigate the worst of shrinking budgets.

As I have been writing the choice ahead is severe austerity or austerity light. Either way it's going to be rough on the poorest communities in North America.

Today's post is about the worst of austerity.

Mark Trahant

A Context for the Budget Fights Ahead

By Mark Trahant, Jan 3, 2013 1:22 PM

It's important to remember that austerity is a global trend, not a national one. Countries across the globe are spending less on government, laying off public workers, and, generally, shrinking economies.

Mark Trahant

The Deal, The Mess, And a Look Ahead

By Mark Trahant, Jan 2, 2013 2:11 PM

President Barack Obama said his priority was keeping the current income tax rates in place for most Americans. The deal that passed Congress yesterday did just that. It raised taxes on people making more than $400,000 and pushed the fight over spending back to another day.

Walter Ewing

Colorado Digs Itself Into a Fiscal Hole in the Name of Immigration Enforcement

By Walter Ewing, Dec 17, 2012 10:30 AM

Immigration Impact

At a time when state budget deficits are growing larger, you might think that state governments would avoid imposing costly, unfunded mandates on themselves. Yet that is exactly what states are doing when they pass laws that transform their police officers into proxy immigration agents. As officers spend more of their scarce resources and time rounding up people whom they suspect of being unauthorized immigrants, costs mount not only for the police force, but for jails and courts as well. More often than not, these costs are being needlessly incurred in order to lock up people who are in no way a threat to public safety.

Andrew Lam

Welcome to San Francisco, the Asian City by the Bay

By Andrew Lam, Dec 7, 2012 10:10 AM

 On a cable car over Nob Hill one morning, I overheard a blonde, middle-age tourist whisper this confidence to her companion: "It sure ain't Texas, I can tell you that much."

"No kidding," mumbled the burly man in a Hawaiian shirt as he continued filming the city with his camcorder.

The Texan couple's sense of displacement stems, at least in part, from San Francisco's unmistakable Oriental twang. For the tourist's camcorder is sure to capture, amid the city's Victorians and scenic hills, images that confirm San Francisco's central place in the Pacific Century: Young Asian students spilling out of grammar schools, video stores displaying the latest Hong Kong and Korean dramas, karaoke bars and sidewalk stalls filled with string beans, bokchoy, ginger and bitter melons.

San Francisco is now part of a statewide trend that has resulted in majority becoming minority, with minority continuing to surge and multiply. The latest census showed that whites have slowly shrunk to 48 percent of the population in San Francisco, becoming another minority in a city that has no majority. The city's Asian population, on the other hand, has risen above the 33 percent mark. That is, one in three San Francisco residents has an Asian face. For the population under 18, the number for Asian closer to 40 percent.

Politically and culturally, the result is something of a rumbling mid-Richter scale earthquake.

So much so that the current San Francisco Magazine has an unflattering picture of Rose Pak, a political activist with strong advocacy for Chinatown, on its cover, smoking a cigar. The headline: Who Runs San Francisco?

Andrew Lam

Occupy: A Movement that Didn't Satisfy

By Andrew Lam, Sep 18, 2012 1:34 PM

The Occupy Wall Street movement began in New York last September and quickly spread around the country -- then, inevitably, in the age of instant information, the world. But just as quickly, it petered out. 

Here in San Francisco, the protest began the same week the iPhone 4S came out and even at its peak, the number of protesters barely rivaled the number of those who stood in long lines at the Apple Store a few blocks away. 
The same news cycle has returned a year later: The anniversary of the 99% against 1% movement coincided with the debut of the iPhone 5. While the headlines describing the Occupy movement seem discouraging: "1 year after encampment began, Occupy Wall Street is in disarray; spirit of revolt lives on," and "Occupy Movement: Spent after First Year?" the news for the iPhone debut was all rosy: "Apple: iPhone 5 pre-orders topped 2M in 24 hours." 
On the other hand, noted USA Today, "As the last of its urban encampments close and interest wanes in a movement without an organizational hierarchy or an action agenda, it's unclear whether Occupy's first birthday will be its last." Perhaps it couldn't be helped. Critics and pundits alike said that there was no coherent demand, no collective goal. The movement slowly imploded instead by quarrels and quibbles that descended in many cases into fistfights and bottle throwing. 

Edgardo Cervano-Soto

Census Data, Education and the New Majority

By Edgardo Cervano-Soto, May 21, 2012 3:20 PM

Last week, the U.S Census reported that July 1, 2010 marked the first time births of non-white babies (at 50.4 percent) eclipsed that of white babies (at 49.6 percent). The demographic shift forces a reconsideration of tomorrow’s faces, projecting that by 2042 whites will become the minority demographic nationwide (a yardstick long since surpassed in California).

Stephanie Espinoza

Hope In a Time of Crisis

By Stephanie Espinoza, May 18, 2012 3:36 PM

The EdSource 2012 symposium, in collaboration with the California State PTA, brought together educators, parents, policy makers, and researchers last week at the Anaheim Convention Center to discuss the impact of California’s budget deficit on schools and children. The discussion centered around the theme “Striving for Success in a Time of Crisis.”

Jessica Arevalo

The Suspense Files

By Jessica Arevalo, May 18, 2012 3:25 PM

On Monday, California Governor Jerry Brown released a revised state budget plan aiming to close a $15.7 billion budget gap, a bigger hole than previously anticipated. While everyone from state workers to UC students are bracing themselves against the impact of proposed budget cuts, we took a moment to examine what this means for new, emerging legislation in the state.

Edgardo Cervano-Soto

Stanford Grad Reflects on Year Since Graduating

By Edgardo Cervano-Soto, May 18, 2012 11:18 AM

In the coming weeks, I will mark my first year since graduating from college. My recent conversations with friends about their final papers, graduation celebrations, and of course, the job search, reminds me of the anxiety I felt over my graduation hopes and fears in 2011. Not to mention, this year’s current statistics on unemployed college graduates makes me wonder at the amount of unprecedented stress this year’s graduates must be under.

Sarah Damian

Latino Poultry Worker Safety at Increased Risk Under USDA Proposal

By Sarah Damian, May 10, 2012 12:05 AM

Food integrity concerns regarding USDA's proposal to streamline poultry inspection under the HAACP-Based Inspection Models Project (HIMP) – which would increase production line speeds and reduce government oversight – have been raised by consumer advocates and whistleblowers alike (including anonymous federal inspectors). Another significant, but often-overlooked, issue is the impact these proposed changes would have on the health and safety of the plant workers.

Stephanie Espinoza

High School Counselor Goes 'High Touch'

By Stephanie Espinoza, Apr 20, 2012 9:52 AM

Mary Crider is in her 8th year as a guidance counselor at Arvin High School in South Kern County. She currently serves 553 freshman students in their academic, emotional, and social development. In addition to that, Mary also deals with the impact of budget cuts.

Paolo Pontoniere

Buffet Rule, Creating a Nobility of the Wealthy?

By Paolo Pontoniere, Apr 18, 2012 2:48 PM

Lately I’ve been really intrigued by the so-called Buffett Rule. On the impact it would have on the US deficit – null – and on the impact it would have on future taxpayers -- profound. I can’t help but think how weird it is for somebody who has been (and still is) in the running to become the richest man on the planet to propose a steep tax imposition on people making more than a million bucks a year.

In fact, his 30 per cent tax on earned income would do nothing to curb, or contain the mind-boggling growth of his wealth. On the contrary, rather than diminishing it, the new tax rule would set it in stone. Here is why.

Buffett became rich by taking advantage of all the tax write offs and loopholes approved by U.S. administrations since the end of World War II. Not only that, but the tax rate at which he was taxed has been instrumental in not only the preservation of his wealth but also its growth. Now he is proposing to put an end to this shame.

But mind you, he already sits on top of about $50 billion of personal wealth. A doubling of his income tax rate–even a tripling–would do nothing to fill the gap separating him from the majority of Americans who -- if they lose their job or become ill -- have zero or less than a month of savings to rely upon.

What the Buffett Rule will do instead is to ensure that in the future, those hoping to join the ranks of the super-rich (like Buffett and his peers) will have to work much harder than Warren ever did. In fact, I’m not convinced that under such a scenario anybody would ever be able to amass the fortune Warren did, or with such ease.

The introduction of the Buffett Rule would elevate the kind of wealth he and his ilk possess to a kind of divine, God-given right. Like feudal nobility passed along from father–or mother–to offspring via birth.

An alternative story would involve taxes applied to assets, incrementally and up to 100 percent of their value in excess of a certain (agreed upon) threshold. Now, I bet, this would push people to invest, and to keep their money mobile, thus creating jobs and redistributing wealth. But this is just pol-fi (political fiction) because it would be real reform. Or wouldn’t it?

Now somebody may think that I am a fool. And they’re not totally wrong there. But if I am a fool I am in good company. Institutions like the Financial Times and some of America’s most read bloggers support a similar point of view. Here’s what they write:

“The Financial Times, in an editorial, noticed that the income tax increases Buffett suggests will barely apply to him, because most of his wealth is in the form of unrealized capital gains, which don’t count as taxable income or capital gains of the sort he proposes to raise taxes on. If anything, raising such taxes would actually improve Buffett’s position relative to the other wealthy people against whom he competes to acquire businesses.

It would also help him to achieve his longtime goal, as his wife Susan described it in her own Charlie Rose interview three months before her death in 2004, of being “the richest man in the world.”

The Financial Times suggested that in Buffett’s case, “shared sacrifice probably requires a wealth tax. Set at a modest 2 percent, he would owe about $1 billion a year, or 25 times his current taxable income.”

Stephanie Minasian

Free Public College: Is it Possible?

By Stephanie Minasian, Apr 17, 2012 4:48 PM

Not too long ago, California offered its promising high school graduates a free University of California (UC) or California State University (CSU) education. Although it may not seem possible now as public colleges’ tuition is on the rise, Michael Hiltzik writes in the Los Angeles Times that a tuition-free college education could be the solution to the state’s dire fiscal crisis by providing opportunities for people to become better trained for jobs.

John Oliver-Santiago

Penny Pinching Progress

By John Oliver-Santiago, Apr 17, 2012 2:51 PM

In a recent article, the Wall Street Journal’s Sue Shellenbarger discusses a small but growing trend across the nation where high school students are electing to graduate in three years. It is a trend supporters say helps ease budget woes in the nation’s public high schools.

In support of this fast tracking of high school, states like Texas and Indiana are offering college scholarships for students who can graduate and get a diploma in three years.

Opponents argue the shortened length of time in high school can be detrimental in many ways. For one, these three-year diplomas make it harder to get into elite colleges. Many of the elite and highly competitive universities look at Advanced Placement classes, a type of class that a student seeking a three-year diploma might shy away from due to the added rigor and coursework that it would add to the extra units they’re already taking in order to shorten time at school.

In mid-2010, Utah Sen. Chris Buttars pushed for the elimination of senior year completely in his state, projecting $60 million in savings. But is it really worth it to shorten the depth and breadth of high school education for the sake of cost cutting?

As it is, students working towards highly competitive universities are bending over backwards trying to balance Advanced Placement classes, regular coursework, community service, and extracurricular activities. For these students, four years is already a short time to space these out.

More so for the California high schools that serve low-income communities where students are unable to complete the necessary credits needed to fulfill their A-G (Academic Guidelines) class credit requirements in order to get into the CSU and UC school systems. Others aren’t graduating because they’re having to balance school with jobs and/or family matters.

The move to shorten high school is another example of administrative misstep, an out-of-touch and top-down reform that means well but for the sake of penny pinching just further aggravates the problem.

John Oliver Santiago is a fellow with New America Media's Youth Education Fellowship. The fellowship is a six-month long program for youth reporters aged 16-24 on education reporting. It is sponsored by the California Education Policy Fund.

Peter Schurmann

Silicon Valley's New Suburb - San Francisco

By Peter Schurmann, Apr 16, 2012 12:20 PM

A report on the housing market in San Francisco noted that homes closer to available shuttle services ferrying residents to their office spaces in Silicon Valley – Google, Facebook – sell for significantly higher amounts. A home that might go for $1.5 million, for example, sells for $2 million if it’s within walking distance to one of Google’s shuttle buses.

$2 million!

As a lifelong San Franciscan, it’s a commentary more bitter than sweet. Surely, our city by the bay benefits from the ongoing tech boom redux in terms of increased revenue and an overall sense of prosperity. This weekend’s San Francisco Chronicle ran a piece arguing that the city – I mean The City – is somehow replacing Silicon Valley as the hub for would-be tech entrepreneurs.

It strikes me that exactly the opposite is occurring. Silicon Valley is swallowing San Francisco hook, line and sinker.

I remember when San Jose was nothing more than a smattering of suburban housing complexes interspersed by cow paddies stretching from Santa Cruz to Gilroy. As a kid, my family and I used to drive there to visit friends and it always felt to me like we were venturing into the hinterland – a region devoid of the characteristic landmarks that distinguish so many of San Francisco’s neighborhoods.

In San Jose, everything looked the same. Like a computer chip.

Maybe that’s why so many of the area’s employees prefer to live here. And they bring their stellar salaries with them, driving up prices left and right. While the city’s topography and architecture retain that old bohemian spirit, in the face of such an economic tidal wave, I wonder about its residents.

Rochelle Riva Bargo

For African Americans, Time Does Not Heal Economic Wounds

By Rochelle Riva Bargo, Apr 14, 2012 12:05 AM

Three years after the Great Recession, America still sees itself in the midst of an economic recovery, with  families struggling with long-term unemployment or in jobs that barely pay enough to make ends meet. all communities have been affected during the three-year period, but according to a recent report by the Center for American Progress, African Americans are “the clear exception” to the improvement of economic distress caused by the recession.

Stephanie Minasian

Childcare Cuts: Are We Moving Backwards

By Stephanie Minasian, Apr 10, 2012 4:10 PM

Things seem to be getting dire for California families, with many unable to send their children to subsidized childcare due to the state’s diminishing budget, as Peter S. Goodman writes in the Huffington Post.

As the article indicated, the cuts have forced hundreds of thousands of families struggle to give their children proper care. Like the Santa Rosa mother, Jenny Abundis, profiled in the article, she is forced to leave her 3-year-old daughter in the care of her sick parents while she works fulltime to pay her bills because the childcare waiting list is too long.

But, Abundis isn’t alone.

There are nearly 200,000 qualified, low-income California families waitlisted for subsidized childcare services — a direct result of the fiscal times, according to Goodman.

Parents must now make a difficult decision. Do they quit work to care for the children and rely on welfare services, or continue to work long hours and juggle multiple jobs to foot their childcare bills?

It is quite a conundrum, as children in these types of programs are more likely to be prepared for their educational careers when they spend their developmental years in a structured play environment.

With the waiting lists growing, many states have tightened eligibility requirements. According to a study by the National Women’s Law Center, 22 states have implemented waiting lists, while 37 states have been significantly less giving when it comes to this social “safety net.”

The consequences of this issue not only hurts the children’s futures, but also plague the country’s struggling workforce by forcing parents who are seeking time to further their education or technical skills to quit their jobs. Others are simply being let go from their positions for their absences from work, thus becoming more reliant on welfare programs.

The original intentions of subsidized childcare programs are seemingly lost, as more and more families and single parents need welfare assistance to scrape by. It’s an especially unfortunate outcome, since these childcare programs were meant to pull a single mother out of welfare and allow her to get back into the working world to better provide for her family.

Looks like we’re moving backwards.

Stephanie Minasian is a fellow with New America Media's Youth Education Fellowship. The fellowship is a six-month long program for youth reporters aged 16-24 on education reporting. It is sponsored by the California Education Policy Fund.

Andrew Lam

Giving up a car is a new American responsibility

By Andrew Lam, Mar 21, 2012 2:04 PM

  I actually gave up my car a while back but the piece was recently published on Shanghai Daily, so here it is again on a blog, since gas prices are causing pains and sufferings....

San Francisco - For the first time in over two decades, I am no longer a driver. Facing spiking gas prices and much-needed repairs, I finally donated my Toyota Corolla to an organization that takes care of orphans.

It's an odd feeling to be on this side of being green. Without a car, my sense of time and space has been immediately altered. What was once a matter of expediency is now an effortful navigation.

"I'll be there in 15 minutes!" I used to tell a good friend who once lived nearby but who now resides, without a car, at an inconvenient distance. Going to my favorite Asian food market suddenly has turned into another arduous chore: Once a 30-minute event, it has become a two-hour ordeal, with bags in hands, and bus transfers.

Indeed when I came to San Francisco from Vietnam with my family at the end of the Vietnam War, I remember such delight when my older brother bought his first car. We were still sharing an apartment with my aunt and her children, but as we cruised the streets at night, it felt as if we were becoming Americans.

The automobile, after all, is intrinsically American, and owning one largely determines how we arrange our daily lives; it is as essential to us as the train and metro are to the Japanese or Europeans. Indeed, a car is the first thing an American teenager of driving age desires; to drive away from home is an established American rite of passage. Even the working poor are drivers here.

For immigrants, the car is the first thing we buy before the house. Vietnamese in Vietnam marvel at the BMWs and Mercedes-Benzes that their relatives drive in America, and no doubt the sleek photos sent home cause many to dream of a life of luxury in the United States.

It seems a natural progression that the housing crisis should quickly lend itself to a car crisis. Both were readily available at one time, with easy loans and cheap gas. But now, with skyrocketing gas prices and faltering mortgages, many have had to give up one in order to keep the other.

Not surprisingly, the car is often the last thing that downtrodden Americans let go. "I can see losing my house, but I can't imagine losing my van," one unemployed friend told me. "I can live in my van. But not being able to get where I need to go would be worst than not having a house."

Mobility defines us far more than sedentary life, thus, the car is arguably more important than the house. Americans, despite accepting global warming as de facto, are still very much in love with the automobile. On average, we own 2.28 vehicles per household.


Our addiction to the automobile is as much a symptom of our nomadic culture as it is a matter of necessity: Urban sprawl, combined with little public transportation, makes the car essential. A job seems almost always to require it. The distance between here and there is daunting without a vehicle at one's command.

The car, culturally speaking, is mobility and individualism combined. It is sex, freedom and danger. Thelma and Louise escaped from urban ennui by hitting the freeway with the wind in their hair, the horizon shimmering chimerically ahead. They found romance on the road. Indeed, their final moment approaches the mythic, as the blue Thunderbird Convertible flies across the Grand Canyon, taking the notion of freedom beyond any open road.

Our civilization, too, is driving toward an abyss. The covetous American way of life in the age of climate change and dwindling energy resources has become unsustainable.

Former Vice President turned eco-activist Al Gore called for a radical change in our collective behavior a few years back. He wanted us to completely replace fossil fuel-generated electricity with carbon-free energy sources like solar, wind and geothermal by 2018.

"The survival of the United States of America as we know it is at risk," he said. "The future of human civilization is at stake." We are now being called upon, the Nobel Prize winner told us, "to move quickly and boldly to shake off complacency, throw aside old habits and rise, clear-eyed and alert, to the necessity of big changes."

I wish he were exaggerating, but my gut tells me that the green guru is pointing us in the right direction. How and if we'll ever get there, how we'll find a collective will to act, I have no idea. But I do know this: Humanity has arrived at a historic juncture and it now seems that a drastic shift in the collective behavior is called for. If this means finding the will to be frugal and give up certain luxuries, then so be it.


America was built on the premise of progress and expansion. Yet our vision of a future of unimpeded opportunities and comfort is now in conflict with the health of the planet. The consumer culture requires continuous acquisition, and it is built on the concept of disposable goods. And it's unfortunate that consumer culture now that defines much of the world. Our way of life has created an unprecedented crisis on a planetary scale.

I can tell you from experience, however, that being on the right side of the green divide is not easy. As I trudged to work this morning, a 40-minute trek, I dearly missed my car. As I budget my time and memorize bus routes and timetables, it seems as if I am returning to my humble immigrant beginnings, repudiating some notion of being an American.

But I'm not. Because I can, giving up the car is my new American responsibility.

New America Media editor, Andrew Lam, is author of "East Eats West: Writing in Two Hemispheres" and "Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora." His next book, Birds of Paradise, a short story collection, is due out in 2013.

Paul Kleyman

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

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

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.