2008 - %3, July

John McCain Thinks Social Security Is A "Disgrace"

| Tue Jul. 8, 2008 5:42 PM EDT

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On Monday, during a town hall in Denver, John McCain proposed a radical "fix" for the way Social Security is funded. Responding to a questioner who claimed Social Security "will not be there" when current workers retire (which is wrong), McCain said this:

Americans have got to understand that we are paying present-day retirees with the taxes paid by young workers in America today. And that's a disgrace. It's an absolute disgrace, and it's got to be fixed.

As anyone who knows anything about Social Security understands, "paying present-day retirees with the taxes paid by young workers" is pretty much the functional definition of Social Security. Always has been. That's what John McCain is calling an "absolute disgrace."

Update: The McCain campaign has responded to a question about his "disgrace" comment from ABC's Jake Tapper. We have full coverage here.

Jared Bernstein, the director of the Living Standards program at the Economic Policy Institute, said in an email that he was shocked by McCain's statement:

That is truly an amazing quote. It's like he's saying, "I just found out that taxes come from people...that's a disgrace." It betrays a really quite scary lack of knowledge about basic government.... I know he's not into this kind of stuff, but ... it would be hard not to know about the intergenerational financing of Social Security. It's the biggest government transfer—1/5 of the damn budget. I guess the quote suggests he knows about the financing, but the way he says it, it sounds like he just found out and is shocked.
I can't imagine how this will play if it goes at all viral. Maybe Social Security is no longer the third rail, but to call it a disgrace ought to be seen as over the top. On the other hand, maybe people will agree with him.

Dean Baker, an economist and the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, also weighed in by email, writing, "McCain's position on Social Security is that it is a disgrace. He said so himself."

Now, before you think, "Wow, that must be a slip of the tongue, he can't possibly mean that," please note that McCain said essentially the same thing to John Roberts on CNN this morning. From the transcript:

On the privatization of accounts, which you just mentioned, I would like to respond to that. I want young workers to be able to, if they choose, to take part of their own money which is their taxes and put it in an account which has their name on it. Now, that's a voluntary thing, it's for younger people, it would not affect any present-day retirees or the system as necessary. So let's describe it for what it is. They pay their taxes and right now their taxes are going to pay the retirement of present-day retirees. That's why it's broken, that's why we can fix it. [Emphasis added.]

Here, McCain is saying, again, that the problem with Social Security is that Social Security is Social Security, instead of something else. He's saying the system is broken because young people "pay their taxes and right now their taxes are going to pay the retirement of present-day retirees." But that is the definition of the system. McCain is objecting to the basic structure of Social Security.

That's not all.

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What Heat Waves Tell Us

| Tue Jul. 8, 2008 5:32 PM EDT

Governor Schwarzenegger has activated California's heat emergency plan and instructed state officials to coordinate on how to mitigate the effects of the heat wave. Add in pollution and the heat from the wildfires, and Californians have a lot more to fear from the sun than from earthquakes. It could get ugly.

Likely, California won't be the only state feeling the heat this summer, and it's reasonable to dread that the poor, shut-in elderly will bear the brunt of the damage. Especially the black poor, shut-in elderly, though it's a hellish situation for anyone who can't afford to stay cool, or doesn't have loved ones to check in on them.

Back in 1995, Chicago's devastating heat wave brought home the myriad ripple effects of black inner city decline. Sociologist Richard Klinenberg, appalled by the rate at which the elderly black died suffering alone in the heat, wrote a book calledHeat Wave which has haunted me ever since:

The ethnic and racial differences in mortality are also significant for what they can teach us about urban life. The actual death tolls for African Americans and whites were almost identical, but those numbers are misleading. There are far more elderly whites than elderly African Americans in Chicago, and when the Chicago Public Health Department considered the age differences, they found that the black/white mortality ratio was 1.5 to 1.

Another surprising fact that emerged is that Latinos, who represent about 25 percent of the city population and are disproportionately poor and sick, accounted for only 2 percent of the heat-related deaths. I wrote Heat Wave to make sense of these numbers—to show, for instance, why the Latino Little Village neighborhood had a much lower death rate than African American North Lawndale. Many Chicagoans attributed the disparate death patterns to the ethnic differences among blacks, Latinos, and whites—and local experts made much of the purported Latino "family values." But there's a social and spatial context that makes close family ties possible. Chicago's Latinos tend to live in neighborhoods with high population density, busy commercial life in the streets, and vibrant public spaces. Most of the African American neighborhoods with high heat wave death rates had been abandoned—by employers, stores, and residents—in recent decades. The social ecology of abandonment, dispersion, and decay makes systems of social support exceedingly difficult to sustain.

Bottom line: Poor and working-class Hispanics living in the community immediately adjacent to a demographically similar black community largely survived the heat wave, while their black neighbors died mere blocks away. It's a grim, grim book illuminating an even grimmer reality. Hispanics took care of their own while poor old folks died sweltering in their apartments, too poor to own air conditioners and too afraid to go outside or, god forbid, open a window in hopes of a cool breeze. Worst of all, many were so forgotten they weren't found for weeks after the heat wave broke.

There's not much a governor can do about this. It takes a village.

McCain Aides Screening Reporters? The Campaign Replies

| Tue Jul. 8, 2008 4:54 PM EDT

Following up on my piece suggesting that the McCain campaign screens the reporters it allows to ask questions during the conference calls it holds for the media, Talking Points Memo pressed the McCain camp to respond. (The campaign refused to reply to my queries.) The McCain campaign reply, as TPM reports, is hardly a slam dunk.

First, Brian Rogers, a McCain spokesperson, told TPM that the McCain aides and surrogates on the conference calls never know "the questions before they're asked." That, of course, is not the issue. The question is whether the campaign blocks certain reporters from asking questions. Rogers, according to TPM, offered no straightforward, we-do-not-screen declaration. Nor did he explain why there is always a very long pause during the calls after the speakers have finished and before the campaign begins to field questions from the reporters listening in.

"You've been on calls," Rogers told TPM. "We take on all comers." But as TPM notes--backing up the initial story--"more of the questions that do end up getting asked come from friendly news outlets." And TPM adds that its own reporter-blogger, Eric Kleefeld, "has frequently tried to ask a question [on the conference calls] and has never gotten through."

All in all, not a very convincing denial from the McCain campaign.

Hancock: Racist, a Metaphor for Racism, or Just Dumb?

| Tue Jul. 8, 2008 4:52 PM EDT

mojo-photo-hancock.jpgWill Smith's new movie Hancock may have knocked little Wall-E off the box office top spot, pulling in $62 million in its first weekend, but some are finding evidence of an unsettling subtext behind the drunk-superhero shtick. Hip-hop web site SOHH.com recently posted a blog entry calling the film, well, racist:

It's just a coincidence that the first "superhero" depicted on the silver screen as a criminal, alcoholic, lazy, foul mouthed, not giving a you know what bum, living in a broken down trailer, who everybody hates including the people he saves, *just happens* to *be black.* Right? And, it's just a coincidence the one man who loves Hancock, has faith in him and truly cares about him as a person, is an idealistic white man who wants to save the entire planet. Let's call him the Anti-Bush. Oh and I can't forget his adorable little son is the only character, besides his loving father, that doesn't refer to Hancock as an a**hole… And, is it just a coincidence that Hancock only maintains his super powers if he stays away from a "beautiful" white woman who is *technically* his wife …

McCain Scores New Support Among Hispanics

| Tue Jul. 8, 2008 4:06 PM EDT

The League of United Latin American Citizens is not necessarily an audience that you would think would receive John McCain well. Its published political platform is a collection of progressive goals: affirmative action, prison reform and abolition of the death penalty, universal health care, a strong and un-privatized Social Security, and so on. The president of the organization is the founder and director of a San Antonio union. And perhaps most of all, it is an organization that, though it has long-standing ties to McCain and his Senate office because of McCain's willingness to treat immigration issues compassionately, watched its ally bail on their shared commitment to comprehensive immigration reform when his support proved too politically volatile in the Republican primary.

It is no surprise then that McCain didn't bother tailoring his speech to LULAC, delivered Tuesday afternoon at the Washington Hilton. He made vague reference to his ties to the Hispanic community as he opened ("so many friends, so many allies, so many partners") but then moved immediately into his theme for the week: the economy, and his superior ability to deal with its current weaknesses.

CD Boxed Sets Headed for Extinction?

| Tue Jul. 8, 2008 3:53 PM EDT

mojo-photo-boxedset.jpgWhile current releases by notable artists can still move some units, the CD boxed set may turn out to be a kind of global warming polar bear, feeling the pain of slipping physical music sales before the rest of the world. Reuters reports that fewer and fewer collections are being released, and quotes a music purchaser as saying "boxed-set sales have fallen off the cliff." While SoundScan doesn't have data specific to boxed sets, the last collection to be a hit was Nirvana's With the Lights Out, which sold 504,000 copies. While a record exec quoted in the article downplays the sales slide with a Zen-like "everything is relative," I can actually see a couple possible reasons for the downturn right there in paragraph two:

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NYT Plays Fact-Checker

| Tue Jul. 8, 2008 3:03 PM EDT

And does it well. Robert Pear's article absolutely shreds John McCain's plan to balance the budget with tax cuts and pixie dust.

Denver's Black National Anthem Mistake

| Tue Jul. 8, 2008 2:40 PM EDT

Apparently, some jazz singer decided to hijack a political event in Denver and sing the Negro National Anthem instead of, you know, the American one. The one she'd been asked (though for no pay) to sing.

Rene Marie specifically tied her act of supposed civil disobedience to Obama's upcoming August visit. If she thought he'd be pleased, she was just as wrong as when her tiny brain suggested she 'go there' in the first place. What is up with folks like her and Rev. Wright?

A Great Observation About Washington from (Duh) Henry Waxman

| Tue Jul. 8, 2008 10:59 AM EDT

Henry Waxman may try to eliminate Karl Roves from future White Houses. Why, he observes, should the presidential administration be able to use federal funds to pay a nakedly political staffer whose only job is to position the president for reelection? Congress isn't allowed such luxuries. Waxman put it this way to The Hill:

"Why should we be using taxpayer dollars to have a person solely in charge of politics in the White House? Can you imagine the reaction if each member of Congress had a campaign person paid for with taxpayer dollars?"

Right on, brother.


Diplomacy at Its Finest

| Tue Jul. 8, 2008 10:52 AM EDT

Heckuva job:

An embarrassed White House apologized on Tuesday for an "unfortunate mistake" -- the distribution of less-than-flattering biography of Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi at the Group of Eight summit. Still, the gaffe led to headlines in Italy.
The summary of Berlusconi was buried in a nearly inch-thick tome of background that the White House distributed at the summit of major economic powers. The press kit was handed out to the White House traveling press corps.
The biography described Berlusconi as one of the "most controversial leaders in the history of a country known for government corruption and vice."

The bio went on to say that after Berlusconi took office, "he and his fellow Forza Italia Party leaders soon found themselves accused of the very corruption he had vowed to eradicate." Who wants to bet George gets an extra thorough security check on his first post-presidency trip to Rome?