The very idea of retiring in America had become a mirage–tantalizing, but always sliding into the distance. Those visions of golden years spent playing golf in Tucson or bridge in Boca Raton, promoted by AARP magazine and purveyors of retirement investments, are now nothing more than a chimera for most Americans. The exception, of course, is a wealthy minority, who for the past decade has been squirreling away money they should have been paying in taxes. For everyone else, old age been reduced to three alternatives: Those of us lucky enough to have jobs can keep working indefinitely; the rest can live poor or die.

Anyone who doubts this blunt truth should take a look at a few few recent trends. Start with something called the Retirement Income Deficit. Retirement USA, a consortium of non-profits and unions, which came up with the term,  describes the deficit as follows:

Retirement USA asked the respected non-partisan Center for Retirement Research at Boston College to calculate the figure that represents our current retirement income deficit – that is, the gap between the pensions and retirement savings that American households have today and what they should have today to maintain their standard of living.   Using the data from the Federal Reserve Board’s Survey of Consumer Finances, the Retirement Research Center has calculated that figure at $6.6 trillion.The deficit figure covers households in their peak earning and saving years—those in the 32-64 age range—excluding younger workers who are just beginning to save for retirement as well as most retirees.  It takes into account all major sources of retirement income and assets:  Social Security, traditional pension plans, 401(k)-style plans, and other forms of saving, and housing. 

The measure assumes people will continue to work, save, and accumulate additional pension and Social Security benefits until they retire at age 65, later than most people currently retire.  It also assumes that retirees will spend down all their wealth in retirement, including home equity.  The deficit is thus in many respects a conservative number.

This gap is due, in large part, to the demise of the old-fashioned, fixed-income pension system. According to the Pension Rights Center, total employment in the nation today stands at 130 million, of which 108 million people are employed by private business and 22 million public. The traditional fixed-benefit  plans now cover only about 20 percent of the private workforce, and 79 percent of public workers. Half the entire private workforce today has no retirement system at all. And those with 401ks are at the mercy of the mutual fund companies, with their futures staked on the stock market. In the recession, those plans took a dive, losing one quarter to one third their assets.

The fourth debate in Florida's contentious US Senate race turned ugly last night, as independent Charlie Crist took some nasty swipes at the race's frontrunner, Republican Marco Rubio, a tea party favorite. Branding his opponent an "extreme right-wing candidate," Crist even accused Rubio, the former state house speaker, of flip-flopping on a piece of insurance legislation after a chiropractor who'd been lobbying Rubio bought the lawmaker's Miami house. Rubio replied, "In front of a live audience in this state, [Crist] just launched a vicious personal attack on me based on a falsehood."

So it went last night, with Crist, Rubio, and Democratic candidate Kendrick Meek trading blows throughout the typically divisive debate. For months, Rubio has comfortably led the three-way race, boasting an 11-point lead, according to a recent Rasmussen Poll.

Here's more from the Miami Herald and the St. Pete Times:

The other tense moment of the debate came when Meek ripped Crist for flip-flopping on offshore oil drilling, which the Miami congressman has consistently opposed expanding.

"You were there with Sarah Palin a couple years ago saying, 'Drill baby drill,'" Meek charged.

"I never said 'Drill baby drill," Crist said.

"You were clapping," Meek retorted, to which Crist said, "I was there to support my friend John McCain."


Crist fended off accusations from both Meek and Rubio that he had left the Republican party and modulated his positions simply to boost his poll ratings.

"I'm a guy who believes in common sense, not nonsense,'' Crist said. "I'm running against an extreme right wing candidate who believes in taking rights away from women, punishing seniors, and punishing teachers."

Crist's chances of defeating Rubio hinge almost entirely on peeling away more of Meek's Democratic and moderate supporters. There have even been rumblings of Meek dropping out of the race to boost Crist's chances. Meek, however, has consistently dismissed the rumors, and this late in the game, the odds are slim he'll abandon his candidacy.

There's no disputing that the Republican Party is the party of anger these days. Tea party anger. Libertarian anger. Social conservative anger. Hate Obama anger. But Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) is trying to brand the GOP as the party of hatred. In a fundraising email for his political action committee, he writes:

I was targeted by the Nixon White House, and the smears of 2004 were no picnic, but something's happening right now in our politics that's disturbingly different than anything I remember.

Hatred is a word mainstream candidates don't use, period. But when Sharron Angle's campaign announced her fundraising totals, they said, "This is a testament to the hatred of Harry Reid." Scary words from a campaign of a candidate who said people would resort to "second amendment remedies" if the rightwing didn't get their way.

Something's afoot. Another Congressman said, "We hunt liberal, tree-hugging Democrats," while Michael Steele called on activists to "get Nancy ready for the firing line," talking about the first woman Speaker in our nation's history.

This politics is dangerous.

In my household, we teach the kids that "hate" is a big word, one that should be used sparingly. But there is plenty of Obama hatred out there—and it extends to Democrats and others. (Remember when furious tea partiers gathered at a Capitol Hill rally organized by the House Republican leadership to protest the health care reform law then under consideration by Congress, and the crowd, referring to Democrats, chanted, "Nazis, Nazis"?) Kerry's point is sound: there's plenty of over-the-top detesting going on in Republican and conservative circles. But the political question is, can Democrats and independents be whipped up to oppose Republicans by worries of rightwing extremism? What's a more powerful motivation: hatred or fear?

When Republicans decided to team up with the tea party to resurrect their crusade against voter fraud, voting rights advocates worried that the GOP would end up intimidating eligible voters. Though the election is still two weeks away, reports of voter intimidation have already begun to surface during the early voting that's begun this week in many states. In the Houston area, the Harris County Attorney is investigating 14 complaints that early voters from predominantly minority areas were intimidated at the polls. Meanwhile, the Department of Justice is interviewing witnesses about the alleged voter intimidation, TPM Muckracker reports. According to the Houston Chronicle:

The complaints included poll watchers "hovering over" voters, "getting into election workers' faces" and blocking or disrupting lines of voters waiting to cast their ballots...

Kevin Mauzy, chief deputy county clerk, said more poll watchers than usual showed up during the first day of early voting, and their numbers may have made some voters uneasy…Janie Reyes, who voted in Moody Park, said she witnessed poll watchers carrying on conversations with voters and clerks. "As I understand it, they're not supposed to be talking," she said.

Tensions around voter integrity are riding high in Harris County, where a nonprofit linked with a local tea party group, the King Street Patriots, accused voting rights organization Houston Votes of illegally registering 17,000 new voters. (Houston Votes admitted there was a small handful of incorrectly registered voters, but denies perpetrating massive fraud.) The most populated part of Texas, Harris County is also a key base of support for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill White, the former mayor of Houston who's locked in a tight race against incumbent Rick Perry.

Photo/Tim MurphyPhoto/Tim MurphyUnbeknown to me, while I was finishing up my own 43-state road trip, Joe Klein was doing more or less the same thing for Time. Klein hit 12 states and nearly 7,000 miles over nearly a month, which he wrote up for the magazine's cover story last week. There's plenty of good color in there, but his takeaway seems woefully deaf:

I found the same themes dominant everywhere — a rethinking of basic assumptions, a moment of national introspection. There was a unanimous sense that Washington was broken beyond repair.

Klein's big revelation is—I hope you're sitting down—that to people in "the middle of the country," the main concern "our politicians aren't talking about in an angry and anxious election season" is jobs. Who knew?

Get Religion's Terry Mattingly calls BS:

So here's the news: The angst and the rampant anger that is making America such a dangerous place right now are completely rooted in secular, faith-free issues. There are no cultural, moral or religious issues at play at the moment. And there will be no wave of post-election data from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life that demonstrates, once again, that frequent visits to pews or sanctuaries have anything to do with how Americans make their decisions when they pull levers in voting booths.

Photo/Wikimedia CommonsPhoto Courtesy of the University of Texas at AustinMeet your 45th president, America. He's the same as the 19th, really, only without the beard.

That would be 2012 candidate Rutherford B. Hayes (no relation to the former president), a Gulf War veteran-turned-businessman and as of today, aspiring leader of the free world. He's also something of a Tea Partier; according to his website, Hayes's most important order of business in Washington will be to weed out "socialists, communists, and marxists, as well as sensatiable[sic] condescending egos." Time permitting, he'll get us out of Afghanistan, institute a 10-percent flat tax, withdraw from the United Nations, return to the gold standard, abolish the IRS, fire all teachers who "indoctrinate children," and undo the core tenets of his predecessor's "unconstitutional" health care reform.

Whether the (kind of) famous name will be an asset or a liability, though, remains to be seen Hayes was, after all, swept into office with the help of a systematic vote-suppression scheme and a series of backroom deals; "Rutherfraud" was like the 1870s answer to "Nobama," except all of the allegations were true.

Hayesthe living onehas not responded to MoJo's requests for comment, but we'll let you know when he does. In the meantime, he seems to be keeping busy. According to his website, he's currently the Chief Financial Officer for "Miss Liberty America," believed to be the first-ever Tea Party beauty paegant. Except it's so, so much more than that:

The contestants will be judged in categories of personal interview, swimsuit, evening gown, beauty, talent, questions regarding the documents of America's founding fathers, and Marksmanship! This will be the first pageant of its kind to introduce competency in the handling, safety and use of firearms, and CPR! The contestants must be able to save a life as well as defend one!


A U.S. Army soldier reads over the shooting scenario for the night target competition during the International Sniper Competition at Selby Hill, Fort Benning, Ga., Oct. 13, 2010. Forces from around the world participated in the competition. U.S. Army photo by John D. Helms

Last December, Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal Al-Balawi was invited onto a small US outpost in Khost, Afghanistan. It was Camp Chapman, a CIA-run base, and the Jordanian Al-Balawi was the agency's hot new asset: a doctor with Al Qaeda ties who could lead Americans to Osama bin Laden's second-in-command.

But Al-Balawi carried a host of secrets, and an explosive vest. Once he was close enough to a crowd of CIA officers, he blew himself up, killing seven Americans and a Jordanian spy. Follow-up reporting showed he'd never abandoned his Islamist loyalties: He'd instead posed as a double agent. "This is a message to the enemies of the nation," he said in a video released to Al Jazeera after his death. "To the Jordanian intelligence and the American Central Intelligence Agency."

In an unusual feat of candor, CIA Director Leon Panetta told reporters Tuesday that the agency had its doubts about Balawi's loyalties before his attack. In interviews and a press release, Panetta shared details of an internal CIA report on the incident: A Jordan-based officer for the agency "received warnings" that Balawi might try to kill Americans three weeks before he succeeded, but he kept the information to himself, and Balawi was shoddily vetted. One reason: Junior CIA officers were excited about his promises to lead them to Ayman Al-Zawahri, the Egyptian doctor who is bin Laden's right-hand man.

You expect a lot of possibly fatal hazards in a war zone. But burning trash? Since the start of America's conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan—and long before that, actually—the US military has built massive burn pits to dispose of its garbage. Mother Jones, among others, has covered the toxic brew of fumes blowing over Western troops and local citizens alike, a new Agent Orange-style killer of lung and brain cells.

The government's finally getting a clue. Two years after three Democratic congressmen first demanded a probe, the Government Accountability Office issued a report this week slamming the DOD for its burn pits, saying they're disease generators that flout the military's own extremely loose health and environmental standards. "Since 1978, DOD has recognized that burning waste in open pits is not environmentally acceptable," the GAO says, "but DOD has been slow to implement alternatives or fully evaluate their benefits and costs." Check out video of an Iraq burn pit in action, along with details from the report, below.

Over at the Mother Jones mother ship today, you can find a handy quiz I put together for the latest issue challenging your ability to distinguish between rappers and libertarians. Can you tell the gun-and-gold-loving, tax-hating libertarians from the gun-and-gold-loving, tax-hating rappers?

It's a tough exercise. How'd you do? Feel free to post your score in comments. Here are a few questions that didn't make the final cut, but are almost as challenging:

Q: Lists "The Case for Gold" among signature works.
A: Libertarian—Ron Paul.

Q: This recent contestant on "Dancing With the Stars" owes almost $1 million in state and federal tax liens in California, New York and New Jersey.
A. Rapper—Lil' Kim.

While we're at it, who can forget J-Zone's 2002 classic "Pimps Don't Pay Taxes." And here's a list of the top 10 tax-evading rappers.