Looking up.

There’s very little of a bum mood that can’t be banished by a Monday-night screening of “Sunset Boulevard” on the RetroPlex channel. What a great movie. I can’t believe they made a stupid musical from it. Why try to improve on perfection? “Sunset Boulevard” had me as soon as Joe Gillis said he was going back to his $35 a week job behind the copy desk at the Dayton Evening Post.

It’s the pictures that got small, all right. William Holden — such glorious self-loathing.

So, Monday night and the week is off to a pretty good start. Kate got an A+ on an impromptu essay in her AP class, so it seemed to call for a celebration. Mexican food, a Diet Coke, the simple things. Alan’s still sick, but it won’t last forever. And Saturday’s forecast is for bright sunshine and 48 glorious degrees.

In the meantime, drink deep of some pretty good bloggage, although it will only depress us again:

A story you can sip or drink deeply from, one of those Planet Money/This American Life collaborations, looking at the thorny problem of disability. As in: How many Americans are suddenly so designated:

In the past three decades, the number of Americans who are on disability has skyrocketed. The rise has come even as medical advances have allowed many more people to remain on the job, and new laws have banned workplace discrimination against the disabled. Every month, 14 million people now get a disability check from the government.

The federal government spends more money each year on cash payments for disabled former workers than it spends on food stamps and welfare combined. Yet people relying on disability payments are often overlooked in discussions of the social safety net. People on federal disability do not work. Yet because they are not technically part of the labor force, they are not counted among the unemployed.

In other words, people on disability don’t show up in any of the places we usually look to see how the economy is doing. But the story of these programs — who goes on them, and why, and what happens after that — is, to a large extent, the story of the U.S. economy. It’s the story not only of an aging workforce, but also of a hidden, increasingly expensive safety net.

The story itself is a quick read, the link to the radio show a deeper dive.

But because a story that grim deserves a little palate-cleanser, how about this, via Bassett:

Some Tennessee legislators feared creeping Sharia, but sometimes a floor-level basin is just a mop sink. Not a foot bath.

The first step of the week is the hardest. Welcome, Tuesday.

Posted at 12:30 am in Current events, Same ol' same ol' |

70 responses to “Looking up.”

  1. Dexter said on March 26, 2013 at 1:12 am

    That mop sink story , oh the confusion, and the relief those Tennessee folks must have felt as they were assured the Muslims were once again being put in their place. Not a foot bath.
    The story reminds me of the first time I was forced to use a Vietnamese toilet. I think I shared this before, so don’t feel obligated to look at this mess again. It’s nasty.

    Pilot Joe, thanks for the offer but I have an early session booked with my tax man and then I have an oil change scheduled, so I’ll have to pass on the coffee, but thanks anyway.
    Try Frankie’s for breakfast. If you can’t get a ride from somebody at the airport, the local taxi service is at 419-633-1001. It’s too far to walk from the airport for sure, and Frankie’s is only a mile from the airport , take a left out of the airport to the first stop sign, hang a right into town, and just north of High Street Route 34 a hundred yards is Frankie’s. Maybe you might want to try the “old Lester’s” restaurant, now the Four Seasons. http://media-cdn.tripadvisor.com/media/photo-s/03/2f/6a/71/four-seasons-diner.jpg

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  2. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on March 26, 2013 at 1:13 am

    I’m up to my elbows in a family unit where the desperation is intense about the juvenile’s developmental challenges and his tendencies to violence, which are magnified by the fact that his key caregiver is used to a, shall we say, rather physical form of redirection and response to bad behavior . . . but said juvenile suddenly, in the last year, has become as tall as, and now taller than, said challenged parental unit. So with repeated DV & DOC filings, and non-competency of the juvenile, court isn’t the answer, but temporary custody with the state/CS is, right?

    But then the SSI check would not accrue to mom any more, and she’d be beyond desperate, so we’re putting band-aids on a spurting behavioral (may it remain so) wound.

    SSI checks are Banquo’s ghost at so many, maybe a majority of my non-truancy cases (and probably, silently, not a few of those). They are the new welfare, and as the reporter learned to her horror, it puts moms (almost without exception moms) in the horrid position of desperately working to keep their child unsuccessful, lest they lose the primary support of the family unit. Health and recovery are actually hazards.

    Beware unintended consequences, the imp in the bottle. And my best prayers and hopes for a cleansing SCOTUS opinion on Prop 8 & poor silly DOMA. Whatever the struggling institution of marriage needs, keeping gay/lesbian couples out of it ain’t it. Please quote me on that one.

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  3. Sherri said on March 26, 2013 at 2:35 am

    Amen, Brother Jeff.

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  4. Linda said on March 26, 2013 at 4:49 am

    I read the disability story, and I can see the outline of something already: 1) anecdotal stories of how some of these people are deserving in only murky ways 2) this thing we’re doing, it’s only hurting the poor. They will be trapped in a system that doesn’t let them better themselves. If we kick them off, won’t we kind of be doing them a favor? 3) this is creating a financial crisis. We gotta do something!

    It’s the welfare reform movement all over again. My view is biased, but the people I know who are on disability are in fact “deserving.” My sister got thrown from an ambulance, rehabbed herself and worked hard at various jobs until she is basically on mind-blowing painkillers all the time, and sometimes can’t move from spine injuries. But she had to hire a lawyer and fight her way through the system, though she is obviously disabled. Same thing with my nephew. My BFF had 3 nervous breakdowns in the workworld, and was pretty much unemployable when she got her disability ruling, because no employer was going to touch her.

    Part of the problem is touched on in the story–some people who are ruled disabled would be employable if they had enough skills and education to have a desk job–but they don’t. In reality, they would only be marginally employable even if their health was perfect, because in an age of high unemployment, employers don’t have to seriously consider hiring older people, and won’t. Part of the reason that we are seeing more workers going on disability may in fact stem from the fact that with higher incidences of diabetes and obesity, more people may in fact suffer mobility problems, and some from the fact that it offers some people who are pretty unemployable in the modern world a face-saving way out of the work force. But of the people I know, they are truly disabled, and had to fight to get that fact recognized.

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  5. Linda said on March 26, 2013 at 5:30 am

    OTOH, marking kids as permanently unemployable–should be done with caution. Making their disability the financial mainstay of the family is scary in a lot of ways.

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  6. basset said on March 26, 2013 at 5:32 am

    We’re in the gathering-documentation stage of getting Mrs. B. retired on disability, very legitimately… and we’ve been told several times to expect rejection in the first round no matter what, nature of the business, that’s just how they do it.

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  7. David C. said on March 26, 2013 at 7:05 am

    I gave up listening to anything from Planet Money. All their neoliberal bullshit just makes me angry. Just thinking of Adam Fucking Davidson mansplaining how desperately we need a consumption tax that just happens to also cut the taxes of Adam Fucking Davidson has raised by blood pressure a bit.

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  8. alex said on March 26, 2013 at 7:50 am

    In my line of work examining insurance claims in litigation, I can tell you anecdotally that I see a lot of personal injury plaintiffs trying to game the Social Security disability system while simultaneously gaming the legal system, and a surprising number get themselves a favorable disability determination after multiple attempts. Even when they don’t, they can still be costly in that they get doctors to give them permanent restrictions so as to make them almost unemployable so that they can then sue a tortfeasor for future loss of income. These are people who are almost assuredly not affected in any way by the tort being alleged—a slip-and-fall in a retail store, a minor mishap in traffic that results in little or no visible damage to the vehicles involved, a sprained ankle on a public stairway, etc. The claimants typically already have problems with narcotic analgesia addictions, major depression, “fibromyalgia” and chronic anxiety—in short, a lot of unaddressed, untreated mental illness.

    Arguably, if federal resources were directed at preventive and rehabilitative mental health care in this country it would likely cut way down on the abuse of disability benefits as well as insurance litigation. At the same time, many of these individuals were part of the unskilled labor force and because of their age and lack of education do find it hard to secure employment, leaving aside their trumped up mental or physical infirmities, and this spike in disability claims may also be owing to the decline of manufacturing jobs in the U.S.

    I can also tell you anecdotally that on any given day in the local Social Security office there are hundreds of claimants lined up to take their shot at the jackpot. You have to see it to believe it. Staggering.

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  9. Suzanne said on March 26, 2013 at 7:54 am

    It’s not really a surprise that disability has risen over the years. 40 years ago, many of these people would simply have died. That’s the thing with health care. Advances are made, people live, but sometimes they aren’t 100% or even 50% but no one has really figured out what to do next.
    It’s much the same with veterans and all their problems. Until very modern warfare, many of these men and women just didn’t return. Now they do, but society doesn’t know what to do with them, especially because many of them are “flawed”.

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  10. beb said on March 26, 2013 at 7:59 am

    All this talk about the social security disability insurance provision ought to be a warning to anyone who wants to raise the age of retirement. The only people who can afford to retire at 70 at Congressmen, CEOs and television pundits. The rest of us have to survive an increasing array of medical problems and the threat of getting laid off at 50 and never being able to find a comparable job again. The retirement age for social security should be lowered, not raised.

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  11. LinGin said on March 26, 2013 at 8:11 am

    Long-time listener, first-time caller.

    alex@8 – There is a part of me that is (ashamedly) outraged at this. Then I realize if a Paris Hilton could win the lottery simply by birth then the rest of us who weren’t so fortunate should have a chance to win some of the lesser prizes.

    It is frustrating to me that there are some relatively simple actions that could be taken to alleviate some of the problems:

    A true progressive income tax. While I would love to return to the Eisenhower-era rates I would just be glad to get the highest levy at 40%.
    A look at how investment income is being sheltered and taxed accordingly.
    Uncapping FICA taxes. Why should anyone earning above $113,000 not keep contributing to the fund but still get the maximum advantages? This last alone will keep the program solvent.

    Won’t solve all our problems, but it’s a good start. And yet with what seems to be rampant willful ignorance and just plain stupidity we can’t get these done.

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  12. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on March 26, 2013 at 8:18 am

    Oh, and the other major unintended consequence of the disability/SSI arrangement which is standing in for welfare as we once knew it — IEPs in public education are now a tool for obtaining benefits to families on the one hand, and a means for external entities to extract dollars from school districts. So a major reinforcement of economic inequity is in a district like my son’s, he gets an IEP almost casually, with services provided in-school and for a limited time (as they’re generally supposed to work); in districts where I spend professional time, there’s a long line of parents/guardians beating on the door of the administration to get their child on an IEP with no or limited diagnosis, which the district is reluctant to provide because of the expenses involved which they know will essentially never end for the career of the student, and they’re spending massive amounts already on FAPE & FAIR provisions for significantly disabled/impaired students. They fight giving IEPs to borderline case students because so many of those are part of an effort to get an SSI check into the household, and they know an IEP for ADHD not formally diagnosed is going to create an ongoing problem as outlined at the end of the TAL piece; a decent mom who will fight to keep their child in the unsuccessful category simply because they can’t see any way to otherwise recover the check they’d lose without the SSI status — and it is tied to IEPs if there’s nothing more than a GPs “Yeah, I think your kid has ADHD or a reading disability.” The school tests, and if it isn’t clear cut, they tend to push for lower level interventions, and then the family angrily insists that the school is fixing the tests to save money “because everyone can tell Johnny’s got problems.”

    I’d also note that my juvenile court magistrate said, noting some of the conversation here and on FB, said to me “most of the removal of custody” cases I handle where a child is taken from a mother and given to the care of CS and into foster care due to neglect — they’re almost without exception, as you say, a depressed and impoverished family, but the reason we take action is not just because of household filth and complete absence of food in the home (that’s our usual bell to ring for “neglect” vs. abuse, and when I say filth, I don’t mean dust on the baseboards), but because along with the filth & food issues the mother is demonstrably chronically impaired and addicted. Frequently, there is not a kinship care placement because we can’t find a grandmother, aunt, or other close relative who doesn’t also test positive or have recent possession/DUI arrests. So his question is: if we legalize possession, and essentially decriminalize chronic pot smoking, how do we determine when to remove custody in a legally defensible manner? Because we don’t take custody in every case of a CS report of a filthy home with no food. Do we set a standard of two warnings and non-compliance? Is it the presence of active safety hazards (unsealed perishable food, fecal/urine issues not cleaned up, clutter to the point of a fall hazard), and if so, on a second notice? A third? Because right now, the presence of all that plus an active, uncontrolled drug habit is what we *think* is how we can index for the standard of removal of custody. Maybe there’s a better standard, but whatever it is, it has to be provable in court, and not easily rejected by a defense attorney after the fact as merely the caseworker’s opinion.

    I find that a troubling and hard to answer question. In a hopeful manner, I think it’s not impossible to answer. But he’s quite emphatic that removals for neglect are never just because of poverty, they’re because of poverty plus chronic drug use and continuation after a formal notice.

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  13. Joe K said on March 26, 2013 at 8:43 am

    Tried the old Lester’s, good filling breakfast. Thanks for the tip, should be here till 1pm. Stop if you have time.
    Pilot Joe

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  14. Julie Robinson said on March 26, 2013 at 9:04 am

    Oh, what a tangled web we weave. Like Jefftmmo, our church tries to help with a weekly free meal that brings people to our doors the other six days looking for assistance. We’ve quickly learned how intractable many of the problems are, no matter how much time & money you spend. We haven’t figured out the answers either.

    I’ve got to stick up for Sunset Boulevard, the not-stupid musical. It opened up the story to a whole new generation, and the second act opener sums up the cynicism of Joe and of Hollywood. Sung by the right actor, it’s sexy and horrible at the same time.

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  15. Snarkworth said on March 26, 2013 at 9:16 am

    The SSI story has been challenged:


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    • nancy said on March 26, 2013 at 9:56 am

      The MM piece finds one anecdote to quibble with. The larger point remains unchallenged: “Disability” is a fast-growing siding on the rail line, for people we can no longer find room for in the economy.

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  16. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on March 26, 2013 at 9:52 am

    Basset, don’t be discouraged – you’ve been told rightly, and you almost certainly don’t need a lawyer. I’d try at least two or three times before I even considered hiring counsel for a SSI app, because they rarely speed up the process unless you’re truly baffled and bewildered by paperwork and waiting on hold.

    When Jaffe-Walt points out how big the program is, and talks about what else we could do with the money, I’m as uneasy as I am with the long line at SocSec offices to apply. She’s right that we’ve backed into this model without conscious thought, and that we’ve created a huge back-pressure by making a “federal freebie” so states can’t help but want to game their Medicaid rolls this way. But there’s also no reason to say “let’s just turn it into a direct entitlement program for *truly* disabled and the unemployed” even as a hypothetical . . . as Julie notes, this is all much more complicated than any one fix can address. Making it simpler probably isn’t the solution, either.

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  17. LAMary said on March 26, 2013 at 10:07 am

    Completely off topic: a good karma story.

    I’ve been taking days off work, some of my six weeks of unused vacation time, to get my house more presentable for the FHA appraiser person so I can get a refi large enough to pay off the badly aging gigolo I used to be married to. Older son was helping over the weekend and we were filling trash bags with old toy parts, odd socks, weird crap someone in the household saved for no apparaent reason. We’ve also been painting, tightening deck rails, replacing faucets. To fund this stuff I’ve sold some gold. Mostly odd earrings, broken necklaces and bracelets and stuff I got as gifts that I never wore because it was not my style.In digging around for gold to cash in, I could never find my wedding ring. I remember throwing it across the room about 12 years ago and not being able to find it.
    Next part of the story. My nice next door neighbor, not the jerk one, is going through an equally crappy divorce with a lot of parallels to mine. She paid the down payment on the house, was the primary breadwinner for a few years, and then stayed home with preemie twins adn let the hubs work. He dumped her two days before Christmas and is working hard to not pay very much to keep her and the kids in a house with food on the table.She’s devastated and although we weren’t close friends before we’ve bonded over the shittiness of things and i’ve rescued her a few times when she really needed to take a break from the kids or go see her lawyer.
    So Tuesdays are garbage days here. My bins were full, so I figure I’ll put a bag of trash in the bin belonging to the guy across the street who generates very little trash. No kids, pets, or time to cook equals no trash. I drag a really heavy black bag out into the street. I drag it towards the guy’s house. Coming towards me is next door neighbor, in tears. So I let go of the bag and go hug her. And we cry together for a little while and I tell her that It will get better, which people keep telling me, and I tell her she’s strong and smart and beautiful and that her life will be much fuller soon and she’ll amaze herself. I shouild note, there is no traffic on my street and no sidewalks, so this is all happening in the middle of the street. I go back to my garbage bag and notice a hole has worn throughthe bag from dragging it down the street. One thing fell out of the hole. My wedding ring. Easily 300 bucks worth of gold.

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  18. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on March 26, 2013 at 10:19 am


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  19. Dorothy said on March 26, 2013 at 10:34 am

    Ditto what Jeff “said”! Great, great story Mary. Thanks for sharing.

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  20. Judybusy said on March 26, 2013 at 10:36 am

    Mary, wonderful story. I am glad you and your neighbor can give strength to each other!

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  21. Basset said on March 26, 2013 at 10:40 am

    Mary, someone is obviously telling you something…

    Jeff, we already have counsel… dealing with both SSI and private disability insurance through her employer.

    Joe, I think you missed my question of a few days ago… were you at JWN last week? Saw that a 310 from Ft. Wayne had been in and out.

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  22. Deborah said on March 26, 2013 at 10:44 am

    Love the story LA Mary.

    And Jeff (tmmo) I’m tipping my hat in your direction. I don’t know how you face some of those sad situations you describe.

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  23. Dorothy said on March 26, 2013 at 11:32 am

    Just caught up reading the last several posts on yesterday’s entry and saw soup references. I found a red lentil soup recipe via the NYTimes (I think) about 2 months ago and we’ve made it three times, it’s that good. I can’t find red lentils in this town so we pick them up at Stamooli’s when we’re in Pittsburgh. Man, oh man it’s good soup, with diced tomatoes and cilantro. We made it last Friday and I had some with lunch yesterday at my desk. Mmmmmm, MMMMMM!

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  24. Charlotte said on March 26, 2013 at 11:42 am

    Oh lordy — tried to get disability for my mother after her alcoholism-induced head injury, but they told me since she was already on social security, I couldn’t apply. Nearly ten years later, after I’ve thrown thousands of dollars into the black hole that is trying to keep my mother housed and fed, after having numerous humiliating conversations with her friends to get her some help (most of her friends are very wealthy, still doesn’t absolve her of moving into the rental house one of them owned and not paying the rent), after stabilizing her and making sure her bills get paid — she’s inherited some money. And she wants it all, so she can pretend for a year, maybe two, that she’s the rich lady she’s always thought she should be. Meanwhile, she wants me to continue to see that her bills are paid, and clearly, to bail her out once she’s had her spree. Which is leading to some interesting, and frank, conversations. If I could get her on disability, believe me, I would.
    And I think we’re one of those towns that have a high proportion of people on disability. We have a lot of services here — in particular a great organization called Counterpoint who runs group homes and does individual support for people with developmental and brain injuries. We also have a really good mental health program — and as a former railroad town, people were conversant in disability. And I’ve never lived anyplace where people are missing so many limbs … really. A lot of one-legged people for a town this small.

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  25. Sherri said on March 26, 2013 at 12:09 pm

    With an average payout of $1000/month, disability is hardly a jackpot. And to get it, you have to have worked long enough, probably at some shitty job that the Planet Money people can’t really imagine.

    I’m with David C. I used to listen to Planet Money all the time, but after they started pulling their go-to economists from the Mercatus Center (a Koch funded think tank located at George Mason University), I gave up. That, and Davidson’s oddly hostile interview of Elizabeth Warren (long before she was running for office.)

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  26. MarkH said on March 26, 2013 at 12:15 pm

    Just my opinion, but DOMA and Prop 8 appear on the way out. A skeptical Justice Kennedy will determine the outcome.


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  27. Julie Robinson said on March 26, 2013 at 12:18 pm

    Mary, you gave me goosebumps.

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  28. MarkH said on March 26, 2013 at 12:23 pm

    Ooops, not so fast. Now, post oral arguments, it appears Kenndy says the case should be thrown out(?).


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  29. MarkH said on March 26, 2013 at 12:24 pm

    KENNEDY, dammit.

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  30. Prospero said on March 26, 2013 at 12:26 pm

    Disability safety nets are another area of socially responsible government that other nations in the civilized world seem to have managed without incurring massive debt, along with, obviously, health care. Why can’t Americans figure these things out if the Brits and Canadians, and, particularly, the Scandinavians can. Partly, it’s that American jingoism obstructs consideration of how other countries succeed at anything at all. That’s incredibly obtuse and necessarily self-defeating. But surely, handling society’s most unlucky’s needs can’s be a matter of magic. Other countries do it. Why can’t the USA? Stigmatizing the poor and unfortunate and insisting on the idiotic myth of “American exceptionalism” seem two obvious culprits. A third is irrational fear of creeping socialism, and the political hay to be made from it.

    Strang and funny dance video. Antidote to Harlem Shakes, with some nice Zydeco accompaniment.

    And that disgraced Italian prosecutor Begnini won’t stop until he clears his name.

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  31. Joe K said on March 26, 2013 at 12:27 pm

    Wasn’t me but I know the plane, and actually have flown it a few times for the owner when he wasn’t available, it’s one of the nicest 310 I have flown, all the bells and whistles new paint and leather interior, I have been into that airport a few times, along with bna and mqy, every one always treats us well in Nashville.
    Pilot Joe

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  32. beb said on March 26, 2013 at 1:38 pm

    Congrats to LAMary for finding her wedding ring. What a remarkable story, and provides a little balance for Jeff’s sad tales of Juvenile Services.

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  33. Bitter Scribe said on March 26, 2013 at 2:03 pm

    My brother is on SSI and so is my best friend, both for mental/developmental disability issues.

    In my friend’s case, it’s chronic, clinical depression. He’s a talented writer and editor but it is just impossible for him to concentrate on the simplest assignment (as I found to my chagrin a couple of times when I tried to give him freelance work).

    As for my brother, he’s a high-functioning autistic. In practical terms, that means he knows where he is (usually) and doesn’t smear feces on the walls, but he is incapable of carrying on an adult-level conversation or taking on any sort of responsibility.

    I could very easily envision some right-wing type thundering that they’re both slackers and moochers. But as should be clear by now, neither one is capable of supporting himself. I don’t know what either would do if they didn’t have SSI.

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  34. Prospero said on March 26, 2013 at 2:21 pm

    Scribe@33: And of course SSI is fully funded outside the US budget. All that is necessary to forestall SSI funding shortfalls in the future? Raise the ridiculous income ceiling on SSI and Medicare payroll taxes to $150thou. Who would that hurt and how would that not be fair?

    Excellent Anthony Lewis obit. Now that Lewis is dead, he can turn over in his grave about the NYT employing Marshmallow Boy David Brooks.

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  35. 4dbirds said on March 26, 2013 at 2:41 pm

    I am assisting my daughter in getting SSI since she doesn’t have enough work credits for disability. She is 22. Some of you know her story. She is a childhood cancer survivor with late term effects of learning disabilities, diabetes, thyroid deficiency, didn’t go into puberty and oesteoprosis. At 17 she was hit by a car while crossing the street and suffered spine, arm, leg and head injuries. She works two days a week at a local McDonalds for a couple of hours each day. It gives her spending money but that’s about all she can do. She can’t work a ‘desk’ job because her short term memory and learning disabilities prevent it. After a couple of hours at the cash register her leg is swollen and she needs a pain killer. She can’t even manage the medication (and there is a lot of it) she has to take each day. I do it for her. She’s on our health insurance until she is 26 but we live in one of those states that hasn’t decided if they’ll expand Medicaid. Virginia is very stingy with Medicaid for childless adults. So to protect her, I had her file for SSI. It has been almost a year and we’re still waiting for a decision. I will take care of her till the day I die. I worry about after that.

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  36. Dorothy said on March 26, 2013 at 2:43 pm

    I don’t know much about SSI, but I do have to mention that I recoiled just a little bit when I saw Alex put fibromyalgia in quotation marks above (@8). I know just about as much about fibro as I do about SSI, but I have a dear friend here in this town who suffers from that. And I know she really struggles some days with her pains. However, she’s not on disability – and she has her own home business for embroidery and other personalized items. She does pretty well at it. I hope the quotation marks were not meant to disparage everyone who has this disorder, Alex. I’m guessing you think it is not necessarily a very serious condition? Or maybe doctors are over-diagnosing it? Rest assured I’m not trying to start an argument or push any buttons. I just wanted to ask why you typed it that way.

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  37. nancy said on March 26, 2013 at 2:48 pm

    Dorothy, fibromyalgia is one of those diagnoses that lives in a gray area. A lot of nonspecific joint pain gets diagnosed as such, and some doctors don’t even acknowledge its existence. It came up a lot when I was clipping pharma news a few years ago.

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  38. Scout said on March 26, 2013 at 3:05 pm

    LAMary, your story made my day! Thanks for sharing.

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  39. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on March 26, 2013 at 3:18 pm

    Much of what’s been said the last few hours is why I was so startled when the reporter closed the piece with a “what could we do with all that money?” riff. We NEED to have a disability/SSI safety net, now more than in the recent past, because this economy just isn’t kind to people who can’t function at 100% one hundred percent of the time. That’s why FMLA was so necessary, even as it means employers have been even more reluctant to hire full-time workers unless absolutely necessary.

    Prospero, I’d laugh at “other countries don’t have massive debt” if it weren’t so ludicrous. And our national impulse towards Empire is a toxin and a problem, but you can’t address that without also looking at the fact that Japan & Germany & Scandinavia have been able to let the global security issue be handled entirely on our dime. At first, we liked it that way, now we don’t, but there’s not a great deal of confidence in simply handing over all global security to the UN. Yes, much UN bashing is silly Cold War holdover tropes, but they’re also not a coherent unbiased international body, perhaps because the US and the G-7 or whatever number we’re counting these days haven’t worked to build up the UN properly.

    But the idea that all nation-states should and could just close up their militaries and hand over a modest portion to a wise dispassionate oversight body to manage the occasional cross-border incident or rogue state impinging on trade routes and bandwidth . . . I can preach it, I can work towards it in steps starting from where we are now, but I can’t castigate politicians for making fast, broad moves toward the Millenium today as if North Korea and Iran and Saudi Flippin’ Arabia were just misunderstood players with individual idiosyncrasies. There’s gonna be some global force-projection entity for the foreseeable future, and on their worst day I’d rather it be run from the Pentagon than Pyongyang.

    We can, should, and will cut our over-aggressive defense spending, and we need public policy that makes it possible for those not equipped to deal with the slings and arrows of the Information Age, whether emotionally, intellectually, or physically, to thrive regardless of their speed up a career track. At the same time, if you can’t acknowledge that guaranteed public payments have a huge potential downside that we’re constantly trying to figure out how to mitigate, and that some quirk of human nature makes a big hunk of the populace want to game the mitigation, then we’re gonna stay as stuck as Congress. I’m quixotically for Medicare Part E because I don’t think it’s even feasible to deliver adequate, sustainable health care across this nation otherwise, but I’m perfectly willing to admit that will cause some substantial number to ease up and quit trying and just survive on cable and nachos in the first half of the month, canned beans the last week from the food pantry up the block — even without disability in the mix. But the ultimate cost of not offering a comprehensive plan will bankrupt us for certain sure.

    Beyond that: Is it a governmental right/civic entitlement to provide basic housing, college, and food to a certain minimal standard for every citizen* regardless of their work status, health, or ability? Please believe me when I say I do not think ill of anyone who says that should indeed be the case. In actual practice, I want to help deliver that. It is a decent and honorable desire, and good work to help provide. But to make it a matter of government guarantee starts a cascade of unintended consequences for the economy and freedom that makes me highly unwilling to push those matters as civil rights. I don’t think it will turn out well down that road, something more like Tashkent or Tbilisi than New York or northern Virginia. Do I think unfettered capitalism would turn out well if left unrestrained? No I most emphatically do not. So what’s to be done?

    I think conservatives will have to, nervously, back away from the extremes of individual autonomy and responsibility in our massively interlinked and interconnected today, while progressives will have to acknowledge that human potential is not best met by absolute license and guarantees of all necessities. The answer will be, as I think is usually the case, somewhere in the in-between.

    Happy Passover!

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  40. Dorothy said on March 26, 2013 at 3:32 pm

    I figured as much, Nancy. I never knew what it was until I met my friend. And of course when you read about it at WebMD it says it can be non-specific and shares characteristics of many other disorders, like osteoarthritis. I’m sure lots of people might even (if they are trying to be declared disabled) claim they have it even if they had not been diagnosed.

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  41. jcburns said on March 26, 2013 at 3:56 pm

    I think we have creeping sharia in the back yard. It’s growing up the trunk of one of the tulip poplars.

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  42. Charlotte said on March 26, 2013 at 4:35 pm

    Quote of the day:
    JUSTICE KAGAN: “It seems as though your principal argument is that same-sex opposite-sex couples are not similarly situated because opposite-sex couples can procreate, same-sex couples cannot, and the State’s principal interest in marriage is in regulating procreation. Is that basically correct?”

    MR. COOPER: “Your Honor, that’s the essential thrust of our position, yes.”

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  43. coozledad said on March 26, 2013 at 4:52 pm

    JUSTICE KAGAN: The missionary position?
    MR COOPER: The only one approved by Jesus.

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  44. Sherri said on March 26, 2013 at 6:05 pm

    All I can say about this is that I think he ought to take his six-inch stilettos and go back to Permian High School for a followup to Friday Night Lights. Bet no one there will tell him he looks like Bon Jovi.

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  45. Prospero said on March 26, 2013 at 6:12 pm

    Fine Jeff those countries aren’t running around like gerbils with redtails circling, are they? And the USA isn’t circling the financial drain, is it?. And I don’t think Denmark, Finland, Sweden or Norway are laboring under the threat of any debt the country fears is intractable. The idea that national debt, in a theater of every nation’s national debt should cause a country that claims to be Christian to abandon it’s most needy, is horrendous. But surely your’re kidding. At-risk poor children and their mothers should be the shear point for how much to spend on Tricare (a seriously bigger and more pregnant political amount) and stuff like that that?

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  46. Prospero said on March 26, 2013 at 6:18 pm

    Sweden’s 2012 budget deficit:


    And yet when people act like they care about each other, they all get world class health care. People are taken care of no matter what their problems, and nobody dies alone.

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  47. LAMary said on March 26, 2013 at 6:21 pm

    I guess Mr. Cooper thinks women who are not able to have children shouldn’t be able to marry. Get divorced or widowed after age 45 and you’re done. You can’t marry again.

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  48. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on March 26, 2013 at 6:37 pm

    “The essential thrust of our position”? So Mr. Cooper is irony-deprived, as well.

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  49. Prospero said on March 26, 2013 at 6:40 pm

    Norway’s debt as a %age of GNP:


    Only in America are the aholes that created the national debt honking about how it’s the end of the world.

    Who’d marry a woman that couldn’t pop out a kid?

    Jeff(tmmo) You know I’m on your side about defense spending”

    “Get divorced or widowed after age 45 and you’re done. You can’t marry again.” And who claimed that?

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  50. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on March 26, 2013 at 6:53 pm

    Pros, re: Sweden (from which I’m sure there are things we can learn) I just dispute too easy a direct comparison, they’ve only recently gotten to their current semi-ideal situation, and how they did it is interesting, and would look vaguely Ryan-ish if you squint — http://www.economonitor.com/dolanecon/2011/07/31/how-smart-fiscal-rules-keep-swedens-budget-in-balance/

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  51. alex said on March 26, 2013 at 6:59 pm

    Dorothy, fibromyalgia is essentially the same thing as lupus, a very painful connective tissue disorder, but it’s being misapplied quite a bit to those suffering the deleterious health effects of chronic anxiety and stress and it raises red flags as a suspect diagnosis simply because it is so overused with regard to those suffering hypochondria. When such patients are resistant to the suggestion that they need psychological counseling or a referral for stress management, doctors find it easier to just treat them symptomatically with anxiolytics and antidepressants and painkillers and call it fibromyalgia. Some of these folks are so overmedicated that they are essentially unable to work as long as they’re on this sort of therapy, and no doubt some of the favorable SSI determinations they receive are owing to the fact that there are medical doctors vouching for their need for it. I’ve reviewed many such cases and it’s obvious when the patient is someone who has simply given up on life. In no way would I want to disparage anyone who has a real physiologic disorder.

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  52. MichaelG said on March 26, 2013 at 7:22 pm

    That’s a really cool story, Mary. I’d send you my wedding ring to melt down if I could find it.

    I think LinGin and Alex have some good things to say about SS and SSI. The cap for deductions should be lifted totally. That should go a long way toward solving the problems that loom.

    Also why the hell don’t we tax capital gains? How is it that money earned as a result of honest work is taxable and money earned from investment and other sources is not? That simply fails to compute although if I were a rich coupon clipper I suppose I would pick it up quickly enough.

    I wonder about SSI. I can’t help but agree with the people here who have argued that it is necessary, but I believe it is being widely abused and that nothing is being done about it.

    I have been to a SS office here. I was the only person in the whole building pursuing benefits I had actually earned. By that I mean I was over 66 and had been working and contributing since I was 15. The rest, all of them, were eastern European immigrants in their thirties and forties seeking SSI and none of them had worked in this country. It does make one wonder.

    Scandinavian countries are all small, homogeneous, have no huge military establishment, no huge foreign adventures they must support and have huge oil revenues from the North Sea fields. I am very suspicious of any comparisons between them and the US.

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  53. Jolene said on March 26, 2013 at 7:30 pm

    Do all the Scandinavian countries have oil revenue, MichaelG, or is it only Norway?

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  54. Deborah said on March 26, 2013 at 7:30 pm

    4dbirds, I hear you “I will take care of her till the day I die. I worry about after that.” My biggest fear is what will happen to my unemployable daughter (with a neurological degenerative condition) after I’m gone. It is my biggest source of insomnia. We have yet to apply for SSI. I am able to support her now and feel it is my place to do so and am happy to do it, but eventually we will have to look into that.

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  55. Prospero said on March 26, 2013 at 9:08 pm

    Jeff, I was making a sidewaise comparison. They don’t go bankrupt and everybody is taken care of well. Do the states have oil revenue or is it only Alaska? US dwarfs Norway in production of fossil fuels.

    Why does the US have a large military establishment? Nuke subs. What the fuck else do we need?

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  56. Prospero said on March 26, 2013 at 9:14 pm

    I’m having a hard time paying attention. My perfect daughter is about to have her pregnancy induced. This is somewhat rough. I’ve been through miscarriages and a soupcon of normal births, but this is different.

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  57. Bitter Scribe said on March 26, 2013 at 10:14 pm

    Prospero: Best wishes. I hope there’s no serious underlying condition.

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  58. brian stouder said on March 26, 2013 at 10:37 pm

    Pros – what Bitter said.

    Strength to you and yours

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  59. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on March 27, 2013 at 12:09 am

    Prospero — grace and peace to you and your family.

    I do think that someone has to maintain a blue water Navy. If not Britannia, I guess it’s us. That’s not a Christian obligation, but my muddled sense of realpolitiken aus globalisch, but ich weiss nicht. On the other hand, pirates and non-state actors and terror orgs and hegemony aside, I think it would be a sad thing if no nation-state had a naval establishment. That’s either my Marine Corps past or my enjoyment of the Aubrey/Maturin series talking.

    And I will have a “Don’t Give Up the Ship” flag flying this summer and fall for the bicentennial of Lawrence’s brave passing, and Perry’s stunning achievement off Put-in-Bay in Ohio’s own Lake Erie. One of the most significant naval engagements since Lepanto or Salamis. Lord, I am tired, and it’s only Tuesday night. At least the court just called off the all-hands staff meeting tomorrow.

    It’s snowing here in east-central Ohio. L’chaim, Passover celebrators.

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  60. MichaelG said on March 27, 2013 at 12:52 am

    So what’s your point, Jolene? A gotcha? Norway and Denmark have oil. Sweden and Finland not so much. OK, half a gotcha. Bully for you and bully for you for missing the point. Finland, a mom & pop country by any definition, has a population half the size of L. A. and an area smaller than California. Sweden is slightly larger than California and has a population about the size of L.A.

    Yes they have health coverage and all kinds of social amenities and yada yada. The fact remains that you cannot begin to compare one of these small enterprises to the US.

    They have ordered populations and ordered economies.

    We have an incredibly varied, disparate and ever interesting population. We have an unfathomable economy. Unfathomable? Yes. There’s the economy the Government knows, reports on and regulates. But how many people are fixing cars for how much annual under the table money? Babysitting? Cleaning houses? Mowing lawns? Remodeling kitchens? Doing any one of a hundred other things that aren’t licensed, certificated or otherwise on any books? How much marijuana is being grown and sold? The underground economy is huge and undocumented and surely larger than Finland’s. What in Scandinavia compares to that? How many rogue Wall Streets do they have in Scandinavia?

    We have problems of every sort and of every magnitude. The number of people we have in need, the poor the destitute, the elderly, the disabled far exceed the populations of those blessed countries and yet, even those paragons of comparison have their problems.

    Our legislatures are nonfunctional, riven by religious, cultural and ideological differences. At this point the California legislature along with the folks under the D.C. dome can’t even agree on what day it is. I have no idea of how things are wherever you live but I suspect that things aren’t much better.

    Yet still, our economy rumbles on, leagues better than the economies in the warmer parts of Europe, our social programs struggle and could be better, much better but people are striving to improve things against confused and wrongheaded opposition.

    We can look to small European countries for inspiration for the things they provide their citizens and we can work toward providing those benefits to our fellow countrymen. The concepts are terrific. The nuts and bolts of things are orders of magnitude more complex in this country than they are in places like Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Switzerland and all of the other countries that are held up as shining examples of perfection.

    I mean, think of the complexities of job the PM of Sweden has and compare them to the complexities President Obama has to deal with. I’d rather be president of Finland.

    It’s slow and frustrating but I believe we’ll get there one day.

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  61. MichaelG said on March 27, 2013 at 12:55 am

    MMJeff, were you ever stationed in California when you were in the Marine Corps or where you exclusively on the East Coast?

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  62. Jolene said on March 27, 2013 at 2:20 am

    Take a break, MichaelG. It was an honest question, not a challenge. Really.

    That said, I will say, as I’ve said before, that it does make me slightly nuts that, as a country, we spend endless amounts of time patting ourselves on the back about how great–even exceptional!–we are, all the while ignoring most of the problems you mention and failing to learn whatever might apply to our circumstances from other countries.

    We seem to like the idea of the states serving as “laboratories of democracy.” Why not take a look at other countries in the same spirit?

    Just look at these data on the cost of health care across the world. At the very least, they should trigger a thorough analysis in search of an explanation for these huge differences.


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  63. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on March 27, 2013 at 7:39 am

    Quantico & DC & Indiana only, Michael.

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  64. BethB said on March 27, 2013 at 11:01 am

    I’ve been a reader for a month or so, but this is the first time I’ve felt the “need” to comment.

    I’ve been on SS disability since 2008. I retired at 58 after 35 years in education, the final 18 as a junior high school librarian (or media specialist as they like to call us). I receive a smaller teacher pension than normal (because those 35 years were not all in one state–only the last 18 were in Indiana). I retired because I could no longer be the librarian I believed my students deserved to have. I was diagnosed with MS in 1993 and progressed from a slight limp at the beginning to the necessity for a cane and leg brace to maneuver by the time I retired. Since then, the MS has now evidenced itself in my other leg, and residual complications are there because of the heavy cane use (herniated discs in neck and lumbar spine) and the the numerous falls I’ve had because of balance issues and tripping while walking.

    When I’m eligible for SS at 65 or whatever the age is then, I “think” I will either continuing received the disability amount OR whatever SS I am entitled to after paying into SS for more that 35 years. I will NOT receive both amounts.

    Just want to present my experience with the SS disability process. I’d been told I would probably be turned down, would have to appeal several times, hire an attorney, etc., but I was accepted two months or so after I submitted my application. I should tell you, though, that my librarian/teacher tendency to over-prepare for anything led me to have a very detailed application that I worked on for weeks, and I had many test results (MRIs, etc.) to verify my statements. I did not go to a SS office or speak with anyone by phone. I just did the whole thing online. AND, I found out that my application had been accepted when I went to the bank to withdraw some cash and found out my balance was wildly higher than it should have been. SS had deposited the “back” payments they decided I was owed. I did not receive an acceptance letter until several weeks later. The system is definitely quirky.

    Bottom LIne: I would have preferred working until I dropped dead. I loved being a librarian, and working with kids. I’ve been volunteering at a university archives since retirement, but it is getting harder to get around, so I’m not sure how much longer I’ll be able to do that. Having MS stinks, but it is better than the alternative, at least at this point in my journey.

    Thanks for “listening” to my story. I thoroughly enjoy reading Nancy’s blog and the ensuing conversations. Sorry for the long post.

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  65. brian stouder said on March 27, 2013 at 6:02 pm

    BethB – absolutely NO apology necessary!

    The inference I drew from your interesting reference to preferring “work(ing) ’til you drop dead” was that stopping working might be mistaken as being lazy or gaming the system (classic ‘47%’ stuff)

    And indeed, anytime society moves to actually treating people with respect (let alone compassion), it isn’t long at all before know-it-alls begin grumbling about people being undeserving or else ‘gaming the system’.

    Personally, if I never had to go to work again, I’d jump at the chance…but that presupposes that my health would still be what it is now (thankfully unremarkable!) and that financial comfort wasn’t an issue.

    But I wouldn’t trade places with a person who physically cannot work…or worse – someone who is physically fine and who wants to work and cannot find a job that pays a living wage. Presumably no else one would choose this either (Mitt Romney/Sean Hannity/Rush Limbaugh to the contrary notwithstanding), either.

    Anyway – don’t be a stranger, BethB!

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  66. BethB said on March 28, 2013 at 9:11 am

    Thanks, Brian, but I only meant that I really loved what I did; no one who knows me would mistake my situation as anything but a disabled being. They are all truly concerned. The rest can go to hell!

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  67. brian stouder said on March 28, 2013 at 10:16 am


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  68. nancy said on March 28, 2013 at 10:23 am

    Somebody else in Michigan reads Tradition in Action. (That’s where he read the column referenced in this story.)

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  69. brian stouder said on March 28, 2013 at 11:19 am

    I mean, wow.

    Gotta love these two passages, from that Freep article:

    Agema, who was elected as one of two Michigan representatives on the Republican National Committee in May after having served as a Republican state representative from Grandville, responded to criticism on Facebook by saying he posted facts and facts make people uncomfortable, according to the Lansing political newsletter Gongwer.

    And then the official GOP response:

    “The Republican party believes every American deserves the utmost respect and dignity and we are a party that believes in traditional marriage,” Frendewey said. But that should never be confused with any form of discrimination or hate and any message to the contrary undermines the optimism and solutions that our party provides to people.”

    ‘Solutions that our party provides to people’?? You mean those people that actually have an expectation that they shouldn’t be allowed to starve in the streets, or die on the curb outside the hospital that they’re not allowed into? By way of saying, I think Mitt Romney’s ‘47%’/entitlement riff (at a ^*#&*#T $50,000/plate private dinner, no less) is so toxic that every presidential candidate they run, for the next three or four presidential cycles, will have to specifically disavow it….while the local yokels pretend that it is forgotten

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