Sunday, September 09, 2012

We need a third set of debates

Next month, we're going to have two presidential debates and one vice-presidential debate, and by the end--remember how many debates there were during the Republican primaries--most Americans will be debated out.  Still, I suggest that we need one more set.

I refer, you will have guessed, to debates between Mitt Romney.

The latest example of why:   Having talked for months about how he would repeal Obamacare on hi first day in office, Romney now says that he'd keep the good parts of the ACA.  

As you can see if you check out the link, even the MSM is beginning to comment on Mitt's serial self-contradictions.  Interesting to see how the President treats the issue during the debates that are scheduled.

You heard it here first

We predicted that Rob Portman would win his debates with Mitt Romney.  Apparently, we were right.  

Friday, September 07, 2012

The tell

I've always felt that, as the Kitty Kallen song has it, little things mean a lot.  In his speech last night, Joe Biden referred to the President at least twice as "Barack."  Not "President Obama," or "Barack Obama," just Barack.  He didn't do so with any self-consciousness, nor was he showing off.  He was just talking about his boss,  his colleague and his friend.

The casual use of the President's first name tells us something.  Not that the Vice-President lacks the proper respect.  Admiration and awe, rather than mere respect, were apparent though out Biden's speech.  But more than that, we could see that the two have a partnership, that the Vice-President is the President's top aide.  Where many vice-presidents have been shunted aside, this one is right there, offering advice on a wide range of issues.  I think that's a good thing.  Indeed, a very good thing, and not just if the unthinkable happens and Joe Biden succeeds to the presidency in the next four years.   

And it's clear that Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan do not--could not--have that kind of partnership.  Would they ever develop something like that, if given the chance?  We can't know.  (And if I have my way, we'll never get the chance to find out.)

You can see Joe Biden's speech here, if you missed it, and it's well worth watching.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Better off?

In a post this morning, we addressed the issue of whether the nation is better off than it was four years ago.  Some interesting light is shined on that question by a Bureau of Labor Statistics study that concludes--surprisingly in my view--that
From January 2009 through December 2011, 6.1 million workers were displaced from jobs they had held for at least 3 years, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. This was down from 6.9 million for the survey period covering January 2007 to December 2009. In January 2012, 56 percent of workers displaced from 2009-11 were reemployed, up by 7 percentage points from the prior survey in January 2010.  
In particular, I was surprised that markedly fewer workers lost long-term jobs in 2009 through 2011 than had done so from 2007 to the end of 2009.  And that a significantly higher percentage of those who lost one job found another, which seems to contradict, to some extent, the .

Now, the BLS also concludes that more than half of those who were re-employed (itself only 56 percent of the people who lost jobs) were earning less than they had been in their previous employment.   That's certainly not good news.    But, all in all, some progress.

Four years

Are you better off than you were four years ago?  That's the question Republicans are asking.  

In response to an article on Yahoo, I posted the following comment:

Are we better off than we were four years ago? You bet! Four years ago, George W. Bush was still in the White House. Four years ago, there was a chance that John McCain would be our next President--and that Sarah Palin would be a heartbeat (an OLD heartbeat) away from the presidency. Four years ago, the workforce was hemorrhaging jobs. Four years ago, the financial industry was virtually devoid of regulation. Four years ago, it looked like the US auto industry was going bust. Four years ago, insurance companies could impose lifetime limits on health benefits. Four years ago, older Americans were paying thousands of dollars for their prescriptions. Four years ago, families could not keep children up to the age on 26 on their health insurance. Four years ago there were tens of thousands of American troops in Iraq, and tens of thousands more in Afghanistan than there are today. In all these ways, we are all better off than we were four years ago.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Bill Clinton's advice

According to Ryan Lizza, writing in The New Yorker, last fall Bill Clinton advised the President that his campaign should characterize Mitt Romney as a right-wing ideologue rather than concentrate on his flip-flopping.  And it seems that the campaign has taken that advice.

I'm not sure that the two are exclusive.  In the debates, I'd like to see the President go after Romney on his multiple positions.  With his mastery of detail, I'd love to watch as Mr. Obama says, "But Governor, in 2002 you said that you would support a woman's right to choose."   "Governor, in 1996, you said that we had to assure equal rights for gays and lesbians."  "In 2008, you said that you didn't think that hunting down one man--you meant Osama bin Laden--was all that important."  "In 2008, Governor, you wrote an op-ed piece in The New York Times that was titled, 'Let Detroit go bankrupt.'"   "Governor, given all of your changes of position--some of them several times on the same issue--how can the American people trust what you are saying now?"

The conventional wisdom is that the President should take the high road, that he should let his aides and surrogates (and the Vice-President) attack the other candidate.  That's exactly why Mr. Obama should look for chances to expose Mitt Romney in the debates for what he is:  a thoroughly unprincipled man, consumed by the quest to be elected President, but with no principles to guide him should that happen.  For one thing, that approach would be unexpected and likely to through Romney off balance.  For another, it would give voters the clearest opportunity to see the difference between the two men's characters.   And, Democrats could still brand Romney as an apostle of the right by suggesting that his (many) other positions are simply cover.

Yes, such an approach would be less focused than Clinton's advice, but above all, Americans need to feel that they can trust their President.

Just thinking...

Is there any significant issue on which Mitt Romney has not changed his position since he entered politics?

Debate Prep

Mitt Romney is taking most of this week off from public campaign events, while he prepares for the Presidential debates.  Sen. Rob Portman (R.OH) is playing President Obama.  

I predict that Portman will win.  

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Why does Mitt Romney want to be President?

I'm likely to watch Mitt Romney's speech tomorrow, antacid at hand.  (What the hell, the Red Sox are losing on the West Coast this week.)  

What I'll be hoping for is some insight into why the man wants to be President.  I don't think he'll deal with that, even inferentially, but it's something I've been wondering about.

I mean, many of us have daydreams about what we'd do if we inhabited the Oval Office (that physical space is mainly ceremonial, but you know what I mean).  We might even think about why we'd like to be the President.  But hardly any of us have the ambition, ego, drive, energy and guts to go out and run for the office.  Much less to make it to through the nominating process of even such a diminished party as today's Republicans.  

Yet I wonder why it is that Mitt Romney wants the job.  

I'm assuming that he is mature enough to the know that it isn't winning, but serving as President that's important.  (Not sure if that was true of George W.)  

It's not as Romney hasn't told us what he'll do.  He has.  Endlessly.  And often in contradiction to what he said before.

But are any of these ideas and policies really enough to motivate someone for the most difficult job on Earth?  (I'm not sure that it really is more difficult than, say, being a sandhog, or painting the top of the towers on the Golden Gate bridge, or being a fighter pilot in combat, or even serving as a Supreme Court justice, but it's a really big job.)  Is freeing business from the yoke of government regulation, or reducing taxes on the wealthy really enough to inspire a person to go through the tortuous work of running for President?    Is turning Medicare over to the insurance companies and Medicaid to the tender mercies of the state so thrilling?  Is getting government out of our hair but not out of our bedrooms or bodies enough?  Maybe, but I don't see it.

If you have any thoughts on why Mitt Romney wants to be president, pass them along.  It's our policy to publish all comments that are not unintelligible, spam, scurrilous or sufficiently defamatory to make us liable in a court of law.    

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Mitt deconstructed

The real Mitt Romney revealed by.......David Brooks?

"If elected, he promises to bring all Americans together and make them feel inferior."

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Campaigning makes you stupid

Well, not the campaigning, but the overweening ambition that leads one to campaign for high office.

Today's example:  ABC reports that Paul Ryan "now supports Mitt Romney's softer position [on abortion] now that he shares the GOP presidential ticket because 'it's a good step in the right direction.'"

Paul Ryan is an intelligent man.  True, Paul Krugman has demolished the idea that Ryan is a serious man when it comes to national economic policy (he just plays one on the floor of Congress), but he is certainly intelligent.  So, what is he doing making a dumb statement like the one that ABC quoted?

What does Ryan mean that changing his position is "a good step in the right direction?"  Does he mean that he realizes he's been wrong, that women should be given control of their own bodies when they are pregnant due to rape or incest?  Apparently not, because if he felt that way, he and Gov. Romney would have called for the Republican platform committee to soften  the plank on abortion.  

Ryan must meant that by adopting Romney's position--whether or not he believes in it--he hopes to increase the chances that he and Mitt will be elected.  Now, there's nothing wrong with wanting to win--if Ryan didn't he should find a new line of work.  But he has presented  his stand on abortion as one of principle.  And it's not a good idea to let the voters know that you'll abandon principle to get elected, especially when you do it with such ease.  People might get ideas about a candidate like that.  They might think he is just another politician--a thought that will reduce the likelihood that the Republican team will be the people's choice  in November.  

Todd Akin is in the mainstream...

of the Republican Party.  As Jennifer Steinhauer wrote in today's Times:
As an orator, Representative Todd Akin of Missouri may stand out for his clumsiness.  But as a legislator, Mr. Akin has a record on abortion that is largely indistinguishable from those [sic] of most of his Republican House colleagues, who have viewed restricting abortion rights as one of their top priorities.
In one sense, Akin may be more sensitive than most in the Republican Party.  If he believes what he said on Sunday--scientific bilgewater though it is--he implicitly admits that rape followed by pregnancy is trauma followed by tragedy.  Those in the party who have denounced him for his inaccuracy do not, apparently, care about that:  they would forbid abortion for rape victims even though they know that pregnancy can, indeed, result.  

Akin's crime is not his ignorance so much as that he brought attention to just how inhumane the Republican position on abortion has become; that could lead to more voters taking note of how inhumane the party is on other issues.  

Worse yet, Akin has shown bad timing:  his remarks came just before the Republican Party platform committee voted to support--as the party has in the past two presidential election years--a constitutional amendment that would outlaw abortion, with no reference to exceptions even for rape or incest.  

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The truck is back

Scott Brown's truck is back.  It became a fixture of his Everyman-campaign-for-Senate in 2010, even though it's  a big honkin' gas guzzler (or maybe a diesel guzzler) that he bought to pull a trailer with his daughter's show horse.  Now he's got the first of what I understand will be a series of spots of him in the cab, driving.  

Leave aside the question of how unsafe it is to be talking to the camera while moving down the road.

In the first spot, Brown talks about his childhood.  It's well known that he did not have an easy one.  He summarizes the repeated moves, his mom's need to work more than one job at a time.  "Life certainly wasn't a picnic.  But I was raised to work hard, be honest and play by the rules."  

Then Brown says something that ought to be noticed:  "As tough as it was growing up, I wouldn't change a thing."  

Umm, remember how Brown told us that he had been sexually abused by a camp counselor and repeatedly beaten by a stepfather? 

So, does he really mean it when he says that he would not change a thing?  

I don't know the man--I met him once, for a few minutes, in his Washington office.  But I have a sneaking feeling that he does mean it--that at least he did when he cut that campaign spot.  Because its my impression that he is not a critical thinker, that he does not stop to consider the complexities of situations or issues, and that he may have the convenient memory that afflicts almost all of us at least some of he time--the one where we believe that what is good for us is the truth.

Does that say anything about his fitness to be in the Senate?  I leave that to you.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Corporate citizenship

I've been thinking about Citizens United, and trying to be partisan.   

It's easy to say that corporations are not people (they aren't), but harder--if you stop to think about it--to say that corporations don't have First Amendment rights, or something like them.  Would we really say that General Motors should not be permitted to argue against CAFE (corporate average fuel economy) standards?  Or even to comment on global warming?  Surely, corporations must have some right to express views on matters involving their business interests.  And what standard can we use to winnow out protected from unprotected corporate speech?

I suggest that corporations should be permitted to comment on issues, and to support efforts directed to issues--such as referenda, even though I am uncomfortable with the idea of corporate interests participating in elections of any kind.  Still, the distinction between corporations and people--real people--is most clear when we distinguish issues from candidates.  Issues are specific; candidates who become office holders have sway over all matters that may arise.  

In this respect, one of the one-man-one-vote cases, Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533, 580 (1964), is especially apt.  There, Chief Justice Earl Warren observed that "Citizens, not history or economic interests cast votes...people not land or trees or pastures, vote."


Something is wrong here.

Warning, this is likely to break your heart.

Two brothers, both with a disease that will kill them, but only one gets the drug that could save his life.  

Three kinds of lies

Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan said that every person is entitled to his own opinion, but not  to his own facts.  So while, as I said yesterday, we must respect the right of the other side to its opinions, we need to call them out when they lie.  Given that that seems habitual with the Republican Party these days (interspersed with mere ignorance and prejudice), constant vigilance is needed.  

Since Mitt Romney chose Paul Ryan to run with him, the air has been rife with contentions about Medicare, as Republicans try to turn the issue against President Obama.  As is widely known, they are doing so primarily by lying:  by maintaining that $700 in future savings in the program are cuts in it, and by implying that those cuts come from benefits.  False and false again.  

The media have reported the Romney-Ryan team's "distortions" widely, but what has been less reported is the telling detail of where the Medicare savings would come from:  Reduced payments to hospitals (including for-profit chains that are major supporters of Republican candidates) and Medicare (dis-)Advantage plans, which are huge boondoggles in which insurance companies are subsidized to provide Medicare benefits to citizens who could get them directly from the government.  Medicare Advantage plans cost the government 12 percent more than socialized medicine, err, Medicare.  Given the scale of Medicare payments, that's real money.

And so the Republicans, again, want to subsidize corporations from the public treasury.  Another example of corporate welfare that should be more widely reported.

To paraphrase the Duke of Wellington, there are three kinds of lies:  Lies, damn lies, and Republicans.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

He's for us

Campaigning for re-election, Scott Brown's slogan is "He's for us."

So, who's "us?"  And who isn't?  

Implicitly, but clearly, the "us" in question is not the coalition of people who support Brown's Democratic opponent, Elizabeth Warren.  

Is there a subtle appeal to racism here?  Most African-American and Hispanic voters will support Warren.   (Not so clear about South Asian or Chinese-Americans.)  
Undoubtedly, most of Brown's support will come from white voters, and he probably does better among men than women (although he apparently got a lot of women's votes in 2010).   

My instinctive reaction to Brown's slogan is that it expresses an exclusionary view--you're with us or against us, you're one of us or you're one of them.  

But is that any different than what we liberals do?  Don't we separate the political world into "us" and "them?"  

We discount the legitimacy of the Republican coalition, because we believe that many, perhaps most of its members should not be such.  In What's the Matter with Kansas? Thomas Frank presented a Republican electorate that votes against its economic interests.  Those people--"those people"--should not be doing that, we believe.  

But why not?  Don't many liberals vote against their interests?  Don't we celebrate rich people who support Barack Obama in spite of, or even because, he would raise their taxes?  

And if some voters support Republican candidates because of social issues, is that less legitimate than those who voted for Democrats because of revulsion at the Iraq and possibly the Afghan war?  

Scott Brown's slogan seems to me to appeal to a certain anger or even rage.  And that is part of the Republican platform.  In her column today, Maureen Dowd quotes Tom Morello, a member of Paul Ryan's self-professed favorite band, Rage Against the Machine, as saying of the band's most prominent fan that, "I clearly see that Ryan has a whole lotta 'rage' in him.  A rage against women, a rage against immigrants, a rage against workers, a rage against gays, a rage against the poor, a rage against the environment."  

I generally agree with that assessment, and I think that such feelings are wrong.  But when I say that, am I not assuming that working- and middle-class voters should sympathize with the cause of immigrants and women and gays?  That such voters should identify with workers, not management?  Yes, I am, and that's what I believe.

And yet, I ought to recognize that there is legitimacy in the beliefs of those who do not agree.  Not least because, as the shrinks say, your feelings are your feelings.  We don't need to be so morally relativist as to equate racism and sexism with color-blindness or sexual-equality to see that many of the disaffected who support the Republican Party (think of the Tea Party, for instance) have legitimate grievances, and that the narrative to which they attach themselves is at least plausible on the surface.  We may think that the story that Republicans are trying to feed the electorate does not go very far below the surface, but we cannot require voters to drill down; we can only attempt to persuade them to put in the work necessary.

And the task of persuasion is damaged by the elitism that treats members of the Tea Party and other Republican supporters who are not wealthy or members of active anti-choice and anti-abortion groups as being deluded.  We need to accept that if we have failed to reach those voters, it is our fault at least as much as it is theirs.  More, actually, because we want to reach them.

Internet petitions

Yesterday, a friend sent me a solicitation to sign an Internet petition calling for the re-enactment of the Glass-Steagall Act.  the New-Deal era regulatory framework that limited banks to, well, banking.  The petition is organized by something called  

This page has called for the re-enactment of Glass-Steagall for several months, so I might be considered and easy target for the petition.  But I did not "sign" and I shall not do so.  I've made it my policy to refrain from completing such petitions, not matter how sympathetic I might be with the position espoused.  

I think that Internet petitions are at best misguided, that often they are misleading, and in some cases they may be misleading.  In particular, I believe that many of them are directed less at expressing support for a position about an issue than to obtaining email and other personal information about the "signers."  While the data may be intended for a legitimate, even laudatory purpose, how do we know?  And how to we know that the information we volunteer will not wind up in the hands of people with whom we would not share it?  We don't.

There's something else here:  I believe that Internet petitions have no effect on political leaders.  If I were a member of Congress, I'd question the legitimacy of the signers of such a petition--how do I know that they were not made up by the organizers--and would discount completely those who are not my constituents.

Internet petitions sound like a good and easy way to express opinions, but my advice is to ignore requests to sign them.

Friday, August 17, 2012

So Paul Ryan pays a higher rate than his would-be boss

Paul Ryan released his 2010 and 2011 tax returns today.  As CBS News noted, that's one more year than Mitt Romney has let us see.  Romney does promise to release his 2011 return when it is filed, probably a few weeks before Election Day.

Ryan's returns reveal that he and his wife took in about 1/100th of what Romney showed on his tax return in 2010, but paid a higher rate--15.9% against 13.9%.  But don't expect Ryan to complain about the apparent inequity.  

(Although Ryan and his wife--almost half of the income came from investments, most in her name--received a tiny fraction of what the Romneys got in 2010, they are very close to the top tier of Americans in terms of their income.)

One more thing:  Ryan turned over seven years' worth of returns to the Romney campaign. In other words, Mr. Romney thought it necessary for him to see much more information on his prospective running mate's taxes than he is willing for us, the voters, to see about his.  Yet it is we who are making the decision about whether to employ the two gentlemen.


In a post this morning, we discussed Mitt Romney's declaration that he has paid at least 13 percent of his income in federal income taxes in each of the past 10 years.  The post probably left the impression that we disapprove of such a low rate, and that we blame Mr. Romney for paying so little.  While we believe that those with incomes at the very top of the scale should pay substantially more in taxes, there is no evidence that Mr. Romney has done anything other than to meet his legal obligations.  And if that is what he has done, then no blame should attach to him.  The blame belongs to us, for allowing such a situation to exist.  

No tax returns for you!

First, a confession.  I never watched "Seinfeld."  Always seemed like a bunch of self-involved people of the kind I avoid in real life.  This I need when I kick back to watch TV?  No.  

But even I know about the Soup Nazi.  And I couldn't help but think of him when I saw that poor Ann Romney was having to explain to NBC why her husband will not release more of his tax returns.  She began with, "There's nothing we're hiding."  Which is transparently false.  It may be that there's nothing in the hidden returns that would embarrass the Romneys, but by holding them back, they are hiding the information by not releasing them.  It's a simple matter of grammar.

Then Mrs. Romney waded in deeper.  "Have you seen how we are attacked?" she asked rhetorically.  "[T]he more we release, the more we get attacked, the more we get questioned, the more we get pushed."  

To which the only answer is, "Duh, uh."  That is what happens in this messy democracy.  And it's true that some of the inevitable attacks would be distorted and unfair.  But if her husband wants the American people to hire him as our next president, he's going to have to trust in our ability to discount the irrelevant and untrue, and to winnow out what's accurate and important.  That's what the political process is all about.  

It didn't help that Mitt Romney chose to hit back at his critics yesterday by attesting that he paid at least 13 percent of his income in taxes in the past ten years.  Then he made it worse by calling the attention to his tax returns "small-minded."  

Can the Romneys really be that out of touch with ordinary Americans?  Do they really believe that their sense of noblesse oblige will get Mitt elected?  I guess they do.  

For all of Barack Obama's mistakes, for all of the unfulfilled hopes, it is astounding to think that Romney is within 10 points in the polls.  That a man so insensitive to the lives of his fellow citizens, so obviously willing to say anything, so totally lacking in convictions could be a serious candidate for high office, to say nothing of the White House.  

Given my almost boundless faith in the ultimate wisdom of the American people, I can only conclude that once those who are not political junkies start to focus on the campaign, the gap between the candidates will grow and that, by November 6th, it won't be a close race.  

 (The New York Times' story on Romney's 13-percent declaration went on to say that that is "a higher effective rate than most people pay."  Which--not for the first time--demonstrates sloppy journalism.  For while it's true that most Americans don't pay 13 percent of income (not clear whether that is gross income, "adjusted gross income" or net income, three very different concepts) in income taxes, most Americans start off by paying flat-rate taxes for Social Security and Medicare that amount to about 9 percent, with income taxes on top of that.  While income taxes are graduated, those so-called payroll taxes are not and, worse, above about $110,000 in income no further Social Security taxes are collected.  So someone like Mitt Romney pays a substantially lower tax rate for Social Security than most of us.  And while it's true that most Americans may not pay 13 percent of their income in income taxes, they probably pay more than that in total federal taxes.  Not to mention that the sting of taxes is a lot greater for those trying to support a family on $30,000, $40,000 or even $50,000 a year than it is for people like the Romneys.)  

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Battle of a century

This quotation was posted on a list-serve that I get:
American industry is not free, as it once was free; American enterprise is not free; the man with only a little capital is finding it harder to get into the field; more and more impossible to compete with the big fellow.  Why?  Because the laws of this country do not prevent the strong from crushing the weak.
Woodrow Wilson wrote that, in 1913.   

Still true today.  Indeed, in politics it may be worse.  In 1913, Progressives were winning their fight against entrenched political power, and the influence of wealth in politics was being limited.  Today the power of wealth is, to use a favorite word from the Romney campaign, unchained.  

When I was younger, I read about the battles of the past, but I never thought that we would have to fight them again, a hundred years on.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Ah, so that's how it is

I just heard Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan in a joint interview with Bob Schieffer on 60 Minutes.  In the course of the interview, Schieffer asked how many years' tax returns  Ryan had given to the Romney campaign.  "Several" was the response.  "Several."  Several is more than two--the number of returns that Romney has produced for his would-be bosses, the American people.  

So Romney has required those who would be his vice-president to produce more information about their taxes than he deigns to show the voters.  

Oh, in case  you were hoping, Paul Ryan isn't going to show you all the returns that he gave to the Romney campaign.  Like Mitt, he's going to produce two years' returns.

As I noted earlier, Romney hopes to change the game by selecting Paul Ryan--but he's still singing the same old song.

Hail Mary in August

Apparently, some Democrats believe that Paul Ryan is a dangerous pick for them, because his presence on the GOP ticket will mean the need to discuss big issues--like the deficit, Medicare, Social Security.  That view could be right, although I tend to put it along with believing in the Tooth Fairy--the one is as likely to be true as the other.

The choice of Ryan shows that the Romney campaign believed that it needed a game-changer:  something that the growing narrative about Mitt (insensitive, out-of-touch with average people, vague in his alleged ideas, ready to turn 360 degrees at a moment's notice) needed to be changed, and now.  In that, at least, I agree with the Republicans.  

Yet Ryan seems to me to be just about the worst pick that Romney could make.  Put it this way:  He would have a better chance of winning with Sarah Palin on his ticket.  
It's true that Ryan's candidacy will lead to new discussions, but they are unlikely to help Romney's candidacy.  Much, much more probable that Ryan's nomination to be--as we are endlessly reminded--a heartbeat away from the presidency will cement the view of independent voters that the Republican Party is so far out of the mainstream that it does not bear serious consideration.  Or as this page has put it in the past, that the Republicans are on the road to irrelevance.  

As one commentator on NPR put it this morning, presidential candidates normally begin on the left or right and then move to the center after locking up the nomination.  Mitt Romney has done the opposite:  in the nominating process he was the moderate, warning against the dangers of right-wing extremism (though he did not put it in those terms).  Since becoming the presumptive nominee, however, he has tacked toward the conservative wing of his party.  For a while, as his poll numbers stayed close to the President's, that strategy seemed justifiable.  As a gap began to show between them, however, Romney chose to double-down--to shore up support among those who already had nowhere to go.  It's true that he may get more enthusiastic support from some of them now, but so what?  More enthusiasm among a distinct minority of American voters will elect a president only if (a) the candidate can also carry a substantial proportion of independents and even some members of the other party or (b) the nation is so apathetic that a minority of fanatical supporters can outweigh the rest of those who will go to the polls.  The first is not true with Paul Ryan on the ticket, and although voter participation in our elections is woeful by the standards of other developed democracies, we're not so distanced from our politics that the Republican right wing can elect a president by itself.

Paul Ryan's personal story, while perfectly fine for a candidate, is not as affecting as President Obama's or Vice-President Biden's (his father was a lawyer who died when Mr. Ryan was 16; he worked selling for Oscar Meyer as a young man--apparently, he even drove the Weinermobile; he's spent a long time inside the beltway).  To judge from his speech in Norfolk yesterday (admittedly the only time this writer has heard him in more than a sound bite), his orator will not inspire.  And his ideas are way out there.  (Indeed, it is a measure of how far to the right our politics have moved that he is not considered a yahoo.)  If his place on the ticket proves to be a game-changer, it's not likely to be in favor of the Republicans.  

Normally, teams save the hail Mary for the end of the game.  The Romney campaign has thrown one before the fall campaign has really begun.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

True Colors

Sen. Scott Brown (R.MA) portrays himself as a Republican who reaches across party lines and represents all of the people of Massachusetts.  And it's true that in a limited number of instances he has voted with Democrats, notably on the Dodd-Frank Bill and the Affordable Healthcare Act (Obamacare).  

But he's shown his true colors by vilifying the Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance (the state welfare agency) for sending out almost half-a-million voter registration forms to its clients.  Brown asserts that "its outrageous to use taxpayer dollars to register welfare recipients as part of a special effort to boost one political party."  

I don't know how much the state of Florida has spent in its effort to cleanse the rolls of voters who tend to support Democratic candidates.  Or how much Pennsylvania is spending to install a voter ID system that will aid Republicans in this fall's election--even though the state has admitted in court that it knows of no instance in which one person impersonated another at the polls.  But I'd bet that those and other states that implemented measures that will restrict participation spent a lot more than Massachusetts has in trying to help people exercise their right to vote.  But Senator Brown does not care about that.  What he cares about is his political skin.  Which is what we'd expect from any political candidate.  But it would be nice if he would drop the sanctimony.

Oh, and by the way, the mailing to Massachusetts citizens was required under federal law.  

The asserted key for Brown and his allies is that the daughter of Democratic candidate Elizabeth Warren is the chair of the board of trustees of an organization of an organization called Demos, which represented voting-rights groups in a suit to enforce the federal Voter Registration Act of 1993.  The mailing to public-assistance recipients in Massachusetts was prompted by an interim settlement of that suit.  In other words, Brown and his allies are angry that his opponent's daughter joined in trying to enforce federal law.)

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Romney in Israel, II

Frankly, I'm surprised at the level of attention and analysis that has--and hasn't--been given to Mitt Romney's remarks about the Palestinians yesterday.   

In particular, I wonder why no one seems to be saying what seems to this writer obvious:  That Romney's comments reveal him to be profoundly incompetent for the presidency.

To begin with, there is the former governor's inability to get his facts right.  As has been widely reported, he understated the per capita income of Israelis--the people with whom he was trying to curry favor--by one-third.  Not a small fraction.  And he overstated the income of Palestinians by three to six times (I've seen figures for Palestinian income quoted at $1500 to $2900, the later attributed by The New York Times to the CIA.)  

Yes, I know, George W. used to do this kind of thing all the time.  But I thought we had moved beyond that foolishness.  Certainly, Mr. Romney has tried to project greater seriousness in his runs for the White House.  And we should demand accuracy from our President and would-be presidents, especially on facts that are easily ascertained, than this.

Then there is the question of why Romney waded into the quagmire.  The relative prosperity of Israelis and Palestinians, although a sore point with the latter, is hardly at the forefront of voters' consciousness in this country.  Very few American Jews--the group Romney was trying to win over--think about the issue.  And those who do are probably concerned by the disparity and extremely unlikely to vote for the Republican candidate.   There was only one way in which Romney could have hoped to gain from bringing up the subject, and that was to draw a searing contrast between Jews and Palestinians.  In other words, he must have known how his remarks were going to be taken, and to have intended their effect, however, much he protests to the contrary now.

Then think of the level of analysis that the would-be president revealed.  True, he quoted a book by a respected Harvard history professor.  Yet to say that "Culture makes all the difference," as Mr. Romney did, and that "I recognize the power of culture and at least a few other things," is at least to imply that Israelis are innately superior to Palestinians.  As Palestinian negotiator Saab Erekat noted, that sounds like racism.  More, it denies the complexity of the issues at hand, not to mention small factors like history and geography.  

Mr. Romney undoubtedly realized before he spoke that he was not going to get a large proportion of the Palestinian or Muslim vote.  But in the pursuit of votes, he crassly damaged the United States' position in a vital area of the world, should he become President.  And in doing so, he clearly revealed why he is not competent to hold the position.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Romney in Israel

Implicitly rebuking the President's Middle East policy, after saying he would not play politics while overseas, Mitt Romney strove to convince Israelis that he would be tougher on Tehran than the Obama Administration has been (although he pulled back from a statement by his chief foreign policy aide, who asserted that Romney would countenance an Israeli attack on Iran).  The Israeli right wing--which includes some Americans resident in that country--seems to have eaten up what Romney was dishing out.

But why would they believe him?  Given Romney's history of reversals on issue after issue, what is there to assure Israelis, American Jews or anyone else that a Romney administration won't be an ally of the mullahs within a year or two?

It's one thing to talk about flip-flops as a character flaw (which they are).  Here's a concrete example of why Mitt Romney's election could prove downright dangerous.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Mitt decoded

A British twitterer (not a twit, apparently), @pawelmorski, has demystified Mitt Romney with one brief question:

"Americans:  This Mitt person is some sort of American Borat, right?"

That explains it--the awkwardness, the fumbling, the inability to connect with others, the total attention to what seems best for himself, the complete absence of principle apart from self-interest.   

Mitt Romney:  American Borat.

Forgotten but not gone

Ray Flynn, former mayor of Boston and former ambassador to the Vatican, has emerged from the cerements of his forgotten grave to endorse Scott Brown against Democrat Elizabeth Warren, finding a way to grab the limelight by betraying his party, because he says he is tired of partisanship.  While Warren is partisan--and welcome from a Democrat for that--Brown is hardly the figure of bi-partisanship that his apologists picture.  

Consider this:  Brown asked to be sworn in to the Senate early so that he could vote against an Obama nominee to the National Labor Relations Board.  Brown opposes the Disclose Act, which would (weakly) force "social welfare organizations" to reveal some of their biggest donors.  Brown voted against extending the Bush tax cuts for incomes up to $250,000.  (That measure is often wrongly characterized as a tax increase for those earning more than that very high figure, but they would save on the first cool quarter of a million dollars; it's just that they would save even more if the tax cuts are extended for the very, very rich.)  Brown opposes re-enacting the assault-weapons ban.

Yes, I know.  Brown has broken with his party on a few occasions.  The Republican leadership lets him off the reservation just enough to allow some credulous observers to call him a "moderate."

So, what's going on here?  Is Flynn's endorsement a matter of principle, or does just Ray want one more pathetic turn in the limelight?  

Memo to Ray Flynn:  Sit down and be quiet.  

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Re-Enact Glass-Steagall

This is important.  Sanford "Sandy" Weill gave an interview on CNBC today, in which he in essence called to re-enact the banking restrictions that he had a big part in repealing in the 1990s.  

Although many economists, commentators and a few politicians (particularly Elizabeth Warren) have argued that banks need to be restricted, some even calling for bringing back the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, Weill's position gives him an insider's view and provides unequaled credibility in what is beginning to look like a genuine debate on the US' financial structure.  

Could it be that good sense and public opinion will lead to real reform?  It's too early to be optimistic, but at least the task no longer appears hopeless.  


An unnamed, but presumably senior advisor to Mitt Romney is quoted in the Telegraph in the UK as ascribing the special relationship between the US and UK to "an Anglo-Saxon heritage."  To make the point clearer, the advisor went on, "The White House didn't fully appreciate the shared history we have."  [Grammarians may well wonder at the use of the past tense.]

As the Telegraph gently put it, the remarks "may prompt accusations of racial insensitivity."  As we would say on this side of the pond, "Duh, uh?"  

There's certainly a race thing going on here--yet another subtle attempt to appeal to prejudice that dare not speak its name any longer.  Mitt is one of "us."  (Never mind that "us" includes--the Republicans hope--Irish-Americans, Italian-Americans, Polish-Americans, Franco-Americans [people with French heritage, not cans of fourth-rate spaghetti], Hispanic-Americans, even Jewish-Americans.)  Barack Obama is not--he is one of the "other."  

As the Atlantic's Wire column noted, this advisor will probably be gone from the campaign very soon.  His way of thinking--which certainly reflects Mitt's--will stay behind, however.  

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

By the numbers

This afternoon, the Congressional Budget Office (usually described as "the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office") issued a report concluding that, after the Supreme Court's recent ruling, Obamacare will save $84 billion over then next ten years.  And the Republican plan to repeal Healthcare Reform?  It would cost taxpayers $109 billion over the same period.  That's a swing of almost $200 billion.

Let's see the GOPhers explain that one to the American people.  So much for financial responsibility.

The downside of this is that the CBO also estimates that the number of uninsured Americans will increase by three million people.

Monday, July 23, 2012


By now you have certainly heard about how the Romney campaign has wrenched from their context President Obama's words pointing out that the self-made success is a fiction--that all entrepreneurship depends on the work of others as well as ourselves--to make it sound as if the President was saying that government is the source of productivity.  And you probably know that that's not what Mr. Obama was saying.  

Romney has turned this into a campaign spot featuring a New Hampshire businessman, Jack Gilchrist, protesting, "My father's hands didn't build this company?  My hands didn't build this company?  My son's hands aren't building this company?"  

Well, we're sure that all those hands--and many more--have built Gilchrist Metal.  But as ABC News and the Manchester Union-Leader report, the company has had important help from, you guessed it, government.  Specifically, back in the 1980's the company received a Small Business Administration loan of a bit less than $500,000, with matching funds from the New England Trade Adjustment Assistance Center.  In 1999, the company got the benefit of $800,000 in tax-exempt revenue bonds issued by the State of New Hampshire. Last year, the company was awarded Navy and Coast Guard contracts totaling just under $100,000.  

When this government assistance was pointed out to him, Mr. Gilchrist responded, "I'm not going to turn a blind eye because the money came from the government.  As far as I'm concerned, I'm getting some of my tax money back."  

Fair enough, Mr. Gilchrist.  But you've proved the President's point:  The success of your company has been importantly affected by sources outside your control, in your case, government.  We're sure that your company deserved the help it got--Mr. Obama never questioned that.  But without that assistance, your company would have harder time; indeed, it might not have survived.  What the President said was that none of us really make it on our own, and your company's experience shows that that's true.

A couple of other points:  Mr. Gilchrist's words imply that his company was somehow entitled to government's assistance.  Qualified for help is one thing; entitled is quite another.  And the business about getting some of his tax money back fundamentally misconceives the nature of government and the taxes that pay for it.  Mr. Gilchrist and his company get tax money back every day, in the form of roads and bridges, and police and fire protection, and regulations that keep foreign competitors from "dumping" products on the American market at unrealistically low prices to drive out our manufacturers, and the Internet (created at government expense), and in so many, many more ways that we take for granted.

Signs of change

A bit off the normal topic for this page, but in these days it is good to see a report that South African golfer Ernie Els, who is white, wants to pour Nelson Mandela a drink from the "Claret Jug," the trophy for the British Open.  According to this story, Els "admitted he had Mandela on his mind before and during his round." 

There have always been white South Africans who objected to the former government's repressive policies; I know some.  The story does not describe Els' feelings growing up under apartheid, but does note that he and Mandela became friends when the then-president would call to congratulate him after his tour victories.  

So, if we need to be reminded, there's hope.

Sunday, July 22, 2012


A regular reader of this blog, whom I met through it, lives in Aurora, Colorado.  Indeed, he sent an email to his friends noting that at 8:30 the night of the midnight shooting, he was a couple of blocks away, making copies at Kinkos.  So this horror hits a little closer to TONE's home, if only figuratively, than others have.

There's been a lot of talk about gun control in the aftermath of the massacre, and rightly so.  Sadly, much of the talk has been about how gun control is off the table--another political third rail.

This page has noted before that it's time to call out the NRA.  Time to tell home truths--that the NRA and its allies are the witting or unwitting allies of organized crime, specifically drug cartels, and of international terrorism.  

A few other observations:  Writing in The New York Times, Roger Ebert sagely notes that, " In theory, the citizenry needs to defend itself. Not a single person at the Aurora, Colo., theater shot back, but the theory will still be defended."  Yes.   And its not just in Aurora.  No one shot back at Virginia Tech, or Columbine (though I shudder to think of legalizing guns in schools, there are some assertedly sane people who advocate that), or at the shooting of Cong. Gabrielle Giffords, or at any of the other mass murders that have stained our country.  If the nearly 300 million guns that are out there aren't being used to protect the citizenry from crazy killers, isn't the private-law-enforcement theory proved totally bankrupt?

Along that line, a letter in The Times commented, "Let’s say movie theater patrons were allowed to carry guns. When one or more moviegoers exiting the theater reached for his or her gun to stop the first shooter, it would be unknown to the many bystanders whether they were acting in collusion. This is why the first armed individual who arrived on the scene of the Gabrielle Giffords shooting didn’t pull out his weapon. He did not want to be mistaken for a second gunman."  

If we polled law enforcement professionals, do you think they would favor more control of dangerous weapons?

That brings up another point.  Some of those who believe most passionately in what they mistakenly call the right to bear arms (more on that below) also espouse the notion that our rights are in danger.  To them, an armed citizenry is the last line of defense against totalitarianism.  Yet we don't hear them protesting against government reading their emails, or the proliferation of video cameras covering more and more of the public space.  If we want to protect our form of government, doesn't it make more sense to provide space for private thought and private action, rather than arming for Armageddon?  Or perhaps Armageddon is only an excuse.

(About the "right to bear arms."  In context, that clearly means the right to stand in the nation's defense.  When the 2nd Amendment was adopted, the framers who spoke of the "right to bear arms," meant the right of citizens to belong to the militia (hence the prefatory phrase, "A well regulated Militia, being essential to the security of a free State...").  The men who wrote the Amendment meant to secure the right of states to raise militias, as a counterweight to a national army. So, you want to exercise your right to bear arms?  Join the National Guard.  And, yes, I know that a majority of the Supreme Court disagrees.  But on this, as on many things, that majority is wrong.)

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Easy to forget

Mitt Romney's many reversals ("flip-flops") have become such a part of our common currency that it is easy to forget the important issues on which he has been prepared to switch his positions 180 degrees in pursuit of his ambition for the White House.  But it's important to remind ourselves--and the voting public--because these cynical shifts demonstrate just how unsuited to the presidency he is, and would be even if his credentials and policy prescriptions were not as weak as they are.

Among the vital issues on which Romney has turned around are:

  • Healthcare for all, particularly the individual mandate.
  • A woman's right to choose (Roe v. Wade)
  • The Dream Act (limited amnesty for minors brought here as undocumented aliens)
  • Stem cell research
  • Insurance coverage for contraceptives, and other protections for women's health
  • Higher taxes on higher incomes
  • Strong enforcement of environmental protections
And it's not just the fact of Romney's turn-arounds that is telling.  think of the contrast between the way he explains his reversal on the healthcare mandate and how President Obama described the way he came to change his mind on same-sex marriage.  The President spoke of a process familiar to all of us who have changed our minds about something important as our thinking progresses.  Romney has never really given an explanation for his differing positions.

To give him the benefit of the doubt, maybe Mitt's unconvincing explanations are a good sign--perhaps they reveal discomfort with the positions he has had to take to win the Republican nomination.  But even if that is the case, Romney reveals himself to be profoundly unqualified to be President.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

What Mitt meant

We now know what Mitt meant when he said, "Corporations are people, my friend."  

Documents filed with the SEC, over Romney's signature, attest that in 2000 and 2001 he was the president, CEO, sole shareholder and sole director of Bain Capital.  Obviously, the corporation he had in mind when he made that remark was his own.  

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

This just in...Romney Agrees to Debates

     Wolfeboro, NH (North American News Service) -- Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has agreed to a series of debates, with himself.  The surprise agreement came after Mr. Romney labeled the mandate under President Obama's healthcare reform a tax, contradicting his chief spokesman, who had called the levy a penalty only twenty-four hours before.  In calling the charge a tax, Mr. Romney also differed with his own frequent declarations that the payment required of those who fail to buy health insurance under his Massachusetts healthcare reform is a penalty, and not a tax.  

     Three debates are planned initially, but more may be added as necessary to address the issues, according to Romney campaign officials.

     In addition to healthcare, the debates are likely to touch on whether Osama bin Laden was an important target in the war on terrorism, whether the minimum wage is essential to a growing economy or an unreasonable burden on expanding prosperity, and whether Mr. Romney's favorite baseball team is the Boston Red Sox, the Detroit Tigers or the Toledo Mud Hens, from vote-rich Ohio.  (When asked his favorite Mud Hens player, Mr. Romney famously named Max Klinger, momentarily forgetting that Mr. Klinger was a character on M*A*S*H who was a Mud Hens fan.)

     Asked if he frequently changes positions on issues, Mr. Romney refused to say, and referred all questions to his campaign.  The campaign had no comment.


Monday, July 02, 2012

The questions

It seemed to me at the time that the greatest lesson I learned in college was that the question determines the answer.

This morning, I heard a representative of the medical-device industry talking about how it's a bad idea to tax the people who contribute by devising and producing these devices, and I realized that we have ceded much of the debate over taxes and public policy by failing to ask the right questions.

One of those questions is this:  Who should pay the taxes?  That's what Mitt Rmoney and Mitch McConnell and John Boehner and Paul Ryan should be asked:  Who should pay the taxes?

Yes, yes, gentlemen, we know that you want to reduce the size of government and the overall tax burden (and we'll ignore for the moment that your budget proposals won't do that), but there will still be taxes to pay.  So, who should pay them?  How much of the taxes--however much they amount to--should be paid by the top 1% of income recipients?  The top 10%?  The top 20%?  The bottom 20%?  Should some taxes be levied by wealth rather than just income?  Or by some other measure?

Let's hear the answers to those questions, and then we can judge whether you are serious and what your policy proposals will mean for the American people.