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.