Thursday, August 30, 2012

Romney's Party Boat Flew A Cayman Islands Flag

In Tampa there are a lot of exclusive parties where the super rich meet to lay plans for a post-Obama tax climate. It was interesting to learn that the Romney party yacht at the GOP Convention flies a Cayman Islands flag. What's the message here? ABC broke this story.

"I think it's ironic they do this aboard a yacht that doesn't even pay its taxes," said a woman who lives aboard a much smaller boat moored at the St. Petersburg Municipal Marina.

Romney defends his secret bank accounts in tax havens, saying: “There was no reduction -- not one dollar reduction in taxes -- by virtue of having an account in Switzerland or a Cayman Islands investment.” Why not keep his millions in American banks then? And why are these places––the Caymans, Switzerland, Bermuda, the Bahamas, Luxembourg––called "tax havens"? Romney's words don't square with common sense or Americans' sense of fairness. This story appeared in the LATimes.

If you want to look more closely at Romney's complex tax evasions, Gawker has posted the most complete information about Romney's tax schemes online.

Gawker's John Cook: "Almost all of them are affiliated with Bain Capital, the secretive private equity firm Romney co-founded in 1984 and ran until his departure in 1999 (or 2002, depending on whom you ask). Many of them are offshore funds based in the Cayman Islands. Together, they reveal the mind-numbing, maze-like, and deeply opaque complexity with which Romney has handled his wealth, the exotic tax-avoidance schemes available only to the preposterously wealthy that benefit him, the unlikely (for a right-wing religious Mormon) places that his money has ended up, and the deeply hypocritical distance between his own criticisms of Obama's fiscal approach and his money managers' embrace of those same policies. They also show that some of the investments that Romney has always described as part of his retirement package at Bain weren't made until years after he left the company."

All of this may explain Romney's nervous chuckle on the stump.

But as much as we focus on Romney's tax secrecy, it's his plans for our taxes which ought to concern us most. His plan would lower his own already very low tax rate and put the burden onto the rest of us who work for a living. The story appeared in the Washington Post.

Romney responded to the criticism, but his response didn't add up either. A good analysis appeared in the Post.

There's also a very well researched analysis in the August Vanity Fair magazine.

There's a lot here about his various offshore schemes, but the most mystifying may be his IRA account.

"Mysteries also arise when one looks at Romney’s individual retirement account at Bain Capital. When Romney was there, from 1984 to 1999, taxpayers were allowed to put just $2,000 per year into an I.R.A., and $30,000 annually into a different kind of plan he may have used. Given these annual contribution ceilings, how can his I.R.A. possibly contain up to $102 million, as his financial disclosures now suggest?"

How indeed.

Andrew Sullivan, a died-in-the-wool conservative finds the tax evasions of rich people like Romney to be repugnant. (Should we rename them The Repugnant Party?)

Sullivan: "Conservatives, it seems to me, should care about all of America, rather than seceding from it. Social and economic inequality are dangerous threats to social stability and democratic legitimacy. That is a conservative belief - and one utterly alien to the fanatics who now run one of our two major parties. If conservatism is to recover, this version of the GOP must be defeated. It's the only language they understand: the language of power." Amen. Remove this Republican Party and give us back the one Eisenhower presided over.

Tax evasion isn't the only theory about Romney's secret taxes. The other theory, reported in the Guardian newspaper, is that Romney is hiding evidence of voter fraud. Was he really living in his son's basement when he voted in Massachusetts? With six large houses do you really think he lived most of the year in a basement? With six houses it has to be a lot of work establishing residency.

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Sunday, August 26, 2012

Another Case of False Equivalency

Frank Bruni has an interesting essay in today's New York Times, and "Compliance" sounds like an interesting movie. Mr. Bruni discusses it carefully and intelligently, but I have one large problem with Bruni's analysis. Maybe it has to do with his carefulness. His description of what transpires in the movie points up the film's political and philosophical overtones, but Bruni carefully lays these overtones at the doors of both parties. Both political parties behave like this, he says. He does list several examples of Republican credulity, but then he strains to find one that tars the Democrats too. "Rope them all in. It looks fairer."

He is like a mother who comes into a room, finds one child beating up the other, and punishes both equally. Sometimes one side is more wrong than the other. Sometimes one side is far more wrong than the other, and dangerously so. This is one of those times. Both of our political camps aren't equally extreme. Both sides aren't equally dishonest.

More importantly, both sides in this current political climate are not equally devoted to top-down, witch-hunt, fully-armed, purity-test, lock-step orthodoxies. To suggest this is ludicrous. As Will Rogers said "I don't belong to any organized political party. I'm a Democrat." Democrats are almost comical in their habit of disagreeing with each other and departing from uniform beliefs. Sometimes it seems Democrats would rather question an instruction than win an election. No Democrat I know would behave like the obedient jackboot manager in the film Compliance.

Millions of Republicans would. Republicans punish deviation. When the call goes out, Republicans fall into line. Republicans are the party associated with fruitcake ideas like birtherism, arming school janitors, irrational fears of the UN's black helicopters, notions about Moses and Abraham living among dinosaurs, magical beliefs about rape and homosexuality and unregulated capital markets being protected by "invisible hands" (or is it fairies and elves?) They are also the party most willing to adopt draconian methods to enforce their beliefs. Voter purges, electrified fences, depriving the poor of food and healthcare for the crime of being poor.

Fruitcake ideas (like those in the movie) are the ones most in need of draconian, top-down enforcement because they are vulnerable to critical thought.

Nick Kristof wrote about this in March of this year. (I'm bothered by the tendency of newspapers to publish scientific research not as news or analysis but as opinion whenever it takes an unfavorable or disparaging view of conservative thought.) John Stuart Mill wrote that Conservatives were not stupid, but stupid people tended to be conservative. I think this is instructive. It might explain why conservatives follow their leader, their conservative leader, more obediently than liberals. They like others to do their thinking for them, but draw the line at any thinking that questions their old fashioned orthodoxies or the monied power structure.

Granted, their obedience has its limits: if the president or other elected official is black or Hispanic or gay or Democrat or pro-labor or Unitarian or believes in science or has won a Nobel in economics, Republicans are widely instructed to disobey him or her, oppose everything they propose, block every majority proposal they side with––even to the point of harming themselves and harming the common good. There are Republicans in some parts of the country (recently in Texas and Virginia) who urge armed revolution agains the government if it isn't Republican. Who do the managers in this little movie most resemble?

The Republicans we grew up with are almost uniform in their embarrassment and despair over the newer, weirder, more extreme, power-and-gun-hungry Republicans. So asserting that this weird movie is interestingly true and true about both political parties is a bizarre distortion and downright dishonest. If one family member shows signs of dangerous insanity we don't institutionalize them all. We use the rational to distinguish the irrational, and rational people try to enforce reason with reason, not with irrational, draconian methods. When we give equal respect to extreme and moderate we become more extreme. When we give equal respect to right and wrong we encourage wrong. Bruni, in trying very hard to be fair, has distorted the true shape of things. This is the kind of phony fairness that makes cynics of us all.

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Friday, August 24, 2012

When Will They Call Romney A Liar?

Dear CBS, ABC, NBC, NPR, PBS, CNN, (forget FoxNews, we know what they're in the business of), AP, UPI, major national newspapers,

Watch this, it explains my complaint. It's footnoted.

When are you going to start calling Romney a liar? When do you plan to point out the lies?

And don't pretend both campaigns are lying equally. It's not fair to call a partisan argument or judgment or point of view a lie. Distorting someone's words, though, is a lie in the Mosaic sense. It's bearing false witness.

It would be more correct, more precise, to call Romney a persistent liar, a stubborn liar. Either way, he's a liar who refuses to belief the truth when he doesn't like the truth. He's said that. He knows what he says is untrue and yet he repeats it for personal gain.

Because telling the truth is what newspapers are supposed to do, you should explain that Romney is a liar. Repeat it as often as Romney repeats the lies.

And you should correct the lies, rather than just repeating them. His millions and his friends' millions are already repeating the lies on your air and in your pages.

There is the welfare lie, and there is the "you didn't build that" lie. There is some pretty good debunking out there. Here's an NPR fact check story scolding Romney. But people are busy. They count on the news to explain when someone is lying his way into office.

The "you didn't build that" distortion could, I suppose, be called a stupid misunderstanding. After a month and millions of dollars of ads wrapped around the stupid misunderstanding, you probably should start calling Romney stupid too. For refusing to understand what a normal thinking person would be able to understand after it's been patiently explained to him by people able to think and reason.

To be elaborately bend-over-backwards fair, you could convene a panel of eight year olds with decent grades and ask them if they understood Obama when he said: "those roads––if you have a business––you didn't build that". And then you could say whether Romney is as smart as an eight year old. I'm confident he is, but he behaves and speaks and buys ads that make it look like he isn't.

Participating in stupidity and lies makes a news organization and its reporters and editors into stupid liars too.

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Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Importance of Moderate and Conservative Democrats

On his show from the other night Lawrence O'Donnell explains very clearly why we need moderate and even conservative Democrats in Congress. Because the alternative often as not is a rightwing nutjob like Todd Akin. Not every state is Massachusetts. Not every seat represents a liberal or progressive district.

But if we can get a moderate to sit in the Senate for the rather conservative state of Missouri, we get to have Pat Leahy chairing the Judiciary Committee instead of Orrin Hatch, and we get Supreme Court justices who respect women's rights and minority rights and the rights of average working people instead of another rubber stamp for the Koch Brothers. We get representatives who can help broker deals and get actual legislation and responsibly funded budgets passed. We might even see a Congress that functions. But more importantly, by electing moderates like Claire McCaskill we get a Democrat sitting instead of a bizarrely ignorant Republican like Todd Akin. It's about numbers.

This year the GOP has purged several more conservative but rational members of Congress, who knew how to cooperate with others to get things done, and replaced them with fruitcakes who behave like ayatollahs, who refuse to compromise, who want the economy to fail so the black guy doesn't get re-elected, who want to turn America into a large non-union sweatshop, or, better yet, want to help their wealthy contributors ship more American jobs to Indonesia, who want to make rape victims bear the children of their rapists as long as their rapists didn't break their arm or their nose and said thank you afterwards. Think about this next time you criticize the moderates in Congress. They are an endangered species.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Republicans' Rationalizations for Rape

“First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down." Todd Akin, Republican Senate candidate from Missouri.

Right now Akin sits on the Republican majority's side of the House Science Committee but he has no clue about the science of human reproduction. Nor does his Republican House colleague Steve King.

Republican Congressman Steve King: "I’ve Never Heard Of A Girl Getting Pregnant From Statutory Rape Or Incest"

Todd Akin and Steve King coauthored a bill in Congress last year that would limit a rape victim's access to abortion to women who were victims of "forcible rape". In other words a woman or girl would be expected to carry her rapist's child to term if he didn't break her arm or her nose, or maybe if he said thank-you afterwards.

The other co-sponsor of HR3, this draconian restriction of reproductive rights that redefined rape? Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney's running mate.

Today's Republican Party (which is writing these issues into their national platform as we speak) values a fertilized egg (in many cases an egg that has not even been fertilized yet but may if contraceptives are not available) values its rights above those of women and girls who have been assaulted. A single cell, a sperm cell, a infinitely small bundle of cells, created by a criminal assault, trump the rights of a living person. Women and girls have a lower status than their male assailants in the estimation of this modern Republican Party. Rapists' rights to parenthood are sacred to the GOP.

It isn't only Republican men who hold these medieval beliefs. This prominent Republican said rape can be a blessing from God.

"If God has chosen to bless this person [the rape victim] with a life, you don’t kill it." Sharon Barnes, Vice President, Membership Committee, National Association of Republican Women and a leader in Missouri Republican politics. Rape a blessing?

When asked what she would say to a young girl who has been raped by her father, Nevada Republican and Harry Reid's opponent in 2010, Sharron Angle said carrying her rapist's child to term would be like making lemonade when life gives you lemons.

This narrowing and redefining of rape is nothing new to Republican politics. Republicans have a history of rationalizing and excusing and defending rape and rapists, basing these rationalizations on old myths and good-old-boy fairy tales. They've carefully instructed their candidates and spokesmen to use certain terms that put the burden back on the rape victim and narrow her rights and her options, that make the rape victim responsible for the crime.

"When pro-lifers speak of rape pregnancies, we should commonly use the phrase "forcible rape" or "assault rape," for that specifies what we're talking about. Rape can also be statutory. Depending upon your state law, statutory rape can be consensual, but we're not addressing that here .... Assault rape pregnancies are extremely rare." John C. Willke, president of the National Right to Life Committee, 1999

Untrue. He should have known better then. We certainly know better now.

"A series of state lawmakers have made similar arguments since at least 1988, when Pennsylvania state Rep. Stephen Freind (R) argued in a debate on abortion that the odds of pregnancy from rape are "one in millions and millions and millions," because "when that traumatic experience is undergone, a woman secretes a certain secretion which has a tendency to kill the sperm."

The Republican Party is spending its billions of dollars advertising myths and false beliefs. Their objective? To revise our medical standards back to the middle ages.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Republicans Are Bad For Business

According to this story in The New Republic, business leaders are starting to doubt their allegiance to the Republican Party.

Reason: the Republicans' willingness to endanger the entire economy to score political points, as happened last summer in the insane debt ceiling stand-off, which wound up lowering America's credit rating and affecting the interest rates we all pay. Uncertainty is the enemy of business, and Republicans are using uncertainty as a political weapon.

Besides, recent decades have shown Democratic presidencies are far better for American business than Republican ones.

Bloomberg reports that private sector jobs increase far more under Democratic presidents than under Republicans.

"Since Democrat John F. Kennedy took office in January 1961, non-government payrolls in the U.S. swelled by almost 42 million jobs under Democrats, compared with 24 million for Republican presidents, according to Labor Department figures.

"Democrats hold the edge though they occupied the Oval Office for 23 years since Kennedy’s inauguration, compared with 28 for the Republicans. Through April, Democratic presidents accounted for an average of 150,000 additional private-sector paychecks per month over that period, more than double the 71,000 average for Republicans."

Business Week reports that investment dollars have yielded five times greater returns across the past five decades of Democratic presidencies than the same period's Republican presidents.

"$1,000 invested in a hypothetical S&P 500 tracking fund beginning when JFK was president and measured only during subsequent Democratic presidencies would have yielded $10,920 by the time the market closed yesterday. Alternatively, $1,000 invested when Richard Nixon was president and measured only during Republican presidencies would have yielded $2,087 on the last day of George W. Bush’s presidency."

USNews reports that Democratic presidents beat Republicans on 11 of 12 economic indicators. The source is a new book written by a business lawyer and the head of a financial services company. When we started writing, we did not cherry pick any of the data," says Deitrick, who said he knew only the stock market data when he began and "had no idea where the rest of the chips would fall."

"It was overwhelming and surprising to see the Democrats win on almost all of the economic indicators," said one of the authors.

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Monday, August 20, 2012

Krugman Explains the Ryan Plan

Paul Krugman points out the hypocrisy and dishonesty in Paul Ryan pretending to be a deficit hawk. But he also points out the eager gullibility and laziness of the Washington opinion writers and policy thinkers who are supposed to study and analyze plans like Ryan's. They haven't done this. All they've done is seize Ryan as a plausible "conservative" (which he isn't; he's a radical) and a thoughtful policy person (he isn't; he only pretends to be) with a substantive plan to attack the deficit (it isn't and it doesn't; quite the reverse, it makes the deficit much worse at the expense of working people, while slashing taxes on rich people who own stocks for a living, Friends of Mitt who have already profited enormously from the economic crisis.)

Ryan promises to share key details, crucial mathematics that his plan doesn't explain, at some unspecified future date. I've not seen such empty promises since Nixon's secret plan to end the Vietnam War. Nixon had no plan, and the war did not end until we surrendered Vietnam after he left office in disgrace. What Nixon did do (and it's similar to what Romney and Ryan and the other Republican leaders have been doing for four years) was sabotage LBJ's peace talks, promising the South Vietnam government a better deal if they refused to participate. There was no better deal. In similar fashion the Republicans in this Congress have spent four years sabotaging every effort to repair and restore the economy and their motives are the same: if they can foul the economic gears and talk about secret plans they hope to regain power. There is a word for this kind of cynicism: criminal. Another word comes to mind: treasonous. Like Romney's business model which made him a billionaire: buy companies promising to help them, loot their pensions, gut their employee pay and benefits, borrow heavily against the worth of the company, take enormous management bonuses, then send the shell of the company either to Asia or the bottom of Boston harbor.

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