Friday, August 31, 2012

Responses from the empty chair

 Below are verbatim excerpts from the "speech" Clint Eastwood gave at the Republican convention last night. I have taken the liberty of filling in possible responses from the empty chair. I'm sure the actual President Obama could do much better himself.

E: So I -- so I've got Mr. Obama sitting here.  And he's -- I was going to ask him a couple of questions.  . . . . I found out that there is 23 million unemployed  people in this country. Now that is something to cry for because that is a disgrace, a national disgrace, and we haven't done enough, obviously -- this administration hasn't done enough to cure that.

O: I agree, and maybe you could help me Clint, by asking some of your Republican friends in Congress to pass my jobs bill, and a number of other programs that would reduce unemployment more than we have so far. It would also have been helpful if we could have gotten more aid out to the states, which have been forced to lay off millions of teachers, firefighters, policemen, and other public employees. Unfortunately Congress blocked all our efforts to help the states prevent so many layoffs.

E: So, Mr. President, how do you handle promises that you have made when you were running for election, and how do you handle them?

O: You mean like the promises I made to withdraw from Iraq, turn our attention to fighting terrorists, enact health care reform, turn the auto industry around, invest in education, and enact Wall Street reform to prevent a repeat of the 2008 meltdown. Those promises? We've done all that and more.

E: Well, I know even people in your own party were very disappointed when you didn't close Gitmo.

O: I was disappointed too, when Congress passed a law that prevents us from closing Gitmo.You understand that the president is not a king, right?

E: What do you mean shut up?

O: I didn't say shut up. I said, what else you got, Clint?

E: I just wondered, all these promises-- I wondered about when the -- what do you want me to tell Romney?

O: I want you to tell Romney to explain how he is going to pay for the huge tax cuts he is proposing for the wealthiest Americans, and his proposed increases in defense spending, and balance the budget at the same time without slashing a lot of programs that people want? And I also want you to tell him to stop lying about our record.

E: I can't tell him to do that.  I can't tell him to do that to himself.

 . . . But, I think it is maybe time -- what do you think -- for maybe a businessman.  How about that?

O: How'd that work out the last time we tried it?

Read more:

Rising seas

It's easy to mock President Obama for trying to do something to stop the oceans from rising, as Romney did in his acceptance speech last night. I mean, who does Obama think he is, Moses? In fact, however, this administration has probably done more to slow global warming than any previous one, by dramatically increasing fuel economy standards, for one thing, and by hugely supporting alternative energy sources.

But the oceans are still rising--a point of nearly unanimous agreement among scientists and observers who can actually measure rising ocean levels. If that is the case, isn't it kind of dangerous to ignore the problem? Is that what Romney is trying to say? He says he wants to help families instead of worrying about rising seas. But how is Romney going to help your family when this happens?

 or if you live here, in Key West, where the ocean is already washing over the streets?

How is Romney going to help your family if you happen to live in a low-lying coastal area, like almost the entire state of Florida?  Is he going to bail you out?

Thursday, August 30, 2012

This made my day.

How many think the chair got the better of this guy in their debate?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

What's news

Anybody remember when political conventions used to be the biggest events in politics? All the networks used to pre-empt their entire evening schedules for the duration of political conventions, and people watched the wall-to-wall coverage for hours every night. (We didn't have too many other channels to watch.) Even in those days, of course, there was often a lot of down time and boring speeches, and sometimes the reporters were hard-pressed to come up with actual news. But at least reporters were swarming all over the floor and the back rooms, trying to find stories. I remember watching as a child of 10 when John Chancellor was ejected from the floor of the Republican convention in 1964. The incident made Chancellor famous. And who can ever forget the drama of 1968 in Chicago, when reporters were swept up in the mayhem?

Times have changed, and conventions are not the events they used to be. Political conventions are now more like giant infomercials for the political parties, and therefore do not deserve the coverage that they once got. But sometimes actual news takes place at political conventions. And TV viewers are not well served merely by being given a bunch of political reporters sitting around in a studio and analyzing the speeches. Wouldn't it be nice if the news organizations made at least a token effort to get their reporters around a little more to dig out whatever real news is taking place?

And when there is an actual event, such as last night when some convention attendees apparently threw nuts at a black CNN camerawoman, telling her "this is how we feed animals," wouldn't you think that CNN, at least, would be highlighting a story involving one of its own people? Instead, they have given the story minimal coverage. I can understand how the parties want to cover up any unpleasantness at their respective conventions. They have learned from the past that scenes of confrontation do not reflect well on their brands, and damage their chances in the fall election. But why would the news media become complicit in this effort to cover up any conflicts or negativity?

Look at the clip in my earlier post showing Joe Scarborough and Tom Brokaw (and really, Tom Brokaw should know better) tut-tutting Chris Matthews' suggestion that the Romney campaign is making appeals to racism. It's almost as if they are afraid to offend the Republican party brass by making any impolite suggestions about what is going on within their party. And look at the restrained coverage of the huge fight that broke out yesterday over the seating of Ron Paul delegates. This is the kind of thing that used to get gigantic play in tv coverage of political conventions, especially during the Democratic conventions in the civil rights era, when there were enormous battles over the composition of delegations from Southern states.

There is a stereotyped view of the Republican party, that these are respectable people who manage their differences well, and get their message together in a harmonious way; as opposed to the fractious Democratic party, which always seems to air its differences in public. We ought to re-examine whether that stereotype has outlived its usefulness. We ought not to buy into Republican leaders' desire to minimize their differences, and pretend that prejudice and other forms of ugliness do not exist among the Republican party faithful. There are important battles and undercurrents going on in the Republican party right now. We don't need to sensationalize them. But we really shouldn't sweep them under the rug either.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


Here's another installment in my series of imaginary interviews, this time with a Romney campaign staffer who said, in response to questions about the accuracy of the campaign's ads charging that the Obama administration has relaxed work requirements for welfare recipients: "We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers." (That's an actual quote.)  This was an especially interesting position to take considering that, as documented in the same Washington Post story, the Romney campaign has in the past called for the Obama campaign to pull advertising when it was questioned by fact checkers.

Q: Why does the Romney campaign continue to run these highly misleading ads suggesting that Obama has gutted welfare reform, when he is doing nothing of the kind?

A: Are you kidding me? That's "our most effective ad." [another actual quote] These welfare ads are really helping us pick up ground in swing states.

Q: But aren't you concerned about the accuracy of those ads?

A: What we are concerned about is that the ads are working. If the ads are working, why would we stop running them?

Q: So truth is not important?

A: Look, there's the kind of small-minded picayune truth you are talking about, such as whether our ads are, strictly-speaking, accurate in a, strictly-speaking, factual way. But then there are larger truths, such as that taxes are too high, government spends too much, and that a lot of undeserving freeloaders are sucking away your hard-earned dollars. Does it matter that we fudge the facts a little in the service of these higher truths?

Q: But your campaign hasn't proved any of those supposed higher truths! You're really just confirming people's prejudices, aren't you? You're stirring up resentment!

A: I'd prefer to think that we're just giving the people what they want. What's wrong with that? 

Q: What's wrong with that is that you are appealing to bigotry and you are telling lies. And when the Obama campaign ran ads whose accuracy was questioned, didn't you demand that they be stopped?

A: What we were concerned about was that Obama's ads appeared to be working. So of course we wanted them taken down.

Q:  So consistency is out the window, in addition to truth?

A: Hey, if our strategy is working, we are going to continue it. If Obama's strategy is working, we want him to stop whatever he is doing. How is that inconsistent?

Q: But wasn't your campaign supposed to be about the economy and jobs?

A: Jobs, exactly! The Obama administration is telling welfare recipients they don't have to work!

Q: But Obama never said that! He didn't relax work requirements at all.

A: Oh yes he did. Didn't you see our ads?

Monday, August 27, 2012

The elephant in the room

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy
Why WOULD Mitt Romney tell jokes about President Obama's birth certificate? Why does he keep running ads suggesting that the Obama administration has been dismantling work requirements for welfare, even though those claims have been thoroughly debunked?

Watch how uncomfortable Chris Matthews makes these icons of propriety, from Tom Brokaw on the left to Reince Priebus on the right, when he suggests the obvious, which is that the Romney campaign is now using code words and phrases to appeal to their base (read white male voters). This is Willie Horton all over again. There's no doubt about it. And the more that Reince Priebus calls Chris Matthews' attacks "garbage," the more we know they have stung.

UPDATE (8/28): Chris is not exactly backing down from his comments:

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Welcome to Tampa!

Delegates to the Republican convention this week will be greeted by this billboard:

If they pick up the Tampa Bay Times, they will read a column by Florida's former Republican governor Charlie Crist, endorsing President Obama for re-election.

And if they look up at the sky, they will find the gathering storm clouds ominous.


Coming Attractions

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Raging Grannies


Thursday, August 23, 2012


I'm sorry to have to disagree with Thomas Frank, because I admire a lot of his work. But I'm wondering about his purpose in offering a harsh critique of Obama's presidency several months before the election. (Here is an interview with Frank in Salon outlining some of the points in his article. The article itself I haven't read because Harper's only makes it available to subscribers.  Note to Harper's: I pay money to subscribe to the print editions of magazines like the Atlantic, the New Yorker, and the New York Review, and they put their content online for free. I do not subscribe to Harper's.) Anyway, it seems to me that this sort of thing in the middle of election campaign season mainly serves the purpose of spreading negativity and encouraging the president's supporters (and Frank has to be counted as a supporter, since he admits that he will "almost for sure" vote for Obama) to argue among themselves. Nevertheless, I will take the bait, and explain why Frank is wrong.

The thrust of Frank's critique seems to be that Obama gave away too much to the right in his first term, because he stressed the importance of bi-partisanship, when he should have been fighting harder on substantive issues, such as punishing Wall Street bankers, or achieving more economic stimulus. Frank seems to think bi-partisanship is not a worthwhile goal because he conceives of politics as a battleground, and he prefers to see politicians fight for the policies they advocate rather than try to reach agreement with those of opposing views. That part of Frank's critique suggests that we should be more concerned with substance, and less with how we get there. I don't agree with that, but that might be because I just happen to be more interested in procedure than in substance. I think if we can design a  more workable and fairer system we are more likely to get results that reflect what people want, whereas if we all just fight for the conflicting results we want in the confines of a dysfunctional system, we are less likely to achieve fair or satisfying results. Obama's promise in 2008 of a new politics, and his continued emphasis on fixing a broken system even in the face of more divisiveness and obstructionism than he started with, are what made me a strong supporter. Critics like Frank apparently never bought into these ideas. But that is something of a philosophical disagreement that has existed since the primary campaign between Hillary Clinton and Obama in 2008, and we can probably never resolve that.

The second part of Frank's critique is that Obama's emphasis on bi-partisanship makes him a bad negotiator. The idea is that announcing to your opponents in advance that you are interested in working out an agreement with them in a cooperative way supposedly makes the other side even more intransigent, and forces the Obama team to move closer and closer to the other side in order to get the deals they supposedly so desperately want. I have some expertise in responding to this part of Frank's analysis because I spend a lot of time studying and thinking about negotiation and mediation, and it's an important part of my law practice.

I will concede that the other side has become more intransigent than ever. That was an attitude they deliberately adopted on Obama's election, as has been recently documented. Did they become more intransigent because candidate and then President Obama announced in advance that he was a conciliator, or would they have been equally intransigent if the president had announced that he was going to fight them tooth and nail every step of the way? My guess is the latter, but it's still a valid question to ask how best to deal with an intransigent adversary. Should you continue acting as a conciliator, or should you adopt a take no prisoners approach?

My experience in negotiation tells me that it is never a sign of weakness to let the other side know in advance that you are interested in reaching a cooperative resolution of a dispute. It is a sign of strength. The time you are showing weakness as a negotiator is when you let the other side know that you have no alternative to making a deal. In other words, there is no harm in expressing a willingness to remain at the bargaining table as long as it takes, but there might be some cost if your side is unwilling ever to walk from the table if you can't obtain a deal that is acceptable. During Obama's first term, the weaknesses in the Democratic side's bargaining power did not come from the Democratic side's expressions of willingness to make a deal. They came from the Democrats' inability to walk from the table. It is crucial to understand this distinction. There were things the Obama administration decided they HAD to achieve, and on all of those things, they made more compromises than their side wanted: the stimulus, health care reform, raising the debt ceiling, introducing new financial regulations. They made those compromises because the alternative would probably have been no deal at all, and that was unacceptable to the Obama team side.

Notice that in the second half of the Obama administration's first term, there have been fewer compromises, and that has made supporters like Frank happier. (He also says he likes the feisty tone of the re-election campaign.) But note also that basically nothing has gotten done during this Congress, as compared with the first two years. That's because the Obama administration worked hard to get as much of its agenda enacted as possible during the first two years, and there now remain hardly any issues on which the Democrats HAVE to make a deal. Once the debt ceiling deal was in place, for example, the Democrats can take an uncompromising stand on their view that tax increases must be part of any deficit solution. They don't have to give anything on this point, because if they don't the Bush tax cuts automatically expire and automatic spending cuts take effect that are much less to the Republicans' liking than the Democrats. So there should be more pressure on Republicans to make a deal this fall. And that pressure exists regardless of how much sabre-rattling the Republicans engage in now. In fact, it appears to me that Republican bluster on the upcoming budget negotiations is a sign of weakness, whereas Democratic expressions of reasonableness are a sign of strength right now.

It's also useful I think to compare the Obama approach to that of Bill Clinton. Frank doesn't seem happy that Clinton was a big compromiser either, even though he seems to fault Obama more than Clinton, perhaps because he had hopes that Obama was going to bring more transformative policy changes. But here's the difference between Clinton and Obama: Clinton actually adopted the positions of his adversaries as the new Democratic positions. He actually moved the whole Democratic party platform to the right. So on issues like welfare or crime, suddenly it was Democrats who were in favor of cutting off welfare recipients and locking up criminals for longer terms. That was not a compromise. It was a policy shift. The Obama administration, on the other hand, did not sacrifice its principles. President Obama remained in favor of a public option in the health reform bill, though he gave it up in negotiations. He wanted to let the Bush tax cuts expire for those in the highest tax brackets, though he gave that up also to make a deal. Critics like Frank think the end result is the same, so there is no real difference. But the latter approach does allow you to hang on to your principles, unless you believe that you can never recognize that the other side has some power and in a democracy, is also entitled to achieve some part of their aims. Also, any fair-minded person who compares the accomplishments of Clinton's first term with the landmark achievements of the Obama administration would have to agree that Obama just plain got a whole lot more progressive legislation accomplished. So who's the better negotiator?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


Let me make clear that I do not presume to know the mind of God. Therefore I would never read any divine intentions into weather events. But I wonder about the attendees at next week's Republican convention. Since the Republican Party has been to a very large extent taken over by members of the religious right--people who claim that everything from Hurricane Katrina to the AIDS epidemic is a punishment by God on liberal policies--I wonder what they will make of this forecast:

Of course if the storm veers away from Tampa, we can be sure the Republican faithful will claim that they are the chosen people. But if Isaac slams full bore into Tampa on the opening day of the Republican convention? Will any of the convention delegates have second thoughts about their plans to take more from the poor and less from the rich? 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Lots of campaign news

It's still only August, the conventions haven't taken place yet, everybody's on vacation, and yet we are awash in campaign news.

Mitt Romney is asked about his Afghanistan policy, and makes a statement about withdrawing troops and turning the job over to the Afghans. It's a statement that sounds a lot like what President Obama is already doing, though of course Romney is quick to mention that Obama is doing it all wrong. Then Romney says he'll get more specific after he's elected. Really Mitt? You want to criticize the president but you refuse to explain in any way what you would do differently? Obama campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith issues the following statement: 
That’s simply not enough from someone running to be Commander-in-Chief. The truth is that Romney has refused to put forth a plan for what he would do in Afghanistan. If he does have some secret plan, he owes it to our men and women in uniform to tell them.
Are people really going to put their trust in secret plans? Maybe a lot of voters don't remember 1968, when Nixon got elected based on a secret plan to end the Vietnam War. It took him four whole years to execute on that plan, at a cost of many thousands of American lives, and we ended the war on essentially the same terms we could have gotten in 1968.

Then there's the controversy over historian Niall Ferguson's hatchet job of a cover story in Newsweek, the gross errors in which have been thoroughly exposed elsewhere. What I learned today is that Newsweek has no fact-checking department, but relies entirely on its writers to deliver accurate information. That's kind of shocking in itself. What I'd like to ask Ferguson, and the Republican ticket he supports, is why it is necessary to lie about easily-verifiable facts like the CBO estimates of the budget impacts of the Affordable Care Act.

Look Niall, if you don't think the government should be trying to make health insurance available to all Americans, just say that you have a philosophical disagreement with the administration. If you have to lie about the cost of the ACA, that only means you have no confidence that your philosophical argument will prevail with voters, and that you have to mislead them in order to persuade them of your views. Hopefully people will understand that is what you are doing.

Let's move on to the quagmire of abortion, in which the Romney campaign is starting slowly to sink. They tried to distance themselves from the comments of Todd Akin, who professes to believe that women hardly ever get pregnant from "legitimate" rape. Trouble is, if Romney and Ryan agree with the scientific evidence that women can just as easily get pregnant from non-consensual sex as from the consensual variety, doesn't that almost make the predominant Republican position on this issue--that abortion is only justified to save the life of the mother--even less humane than Akin's view? At least Akin thinks that we should hardly ever force women to carry their pregnancies to term if they have been "legitimately" raped, because he supposedly believes that they hardly ever get pregnant in that situation. But if Romney and Ryan understand that lots of women do in fact get pregnant as a result of rape, how do they justify their support of the doctrinaire Republican position?

Finally, the latest from the war on voting in the State of Ohio. Ohio's new Republican Secretary of State has decided to shorten voting hours this year in every county in the state. He might have been able to claim that he was acting in a fair and uniform way, and not trying to disadvantage any particular group. Maybe he just wanted to inconvenience everyone in the state a little bit to save the state a few bucks. He could have argued that, until Doug Priesse, an official with the Franklin County Board of Elections, let the cat out of the bag by admitting the real purpose of these rule changes:

"I guess I really actually feel we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban -- read African-American -- voter-turnout machine . . . Let's be fair and reasonable."
Cheers to Priesse for his honesty. The only reason to shorten voting hours is that it makes it harder for predominantly working class--read African-American--voters to get to the polls. Coupled with a similar admission from a Republican politician in Pennsylvania, isn't that enough evidence that the only purpose of the concerted effort to make it more difficult to vote that has been mounted almost entirely in states controlled by Republican legislatures, is to reduce turnout by voters who are more likely to favor Democrats?

Whew! At this rate, how am I going to keep up when the fall campaign really gets started?

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Ryan, part 3

Look at these clips from Paul Ryan speeches back in 2002, proving that Ryan was for Keynesian stimulus spending before he was against it. Some would call this hypocrisy. But maybe it's just that Republicans support spending and deficits during Republican administrations, but denounce them as the devil's handiwork when Democrats hold the White House.

To be fair to Ryan, I have read that he was not all that happy with the explosion of debt during the Bush administration that resulted from lots of new government spending and enormous tax cuts. That would mean he was just being a good soldier by advocating the Bush administration's positions in 2002. If that's the case, can we trust anything he is saying now?

Saturday, August 18, 2012

What's important

Below is a remarkable video of an interview with a voter in New Hampshire named David Cantagallo, part of a series done by PBS. The first question is "what is the most important issue to you this election season?" The response we expect to a question like that is something like the economy or jobs or foreign wars or taxes or education or crime or whatever. We also expect that each voter is going to have their own particular policy agenda. We all have one. Probably David Cantagallo does too.

But sometimes we are able to rise above our own particular agenda and consider whether we can identify more fundamental issues. Cantagallo takes the discussion to a higher level, by identifying four important goals for our political system. The first is participation, or as Cantagallo says, everyone feeling a sense that their voice is heard. No one should feel entitled to enactment of their particular policy preferences. But we should feel entitled to be heard, that our views will be fairly considered. If we stop expecting that the system is supposed to produce exactly the result each of us might prefer, and instead simply ask our system to take account of all legitimate views in making decisions, then we should be more satisfied with the results. 

Second, Cantagallo identifes opportunity as a goal of the political system. How we get there is a matter of controversy, but this is a goal everyone should be able to agree on.

Third, tolerance. Or as Cantagallo puts it, we need to remove all types of discrimination from the system. Another goal we should all be able to agree on.

And finally and most interestingly, what this wise voter defines as a sense of equanimity. We need to get along better. "Everything seems to be so distant now," Cantagallo says. Others would say we are highly polarized, or that we lack civility. But I like the term distant, because it suggests that what we need is more closeness. Maybe a "we're all in the same boat" feeling is what Cantagallo is talking about.

Cantagallo also gives a nice response to the second question, about whether he has hope for the future. "I'm alive," he says, so there is always hope. And we have been through much worse times before, and survived.

What does 13% tell us?

Mitt Romney made another attempt yesterday to end the controversy about releasing his income tax returns by declaring that over the past ten years he never paid less than a 13% tax rate. The first problem with that is that it still doesn't answer very many of the questions people have about the tax returns. For example, what techniques did Romney use to reduce his taxable income, or how much in actual dollars did he pay in taxes? (See Ezra Klein's column for a discussion of the "13% of what" problem.)

What is astonishing, however, is the assumption behind Romney's release of this information, that paying 13% is fine and dandy; that our tax system is working wonderfully when it is only collecting 13% of the income of people like him. How far we have come toward accepting a regressive tax system! We are supposed to assume that 13% is a fair percentage for someone of Romney's wealth to pay, even though that percentage is far lower than the percentage paid by millions of people of moderate means. And we're not supposed to see the connection between our large national deficit and the fact that we are asking much less of the wealthiest Americans than we have for decades.

What is even more astonishing, after the admission that he pays only 13% of his (adjusted) income in taxes, is that Romney actually doesn't think that our tax system is working fine. He thinks it is highly unfair. And what is Romney's proposed solution? The centerpiece of Romney's economic plan is a proposal for a sizable tax cut that will largely benefit people in the top brackets. In other words, Romney thinks that the biggest problem with paying 13% in taxes, is that he is paying far too much. I'm searching for words to describe the extent of the cluelessness we are seeing on full display here. Anybody?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Medicare, part 2

There is something about writing words down on a whiteboard that gives them the ring of truth and authority. That's what Mitt Romney must have thought when he made this presentation.

And here's the Obama campaign's response:

Who are people going to believe, and how are they going to figure this out? Both whiteboards cannot be true. As I said in my previous post, this stuff is really confusing and hard to explain even with a whiteboard presentation.

But wouldn't it be helpful if the Romney campaign would define some of its terms? For example, when they say Obama has cut $700 billion out of Medicare, shouldn't they explain that those cuts do not affect benefit levels, but instead come from changing reimbursement rates to hospitals, rooting out fraud, and similar measures? When Romney says 4 million seniors might lose Medicare Advantage, shouldn't he explain that that means taxpayers will no longer subsidize private insurance companies for charging a higher price for the same coverage than the public system? Shouldn't Romney explain that the Romney/Ryan plan is going to feature actual cuts to Medicare unlike the savings the president has implemented, and that they will be expecting the next generation of seniors to shoulder more of the costs of medical care?

I fear that all voters will take out of these presentations is that both candidates are saying the exact same thing: "My plan will protect Medicare and keep it solvent; the other guy's plan will send Medicare into bankruptcy." People tend to choose which side is telling the truth based on gut instinct. The whiteboard just helps people rationalize the choices they have already made. So take your pick. I'm not being cynical here, just describing how the mind tends to work. If people really want to understand what each campaign is promising to do about Medicare, that is going to take a little more study.

UPDATE (8/17/12): People could start with this video from Stephanie Cutter, which takes apart Romney's claims one by one:

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


I wanted to write a nice, simple, clear explanation of why the Republican charge--which keeps getting repeated during this campaign season--that the Obama administration has cut $500 or maybe $700 billion from Medicare is false and misleading. It's a complicated issue, however, and therefore hard to explain in a few paragraphs. Anyway, others have done a pretty decent job of laying bare the false and inconsistent Republican charge. (See this John McDonough piece for example.) I say the Republican plan is inconsistent, and I would also say it is hypocritical, because the Ryan budget, as well as Romney's plans, would cut far more from Medicare than the Obama administration has authorized. And unlike Obama, the Republicans would cut benefits and leave seniors holding the bag, while the Obama administration's changes to Medicare achieve savings without reducing benefits.

It's ironic that the only Republican attack on the president that ever seems to gain any traction is the charge that Obama has reduced spending on one of the government's largest entitlement programs. Especially ironic since the Ryan budget uses some of the same means to achieve some of the same savings. For example, a big part of the administration's plan is to crack down on Medicare fraud to save money. So when Romney goes around promising audiences on the campaign trail that he is going to restore the cuts the Obama administration is making in the Medicare program, is he promising that he will not go after fraud? Of course not. If Republican candidates wanted to be honest about the Medicare issue, instead of just trying to score political points, what they would have to say is that they agree with most of the Obama administration's changes to the Medicare program that are designed to save money without cutting benefits, and that they have more changes of their own to propose, that will save even more money by forcing seniors to pick up more of the costs themselves. They would have to say that because that is in fact the Republican position.

But here is the president in Iowa doing a better job than I or most anybody else could explaining the differences between the Romney/Ryan plan and the Obama plan for Medicare.

There's another difference that the president does not mention. The Obama plan is currently the law. Let's keep it that way.

UPDATE (8/16/12): Yesterday Romney acknowledged in an interview with a local tv station that there are in fact no significant differences between his plans for Medicare and Paul Ryan's plans. So that clears up one bit of confusion.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Shackles, Chains and Hinges

A shackle, according to Wikipedia, is "a U-shaped piece of metal secured with a clevis pin or bolt across the opening, or a hinged metal loop secured with a quick-release locking pin mechanism. They are used as a connecting link in all manner of rigging systems, from boats and ships to industrial crane rigging." To "unshackle," according to, is to free from shackles.

I've done some sailing in my time, so I have a fair amount of experience with shackles. One thing I know firsthand is that if a shackle breaks or accidentally releases, you can have major problems. Your sail might come down; your sheet lines might go loose; you could end up spinning around out of control or flipped over. Once I had to climb the mast in the middle of a race to retrieve the spinnaker halyard after it had become unshackled, and that was not only scary, it slowed us down considerably. Becoming unshackled is generally not considered a good thing for sailors, and it is therefore advisable to make sure your shackles are securely fastened before you leave the dock.

Everybody knows what a chain is, but I'll give a definition from Wikipedia anyway: "a series of connected links which are typically made of metal. A chain may consist of two or more links." Chains are generally not something you want to break either, otherwise you might lose your jewelry, or whatever you are towing or lifting might crash. But if you are in chains yourself, generally you want to break free.

Shackles, by the way, are often attached to chains, as in the illustration above, especially for uses such as anchor lines. In that case, you generally don't want either your shackle to come unshackled or your chain to break. That is, unless you want to break free from your mooring and set sail, but then generally the preferred method would be to carefully pull up the anchor line and stow the anchor. Breaking the shackle or the chain is generally not recommended.

A hinge is "a type of bearing that connects two solid objects, typically allowing only a limited angle of rotation between them. Two objects connected by an ideal hinge rotate relative to each other about a fixed axis of rotation. Hinges may be made of flexible material or of moving components. In biology, many joints function as hinges." The word "unhinged" can mean to remove from hinges, or to remove the hinges from something, but it can also mean unbalanced or deranged.

Those who haven't been following the day's campaign news might wonder at the purpose of defining these terms, but the campaign geeks like myself should get the point. The point being that it was the Romney campaign that started in with these metaphors by promising to "unshackle" the economy by removing regulations on business. As mentioned above, sailors familiar with the importance of keeping shackles tightened might cringe at this metaphor. because our associations with loosened shackles are often disastrous. So the Romney campaign's use of this metaphor in relation to business or the economy doesn't seem to prove their point very well. Anyway, that's what Joe Biden might have thought, or maybe Biden just got mixed up enough that Biden started talking about chains instead of shackles. Biden pointed out that taking the chains off business might lead to putting chains on ordinary people, specifically the people he was speaking to at a campaign stop in Danville. And that of course awakens connotations of chain gangs, or more likely the chains of slavery.

Was that deliberate, or a slip of the tongue? If it was deliberate, was it "outrageous," as the Romney campaign immediately charged? Or, in Biden's quick comeback, is it Romney's policy proposals that are outrageous? Does a guy who is spending millions of dollars in false campaign ads have the right to complain about a careless remark by the Vice-President? Or is the Romney campaign, as an Obama campaign spokesman charged, becoming unhinged?

Stay tuned for more campaign fun and excitement. 


From President Obama's prepared remarks at an event in Oskaloosa, Iowa today (released by the Obama campaign):

“And at a moment when homegrown energy is creating new jobs in states like Iowa, my opponent wants to end tax credits for wind energy producers.  He’s said new sources of energy like these are ‘imaginary.’  His running mate calls them a ‘fad.’  During a speech a few months ago, Governor Romney even explained his energy policy this way: ‘You can’t drive a car with a windmill on it.’  That's what he said about wind power.  ‘You can't drive a car with a windmill on it.’
“I wonder if he actually tried that.  That’s something I would have liked to see.  But if he really wants to learn something about wind energy, Iowa, all he has to do is pay attention to what you’ve been doing.

“If he knew what you’ve been doing, he’d see that in places like Newton, where a few years ago, a Maytag plant shut down and jobs dried up; folks are now back to work manufacturing enormous new towers and blades for some of the most high-tech wind turbines on the planet.  The wind industry now supports about 7,000 jobs in this state, and 75,000 jobs across the country.  These jobs aren't a fad – they’re good jobs and sources of pride we need to fight for.

“If he knew what you’ve been doing, he'd know we used to have to import most of the parts like these.  Today they’re made in Iowa, and made in America, by American workers.  That’s not imaginary – that’s real.  And that’s what we’re fighting for in this election.

“If he knew what you’ve been doing, he’d know that about 20% of Iowa’s electricity now comes from wind, powering our homes and factories and businesses in a way that’s clean and renewable.  In fact, over the past 4 years, we’ve doubled the amount of electricity America generates from wind.  Across America, we’ve built the equivalent of 12 new Hoover Dams’ worth of wind energy.  Governor Romney may have figured out that you can’t drive a car with a windmill on it, but he doesn't seem to know that America now has enough wind turbines installed to generate enough electricity from wind to power nearly 13 million homes with clean energy.  That’s how you leave something better for the next generation.  That’s what’s at stake right now. 

“Unlike my opponent, I want to stop giving $4 billion in taxpayer subsidies each year to big oil companies that have rarely been more profitable, and keep investing in homegrown energy sources like wind that have never been more promising.  That’s the choice in this election.  That’s why I’m running for President of the United States.”


Saturday, August 11, 2012

Ryan, part 2

It's time to remind ourselves of the drastic nature of the Paul Ryan-designed Republican budget. This is what Robert Greenstein, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said a few months ago about the Paul Ryan budget:

The new Ryan budget is a remarkable document — one that, for most of the past half-century, would have been outside the bounds of mainstream discussion due to its extreme nature. In essence, this budget is Robin Hood in reverse — on steroids.  It would likely produce the largest redistribution of income from the bottom to the top in modern U.S. history and likely increase poverty and inequality more than any other budget in recent times (and possibly in the nation’s history).  It also would stand a core principle of the Bowles-Simpson fiscal commission’s report on its head — that policymakers should reduce the deficit in a way that does not increase poverty or widen inequality.
Specifically, the Ryan budget would impose extraordinary cuts in programs that serve as a lifeline for our nation’s poorest and most vulnerable citizens, and over time would cause tens of millions of Americans to lose their health insurance or become underinsured. It would also impose severe cuts in non-defense discretionary programs—much deeper than the across-the-board cuts ("sequestration") that are scheduled to take place starting in January — thereby putting core government functions at still greater risk.  Indeed, a new Congressional Budget Office analysis that Chairman Ryan himself requested shows that, after several decades, the Ryan budget would shrink the federal government so dramatically that most of what it does outside of Social Security, health care, and defense would essentially disappear.
It's important to remember that the main reason the Paul Ryan budget makes such draconian cuts is to offset huge new tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. It's also important to remember that this budget was endorsed by the entire Republican caucus in the House of Representatives. And now it has been effectively endorsed by the Republican presidential nominee. Although Romney might suggest that he doesn't support every aspect of the Ryan budget, in the past he has endorsed it, hook, line and sinker.

Here's what Romney said about the Ryan budget back in March:
I'm very supportive of the Ryan budget plan. It's a bold and exciting effort on his part and on the part of the Republicans and it's very much consistent with what I put out earlier. . . . .  I applaud it. It's an excellent piece of work and very much needed.
And Paul Ryan said  around the same time that he thought Romney would enact most elements of his budget.

Choosing Paul Ryan for VP is obviously the most ringing endorsement yet of the Ryan budget. You don't pick the author of the Ryan budget to run with you on a national ticket unless you think very highly of his work. The Ryan budget is Paul Ryan's main claim to fame. It's the only thing Paul Ryan is nationally known for. Paul Ryan was not chosen for his brilliant oratorical skills or foreign policy expertise or heartwarming personal story. He was chosen because he is the GOP budget mastermind. And Romney must run on his endorsement of Ryan's radical proposals. Polls show that when these proposals are explained in detail--beyond such platitudes as cutting wasteful spending and reducing taxes--people do not favor very much of the Ryan plan at all. People don't want to change the basic structure of Medicare. They want to increase, not decrease, the top marginal tax rates. Yet the Republican Party is now wholly committed to these and other unpopular features of the Ryan plan.

A friend of mine suggested that this election in some ways resembles 1996, when Bill Clinton's path to re-election was made a lot smoother by the Republicans' selection of a weak challenger like Bob Dole. It might be starting to resemble 1964 even more, when the Republicans chose a candidate so far outside the mainstream, that most people could not support his ideas. That is the path the Republicans seem headed down this year. I'm not saying that this year's election is going to be a 1964-like landslide. The economy is still too fragile, and the president not popular enough, to predict that. All I'm suggesting is that the Republicans are traveling in a direction that the majority is not likely to want to follow.

Friday, August 10, 2012


Unless the media is the victim of a disinformation campaign, which is possible I suppose, Mitt Romney is about to announce that Paul Ryan will be his pick for the vice-presidential nomination. That is evidence that Romney really does want the election to be based on the issues. And my sense is that the Obama campaign would welcome a debate on the policy preferences personified by Romney and Ryan: tax cuts for the wealthy, deregulation of business, and gutting social welfare programs. Bring it on!

Politically, this move seems like a serious misreading of the Wisconsin recall campaigns, which Romney must be interpreting as a public clamor for taking benefits away from public employees. But the Democrats won a few of those recall campaigns, and may have lost the biggest one, the Scott Walker recall, more because people were tired of recalls, than because people love Scott Walker's ideas. That is shown by polls indicating that President Obama still has a pretty sizable lead in Wisconsin. Paul Ryan may not even be able to turn Wisconsin around for Romney. The choice of Ryan also makes this election more of a choice election, and less of a referendum election, and that should make Romney's chances worse.

But if Romney is right that a debate on the issues is what people want, and is also right that the Republican ticket should present a clear ideological alternative, then he has made the perfect choice for VP. If Romney thinks he is going to win a debate on those issues, however, he is facing a much tougher road. I mean, let's suppose that the electorate even has a glimmer of a sense that income inequality is one of the problems facing our nation. People know that the rich are getting much richer, and the poor and middle class are barely holding their own. We are experiencing levels of inequality not seen since the 1920's, much, much greater inequality than during the relatively egalitarian, and relatively prosperous times of the 1940's through the 1960's. Now someone could make the argument that this rising inequality is due to natural forces or the changing structure of the economy or globalization or something like that. You could also make the argument that the government should not interfere with these "natural" forces.

But Romney and Ryan will not be making that argument. No, they are the perfect duo to make the argument that in these disturbingly unequal times, what the government should be doing is making that inequality even worse. Romney advocates giving people who make $3 million in income per year a tax cut worth $250,000. He thinks that rich people do not have enough disposable income. And Paul Ryan is the architect of the Ryan budget, the guy who wants seniors to pick up more of the tab for Medicare. He thinks the poor and elderly have too much disposable income.

Romney's pick should help tremendously in clarifying the issues at stake in the election, which is why the Obama campaign is probably fairly excited about it. Voters should be able to understand that their choice comes down to the following:  If people think the government should help make the rich richer and the poor and middle class poorer, they should vote for Romney-Ryan. If not, they should vote for Obama-Biden.

It's not personal.

In an interview with Chuck Todd, as reported in Politico, Mitt Romney proposes that the campaigns refrain from "personal" attacks on each other, and just talk about the issues. Great idea! But look how Romney defines personal attacks:
"[O]ur campaign would be-- helped immensely if we had an agreement between both campaigns that we were only going to talk about issues and that attacks based upon-- business or family or taxes or things of that nature . . . ."
In other words, the Romney campaign gets to continue to attack President Obama's record, because after all, that is his record.  But the Obama campaign doesn't get to say anything about Romney's business deals or his taxes or things of that nature, because that's . . . personal. Do I need to mention that Romney has advertised his business background as being his chief qualification for the office of president? If we can't talk about Romney's business and financial dealings, what can we talk about? There are some parts of Romney's record as governor of Massachusetts that he seems kind of touchy about also. Maybe that stuff is personal too. Maybe all we're allowed to talk about is what a great job Romney did managing the Salt Lake City Olympics. Way to go, Mitt!

Romney also said in this interview that "we haven't dredged up the old stuff that people talked about last time around. We haven't gone after the personal things." That sounds like a veiled threat to do exactly that if the Obama campaign keeps making "personal" attacks--like asking Romney what he's trying to hide in his tax returns, or looking into the sources of capital funding for Bain. If the Obama campaign keeps talking about Mitt Romney's record, the Romney campaign might have to bring up some "personal" stuff about Obama, which they have supposedly refrained from doing so far.

I have to wonder: is this guy too thin-skinned to be president? He seems surprised that every aspect of his financial and business dealings would come under scrutiny during this campaign. He seems resentful that he is being asked questions about his past. He seems annoyed that he has to answer those questions.

But I have to admit that Romney's also kind of clever. By labeling those kinds of inquiries "personal" attacks, he can dismiss or de-legitimize them. And then he can go back to making false claim after false claim after false claim about President Obama's record, while whining that it is the Obama campaign that is not playing fair.

(Reuters/Jonathan Ernst photo)

Update: Video HERE

Thursday, August 9, 2012


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The price of pizza, part 2

Papa John is really out of luck now. All that money he contributed to the Romney campaign could be for naught, because the Romney campaign has now admitted that Obamacare is in fact the solution. That means whoever is elected president, Obamacare is not going anywhere, despite Romney's continuing promises to get it repealed. Maybe Romney would repeal it and introduce it under another name, but it's still going to be essentially the same program. They have no other answer to the problem of reforming our health care system.

Here's what happened: Priorities USA released a hard-hitting video in which a laid-off steelworker blames Bain Capital for the loss of his family's health insurance. Incredibly, the response of the Romney campaign's press secretary Andrea Saul was the following:
“To that point, if people had been in Massachusetts, under Governor Romney’s health care plan, they would have had health care.”
In other words, Romneycare, which the people who conceived it have acknowledged is the prototype for Obamacare, is the answer to  the problem of laid off workers losing their health insurance. That's according to the Romney campaign itself.

I am not making this up. (You can't make this stuff up!) It is not only liberal sites like TPM that are pointing out the importance of this story. The right wingers also fully understand the implications of Andrea Saul's statement. Over on Red State, they are saying this could be the day the Romney campaign died. Well I'm sure we'll be able to have plenty of arguments later on about which day should be considered the day the Romney campaign officially died. If today's statement marked the death knell of the Romney campaign, I will admit I wasn't the one who predicted that. Erick Erickson did.

The price of pizza

The LA Times reports that CEO John Schnatter of Papa John's Pizza is threatening to raise prices in order to absorb the additional costs of health care reform. He has already worked out the increase to approximately 11 to 14 cents per pizza. Schnatter is a big supporter of Mitt Romney, and an opponent of Obamacare, so I'm guessing this threat is meant to turn people against the law, and against the president.

But before people start getting outraged at the idea that they might have to pay a tiny bit more for pizza if companies like Papa John's are forced to provide health insurance for their employees, let's consider the alternative. Does it occur to people that we are already paying for the health care of Papa John's employees right now? Right now, if one of Papa John's pizza makers or delivery personnel gets sick or injured in an accident, they may have no alternative but the emergency room, which is compelled to accept them even if they can't afford to pay. Guess who pays for that. We all do, in the form of higher taxes or higher insurance premiums, or smaller paychecks (because if we are lucky enough to have employer-sponsored health insurance, our employers have to pay more to cover those costs.) Does that cost us more than the price increases threatened by fast food companies and other businesses that now fail to cover health insurance for their employees? I don't have the data on that, but I do know that countries that provide some form of universal coverage to all of their citizens generally spend less on health care as a percentage of the economy that we do in the U.S., and generally have better health outcomes than we do. So we already know that the inefficient, employer-based system that we already have is costing us a lot, and it is leaving a lot of people uncovered.

The point of the Affordable Care Act is that everybody who is not covered now is going to have to pay a little more, whether their employer now has to absorb those costs or they have to absorb them themselves. Which is going to mean that everyone else is going to pay less to support a health care system that right now must provide a lot of expensive treatment for free. Which is going to be offset to some extent by having to pay 11 cents more for your take-out pizza. After we compute all that, are we all going to be better off? Of course we are. And one of the main reasons we are going to be better off is that we won't have to worry any more about the millions of low wage workers at big companies like Papa John's who don't even have health insurance. We should be thrilled that John Schnatter no longer gets a free ride on the health care system that the rest of us are paying for. And he can whine about that all he wants, but even he had to admit that finally being compelled to provide a decent benefit for his employees, instead of requiring them to burden us with their use of public systems, is not going to be a big deal for him at all:

“We're not supportive of Obamacare like most businesses in our industry but our business model and unit economics are about as ideal as you can get for a food company to absorb Obamacare. Ergo, we have a high ticket average with extremely high frequency of order counts, millions of pizzas per year.”
What that translates to is that people like John Schnatter should shut up. Instead of complaining about the indignity of being required to do something good for his employees, he should just be happy that his company's employees no longer have to worry so much about medical expenses, and that he can just charge us directly for the costs of insuring those employees, instead of sneaking those costs on us unawares.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Shameless, part 2

The latest Romney attack on the Obama administration is based on stories that began appearing on right wing websites about three weeks ago, stories that have been thoroughly debunked and discredited since that time. Basically, the story is that by granting states more flexibility in implementing federal welfare programs, HHS is seeking a way to eliminate the program's work requirements. Problem is, that the waivers are not available unless the states demonstrate equally effective means of moving welfare recipients to work. So the charge is false.

Not only is it false, it is hypocritical, in that Romney himself, when he was governor of Massachusetts, pushed for greater flexibility at the state level in administering federal welfare programs, supporting the same kinds of waivers he is now attacking.

And not only is the charge hypocritical, it is also completely inconsistent with supposedly bedrock Republican principles that support the weakening of the heavy hand of the federal government and granting more latitude and power to the states. How dare the Romney campaign attack HHS for doing the very thing that Republicans have been pushing for years. Instead of detailed mandates as to how the states must administer federal programs, it has always been the Republican position that federal social assistance programs--Medicare, Medicaid, housing assistance, education, welfare, etc.--adopt more of a block grant model. Now when the Obama administration is moving in exactly that direction. at the request, by the way, of Republican governors in Utah and Nevada, the states where the waivers were granted, they are being attacked for "gutting" welfare reform.

You can bet that if the the Obama administration had DENIED the requests of Utah and Nevada for waivers, we would be hearing the more traditional Republican battle cry about the heavy hand of the federal government, states' rights, blah blah blah. So hats off to the Romney campaign for showing the creativity to find a way to attack Obama for doing exactly what Romney and fellow Republicans have been requesting for years. Nice job trying to stir up the resentments that conservative politicians used to rely upon back in the 1960's and 1970's about welfare queens and other loafers supposedly supported in lavish style by the federal government, at the expense of hard-working taxpayers. I hope the geniuses in the Romney campaign are proud of themselves. I wonder if they slap each other on the back and offer congratulations for getting reviews like the one that appeared in Time today:
How incompetent is the Romney campaign? They keep coming up with these stupid gambits–the last was the lie that Obama opposed early voting for members of the military in Ohio–that are shot down instantaneously (everywhere but in Fox-Rush land).

My guess is that this kind of attack is not going to work this year--and not only because it is false and hypocritical and inconsistent, and stupid. It's also mean, and in tough economic times it just seems less likely that the average person is going to blame the most downtrodden already among us for our economic problems. Then again, Romney can't exactly run against the people that the average American does blame for our problems, for that would require him to run against himself and his cronies. So Romney, sadly, must feel he has no choice but to stir up old resentments and rely on false claims, to have any chance of success.

Monday, August 6, 2012


The State of Ohio, now controlled by a Republican governor unlike in 2008, is doing what it can to restrict the voting rights of the state's citizens. One such restriction is to cut back on early voting. Early voting is a highly successful method of increasing voter turnout, and no significant problems had occurred in operating this program. Which must be why the new powers that be in Ohio, perhaps the swingiest of swing states, and the one that both campaigns may be trying their hardest to win, must have decided that this program had to be restricted. The new law cuts off the right to vote early three days before election day, which means that voters who have difficulty getting to the polls on election day will no longer have the ability to vote over the weekend before the election, which had been a popular thing to do. Except for members of the military, who can still vote early, right up to election day. Could the motives of the Ohio legislators who voted for this change be any more transparent?

The Obama campaign sued to try to stop the new voting restrictions, in the course of which they are making the legal argument that it is unfair to continue to allow early voting for military service personnel while the voting rights of Ohioans at home are being cut back. As a result, over the weekend, the Romney campaign falsely accused the Obama campaign of trying to restrict the voting rights of members of the military, which of course is exactly the opposite of what the Obama campaign is trying to do. In response, Think Progress, which reported on this story over the weekend, cleverly responds that the Republican plan will result in denying the right to vote over the weekend before election day, to approximately 900,000 Ohio veterans, just because they happen to reside in Ohio.

But of course none of this has anything to do with voting rights of those in military service in particular. It's all based on the simple calculation that the more difficult it is to vote, the more likely the result is to favor Republicans. That's because people who need more help in voting--the elderly, the poor, the working class that can't so easily break away from their jobs--tend to skew a bit more Democratic. Everybody in politics knows this, and that is the reason for these laws. That is the only reason for these laws.

Look: when the Republicans controlled the state election apparatus in 2004, there were all kinds of problems, and Kerry lost this crucial state by a narrow margin. The Democrats took over the statehouse, and the Secretary of State's office in 2008, expanded the ability of people to vote, and Obama won by a comfortable margin. I was in Ohio poll-watching in 2008, because a call for lawyers had gone out across the country just to avoid a repeat of 2004, and it turned out to be unnecessary, because Democratic control over the electoral process led to a much smoother and fairer election. Now in 2012, after the Republicans took control in 2010, Ohio is once again a hugely important state, and the funny business is starting again. And the Romney campaign is telling blatant lies about what is going on, throwing the red herring of military voting rights into the mix just to confuse the real issue.

The real issue is whether we are going to make it harder or easier for people to vote. All you have to do is look at the positions of the two parties on every election issue that comes up, whether it is id cards, or early voting, or whatever, and you can see that the Republicans will consistently support whatever makes it more difficult for people to vote, while the Democrats will support whatever methods help expand the franchise. All you have to do is notice which party is out conducting massive voter registration campaigns, and which party is trying to implement new restrictions on people's ability to vote. It's as simple and obvious as that.

Sunday, August 5, 2012


Somebody at the press conference tonight mentioned that the cost of this program is approximately the same as the cost of a movie. In other words, approximately $7 per American. I "watched" the landing with a large crowd at Griffith Observatory tonight, where we heard explanations of the intricate maneuvers this craft had to accomplish to land on Mars. We also saw the live feed from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory not far from Los Angeles, where the engineering team nervously awaited, and then celebrated, the successful landing. It was definitely a movie worth the price of admission.

I did not fully realize until the sequence was explained to us during this program just how difficult and unprecedented this landing was. I was especially impressed with the part about how the re-entry vehicle had to use its rocket engines to hover above the Martian surface, then carefully lower the Curiosity rover by means of cables until it touched down, and then for its final trick, tilt away and take off again to crash itself far enough away from the rover to avoid doing it any damage. And all of this had to be done automatically without any assistance from earth, since it takes much too long for radio signals to transmit back and forth in time to make all of the necessary course corrections. We used to say that if we could land a man on the moon, we could do anything we set our minds to. This Mars landing should stand as the new point of comparison.  A truly spectacular achievement. And all in the service of science.

JPL site

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Who needs to put up or shut up?

This past Tuesday Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid reported that an unnamed Bain source told him that Mitt Romney hadn't paid taxes for 10 years. The Romney camp is smart enough to realize that for a few days they might be able to change the story about Mitt Romney's refusal to release more than one year's tax returns, to a story about Harry Reid's unsubstantiated charges and reckless accusations.

But I want to ask why it should be Harry Reid who has to put up or shut up now, as Romney demanded on Sean Hannity's radio show on Thursday. Is the identity of the Bain source important to the American people? Of course not. What is important is why Mitt Romney is hiding important information about his financial background. What is important is to have a better understanding of the way Mitt Romney conducted his business and personal finances, especially considering that Romney's main claimed qualification to be president is his business savvy. What is also important is to know how Mitt Romney's tax plan would affect a person like say, Mitt Romney.

And what is interesting about Romney's reaction to the Harry Reid incident is that all Romney cares about is the identity of the person who ratted on him. It is also interesting that Romney expects that the American people should just take him at his word that he paid taxes all those years. (Let me note to make the issue absolutely clear that the question is not just whether Romney paid everything that was owed, but whether he paid taxes in all those missing years. We understand there could be legitimate reasons why a person might not owe any taxes in any particular year, but if that is the case, we still want to know about it. If for no other reason, it would be helpful to any debate about tax reform for voters to have a better understanding of the strategies that are available to high income families to reduce their income tax liability.)

These are questions that can only be settled by releasing the returns. They cannot be settled by anything Harry Reid can say about his sources, or by anything that Reid's source might say. So isn't it rather odd that it is Senator Reid who is being asked to put up or shut up, when the person who really needs to put up or shut up is Mitt Romney?

And can I say, that the attacks on Harry Reid seem especially unfair after Romney spent a considerable amount of time consorting with someone like Donald Trump, who did not think the American people should accept the official record of the State of Hawaii attesting to President Obama's birth, a record that would have been admitted as proof of citizenship in every court in this country, and who demanded that the president release a more detailed record before he could legitimately seek re-election. Given the standards that the Republicans demand of Barack Obama, why should anyone accept Romney's word that he paid taxes, instead of demanding that he make the kind of full financial disclosure that presidential candidates are expected to make?

Mitt Romney, where do you get the idea that OTHER people need to to "put up or shut up," but you do not?

Thursday, August 2, 2012


Below President Obama explains to a Florida audience how Romney's plan to double down on the Bush tax cuts mainly for the rich must inevitably cause the taxes of almost everyone else to rise. This is not a political attack. It is not fear-mongering. It is not class warfare. It is just plain, cold, hard numbers, based on an analysis by the Tax Policy Center, an independent and respected organization that analyzes tax issues. I'm not going to run through that analysis here, because it can be found elsewhere, see, e.g., Steven Benen or John McKinnon or Suzy Khimm.

This is not rocket science. It's just common sense. If you cut taxes for the wealthy, you have to raise taxes on everyone else to keep your plan revenue neutral. The Romney campaign's only response to the study so far is to argue that the study does not take into account of the phenomenal economic growth that will result from the proposed Romney tax cuts. As the president says, "They have tried to sell us this trickle-down, tax cut fairy dust before." And how well did that work out the last time?

Here is why the argument makes even less sense this time around: It is one thing to argue that tax cuts are going to stimulate the economy. Pretty much everyone agrees that cutting taxes will have some stimulative effect on the economy, as long as you're willing to tolerate the resulting deficits. That's why President Obama wants to keep tax rates low for almost everyone. But if your plan is instead to propose new, huge tax cuts mainly for the top bracket taxpayers and corporations, and to offset those tax cuts with not only tax increases on everyone else, but also substantial cuts in government spending, then it's pretty hard to argue that your plan is going to cause a phenomenal expansion of the economy. Instead, it looks like the main effect of Romney's plan will be to make a society that has already tolerated an increase in inequality to levels not seen since the 1920's, even more grossly unequal. And that means that not only are you not going to solve the problem of creating more economic growth, you're also going to make what many people would see as one of our biggest problems--economic inequality--much worse.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012


If you think that the biggest problem we have in this country is that the richest Americans do not have enough money, and that the middle class and poor have too much, then you should vote for Romney. Here President Obama demonstrates, supported by independent analysis, that paying for new proposed tax cuts for the richest 1%, the centerpiece of the Republicans' economic plan, will cost average Americans about $2000 each.

More analysis HERE