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“Rich American Exceptionalism”: Whose Swiss Bank Account Hedges Against The American Dollar?

No, that’s not a trick question. Yes, the answer is that easy. Of course, it’s Mitt Romney.

According to the manager of his trust, Mitt Romney’s Swiss bank account wasn’t an exercise in tax avoidance—rather, it was a hedge against a decline in the dollar. I’m not qualified to say whether or not his explanation is the full truth, but it certainly doesn’t provide evidence that Mitt Romney hates America. Obviously, an investment that bets on the decline of the dollar might not sound good, but when you have as much money as he does, you’re going to end up placing bets that might not be great soundbites for a campaign. In substantive terms, Romney is going to have a much bigger problem explaining why Bain profited from destroying companies than he will have explaining this.

But while the mere existence of the Swiss bank account doesn’t by itself raise questions about Mitt Romney’s loyalty to America, it provides one hell of a way to respond to Romney when he engages his his now-familiar attacks on President Obama’s loyalty. Despite all the attention paid to Newt Gingrich’s “food-stamp” line, Mitt Romney himself is no stranger to the hate card. His preferred formulation: that President Obama doesn’t believe in American exceptionalism, that he seeks to “poison the American spirit”, and that he wants to turn America into Europe and “keep us from being one nation under God.”

Of course, Mitt Romney is nothing like that at all. He’s just the kind of guy who bets on America’s decline to protect his own ass.

February 1, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Tea Party Plan To Save Scott Walker

Tea partiers are gung-ho to help the Wisconsin governor fend off a recall vote—and their fate may well be tied to his.

As soon as April, millions of Wisconsinites will vote on whether to oust Gov. Scott Walker—a rising Republican star and arguably the most polarizing governor in politics today—just two years into his first term in office. Walker’s recall election is a referendum on his hardline conservative agenda, including curbing collective bargaining rights for state workers and slashing education funding. For Walker himself it’s a pivotal moment in his young political career.

The recall fight is also a crucial test for the tea party, the populist movement that helped elect Walker in 2010, vigorously defended him during last winter’s protests over his anti-union “budget repair” bill, and has been organizing to prevent his ouster. The movement’s support is flagging, its clout dwindling, its buzz mostly gone. But now, tea partiers at the state and national levels are rallying around Walker’s recall defense, hoping a victory could bolster the movement in a critical election year. A defeat, on the other hand, would give ammo to liberals and conservatives alike who say the tea party is all but dead.

In recent months, the Tea Party Express, a national organization, and the Campaign to Defeat Barack Obama, a tea party-linked political action committee, have waded into the recall fight, blasting out more than a dozen emails to supporters and launching a $100,000 “money bomb” fundraiser to help defend Walker. They argue that the outcome has national implications for the 2012 presidential election; a Tea Party Express email to supporters in January announced that Wisconsin is “Ground Zero for the Battle Against Obama’s Liberal Agenda.”

The Campaign to Defeat Barack Obama says it has raked in small  donations from supporters throughout the country, from Napa, California, to  Nashua, New Hampshire. The group’s director of grassroots outreach, Donald La  Combe, wrote in an email to supporters that funds would go toward TV and  radio ad campaigns as well as “war rooms” throughout Wisconsin to  bolster Walker’s support among voters. “We’re going to win this fight,  we’re going to DEFEAT the RECALL, and we’re going to stop Barack Obama  from getting Wisconsin’s 10 Electoral Votes,” La Combe wrote. (Neither  of the above groups responded to requests for comment.)

Two Wisconsin tea party groups, We the People of the Republic and the Wisconsin Grandsons of Liberty, claim to have signed up  11,000 volunteers and trained 4,000 of them to scrutinize the estimated 1  million signatures gathered by Walker foes. That signature total was  nearly two times the 540,208 needed to launch the recall process;  nonetheless, the two groups’ vetting operation, VerifyTheRecall.com,  was created to root out duplicate signatures and “downright fraud”  found in recall petitions for Walker and Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch,  their website says. Meanwhile, the Wisconsin branch of Americans for  Prosperity, the Koch-funded group that helped train and grow the tea party, held a town hall earlier this month touting the budget reforms enacted by Walker and state Republicans.

It’s not hard to see why the tea partiers would go all-in to defend Walker. There is no clear tea party favorite left to rally behind in the 2012 GOP presidential nomination fight with Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, and Herman Cain  all out of the race. Walker, on the other hand, is right in the tea  party’s sweet spot: He battles unions, axes state spending, rejects federal funding, and is rigidly pro-life and pro-gun rights.

The tea party also has a lot of political capital invested in Walker.  When intense anger over Walker’s anti-union “budget repair” bill  spilled into the streets of the state capital of Madison last February,  Americans for Prosperity swooped in to hold a counter-protest defending Walker. Other tea party groups also rushed to the aid of Walker and ripped his critics.

“Walker is a central figure to them, their Sir Galahad battling the  evil unions,” says Theda Skocpol, a Harvard sociology professor and coauthor of The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism. Walker ultimately signed the bill into law in March, and it later survived multiple legal challenges.

Last summer, Tea Party Express and Tea Party Nation, two national  groups, launched a four-day bus tour across Wisconsin defending six  Republicans facing recall elections for their roles in the battle over  Walker’s anti-union bill. (Republicans lost two recall races, but clung  to a narrow, one-seat majority in the state Senate—a “victory” the tea  party claimed credit for.) Tea Party Express also ran TV ads defending Walker’s agenda on the economy.

How much influence does the tea party have at this point? An analysis  last July by the liberal blog Think Progress found that the number of  events held each month by the Tea Party Patriots, a national group, had  dropped by half in the first seven months of 2011 compared with the  same period in 2010. Harvard’s Skocpol affirms that tea party events  “are falling off some, but there is not a collapse.”

A Pew Research Center analysis published in November  found that 23 percent of people in the 60 districts represented nationwide by  House Tea Party Caucus members disagreed with the tea party, up from 18  percent a year earlier. Meanwhile, 25 percent of respondents in those  districts agreed with the tea party, an 8 percent drop. And a Rasmussen poll  this month reported that dislike of the tea party was at an all-time  high—and that 46 percent of respondents said the tea party would hurt  the GOP in the 2012 elections.

A recent Marquette University poll  (PDF) found similarly lackluster support for the tea party in  Wisconsin. Forty one percent of respondents thought poorly of the tea  party while 33 percent viewed it favorably.

Still, even if the tea party suffers a major defeat with Walker’s  recall, their influence will be felt for years to come given the  hardline agendas promoted by state and federal lawmakers swept into  office in 2010. And Skocpol says the recall election could be a  galvanizing event for the movement. “Because all of the tea party forces  have not been able to unite on a GOP candidate for president, they’re  going to redouble on things like the Wisconsin crusade,” she says.  “Grassroots tea partiers everywhere will be be following and  contributing to the Walker campaign.”

February 1, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Mitt Romney, “A Well-Oiled Weathervane”: Character And Core Values May Be His Downfall

More than most elections, the contest for President this fall is likely to be decided less on “wedge issues” — or even candidate positions that are symbolic of who is on whose side — and more on the character and core values of the candidates — and for that matter on the question of the core values of the society we hope to leave to our children.

Last Friday, speaking to the Democratic Caucus Policy Conference, Vice-President Joe Biden told a story that speaks volumes about the character of Barack Obama.

According to Biden, the day before he ordered the raid that finally stopped Osama Bin Laden, President Obama met with his top national security advisers in the Situation Room.  At the close of the meeting, he went around the room asking each person for his or her recommendation on whether to launch the risky nighttime mission.

As it went around the table, Leon Panetta recommended that the President proceed.  Most of the others expressed reservations and handicapped the odds of success as only fair.  Finally, the President got to Biden who said he recommended not proceeding until two additional steps were taken to enhance the odds.

Then the President stood and told his advisers he would let them know of his decision in the morning.

The next day, as Obama stepped onto his helicopter to leave on a day trip, he turned to his National Security Adviser, Tom Donilan, and issued a simple order: “let’s go.”

Much more was at stake in the Bin Laden mission than success or failure killing or capturing the most wanted fugitive of modern times.  In some respects Obama’s Presidency itself was at stake.

To quote Biden, “The President has a backbone like a ramrod.”

Whether or not you like all of his policies — or all of his decisions — it’s hard to argue that Barack Obama is not a tough, decisive guy — a guy who is guided by solid core principles and has a disciplined, laser-focused will. This is not a President that flip-flops in the political wind or is swayed by the last person who talks to him.  Above all, Barack Obama is centered.  He has a solid core built around strong core values.

America — and the rest of the world — have seen those character traits over and over again during the last four years.

They saw them when he announced his candidacy to become the first African American president of the United States — and then organized the highly disciplined, leave-no-stone-unturned campaign that elected him 2008.

They saw that same inner toughness in his — at the time unpopular — decision that saved the American auto industry.

In early 2009, Obama simply refused to throw in the towel on health care reform, when the election of Senator Scott Brown made it appear impossible to succeed — and he won.

Later that year, Obama’s force of will guaranteed the passage of Wall Street reform and the creation of a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  And his willingness to just say no to Republican obstructionism last month by making a recess appointment of Richard Cordray, guaranteed that American financial institutions — for the first time — have a regulator dedicated solely to looking out for the interests of everyday consumers.

Obama has remained determined and unflappable in the face of the toughest economic and political environment in sixty years and has emerged from three years of battle ready to wage a highly organized, focused campaign this fall that will center on most fundamental question facing our society: whether we will have a nation where we look out for each other, and have each other’s back — or a society where we are all in this alone.

Obama intends to make this campaign a battle over core values — a choice between a society where we are all responsible for our future, and for each other — or a society where selfishness is our highest value — where “greed is good.” His campaign will frame the choice before America as whether we have a government dedicated to defending privilege — or one whose mission is giving everyone a fair shot, a fair share, and a guarantee that we all have to play by the same set of rules.  His campaign will be about reigniting the values that underlie the American Dream and the hopes of the middle class and all of those who aspire to it.  It will be about restoring fairness and opportunity and hope.

Contrast that kind of President — and that kind of campaign — with Obama’s likely opponent, Mitt Romney.

Right after the 2004 election I was riding in a New Jersey taxicab. The driver was a typical male New Jersey cabbie.  “So what do you think of Corzine?” I asked.” “Oh, Corzine, tough guy.  Like him,” he replied about the then-Senator.

“What do you think of Bush?”  I said.  “Like him too.  Tough guy.  Stands up for what he believes,” came the answer.

“How about Hillary Clinton?”  I asked.  “Tough gal.  Like her,” he said.

“What about Kerry?”  I asked.  “Kerry?  Can’t stand him.  Flip-flopper–a phony.”

Ideology, policy positions — none of that mattered to this cabdriver who liked Corzine, Clinton and Bush.  He wanted a tough, committed leader.  But the Republicans had convinced him of its central message — “John Kerry is a flip-flopper–a phony.”

Bush strategist Karl Rove had sold that version of Kerry — a Senator who in fact has strong core values — largely because of his tendency to “Senate-speak.” He also realized that Kerry’s vote for the Iraq War, and then against continued funding in 2004, could be portrayed as the symbolically powerful flip-flop.  The icing on the cake was Kerry’s explanation of the 2004 vote: “I voted for it before I voted against it.”  Rove illustrated his flip-flop message with an iconic commercial that featured pictures of Kerry windsurfing and tacking one way and then another.

Kerry’s perceived lack of core values was the factor that, more than any other, led to George Bush’s second term as president.

Voters want leaders who believe in something other than their own election.  Quite correctly they want leaders with a strong moral center. They want leaders who make and keep commitments to their principles and to other people. And they want to know that the candidates they support are the leaders they will get after the election — not, as John Huntsman said of Romney, “a well-oiled weathervane”.

Romney has never seen a position he couldn’t change if he determined it would be to his advantage to do so.   He thinks of politics as a business marketing project, where you say what you think you need to in order to maximize sales. Romney doesn’t think of voters as citizens to be engaged — he thinks of them as customers to be manipulated.

As Massachusetts Governor, Romney was pro-choice — now he is anti-choice.

Romney was the author of the Massachusetts health care plan that in many respects served as the model for Obama’s own health care plan.  Now he wants to repeal “Obamacare.”

Romney once refused to sign the “no new tax pledge.”  Now he has signed the “no new tax pledge.”

Romney favored extension of the assault weapons ban.  Now he opposes extension of the assault weapon ban.

Once he said the TARP “was the right thing to do.”  Now he says he opposed it.

Right after the economy collapsed he said he favored an economic stimulus program; now he says he opposed the stimulus bill.

Once Romney said he believed that human activity contributed to global warming; now he says he doesn’t think we know what causes global warming.

One day he was emphatically neutral on Ohio Governor Kasich’s union-busting legislation — that was ultimately “vetoed” by the Ohio voters.  The next day he one hundred percent supported that legislation.

Romney is a guy who, when called on his flip-flops and inconsistencies, said: “I’m running for office, for Pete’s sake.”

The reason Romney is having such a difficult time making the sale in the Republican primary contest is that many Republicans don’t think he has strong core beliefs, don’t trust him and think he’s a phony.

Wait until he has to convince swing voters that he’s anything more than a “vulture capitalist” who will say anything and do anything to make the biggest deal of his life — the “acquisition” of the government of the United States of America.

But, you say, maybe he will flip-flop back into a more “moderate” Mitt Romney if he becomes President.  Don’t bet on it.  People who have no core values will sell their services to the highest bidder.  Romney’s Presidency has already been sold lock, stock and barrel to the big Wall Street banks, the CEO class, the multi-millionaires who are behind his super PAC and the Republican Establishment that have financed his campaign.

In fact, throughout his career, Mitt Romney has demonstrated that his only “core value” is his own financial and political success. In Romney’s view, both in politics and in business, every other belief or commitment can be thrown overboard if it weighs him down in his quest for success.  And that goes for the people and communities that were impacted by the “creative destruction” of his corporate takeovers and leveraged buyouts at Bain Capital.  To him, they were apparently nothing more than “collateral damage.”

In the end, it is likely that the ultimate irony of the Romney campaign will be that his own willingness to toss aside positions and values that might at one time or another have appeared inconvenient, will ultimately weigh him down more than anything else.

 

By: Robert Creamer, The Huffington Post, January 29, 2012

February 1, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Winds Of Racism On The GOP Campaign Trail

Here are some things you could learn about black Americans from the recent statements and insinuations of Republican presidential candidates, Republican congressmen and Republican-friendly radio personalities:

Black people have lost the desire to perform a day’s work. Black people rely on food stamps provided to them by white taxpayers. Black people, including Barack and Michelle Obama, believe that the U.S. owes them somethingbecause they are black. Black children should work as janitors in their high schools as a way to keep them from becoming pimps. And the pathologies afflicting black Americans are caused partly by the Democratic Party, which has created in them a dependency on government not dissimilar to the forced dependency of slaves on their owners.

Judging by these claims, all of which have actually been put forward recently, here is a modest prediction: This presidential election will be one of the most race-soaked in recent history. It is already more race-soaked than the 2008 election, which, of course, marked the first time that a black man became a major-party candidate.

I don’t know why this is. Perhaps because Senator John McCain, the Republican contender in 2008, generally and admirably refused to race-bait. But the Republican candidates in today’s contest aren’t so meticulous about avoiding the temptation to dog-whistle their way to the nomination.

A Dark Art

Dog-whistling — the use of coded, ambiguous language to appeal to the prejudices of certain subsets of voters –is one of the darkest political arts. In this race, Newt Gingrich is streets ahead of his nearest competitor in its use. In addition to his comments about black children working as janitors, he has repeatedly referred to Obama as the country’s “food-stamp president.”

Food stamps have been fixed in the minds of many white voters as a government subsidy misused by blacks at leastsince 1976, when Ronald Reagan complained of “strapping young bucks” who used public assistance to buy “T-bone steaks.” (It is distressing to remember, in light of Reagan’s subsequent beatification, that he was to racial dog-whistling what Pat Buchanan has been to Jew-baiting; it was Reagan who also introduced the “welfare queen” into public discourse.)

The genius of dog-whistling is its deniability. It would be difficult for a figure such as Rush Limbaugh to run for public office, given his record of fairly straightforward race-baiting. (Limbaugh, who in the words of Harvard Law School’s Randall Kennedy is an “excellent entrepreneur of racial resentment,” has been on a tear lately. He has accused Obama — who he says “talks honky”around white people — and the first lady of abusing public funds as payback for the ill-treatment afforded their ancestors.)

But “food-stamp president” is just indirect enough that Gingrich is protected from detrimental blowback, at least during the largely white Republican primaries.

Kennedy, who studies the role of race in national elections, told me last week of a rule he uses to measure whether a candidate’s appeal to prejudice will succeed: If it takes more than two sentences for a critic to explain why a dog-whistle is a dog-whistle, the whistler wins. Gingrich seems to understand this, and so, despite criticism from blacks, has made the term “food-stamppresident” a staple of his stump speeches.

New Realization

Kennedy offers the theory that this campaign’s dog-whistling may be prompted by a realization by right-leaning provocateurs that voters have become inured to charges of racism. I suspect another phenomenon has hastened this realization: A handful of black Republicans have abetted dog-whistling by making their own bombastic statements about the degraded moral health of the black community, the putative foreignness of the Obamas and the Democratic Party’s plantation-like qualities.

The former presidential candidate Herman Cain, who last week endorsed Gingrich, told me in an interview last year that Obama was more “international” than American. He also said that, unlike Obama, he rejects the label“African-American” because he feels “more of an affinity for America than I do for Africa.”

Representative Allen West of Florida, one of two black Republican House members, recently called the Democratic Party a “21st-century plantation” and compared himself to Harriet Tubman. In August, he said, “Today in the black community, we see individuals who are either wedded to a subsistence check or an employment check. Democrat physical enslavement has now become liberal economic enslavement, which is just as horrible.”

How far in intent is West’s message from this one, recently delivered by Rick Santorum in Sioux City, Iowa: “I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money; I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money.” (Santorum laterdenied that he said the word “black,” arguing that what he actually said was “blah.” The denial is not credible.)

The writer Gary Younge has noted that in Woodbury County, which includes Sioux City, nine times more whites use food stamps than blacks do. But it doesn’t matter: Santorum wasn’t driven from the race for making such a blatant appeal to white resentment — instead, he won the Iowa caucus.

An Odd Video

Recently, I watched an educational children’s video produced by a company part-owned by Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor and presidential candidate (and current Fox News host). The video series, called “Learn Our History,” is meant as a corrective to a left-wing interpretation of the American story.

In one episode, a group of children are transported to Washington, in the late 1970s, a time when, we are told,“people are out of work and some of their morals are just gone.” The group, walking down a cartoon version of a street from “The Wire,” is confronted by a black mugger in a tank-top emblazoned with the word “Disco.” (Yes,“Disco.”) The mugger says to the time-travelers, “Gimme yo money!”

I asked Huckabee why the video advanced this particular stereotype. We had been speaking about the rationale for the video series, and he had just finished telling me that the project was meant to encourage moral leadership. Then he told me he had nothing to do with writing the show’s scripts, but it was his impression that the mugger wasn’t meant to be black. In any case, we were talking about a cartoon, he said, and cartoons traffic in“caricature.”

This is something cartoons share with many of today’s leading Republicans.

 

By: Jeffrey Goldberg, The Atlantic, January 31, 2012

February 1, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012, GOP Presidential Candidates, Racism | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Huge Benefit For The Rich”: Warren Buffett Is Right

The revelation that Mitt Romney received an income of $21 million in 2010 and paid just 13.9 percent of that in federal income taxes has highlighted an enormous problem in our tax code. Income from investments (or income that is manipulated to appear to come from investments) is taxed at lower rates than income from work. And this is a huge benefit for the rich.

Technically, the breaks that Romney enjoys are available to anyone with investment income, but the vast majority of this type of income goes to the rich. We recently calculated that about a third of taxpayers with incomes exceeding $10 million get the majority of their income from investments and consequently pay an average effective tax rate of 15.3 percent.

We then looked at taxpayers with incomes between $60,000 and $65,000 and found that just over 2 percent get the majority of their incomes from investments. In fact, over 90 percent of the $60,000-$65,000 group get less than a tenth of their income from investments, and consequently pay an average effective tax rate of 21.3 percent. That’s a higher effective tax rate than those multimillionaires who get most of their income from investments.

How do multimillionaires justify their low effective tax rates? Many, like Warren Buffett, admit that there is no justification at all, and have asked the president and Congress to reform the tax code. Buffett finds it offensive that he pays federal taxes at a lower effective rate than his secretary does.

Others argue that special breaks for investment income are necessary to encourage investment. This is absurd, given that people with money invest in order to profit and that is motivation enough. But this argument is even more absurd in the case of wealthy fund managers like Romney, who use a loophole to characterize even their income from work as investment income to enjoy the lower tax rates. (This is the loophole for “carried interest.”)

Still others, including Romney himself, argue that much of their income represents corporate profits that have already been subject to the corporate income tax of 35 percent before they were paid out as stock dividends. This is nonsense. At least a third of Romney’s income took the form of “carried interest,” which is actually compensation for his work in managing other people’s money, and this is certainly not corporate profits.

Even in the unlikely event that all of the rest of Romney’s income did come from corporate stock dividends or gains on the sales of those stocks, there’s no reason to think that the corporations involved paid 35 percent of their profits in corporate income taxes. We recently studied most of the Fortune 500 corporations that have been profitable for each of the last three years and found that their average effective tax rate over the three-year period was just 18.5 percent. Thirty of these companies paid nothing at all.

Warren Buffett is right. People like him, and Mitt Romney, should pay more to support the society that made their fabulous fortunes possible.

 

By: Scott Wamhoff, Legislative Director of Citizens for Tax Justice, Published in U. S. News and World Report, January 31, 2012

February 1, 2012 Posted by | Class Warfare, Economic Inequality | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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