One of the odder phenomena of contemporary political discourse is the regular denial by Republicans that their party has significantly moved to the right in the last few years. No! they insist, it’s Democrats who’ve moved left! (you know, by embracing what used to be Republican policy positions like a a private-sector based system for expanding health insurance via an individual mandate, and a market-based cap-and-trade system for reducing greenhouse gas emissions). You’d think self-conscious conservatives would be a little louder and prouder of their victory over the moderate Republicans of yore (a victory confirmed by the fact that virtually no Republican pol would dare self-identify as “moderate”).
This act of deception finds its most definitive refutation in Republican primaries, where candidates call themselves “conservatives” or “true conservatives” or “constitutional conservatives” with almost every breath, while describing opponents as though they were Jacob Javits reincarnated. Check out this snippet from Dave Weigel about the reaction to the Supreme Court decision on ACA from the two GOP candidates running for the Senate in Texas, which began with the observation that Ted Cruz used to talk about John Roberts as his favorite jurist:
When Roberts helped save “Obamacare,” Cruz immediately blasted the Court for having “abdicated its responsibility to safeguard the Constitution.” He didn’t mention Roberts by name, but he insisted that the decision was more proof that Republicans needed to reject Cruz’s opponent, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. “My opponent is, by nature and by over a decade of political office, a conciliator. Now is not a time for conciliation.” Take that, Larry Tribe. Stuff it, Walter Dellinger.
Over to Dewhurst. Cruz has campaigned against him as a liberal sellout — on blogs, he’s become known as “Dewcrist.” Was he going to blow the chance to point out that Cruz’s ally had saved Obamacare? No. “Supreme Court Justice John Roberts,” said Dewhurst, “sold constitutional conservatives down the river.”
Maybe the point is that conservatives can’t admit they’ve taken over the GOP and driven it straight to Goldwater Country (the 1964 Goldwater, not the one who took to criticizing the Christian Right in his older years) because then it would be hard to describe it as a rat’s nest of RINOs that needs to be cleaned out by fill-in-the-blank.
Still, it’s odd. I recall from way, way back a runoff for Lieutenant Governor in Georgia between the famous ax-handle seggie Lester Maddox and a better-educated but still flamboyant right-wing demagogue named Peter Zack Geer. Each of the two race-baiters tried to label each other an “extremist” (Geer won, though Maddox went on to become Governor later after edging out some guy named Jimmy Carter for a runoff spot). Were they around today and running in a Republican primary, I imagine Maddox and Geer would be calling each other “sellouts” and “conciliators.” The wind is blowing in just one direction in the contemporary Republican Party, and it’s not towards the Left Coast.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, July 10, 2012
haven’t been much of a fan of the personalized Romney-bashing this campaign season. I avoid the rudely juvenile moniker “Willard.” I thought the whole “Corporations are people” supposed-gaffe was a stupid nothing. I find thinly-veiled attacks on Romney’s LDS heritage to be idiotic and reprehensible. I don’t know enough about Romney’s conduct at Bain to intelligently praise or criticize his managerial performance there.
If you are going to mount a direct personal criticism of a candidate, you should know what you’re talking about. You should say it straight without smarminess or insinuation. And you should put your name to it.
I’ll put my name to one issue. Governor Romney has–in practical, though quite possibly not legal terms–evaded paying his proper taxes. Of course, as a matter of broad policy, he’s taken advantage of loopholes to pay way too little. He and his Bain colleagues are exhibits A, B, and C in the case to tighten the carried interest thing and related provisions. His roughly-14 percent tax rate is galling. Yet the particulars of this suff go further, too.
I’ve presumed all along that whatever he did was legal and standard fare for the uber-wealthy. Now I’m rwondering. He’s been weirdly and unacceptably secretive about these matters. He hasn’t released the full history of his returns. His stance is doubly weird when one considers how strange it is for a major presidential contender to hold complicated offshore bank accounts in Switzerland or the Caymen Islands at all.
Then there’s that fishy IRA, which has a reported rough valuation of between 20 million and 100 million dollars. Given the $30,000 (or lower) annual contribution limits for an IRA, It strains credulity to believe that properly-valued securities of the legally-permitted value would swell by a factor of 1,000, as such securities apparently did.
It seems patently obvious that whatever securities Romney and his Bain colleagues initially contributed were under-valued for strategic tax purposes. The convoluted details of Bain’s divided classes of IRA securities hardly assuage my concerns. That wasn’t ethical or right. I’m not so sure it was legal, either.
By: Harold Pollack, Ten Mile Square, The Washington Monthly, July 9, 2012
Once upon a time a rich man named Romney ran for president. He could claim, with considerable justice, that his wealth was well-earned, that he had in fact done a lot to create good jobs for American workers. Nonetheless, the public understandably wanted to know both how he had grown so rich and what he had done with his wealth; he obliged by releasing extensive information about his financial history.
But that was 44 years ago. And the contrast between George Romney and his son Mitt — a contrast both in their business careers and in their willingness to come clean about their financial affairs — dramatically illustrates how America has changed.
Right now there’s a lot of buzz about an investigative report in the magazine Vanity Fair highlighting the “gray areas” in the younger Romney’s finances. More about that in a minute. First, however, let’s talk about what it meant to get rich in George Romney’s America, and how it compares with the situation today.
What did George Romney do for a living? The answer was straightforward: he ran an auto company, American Motors. And he ran it very well indeed: at a time when the Big Three were still fixated on big cars and ignoring the rising tide of imports, Romney shifted to a highly successful focus on compacts that restored the company’s fortunes, not to mention that it saved the jobs of many American workers.
It also made him personally rich. We know this because during his run for president, he released not one, not two, but 12 years’ worth of tax returns, explaining that any one year might just be a fluke. From those returns we learn that in his best year, 1960, he made more than $660,000 — the equivalent, adjusted for inflation, of around $5 million today.
Those returns also reveal that he paid a lot of taxes — 36 percent of his income in 1960, 37 percent over the whole period. This was in part because, as one report at the time put it, he “seldom took advantage of loopholes to escape his tax obligations.” But it was also because taxes on the rich were much higher in the ’50s and ’60s than they are now. In fact, once you include the indirect effects of taxes on corporate profits, taxes on the very rich were about twice current levels.
Now fast-forward to Romney the Younger, who made even more money during his business career at Bain Capital. Unlike his father, however, Mr. Romney didn’t get rich by producing things people wanted to buy; he made his fortune through financial engineering that seems in many cases to have left workers worse off, and in some cases driven companies into bankruptcy.
And there’s another contrast: George Romney was open and forthcoming about what he did with his wealth, but Mitt Romney has largely kept his finances secret. He did, grudgingly, release one year’s tax return plus an estimate for the next year, showing that he paid a startlingly low tax rate. But as the Vanity Fair report points out, we’re still very much in the dark about his investments, some of which seem very mysterious.
Put it this way: Has there ever before been a major presidential candidate who had a multimillion-dollar Swiss bank account, plus tens of millions invested in the Cayman Islands, famed as a tax haven?
And then there’s his Individual Retirement Account. I.R.A.’s are supposed to be a tax-advantaged vehicle for middle-class savers, with annual contributions limited to a few thousand dollars a year. Yet somehow Mr. Romney ended up with an account worth between $20 million and $101 million.
There are legitimate ways that could have happened, just as there are potentially legitimate reasons for parking large sums of money in overseas tax havens. But we don’t know which if any of those legitimate reasons apply in Mr. Romney’s case — because he has refused to release any details about his finances. This refusal to come clean suggests that he and his advisers believe that voters would be less likely to support him if they knew the truth about his investments.
And that is precisely why voters have a right to know that truth. Elections are, after all, in part about the perceived character of the candidates — and what a man does with his money is surely a major clue to his character.
One more thing: To the extent that Mr. Romney has a coherent policy agenda, it involves cutting tax rates on the very rich — which are already, as I said, down by about half since his father’s time. Surely a man advocating such policies has a special obligation to level with voters about the extent to which he would personally benefit from the policies he advocates.
Yet obviously that’s something Mr. Romney doesn’t want to do. And unless he does reveal the truth about his investments, we can only assume that he’s hiding something seriously damaging.
By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, July 8, 2012
Mitt Romney is going to address the 103rd convention of the National Organization for the Advancement of Colored People Wednesday.
Good. In recent years, Republican politicians have tended to criticize the NAACP, when they should be reaching out to the nation’s oldest civil rights organization. Romney’s acceptance of the group’s invitation is the right response and he gets credit for showing up at the convention in Houston.
The Republican presidential contender’s topic Wednesday will be “civic engagement.”
Very good. In the United States, a republic that bends toward democracy, the highest form of civic engagement has historically taken the form of voting. Americans have suffered and struggled and died for the right to vote.
As NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous wisely notes: “If you let someone diminish the power of your vote you will already have lost a battle.”
Unfortunately, the NAACP and allied groups have been forced to re-fight too many old battles on behalf of voting rights in recent years.
Republican legislators in states across the country, working in conjunction with the corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council — and, it was recently learned, the Republican National Committee — have sought to enact and implement so-called “Voted ID” laws. These laws have been condemned by good government groups, including the League of Women Voters and Common Cause, as assaults on voting rights.
The Voter ID laws, new restrictions on same-day registration and early-voting, purges of voting lists and other voter suppression schemes pose particular threats to civic engagement by African American voters and others who have historically faced discrimination based on their race, ethnicity or national origin.
“Our democracy is literally under attack from within. We have wealthy interests seeking to buy elections and when that ain’t enough, suppress the vote,” says Jealous. “There is no battle that is more important or urgent to the NAACP right now than the battle to preserve democracy itself. Let me be very clear, our right to vote is the right upon which our ability to defend every other right is leveraged.”
At the convention in Houston, Jealous and other NAACP activists have made the defense of voting rights a central focus. They are right to do so, especially in Texas, where local Republicans have been calling for the elimination of the Voting Rights Act — and where a newly-passed Voter ID law has been described by Attorney General Eric Holder as a 21st-century variation on the “poll tax.”
The question that Romney must answer Wednesday is a simple one: Which side is he on?
Is Romney on the side of the NAACP and campaigners for voting rights — including Republicans like his father, George Romney — or is he on the side of those who would suppress the vote?
If the prospective Republican nominee for president is really interested in “civic engagement,” he will call out those in his own party who seek to suppress voting rights.
By: John Nichols, The Nation, July 10, 2012
“Banksters,” the cover of the Economist magazine charges, depicting a gaggle of bankers dressed as extras off the “Goodfellas” lot. The editors were reacting to Libor-gate, the collusion among traders of major banks to fix the London interbank offered lending rate, the most recent, most obscure and the most explosive revelation from what seems a bottomless pit of corruption in global banks.
Once more the big banks are exposed in systematic fraudulent activity. When Barclays agreed to a $450 million fine for trying to rig the Libor, its CEO offered the classic excuse: Everyone does it. Once more the question remains: Will CEOs and CFOs, as well as traders, be prosecuted? Or will they depart with their multimillion dollar rewards intact, leaving shareholders to pay the tab for the hundreds of millions in fines?
The Barclays settlement exposed that traders colluded to try to fix the Libor rate. This is the rate used as the basis for exotic derivatives as well as mortgages, credit card and personal loan rates. Almost everyone is affected. Fixing the rate even a few hundreds of a percentage point could make Barclays millions on any single day — money taken out of the pockets of consumers and investors. Once more the banks were rigging the rules; once more their customers were their mark.
The stakes are staggering. The Libor should be as good as gold. It pegs the value of up to $800 trillion in financial instruments. The collusion was systematic and routine. Investigations are underway not only in the United Kingdom but also in the United States, Canada and the European Union. Those named in the probes are all the usual suspects: JPMorgan Chase, Citibank, UBS, Deutsche Bank, HSBC, UBS and others. This wasn’t rogue trading, as the Economist concludes; it was more like a cartel.
The Economist writes that what has been revealed here is “the rotten heart of finance,” a “culture of casual dishonesty.” Once more the big banks are revealed to have allowed greed to trample any concern about trust, respect or legality.
As investment analyst David Kotok suggests, consider the implications of the Barclays settlement: The general counsel tells the bank’s directors that the bank is offered a settlement for a half-billion dollars in fines, with the resignation of the chair of the board, the chief executive and the chief operating officer, with others to follow. The board, knowing the evidence, agrees to take that deal. Other banks are in line for the same level of culpability.
We are five years since Wall Street’s excesses blew up the global economy, and the scandals just keep coming. Each scandal reinforces the need for tough regulation and tough enforcement. Each scandal proves over again the importance of breaking up the big banks. Each scandal raises the question of personal responsibility. How come borrowers are prosecuted for defrauding their banks, but bankers seem never to be prosecuted for defrauding their customers? George Osborne, the conservative British chancellor of the Exchequer, put it succinctly: “Fraud is a crime in ordinary business — why shouldn’t it be so in banking?” He is demanding action: “Punish wrongdoing. Right the wrong of the age of irresponsibility.”
We haven’t heard anything like that out of Washington. Libor-gate once more exposes how lax this administration has been on the banks — and how irresponsible and, frankly, craven Republicans and Mitt Romney have been on this question. Romney echoes the know-nothing Republican right’s call for repealing what little bank regulation has been passed since the financial collapse — primarily the Dodd-Frank legislation. He touts deregulation in the wake of a global economic calamity caused in large part by the misguided belief that banks can police themselves.
Not surprisingly, Romney and Republicans are raking in donations from Wall Street. But they are catering to banksters that know no shame. For example, one of the most powerful Wall Street lobbying groups is the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, which has been leading the drive to weaken Dodd-Frank and exempt derivatives from transparency. Its chair was Jerry del Missier, the COO of Barclays, who lost his job and apparently his chairmanship in Libor-gate. Why are we not surprised?
Last January, Barclays’ hard-edged CEO Robert E. Diamond Jr. announced that it was time for bankers to get their brass back. “There was a period of remorse and apology for banks,” he declared. “I think that period is over.” More and more of the customers defrauded by bankers might agree. They are tired of fake remorse and ritual apology. That period is over. It is time for prosecutions to begin.
By: Katrina vanden Heuvel, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, July 10, 2012