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“Mitt Digs In Deeper”: Drip-Drip-Drip On Tax Returns Raises A Lot More Questions Than It Answers

I have no idea who is advising Mitt Romney on how to handle questions about his history of paying or not paying taxes. But whoever it is should probably get fired.

Perhaps Harry Reid’s taunts about hearing from a reliable source that Romney stiffed Uncle Sam entirely over the last decade had an impact after all. Otherwise why would he go out of his way to let it be known he paid “no less” than a 13% tax rate during the years for which he is refusing to release his returns?

I mean, 13% is not a high rate for a guy with Mitt’s wealth; certainly nothing approaching the allegedly confiscatory rates the poor job-creators of America are toiling under, making them wonder each and every day if it’s time to Go Gault. And the number raises the rather obvious question: 13% of what? Total income? Adjusted Gross Income? Taxable income? Ezra Klein suggests it may be that last measurement, which may be the only one under which he can claim a double-digit tax burden.

If he intends to gut it out and never release his tax returns, he might be better off just saying “It’s none of your damn business, and if I’d done anything wrong, the IRS would have locked me in leg-irons by now.” This drip-drip-drip of undocumented assertions raises a lot more questions than it answers.

Mitt reminds me of a guy I once knew who was asked in a job interview about his religious practices, which were somewhere between non-existent and hey-I-listen-to-Christmas-music! Instead of admitting that, he kept making excuses to the interviewer (who pretty much thought everyone should be forced to go to church weekly) about his busy schedule and good intentions and so on and so forth. He didn’t get the job, but talked about the interview, and soon gained the nickname of “Digger.” Mitt’s a “digger,” too.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, August 16, 2012

August 17, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Mitt’s Non-Power Power Point”: Romney’s Whiteboard Presentation Proves “Wonk” Is a Meaningless Word

Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have been celebrated as a team that might not be the most charismatic, but who are details-oriented number-crunchers who care deeply about policy—i.e., wonks. The w-word is a favorite faux-self-deprecating term of Washington people who are pretty sure they’re pretty smart. With Romney’s choice of Ryan, “wonk” is everywhere.

When The Wall Street Journal editorialized in favor of Ryan, they dismissed worries that he’s “too young, too wonky, too, you know, serious.” After his pick, he was described as “Jack Kemp wonky,” “a policy wonk,” “the Republican wonk star,” “a fit 42-year-old policy wonk,” and “the best of a policy wonk.” Ryan was a perfect match with Romney because “two wonks bonded during the Wisconsin primary,” a Republican strategist told National Journal. Romney and Ryan played up this idea in their first interview as a team with CBS’s Bob Scheiffer. Romney said, “This is a man who’s also very analytical. He’s a policy guy. People know him as a policy guy. That’s one of the reasons he has such respect on both sides of the aisle. I’m a policy guy, believe it or not. I love policy.” That “believe it or not” suggests there might be some doubt. You’d be right to have it after watching his whiteboard presentation on Medicare Thursday.

Romney has a reputation for loving data, as expressed through his love of PowerPoint. The PowerPoint presentation and the whiteboard are supposed to signal smart data-driven analysis. But the whole point is to actually show the data. Romney did not do that today, as you can see in this video posted by Politico’s Alexander Burns. Romney divided up a whiteboard into two columns and two rows, showing how current seniors and the next generation of seniors would be affected under his and President Obama’s proposals. He did this because Democrats are attacking him for Ryan’s old plan to turn Medicare into a voucher program and his new plan to make the vouchers an option. Democrats have also screamed bloody murder over Romney’s attacks that Obama will cut $716 billion from Medicare, when Ryan’s plan keeps those cuts, and the cuts affect how much providers are paid, not what health services old folks receive. But Romney’s counter-counter-counter attack did not address those attacks. Instead, he reiterated his claim about the $716 billion. As for the next generation of seniors? Under Obama, Romney wrote “bankrupt.” Under Romney, Romney wrote “solvent.” Well, that explains everything.

Just because a campaign’s talking points were written on a thing used to show details doesn’t mean actual details were shown. The Romney campaign has been careful to avoid getting too deep into the details of the candidate’s economic proposals, because they want to make the election a referrendum on President Obama. But refusing to dip into the details is not the sign of a wonk, it’s the opposite. This was most apparent when Fox News’ Brit Hume pressed Ryan on when his plan would balance the budget. Ryan tried to get out of answering by saying he didn’t want to “get wonky on you” before admitting he didn’t know, because the numbers have not been crunched.

Hume: “I get that. What about balance?”

Ryan: “I don’t know exactly what the balance is. I don’t want to get wonky on you, but we haven’t run the numbers on that specific plan. The plan we offer in the House balances the budget. I’d put a contrast. President Obama, never once, ever, has offered a plan to ever balance the budget. The United States Senate, they haven’t even balanced, they haven’t passed a budget in three years.”

Hume: “I understand that. But your own budget, that you —

Ryan: “You are talking about the House budget?”

Hume: “I’m talking about the House budget. Your budget will be a political issue in this campaign.” 

Ryan: “The House budget doesn’t balance until the 2030s under the current measurement of the CBO (Congressional Budget Office) baseline.” 

 

By: Elspeth Reeve, The Atlantic, August 16, 2012

August 17, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“When Fact Checking Fails”: Can Journalists Stand Up To A Candidate’s Lies?

I’ve made my case that Mitt Romney just might be the most dishonest presidential candidate in modern history, but the question is, what should we do about it? Or more specifically, what should reporters do about it? One of the worst things about “objective” he said/she said coverage is that it basically gives candidates permission to lie by removing any kind of disincentive they might feel for not telling the truth. After all, candidates are (mostly) rational actors, and if lying isn’t accompanied by any kind of punishment, they’re going to do it as long as it works.

I’m not sure that Mitt Romney’s Medicare lies are actually producing a positive effect other than tickling the Republican base deep down in the secret corner of its id, but he’s certainly sticking with it. All of which led Prospect alum Garance Franke-Ruta to suggest one possible solution:

Fact-checking was a great development in accountability journalism — but perhaps it’s time for a new approach. It’s no longer enough to outsource the fact-checking to the fact-checkers in a news environment where every story lives an independent life on the social Web and there’s no guarantee the reader of any given report will ever see a bundled version of the news or the relevant fact-checking column, which could have been published months earlier. One-off fact-checking is no match for the repeated lie.

Objective news outlets had to deal with this last cycle, too. Remember the huge controversy over how to cover the allegations that Obama was a Muslim without just publicizing the smear — or suggesting that there is anything wrong with being Muslim?

The solution now as then lies in repeated boilerplate, either inserted by editors who back-stop their writers, or by writers who save it as B-matter (background or pre-written text) so they don’t have to come up with a new way of saying something every single time they file. Basic, simple, brief factual boilerplate can save an article from becoming a crutch for one campaign or the other; can save time; and can give readers a fuller understanding of the campaigns, even if they haven’t had time to read deep dives on complex topics.

“Obama, who is a Christian” was the macro of the 2008 cycle in reporting on the “Barack Obama is a Muslim” smears. Also widely used: “the false allegation that Obama is Muslim.” Such careful writing may not have done much to disabuse nearly a fifth of Americans of the idea that Obama is a Muslim — national newspaper stories can influence elite opinion while barely making a dent on widely held views in a nation of more than 300 million — but they provided readers with an accurate sense of the facts while learning about a politically significant campaign development.

I agree with Garance up to a point. There’s nothing wrong with fact-checking as a journalistic enterprise, but if its purpose is to stop lies, it’s not working. Let me excerpt a post I wrote about this last November, where I asked whether fact-checking works:

The first is, does it change politicians’ behavior? Is a candidate who gets called out for a lie in a fact check going to stop saying it? I posed that question to Bill Adair, who runs PolitiFact, when I interviewed him for a story about this topic that never actually found its way into print (long story). Adair’s response was that changing politicians’ behavior isn’t his job; he and his organization put their best assessment of the facts on the record, and then whatever happens next is basically out of their hands.

One could design a study to determine whether lies are less likely to be repeated once the fact checkers have judged them harshly, but no one that I know of has done it. The consensus from people I’ve talked to about this seems to be that it depends on who the liar is. The narrower their constituency, the more likely they are to continue on unashamed even after being called out for lying. Michele Bachmann doesn’t really care if PolitiFact says one of her claims is bogus. Mitt Romney, on the other hand, is more concerned about his reputation and therefore more likely to stop saying something once it has been called a lie.

Ha! Well, I guess that’s in the past now. But the next question is, if journalists were actually saying, over and over whenever they reported on Romney’s welfare attack, something like, “Romney repeated his false allegation that the Obama administration has ended work requirements (in fact, the work requirements remain in place)…” would that make Mitt stop saying it? It might, and it would certainly be better than the way they’re handling it now. But the truth is that to really stop a lie in its tracks, the lie itself has to be the topic of stand-alone news stories. Once he sees headlines reading, “Romney Repeating False Accusation On Stump,” with the story full of people condemning him for it, then he’ll stop. Because at that point, he’ll begin to worry that the next round of stories will have headlines like “Romney’s Truth Troubles: Republican Nominee Can’t Seem to Stick to Facts.” Those stories won’t just be about the particular lie in question, they’ll be about Mitt’s character and what kind of pathology pushes him to keep lying. Those are the kind of stories Al Gore got in 2000 (unfairly, but that’s its own story).

Making a story out of the lie itself would require journalists to get pissed off enough to take a stand. But you know what? They should be pissed off. Romney is using them as a conduit for his deception, because he knows they don’t have the guts to say no.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, August 16, 2012

August 17, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Selfishness As Virtue”: The Narcissistic Politics Of Paul Ryan And The Servicing Of The Super-Rich Generation Of Termites

Often labeled a “reformer” for his determination to privatize Medicare and Social Security, Paul Ryan on closer inspection appears to be simply another Republican politician – like his new patron Mitt Romney – whose first priority is his own self-interest.

Both the ideology and the legislation he champions prove that he is utterly sincere in his admiration of Ayn Rand, the kooky libertarian author who elaborated her philosophy in a book candidly titled The Virtue of Selfishness. (The flavor of this 1964 essay collection can be gleaned from its original title, The Fascist New Frontier. Its first draft included a Rand screed that compared President John F. Kennedy with Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler.)

Ryan is a millionaire – one of the most affluent members of Congress – chiefly owing to a series of inheritances from his own family and the family of his wife, an Oklahoma heiress. And like Romney, he would certainly benefit from the tax proposals in the “Ryan budget,” which provides even greater benefits for wealthy families like his own than the Bush budgets that he supported during the past decade. The Romney-Ryan ticket’s chief policy preoccupation, in fact, is cutting their own taxes yet again while gutting government functions that serve the middle class (while raising taxes on them).

But the self-serving short-sightedness epitomized by Ryan’s ideas extends well beyond cutting taxes for himself and people like him. Consider his voting record on energy and environmental issues, where he has been a faithful servant of Big Oil and “skeptic” of climate change caused by carbon emissions.

That record happens to coincide perfectly with the interests of his wife Janna and her father, a lawyer representing oil and gas interests. Ryan and his wife have already inherited millions of dollars from a trust established by her family; and they own shares in several companies leasing property in Oklahoma and Texas to energy firms that benefit from taxpayer subsidies protected in Ryan’s budget. Although Ryan occasionally complains about “corporate welfare,” he and Romney both oppose any reduction in the multi-billion-dollar tax breaks enjoyed by the oil and gas industry.

As for Ryan’s own inherited wealth, it is money that mostly came from the huge construction company established by his great-grandfather in the 19th century. Ryan Incorporated’s success grew from the construction of railroads, then highways, airports, bridges and other basic public infrastructure – in short, from government contracts. (Its website proudly outlines the company history and notes that today “the Company performs residential, commercial, industrial and power site work, landfill construction and capping and full-service golf course building/remodeling for both public and private customers.”

But while Ryan benefited personally from more than a century of construction that helped to create American society and a prosperous middle class, his budget serves only the super-rich generation of termites who would allow U.S. infrastructure to crumble, rather than provide sufficient resources to maintain and modernize it. Should the Ryan budget ever become law, very little or no federal money will remain available in future decades for such basic purposes of government. That is fine with him, evidently because Ryan’s own fortunes are no longer tied to the family construction business. (His cousins who still run the company would be wise to vote for anyone but him.)

Then there is Ryan’s longtime obsession with abolishing Social Security as a public insurance system, which first drew attention to him during the Bush administration in 2005. The Bush White House suffered political disaster by pursuing a privatization plan as he urged them to do. Strangely, while Ryan is decades away from retirement age, he has already collected Social Security in the form of survivor benefits. For two years he received a check every month, following the tragic early death of his father when the future Congressman was only 16 years old.

Thanks to Social Security, Ryan was able to save money for college – a story similar to that of Senator Al Franken’s wife Franni, who lost her father at an early age and attended college thanks to federal survivor benefits. But while Franni Franken’s experience ensured that she and her husband became staunch defenders of Social Security, Ryan is eager to deprive future orphans of the guaranteed support that he received.

If selfishness is truly a virtue, then Ryan is without peer. His ideas comprise a taxonomy of narcissistic public policy – from taxes to climate change, infrastructure, and social insurance — that would surely gratify his idol.

 

By: Joe Conason, The National Memo, August 15, 2012

August 17, 2012 Posted by | Ideologues | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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