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“Poetic Justice”: How A Bartender Helped Decide The 2012 Election

If Mitt Romney had taken a moment to thank the wait staff at a Boca Raton fundraiser last year, he may now be president, or at least could have removed one of his biggest obstacles to the White House: the so-called 47 percent tape that clouded the last two months of the race.

The anonymous person who filmed the tape turns out to be a bartender with a local catering company who is coming forward now that the election is over. He’ll reveal his identity tomorrow in an hour-long interview on “The Ed Show” on MSNBC, but in an interview with the Huffington Post Tuesday night, he suggested that he was disappointed that Romney never thanked the wait staff, as Bill Clinton had years before at a different event the same bartender happened to staff. Ryan Grim and Jason Cherkis report:

Romney, of course, did not speak to any of the staff, bussers or waiters. He was late to the event, and rushed out. He told his dinner guests that the event was off the record, but never bothered to repeat the admonition to the people working there.

One of them had brought along a Canon camera. He set it on the bar and hit the record button. The bartender said he never planned to distribute the video. But after Romney spoke, the man said he felt he had no choice.

The tape came to define Romney and was the fodder for several ads, giving the candidate a noticeable dip in the polls. Even when he recovered after Obama’s disastrous debate performance in Denver, the tape remained a weight around his neck.

Romney probably still would have lost without the tape, and maybe the bartender would still have revealed the video if Romney came back and shook his hand, but there’s some poetic justice in the idea of an hourly worker bringing down a presidential candidate for dismissing the importance of his vote.


By: Alex Seitz-Wald, Salon, March 13, 2013

March 14, 2013 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Ryan’s Blurred Vision”: What The New Republican Budget Reveals And Conceals

Someone needs to tell Paul Ryan that his party – and the economic platform of austerity and plutocracy he crafted for it – lost a national election last year. Someone also needs to tell the Wisconsin Republican that he still chairs the House Budget Committee mainly thanks to gerrymandered redistricting.

Someone clearly needs to remind him of those realities because the “vision document” he proposed on Tuesday as the Republican federal budget is only a still more extreme version of the same notions (and the same evasions) that he and Mitt Romney tried to sell without success last fall.

Voters decisively rejected that version of Ryan’s “path to prosperity,” with its gutting of the Medicare and Medicaid programs, its additional tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, and its destructive cutbacks in education, infrastructure, scientific research, national security, and a hundred other essential elements of modern American life – and a decent future – that require effective government.

Indeed, the astonishing initial assessment of the new Republican budget by experts at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities is that Ryan wants even deeper cuts and even more lavish tax cuts than he and Romney touted in 2012. The CBPP estimates that the new Ryan plan would cut $800 billion over the coming decade from an assortment of vital programs, including Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP, or food stamps); Supplemental Security Income (SSI) that supports the elderly poor; Pell grants for higher education; and federal school lunches, among others, along with the Earned Income Tax Credits (EITC) and Child Tax Credits that have historically improved standards of living for millions of impoverished working families.

Ryan pretends to admire Ronald Reagan, but the late president — who proudly extended and expanded the EITC — was far too liberal for the likes of him and Romney. Unlike the sunny Gipper, these sulking millionaires resent the working poor – the “47 percent” – who aren’t paying high enough taxes.

But everyone ought to know Ryan well enough by now to anticipate these cruel proposals. They ought to know, too, that Ryan would allow the entire edifice handed down to us by previous generations – highways, bridges, airports, canals, reservoirs, schools, parks, and much more – to crumble into oblivion, rather than increase taxes on the Republican donors whose wealth has multiplied so astronomically in recent years. His voice is the high-pitched drone of a generation of termites, voraciously consuming the nation’s foundations.

What everyone may not know is that Ryan’s vision of the future is quite blurry, since he again refuses to specify exactly how his budget allegedly achieves balance. It says (again) that the severest cuts will be made in domestic non-discretionary spending, but never details how much will be cut from which programs or even categories. It says (again) that tax expenditures will be reduced to balance those tax cuts for the rich, but never details those either. It says (again) that the Affordable Care Act will be repealed, although there is no chance of that happening now. And it says that defense spending – including untold billions in well-known waste – will simply be restored to pre-sequestration levels, while everything else will be cut again, starting at the post-sequestration baseline, much as Romney promised last year.

It says the federal budget will achieve balance within 10 years, but (again) there is no reason to believe its unfounded promises.

This old “new” budget demonstrates that no change is taking hold among the Republicans, except that they seem even more rigid in their ideological obsessions. No basis exists for bipartisan negotiation toward a budget compromise.

Without a massive public reaction to the Ryan proposals, the likelihood is that sequestration will continue and the Republicans will again seek to hold government hostage, as they have done repeatedly since 2009. And the nation will continue to suffer until voters finally decide, in their wisdom, to curtail the power of this truculent and implacable faction.


By: Joe Conason, The National Memo, March 13, 2013

March 14, 2013 Posted by | Ryan Budget Plan | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Opportunity And Equality”: What The “Takers” Really Want

The Republican far right has concluded that Mitt Romney’s loss was due in part to his excess moderation, but Romney and the right agree that the blame also rests with the 47 percent of Americans who are “takers,” whom the Democrats wooed with governmental largess. America is no longer dominated by “traditional” small-government Americans, as Bill O’Reilly put it on a glum election night at Fox News. In behind-closed-doors talks to his donors that were recorded (and are likely to remain the only talks of his entire campaign that anyone remembers), Romney concurred.

The Romney-right analysis shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. Racial minorities, the young, single women — the groups whose share of the electorate is rising — all believe that government has a role to play in increasing opportunity and enlarging the rewards of work. They tend to support a larger government that provides more services than a smaller one with lower tax levels. That doesn’t make them “takers,” however, unless you believe that public spending on schools and on a retirement fund to which American workers contribute constitutes an illegitimate drain on private resources.

Indeed, many of these so-called takers have higher rates of workforce participation than “traditional” Americans. That is, to restate this without using the barely coded terminology of the right, Latinos and Asians have higher rates of labor-force participation than whites. While the level of labor-force participation for non-Hispanic whites was 64.6 percent, as measured by the Bureau of Labor Statistics from 2010 data, the level for Asians was 64.7 percent and for Latinos, 67.5 percent. So which group has more “takers” and which more workers?

But these industrious minorities believe that government can foster even more opportunity. A post-election American Values Survey, conducted for the Public Religion Research Institute, asked voters whether government should promote growth by spending more on education and infrastructure or should lower taxes on businesses and individuals. The groups that constitute the growing elements of the electorate all favored the spending option — 61 percent of Latinos favored it, 62 percent of blacks, 63 percent of voters under 30 and 64 percent of single women. White voters, however, preferred the lower-taxes option 52 percent to 42 percent.

On Election Day, California voters passed a tax-increase initiative to arrest the decimation of the state’s schools and universities, with a voter breakdown very much like that in the American Values Survey. Ending decades of voter opposition to ballot measures that increased tax rates, Californians raised taxes on incomes above $250,000 and boosted the sales tax by a quarter-cent to provide more funding to K-12 schools and the state’s public colleges and universities. While white voters split evenly on the measure, 67 percent of voters under 30 backed it, 61 percent of Asians favored it and 53 percent of Latinos supported it.

Ever since the passage of Howard Jarvis’s Proposition 13 in 1978 downsized California’s taxes and public sector, a majority of the state’s white voters have rejected this kind of tax-hike initiative. As California’s Latino population grew, so did a rift in the state’s voting patterns: Aging white voters opposed dozens of ballot measures for school bond authorization, while Latino voters, whose children often made up the majority in the school districts, supported them overwhelmingly — and in heavily Latino areas, they prevailed at the polls. This year, the Latino share of California voters was 23 percent, up from 18 percent in 2008; the share of Asians rose to 12 percent from 6 percent; and the share of voters under 30 rose to 27 percent from 20 percent. Confronted with this new electorate, Jarvis’s California was consigned to history’s dustbin.

One reason support for government spending on schools and the safety net is strong within these growing constituencies is that the lot of the “maker” — the hard worker who creates wealth — is declining for most Americans, particularly for young and working-class Americans. Median household income is shrinking as the share of company revenue going to wages descends and the share going to profits increases. If more private-sector workers were able to bargain collectively for wage increases, they would be less dependent on governmental income supplements and the safety net for rudimentary economic security. By all but destroying unions in the private sector, however, the same business executives who applauded Romney’s condemnation of “takers” greatly enlarged the pool of Americans who must “take” to survive. If these self-designated makers feel beleaguered by takers, they have only themselves to blame.

By: Harold Meyerson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, November 21, 2012

November 24, 2012 Posted by | Economic Inequality | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“It’s Galling Season Again”: The GOP’s Phony New Compassion

When someone in any social cohort decides to act like Ebenezer Scrooge, it’s easy and quite natural for everyone else to fall into the role of Bob Cratchit. This is what several Republicans are now doing in reaction to Mitt Romney’s remarks about Barack Obama and his “gifts” to his core constituencies. But Republicans allegedly competing for the loyalties of the 100 percent is a movie we’ve seen. It doesn’t work, and it doesn’t work for a straightforward reason: free-market solutions to many of the problems faced by the 47 percent simply don’t exist. The GOP has no answer to these problems, and it really doesn’t want to have any. But, boy oh boy, are we about to enter a galling period of hearing them pretend otherwise.

In fact, it’s already started. Bobby Jindal kicked this off by saying in response to Romney, “We need to continue to show how our policies help every voter out there achieve the American dream.” Marco Rubio weighed in with the reassuring news flash that, in fact, he does not think there are “millions and millions of people in this country that don’t want to work.” Fellow Floridian Rick Scott—bless him, the Rick Scott who ripped off Medicare before he became governor and has tried to block Democrats from voting since occupying the office—says Republicans have to say that “we want to take care of every citizen of our state.” Scott Walker, Haley Barbour, Michael Steele, Susanna Martinez, and others have made similar remarks. All well and good. So now, let’s match this lovely rhetoric to the Republican record of the past decade or so.

Let’s start with health care, a big problem in the lives of many 47 percenters. True, the GOP, when George W. Bush was president, passed the Medicare prescription drug-coverage bill. That was mostly a good thing, although the bill didn’t pay for the program and it created the famous doughnut hole problem that is finally being solved by Obamacare. What else beyond that? Most obviously, they opposed the subsidized coverage for millions of working poor that is at the heart of Obamacare, defenestrating their own proposal (the individual mandate) while doing so.

And how about S-CHIP, the health plan for poor children? Children! They fought it tooth and nail. It was supposedly an imposition on private insurers who were positioned to offer similar coverage. Yet of course, they did not do so. If they had, there’d have been no need for S-CHIP in the first place.

The one health care idea they’ve come up with, health savings accounts, are widely known to be riddled with problems. They work fine until people really need ongoing care, kind of like a car that gets you where you’re going on normal days but won’t start during emergencies. Yet they tend to have very high deductibles, and people can still be thrown off if they get really sick. This is the GOP’s great contribution to addressing the health needs of the working class.

What other problems do the 47 percent face? Hardship in old age surely ranks up there. It’s they, after all, who depend wholly or mostly on their Social Security checks (which average about $1,400 a month) to get by. And what did they see Republicans try to do on this front? Privatize it—a proposal so unpopular that it died with almost no support in Congress from even the GOP, and this after Bush spent weeks barnstorming for it. People clearly don’t want Social Security privatized—just as they don’t want Medicare voucherized.

What else? Paying for college? Oh, the GOP record here is particularly stellar. Republicans in Congress spent loads of political capital fighting the Democrats’ effort in 2010 to lower student-loan interest rates. The Obama student-loan reform has been widely hailed—in addition to helping students by offering lower interest rates, it actually saves taxpayers money by eliminating the middleman (private lenders). This year’s GOP platform called for undoing the reform and going back to the old system, which, wouldn’t you know it, is the position of the big banks.

Believe me, I could go on and on and on for pages. The bottom line is this. These private-sector “solutions” Jindal and others invoke to the problems faced by people of limited means already exist. They have either been implemented and been seen to fail (or at least create big new problems), or they’ve not been implemented because a wary public knows better and has risen up to say no.

Government programs were created for a reason: needs arose that the private sector wasn’t responding to. There was no profit to be made, or not enough, or too much risk to be assumed, in providing health coverage to working-class people and their children, who were more likely to have health issues and be expensive to care for; in offering student loans to people who might not be able to pay them back; et cetera. There just were not and are not practical free-market solutions to these problems. That’s why government stepped in.

If the entire Republican Party were made up of nothing but David Frums and David Brookses, maybe well-designed and good-faith market-based attempts to address some of these problems could have a chance. But the actually existing Republican Party is more accurately represented by another David—Vitter, the Louisiana senator—who dismissed S-CHIP as “Hillarycare.”

And it’s Vitter rather than the other Davids who typifies the party because that is how the party’s voting base wants it. The darkly amusing thing about all this distancing from Romney is that in truth, all he was doing was expressing the views of the overwhelming majority of the party’s conservative base, which rose up in a mighty rage in 2009 against these “moochers” and their “gifts.”

I wish Jindal and the rest of them luck, in spite of it all. If they’re sincere and serious, we’ll have a very different Republican Party five years from now from the one we’ve known. In the meantime, permit me my skepticism. They don’t have good solutions to working people’s problems because the record shows that at bottom, they don’t really want to solve them.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, November 18, 2012


November 19, 2012 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Dishonest Introspection”: Mitt Romney’s Sneering Farewell To The “47 Percent”

Trying to explain away his decisive, sweeping, and very expensive rout to his disappointed supporters—those one-percent Republicans—Mitt Romney offered a new version of the discredited “47 percent” argument that was so ruinous in its original form. In a Wednesday afternoon conference call, the defeated Republican nominee told donors and fundraisers that President Obama had won by lavishing generous “gifts” upon certain groups, including young voters, African-Americans, and Latinos.

“With regards to the young people, for instance, a forgiveness of college loan interest was a big gift,” said Romney, after apologizing for losing what he called a “very close” election that he lost by more than 100 electoral votes and no less than three percent of the popular vote (as indicated in “The Ass-Whuppin’ Cometh” by James Carville and Stan Greenberg).

“Free contraceptives were very big with young, college-aged women. And then, finally, Obamacare also made a difference for them, because as you know, anybody now 26 years of age and younger was now going to be part of their parents’ plan, and that was a big gift to young people. They turned out in large numbers, a larger share in this election even than in 2008… Likewise with Hispanic voters, free health care was a big plus. But in addition with regards to Hispanic voters, the amnesty for children of illegals, the so-called Dream Act kids, was a huge plus for that voting group.”

It’s amusing that at this late date, the Republican who distanced himself from health care reform — and constantly vowed to repeal the Affordable Care Act even though he knew that would be bad policy — claims that Obamacare helped Obama to win.

Now, before dispensing with Romney for good — as most Americans (including many Republicans) are understandably eager to do — it is worth noting that these churlish excuses to his donors represent the ultimate falsification, not only of his campaign, but of his own character.

Recall how he disowned the “47 percent” remarks when he realized how damaging they were to his chances for victory, telling Sean Hannity on Fox News that what he had been caught saying at a $50,000-a-plate Boca Raton fundraising event was “just completely wrong.” That mea culpa was factually accurate, of course – as we have discovered again lately with the news that so many food stamp recipients reliably vote Republican.

But as a matter of feelings rather than facts, Romney evidently cannot stop himself from sneering at society’s struggling people and the politicians who seek to improve their lives. It is not as if the donors he was addressing don’t want “gifts” from government – such as the big new tax breaks that Romney had promised them, the huge increases in defense spending that would swell their profits, or the various individual corporate favors that they regard as their very own “entitlements.” Just don’t expect that kind of honest introspection from Romney or his crowd.


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

November 16, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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