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“Badly In Need Of A More Persuasive Pitch”: Rubio Struggles With Condemnations Of Obama’s Cuba Policy

The politics of President Obama’s new U.S. policy towards Cuba does not fall neatly along partisan lines. Plenty of Republicans and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are celebrating the White House’s announcement, while a handful of Democrats, most notably Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), aren’t at all pleased.

But among all critics, few have been as vocal and visible today as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who’s been apoplectic about the administration’s breakthrough. That’s not unexpected, though the far-right senator’s complaints seem deeply flawed and poorly thought out.

In an official written statement, for example, the Florida Republican called the White House’s shift “inexplicable.”

“While business interests seeking to line their pockets, aided by the editorial page of The New York Times, have begun a significant campaign to paper over the facts about the regime in Havana, the reality is clear.”

It almost sounds as if Rubio thinks “business interests” – in this case, farmers and Rubio’s allies at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce – should accept limits on free enterprise, even as other countries trade with an American neighbor. Doesn’t the senator usually see “business interests” as “job creators”?

“But most importantly, the regime’s brutal treatment of the Cuban people has continued unabated. Dissidents are harassed, imprisoned and even killed. Access to information is restricted and controlled by the regime.”

Right, and that’s after 54 years of the exact same U.S. policy. How many more decades of a failed policy would Rubio recommend to improve the conditions of the Cuban people? Isn’t it at least possible that Cubans will benefit better relations and expanded opportunities with the United States?

Rubio later said Obama’s moves “will tighten” the Castro regime’s grip on power “for decades.” I suppose that’s possible, but my follow-up question for the senator is simple: hasn’t the Castro regime already had a tight grip on power for decades? Has the old, ineffective U.S. policy weakened that grip in any way whatsoever?

Rubio then raised concerns that normalized relations won’t address Cuba’s human rights record, which is an odd argument coming from a senator who was defending torture just last week.

The senator saved some of his most striking material for Fox News.

“At minimum, Barack Obama is the worst negotiator that we’ve had as president since at least Jimmy Carter, and maybe in the modern history of the country.”

Didn’t Jimmy Carter negotiate the Camp David Accords, one of the most sensitive and successful diplomatic endeavors of this generation? Couldn’t Rubio think of a less ridiculous comparison?

As if all of this wasn’t quite enough, the Floridian decided it’d also be a good idea to lecture the Pope.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (R) torched President Barack Obama’s new policy aimed at normalizing U.S. diplomatic relations with Cuba on Wednesday, and addressed Pope Francis’ support for the president’s move.

“My understanding is that the influence that His Holiness had was on the release of Mr. [Alan] Gross, which I’ve not criticized. As I said, I’m happy that he’s with the Cuban people [sic]. I would also ask His Holiness to take up the cause of freedom and democracy, which is critical for a free people — for a people to truly be free,” Rubio, a Catholic whose parents immigrated from Cuba to flee the Castro regime, told reporters.

Look, I realize that foreign policy obviously isn’t Marco Rubio’s strong suit. In September, when he called for a “permanent” U.S. troop presence in the Middle East, his entire argument seemed quite foolish. A month later, Rubio urged President Obama to follow a specific course against Islamic State militants, and then he complained bitterly when Obama did exactly what the senator suggested.

If Rubio is going to make this the centerpiece of a national campaign, he’s going to need a more persuasive pitch.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, December 17, 2014

December 19, 2014 Posted by | Cuba, Foreign Policy, Marco Rubio | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Failure Of A Theme”: “We Built It” On The Taxpayers Dime

The Republican National Convention’s organizers probably thought they were being clever. They announced this week that on the second night of the gathering — with local, state, and federal officials standing by to help in the event of a hurricane — they’d host a “We Built It” day.

The idea, of course, is to mock President Obama’s belief that public institutions and government investments help create a society in which the private sector thrives. Republicans intend to host their “We Built It” day in an arena largely financed by taxpayers.

Wait, it gets worse.

On the day that the GOP convention will tout Fox-fueled myth “We Built It” as its primary theme, Delaware Lt. Gov. candidate and small business owner Sher Valenzuela is slated to deliver a speech about small business issues. But contrary to the evening’s theme, Valenzuela’s company, First State Manufacturing, has received millions of dollars in federal loans and contracts. Valenzuela has not only attributed her success in part to this outside assistance, but urged other small business owners to follow the same strategy of seeking government funds.

Media Matters found that Valenzuela even gave a presentation earlier this year on her small business success, crediting the use of “millions of dollars in secure government contracts.” She encouraged other entrepreneurs to take advantage of public institutions and government investments to help their businesses get ahead.

Making matters slightly worse, a featured guest at a Paul Ryan event yesterday boasted about getting government funding to help build his business, and in a new op-ed on his private-sector background, Mitt Romney boasted today about the success of many Bain businesses, several of which have benefited from government largesse.

As attacks go, this out-of-context smear has always been problematic. Romney was desperate to prove that American free enterprise thrives without the support of government, but when he pointed to examples, they all thrived thanks to the support of public institutions and tax dollars. This happened over and over and over and over again, ultimately proving that the entire line of attack is self-defeating.

And the problem will apparently continue, as if self-awareness no longer matters at all.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, August 24, 2012

August 25, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Betraying His Calling”: Romney Denies What He Knows About The Private Sector

Mitt Romney is betraying his calling.

He brings to the presidential race a record of accomplishment to which few White House contenders can lay claim: W. Mitt Romney knows how to make money.

Some may argue that a money-making ability alone is no qualification to be president. I agree that having a high net worth is insufficient reason to be declared presidential timber.

But attaining a personal fortune of as much as $250 million, as Romney has done — and not through inheritance or grand theft — is a testament to creative abilities, a strong work ethic, a focused mind and keen understanding of the economic environment.

Romney, however, is blowing it by seeking to appeal to the average voter by selling himself as something he’s not. He also is running away from the opportunity to show voters that he, above all other candidates, knows how Americans can reap a better return on the investments they are making of time, energy and talent in our country.

For the record, and as regular readers of this column know, I regard the political and moral priorities of the current White House occupant to be more in tune with my own. That said, Romney, by reason of experience, has a legitimate claim on the presidency.

A year ago, I said on the TV program “Inside Washington” that Romney understands how the economy works and that he should use the campaign to explain the private sector’s critical role. That point didn’t go down well with some of my liberal friends. Maybe it’s because I was wearing my banker’s hat at the time. Ten years as a commercial banker and bank director were more than enough time to convince me that a thriving business sector is key to economic growth and expanding opportunity. Romney, I believed last year, was well suited to make that case.

Instead, he has made a mess of it, misrepresenting his history and shying away from the truth, apparently out of fear that by sticking up for the country’s privately owned enterprises he will be portrayed as a heartless, money-grubbing capitalist and scourge of the poor. Of course, in this political climate, that might happen anyway. Still, there’s no reason to dissemble.

That’s the only way to describe Romney’s suggestion that job creation was the motivating force behind his work in the private sector. Beyond the question of whether Romney created 100,000 jobs — as he has claimed — is his implicit buy-in to the argument that the private sector’s purpose is to produce jobs.

Romney knows better, even if his critics don’t. The private sector operates to make profits, not jobs.

True, a majority of Americans work in the private sector. But General Motors, Giant Food, the TV networks and others don’t exist in order to employ Americans.

General Motors sells cars, Giant sells food and the networks sell entertainment to make a profit for their owners and investors.

Without question, a payroll is a necessary ingredient in building and selling vehicles, groceries and entertainment.

But owners, regardless of industries, are obligated to control costs. The fewer workers they employ, the better.

Romney portraying himself as an entrepreneur who altruistically created employment opportunities is not only incorrect but also conveys a false picture of free enterprise. That, in turn, skews public understanding of what the private sector can and can’t do; creating a more equitable and just society is one of the things businesses don’t set out to do. Romney seems ashamed of touting financial performance as an essential factor in economic growth, choosing instead to come across as a one-man hiring hall.

The pander is apparent in other ways. Take the Obama campaign’s charge that the private equity firm co-founded by Romney, Bain Capital, “invested in companies that moved jobs overseas.” The Romney camp responds by touting the former governor’s “record of job creation in the private sector.”

What clumsiness, if not cowardice.

There is nothing wrong with a company legally outsourcing jobs domestically or even sending jobs offshore if the effort allows the company to reduce its costs and operate more economically.

In this globalized economy, America must adjust to competitive forces. Certainly there are costs and downsides that come with outsourcing and offshoring jobs. That is not at issue. Change is constant. Workforce adjustments must be made. Government has a role to play. But adapting to competition at home and abroad is mandatory if we are to survive economically.

Romney, more than most, knows better, and he won’t touch this reality.

He betrays his calling because he’s willing to say — and be — all things to become president.

 

By: Colbert I. King, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, July 6, 2012

July 7, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Rich Are Different: They’re Luckier

This long attack on the unfairness of progressive taxation from the Hoover Institution by Kip Hagopian usefully embodies a lot of right-wing delusions about income inequality. It argues that a person’s income is determined by three things:

America’s free enterprise system provides an environment in which the substantial majority of its citizens can realize their fullest earnings potential. Within that environment, individual economic outcomes are the product of a combination of three elements: aptitude, work effort, and choice of occupation.

Aptitude. For the purposes of this essay, aptitude is broadly defined as the capacity to produce, or to earn income. For the most part, it comes from circumstances of birth and is distributed unequally. Aptitude may be derived from innate talents (cognitive, musical, artistic, athletic, etc.) or physical attributes (appearance, dexterity, possession of senses, etc.). Or it may be acquired from lessons learned from parents and other life experiences. Aptitude emanating from circumstances of birth (either innate or acquired) can be significantly enhanced by individual effort applied to strengthening one’s skills (see “Work Effort” below). Aptitude is measured from low to high in accordance with the monetary value placed on it in the marketplace. This is a measure of earning power and is not in any way an indication of an individual’s intrinsic worth as a human being. For most people aptitude is the most significant determinant of income. But it has to be understood as capacity; aptitude does not produce income until it is combined with individual effort.

Work effort. For any given level of aptitude and occupation, work effort plays the decisive role in determining income, and in many cases may result in persons with lower aptitudes earning more than their higher-aptitude peers. For the purposes of this essay, the term “work effort” includes not only the number of hours worked, but also the intensity of the effort applied during those hours. As noted above, it also includes work effort applied to strengthening one’s skills.

At every level of aptitude and in every profession, whether the pay is in salary or hourly wages, there are workers who outperform their peers in each hour worked. They do this by performing tasks more quickly; focusing on the tasks more intently; finding and completing additional tasks that need to be done; and using some of their leisure time practicing or training to become more skilled. These people get more raises, larger bonuses, and more promotions than their peers. Thus, greater work effort can produce higher income whether the person is paid by the hour or earns a salary.

In addition to producing higher income in its own right, work effort applied to strengthening one’s skill — resulting in “learned” or “enhanced” aptitude — can make a substantial contribution toward increasing income. The “rough” carpenter who spends nights and weekends developing the skills necessary to qualify as a more highly valued “finish” carpenter will move up the wage scale by doing so. Professional athletes, musicians, singers, and other performers can enhance their innate aptitudes substantially through extensive practice, and a great many are renowned for having done so. A classic example is Hall-of-Famer Jerry Rice, who is generally recognized as the best wide receiver in NFL history. He was one of the highest paid players in pro football for twenty years, an achievement largely credited to his intense practice and workout regimen. Perhaps the most effective way of enhancing aptitude is through increased study in school. Whether it is grade school, high school, vocational school or college, for any particular tier of aptitude, those who study the most almost always get the best grades, matriculate to the best colleges, and secure the best jobs.

Choice of occupation. Choice of occupation is also important in determining income. Had Bill Gates decided to finish Harvard and become a high school math teacher, he almost certainly would have been successful, but he would not have become a multi-billionaire.

Earned income is determined by a mix of the three factors described above, and the relative contribution of each varies by individual.

This is obviously written to minimize the role of luck. It acknowledges that Bill Gates made more money by choosing to become a software mogul than by choosing t be a high school math teacher. But, of course, Gates (as he has acknowledged) benefited enormously not just from his family situation but from the timing of his birth, which put him in the work force at a moment when computing technology was set to explode. If he had been born a decade or two earlier, he probably would have been an anonymous lab geek if he had followed his mathematical inclinations, or perhaps the owner of a successful grocery store chain if he had pursued his entrepreneurial instincts.

What’s more, it is demonstrably not the case that income levels simply reflect aptitude and effort. Now, obviously being from a richer family affords all sorts of advantages, including physical, emotional, and cultural development. But factor all that out of the equation and assume that it’s just fair for all those things to translate into higher academic performance and higher earnings.

Even assuming that, there are massive advantages inherent simply in being born rich (and disadvantages in being poor.) My favorite example, simply because it’s so dramatic, is that a child born into the lowest-earning quintile who manages to attain a college degree is less likely to be in the highest-earning quintile than a child born into the top quintile who does not attain a college degree. This is all the more remarkable when you consider that making it to, and through, college is far harder for poor kids than rich kids even at a given level of aptitude. (Two thirds of the kids with average math scores and low-income parents do not attend college, while almost two-thirds of high-income kids with average math scores do.)

 How would Hagopian explain this? The lower-income kids managed to beat the odds by graduating from college, yet they make less money than the rich kids who beat the odds in the other direction by not going to college. By any measure, the former group has more aptitude and greater work ethic. Now, clearly right-wingers in general, and wealthy right-wingers in particular, like to think aptitude and effort and choices determine how much money you make. (Hagopian is the co-founder of a venture capital and private equity firm.) You see this from Greg Mankiw, Arthur Brooks, and on and on. The right-wing worldview is based on a moral premise about the relationship between merit and wealth that is demonstrably false.

By: Jonathan Chait, The New Republic, April 1, 2011

April 2, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Conservatives, Equal Rights, Ideologues, Income Gap, Jobs, Minimum Wage, Politics, Right Wing | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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