Sunday, November 25, 2012

Carly Fiorina -- a 40 year low

Carly Fiorina was on Meet the Press today, where she was introduced as the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard. It would not have been polite to introduce her as former advisor to losing presidential candidate John McCain, who had her ass handed to her when she ran against Barbara Boxer for the U.S. Senate.

Much kinder to boost her bona fides by referring to her storied career in business. In doing so, if we are to continue in the spirit of generosity, let us overlook the fact that during her tenure, HP stock lost half its value and then she was shit-canned by the HP’s Board of Directors. She was given $20 million dollars to walk away and never bother them again, though a restraining order would have been cheaper. Anyway, it must have been money well spent, because the share value of the company jumped on news of her departure. Be that as it may, she’s still a reliable spokesperson for the failed policies various described as trickle-down or supply side economics.

That anyone would try at this late date to defend these policies and be able to maintain a straight face is not a testament to the validity of these ideas, but rather to the shamelessness of the kleptocratic class.

I found one thing she said to be of particular interest. “Small business formation is at a forty year low,” said Ms. Fiorina. Now, I have no idea if this is true of false, except for the fact that it was uttered by a woman who has been thoroughly discredited so many times before. Let’s assume it is true. The question is why is small business formation stalled?

Ms. Fiorina suggested that the reason is that the tax-code is too complex. That’s nonsense, of course. If you want to start a niche boutique, or dress factory employing 5 or 6 cutters and sewers, and a salesperson or two, there’s not too much to know about the tax code that can’t be learned by purchasing Quickbooks. This is not to suggest that you shouldn’t have an accountant. But if you think that the reason you are having trouble competing with Walmart is that they have a better grasp of the tax code, then you shouldn’t be in business anyway.

The reason that small business formation is at a 40 year low (if it is) is that big corporations have consolidated power under the laissez-faire economic policies of the previous administration, and the recession which these policies caused has paralyzed our abilities to deal with this problem. One of the longest lasting legacies of the Bush years will be the reactionary Supreme Court which gave us the Citizens United decision.

I am assuming that everyone who reads this knows about how Walmart moves into neighborhoods, and undercuts the competition, putting them out of business. It then purchases in quantities from suppliers that are so significant that the suppliers can’t survive without Walmart’s business. Next step: demand price breaks from suppliers to the point that the only way they can avoid going out of business is to turn to Chinese manufacturers. Goodbye, more American jobs.

Along the way, Walmart pays its workers coolie wages. You could stop right there and say that’s immoral, and you would be right. It is indefensible to pay people for working full-time for you and leave them unable to provide for their basic needs. It’s just unconscionable. In a by-gone era, Unions would have protected our fellow workers and preserved the dignity of labor. Walmart, and the candidates it supports are on the forefront of the “let's kill unions movement.” But it’s worse than that.

The workers, who labor for the Walton family but can’t provide for their own, must turn to local governments and charities to keep the wolf from the door. Who pays for that? Of course, it is not the people who get paid $20 million dollars to leave their jobs, or the Walton family who own more than the bottom 40% of Americans combined. No, it’s the folks who would like to start a mom-and-pop grocery or a small business, but can’t because local taxes are too high. It’s the former factory workers who are now out of work because their jobs are being done in China.

And there’s another reason that our would-be small business owners can’t open their doors. There are no customers in their communities. Why? It’s because a Walmart worker or an unemployed factory worker can’t afford a new dress. That’s not justice.

By the way, I was just kidding when I said I didn’t know if Carly Fiorini was lying when she told us that business formation was at a 40 year low. Of course, I know, and so do you. Remember, that last March, John Boehner said, that business formation was at a 30 year low? Well, that wasn’t true either. The very highly regarded Kauffman Index shows that, despite a drop from 2010, U.S. startup activity remains above pre-Great Recession levels. The Index shows that 0.32 percent of American adults created a business per month in 2011, the last year for which figures are available. This is a 5.9 percent drop from 2010, but still among the highest levels of entrepreneurship over the past 16 years. As Casey Stengel was fond of saying, “You could look it up.”

“ ... and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Foreign Aid -- Your tax dollars at work

The Iron Dome is a missile defense system that has been 90% successful in intercepting and destroying Palestinian rockets coming from Gaza, directed at Israeli civilian population centers. It distinguishes between those rockets that are heading for residential areas and those that would fall harmlessly in forests and elsewhere. It was developed with Israeli technology heavily subsidized by American foreign aid.

Was the American foreign aid well spent?

If not for Iron Dome, Israel would have sustained numerous civilian casualties from the thousand or so rockets launched by Hamas terrorists. Under such circumstances, Israel would have been compelled to invade Gaza.

Where would Egypt stand if Israel had invaded Gaza? Evidence is mounting that President Mohamed Mosni, of the Muslim Brotherhood, would offer more than rhetorical support to the Hamas government in Gaza. Note, Egypt is the second largest recipient of American foreign aid. Turkey, a member of NATO, is siding with Egypt against Israel because it still has not received an apology for Israel’s actions when blockade runners on the MV Mavi Marmara attacked Israeli commandos in 2010.

Meanwhile, with Israel engaged in a ground war in Gaza, Iran could proceed with its nuclear ambitions unchecked. If it gets a nuclear bomb, the Saudis and the Jordanians will surely want them too. A nuclear arms race in the Middle East is a terrifying thought but the threat of loose nukes raises the stakes exponentially.

Syria is already a catastrophe and the war is spilling into Israel. For now, Israel can protect herself from attacks from the Golan Heights. But what if she were involved in a ground war with the Gazans backed by Egypt?

What would America’s course be in the nightmare described above? NATO unraveling, American foreign aid recipients using military force against Israel, nuclear Iran, an arms race in the mid-East, and Israel facing a threat from the North and the potential for nuclear bombs falling into the hands of Hamas terrorists: it’s not a pretty picture. America’s commitment to Israel is supposedly inviolate, and the credibility of the United States depends upon standing by Israel. Beyond that, if Israel is not defended by the United States, the entire Middle East will be taken over by Islamists, including Jordan where the Monarchy is enduring mass public protests even as I write these words.

Think about it next time you hear someone complain about the United States giving foreign aid to Israel.

“… and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”

Monday, November 12, 2012

Why was General Petraeus outed?

On Friday, General David Petraeus resigned his position as the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. His stated reason was that he had been discovered having an affair, and that his conduct was unbecoming to one who occupied his station.

He was hailed as one of the great generals of our generation, and a man who demonstrated how honorable he was by owning up to his misconduct. As for the actual misconduct – which involved betraying one of the heroines of returning veterans – the networks had the usual amount of hand-wringing about why powerful men cheat on their wives risking their life’s work and reputation to do so. Interspersed with this pabulum were frequent reminders that the FBI had accidentally stumbled on this, security was not compromised and that no actual laws were broken. (Never mind that Uniform Code of Military Justice, Articles 133 and 134 authorize court martial for consensual affairs.)

I am not qualified to comment on his military career, and even less qualified to cast the first stone regarding his personal life. However, there is a story here to be told and it is passing under the radar.

The right-wing infotainment industry is promoting the idea that there must be a conspiracy here because this story was not revealed before the election. Further, they would like us to believe that the demise of Gen. Petraeus is related to the ginned up controversy regarding Benghazi, which the geniuses are calling “Obama’s Watergate.” They speculate that the resignation was necessary to silence the general who was expected to testify in congress next week. They insinuate that the general had been unduly cozy with the Romney campaign and that his humiliation and demise was payback. They point out that not everyone who has an affair is drummed out of the corps.

As Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Eugene Robinson pointed out, General Petraeus was the head of a spy agency, and that makes the story of his affair like a spy novel. Further, there are no coincidences in spy novels. Just the fact that the President didn’t learn of the matter until after the election is enough fodder for plenty of conspiracy theories.

Here’s what we know so far. Members of Congress are shocked that they were not informed earlier about the investigation of General Petraeus. Crazy, no? Imagine! A man who was not suspected of any criminal conduct who was only tangentially connected to an investigation was not exposed for having an affair to the members of Congress. Hardly the stuff of outrage unless, of course, you are a right-wing conspiracy nut in the employ of Fox infotainment buffoons.

In fact, a better question is why Congress was notified at all? People at all levels of government have had affairs and not lost their jobs over it. Remember, nobody alleges that General Petraeus violated any law. He was just a name on a report of an investigation by the agency once headed by J. Edgar Hoover, he of pristine private behavior.

Indeed, the fact that Congress was notified at all is rather remarkable. If one accepts the premise that there are no coincidences in spy novels, especially when sex is involved, the fact that Congress was advised that General Petraeus was cozy with his biographer is the hanging thread that begs to be pulled so that we can see what unravels.

And let’s take a look at the way Congress was notified.  The Washington Post reports that:
An aide to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor says the Virginia congressman first heard about CIA Director David Petraeus’ extramarital affair on Saturday, Oct. 27, from an FBI source he didn’t know.

Communications director Rory Cooper told The Associated Press Monday that Cantor notified the FBI’s chief of staff of the conversation, but did not tell anyone else because he did not know whether the information from an unknown source was credible.
So, as for keeping this story from the electorate for fear that it would derail the President’s re-election campaign we can be fairly certain that if there had been such a conspiracy, the point man would not have been the Republican Majority Leader, and that if he were, he wouldn’t have kept the story under his hat for 9 days, until the election passed.

Far more likely is that someone with a political agenda leaked the story to the leader of the House Republicans. Nearly half of the country wanted the President to lose the election, and it is not unlikely that there is at least one agent in the FBI who is in that group. For his part, Leader Cantor couldn’t see how this story would hurt the President so he filed it away for use later, if needed.

Okay, so far. But that just begs the question, why did the story come out after the election? It’s a good question, and I am open to any reasonable explanation.

The most commonly given answer is that as a philanderer, David Petraeus was vulnerable to blackmail. This is not a reasonable explanation, because if he was going to be exposed, he could have grabbed a microphone, stated that he is taking a 28 day leave of absence to deal with problems in his marriage, and been back on the job within a month, with no vulnerability.

As I have said, the folks a Faux News are pushing the line that Petraeus was canned because his testimony at a hearing about Benghazi would hurt the President. The problem with this theory is that the news of the General’s conduct unbecoming an officer passed out of the usually secure FBI to the Republican power elite, and only then to the wider public. If anyone was trying to silence the Director of Central Intelligence, it was Eric Cantor. But why?

A current Republican talking point is that the mainstream media is suppressing a story that Navy SEALs requested help in defending the consulate in Benghazi, that their requests were denied, and that this failure is condemnable if not indictable.

General Petraeus has emphatically denied that he or anyone else at the CIA refused assistance to the former Navy SEALs on the night of Sep. 11. A week and a half ago, Petraeus went to Tripoli and conducted a personal inquiry into the Benghazi attack, NBC News reported.

On November 2nd, Reuters reported that:
CIA officials on the ground in Libya dispatched security forces to the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi within 25 minutes and made other key decisions about how to respond to the waves of attacks on U.S. installations on September 11, a senior American intelligence official said yesterday.

Officials in Washington monitored events through message traffic and a hovering U.S. military drone but did not interfere with or reject requests for help from officials in the line of fire, the official said.

The information emerged as officials made available a timeline chronicling the U.S. response to the Benghazi attacks in which Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, and three other American officials died. The material appears to refute claims by critics that officials in Washington delayed sending help to the besieged personnel.
Those are the facts, but they run counter to a favorite right-wing narrative, viz., that the heroes were denied assistance, and if it wasn’t Petraeus who held up the help,then it must have been the President.

If Petreaus were to testify next week about Benghazi, he would likely confirm that this right wing story line is as wrong as their predictions of a Romney landslide. Furthermore, it is nearly certain that he will testify, probably in closed session, since his resignation doesn’t make him immune to a subpoena.

But now, when he exonerates the President, he will be a man who despite all his accomplishments will be remembered for being a cheat, while married to the daughter of the Superintendent of West Point. Cui bono? (To whose benefit?)

It is a most remarkable coincidence that the leader of the obstructionist Republicans in the House of Representatives was the first one outside of the FBI to know of General Patraeus’ infidelity, even before the National Security Council of the President, himself.

But there are no coincidences in spy novels. Or in life.

Pay attention, and,

“… tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Senator Carl Levin on President Obama's Relationship with Israel

Dear Friend,

This is the first letter I've ever written in the hope that the "social media" winds take it not just to people I know, but also to people I've never met and to places I'll never see.

I do so because I'm deeply troubled by how the Jewish community is being flooded with inaccurate and sometimes inflammatory attacks on President Obama, claiming that he is not a strong supporter of Israel.

I do so because as a Jewish senator and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I feel a responsibility to share what I have personally seen and what I know about Barack Obama and Israel.

As I write this, U.S. and Israeli forces are engaged in a large joint military exercise. We hold these exercises regularly. But this is the largest joint exercise we have held with Israel, involving over 3,500 U.S. troops, about 1/3 of them deployed to Israel for 3 weeks.

This exercise comes at a critical moment for putting massive pressure on Iran to end any quest for a nuclear weapon.

The joint exercise will dramatize our joint military capability to defend against an Iranian missile attack. The exercise combines U.S. Patriot batteries and Aegis ship radar with Israel's Arrow, Iron Dome and David's Sling missile defenses. These Israeli missile defenses received significant funding by the U.S. and have been strongly supported by President Obama.

As Iran decides whether to try to build a nuclear weapon, Iranian leaders will now have to factor in more than ever that they will not be able to deter a strike against a nuclear weapon facility by threatening to retaliate with their missiles. Iran's leaders can't do so because a retaliatory threat by them or by their allies Hezbollah or Hamas has been degraded by Israel's and our combined missile defenses, as demonstrated by the current joint exercise.

I have seen up close how President Obama has acted in many other ways to strengthen Israel's military capability.

Ehud Barak, Israel's current Defense Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, recently put it this way:

"I should tell you honestly that this Administration, under President Obama, is dong in regard to our security more than anything I can remember in the past." (July 11, 2012)
Prime Minister Netanyahu himself told the AIPAC Conference in May of this year:

"Our security cooperation is unprecedented. And President Obama has backed his words with deeds."
President Obama has also made clear that he will not permit Iran to get a nuclear weapon. For instance:

"It's my firm belief that an Iran with a nuclear weapon would pose a security threat not only to the region but also to the United States." (November 14, 2011)
"My policy here is not going to be one of containment. My policy is prevention of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons. And as I indicated yesterday in my speech, when I say all options are at the table, I mean it." (March 5, 2012)
Iran must know from the record of President Obama, including his use of force in Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia, that he doesn't bluff or bluster.

He is a serious man.

He speaks carefully.

He doesn't flip flop around.

He doesn't throw words around carelessly.

Iran has seen him act - his warnings aren't idle threats.

President Obama has succeeded in unifying the world against Iran with biting sanctions. Those sanctions have done major damage to Iran's oil revenues (they are down by 60% over the last year) and to its currency (the value of which is down by 80% over the last year).

In part because of the respect in which he is held around the world, he has also succeeded in the challenging environment at the UN in preventing unfair damage to Israel at a number of crucial moments, including stopping a UN condemnation of Israel when it prevented a flotilla of ships from forcing itself through its blockade of Gaza.

President Reagan is rightly remembered as a strong friend of Israel, although he led the world's condemnation of Israel at the UN when Israel knocked out Iraq's threatening nuclear facility. I'm amazed how some in our community judge President Obama, who has prevented unfair condemnation of Israel at the UN, by a different standard.

I have seen President Obama act forcefully to protect Israeli citizens at Israel's embassy in Cairo when a violent mob recently came within minutes of reaching and attacking them. Here is what Prime Minister Netanyahu said about President Obama's actions:

"I requested President Obama's assistance at a decisive - I would even say fateful - moment. He said he would do everything possible, and this is what he did. He activated all of United States' means and influence - which are certainly considerable. I believe we owe him a special debt of gratitude."
By any standard, fairly and consistently applied, President Obama has been a proven friend of Israel.

Support for a strong U.S.-Israel relationship has been bipartisan, and it is essential it remain so for our security and for Israel's security. It is harmful to that relationship and to Israel for some in our community to attempt to drive a wedge between the Obama administration and Israel.

I won't comment here on the many other reasons I support President Obama. My goal is to simply express my abhorrence at blatantly unfair, inaccurate and sometimes inflammatory claims that President Obama is not a strong supporter of the U.S. - Israel relationship, when that relationship is important to U.S. security and to the goal of Middle East peace.

I hope that this effort will succeed in utilizing the internet's ability to have one's thoughts shared broadly. If you believe they are worthy or interesting, please share them with your friends.


Carl Levin

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Not a time for panic

So here’s the present state of the presidential election. Talking Points Memo PollTracker declares four states  tossups: 

·         Florida, where Obama leads by 0.6%; 
·         Ohio, where he leads by 2.4%; 
·         Nevada, where he leads by 1.1%; and 
·         Colorado where Romney leads by 1.3%.

If Romney is able to win each one of these states, he will still lose in the Electoral College by one vote. 

How likely is it that Romney will turn the trick in all four of the toss-ups? Nate Silver gives the President a 75.2% chance of winning Nevada, a 63.4 % chance in Colorado. In Ohio, the President is given a 72% chance of success. Only in Florida is it close: Romney has a 53.8% chance of winning. Remember, all that will do is get Romney to “close but not quite.” It is easy to see why Silver gives the President a 71.2% probability of winning the election. 

My own sense of it is that Romney got a bounce from his debate performance, but by definition, bounces don’t last. I think that Romney knows that what went up so sharply will come down before the election.

That would explain the new land speed record he set for changing his position on a major election issue. (Romney, as you know, has owned this event ever since he started his political career.) 

Today, at 2:20 p.m. Alaska time, the HuffPo was reporting that Romney had once again changed his position on abortion.

Mitt Romney said Tuesday he has no plans to push for legislation limiting abortion, a softer stance from a candidate who has said he would “get rid of” funding for Planned Parenthood and appoint Supreme Court who would overturn Roe v. Wade.

“There’s no legislation with regards to abortion that I’m familiar with that would become part of my agenda,” the Republican presidential nominee told The Des Moines Register in an interview.

If you hold the two mutually contradictory ideas that a woman should have control of her body and that Mitt Romney should be President, this is the stuff that makes your head explode. Not to worry because by 5:00, HuffPo was reporting that: 

The Romney campaign walked back the remark within two hours of the Register posting its story. Spokeswoman Andrea Saul told the National ReviewOnline’s Katrina Trinko that Romney "would of course support legislation aimed at providing greater protections for life.”

So, if you think it’s time to panic, open up a beer, sit in your easy chair, and watch Joe Biden eat Paul Ryan's lunch...

“… and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”

Friday, September 28, 2012

Voter Suppression by Republicans? Tell me something new.

           Strategic Allied Consulting (f/k/a Sproul and Associates) is a firm run by a Republican former state chairman. They committed voter fraud according to the admissions of a former employee. The modus operandi was to get voters to register with them, and then shred the voter registration applications of those who indicated a Democratic Party affiliation and turn in the Republicans’ applications. His company has been doing this since 2004 in several states. The Republican National Committee paid him $2 million to keep up the good work. 
           Sproul’s company also appeared to attempt to register voters with out-of-state addresses. Of course, canvassers who are paid by the application also turned in requests for voter registration for the usual suspects: Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. 
            Naturally, Republicans are reacting with feigned shock and outrage. They are comparing their cheaters to Acorn, Inc. But there is no comparison.
            Acorn had its share of phony voter applications for cartoon characters. This will happen whenever people are paid to register voters according to the number of people they sign up. But note: there is no evidence that anyone ever tried to vote by using Mickey Mouse’s registration. Acorn also achieved undeserved notoriety because of a surreptitious video that was edited in a misleading way. A man dressed like a pimp, sought assistance in bringing under-age girls to this country from Mexico. What the moviemaker didn’t know was that as soon as he left the room, the Acorn worker called the police in Mexico.
            Strategic Allied Consulting, on the other hand, actually did try to influence the results of an election. When people who thought they had registered to vote show up at the polls, they are in for a rude surprise if they were self-declared Democrats. In Florida, one of the states where S.A.C. did their dastardly deeds, it doesn’t take many votes to influence an election.
            I blogged about Republicans being criminally convicted for efforts to illegally suppress the efforts of Democrats to vote nearly seven years ago at Do you think Republicans want fair elections?  Take a peek to see where I documented Republican crimes at the highest levels of the Bush-Cheney campaign.
            For now, it is sufficient to caution my faithful readers against the Republican strategm of proclaiming that there is a false equivalency between Strategic Allied Consulting and Acorn. If anyone tries to sell you that load of crap, spit in his eye …

“… and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The 47% solution

Say you’re a guy with a wife and a couple of kids. You got a healthy mortgage, give some to charity and have some other deductions. You’ve worked hard and as a result, you have been given raises. Now you’re making 50 grand. Good for you. And here’s the sweet part: because of things like the earned income tax credit, you pay no income taxes on your 50K of ordinary income. You’re in the 47% that Romney spoke of.

Now, that may come as a surprise to you, because you do pay payroll taxes on all of your income at about 15%. You can do the math: You’ve kicked out 7,500 dollars to pay for Social Security, and if you’re under 55, Romney and Ryan have a plan to screw you out of that, too. But the real thing that might just frost you is that you’re paying taxes on your income at a higher rate than Mitt Romney, who paid about 13 percent on his capital gains.

Were you paying attention? Did you notice that Romney doesn’t pay social security taxes? That’s because he doesn’t earn ordinary income. You got it! Mitt Romney is one of those guys – the 47% – who pay no income taxes. That’s the group that Romney was bashing for having an attitude of entitlement and the posture of a victim. You can see now why he is so upset about the way the press is handling him.

Now, I can imagine you saying something like: “Hey Big Mitch! Are you sure that all of Romney’s income doesn’t come from actually working, as opposed to clipping coupons?” And the answer is, well, it’s complicated. He told Newt Gingrich during a debate that if the capital gains tax were eliminated he would pay no tax, so, if we take him at his word, yes, he didn’t do a lick of work for his money, and therefore, why should he have to pay income tax?

But of course, that’s an over-simplification. There’s a thing that is called “carried interest” or just “carry” for short. Basically, it is a return on hedge funds paid to managers for managing. Say, for example, you have a job managing a car lot. You get paid every month, and you pay taxes, either payroll taxes, or income taxes or both. It’s a lot like that, except because you are a hedge fund manager who works on Wall Street and makes political donations in the 6 figures, you don’t pay payroll or income taxes on it. Instead, the carry is treated like capital gains. Go figure.

There’s another tidbit to be found in the candid camera take of Mitt Romney talking to wealthy political donors. Remember Senator Harry Reid said that Romney paid no income taxes? Turns out, he was right. And his source? That would be Mitt Romney.

I am not a tax accountant, but if you are, or you know one, show this blog to him or her, and ask if it is correct.

“… and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”

Monday, September 10, 2012

Money, Money, Money.

Like all right-thinking Democrats, I have been alarmed about the fact that the Romney campaign is raising more money than the President’s. There is the concern that a lot of money in the hands of people who don’t give a fig for the truth is a recipe for mass misinformation. This is of particular concern in this election cycle because, as I have noted elsewhere, Mitt Romney is the biggest liar in the history of presidential campaigns. And Ryan is going for the record in the category of vice-presidential candidates. (Note: Tricky Dick was in five campaigns either as vice-president or president. That should give you an idea of the enormity of Romney’s and Ryan’s freedom from facts.)

There’s another issue which is closely related. Specifically, it is that whoever has the most money wins the election. Given Romney’s history of carpet-bombing in the primaries, and the huge amounts of money involved in this cycle, it’s a real concern.

However, Dubner and Leavett, the authors of Feakonomics, have pointed out, “winning an election and raising money do go together, bit it doesn’t seem as though money actually causes the winning. It’s just that the kind of candidate who’s attractive to voters also ends up, along the way, attracting a lot of money and the losing candidate, nobody wants to give money to that guy.”

That’s why I was so heartened to learn today from the Huffingtonpost that “The reelection campaign of Barack Obama is back in the lead on the fundraising front after raising $114 million in August. The total, which is a combination of funds raised by the campaign, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and Obama's victory committee, exceeds the $111.6 million the Romney campaign said that they raised in combination with the Republican National Committee (RNC) and Romney Victory for the same time period. This marks the first time since the Romney campaign and the RNC started raising money together that the Obama team has beaten them in monthly fundraising.”

Not to over-generalize, people who can write big checks don’t like to throw good money after bad. And it looks like people are deciding that it is not worth wasting money on a loser like Romney.

Hey! I got an idea! Why not donate some money to President Obama

“… and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Beryl and Isaac

I have a sister named Beryl and a son named Isaac. This year there was a Hurricane Beryl and a Hurricane Isaac. One received a lot of media attention because it disrupted the Republican National Convention.

At the Republican National Convention, Mitt Romney delivered an acceptance speech which was largely overshadowed by the weirdness of Clint Eastwood. (Memo to Clint Eastwood: The war in Afghanistan started under President Bush.) Rahm Emmanuel said that the reason anyone is talking about Eastwood is because Romney was so vapid, and so devoid of anything memorable in his acceptance speech.

It’s been a couple of days, and now is a good time to think about what Mitt Romney said. Let’s see if we can remember anything of substance.

Well, there was his defense of Bain Capital. Hans Christian Andersen couldn’t have done any better. As so fulsomely documented in the cover of the Rolling Stone, Mitt Romney made his fortune not by taking risks, but rather by breaking promises. (It’s a topic I discussed on May 22, 2012. See, Bailing on Bain.) 

His business plan was to borrow money, then re-neg on his promises and extort the government to suck up his obligations. It’s a fascinating look at what is the centerpiece of the Romney argument, and it totally disproves the raison d’etre for the Romney candidacy.

Romney's acceptance speech had some touching stuff about George Romney, who sought the Republican nomination for President in 1968. If you needed any persuasion that Dad would have made a better President than Richard Nixon, the story about the rose a day for Mitt’s mom, would have probably turned the trick for you. Speaking of Mitt’s mom, (as Mitt was) it is useful to recall (as Mitt didn’t) that she ran for the U.S. Senate as a pro-choice moderate (as Mitt did) which is what Mitt is not.

The problem with all this so-called biography stuff is that it can’t make the Automaton from the Uncanny Valley  likable, and, worse yet from the vantage point of the Romney campaign, people generally like President Obama.

There was a lot that was notable for its absence. For a man who wants to be Commander-in-Chief, it is fairly shocking that he neglected to mention the 70,000 service-members serving in Afghanistan, or the millions of veterans to whom the country owes a debt of gratitude. Not to mention a debt of Veterans Administration benefits.

A candidacy can survive all of the above, if the candidate delivers a couple of zingers that capture the public’s imagination and stick in the nation’s consciousness. Think: “Read my lips: No new taxes!” Of course, if it’s bologna, as it turned out to be for George H.W. Bush, there is a price to be paid.

To the best of my recollection, Mitt Romney delivered two possible memorable quotes. He dialed up his  “sincerity affect module,”  faced the camera, and intoned,
“Hope and Change had a powerful appeal. But tonight I’d ask a simple question: If you felt that excitement when you voted for Barack Obama, shouldn’t you feel that way now that he’s President Obama?”
It was a good line because it was a re-formulation of the classic Reagan line, “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” The problem with the original formulation is that it invites an analytical response. Let’s take a look, shall we?

Are you better off now than when the world economy was teetering on the brink of collapse, the U.S. was facing the prospect of a second great depression, and we were hemorrhaging 800,000 jobs a month, all while living in fear that Osama Bin Ladin would strike again?

We have ended the misbegotten war in Iraq, and we are in a glide path to end the war in Afghanistan. Our President is not an embarrassment abroad, as was his predecessor, and, for that matter, his would-be successor. Al-Qaeda's leadership has been not merely decapitated, but destroyed. We have played a successful role in the transition to democracy in Libya, and kept the Palestinians out of the United Nations, while vastly improving Israel’s defenses – more than in any previous administration, according to Romney’s former business partner, Benjamin Netanyahu.

The Arab Uprising has been notable for its lack of anti-American protests, and anyone who thinks that Romney can do a better job of managing the evolving situation needs a brain transplant. Our President won the Nobel Peace Prize and fellow laureate Desmond Tutu, has recently called for the President of four years ago to be prosecuted for war crimes

The stock market has roughly doubled on Obama’s watch, and although gas-prices are higher than when he took office, that’s because gas prices crashed as a result of the Great Recession which was brought about by the Republican policies which Romney wants to bring back. Today’s prices are roughly the same as they were under Bush before he brought us the Great Recession. Inflation is roughly zero percent. Republicans have decimated public employment, and if public sector employment had grown along with the economy at its normal rate, the unemployment rate would be around 7%. We’ve added half a million jobs in manufacturing under this President.

Exports have risen at a double digit rate throughout this President’s term, the best since the 1990s. And the United States is freeing itself from dependency on foreign oil, which for is now at 45%, compared to 57% when he took office. U.S. production of oil is higher than it has ever been.

Since I was a child, I have always believed that race was the over-riding issue in our country, and, while I don’t believe that we have reached the stage of “post-racial politics,” I think that we have made great strides during the administration of the first African-American President.

Taxes for the middle class are lower now than when the President took office. Corporate taxes – distinguished from nominal rates – are among the lowest of any industrial economy. And here’s the kicker: as a percentage of gross domestic product, the President has reduced taxes, federal debt, and the budget deficit. You read that right: the President has reduced taxes, debt and deficits.

Did I mention that under President Obama, insurance companies can no longer discriminate on the basis of a pre-existing condition? Or that children up to the age of 26 can stay on their parents’ insurance? Or that he closed the doughnut hole in Medicare Part D, saving 5,250,000 seniors an average of over $7,000 dollars and counting.

Yes, I’m talking about Obamacare, the program that provides preventative services and screening for free, reduces prescription costs for Medicare enrollees, improves the care and coverage provided to senior citizens, and extends the life of the program by keeping costs under control and paying for care more efficiently.

You get the idea: if you stick to the facts, there is no doubt that Americans are better off than they were four years ago. That’s why Romney had to frame the question in terms of feelings. By doing so, he can cash in on the negativism which has been the hallmark of his duplicitous campaign, and the propaganda of Fox and talk radio which is directed at the reptile brain. So, okay, Mitt, you get credit for one good line in your acceptance speech.

There was another line that I think might qualify as a zinger for Mitt:
“President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet. My promise is to help you and your family.”
Not bad, Mitt. It reinforces the Republican message which is that there is a choice to be made between protecting your family and the planet they live on. Republican Newt Gingrich took this to the logical extreme by suggesting we colonize the moon while we are at the business of reducing government spending.

Romney has taken – sit down for this – inconsistent positions of the subject of global warming. But the science is in, and the results are conclusive. Global warming is real, and human activities are a major contributing factor. (Contra: Mitt Romney’s latest iteration of his position with regard to climate change.)

I never really understood why it is necessary to add the fact that humans are part of the problem. After all, polio was not the result of human behavior, but I’m pleased that we recognized the problem, found a cure, and eliminated this horrible disease. Be that as it may, the fact remains that we have to address the problem of global climate change and we don’t have much time to do so.

How do I know? We see the evidence in the number of “hottest day” “hottest month” and “hottest year on record” headlines. We see evidence in the drought that is crippling the Midwest. We see evidence in the frequency and magnitude of extreme weather events. And this year, we got another data point.

On May 27, 2012, Hurricane Beryl made landfall in Florida. Beryl’s landfall in Jacksonville Beach was the strongest landfall in the United States for any pre-season Atlantic tropical cyclone on record.

Romney can ridicule caring about the environment, as Clint Eastwood tried to do. But let’s be clear. The reason I care about the environment is that I love my family. And that includes Beryl and Isaac. I remember when Isaac was born, and suddenly, environmentalism became no longer a theoretical concern, but rather a question of what kind of world would I leave for my progeny.

If you, too, want a better world for your family, don’t elect a candidate who ridicules your concerns. Instead, vote for Barack Obama …

“… and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Election Analysis

Let’s take a look at the Electoral College forecast. From the states that are not seriously being contested, Obama gets 226 votes, [fn. 1] and Romney gets 183. [fn. 2] There are 133 votes from states that can be called toss-ups. Although toss-ups by definition are states where the popular vote is close, Nate Silver is able to calculate the odds of a state going one way or the other.  Of the so-called toss-up states, consider only the ones where Nate Silver gives Obama a better than 2-1 chance of winning.

Here they are with their electoral votes: New Hampshire (4), Nevada (6), Ohio (18), Pennsylvania (20), and Wisconsin (10) for a total of 58 electoral votes. When added to his safe votes, he has a total of 284, fourteen more than necessary for a victory. In other words, he must win Ohio, Pennsylvania, and either Wisconsin or Nevada

To deny him victory, Romney needs to  take North Carolina’s 15 electoral votes and he has a 70% chance of doing so. He also needs to win Florida’s 29 electoral votes. He is has a little better than 50-50 chance of winning there: 51-49.   But Florida and North Carolina only bring him to 226 Electoral Votes. 

To get the other 44 needed to win he has to pick up votes in other states where Obama is predicted to win but with a less than 2:1 probability. Here are the three with their Electoral Votes and the odds of an Obama win: Colorado, (6; 63-37), Iowa (6; 65-35), and Virginia (13; 64-36). That will get him part of the way there, but still 16 votes short of a victory. Turning Wisconsin – Paul Ryan’s home state  and New Hampshire won’t do the trick. So, again, if he can’t win Wisconsin, and Nevada, he has to beat the odds and win either Ohio (68-33 for Obama) or Pennsylvania (89-12 for Obama).

And thats why I am not scared out of my mind about the prospect of a Romney presidency. But it only works if Democrats go to the polls.

“… and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”

[1] CA 55, CT 7, DE 3, HI 4, IL 20, MA 11, MD 10, Me 4, MI 10, MN 10, NJ 14, NM 5, NY 29, OR 7, RI 4, SC 9, VT 3, WA 12, DC 3.

[2] AL 9, AK 3, AR 6, AZ 11, GA 16, ID 4, IN 11, KS 6, KY 8, LA 8, MO 10, MS 6, MT 3, ND 3, NE 5, OK 7, SD 3, TN 11, TX 38, UT 6, WV 5, WY 3.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Thank you, Rep. Todd Akin for the insight into the Republican mindset

In 2007, in the United States, approximately 93,000 women were victims of forcible rape as defined by the F.B.I . viz.., “The carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will.”  That definition leaves out 248,300 instances of anal, oral and statutory rape; incest; rape with an object, finger or fist, and rape of men. Most rapes do not fall into this narrow definition. 

The probability that a woman who is forcibly raped will become pregnant is 1 in 20, exactly the same as the probability of pregnancy in the cases of unprotected sex. Simple math tells us that the forcible rapes resulted in 4,650 pregnancies. Another significant number of pregnancies were the result of non-forcible rape, e.g. statutory rape and incest. That someone would refer to the forcible rapes as defined by the F.B.I as “legitimate” is shocking, and it leaves me scratching my head as I contemplate what he would call the rape of a intellectually challenged 14 year old who is tricked into having sex. According to a 1996 article  in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, “an estimated 32,101 pregnancies result from rape each year.”

By now, everyone knows that Missouri candidate for the U.S. Senate, Rep. Todd Akin has said that doctors have told him that cases of forcible rape rarely result in pregnancy.  “If it’s a legitimate rape, says he "the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let's assume maybe that didn't work or something. I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child.”  Republicans are running away from this statement with a passion. Andrea Saul, a Romney-Ryan spokesperson said on Sunday that her candidates “disagree” with Akin and “would not oppose abortion in instances of rape.” This gave the candidates time to stick their finger in the wind, and by Monday they determined that they needed to condemn the language in stronger terms. Romney told the National Review Online that “Congressman’s Akin comments on rape are insulting, inexcusable, and, frankly, wrong. Like millions of other Americans, we found them to be offensive.”

As usual, the analysis offered by the mass media will be truncated to fit the demands of the news cycle and an audience that is largely affected by A.D.D. But beyond the fact that Akin is a boorish ignoramus, there is more to the outrageous comment he made. First, let’s give him credit for trying to walk back his comments. Unfortunately, he failed. He claims that he misspoke. The word “misspoke” means you said one thing but meant another, i.e. a slip of the tongue. It may reveal a lot about the subconscious thinking of the speaker, though in my opinion, usually not as much as pop-psychologists would have you believe. Be that as it may, it is not misspeaking when you meant what you said and said what you meant and, even though later it may be brought to your attention that what you meant and said was impolitic. That’s exactly what happened to Akin though the fact that he didn’t realize beforehand that what he was saying was stupid speaks to us about how far out of the mainstream this Republican representative is.

The myth that rape doesn’t result in pregnancy is a mainstay of the lunatic anti-abortion maniacs. For a more complete discussion, see, “That’s Not ‘Mispoke’” on Talking Points Memo.    Indeed, this ignorant justification for anti-abortion legislation has a long history as documented in The Atlantic,  “The canard that will not die; ‘legitimate’ rape doesn’t cause pregnancy.” 

What I found disturbing is the fact that in describing the results of a rape-induced pregnancy the wannabe Senator said, “I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child.” This is wrong on many levels.

First, a zygote is not a child. Congressman Akin, as well as Mr. Romney and Rep. Ryan have all supported a “personhood amendment” that would redefine a person to include a fertilized egg, but it has not become law anywhere. In fact, the voters of Mississippi have voted down a similar amendment last November, and Mississippi voters are not known as a liberal bunch. In Ohio, an attempt to get the measure on the ballot failed last month. Todd Akin and Paul Ryan co-sponsored a “personhood” amendment in the House of Representatives. The so called, “Sanctity of Human Life Act,” declares that a fertilized egg “shall have all the legal and constitutional attributes and privileges of personhood.” This would outlaw abortion, including in cases of rape and incest as well as some forms of contraception and in vitro fertilization. Mitt Romney has said that he would support a “personhood amendment,” when talking to his base on the Mike Huckabee show, but, as with so many issues, including a woman’s right to choose, he has said the exact opposite on other occasions. Give Mr. Romney credit for consistency in this: He invariably will profess to be on both sides of any issue.

Second, I find it noteworthy that in the case of rape, the first response of Mr Akin is to say, “there should be some punishment.” It is hardly a feat of political bravery to say that rapists should be punished, and I know of no one who advocates otherwise. But should punishment be the first response? Shouldn’t the immediate concern be for the woman so horribly victimized? Shouldn’t our instincts direct us to react with caring compassion for a woman whose life is changed by an actual invasion of her body and a complete theft of her autonomy?

This may seem like a quibble to some but it is not. The authoritarian personality has been well studied in the wake of the Holocaust as social scientists and psychologists struggled to understand how humans can collectively act with such cruelty. And what has been found is that the authoritarian personality can be diagnosed using standard tests that measure the F (for fascistic) scale.

Characteristics of the authoritarian personality include a cynical view of mankind and a need for power and toughness, as well as perceived lapses in society’s conventional norms. Other characteristics of this personality type are a general tendency to focus upon those who violate conventional values and act harshly towards them (authoritarian aggression), and an exaggerated concern with promiscuity. Notice how is so few words, Rep. Akin revealed these traits, giving us strong evidence that he has an authoritarian personality.

That Rep. Akin would focus on punishment as a first response is, as I have said, significant, but notice also, how in discussing the issue, he avoids any mention of the woman who has been brutalized. It is as if to him the dichotomy is between the rapist and the child, and the woman is just a vessel for forcible implanted sperm and the resulting zygote, not even worthy of mention. Is it any wonder that voters feel that there is a war on women?

The hostility towards women and abortion is a common feature of authoritarian personalities. Women do not represent to them the thing they value most, namely, “power and toughness.” Indeed, studies of fascist states have found that the governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Divorce, abortion and homosexuality are suppressed and the state is represented as the ultimate guardian of the family institution. Here we have further evidence that Akin and Ryan, and, depending upon whom he is talking to, Romney, have the authoritarian personality that can be so destructive to democracy.

Will Akin drop out of the race for Senator Claire McCaskill’s seat? I wouldn’t count on it. If he stays in, he is a seriously wounded candidate and the Karl Rove super-PAC has pulled out of his race. But this little peak into the ideology of the extreme right – of which Ryan, and increasingly Romney are a part – should set off alarm bells for any and all who love American democracy.

For this insight, we should thank Rep. Akin, 

“... and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”

Friday, August 17, 2012

Why I say Mitt Romney is the biggest liar of all time

Today, I came across this compendium of the works of Mendacious Mitt, written in the comments section to the Five Thirty Eight blog, posted by someone who goes by the nom de plume, Barking Pumpkin. I wish I could take credit for it.

If this is, as Romney claims, a "time for truths," why does he keep lying? 

1. At an impromptu event in South Carolina yesterday, Romney said on Medicare policy, "Our plan [has] no change for current seniors and those 55 and older."

That's plainly false. Romney's plan eliminates all new benefits for seniors under the Affordable Care Act, which necessarily means higher prescription drug costs for seniors, and more expensive preventive care.

2. At the same event, Romney argued, "Under the president's plan, [Medicare] goes bankrupt... Under the plan I propose, it is solvent."

That's the exact opposite of reality. Obama's policy strengthens Medicare's finances, and under Romney's plan, the system would be closer to insolvency faster.

3. In Chillicothe, Ohio, Romney said that under Obama, "We've got lower economic growth."

Actually, we got higher economic growth.

4. In the same speech, Romney said that under Obama, "We've got higher unemployment."

Actually, we got lower unemployment.

5. He went on to say the annual budget deficit has hit the $1 trillion mark under Obama for the "first time the history of our country."

Not true. The first time in the history of our country that the deficit hit $1 trillion was George W. Bush's last year in office, when the annual shortfall was $1.3 trillion.

6. Romney added that Obama promised "he'd get the unemployment down to under 5.6 percent today if we pass that $1 trillion stimulus package."

That's actually two falsehoods wrapped as one. For one thing, the stimulus wasn't $1 trillion (Romney's off by over $200 billion, and that's real money). For another, that's not what Obama promised.

7. Romney added, "You see unlike President Obama, I won't raise taxes on small business."

Obama has repeatedly cut taxes on small businesses -- by some counts, 18 times -- and if given a second term, his tax plan would have no effect on 97% of small businesses.

8. In an interview with Fortune magazine, Romney said the president's stimulus measures "have not put Americans back to work."

Yes they have.

9. In the same interview, Romney said he would create jobs by "taking advantage of America's energy resources, particularly natural gas, as well as coal, oil, nuclear, solar, and wind."

Much of this is contradicted by Romney's own agenda. He opposes the wind production tax credit, no matter how many jobs it costs the nation, and has vowed to cut off investments in renewable energy programs (Romney has said wind and solar do not constitute "real energy.")

10. Romney went on to say, "A nation which is a highly productive nation as we are benefits by trade with others... The Obama administration has negotiated no new [trade] agreements."

Did Romney not hear about the trade agreements with Panama, Colombia, and South Korea.

11. Romney added, "We have to cut the deficit and get America on track to a balanced budget in order to convince investors that America is a good place to invest long term.... The president has done virtually nothing other than to propose a series of tax increases."

Actually, Obama proposed a massive, $4 trillion "grand bargain," most of which was made up of spending cuts. Congressional Republicans turned it down anyway.

12. Romney also said, "We're at a 30-year low in new business startups."

Still not true.

13. Romney went on to say, "I indicated as I announced my tax plan that the key principles included the following. First, that high-income people would continue to pay the same share of the tax burden that they do today."

At a minimum, this is ridiculously misleading. Under Romney's plan, high-income people would get an enormous tax break.

14. Romney added, "Obamacare is a tax. It's been so determined by the Supreme Court, and it falls predominantly on the middle class."

He's referring to an individual mandate that would apply to 1% of the population. And if President Obama's health care policy "raised taxes on the middle class," then Mitt Romney raised taxes on the middle class. [Only one Justice said it was a tax – Big Mitch]

15. Romney also said, "President Obama raises taxes on the middle class. I will under no circumstances raise taxes on the middle class."

There's overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

16. Romney went on to say, "I will follow a model similar to Simpson-Bowles."

No he won't.

17. Romney also said, "I believe infrastructure is going to see very substantial investments over the coming decade."

He may believe that, but he's also endorsed a budget plan that drastically curtails infrastructure investments.

18. Romney argued, "I believe that you're going to see us having created 12 million new jobs."

If we do nothing, we're on track to create 12 million new American jobs over the next four years anyway.

19. In a televised ad, Romney said Obama "cut $716 billion dollars from Medicare ... to pay for Obamacare."

Oh, please.

20. The ad goes on to say, in reference to seniors, "So now the money you paid for your guaranteed healthcare is going to a massive new government program that's not for you."

That's plainly false. Under the Affordable Care Act, seniors pay less for prescription medication and preventive care -- meaning the policy is "for" them, too.

21. At a campaign stop in Ohio, Romney said under Obama we're not "adding jobs in the coal industry" and not "producing more coal."

Romney's lying. In reality, we're adding jobs in the coal industry and producing more coal.

22. Romney said this week that Paul Ryan reached out to Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) to "co-lead a piece of legislation that makes sure we can save Medicare."

According to Ron Wyden, that's ridiculously untrue.

23. In another attack ad this week, Romney once again accused Obama of "quietly ending work requirements" in the welfare law.

He's still blatantly lying.

24. In Beallsville, Ohio, Romney argued, "President said he'd cut the deficit in half. He's doubled it."

Maybe Romney doesn't know what "double" means. The deficit on Obama's first day was $1.3 trillion. Last year, it was also $1.3 trillion. This year, it's projected to be $1.1 trillion. When he says the president "more than doubled" the deficit, as he has many times, Romney's lying.

25. In the same speech, Romney added that Obama has "raided that [Medicare] trust fund."

Obama has strengthened the Medicare trust fund.

26. Romney went on to call the Affordable Care Act an "unproven federal government takeover to health care."

There is no universe in which this makes sense -- "Obamacare" relies on private insurers, not a government takeover. (Also, it's not "unproven" -- the policy works quite well in, ahem, Massachusetts.)

27. Romney also said, "My number four [goal] is to stop spending massively more than we take in to get America on track to have a balanced budget. And I'll do it."

No you won't.

Romney says his plan "can't be scored," but independent budget analysts have found his agenda would make the deficit bigger, not smaller, and add trillions to the national debt.

28. Romney went on to say, "Seventy-five percent of small businesses in this country surveyed by the Chamber of Commerce said that Obamacare makes it less likely for them to hire people."

The "survey" is a joke. The Chamber, a pro-Republican lobbying institution heavily invested in helping Romney, put up an unscientific online survey. Treating this as a legitimate poll of businesses is fundamentally dishonest. [The Chamber has criticized Romney for this distortion of the truth – Big Mitch]

29. Romney also said, "I'm going to put work back into welfare."

Work hasn't been taken out of welfare.

30. Romney went on to say, "[Obama] said if you have a business, you didn't build that. Someone else did that."

That's not even close to what the president said.

31. At an event in St. Augustine, Florida, Romney said the president "won't want to remind people of Greece because that's where he's taking our country if we don't get off the road we're on."

That's painfully untrue.

32. In the same speech Romney said of the president, "He said he'd measure progress also by whether people were able to have a good job that kept them in their home and paid their mortgage. Well, 8.5 million homes foreclosed, a record level, is not success, Mr. President."

Putting aside how dishonest it is for Romney to blame the housing crash on the President, let's also not forget that Romney intends to deliberately avoid any efforts to curtail foreclosures.

33. Romney added, "I'm going to take every government program and apply this test: Is this program so critical it's worth borrowing money from China to pay for it? And if it's not, we'll get rid of it."

This continues to be misleading. The implication here is that U.S. debt is financed by the Chinese, but this isn't true -- China only holds about 8% of the nation's debt.

_________________________ end quote _____________________

Now go onto the comments section and vote for your favorite of Mitt's lies.

... and tell 'em Big Mitch sent ya!