Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Killing Mitt Softly: His Not Being In a Position To show Leadership By Persuading Rightwing Republicans to Agree to Their Own Policy Proposals

Both Romneys said he would be more effective at navigating the current political moment.

“I’ll look at what’s happening right now, I wish I were there,” Mitt Romney said. “It kills me not to be there, not to be in the White House doing what needs to be done. The president is the leader of the nation. The president brings people together, does the deals, does the trades, knocks the heads together; the president leads. And — and I don’t see that kind of — of leadership happening right now.”

Mitt Romney: ‘It kills me’ not to be president, Reid J. Epstein, Politico, this morning, reporting on Mitt and Ann Romney’s recorded interview with fox News’ Chris Wallace,* aired yesterday

Seriously, Mitt?  Seriously?  

You ran on a Tea Party fiscal agenda of lowering tax rates by 20%–a huge tax break for the wealthy–and increasing defense spending, and absolutely gutting social-safety-net spending.  You chose as your running mate the very architect of most of this fiscal plan, the exceptions being the across-the-board 20% tax cuts and the increased defense spending, although the tax cuts, if not the increased defense spending, would probably be an easy sell to the Tea Party folks.  And you claim that your superior leadership skills would enable you to persuade the Republican congressional delegation to agree, grudgingly, of course, to go along with this?

Yes, it would be a tough, uphill battle.  But onward, Mormon soldier.  Especially one with leadership skills.

The easier part, I guess, would be persuading the Senate Democrats to go along with this, by throwing them a bone or two–e.g., I’ll agree to not completely gut the Medicaid subsidies to elderly nursing home residents, since many nursing home owners vote Republican, and I’ll persuade the Tea Party legislators to give in on that!–and by reminding them that we just held an election that amounted to a referendum on my proposed fiscal plan versus the Democrats’ fiscal plan, and I won.  

And by reminding the Dem senators who are up for reelection in 2014 that their electoral “district,” unlike the House members’ districts, can’t be gerrymandered.  Not without changing the boundaries of your state, anyway, which might be hard to do.

And, well, since the Dem senators aren’t, y’know, Republican senators, much less Republican House members, they would understand that in fact we did just have an electoral referendum on these very issues.  And they would have enough respect for the concept of democracy to agree to compromise somewhat.

Elsewhere in that interview, Romney attributed his loss to the 47% videotape and to a wholesale (my word; not his) rejection by racial minorities.  Which he was tremendously effective in navigating as part of the current political moment when, a week after the election, when he no longer was soliciting campaign contributions from very wealthy Republicans but was instead apologizing to the ones who donated generously, he effectively reiterated his hostility and condescension toward both the 47% and racial minorities by attributing his loss to minorities–mainly Hispanics–who were eager for the gifts (his word; not mine) Obama was giving them, especially the gift of “free” healthcare, through Obamacare.

Yup, that’s what made the difference in the election. Not a rejection of the Tea Party/Ryan/Romney fiscal plan, but gifts to Hispanics via Obamacare.   

Cluelessness continues to be a hallmark of Romney’s better half, as well.  Wife Ann, not to be outdone by her husband in missing the message of this election–that, by about five million votes in the presidential election. about one and one-half million votes in congressional elections, and by a clear majority in Senate elections, as well, the electorate rejected what Romney says his leadership as president would lead to–said all that was necessary for her husband to have won was for the public to learn how kind he is to members of his church, and to others he knows personally, when they need some kindnesses.

Really, Ann?  You really think that?

In an article today in the New York Times titled As Automatic Budget Cuts Go Into Effect, Poor May Be Hit Particularly Hard, Times reporter Annie Lowrey reports that federal housing vouchers, including to many disabled people, in New York City and Seattle and other high-rent cities, are about to be cut off, as are federal financial assistance to homeless shelters.  But few of the people, at least outside Utah, who will be affected are members of Romney’s church or know him personally.  So neither Romney’s kindnesses in his personal life nor his leadership skills as president, had he won the election, would have helped them, although his wife fails to understand this.  

The fact is that Romney is not in the White House because a majority of the electorate disagrees with him, and with the Tea Party, about what needs to be done. We do nonetheless await with bated breath his more effective navigation of the current political moment.  Assisted by wife Ann, his navigator.

*CORRECTION: This post originally said the interview was with NBC’s David Gregory. My sincere apology, NBC and Mr. Gregory. Obviously, I didn’t watch the interview; I just read about it.

The Real Problem With Ann Romney

My introduction (so to speak) to Ann Romney came, if I recall correctly, about two years ago, when I read an article (I can’t remember where) that profiled the Romneys in-depth.  The article discussed the Seamus matter, and the 2007 Boston Globe article in which the Romneys’ son Tagg revealed the incident to reporter Neil Swidey. 

But I had heard about that before; I read Gail Collins’ New York Times column regularly, and have reacted to the incident with as much dismay as she has.  And I had wondered before why Ann hadn’t disabused her husband of the idea that they should put the dog, rather than, say, the luggage or athletic equipment that they also were transporting on the station wagon roof.  And I wondered this again when reading the new detailed profile, which pointed out that during those long trips, Romney refused to stop for bathroom breaks at the request of any of the kids, but would do so at Ann’s request.

In fact, a strong theme of the article is that Ann pretty much calls the shots on family matters. Large and small.  Including, the article said, on the whether to enlarge their home, repeatedly, so that even in their upscale suburb—an older elegant suburb of Boston, which Wikipedia says has seen little growth since the 1950s and “is best known for the mansion-filled Belmont Hill neighborhood, although most residents live in more densely settled, low-lying areas around the Hill”—the house now dwarfs nearby ones. 

According to the article, during Romney’s run for governor, some of their neighbors complained publicly about the Romneys’ outside expansion of their home in the older, built-up suburb. Friends of the Romneys had told reporters then that it was Ann who had wanted the expansions.  When asked about it by a reporter, she said that she and her husband wanted the expansions because they wanted their house to be the one where their kids and their friends wanted to spend most of their time.

That’s right.  Ann Romney thought it wouldn’t sufficiently tug at the heartstrings of parents to simply explain that they had five children, close in age and all still at home when the expansions were done, and that they wanted more room for the family.  No, instead, her tin ear told her it was better politically to say they decided to use their larger purchasing power to buy the favor of their kids and their kids’ friends and win the competition for who’s home was most preferred as a hangout.  After all, doesn’t every parent want that?  And so wouldn’t every parent identify with their decision to grow their home in proportion to their huge income?

Well, yes, to the first question.  And, no, to the second one.  Or at least, no, to the indifference this woman showed to the interests of others—so indifferent that she thought it was a good political move to say what she said.

I thought of that article today when reading comments on another website about the news reports of Ann’s remarks last night in a radio interview in Iowa:

Stop it. This is hard. You want to try it? Get in the ring.  This is hard and, you know, it’s an important thing that we’re doing right now and it’s an important election and it is time for all Americans to realize how significant this election is and how lucky we are to have someone with Mitt’s qualifications and experience and know-how to be able to have the opportunity to run this country.

One of the commenters mentioned a statement by Ann back in May or June, shortly after her husband had secured the nomination, in which she said, “It’s our turn.”  I remember the statement well—its smugness and, even more than that, its self-absorption.  It’s all about them, apparently, according to her, I remember thinking.  I was surprised at the time that more wasn’t made of the comment, in the media.  But it probably was viewed as a one-off.  And she isn’t the candidate; she’s just the candidate’s wife.

But as more time has passed, and she’s been more prominent in the campaign, here vapidity, shallowness and utter self-absorption seem to me striking—and undeniable.  When she talks about her own (very serious) medical problems, she gives no indication at all that she’s aware that many others have very serious medical problems but no way to buy a horse for therapy.  When she talks about her family’s travails other than her serious medical problems, she lists long, rainy afternoons when her kids grew antsy and noisy in her huge home with so many amenities that the kids and their friends all wanted to spend a lot of time there.  When she talks of her husband’s generosity, with his time and his money, she talks of his kindnesses and generosity toward their friends, extended family members and members of their religious order; she gives no hint that he, or she, has ever had a generous thought toward anyone else. 

Chances are, he (if not she) has, but apparently neither of them realizes that kindnesses, love and emotional support, or at least empathy, toward people with whom they can’t quiet identify may be important for someone in high public office to have.  And, conversely, that being, say, a parent who wants the best for her kids at the expense of other parents isn’t a public policy position.  Or at least isn’t one that will endear you to others.  And, for that matter, that being a parent who wants the best for her kids, period, hardly distinguishes you from others, and that it isn’t a public policy position.  I’d say she needs a new schtik, but I don’t think this is a schtik.  I think there’s just nothing more to her.  No discernible depth whatsoever. Unless you count her promise during her convention speech that “this man will not fail!”

By now, anyone who hasn’t noticed this woman’s vapidity, shallowness and bald cluelessness hasn’t been paying much attention or is just blinded by partisanship. Nor is my view a partisan one. It’s absolutely impossible for me to imagine Cindy McCain, Laura Bush or Barbara Bush (none of whom were political personalities in their own right, as was Elizabeth Dole) making such hollow, shallow comments, much less doing it incessantly, uninterrupted by anything thoughtful.  Then again, those three women had actual brains. And some substance.

I don’t begrudge Ann Romney her moments of public frustration and anger.  These last two weeks surely have been an emotional ordeal for her, it’s been a long, long, trying campaign, and she is, after all, just the candidate’s spouse, not the candidate.  And there’s a limit to the snarkiness that I want to employ against the spouse of a candidate.  But after months of trying to like her, then to tolerate her, even if I couldn’t stand her husband, I’ve found it, well, hard.

Individualism vs. Collectivism: Thanks For the Ammunition, Ann

Ann Romney said in an interview airing Wednesday that her husband has no plans to release additional tax returns, saying “it’ll just give them more ammunition” and insisting that “there’s nothing we’re hiding.”

“We have been very transparent to what’s legally required of us. But the more we release, the more we get attacked, the more we get questioned, the more we get pushed. And so we have done what’s legally required and there’s going to be no more, there’s going to be no more tax releases given,” she said in the interview by NBC News. “And there’s a reason for that, and that’s because of how, what happens as soon as we release anything.”

Romney is releasing two years of his tax returns. Democrats have said what’s he hiding and demanded he make public the last 10 years or more.

Ann Romney also defended Romney’s character and said the “only reason we don’t disclose more is we’ll just become a bigger target.”

“Mitt’s financial disclosures when he was governor are huge if people want to really look and see any question they have,” she said. “The other thing they have to understand is that Mitt is as honest — his integrity is just golden. We pay our taxes, we are absolutely — beyond paying our taxes we also give 10 percent of our income to charity.”

She also said that the couple has had a blind trust since 2002 before Romney was governor and that they don’t know what’s in it.

“There’s nothing we’re hiding,” she said, later adding: “I’ll be curious to see what’s in there too.”

            — Ann Romney: No more tax returns, Tomer Ovadia, Politico, today

An article published recently by James B. Stewart in the New York Times titled In Superrich, Clues to What Might Be in Romney’s Returns, overlooked because it was published on Saturday, the day on which Romney made his Ryan announcement, explains that 2008 and 2009 were banner tax-break years for a large number of very wealthy people whose main or entire source of income comes from stock dividends and the sale of securities. 

The occasion for the article was the IRS’s release last week of “data from the 400 individual income tax returns reporting the highest adjusted gross income, writes Stewart. “This elite ultrarich group,” he says, “earned on average $202 million in 2009, the latest year available.  And buried in the data is the startling disclosure that six of the 400 paid no federal income tax.”

Which suggestions the likelihood that the Romneys paid no, or almost no, income taxes for 2008 and 2009. 

It does not take a math genius or a tax expert to recognize this.  That’s good, because I am neither.  But I am good enough in math (if barely) to know that 2006, the last year of Romney’s term as governor, ended before 2008 began. 

And, thanks to the Romney tax-returns controversy, I know that in 2009 the Department of Justice entered into an agreement with UBS, Switzerland’s largest bank, and other Swiss banks, in which the banks agreed to disclose to the U.S. government the identities of American holders of Swiss bank accounts, and that approximately 34,000 Americans took advantage of an amnesty program that the IRS and Justice Department offered, by which voluntary payment of back taxes and interest and penalties would remove criminal liability and public disclosure. 

And I have followed the Romney tax story closely enough during the last few months to know that the Romneys’ 2010 tax returns revealed a bank account with UBS, apparently opened in 2003, was closed sometime during that year and had $3 million in it when it was closed.  And that, according to news reports, Romney did not disclose this account on his Massachusetts financial-disclosure forms—although, unless my math ability (such as it is) fails me, 2003 ended before early 2007, when Romney’s term as governor ended. 

And that, also according to news reports, the 2010 returns show that the Romneys have a shell corporation in the tax haven of Bermuda into which they apparently were funneling income from overseas Bain investments, and that one day before Romney was sworn in as governor, the corporation’s shares were transferred to Ann Romney, and the corporation was not disclosed on Romney’s Massachusetts financial-disclosure forms.

So, yes, Ann, you’re hiding something.  You’re hiding whatever it is that would give your opponent ammunition, whatever it is that would make your husband a bigger target.  And that ammunition is that, whether or not you and he failed to disclose that Swiss account and any other Swiss accounts you held that were closed before 2010 until a gun was held to your heads in 2009, you and he employed tax loopholes and special tax rates that your husband and (even more so) his running mate plan to expand so as to eliminate the very need for offshore tax shelters.  They plan to make this country an overt tax shelter for the wealthy and, especially, for the very wealthy—that is, for people like you and your husband. They have made that central to their policy plans, while desperately trying to deflect scrutiny of those proposals. 

Stewart writes in his article, “Tax experts I consulted said these results almost certainly reflected aggressive use of tax-loss carry-forwards from 2008, since the stock market bottomed in March 2009 and rallied strongly during the rest of the year.”  Expressly under Paul Ryan’s plan, there will be no income tax at all on capital gains and on dividends.  Every year will be 2008 and 2009 for the Romneys!  Except, of course, for the need for aggressive use of tax-loss carry-forwards, and the like; no more need for that sort of thing.

A lot of eyebrows were raised on Sunday when Ryan, sitting next to Romney in an interview, told Bob Schieffer that he wants to end the tax breaks that apply only to the wealthy.  That’s nice, but of no effect.  A seminal part of his tax-and-budget plan, passed this year by the House, is the elimination of all income taxes on capital gains and dividends.  And although this would mean that many very wealthy people will pay no income taxes or estate taxes, and many other very wealthy people would pay income taxes at a single-digit rate, the elimination of these taxes would apply as well to the non-wealthy who have a capital gain or receive stock dividends, however small.  And so—voila!—Ryan’s statement, made with such earnestness, does not apply to the issue of taxes on capital gains and dividends.  Nor, for that matter, to estate taxes, which his plan entirely eliminates; some non-wealthy people leave small estates, after all.  And semantics is the name of their game, the objective of which is the enabling of ever more vast accumulations of wealth, utterly unfettered by tax obligations.  Pure and simple.

My big fear about the all-Medicare-all-the-time campaign that began last weekend with Romney’s Ryan announcement is that it allows Romney and Ryan to claim the mantle of straight talkers about what they warn is a Medicare-caused fiscal calamity that awaits.  They have yet to explain why, if they fear such a calamity, they propose to reduce federal revenue by trillions of dollars, through their tax-elimination-on-the-wealthy plan.  And when they stress, as they do again and again, that their destroy-Medicare-in-order-to-save-it plan will not end the current program for its current or relatively-imminent recipients (those who are 55 or older), maybe they’ll deign to reveal what programs will be eliminated in order to pay for Medicare for current recipients and baby boomers andand—the trillions-of-dollars tax cuts for the wealthy.

My suggestion: Hurricane disaster relief for the southern Atlantic and Gulf Coast states, which will vote for this ticket en force, and crop insurance and drought disaster relief for the plains states, which will vote for them and their budget plan in almost as large percentages. 

In 2005, Ryan now-famously advised his audience when he addressed an Ayn Rand fan club that they should make no mistake: current politics is a clash between “individualism” and “collectivism.”  And indeed it is.

Now, let’s ensure that the public knows the specifics.  

About Ann Romney’s—And Other MS Victims’—Darkest Hour (those who have healthcare insurance, those who have very high deductibles, and those who may lose their jobs and be unable to get new healthcare insurance. Or a dressage horse.)


The DNC has apologized for using Ann Romney’s London Olympics-bound horse in an attack targeting her husband.
The Hill explains that Democrats had used the dressage horse to illustrate its claim that the presumptive GOP nominee was “dancing around the issue” of his decision not to release his tax returns. (Dressage is a dance-like sport, but on a horse. Get it?)
The problem? The horse is used by Ann Romney for therapy related to her multiple sclerosis.
DNC spokesperson Brad Woodhouse told ABC News that the decision to use footage of the horse “was not meant to offend Mrs. Romney in any way, and we regret it if it did.” Woodhouse added that the group won’t “invoke the horse any further to avoid misinterpretation.”
For what it’s worth, the dressage horse, named Rafalca, apparently gets the Romneys a rather hefty tax credit. (Literally, fwiw: $77,000 a year.)
A headline today on ABC News’ website, about an interview there today with Ann Romney, is “Mitt Romney’s Wife, Ann, Calls MS Diagnosis ‘MyDarkest Hour’.”  Unquestionably, that was a dark hour for her, and one that anyone can empathize with.  And, yes, it’s great that dressage helps her regain some of the ability to balance she lost due to her MS.
But here’s my question to Ann Romney and her husband: How much darker an hour does she think it is for someone who’s given that diagnosis and either has no healthcare insurance or has a very high deductible, or who now dearly fears the loss of his or her job, either because of the health problem or for other reasons, and who, for resulting financial reasons or preexisting-condition reasons—or both—may never again have health insurance if the ACA is repealed? Or be able to get a dressage horse.
I don’t think Obama or the DNC should shy away from asking this question.  Or from doing an ad in which someone in exactly that position asks it.


UPDATE: Because of the emotional impact of this particular issue, I want post as part of the main post a Comments Section exchange between reader MC and me.  Here it is:

MC: I’m confused. Does owning horses or houses somehow make you a bad presidential candidate? And therapeutic horse riding is used for all sorts of medical conditions, so this is not unusual. Regardless of who I think should win the election, Ann Romney is drawing alot of attention to multiple sclerosis, which is a largely unknowable disease at this point. I have it. Its ruining my life. We need more awareness and research so we can actually understand what causes this disease and how to treat it with something better than a 33% success rate. I’m all for candidates hashing out their issues, but I agree with those who are calling for a cease fire when it comes to involving Ann and her illness. MS needs positive attention and deserves respect.
Me: Does owning horses or houses somehow make you a bad presidential candidate? That depends on how you got the money to buy the several dressage horses, each worth several hundred thousand dollars, and to buy the several houses, each worth several million dollars.  And on such things as whether or not you paid the full amount of taxes you owed, or instead hid or misrepresented the value of the assets in offshore accounts, including offshore IRA accounts, in order to evade taxes or even to avoid taxes using legal means available only to the very wealthy.  And whether your proposed tax policies, such as reducing yet again taxes on the wealthy, would benefit you (the candidate) extensively, to the detriment of a large percentage of the public.
And, of course, on what you (the voter, rather than the candidate) thinks is a bad presidential candidate. My view is different than yours, obviously.
As for Ann Romney’s MS and dressage therapy, it was Romney herself, not the DNC, that raised the issue, by going on television this morning and responding to the DNC ad by telling everyone that she uses the Olympic horse for therapy.  (She has several substitute horses when that horse is training or in, say, London for a competition.  She didn’t mention that, though, I guess.)  She also said that the MS diagnosis was her darkest hour.
Her husband is running for president partly on a platform of repealing the ACA, including the provision that requires insurance companies to accept everyone regardless of preexisting medical conditions, and, of course, the provisions that provide for expansion of Medicaid and for subsidies for premiums for some others.
You say that we need more awareness and research so we can actually understand what causes this disease and how to treat it with something better than a 33% success rate.  So true.  It’s true for so many other very series diseases, as well, that effect young people and middle-aged people.  ([Muscular dystrophy] comes quickly to my mind; someone dear to me died of it two years ago after having lived most of his life in a motorized wheelchair.)  But in this country, unlike in every other advanced industrialized democracy in the world, medical advances can be made use of here only by those who have access to employee-benefit medical insurance.  You’re obviously among them.  But not everyone else with MS or another debilitating chronic illness is.
Although I didn’t put this in my Comment response, I’d also like to note that under Romney’s proposed tax and budget cuts, which are extreme, there would be virtually no federal funds for medical research, either to the universities or to the NIH. So if you’re someone who places a high value on medical research—and I suspect that most people do—this is no small matter to consider when deciding whether Romney is a bad candidate or not.

Why Romney Doesn’t Want A Canadian National Healthcare ID Card

Romney’s best line of the day was unscripted. A stray Canadian had driven from Ontario to ask Romney a question and in the process joked that Romney could not have his ID card for Canada’s national health-care system.

The ball sat on the tee for a long second before Romney hit it. “I don’t want it!” Romney said. The crowd roared.

— “Two Michigan rallies revealRomney, Santorum flaws,” David A. Fahrenthold, Washington Post, Feb. 25, reporting on a rally earlier that day in Shelby Township, Mich. (suburban Detroit)

Hmm.  Well, okay.  Romney and his wife Ann, an MS victim, have about $220 million with which to pay their medical expenses. 
But there’s another reason that they don’t need national medical insurance: They live in Massachusetts, and so, by law, have medical insurance, even though neither Romney nor Ann is employed and even though Ann has a serious medical condition the onset of which predates the end of their coverage through Romney’s last employer.  That law is known, among those who deride it, as “Romneycare.”