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

The Last (Wildlife) Refuge of a Scoundrel

Tucked into the fiscal relief package for Puerto Rico this spring was a provision to give away a national treasure that belongs to all Americans — 3,100 acres of the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge. The proposal had nothing to do with the economic recovery of Puerto Rico. But it would have handed an important victory to extremists in Congress and state legislatures who want to grab national lands and turn them over to the states to be sold or leased. The measure to give Puerto Rico nearly one­-sixth of the island of federally protected coves, beaches and subtropical forests had the support of the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, Representative Rob Bishop, Republican of Utah, who is a leading proponent of an agenda to dispose of America’s public lands.

Fortunately, Hispanic and conservation groups helped rouse opposition to the effort, and the provision was taken out of the bill.

But that was only one of several efforts in Congress and elsewhere to dismantle the nation’s system of more than 560 wildlife refuges and 38 wetlands totaling about 150 million acres of land and water. Opponents of federal land ownership also want to dispose of hundreds of millions of acres of forests and rangelands owned by the American people. If they succeed, not even the national parks will be safe.

The lawmakers behind these attacks are determined, as they put it, to “reduce the federal estate” and give these public lands to cash-­hungry states or territories, where they could be leased, drilled, logged or sold to the highest bidder.

Don’t Give Away Our Wildlife Refuges, Jamie Williams, op-ed, New York Times, today

I remember when, back during his 2012 presidential campaign Mitt Romney, speaking somewhere out west, suddenly (or so I thought) included a rant about the vast amount of land the federal government owns, and said he would propose that most of it be turned over to the states.  I believe he made clear that this included most, if not all, national parks.

I was stunned, but quickly learned in reading a couple of articles about Romney’s proposal—there were, best as I could tell, only a couple articles mentioning it—that this is a top item on the wish list of some west-of-the-Mississippi Republican mega-donors, who want to be able to buy the land on the cheap.

It’s also of course a key theme of Cliven Bundy-type ranchers, although Bundy himself and some of the other virulent ones don’t even recognize current federal ownership of the land.  And that’s not where the votes are, in the Electoral College, anyway.  And it’s not why Romney, who already had the Bundy-crowd vote, was saying this.  Publicly.  What Romney wanted was a sort of quid pro quo, and the votes of the donors themselves wasn’t what he was after.

But the few pundits who noted Romney’s statement and commented on it pointed out that although Romney apparently didn’t realize this, most Americans, unlike members of his family, can’t afford lakefront summer homes.  And some can’t afford to stay in resorts.  Nor buy their own leafy acreage in a former wildlife preserve or national park in order to have a place to put down a tent or park an RV.

Romney never mentioned it again.  But I wondered why Obama didn’t.

Well, actually, I knew why.  It’s the same reason that election year after election year, the Democratic candidates, for reelection or election to the Senate or the House don’t mention the things the Republican members of Congress have proposed, sometimes successfully, that are appalling policies dictated by their donors, and that the public does not know about: Apprising the public of these things isn’t on the list of recommendations their political consultants advise them to do.  If it’s not a culture-wars issue or something else that most of the public already knows about, it won’t be on any of their consultants’ list of things to mention.  And if it’s even slightly complex, or the Wall Street folks don’t want the Dems to talk about it, then it’s per se not on the list.

Especially—especially—if it means “nationalizing” the election by pointing out what actually will happen if the Republicans gain control or keep control of the Congress.  As opposed to what will happen if the Dems do.

What won the election for Obama in 2012 was a series of ads run in the spring of that year by a sort-of-independent super PAC that educated the public about what Romney actually did as a venture capitalist, coupled with the 47% videotape in the early fall.  But the spring super PAC ads were attacked by some establishment Dems, including Bill Clinton, and by a few centrist pundits with ties to Wall Street, as class warfare and as attacking capitalism.  And the issue was not “nationalized” for congressional elections, even though the Republican budgets and antiregulatory proposals and other proposed legislation—some of it slipped into an unrelated bill at the last minute, a constant in fact with that crowd—because as always, the Dem consultants were horrified at the prospect of a nationalized congressional election.

“As always” included the 2014 elections.  And best as I can tell, this year’s congressional elections, too.

I had envisioned Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren—the two highest-profile progressives—neither of whom is on the ballot this year, and therefore both who are free to do so, barnstorming the country in an effort to apprise voters of the really ugly things that the Republican Congress keeps trying to force via one or another trick, on behalf of the party’s establishment donors.  Including the divestment of federal lands of all sorts to Republican donors via pass-through to, and then from, the states—not only in and of itself but as lucid illustration of the extremes to which the Republican Party is a party of oligarchs.

A party.  Invitation only.  Admission is steep but well worth the price for invitees.  And that whatever else you can say about the Democrats, their donors aren’t trying to turn vast public lands into private preserves of the Republican donors’ industries.

Oh, the horror of nationalizing the congressional elections.  (If you’re a Republican oligarch, not if you’re, well, not.)

Sanders has been aggressively soliciting campaign contributions, via Act Blue, for certain progressive congressional candidates.  And a few days ago he began soliciting contributions for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, in an email with the subject, “Time to elect a Democratic Senate”, or some such.

But I think he and Warren have been held back somewhat by Clinton’s open, aggressive courting of high-profile Republicans.  And now, as of yesterday, her weird and awful selection of—good graceKen Salazar as her transition team head seems to like a deliberate slight to progressives.  Young voters, at least outside of Colorado, don’t know about him, so she thought this would be freebee, but given social networking, it may well not be.  But Sanders and Warren know about him.  How do you campaign for a progressive Congress to team up with, well, someone who thinks Ken Salazar should head her presidential transition team?

I don’t know who it is that has her ear and is so enamored of uber-triangulating Colorado pols, but it’s someone who thinks it’s still the 1990s. Okay, I do know.  Probably. It’s Bill Clinton—the same person, I’d wager, who told her to jump right on it in going after those Republican endorsements and those Republican donors.  No time to waste.  And no time was wasted.

Maureen Dowd, in a stunning column last Sunday perfectly titled “The Perfect G.O.P. Nominee,”, got pretty close to the heart of why Clinton is so widely viewed as untrustworthy.  And as long as she remains under her husband’s spell there will be no easing of that view.

I’ve repeatedly analogized Donald Trump and Paul Ryan to Charlie McCarthy and Edgar Bergen, but both parties have nominated puppets as their presidential nominees.  I’ll certainly vote for Bill Clinton over Paul Ryan.

Although if Edgar Bergen’s name appears on my ballot, all bets are off.  I like transparency in presidential candidates.  And, who knows?  Maybe he likes the national parks system enough to mention its political endangerment while campaigning.



In November, 2012, asked a question he did not like by a reporter for The Gazette of Colorado Springs regarding Salazar’s association with [a] hauler who shipped wild horses to slaughter plants, Salazar told the reporter, “If you do that to me again, I’ll punch you out”. Salazar later apologized.


Great.  Also great:

US presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton has raised eyebrows with the hiring of Washington DC powerbroker and vocal Trans-Pacific Partnership supporter Ken Salazar.

Mr Salazar will head Ms Clinton’s White House transition team.

The appointment adds weight to speculation Ms Clinton, who became a TPP opponent when running for president, was a closet supporter of the proposed landmark pact between the US, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Canada and seven other Pacific Rim nations.

“The TPP is a strong trade deal that will level the playing field for workers to help middle-class families get ahead,” Mr Salazar, a former Colorado senator and interior secretary under President Barack Obama, co-wrote in a USA Today op-ed in November.

“It is also the greenest trade deal ever.” Ms Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump have both vowed to nix the TPP, a move that contrasts with Mr Obama’s pro-TPP stance. Ms Clinton’s vice president running mate Tim Kaine was also pro-TPP.

If Ms Clinton wins the November 8 presidential election, Mr Salazar will guide her in the months leading up to Mr Obama’s January exit from the White House. It is during that “lame duck” period Mr Obama has the best hope of pushing the TPP proposal through Congress.

Mr Salazar, who has worked at the influential Washington DC firm WilmerHale that has lobbied on trade policy, has also shown support for fracking and the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.

“He is pro-Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), pro-fracking and pro-Keystone XL pipeline,” Molly Dorozenski, campaign director for Greenpeace Democracy, wrote.

“If Clinton plans to effectively tackle climate change, the last thing her team needs is a fossil fuel industry friend like Salazar.”

On a trip to Australia in 2012 as US secretary of state Ms Clinton declared in Adelaide the “TPP sets the gold standard in trade agreements to open free, transparent, fair trade”.

Clinton supporters query pro-TPP hiring, Peter Mitchell, NZN US Correspondent – NZ Newswire, today

Dowd has it right.

Added 8/17 at 8:06 p.m.

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Wow. Seriously, Chris Cillizza and Sean Sullivan? Seriously??

Am I misunderstanding (certainly a possibility), or do the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza and Sean Sullivan write an entire article based on a really obviously ridiculous conflation of two separate concepts: what tax law is, and what tax law should be?

The article, titled “Mitt Romney was right (on taxes),” chastises the public for hypocrisy in believing, on the one hand, by wide poll margins, that people should do whatever they can to legally reduce their taxes as much as possible, yet on the other hand disapproving of politicians (especially wealthy ones) doing exactly that. These writers use two examples: the respective cases of Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, the latter who just released his newly-filed tax returns for last year showing that he and his wife paid federal income taxes at a rate of 18.4%.

About Romney, they write:

The two-time presidential candidate, whose considerable wealth made the release of his tax returns a focal point of the 2012 campaign, insisted that he paid what was required but no more.

“I pay all the taxes that are legally required and not a dollar more,” Romney said at a debate in January 2012 just prior to releasing his 2010 and 2011 returns. “I don’t think you want someone as the candidate for president who pays more taxes than he owes.”

Eighty-five percent of the American public should have agreed with Romney. But, of course, they didn’t. Romney was cast as trying to game the system for the benefit of he and his wealthy friends. In a February 2012 Washington Post-ABC News poll, two in three Americans said Romney did not pay his fair share of taxes (the public was split over the question in the fall). And a majority of voters in the 2012 exit poll said that Romney’s policies would generally favor the rich and he lost that portion of the vote overwhelmingly.

About Obama, they say, “The Drudge Report, a popular conservative-leaning aggregation site, quickly went with a banner expressing incredulity at the 18 percent rate. Conservatives on twitter were similarly disgruntled.”  As if it’s the general public rather than the far-right starve-the-beast crowd that’s shocked.  And as if it’s even clear that the Drudge Report writer’s incredulity is about Obama’s paying only the legally required amount rather than the lowness of the legally required amount.  The headline, which is not attached to a story, best as I can tell, but instead simply links to the Wall Street Journal news report about Obama’s tax return, reads, “Obama only pays tax rate of 18%?”

Well, yes.  That’s what Obama is actively trying to change: the lowness of the federal income taxes paid by the wealthy.

That much is obvious.  Obama campaigned on a promise to raise federal tax revenues obtained from the wealthy.  Romney campaigned on a promise to lower the tax revenues obtained from the wealthy, who are, y’know, jobs creators who took risks.  Risks!  Including, for many of them, such as Mitt and Ann Romney themselves and, especially, their sons, being born into a wealthy family.  Warren Buffett is not a politician, but it’s a safe bet that he paid no more income taxes than he owed under current tax law, even though he has been in the vanguard of high-profile people who openly plead with politicians to raise tax rates for the wealthy and also remove the outrageous loopholes available to them.

It’s also a safe bet–even safer than, say, betting on Berkshire Hathaway stock–that Warren Buffett has never had a retirement-savings account in a Cayman Islands bank that has between $20 million and $120 million (or the deflationary equivalent) in it, achieved almost certainly by stated initial gross devaluation of equities placed into the account.  And that he did not avail himself of the IRS’s 2009 tax amnesty program for people who were shielding income from the IRS in Swiss banks because he did shield income from the IRS in Swiss banks.  Romney likely did both, which probably is why he refused to release to the public tax documents that would dispel those inferences.  The only other reasonably possible motive for his failure to release those documents is that they would have highlighted the outrageousness of legal tax loopholes that Romney did not want to draw attention to–also a possibility, although, I suspect, not the actual, or at least not the predominant, one), but in any event not one that supports these journalists’ characterization of the public’s poll responses as hypocritical.

What’s really remarkable, in my opinion, is that at least one of these two Washington Post political writers, one of them very high-profile–and as a regular reader of their blog, The Fix, I suspect it is Cillizza, the high-profile one, rather than Sullivan–thinks that a poll question using the phrase “pay their fair share of taxes” references not preferred tax policy but instead actual, current tax policy. The poll question almost certainly was intended to reach, and was understood by the poll respondents to be asking, about the voter’s preferred tax law, not about how the voter thinks people should act, by choice, under current, existing tax law.  With the caveat, of course, that most people don’t think wealthy people such as the Romneys should violate tax law, as many, many people who followed the specifics of the Romney-tax-returns controversy last year did conclude.

There is, in other words, nothing even slightly hypocritical in believing that people are morally entitled to avail themselves of legal tax breaks but that tax law should be amended to remove some of those tax breaks, to raise tax rates on the wealthy, to tax investment income at the same or near-same rate as investment income, and to tax large estates.  Or to do at least some of these things.

The belief that the law in its current form does not exact payment of a fair share of tax revenues from the wealthy, and the belief that it’s fine for people to employ current tax law to lower their own taxes, irrespective of their views on what tax policy should be, are not contradictory. Unless, like one or both of these journalists, you think the phrase “fair share of taxes” means two distinct and contrary things at once.  But most people, I’m pretty sure, understand quite well what that phrase addresses.  And it’s only one of those two things, not both.

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Jeb Bush Says Mitt Romney’s Taxes Are Incredibly High. We Should Elect Bush President in 2016 So That He Can Rectify That.

President Obama won a second term in the White House in part by “dividing the country,” former Florida governor Jeb Bush (R) said in an interview that aired on Sunday morning.

“I think the basic part of his campaign was that those that were successful weren’t paying their fair share, even though we have incredibly high taxes for high income Americans,” Bush said on CBS News’ “Face The Nation.” “I think he ran a campaign of them and us. And it was quite effective, that somehow the Republicans don’t care about the large number of people.”

Bush said in order to win future elections, Republicans have to offer a “compelling alternative” to that narrative, which he said was untrue. The former governor said he sees such an alternative view taking shape.

Bush’s appearance on “Face The Nation” was part of a Sunday show blitz. The former governor, who is promoting a new book on immigration, is appeared [sic] on five Sunday news programs.

Jeb Bush: Obama won reelection by ‘dividing the country’, Sean Sullivan, Washington Post, yesterday

Well, last week’s big Jeb Bush news was all about the book he co-wrote last year with Clint Bolick, a five-star general in the rightwing-litigation wars during the past three decades.  The book is titled Immigration Wars.  In it, Bush, who, pre-Tea Party, had supported a yellow brick road to citizenship for illegal immigrants, reversed that position, making him look sort of like the Wizard of Oz.

This didn’t play well in the news media, or (I suspect) with much of the public, who thought that one Mitt Romney presidential campaign was more than enough, thank you very much.  

Not to worry, though.  Bush quickly explained that he and Bolick wrote that book last year, and, in light of the new recognition by the political right that, like defense spending cuts, this is not an issue worth losing national elections over, he’s changed his mind again.  Slightly. He’s once again okay with a path to citizenship, but only if that path doesn’t reward lawlessness.  By which he apparently was referring to crossing the border illegally and remaining here, not, say, mugging or murdering, although he probably doesn’t want to appear to be okay with those things, either. The path he now favors, at least as of yesterday, is shaped like a pretzel, I guess.  

The original, twisted ones, not the straight ones.  Similar to his own path on immigration issues. Rolled Gold and Snyder’s of Hanover might offer to lend him some sample molds.

As always for celebrity books, the publishing contract included a commitment to publicize the book.  Which undoubtedly sounded like a terrific idea not just to Bush’s publisher but also to Bush himself, back so many months ago.  Like last summer.  So instead of curling up with the Sunday comics on Sunday morning, as he surely would have preferred now that it’s the post-2012 election era, he made the Sunday talk show rounds.  (Actually, Bush might well have spent yesterday morning at home reading the comics; I didn’t watch the shows yesterday, but these days big-name folks pre-tape these interviews, I guess.)  

And, on at least one of those shows, Face the Nation, as the quote above shows, he claimed both that Obama falsely painted Romney’s 47% comment as indicating that somehow the Republicans don’t care about the large number of people, that Paul Ryan’s and Mitt Romney’s Ayn Rand budget proposals fooled people into thinking that somehow the Republicans don’t care about the large number of people, and that we have incredibly high taxes for high income Americans.  

Mitt and Ann Romney’s 13.9% tax rate indeed is incredibly high. And were it not for Obama’s outrageous dividing of the country, a majority of voters would have recognized that and voted for Romney because of his plan to cut income tax rates by 20% across the board.  Partly, of course, as a deficit-reduction technique, but also in order to be fairer to the wealthy–whose taxes would have been reduced hugely.

The election, of course, occurred before the Jan. 1 “fiscal cliff” deal that raised income tax rates on regular income above $450,000 for couples, and regular income above $400,000 for individuals, and that raised rates on investment income–capital gains, dividends, interest–from 15% to 20%.  So maybe Bush was just saying that taxes on the wealthy are now incredibly high, and that at the time of the election they were only very, very high.  As compared with, say, taxes on the wealthy throughout the seven decades before the presidency of his brother.  Including during the presidency and the vice presidency of his father.  And as compared to taxes on the wealthy in virtually every other modern capitalist democracy in the world.  And if you turn the charts and graphs upside-down, that’s clearly the case.

Except for Greece, whose hallmark fiscal policy was the ignoring of tax rates; everyone was entitled, apparently, to pick their own tax rate.  


Bush did say in that quote above that in order to win future elections, Republicans will have to offer a compelling alternative to the false narrative that a big problem for this country is spiraling income inequality (a.k.a., dividing the country) and that somehow the Republicans don’t care about the large number of people.  But luckily, he is offering one: We have incredibly high taxes for high income Americans.  

I think it’s going to be a winner!  Whew. Compelling.

Post edited slightly for clarity after initial posting.

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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.

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Obama: "We are not a deadbeat nation." (But the Republicans are a deadbeat party.)

The issue here is whether America pays its bills.  We are not a deadbeat nation.  … This is the United States of America. We can’t manage our affairs in terms of the way we pay our bills? … I don’t think anyone would consider my position unreasonable.

— President Obama, today

So President Obama does read Angry Bear.  Cool!

Seriously, folks, I’m so happy that Obama’s beginning an intense campaign to educate the public about the quirky statute at issue in the debt-ceiling campaign.  About what “raising the debt ceiling” actually means, technically–that is, an authorization for the Treasury to pay already-incurred financial obligations–and about what the result would be if that authorization is not made.

Now I hope he quickly takes up Boehner’s challenge, repeated today, that “The American people do not support raising the debt ceiling without reducing government spending at the same time.”  As in: Oh?  The American people do think the United States should default on its already-incurred financial obligations?  Really?  Pray tell, Mr. Speaker, what is your evidence of that?

I hope Obama goes further, though, and publicly and specifically addresses the remainder of Boehner’s comments, which were:

The consequences of failing to increase the debt ceiling are real, but so too are the consequences of allowing our spending problem to go unresolved.  Without meaningful action, the debt will continue to act as an anchor on our economy, costing American jobs and endangering our children’s future. The House will do its job and pass responsible legislation that controls spending, meets our nation’s obligations and keeps the government running, and we will insist that the Democratic majority in Washington do the same.

Responding to Mr. Obama’s remarks, the House speaker, John A. Boehner of Ohio, said in a statement:

The American people do not support raising the debt ceiling without reducing government spending at the same time. The consequences of failing to increase the debt ceiling are real, but so too are the consequences of allowing our spending problem to go unresolved.  Without meaningful action, the debt will continue to act as an anchor on our economy, costing American jobs and endangering our children’s future. The House will do its job and pass responsible legislation that controls spending, meets our nation’s obligations and keeps the government running, and we will insist that the Democratic majority in Washington do the same.

My suggestion for a reply to that:

Ah.  I see.  That’s why a substantial majority of your caucus insists upon no tax rate increases, no loophole closings, and supports the adoption of the Ryan budget that would add trillions of dollars to the national debt and, by its drafter’s own concession, wouldn’t begin to decrease the debt until … when?  That’s why you folks supported a presidential candidate who wanted to lower tax rates across the board by 20%.  That’s why you and so many of your colleagues supported the Bush tax cuts in 2001 and again, more nearly two years after 9/11 and after the Iraq war began, in 2003?  And that’s why you refuse to identify the specific budget cuts you want, and instead keep asking me to do it for you?


We’re not yet a deadbeat nation.  But the Republicans are a deadbeat party.

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Sandy, Christie and Cantor. Oh, and Joplin, Missouri.

“There is only one group to blame for the continued suffering of these innocent victims,” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) said Wednesday. “The House majority and their speaker, John Boehner.”

But after a closed-door session with the New York and New Jersey congressional delegations, Boehner announced that the House would vote on the measure in two phases — first on Friday, for $9 billion in flood assistance, and then on an additional $51 billion on Jan. 15, the first full legislative day of the new Congress in the House.

The House had been expected to vote on the package Tuesday night, but GOP aides said that became increasingly difficult as the fiscal-cliff package took final shape.

They said s politically untenable after the cliff plan, with higher tax rates and no spending cutsthe specter of holding a vote on a federal aid package that included no offsetting spending cuts wa, split the Republican conference and could pass the House only with a large Democratic majority.

Christie, Republicans slam Boehner for delay on Hurricane Sandy relief measure, Nia-Malika Henderson and Ed O’Keefe, Washington Post, today

The article goes on to note that Christie exonerated House Majority Leader Eric Cantor from responsibility for this absurd fiasco.  Christie said he had spoken with Cantor several times on Tuesday and that Cantor had worked hard to gain passage of the relief measure before the close of this Congress on Wednesday night, to no avail.  But Boehner pulled the plug.  

Thus avoiding the the specter of holding a vote on a federal aid package that included no offsetting spending cuts.  And bringing Cantor’s chickens home to roost–in Boehner’s front yard.  

Oh, the irony.  Forgive me if my memory is faulty here, but I do seem to remember that it was Cantor, along with Paul Ryan (a redundancy, I think, since I’m convinced that they’re one and the same person), who back in 2011, after the tornado devastation of Joplin, Missouri and a few smaller towns in other states, tried to hold emergency financial aid hostage to an equivalent reduction of spending on social-safety-net programs–or was it the EPA, the FDA, the Agriculture Department,  the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the National Transportation Safety Commission, road and bridge maintenance and repair?  I forget.  

It was a great idea, and explained why these folks don’t want any action taken to prevent global warming and the more severe and frequent natural disasters that are resulting.  Bring on the destruction of the Eastern Seaboard and heartland small cities and towns, so that we can get rid of that pesky Medicare!  But it proved politically untenable then.  And it appears that Cantor, one of its chief original proponents, understands that.  A majority of the Republican House delegation apparently does not.

And, no wonder.  I mean, it’s not like they agree with Mitt Romney’s proposal–highlighted a week before the election, thanks to Sandy–to simply shut down FEMA and related federal emergency disaster relief programs.  If the states want to pick up the cost for this, fine. Let them. Or, better, the private sector can do this, for a profit!  (Got that, near-miss Romney running-mate Christie?  Got that, Rep. Peter King and the rest of you northeastern Republican pols?)  

Okay, that wasn’t the Republican House delegation’s proposal.  Not this time around, anyway.  Their proposal was simply to use natural disasters as a ploy to starve the beast in even more Republican-preferred ways.  But to their dismay, it is becoming clear that the beast about to be starved is none other than the dinosaur crowd.

And then there is this, from an article by Jonathan Weisman in today’s New York Times:

Michael Steel, a spokesman for Mr. Boehner, said the last-minute crunch that produced the tax accord was necessary only because the Senate refused to act earlier. The House passed legislation months ago to extend all the expiring Bush-era tax cuts and to stop automatic military cuts by shifting them to domestic programs.

Of course, the Senate several months ago, I believe, passed competing legislation returning tax rates for incomes above $250,000, managing to escape filibuster because it was a “reconciliation” bill, or something.  Seems to me, and undoubtedly to a spokesman for Harry Reid (not to mention Reid himself), that the last-minute crunch that produced the tax accord was necessary only because the House refused to act earlier!

A veritable hallmark of the House Republican crowd is its stunning, stupifying childishness.  These people really, really need to grow up.  For their sake, not for the Dem’s, or even for the country’s.  Happily for Dem prospects in 2014, though, they probably won’t.  And then we finally will get policy solutions to this country’s real problems.

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A Victory for the Reality-Based Community! Oh, Know! Er, Oh, No!

Every four years, the race for the White House ends in accusations of deceit. Each side says the other spent millions of dollars to lie and skew the outcome. This year’s post-election accounts of backstage calculations and fateful turning points continue that tradition. But if you read these accounts carefully, you’ll find a happy surprise beneath the spin and recriminations: Lies failed. Truth prevailed.

Saletan goes on to discuss the several critical points during the campaign that pundits say are what ultimately led to Romney’s defeat, including the impact of Hurricane Sandy and of Romney’s appalling Jeep-jobs-to-China ad in Ohio last week.  You know, the one that said, “Obama took GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy and sold Chrysler to Italians who are going to build Jeeps in China.”

Saletan points to a delicious comment by a Romney fundraiser to Washington Post reporterPhillip Rucker—“A lot of people feel like Christie hurt, that we definitely lost four or five points between the storm and Chris Christie giving Obama a chance to be bigger than life,” a Romney fundraiser tells Rucker”—and nicely refutes its premise, voiced also by numerous pundits during the last week.  He points out that Obama wasn’t acting, or looking, presidential.  He was instead being presidential; he was performing his job.

Saletan’s article in mostly terrific.  But it—like most of the other pundit assessments—fails to mention the actual key factor for why Hurricane Sandy made it impossible for Romney to win: That the public learned of Romney’s primary-campaign statement that he wanted to remove disaster relief and all sorts of other federal programs as a federal responsibilities and place the responsibility for them on the states.  The very premise of this surely struck a large percentage of the population as nutty.  This ideology was at the very heart of Romney’s campaign, yet most people didn’t know that until a week before the election. 

The Sandy effect, in other words, had less to do with Obama’s “looking presidential” than Obama’s being presidential, as Saletan notes, but that’s because the public learned then pretty much what the difference was between Obama’s idea of what the federal government, rather than the states, should do.

Another important factor was, as this article and many others point out, Romney’s appalling ad last week in Ohio about Chrysler and Jeep, but I think the ad’s importance went even beyond the obvious problem that it intended to perpetuate a clearly erroneous fact.  Everyone in any way connected to the auto industry knows that Chrysler could not have survived at all without its purchase by Fiat.  Everyone who is currently employed because of Chrysler’s continued existence—including employees of Chrysler’s parts suppliers—knows that there would be no Chrysler, and therefore no Jeep jobs to be sent to China, or not—were it not for the sale of Chrysler to Fiat. 

So the ad, in addition to being flatly false in suggesting that the Jeep factory in Toledo was being shuttered, made no sense.  And it made no sense in a way that everyone recognized made no sense.  The ad, although it ran only in Ohio, got lots of publicity nationwide because the auto executives’ stunned and angry refutation, and Obama’s comments in Toledo about the ad, were big political news around the country.

The only conceivable reason that the Romney campaign gambled by putting out an ad that so obviously could backfire exactly as it did is that they already knew they were losing in Ohio and were willing to try, literally, anything.

These two factors, the hurricane and the Toledo Jeep factory, both of them coming in the closing ten days of the campaign, actually summed up the Romney campaign: mendacity as its prime modus operandi,and Tea Party ideology, both of which depend upon a concerted removal from the fact-based world.  

I suspect that it will be a long time before another Republican presidential nominee tries either of these.  At least until he or she is inaugurated. 

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The Best Revenge: Pointing Out that Romney Keeps Pretending to Be Stupid. Or That He Really IS Stupid.

Yesterday in Springfield, Ohio, the crowd listening to Barack Obama booed when the President brought up Mitt Romney and the Republican Congress. That prompted Obama to say:

“No, no, no — don’t boo, vote. Vote! Voting is the best revenge.”

Romney promptly pretended to be very outraged by this. He told his supporters:

“Yesterday, the President said something you may have heard by now. That I think surprised a lot of people. Speaking to an audience, he said, ‘voting is the best revenge.’ He told his supporters — voting for revenge. Vote for revenge? Let me tell you what I’d like to tell you. Vote for love of country.”

“Did you see what President Obama said today? He asked his supporters to vote for revenge — for revenge…Instead, I ask the American people to vote for love of country.”


Mitt Romney insults the Americanelectorate one last time, Greg Sargent, Washington Post, today

For me, one of the most frustrating aspects of this campaign is the failure of Obama and of the news media, time and again, to pretend to accept at face value that when Romney misinterprets the meaning of a word, a phrase or a fact, it because Romney really thinks that that’s what the word, the phrase, the fact means or indicates

There are now only one-and-one-half days of campaigning left.  Pleeease, Mr. Obama: Ask people whether they really want a commander-in-chief and a budget-and-tax-policymaker who thinks that “voting is the best revenge” means “vote for policies of revenge.” 

English is not this guy’s second language.  And he attended a fancy college-prep school, Stanford University, Brigham Young University, Harvard Law School and Harvard’s graduate school of business.

Here’s betting that he learned his English-language interpretation skills in law school and business school. 

If you get my drift.  And I bet you do.

Update:  Dan here…pgl takes a shot…comments worthwhile too

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Romney shows he’s a "know-it-all" who has no real ideas at all

(Dan here… This one is still relevant.  I let it hang in drafts by mistake.)

by Linda Beale

Romney shows he’s a “know-it-all” who has no real ideas at all.

I missed almost all of the first debate but watched most of this second one.  My quick sum-up of the action was the Obama was straightforward, prepared, and much more energetic than in the first debate.  While I don’t think he has been a great president, he has nonetheless acted on a number of matters in ways that move us away from the disastrous policies of the Bush years–fairer immigration actions, more interest in the middle class and jobs, wise action to save the auto industry when Romney would have allowed one of the midwest’s major industries to rot on the vine, attempting to move the corporate tax debate away from giveaways for the multinationals and towards more reasonable tax policies, movement on health care reform (though still not towards the single-payer option that we must eventually embrace), movement on financial institution reform through Dodd-Frank (though still not sufficient control of the financialization of the economy).

Romney, quite frankly, came across as an arrogant shell who doesn’t have any substance underneath the expensive coif of hair and Armani suit.  He constantly blames Obama for the Great Recession that stemmed directly from the failed Bush economic policies favored by the Republican party’s right wing, the same policies that Romney and Ryan want to re-install if they take over the White House.  He consistently fails to acknowledge that the deficits under Obama were temporary ones caused by the trillions of dollars of unnecessary Bush individual and corporate tax cuts, the Bush preemptive wars, the class warfare of tax policies that favor the 1%, privatization of education and the militaryh, and the financialization of the economy egged on under Bush by the right’s misguided views of “free” trade (meaning business can run over the workers and the environment at will and pay less taxes even while causing more societal harm).  Romney (as Obama noted in the debate tonight) goes George W. Bush even further–he would ruin Medicare by turning it into “voucher-care” that was insufficient to meet vulnerable seniors’ needs, and he would destroy Social Security by privatizing it so that seniors are at the whim of the stock market and Wall Street traders for their very livelihood.

Yet this guy born with a silver spoon in his mouth and with a family of connections to power really thinks that he got where he is on his own!  What a laugh.  And then he thinks that he can bamboozle the American people by saying “I know how to do that” about creating jobs, getting rid of the deficit, creating growth, solving immigration, making us “energy dependent in 8 or 5 years” and everything else he can promise us.  But he doesn’t think he has to bother to tell us anything about how he will do that.  Often when asked specific questions, he fell back on his “The last four years with Obama have been awful and I feel your pain” absurdity,  

His claim of empathy with the ordinary folks asking questions in the audience was absurd because one only has to harken back to that tape of his disdain for the 47%–and his arrogant view that anyone in that group was dependent on government and unwilling to take personal responsibility for themselves–to know that he doesn’t really give a damn about ordinary folk like those in the audience tonight.  He’d follow that with another claim that he would fix everything because “I know how to do that”, yet in every instance there was nary a specific word about  exactly what he would do. 

One thing is for sure–Romney’s view that cutting tax rates across the board by 20% will jump-start the economy is “nonsense”, as even conservative GOP economist Bruce Bartlett acknowledges.  See Bruce Bartlett, Romney’s Tax Plan and Economic Growth, Economix Blog, New York Times (Oct. 16, 2012) (statng that “the idea that tax reform will jump-start an economy suffering from the after-effects of a cyclical downturn is nonsense” and concluding that “even if Mr. Romney’s plan is enacted as proposed the growth effect will be small to nonexistent”).

On taxes, Romney now claims that he will not cut the amount of taxes paid by the top 5% but will give everybody else a tax cut.  Note that isn’t the same that he has said for months on end, when he made clear that everybody would get the same 20% rate reduction (which would give the wealthy a huge dollar cut, and the middle class a piddling cut) and mocked Obama for wanting to hold the upper-crust more accountable for helping reduce the deficit.  He claims he’ll not increase the deficit, even though he wants to cut taxes and eliminate the estate tax and increase military spending.  He won’t say what deductions he’ll cut or what protections for the poor he’ll keep. 

He claims the numbers add up but won’t tell us what the numbers are.   I think it’s perfectly clear:  he won’t say how he can do that in a revenue-neutral way because it can’t be done.  The New York Times editorial yesterday chimed into the growing list of reputable organizations asserting that his numbers simply don’t add up, noting “the many deceptions in the campaign’s blue-sky promises of low taxes and instant growth.”  See Editorial, Mitt Romney Needs a Working Calculator, New York Times (Oct. 15, 2012).

[The Joint Committee on Taxation] asked its staff what would happen if Congress repealed the biggest tax deductions and loopholes and used the new revenue to lower tax rates. The staff started adding it up: end all itemized deductions, tax capital gains and dividends as ordinary income, and tax the interest on state and local bonds, along with several other revenue-raisers.
The answer came last week: ending all those deductions would only produce enough revenue to lower tax rates by 4 percent.
Mitt Romney says he can lower tax rates by 20 percent and pay for it by ending deductions. The joint committee’s math makes it clear that that is impossible. Id.

Note that Romney doesn’t intend to tax dividends and capital gains at the same ordinary income rate that us ordinary folks pay on our compensation income, so he wouldn’t even get to a 4% reduction in rates with his version of tax “simplification.”  He wants to keep allowing people like him to get a tax-advantaged “preferential rate” on carried interest that they get as their compensation in vulture capital “private equity” funds that buy up American businesses and load them with debt and offshore their jobs.  He wants to keep taxing capital gains and dividends at the ridiculously low rates achieved by the Bush tax cuts that were a major factor in driving us from surplus to deficit.  He even wants to cut capital gains and dividend and interest tax rates to zero for those making less than $200,000.  (Of course, that group doesn’t have much of that kind of capital income–it is mostly the province of the very rich at the top.  One suspects the rate cut for the upper middle class that would apply to is just a prelude, like most of the Bush-era tax cuts, to a Republican push to eliminate taxes entirely on capital income, which Romney and Ryan have supported in the past.)  He wants to cut taxes for the huge multinational corporations and encourage them to continue moving our jobs offshore.

There is no way that such a tax policy makes sense for America.  It will let the rich get richer, when we are already at a point where the middle class is shrinking because of the way big business has grabbed all the productivity gains for the managers and owners and left ordinary workers hanging out to dry.

Reaganomics–with its push for privatization, tax cuts, militarization, and deregulation–stabbed at the heart of the US economy.  The Bush tax cuts drove us from surplus to deficit in one fell swoop and set the stage for the Republican obstructionist games that have gone on during the four years of the Obama administration, in which the radical right GOP has cared more about pushing for extremist policies beneficial to the wealthy and the big corporations they run rather than considering what is good for the country.  Romneyomics would be even worse–right-wing market fundamentalism at its most extreme, with the rich making off like bandits and the rest of us left to scramble for crumbs. Surely the American folk aren’t going to buy this idea of rehashing the very ideas that got us into the Great Recession mess from the guy who says “I know how to run the country because I got rich as a vulture capitalist”.

cross posted with ataxingmatter

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Romney’s CRUT Tax Shelter

by Linda Beale

Romney’s CRUT Tax Shelter\

The Bloomberg press has looked further at Romney’s use of trusts and other arrangements to avoid taxes, using Freedom of Information Act requests to obtain more information than was released by Romney in his meager tax return release. Romney established a charitable trust in 1996 of a type that Congress cracked down on in 1997 (regrettably, a crackdown that grandfathered existing arrangements, which is the way so many rich people get to keep using abusive shelters). See Jesse Drucker, Romney Avoids Taxeds via Loophole Cutting Mormon Donations, (Oct. 29, 2012).

So what did Romney do.  He used a “charitable remainder unitrust” (CRUT) in a way that alllowed him to use the tax-exempt status of the Mormon Church (his primary charitable beneficiary) to defer taxes for more than 15 years.  The trust benefits Romney considerably, by letting him benefit from the tax-free treatment that the charitable beneficiary has when they sell assets for a profit.and leaves the church less than current law requires for a trust.   And it favors Romney over the church, because he gets a guaranteed payout from the trust (which converted most of its assets to cash in 2007) and the church only gets what’s left at the end, if anything.  Current trends suggest there won’t be anything left for the charity at the end.

“The main benefit from a charitable remainder trust is the renting from your favorite charity of its exemption from taxation,” [Jonathan] Blattmachr [, a trusts and estates lawyer] said. Despite the name, giving a gift or getting a charitable deduction “is just a throwaway,” he said. “I used to structure them so the value dedicated to charity was as close to zero as possible without being zero.”

When individuals fund a charitable remainder unitrust, or “CRUT,” they defer capital gains taxes on any profit from the sale of the assets, and receive a small upfront charitable deduction and a stream of yearly cash payments. Like an individual retirement account, the trust allows money to grow tax deferred, while like an annuity it also pays Romney a steady income. After the funder’s death, the trust’s remaining assets go to a designated charity.

Romney’s CRUT, which is only a small part of the $250 million that Romney’s campaign cites as his net worth, has been paying him 8 percent of its assets each year. As the Romneys have received these payments, the money that will potentially be left for charity has declined from at least $750,000 in 2001 to $421,203 at the end of 2011. Id.

Under the 1997 change to the law, Congress required that the present value projected to be left for charity must equal at least 10% of the initial contribution. Romney’s CRUT doesn’t satisfy this requirement but was grandfathered in.  The principal of the CRUT has dwindled to about half what it was.  In the meantime, the Romney’s have enjoyed considerable tax savings due to the way the CRUT works.

This information is revealing for two reasons.  First, it demonstrates yet again that the Romney’s are eager to use whatever mechanisms they can to reduce taxes, even though their millions are due in no small part to the way taxpayers make business possible (from courts to roads to police to the military to “rule of law” to relatively low funding costs for borrowing in the United States, etc.).   One suspects that the reason Romney has stonewalled the public on his tax returns is that there is lots more of this nature shown therein, including possibly his participation in voluntary disclosure regarding offshore accounts (that otherwise might have resulted in criminal tax evasion charges).

Second, it shows that Congress recognized that CRUTs didn’t make sense.  So we have to ask why Congress didn’t eliminate CRUTs altogether, rather than continuing to allow the gambit, and why, if it were going to continue to allow the gambit, it didn’t terminate the favorable treatment of any existing CRUT that didn’t satisfy the minimal funding requirement the new law included (10% of the original contribution has to go to charity before the donor can enjoy the immense benefit of the capital gains deferral thereby).   Congress should allow the estate tax to lapse back to the pre-Bush levels, and it should then buttress the estate tax by legislating the end to the many different devices used by estate lawyers to get around the tax while still providing most of the benefits of the assets to the estate planners–CRUTs and similar estate-planning trusts are prime targets for action by Congress.

cross posted with ataxingmatter

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