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

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.

A (Very Big) Problem With Robert J. Samuelson’s Political Advice to Romney – [Corrected]

Earlier this week, before the, um, video-recording news broke, it was reported that Romney planned to bring one of those debt clocks to his campaign rallies.  Hmmm, I thought; Obama should return the favor; he should bring a debt clock to his own rallies. A clock that shows what the debt will be under Romney’s “I’ll cut taxes by 20%, and then I’ll cut them more, and then I’ll …”, as he told the Detroit Economic Club last February. 

Or maybe Obama should take two debt clocks to his rallies: one showing the likely debt under Romney’s plan, the other showing the projected debt under the Ryan serious-about-debt-reduction plan.

Sounds like a (campaign) plan, to me!

But, of course, now that the video-recording news has broken, Republicans are scrambling to figure out how Romney can salvage his campaign.  The solution?  Turn it into a plus by illustrating how unmanageable the debt will become—and how awful it will be for later generations to have to handle—if we don’t get entitlements under control!  Y’know, by reversing the savings in Medicare under Obamacare!  And by reducing by 205, rather than raising to Clinton-G.H.W. Bush levels, income tax rates on people with incomes above $250,000!

Yup.  Conservative Washington Post columnist Robert J. Samuelson* uses his column today to join that chorus.  He urges Romney to turn that video-recording lemon into lemonade by claiming that what he (Romney) really meant when he said he knows “some believe that government should take from some to give to the others,” and that he thinks “that’s an entirely foreign concept,” was that the 47% of people who make too little money to pay income taxes as the current tax code is structured should be required to pay income taxes in order to negate some of the revenue loss from the 20% reduction in the tax rate for people with incomes above $250,000, some with incomes way above $250,000.  Like Romney.

Er … I mean … he should turn the discussion into one that shows how serious a challenge it will be for younger generations of people who will take personal responsibility for themselves by forgoing, say, college-tuition loans because those loans no longer exist—oh, or by asking their parents to pay the tuition, and then to lend them the money to become entrepreneurs, like Tagg Romney—to pay down that national debt that by then will be trillions of dollars larger, courtesy of the Romney/Ryan income tax reductions.

Sounds like a (campaign) plan, to me!  Go for it, Mitt!

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*CORRECTION:  Welllll, commenter rjs informed me that Samuelson is not an economist.  He just sorta masquerades as one.  Ooooops.  Sorry about my gullibility there, folks.

Romney’s Dependency on Rightwing Cliché and Errors of Historical Fact Won’t Deliver Him (Political) Recovery

My experience has taught me that government works best when it creates the space for individuals and families to pursue success and achieve great things. Economic freedom is the only force that has consistently succeeded in creating sustained prosperity and lifting people out of poverty. It is why our economy rose to rival those of the world’s leading powers — and has long since surpassed them all.

The dreamers and the entrepreneurs, not government, built this economy, and they can once again make it strong.

My course for the American economy will encourage private investment and personal freedom. Instead of creating a web of dependency, I will pursue policies that grow our economy and lift Americans out of poverty.

My five-point plan will deliver the economic recovery we’ve all been waiting for and the jobs millions of Americans still need. This can be more than our hope; it can be our future. And it can start this November with your vote.

Romney: I’ll deliver recovery, not dependency, Mitt Romney, USA Today op-ed, today

Of all the many oddities of Romney’s cartoonish campaign and cartoonish campaign persona, the strangest, I think, is his penchant for stating loopy conclusions based upon a single fact that does not even conceivably support the conclusion.  This tactic (if that’s what it is) has been the hallmark, the very essence, of his campaign.  

Last week I questioned whether Romney was a habitual liar or, instead, simply God-awful stupid.  In light of the events of this week—the infamous surreptitiously-filmed fundraising address about the 47% of Americans whom Romney will never be able to convince should take personal responsibility for their lives and their care and who correlate precisely with the 47% of the electorate who are Obama supporters, and his “doubling down” on those comments since release of the video—I think it’s clear that while some of Romney’s incessant wild extrapolations and conflations are part of bizarre campaign tactic, some of the most important ones are not.  They are, rather, the result of jaw-dropping stupidity—an apparent genuine inability to understand the meaning of single facts and to distinguish between entirely separate concepts. 

Not least of these, of course, is that Americans whose income is too low under the tax code for them to owe income tax necessarily don’t take personal responsibly for their lives and for their care, and that since the percentage of Americans who don’t pay income tax is about the same as the percentage of voters who, polls show, support Obama, virtually all people who don’t pay income taxes are Obama supporters, and virtually no Obama supporters pay income taxes.  Warren Buffett must have an income too low to require him to pay income taxes.

Also not least is Romney’s inability to distinguish between a plan—specifics, supported by empirical evidence—and ideological clichés that consist entirely of generic declarations and supposed results.  Placing bullet-point indicators in front of five such declarations doesn’t transform them into a plan.  If he actually has a plan—specifics, supported by empirical evidence—then he should disclose it.  Economic plans are, after all, not tax returns, although it’s no longer surprising that Romney can’t distinguish the two.

But most disconcerting is Romney’s out-of-nowhere, patently false insistence, repeated time and again, that “our economy rose to rival those of the world’s leading powers — and … long since surpassed them all” during a period of lower taxes on the wealthy than we have now—a period of a less-progressive tax code and more inequality.  In other words, during a time when we had, according to him, more economic freedom, than we do now.

It’s long past time for the Obama campaign to educate the public about 20th century American economic and political history.  And to challenge Romney’s intellectual capacity to recognize what facts he needs to know before making important assertions, proposals and decisions, and to understand what those facts indicate or don’t.

Until very recently, I had presumed that Romney was only pretending to think that ideological bromides were actual facts.  I know better now.  And the most effective ads that the Obama campaign can run will show Romney for the intellectual lightweight that he is.  

Romney’s Tax Views

by Linda Beale

Romney’s Tax Views Lead to Blooper Comments Denigrating America’s Elderly and Poor

Most of us who follow tax issues in the news and in political campaigns are aware that GOP candidate Mitt Romney has been very secretive about various items.

First and foremost, he has been secretive about his own extraordinary wealth:  he has refused to follow his father’s example in releasing more than a decade of tax returns and he has maintained numerous accounts offshore, including in jurisdictions that are known for banking secrecy.  This secrecy is problematic for many voters, because without those returns it is difficult to evaluate his aggressiveness in using shelters or taking controversial positions on returns to save himself tax dollars –a topic that is surely relevant to his qualification to hold the highest executive office in the land.

Second, he has been secretive about his plans for achieving across-the-board tax cuts of enormous benefit to the uber-rich and multinational corporations while claiming to maintain revenue neutrality.  Respected non-partisan tax analysts have concluded that his plans simply don’t add up–the “arithmetic”, as Democratic speeches noted, is against him.  When he refuses to specify just what programs he would cut while cutting taxes and increasing military expenditures, many voters are naturally suspicious that the cuts will all be taken out of the safety net–voucherization of Medicare, privatization of education funding, and even more of the deregulation that cost us so much in the 2007-8 financial crisis–while continuing the over-spending on military and various lucrative loopholes for the wealthy like the “carried interest” provision for private equity managers.

Third, he has been secretive about his lack of commitment to the disadvantaged in our society.  His failure to describe how he will create jobs (other than through his claim that managing vulture capital “leveraged buy-out” funds is good preparation for the presidency) suggests that he has no ideas other than the long disproven ones being pushed by the Chamber of Commerce and other business lobbying organizations–less regulation, more privatization, more reductions to earned benefits like Medicare and Social Security, and more tax provisions that favor the rich that the GOP labels–without empirical support– as the “job creators”.  But he has nonetheless tried to foster an image of caring about American people who weren’t born to the life of wealth and luxury that he’s enjoyed.

That third point of secrecy was shattered by the revelation of a taped video of Romney comments to major donors (delivered at a May 17 fundraiser at an investment banker’s home in Boca Raton, Florida), in which Romney showed utter disdain for the large segment of the US population who ultimately do not pay any federal income taxes.  Romney called those who pay no federal income tax “dependent on government” and indicated that they see themselves as “victims”.  He concluded he’d “never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

 See David Corn, Secret Video: Romney Tells Millionaire Donors What He REALLY Thinks of Obama Voters, Mother Jones (Sept. 17, 2012).
See also Chris Miles, Obama vs Romney Polls: How Latest Romney Gaffe May Have Just Lost Him Ohio, Policymic (Sept. 17, 2012);  MicCheck.com email alert, 47% Video Worsens Romney’s September Nightmare (Sept. 18, 2012); Chris Cillizza, The Fix: Mitt Romney’s darkest hour, Washington Post.com (Sept. 17, 2012).

Romney’s 47% comment fairly drips with disdain and scorn for ordinary Americans, casting them, as the Mother Jones article cited above notes, as “a mass of shiftless moochers who don’t contribute much, if anything, to society.” David Corn, Secret Video: Romney Tells Millionaire Donors What He REALLY Thinks of Obama Voters, Mother Jones (Sept. 17, 2012).

It is of a par with comments by a woman that I met at a reception in Boston over the weekend, who spewed scorn as she claimed that anybody that is on welfare or getting unemployment is just a lazy bum that wants the rest of us to hand them a living on a silver platter.  Romney’s and the woman’s comments both show absolute insularity from the real world of povery and near-poverty in America in the aftermath of Bush’s Great Recession, when able-bodied men despair of their situation in being unable to find a job, any job, and young folks grow hopeless as they fill in application after application.  Without government programs to fill in the gaps for these groups, their lives would be truly desperate.  Their non-taxpayer situation has nothing to do with lack of personal responsibility and everything to do with a society in which the economy for too long has favored the uberrich at the cost of ordinary Americans.

Remember that the federal income tax is specifically designed to protect taxpayers in the lower income distributions from paying federal income tax through the use of the standard deduction and personal exemptions.   That’s because Congress has always assumed that there should be a minimum below which the federal income tax does not reach.  And Congress has enacted a number of other exclusions and credits designed to ensure that the federal income tax doesn’t fall too heavily on the more vulnerable amongst us. 

About half of those [46% of households] did’t pay [federal income taxes] because of standard deductions and personal exemptions designed to exclude subsistence levels of income from taxation.  The rest received tax breaks, including the earned income tax credit, the child tax credit and tax benefits for older Americans such as the exclusion of Social Security benefits from income.”  Richard Rubin,Romney’s 47% With Not Taxes Combines Elderly with Poor Workers, Bloomberg Businessweek (Sept. 18, 2012).

Furthermore, most taxpayers who pay no federal income tax do pay other taxes:  state and local income, property and sales taxes eat up a substantial amount of income, as do federal payroll taxes, which often amount to the most significant tax bite for these lower-income taxpayers.  And as the Rubin article also notes, people who don’t pay income tax one year–because of returning for education, job losses, extraordinary medical expenses and other causes–come back on the tax rolls in later years when they finish studies or find work.

Regrettably, Romney’s remarks at the fundraiser mainly reveal an eager player in the class warfare game that the right has engaged in for the last few decades–it reflects a firm support for tax policies that redistribute upwards to the elite, at whatever cost to ordinary Americans who are disdained and even despised as irresponsible and lazy.  With CEOs making 200-400 times what their average workers make and the productivity gains contributed most especially by the workers being siphoned off for increasingly higher pay for the executives, ordinary Americans already are hurting.  Tax policies that continue the rip-off by continuing preferential rates for capital gains, providing even more preferential marginal rates for the uberrich, and eliminating worldwide taxation on multinationals will do even greater harm to ordinary Americans and the sustainability of our economy.

cross posted with ataxingmatter

Romney Says Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton Did Not Believe In Free People and Free Enterprise

Romney didn’t apologize for [his] comments, instead he doubled down, saying that his opponent, President Barack Obama, believes in “redistributing wealth,” while “we believe in free people and free enterprise.”

Democrats “believe you have to take from some and give to others. I don’t believe in that,” he said, repeating the same theme.

“I believe America was built on the principle of government caring for those in need but getting out of the way and allowing free people to pursue their dreams,” Romney said. “Free people pursing free enterprises is the only way we’ll create a strong and growing middle class and the only way we’ll help people out of poverty.”

— Mitt Romney, speaking to Neil Cavuto on Fox News today

Yup. That’s right. Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton didn’t believe in free people and free enterprise. All presided over redistribution-of-wealth schemes of the sort that Romney warns against. 

Which is why George Romney made so little money in the ‘50s and ‘60s and why America’s economy and American society were so awful all those decades after we abandoned freedom of people and free enterprise after 1929, until George W. Bush restored some of our freedom and our free-enterprise system—but not enough of it.  No wonder George Romney left the auto industry for government.  He wanted to make some money!

We need to end this redistribution-of-wealth thing completely!  Forever! I don’t see why we have to tax people like Mitt Romney at all. Why does Romney want to reduce their taxes just 20% further?  I demand an answer! Free people pursing free enterprises is the only way we’ll create a strong and growing middle class.  Which is why we weren’t able to do that between the 1920s and the 2000s!
Poor Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and others so hampered by our non-free-enterprise system during the decades preceding 2001, toiling under Communist rule and longing for freedom and a non-redistributive economic system.

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Seriously, folks.  If Obama doesn’t remove this straw man from this economic-history savant’s arsenal of parading apparitions by the end of the day tomorrow, I’ll be really frustrated.

Who are the 47%? And the irony might be remarkable.

(Dan here…Afferent Input started to write for Angry Bear but was subsequently uprooted with family to live and thrive in Germany for a few years, and gave up blogging.  He and a now bigger family have moved back to the States, so may begin to blog again.  Welcome back AI! )

by Afferent Input

Romney claims that that the 47% of the people that don’t pay federal income tax are a lost cause. They are simply moochers and looters that “are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.” They’re part of the problem, in his mind, and there is nothing he can do to help them because they refuse to help themselves.

But as Mark Thoma shows, the vast majority of people that don’t pay federal income tax (which is only just a part of federal taxes) are either students or the elderly. The elderly, in particular, do not pay income or payroll taxes on the meager payout of Social Security.

This from the Hamilton Project:

clip_image001

The irony of this, though, is that older Americans are the group most likely to vote for Republicans! Here are exit poll data from the 2010 election cycle:

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Will Romney’s attempt to characterize older folks as parasites turn them off of the GOP? I doubt it, but it’s a funny way to do outreach.

Farmers, Medicare Recipients, and Sons of Multimillionaires, Some of Whom Won’t Take Responsibility for Their Own Lives – [UPDATED]

This summer’s widespread drought has been extremely hard on Midwestern and plains-states crop farmers, and many of them are chafing at the thought of having to take responsibility for their own lives if the Farm Bill doesn’t make it through Congress before the upcoming recess.

They had panicked earlier in the summer when Congress was dallying in passing an emergency relief bill, but were rescued from having to take responsibility for their own lives when the Republican-controlled House agreed at the last minute before Congress’s August recess to allow the farmers—including some who won’t be paying income tax for this year unless those federal subsidies increase their incomes enough—to mooch off the likes of Mitt Romney and his son Tagg, whom Romney convinced to take responsibility for himself

Which Tagg did, by borrowing a reported (if I recall correctly) $10 million from his parents to start a (very) private equity firm whose investors apparently all, or almost all, were people who’d made their fortunes through investments with Bain Capital. 

Tagg is a role model for young people just starting out today who want to take responsibility for themselves.  His father suggested last winter that other young people should emulate the son: “Start a business.  Borrow money from your parents, if you have to,” Romney told a group of them.  Or something like that.

In that same speech, he advised young people to “get that education.”  Presumably, by having their parents pay their tuition and expenses.  Like Mitt Romney himself did.  And like all his kids did.

No silver spoon for the Romneys, though.  No sir. Just personal responsibility. Unlike all those farmers in Kansas, Nebraska and Indiana who are part of Obama’s base.

Then, of course, there the Medicare recipients who refuse to take responsibility for their lives by paying their healthcare costs, or at least the part of their healthcare costs that exceed the amounts they’d paid into the fund over the years. People who think they’re entitled to healthcare.  And, probably, to you-name-it.

—–

UPDATE: A commenter on another blog pointed out that Israelis, whose healthcare system Romney praised during his July overseas rollout, are similar to Obama supporters in that they think they’re entitled to healthcare. 

For that matter, so are Poles, who’s free-enterprise culture Romney praised during that same overseas trip.

And, now that I think about it, so do the Australians, Austrians, Germans, Japanese, Dutch, Taiwanese, and the citizens of quite a few other countries that are known for their people’s feelings of victimhood and socialist freeloading. 

SECOND UPDATE:I’m copying here the three comments posted to this post:

Elliot MacLeod-Michael Sep 18, 2012 1:44:00 PM

I sure hope people like Boeing don’t catch wind of this, or any other massive company type people who do not pay taxes.

little john Sep 18, 2012 2:12:00 PM

This blog told me earlier that the Farm Bill was welfare for Agribusiness. Now it’s just for “regular” farmers in Kansas, Nebraska and Indiana? Hmmm.

Beverly Mann Sep 18, 2012 3:23:00 PM  

No, john, my post doesn’t say that the Farm Bill is just for regular farmers. It’s also for agribusinesses, who, as Elliot points out, are people too. And some of them may not pay taxes, and the rest pay taxes at, I guess, about the rate that Romney did for 2010.

Presumably, the ones who pay no taxes will vote for Obama in the hope of avoiding taking personal (they’re people, after all) responsibility for themselves.

So sorry; I couldn’t resist.

My email correspondence with Glenn Kessler

An email correspondence between Glenn Kessler and me yesterday afternoon and evening, which I’m publishing here in full, speaks adequately for itself, I think.  But first, this, because I think it’s relevant:

NEW YORK – Mitt Romney on Friday denounced an anti-Muslim film that is stirring unrest in the Middle East, even as he stood by his condemnation of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo for its implied denunciation of the film.

Romney denounces film aimed at Muslims, Mitchell Landsberg, Los Angeles Times

Here’s the email exchange:

Sure, feel free to post the exchange. If you read my column consistently, you will see that I simply look at things on a case by case basis, and let the chips fall where they may. I also welcome criticism and critique, since it keeps me sharper–and I often learn something too.

Glenn

PS: thanks for the kind words on the photo!
————————–
Glenn Kessler
Columnist, “The Fact Checker”
The Washington Post
cell phone:             (202) 439 0113  
www.washingtonpost.com/factchecker

Sent using BlackBerry, hence the typos 


  From: Beverly Mann

  Sent: 09/14/2012 04:41 PM MST
  To: Glenn Kessler
  Cc: Ombudsman Internet DropBox
  Subject: Re: “Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post’s Fact Checker, Should Stick to Checking Facts”

Thanks for responding.  Truth be told, I’m feeling a little guilty about having written what I wrote.  After I posted it, while googling something, I happened upon the recent Breitbart.com article, “Wapo’s Glenn Kessler has Fact Checker Tantrum Over ‘You Didn’t Build That’,” athttp://www.breitbart.com/Big-Journalism/2012/08/29/Wapo-Fact-Checker-You-Didnt-Buuild-That-Tantrum.  I guess you’re used for target practice by both sides.

I’d like to post this email exchange as a follow-up to my blog post  Would that be okay with you?

Btw, in your photo you sorta look like a nice guy.

Beverly Mann


From: Glenn Kessler <kesslerg@washpost.com>
To: Beverly Mann
Sent: Friday, September 14, 2012 6:19 PM
Subject: Re: “Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post’s Fact Checker, Should Stick to Checking Facts”

Thanks, I had read your column. I didn’t think it was opinion, but rather explanatory. You seem to have focused on a small part of the overall column too.
————————–
Glenn Kessler
Columnist, “The Fact Checker”
The Washington Post
cell phone:             (202) 439 0113  
www.washingtonpost.com/factchecker

Sent using BlackBerry, hence the typos 


  From: Beverly Mann
  Sent: 09/14/2012 02:53 PM MST
  To: Glenn Kessler
  Subject: Fw: “Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post’s Fact Checker, Should Stick to Checking Facts”

Dear Mr. Kessler,

I would have cc’d you on this originally but I couldn’t find your email address.  I just found it on your Twitter feed.

Beverly Mann

—– Forwarded Message —–
From: Beverly Mann
To: “ombudsman@washpost.com
Sent: Friday, September 14, 2012 11:40 AM
Subject: “Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post’s Fact Checker, Should Stick to Checking Facts”

Dear Mr. Pexton,

I am a contributing writer for a blog called Angry Bear, and just posted a piece there called “Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post’s Fact Checker, Should Stick to Checking Facts,” athttp://www.angrybearblog.com/2012/09/glenn-kessler-washington-posts-fact.html. The blog is picked up by several aggregators, including Business Insider, so I thought you might be interested in reading the post.

Thanks.

Beverly Mann

I’d just like to add that, for me, the bottom line is that I don’t understand the pejorative characterization of the Cairo embassy’s statements as an apology, much less do I think it is helpful to this country’s interests to have official Washington appear to sympathize with the sentiments of a communication whose sole purpose is to cause the reactions that the homemade film clip at issue did this week.  And apparently Romney’s internal polls are showing that a majority of voters agree; thus Romney’s own apology (borrowing his term) yesterday for the sentiments in that film.

But Glenn Kessler’s obviously no wingnut.  He’s a journalist with a difficult and worthwhile assignment, trying not to fall off a tightrope. 

As for Mitt Romney’s stupefyingly robotic and simpleminded take on even the most serious foreign policy issues, I suggest a comparison of his statements (and those of his loopy foreign policy advisors) with this column by Washington Post foreign policy columnist David Ignatius published late Wednesday.

More and more, Romney comes off as not just craven but ignorant and stupid.  I reiterate my characterization of him in earlier posts as a truly dangerous bull in a china shop.

Did Romney’s Foreign Policy Team Indicate That He Would Try to Establish Autocratic Puppet Regimes In the Middle East?

The headline on the Washington Post’s opening Web page was irresistible: “Romney aides: No Mideast turmoil if he were president.”  The headline of the actual article, by Philip Rucker, though, is headlined “Romney team sharpens attack on Obama’s foreign policy.” 

Both headings are accurate. Romney’s foreign policy team—drawn, apparently, entirely from the farthest-right faction of George W. Bush’s foreign policy advisors—issued a series of written statements yesterday.  And among them, if I understand correctly, is one in which they suggest that the Obama administration should have established a puppet government in Libya after Gadhafi fell last year. Oh, and probably one in Egypt, too.  And in Yemen, and in ….

Y’all know: Like the puppet government that these very same folks, then Bush administration officials, tried to establish in Iraq back in 2003.  The effort that worked out so well.  Remember?

It’s time now for Obama and the news media to make it far better known than it is now who Romney’s foreign policy team members are—and to remind people of what happened when last they directed this country’s foreign policy. 

As for the fact that Romney has delusions of autocratic grandeur, or at least of mystical powers over Middle Easterners to cause them to happily acquiesce to our efforts to control them, Romney himself is taking care of that just fine, thank you. 

And at least he’s finally making clear where all that extra money for defense spending will go.  If not where that money will come from.  

Romney’s sons all are too old to be subject to any new military draft necessitated by his and his policy team’s  desires, and his grandchildren all are very young.  So the Romney family is save.  Many other families, though, probably not so much.

Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post’s Fact Checker, Should Stick to Checking Facts [Edited for clarity]

Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post’s Fact Checker, wrote last evening:

The controversy over a statement issued by the U.S. Embassy in Cairo is an interesting example of how words and context matter. State Department officials reportedly tried to dissuade the embassy staffer who wrote it from posting it, but he did so anyway. Nuland’s comment on Thursday is clearly an effort to say that top State Department officials really did not like the statement.

 We had noted on Thursday that the Cairo statement had many of the same elements of previous such statements, but in weaker form. Let’s take a closer look at the statement and why it appeared weak — and then also examine how it has been repeatedly mischaracterized by the Romney campaign as the tragedy in the Middle East unfolded.

“The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims — as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions. Today, the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.”

— Embassy statement, issued 6 a.m. EST, some six hours before the attack.

What the statement got wrong: 

1. Unbalanced:   The language on freedom of speech is weak. It is never stated that this is a U.S. right. In fact, freedom of speech is only backhandedly mentioned in the context of people abusing the “universal” right of free speech. Indeed, the statement even seems to suggest that one’s right to free speech is limited when it comes to criticizing a religion.

Compare the language above with this 2006 statement during uproar over the anti-Muslim Danish cartoons: “Freedom of expression is at the core of our democracy and it is something that we have shed blood and treasure around the world to defend and we will continue to do so.”

2. Mischosen: The reference to the Sept. 11 attacks seems gratuitous and even a little odd. The mention of the anniversary seems to demean it.

 3. Not Clearly Comprehensible: The message fell flat and was misinterpreted. In the aftermath of the attack, some clearly thought the statement expressed sympathy for the attackers.

The Romney campaign’s repeated errors on the Cairo embassy statement, Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, last evening [Formatting, boldface and italics his]

Wow.  Where to begin? 

Well, how about with Kessler’s assertion that the phrase “the universal right of free speech” is a weakerstatement than one than one that identifies the right of free expression as one that is mainly just ours?  Pardon me, but doesn’t the phrase “the universal right of free speech” suggest that America views a belief that free speech is a basic human right rather than just one that is optional, country by country?  I mean—to adopt Romney’s words—isn’t the issue American values, American principles?  Presumably ones we don’t think should be limited just to America, even though we (some of us, anyway) well understand that we can’t force other countries to adopt that value?

Then there’s the odd request that we compare the language above with this 2006 statement during uproar over the anti-Muslim Danish cartoons.  Which is hard to do unless we know whether the 2006 statement was issued by an embassy staff under duress and fearful of an imminent storming of its perimeters, or instead was issued by the State Department itself after days of angry Muslim protests in the Middle East. 

And what’s with the claim that the “reference to the Sept. 11 attacks seems gratuitous and even a little odd. The mention of the anniversary seems to demean it”?  Really?  Is Kessler sure about that?  He is, after all, supposed to be a fact checker.

But worst of all, I think, is his last assertion, the one in which he says that the message fell flat and “was misinterpreted. In the aftermath of the attack, some clearly thought the statement expressed sympathy for the attackers.”  As a fact checker, he should have mentioned that the “some” who clearly thought the statement expressed sympathy for the attackers” were, y’know, Mitt Romney and other rightwing Republicans—all of whom presumably think that the embassy personnel have powers of clairvoyance.  After all, the statement was made before the attacks occurred.

Kessler would, I’m sure, make a fine (rightwing?) opinion columnist.  But the use of his Fact Checker column as thinly -veiled punditry is—how should I say this?—mischosen.  Not to mention that some of his assertions of fact in that piece are downright bizarre.