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Is Romney a Habitual Liar? Or Is He Instead Something Even More Dangerous: God-Awful Stupid? [Updated]

At his press conference, Romney accused Obama of “having that embassy reiterate a statement effectively apologizing for the right of free speech.” Romney claimed that the embassy had said, in his paraphrase, “We stand by our comments that suggest that there’s something wrong with the right of free speech.” This, too, was a Romney lie. The embassy had declared five times in writing that free speech was a universal right.

What made Romney’s statement and press conference disturbing, however, was his repeated use of the words sympathize and apology to conflate three issues the Cairo embassy had carefully separated: bigotry, free speech, and violence. The embassy had stipulated that expressions of bigotry, while wrong, were protected by freedom of speech and didn’t warrant retaliatory violence. Romney, by accusing the embassy of “sympathizing with those who had breached” the compound, equated moral criticism of the Mohammed movie with support for violence. In so doing, Romney embraced the illiberal Islamist mindset that led to the embassy invasion: To declare a movie offensive is to authorize its suppression.

“The Embassy of the United States issued what appeared to be an apology for American principles,” Romney asserted at the press conference. “It’s a terrible course for America to stand in apology for our values. … An apology for America’s values is never the right course.” Lest anyone miss his buzzwords, Romney called the embassy’s comments “a disgraceful statement on the part of our administration to apologize for American values.”

What, exactly, does Romney mean by “American values”? The embassy never apologized for free speech or diplomatic sovereignty. The only American offense it criticized was the movie’s “bigotry” and “efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims.” Does Romney regard this criticism as an “apology for American values”? Is bigotry an American value? Is it weak or un-American to repudiate slurs against Muslims?

I don’t know where you were born, Mr. Romney (just kidding!), but where I come from, there’s nothing more American than recognizing the idiocy of a man’s views and, at the same time, his right to express them. If you can’t tell the difference between those two things, the main threat to our values right now isn’t President Obama, the Egyptians, the Libyans, or our diplomats in Cairo. It’s you.

— William Saletan, Slate, today

The political punditry and news media is finally catching on that Romney’s bizarre modus operandi of habitually mischaracterizing the meanings of basic statements of others (mainly, of course, of Obama) pose the question: Is Romney a habitual liar, or is he instead so dumbfoundingly stupid that he regularly misunderstands even completely clear statements and the definitions of common English-language words, and that he habitually conflates separate concepts and therefore misinterprets even the clearest of statements or comments?

I’ve hoped for a long time that the Obama campaign would pretend to take Romney at his word: Rather than suggest that Romney’s a habitual liar; just point out that, taking him at his word, he’s profoundly, dangerously stupid.

I mean … good grace.

I read somewhere last night—I can’t remember where—that members of Romney’s campaign team told reporters that he was genuinely outraged on Tuesday night by the Cairo embassy’s criticism of “efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims,” and that it was phrase “hurt the religious feelings” that really set him off.

This focus by Romney on a single word or short phrase, removed from its context and redefined—this treatment by Romney of serious issues as cutesy word play—has been a real hallmark of Romney’s campaign throughout.  Hopefully, Obama and the news media will now point out truly dangerous it would be to have a president who either can’t understand and accurately interpret basic words, statements and concepts. Leave it up to Romney to protest that, no, he’s not really that dumb; he’s just playing games about the most serious of matters, presuming that a majority of voters won’t notice. 

The most important aspect of what has transpired in the last two days is that now a majority of voters are likely to notice.

I’m pretty sure that the game’s over, and that Romney lost.


UPDATE: Just to clarify, I want to repost here a comment I made in the Comments thread in response to reader PJR about whether Romney is a liar or instead just stupid.  I wrote:

Romney’s a liar, PJR. A casual, habitual liar.  That’s his modus operandi; it’s what he thinks gets him the love of the Tea Party folks—his bald willingness to regularly lie as a matter of campaign strategy.

My point, though, is to encourage Obama and the media to decide to take Romney at his word—that he’s not lying; he’s just stating things as he understands them.  Which, if so, is a HUGE problem. Even George Bush wasn’t as jaw-droppingly stupid and routinely confused about the meaning of words and statements as Romney either is or feigns. 

The bottom line, I think, is that Romney is a liar and is also too stupid to recognize that eventually people were going to figure that out.

Whistleblower gets millions: good for compliance improvement (and makes us ask again–did Romney get amnesty?)

by Linda Beale

Whistleblower gets millions: good for compliance improvement (and makes us ask again–did Romney get amnesty?)

Bradley Birkenfeld, the UBS whistleblower who helped jumpstart the IRS’s enforcement of foreign bank account reporting and helped catch criminal tax evaders, ended up serving a relatively short prison term (for failure to be entirely forthcoming, in the case of one of UBS’s private banking customers) but also go a significant $104 million whistleblower award.  See David Kocieniewski, Whistle-Blower awarded $104 Million by I.R.S., New York Times (Sept. 11, 2012); Whistleblower Brad Birkenfeld Rewarded Record $104M for Exposing How UBS Helped Rich Evade Taxes, (video available); Exhaustive Study Finds Global Elite Hiding Up to $32 Trillion in Offshore Accounts, (July 12, 2012) (video or transcript available); Birkenfeld’s bonanza, The Economist (Sept. 11, 2012).

As Birkenfeld’s attorney put it:

“Today is a great day for all the honest Americans out there who work their job and pay their taxes. Today is a great day for tax fairness. Today is a terrible day for big-time tax cheats.”  Birkenfeld’s bonanza, The Economist (Sept. 11, 2012).

The very public and very large whistleblower award should do two things:

1) encourage other insiders who are aware of egregious company or individual tax-evading behavior to blow the whistle and

2) discourage other insiders and companies from egregious company or individual tax evading behavior.
There have always been anonymous brown-envelope tips to the IRS from those who know what is going on but don’t want to participate in it and don’t want their competitors to gain a competitive advantage because they do.  But whistleblowers generally have access to inside information that can break the dam on enforcement.  That certainly was the case with Birkenfeld, whose information– about smuggling diamonds for UBS’s private banking clients and other means taken to help such clients avoid reporting their assets to the US government–was instrumental in increasing awareness about tax crimes and increasing the fear of God (or rather, the fear of the “revenuer”) in sophisticated, wealthy taxpayers who had been able to hide some of their assets and wealth relatively easily before.

By the way–we still do not know whether GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney participated in the amnesty program that was introduced in the wake of the UBS exposure of banking secrecy’s connection to tax evasion by wealthy Americans.  As most Americans know by now, Romney refuses to release his tax returns for the relevant years when he might have participated in the amnesty program to avoid criminal prosecution. 

 Until he does release his returns back to 2003 o4 so, there will continue to be questions regarding his taxes, as the wealthiest nominee ever with offshore holdings galore and his sole business experience being a hedge fund with numerous offshore entities and blocker corporations.  Specifically, Americans will wonder how his self-proclaimed patriotism and love of nation plays out in his ordinary decisions.  His hedge fund, Bain Capital, has also made the news as a participant in a claimed conspiracy of hedge funds to deflate the prices they pay for companies they acquire.  See Lichtblau & Lattman, Equity Firms Like Bain Are Depicted as Colluding, New York Times (Sept. 11, 2012).   

Both tax evasion and price-rigging are criminal activities, so it behooves Romney to release his returns and ancillary information so Americans can assess how he practices what he preaches in terms of love of country and rule of law.  Did he report his foreign assets as required all along?  Did he invest abroad (so that any purported “job creation” activity didn’t benefit us)?  Was he still influential in Bain during the period that it began, or carried on, price-fixing agreements with other powerful hedge funds?  Americans deserve to know.

Will this lead to better compliance in the future?  One suspects that there will always be those who enjoy the game of avoiding taxes so much that they will be willing to pay to play the tax evasion games even on the harder-to-manipulate playing field created by the crackdown on banking secrecy and offshoring of funds.  But hopefully they will be fewer, and less successful!

cross posted with ataxingmatter

The (Truly Dangerous) Bull In a China Shop: The American Value of Supporting Gratuitous Insults of Other Countries’ Majority Religions

After expressing sorrow about the deaths, Mr. Romney told reporters on the campaign trail that the Obama administration had tried to appease Islamic extremists who should have been condemned instead. He said a statement issued by the American Embassy in Cairo before the deaths criticizing an anti-Islamic video was “akin to an apology” and a “severe miscalculation.”

“The first response of the United States must be outrage at the breach of the sovereignty of our nation, and apology for American values is never the right course,” Mr. Romney said, speaking at a campaign stop in Jacksonville, Fla. He added, “They clearly sent mixed messages to the world.”

Embassy Attack Fuels Escalation in U.S. Presidential Race, Peter Baker, New York Times, today

For the last few days I’d thought that all Obama had to do to wrap up this election was run ads showing clips of Romney’s bizarre interviewon last Sunday’s Meet the Press—e.g., “Well, the specifics [of the tax plan] are these which is those principles I described are the heart of my policy.”—maybe juxtaposed with clips of Romney’s speech to the Detroit Economic Club last February in which he identified some specifics, er, principles.  (Or is it principles, er, specifics?  Hard to tell, with such specific principles.)

And I still think that an ad of that sort would do the trick.

But I also now think that a precise, appropriate response by Obama to Romney’s weird statement would effectively end Romney’s election chances.  It is, after all, hard to imagine a more dangerous statement by a president, and therefore by a presidential candidate, than the pronouncement that America’s values—America’s values— include wanting Americans to deliberately offend the world’s Muslims. 

Romney apparently believes that it’s fine to risk American lives overseas (including, presumably, members of our military) by appearing to support such pointlessly offensive provocation.  Obama should point this out, even if the news media doesn’t.

But Obama also shouldn’t allow the detachment of those comments by Romney, which indicate pretty starkly that Romney doesn’t understand even the concept of diplomacy, from the implications of those comments in spheres beyond foreign policy and defense.  I’ve wondered for a while now why the Obama campaign hasn’t emphasized more Romney’s persistent habit of drawing conclusions based upon erroneous fact or upon no facts at all. 

The very essence of Romney’s candidacy, at least originally, was his claimed cool-headed judgment and problem-solving ability.  Yet time and again he appears unable to accurately or adequately assess basic facts and understand even the most obvious implications of those facts—and of his own statements and conduct.  What has been apparent to me for nearly a year now, and what this incident should now clarify for the general public, is that Romney is not prompted to action—whether in foreign policy, defense, the economy, or anything else—by anything other than immediate opportunism and his adopted ideology.  And that, even worse, he seems unable even to understand the implications of what he says, what he proposes and what he does.

I don’t see how his election hopes can survive his comments of yesterday and today. 

Why I Think Romney Might Have Used the 2009 IRS Foreign-Bank-Account Amnesty Program

[A]n unusually high foreign tax credit in 2008 raises questions about the size and source of Mr. Romney’s foreign income that year and how it was treated for tax purposes. 
Tax Credits Shed Light on Romney,* James B. Stewart, New York Times, Aug, 24
I don’t follow finance-industry news very closely, and the only technical knowledge I have about U.S. tax law for foreign income is what I’ve read in the last few months concerning the foreign bank accounts that Romney’s 2010 income tax return shows he had in 2009.  Including his UBS account, which was opened in (if I recall correctly) 2003 and had $3 million in it at the end of 2009.  That account was managed by a trustee, a Boston lawyer and close friend of the Romney’s, who apparently closed the account in 2010; the account doesn’t appear in Romney’s 2011 tax-return estimate. 

So it is only because of the controversy surrounding Romney’s tax returns and offshore bank accounts that I even know about the 2009 IRS amnesty program for Americans who evaded U.S. income taxes by hiding income in foreign bank accounts, and that why the program was initiated: UBS, Switzerland’s largest bank had been forced to identify thousands of U.S. citizens who had accounts there, many of whom, the IRS presumed accurately, had used the bank to evade payment of U.S. taxes.  The large number of identified evaders would make it difficult to prosecute them all; thus the temporary amnesty program.

I’d wondered how this all had come about so suddenly, but hadn’t bothered to research it.  But I learned the answer today.  An American-born UBS banker named Bradley Birkenfeld decided in 2007 to try to cash in on a newly-enacted whistleblower statute that would garner him 30% of the taxes that the IRS recouped as a result of the information he provided.  He hoped also to trade his information for immunity from criminal prosecution.  Only the monetary goal succeeded.  He was released last month from prison after serving a more-than-three-year sentence. And he was just awarded $104 million under that whistleblower statute.

According to Wikipedia, Birkenfeld, who was among UBS employees whose job it was, beginning in 2001, to solicit American customers to use the bank to evade U.S. taxes, pled guilty in June 2008 to a single count of conspiracy to defraud the United States, but he was not sentenced until August 2009.  He spent the intervening 14 months earning the $104 million that he will now be paid, most of it the result of the amnesty program, which reportedly was verysuccessful.  “In February 2009, UBS paid $780 million to resolve a criminal tax avoidance investigation. It also admitted to assisting 17,000 clients evade their taxes through the use of offshore accounts between 2000 and 2007,” Wikipedia says.  “In July 2009, to avoid additional fines, UBS agreed to provide the names of 5,000 Americans who had offshore accounts with UBS.”

The New York Times article from which I quote above was published on the Saturday before the start of the Republican convention and best as I can tell received little attention.  So let me give it some.  All with the caveat that I probably don’t know what I’m talking about when I conclude that the information in the article seems to suggest, if I understand it correctly, that in 2008, when the U.S. and European economies were collapsing, Romney suddenly paid a seemingly inexplicable $800,000 in foreign income taxes, “far more than any other year,” as indicated in the 2010 tax returns.  Stewart writes that Romney “reported more than $800,000 in taxable refunds from 2009, which seems very high.” 

Stewart wondered how Romney’s blind trust could have earned such amounts in foreign countries and generated such large tax credits,” and so he consulted to experts,  Daniel Shaviro, professor of taxation at New York University School of Law, and James R. Hines Jr., a professor of international taxation at the University of Michigan Law School. “One possibility,” Stewart says, “is that the financial crisis and resulting bleak economic outlook caused Mr. Romney’s trustee to cash in long-held, appreciated foreign assets. Another possibility is that they resulted from some kind of more elaborate tax shelter, or some combination of the two.”  

Might one other possibility be that Romney suddenly paid several years’ back taxes to foreign governments in 2008 or 2009?  After all, although people like me were unaware of the Birkenfeld matter, people like Romney and like the trustee of the Swiss account of course were.  (Is Romney trying to protect the reputation of his friend, the trustee?)

The large foreign tax credit for 2009, Shaviro told Stewart, “has baffled tax experts.”  It “makes no sense to me at all’.” But, Shaviro said, the IRS has challenged many tax-shelter “deals intended to generate foreign tax credits.”  And Hines said, “Lots of people are speculating about the source of this tax credit, but at this point it’s just conjecture.”

Conjecture, yes.  And I’m not even an expert.  But conjecture about this sure is fun.

*Corrected link.

John Cusack and Jonathan Turley Support Hideki Tōjō for President. They Want You To, Too.

I like Truthout.  I’m on its email list and so I receive daily notices about newly posted articles on the site.  I don’t read them all, but the ones I read usually are worth the time.  And I was deeply flattered when, two years ago, on the basis of two lengthy articles I posted here on AB on complicated legal issues, I was invited to blog for them, mainly on legal issues, through a new forum they were at the time planning for a small set of invited bloggers. (The forum never got off the ground, much to my disappointment.)

So I suppose that this is, in a sense, a family quarrel.  But earlier today Dan emailed me with a link to a Truthout article and asked my opinion of it, and I obliged.  And hours after I first read the article, I’m still seething enough to repost those comments here.

The article is titled John Cusack Interviews Law Professor Jonathan Turley About Obama Administration’s War On the Constitution.  Turley is the Someone and Someone Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington Law School. Good for him.  He’s also the Director of the Environmental Law Advocacy Center there.  And the Executive Director of the Project for Older Prisoners.  Verygood for him.  And he’s one of those omnipresent law-prof. presences whose byline is everywhere, or seems to be, and whose quotes also regularly appear in articles under other people’s bylines because, I think, his contact information comes already printed on the Rolodexes of legal-issues journalists when purchased.  This is especially so in recent years, because, as his GW faculty page says, “[h]e has served as a consultant on homeland security and constitutional issues, and is a frequent witness before the House and Senate on constitutional and statutory issues as well as tort reform legislation.”  Very, very good for him.

It also says, “He also is a nationally recognized legal commentator; he ranked 38th in the top 100 most cited ‘public intellectuals’ in a recent study by Judge Richard Posner and was found to be the second most cited law professor in the country.”  I know. That’s my point.  He’s eminent.

John Cusack, the article’s actual author and Turley’s interviewer, is, well, a movie star.  Star, being the operative word here.  As it is with Turley himself.

The point of the interview was to elicit Turley’s assertion that it is the obligation of principled liberals to not vote for Obama this time, because of Obama’s stances and actions on Patriot Act and other War on Terror questions and in Afghanistan. Which Cusack did, bracketed and interspersed between Cusack’s own musings on the subject.

Hyperventilating after reading the article, I responded to Dan (OK, slightly edited here):

Wow. I don’t even know where to begin.  I too have been baffled and stunned by the Obama administration’s positions on Patriot Act-related and other War on Terror prisoner civil rights issues. And on some lower-profile civil liberties issues unrelated to war or to Patriot Act matters, too—particularly certain positions as amicus at the Supreme Court, from time to time; cases in which the federal government is not actually a party but in which the Court has asked the Solicitor General’s office to way in anyway, or in which the administration has decided on its own to way in.  And on Afghanistan, well, the situation speaks for itself.

But only liberals like John Cusack and Jonathan Turley—people who can, literally, afford the luxury of putting “principle” above the realities of the effect of Romney/Ryan vs. Obama on so many, many, many other critically important public-policy and legal issues—are anything but insane to engage in the absurd conceit that they are principled in helping elect Romney/Ryan.  Anyone else who takes that “principled” stance is crazy.

I know all too well the specifics of the profound harm done by the Federalist Society judges—at all three levels of the federal bench, not just the Supreme Court.  And the courts are only one of so many parts of this.

There is, truly, almost nothing that makes me angrier than reading this kind of garbage from people who themselves will never actually be directly impacted by the outcome of this election.

Japan’s kamikaze pilots during WWII were principled, too—or at least their prime minister and military commanders were. 

To people of that ilk, I say: Drop dead.  Or vote for Ralph Nader.  And then drop dead.

The Romney campaign should have put Cusack on that stage last Thursday instead of Clint Eastwood.

The Federal Bailout That Saved Bain Capital & Mitt Romney

The Federal Bailout That Saved Bain Capital & Mitt Romney

Government documents prove the candidate’s mythology is just that

by: Tim Dickinson

Mitt Romney likes to say he won’t “apologize” for his success in business. But what he never says is “thank you” – to the American people – for the federal bailout of Bain & Company that made so much of his outsize wealth possible.

In fact, government documents on the bailout obtained by Rolling Stone show that the legend crafted by Romney is basically a lie. The federal records, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, reveal that Romney’s initial rescue attempt at Bain & Company was actually a disaster – leaving the firm so financially strapped that it had “no value as a going concern.” Even worse, the federal bailout ultimately engineered by Romney screwed the FDIC – the bank insurance system backed by taxpayers – out of at least $10 million. And in an added insult, Romney rewarded top executives at Bain with hefty bonuses at the very moment that he was demanding his handout from the feds.

Under normal circumstances, such ample reserves would have made liquidating Bain an attractive option: Creditors could simply divvy up the stockpiled cash and be done with the troubled firm.

What’s more, the bonus loophole gave Romney a perverse form of leverage: If the banks and the FDIC didn’t give in to his demands and forgive much of Bain’s debts, Romney would raid the firm’s coffers, pushing it into the very bankruptcy that the loan agreement had been intended to avert. The losers in this game would not only be Bain’s creditors – including the federal government – but the firm’s nearly 1,000 employees worldwide.

The FDIC considered finding a buyer to take over its loans to Bain, but analysts concluded that “Bain has no value as a going concern.” And the government wasn’t likely to get much out of Bain if it allowed the firm to go bankrupt:

How had Romney scored such a favorable deal at the FDIC’s expense? It didn’t hurt that he had close ties to the agency – the kind of “crony capitalism” he now decries. A month before he closed the 1991 loan agreement, Romney promoted a former FDIC bank examiner to become a senior executive at Bain. He also had pull at the top: FDIC chairman Bill Seidman, who had served as finance chair for Romney’s father when he ran for president in 1968.

The federal documents also reveal that, contrary to Romney’s claim that he returned full time to Bain Capital in 1992, he remained involved in bailout negotiations to the very end….

This story is from the September 13, 2012 issue of Rolling Stone.

(Hat tip Barry Ritholtz via Spencer)

Romney Says Two Current Republican Governors Support Obama’s Reelection! Really.

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney escalated his attacks on President Barack Obama’s welfare waivers Monday, suggesting that welfare recipients make up President Barack Obama’s political “base.”

In an interview with USA Today, Romney defended his much-criticized ads, which falsely accuse the president of removing the work requirement in welfare. He insisted that the spots were accurate and that Obama had pursued his policy as part of an electoral calculation.

“There’s no question in my mind that the president’s action was calculated to… shore up his base,” Romney said, according to an extended quote that USA Today provided to The Huffington Post. “Weakening the work requirement in welfare is an enormous mistake.”

Mitt Romney Suggests Obama Welfare Waivers Are A Tactic To ‘Shore UpHis Base’, Luke Johnson, Sam Stein, Huffington Post, today

Two current Republican governors support Obama’s reelection?  Wow. That’s a very big political story! And apparently it’s true!  Since two of the five governors who requested the waiver that Obama granted in order to fire up his base are Republicans (presumably expecting that Obama would grant the waiver requests in order to fire his base), those two Republican governors must be in cahoots with Obama. 

And since virtually no one—members of Obama’s now-fired-up base, included—even knew of the waiver requests and the waiver grants until the Romney campaign made sure they and everyone else (including Romney’s base) did, it seems that the Romney campaign also wants to fire up Obama’s base.  Not to mention their own.

Didn’t know that Obama’s “base,” er, base, had been clamoring for welfare waivers. Then again, I didn’t know that Utah’s and Nevada’s Republican governors were part of that base.  I mean, who knew?
Oh, brother.  

Is Harry Reid’s Bain-Investor Friend the Gawker Leaker?

Having now read the Gawker articles summarizing some of the Bain documents leaked to Gawker and published there today, I’m speculating that the leaker of the documents is also Harry Reid’s source for Reid’s allegation that Romney paid no taxes for at least a decade, and that the leaker believes that the documents suggest either that Romney paid nowhere near the 13% per year that he claims to have paid, or that in 2009 Romney back-paid taxes as part of the IRS’s temporary amnesty program that year, so that his annual tax rate then came to at least 13%.

Oh, Mr. Ryan, Do Get Wonky On Us. Please. (I.e., thank you, Brit Hume and Matt Miller.)

In poker a “tell” is the physical giveaway or tic that lets you know someone is lying about his or her hand. In politics it’s the mode of evasion a politician chooses to sidestep a truth he or she doesn’t want to admit or to avoid saying something against self-interest. In his debut interview with Fox News’ Brit Hume Tuesday, Rep. Paul Ryan’s “tells” were audacious and revealing. They suggest an opening Democrats would be wise to pursue.

Ryan (R-Wis.) tried to cloak himself in his supposedly charming “wonky-ness” to sidestep two simple questions from Hume: When does Mitt Romney’s budget reach balance, and when does Ryan’s own budget plan do the same? Ryan pirouetted because Hume’s queries threatened to expose his famed “fiscal conservatism” as a fraud.

It’s worth parsing Ryan’s tactics in this exchange because it shows the brand of disingenuousness we’re dealing with. So let’s go to the videotape. Have a look at the relevant two-minute portion of the clip (excerpted on this CNN video) and then we’ll dissect it.

Okay, you’re back. Hume started with a simple question: “The budget plan that you’re now supporting would get to balance when?”

Now, for context, recall that in the last era of epic budget smackdowns, 1995 and 1996, Newt Gingrich would have had an equally simple answer: in seven years. President Bill Clinton’s failure to embrace the goal of a balanced budget at all was a major political liability that Clinton finally (and shrewdly) erased when he came out with his own 10-year plan in mid-1995. (It’s worth underscoring that a 10-year path to balance was viewed then as the outer limit of credibility — pledging to end the red ink any further than a decade out didn’t pass the laugh test.)

Since Ryan knows that Romney’s bare sketch of a plan never reaches balance, he stumbles momentarily before trying to move the conversation to his comfortable talking points about Romney’s goal of reducing spending to historic norms as a share of gross domestic product.

But Hume grows quietly impatient. He practically cuts Ryan off.

“I get that,” Hume says. “But what about balance?”

You can see Ryan flinch. He doesn’t know, he says. Why not? “I don’t want to get wonky on you,” he says, recovering, “because we haven’t run the numbers on that specific plan.” But that’s not “getting wonky” at all. As common sense (and the Gingrich/Clinton approach) suggests, there’s nothing arcane about this subject. You decide on a sensible path to balance as a goal and come up with policies that achieve it. All this means is that Romney hasn’t done what a fiscally conservative leader would do. Trying to evade this as a matter of not “getting wonky” is Ryan’s tell. He’s betting Hume is too dumb, uninterested or short on time to press the point.

Recognizing Paul Ryan’s ‘tell’when he is trying to avoid something, Matt Miller, Washington Post, today’s edition

Wow.  Okay.  That’s a much longer excerpt from someone else’s piece than I like to use, unbroken by my own commentary.  And it doesn’t even include the real coup de grace of that column, the best I’ve read in a really long time.  The column goes on recite further details of that interview:  

“Your own budget . . . when does that contemplate reaching balance?” Hume asks.

There’s no exit. Not until the 2030s, Ryan finally admits, looking uncomfortable — but then he quickly adds, making a face, that’s only under the Congressional Budget Office’s scoring rules, implying that they’re silly constraints every Fox News viewer would agree are ridiculous (instead of sensible rules meant to credit politicians only for policy proposals that are real). Ryan adds that “we believe” if we get the economy growing, “it would balance in 10 years.” But that’s supply-side faith-based budgeting again — exactly what we ran an empirical test on in the 1980s. (And the truth is, if Ryan’s big tax cuts were properly accounted for, his plan’s real date of balance would push well beyond 2040).

And finally that promised coup de grace:

Why am I harping on this? Because it’s impossible to overstate how central the unjustified label of “fiscal conservative” is to the Ryan brand and the GOP’s strategy. As Clinton understood in the 1990s, “fiscal responsibility” is a values issue important to the voters who decide modern presidential elections.

The point: Democrats can’t afford to let Ryan/Romney’s phony image as superior fiscal stewards survive. And Hume’s interview shows how swiftly this charade can be exposed if Democrats and the press zero in on simple questions like Hume’s. If the press is primed to cover this more intelligently, such queries will also expose the big Republican lie — the idea that you can balance the budget as the baby boomers age without taxes rising.

Let me be clear. The most important issue facing the country isn’t when we’re going to balance the budget. It’s how to get growth and jobs reignited in the near term and how to renew the country’s promise and competitiveness after that (an agenda in which long-term budget sanity is just the ante). But if Democrats spend all their energy on Medicare — and don’t knock out the GOP ticket’s undeserved reputation for fiscal responsibility — they’ll find themselves in unexpected peril as the race heads to the fall.

In a lengthypost I wrote on Wednesday I expressed my own fear of the danger to Obama and the other Democrats of an all-Medicare-all-the-time campaign focus, because it removes the emphasis on the dramatic income tax reductions for the wealthy and therefore on the radical reduction of tax revenue—which, among other things, surely would require a substantial reduction in Medicare benefits to current and imminent beneficiaries, despite Romney/Ryan’s protestations to the contrary. Here’s how I ended that Wednesday post:

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

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

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

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

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

After all, for all the indignant denials Romney has made about Harry Reid’s allegation that Romney paid no income taxes for a period of at least 10 consecutive years, Ryan’s plan—the plan being the one that Romney adopted all the way back last winter, during the primary season; the drafter being the person whom Romney has chosen to be a heartbeat away from the actual presidency has made —would enable Romney to openly pay no taxes on most of his income for the next ten years and beyond.

And about Medicare anyway: Isn’t it a collectivist program?

UPDATE: Turns out, I’m very late to this party.  How could this not have gotten a lot of media attention earlier?

Romney says he never paid less than 13% in taxes for any of the last 10 years. But how much would he pay each year once the Ryan plan is passed?

… And when, exactly, did he pay that at-least-13% per year?  Might some of it have been paid under the 2009 IRS amnesty plan for people who’d been hiding money in secret overseas bank accounts, after the Swiss banks suddenly agreed to reveal to the IRS the identities of American account holders?

Just wondering.