Archive for September, 2012

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Let Them Eat Cake! In the Ambulance! (The Problem with Romney’s Money, part 2)

September 27, 2012

I said in my last post that Mitt Romney’s wealth doesn’t disqualify him from the presidency, but that his attitude about his wealth, and the way he has let it shape his world view, are real problems. Not only does Romney have an incredible sense of entitlement, and a blindness to the privileges that have made his success possible, he also seems completely oblivious to the way ordinary Americans live.

A leader has the capacity of vision, the ability to see where things are headed before people in general see those things. That vision is typically a product, in part not just of their skill and brilliance, but even more of their experience, their life experience. And so if you’re looking for a leader to guide an economy, you hope that you have someone who didn’t just study it in school, but someone who’s actually lived in the economy.

That’s Mitt Romney, making a fine case against a Romney presidency on 60 Minutes. Romney’s great privilege has made his life experience so unlike that of most Americans, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. The real problem is that he has risen to his party nomination for POTUS without showing any curiosity about how it is that most Americans live. This has led to some amazingly tone-deaf pronouncements from the candidate. “I like to fire people.” If you can’t afford college, “borrow money from your parents.” From the 60 Minutes interview, his plan for middle class tax relief – “eliminating the tax for middle-income families on interest, dividends, and capital gains” – as if these were even on the radar for most of us. And of course this gem:

Well, we do provide care for people who don’t have insurance, people — we — if someone has a heart attack, they don’t sit in their apartment and — and die. We — we pick them up in an ambulance, and take them to the hospital, and give them care.

Oh. My. Lord. There really is not one single issue on which he can relate to people of average income, is there? Forget policy – forget that everyone knows that emergency room care is the least cost effective way to provide care for those without insurance. Forget that people without insurance don’t just have heart attacks – they get little things like strep throat that can become much worse things if untreated, but are a terrible use of ER resources. Forget, if you can, that a lot of people have serious medical issues – cancer comes to mind – that cannot be treated with in an emergency room visit. Forget, for a moment, that our hypothetical heart attack victim probably had hypothetical hypertension for years, and that if she had insurance she would have been treating her blood pressure and would not now need a $1,000 ambulance ride and several additional thousands of dollars in ER bills – in fact she’d never know that today was the day she would’ve had a heart attack. Instead, remember this:

Ann Romney has multiple sclerosis.

She has been under a doctor’s care for 14 years, and is almost certainly on a host of prescription medications to manage her condition. If she had been uninsured, she would not have been able to get insurance until Obamacare passed. If Obamacare is repealed, thousands of people diagnosed with MS will not be able to afford treatment, unless they bankrupt themselves paying for it out of pocket and become sufficiently poor to qualify for Medicaid. But even knowing all of that, Mitt Romney is determined to repeal it.

Speaking of Ann, she gave a lovely speech at the RNC about the idyllic poverty of the Romneys’ student days as a young married couple living off the sale of stock. Sawhorse tables and tuna and macaroni and cheese. See, she was saying, we know your struggle. We’ve lived it. But they never did. All the milk-crate furniture in the world doesn’t mean you know what struggling is – because poverty isn’t crazy-quilt carpeting or Hamburger Helper. Poverty is FEAR. The fear that comes from knowing you have no cushion, no safety net, no one you know who is in a position to help you. Poverty is having your wife diagnosed with MS and knowing you cannot help her because neither of your full-time jobs provides health insurance. Poverty is your kid having strep throat and missing school for a whole week instead of 2 days because you can’t afford the doctor. Poverty is knowing there’s a heart attack with your name on it, and no way to afford preventative care.  And far far too many Americans have lived with that fear. Not just the “very poor” Romney doesn’t concern himself with. Not just the 47% it is “not [his] job to worry about.” Far too many middle class Americans have inadequate or non-existent health insurance, and know that a serious illness would bankrupt them. And that is a condition that Willard Mitt Romney simply cannot fathom, and has never tried to comprehend – even when serious illness came to the woman he loves. Fear. Uncertainty. That’s what it means to “live in the economy,” Mitt. And you haven’t.

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He Really Does Think He Built That (The Problem with Romney’s Money, part 1)

September 24, 2012

First things first: I don’t have a problem with wealthy people. I certainly don’t think being wealthy disqualifies a person from being a great leader; some of our most accomplished Presidents have come from money. The Kennedys were practically gilded, and yet they were compassionate leaders, concerned with the welfare of the whole nation. So why is Mitt Romney’s wealth so troubling? The problem is not that he is an enormously, astonishingly wealthy man – it’s the attitude he has towards his wealth, and the way it has shaped his world view. There are several different facets of this: entitlement, obliviousness, and a lack of empathy, bordering on scorn  – aka, “I built it,” “Let them eat cake,” and “These are people who think they’re entitled to health care, to food, to housing!”

I Built It! Mine! Mine! All Mine! I Owe the World NOTHING!

I’ve been meaning to write about Romney’s overwhelming sense of entitlement for a while now, and his remarks in the video leaked last week presented the perfect opportunity, but there was so much else there to address… News marches on. Romney was on 60 Minutes last night, saying more ridiculous, unforgivable things. Still, I really need to say my last word on the fundraiser video – I have to address the line that upset me more than all the rest. It’s a nothing line, in some ways, part of his introduction before he takes questions. It certainly hasn’t gotten the press that his infamous “47 percent” remark did:

By the way, both my dad and Ann’s dad did quite well in their life, but when they came to the end of their lives, and, and passed along inheritances to Ann and to me, we both decided to give it all away. So, I had inherited nothing. Everything that Ann and I have we earned the old-fashioned way, and that’s by hard work.

Full transcript at Mother Jones.

I don’t doubt that Romney gave away his inheritance from his father, let’s be clear. (Though it is incredibly charitable of me to trust anything he says, given his habit of lying about anything and everything.) By the time his father passed away in 1995, Mitt was already a multi-millionaire. What boggles my mind is that Mitt doesn’t see the privilege that has shaped every moment of his life. He takes full credit for his own success. In most people, this would just be obnoxious and narcissistic, but given that he’s running for president it becomes more troubling. By being blind to his own privilege, Romney is oblivious to the realities that constrain and obstruct the lives of the other 99 percent of the American people. I’m not begrudging Mitt Romney his wealth, just his inability to acknowledge that he was dealt a very good hand.

So what if he didn’t inherit huge sums of money? He grew up here:

He went to private prep school before attending Brigham Young University and then Harvard, and then embarked on his illustrious career bleeding other people’s businesses dry for huge personal profits. (If you haven’t read Matt Taibbi’s excellent article in Rolling Stone about Romney’s career at Bain, stop, drop everything, and read it now. Then share it with everyone you know who thinks Romney would be good for America because he understands business.) Did he work his ass off, in school and in business? Absolutely. Did the fact that his father was George Romney – wealthy automobile executive, former Governor of Michigan, serious contender for the Presidency – open doors for him every step of the way? Of course. To say nothing of all the doors that simply are open to handsome, rich white men in our society and are locked or even invisible to the rest of  us. To acknowledge only his own effort, and not the privilege he was born into, or luck along the way, is to pretend that everyone has the same opportunities.

This is important to understanding the Republican’s mentality this year. They designed their entire convention around intentionally misunderstanding Obama’s suggestion that they didn’t build their fortunes alone, as if existing in a society is an anathema to them. I suppose it is. Society requires sacrifice, shared goals, compromise, and a sense of responsibility for one another. The GOP prefers the radical Randian vision of extreme social Darwinism – the poor don’t deserve a hand up; they had the same chance as anyone. Look at Mitt Romney, after all. He didn’t have any help from his dad, but he worked hard, and now he’s a billionaire! Why can’t you do that, kids growing up in the projects? Why don’t you start an investment firm, single mother of three? Why aren’t you growing your stock portfolio, college graduate who pays a thousand dollars a month in student loan debt?

It’s slander. Slander against the millions of people who work day and night at crap jobs and still can’t cover their basic needs. Slander against immigrants – documented or undocumented – who work backbreaking days harvesting crops so that all of us can eat. Slander against their bright, articulate children who have no chance to go to college because they fear deportation for themselves or their parents. Slander against people who worked for forty years for a company just to see their 401K evaporate in a Wall Street shell game. Slander against every single person who didn’t have the keys to Wall Street handed to them as a birthright. But Mitt Romney really doesn’t see it that way.

“Oh, you were born with a silver spoon,” you know, “You never had to earn anything,” and so forth. And, and frankly, I was born with a silver spoon, which is the greatest gift you could have, which is to get born in America. I’ll tell ya, there is—95 percent of life is set up for you if you’re born in this country. 

Yes – yes, it is, but it isn’t set up the same for everyone. I don’t think Mitt Romney can accept that, anymore than his super-wealthy donors can. They peevishly need to believe they are entitled to have so much more than the rest of us by virtue of their hard work – even if their wealth came at the cost of thousands of jobs lost for other Americans (seriously, go read that Rolling Stone article). The “ruling class” used to have some sense of responsibility toward their community, some sense of true citizenship, that they’ve lost. They don’t want legacies anymore, they simply want more for themselves. They can’t even acknowledge the unevenness of the playing field, because that would challenge their sense of entitlement. No, they insist, THEY built that, and don’t you dare suggest they don’t deserve every blessed penny of it.

Romney/Ryan 2012: All the Noblesse, None of the Oblige.

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In Which I am Twelve

September 21, 2012

Procrastinated on posting about my head-exploding; it’ll have to wait for next week. I’m not up for ranting today. Instead, enjoy the awesome Jill Biden’s freudian gestures cracking up her audience … and no one is more amused than Joe. I love these two, even more than I love a good inadvertent dick joke.

Can you imagine Ann and Mitt Romney cracking up in a situation like this? No. No, you cannot – for one thing, their audience wouldn’t laugh, because this only works if you believe the people involved still enjoy one another. This kind of warmth cannot be faked.

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View Inside the Bubble

September 19, 2012

I just listened to the entire video of Mitt Romney’s remarks at a fundraiser in Florida, not out of masochism, but because I knew I’d be missing something important if I just read the transcript. There were certain specific lines I want to write about, but for today, I’m just struck by the surreal setting. A privileged group of people have convened in a palatial private home, eating a fine, fine dinner (reference is made again and again to the excellence of the food). They have paid $50,000 each for the right to hear and to talk to a Presidential candidate. $50,000 is the median household income in this country. They banter with Romney, he calls on them by name as he’s taking questions. Several commentators have noted that in this video, Romney sounds more relaxed and less robotic, and they’re right. This Romney is completely at ease; he cracks jokes (about undocumented immigrants), and laughs at the audience’s jokes (about Elizabeth Warren). This is his world, these are his people.

It was his second such fundraiser that day. Ann Romney was in Texas, at a similar fundraiser. At one point on the video, he states, “[on] a typical day,… I do three or four events like this.” This is what campaigning is, now. It’s not just Republicans, by any stretch. President Obama attended two fundraisers in New York yesterday – one with a price of $12,500 per family, the other hosted by Jay Z and Beyonce, at a cost of $40,000 per person.

I knew this. And you know this. We know that politicians – ALL politicians – complain that all of their time is consumed in fundraising, rather than more productive pursuits like meeting with regular constituents, writing intelligent bills, trying to break logjams in the legislature. I was always focused on the corruption that’s possible when you depend so much on people giving you money. What I didn’t grasp was that it’s so very very insular, and how damaging that can be to a politician’s understanding of the world. Hyper-wealthy people speaking to other hyper-wealthy people who all already agree with them. The people in the Mother Jones video have no concept of living paycheck-to-paycheck. They don’t KNOW anyone who does. They cannot fathom what the economic collapse of 2008 did to American families. They simply do not understand what it means to a middle-class family when the major breadwinner loses his or her job, and they see their lifesavings evaporate as they try to find work. They have no idea what it feels like to have no savings, no retirement plan, and no way pay for your kids’ college that doesn’t involve loading them with crippling debt. Full-time work at minimum wage leaves people well below the poverty line, yet the individuals who have all of the candidates’ time and attention are the very ones who send jobs overseas to avoid paying employees a living wage here. No wonder Romney found it so easy to dismiss those who receive any federal funds – no one he ever interacts with understands what it’s like to need help to feed your children. Instead, Romney and his donors have an overwhelming sense of entitlement, and the horrifically skewed perspective that comes with that. They speak the clubby language of wealth and self-congratulations, and eventually, that becomes they only language they can understand.

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Which 47%, Exactly?!?

September 18, 2012

By now, you’ve all heard or read the heinous remarks Mitt Romney made at a fundraiser in Boca. Everyone from David Brooks to the Daily Kos has weighed in on his remarks about the 47%. What surprises me, though, is that almost no one is untangling Mitt’s logic and pointing out that he’s talking about apples and oranges and bananas as if they were all grapefruit.

There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who 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. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax… My job is is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.

What’s remarkable is not that Romney wrote off half the country (we knew that); what’s remarkable is that the mystical 47% refers, in the course of six sentences, to three very different things – Obama’s base, people receiving some form of government assistance, and finally to those who pay no federal income tax. Romney is referring to these as if they were all exactly the same thing, and of course, they AREN’T. But why would he do that? Look at the points one by one:

There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. It’s true. It’s also true that a similar percentage is locked and loaded for the GOP; there are far fewer “undecideds” in this race than in the past. This is the argument Romney fell back on in defending these statements to the press: he’s not trying to win over this 47%, he’s trying to appeal to the five-to-seven percent who still are undecided. There’s nothing inflammatory about this at all, it’s conventional wisdom that this election belongs to the candidate who turns out his base and captures enough undecided voters to close it out.

“All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who 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. That that’s an entitlement.” Wait – what?!?!? According to a libertarian think-tank at George Mason University, nearly half of American households receive some kind of government assistance. That includes food stamps and housing assistance, to be sure, but it also includes Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, as well as unemployment benefits. It includes all of the elderly who paid into the system all of their working lives, and are now receiving what they are, yes, entitled to. Yet Romney states this as if the “47 percent who are with [Obama]” is the same as the 47% “dependent upon government.” This clearly untrue. Many middle class and and wealthy voters receive no government assistance and yet support Obama, including me. More tellingly, large numbers of the working poor who receive some government aid still vote for Republicans. Some of them really do believe in trickle-down economics, despite decades of proof that it doesn’t work. Some of them are single-issue values voters, who will never vote for anyone pro-choice, or pro-marriage-equality. And some of them simply have what one article (the one link I can’t find) recently called  “a deep-seated personal antipathy towards Obama,” which is a really nice way of saying they are racist. In any case, there’s no truth to the idea that Obama’s base is entirely composed of those who receive benefits, or that those who receive benefits will automatically vote for him.

(No. I’m not even going to TOUCH the hateful assertion that those receiving government benefits “believe they are victims” or won’t “take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” I know Mitt Romney lives in a gilded bubble, and that he was speaking to a room full of similarly insulated hyper-wealthy individuals, but this is so desperately insulting to working people, to the elderly, and to our nation as a whole that it makes my brain explode. I’m saving that for tomorrow.)

These are people who pay no income tax.” There is quite a bit of overlap between those who receive government benefits and those who pay no taxes, simply because our tax system is (sanely and humanely) structured to limit the tax burden on the very poor. So yes, many elderly people receiving social security pay no income taxes. Many working class families pay income taxes and then receive a full refund because the standard deductions cover their liability. But you know who else doesn’t pay income taxes? Students working part-time while they go through college. U.S. soldiers in combat zones. Oh, and of course, Mitt Romney and the thousands of other households in the top 3% of incomes who manage to zero-out their taxes with deductions, credits, and manipulation.

The sad fact is, Romney is conflating these three ideas – Obama’s base, those receiving federal aid, and those who pay no taxes – for a simple and craven reason. This is their narrative, repeated again and again at the Values Voters Summit this past weekend:

“There’s a growing segment of the American population that is dependent on government funds and largesse,” says Dean Welty, an activist from Virginia. “Many of them give the Obama administration credit for that. We have the largest number of people on welfare we’ve ever had. We have the largest number of people on unemployment. It’s not good for the country, but it’s good for Obama.”

and again, from The Slate,

“Forty-seven million on food stamps and the regime is advertising for more,” said [Rush] Limbaugh in July. “We have 47, 48 percent who pay no income taxes. We have 3 million more off the unemployment rolls and on the disability rolls, and they all vote.”

Romney was speaking directly to this Republican narrative, stoking the fears of those who believe our black president is willfully destroying the economy to create a culture of dependence to expand his base. In this hateful scenario, Obama voters are all welfare queens, living off hardworking folks like you and me. They contribute NOTHING, they don’t even pay taxes, they refuse to take responsibility for themselves, and that’s the culture this president encourages….

It’s a sad and horrifying mash-up of Ayn-Randian narcissism, paranoia, and racism. It’s the crudest, basest dog-whistle, but it works, apparently even with multi-millionaires. I suppose they too may have “deep-seated personal antipathy” towards President Obama.

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Quick Photo Post

September 13, 2012

It’s important to remember that the people who killed Ambassador Stevens do not represent Islam or Libya, any more than Fred Phelps and Terry Jones represent Christianity and the United States. Christopher Stevens dedicated his life to improving relations between our two cultures, and the people of Libya loved and respected him. If we move forward in that spirit, things can only get better – for the Arab world, and for our relations with it.

Also, I love me a good “nor.”

More photos here.

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“Sad and Pathetic.” Yeah, that about sums it up…

September 12, 2012

Mitt Romney is a shit-stirring asshat. Of this, there can no longer be any doubt. Today, he saw fit to insert politics into an international crisis, using the murder of four American diplomats to attack President Obama’s foreign policy. He is rightly being criticized for his attempt to undermine the President in a moment when all Americans should join together; rather than backing down, though, Romney’s congratulating himself on subverting Obama’s position.

In case you somehow missed it, here’s the quick backstory on what Romney did that has every reputable news organization up and in arms. A reckless and incendiary filmmaker made a movie attacking Islam and Mohammed, clips of which were shown on television in the Middle East. Reckless and enflamed mobs rioted in the streets of Egypt and Libya. The Cairo Embassy was besieged, the Libyan Embassy was breached, and four diplomats in Libya were murdered, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.

Yesterday, as events began to unfold in Cairo, a the U.S. embassy in Egypt put out the following statement, in an attempt to calm the situation:

U.S. Embassy Condemns Religious Incitement

September 11, 2012

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.

That’s it. A rational response calculated to defuse tensions, and maybe – just maybe – to keep the people in the Cairo embassy safe. President Obama did not issue a statement while events were still unfolding, but Mitt Romney did. Last night, he issued a statement, saying, “It’s disgraceful that the Obama administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.” Go back, reread that statement issued by our embassy in Cairo. Find anything disgraceful in it. Still, the GOP chimed in, with Reince Priebus also ascribing the Cairo statement to the President:


Something’s sad and pathetic, Reince, but I don’t think it’s the President….

Speaking of Obama, first thing this morning, after all the facts were known, the President of the United States – the only President at the moment – issued a statement “strongly condemning the outrageous attacks,” and highlighting the “extraordinary service and sacrifice” of those who were murdered.

While the United States rejects efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others, we must all unequivocally oppose the kind of senseless violence that took the lives of these public servants.

This was still not good enough for would-be Commander-in-Chief Romney. In a bizarre press conference, Romney weighed in, as if during a campaign we have two Presidents offering equally valid responses to international crises. At this presser, Romney said the following:

I also believe the administration was wrong to stand by a statement sympathizing with those who had breached our embassy in Egypt, instead of condemning their actions….

I think it’s a — a — a terrible course to — for America to — to stand in apology for our values. That instead, when our grounds are being attacked and being breached, that the first response of the United States must be outrage at the breach of the sovereignty of our nation.

An apology for America’s values is never the right course….

Simply put, having an embassy which is — has been breached and has protesters on its grounds, having violated the sovereignty of the United States, having that embassy reiterate [SIC] a statement effectively apologizing for the right of free speech is not the right course for an administration….

I spoke out when the key fact that I referred to was known, which was that the Embassy of the United States issued what appeared to be an apology for American principles. That was a mistake.

“An apology for America’s values,” or for “free speech”? Where is that in the embassy statement – which, AGAIN, was not issued by the White House, but by our diplomats in Cairo (before the Embassy itself was besieged)? It isn’t there, of course. But the GOP is in love with the fiction that our UnAmerican (black) President keeps apologizing for America to the rest of the world, and they seized upon the Cairo Embassy’s statement as proof. So what is the “American value” that the diplomats in Cairo failed to adequately defend?  The Cairo statement condemns the film which so upset the mob.  The movie is being promoted by Terry Jones, the Florida “pastor” who brought us last year’s threatened massive Koran burning. It apparently suggests that Mohammed was a pedophile, compares him to a donkey, and claims many of Islam’s most revered figures were child-molesters. The film is a blatant attempt to derail U.S. relations with the Islamic world, and was designed to be as profoundly offensive to devout Muslims as it could possibly be. The right to free speech is, as as the Embassy statement affirms, universal, but abusing that right in this way is worthy of condemnation. This movie – this crude attempt to destabilize a region, to mock and deride a faith and culture – is the “free speech” Romney feels the administration should never “apologize” for.

Even as Cairo was rocked by riots, our embassy staff there upheld the best American values. They reaffirmed the fundamental importance of religious tolerance, assuring the mob that the United States does not share the outrageous views of the filmmakers; that the United States upholds free speech, but condemns hate speech. In short, they were using diplomacy to defuse the situation. Romney would do well to look that one up – and to learn from their example, instead of ridiculing them to win cheap political points.

DI·PLO·MA·CY  [dih-ploh-muh-see] noun

1.  The conduct by government officials of negotiations and other relations between nations.

2.  The art or science of conducting such negotiations.

3.  Skill in managing negotiations, handling people, etc., so that there is little or no ill will; tact.