Saturday, September 29, 2012

Editorial: Mitt Keeps Digging

First, Mitt Romney chose to join Islamic extremists in attacking the US government on the anniversary of 9/11. Then he was caught on video writing off nearly half the country for being dependent on government handouts. Next, in an interview he said working-class Americans could get health care by showing up at their local hospital’s emergency room. As the presidential race entered the final six weeks, the most amazing thing was that there is still a race.

Romney’s campaign has been stumbling since Aug. 30, when the candidate got upstaged at his own nominating convention by Clint Eastwood’s rambling harangue of an empty chair. But Mitt’s week from hell started on Sept. 11, when he seized the opportunity to show his foreign policy chops by criticizing the Obama administration’s reaction to violent protests at the US embassy in Egypt and a consulate in Libya, which resulted in the death of Obama’s ambassador to Libya, an aide and two security personnel. Even many Republicans thought Romney was out of line when he falsely suggested that the Obama administration was sympathetic to the violent Muslim protests. Then, on Sept. 17, Mother Jones magazine released a secretly recorded video of Romney speaking frankly to high-dollar donors in Boca Raton, Fla.

In the following week, 60 Minutes aired an interview in which Romney, apparently aware that there was a camera this time, adopted the right-wing talking point that poor people without insurance could get health care as long as the local ER is open and he also said it was fair for him to pay a tax rate of just 14.1% on his investment income of $20 million, when a worker earning $50,000 a year in wage income pays a higher rate.

If you think Mitt looks bad when he tells lies, apparently getting caught telling the truth doesn’t endear him to the voters either.

Obama appears to be pulling away in the swing states, but many national polls still show Romney with support in the mid-40s and within the margin of error from Obama. Republicans still hope that Romney can turn the campaign around in the debates. In the meantime, the big unknown is how many of those people who think they’ll vote for Obama actually will be allowed to cast their ballots, as Republicans are trying to implement voter suppression bills in a dozen states, including Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, that will let them steal the election if they can’t win it fair and square.

Voters have been told by the corporate media that Obama does not deserve re-election if he does not get the unemployment rate below 8%. Progressives should not accept that framing, which is based on the observation that no president since World War II has won re-election with an unemployment rate higher than 7.2%. But only two presidents — Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush — ran with rates higher than 7.2% on their records and their losses are not entirely due to that factor.

Aaron Blake of the Washington Post noted Sept. 14 that if you go back to 1900, three incumbent parties have won with unemployment higher than 7.2%. Republicans held onto the White House in 1908 (William Howard Taft succeeding fellow Republican Theodore Roosevelt) despite an unemployment rate higher than 8%. Then, Franklin Roosevelt won re-election in 1936 and 1940 with unemployment well into the teens.

Of all the elections in the 20th Century in which the unemployment rate was above 7.2% (an arbitrary level at which Ronald Reagan won re-election in 1984), incumbents won 3 of 7 races.

The important issue for voters should be which direction the unemployment rate is headed and what the candidates plan to do about it. When FDR took office in 1933, the Depression had put nearly one-fourth of American adults out of work. By 1936, with the help of stimulus programs such as the Works Progress Administration, unemployment had dropped to 16.6%, and Roosevelt won re-election. It was down to 14.6% in 1940, when FDR won a third term because voters trusted him.

When Obama took office, unemployment was 7.8% but the economy was still in free fall from George W. Bush’s watch and the rate was already 8.3% during Obama’s first full month in office in February 2009. He signed the $787 billion economic stimulus on Feb. 17, 2009, which increased federal spending for health care, provided tax breaks and incentives for businesses, provided additional assistance for the unemployed and sent aid to the states for public works projects and to keep government workers and schoolteachers on the payroll. In March 2009 Obama renewed loans that allowed GM and Chrysler to continue operations while reorganizing. The unemployment rate peaked at 10% in October 2009 but as the stimulus kicked in and the car industry recovered, the economy has stabilized and the unemployment rate has dropped slowly since then, to 8.1% in August. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported 30 straight months of private employment gains through August although Republicans have blocked efforts to pass a jobs bill to spur more economic activity.

Romney admitted in his secretly-taped meeting in Boca Raton last spring that he had no special plans to revive the economy. He is a great example of the fallacy of believing that a successful businessman would make a good leader of government. He made his millions by using other people’s money to buy struggling companies, outsourced manufacturing jobs to lower-wage countries where possible and sold off assets for salvage. It is possible for a predatory capitalist with few apparent principles but plenty of financial backing to make profits if he doesn’t care what happens to his employees or the community, but that doesn’t mean he’d make a good president.

It’s not too early to worry that moderate Democrats might fall for a “grand bargain” on reducing the debt that could threaten Social Security and/or Medicare. A group of 28 Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), on Sept. 20 took a strong stand against any cuts to Social Security as part of a deficit reduction deal.

“We will oppose including Social Security cuts for future or current beneficiaries in any deficit reduction package,” the senators said in a letter circulated by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), founder of the Senate Defending Social Security Caucus.

In addition to Reid, Schumer and Sanders, signers included Sens. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), John D. Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.V.).

Social Security has not contributed to deficits because it has a dedicated funding stream that has built up a $2.7 trillion surplus so that it is able to pay benefits for the next 21 years. Workers and employers each pay half of a 12.4% payroll tax on the first $110,100 of a worker’s wages. The tax rate for employees was reduced to 4.2% in 2011, but is scheduled to return to 6.2% in January.

If your senators are not on that list, ask them why. The only acceptable “reform” of Social Security is to lift the cap on taxable wages to guarantee benefits for the foreseeable future.

Also remind your senators that any reduction in Medicare benefits is unacceptable. Nearly all Republicans already are on the record in favor of Paul Ryan’s proposal to change Medicare into a voucher program that would phase out guaranteed benefits. Democratic senators need to know that any who support a Social Security or Medicare “fix” that increases the eligibility age and/or reduces benefits will earn them a primary challenger. —JMC

From The Progressive Populist, October 15, 2012
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Selections from the October 15, 2012 issue

Mitt’s taxes leave questions;
Clinton: tax secrecy 'red flag';
Chinese deals complicate Mitt’s campaign;
Obama moves against Chinese unfair trade practices;
Wheels fall off Romney campaign;
Romney is losing seniors;
Mitt warns Iowans of forced unionization;
Repubs kill vets jobs bill;
Ohio air war could define power of money;
GM corn linked to cancer;
Mitt nears 700 lies;
Scab refs blow calls;
Trans-Pacific trade secrecy protested;
Voters divide over size of government;
Voter suppression laws aim at Hispanic voters;
Quebec students claim victory in tuition revolt;
Romney losing white workers;
Bacon shortage seen ...

Dem’s flawed plan on childhood poverty

Welcome to Romneyland

From Dubai to LA, water barons are all the same

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas
Amenable mortality: geography a risk for death

Mitt Breezes Past 700 Lies

Mitt Romney, perhaps the most prolific liar in the modern era of American politics, breezed past the 700-lie mark with a speech in Vandalia, Ohio, on Tuesday. Steve Benen, the chronicler of Mitt's Mendacity at, counted at least four lies in the speech out of the 37 he recorded during the week ending Friday in the 36th installment of "Chronicling Mitt's Mendacity."

At the campaign event in Vandalia, Ohio, Romney said of Obama, "He's going to bring the deficit down. Of course, he didn't. He doubled it."
In fact, Benen noted that the deficit on Obama's first day in office was $1.3 trillion. Last year, it was also $1.3 trillion. This year, it's projected to be $1.1 trillion. "When he says the president 'more than doubled' the deficit, as he has many times, Romney's lying."  
That was the 699th Romney lie Benen had recorded since he started the series in January while he was blogging at He moved to Maddowblog on Feb. 3.
The 700th lie came in the same speech, when Romney added, "[D]o you know how much money he's spent in one year putting money into companies that he thought had a bright future, green companies? He spent $90 billion! $90 billion!"
Benen noted that much of the $90 billion was appropriated by George W. Bush, not Obama.
Lie 701 came when Romney also argued, "This president persists on the road of making it harder and harder for small businesses to grow and thrive."
Actually, the administration has done the opposite.
Romney went on to say, "This president has a plan for small business. He's got a plan for small business. He's going to raise their taxes!"
In reality, Benen noted, Obama has repeatedly cut taxes on small businesses -- by some counts, 18 times -- and if given a second term, his tax plan would have no effect on 97% of small businesses.
By the end of the week, Romney was up to 719 lies, with five and a half weeks to go until the election. 
Benen noted, "When Mitt Romney talked to '60 Minutes' last week, he said President Obama has 'repeatedly shown a reckless disregard for the truth.' If there's ever been a more blatant example of political 'projection,' I don't can't think of it.
"And yet, Romney is increasingly invested in this. This week, several reports noted that Romney intends to use next week's debate to do some 'fact check' the president. The Obama campaign, unimpressed, released a video this morning on the subject."

Friday, September 28, 2012

One quarter of the year now dedicated to the X-mas potlatch of conspicuous consumption

By Marc Jampole

Congratulations to Frontgate, a retail company selling home décor and furnishings with locations in Georgia, North Carolina and Ohio, plus a website and catalogue business.

Frontgate is the first company to try to sell me something related to Christmas this year.

The Frontgate Christmas catalogue arrived in the mail on September 25, more than a month before Halloween.  Frontgate wants us to bypass Halloween and Thanksgiving and go right to Christmas.

What Frontgate wants to sell us symbolizes the conspicuous consumption that long ago took all celebrations hostage in the United States (with the possible—and I stress possible—exception of Thanksgiving).  Frontgate is peddling wreathes, flameless candles, candle holders, fake holly displays, nutcracker soldiers that light up, artificial trees with and without lights and frosting, ornaments for the tree, lights for outside, Happy Holidays doormats, five-foot tall drummer soldiers beating snare drums, giant figurines for the lawn including Santa’s helpers and a dog with reindeer antlers replete with small cat sidling up to it and a sign that reads “Santa’s Little Yelper.”

Embedded in this list of items for purchase we can find many of the ideological corollaries of the basic principle of American consumerism: that all human experience—be it celebration, expression of emotion, response to challenge or interaction with others—reduces not just to products and services, but to the purchase of products and services.

Here are some of the themes of the consumer ideology that I recognize in what Frontgate mongers:
  • Buying stuff people used to make as an expression of the holiday spirit. People used to display their ingenuity and express their love by making things and giving it to friends and neighbors. That’s the origin of Christmas gift-giving. In an agricultural society, wreathes would be a natural gift and some might carve nutcrackers—perhaps not five-foot leviathans. The ideology of consumerism tells us that instead of making it, we should buy it.
  • Buying fake instead of real: Artificial wreathes and flowers belong with the rest of ersatz or pseudo culture, which also includes theme parks, casinos that are imitation European cities, ethnic food at fast food, theme restaurants and McMansions.  These fake experiences are all exhortations to consumers—buy the doodads for sale at the gift shop—it will all look comfortably alike except for that icon that has been trademarked by another kind of leviathan.
  • Showing off in front of the neighbors: who can outdo whom, keeping up with the Jones and the Cohens—there are lots of metaphors and aphorisms to describe buying stuff and showing it off to everyone you know hoping to inspire admiration and envy. All that wealth display takes a lot of spending, and it replaces other types of interaction with the neighbors— as conversations about stuff replaces conversations about the families, politics and community affairs or joining together in volunteer efforts (as opposed to giving money in return for your name on a building, room or brass tree leaf). Lots of the Frontgate Christmas stuff ends up on the kind of lawns that people drive miles to see in suburbs and that often infuriate the neighbors who sleep with artificial light in their eyes for six weeks or longer in the dead of winter. If that ain’t conspicuous consumption, I don’t know what is.
It was the early 20th century economist Thorsten Veblen who coined the term conspicuous consumption, which he said was how the leisure class jockeyed for status: by spending the excessive amounts of money they have showing their friends, neighbors and relatives how cool they are.

La plus ça change…

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Nicklaus may have been a great golfer, but he doesn’t know jack about politics, economics or the way societies work

By Marc Jampole
Jack Nicklaus, who is on everyone’s short list as one of the greatest golfers of all time, has been travelling with Mitt Romney as the Republican nominee for president campaigns through Nicklaus’ home state of Ohio. 

Nicklaus is a loud supporter of Mitt and seems to hold the Romney view that people succeed almost exclusively by their own efforts, and that the social infrastructure of roads, bridges, schools, market rules, laws, hospitals, security and the inventions and contributions of other people like computers and the Internet matter not a whit. This belief is summed up by the “We Built That” theme of the Republican National Convention, which was based on a purposeful truncation and misunderstanding of a statement by President Obama.  As anyone who has gone to the tape knows, when Obama said “You didn’t build that,” he was not referring to the individual companies of successful businesspersons, but to the social infrastructure.

Here are Nicklaus’ comments at a Westerville, Ohio rally, as reported by Gail Collins in her column this morning in the New York Times:

“…at the Romney rally here in Westerville, Nicklaus was telling the crowd that he chose golf as his profession because it didn’t require teamwork. (“I didn’t lean on somebody else in tough times.”)

Then Nicklaus introduced Mitt Romney. “What you heard from the Golden Bear ... the words he spoke, he touched my heart,” said the candidate.”

While it’s true that Jack hit the long drives and sank the tough putts, I want to ask Jack some questions.  I’ve set up an empty chair to serve as a stand-in for the Golden Bear. It’s a little bit bigger than the chair Clint Eastwood pretended was Obama, because, let’s face it, Jack has put on a few pounds since retirement:

Did you teach yourself golf or did you have a teacher and instruction manual?

Did you own the factory that made your golf clubs?

What about the golf balls?

What about the golf courses when you were just starting out? You build those?

Did you single-handedly design and construct the golf courses that have your trade mark name on them?

Did you keep the greens, serve the drinks in the clubhouse, take the tickets, raise the tents and keep the golfers and onlookers safe?

How did you get to the tournaments? Did you fly through the air like Superman or use airplanes protected in flight by government employees and roads built and maintained by government money?

Did you run the PGA?

Did you run the cameras, broadcast the matches and sell the advertising that enabled millions to see you play on TV and thereby become your fans and buy a whole mess of stuff with your name on it?

The answer, of course, is no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no and no!

You didn’t do that, Jack.

And you don’t know jack about the way that all business owners—from the ma-and-pa who own a candy store to investment bankers like Mitt—depend on society and government to provide infrastructure, goods and services and well-functioning markets.

The infrastructure is crumbling because of more than 30 years of policies that lower taxes, especially for the wealthy, and cut government spending for needed infrastructure and job creation. The markets are weak because of more than 30 years of policies that transfer wealth from the poor and middle class to the wealthy, leaving us with fewer people who can afford to play golf, but more importantly, to feed their families and put their kids through college or vocational schools.

Jack Nicklaus doesn’t like teamwork. He just likes sucking all the wealth he can out of the team called the United States and returning as little as possible. That’s the Republican plan and that’s the Romney plan.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Charitable giving by Romneys and Obamas in 2011 proves they’re generous and nothing else

By Marc Jampole

Several of the Romney supporters who read OpEdge have pointed out how much more money the Romneys gave away to charity in 2011 than the Obamas.  While the Obamas are well off—certainly part of or close to the notorious 1%--the Romneys are the much wealthier of the two families. But even on a percentage of income basis, Romney gave more: a little more than 29% for Ann & Mitt compared to a little less than 22% for Michelle & Barack.

Both families should be applauded for their generosity.  Traditionally when people consider the appropriate percentage of income to give to charity, what comes to mind is “tithing,” which means giving away 10% of your income. Both candidates gave a much greater percentage of their income away last year.

Some have chided the Romneys for only declaring about $2.25 million of their income, suggesting that their motive was to make the amount of federal income tax they pay as a percentage of income not look so paltry. That’s really petty thinking, because not declaring some of the charitable contributions did result in Ann & Mitt paying more in taxes, which is what they would be doing if we had a more equitable tax system. I’ve learned that it’s best to judge people on what they do and say and not what they’re thinking, so bravo to the Romneys for deciding to pay more in taxes, at least in 2011. 

But what do these numbers really mean?

Absolutely, nothing, as far as I can tell.

First of all, the wealthier you are, the higher percentage of your income you can afford to give away and the more you are expected to give away. The Romneys can afford to be more generous than the Obamas, just as the Obamas can afford to be more generous than the average middle class family. The social norm in virtually every society throughout millennia that I have studied has always been that the more you have, the more you give.

More important, though, is the simple fact that what one gives to charities has nothing at all to do with one’s competence to be president of the United States or to serve in any other position or job, either in public service or the private sector.  While generosity is a positive characteristic in all humans, we judge presidents on their political views and their competence.  That the Romneys gave more does not change my evaluation of Romney’s positions as mainly benefiting the wealthy nor of his lack of competence in the foreign policy arena.

So thanks, Ann & Mitt, for the extra money into our depleted federal coffers. But let’s hope that by next year the Bush II temporary tax cuts for those earning $250,000 or more will have ended and you pay even more. And let’s also hope that Congress ends the cap on income that can be taxed for Social Security purposes and thereby secures the future of perhaps our most successful and certainly our most important social service program. Most of all, let’s hope that Ann & Mitt write the check from one of their many homes (perhaps the one with the elevator for cars), and not from the White House.

Fox News and Wall Street Journal mislead American public with their coverage of climate change

By Marc Jampole
The Union of Concerned Scientists yesterday announced the findings of a study it undertook of the accuracy of Fox News and Wall Street Journal (WSJ) opinion page coverage of climate change, which has become the polite euphemism for describing the rapid and destructive warming of the Earth. Note that Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation owns both of these media outlets.

In announcing the results, a climate scientist with the organization noted that they began the study because they had heard a large amount of anecdotal information that “suggested that there was bias and misrepresentation at the News Corporation of the fact that human-induced climate change is happening...” In other words, instead of accepting the anecdotes, the organization did what scientists are supposed to do: they objectively gathered the facts and then analyzed them.

And the results don’t draw a pretty picture of the intellectual honesty of either Fox or the Journal.

The analysis found that over a recent six-month period of prime time coverage, 93% of all references to climate change on Fox News had misleading information.

For the Wall Street Journal’s opinion page, another six-month analysis revealed that a mere 81% of climate change mentions had misleading information, but get this—every single example of an accurate presentation of climate change facts and issues came in letters to the editor in rebuttal to inaccuracies presented in Journal columns, articles and editorials.

The study found that on Fox News, the most common criticism of climate science was to dismiss the scientific consensus that climate change is occurring or human-induced. In the Journal (quoting the report), “most of the misleading editorials, op-eds, columns, and letters attempted to broadly undermine the major conclusions of climate science. Instances of attacks on individual scientists, mocking the science, and cherry picking data were all equally common.”

The results of this analysis are stunning because they reveal to what extent large numbers of people are being manipulated by the lies and false assumptions of climate change deniers. We expect this kind of mendacity from Fox News, but for years, the Wall Street Journal has had a mostly deserved reputation for accurate reporting of news events.

Just in case you were wondering, the Union of Concerned Scientists has been around since 1969. Its mission statement states that “The Union of Concerned Scientists is the leading science-based nonprofit working for a healthy environment and a safer world. UCS combines independent scientific research and citizen action to develop innovative, practical solutions and to secure responsible changes in government policy, corporate practices, and consumer choices.”

My first thought in reviewing the study was that it was proof that there has been way too much consolidation of media properties. There used to be laws preventing companies from owning more than a certain number of radio or TV stations. The laws were there for a reason: to prevent one company or person from being able to dominate the news media and therefore replace the free marketplace of ideas. It was a great example of government regulation increasing democracy and freedom.  These rules are mostly gone, and the result is that about 8 companies now control most of the broadcast and print media and the publishing industry.

But then I checked Google News to see how many stories there were about this study one day after its release. The answer is not very complimentary to the rest of the media: it was a number less than 2.

Yes, dear readers, so far only one media outlet has found and covered the news that News Corporation’s two flagship media outlets regularly deceive the public about one of the most important issues of the 21st century. Whether that’s an example of shoddy reporting or self-censorship I’ll leave to my readers to decide.

To help you with your decision, I’ll close by noting that an update on the stormy romantic relationship between an actor and an actress got 146,000 hits on Google News, while the suspension of the driving license of another actress garnered 110,000 hits and the bachelor party of another actor got a mere 5,140 hits.