Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Good Speech, Mr. President. You Make Me Proud To Be An American.

My reaction to President Obama's 'State of the Union' Speech:

Good speech, Mr. President, filled with justifiable hope for the future (compared to the doom and gloom that followed you in the Republican response). Good example of that is GM's recovery...for which your administration can justly take credit. I hope that some of your proposals for 'insourcing' jobs are approved by Congress. Sound sensible to me.

I really like the 'Buffett Rule'. Makes absolute sense that Mitt Romney and people like him should be paying a more progressive chunk of their income, given their overwhelming wealth. It doesn't solve all our deficit problems, but it would help.

You are to be congratulated on your foreign policy achievements. Opponents who label you as weak or an appeaser are simply blowing smoke or committing false witness.

This was a good: "We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well, while a growing number of Americans barely get by. Or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules. What’s at stake are not Democratic values or Republican values, but American values. We have to reclaim them." Excerpt for some of the rich and a few libertarians, this is how most Americans think of our country.

The notion that you caused our economic problems is ludicrous. "In the six months before I took office, we lost nearly four million jobs. And we lost another four million before our policies were in full effect." Have Republicans forgotten the eight years under Bush and what resulted?

"I will oppose any effort to return to the very same policies that brought on this economic crisis in the first place. No, we will not go back to an economy weakened by outsourcing, bad debt, and phony financial profits. Tonight, I want to speak about how we move forward, and lay out a blueprint for an economy that’s built to last – an economy built on American manufacturing, American energy, skills for American workers, and a renewal of American values. This blueprint begins with American manufacturing." Sounds like a good blueprint to me. Republicans indeed want to return to the way it was....why would anyone want to do that?

About education, I hope you meant this: "To teach with creativity and passion; to stop teaching to the test". Living with a teacher, I can tell you that, right now, they have to teach to the test, and it's killing both their passion and creativity.

Your rule for regulations sound sensible: "Rules to prevent financial fraud, or toxic dumping, or faulty medical devices, don’t destroy the free market. They make the free market work better."

Toward the end of your speech, you included a beautiful thought: "Those of us who’ve been sent here to serve can learn from the service of our troops. When you put on that uniform, it doesn’t matter if you’re black or white; Asian or Latino; conservative or liberal; rich or poor; gay or straight. When you’re marching into battle, you look out for the person next to you, or the mission fails. When you’re in the thick of the fight, you rise or fall as one unit, serving one Nation, leaving no one behind."

"So it is with America. Each time I look at that flag, I’m reminded that our destiny is stitched together like those fifty stars and those thirteen stripes. No one built this country on their own. This Nation is great because we built it together. This Nation is great because we worked as a team. This Nation is great because we get each other’s backs. And if we hold fast to that truth, in this moment of trial, there is no challenge too great; no mission too hard. As long as we’re joined in common purpose, as long as we maintain our common resolve, our journey moves forward, our future is hopeful, and the state of our Union will always be strong."

Nicely done, Mr. President. You make me proud to be an American.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Mitt Romney Makes 263 Times What I Make--That's 26,300% More Than I Made--And Yet I Pay A 50% Higher Tax Rate

Poor Mitt.  How you have to grovel if you want to be President of the United States.

Normally, individual tax returns are private and confidential, and all we ever see are averages by income levels.  But now the whole world knows how much wealth and income the Romneys have, since he was shamed into releasing his 2010 tax return.

They received income of $21,000,000 dollars in 2010, and again in 2011.  Twenty one million.  In one year.  In retirement.

And they paid just under 14% in total federal taxes--both income and FICA.

So Warren Buffett is right...the wealthy do pay a significantly lower tax rate than most average people.

Take me, for example.  In 2009, I paid a comparable tax rate of 22%.  In other words, on income that was less than one third of one percent of what Romney made--he makes 263 times what I make--I paid a 50% higher tax rate.

So much for so-called 'progressive taxation'.  Our current tax system is highly regressive, at least for the super-wealthy who live off capital gains and dividends.

And if the Republicans--and so-called 'conservatives' in general--get their way, it's only going to get more regressive. 

Welcome to 'Class Warfare'.

$1.4 Million Per Month--Now THAT Is A Paycheck

You may recall that a few days ago, I estimated what Mitt Romney had as wealth and income, and what he paid in taxes.
The main number thrown around is that Mitt Romney is worth 250 million dollars. Let's be conservative and say that it's 200 million. And then let's speculate that he was able to make 5% return on that wealth last year, which I think is probably very conservative as well.

That would be $200 million x 5% equals $10 million annually. That's a monthly paycheck of $833,333.33. Four times a year he would be sending into the IRS a self-estimated tax payment of $375,000 (assuming 15% tax rate for him, which he just affirmed yesterday). That would leave a monthly net income of $708,333.00.
Well, the numbers have been released and indeed, I was being conservative. Here's what the Washington Post said this morning:
Mitt Romney offered a partial snapshot of his vast personal fortune late Monday, disclosing income of $21.7 million in 2010 and $20.9 million last year — virtually all of it profits, dividends or interest from investments.

The couple gave away $7 million in charitable contributions over the past two years, including at least $4.1 million to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Romney’s family has for generations been among the Mormon Church’s most prominent members.

The Romneys sent somewhat less to Washington over that period, paying an estimated $6.2 million in federal income taxes. According to his 2010 return, Romney paid about $3 million to the IRS, for an effective tax rate of 13.9 percent.
So it looks like Romney made a good return of about 10% on his investments of over $200 million. He gave something like 16% of his income to charity, including a tithe (10%) to his church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  He paid about 14% in total federal taxes.  (By comparison, we paid about 22% of our joint income that year in total federal taxes--income and FICA.)

The Romneys took home (so to speak) about $1.4 million a month last year.  And he wasn't even working.  Somehow, as a consultant and private-equity manager for some 15 years in the 80s and 90s, he brought home enough bacon to retire for the rest of his life on $1.4 million a month.  And he doesn't even start drawing his Social Security check for another year yet....

What a country!  Over the last 30 years, using mostly other people's money (leverage), Romney and people like him have bought and sold companies, tinkering here and there, firing these workers, lowering those wages and benefits, eliminating that pension plan, outsourcing those jobs, taking those 'special dividends'.  And VOILA, all of a sudden, they're multi-millionares.  Where did their money come from?  Mostly lost wages, benefits, jobs on the part of all those middle-class workers who are, in many cases, no longer middle-class.

It's no wonder that Mitt Romney's uncomfortable when it comes to discussing his wealth, his income, and his taxes.  As he should be.  He's says he earned his money the old fashioned way.  Right--he basically stole it--from workers and their families, and from their communities. 

However, to his credit, he did tithe his filthy lucre (I Timothy 3:3) so we could be sure and have more Mormon missionaries in every corner of the world, passing out the Book of Mormon.  (Great.)

It was all 'legal', of course.  The finance and corporate elite made sure of that, through their political whores in Washington.  But that doesn't make it right.  In fact, it's all very unseeming, even obscene.  And the American people, increasingly, believe that is the case.

The inequity and unfairness of our current economy is a discussion that America needs to have, if we hope to somehow stay--or again become--a decent society.  How ironic, though, that we're having it in the midst of the Republican primaries.

Mitt Romney will stay rich, no doubt, as will his children and grandchildren, for generations to come.  But, it seems to me, he will not be President.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Romney's Waterloo?

Update:  Gingrich did win big in South Carolina tonight.  This changes things, I would say.  Romney is no longer the inevitable winner.  Newt could also take Florida next week.  Barring some unforeseen development, this is going to be a longgggggggggg spring for these four candidates.

Last night could possibly have been Mitt Romney's Waterloo.  Amazing.  A week ago, after apparently winning both Iowa and New Hampshire, Romney looked unbeatable, like Napoleon demolishing every army in his path.  But suddenly, in the course of several days, how things have changed....again.  In last night's CNN South Carolina debate, he was the least impressive and most superficial of the four Republican candidates.  His response to the question of his tax returns was halting, uncertain, embarrassed.  What's he trying to hide?  Probably how little taxes he pays on his incredible wealth.  Or maybe that he doesn't actually tithe to the Mormon Church?

Battle of Waterloo by William Sadler
Rick Santorum, the true underdog of this primary season,  actually came across this debate as having more gravitas than Gov. Romney.  Add to this the fact that he actually won the Iowa caucuses, that he was willing to seriously--albeit graciously--criticize the other candidates, and Santorum comes across as sincere, honest, and likeable.  He comes across as a little too zealous in his social conservativism to actually win, but in this environment, who knows what's going to happen?

Newt Gingrich, even with that shit-ass grin and huge girth, looked more confident and Presidential than Romney.  And with his angry response to the moderator's question about his ex-wife's charge about open marriage, he hit a home run.  Some say he won the debate in the first five minutes.  I think they're right.

It's looks increasingly likely that Newt Gingrich will win the South Carolina primary.  That makes Mitt Romney looks a lot less like the inevitable winner of this whole thing.  He's continues to have all the logistical and financial advantages, no doubt.  But Gingrich shouldn't be underestimated.  His rhetorical abilities and his uncanny talent at scratching exactly where the Republicans' itch can take him a long way.

I haven't mentioned Ron Paul yet, but only because little has changed with him.  He'll remain in the race to the convention, I think, and have his impact, pushing his libertarian convictions.

The Battle of the Republican Titans goes on!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

$708,333: Mitt Romney's Monthly Paycheck (After Taxes).

Let's do a rough calculation, shall we, on how much Mitt Romney brought home in income last year and how much tax he paid.

The main number thrown around is that Mitt Romney is worth 250 million dollars.  Let's be conservative and say that it's 200 million.  And then let's speculate that he was able to make 5% return on that wealth last year, which I think is probably very conservative as well.

That would be $200 million x 5% equals $10 million annually.  That's a monthly paycheck of $833,333.33.  Four times a year he would be sending into the IRS a self-estimated tax payment of $375,000 (assuming 15% tax rate for him, which he just affirmed yesterday).  That would leave a monthly net income of $708,333.00.

So, in a month's time, Mitt takes home--from just investments alone, since he's not working now--about 288 times what my wife brings home from teaching her class of 3rd graders.  And he pays a lower tax rate than she does.  (And it's actually likely that he makes more than this, since I've been very conservative in my estimates here.)

Interesting.  How exactly would you go about spending $708,333 a month?  I'd love to see his family budget.

Update: Oh, and he made $374,000 in speaking fees last year.  "Not very much", he says.  Really.

Can we now conclude that, for him and people like him, there is no economic crisis in America?  Things are just FINE.

Top Ten Ways That The Rich Escape Paying Their Taxes

I wish I could give you a list of the "Top Ten Ways That The Rich Escape Paying Their Taxes", but I can't, at least not yet.  But surely included on that list would be the reason that Mitt Romney only pays 15% of his income in federal taxes, while most middle class folks pay more than that (adding together income tax and FICA tax).  Robert Reich explains how:
It's not how much Romney earns. Everyone knows he's comfortably in the top one-tenth of one percent.

It's how much he pays of it in taxes. Romney says he pays a tax rate of "about 15 percent."

That's lower than the tax rate most of America's middle class face and far lower than the 35 percent top rate after the Bush tax cut. (To put this in perspective, recall that the top income tax rate under Dwight Eisenhower was 91 percent.)

The real smoking gun is how Romney manages to pay only 15 percent on what's been his money-gusher of compensation from Bain Capital. Romney hasn't released his tax returns yet, but the most obvious answer is he treats his Bain income as capital gains -- subject to the current capital gains rate of only 15 percent.

A loophole in the tax laws allows private-equity managers like Romney to treat their compensation as capital gains. It's legal but it's a scandal. Income from employment is employment income, period.

Private-equity managers cling to the technicality that the money they take out of their companies comes from the appreciation of assets they own and sell. That may be true, but it's still income they get from their jobs. Common sense would dictate it be treated as ordinary income.

Congress has vowed for years to close this loophole. But somehow it persists. Even when Democrats have been in charge, they haven't been able to close it.

Guess why. The managers and executives of private-equity funds are big donors to Republicans and Democrats alike.

President Obama as Patient 'Moderate Liberal'

Andrew Sullivan makes a persuasive case that Barack Obama is a moderate liberal who plays a political 'long-game':
What liberals have never understood about Obama is that he practices a show-don’t-tell, long-game form of domestic politics. What matters to him is what he can get done, not what he can immediately take credit for. And so I railed against him for the better part of two years for dragging his feet on gay issues. But what he was doing was getting his Republican defense secretary and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs to move before he did. The man who made the case for repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” was, in the end, Adm. Mike Mullen. This took time—as did his painstaking change in the rule barring HIV-positive immigrants and tourists—but the slow and deliberate and unprovocative manner in which it was accomplished made the changes more durable. Not for the first time, I realized that to understand Obama, you have to take the long view. Because he does.

Or take the issue of the banks. Liberals have derided him as a captive of Wall Street, of being railroaded by Larry Summers and Tim Geithner into a too-passive response to the recklessness of the major U.S. banks. But it’s worth recalling that at the start of 2009, any responsible president’s priority would have been stabilization of the financial system, not the exacting of revenge. Obama was not elected, despite liberal fantasies, to be a left-wing crusader. He was elected as a pragmatic, unifying reformist who would be more responsible than Bush.

And what have we seen? A recurring pattern. To use the terms Obama first employed in his inaugural address: the president begins by extending a hand to his opponents; when they respond by raising a fist, he demonstrates that they are the source of the problem; then, finally, he moves to his preferred position of moderate liberalism and fights for it without being effectively tarred as an ideologue or a divider. This kind of strategy takes time. And it means there are long stretches when Obama seems incapable of defending himself, or willing to let others to define him, or simply weak. I remember those stretches during the campaign against Hillary Clinton. I also remember whose strategy won out in the end.

This is where the left is truly deluded. By misunderstanding Obama’s strategy and temperament and persistence, by grandstanding on one issue after another, by projecting unrealistic fantasies onto a candidate who never pledged a liberal revolution, they have failed to notice that from the very beginning, Obama was playing a long game. He did this with his own party over health-care reform. He has done it with the Republicans over the debt. He has done it with the Israeli government over stopping the settlements on the West Bank—and with the Iranian regime, by not playing into their hands during the Green Revolution, even as they gunned innocents down in the streets. Nothing in his first term—including the complicated multiyear rollout of universal health care—can be understood if you do not realize that Obama was always planning for eight years, not four. And if he is reelected, he will have won a battle more important than 2008: for it will be a mandate for an eight-year shift away from the excesses of inequality, overreach abroad, and reckless deficit spending of the last three decades. It will recapitalize him to entrench what he has done already and make it irreversible.
I'm not completely persuaded, but I'm keeping an open mind. Furthermore, what Sullivan calls 'moderate liberalism' may really be just Clintonian/Rubinian 'neo-liberalism', which I think has shown itself to be quite flawed, especially in its acceptance of laissez-faire, deregularized, delaborized economics.  Yet, I will agree with Sullivan that even Obama's moderate liberalism is far better than the crazy right-wing politics found in the Republican Party these days.

Obama's Foreign Policy: Responsible Realism

President Obama, far from being the appeaser that the Republicans are trying to paint him as, has been quietly effective in pursuing America's true national interests abroad, as the foreign policy centrist and realist that he is. Andrew Sullivan, in his frontpage Newsweek story, describes it well:

On foreign policy, the right-wing critiques have been the most unhinged. Romney accuses the president of apologizing for America, and others all but accuse him of treason and appeasement. Instead, Obama reversed Bush’s policy of ignoring Osama bin Laden, immediately setting a course that eventually led to his capture and death. And when the moment for decision came, the president overruled both his secretary of state and vice president in ordering the riskiest—but most ambitious—plan on the table. He even personally ordered the extra helicopters that saved the mission. It was a triumph, not only in killing America’s primary global enemy, but in getting a massive trove of intelligence to undermine al Qaeda even further. If George Bush had taken out bin Laden, wiped out al Qaeda’s leadership, and gathered a treasure trove of real intelligence by a daring raid, he’d be on Mount Rushmore by now. But where Bush talked tough and acted counterproductively, Obama has simply, quietly, relentlessly decimated our real enemies, while winning the broader propaganda war. Since he took office, al Qaeda’s popularity in the Muslim world has plummeted.

Obama’s foreign policy, like Dwight Eisenhower’s or George H.W. Bush’s, eschews short-term political hits for long-term strategic advantage. It is forged by someone interested in advancing American interests—not asserting an ideology and enforcing it regardless of the consequences by force of arms. By hanging back a little, by “leading from behind” in Libya and elsewhere, Obama has made other countries actively seek America’s help and reappreciate our role. As an antidote to the bad feelings of the Iraq War, it has worked close to perfectly.

Obamacare: Not Socialist at All

Andrew Sullivan makes the case that Obamacare is a conservative policy initiative:
The great conservative bugaboo, Obamacare, is also far more moderate than its critics have claimed. The Congressional Budget Office has projected it will reduce the deficit, not increase it dramatically, as Bush’s unfunded Medicare Prescription Drug benefit did. It is based on the individual mandate, an idea pioneered by the archconservative Heritage Foundation, Newt Gingrich, and, of course, Mitt Romney, in the past. It does not have a public option; it gives a huge new client base to the drug and insurance companies; its health-insurance exchanges were also pioneered by the right. It’s to the right of the Clintons’ monstrosity in 1993, and remarkably similar to Nixon’s 1974 proposal. Its passage did not preempt recovery efforts; it followed them. It needs improvement in many ways, but the administration is open to further reform and has agreed to allow states to experiment in different ways to achieve the same result. It is not, as Romney insists, a one-model, top-down prescription. Like Obama’s Race to the Top education initiative, it sets standards, grants incentives, and then allows individual states to experiment. Embedded in it are also a slew of cost-reduction pilot schemes to slow health-care spending. Yes, it crosses the Rubicon of universal access to private health care. But since federal law mandates that hospitals accept all emergency-room cases requiring treatment anyway, we already obey that socialist principle—but in the most inefficient way possible. Making 44 million current free-riders pay into the system is not fiscally reckless; it is fiscally prudent. It is, dare I say it, conservative.

Vulture Capitalism à la Bain Capital

This Republican primary season has been full of surprises, everything from the number of debates to the rise and fall of numerous frontrunners.  But the single most surprising development is the recent debate over the issue of wealth and income equality in America, along with the related issue of 'vulture capitalism'.  Who would ever have thought that Bain Capital's corporate morality or the income tax returns of Mitt Romney would be at issue in this most laissez-faire political party?

I'll let veteran left-wing journalist and activist Katrina vanden Heuvel describe it in the WaPo:
If you had asked me at the beginning of the Republican nomination fight what candidates like Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry would say to win, I would have said just about anything. What I couldn’t possibly imagine was that one of the things they might start saying would actually be the unvarnished, unblinking, stand-up-and-clap-for-it truth.

With their eyes set on Bain’s bane and Mitt Romney’s career, Perry and Gingrich have been astonishingly and appropriately brutal. “There’s a real difference between venture capitalism and vulture capitalism,” Perry told Fox and Friends last week. “I don’t believe that capitalism is making a buck under any circumstances.” Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Gingrich sharpened that point further on Bloomberg.“The question is whether or not these companies were being manipulated by the guys who invest to drain them of their money, leaving behind people who were unemployed,” he said. “Show me somebody who has consistently made money while losing money for workers and I’ll show you someone who has undermined capitalism.” Sing it, Brother Gingrich.

Though it might be odd that such attacks on Romney have originated with Republicans themselves, that they have sparked a national conversation matters a great deal. It allows those who’ve been making the case for years to drive home the critical point that the work of people like Romney is not the stuff of natural free markets; it is the product of a well-funded construct of laws and rules and institutions and values that undermine shared prosperity in a country that once took pride in supporting upward mobility.
Sounds like 'class warfare' has come to the Republican Party itself as a civil war.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Admiring Michelle Obama

Kathleen Parker, straight-shooting but fair conservative journalist for the Washington Post, puts in a good word for Michelle Obama:
Like every woman I know, black or white, I’ve watched Mrs. Obama with respect, admiration and arm-envy. Every woman. We talk about her unique role in American history, and we are proud and impressed. I’ve interviewed a former first lady’s chief of staff, various Republican operatives, and former staffers for previous presidents, and without exception, they all say the same thing: “I admire her so much.”
Pretty high praise, I'd say.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

When Mitt Romney Came To Town

I have just viewed the MOST devastating documentary I can imagine on the subject of Mitt Romney and his private equity firm, Bain Capital.  Created by a Superpac supporting Newt Gingrich, it chronicles the real-life impacts of Romney's work in the 80s and 90s by which he made his millions.  It tells the story primarily through interviews with workers who were laid off from companies acquired by Bain.

This has the potential to impact this Republican race like nothing else.  I can see why journalists have been calling this 'Armageddon'.  Indeed.  Watch it (at the link above).

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Darker Side of Mitt Romney

This article on Mitt Romney in Vanity Fair magazine is as good an analysis of his religious and business involvements as I've seen yet.  It is, as Fox News would say, 'fair and balanced'.  Indeed, 'you decide'!

Mitt Romney and Partners at Bain Capital 
On his Mormon faith, it shows him doing what Mormon leaders at the local level actually have to do, as I've found in my other reading on Mormonism.  It ain't easy, it ain't pretty, but it's how Mormonism maintains its membership control and disciplined strength.

As for Romney's business success, this article details exactly how that worked, in both its glory and its goriness.  A brief excerpt from the end of the piece to show the latter:
Romney’s phrase, “leverage up,” provides the key to understanding this most profitable stage of his business career. While putting relatively little money on the table, Bain could strike a deal using largely debt. That generally meant that the company being acquired had to borrow huge sums. But there was no guarantee that target companies would be able to repay their debts. At Bain, the goal was to buy businesses that were stagnating as subsidiaries of large corporations and grow them or shake them up to burnish their performance. Because many of the companies were troubled, or at least were going to be heavily indebted after Bain bought them, their bonds would be considered lower-grade, or “junk.” That meant they would have to pay higher interest on the bonds, like a strapped credit-card holder facing a higher rate than a person who pays off purchases more quickly. High-yielding junk bonds were appealing to investors willing to take on risk in exchange for big payouts. But they also represented a big bet: if the companies didn’t generate large profits or could not sell their stock to the public, some would be crippled by the debt layered on them by the buyout firms.

The arcane domain of corporate buyouts and junk-bond financing had entered the public consciousness at the time, and not always in a positive way. Ivan Boesky, a Wall Street arbitrageur who often bought the stock of takeover targets, was charged with insider trading and featured on the cover of Time magazine as “Ivan the Terrible.” Shortly after Romney began working on leveraged deals, a movie called Wall Street opened. It featured the fictional corporate raider Gordon Gekko, who justified his behavior by declaring, “I am not a destroyer of companies. I am a liberator of them! … Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit.”

Romney, of course, never said that greed is good, and there was nothing of Gekko in his mores or style. But he bought into the broader ethic of the LBO kings, who believed that through the aggressive use of leverage and skilled management they could quickly remake underperforming enterprises. Romney described himself as driven by a core economic credo, that capitalism is a form of “creative destruction.” This theory, espoused in the 1940s by the economist Joseph Schumpeter and later touted by former Federal Reserve Board chairman Alan Greenspan, holds that business must exist in a state of ceaseless revolution. A thriving economy changes from within, Schumpeter wrote in his landmark book, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, “incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one.” But as even the theory’s proponents acknowledged, such destruction could bankrupt companies, upending lives and communities, and raise questions about society’s role in softening some of the harsher consequences.

Romney Wins New Hampshire Going Away

It was not even a contest, really.  Mitt Romney won Tuesday's New Hampshire Primary without even breaking a sweat, cruising to a 39% victory over his nearest rival, Ron Paul, who could only get as close as 22%.  The closest non-libertarian was Jon Huntsman at around 17%.  Gingrich and Santorum were fourth and fifth, respectively, with about 10% each.

Barring an unforeseen collapse or extreme mistake (something far worse than his 'love firing people' gaffe), there is little doubt that Romney will be the Republican nominee.

(Let me remind readers about my posts on Mormonism, where you can take a brief but serious look at the main issues surrounding Romney's faith. For an historical survey on Mormonism, look here and here.  For a look at the 'top ten' peculiarities of the Mormon faith click here.  And with a listing of the Mormon strengths as a 21st century American faith here.  My full listing of posts on Mormonism is here.)

Conservatives who think Romney is too moderate or too wishy-washy are just going to have to suck it up and take him as he is.  Almost certainly the harsh criticisms of the last week--especially by Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry--will cease, for fear of doing serious damage to Republican chances this fall.

As I've said here numerous times, Romney is certainly electable.  He has real strengths to go into an election contest with Barack Obama, the foremost of which is his beautiful family, beginning with his poised and courageous wife Ann.

But he also has some real weaknesses, the foremost of which is personal.  Romney comes across, as Richard Cohen put it yesterday in the Washington Post, like a superficial, rich kid (like Reggie in the Archie comic strip).  Very rich today, always been rich, will always be rich.

Furthermore, as has been widely attested, Romney has very few friends, in the political world or anywhere else, for that matter.  In fact, many of political acquaintances actually despite him, though no one seems to be able to say why that is.

His Bain Capital adventures in 'venture capitalism' will be another hurdle to jump.  While it does give him 'business' experience, he'll have to show that it was the kind of experience that Americans respect more than they hate.  From the experience of Republicans recently referring to his time in business at 'vulture capitalism', that could be a tough sell.

Finally, he comes across as very hawkish in his foreign policy.  After a recent Bush administration who invaded two Middle Eastern countries with very little to show for it except wasted money and lives, I think that could be a tough sell for the American people.  Hell, it could be a tough sell for the 25% of the Republicans who voted for libertarian non-interventionist Ron Paul.

But to Romney's credits, he now gets a chance to consolidate himself and get ready for this fall's challenge of President Obama.  Congratulations, Mitt.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Romney As a Family Man

I ran across a reference to this article on Mitt Romney in Vanity Fair.  What I've read so far is interesting and insightful.  Here's an excerpt on his family:
The Romneys’ Mormon faith, as Mitt and Ann began their life together, formed a deep foundation. It lay under nearly everything—their acts of charity, their marriage, their parenting, their social lives, even their weekly schedules. Their family-centric lifestyle was a choice; Mitt and Ann plainly cherished time at home with their children more than anything. But it was also a duty. Belonging to the Mormon Church meant accepting a code of conduct that placed supreme value on strong families—strong heterosexual families, in which men and women often filled defined and traditional roles. The Romneys have long cited a well-known Mormon credo popularized by the late church leader David O. McKay: “No other success can compensate for failure in the home.” They had arrived in the Boston area with one son, Taggart, and soon had a second, Matthew. Over the next decade, the Romneys would have three more boys: Joshua was born in 1975, Benjamin in 1978, and then Craig in 1981.

To Mitt, the special one in the house was Ann, with her wide smile, piercing eyes, and steadying domestic presence. And woe was the boy who forgot it. Tagg said there was one rule that was simply not breakable: “We were not allowed to say anything negative about my mother, talk back to her, do anything that would not be respectful of her.” On Mother’s Day, their home would be fragrant with lilacs, Ann’s favorite flowers. Tagg didn’t get it back then, but he came to understand. From the beginning, Mitt had put Ann on a pedestal and kept her there. “When they were dating,” Tagg said, “he felt like she was way better than him and he was really lucky to have this catch. He really genuinely still feels that way.” What makes his parents’ relationship work, he said, is their distinct characters: Mitt is driven first by reason, while Ann operates more on emotion. “She helps him see there’s stuff beyond the logic; he helps her see that there’s more than just instinct and feeling,” Tagg said. Mitt and Ann’s relationship would grow and change as their family entered the public eye. But she has remained his chief counselor and confidante, the one person who can lead Mitt to a final decision. Though she did not necessarily offer detailed input on every business deal, friends said, she weighed in on just about everything else. “Mitt’s not going to do something that they don’t feel good about together,” said Mitt’s sister Jane. Tagg said they called their mom “the great Mitt stabilizer.” Ann would later be mocked for her claim that she and Mitt had never had an argument during their marriage, which sounded preposterous to the ears of many married mortals. Tagg said it’s not that his parents never disagree. “I know there are things that she says that he doesn’t agree with sometimes, and I see him kind of bite his tongue. But I know that they go and discuss it in private. He doesn’t ever contradict my mother in public.” Friends of the Romneys’ back up that account, saying they cannot recall Mitt ever raising his voice toward Ann. Nowhere was Ann’s special status more evident than on long family car trips. Mitt imposed strict rules: they would stop only for gas, and that was the only chance to get food or use the restroom. With one exception, Tagg explained. “As soon as my mom says, ‘I think I need to go to the bathroom,’ he pulls over instantly and doesn’t complain. ‘Anything for you, Ann.’” On one infamous road trip, though, it wasn’t Ann who forced Mitt off the highway. The destination of this journey, in the summer of 1983, was his parents’ cottage, on the Canadian shores of Lake Huron. The white Chevy station wagon with the wood paneling was overstuffed with suitcases, supplies, and sons when Mitt climbed behind the wheel to begin the 12-hour family trek from Boston to Ontario. As with most ventures in his life, he had left little to chance, mapping out the route and planning each stop. Before beginning the drive, Mitt put Seamus, the family’s hulking Irish setter, in a dog carrier and attached it to the station wagon’s roof rack. He had improvised a windshield for the carrier to make the ride more comfortable for the dog.

Then Mitt put his sons on notice: there would be pre-determined stops for gas, and that was it. Tagg was commandeering the way-back of the wagon, keeping his eyes fixed out the rear window, when he glimpsed the first sign of trouble. “Dad!” he yelled. “Gross!” A brown liquid was dripping down the rear window, payback from an Irish setter who’d been riding on the roof in the wind for hours. As the rest of the boys joined in the howls of disgust, Mitt coolly pulled off the highway and into a service station. There he borrowed a hose, washed down Seamus and the car, then hopped back onto the road with the dog still on the roof. It was a preview of a trait he would grow famous for in business: emotion-free crisis management. But the story would trail him years later on the national political stage, where the name Seamus would become shorthand for Romney’s coldly clinical approach to problem solving.
The darker side of this close and intimate family life is detailed later in the article, in what appears to be a lack of interest in those outside his family and faith.
If Romney is exceedingly comfortable around family and close friends, he’s much less so around those he doesn’t know well, drawing a boundary that’s difficult to traverse. It’s a strict social order—us and them—that has put co-workers, political aides, casual acquaintances, and others in his professional circles, even people who have worked with or known him for years, outside the bubble. As a result, he has numerous admirers but, by several accounts, not a long list of close pals. “He’s very engaging and charming in a small group of friends he’s comfortable with,” said one former aide. “When he’s with people he doesn’t know, he gets more formal. And if it’s a political thing where he doesn’t know anybody, he has a mask.” For those outside the inner circle, Romney comes across as all business. Colleagues at work or political staffers are there to do a job, not to bond. “Mitt is always the star,” said one Massachusetts Republican. “And everybody else is a bit player.” He has little patience for idle chatter or small talk, little interest in mingling at cocktail parties, at social functions, or even in the crowded hallway. He is not fed by, and does not crave, casual social interaction, often displaying little desire to know who people are and what makes them tick. “He wasn’t overly interested in people’s personal details or their kids or spouses or team building or their career path,” said another former aide. “It was all very friendly but not very deep.” Or, as one fellow Republican put it, “He has that invisible wall between ‘me’ and ‘you.’” Referring to the time later when Romney was governor of Massachusetts, a Democratic lawmaker recalls, “You remember Richard Nixon and the imperial presidency? Well, this was the imperial governor.” There were the ropes that often curtailed access to Romney and his chambers. The elevator settings restricted access to his office. The tape on the floor told people exactly where to stand during events. This was the controlled environment that Romney created. His orbit was his own. “We always would talk about how, among the legislators, he had no idea what our names were—none,” the lawmaker said, “because he was so far removed from the day-to-day operations of state government.”

This sense of detachment is a function partly of his faith, which has its own tight social community that most outsiders don’t see. Indeed, the stories of Romney’s humanity and warmth come mostly from people who know him as a fellow Mormon. His abstention from drinking also makes parties and other alcohol-fueled functions distinctly less appealing. He is the antithesis of the gregarious pol with a highball in one hand and a cigar in his mouth. Romney’s discomfort around strangers would later become more than just a curiosity; it would be an impediment on the campaign trail. Lacking an easy rapport with voters, he would come across as aloof, even off-putting. “A lot of it is he is patrician. He just is. He has lived a charmed life,” said one former aide. “It is a big challenge that he has, connecting to folks who haven’t swum in the same rarefied waters that he has.” His growing wealth, the deeper he got into his career, only widened the disconnect.
I hate to say it, but this sounds curiously--except for the wealthy, patrician background--like Barack Obama, who is clearly uncomfortable with those outside his small circle of family and close friends.

Reminder: I have addressed the issue of Mitt Romney's Mormon faith in several places on this blog: With a historical survey here and here.  With a look at the 'top ten' peculiarities of the Mormon faith here.  And with a listing of the Mormon strengths as a 21st century American faith here.  My full listing of posts on Mormonism is here.

Things Here and There on Barack Obama

So, what's happening with Barack Obama these days?

To be honest, it's hard to know without inside sources, which of course I don't have.  But with all the focus on the Republicans these days, the Obama administration flies like a stealth bomber under the radar.  Stuff must be going on, it's just hard to know what exactly.

Obama did do a recess appointment of Richard Courdray to the new Consumer Protection Agency, in defiance of the Republicans in Congress, who were refusing to allow him to appoint someone.  This one looks like it will be fought out in the courts (over the issue of whether Obama's recess appointment was legal, since Congress technically wasn't in recess).  I think it was a good move on his part.  As a caller to the Diane Rehm put it, the American people can see the farce of Congress trying to avoid going into recess.

Obama is now losing his second Chief of Staff, Bill Daley.  This doesn't look so good, frankly.  Why does Obama have to have these former or future mayors of Chicago as his chiefs of staff?  It looks creepy, frankly.  Please, Mr. President, get somebody from Washington who knows what they're doing and who will be able to do the job.  You look incompetent when you can't do that.

A rumor I saw floated the other day looked interesting.  Switch Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton, making Hillary the new VP nominee in the reelection campaign and Biden the Secretary of State.  I think this move could help reinsure Obama's reelection, putting new fire into the campaign and giving people something to work for.  The question is, I think: could Obama trust Biden to handle the very sensitive position of Secretary of State?

Obama's unwillingness to schmooze with members of Congress has certainly hurt him in his ability to form or move legislation, or so it would appear.  He comes across in many accounts as almost a Nixonian loner, isolated from the political currents in Washington and therefore more vulnerable when things aren't being accomplished.  The new title of a book on personal introversion--Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking--sounds like it was written for Obama.  As an introvert myself, I can appreciate Obama's dilemma.  At times I wonder if an introvert like Obama can truly succeed in a office like the American Presidency that would seem to be made for an extravert (like Bill Clinton).  Other times I think that such a strategic thinker as Obama may be exactly what we need in this strategic turning point in our American history.  I guess only time will tell.

I agree with our departure from Iraq, the beginnings of our withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the shifting of foreign policy priorities from the Middle East to Asia.  If this campaign is about foreign policy, then Obama will win, because he has shown himself to be a strong President in that role.

Even in domestic economics, things are looking up for Obama.  While Europe sinks, America rises.  China's economy begins to look dicey, while our manufacturing begins to recover.  Who would have thought that a year or two ago?  Not me.  Perhaps the worst is behind us.  I sure hope so.

If the national election were being held today, given the choices I see now, I would vote for Obama again.

Romney Stumbles at the New Hampshire Finish Line

It suddenly feels like Mitt Romney is not so inevitable as the Republican nominee.  His recent (quite incredible) gaffe--"I like being able to fire people"--while taken somewhat out of context--has given his opponents some potent ammunition with which to shoot at him.  This blooper will be seen by millions of voters dozens of time and continue to do its subtle damage to Romney's character and campaign.  For the millionaires and economic conservatives like himself, it's no problem.  For everyone else, it's a problem.

In the meantime, Santorum and Huntsman continue to rise, at least in New Hampshire, perhaps enough to taint what will surely be a first place finish in New Hampshire.  The question is: will the margin of victory be enough for it to look like a true victory and give him the boost he needs going into the next string of primaries?  I've always thought that Huntsman was strong enough to win, yet he has strangely disappointed so far.  Santorum has come on strong and is now looking more formidable than ever better, though I still don't think he really has the goods, given both the nature of the Republican Party and the national electorate.

The question of Romney's (and Huntsman's) Mormon faith continues to come up.  I have addressed the issue in several places on this blog: With a historical survey here and here.  With a look at the 'top ten' peculiarities of the Mormon faith here.  And with a listing of the Mormon strengths as a 21st century American faith here.  My full listing of posts on Mormonism is here.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Romney is (Still) #1

After the Saturday night New Hampshire debate (didn't watch the following one this morning--couldn't bear it), it's clear that Romney is still running out ahead of the rest of the pack.

Andrew Sullivan--who live-blogged the debate--summarized it this way.
My rough take: Romney sailed through this one, although he is digging into positions and rhetoric that really seem extreme for the center. Maybe I'm biased, but I thought Paul was a stand-out, because he didn't seem to be pandering. His fight with Gingrich over the draft was, to my ears, devastating. Huntsman did fine, and I devoutly wish his saner, calmer conservatism would prevail. But he has an awful tin ear. Slipping into Mandarin to answer Romney on China? Like his idiotic decision to insult Iowans, it's just incompetent rhetoric and politics. His sensibility worked in Utah, the way Perry does in Texas. But he has been unable to break out as a national candidate.

Santorum is such a vile person it is hard for me to judge his performance. But he seemed to me to come off as the prize asshole he is: nasty, extreme, reactionary, callous. Perry was irrelevant. But his bid to send troops back to Iraq was insane; and yes, he did say that Iran would literally move at the speed of light into Iraq. It reminds me of the wonderful quote from a former Palin spokeswoman who said that the world was "literally her oyster." Ewww.

My gut tells me that Paul may gain strength in the ornery independent state in the next few days. And Romney's decision to leave New Hampshire this week may have been an error. But I know the odds are now perishingly thin that Romney can be stopped. And Newt balked at going for the real jugular.

But the real lesson of this debate is that this crew is the worst assembled for the nomination of a major party that I can recall. They make you pine for Tsongas. As one reader notes: "I used to be a Republican. Still consider myself conservative. But I just donated $25 to Obama's re-election after watching this GOP debate. Obama should encourage all his supporters to watch these debates. It would make them want to donate."

The Democrats must be thrilled.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

And the Iowa Winner Is....

Okay, I'm back after a Christmas/New Year's break. Hope you are well and ready for 2012.

The long-awaited Iowa Caucuses are now history (thank God).   Bachmann and Perry are out of the race or irrelevant.  Gingrich is nearly dead, after having come (in his mind, anyway) within smelling distance of the nomination and White House. Huntsman remains standing (again, at least in his mind) until he loses in New Hampshire.

The three big winners last night were Romney, Santorum, and Paul, in that order.

Mitt Romney squeaked it out, getting just a few more 'votes' than Santorum. But a win is a win.

Rick Santorum was the big winner of the traditional conservative and religious right vote in Iowa, of which there are plenty.  He deserves the limelight for a few days, until he slowly fades away over the next few weeks because he lacks money and organization (and, well, because he looks like a Catholic Boy Scout).

Ron Paul has got to be disappointed at coming in third, after all the hype about his leading in the Iowa polls. But he's used to losing in this things, and he's got incredible staying power. His base seems to be about 20% of the Republican Party at this point, and with that base, he can go quite a ways into the Spring, if he wants to. And I think he wants to.

With Gingrich gone, there is no other non-Romney candidate who looks Presidential. That's my bottom-line. So I think the Republican Party is going to suck it up and nominate Romney to oppose Obama in the fall.

Given that choice, I would go for Obama next November, without a doubt. I have my issues with Obama, but I have even greater issues with the foreign and domestic agenda of Romney. It would, in my judgment, be a Bush 43 redux administration, a big-government conservatism, which is probably the worst of both worlds. And no one should want to see that.

One big question mark in this thing remains whether or not there would be a third-party candidate, either of a Ron Paul or of the Americans Elect/radical centrist kind. That could throw the election in really strange directions.  In fact, if there were a decent Third Party candidate available with a shot at winning, I would seriously consider that alternative.