State of the Union

Is Mitt Romney Monty Python?

Some TACers might remember a couple of Monty Python sketches relating to rich people.  In one Michael Palin approaches John Cleese and asks him to contribute money to a fund for orphans.  Cleese cannot figure out why he would want to do something like that and questions what the orphans will do with the money.  He then goes off into a reverie about how wealthy he is,  “Yes, yes I am extremely rich.  Quite extraordinarily rich, really.”  In another sketch Graham Chapman plays an upper class twit who has a multiple and incomprehensible surname which he then explains “…is pronounced Luxury Yacht.”

Python came to mind when I read the Mitt Romney tax story today, $6.2 million paid in tax on $42 million in income over the past two years.  I cannot even imagine what $42 million in income, not assets, must look like and it is hard for me to imagine what Romney has in common with most Americans. Does he really understand what has happened to the economy and to the middle and working classes over the past five years?

I have followed the debate over Bain with some attention and do understand how a company in trouble sometimes has to be taken over, reorganized and restored to health, or dissolved if it is beyond saving.  But is that really what Romney did?  How often was a company taken over only because its assets exceeded the takeover price, meaning that the company was then stripped of assets and allowed to go out of business, resulting in the loss of jobs and livelihoods as “collateral damage.”  Was this some kind of benign intervention or predatory capitalism at its worst?  Clearly, whatever it actually was resulted in a vast fortune for Romney which I have seen estimated to be in the $250 million range.  Romney’s father George was also a rich man but at least he built cars to make his fortune.  What has Mitt built?  And why would we want a man whose life as a “businessman” has revolved around such an enterprise to be our president?

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Newt: The Anti-Goldwater

Jordan raised an interesting comparison. Goldwater was the principled guy who couldn’t win but built a movement. Newt is the unprincipled guy who can’t win and might just smash that same movement.

Mitt Romney drew some blood from Newt last night, but I would say Newt came out ahead. Mitt was long on reasons not to trust the former Speaker, short on reasons to support the millionaire from Massachusetts instead. If you were a Florida Republican, you might have more reservations now about Newt’s lobbying and the dismal end of his days in the House. But between the top two he still seems like the one with all the brains and personality. Romney seemed to shrink back to the stature he possessed in 2008. This looked a lot like the Mitt who was on pace to fall behind Huckabee in the delegate count when he dropped out early that February.

Newt’s surge has Michael Steele and other Republican insiders raising the possibility of a brokered convention. (Steele puts the odds, rather implausibly, at 50 percent.) Could the Republican convention be thrown open and nominate… Mitch Daniels? Jeb Bush? Chris Christie? Nate Silver doesn’t rule it out:

Late-entry candidates and brokered conventions have not occurred in the recent past. But there has also not been a case in the recent past in which a candidate like Mr. Gingrich, so vehemently opposed by party elites, was surging ahead in key national and state polls at this stage of the nomination process.

I have my doubts: I wonder whether the GOP establishment wouldn’t rather see Newt go down in flames than waste political capital on a last-minute bid to nominate someone new. What would voters think of being stuck with a candidate for whom none of them had cast their ballots? Mitch Daniels doesn’t have the name recognition or grassroots appeal to match his media hype, and if he declined to run on his own terms, why would he consent to be drafted in a salvage situation?  Another Bush would bring back memories of he-who-must-not-be-mentioned-in-GOP-debates. Christie is more colorful and better known than Daniels — almost certainly too colorful for the party elites and general election voters.

But if Romney loses Florida, the GOP will be rushing headlong into uncharted territory. Note, by the way, the enormous role that SuperPACs have played in undercutting Romney’s fundraising advantage. I could see the GOP letting Newt go down in his blaze in infamy this November, then setting to work rejiggering the campaign-finance laws to make sure it never happens again.

(Here, by the way, is 1980s Newt owning up to having been a Nelson Rockefeller supporter. Last night he talked about attending a Goldwater organizing meeting in ’64 — not an explicit contradiction, but not exactly honest, either.)

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Newt vs. Mitt: The Ugly Season

Newt Gingrich’s surge to success in South Carolina has surely brought joy to the Obama White House.

For his 12-point victory ensures the fight for the GOP nomination will not end soon and will get nastier. Indeed, it already has. Whether Newt or Mitt Romney emerges victorious, the candidate who comes out of the Republican convention will be bruised and bloodied.

Consider, first, Newt.

According to a Fox News poll, 56 percent of the American people have an unfavorable opinion of the former speaker. Only 27 percent hold a favorable opinion. By two to one, the nation has a negative view of Newt. And as Newt has been a national figure for two decades, to reverse the impression he has left on the country would require an immense volume of positive media, free and bought.

And Newt is getting neither.

Now, in Florida, Romney has decided to tear the scab off, and 24 hours after his South Carolina defeat, he is busy at it.

Newt, said Mitt, “was a leader for four years as speaker of the House. … And at the end of four years … he was a failed leader, and he had to resign in disgrace. … He was investigated (by) an ethics panel and had to make a payment associated with that, and then … 88 percent of his (fellow) Republicans voted to reprimand Speaker Gingrich.”

“What’s (Newt) been doing for 15 years?” Mitt asked. “He’s been working as a lobbyist … and selling influence around Washington.”

Mitt did not bring up Newt’s three wives and the tawdry tale told by second wife Marianne to ABC. Yet the super PACs of the Democratic Party will make sure the women of America know how Newt treated his first two wives, should he become the nominee.

Yet Mitt has his own problems, after his worst week in South Carolina.

By going negative on Newt, he will drive Newt’s negatives higher. But attack politics polarizes a party and drives up the negatives of the attacker, as well. The Eagle Scout image of Mitt will suffer — both from what Newt is doing to him and from what he feels he must do to Newt.

Rep. Dick Gephardt decided he had to take down Howard Dean, who was riding high in Iowa in 2004. Gephardt ended up taking both of them down. John Kerry evaded the bloodletting, won the caucuses and cruised to the nomination. Read More…

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The Crisis with a 500 Billion Euro Price Tag

According to Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, 500 billion more euros in rescue funds are needed in order to avoid a “1930s moment” characterized by high inflation and unemployment. The comments come soon after talks between Greece and its creditors were adjourned on Friday. Considering last week’s downgrade of the Eurozone’s own bailout fund, it is remarkable that this sort of rhetoric is still being voiced by those who have a significant amount of power and influence.

The problem with suggestions such as those made by Ms. Lagarde is that they are politically useful and influential. If you are in charge of an organization such as the IMF, it is impossible to advocate a market-oriented solution to the current crisis that allows for the default of certain countries and a radically different monetary policy. The problem with the proposed resolutions to the eurozone crisis is that those in authority approach the issue with too much political baggage. If the euro had not been a political endeavor it would be a lot clearer what steps need to be taken, particularly in regards to the PIGS nations (Portugal, Ireland, Greece, Spain). Unfortunately, too many politicians in Europe are unwilling to admit their mistake, and millions of Europeans will suffer more than necessary because of their stubbornness.

Economic stimuli can sometimes provide temporary economic stability. However, long-term economic stability and growth cannot be achieved through the sort of measures being advocated by the IMF and governments across Europe. Indeed such measures can be harmful in the long term. Economists such as Robert Barro have been arguing this point for some time.

Ms. Lagarde has not explicitly said where the new 500 billion euros she wants will come from. Whatever its source, be it increased taxation, contributions from a more fiscally responsible country, another round of quantitative easing, or a combination of these, the outlook for the long term looks bleak. It is a shame that we are in this incredibly volatile situation, but we have the politicians of Europe to thank for making the situation worse than it could have been.

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Painting it Gold(water)

Three early primaries, three different winners. A rich moderate presumptive nominee from a northern state beset by a wide field of challengers eager to demonstrate their conservative bona fides. A discontented base champing at the bit to take the fight to the left. The resemblance of this year’s primary season to 1964 hasn’t been lost on Newt Gingrich, who’s now leading in Florida on the heels of a South Carolina victory earned largely by drawing Goldwater-esque distinctions between himself, a “bold Reagan conservative” and “Massachusetts moderate” Mitt Romney, and bromides about the “elite.”

Romney suffers from many of the same issues as Rockefeller; he can’t shake his reputation as an unrelatable rich guy, despite – or more likely because of – his perfectly choreographed campaign events and speeches that feel canned and insincere. Explaining South Carolina’s results, Byron York writes, “after all the talk of ground game and debate war, there’s a simpler reason Gingrich won: On the stump, in town hall after town hall, across South Carolina, Gingrich has been a markedly better campaigner than Romney.” In other words, based on the superior organization and fundraising of the Romney campaign and the predilections of South Carolinians Gingrich shouldn’t have won, but he did because Romney really is that bad at connecting with voters.

But the analogy has limits. Foremost, Gingrich’s personal record is far closer to Nelson Rockefeller’s than Goldwater’s, except with double the ex-wives and the added heartlessness of dumping each of them when they had cancer and multiple sclerosis respectively. Also, the dichotomy of secular progressive elite versus pious rabble that Gingrich’s campaign has been so keen on emphasizing, doesn’t exist anymore. That isn’t to say berating John King and vilifying beltway Brahmins isn’t a good primary strategy, just that the secular media is more aligned with the working class than most conservatives would have you believe, which is why Gingrich, like Goldwater, would lose spectacularly in a general election.

But without the populist narrative of retaking ground from the elites, Gingrich’s desire to be the “arouser of those who form civilization” and the one to embark upon the task of “recivilizing all Americans” would have a far more elitist ring. Based on Charles Murray’s findings a President Gingrich would have his work cut out for him as far as “recivilizing” efforts are concerned. Barry Goldwater would probably just say that’s not the president’s job.

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More Foolish Sanctions

European foreign ministers have approved an oil embargo against Iran. The sanctions ban any new oil contracts with Iran, while existing contracts will be honored until July 1st. While this might seem like a good way to way to stall Iran’s nuclear ambitions, it will only serve to unite the Iranian people and worsen the already fragile diplomatic relations the west has with Iran.

The European Union currently buys a significant amount of oil from Iran, about 20% of total exports. Iran’s economy is already suffering, with rising house and food prices. In order to avoid a worsening economic situation, the Iranians will have to find other buyers for 20% of their oil exports. China, Japan, and India are already major buyers of Iranian oil, and it is possible that exports to these countries could increase. If this does happen some of Europe’s major economic competitors will be benefiting from the sanctions while the negative effect on Iran’s economy will be minimized. This is the best outcome. Read More…

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America’s Most Repellent . . .

I haven’t paid close attention to the news in recent months and I just assumed that some new Fox reality show was all the rage. So imagine my surprise at discovering that not only is Newt Gingrich running for president, he is also winning. While I find the prospect of a Gingrich presidency frightening at best, I would enjoy the intellectual gymnastics that right wing bloggers such as Glenn Reynolds (who has spent the last three years shrieking JIMMY CARTER!)  and William Jacobson would be required to perform in order to justify the four year train wreck of a Gingrich administration.

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Evangelicals, Ron Paul and War

Is supporting war more important for evangelicals than their social values? Isn’t Ron Paul a social conservative? He opposes abortion, gay marriage and promiscuous sex, he has never been divorced and certainly supports family values, but he believes in limited government. Two of his brothers are ministers. Why then are evangelical leaders now opting for Santorum, and before him Gingrich? The one big area of disagreement with Ron Paul is war; foreign wars and the domestic one against drugs. For this they oppose him. Santorum supports unending war in Afghanistan, backing Israel without limit and a new war against Iran.

Earlier there was a major far leftist candidate who supported all the issues that evangelicals oppose, and was a vocal proponent for expanding Israeli settlements on the West Bank and promoting the war on Iraq. He was overjoyed when open homosexuality became allowed in the military, he supports abortion, gay marriage and the leftist agenda for big, intrusive government; power to labor unions as well as expanded, unconstitutional police powers within the U.S. Evangelicals adore him and went all out to support him 2006, when he lost his primary race and ran as an independent for the Senate. He is Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut.

All this shows how evangelical leaders put support for wars ahead of their social values. Their support includes every new law giving Washington ever greater police powers over American citizens, such as the Patriot Act, Military Commissions Act and the recent National Defense Authorization Act which tear asunder much of the Bill of Rights. Most also supported torture of prisoners of war (with the notable exception of Chuck Colson of Prison Fellowship).  All this comes with their “social values.” Read More…

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Nothing More to Say

In the wake of the killing of four of its soldiers by an Afghan soldier, France has suspended all military operations in Afghanistan.

Today’s New York Times features an article entitled “Afghan Soldiers Step Up Killing of Allied Forces” that begins “American and other coalition forces here are being killed in increasing numbers by the very Afghan soldiers they fight alongside and train, in attacks motivated by deep-seated animosity between the supposedly allied forces, according to American and Afghan officers and a classified coalition report obtained by The New York Times. A decade into the war in Afghanistan, the report makes clear that these killings have become the most visible symptom of a far deeper ailment plaguing the war effort: the contempt each side holds for the other…”

How can anyone read the above and still maintain that there is a good reason for staying in Afghanistan?  Who wants to be the last family in America to lose a son or daughter fighting in such a cause?  Cut a deal with the Taliban and get out.


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Who Wants War With Iran?

On Sept. 21, 1976, as his car rounded Sheridan Circle on Embassy Row, former Chilean ambassador Orlando Letelier was assassinated by car bomb. Ronni Moffitt, a 25-year-old American women who worked with Letelier at the leftist Institute for Policy Studies, died with him.

Michael Townley, an ex-CIA asset in the hire of Chile’s intelligence agency, confessed to using anti-Castro Cubans to murder Letelier, in what was regarded as an act of terrorism on U.S. soil.  Which raises a question: Are not the murders of four Iranian scientists associated with that nation’s nuclear program, by the attachment of bombs to their cars in Tehran, also acts of terrorism?

Had the Stalin- or Khrushchev-era Soviets done this to four U.S. scientists in Washington, would we not have regarded it as acts of terrorism and war?

Iran has accused the United States and Israel of murder. But Hillary Clinton emphatically denied any U.S. complicity: “I want to categorically deny any United States involvement in any kind of act of violence inside Iran.”

“The United States had absolutely nothing to do with this,” added National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor, “We strongly condemn all acts of violence, including acts of violence like this.” Victoria Nuland, Clinton’s spokeswoman at State, denounced “any assassination or attack on an innocent person, and we express our sympathies to the family.”

The assassinated scientist was a supervisor at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility that hosts regular inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency. If Iran is building a bomb, it is not at Natanz.

U.S. denial of involvement leaves Mossad as the prime suspect. Israel has not denied it, and this comes at a sensitive time in U.S.-Israeli relations.

In Foreign Policy magazine, author and historian Mark Perry, claiming CIA documentation, alleges that Mossad agents in London posed as CIA agents and contacted Jundallah, a terrorist group, to bribe and recruit them to engage in acts of terror inside Iran.  Jundallah has conducted attacks in Sistan-Baluchistan province, killing government officials, soldiers, and women and children.

According to Perry, when George W. Bush learned of the Mossad agents posing as CIA while recruiting terrorists, he “went totally ballistic.”  Yet Meir Dagan, head of Mossad at the time, denies it, and, ironically, has called any Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities “the stupidest thing I have ever heard.”

Who is telling the truth? We do not know for sure.

What we do know is that “Bibi” Netanyahu is desperate to have the United States launch air and missile strikes to stop Teheran from becoming the world’s ninth nuclear power. And he is echoed not only by U.S. neocons, but GOP candidates save Ron Paul. Read More…

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