Fetus In Fetu

It weighed more than two and a half pounds and was almost ten inches long. It had a humerus, a femur, and a backbone. It had what was reported as, “some hair on the cranium” and eyes.

And it was living in the stomach of a three-year-old Peruvian boy.

Thankfully, doctors have successfully removed this “parasitic twin,” which, according to Wikipedia, occurs

when a twin embryo begins developing in utero, but the pair does not fully separate, and one embryo maintains dominant development at the expense of the other.

No word in yet from the so-called pro-life forces on whether such an unfortunate twin in the United States should be entitled to personhood under the Constitution.

But there was this interesting example from the entry, “Fetus in fetu,” on Wikipedia:

Alamjan Nematilaev was the surviving host of a fetus in fetu. In 2003, aged 7, his school physician in Kazakhstan referred him to a hospital after movements were detected in the boy’s enlarged abdomen. An operation intended to remove a cyst uncovered the fetus of Alamjan’s identical twin brother, which had lived as parasitic growth inside the boy throughout his entire life. The fetus was comparatively highly developed, with hair, arms, fingers, nails, legs, toes, genitals, a head, and a vague approximation of a face.

All of which helps us to understand how strange it is for folks to insist that entities that develop just after fertilization, which sometimes have bizarre fates (the fetus in fetu abnormality reportedly occurs once every 500,000 live births) should be considered “persons” under the law and that doctors who perform abortions are murderers.

Fat Cats And Super PACS

It’s hard to overestimate the damage the Citizens United decision has done, is doing, to our democracy.  A report released by the Wesleyan Media Project, which analyzes political advertising, began with this:

The overall number of GOP presidential ads on the airwaves this election year is comparable with 2008, but who is paying for them so far has changed significantly.  The influence of SuperPACs in the race for the 2012 GOP nomination is clear, with a more than 1600 percent increase in interest-group sponsored ads aired as compared to 2008.

Get that? Comparing the same period of the last two presidential GOP primary seasons, the number of super PAC ads has gone up 1626.7% this year, with the actual spending increase amounting to 1281.8%. That is largely because corporations, which have become full-fledged folks under a weird interpretation of the Constitution, can now give unlimited amounts of cash:

In the first presidential election cycle following the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Citizens United v. FEC, interest group involvement in the presidential air war has skyrocketed from 3 percent of all ads aired in the 2008 Republican nomination race to nearly half (44 percent) of all airings.

As for the candidates themselves, they aired almost 41% fewer ads and spent almost 72% less money over the comparable periods. The candidates are essentially hiding behind the super PACS that support them.

(By the way, the donors to those candidate-oriented PACS will be disclosed today, while those advocacy groups organized as 501(c)(4) nonprofit corporations—like Karl Rove-supported Crossroads GPS—are allowed to keep their donor list of fat cats a secret.)

And while President Obama’s campaign has aired ads in important swing states to the tune of $1.4 million since January 1 of last year, over the same period we also know what outside groups supporting right-wing interests in the general election have spent (estimated):


CROSSROADS GPS (Think: KARL ROVE): $3,013,340


Keep in mind that the general election hasn’t even started and won’t for some time, depending on how much ga$ is poured into Newt Gingrich’s tank.

No matter the outcome of the 2012 election, these and other similar groups will not go away. They will be back again, even stronger and more committed (the Koch brothers play a long-term game).

Please, join Get Money Out or at least visit the site and check out the Idiot’s Guide to the Amendments, if you haven’t already.

A Parable

Most of us today know that the speech that propelled Barack Obama into the national spotlight was his 2004 speech at the Democratic National Convention.

But not many of us remember or learned that Ronald Reagan, the real father of what we know as the Tea Party (even though he’d have a hard time getting a tea bag to wear on his cap today) gave a similarly empowering speech in 1964—a speech that helped make him first governor of California and then president.

Many people refer to this televised address in support of Barry Goldwater simply as “The Speech,” but I call it the “Thousand Years of Darkness” speech because of the warning Reagan presented regarding the 1964 presidential election:

You and I have a rendezvous with destiny.

We’ll preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth, or we’ll sentence them to take the last step into a thousand years of darkness.

Message: Elect Lyndon Johnson and expect ten centuries of pitch-black socialism. Yes, he really suggested that. Sort of makes Newt Gingrich sound reasonable, doesn’t it?

Here is another famous passage from that speech, which demonstrates how seriously the extremists in the Republican Party in those days took poverty in America:

Each year the need grows greater; the program grows greater. We were told four years ago that 17 million people went to bed hungry each night. Well that was probably true. They were all on a diet.

Now you know where Rush Limbaugh gets it.

In any case, Reagan’s reference, of course, was to Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty,” which was introduced that year and which helped reduce American abjection, but was attacked by right-wingers in those days the same way the welfare state is attacked by right-wingers these days.

But the passage in Reagan’s speech I want to focus on is this one:

Not too long ago, a judge called me here in Los Angeles. He told me of a young woman who’d come before him for a divorce. She had six children, was pregnant with her seventh. Under his questioning, she revealed her husband was a laborer earning 250 dollars a month. She wanted a divorce to get an 80 dollar raise. She’s eligible for 330 dollars a month in the Aid to Dependent Children Program. She got the idea from two women in her neighborhood who’d already done that very thing.

It wasn’t until the 1976 presidential campaign, when Reagan was a GOP primary candidate, that the term “welfare queen” became a code word on the fanatical right. He said of this strange being, as reported by The New York Times (quoted on Wikipedia):

She has eighty names, thirty addresses, twelve Social Security cards and is collecting veteran’s benefits on four non-existing deceased husbands. And she is collecting Social Security on her cards. She’s got Medicaid, getting food stamps, and she is collecting welfare under each of her names. Her tax-free cash income is over $150,000.

Anyone, Democrat or Republican, would obviously get outraged over that example, which may have been based on a real case in Chicago. But other than pointing out that some folks are criminals, what does it really mean? For the right-wing, it was intended to convince the voting public that a goodly number of folks on welfare were and still are undeserving of help, and are abusing the system because the system itself breeds such abuse.

Well, a health care company once paid a $1.7 billion fine for committing Medicare and Medicaid fraud—and the guy who ran the company while the fraud was going on was fired and received millions of dollars in severance and over $300 million worth of stock. And to put political icing on his cake, the guy, teapartier and Republican Rick Scott, is now the governor of Florida. That $1.7 billion worth of fraud could purchase over 11,333 of Reagan’s welfare queens, but Republicans have yet to invent a code word for corporations that defraud the government.

In thinking about all this, a parable came into my mind:

A boat capsized near a small town and most of the people swam to shore, saving themselves. But several people remained in the water, huddled together, holding on to whatever they could find to stay afloat, a short and swimmable distance from shore. Presumably, these folks either couldn’t swim or could not swim well enough to let go and give it a try.

Now, in the community nearby where the boat capsized, it happened that a raging debate had been going on involving the town’s rescue budget. For years the town had funded rescue crews and purchased equipment due to the large number of boating accidents just off its shore. Many people had been saved because of the town’s diligence.

But new folks had moved into the community, rugged individualists who were responsible for themselves and expected everyone else to take care of themselves, too.  These folks stirred up anger at the high tax rates used to fund the rescue efforts and began running for and winning political office. They advocated for slashing the rescue budget, insisting that a lot of the folks rescued in the past were careless boaters, many of them merely out on the water partying and having a good time.

Why should we encourage their recklessness,” these good Americans would say. “Many of the people we have saved were on party boats!” some would shout at town hall meetings, “And if they know we will always be here to save them they will just take advantage of us.”

Some of the people at the meetings reminded the townsfolk that surely not all the people needing help were reckless or were taking advantage of the town’s unselfishness, and they argued that it is not easy to discern during a rescue mission just how deserving the folks in the water are.  And besides that, they would argue, “Are we just going to stand on shore and watch these people drown? Is that what kind of community we want to be?

Whether this election year will be “a rendezvous with destiny,” as Ronald Reagan said so long ago, is, I suppose, up to each voter. But certainly either way we choose to go will not be “to take the last step into a thousand years of darkness.” That silly rhetoric represents a rather diminished view of America’s ongoing potential.

But this election will be a snapshot of what kind of national community we are and what kind of obligations we believe we have to those folks clinging to their capsized boat or what is left of it.  Is there a majority among us who will walk away and leave them to sink or swim?

Government Matters And Don’t Forget It

The recent report that the economy grew at an annualized rate last quarter of 2.8%—a growth rate we have not seen since early in 2010—brought some election-year relief to Democrats defending their policies—particularly the silver lining of past stimulus efforts—and caused Republicans to look for, as always, the dark cloud.

Most talking-head defenders of the GOP wanted everyone to know that the actual GDP growth rate for all of 2011 was 1.7% (I heard George Will make that point just this morning on ABC’s This Week). It is vital to Repubicans’ reelection efforts to not let folks think things are on the mend.

Now, before we move on and discuss a real problem with the economic growth rate, we need to review what has happened since the assault of the Great Recession. Here is an excerpt from a piece on Ezra Klein’s Wonkblog written by Brad Plumer discussing the revised numbers by the Bureau of Economic Analysis vis-à-vis the depths of the Great Recession:

As Moody’s chief economist Mark Zandi told me this morning, the revisions suggest that the recession following the financial crisis was much, much more severe than we’d thought—the economy actually shrank at a 8.9 percent annual rate the fourth quarter of 2008 and 6.7 percent in the first quarter of 2009 (earlier estimates had shown a smaller, 5.9 percent annualized drop across the two quarters).

Then, Congress passed the stimulus bill, the fall in growth dwindled to 0.7 percent in the second quarter, and, by the third quarter of 2009, we had 1.7 percent growth. “We went from negative to positive at precisely the time that the stimulus was providing maximum benefit in terms of tax cuts and spending increases,” Zandi says. “The numbers actually reinforce the importance of the stimulus in jump-starting a recovery.” What the stimulus didn’t do, however, was raise employment to the levels that the White House had predicted — partly because the economy was in worse shape than anyone, even the official data-crunchers, knew.

I will add to all that the fact that the 2010 GDP growth rate was 3.1%, which reflected the full effects of the original stimulus. This stuff is important to remember. There is a lot of history-distorting and history-ignoring going on in the GOP primary and beyond, but the fact is that in down times, particularly in really down times like we have had, government spending is a crucial part of the recovery process.  We have seen that in terms of the various stimulus measures that have been passed and, negatively, we can see that in the latest numbers out for economic growth last quarter.

Again, from Wonkblog:

Government spending cuts are biting into economic growth. Government spending contracted a whopping 7.3 percent in the fourth quarter of 2011 — led by big cutbacks in defense spending. Had it not been for these cutbacks, the data suggest, growth in the last quarter would have been 3.7 percent. That’s the difference between “okay” growth and “good” catch-up growth that would make a meaningful dent in the jobless rate. It’s also a reminder that Congress can very much affect what happens in 2012 — especially since lawmakers still haven’t extended the payroll tax holiday or expanded unemployment insurance for the full year.

When this point was made this morning on This Week, I thought the heads of extremist George Will and vulgar extremist Laura Ingraham* were going to make news by detonating before our eyes. The lesson here is that government austerity—the core of the Republican economic plan—is a drag on economic growth, particularly during times like these.

And we don’t know yet how hard Democrats will have to fight congressional Republicans to get the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits extensions (they expire on February 29 and even though Mitch McConnell said on Sunday the thing will get done, he does not control the House), but that Democrats do have to fight for such basics should tell us all we need to know about what has happened to the Republican Party.

One more word about the stimulative effects of government spending: With all the talk coming from the right-wing about Obama being the food stamp president, here is a reminder of how important that program is not only to the individual or family receiving the help (about half are kids and almost a third have earned income), but to the economy as a whole:

The U.S. Department of Agriculture calculates that for every $5 of food-stamp spending, there is $9.20 of total economic activity, as grocers and farmers pay their employees and suppliers, who in turn shop and pay their bills.

While other stimulus money has been slow to circulate, the food-stamp boost [$19.9 billion] is almost immediate, with 80% of the benefits being redeemed within two weeks of receipt and 97% within a month, the USDA says.


* There is never a person as rabidly far left as Ingraham is far right on this program. Never.

Romney’s Health Problem

I said I would get to the exchange between Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney regarding “Romneycare” because I believe it demonstrates Romney’s weakness on the issue not just in the GOP primary (which he will overcome) but in the general election (which hopefully he will not).

Santorum has often attacked both Gingrich and Romney on this issue—which pleases the Obama camp—but never as effectively (albeit dishonestly) as he did during Thursdays CNN GOP debate:

SANTORUM: Governor Romney was the author of Romneycare, which is a top- down government-run health care system which… has 15 different items directly in common with Obamacare…that government is going to mandate you buy something… mandate that you buy an insurance policy, something that Governor Romney agreed to at the state level…Something that everyone now, at least up on this stage, says is radically unconstitutional…

Santorum went on to describe what he believes are problems with the health care law in Massachusetts including higher health care costs and increased waiting times and a lack of sufficient care for some.

Now, this puts Romney in a difficult position.  He has two options:

1. Admit his plan in Massachusetts is a failure and repent.

2. Dispute Santorum’s contentions and defend his plan.

If he takes the first path, he thus admits his largest accomplishment as governor was a complete failure that ultimately has led to another disaster at the federal level, which conservatives keep telling us is coming.  It would be hard to tell folks in the general election that they should elect you as president when you have admitted to such a colossal blunder.

If he takes the second path, he is essentially defending the Affordable Care Act, along with its controversial mandate. And he will thus in the general election lose any persuasive force in advocating for its repeal, which, according to conservative-oriented pollster Rasmussen, just slightly over half of likely voters favor.

And it is hard to see how Romney can convincingly make repealing the law the “cornerstone” of a general election campaign, which well-financed groups like Karl Rove’s American Crossroads PAC will demand.

So, what does Mitt do in the face of fierce criticism from Santorum? Well, he tried at first to have it both ways, as usual:

ROMNEY: Our system has a lot of flaws, a lot of things I’d do differently. It has a lot of benefits. The people of the state like it by about three to one.

Flaws? The Massachusetts system has flaws? What are they? What would Romney do differently? I have never heard him answer those questions.  He goes on:

ROMNEY: We consider it very different than Obamacare. If I were president, day one I will take action to repeal Obamacare. It’s bad medicine. It’s bad economy. I’ll repeal it. (APPLAUSE)

And I believe the people — I believe the people of each state should be able to craft programs that they feel are best for their people. I think ours is working pretty well. If I were governor, it would work a heck of a lot better.

Clearly Romney has committed to the second option: He is defending his plan. But Santorum is not finished:

SANTORUM: What Governor Romney just said is that government-run top-down medicine is working pretty well in Massachusetts and he supports it. Now, think about what that means —

ROMNEY: That’s not what I said.

SANTORUM: — going up against Barack Obama, who you are going to claim, well, top-down government-run medicine on the federal level doesn’t work and we should repeal it. And he’s going to say, wait a minute, Governor. You just said that top-down government-run medicine in Massachusetts works well.

This is Santorum’s strongest moment. But Mitt’s not finished:

ROMNEY: Rick, I make enough mistakes in what I say, not for you to add more mistakes to what I say. I didn’t say I’m in favor of top-down government-run health care; 92 percent of the people in my state had insurance before our plan went in place. And nothing changes for them. They own the same private insurance they had before.

And for the 8 percent of people who didn’t have insurance, we said to them, if you can afford insurance, buy it yourself, any one of the plans out there, you can choose any plan. There’s no government plan.

And if you don’t want to buy insurance, then you have to help pay for the cost of the state picking up your bill, because under federal law if someone doesn’t have insurance, then we have to care for them in the hospitals, give them free care. So we said, no more, no more free riders. We are insisting on personal responsibility.

Either get the insurance or help pay for your care. And that was the conclusion that we reached.

Uh-oh. Santorum just forced Romney into defending not only the concept behind the Affordable Care Act, but he forced Romney into making a very convincing case for the dreaded mandate to purchase health care insurance!  Obama couldn’t have done a better job himself.

Santorum realizes this and wants to make sure everyone understands what Romney has done:

SANTORUM: Does everybody in Massachusetts have a requirement to buy health care?

ROMNEY: Everyone has a requirement to either buy it or pay the state for the cost of providing them free care. Because the idea of people getting something for free when they could afford to care for themselves is something that we decided in our state was not a good idea…

SANTORUM: Just so I understand this, in Massachusetts, everybody is mandated as a condition of breathing in Massachusetts, to buy health insurance, and if you don’t, and if you don’t, you have to pay a fine.  What has happened in Massachusetts is that people are now paying the fine because health insurance is so expensive. And you have a pre-existing condition clause in yours, just like Barack Obama.

So what is happening in Massachusetts, the people that Governor Romney said he wanted to go after, the people that were free-riding, free ridership has gone up five-fold in Massachusetts… Why? Because people are ready to pay a cheaper fine and then be able to sign up to insurance, which are now guaranteed under “Romney-care,” than pay high cost insurance, which is what has happened as a result of “Romney-care.”

You can sense at this point that Romney realizes his predicament and comes back with this:

ROMNEY: First of all, it’s not worth getting angry about…(APPLAUSE)

Oh, Santorum wasn’t angry, he was just excited because he had drawn blood. Romney goes on to explain that it “is simply impossible” for there to be an increase in people “free-riding the system,” and then he begins to lie about Obama’s plan and ends with assuring the audience that he will repeal it.

Santorum won’t let it end, though, without having the last word:

SANTORUM: Wolf, what Governor Romney said is just factually incorrect. Your mandate is no different than Barack Obama’s mandate. It is the same mandate. He takes over…(APPLAUSE) You take over 100 percent, just like he takes over 100 percent, requires the mandate. The same fines that you put in place in Massachusetts are fines that he puts in place in the federal level. Same programs.

Obama And Education: Hardly A Leftist

In Michigan today, President Obama will address the escalating cost of college education and what he wants to do about it. This morning on Morning Joe, Education Secretary Arne Duncan gave us a preview, as well as advocated for the Administration’s general approach to education policy.

Now, I by no means completely endorse this approach—I’m still thinking about it—but I present it as a counter to those on the right who think Mr. Obama is a left-wing radical. The “reward excellence” mantra is something you hear from both ideological camps, although no one has demonstrated to my satisfaction just how it we can fairly determine who gets the rewards.

In any case, here is the clip:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Good Riddance

I thought I would just share with you some notes I took while dutifully, if painfully, watching the CNN GOP debate last night:


The thing opens with NFL football seriousness, what with the music and the introduction of the candidates. I am thinking there is going to be a Stealth Bomber flyover.

I note there are three or four black folks in the audience. Perhaps a debate record for the GOP.

I couldn’t tell if Newt was booed when he came on the scene or whether it was Newwwwwt‘s. But I am convinced he enjoys it no matter what.

Oh, my God. I have to revise my count: there are three African-American kids in the choir singing the national anthem. Three out of twelve. Now, we are definitely talking a record here. The GOP is the party of inclusion!

I notice Newt is not singing along. Neither is Ron Paul.  Man, if the President Who Was Born In Kenya did that, he would really get the business on Fox News later tonight and all day tomorrow.  But at least Newt has his hand over his chest. That’s a good patriotic sign, or else the too-spicy tamales on the Mexican buffet backstage are getting to him.

When Rick Santorum introduces himself it strikes me how much he would look like Pee-wee Herman, if he only had a bow tie. Where’s George Will when you need him?

The debate gets going:

In response to a question about his calling Mitt “the most anti-immigrant candidate” in an ad, Newt says we have to be “realistic in our indignation.” I’m not immediately sure what that means, but I know Newt has never done it.

Wolf Blitzer, the amiable moderator, won’t let Newt escape and he is forced to admit that he does indeed think Mitt is “the most anti-immigrant candidate.”  This is where Mittens begins his attack, using what I will call gentlemanly aggression, and Newt is shrinking before my eyes. And I never thought I would ever put Newt and “shrinking” in the same sentence.

That’s inexcusable!” Mitt says. And then he drops a Marco Rubio on him, saying Rubio also believes the ad was “inexcusable and inflammatory and inappropriate.” Wow! A Triple Adjective Takedown! I haven’t seen one of those in a while!  But Mitt really wounds Newt with this:

Mr. Speaker, I’m not anti-immigrant. My father was born in Mexico. My wife’s father was born in Wales. They came to this country. The idea that I’m anti-immigrant is repulsive.

Then Mittens says,

I think you should recognize that having differences of opinions on issues does not justify labeling people with highly charged epithets.

Oh, my. If Newt can’t label people with highly charged epithets, he won’t be able to say another word the rest of the campaign.

Next, Wolf turns to Mitt’s ad about Gingrich calling Spanish “the language of the ghetto.”  And here we find out why Mitt Romney will have a lot of problems going up against Big O. Mitt says he hasn’t seen the ad. And then asks,

Did he say that?

Moments later he adds,

I doubt that’s my ad, but we’ll take a look and find out. There are a bunch of ads out there that are being organized by other people.

Dammit Mitt! This is bleeping CNN! They’ve hired fact checkers for this special night! You can’t get away with that stuff.  Sure enough, Wolf comes back later and says:

We did double-check, just now, Governor, that ad that we talked about, where I quoted you as saying that Speaker Gingrich called Spanish “the language of the ghetto” — we just double-checked. It was one of your ads. It’s running here in Florida in — on the radio. And at the end you say, “I’m Mitt Romney and I approved this ad.”


But Mitt soon rehabs himself. Blitzer asks Newt about Romney’s personal finances, and Newt, trying his old shtick, tells Wolf he has asked a “nonsense question.”  But the crowd isn’t tearing the place down and Wolf refuses to be detoured (this is his finest moment; later he will degrade himself and ask about the candidates’ wives, a typical cutesy CNN question) and confronts Newt with reality:

BLITZER: But, Mr. Speaker, you made an issue of this, this week, when you said that, “He lives in a world of Swiss bank and Cayman Island bank accounts.” I didn’t say that. You did.

GINGRICH: I did. And I’m perfectly happy to say that on an interview on some TV show. But this is a national debate, where you have a chance to get the four of us to talk about a whole range of issues.

BLITZER: But if you make a serious accusation against Governor Romney like that, you need to explain that.

GINGRICH: I simply suggested —


GINGRICH: You want to try again? I mean —

And this is where Romney triumphs. Not content to let the slimy little Newt get off that easy, he says,

Wouldn’t it be nice if people didn’t make accusations somewhere else that they weren’t willing to defend here?

Damn, Mittens is now on fire! And Newt is forced to respond, which he did, weakly:

GINGRICH: OK. All right.

Given that standard, Mitt, I did say I thought it was unusual. And I don’t know of any American president who has had a Swiss bank account. I’d be glad for you to explain that sort of thing.

Which, of course, Mitt does, unconvincingly. But the damage to Newt is done.  He asks for a “two-way truce.”

Game over.

Just a few more notes on the night (I will deal with Santorum’s critique of Romneycare in another post; it was fantastic):

I am feeling sorry for the woman who asks what she is supposed to do about being unemployed for the first time in 10 years and “unable to afford health care benefits.”  Sadly, she gets a lecture on conservative economics from all the candidates, which, no doubt, helped cause her to be unemployed and without insurance in the first place. Newt even says this in response to her question:

We need to have a program which would start with, frankly, repealing Obamacare, repealing Dodd-Frank, repealing Sarbanes-Oxley.

You gotta love that compassionate conservatism.

And I feel sorry for a man who identified himself as a Palestinian-American Republican. I immediately wonder how someone could be a Republican and a Palestinian-American, given the right’s attitude toward the Palestinians, but then I also wonder how someone could be a gay Republican. Go figure. The man asks this:

How would a Republican administration help bring peace to Palestine and Israel when most candidates barely recognize the existence of Palestine or its people? …I’m here to tell you we do exist.

I can guess what is coming: It’s Obama’s fault!  Romney says that,

This president threw — I think he threw Israel under the bus with regards to defining the ’67 borders as a starting point of negotiations. I think he disrespected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

If Mitt keeps repeating this lie enough, perhaps Politifact will eventually rate it as “true.” Who knows. But this is one of many lies about Obama on the night.


Truth-challenged Mitt Romney will win the nomination, and the sooner the better. I don’t think I can watch another one of these debates, especially since Newt has decided not to stick anymore firecrackers in Mitt’s skivvies and watch him squirm.

And even though Newt did manage in his closing to drop a couple of references to food stamps and gave a nod to Saul Alinsky, it appears the fight has been knocked out of him this night by Mitt and earlier in the day by the Republican establishment—including a weird tag team of Bob Dole and the disturbing Ann Coulter.

And as much as I’d like to see him get the nomination and thus lose the general election, as a good American, I say good riddance.

The Truth About Romney’s And Obama’s Tax Returns

A commenter, who happens to be a conservative Joplin Globe blogger, has been all up in my grill about how much more Mitt Romney has paid in taxes and charity against what Barack Obama has paid (forgetting that they both have wives).

His first comment included this:

I just “heard” that President Obama gave 1% of his income to charities last year. True or false, I do not know. Do you?

After I proved that assertion false, he wrote,

The internet is now filled with tax comparisons between Obama and Romney. Total taxes and charitable contributions for Romney in 2011 is estimated to be 42% of his income…

Cut it however you want to do so in terms of total dollars or percent of taxable income. The differences between the two families is STARK, in my view. Note that Obama’s income before he became famous was around $200,000 per year (2000 through 2004). Wonder how a community organizer made that kind of money????

Now, forget for a moment the implication that a mere “community organizer” might have come by his money (which is chump change to Mitt Romney) in, uh, shall we say, ways other than working for it.  Let’s look at the other assertion, which he repeated in a subsequent comment:

Romney has paid, as a percentage of income or total dollars in taxes and charitable giving than Obama, far more in either case. His 2011 estimate of all taxation and charitable giving is 42% of his taxable income.

So who has “given more for his country”, Romney or Obama?

The suggestion is clear. Democrats, especially the uppity Obama, are hypocrites. They want to take rich people’s money and don’t sacrifice themselves.

Well, I did some searching and I discovered that this claim has made the right-wing Internet rounds and the originator seems to have been none other than Jennifer Rubin, a right-wing columnist for The Washington Post (the piece was titled, “Romney paid 42 percent of 2011 income in taxes and charity“).

Here’s what she wrote:

Another way of looking at it is that in 2011 the Romneys paid out 42 percent of their income in taxes and charity. Here’s how I got there: Total tax (line 60) + foreign taxes (line 47) + state taxes and real-estate taxes + other taxes (Schedule A, line 9) + charitable contributions (Schedule A, line 19) divided by Adjusted Gross Income (1040 line 37).

I thought I would follow her formula (even though line 47 is a tax credit for paying foreign taxes) and check out her claim. Romney’s 2011 estimated return showed:


1040 Line 60 (total tax; it’s actually line 61 on the 2011 form): $3,226,623

1040 Line 47 (the tax credit for foreign taxes paid): $0

Schedule A Line 9 (state, local, and other taxes): $1,549,596

Schedule A Line 19 (charitable gifts): $4,020,572


Now, let’s follow her formula so far: $3,226,623 + 0 + $1,549,596 +$4,020,572 = $8,796,791

Her next step was to divide that number by 1040 Line 37 (Adjusted Gross Income), which Romney estimates as: $20,901,075. So, we have:

Romney’s charitable giving and taxes paid ÷ Adjusted Gross Income 2011 (estimated)

$8,796,791 ÷ $20,901,075 = 42%

So far, so good, right? She’s correct using her formula for 2011. But the comparison was to President Obama, remember? Here’s what the Globe blogger wrote and what the right-wing blogosphere is pushing:

Romney has paid, as a percentage of income or total dollars in taxes and charitable giving than Obama, far more in either case.

So, since they want to compare Romney and Obama, let’s do so. But we will have to use 2010 returns, since those are the most recent ones we have for both of them.

Let’s start with Romney’s 2010 tax return numbers and again apply Jennifer Rubin’s formula:


1040 Line 60 (total tax): $3,009,766

1040 Line 47 (foreign tax credit): $129,697

Schedule A Line 9 (state, local, and other taxes): $898,946

Schedule A Line 19 (charitable gifts): $2,983,974


Thus, $3,009,766 + $129,697 + $898,946 + $2,983,974= $7,022,383

The final step: divide by 1040 Line 37: $21,646,507. So, we have:

Romney’s charitable giving and taxes paid ÷ Adjusted Gross Income 2010

$7,022,383 ÷ $21,646,507= 32.4%

Wow! Only 32.4%? When Mitt wasn’t in campaign mode, his percentage dropped off, didn’t it?

But how does that compare to Obama? Let’s use the Rubin formula on his 2010 tax return:


1040 Line 60 (total tax): $453,770

1040 Line 47 (foreign tax credit): $22,215

Schedule A Line 9 (state, local, and other taxes): $78,269

Schedule A Line 19 (charitable gifts): $245,075


Thus, $453,770 + $22,215 + $$78,269 + $245,075= $799,329

The final step: divide by 1040 Line 37: $1,728,096. So, we have:

Obama’s charitable giving and taxes paid ÷ Adjusted Gross Income 2010

$799,329 ÷ $1,728,096= 46.2%

Huh? 46.2%? You mean Obama, in terms of the percentage of income he paid in taxes and gave to charity, outdid Romney by 30% (13.8 points) in 2010?  Yep, that’s right. And even taking Romney’s higher 2011 number, which conservatives were trying to rub in Democratic faces, Obama outperformed Romney by 9% (4.2 points)!

Damn, that Obama is one slick community organizer. How’d he do that?

Laugh Until You Cry

Governor Mitch Daniels, former W. Bush budget director (thanks, Mitch), said in response to Mr. Obama’s address on Tuesday:

As Republicans, our first concern is for those waiting tonight to begin or resume the climb up life’s ladder. We do not accept that ours will ever be a nation of haves and have-nots. We must always be a nation of haves and soon-to-haves.

Daniels claims that the “first concern” of Republicans is for those who desire to “climb up life’s latter.” Now, I’m going to pause right here and give you time to grab a tissue and wipe the tears of laughter from your face…

Back? Good. Let’s move on and look at Daniels’ last sentence:

We must always be a nation of haves and soon-to-haves.

The truth is that if voters continue filling Republican prescriptions for what ails us as a country, we will, indeed, “always be a nation of haves and soon-to-haves,” because the soon-to-haves will always be waiting and hoping for their economic boat to be floated by trickle-down economics.

Americans throughout history have tended to believe that with hard work they could at least better themselves economically. And for more than a generation now, the meme spread by the Republican Party has been that if you just let the “job creators” enjoy more and more of the wealth of this country, then anyone can become, say, a Mitt Romney, even if few people have the stomach to get rich the way he has become rich.

But even if becoming a Romney-like “have” has always been beyond most folks’ expectations or desires, it remains true that economic mobility is the foundation of the American Dream. But upward mobility and income distribution in the U.S. is not what they should be and are certainly is not what they need to be in order to keep the American Dream from becoming the American Mirage.*

From our country’s founding, most Americans have believed that government should have some role—we have always argued over the size of that role—in ensuring that everyone has a fair chance of improving their economic position and reducing—reducing, not eliminating—inequality. The Preamble to our Constitution indicates that our government was formed, among other things, to “insure domestic Tranquility” and “promote the general Welfare.”

Surely we can all agree that our domestic tranquility and general welfare are threatened by the gross economic inequality we see around us. Surely we can agree that, in the richest country the world has ever known, the grit and determination woven into American workers’ DNA, manifested in their willingness to work hard and play by the rules, ought to count for more than just earning enough to stay alive.

With the slow death of middle-class-creating unions in this country (remember also that the wages of even non-union folks are higher because unions exist), and with corporations—conscious only of the bottom line—shipping away jobs or keeping wages low and cutting benefits for their American employees, the prospect of improving things for working folks looks bleak.

And it should be obvious that in the face of such bleakness is where government—the people’s government—can act such that Americans today can enjoy what Americans used to enjoy, best expressed by President Obama in his State of the Union address,

the basic American promise that if you worked hard, you could do well enough to raise a family, own a home, send your kids to college, and put a little away for retirement.

In other words, a hard-working American could at least expect to move into the middle-class, if not become a “have” of the stature of a Mitt Romney.  I can say without fear of contradiction that most American workers don’t get up in the morning, go to their low-paying jobs, work hard, come home to their families, fret over the cost of health care and the price of gasoline, all in the hopes of one day having Romney-like tax returns, with all the excitement of parking money in the Cayman Islands or in Swiss bank accounts.

And since I believe strongly that Romney will become the Republican nominee, I think it is important to understand what he thinks about all this. Something he said recently—without rehearsal—gives us an insight into how he views America’s income inequalities.

From NBC’s Today Show:

MATT LAUER: When you said that, “We already have a leader who divides us with the bitter politics of envy,” I’m curious about the word “envy.” Did you suggest that anyone who questions the policies and practices of Wall Street and financial institutions, anyone who has questions about the distribution of wealth and power in this country, is envious? Is it about jealousy, or is it about fairness?

ROMNEY: You know, I think it’s about envy. I think it’s about class warfare. I think when you have a president encouraging the idea of dividing America based on 99 percent versus one percent, and those people who have been most successful will be in the one percent, you’ve opened up a wave of approach in this country which is entirely inconsistent with the concept of one nation under God. And the American people, I believe in the final analysis, will reject it.

LAUER: Are there no fair questions about the distribution of wealth without it being seen as envy, though?

ROMNEY: I think it’s fine to talk about those things in quiet rooms and discussions about tax policy and the like. But the president has made this part of his campaign rally. Everywhere he goes we hear him talking about millionaires and billionaires and executives and Wall Street. It’s a very envy-oriented, attack-oriented approach and I think it’ll fail.

To Romney there are “no fair questions about the distribution of wealth” outside of those discussed in “quiet rooms.” And for President Obama to point out the need to do more to address the problems we have with what Lauer called “the distribution of wealth and power in this country,” is an act of “dividing America” and somehow threatens, for God’s sake, “the concept of one nation under God.”

If you hear Mitt Romney say, as he has said before, that “Republicans are about middle-class America” and that he is “fighting to help middle-class Americans get better jobs and better incomes,” remember that interview.

And if you ever hear Mitch Daniels or any other Republican say again that their “first concern is for those waiting…to begin or resume the climb up life’s ladder,” feel free to laugh, long and hard.  Just keep a tissue in your pocket.


* From a piece in The Washington Post (“The downward path of upward mobility“):

The most comprehensive comparative study, done last year by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, found that “upward mobility from the bottom”…was significantly lower in the United States than in most major European countries, including Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands and Denmark. Another study, by the Institute for the Study of Labor in Germany in 2006, uses other metrics and concludes that “the U.S. appears to be exceptional in having less rather than more upward mobility.”

Heart Specialists

In 2010, Dinesh D’Souza wrote a book, widely praised and quoted by conservatives, titled, The Roots of Obama’s Rage.  On Amazon.com you can see this official description of the book:

The Roots of Obama’s Rage reveals Obama for who he really is: a man driven by the anti-colonial ideology of his father and the first American president to actually seek to reduce America’s strength, influence, and standard of living. Controversial and compelling, The Roots of Obama’s Rage is poised to be the one book that truly defines Obama and his presidency. 

Newt Gingrich, who is the current frontrunner for the GOP nomination, actually added a blurb to D’Souza’s book:

“Stunning…the most profound insight I have read in the last six years about Barack Obama.” —NEWT GINGRICH

Now, let’s get this straight. D’Souza and Gingrich aren’t saying they just have policy differences with the President . They are saying Barack Obama is actively seeking “to reduce America’s strength, influence, and standard of living.”  In other words, Mr. Obama is working against his country’s interests. His heart is not with America.

In case this idea wasn’t clear enough to the right-wing Obama-haters, Human Events offered some help by adapting part of D’Souza’s book and presented it under the title,

All of which brings us to last night’s excellent State of the Union speech. I present to you a selection of short statements uttered by the President Who Hates America:

We can do this.  I know we can, because we’ve done it before.

What’s at stake aren’t Democratic values or Republican values, but American values.  And we have to reclaim them.

The state of our Union is getting stronger.

America is more productive.

We don’t begrudge financial success in this country.  We admire it.

I believe what Republican Abraham Lincoln believed:  That government should do for people only what they cannot do better by themselves, and no more.

…when we act together, there’s nothing the United States of America can’t achieve.

…tyranny is no match for liberty…

We’ve made it clear that America is a Pacific power…

America is back. Anyone who tells you otherwise, anyone who tells you that America is in decline or that our influence has waned, doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

Each time I look at that flag, I’m reminded that our destiny is stitched together like those 50 stars and those 13 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 are joined in common purpose, as long as we maintain our common resolve, our journey moves forward, and our future is hopeful, and the state of our Union will always be strong.

A mere 83 words into his response speech, the Man Who Republicans Wish Would Have Run For President, Mitch Daniels, said this:

On these evenings, presidents naturally seek to find the sunny side of our national condition. But when President Obama claims that the state of our union is anything but grave, he must know in his heart that this is not true.

It’s strange to me how Republicans always seem to know what is in Barack Obama’s heart.

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