Tag Archives: romney

Do the U.S. 2012 elections reflect the Fermi Paradox? The empty Galaxy?

The Fermi Paradox is the question of why we seem to be alone in the cosmos. Why don’t we observe any blatant signs of intelligent life in the cosmos, including the great works that our own descendants may begin to build, if we give them a good start in the right direction?

When I first started writing about this 30 years ago, I called it the Mystery of the Great Silence — a quandary that we’ve covered here and elsewhere, in articles that list over 100 hypotheses for why we appear to be alone.  A topic that is also woven into the weft and flow of my new novel, Existence.

Almost everyone who dives into this subject swiftly chooses a favorite theory.  Perhaps life erupts rarely, or intelligence, or most life worlds are more oceanic so that few create hands-and-fire users, or maybe life gets pounded in most places by comets or supernovae.  I’ve had the role of cataloguing these theories, refusing to tout just one! But I do have a personal Top Ten list. And two of these most-plausible explanations for the Great Silence are of significance to us today.

That’s because two of them relate to political choices we’ll make next week, in the United States of America. These two scenarios, which may seriously winnow down the number of visible galactic civilizations — and might soon do the same to us — are:

1. Bad governance leads to Big Mistakes (e.g. nuclear war, eco-collapse etc.) that kill off or render impotent many or most technological species. Note that this is a whole class of potential failure modes, a minefield of errors that young, technological races might commit, veering past one doom and escaping the next before tumbling into a third… or fourth… or…

2. Most tech species slump into the same social attractor state that snared 99% of human cultures. That pattern, repeated from Egypt and Meso-America to Babylon, China and Rome — from Tokugawa Japan to Bourbon France to Hanoverian England — was family-based oligarchy. The standard, pyramid-shaped social order wherein conservative elites (king, lords, priests, wizards) squelch rapid scientific advancement and middle class innovation as a threat to their carefully maintained inherited privilege.

This system – (envision all the endless variants on feudalism) – was dominant in nearly all past human societies because, for one thing, it is reproductively self- reinforcing! Indeed, you see the same drive at work in the hierarchy-seeking or harem-keeping behaviors of males in countless other species on Earth. It’s a powerful and deeply natural attractor state and there’s no reason it won’t be likewise compelling in other realms across the cosmos.

At a glance, it is obvious how both #1 and #2 are “Fermi-relevant” failure modes that could stymie many — perhaps most — intelligent-technological species from communicating or spreading among the stars. Other factors may also come into play.  But these two are persuasive top candidates.

== Does oligarchy limit the potential for collapse? ==

Contemplating these two potential explanations for the Great Silence raises a question: do these two winnowing factors work together?  Or against each other?

After all, one of the top rationalizations that oligarchies have given, when they suppress science and markets, competitive invention and enterprise, is that the priests and lords are acting for the good of all.  Preventing instability and disruption. Indeed, this is a chief point raised by Jared Diamond in his great, highly-recommended, but disturbingly off-target book COLLAPSE.

In other words, a lot of species might find serenity through #2 — while most of the rest are swept away by #1.  Together the pair may help to explain the interstellar quiet.  And naturally, the genteel stagnation represented by #2 seems preferable to the effective extinction of #1. Assuming these two choices represent our only alternatives — and some of the characters in my new novel EXISTENCE argue that point — then we have a pretty good idea why the stars appear so lifeless and empty of voices.

But as we’ll see, that may be a false way of looking at things.  Rather, I will contend that the oligarchy process guarantees falling into fatal pitfalls, rather than avoiding them.

== The Fermi Paradox and U.S. Politics ==

These two paths and types of failure modes seem especially relevant to the present US elections. COMPETENCE and RENUNCIATION are the distill-words.  Even if you favor oligarchic conservatism as a model for our future, over the fevered drive of Periclean-egalitarian positive sum games… you are still behooved to consider the competence issue. But hold that thought. We’ll get back to competence and option #1 in a minute.

First, how does Fermi Choice #2 — oligarchy-pushed renunciation — bear upon the 2012 campaign?  It’s relevant!

Consider: in the recent debates one candidate spoke about “science” fourteen times , whereas the other has has barely mentioned it during the campaign trail.

American scientists have voted with their feet, with only 6% now calling themselves Republican. (It used to be about 50%). Indeed, the head of the GOP controlled House of Representatives Science Committee recently and repeatedly declared the Earth to be 9000 years old.  Yes, the head of the Science Committee. Of the House of Representatives. Of the United States of America.

In every conceivable way, from science to education… all the way to the rebuilding of a vastly powerful American Oligarchy, the GOP is your party if you feel that renunciation and a return to traditional patterns of aristocratic rule is preferable to Periclean instability. It is the Olde Way, pushed hardest via a media empire owned by multiple foreign billionaires, including the Saudi Royal Family.

Moreover, it may be that millions of other species faced similar choices and all picked this route! The decision may be inevitable. The star lanes may appear empty because millions of other races made the same, Darwinistically-driven choice — settling into genteel, aristocracy-tended conservatism. Which I’ll admit beats extinction.

Still, in weighing this choice, I know what decision I will argue for. I vote to keep faith with Pericles and Adam Smith and Washington and Franklin and Lincoln and Jonas Salk and Warren Buffett and the Silicon Valley geeks. Yes, the Periclean Western Enlightenment, with its egalitarianism, transparency, competitive markets, democracy and flat, anti-oligarchic social order does charge ahead into the future.  And yes, the faster we charge ahead, the more we’ll need transparency and freedom, to probe ahead of us, finding mine fields, quicksand pools and other pitfall-dangers ahead. And yes, the nostalgia junkies and oligarchy-lovers have a point when they cry out “slow down!”

But think.  The fundamental fact of the Fermi Paradox is that we see no signs of advanced civilization “boldly going” about, out there.  So, if oligarchic pyramids are the main attractor state, among the stars, isn’t that an argument that we should try something else? Perhaps something unusual? Something like this enlightenment?

Think about that a while.  Chew on it. Put it all together. If 99% of human cultures did the natural thing, and most other sapients do, as well, and we see empty star lanes… then maybe, just maybe, we should do something different. I say we ought to stick with Pericles.

Ah, but that only addresses failure mode #2. Then there is Fermi failure mode #1 and that matter of competence! 

== Stand on your record of governance ==

Whether you support the Periclean Experiment (in this election that makes you Blue… or largely a democrat… or maybe libertarian), or else you happen to favor a return to the oligarchic pattern of 6000 years (in other words, a follower of Fox-owners Rupert Murdoch and Prince bin Walied)… there remains the other Fermi Factor listed above.

Factor #1.  Is your side any good at governing?

You might yearn for a king, but if the one available is horridly stupid and BAD at statecraft, maybe you should side with the Pericleans for a while and wait for a better king.

Please.  Put aside preconceptions.  Use curiosity to overcome the all-too human tendency — to funnel disliked information through the emotional amygdala.  If presented with clear and systematic proof that your side is incompetent, will you at least have a look?

Cutting through all the polemic, attack ads and sketchy evasiveness, this 2012 U.S. election ought to boil down to which party tends to govern better. On that, the historical record is clear. For those who can still be swayed by factual comparisons – and if you care about the role America might play in taking civilization to the stars – have a look at these stark contrasts and share them with others:

“How Democrats and Republicans differ at defense and waging war,”

This one has gone viral, drawing a lot of hits from regions where soldiers and sailors live.  If we must endure dangerous times, shouldn’t we compare who does defense well?

The Eight Top Causes of the Deficit “Fiscal Cliff,”

In tallying the reasons for the deficit, we see one party vastly more at fault than the other, and yet that culprit is the noisiest in denouncing the debt it created!  Supporting evidence comes from Forbes, the business magazine, which tallied the rate of increase of government spending under the last five presidents, including Reagan.  The rate of increase was lowest under Clinton and Obama. Please. Click to scan the Eight Reasons for the Deficit and judge for yourself.

“Which party stands up for science?”

This one is just awful.  You cannot name a clade of intellect and knowledge in American life that is not under attack by Fox.  But science bears the brunt.  That that is an absolute proof which side you must be on, in this trumped up phase of the American Civil War.

These are not convenient, cherry-picked anecdotes or assertions, but complete lists for clear comparison, backed up by economists, generals, admirals and the 95% of U.S. scientists who voted with their feet, abandoning a party that plunged America into anti-science hysteria.

Finally, do we really want our geopolitics run by someone who thinks that Syria is Iran’s route to the sea?

== Might we be the exceptions? ==

Getting back to Fermi… one question stands foremost: who will govern better?  Those who are willing to negotiate openly, fight carefully, manage cautiously and consult science as we charge into an uncertain future?  Or dogmatists who erased every scientific panel that used to advise Congress from 1940 till 1996?  Because those panels offered inconvenient and impudent things called facts.

The great historian Arnold Toynbee studied every known Earthly civilization and concluded that societies either thrive or fail in direct proportion to how much trust and initiative they willingly invest in their “creative minorities.”  The far-lookers and problem solvers.

We are plunging ahead into a mine-field, one that may have killed every other sapient race in our galaxy!  Can we be the first to pick a safe path across?

Not if we wallow in nostalgia and tell the smartest people in our society to go to hell.

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Romney’s Etch-a-Sketch Moment

Could the traits of a good president — unflappable calm, sober deliberation and dedication to facts — prove lethal to presidential candidate Barack Obama?  Last night’s first presidential debate showed us “no drama Obama” at his most wonkish, and the world called it a good night for Mitt Romney…

…whose agility onstage was stunning in direct proportion to his unbelievable re-invention.  His etch-a-sketch moment, whose timing was impeccable.

First off, the good news.  On the surface, both candidates were more serious, wonkish and focused on real issues than I have ever seen in a presidential debate. Moreover, in making his veer toward the center (see below), Willard Mitt Romney established what might actually be the outlines — come December and January — of a compromise on the budget that reasonable men and women could work out in a bipartisan manner, solving the Fiscal Cliff.

Assuming that one of the sides gets hammered enough to remember how to be “reasonable men and women.”

== The New Mitt Romney ==

I had been wondering when — after securing the Republican Party’s nomination, Governor Romney would take one of his patented veers, suddenly charging hard for the political center. (Or “shaking the etch-a-sketch”) to re-configure himself for centrists or undecided voters.  Why did he delay till now?

Apparently, after a tepid convention, he seemed unsure of solid support from the GOP base and felt he needed to shore it up.  Does that theory explain why, for several weeks, he maintained consistency with the far-right positions and statements he proclaimed during the primary?  Those included:

– adamant vows to repeal all of Obamacare (despite it having originally been cloned from the Massachusetts plan that he helped bring about, and the earlier Alternative Republican Health Care platform of 1995.)

– adamant and absolute refusal to increase revenues to the federal government, especially from the top 1%.

– decrying government regulation in principle and especially constraints upon big banks, Wall Street — and denouncing any empowerment or activation of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), which was blocked for two years by House of Representatives (GOP) inaction and by GOP filibusters in the Senate.

– ridiculing alternative energy methods and declaring absolute fealty to tax breaks for fossil fuel companies.

– insistence on supply side “boosts” to the economy by funneling trillions into the richest pockets, on the always-wrong wager that this time it will result in a burst of economic activity that increases tax revenues.

== The Big Swerve ==

All of those positions — declared vigorously during the primaries — are (on average) deeply unpopular with centrist Americans and I was wondering… when will Mitt do his veer?

You saw signs of it about five days before the debate, when he floated a very vague, but suddenly-different, notion that the rich might face an upper limit to their itemized deductions.  If the limit were chosen low enough – without exceptions –  it might offend the mortgage industry, charitable trusts and many other interest groups; but yes, it could result in major revenue to counter the arterial losses inherent in Romney’s top rate tax cuts.  You had to admire the jiu jitsu agility of it all, while denying he was breaking his “no new revenue” pledge.  (Of course it amounts to a huge tax hike and could, indeed, be a basis for December-January compromise.)

In fact, what we were witnessing during the last week was brilliant prep work, perfectly timed, for his Wednesday night veer and hard charge toward the center.  When Romney flat-out denied holding ANY of the beliefs or policies cited above!  Not only that, but he blamed the president for failure to unleash the CFPB on Wall Street with more vigor!

With panache you just had to admire, Romney moved from chutzpah…  claiming that – because of his three-day-old new tax policy he had never ruled out revenue increases or asking the rich to pay more or ever proposed a vast supply-side gift of trillions to the top 1%…

…all the way to flat-out lying. For example that ObamaCare is not directly modeled on the health care system he and the Democratic legislature enacted in his home state, when he was governor, down to the details of actual language in the bill.  As more and more elements of Obamacare have come into action, and proved publicly popular, those portions have come into Mitt’s category of “oh, well, I’ll keep THAT part, of course.”  And each time, he gets away with claiming that it is not a reversal.

Or his claim that Obama’s 90 billion dollars of aid to sustainable energy was fifty times the 3-4 billions per year of tax breaks given to the oil industry… when that 90 billion is mostly not expenditure but loan guarantees resulting in much lower costs, and is spread across many years.

I was reminded of an old Saturday Night Live sketch, in which a wife comes home to find her husband in bed with a bimbo and screams “what’s this?” To which he replies: “What’s what?  I don’t know what you’re talking about.”  He keeps up his denial while calmly getting dressed and the bimbo dresses and departs. Stonewalling her rage, he maintains the counterfactual with such puzzled calm and patronizing panache, while making coffee and suggesting that the wife is having blithering fantasies, that she winds up just sitting at the table with him, letting him change the subject to how her day went.

Seriously. Are we that stupid?  And is Obama such a klutz he will just stare at the lies, in pole-axed surprise?

== The insanity of liberals ==

It has long been the bane of liberals that they keep offering to negotiate, expecting that they are still talking to the party of Barry Goldwater and William F. Buckley and that the spirits of those noble, old-style, intellectually formidable conservatives might somehow be roused — and the Beck-Fox madness quelled — by finding the right arguments or by marshaling enough facts!

Mitt himself showed the impossibility of that during the debate.  In his biggest chutzpah, he claimed that the Democrats were the partisan fanatics, because ObamaCare passed without a single Republican vote, whereas in Massachusetts he got the nearly identical plan passed by working with all parties.  Of course this reflects history, in that democratic-controlled legislatures always negotiate with Republican presidents and governors.  Reagan, both Bushes, even Nixon were able to get large parts of their agendas passed that way.  (In the case of GWB, that acquiescence constitutes a shame for which the DP should deeply atone.)

The opposite is almost never true.  Just once, in 1995, the Republicans in Congress worked with Bill Clinton and negotiated two epochal achievements — Welfare Reform and the Rudman-Tsongas budget compromise that Clinton then meticulously enforced, giving us four years of budgets in the black and paying down debt.  After which, the new wave of GOP radicals swore that cooperation with a democratic president would never ever happen again.  They made that vow openly and publicly — launching the impeachment hysteria and so much else — and have kept it to this day.

The failure of a single Republican in Congress to support ObamaCare… which was based upon Newt’s Alternative Republican Health Care platform of 1995… was not about Democratic intransigence.  It was about the fact that the GOP has become the most tightly disciplined partisan machine in the history of the American Republic.

And … President Obama wasn’t able to make hay of that???

Did any of you notice the lame little jibe he made? And I agree that the Democratic legislators in Massachusetts might have given some advice to Republicans in Congress about how to cooperate, but the fact of the matter is, we used the same advisers, and they say it’s the same plan.”

Ah, yes.  I guess he made my point… and maybe five people caught it.

wonk

== What the President did right ==

Look, I personally am happy with some things the President said.

Did anyone else notice that he mentioned  SCIENCE and TECHNOLOGICAL LEADERSHIP five times?  That’s more than lip service to the one factor in our society that produced more than half of our economic growth and power since 1945.  Anyone who cares about a logical, scientific, progressive, pragmatic, problem-solving civilization should take that — and a myriad similar data — as evidence for why only 6% of U.S. scientists are still Republicans.  No such mention is ever made by Republicans.  Except Newt.  Ever.

And sure, if he had to err in one direction or the other, then “no drama Obama” is the correct choice.  Frankly, I don’t think he’d be president today, if he had an angry bone in his body. (Though he got Osama bin Laden, and nearly fifty other top terror leaders.)

Still, what would it hurt to — well — invoke the ghost at the banquet?  A particular name.  The name of a fellow known as George W. Bush?

Jeez!  The Republicans are fleeing from that name like the Knights Who Say Ni!  They never ever mention their own record at governance over the United States, which lasted longer and was more fierce in control than the shorter spans of democratic rule.  Can you imagine this final chutzpah?  Demanding power, while frantically refusing to discuss how you used it before? Or the resulting outcomes?

ALL of our current deficit can be attributed to two multi-trillion dollar wars of “nation building” that resulted in new satrapies of Iran, giant tax gifts to oligarchs who created no jobs, the unfunded Medicare Part D and the trillion dollar raid on our economy that led to the Second Depression… and the Dems are afraid to remind voters any of that?  Any at all?

Well, maybe they’ve assigned that role to Vice President Biden.  If so, I hope he is well rehearsed.  Because Paul Ryan is a pit bull.

== Follow up ==

In my posting about Questions I would Ask at the Debates, I linked to some of my earlier articles about each topic.  Still, I expect folks just skimmed on past, so let me urge you to consider:

My series about gerrymandering, offering some easy fixes you have almost certainly never seen before!  Including the simplest reform that would require a minimum of bureaucracy…

…. and about the Electoral College.  Let’s not bother to eliminate it. (Too much trouble.) But there is a simple, almost trivial fix that could ensure that there’s almost no chance that the popular vote winner will ever again be frozen out in the Electoral College.  See also this very informative video assessment  by Mansur Gidfar

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Why the Candidates Should (But Won’t) Stipulate

Stipulate-electionIt’s been said that a politician gets to be perfectly honest just once in a long career — at its end. Refreshing candor sometimes pours after an old pol has faced the last campaign. No more fund raisers or flattering voters. One chance to tell the truth.

All right, it’s rare. Many politicians hurry through a revolving door, into fat directorships and lobbying firms. Still, it can be colorful when a few spill their hearts.

Take the day in 1992 when both Republican Senator Warren Rudman and Democrat Paul Tsongas made headlines declaring that everybody was at fault for the country’s fiscal condition at the time, from then-President Bush to the democrat-controlled Congress, to the American people. Responsible economists later credited Rudman and Tsongas for spurring reforms that helped lead to the Clinton era surpluses.

Around the same time, retired senator and conservative eminence gris Barry Goldwater denounced the followers of émigré philosopher Leo Strauss – so-called “neocons” – for hijacking Goldwater’s beloved movement over cliffs of romantic delusion. A more recent example of post retirement candor came When G.W. Bush’s ex-Treasury Secretary, Paul O’Neill, revealed a swamp of backroom dealings and ineptitude, explaining that he was “old and rich” and unafraid to speak his mind. On the other side, some claim that Senator Joe Lieberman really came into his own when he ran as an independent, shrugging off party discipline (if such a thing exists, among democrats.)

Alas, under our electoral system candor is punished. Folks on both sides of the lamentably oversimplifying “left-right axis” yearn for the best and most sincere people on the other side to wise up!  To eject radicals from control over the other party’s agenda. Too bad we rarely ponder the way crimes like gerrymandering have been used by our own side, with terrible effects upon the radicalization of politics.    (Elsewhere I describe one time that party self-reform actually happened.)

== A Modest Proposal ==

Let me offer here a proposal that I’ve made every presidential election for decades. Throughout the campaign we’ll learn how the candidates disagree on a myriad issues. And platitudes, what they think voters want to hear.

Logically, there must be a third category — areas where these well-informed professionals agree with each other, but fear to speak  first.  But consider: there’s no political cost to telling voters what you really believe… if your opponent has agreed, in advance, to say the same thing.

What’s wrong with two leaders finding patches of consensus amid a sea of discord? It has a name – stipulation… as when attorneys in a case agree to agree about a set of points, so the trial can focus on areas where they disagree.

What does stipulation have to do with politics? Given the intensity of partisanship in recent American political life, can we dream? Bear with me for a “what-if” thought experiment.

Suppose, amidst the 2012 campaign, Republican candidate Mitt Romney and President Obama were to suspend their mutual attacks just long enough to meet for an afternoon. Staffs would cover debate rules, and maybe how to prevent spirals of mudslinging and people would applaud just seeing them talk to each other like adults.

Only then — they go for a walk, alone. During this quiet moment before the rough and tumble resumes, they seek just a few points of consensus.

Don’t dismiss it too readily. For all his faults, the last GOP nominee – John McCain did this sort of thing before. So did Senators Clinton and Obama, amid their primary fights in 2008.  In fact, the only ones to object would be extremes in both parties.

Oh, neither candidate will change the other’s mind concerning major divisions. But here we have two knowledgeable public persons, presumably concerned about America’s future. Surely there’d be some overlap? Things that both of them feel that we, as a nation, should do.

Imagine a joint statement. Though reiterating a myriad points of disagreement, they make public simultaneously their shared belief that America should, for its own good, pass law “X”, or repeal restriction “Y”. Further, they agree – neither will attack the other for taking this stand.

No longer pandered to, folks might say — “Gosh, if both say the country needs this strong medicine, let’s give it thought.”

This would not free candidates completely from the stifling effects of mass-politics. But it could let them display something rarely seen… leadership. Even statesmanship. Setting aside self-interest in favor of hard truth, telling the people what they need to hear, whether they like it or not.

=== Is This Impossible? ===

Well, it happened before, during the Presidential campaign of 1940. When Franklin Roosevelt was running for a third term, he approached Republican candidate Wendell Wilkie, to negotiate just such a stipulated agreement in the area of foreign policy. Britain badly needed escort vessels for the North Atlantic and the U.S. had over-age destroyers to spare. But Roosevelt feared political repercussions during a campaign in which he was already under attack for breaking neutrality. Wilkie agreed to FDR’s request, and declared that lend-lease would be his policy too, if he were elected.

Everyone benefited — Wilkie rose in stature. FDR got his policy implemented, and the world was better off because political advantage was briefly put aside for the common good. On other issues, Roosevelt and Wilkie battled as fiercely as ever. Yet, that historical act of stipulation shines in memory.

How might today’s politics differ if two adults — each the standard bearer of a major party — agreed to let it be known how they agree? Might they take on some of our most politically impossible subjects? Perhaps a cow as sacred as the Social Security retirement age, a compromise on gun control, some campaign finance reform…

… or the biggest candidate for such a declaration?  The obvious of course. The topic that neither side dares to raise first.  The failed Drug War.

== How it could happen ==

Is this quixotic proposal too much to ask of today’s opportunistic brand of politician? Perhaps. Indeed, I have little hope that it has a chance of happening during the 2012 election cycle, while partisanship towers foremost in the minds of the partisan attack dogs who have turned America into a silly place for two decades, overshadowing any national good.

Still, our politics can evolve. Only during the most recent generation has the tradition of Presidential debates become so entrenched that no front-runner can now duck them. Ancient hurdles of age, race, and gender are falling. And note, there are millions of Americans who deeply yearn for a more mature approach to politics. If a candidate offered this kind of stipulation process, and the other refused… well, there might be benefits there, as well.

Indeed, imagine if a third party candidate – say the Libertarian Party’s unusually reasonable/interesting Gary Johnson – were to join one of this year’s presidential debates. (Okay, so I think that would devastate one of the major candidates, offering sane, libertarian-minded conservatives a place to escape their party’s current madness.)  Johnson’s natural move would be to pounce on obvious things like the drug war. Ironically, this could offer one of the other guys cover to step forward, partially agreeing with Johnson while remaining moderate/skeptical. Good positioning, politically speaking.  And as a result, we all benefit when the topic itself (changing the drug war) moves up in peoples’ minds.

All right.  It won’t happen. Not this time around. But it could.  And maybe someday it will.

Shatter the barriers against candor!

CANDOROnce upon a time, it was just a glimmer in a few eyes to imagine that debates would be standard in elections.  Now it’s normal.

Might the Candidates’ Post-Convention Summit and Letter of Stipulation also become traditional, like doldrums in July and mudslinging in October?

Someday, the whole nation may look forward to the occasion, once every four years, with a sort of delicious, nervous anticipation — awaiting the one day when two eminent politicians will say not what is politically savvy, but what is simply wise.

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Romney’s “13%” solution

Mitt Willard Romney now informs us that he did pay taxes during the last ten years.

Thus he attempts to staunch – despite his own refusal to provide proof in the form of tax returns – the assertion of critics like Democratic senator Harry Reid that Romney paid no taxes at all, across some of that decade. Every year, I’ve paid at least 13 percent,” Romney said, apparently referring to his effective federal income tax rate. 

Now let’s do the unusual and actually parse it out. There are more aspects to all of this than you could shake a schtick at:

#1 First off — please read between the lines.  In effect, Mitt Romney is only saying “for the years in question, I paid at least 13% on the final NET taxable income that appeared on line 43 of my form 1040.” He said nothing about how large or small that final net taxable income was. Nor how much tax he actually paid.   All that his recent statement claims is that the amounts weren’t zero, in years when he made between twenty and forty million dollars in gross income.

Consider, carefully. It’s not 13% of his gross income, but of the final net taxable income after most income has been removed by shelters and dodges. Thirteen percent… on what was LEFT after sheltering most of it from ever appearing on line 43… and this should impress us?

In a Washington Post article, Ezra Klein lays this out carefully: “Adjusted gross income” (AGI) is pretty close to what you think about when you think about income. “Taxable income” is what you’re left with after accounting for deductions like the home mortgage interest deduction.’  (Or the myriad other deductions and shelters available to the uber-rich.)

‘Daniel Shaviro, a professor of tax policy at NYU, made the same point. “The key question here is 13.9 % of what. We know he paid zero tax at the capital gains rate in 2009, since he had loss carryovers for 2010.  So he may have had ridiculously low adjusted gross income (AGI), relative to his economic income for the year.”

Yes it is obscure… and yet important.  Let’s hope the real lesson of all this comes across.

#2. Mitt Romney did provide 20 years of tax returns to John McCain, back in 2008, when he was being considered for the VP slot. If McCain deserved to see them at that time, as Romney’s prospective ‘boss,’ then what are we? Chopped liver?  Aren’t we the real bosses, deserving all information about the executive we’re meant to hire? Similarly, Romney demanded tax returns from his prospective vice presidential candidates.

On this aspect, blogmunity member L. Lyons proposed: Four years ago in the depths of the largest recession since the ’30’s John McCain and his campaign team vetted Mitt Romney as a potential VP candidate. Part of the vetting was to look at 20 years of IRS returns. Remember this was in 2008 with the economy nearly in freefall. They looked at Romney’s tax returns, and chose Sarah Palin.”

#3. In any event,  Mitt Romney knew he would face this issue in 2012. Indeed, he’s been running for president for most of the last two decades.  And the GOP tradition held once again – that the nomination always goes (in order of priority) to (i) a sitting GOP president, (ii) a sitting GOP vice president, or – barring those being available – the fellow whose turn it is.  That is what has happened every single election year since 1960.  Barring situations (i) and (ii), the nominee is the fellow who came in second for the nomination last time.

Hence, Mitt knew the nomination would likely fall in his lap in 2012 – as it has – so why did he not get ready, so that at least 4 years of tax records would be pristine and ready for public scrutiny?  Isn’t the presidency worth sacrificing some tasty tax dodges? Given all that, if there are any embarrassments in those returns, what does that say about the intelligence and foresight of a man who is urging us to “make me commander in chief”?

Frankly, I’d prefer the notion of a Dan Rather Gotcha to the idea that we’d let anywhere near the presidency a man too stupid to clean up his finances before running for the top job.

#4.   Is Mitt simply delaying in order to get nominated, and then let whatever S#!^! hit the fan? Less than 2 weeks and counting, then at least he gets to be in history books, even if the party dumps him (unlikely) in October.  Ah, but follow that musing for a bit! Suppose six-term Congressman Paul Ryan inherited the top slot, simply because one man picked him for ticket-balancing reasons? What would that say about our crazy party system?

Heck, what does it say that a party would aim to vest full executive power over Pax Americana in a pair of men with zero foreign policy experience whatsoever and a combined total of less than twenty years in public office? And zero at a top national level?

#5. Going back to Harry Reid, the most senior Mormon official in the United States, who hopes to stay that way. I have one piece of advice for Reid that he should carefully consider. I suspect the possibility of a Dan Rather lure Harry Reid has pounced on an apparent weakness (claiming a Bain investor told him that Romney paid no taxes for ten years.) But remember the Swift Boaters. Reid may have been fed a “reliable” rumor deliberately, in order to draw him onto a branch that could be cut  off.  You can be sure that tactic will be used at some point, even if it wasn’t on this occasion. Double check your sources. And don’t be too shocked if, suddenly, at an opportune moment, Mitt opens up a dozen tax returns and there’s nothing noteworthy. I don’t deem it likely, but it’s better  than scenario #3 (above)..

And finally:  From the same article we offered in lead-off position, lower down. “We pay our taxes,” Ann Romney said. “We are absolutely — beyond paying our taxes, we also give 10 percent of our income to charity, so that you know, we have no issues that way and the only reason we don’t disclose any more is, you know, we just become a bigger target.”

Hm. As faithful and obedient Mormons, they are  obliged to tithe 10% of their income to their church.  It is pretty much automatic. That is the “charity” of which Mrs. Romney speaks… and it implies that this very very rich couple doesn’t give hardly anything beyond that. Nothing at all to what the rest of us would call voluntary generosity.

What? I am hoping she rounded-down! But why would she?  Jumping jiminy, even the Koch brothers give something to acceptably rightist charitable causes.

In fact, let’s withhold judgement as this is damnation on very slim evidence (then show us the returns!) But on the face of it, this sniffs like aristocrats who cannot be bothered to pay back or pay forward, lifting even a finger to help their nation, or to make a better world.

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Credit Where It’s Due

In a brief return to political matters…  What won’t the candidates be discussing during this election season? Campaign finance, surveillance, patent reform…are among a few issues that candidates are sure to avoid. What else….?  This mini-slide show shows just a few. In fact, the matters discussed at sciencedebate.org are (in my opinion) more important — and here you can vote for the top science issues facing America in 2012.

Put aside preconceptions. Give a read to this thoughtful interview from Rolling Stone to get a sense of where the President is coming from and how he thinks.  It’s very insightful, whatever side you might be on.

Example: President Obama said a top priority was to get the US exporting again.  Since then, exports are up 34% and on target for his hoped-for doubling. Ford, GM and – yes – Chrysler are now selling top quality, world class products around the world at record-breaking profits. Companies that Obama’s opponent wanted to let go extinct.

But in fairness... let’s keep some balance here and give credit to the other side as well.  Presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney has a lot to be proud.  His one significant accomplishment as governor – the health care law that he shepherded into place in Massachusetts – after which President Obama modeled his national plan, appears to be working and is 67% popular in that state. Even conservative media admit progress. Way to go, Mitt.

(Though let’s give equal credit to Newt Gingrich, who largely crafted the Republican Alternative health care plan of 1995, on which Mitt modeled the Massachusetts plan and on which Obama… why is it that even when we reach consensus on a good idea, it can never be pleasant, or at the same time?)

== Is experience in government relevant? ==

Alas, there are other issues. For example, is experience in public service relevant in your qualifications to be president?  People used to think so. As recently as 2008, Republicans touted Senator John McCain’s long military record, followed by many productive years in Congress, as evidence that he grasped the elements of government from several directions and knew how to get things done.  Now watch as the murdochian meme of hating all government, all the time, reaches its fruition with Mitt Romney’s record of public service, the skimpiest in 100 years. One term as governor of a northeastern state… period.  That’s it.  Not even an additional day as mayor or dog catcher.

Now, Rachel Maddow has her own axes to grind. Hardly a detached nonpartisan, hereslf.  But the facts deserve a look. Only then recall what Maddow doesn’t mention.  That Romney got a lot done during that one term, creating a model for sensible health care reform for the entire nation. Come on. Rachel, try to be fair.

All right, I admit I was being a bit sardonic there.  Moreover, it is legitimate for Republicans to repudiate their own proposal of 20 years. “We’ve changed our minds” is a fair enough thing to say.

Still, the ironies come thick and rich and we citizens have a right to chuckle over them.  Picture this distillation offered by one member of my blogmunity: “The president was lambasted by his opponents for getting a congress (controlled by his party) to pass their (the other party’s) version of a bill on an issue both parties had been debating for decades.”

Okay, you can change your minds.  But why be so angry that the other side went ahead and passed your bill?  It’s the anger that’s dishonest.  Indeed, it is foul.

== Why We Need Whistleblowers ==

In his first television interview since he resigned from the National Security Agency over its domestic surveillance program, William Binney discusses the NSA’s massive power to spy on Americans and why the FBI raided his home after he became a whistleblower. Binney was a key source for investigative journalist James Bamford’s recent exposé in Wired Magazine about how the NSA is quietly building the largest spy center in the country in Bluffdale, Utah. The Utah spy center will contain near-bottomless databases to store all forms of communication collected by the agency, including private emails, cell phone calls, Google searches and other personal data.

Hey. Did I ever say the odds were in our favor?  Look at 6000 years of human history.  Our exceptional approach – dividing power so that we can sic mighty elites upon each other, so they won’t prey on us – has always been a creaky, nervous bet. It mostly worked for the last two centuries, but only because people kept upping the ante on reciprocal accountability, the transparency and competitive processes that give us positive sum games.  It is what’s worked and it might continue working…

…but to do that we must keep pushing hard, dynamically and vigorously, evading the traps.  (For example the meme spread by Fox that the uber-aristocracy and only the uber-rich are trustworthy, eliminating all other, competing elites.)

There are many ways to let government see more (as the NSA will inevitably do) and yet keep a choke chain on the watch dog, so it never thinks that it’s a wolf.  These methods would take some work and good will and a political process that’s not frozen by culture war.

But it could still happen…

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