Mojo - 2012...s-twitter-meme

Romney's Tax Rate in 2010: 13.9 Percent

| Tue Jan. 24, 2012 2:08 AM EST
Mitt Romney (center) celebrates being rich.

Mitt Romney released his his 2010 tax return on Monday night, and it turns out he actually paid an effective tax rate of 13.9 percent that year, according to the Washington Post:

They sent somewhat less to Washington over that period, paying an estimated $6.2 million in federal income taxes. According to his 2010 tax return, Romney paid about $3 million to the IRS, for an effective tax rate of 13.9 percent.

For 2011, Romney estimates that he will pay about $3.2 million, for an effective rate of 15.4 percent. That’s in line with his earlier estimates, but sharply lower than the rates paid by President Obama and Romney’s closest Republican rival, Newt Gingrich.

Previously Romney had estimated his tax rate as being "around" 15 percent. To put this in perspective, Romney, who according to the Post makes about twenty million dollars a year mostly through capital gains and investments, pays a lower effective tax rate than American households making an average pretax income of $64,500 a year. Those middle-income folks pay an effective tax rate of 14.2 percent, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Romney's tax plan would cut his tax rate even further.

If that doesn't quite seem fair to you, that's probably what the Obama administration hopes you're thinking. We still don't know what tax rates Romney paid before 2010, but he did release his estimated taxes for 2011, for which he expects to pay an effective rate of 15.4 percent.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

"Self-Deportation": It's a Real Thing, and It Isn't Pretty

| Mon Jan. 23, 2012 11:59 PM EST

Mitt Romney unveiled a novel solution for illegal immigration during Tuesday night's GOP debate, saying that he'd rely on "self-deportation" to reduce the number of unauthorized immigrants in the US. 

Or at least it sounded novel. As my colleague Clara Jeffery notes, while "self-deportation" might sound like something you don't want your parents to catch you doing, it's actually an old euphemism for an immigration strategy of "attrition through enforcement." What "self-deportation"—the favored approach to immigration of the GOP's right-wing—actually means is making life so miserable for unauthorized immigrants that they "voluntarily" leave. Here's Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies (the anti-immigrant think tank that tried to mainstream the "terror baby" conspiracy theory) explaining the concept in 2005:

Among the other measures that would facilitate enforcement: hiring more U.S. Attorneys and judges in border areas, to allow for more prosecutions; passage of the CLEAR Act, which would enhance cooperation between federal immigration authorities and state and local police; and seizing the assets, however modest, of apprehended illegal aliens.

These and other enforcement measures would enable the government to detain more illegal aliens; additional measures would be needed to promote self-deportation. Unlike at the visa office or the border crossing, once aliens are inside the United States, there's no physical site to exercise control, no choke point at which to examine whether someone should be admitted. The solution is to create "virtual choke points"—events that are necessary for life in a modern society but are infrequent enough not to bog down everyone's daily business. Another analogy for this concept to firewalls in computer systems, that people could pass through only if their legal status is verified. The objective is not mainly to identify illegal aliens for arrest (though that will always be a possibility) but rather to make it as difficult as possible for illegal aliens to live a normal life here.

This is the right-wing's answer to the question of how you deport 11 million unauthorized immigrants: You don't. You force them to "deport themselves." Although immigration reform advocates would prefer a solution that involves a path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants already here, Romney and his top immigration advisers believe they can remove millions of people through heavy-handed enforcement that makes life for unauthorized immigrants intolerable. This approach is notable for its complete lack of discretion and flexibility. Unauthorized immigrant parents with citizen children who need to go to school? Americans who are married to an undocumented immigrant who needs medical treatment? "Self-deportation" hits them all with the same mailed fist. 

We can see how this concept has been applied in states like Arizona and Alabama, where local authorities have been empowered to act as enforcers of immigration law. Alabama takes the choke point theory even more seriously than Arizona—everything from enrolling in school to seeking health treatment has been turned into a so-called choke point. The moral, social, and economic consequences of the strategy are secondary to inflicting enough suffering on unauthorized immigrants in order to force them out of the country. 

Kris Kobach, the Kansas Attorney General secretary of state who helped write both restrictive immigration laws and recently endorsed Romney, bragged about the impact of the Alabama law after it passed last year:

"There haven't been mass arrests. There aren't a bunch of court proceedings. People are simply removing themselves. It's self-deportation at no cost to the taxpayer. I'd say that’s a win."

Alabama's immigration law has actually been such a disaster that the state is trying to figure out a way to repeal parts of the law. But make no mistake, when Romney is discussing "self-deportation," he's talking about creating a United States where parents are afraid to register their kids for school or get them immunized because they might be asked for proof of citizenship. He's talking about the type of country where local police can demand your immigration status based on mere suspicion that you don't belong around here. "Self-deportation" is just a cleaner, less cruel-sounding way of endorsing harsh, coercive government polices in order to make life for unauthorized immigrants so unbearable that they have no choice but to find some way to leave. The human cost of such an approach, let alone what it might do to American society, is viewed as a price worth paying.

Romney's Crony Capitalism

| Mon Jan. 23, 2012 11:57 PM EST

In Monday night's NBC debate, Mitt Romney continued to peddle the myth that he's a titan of free enterprise—the sort of master of the private sector who has never once benefited from tax breaks or government subsidies.

Yet Romney's time at Bain Capital was ridden with numerous episodes of Bain-acquired companies leaning heavily on state tax packages, as the Los Angeles Times reported just a few weeks ago: 

Bain Capital began looking at investing in the steel start-up [called Steel Dynamics] in late 1993. At the time, Steel Dynamics was weighing where to locate its first plant, based in part on which region offered the best tax incentives. In June 1994, Bain put $18.2 million into Steel Dynamics, making it the largest domestic equity holder. It sold its stake five years later for $104 million, a return of more than $85 million.

As Bain made its investment, the state and county pledged $37 million in subsidies and grants for the $385-million plant project. The county also levied a new income tax to finance infrastructure improvements to benefit the steel mill over the heated objections of some county residents. . . .

Another steel company in which Bain invested, GS Industries, went bankrupt in 2001, causing more than 700 workers to lose their jobs, health insurance and a part of their pensions. Before going under, the company paid large dividends to Bain partners and expanded its Kansas City plant with the help of tax subsidies. It also sought a $50-million federal loan guarantee.

"This is corporate welfare," said Tad DeHaven, a budget analyst with the Washington-based Cato Institute, which encourages free-market economic policies. DeHaven, who is familiar with corporate tax subsidies in Indiana and other states, called the incentives Steel Dynamics received "an example of the government stepping into the marketplace, picking winners and losers, providing profits to business owners and leaving taxpayers stuck with the bill."

On the campaign trail, Romney's made a habit of denouncing "crony capitalism" and government intervention in the private sector. He's tried to convince Republican voters that he's never engaged in it, doesn't like it, and that real American businessmen won't practice it.

But there's plenty of evidence in Romney's record that the fine art of crony capitalism is a crucial piece of making it big in the sort-of free market. In other words: it's part of doing business in a democracy.

What Is "Self-Deportation"?

| Mon Jan. 23, 2012 11:50 PM EST

When Mitt Romney was asked how he'd fight illegal immigration in Monday night's GOP debate, he said he advocated "self-deportation." His comment was met with jeers from journalists and pols in my tweet stream—my favorite came from  : "Self-deport. I saw that on Star Trek one time"—but it's a real term, the phrase of art, in fact, for the strategy behind the wave of anti-immigration bills introduced across the country in the last two years. The brainchild of anti-immigration groups like the Immigration Law Reform Institute, and its counsel, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (who recently endorsed Romney), self-deportation is the intended effect of laws and requirements (such as those passed in Arizona and Alabama) that would make it so difficult for undocumented immigrants to work, rent, or go to school that they will simply "choose" to leave. Anti-immigration advocates like this for several reasons: It has a free-market/free-will gloss to it. It purports to save money on deportation costs. And, most importantly, because it relies on states enforcing immigration via passing draconian laws rather than federal law enforcement/border efforts. It's a conservative trifecta!

Update: Adam Serwer elaborates. Read it!

Santorum Loves Drilling More than Floridians

| Mon Jan. 23, 2012 11:34 PM EST

Rick Santorum was asked at Monday night's NBC debate about oil spills and tourism—an issue of vital interest to Florida, where the tourism-based economy was severely injured by the massive Gulf spill in 2010.

Rather than deal with the threat of oil spills, Santorum first blamed the state's economic collapse on high gas prices in 2008. After making an appeal for the unrelated Keystone XL pipeline through the Midwest, Santorum argued that pipelines are better than tankers—another point that's doesn't have much to do with the Gulf spill, which came from neither a pipeline nor a tanker, but an exploratory drilling rig. 

Oil, Santorum concluded, is "the best way to create a good economy for the state of Florida."

Most people in Florida—even many Republicans—would not agree with that assessment. The Republican-controlled state legislature has pledged that it has no plans to pursue drilling of Florida's coasts. Florida has been less enthusiastic than many other states about offshore drilling because spills in the Gulf of Mexico directly imperil the very heart of its economy.

Romney Rips Gingrich for $1.6 Million Freddie Mac Deal

| Mon Jan. 23, 2012 11:13 PM EST
Mitt Romney.

At the NBC presidential debate Monday night, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney wasted no time attacking his main competitor, Newt Gingrich. In particular, Romney took aim at the former speaker's $1.6 million contract with government housing corporation Freddie Mac, blasting Gingrich as an "influence peddler."

Gingrich rejected Romney's attacks, saying he made only $35,000 a year from his Freddie gig. (The rest, he said, went to his firm.) As for the "influence peddler" claim, Gingrich went on, "I have never, ever gone and done any lobbying."

Hours before the debate, Gingrich's campaign released one of the candidate's contracts with Freddie. The contract, dated February 8, 2006, called for paying the Gingrich Group $25,000 a month that year, and lists Freddie's top lobbyist at the time, Craig Thomas, as Gingrich's main contact at the housing corporation. The contract raises fresh questions about whether Gingrich traded on his network of Capitol Hill contacts or engaged in actual lobbying.

After Gingrich's campaign released the 2006 contract, a top Romney aide, Eric Fehrnstrom, tweeted, "Newt's K Street firm finally released the Freddie contract, but only for 2006. Where are missing years? He started there in 99."

Here is Newt's 2006 contract:

 

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Some Context on the Gold Standard

| Mon Jan. 23, 2012 11:08 PM EST

During Monday night's GOP presidential primary debate on NBC, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.), a prominent advocate of pegging the value of the US dollar to the price of gold, praised Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, for promising to appoint a federal gold commission to "look at the whole concept of how do we get back to hard money." Since there was little actual discussion of the gold standard as policy (President Richard Nixon took the US off gold in August 1971), it's worth examining what top economists think about it. In short, they don't think it's a great idea. The University of Chicago's business school recently asked several dozen top economists whether they agreed with the following statement:

If the US replaced its discretionary monetary policy regime with a gold standard, defining a "dollar" as a specific number of ounces of gold, the price-stability and employment outcomes would be better for the average American.

Every single one of the economists surveyed disagreed with the statement; i.e., they unanimously embraced the anti-gold standard view, differing only on the degree to which they disagreed with it. 

Gold standard advocates will point out that many top economists missed things like the housing bubble and the financial crisis, and that establishment support for a view doesn't necessarily mean it's correct. That's true, but context is important, too.

"I Am Obamacare": A Meme is Born?

| Mon Jan. 23, 2012 8:48 PM EST

This seems strikingly meme-worthy: 

"I Am Obamacare": Miss M. Turner"I Am Obamacare": Miss M. TurnerThe photo was taken by "Miss M. Turner," a "34 year old Pagan female who lives in Florida," who posted it to her blog and on Facebook. She writes that she was inspired by last fall's "We Are the 99 Percent" meme to "do my spin on it because this is what is going on in MY life." What's going on, she explains, is that she was diagnosed with several large uterine tumors and didn't have health insurance. Private insurers turned her away for having an expensive pre-exisiting condition, but she was able to buy into a Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan. This high-risk insurance pool was one of the first elements of health-care reform to take effect after it was signed into law in March 2010. Miss M.'s surgery still wasn't cheap, but she writes, "it was this or cash. And this is a HELL of a lot better."

The image has been out there since October, but was recently reposted on Facebook, where it's been shared more than 19,000 times. If it inspires copycats, there's already an I Am Obamacare Tumblr, just waiting for submissions. Considering how little the White House has done to promote its health care policies, you'd think the Obama campaign would be quick to share, encourage, or outright co-opt this nascent meme. Of course, it first would have to embrace the tag "Obamacare."

Gay Sex Still Illegal in Kansas

| Mon Jan. 23, 2012 6:01 PM EST

On Friday, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback released a long list of state statutes that he thinks are outdated and should be tossed out. He even issued an executive order last year to create a new position, the Office of the Repealer, to come up with that list. But his final product did not include the repeal of the state's anti-sodomy law.

Despite the fact that the Supreme Court ruled that anti-sodomy laws were unconstitutional in 2003, Kansas has kept its own law on the books. Kansas Statute 21-3505 lists "criminal sodomy"–that which occurs "between persons who are 16 or more years of age and members of the same sex or between a person and an animal"–as a misdemeanor. Straight sodomy is a-OK.

Even though the state sodomy law is pretty much moot in terms of enforcement, it still has an impact on the lives of gays in the state, as the New York Times reports:

The decision, despite public and private lobbying, has angered gay leaders here. "We were pretty much the first in line with our request to have this unconstitutional ban on gay and lesbian relations repealed," said Thomas Witt, chairman of the Kansas Equality Coalition.
"This isn't just some archaic law that’s sitting on the books and isn’t bothering anyone,” Mr. Witt continued. "It's used as justification to harass and discriminate against people, and it needs to go."

And in case you're wondering what other states continue to consider sodomy illegal, Tim Murphy created this handy map.

Your Daily Newt: Death Penalty for Drug Dealers

| Mon Jan. 23, 2012 4:14 PM EST
Newt Gingrich tried marijuana in college and hated it so much he concluded anyone bringing it into the country should be executed.

As a service to our readers, every day we are delivering a classic moment from the political life of Newt Gingrich—until he either clinches the nomination or bows out. (Daily Newt is back from a brief sabbatical following Newt around South Carolina.)

Ross Douthat's criticism notwithstanding, Newt Gingrich is very much a man of ideas—so many ideas, in fact, that he often ends up floating vastly contradictory proposals within a manner of just a few years. As Daily Newt explained previously, Newt Gingrich wrote a letter to the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1981 calling for marijuana to be legalized for medical purposes. "[L]icensed physicians are competent to employ marijuana," he wrote at the time. Pragmatic!

Flash-forward to 1996, and Gingrich's views had shifted to the right, and then kept going for a little while past that. Gingrich was the lead sponsor of the "Drug Importer Death Penalty Act," which, as its name suggests, would have made importation of even a small amount of marijuana punishable by life imprisonment (first offense) and death (second offense):

 

How much is "100 usual dosage amounts" of pot? About two ounces—more than the usual Friday afternoon with Snoop Dogg, but well beneath the load carried by the serious drug traffickers Gingrich's law was purportedly targeting. Our friends at Weedguru inform us that an ounce "can last a month for some smokers, but if you smoke multiple times a day it will vary from 1 week to 4 weeks." The law would be just as likely to target college kids coming back from a long night in Tijuana as it would members of an international drug cartel.