Mojo - September 2012

WATCH: Scott Brown Staffers "Tomahawk Chop" at Warren Volunteers

| Tue Sep. 25, 2012 11:12 AM EDT

This is how you kill a talking point. On Monday, Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) released a new television ad hammering his Democratic challenger, Elizabeth Warren, for identifying herself as part Native American to her employers at Harvard Law School. On Tuesday, the progressive blog Blue Mass Group published this video, which shows at least three two top Brown staffers shouting Indian war whoops and making tomahawk gestures at a group of Warren supporters:

The Warren volunteers had gathered outside of a Brown campaign event in Boston on Saturday.

Brown's Native American attack always had an air of desperation to it, but this video of his aides—according to Boston ABC affiliate WCVB, that's Brown's deputy Chief of Staff Greg Casey and Constituent Service Counsel Jack Richard in the video—would seem to further complicate his efforts.

Update: Brown's response, per WCVB: "It is certainly something that I don't condone. The real offense is that (Warren) said she was white and then checked the box saying she is Native American, and then she changed her profile in the law directory once she made her tenure."

Advertise on MotherJones.com

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for September 25, 2012

Tue Sep. 25, 2012 10:29 AM EDT

U.S. Army Capt. Christopher Harris, assigned to 10th Air & Missile Defense Command, moves through an obstacle during U.S. Army Europe Expert Field Medical Badge examination in Grafenwoehr, Germany, Sept. 20, 2012. U.S. Army photo by Visual Information Specialist Gertrud Zach.

Corn on "Hardball": What's Romney's Strategy in the Debates?

Mon Sep. 24, 2012 8:39 PM EDT

David Corn and Bob Shrum joined Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball to discuss the upcoming presidential debates and the strategies we'll see from the Romney and Obama campaigns.

David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief. For more of his stories, click here. He's also on Twitter.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for September 24, 2012

Mon Sep. 24, 2012 2:52 PM EDT

U.S. Army Spc. Geoffery Lovan, Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25 Infantry Division, Schofield Barracks, Hawaii fires a M240L Medium Machine Gun Sept. 19, 2012, at Pohakuloa Training Area, on Hawaii's Big Island. Department of Defense photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Michael R. Holzworth.

The Most Damning Line in the Secret Romney Video

| Mon Sep. 24, 2012 1:24 PM EDT

In the week since I made public the secret video of Mitt Romney at a private Boca Raton fundraiser denigrating almost half of America as moochers and victims, I've been repeatedly asked what I consider the most damaging—or damning—portion of Romney's remarks. I've noted that the great thing about this story is that people can watch the video for themselves—7 million people went to this site or YouTube in the first days of the video's release and did that—and reach their own conclusions.

Yet one sentence did stand out to me. When Romney was in mid-rant about the 47 percent—simplistically and erroneously conflating three subsets of Americans: those who voted for Barack Obama, those who receive some form of government assistance, and those who pay no federal income taxes—he said:

I'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.

Here was Romney sharing his view that Americans who don't make enough money to pay income taxes and his fellow citizens who rely on Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, or other government programs are lesser people than he and the millionaires before him. These people, Romney was saying, are not adults; they do not, and will not, fend for themselves or do what they must to feed, clothe, shelter, educate, and care for themselves and their family members. It was an arrogant insult spoken with true detachment. This was 100-percent 1-percent.

My view of this one line was reinforced this morning. I walked into a store to buy some cleaning products. The 40-something woman at the counter rang up the purchases and kept looking at me. Once I had paid, she said in a low voice, "I really don't want to bother you, but..."

Go ahead, I said.

But I know who you are, and I just want to say that Mitt Romney doesn't know what he's talking about. Not at all. I am college-educated, but look where I'm working now. I can't find a better job now. And, and….

She paused and lowered her voice more:

I'm on food stamps. I didn't have a choice. I'm making about $12,000 a year now. And I need them. I work hard. And I'm looking for other work. But just because I'm on food stamps doesn't mean I'm not taking care of myself. Doesn't he know that? Doesn't he get it?

Apparently not. Many people on food stamps, Medicaid, and the like do strive to provide for themselves and their families. The working poor…work. They may even park cars at fancy fundraisers for minimum wage. Romney all-too glibly characterized anyone receiving any public assistance as a parasitic freeloader, and he revealed an us-versus-them attitude that was tremendously ungracious, mean-spirited, and predicated on ignorance of the real world.

"Thank you, thank you," the woman said. "You showed us what he really thinks of us, what he thinks of me."

Mitt Romney built that. 

Mitt Romney Rebukes the Premise Behind Romneycare

| Mon Sep. 24, 2012 10:40 AM EDT

Mitt Romney isn't just downplaying his signature accomplishment as governor of Massachusetts, he's developed a sudden amnesia about the policy problems that lead him to implementing it. 

During a 60 Minutes interview on Sunday, CBS' Scott Pelley asked Romney: "Does the government have a responsibility to provide health care to the fifty million Americans who don't have it today?"

Romney responded: "Well, we do provide care for people who don't have insurance, people—we—if someone has a heart attack, they don't sit in their apartment and and die. We pick them up in an ambulance, and take them to the hospital, and give them care. And different states have different ways of providing for that care." Romney later repeats usual refrain that what worked for Massachusetts won't necessarily work everywhere else.

As Maddowblog's Steve Benen points out though the "emergency room care" line is a go-to talking point for conservatives, this kind of last-resort care raises costs for everyone else and simply doesn't provide the kind of treatment that really sick people need. Romney knows this—at least he did.

As Sam Stein and Amanda Terkel at the Huffington Post note, Romney recognized this as recently as 2010, when he said on MSNBC's Morning Joe: "It doesn't make a lot of sense for us to have millions and millions of people who have no health insurance and yet who can go to the emergency room and get entirely free care for which they have no responsibility." 

This isn't just a minor point: It's one of the major reasons both the Massachusetts health insurance law and the Affordable Care Act include an individual mandate. In Romney's memoir, No Apology, he calls the realization that emergency room care substantially raises costs an "epiphany." From page 171 (italics original, bolded mine):

After about a year of looking at data—and not making much progress—we had a collective epiphany of sorts, an obvious one, as important observations often are: the people in Massachusetts who didn't have health insurance were, in fact, already receiving health care. Under federal law, hospitals had to stabilize and treat people who arrived at their emergency rooms with acute conditions. And our state's hospitals were offering even more assistance than the federal government required. That meant that someone was already paying for the cost of treating people who didn't have health insurance. If we could get our hands on that money, and therefore redirect it to help the uninsured buy insurance instead and obtain treatment in the way that the vast majority of individuals did—before acute conditions developed—the cost of insuring everyone in the state might not be as expensive as I had feared.

That was then. Now Romney seems fine with notion of people waiting until they need to go to the emergency room to get care. Perhaps the sequel to No Apology should be titled "I'm Sorry for all the Stuff I did That Conservatives Don't Like."

Advertise on MotherJones.com

"Romney's Balls" Found...at Scott Brown Presser

| Mon Sep. 24, 2012 10:20 AM EDT

A Massachusetts Democrat sends along this photo, from the Boston Herald, of top Mitt Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom lurking behind the scenes at a campaign press conference for Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) on Friday in Boston:

Mark Garfinkel/Boston HeraldMark Garfinkel/Boston Herald

Two things: 1) "Lurking Fehrnstrom" should be a meme. 2) Fehrnstrom's appearance at the presser (he was at the Thursday debate, too) comes at a time when Brown himself is going out of his way to distance himself from Fehrnstrom's other big client, Mitt Romney. Brown distanced himself from Romney's 47-percent remarks, and (briefly) hedged on whether he was even going to vote for his former governor in November. But it's a lot tougher to distance yourself from Mitt Romney when Romney's right-hand man is hanging out in your office.

Aside from that, it's noteworthy that Fehrnstrom is still multi-tasking this late in the race, even as his top client, Romney, is finishing up his worst month of the campaign. As Jason Zengerle put it in a profile for GQ, "If Karl Rove was Bush's brain, then Fehrnstrom is Romney's balls." So why are Mitt Romney's balls chilling at a press conference about Elizabeth Warren's ancestry?

New Obama Ad in Ohio Rips Romney on "47 Percent" Claim

| Mon Sep. 24, 2012 9:05 AM EDT

The Obama campaign is out with a new ad in Ohio, a critical battleground state, hammering Mitt Romney for his dismissal of 47 percent of Americans as Obama-backing "victims" who leech off the government. Last week, Mother Jones broke the story of Romney's "47 percent" comments, publishing leaked video of a private fundraiser, held in Florida last May, where Romney made the remarks.

The Obama ad uses the leaked video showing Romney saying "my job is not to worry about those people"—by which he means the 47 percenters. The ad's narrator then asks: "Doesn't the President have to worry about everyone?"

Days after Romney released his 2011 tax returns showing he paid a rate of 14.1 percent, the new Obama ad also rips Romney for paying far less in taxes than middle-class Americans, and for refusing to release more than two years' worth of returns. "Maybe instead of attacking others on taxes," the narrator says, "Romney should come clean on his."

The ad comes as Romney begins a bus tour of Ohio this week. Democrats will hold events highlighting Romney's 47 percent remarks during a parallel Ohio bus tour of their own. "Mitt Romney is either massively insulting half of Americans or he's massively out of touch with our lives—and while he tours Ohio, the DNC and Ohioans are going to call him out for it," the Democratic National Committee said.

Obama supporters are also using Romney's controversial remarks as a fundraising tool, blasting the video around to current and potential donors, Reuters reports. Ted Strickland, the former Ohio governor and now Obama campaign co-chair, said: "If we can't win this election [after the 47 percent video], God help us."

Corn on "Face the Nation": Was the 47 Percent Video a Game-Changer?

Sun Sep. 23, 2012 2:38 PM EDT

David Corn joined Bob Schieffer and the crew on CBS' Face the Nation to discuss the state of the Romney campaign. Where did it go wrong, how will he try to turn it around, and how damaging was the 47 percent video?

David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief. For more of his stories, click here. He's also on Twitter.

9 Things to Know About Mitt Romney's Tax Returns

| Fri Sep. 21, 2012 5:40 PM EDT

Mitt Romney released more tax information on Friday. Here's what you need to know.

He's still only released two years' worth of tax returns. Romney released his 2010 tax return in January. On Friday, he released his 2011 return and a very brief "summary" of the past 20 years' worth of returns. That summary was missing the kind of detail that would have provided a full picture of Romney's finances, rather than the incomplete snapshot the campaign has provided to date. Romney's father, George Romney, released 12 years of returns when he ran for president in 1968

He picked his own tax rate in 2011, purposely paying more than he owed. Romney intentionally took fewer deductions than he earned in 2011, paying over $250,000 more in taxes than he needed to.

The Romney campaign released what it says are the effective tax rates Romney paid for the past two decades. His effective tax rate was calculated based on his Adjusted Gross Income. That's standard, but in Romney's case, it doesn't tell the whole story. The Romney campaign is reporting the percentage of Romney's AGI that he paid to the government, explains Brian Galle, an associate professor at Boston College Law School who is an expert on individual and corporate income tax. AGI is the number you get after you take certain, limited deductions. The most relevant of these deductions for Romney are losses from the sale or exchange of property. That could include stock or partnership interests in Bain Capital and associated companies that were sold at a loss. The Romney campaign is disclosing the percentage of tax he paid "on the amount he got after he subtracted out all those losses," which could have been very substantial, Galle says—perhaps even enough to almost eliminate Romney's tax liability. That means that although Romney paid at least something in previous years, it could have been a very small amount. "He could have been paying 13.66 percent of $100 in 2009. He might have paid $13.66," Galle continues. We won't know unless the Romney campaign releases more information.

This chart shows that the gap between Romney's adjusted gross income and the total amount he paid in taxes in 2011 far outstrips that of several former presidents.

And this chart compares the effective tax rates paid by the same presidents (and Romney) compared to the top tax rate at the time. 

Romney still pays taxes on his sons' enormous trust funds. David Cay Johnston, a Reuters columnist, tax expert, and Pulitzer Prize winner, tells Mother Jones that without the taxes Romney paid on his sons' trust funds, which are worth around $100 million combined, "his rate would be much lower."

Romney's advisers used an odd method to calculate how much he paid over the past two decades. As the Washington Post's Greg Sargent reported, Romney's advisers averaged his tax rates over 20 years to get a number for his tax burden over that period. But it would have been more accurate to take Romney's total tax paid over that period and divide it by his total earnings to get a new percentage. Sargent spoke to Roberton Williams, a senior fellow at the Tax Policy Center, about this problem:

"Let's say you have 10 years in which you paid 13 percent in taxes, and 10 years in which you paid 27 percent," Williams told me. "If you average those rates, you'll get an overall rate of 20 percent. But if the 13 percent years were high income years, and the 27 percent years were low income years, then his total taxes paid as a share of total income over the 20 years would be less, perhaps significantly less, than 20 percent."

Romney and other private equity managers get a tax break for earning investment income, but tax reform advocates think a lot of their "investment income" is really labor income. Romney has saved a lot of money over the years with the carried interest exception, a loophole that allows private equity managers—i.e., the people who run private equity funds, not the people who invest in them—to treat part of what they're paid in fees as investment income, even though they didn't necessarily invest the money. Often, this results in people like Romney paying a 15 percent tax rate on income that would otherwise be taxed at 35 percent. They "pretend their labor income is really investment income by calling it 'carried interest' and paying at a low rate," explains Slate's Matt Yglesias. (It's perfectly legal.)

Harry Reid probably owes Mitt Romney an apology. Back in July, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told the Huffington Post that a "Bain investor" confided to him that Romney "didn't pay any taxes for 10 years." Reid's allegations put Romney on the defensive for refusing to release more than two years of tax returns, but based on what we know now they're most likely false, Galle says. "If Harry Reid had said something like he paid 'like no taxes,' that might be accurate," Galle says. "It might be a quite small number potentially, but he didn’t pay nothing."

Romney's tax rate does not account for much of his wealth. "The income tax…doesn't tax you on changes of the value of your stuff from year to year unless you convert that stuff into cash," Galle explains. "If you never sell it then it doesn't become part of your income." A huge portion of the Romneys' fortune—as much as $100 million—is tied up in Mitt's individual retirement account (IRA), where it has grown tax-free for decades. That account is in the top .001 percent of all IRAs. Any increase in the value of Romney's IRA is not counted when his income is calculated. This is true for other Americans, too, but most Americans who have IRAs—only 48 million do—have relatively small amounts of money in them. The median IRA was worth $17,863 in 2010. So, for most Americans, the IRA tax exemption isn't the huge factor it is for Romney. 

The bottom line: Most American workers don't have significant investment income; their income is almost all wages. Factoring in his massive nonwage gains, and Romney's "real tax rate is something like half of what he's reporting if you were to compare him to most workers," Galle says.