Tuesday Reads, Class Warfare Edition

Good Morning!!

As I wrote yesterday, President Obama’s campaign tactics are starting to get under Mitt Romney’s skin. Molly Ball of The Atlantic has also noticed this.

Mitt Romney has had enough. Fed up with President Obama’s attacks on his business record, he is — or at least his surrogates are — going to drop the Mr. Nice Guy act and start calling his opponent a liar, BuzzFeed’s McKay Coppins reports. Romney’s campaign had already gone there — an email Saturday from spokeswoman Andrea Saul was headlined “Obama’s Desperate Lies,” for example — but to turn the L-word, usually avoided in politics, into a surrogate talking point represents a new front.

Of course the Romney campaign has been trying to get Obama’s goat for months, and they’ve gotten exactly nowhere.

This is the same Romney campaign that sent bubble-blowing hecklers to David Axelrod’s press conference in Boston, deployed its campaign bus to circle and honk outside Obama events, and had a staffer confront Joe Biden personally at a restaurant in Ohio. In another move that seemed designed to get in Obama’s face, Romney himself staged a press conference in front of the failed solar-energy company Solyndra.

But the Obama campaign’s response to this, aside from a bit of huffiness about Romney’s failure to condemn such tactics, has largely been “meh.” Meanwhile, the president continues to conduct a gleefully negative campaign, complete with misleading attack ads and disingenuous character slams. (Romney, of course, has been guilty of the same types of distortions.) Romney prides himself on being thick-skinned — “I’ve got broad shoulders,” he’s fond of saying — but now he appears to have been driven to his limit.

This could be really fun to watch.

Of course Obama’s announcement  yesterday that he wants Congress to extend the Bush tax cuts for the 98% of Americans who earn less than $250,000 per year is likely to enrage Romney and the rest of the Republicans even more. And it’s all part of the Obama campaign’s strategy. Michael Shear of The New York Times reports:

President Obama’s push on Monday to extend tax cuts for the middle class — but not for the rich — is being joined by an all-out effort from his allies to portray Mitt Romney as a wealthy candidate who is out of touch with most Americans.

The president’s campaign and his surrogates are accusing the presumptive Republican nominee of hiding the sources of his multimillion-dollar fortune and of refusing to release multiple years of his tax returns. On Monday, they also mocked Mr. Romney’s weekend fund-raisers at glamorous estates in the Hamptons.

In an interview with a New Hampshire television station on Monday, Mr. Obama added his voice to the criticism of his rival, saying that Americans should “know who you are and what you’ve done and that you’re an open book. And that’s been true of every presidential candidate dating all the way back to Mitt Romney’s father.”

The White House also said yesterday that Obama will veto any effort to extend the Bush tax cuts for the top 2% of Americans.

Mitt Romney is a very rich man, but he’s not the richest man to ever run for President. John Kerry is at least as rich as Romney and probably slightly richer; and if Kerry’s wealth is combined with that of his wife Teresa Heinz Kerry, he is probably a billionaire.

When he ran in 2004, Kerry released 20 years of tax returns! Teresa Heinz Kerry resisted releasing her tax returns and that became an issue in the campaign. She eventually released some minimal information. But Kerry himself was exceedingly transparent:

His campaign released all of his military records after conservative critics questioned stories related to his time in service. He also released 15 years worth of meetings he had with more than 300 lobbyists while serving as a U.S. senator. As The New York Times reported on April 23, 2004:

The list, detailing meetings between 1989 and late last year that were often held over lunch, dinner or cocktails, identifies many participants who have contributed to his campaigns and, in some cases, become fund-raisers for his presidential run.

As far as I can tell, Kerry did not have millions stashed in secret offshore tax shelters. Another important difference between Kerry and Romney is that Kerry was not advocating tax policies that would help the wealthiest Americans and hurt the poorest Americans as Mitt Romney is.

Of course the most shocking thing about the tax information we do have about Romney is that he paid around 13 percent of his income in taxes–a lower proportion than is paid by people in the lowest tax bracket.  I think that is why these attacks on his as an out-of-touch rich guy are working.

I can’t see the Obama campaign letting this go until Romney either is more forthcoming or somehow explains why he is being so secretive about his money. As long as he refuses to be more open, we can only assume he has something to hide, as Paul Krugman wrote this morning.

In line with yesterday’s news about Mitt Romney’s fund raisers in the Hamptons and the clueless types who attended them, Mother Jones has a funny story about internecine class warfare among the Hamptons’ super-rich denizens. You’ll need to read it all, but here’s the introduction.

With twin 2,520-horsepower engines and up to 19 seats, the Sikorsky S-92 is among the world’s most powerful civilian helicopters. “Helibuses” typically service offshore oil platforms and the like, but two years ago billionaire industrialist Ira Rennert acquired a posh version to shuttle himself between Manhattan and Long Island’s exclusive Hamptons, where he owns a 63-acre, 110,000-square-foot villa complex. One of the first to notice the giant bird was Frank Dalene, founder and CEO of a successful luxury homebuilding company, who lives on a ridge along Rennert’s flight path. Its whumping rotor was like “a lightning bolt striking nearby,” says Dalene, a fast-talking 58-year-old with a long nose and narrow-set eyes. He blames the vibrations for “literally damaging my home.”

Dalene and his neighbors near the East Hampton Airport might have abided Rennert’s choppers—he owns two—had they been an anomaly. But the situation has become intolerable over the past few years, Dalene says, thanks to a whirlybird craze among the investment bankers and hedge fund gurus who weekend in Sagaponack and Southampton. On Friday afternoons the tiny airport is a beehive. Come summer, some CEOs commute daily between their beach chalets and Manhattan’s East 34th Street Heliport. “They don’t give a crap about nobody,” Dalene gripes.

Last year, he founded the Quiet Skies Coalition, an anti-helicopter group that has become one of the most potent political forces in the Hamptons. Its wealthy members north of the Montauk Highway launched what Dalene describes as a “knock-down, drag-out battle” against “ultra-wealthy” helicopter owners who largely live on the south side, accusing them of shattering the island’s tranquillity, contributing to climate change, and poisoning the air with leaded fuel. “I am beginning to think Mr. Rennert is practicing class warfare,” Dalene wrote Rennert’s Manhattan secretary in an email that likened the noise assaults to “throwing their garbage on the other side of the tracks for us poor folks to live with.”

Rennert, a multimillionaire lives on “the poor side of the tracks” in the rarified atmosphere of the Hamptons. He is a long-time Republican, but he’s so angry at the pro-helicopter Republicans that he plans to switch his registration to Independent.

At The Daily Beast Peter Beinert argues that Republicans are the ones who have traditionally engaged in class warfare.

Joseph McCarthy, the man whose specter terrified Democrats for a generation, was all about class warfare. “It has not been the less fortunate or members of minority groups who have been selling this nation out,” he told the Republican Women’s Club of Wheeling, West Virginia, in 1950, in the speech that catapulted him to stardom, “but rather those who have had all the benefits that the wealthiest nation on earth has had to offer—the finest homes, the finest college education, and the finest jobs in government we can give. This is glaringly true in the State Department. There the bright young men who are born with silver spoons in their mouths are the ones who have been worst.”

Richard Nixon seethed with class anger. “What starts the process really are laughs and slights and snubs when you are a kid,” he confided to a friend. “Sometimes it’s because you’re poor or Irish or Jewish or Catholic or ugly or simply that you are skinny. But if you are reasonably intelligent and if your anger is deep enough and strong enough, you learn that you can change those attitudes by excellence, personal gut performance, while those who have everything are sitting on their fat butts.”

Then there are the more recent examples. In 1988, George H.W. Bush accused Michael Dukakis of having learned his views in “Harvard Yard’s boutique,” a bastion of “liberalism and elitism.” (Bush’s campaign manager, Lee Atwater, later declared that had he been running Dukakis’ campaign, he would have shown ads featuring Bush on his private tennis court alongside images of his waterfront mansion in Kennebunkport, before having the narrator intone: “No wonder he wants to cut capital gains taxes on the wealthy.”)

Joseph McCarthy actually started out as a Democrat, but by the time he got the Senate he was a Republican. He once

denounced the entire Democratic Party as a group of traitors: “The issue between the Republicans and Democrats is clearly drawn. It has been deliberately drawn by those who have been in charge of twenty years of treason. The hard fact is — the hard fact is that those who wear the label, those who wear the label Democrat wear it with the stain of a historic betrayal.”

He would have fit right in with today’s Tea Party Republicans.

The right wing blogs are accusing President Obama of “class warfare” because he wants the top 2 percent of income earners to pay the same proportions of their incomes in taxes as they did during the Clinton administration. Princeton History Professor Julian Zelizer “Obama should ignore ‘class warfare’ gibes.”

During a meeting with historians in 2011, Politico reported, President Obama said: “What you could do for me is to help me find a way to discuss the issue of inequality in our society without being accused of class warfare.” For Obama, this is not an esoteric question. Rather, this is a challenge that will be integral to his campaign and, if he is re-elected, to his second term as president.

Many Democrats have argued that Obama should have tackled this issue from his first day in the White House. But this is an issue the president didn’t think he had the political capital to address. He has also continually feared that touching on inequality would open him up to Republican attacks of being left of center.

And being “left of center” is bad because….? {Sigh….} Zelizer then discusses FDR and LBJ, two presidents who weren’t afraid to address issues of inequality. He ends with this advice for Obama:

a vibrant national discussion about inequality, with the president taking the lead, is essential. The 2012 campaign offers Obama an opportunity to put this problem on the national agenda.
The challenge for Obama is that there really is no way around the inevitable attacks, and there is no way to talk about economic inequality other than talking about it. Rather than looking for rhetorical tricks, Obama should instead focus on having the best arguments in response to the conservative attacks.

This will require borrowing from Roosevelt a defense of how a vibrant middle class will be crucial to revitalizing America’s economic position in the world, and from Johnson an argument that the ethical obligation to help the poorest is incumbent on our democracy.

I wholeheartedly agree. It’s time for Obama to suck it up and deal with the attacks that come along with doing the right thing. It appears that he is getting a little more daring these days. Certainly calling for extending the middle-class tax cuts now instead of waiting till after the election was a good opening gambit. It also appears that Obama is pretty good at letting Romney’s foolish attacks roll off his back.

Class warfare has been a useful tactic for Republicans in the past, as Peter Beinart pointed out. This year Obama is running against the perfect representative of the monied classes in Mitt Romney. It’s perfectly appropriate to run on the issue of inequality in incomes and opportunities.

I sincerely hope the Obama campaign continues this strategy right up until November–along with coming up with specific policies to change the current trend toward greater distance between the super-rich and the rest of us.

Enough of my ranting, what are you reading and blogging about today?

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Tuesday Reads

Good Morning!!

On Sunday during his “get to know the regular people” bus tour, Mitt Romney expressed “amazement” at a gas station in Pennsylvania where you could order “hoagies” using a touch-screen.

At a campaign stop in Pennsylvania on Sunday, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee told a crowd that he had been astonished by a touch screen computer used to order food at the Wawa gas station chain….

“I was at Wawas,” Romney explained. “I went in to order a sandwich. You press a little touchtone keypad, alright? You just touch that and, you know, the sandwich comes up. You touch this, touch this, touch this, go pay the cashier. There’s your sandwich. It’s amazing!”

The ordering system has been there for 10 years. Of course this reminded everyone of the apocryphal story about out-of-touch patrician George H.W. Bush being amazed by a supermarket scanner.

Poor Mitt. In another article on Romney’s bus tour, James Fallows makes fun of the candidate’s habit of expressing surprise by saying “oh my goodness!”

Romney’s trademark small-talk exclamation, “Oh my goodness!” seems completely genuine. But I am trying to think of the last time I heard a 21st-century person use that phrase — as opposed to all the other possibilities, which when you think about it range from coarse to profane. (Jeez louise, WTF, Holy shit, and on through a long list you can fill in yourself.) When combined with his Don-Draper-in-the-’50s very dapper personal style, it adds to a retro atmosphere that some people will find reassuring and appealing and others will find odd.

Well I have to admit that I often say “oh my goodness!” too. Maybe I’m out of touch then–or maybe it’s a Midwestern thing. I got in the habit of saying that when taking care of my nephews. John McWhorter at The New Republic also thinks Romney’s “verbal stylings” are strange. Romney is also guilty of using “g” words like gosh, golly, and gee, which McWhorter says are substitutes for taking the name of “god” in vain.

Gee, gosh, and golly are all tokens of dissimulation. They are used in moments of excitement or dismay as burgherly substitutions, either for God and Jesus—words many religious people believe should not be “taken in vain”—or for words considered even less appropriate. Fittingly, they even emerged as disguised versions of God (gosh and golly) and Jesus (gee; cf. also jeez). This was in line with how cursing worked in earlier English. The medieval and even colonial Anglophones’ versions of profanity were to express dismay or vent pain by swearing—“making an oath”—to God or related figures considered ill-addressed in such a disrespectful way. The proper person at least muted the impact with a coy distortion, à la today’s shoot and fudge. Hence zounds (first attestation: 1600), as in by his (Christ’s) wounds; egad for Ye God (1673); and by Jove (1598). To increasing numbers of modern Americans, the G-words are unusable outside of quotation marks, be these actual or implied, rather like the word perky.

Well, gee, I use that one sometimes too, though not “gosh” or “golly.” So maybe I’m as much of an anachronism as Romney. Of course I’ve been known to swear also. I really think saying the “g” words might be a Midwestern mannerism.

Robert Shrum says Mitt Romney reminds him of Thomas E. Dewey, who was expected to beat Harry Truman in 1948, but didn’t. Check it out. I found it interesting.

It appears that police are suspicious about the drowning death of Rodney King. An autopsy has been done, but the results haven’t been released yet. There was no obvious evidence of foul play, but apparently King was a very avid swimmer. There are also conflicting reports of sounds from King’s backyard right before his body was found. Reuters:

King’s fiancée, Cynthia Kelly, a juror in the civil suit he brought against the city of Los Angeles, “didn’t give any indication he was unhappy or that there was an issue.” He said King was known to swim frequently and at all hours.

Shepherd said Kelly told investigators that, shortly before the drowning, she had been inside the house talking with King off and on through a sliding glass door that leads to a patio beside the pool.

At some point, she told them, she heard a splash, prompting her to run outside to find him at the bottom of the deep end. Unable to swim well herself, she called emergency 911 for help.

The Los Angeles Times, in an online account on Monday, cited a next-door neighbor, Sandra Gardea, 31, as saying she heard the sound of a man sobbing from King’s back yard in the two hours before police say he was found in the pool.

The Times also reported that Gardea heard King’s fiancée trying to coax him back into the house.

“It wasn’t like an argument,” she told the newspaper. “She was just saying, ‘Get in the house. Get in the house.'” Gardea said she heard a splash a few minutes later.

Very mysterious.

The prosecution in the Trayvon Martin case has released calls between George Zimmerman and his wife when he was in jail the first time.

The recordings show that from his jail cell, Zimmerman gave his wife step-by-step instructions on how to change a password and clear security questions so she could move money, gave her orders to withdraw specific amounts and directed her to pay the bills.

Prosecutors allege the couple was moving money out of an Internet PayPal account that was awash with donations for Zimmerman, who’s charged with second-degree murder in one of the most racially-charged criminal cases in the country. He shot Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black 17-year-old, in Sanford Feb. 26.

The couple spoke in code, according to prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda. In the calls Zimmerman makes repeated reference to “Peter Pan,” an apparent reference to PayPal.

And neither Zimmerman or his wife ever refer to more than $100,000, talking instead about amounts generally totaling “10 dollars” and “20 dollars.” Prosecutors say those were references to $10,000 and $20,000.

Shellie was careful to move less than $10,000 at a time, to avoid triggering attention from the feds.

The tapes of six conversations were released Monday, as were bank statements from the Zimmermans’ accounts at a credit union. The statements show repeated transfers to and from the account in amounts just under $10,000. On April 24, for example, there were 8 transfers of $9,999.00 into Shellie Zimmerman’s account. Banks and financial institutions are required to file “suspicious activity reports” in such cases, according to Jack Blum, a Washington lawyer who specializes in money laundering.

Structuring the money in such a way is not itself illegal, he says, if the money isn’t from an illicit source. But, he says, it shows “a guilty mind.”

“What they’ve done,’ Blum said, “is they’ve given the prosecutors, on a silver platter, evidence of guilty intent.”

This one should probably be at the top of this post, but gee golly gosh and my goodness! I thought the other stories were more fun to read–so gosh darn it, what the heck!

Obama, Putin meet on Syria at G-20 summit.

Meeting for nearly two hours on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Mexico, the two presidents tried to focus mostly on areas of agreement — even when it came to areas of disagreement, such as Syria.

The U.S. wants Syrian President Bashar Assad out of power. Russia, which sells arms to Syria, has blocked United Nations Security Council resolutions calling for tough sanctions and leaving the door open to military intervention.

“We agreed that we need to see a cessation of the violence, that a political process has to be created to prevent civil war and the kind of horrific deaths that we’ve seen over the last several weeks,” Obama said after his first meeting with Putin following his return to the presidency this year. “We pledged to work with other international actors, including the United Nations, Kofi Annan and all interested parties, in trying to find a resolution to this problem.”

Putin was upbeat following the meeting, which went on much longer than planned and covered the full range of issues between the two nations. “From my perspective, we’ve been able to find many commonalities pertaining to all of those issues,” he said.

I’m glad it was Obama negotiating and not Romney. Otherwise, we might be at war with Russia by now.

The New York Times has a piece on what Europe will do now that the Greeks have voted for austerity.

BERLIN — After Greek elections eased fears that the country’s exit from the euro zone was imminent, attention turned Monday to an even bigger challenge: restoring the economic body to health with Greece still in it.

A respite from market pressure early Monday proved to be short-lived, as investors shifted their attention from political infighting in Athens to the larger question of whether European leaders could find a more lasting solution to a debacle now well into its third year.

But even though Brussels had been hoping for the victory by Antonis Samaras and his center-right New Democracy Party, the yearned-for result, paradoxically, may weaken Europe’s determination to take more radical steps to avert a meltdown.

German hard-liners were emboldened by the victory, viewing it as an endorsement of the drive for structural adjustment in Greece and elsewhere in Southern Europe through further austerity. As a result, the vote may delay concerted pro-growth steps by central banks and governments around the world, as well as the hard choices within Europe over deeper integration that are likely to prove necessary in the long run.

Much more at the link.

There’s lots of talk around the ‘net about the upcoming SCOTUS decision on the health care law. Scalia appears to be signaling that it may go down. You can read about what might happen if parts of the bill found unconstitutional here, here, and here.

Ronan Farrow with mother Mia

Woody Allen’s son Ronan (who looks exactly like Mia Farrow) celebrated father’s day by tweeting “Happy father’s day — or as they call it in my family, happy brother-in-law’s day.” And Mother Mia retweeted it. Ouch!

Woody and Ronan have been estranged for years since his parents split and because Woody was dating (and later married) Soon-Yi Previn, Mia’s adopted daughter, Ronan’s step-sister. He has been quoted in the past as saying, “He’s my father married to my sister. That makes me his son and his brother-in-law. That is such a moral transgression.” [….]

Ronan, named Satchel Ronan O’Sullivan Farrow when he was born in 1987, is the sole biological child of Woody and actress Mia Farrow. He is currently serving as special adviser to the Secretary of State for Global Youth Issues and director of the State Department’s Global Youth Issues office.

Finally, Roger Clemens was found not guilty yesterday, and honestly I’m glad. He probably did use steroids late in his career, but the prosecution couldn’t prove it. Thousands of players did it, and I think it was terrible; but the Justice Department has much more important things to do than making examples out of baseball players (and former presidential candidates for that matter). Clemens will go down in history as one of the greatest pitchers ever. He certainly is one of the best ever to play for the Red Sox.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?