Saturday Reads: Mitt Romney’s Religion, Politics, and Taxes

Good Morning!!

Everyone is still talking about Mitt Rommey’s taxes and his struggling campaign. I have some interesting reads on those subjects, but first I want to all attention to a story from The Daily Beast yesterday by Jamie Reno that I think deserves more attention. The Mormon church in Florida is threatening to excommmunicate one of their prominent members who has written some negative on-line articles about Mitt Romney.

David Twede, 47, a scientist, novelist, and fifth-generation Mormon, is managing editor of MormonThink.com, an online magazine produced largely by members of the Mormon Church that welcomes scholarly debate about the religion’s history from both critics and true believers.

A Mormon in good standing, Twede has never been disciplined by Latter Day Saints leadership. But it now appears his days as a Mormon may be numbered because of a series of articles he wrote this past week that were critical of Mitt Romney.

On Sunday, Twede says his bishop, stake president, and two church executives brought him into Florida Mormon church offices in Orlando and interrogated him for nearly an hour about his writings, telling him, “Cease and desist, Brother Twede.”

Twede posted the letter he received from his stake president on his blog, Prozacville. His excommunication hearing “for apostasy” is to take place September 30. Twede wasn’t using his real name on-line, but the church learned his identity from someone at a pro-Mormon website, Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research.

So apparently the Mormon church is not as neutral in this election as it has claimed. In fact, ABC News recently reported that the church has been working to get Mormons registered in swing state Nevada.

In a provocative move within a religious organization that has sought to display strict political neutrality, an official of the Mormon church has disseminated a presentation across the key swing state of Nevada that urges members to vote and speak “with one voice” in the coming Presidential election that pits Mormon Mitt Romney against President Barack Obama.

“Any Mormon would understand exactly what’s being said there,” said Randall Balmer, a Dartmouth religion professor who has studied the church’s handling of Romney’s presidential bids. “This is very thinly coded language.”

Personally, I think this is very creepy. The church seems to be quite involved in this election–trying to encourage votes for Romney and at the same time attempting to silence critics of the prominent Mormon candidate.

If the Romney campaign was hoping that releasing Mitt’s 2011 tax returns along with a vague “summary” of his returns for the past 20 years, they will be disappointed. Most tax experts aren’t buying the “summary,” and lots of them are trying to figure out exactly what Romney is trying to pull this time.

I thought this piece in USA Today by Rick Newman was very helpful (h/t Dakinikat). Newman reads between the lines of the official release and finds some oddities. First, somehow $7.2 million disappeared from Romney’s income between January when he filed an estimate and now on his official return.

Between January and October of this year, Romney’s adjusted gross income for 2011 fell by $7.2 million. And it dropped by nearly $8 million compared with his AGI in 2010. His federal tax liability also fell, by similar proportions.

The most likely explanation is that Romney’s accountants transferred income from Romney’s personal return to one of the three trusts that also generate considerable income, almost all of it from investments. It will take a detailed examination of the 2010 and 2011 documents to figure out what changed, but here’s a clue: Romney’s campaign has begun to focus on the “personal” tax rate paid by Romney, rather than the tax rate that might be associated with the trusts and his total income from all sources.

Newman also notes that the Romney representatives are emphasizing the word “personal” when they refer to Romney’s tax returns, suggesting that some kind of fudging is going on.

Romney hasn’t released tax documents prior to 2010, but some tax experts think his overall tax rate could have been very close to zero during at least a couple of years, possibly because of capital losses suffered during the stock-market wipeout of 2008, which zeroed out earnings for many investors.

The Romney campaign now says that since 1990, “the lowest annual effective federal personal tax rate” Romney paid was 13.66 percent. In other words, the rate on what might be characterized as his personal income never fell below that threshold.

But that doesn’t account for the three trusts, or other investment vehicles that may have existed prior to 2010. And it’s unusual to limit the claim to “personal” taxes when Romney has acknowledged other types of income. So it’s possible that the effective tax rate on the trusts was very low at some point—and maybe even zero, which would have indicated a net loss for the year.

Greg Sargent talked to another expert, Roberton Williams, of the Tax Policy Center, about the 20-year summary and Romney’s claim that “Over the entire 20-year period, the average annual effective federal tax rate was 20.20%.” Sargent learned from the campaign that this represents an average of Romney’s tax rates over the 20 year period.

Williams tells me that this is a far less meaningful way to calculate the overall rate than the second way, which actually calculates the real tax rate Romney paid over the period.

Here’s why: The first way obscures the fact that income may have fluctuated quite markedly from year to year. If Romney paid his lowest rates in a number of the higher income years, the overall 20 percent figure would overstate the rate he actually paid over the whole period. Williams provided the following purely hypothetical example:

“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.”

Yet in that scenario, the Romney campaign would be claiming, by its chosen metric, to have paid 20 percent.

This is very troubling, and I’m sure more detailed analyses will be coming. You have to wonder why Romney didn’t just keep stonewalling instead of raising lots more questions about his taxes.

There have been lots of stories this week about what Romney should do to rescue his flailing campaign, but the candidate himself says there no problem. At least that’s what he told Scott Pelley of CBS’ 60 Minutes.

Scott Pelley: You are slipping in the polls at this moment. A lot of Republicans are concerned about this campaign. You bill yourself as a turnaround artist. How are you going to turn this campaign around?

Mitt Romney: Well, actually, we’re tied in the polls. We’re all within the margin of error. We bounce aroun — week to week– day to day. There are some days we’re up. There are some days we’re down. We go forward with my message, that this is a time to reinvigorate the American economy, not by expanding government and raising taxes on people, but instead by making sure government encourages entrepreneurship and innovation and gets the private sector hiring again.

Scott Pelley: Governor, I appreciate your message very much. But that wasn’t precisely the question. You’re the CEO of this campaign. A lot of Republicans would like to know, a lot of your donors would like to know, how do you turn this thing around? You’ve got a little more than six weeks. What do you do?

Mitt Romney: Well, it doesn’t need a turnaround. We’ve got a campaign which is tied with an incumbent president to the United States.

Scott Pelley: Well– as you know, a lot of people were concerned about the video of the fundraiser in which you talked about the 47 percent of the American people who don’t pay taxes. Peggy Noonan, a very well-known conservative columnist, said that it was an example of this campaign being incompetent. And I wonder if any of that criticism gets through to you and whether you’re concerned about it at all….

Mitt Romney: I’ve got a very effective campaign. It’s doing a very good job. But not everything I say is elegant. And I want to make it very clear, I want to help 100 percent of the American people.

In non-political news, yesterday was the 75th anniversary of the publication of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Corey Olson has written a history of Tolkien’s beloved book. Check it out at The Daily Beast. It’s quite interesting.

It’s getting late and I need to get this post up, so I’ll end there.

What are you reading and blogging about today?


Romney Campaign Sends in the Clowns…er…Attack Dogs

You have to hand it to Harry Reid. He has put Mitt Romney in a corner that he can’t get out of. As long as Reid doesn’t back down–and so far he hasn’t–Romney is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. If Mitt gives in and releases his tax returns for the past ten years, the media and the Obama campaign will tear them apart to find out what he’s hiding. If Mitt continues to stonewall the speculation will continue to grow and overwhelm his campaign and the upcoming Republican Convention.

Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake wrote about Romney’s “Harry Reid Problem” this morning.

At its root, the problem for Romney on this matter is that he and Reid are simply not playing by the same set of rules. Here’s why.

1. Reid isn’t up for re-election until 2016 (if he even decides to run again, since he will be 76 years old that year). 2. His allegation against Romney only strengthens his hand among his Democratic colleagues — in and out of the Senate. 3. He’s not running for president and, therefore, isn’t subject to the same sort of transparency demands that Romney is. 4. He’s far less well-known than Romney, meaning that by engaging Reid, the Republican presidential nominee is punching down in a big way.

“He’s fearless and shameless,” said Jon Ralston, the leading political journalist in the state of Nevada and a man who has watched Reid’s career closely. “The most dangerous man is one who does not care.”

The shaming of Reid, which is clearly what Republicans — Romney included — are now set on doing, then, likely won’t work. Several close Reid allies insist he simply will never reveal the alleged source of the Romney tax information and, they argue, politically speaking he won’t ever have to, since the allegation — as we noted above — does little harm to Reid’s political career.

In politics, a charge unanswered is a charge believed. It’s why Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry’s (D) slow response to charges regarding his service in Vietnam — allegations Kerry clearly believed were beneath contempt — wound up playing a major role in his defeat in the 2004 presidential election.

“I just believe that this hurts Romney more,” said one senior Republican strategist who follows Nevada politics closely. “If he doesn’t produce his tax returns, this will probably continue. If he finally relents, then Reid just says ‘thank you.’”

So far, the Romney campaign response to Reid’s accusations has not been impressive. Yesterday, Reid’s accusation was the talk of the Sunday shows. RNC Chairman Reince Priebus called Reid a “dirty liar,” and this morning he said he’s not a bit regretful.

RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said Monday he would “triple down” on his charge that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is a “dirty liar” and said the GOP won’t allow Democrats to “manufacture stories” and “steal an election.”

“There’s no triple down in blackjack, but I’ll triple down on my comments yesterday,” Priebus said on “Fox & Friends,” referring to the epithet he first leveled Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”

“It’s amazing to me that there can be any honor in a position that he holds, that he’s degraded so far down the tubes, Priebus continued. “It is what it is. He’s a dirty liar, and we’re moving on.”

Reince might be moving on, but no one else is. Yesterday, Lindsey Graham said that Reid is “making things up.”

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham strongly took issue with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s accusations that Mitt Romney has not paid taxes in 10 years, saying Sunday that the Democratic leader was “lying.”

“What he did on the floor of the Senate is so out of bounds. I think he’s lying about his statement, of knowing something about Romney,” Graham said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Oddly, the one person who knows for sure what is in Romney’s tax returns didn’t turn up on the Sunday Shows this week–how often does that happen? John McCain got 23 years of Romney’s tax returns during the VP vetting process in 2008. Either McCain or some of his advisers know what’s in there.

So why isn’t McCain standing up and saying, “I saw Romney tax returns and he paid substantial amounts of federal income taxes in every year we looked at”? McCain did join his colleagues on the fainting couch last week, but only to give a weak rejoinder, saying “Reid may have ‘gone over the line.'” Why isn’t he defending the man who will be the Republican Party’s nominee?

Could it be that McCain doesn’t want to get caught in a lie if Romney is eventually forced to the secrets of his tax returns?

This morning Romney released his nastiest attack dog. John Sununu told Politico:

“Look, Harry Reid is a bumbling Senate leader,” the former New Hampshire governor said Monday on Fox News. “He hasn’t been able to pass a budget, he hasn’t been able to do anything about entitlement reform, he’s done nothing worthwhile except the bidding of the Obama administration. They have pointed out that Harry is lying, and the public is beginning to understand that Harry is lying.”

Sorry John, what the public is beginning to understand is that Mitt Romney is a lying tax evader. More whining from Sununu:

“It’s not Harry Reid, it’s President Obama and the Obama campaign doing what they always do,” he said. “The Obama campaign and President Obama are the ones that are behind this dishonesty and misrepresentation because they are trying to hide the failure of this abysmal presidency that we have had in office the last four years.”

He added: “It is, in my opinion, eroding the only asset he ever had, and that was a general, likable feeling that the public had toward him.”

The interesting thing is that all of these Romney defenders are doing the same thing they’re accusing Harry Reid of doing. They have no idea what’s in Romney’s tax returns or who, if anyone, told Reid that Romney didn’t pay federal income taxes for a decade. Only one of these guys knows for sure what’s in those returns, and John McCain isn’t talking–unless he’s the one who whispered in Harry Reid’s ear.


Saturday Reads: Tax Returns, True Crime, Olympic Porn, and More

Good Morning!!

It looks like Tim Pawlenty might be the perfect VP match for Mitt Romney. He has had some issues with his financial disclosure forms and he refused to release his tax returns as Governor of Minnesota. From the Guardian:

Democrats have been digging into a web of allegations from nine years ago which involved Pawlenty’s use of a shell corporation to shield $60,000 in payments from a telecommunications group during his election campaign that were not declared to the state’s campaign finance board. The money came from a firm run by a prominent Republican strategist. Pawlenty had until recently been a board member.

Opponents accused Pawlenty of accepting an unethical and possibly illegal salary to campaign. The scandal widened because the telecommunications group making the payments was exposed for scamming customers, many of them elderly.

Pawlenty is touted as a leading candidate to be Mitt Romney’s running-mate in part because his background is seen as a political antidote to Romney’s life of privilege. He is the working class son of a truck driver, who knows adversity after his mother died while he was a boy and his father lost his job.

But if he is on the Republican ticket, a fresh airing of the allegations from 2003 is not only likely to undermine Pawlenty’s attempts to portray himself as the voice of the working man but threatens to draw unwelcome attention to difficult issues for Romney – the pressure to release his own tax returns, the morality of his business practices and the parking of millions of dollars in shell companies.

And if Romney turns Pawlenty down for VP, he (Romney) will look like a hypocrite.

I posted this link on Thursday morning, but I think it bears repeating. This op-ed in the NYT by Michael J. Graetz is the best thing I’ve read so far on what Mitt Romney may be hiding by not releasing his tax returns. Graetz discusses Romney’s huge IRA:

With an I.R.A. account of $20 million to $101 million, the tax savings would be more than a few pennies.

The I.R.A. also allows Mr. Romney to diversify his large holdings tax-free, avoiding the 15 percent tax on capital gains that would otherwise apply. His financial disclosure further reveals that his I.R.A. freed him from paying currently the 35 percent income tax on hundreds of thousands of dollars of interest income each year.

Given the extraordinary size of his I.R.A., we have to presume that Mr. Romney valued the assets he put in his retirement account at far less than he would have sold them for. Otherwise it is quite a trick to turn contributions that are limited to $30,000 to $50,000 a year into the $20 million to $101 million he now has there. But we cannot be certain; his meager disclosure of tax records and financial information does not indicate what kind of assets were put into the I.R.A.

He also addresses Romney’s offshore accounts, and concludes that

Mr. Romney is an Olympic-level athlete at the tax avoidance game. Rich people don’t send their money to Bermuda or the Cayman Islands for the weather.

The part I found most interesting was Graetz’ discussion of Romney’s transfers of funds to his sons. Graetz suggests that Romney may not have paid any gift tax on the $100 million trust fund he established in 1995; because it is well known that the IRS doesn’t generally audit gift tax returns.

Based on his aggressive tax planning, revealed in the 2010 returns he has released and his approval of a notably dicey tax avoidance strategy in 1994 when he headed the audit committee of the board of Marriott International, my bet is that — if Mr. Romney filed a gift tax return for these transfers at all — he put a low or even zero value on the gifts, certainly a small fraction of the price at which he would have sold the transferred assets to an unrelated party….According to a partner at Mr. Romney’s trustee’s law firm, valuing carried interests, such as Mr. Romney’s interests in the private equity company Bain Capital, at zero for gift tax purposes was common advice given to clients like Mr. Romney in the 1990s and early 2000s.

At this point, I’m convinced that there is some really hinky stuff going on in those returns. Otherwise Romney would have released them by now. But he’s dreaming if he thinks the press will stop focusing on this.

Yesterday, Wimpy Willard dodged questions about Michelle Bachmann’s muslim witch hunt and the Chick-fil-A controversy. Alex Seitz-Wald at Salon:

Mitt Romney failed to join other Republican leaders today in condemning Rep. Michele Bachmann’s witch hunt against Muslims in the U.S. government, telling reporters at a campaign stop in Las Vegas that it was not “part of my campaign.” Republicans like Sen. John McCain and House Speaker John Boehner, among others, have spoken out publicly against Bachmann’s campaign, but when Romney was asked about it, along with the controversy over Chick-fil-A, he dodged the question. “I’m not going to tell other people what things to talk about. Those are not things that are part of my campaign,” the presumed GOP nominee said at a rare press availability after a campaign stop.

Nothing really new about that–just more evidence of Romney cowardice.

We’ve been talking about how the female Olympic athletes are forced to wear skimpy costumes, presumably to attract the male audience. But at The Daily Beast Tricia Romano has a different take: The Olympics or Soft Porn? Female, Gay Fans Gawking at Male Athletes

Ripped, tanned men seemingly carved out of marble are making women and gay men happy—very happy—during these Olympics, spurring Internet memes and social-media buzz. It’s like the Channing Tatum male-stripper movie Magic Mike got a sequel—a very (thankfully) long sequel—one that’s also preciously short on plot but long on beefcake.

While women have long provided daydream fodder for men and lesbians—say hello to the field hockey team when not checking out the scantily clad ladies taking part in the beach volleyball competition—London’s Games seem to be drumming up a particularly focused interest in celebrating the fine male physique.

American gold-medal swimmers Ryan Lochte and Nathan Adrian might have gained notoriety for winning races, but they became instant sex symbols the second they stepped out of the pool. In the days since their London debut, you can read all about Ryan Lochte’s penchant for one-night stands, and there are entire articles parsing the hot-but-dumb problem posed by Lochte, and conversely how smart and sweet Adrian is and whether or not he has a girlfriend. (He’s single! Ready, set, go!).

I was at the grocery store yesterday afternoon, and I noticed that the National Enquirer had a big splashy story about James Holmes, the “Dark Knight Shooter. I was sorely tempted to buy a copy, but I resisted. It’s just as well, because I discovered the story was on-line. In case you’re interest, here’s the “scoop” in this week’s Enquirer.

WORLD EXCLUSIVE: INSIDE THE SICK TWISTED WORLD OF THE DARK KNIGHT SHOOTER

There aren’t a lot of revelations. They quote a fellow student who was supposedly freaked out by Holmes:

by the time he got to graduate school, Holmes had grown into a creepy individual who frightened others just by his presence.

“I’d seen him many times, always walking alone,” a fellow student at the University of Colorado Denver told The ENQUIRER. “He was very odd, walking around with a blank stare on his face like he didn’t see anyone else. Sometimes he was talking to himself, in an angry tone. I would cross the street when I saw him coming.

“He may have been a nerd, but he was tall and muscular which can be very intimidating. I felt like he was the kind of guy you didn’t want to be around if he snapped.”

The article also says that Holmes’ admired Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik.

In emulation of Breivik, Holmes spent the days leading up to his massacre of the innocent by bingeing on Internet sex and real-world drugs. He reportedly took the prescription painkiller Vicodin just before the shootings.

Holmes shared another trait with Breivik – a fascination with the extremely violent video game World of Warcraft.

I’m not sure where they got that. I suppose it could be a law enforcement source–or they could have made it up out of whole cloth.

There are a couple of other sensational stories on Holmes over there–look if you dare.

In other true crime news, the judge in the Drew Peterson case denied the defense’s request for a mistrial, and testimony continued yesterday. Anna Marie Doman, the sister of Peterson’s wife Kathleen Savio, testified that her sister had said that Peterson had threatened to kill her.

“She was afraid,” Doman said. “She said Drew had told her he was going to kill her. She wasn’t going to make it to the divorce settlement, and she wasn’t going to get his pension or the kids.”

After two years of court battles over the issue, it was the first hearsay statement heard by jurors in Peterson’s murder trial, allowing Savio to speak from beyond the grave.

As she described talking with Savio in her Romeoville home in 2004, Doman testified that Savio extracted a promise to take care of her kids, a vow Doman acknowledged she had failed to act upon.

“She made me promise over and over that I was going to take care of the boys,” Doman said. “She said, ‘I want you to say it — you’ll take care of my kids.'”

After a misstep by a defense attorney, Doman also was allowed to testify about a previously excluded statement — that Peterson had told Savio he would kill her and make it look like an accident.

I heard an interesting story on NPR a couple of days ago. It’s an interview with David Niose, a lawyer from Boston who has written a book called Nonbeliever Nation: The Rise of Secular Americans. Here’s the blurb from the show:

The religious right has been a disaster for this country, according to David Niose, president of the American Humanist Association. It has imposed an outsized and overbearing influence on our national politics at the expense of reason, critical thinking, science and ethics. And he goes further, saying the rise of the religious right correlates with an array of social ills — from high rates of violent crime and teen pregnancy to low rates of scientific literacy.

But he says there’s a growing movement to counter the religious right. Secular Americans — non-religious believers who for a long time were marginalized in America — are now emerging as a force to be reckoned with.

While a large majority of Americans say they still believe in God, many are losing faith in organized religion. At the same time, the number of Americans who say they don’t have any religious identity has doubled since 1980.

I hope you’ll give it a listen. There also a link to some excerpts from the book at The Humanist if you’re interested.

I found this interesting piece at Raw Story: Mayans may have used chocolate in cooking 2,500 years ago

When the Spanish conquistadores invaded Mexico 500 years ago, they found the emperor Moctezuma drinking a exotic beverage called xocóatl with his breakfast. Made from ground cacao beans that had been boiled in water, spiced, and beaten to a froth, it was literally the drink of kings, permitted only to rulers and other high aristocrats.

Until now, it has been believed that chocolate was consumed in ancient Mexico only in the form of a beverage and not as a food or condiment. However, that belief has been challenged by the discovery in the Yucatan of a 2,500 year old plate with traces of chocolate residue.

The discovery, which was announced this week by Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History, suggests that present-day Mexican dishes, like the chocolate-based mole sauce often served over meats, may have ancient roots.

Previous excavations have revealed traces of chocolate on drinking vessels used by the Olmecs and other early Mexican cultures as far back as 2000 BC, but this is the first find involving plates.

Smart people, those Mayans.

Now what are your recommendations for weekend reading?


Will Mitt Romney Go Down in History as a Joke?

It’s beginning to look that way. Mitt’s dad, George Romney, was ridiculed because of an offhand remark he made about being “brainwashed” by the military on a trip he took to Vietnam. By the time he ran for President in 1968, George had decided the Vietnam war was a mistake. He explained his change on mind on the war by explaining that in hindsight he realized he had fallen for propaganda.

Ironically, George Romney’s change of heart apparently was an honorable one: he had changed his mind and wasn’t afraid to admit that he had made a mistake previously. As we’ve heard endlessly over the past couple of weeks, George Romney also released 12 years of his tax returns, because he believed it was only fair to let the American people see what he had earned and what he had paid in taxes over an extended period of time. But George Romney is mostly remembered for the “brainwashing” comment and the ridicule surrounding it.

Now George’s son Mitt Romney is following his father’s footsteps in running for President. Mitt Romney, too, has become known for changing his mind–not just one issue, but on practically every issue. And after a bruising couple of weeks of damaging articles about his career at Bain Capital, he is facing more and more questions from the Obama campaign and from the media about his personal finances and why he will not release his tax returns. Even Republicans like Bill Kristol, George Will, and Matthew Dowd have called for Mitt to get it over with and release more years of returns.

People are beginning to speculate about why Mitt is being so stubborn about refusing to release any of his tax returns before 2010. George Will suggested on ABC’s This Week that that Romney is fearful that whatever is in his returns will make him look worse than he does in insisting on keeping them secret.

“The cost of not releasing the returns are [sic] clear,” Will said. “Therefore, he must have calculated that there are higher costs in releasing them.”

Also on This Week, Matthew Dowd was, if anything, harder on Romney than George Will was.

Political strategist and ABC News political analyst Matthew Dowd said “there’s obviously something there” in Romney’s tax returns that he doesn’t want to release publicly, adding that Romney’s refusal to produce his prior returns was a sign of “arrogance.”

“There’s obviously something there, because if there was nothing there, he would say, ‘Have at it,’” Dowd said. “So there’s obviously something there that compromises what he said in the past about something.”

“Many of these politicians think, ‘I can do this. I can get away with this. I don’t need to do this, because I’m going to say something and I don’t have to do this,’” Dowd added. “If he had 20 years of ‘great, clean, everything’s fine,’ it’d all be out there, but it’s arrogance.”

Now it’s the beginning of a new week, and Mitt Romney is still stubbornly refusing to expose his tax records to examination by the press and the public. This is killing his candidacy, and yet he won’t give in. What is he hiding?

At the New Yorker, John Cassidy offers four possible reasons:

1. Romney’s income before 2010 was “extremely high.”
2. “More offshore accounts” beyond the ones we already know about.
3. “Politically explosive investments”
4. “A very, very low tax rate.”

(You can read the details of Cassidy’s speculation at the link.)

Could it be any of those reasons? We already know Romney is very wealthy, and we know about a lot of his offshore accounts. We already know that Bain invested in Stericycle, a company that disposes of aborted fetuses. Might Romney have more embarrassing personal investments? I suppose it’s possible that Romney could have paid no taxes for several years, and that is what he’s hiding. But I think it has to be something more. Why else would Romney and his staff allow him to sustain so much damage his campaign–especially because the questions won’t end until he release the returns. What is it that he doesn’t want us to find out?

Even The New York Times editorial chastised Romney today.

After three days of Mitt Romney complaining about attacks on his record at Bain Capital, it’s clear that President Obama has nothing to apologize for. If Mr. Romney doesn’t want to provide real answers to the questions about his career, he had better develop a thicker skin.

Mr. Romney’s descriptions of when he left Bain have been erratic and self-serving. In 2002, when he needed to show he was still a Massachusetts resident, he denied he had quit in 1999, saying he had taken a leave of absence to run the Olympics committee. A series of documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Committee show that Bain certainly didn’t describe him as absent after 1999.

There’s only one way to deal with this.

The right way to respond to Mr. Obama is to release his tax returns from that period, or open up Bain documents. But Mr. Romney told CNN he would not release more than the one year’s return he has already released and the one for 2011 when it is finished. “That’s all that’s necessary for people to understand something about my finances,” he said. It’s not even close.

I think it’s likely that Romney has longed to run for President in order to achieve the goal his father failed to reach. I’m sure that Mitt wanted to avoid the kind of ridicule his father suffered for an offhand comment. But let’s face it. Mitt’s situation is much more embarrassing than what happened to his father. Mitt looks incredibly weak at this point. He’s starting to become a joke. The Obama campaign has successfully painted him as an out-of-touch rich guy, a tax evader who may have committed perjury in SEC filings. As John Marshall wrote on Friday, in a post titled “Weak, weak, weak,”

There’s a meta-politics Obama is playing by slashing at Romney with suggestions he might be a felon. He’s wounding Romney, who is clearly rattled and angry about the charges, but just as clearly can’t defend himself or strike back. As I’ve noted many times, a thick layer of presidential politics (in a way that’s distinct from US politics at really every other level) resides at the brainstem level of cogitation — with gambits to assert power and demonstrate dominance. Obama looked in control of this situation; Romney didn’t….

This is and will remain a low single digit race. But the President’s team is making Romney look shifty and silly and weak. (I half expect them to start goosing surrogates to call him Slick Willard.) And they’re well on their way to defining him in a way that will be difficult to undo.

Romney supporter David Frum responded to Marshall’s column at The Daily Beast:

Marshall’s column is titled “Weak, weak, weak,” and it puts its finger on a core weakness of Romney as a candidate. It’s not just his arguments that are weak. For the past year, we have watched him be pushed around by the radical GOP fringe. He’s been forced to abjure his most important achievement as governor, his healthcare plan. In December, he was compelled to sign onto the Ryan budget plan after months of squirming to avoid it. Last fall he released an elaborate economic plan. On the eve of the Michigan primary, he ripped it up and instead accepted a huge new tax cut – to a top rate of 28% – that has never been costed (and that he now tries to avoid mentioning whenever he can). Romney has acknowledged in interviews that he understands that big rapid cuts in government spending could push the US economy back into recession. Yet he campaigns anyway on the Tea Party’s false promise that it’s the deficit that causes the depression, rather than (as he well knows) the other way around.

Frum originally had high hopes for Romney as someone who could help reverse the descent of the Republican party into ultra-right wing craziness:

A big majority of this country is rightly frightened and appalled by what the congressional Republican party has become over the past four years: a radical cadre willing to push the nation over the cliff into utterly unnecessary national default in order to score a political point.

But Romney has simply capitulated on every issue. Weak.

Late last night, Josh Marshall wrote that Romney is in serious danger of simply turning into a joke.

The Obama campaign is hitting this so hard to take a series of associations and embed them so deeply into voters’ consciousness that they become inseparable from the mention of the phrase ‘Bain Capital’. Those are ‘joke’, ‘liar’, ‘felon’, ‘retroactively retired’, ‘SEC filings’, ‘Caymans’, ‘whiner’, ‘buck stops here’, ‘hiding something’.

You can spin these out forever. But beyond all the specific accusations, they’re painting a picture that makes Romney look ridiculous, like a joke. They’re making Romney look stupid and powerless on the front where he believes he’s one of the standouts of his generation. And that’s plain lethal for a presidential candidate.

Marshall says it they haven’t quite succeeded yet, but they’re getting there. I agree with him. Whatever is in those tax returns must be very bad. The only other alternative I can think of is that Mitt Romney is incredibly stupid and arrogant.

What do you think?