Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Sticking it to the wretched 47 percent

    It's time to stop dog piling on Mitt Romney for what he said about the "47 percent." Time is better spent dogging him for what his words mean regarding public policy.

   After all, that's what elections are supposed to be about.

   Let's give the GOP standard-bearer credit for spawning, on tape amid the clinking of high-rollers' champagne glasses, an amazing public information campaign. The problem for him and his partisans is that the truth revealed runs directly counter to one of their favorite talking-point myths.

    That claim: The wealthy pay way more than their share in taxes, and a whole bunch of us pay nothing.

    As analysis after analysis has explained since the unveiling of Mitt''s YouTube daytime nightmare, that couldn't be more wrong — particularly when it comes to the payroll tax that funds Social Security. In fact, the working poor and middle class pay a higher percentage of their income into that than the wealthiest, for whom taxes are capped at the first $108,000 of income annually — six sumptuous digits to which the sorry, dependent-on-handouts, allergic-to-personal-responsibility 47 percent can never aspire.

     Taxes? Don't forget that a goodly chunk of Mitt's 47 percent are retired and paid income taxes throughout productive working lives. Now they have little income to tax. Freeloaders. Professional victims.

    And those people, like the rest of us, pay regressive sales taxes, state and local. Add the federal motor fuels tax and assorted fees.

    So much for the notion that 47 percent of Americans aren't carrying their load. The obvious implication: They should carry more.

    That's what drives one of the more cynical proposals that never leaves the table when Republicans convene: the flat tax. Add its cousin, the national sales tax.

    Prove me wrong, but in each free-market maven's heart of hearts is a lust for two things (1) no taxes; (2) failing that, a low flat tax or a consumption tax that benefits the wealthy.

    Romney was one of few contenders for the GOP presidential nomination who did not advocate for a flat tax. Rick Perry: 7 percent. Newt Gingrich: 15 percent. Herman Cain: 9 percent. Ron Paul: um, zero percent?

    Romney is characteristically vague about what he'd do. Let's just say, however, that if he were president, emboldened Republicans in Congress would go for the gold: the flat income tax.

    This, of course, would mean significant tax increases for those in the wretched 47 percent.

    Flat-tax proponents who don't want their pet proposal to be seen as regressive and punitive talk of direct payments to the poor to make up the difference. Sure. And watch those payments evaporate once the trickle-downers decide this is just so much government dependency by a bunch of victimhood losers.

    Virtually every effort of today's Republican Party is directed by the quest to lower taxes for upper incomes. That's what the House-passed Ryan budget would do. The lost revenue? Ryan and Romney say they'd make up for it by "closing loopholes," though are scrupulously vague about which ones they'd close. Mortgage interest? Charitable deductions? Medical care?

    Romney would rather that we talk about how his passionate hands can produce millions of new jobs. Unfortunately for him, his "47 percent" statement has told many voters where his real love lies.

    A new Obama campaign advertisement featuring those comments points to Romney's sub-14 percent tax rate in 2010 and the untold bounty he has sheltered in the Cayman Islands.

    Yes, 1 percent brethren, let's figure out a way to get that 47 percent to shoulder more of the tax load. Flat tax. National sales tax. The super wealthy, whom Romney represents in body and soul, have had it too tough too long.

     Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.   

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

If Mitt had used hand sanitizer

  I have no other explanation for this except in terms of the petri dish.

  None but the kind of culture that goes from throat swab to black plague.

  Take a moderate, statesmanlike, center-right Republican. Expose him constantly to the germs of extreme ideology and backwater stagnation. Watch fever consume him.

   Watch his tongue swell. Watch him say unimaginable things. Watch him row his boat off into the sunset of extremism expressing love to a face-painted coconut.

   At this point, it is too late to have suggested this: Mitt Romney should have worn hazmat garb all these months when pressing flesh with the core constituency he didn't need to convince to vote against Barack Obama.

   Too late it is, because he got infected, got a serious case, a politically fatal snoot-full. And now many Republican strategists are breaking out tissues.

    Romney offered no apologies for possibly the century's most politically costly blunder, saying that 47 percent of Americans believe they are "victims," are "dependent upon government," and apparently are under-taxed.

     He offered no apology for the century's second most politically damaging quote a few days earlier when, on a horrifying day in Libya and Egypt, he dashed off a denunciation of President Obama for appeasing terrorists without knowing what he was denouncing.

   GOP strategist Matthew Dowd said the latter sounded like Sarah Palin was serving as Romney's foreign policy adviser. A cheap shot, yes. We have yet to hear Romney say he can see Russia — or the Tripoli coast, for that matter — from his Massachusetts equestrian estate.

   The fact is, of late Romney is a lot of things we didn't assume him to be. A strident right-winger. A birther. An anti-choice zealot.     

    When Romney criticized GOP Senate candidate Todd Akin for implying that rape victims' bodies could  repel pregnancy, Mitt sounded moderate, like the Mitt who once supported reproductive rights. But that was the moderate, solutions-seeker Mitt, not the one  now contaminated by the "anti" virus.

   Since then, Romney has embraced the so-called personhood movement pushed by the anti-choice fringe. Fringe, you say? Yes, indeed, for "personhood" amendments not only would prohibit abortion but also outlawing many forms of birth control.

    What's amazing at this point is that Romney has done very little of what political scientists say a candidate ought to win a general election. It was understandable that he would veer right to win the GOP nomination. However, he has done very little to steer back to the center — you know, where elections are won.

   Once again, I must attribute this to microbiology, to the strain of super germ that spread rapidly in the 2010 elections, now infecting one house of Congress and one major party, known clinically as staphylococcus tea baggus.

   Carriers basically believe that government should be sent to bed, except where it might be needed to get into people's beds and venues of other personal choices, particularly matters sexual.

   Carriers are known for their irrational outbursts and overstatements: assertions that Obama is a Muslim; references to his "appeasement of Islamists." Let us understand that someone with said fever may not be aware that with Obama as president, al Qaida has been decimated, Osama bin Laden killed, Moammar Gadhafi ousted. He's an appeaser, and that's that.

   Said fever causes the afflicted to speak of Obama's designs to install a socialist — make that communist; make that fascist; he's a Nazi — utopia and otherwise bring America down by the stroke of 2016.

   Romney, before contracting this plague, knew none of this to be true. In placating his party's right wing, however, he did not take necessary prophylactic measures to remain his own man.

   At minimum, a pair of Latex gloves might have been the difference between a viable candidacy and one in quarantine.

    Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Flash mob against No Child Left Behind

    This is Quebec souring on maple syrup.

    This is France joining the Coalition of the Willing.

    This is Alabama lawmakers swearing off public use of Bible verses.

    This is Texas seeking a waiver from No Child Left Behind.

    For those current-events challenged, the first three are fanciful, as in "never in a million years." The fourth actually happened, and what do you think of that?

    Texas, of course, is the cradle of "school accountability," and of the presidential soarings of George W. Bush, who made the franchise national. Many of us, particularly the parents and teachers of teachers of our school children, long came to know the spawn of Texas' crib as a real-life Rosemary's baby.

    This week Texas got in under the wire to become one of 41 -- count 'em, 41 states -- to seek a waiver from many of NCLB's suffocating requirements.

   Basically, say these 41, "If there's going to be any suffocating, it will be at our hands."

   NCLB, said new Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams, has become an "obsolete system that does not 

adequately reflect the accomplishments of the state's schools."

   Among the considerations: By NCLB's taunting definitions, less than half, 47.8 percent, of Texas schools, and less than a third of its school districts — 27.6 percent —made "adequate yearly progress" this year.

    It should be said that Williams worked in the Bush administration's Department of Education. Oh, how those mantras must have resonated with him and all those — of both parties — who saluted the most intrusive federal law ever to knock on schoolhouse doors.

    Texas seeking waivers? Isn't this "the soft bigotry of low expectations"?

    For years, anyone who suggested that hammer-wielding, corporate-style, top-down, test-heavy directives were bleeding public education of vitality were told they were "against high standards." What, then, of state policy makers who want out of NCLB's unreasonable, oppressive, unrealistic requirements? Who's rubber, and who's glue?

   Forty-one states. That's some endorsement. With support like this, who needs opposition?

   The waivers are possible because Congress, hewing to its 21st Century bylaws, has done nothing to address state concerns about NCLB such as the unreasonableness of the requirement that all students be proficient in core subjects by 2014. President Obama made the waivers possible through executive order.

    What's amazing is that anyone would continue to talk about reauthorizing NCLB, rather than scrapping it.

    It's amazing that the Republicans, supposedly opposed to overreaching government, just can't loosen this grip. It's amazing that Democrats, supposedly most attentive to the concerns of teachers and the people who most depend on public schools, don't see or hear what NCLB has done to hurt those schools.

    Most significantly, the law has caused schools to focus so intently on testing and test objectives that they toss the rest of education out the door. Particularly in low-performing (read low-income) schools, the result has been the well-chronicled syndrome of narrowing the curriculum. That means rubbing one sore subject — say math — until it bleeds, at the expense of all else Americans consider to be education.

    What's so sad is that regardless of whatever rise in test scores might be used to justify all of this, said increase — barely statistically significant in most cases — hardly merits the immense expense, the stress, the loss of great teachers who say "ya basta" to systems that impose scripts and one-size-fits-all methods.

    Lies, damned lies and statistics. Arizona State University professor David Berliner points out that, "Any time you invest a lot of value in an outcome measure you get a corruption of the measure."  That means that higher test scores don't necessarily mean more learning, just better programming of those being tested, like Pavlov's dogs.

    Abolish NCLB. Then states, at least some of them, will shake out of their Pavlovian trance.

    Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Just say they have mis-facted

   Sure, Paul Ryan walked truth off the pier and into Tampa Bay in concrete loafers.

   Sure, newspapers rushed to press whole special sections cataloging the extent of factual impairment he exhibited, not even having room for that lie about his time running the marathon.

   I quibble nonetheless with The Washington Post's Eugene Robinson. After Ryan's parade of whoppers the columnist wondered if "there has ever been a more dishonest presidential campaign."

   Well, come on. The GOP team in 2004 had no peer. The work, the skill, it took justifying a war without justification. Keeping that crooked story straight not just for a day but for an entire election cycle: incredible.

   That doesn't mean Romney-Ryan can't come in a strong second place.

    Consider the swing-state commercial accusing Obama of "gutting" welfare reform: ". . . you wouldn't have to work and you wouldn't have to train for a job. They just send you your welfare check."

    Really? What Obama did was give states something they requested: flexibility to include job training and education among work requirements. Anyone who thinks going to college isn't work hasn't been to college. 

   If this is "gutting welfare reform," then I shall convince you that with Iraq's petro dollars we paid for its invasion and reconstruction.

   Speaking of Ryan: For a man reputed to be a straight-talker and detail-oriented, his speech contained mostly grenades that exploded at the GOP's feet.

   The biggest whopper was leading listeners to believe that Obama was behind the closing of a General Motors plant in Wisconsin that in fact closed when that other guy was president.

    Then there was Ryan's assailing Obama for not following through on the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction proposals, a fair criticism if not from someone who voted against the same proposals because they would have raised taxes in addition to cutting spending.

     Ryan brought up the $700 billion in cost reductions in Medicare to help fund the Affordable Care Act. Problem: Ryan's own House-passed budget included the same cuts.

     Speaking of Medicare, right now a Republican-spawned lie is circulating about crippling premium hikes. That's alligators-in-sewers mythology, but it's no lie that under Ryan's plan for voucherizing  Medicare, future seniors would see their costs go up dramatically.

    All of which makes Ryan's speech that much more amazing. Each of the points with which he chose to trash the president are points on which he'd best remain mute.

    I'm still not granting top-fibber status to Romney & Co. as Eugene Robinson wants to, but as a New York Times analysis pointed out after Ryan's speech (including the Romney aide protesting that what's said won't be "dictated by fact-checkers"), the campaign has distinguished itself.

   It started months ago with a clip of  Obama saying, "If we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose." The problem: That was Obama, running for president in 2008. He was mocking what John McCain was saying at that very time.

   Now we have the "You didn't build that" snippet edited into an affront to business owners everywhere, which in fact referred to the function of infrastructure and more in a vibrant economy.

   It's interesting, since the "We built it" convention, to read in Rolling Stone about the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.'s forgiving roughly $10 million in debts for Bain and Co., a consulting spin-off of Romney's Bain Capital.

   You see, even said master of the free market didn't "build it" without government assistance.

    Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.