This is not a donut

Cosby Show

Cosby Show

Mitt Romney released his final 2011 taxes today and the media are all over it like there is some precious jewel they will uncover. For me, the fact that he has been arrogantly obstinate about not releasing more than two years tells me all I need to know about his character.

I was content with that until Chris Hayes from the UP w/ Chris Hayes Show tweeted something rather pointed this afternoon about Mitt’s tax returns that got me thinking.

I think it’s actually morally condemnable to take “extraordinary” measures to avoid taxes, even if legal. #hashout

I have absolutely no doubt whatsoever that everything on the Romney tax returns is entirely legal. Every deduction, every exemption and every income category complies with the letter of the law. And that is the crux of the issue Hayes was getting at.

Chris is young. He is not a grizzled, hardened small business person — yet — so we can forgive him his moralizing for a moment. But this got me thinking about how Mitt sees the tax code and why it is a peek into his character. For this point to stick, we need to climb into the Wayback Machine to the ’80s and watch a short clip of a Cosby Show episode. This is the one where Claire was invited to be on a panel for a Sunday morning show much like Hayes’ except the pastries were kept in the green room.

It’s a good thing we’ve evolved and let the pastries join us at the table. Let’s watch.

The scene that aligns with Mitt’s behavior and Hayes’ tweet is when Hector say, “This is not a donut!” as he bites hungrily into a chocolate-glazed long john. He is technically correct; a long john is not a donut. But it really IS a donut. You and I would call a long john a donut. So would Claire. And Cliff Huxtable knows damn well that a long john — and even a danish which he eventually bites into — is a donut.

This is what the “morally condemnable” bit is that I think Hayes is referring to. While Mitt’s tax avoidance may be perfectly legal, it is immoral to dance on the letter of the law as you force the spirit of the law to give up the ghost.

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Mitt the painter

While all the cable news shows are struggling with how to balance the odd appearance of Clint Eastwood and covering Mitt Romney’s speech, I went back and looked at the transcript and watched the video more times than one dog should be allowed. I nearly went deaf with all the dog whistles, but I soldiered on, trying to get to the essence of what he was saying.

The speech kinda rambled, trying to cover too many things too quickly, but one phrase popped out that lays bare the Romney thinking. It’s at about minute 33:50. So far, I think all the “analysts” have missed it. They may have been too busy focusing on the applause in the house instead of the words being said on stage.

President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet. MY promise…is to help you and your family.

For months, we have been told the GOP was the party of big ideas, of bold and brave decisions. I think this one statement — buried right after the five-part jobs creation plan that appeared to be ripped out of a freshman economics textbook — crystalizes what a Romney presidency would really be like. It is the one thing in the speech that is consistent with his life and his campaign.

While President Obama works to solve the structural problems that creates the symptoms, a President Romney would focus on solving the symptoms. What does it help your family if they are in a nice house that is being swallowed up by the rising tides?

In short, we will paint over the water stains, flip this country and sell it to the highest bidder. Romney’s America is not a country that needs the foundation shored up and invested in, it is a 1 1/2 story bungalow with a crumbling foundation that just needs a new coat of paint.

This is the essence of what Romney did at Bain Capital. He found a fixer-upper, leveraged it to suck wealth out of it for a few owners at the top and discarded it or sold it off to the suckers who thought they were getting a good deal. That’s not a bad thing, that is what private equity is supposed to be good at. But I’m pretty sure it is not the skill set a president needs.

America needs infrastructure investment like health care, modern railways, education, roads, bridges, communications, modernized banking, environment and power. She also needs help with the intangible infrastructure like happiness, relief from chronic anxiety and a boost of confidence. And yes, she needs more hope and change.

America does not need more paint on her walls.

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Two questions we should ask Mitt Romney

Last night, Mitt Romney conducted some hastily-organized interviews with the major networks in part to respond to the deluge of attacks by Barack Obama about his role at Bain Capital. He did not do very well because I think he was confused by the lack of understanding of corporate governance the reporters exhibited in their questions.

Ironically, as the GOP pushes to slash education budgets, more and more Americans are learning less and less about how business works. Most kids are now being trained to go to work, punch a clock and expect money for work. They don’t understand the difference between passive and active income, an executive vs a shareholder position in a corporation or the relationship of a board member to a CEO. All they know now is you are either the boss or you isn’t.

Oops. I’ll bet Mitt did not see that coming. If he had, his explanations would make as much sense to the nails ladies and the dogs walkers as they do to the 1%-ers. In short, he would not be in this pickle.

As someone who holds annual shareholder meetings with the shareholders (me) and my board (me) and my CEO (me) I understand the nuance. Is it silly? Absolutely. I should not have to generate meeting minutes where the Secretary (me) takes role call of all the directors (me) and also calls for a vote on mundane things and seconds them (me and me.) But, the letter of the law and my corporate charter is very specific so we (me) do it.

But we should really move on and away from all this legal crap and into some questions everyone understands.

Question One:
If you resigned as CEO, who specifically was then in charge? What was the organizational chart? Please name the names of who reported to whom. Will you release the Board of Directors meeting minutes that show these votes?

Question Two:
We will accept at face value that you resigned from Bain Captial in 1999. Since then, you have led the Olympics — a non profit — and were governor of Massachusetts, a public-sector job. Since being governor, you have been running for President of the United States. That is a thirteen year gap in your private-sector, for-profit business experience résumé. Please explain how this is not like a typical stay-at-home mom who may have left an executive career to raise her kids and is now trying to re-enter the workforce?

That should do it. Just two questions.

Which news organization is going to take me up on this?

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Why Mitt Romney should not be president

I don’t think Mitt Romney should be the President of the United States and not for the reasons you may think a left-leaning, socialist mutt would cite. Let’s take away the politics and look at the man running for president.

When I see Mitt, I think of the quote from Zed in Men In Black

Gentlemen, congratulations. You’re everything we’ve come to expect from years of government training. Now please step this way, as we provide you with our final test: an eye exam…

Substitute the word “government” for “upper class society” and you nailed Mitt.

The presidency is just the next step in a to-do list of things a good upper-crust American is expected to do. This is the formula for a legacy. It’s like he is fulfilling a high school résumé to get into a good college. It becomes problematic when we are watching the formula play out.

  • Private school: check
  • Missionary work abroad: check
  • Marry pretty girl: check
  • BYU degree: check
  • Create perfect family: check
  • Harvard MBA/Law Degree: check
  • CEO of a wealth-creating company: check
  • Community service (Olympics): check
  • Elected position (Gov of Mass): check
  • President of the United States: Working on it

And the list goes on to include things like become the elder patriarch, establish a Romney Foundation, etc, etc. It is the perfect data-driven life. Do that, get that result.

I think it was the late Mary-Ellis Bunim, the creator of MTV’s The Real World who once said (and I am paraphrasing because I’m not sure it was her but I’m pretty sure it was MTV) “If the audience ever sees our marketing, the show is dead.” The whole premise of the show — and why it worked the first season — is inscribed in the show’s opening narrative:

This is the true story… of seven strangers… picked to live in a house…work together and have their lives taped… to find out what happens… when people stop being polite… and start getting real…The Real World.

MTV knew they could fake real to teens only if they were successful in hiding the “man behind the curtain.” Once the curtain was pulled back, the gig was up, the magic was gone. The legacy of the 1992 The Real World is a swath of “reality” shows that don’t even pretend to be reality anymore, but rather modern day Gladiator fights.

I don’t often find myself agreeing with Rupert Murdoch*, but I agree with him when he says Mitt “lacks stomach and heart.” Americans like their president to have heart, passion and a depth of soul. Even when we disagree with them, think they are the worst thing to happen to our country in generations, feel they are illegitimate, know they are shady and shifty, we want — we need — them to have passion, fight and guts. We need them to look the world in the eye and say, “tear down this wall” or stand on a pile of rubble with a bullhorn in one hand or stand proud in the face of a plummeting economy on a cold Winter’s day and reassure us all that the only thing we ever need to overcome the deafening wail of economic darkness on the horizon is the tiniest bit of hope that can be fanned into a roaring flame of change.

Even when he attempts to stand up and connect on a visceral level with voters, Mitt falls flat. In his latest reaction to the jobs report this month, he called it a “kick in the gut.” A kick in the gut is losing your job today and your husband losing his tomorrow. A kick in the gut is surviving a spinal cord injury for several years and your wife/caregiver dies of lung cancer less than a year after you. A kick in the gut is surviving three tours abroad and getting into a car accident on your way home from the airport. A kick in the gut is not a crappy jobs report in the middle of a crappy economy. It may be a disappointment. It could be a bit of angst. It could also be a bit of an anxious moment, but it is not a kick in the gut.

Mitt Romney may have the brains; he may have the background and the connections to get things done, but he doesn’t have the heart and guts for what lies ahead.

*I agreed with Murdoch here.

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Why Seamus keeps dogging Mitt and what Melissa Harris-Perry got wrong

Yesterday during her show Melissa Harris-Perry, Melissa weighed in on the dog kerfuffle with Mitt Romney and Seamus (pronounced SHAY-mus) and more recently, with Barack Obama eating dog meat when he was five years old in Indonesia. (video below)

She — along with a lot of Senators and campaign advisors — made the mistake of thinking the whole dust-up is about the treatment of a dog.

It isn’t.

Here is the real issue.

Faced with a complex problem — namely how to transport five boys of various ages, his wife, himself, luggage and a large dog in a station wagon on a five-hour trip — Mitt Romney failed at the solution, specifically for three reasons:

1. The solution he arrived at did not include empathy for the one occupant, Seamus, in the car who was the most vulnerable and dependent on his ability to make a quality decision. Mitt saw him and treated him as property, not as a living being.

2. Mitt Romeny showed poor risk assessment. If the carrier would have broken free of its restraints while the car was traveling at a high rate of speed, Seamus would have died a horrible and gruesome death. The risk is the same reason why it is illegal for passengers to ride in an RV trailer.

3. Ann Romney asserted in an interview that Seamus liked riding in the carrier. Just because Seamus liked riding in the carrier doesn’t mean it was the best thing for him. Leaders need to assess risk against immediate gratification. Sometimes what the population you govern wants something that isn’t the wisest course of action, like a tax cut while trying to reduce the deficit. A leader is someone who has the wisdom and foresight to say “no.”

Like most of the dog-people arguments made before hers, Melissa mistook the plot for meaning. It is the same mistake high school students and college undergraduates make about literature. The Scarlet Letter is not a story about adultery; The Awakening is not a story about a women who cheats on her husband with a playboy. Literature is about something bigger than the plot, yet most people never get beyond the plot.

Melissa committed this sin and never got beyond the plot of the dogs and silly season.

The reason the Mitt-Seamus dog story is substantive is because it is about a grown man — who wants to be the next President of the United States — being faced with a series of decisions to solve a problem and making the wrong choices. The presidency is all about solving complex problems within a set of constraints.

The puppies here at the DogWalkBlog assert that how Mitt Romney solved the Seamus problem gives us a glimpse into how he would solve the inequity of the tax code, health care for the elderly and women and the treatment of war-time veterans as President.

And that glimpse is far from silly. It is positively terrifying.

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