Lately I am in awe of President Obama's weasel-perfect scheme of manipulating the press into talking non-stop about Romney's unreleased tax returns. You rarely see that level of naked cynicism work so well. It reminds me of the story of the politician who, in less enlightened times, accused his opponent of being a "flagrant heterosexual" because he figured voters were dumb enough to think that sounded like a moral failing.

Most observers assume Romney's taxes are in full compliance with the law and that his tax experts found clever ways to reduce his taxes as much as possible. In other words, Romney is smart, hires good people, plays within the rules, and believes in low taxes. That's totally consistent with his campaign message. Obama's genius is making all of that sound like financial pedophilia. It's a brilliant political trap.

This made me wonder what qualities we should look for in a president. In many ways, Romney and Obama are similar. Both candidates are staunchly opposed to personal freedom, albeit in different ways. And neither candidate has a plausible plan for fixing the economy. The winner in this next election will be the candidate who does the best job of convincing voters that the other candidate's gold is nothing but festively colored turds. But is that a bad thing?

The most important talent for a president is the ability to focus national attention where it needs to be. Election years are like an extended job interview with lots of role play. We citizens watch as the candidates compete to control the news cycle and get in our heads. The topics they choose (tax returns, birth certificates, etc.) are almost irrelevant to the larger question of how well they can manipulate the national conversation.

Leadership is mostly about controlling what people think. If you have two candidates of roughly equal intelligence, experience, and moral center, the tie-breaker is the indefinable quality called leadership. Lately, Obama has been winning the leadership contest by proving he can make Romney's unicorn look like a horse with a protruding brain tumor.

If I were to advise Romney on how to flip the tax return issue in his favor, it would involve the "higher ground" maneuver that I've described in past posts. That involves confessing that whatever people suspect is 100% true, proposing a path forward, and changing the context in a way that is more compelling to the press.

Steve Jobs famously used this method when people realized the iPhone dropped calls if you held it a certain way. The press went nuts about it. Eventually Jobs publicly confessed the problem, offered a fix, and changed the context to "all smartphones have problems." The press immediately turned to the question of whether all smartphones had issues, and discovered it was largely true. The controversy with the iPhone dissolved overnight.

In Romney's case, the higher ground strategy would involve confessing that he hired the best tax experts that money could buy and they did an "embarrassingly" good job of legally lowering his taxes. The keyword is "embarrassingly" because it explains his desire for privacy. Then he should propose doing the same thing for voters, i.e. find ways to lower their taxes while fixing the economy at the same time. Remind voters that he's running as a guy who knows how to navigate complicated financial situations and find the best solutions. Then ask a simple question: Would you vote for a candidate who couldn't do a good job on his own tax returns? That's the context change. I think Romney could get experts looking at Obama's published returns and determining that he paid more taxes than he needed; it's an argument you can always make about any return. That would make Obama look financially incompetent.

With this approach, the press would focus first on the question of whether success is, or should be, "embarrassing" in our country, and secondly on whether Obama handled his own taxes well. That cleverly changes the discussion from whether Romney is hiding something unseemly to the question of how well he hires people to do that sort of work.

I'll remind you that I don't think either candidate meets the minimum standard I would expect for a modern leader. I'm still waiting for a candidate that prefers using a rational process of borrowing best practices from other countries and testing new ideas on a small scale to see what works. And I prefer a leader who doesn't profess a deep belief in magic. Call me a dreamer.
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Aug 3, 2012
It was from Florida, in the early 1940s I think, and the statements were that his opponent was a thespian and practiced monogamy. Oh, horrors.
Aug 3, 2012
You are certainly a dreamer, well that ain't bad. But the reality of a leader as someone that can focus a nation is partially true only to U.S.A. In fact your president have limited power, but held responsible for a lot of thing. That look like a scapegoat if you ask me.

In other place, the guy that look in charge is actually in charge, and instead to have to block him with impossible political system, you just make so that he work so hard that he don't have too much time to abuse the system. Their is a reason why most country that where dictatorship before and who transit to a Republic system failed, but those who transit to a British like democracy often prevailed.

Your focus guy need to do something, or he will try to abuse is place. Or you need to block him from doing anything. Both case, the peoples are losing. Good job breaking it hero.

Leading by example is much more strong that leading with word.
Jul 22, 2012
So we have the following three claims:

(1) Obama's regime is just as war-mongering as a regime which started two drawn-out ground wars.,

(2) Anti-free-healthcare Tea Party birthers have arrived at their opinions after a careful consideration of the data supporting the counter-intuitive notion that taxing the rich to pay for free healthcare drives up the costs of healthcare.

(3) "There's much evidence that limiting access to arms makes a society less safe." Even though the evidence is that US has hugely more homicides per year per capita than Europe, and there's strong positive correlation between gun-owernship of a state and its homicide rate.

Not inconsistent with my earlier premise about Republicans (about them being stupid and all-around terrible human beings).
-2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 22, 2012
@Therion: For someone who's supposedly paying attention, your ignorance is astounding! No matter where ones stands on an issue, assuming everyone who disagrees with you is "an awful human being" merely demonstrates closed-mindedness.

Advocating the starting of wars: I believe historically, both parties are pretty even on this. And civilians do not have the intel to know what our leaders know: e.g. look at how much Obama's national security policies mirror Bush's - indefinite detentions at Guantanamo, warrantless wiretaps; drone attacks have increased ten-fold (it rids him of having to discuss interrogations or what to do with enemy combatants - just kill them).

Gun control: There's much evidence that limiting access to arms makes a society less safe. You may not agree, but accusing everyone who disagrees with you of being evil is just small-minded. Liberals claim that we should legalize drugs because everyone who wants them can get them anyway, and prohibition just causes more problems. They also claim the we should ban guns because then no one will have access to them. Huh?? Only people who operate outside the law (criminals) will have them. You don't have to agree with me on that, but accusing me of being an awful human being for believing that a different strategy will make society safer does not lead to productive discourse.

"Free health care": There's no such thing! There's socialized health care, in which the cost of consuming is not borne directly by the consumer, but is instead spread among everyone. This removes the economics from consumption and makes health care MORE expensive, not free. Again, we may disagree on the best solution, but saying that those who advocate socializing costs are "well-meaning" while those who don't are "fueled by the nastiest kind of bile" is... well... who's spewing the bile at other people's ideas in that scenario?

If you think that "The situation really is that simplistic" then you don't understand the problem - the ideas involved.

And then he voted. (And even advocated, and probably is an activist of ignorance).
+5 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 21, 2012
Somebody comparing the non-escapade in Libya, which Obama left for the British and French to intervene militarily, to the drawn-out, American-led ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, can hardly expect to not be laughed at when he comments on critical thinking.
Jul 21, 2012
therion wrote:


No need to take Romney specifically. Let's compare the Republicans to the Democrats. The Republicans are basically awful humans beings in comparison. They advocate for the waging of wars, increased military spending, ownership of guns, and the trickle-down theory of wealth. They advocate against free healthcare, awareness of climate change, proper birth control, gay marriage, and any progressive measures on employment.

Needless to say, this doesn't require agreeing with every policy supported by the Democrats. It's just interesting that one party is basically well-meaning, whereas the other is fueled by the nastiest kind of bile.

Simplistic? Sure. The situation really is that simplistic.
it strains belief to hold out faith you are a thinking sentient person. i dont see the point of holding out such faith.

you might be able to manufacture arguments to support you attitudes, but you clearly do not exercise any critical thinking skills on this subject.

i find it hard to believe a person as opinionated as you is unaware of obamas illegal war in libya. that is just the tip of the iceberg. how can a person be so opinionated be immune to contrary evidence? we'd all like to believe that being opinionated is the result of weighing significant amounts of pro and con evidence. except yours are formed with confirmation bias on steroids.

obama is indecipherable from bush 2 on subject of warmongering. and it looks like USA is seriously thinking about action in syria. obama ordered the assassination of a foreign national, OBL, just like bush did to countless other terror suspects, which obama 'leaked' to media he continued that process. gitmo open, we are still in iraq and afghanistan (one of obamas campaign promises was to pull out of iraq in less than 1` year).

personally i dont mind if you pick dem, repub, or neither. just use SOME critical thinking to arrive there.
Jul 21, 2012
One must be aware of the irony of a person (Scott) who does not vote saying he doesn't think either candidate for president "meets the minimum standard" he would expect for such an office. Another great column would be for Scott to explain what his minimum standards would be, but I think it would just be another "Scott for president" column. Ho, hum.

The reason Romney's tax situation seems to be such a continuing story is because the press keeps harping on it. This is largely because the mainstream press favors the Democrats. At the same time, they continually give Obama a pass.

Have you heard any of the press asking to see the president's college transcripts, or talking to people who knew him back in the day? I recall just after he was elected, a couple of big-wig press people opining that they really didn't know very much about the newly-elected president. I wanted to scream at the TV, "And whose fault is that??? It's your job to find out those things, and you just let it slide!"

It's important, at least to me, to know what formed Mr. Obama's world view. Who were his professors? What were his writings like? What kind of an economic system did he support?

We have absolutely no idea. Largely because the press, frankly, just doesn't want that information out there. Do you recall when Sarah Palin became the Republican VP candidate? Literally swarms of press people headed up to Alaska to dig up any piece of dirt they could find, yet they just left then-candidate Obama alone.

The reason Romney doesn't want to release his tax returns (and he has stated this in a milder way than I'm doing) is because no matter what's in them, the Democrats will find a way to spin it to say, "See? He's an evil Wall Streeter who is out of touch with mainstream America!!!" And the mainstream press will slavishly fall in line with that, reporting every line of his tax returns over and over again, using the Democrat talking points until it would be all you would hear on the news.

When Senator John McCain was vetting VP candidates during his run against then-Senator Obama, one of the vettees, if that's a word, was Mitt Romney. At that time, Governor Romney submitted all of his tax returns for McCain's staff's perusal. Reports I've read said basically that Romney gave a lot to charity and overpaid his taxes. Nothing suspicious there - but you can be guaranteed that the Democrats would spin whatever is there, and the press would fall in line.

As far as this election goes, it's about more than just the two men running. It's about a vision for the future of this country. Are we going to continue down the path to mimic Old Europe, running up ever-increasing debt and building a welfare state that we can't possibly pay for, or are we going to try to return to some fiscal sanity, enable entitlement reform, and try to regain our economic place in the world?

Almost 50% of our fellow citizens pay zero in income tax. A record number of citizens, one in every six, are receiving government assistance. Unemployment is stuck at above 8%; if you take all the underemployed and those who have stopped looking, the number is nearer 20%. The economy is slowing down; the housing market is in the twa-lay, as the French would say. Yet Romney and Obama are virtually tied in the polls, with Obama having the Electoral College edge. Go figure.

President Obama's re-election slogan is "Forward." Sounds cool, until you start to think that the last thing you want to do when you're on the edge of a cliff is to move in that direction.

+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 21, 2012

No need to take Romney specifically. Let's compare the Republicans to the Democrats. The Republicans are basically awful humans beings in comparison. They advocate for the waging of wars, increased military spending, ownership of guns, and the trickle-down theory of wealth. They advocate against free healthcare, awareness of climate change, proper birth control, gay marriage, and any progressive measures on employment.

Needless to say, this doesn't require agreeing with every policy supported by the Democrats. It's just interesting that one party is basically well-meaning, whereas the other is fueled by the nastiest kind of bile.

Simplistic? Sure. The situation really is that simplistic.
Jul 21, 2012
just one point of interest after reading some of the other posts: magic.

while theism may logically feel like magic to atheists, there is a quality of the word that is not respectful. magic is widely considered to be imaginary and false, like santa claus. calling it magic is not just to say its unexplainable. its using a word with the strongest connotation for error to describe the unexplainable.

reminds me of ppl using term 'zombie jesus'. these ppl pretend as though its a fair summation. while one(resurrection) is raised from death to perfected immortality, the other (necromancy) is raised to undeath and limping corruption and disease.

zombie jesus and magic are not sincere attempts to be accurate or respectful. they are callous attempts to crap on others beliefs, while pretending you are being easy going. its deception and being a jerk at the same time.

thats your business to use those terms that dont apply. but its highly annoying to have those ppl try to say they arent being rude. go ahead and be rude, just dont lie about it.

i dont get offended by the intentional disrespect, cuz i know lots of ppl are petty small minded jerks. i DO get offended when someone tries to lie to my face and say they arent meaning disrespect.

only a moron would not understand swapping slightly similar words to the ones with the worst possible connotations. nobody needs a replacement abstraction for divine power. magic doesnt help them conceptualize your point. its gratuitous insult. the opposite of sincere communication.
Jul 21, 2012
For some reason I find myself thinking about Errol Flynn. For all his prowess onscreen, offscreen he was riddled with enough medical problems (not STDs, wise guy) to bar him from military service. Warner Brothers hushed it up, fearing the image of a sickly Flynn would undermine his box office appeal. Instead, his box office appeal was undermined by the perception he was exceptionally fit and not in uniform. Sometimes you can't win.
Jul 21, 2012
Here's the problem with your "magic" argument. 85% of the people voting believe in some type of this "magic". I think a non-magicalal person would be hard pressed to win in that environment. But good luck in your search.
Jul 21, 2012
Romney doesn't want to release older tax returns because they will tip everyone off to the size of the 10 year severance package he got from Bain. Obama wants him to release them for the same reason. That's what this is about.

However, I agree with you Scott, that there's almost a complete dearth of substantive discussion on how the candidate really differ on how to solve our nations problems. Neither candidate is trying to win anyone over on the quality of their ideas. And that's a sad commentary on the intelligence of this country

And then they voted (sigh)
Jul 20, 2012
I'd like to see Mr. Obama take the lead in the aftermath of the shooting crisis in Colorado by going to Aurora and handing out handguns to teenagers. You know, for self-protection.

Then sit back and collect all the interesting anti-gun quotes from Republicans and right-wing talk radio.

+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 20, 2012
Scott, apologies for being a bit off today's topic, but here's an article promoting the idea of using individual states as fiscal experiments and encouraging them to compete. Your ideas are percolating....

Jul 20, 2012
"Shallow personality; egoism despite intellectual mediocrity; lack of ability to empathize with others; insufficient depth to value anything in life other than money and outward success. " That's a LOT of negative personality traits to assign to someone who I am willing to bet you have never met in person, and probably have never even seen in person. You are clearly so firmly biased against Romney that I don't know how any opinion you have on him could be taken at face value.

As Scott says, I would question the capabilities of anyone who voluntarily paid more taxes than they need to. There's nothing unethical about making the rules work to your advantage. It's the legislature's fault for putting the rules there in the first place.

There's an easy answer to all of this -- it's called the flat tax -- but that is apparently unpalatable because those who "deserve" tax breaks won't get them. The problem is defining who those deserving folks are. It's hard to write tax break legislation to explicitly exclude the group who everyone *knows* (i.e. the 1%) should be paying fully can't also take advantage of them. Such a shame that it so hard to screw over those at the top.
-3 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 20, 2012
There's a term for what Romney is doing. It's tax avoidance. Something which allows Warren Buffet to pay a lower tax rate than his secretary. Something which is generally frowned upon by everybody of decent intelligence and social conscience.

Have you noticed why "money people" like Romney are so often utterly nasty individuals in countless other ways as well as greed? It's all related to the same few traits. Shallow personality; egoism despite intellectual mediocrity; lack of ability to empathize with others; insufficient depth to value anything in life other than money and outward success.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 20, 2012
The IRA thing: I don't know what actually happened, but claiming it's implausible shows a lack of understanding of compound interest. William Cohen's Bloomberg article (linked in another post below), supposedly debunking it, actually explains - using overplayed skepticism - how Mitt could've reasonably gotten to $4.5 million by contributing stock of companies that Bain took from very low value to much higher (by IMPROVING them, for those who claim Bain was parasitical).

Then the article says: "If the money was also compounded and reinvested over the years and became, say, $10 million..." But $4.5 invested and compounded over decades only doubled?!? That's about 3% annual return, or the same as inflation! Mitt probably had lots of great investment opportunities, but even if he's no Warren Buffett, if he merely invested all of it in Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway stock, it could have grown to $100 million. Hence, IRA of up to $100 million. QED
Jul 20, 2012
The issue is not whether what Romney did was legal - the issue is that it probably is legal. That the rich protest that they worked hard for and earned their money and that they are overtaxed. When the reality is that they make money through little effort by legally stealing it from others (borrowing, paying yourself, then having the company go bankrupt so you owe nothing) and they pay very little in taxes.

The rich want the suckers to believe that it is communists who write the laws and the taxes and the rich are suffering. Whereas the reality is that it is the rich who write the laws and the taxes and everyone else who is suffering.

Romney cannot win by saying yes, he pays very few taxes, got paid $100,000 a year to do nothing (which is his current claim - his pay as CEO for Bain in years in which he claims he had no involvement in running the company), but the solution is to cut taxes on the rich - which is his only platform.
Jul 20, 2012
Before Obama became president, he was a senator. The legislature is responsible for tax law. It seems disingenuous to vote tax deductions into law then slam people for rightfully taking them.

I hate the tax breaks corporations get for recording and keeping profits overseas as it encourages decisions that are counterproductive to domestic job growth. Yet if I were in the position to take advantage of a tax deduction I find repulsive, I would still have a fiduciary duty to take the deduction.
Jul 20, 2012

You illustrate my point. Jobs masterminded many projects that we can see, feel and touch. He made an impact - even if he achieved a lot of this by directing the creativity of others (I don't know precisely the input he had, but I certainly don't believe his success was a coincidence). He did this from a start in life that was less than well-starred.

Romney made his money by purely parasitical means (as far as I can tell), simply leeching, starting from a position of extreme privilege. This is just taking advantage of the worst side of capitalism in my book.
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