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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Romney's pandering fools no one

Is the post-truth campaign engendering the post-belief vote?

Political scientists Larry Bartels and Lynn Vavrek have put together a fascinating portrait of the small and elusive segment of the electorate that remains undecided.  The majority of them are not independents. Those with party affiliations obviously are not pleased with their party's nominee, and the Democrats among them provide some troubling feedback for Obama, along with some apparent opportunity.  The survey, however, reveals something astonishing about Republican attitudes toward Romney:

Monday, July 30, 2012

GOP leaders: GOP is unfit to govern

Let's step back and let the obvious sink in. Think about this internecine GOP spat for a moment:
BRIAN KILMEADE: Now, Sen. McCain, I want you to hear a sound bite from one of the Sunday shows. Dick Cheney sits down, talks about your selection of vice presidential candidate Governor Palin. Listen.

DICK CHENEY: I like Governor Palin. I’ve met her. I know her. She – attractive candidate. But based on her background, she’d only been governor for, what, two years? I don’t think she passed that test…of being ready to take over. And I think that was a mistake.

BRIAN KILMEADE: You agree? Disagree?

SEN. JOHN McCAIN: Well, I’m always glad to get comments four years later. Look, I respect the vice president. He and I had strong disagreements as to whether we should torture people or not. I don’t think we should have. But the fact is I’m proud of Sarah Palin. I’m proud of the job she did. I’m proud of the job she continues to do. Everybody has their own views and I respect those views. But I’m proud of what we did.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Aspiring Pander in Chief offers Israel carte blanche

Jerusalem, July 29, 2012 -- In a speech near the Old City today, U.S. presidential hopeful Mitt Romney harked back to an historic concept of Israel as a besieged, beleaguered outpost rather than a regional hyperpower and promised the U.S. would stop at nothing to advance Israel's perceived interests. 

Without diverting his stream of unqualified praise and unconditional support for the host country, Romney widened his scope at select moments to advance two extraordinary historical principles:

Saturday, July 28, 2012

"There are a lot of smart people out there": Frum gets past Obama's loose pronoun

Kudos to David Frum for taking a dispassionate look at the subtext of Obama's "you didn't build that" riff. To contrast its emotional resonance with the Elizabeth Warren ur-text on which it's based is brilliant. Warren, Frum notes, offset her reminder to business owners that no one succeeds alone with all the usually-obligatory gestures of respect and thanks.  Obama, in an unscripted response to the reflexive deification of "job creators" in our political discourse, momentarily dispensed with those gestures.

In my own post about the speech, which focused on the Romney campaign's explicit embrace of the principle that no degree of distortion of an opponent's words is out of bounds, I drafted a paragraph suggesting that Obama's "you didn't build that" passage did constitute a pander to those of us who don't build businesses or wealth.  I cut that paragraph after I looked again at Obama's words:
There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me --  because they want to give something back.  They know they didn’t -- look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own.  You didn’t get there on your own.  I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart.  There are a lot of smart people out there.  It must be because I worked harder than everybody else.  Let me tell you something -- there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.
If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help.  There was a great teacher somewhere in your life.  Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive.  Somebody invested in roads and bridges.  If you’ve got a business -- you didn’t build that.  Somebody else made that happen.  The Internet didn’t get invented on its own.  Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.
The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.  There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don’t do on our own.
I cut my "pander" paragraph because I decided that Obama was reacting to the obscenely over-the-top deification of an undifferentiated class of "job creators" -- a conceptual frame that enables and reflects the massive redistribution of wealth to the very top over the past thirty years. That frame lumps together the genuinely productive with rent-seekers and game-riggers (and those whose success stems from a combination of those sources) and supports the claim that any correction to the massive tax cuts the wealthiest have enjoyed over the last thirty years will kill the golden goose of economic growth. Obama's riff was more debunk than pander.

Frum is often a credible critic of Obama because he can hear both sides of an argument.  He picks up this debunk impulse:
In this particular election cycle, the argument that the successful are almost by definition deserving and that the unsuccessful are correspondingly undeserving has exploded into noisy public controversy. 
The president appears to have heard that argument, and it irks him. And when it came time to reprise Elizabeth Warren, he allowed pieces of his rebuttal to the claim to drift into a speech that was probably meant to adhere to the safer ground that she had previously staked out. 
Yet I think Frum reads his own inferences into Obama's meta-economics:
President Obama's stray sentences however point to a bolder conclusion. If it's not brains or work that account for success, what is it? The answer must be … luck. Not maybe entirely luck, but luck to a great degree. By definition, however, luck is amoral. Nobody can deserve luck, otherwise he wouldn't be lucky. To the extent success is due to luck, success is undeserved—and to the extend that success is undeserved, the successful have no very strong claim to the proceeds of their success. Whereas Warren suggests that the wealthy should be taxed to repay tangible benefits they have personally received, Obama is indicating a possibility that the wealthy should be taxed … because their wealth is to a great extent an accident of fate.

This argument is not developed by the president. Indeed, he quickly drops it. Nor does he build any very radical policy conclusions upon his argument: he's proposing only the restoration of the Clinton tax rates—the tax rates that prevailed during the greatest period of private fortune-building since the 1920s. Yet people who believe in the morality of the market are not wrong to hear in those few stray sentences of the president a more radical critique of their core belief than is usually heard from American politicians.
Who said that the answer to why some succeed and some don't "must be" luck?  Not Obama. It's true that he points out that a lot of smart and hardworking people don't build businesses, and so the question of what causes success is free-floating in this passage ("not developed," as Frum acknowledges). Can our body politic really not handle a brief allusion to the mysteries and complexities of causation in human affairs? Are we so wedded to the Horatio Alger myth that we can't complicate it a bit?

Perhaps Obama's subtext is even more unsettling to the sensitive super-rich than Frum allows. A keynote of Obama's stump speech is that for many millions the American dream is "slipping away." Conditions are ever less conducive to achieving economic security and increased opportunity for one's children. The benefits of economic growth are flowing to the very top.  The playing field is ever less level. Here's how he put it in the "you didn't build that" speech:
Now, the reason that I think so many of us came together in 2008 was because we saw that for a decade that dream was fraying, that it was slipping away; that there were too many people who were working hard but not seeing their incomes or wages go up; that we had taken a surplus and turned it into a deficit -- we were running two wars on a credit card; that job growth was the most sluggish it had been in 50 years.  There was a sense that those who were in charge didn’t feel responsible...
Our goal isn’t just to put people back to work -- although that’s priority number one -- it is to build an economy where that work pays off.  An economy where everyone, whether you are starting a business or punching a clock, can see your hard work and responsibility rewarded.  That’s what this campaign’s about, Roanoke.  And that’s why I’m running for a second term as President of the United States of America.
An economy in which "hard work and responsibility" don't pay off, at its extreme, is one in which luck and privilege and rapacity are the only determinates of success. Obama's talk of an American dream slipping away suggests that the U.S.is trending that way.

But then, that's been his message since 2007 at the latest. Whether the country will again prove receptive to it is itself largely a matter of economic luck.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

A little distance on the post-truth campaign

I've been on vacation with my wife in the Finger Lakes and fell off the grid for reasons I won't bore you with -- off completely for one day, near-completely for three. When we get away, usually, I'm eager to dive back into the political/policy news when I can, but this time, my brief forays have felt like dropping into a coal mine.  A bit of distance defamiliarizes our degraded politics and brings home what a high-stakes, dangerous and disgusting contest it is.

Reconnecting for a bit last night, I caught up with this elevated argument from the Romney campaign:

Sunday, July 22, 2012

A glimpse of the post-ownership society?


The Wall Street Journal's Jeanette Neumann reports that real estate investment companies that are buying up foreclosed homes and renting them out are seeking to securitize their rental income stream. Perhaps that's more evidence, not only that more Americans are likely to live in rentals, but that our relationship to "home," our concepts of rental and ownership, may take new forms.

If investor-owners can think long-term about rental income, perhaps renters can also take a long-term stance, and enter into contracts more like those of commercial tenants -- say, five or ten-year leases that lock in current prices, or leases that in some way exchange various levels of commitment for price breaks, or ring new variations of rent-to-own or share any increase in home value.

Friday, July 20, 2012

When the Romney campaign perjured Romney (retroactively)

Maybe I buried my lede on July 13, so forgive a restatement:

In her email to the Boston Globe demanding a correction of its report on Romney's tenure at Bain from 1999-2002, Romney's communications director Gail Gitcho either confirmed that Romney perjured himself in his Massachusetts residency hearing in June 2002 or endorsed a false statement by Bain about that tenure.

The Romney campaign's 2011 statement that "Since February 11, 1999, Mr. Romney has not had any active role with any Bain Capital entity and has not been involved in the operations of any Bain Capital entity in any way" does not contradict Romney's assertion, while striving to prove establish his Massachusetts for his gubernatorial run in 2002, that he returned to Massachusetts periodically during his Olympic tenure to attend board meetings for past and present Bain portfolio companies. Those companies are not "Bain Capital entities."

A Bain statement issued on July 12, however, does contradict that assertion: Romney, it says,“has had absolutely no involvement with the management or investment activities of the firm or with any of its portfolio companies since the day of his departure” in 1999" (my emphasis).

Gitcho's email to Globe cites the Bain statement:

A line of attack with legs?

It's a cliche that political attacks work only when they have some demonstrable relationship to reality -- when they touch a chord of genuine perception about a candidate.

By that standard, Obama campaign attack theme spotlighted today by Reuters would seem to have long-term potential:
"Feeding the Democrats' storyline: Romney's refusal to release more than a year or two of his tax returns, questions about whether he is being honest about when he left his job at Bain Capital, and the reams of records that have been kept secret from his years as Massachusetts governor and chief of the Salt Lake City Olympics."
Shucks, is that all? Methinks Reuters' Jeff Mason writes with a keen sense of the reality gap between this gambit and 2008's "who is Barack Obama?":

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Romney Rule #13: Any attack on me negates all rules of engagement

 To our past compilation of the Romney Rules of political engagement, the implicit credo of the post-truth campaign, add Romney Rule #13:

Any attack on me frees me from any standard of truth or relevance whatsoever in counterattack. 

Buzzfeed's McKay Coppins gets the formal declaration* of this one from an unnamed Romney campaign adviser:

Monday, July 16, 2012

An overwrought rap on Bain from the Boston Phoenix?

The Boston Phoenix has apparent new grist for the Bain-the-vampire mill: a tale in which Bain portfolio company CRC Health  tries to get a methadone clinic opened in a small town in Maine (Warren, pop. 5000).  Reporter Sydney Leonard lays a prologue for a stark morality tale:
Bain Capital is showing its stripes in a battle in Warren, Maine, that has lasted the past two years, and counting.

Rather than demonstrating Bain building businesses, communities, and society, the story of that battle reveals the strategies, techniques, and tactics Bain uses to force its goals upon unwilling, and sometimes unsuspecting, regular people. And results from similar assaults on other communities demonstrate the profit-at-any-cost mentality that has laid waste to lives and communities — a far cry from Romney's campaign-trail tales of success.

The company's unyielding efforts to open a methadone clinic in Warren have turned the town into a costly battleground, making enemies of friends and neighbors, racking up legal fees, and marking a local businessman as public enemy number one in the community he has always called home.
Leonard's own reporting, however, provides ample grounds to question this editorializing.  He makes it clear, first, that the need for a new methadone clinic in the area was very real:

Sunday, July 15, 2012

In which I agree with a Dish reader

I more or less agree with this Dish reader, sloppy writer though he be:
I am a wimp and Romney tries to have everything both ways, and he should have proudly owned the full spectrum of Bain's investments at any given time, including '99-02. But still, the Obama attack path makes me queasy, for two reasons 1) there's nothing really wrong with offshoring (though there is something wrong with loading companies with debt and driving them into the ground while you clean up), and 2) while I could be proved wrong sometime soon, I think the basic Romney/Bain narrative for '99-02 holds together.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The last time Romney stonewalled on taxes

You may wonder why Romney thinks he can shut off demands to release several years' worth of tax returns, as other presidential candidates have done in recent years, like this:
JIM ACOSTA, CNN: When are you going to release more of your taxes and how many years?

ROMNEY: I've indicated that -- well, first of all, we've complied with the law. The law requires us to put out a full financial disclosure. That I've done. And then, in addition to that, I've already put out one year of tax returns. We'll put out the next year of tax returns as soon as the accountants have that ready. And that's what we're going to put out.

I know there will always be calls for more. People always want to get more. And, you know, we're putting out what is required plus more that is not required. And those are the two years that people are going to have. And that's -- that's all that's necessary for people to understand something about my finances. And, look, if people believe this should be a campaign about attacking one another on a personal basis and go back to the kinds of attacks that were suggested in some campaigns in the past, I don't want to go there.

The thing is, he's gotten away with it before. When he came home to Massachusetts swathed in Olympic glory to run for governor in spring 2002, Democrats challenged his residency status.*  They wouldn't have been able to if he had maintained dual residency.  But there was a tax break to be had by declaring his Utah house his primary residence, and Have-it-Both-Ways Romney went for it. The New York Times reported on 6/6/02:

Friday, July 13, 2012

Romney campaign contradicts Romney testimony

Romney is very good at splitting hairs to avoid literally lying, or to hold two almost-contradictory positions at once (Romneycare good! Obamacare bad!  Bailouts bad! Rescue of financial system in crisis good! Managed bankruptcy good! Obama's managed bankruptcies of GM/Chrysler bad!). 

Therefore, I am a little surprised to note that the Romney campaign has slipped up in its characterizations of Romney's leave of absence from Bain when he was running the Olympics in 1999-2002. Yesterday, the campaign contradicted testimony that Romney provided to the Massachusetts Ballot Commission in June 2002 in a way that they had previously avoided.

As I noted yesterday, the Romney campaign's 2011 statement that "Since February 11, 1999, Mr. Romney has not had any active role with any Bain Capital entity and has not been involved in the operations of any Bain Capital entity in any way" does not contradict Romney's assertion, while striving to prove establish his Massachusetts for his gubernatorial run in 2002, that he returned to Massachusetts periodically during his Olympic tenure to attend board meetings for past and present Bain portfolio companies. Those companies are not "Bain Capital entities." 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Some wispy hints that Romney was not 100% hands-off at Bain, 1999-2002

Personally, I think that the charge that Romney as CEO and owner of Bain Capital "shipped jobs overseas" is meaningless, except insofar as it offsets Romney's hypocritical and bogus charge that Obama is substantially responsible for further loss of manufacturing jobs to China and elsewhere. Offshoring is inevitable: to cope, the U.S. must improve its education system and upgrade jobs currently considered low-end, which means strengthening workers' hands relative to management.

Further, Factcheck.org and other truth-squaders have a point in calling out the Obama campaign for claiming that Romney "shipped jobs overseas" when alluding to the activities of Bain portfolio companies that occurred after Romney took over the Winter Olympics in early 1999.  Today's Globe story documenting Romney's maintenance of formal or nominal control during his Olympic years really doesn't affect the argument between the Obama campaign and Factcheck, as Stephanie Cutter's letter to Factcheck, like the Globe article, alluded to numerous Bain SEC filings listing Romney as CEO, President, and owner of various Bain entities, including the parent company. Factcheck retorts that there is no positive evidence that Romney ever took an active role in any Bain decision or action during his Olympic gig. And Fortune's Dan Primack has been supplied with offering documents for funds that Bain started after Romney went to Utah that don't list Romney as a fund manager.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The only adult in the (Heritage Foundation) room

Perhaps Donald Verrilli did not have the smoothest delivery in the Court on March 27, when he defended the constitutionality of the individual mandate.  But in this Heritage Foundation panel discussion, as reported by Josh Gerstein, he seems on a different moral plane entirely from plaintiff's attorney Michael Carvin and libertarian U. of Chicago Professor Richard Epstein:

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Romney to pick an UnPalin for Veep

Asked in a Colorado town hall whether he would pick his running mate before the GOP convention, Romney responded:
I can’t give you the timeline for that..that is a decision that we’ll make down the road. Nor can I give you the individual. I can tell you that the person I choose you will look at and say, ‘Well, that’s a person who could be president, if that were necessary, and that, for me, is the most important single criteria.”
Hmm. I guess that rules out all the clowns he ran against for the nomination, with the possible exception of the first dropout, Tim Pawlenty. Sounds like an attempt, too, to undo the Palinization of the GOP.  Too bad he had to Palinize himself to get the nomination -- demonizing a clone of his own healthcare creation, embracing insane tax and spending cuts, criminalizing abortion -- and lying nonstop about his opponent.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Plain sense, and a touch of nonsense, from Obama on taxes

Evoking the harm apparently done to the economy by last year's debt ceiling debacle, Ezra Klein frames Obama's call today for a one-year extension of the Bush tax cuts for the lower 98% -- but not for the top 2% of earners -- as a political gamble.  The looming fiscal cliff, Klein suggests, threatens to damage confidence this fall as the debt cliff did last summer; Republicans in Congress certainly won't accede to Obama's proposal before the election; and any drag on growth right now could un-elect Obama.

I don't really think there's any risk. Or rather, the risk of hurting the economy through continued deadlock on the tax question is the lesser of two risks. The alternative Klein holds out is capitulation -- extending all  the tax cuts for a year. That would not only infuriate the base, reprising the trauma of late 2010; it would reinforce what I believe is the chief rap against Obama among independents or undecideds: weakness and ineffectuality, being unable to put his preferred policies across.  

The method behind Mitt's mendacious madness

A blog is a perennial work in progress. Ideally, its inevitable repetitions embody ongoing development of a working hypothesis or analysis.  I'd like to think that's the case with my close reading of Romney's methodical disinformation campaign -- that is, my attempt to spotlight the method to Mitt's mendacity. A few milestones below.

Romney deems Obama a liar ex post facto (7/7/12)
 The method is to convert hairline distinctions, usually illusory, into Manichean contrasts.
Romney rules, cont. 6/11/12
Rule #11: I may simultaneously level mutually exclusive charges against my opponent. 

Romney Rules (6/7/12)
Rule #1 : Context doesn't matter. Anything you say I may use against you, e.g., by making it sound like you said the opposite.
An upright man who lies nonstop (5/19/12)

What is unfathomable to me is the level of doublethink that will allows an extremely able, intelligent, in many ways generous man who believes that God is watching over him to go out and lie every day, in general concept and in detail,,

Proud owners of the post-truth campaign (3/21/12)
I can think of four occasions since October when Romney or his surrogates admitted more or less outright that Romney's words or deeds are either willfully misleading or purely for show.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

The presidential campaign in story and song

Of a certain worthy KNYGHT, the first of Chaucer's pilgrims to get a bio in the prologue to the Canterbury Tales, we are told
At mortal batailles hadde he been fiftene,
And foughten for oure feith at Traniyssene
In lystes thries, and ay slayn his foe. 
In 2007-08, Barack Obama did the knyght a few better, debating Hillary Clinton et al twenty six times, and most definitely slaying McCain thrice in their general election contests.  No wonder he's nostalgic today, with the armies of the unemployed looming on the election horizon, for those mortal batailles of old.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Romney deems Obama a liar ex post facto

I have long marveled at the verbal contortions Romney must go through to a) justify current GOP nonsense positions and b) align his own prior pronouncements and actions with current nonsense.  Often this Operation Twist further involves c) differentiating his past and even sometimes his present position from a functionally similar position of Obama's, with whom the dear departed centrist pragmatist Massachusetts Mitt has often been aligned.

Hence Romney must regularly wax paradoxical, continually compiling new verses to this lover's rune:
I gave my love a cherry that had no stone,
I gave my love a chicken that had no bone,
I gave my love a story that had no end,
I gave my love a baby with no cryin'.
But Romney outdid himself this week when reversing the position taken by his aide Erich Fehrnstrom and his own long-held position that the individual mandate is a penalty, not a tax. Listen carefully:
“While I agreed with the dissent, that’s overtaken by the fact that the majority of the Court said it’s a tax and therefore it is a tax. They have spoken. There’s no way around that,” Romney said. “The American people know that President Obama has broken the pledge he made — said he wouldn’t raise taxes on middle-income Americans.”

Not only does Romney here assert that his own reasoning is negated in some existential sense by the Court's 5-4 ruling, along with the reasoning of the four conservative justices with whom he agreed. He is claiming that Obama's long-held position, which matches his own, retroactively became a lie the moment Roberts read the crux of his decision from the bench.  An ex post facto lie.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Pitch me, Priorities USA

I read with deep distress Robert Draper's Times Mag chronicle of how the Democrats, taking their cue mainly from Obama, unilaterally disarmed in the Super PAC battles in this election cycle and are now staring down the barrel of a billion dollar GOP juggernaut while Priorities USA struggles to raise $100 million tops.

Draper's look back at the relative potency of Democrat-supporting 527s in 2004 and 2006 carried me back to the 2004 campaign, the first in which I used online phone tools for voter outreach. Obama's innovation in 2008 was to center those tools in his own campaign organization; in 2004 I relied on MoveOn and I think ACT, Americans Coming Together, or possibly other outside groups, to set me up. I got their emails and sent them money, sometimes in response to requests to fund a particular ad -- including one of a not-yet-famous Cindy Sheehan weeping into the camera as she made a "Bush-lied-my-son-died" accusation. That one was created by a tiny outside group, but MoveOn briefly took it up and did ad buys for it. 

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Thanks, Sarah! Americans believe the ACA has death panels

The Kaiser Family Foundation  has a 10-question online quiz about the ACA. Here are the questions that a majority of respondents answered wrongly:
  • Will the health reform law allow a government panel to make decisions about end-of-life care for people on Medicare?  - 45% correct
  • Will the health reform law cut benefits that were previously provided to all people on Medicare? - 40% correct
  • Will the health reform law require all businesses, even the smallest ones, to provide health insurance for their employees?- 25% correct
  • Will the health reform law create a new government run insurance plan to be offered along with private plans? - 27% correct [added in update -- see note at bottom]
  • Will the health reform law allow undocumented immigrants to receive financial help from the government to buy health insurance? - 42% correct [also added in update]

A quick question of law

How many of Chief Justice Roberts' brethren signed onto his finding that "the individual mandate is not a valid exercise of Congress’s power under the Commerce Clause and the Necessary and Proper Clause"?  None.

Justice Ginsburg, writing for the four liberal justices with regard to the mandate, concurred with Roberts' finding that the mandate was a constitutional exercise of Congress's taxing power, but dissented strongly on the Commerce Clause question. Justices Alito, Kennedy, Scalia and Thomas officially concurred with no part of Roberts' decision, though their reasoning with regard to the Commerce Clause mirrored his.  And of course, the Chief Justice's own finding that the mandate is constitutional rendered his Commerce Clause judgment moot with respect to the fate of the individual mandate.

A question, then, for legal scholars: does the finding that Congress cannot regulate inactivity have any force of law for future cases?

The presidential campaign in story and song

Of a certain worthy KNYGHT, the first of Chaucer's pilgrims to get a bio in the prologue to the Canterbury Tales, we are told
At mortal batailles hadde he been fiftene,
And foughten for oure feith at Traniyssene
In lystes thries, and ay slayn his foe. 

In 2007-08, Barack Obama did the knyght a few better, debating Hillary Clinton et al twenty six times, and most definitely slaying McCain thrice in their general election contests.  No wonder he's nostalgic today, with the armies of the unemployed looming on the election horizon, for those mortal batailles of old.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

A pair of July 4 warnings, and one eulogy

If I ever picked up the phone to a pollster, I guess I'd have to say I don't like the country's direction. To celebrate the Fourth, then, I'd like to highlight a trio of warnings/diagnoses published today.

The first is by Kurt Andersen, writing in the Times about The Downside of Liberty. He is not the first to link the sixties mantra "if it feels good, do it," with the '80s' "greed is good," but he does so cogently:

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Justice Roberts spares the country's pound of flesh

I had deja vu as I read John Roberts' decision deeming the individual mandate both an impermissible exercise of Congress's Commerce Clause power and a constitutional exercise of its taxing power.  I was taken back to Shakespeare's court of Venice:
PORTIA
A pound of that same merchant's flesh is thine:
The court awards it, and the law doth give it.

SHYLOCK
Most rightful judge!

PORTIA
And you must cut this flesh from off his breast:
The law allows it, and the court awards it.

SHYLOCK
Most learned judge! A sentence! Come, prepare!

PORTIA
Tarry a little; there is something else.
This bond doth give thee here no jot of blood;
The words expressly are 'a pound of flesh:'
Take then thy bond, take thou thy pound of flesh;
But, in the cutting it, if thou dost shed
One drop of Christian blood, thy lands and goods
Are, by the laws of Venice, confiscate
Unto the state of Venice.

GRATIANO
O upright judge! (Merchant of Venice IV. 1. 298-312).

Monday, July 02, 2012

Broccoli-robbed! The Wall Street Journal's beef with John Roberts

In the wake of Chief Justice John Roberts' division of the mandate baby, the Wall Street Journal editorial board laments:
From now on, Congress can simply regulate interstate commerce by imposing "taxes" whenever someone does or does not do something contrary to its desires.
That's true!  Also on target is the editorialists' complaint against Roberts' sleight-of-hand (which I noted myself on Saturday):
[Roberts] also temporizes that "taxes that seek to influence conduct are nothing new."

True enough, but the punishments in the tax code for inactivity come in the form of not being able to claim benefits that Congress in its graces bestows. Such as: If you don't borrow to buy a home, you don't get a mortgage interest deduction.

Congress has never passed a tax on a lack of gasoline or a tax on a failure to buy gasoline, any more than Congress can regulate inactivity under the Commerce Clause by telling people to buy gasoline or else pay a penalty.
 This reality-based analysis, however, serves a fantasy:
The reality is that Washington would love to regulate the ordinary economic choices that used to be beyond its purview, and now it will be able to abuse the ad hoc "tax" permit that the Chief Justice has given it.