Monday, August 27, 2012

Military punishes soldiers for Quran burning, Marines for urinating on Taliban corpses

Updated at 6:54 p.m. ET: WASHINGTON - The U.S. military on Monday dealt out punishment to six Army soldiers for burning Qurans at Bagram Air Base that ignited deadly protest in Afghanistan, and to three Marines for their roles in urinating on Taliban corpses.
The Army handed out administrative discipline to four officers and two non-commissioned officers for the Quran burning but found no ill intent on the part of the soldiers so none will face criminal charges. Watch World News videos on 
The investigation against one sailor was dropped when it was determined he was simply ordered to drive the truck with the material to the burn site at the base.The administrative punishment, however, will likely result in the end of their military careers.
The burning of the Muslim holy books in February sparked weeks of protests that led to 30 Afghan deaths. U.S. officials said at the time the books were mistakenly sent along with garbage for disposal after detainees had written messages in them.
The investigation found up to 100 Qurans and other religious materials were burned in the incinerator at Bagram Air Field on Feb. 20. 
An Army report released on the incident Monday shed new light on what happened that day.
Members of the Military Police and Theater Intelligence Team had discovered that Bagram detainees were using library books to pass notes and messages. One interpreter determined that 60 percent to 75 percent of the books contained extremist content. So, soldiers were ordered to remove the books as contraband. In all, about 2,000 books, including Qurans and other religious material, were set to be destroyed. 
An Afghan National Army soldier and and interpreter warned the troops not to dispose of the religious texts, but soldiers took some 100 books to the burn pit anyway.
A local man who worked at the burn pit discovered the Qurans and other texts were burning. He grabbed a front-end loader and doused the entire burn pit to extinguish the flames.
An angry crowd of Afghans gathered around the U.S. service members who drove the truck to the burn pit and were burning the material. The U.S. soldiers all fled.
"I absolutely reject any suggestion that those involved acted with any malicious intent to disrespect the Quran or defame the faith of Islam," an investigator wrote. "Ultimately, this was a tragic incident (that) resulted from a lack of cross-talk between leaders and commanders, a lack of senior involvement in giving clear guidance in a complex operation” and “distrust among our service members and our partners.”  
In the other case, a statement from the Marine Corps said the three Marines received the punishment for "violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice for their role in the desecration and filming of deceased Taliban that became public in January 2012."
Six more Marines are still awaiting their punishments in the urination incident, which was recorded on video. It was announced, however, that two officers will be charged with creating a command climate that led to acts of bad behavior, the Marine Corps said. It was unclear what disciplinary action the four other non-commissioned officers will face.As part of a plea deal, three Marines pleaded guilty and will receive a permanent mark on their records that will impact any future promotions and re-enlistments.
The three Marines were all members of the Third Battalion, Second Marine Regiment or in units that were attached to the "3/2" during their deployment. Their names were not released. 
One non-commissioned officer pleaded guilty to having violated a general order by wrongfully posing for an unofficial photograph with human casualties and urinating on the body of a deceased Taliban soldier, which conduct was prejudicial to good order and discipline.
Another non-commissioned officer pleaded guilty to wrongfully posing for an unofficial photograph with human casualties and wrongfully video recording the incident. 
A staff non-commissioned officer pleaded guilty to failing to report the mistreatment of human casualties by other Marines and making a false official statement to a Naval Criminal Investigative Service investigator about the his knowledge of the video.
The incident took place during a counter-insurgency operation near Sandala, Musa Qala District in Helmand Province, Afghanistan around July 27, 2011. 
According to The Wall Street Journal, officials in Afghanistan were bracing for public demonstrations over what might be viewed as lenient punishment of the troops.
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The Christian Science Monitor -

Tropical storm Isaac: Will it drown out Mitt Romney's big moment?

The Republican convention is crucial to Mitt Romney's attempts to overcome his image as an uncaring plutocrat, GOP experts say. But tropical storm Isaac could be a huge distraction.

Temp Headline Image
Delegates look at an image of US Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney displayed during the opening session of the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., Monday.
(Shannon Stapleton/REUTERS)

By Linda Feldmann

posted August 27, 2012 at 3:19 pm EDT
Tampa, Fla.Heading into the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., this week, Mitt Romney already faced a steep climb:  The wealthy, guarded Republican presidential candidate needed to open up about himself and show voters that he understands the lives of average Americans and deserves their trust, political analysts say.
Now he must compete with tropical storm Isaac, which on Monday was bearing down on the Gulf Coast – an eerie echo of hurricane Katrina, from exactly seven years ago. At best, this unwelcome guest gives Mr. Romney a split-screen convention, as he competes for viewership with potentially dramatic footage of weather aftermath.
“Big storms are like car chases,” says Ford O’Connell, head of the conservative Civic Forum PAC. “He’s got to break through.”
When Romney addresses the convention on Thursday, it will be his biggest moment in the national spotlight to date – and a crucial lead-in to his debates with President Obama in October. Polls show Romney in a tight race against an incumbent president with a weak economy and high unemployment. In other words, this race is winnable for Romney. But voters like Mr. Obama more than they do Romney, and history has shown that the more likable candidate usually wins.
To break out, Romney has to reveal more of himself to voters, said Republican strategist Karl Rove, appearing Monday at an event hosted by the news site Politico. 
“They’ll hear a lot about tax cuts and large economic plans and Medicare reform packages, and blah blah blah blah blah, and that matters a lot to them,” says Mr. Rove, former George W. Bush political guru and a major force behind the American Crossroads "super political-action committee." “But they also want to know who is this person that is asking me to give them their vote to occupy the most consequential office in our country.”
Obama has done a good job of turning Romney into a caricature of the rich, uncaring businessman, Republicans say, and the time has come to turn that around – particularly with that sliver of the electorate that remains undecided and could determine the outcome.
“[Americans] have been told a bunch of terrible things about him – that he doesn’t care about people like you, that he ships jobs to China, that he’s a wealthy plutocrat married to a known equestrian,” former Republican National Committee chairman Haley Barbour told reporters Monday at an event in Tampa hosted by the GOP polling group Resurgent Republic.
In a way, then, Tuesday’s speech by Romney’s wife, Ann, is also significant, as she gives voters a perspective on the soon-to-be Republican nominee that no one else can. Expect to hear the story of a devoted husband who cared for and comforted his wife during serious health challenges.
“American people are going to see him and his family up close, and they are going to see that it’s a family that sets a high standard for all of us – that you’d like your kids to turn out like this,” says Mr. Barbour, the former governor of Mississippi.
Romney’s five grown sons – all launched in their own careers, all family men with a combined 18 children – have been present in the media this week and at events surrounding the convention, adding their personal testimonials to their father.
Dante Scala, a political scientist at the University of New Hampshire, Durham, agrees that Romney needs to build up voters’ comfort level with him as a person, but that may not be enough for them to entrust him with the presidency. Romney still needs to convince voters that he has a workable plan to turn the economy around, Mr. Scala says.
“A lot of those voters feel as if Obama hasn’t lived up to his promise – especially working-class whites who weren’t comfortable with him from the get-go,” he says. “But they’re not especially comfortable with Romney either.”
White working-class women, in particular, pose a challenge for Romney, and “he needs to find a way to distance himself from the Republican brand without turning off his base,” Scala says.
That brand took a major blow last week when Rep. Todd Akin, the Republican Senate nominee in Missouri, made a comment about women's bodies being able to prevent pregnancy in cases of “legitimate rape.” The messy spectacle of the Republican establishment, including Romney, trying unsuccessfully to get Congressman Akin to drop out made for a week of bad headlines – and opened up a fresh line of attack by Obama and the Democrats eager to exploit their wide lead among women voters.
The Akin fiasco also opened up a fresh fissure between two branches of the Republican Party – the hard-line social conservatives and those who emphasize economic conservatism. Whether Romney is able to help heal that rift is another open question during convention week.
He could well get assists from two other key speakers: his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, and former presidential contender Rick Santorum. Both personally advocate for fewer exceptions on abortion than Romney, but at least in Congressman Ryan’s case, as running mate, he is going along with the Romney campaign position: allowances for abortion in the case of rape, incest, and a threat to the life of the mother.
Romney’s other challenge in holding the Republican Party together this week comes with the contingent who still fervently support libertarian Rep. Ron Paul (R) of Texas, Romney’s only challenger for the Republican nomination who never dropped out of the race. Congressman Paul held a separate event on Sunday that highlighted his displeasure with Romney as the Republican standard-bearer.
Analysts expect some Paul supporters to vote for Romney in November, but some could vote third party (say, by writing in Paul or voting for Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson) or just stay home.
But it’s the main stage of the convention that matters most to Romney, and whether he and his supporting cast of prime-time speakers can both excite the Republican base and attract undecided voters.
To Mr. O’Connell, the Republican strategist, Romney faces three tasks here in Tampa:
He has to tell people who he is and what he stands for.
He needs to demonstrate that the Republican Party is not just a party of old white men, but also one with vibrant constituencies of young people, Hispanics, and women.
“And third, he has to get a little specific about what he would do to get the economy on track,” O’Connell says. “But obviously he can’t say too much, or Obama raps him on the head.”
• Staff writer David Grant contributed to this report.

Related stories
With the Republican Convention in Tampa, and several GOP Governors not showing up because of Issac, what does Mitt Romney have to say in his speech Thursday night to make the American people like him, trust him, accept him?

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Chronicling Mitt's Mendacity, Vol. XXXI 
By Steve Benen
Fri Aug 24, 2012 3:48 PM EDT

A collage of words used by fact-checkers to describe Romney's claims.

At a campaign event on Monday, a Republican voter asked Mitt Romney about falsehoods pushed by "leftists" and what he intended to do about it. The candidate replied, "It seems that the first victim of an Obama campaign is the truth."

As it turns out, the first victim is actually irony.

Michael Tomasky had a good piece this week, explaining what many have been reluctant to acknowledge: "The distinguishing fact of the Romney-Ryan campaign thus far is the extent to which it is built on outright lies in a desperate attempt to avoid honest debate at all costs." The GOP ticket, Tomasky argued, "lies as much as possible."

Just making stuff up about the other guy is bad enough. But it is in terms of past and future positions that what Romney-Ryan are doing really plows new and dishonorable earth. [...]

They know that the truth would crush them electorally. And so it follows that they know they must lie. They must lie about their Medicare plans. They must lie about the effects of their tax plans on average people and rich people. And they must tell a number of lies about Obama, all the better if they involve race, as the welfare lie does.

So this will be the entire point of the Romney-Ryan campaign. Lie lie lie. Muddy the waters. Turn day to night, fire to water, champagne to piss. Peddle themselves as the precise opposite of what they actually are. That is clearly the m.o.

It's always something of a relief when others notice this, but it's a dynamic much of the political world resists. Perhaps these stragglers could take a few moments to consider the 31st installment of my weekly series, chronicling Mitt's mendacity. (This week is the biggest list since I started the project in January.)

1. Referencing the money he gives to his church every year, Romney said, "This is done entirely privately. One of the downsides of releasing one's financial information is that this is now all public, but we had never intended our contributions to be known."

This is ridiculously untrue.

2. In an interview with Time magazine, Romney said of the recent Tax Policy Center analysis, "The basic foundation and premises of my plan are ... we don't reduce taxes or the share of taxes paid by the highest-income individuals. The highest-income individuals will get to pay the same share of taxes they pay today."

At a minimum, this is ridiculously misleading. Under Romney's plan, high-income people would get an enormous tax break.

3. In the same interview, Romney added, "I know that many in the modeling community do not want to assume growth with changes in tax policy. I do."

Actually, the Tax Policy Center, which Romney was criticizing, gave him the benefit of the doubt on growth assumptions, and found that his numbers still didn't add up.

4. On Twitter, Romney claimed President Obama "gutted bipartisan welfare reform by ending the work requirement."

He's blatantly lying.

5. Also on Twitter, Romney argued that the Affordable Care Act, "raises taxes on families making less than 120k. I will repeal it."

He's referring to an individual mandate that would apply to 1% of the population. And if President Obama's health care policy raised taxes on families making less than $120,000, thenRomney raised taxes on families making less than $120,000.

6. In a campaign ad, Romney says Obama is "raiding $716 billion from Medicare."

No, he's not.

7. The same ad accuses Obama of "taxing wheelchairs and pacemakers."

At a minimum, this is wildly misleading.

8. The ad concludes, "The Romney/Ryan plan will restore Medicare funding, and protect and strengthen the program for the next generation."

As it turns out, that's the polar opposite of the truth.

9. At a campaign event in Hobbs, New Mexico, Romney said, "Sometimes I have the impression that the whole regulatory attitude of the administration is trying to stop oil and gas and coal, that they don't want those sources."

In reality, coal production is up; we have more natural gas than we know what to do with; and oil production is up.

10. In the same speech, Romney said of Obama, "He's taken federal dollars, your money, to invest in companies -- solar companies, wind companies -- about $90 billion in so-called green jobs."

The details matter: much of the $90 billion was appropriated by George W. Bush, not Obama.

11. On welfare policy, the Romney campaign said this week that all the administration needs to do "is have HHS send out a hard letter making sure that the only things that will qualify under the work requirement is hard training and the cooperative programs with employers and define it in such a way that what was allowed before is all that's allowed in the future.... That's all that's required."

The administration already did this two months ago.

12. On the budget sequester, the Romney campaign argued this week, "It was the president who insisted on this makeup, this formula. Defense spending is not half of all federal spending, but it's half of the cuts approximately in the sequester. We disagreed with that then, disagree with it now.''

That's a lie. Democrats wanted the other half of the sequester to be tax increases. The defense cuts were proposed by House Republicans.

13. The Romney campaign also said it can create a "debt-free nation just like our parents."

For one thing, the Romney campaign isn't proposing to eliminate the debt, just the deficit. For another, I don't know how old most folks' parents are, but the U.S. has maintained a debt every year since 1836.

14. At a campaign event in Bettendorf, Iowa, Romney argued, "We've now had four years in a row with a president that's built trillion-dollar deficits."

That's not true. Obama inherited a $1.3 trillion deficit from Bush; it wasn't something the president "built."

15. In the same speech, Romney said, "Now, the president promised that he was going to cut the deficit in half. Yeah, it didn't happen, did it. He's more than doubled it."

Maybe Romney doesn't know what "double" means. The deficit on Obama's first day was $1.3 trillion. Last year, it was also $1.3 trillion. This year, it's projected to be $1.1 trillion. When he says the president "more than doubled" the deficit, as he has many times, Romney's lying.

16. Romney added, in reference to the president, "He's added almost as much debt held by the public, $5 trillion, as all the prior presidents of the country combined."

Romney has said this before. It's still a blatant lie.

17. Romney went on to say, "One out of six people's fallen into poverty under this president."

That only makes sense if we count Obama's first year in office, which relies on a standardRomney believes is fundamentally unfair.

18. Romney also said, "What [Obama] said was not a gaffe. It was not a slip of the tongue. What he said was his philosophy. He said that if you have a business you didn't build it, someone else did that."

That's not even close to being true.

19. Romney said his economic plan "creates 12 million jobs in four years."

If we do nothing, we're on track to create 12 million new American jobs over the next four years anyway.

20. At an event in Manchester, New Hampshire, Paul Ryan, standing alongside Romney, said, "Now, let's be very clear and fair. The president inherited a difficult situation, no two ways about that. Problem is, he made things worse."

That's a lie.

21. Ryan also said of Romney, "He took struggling businesses and turned them around -- an 80 percent success rate. That's astounding."

It may be astounding, but it's also not true.

22. At the same event, Ryan said, "Remember when the president said, when he came in office he would create jobs. Unemployment would never get above 8 percent."

Obama never said unemployment would never get above 8 percent.

23. Also in New Hampshire, Romney said of Paul Ryan, "This is a guy who's been able to work with good Democrats, find people who could look beyond partisanship, find common ground to get things done."

After seven terms in Congress, Paul Ryan has never found common ground with Democrats to pass a significant piece of legislation.

24. Romney added, in reference to the budget, "So what do I do? Well, first, you've got to end the deficit and then start accumulating, if you will, reserves and growing. That's what we did [in Massachusetts]."

Romney left his successor with a deficit.

25. Romney also vowed to "get rid of the deficit."

There's no reason to believe this is in any way true. Romney says his plan "can't be scored," but independent budget analysts have found his agenda would make the deficit bigger, not smaller, and add trillions to the national debt.

26. Romney went on to say, "My test is this. I look at every program and say, is this so critical as a program it's worth borrowing money from China to pay for it?"

This continues to be misleading. The implication here is that U.S. debt is financed by the Chinese, but this isn't true -- China only holds about 8% of the nation's debt.

27. In explaining his plans to balance the budget, Romney added, "We're going to get rid of some programs like Obamacare and some others."

The Affordable Care Act saves the country hundreds of billions of dollars. If Romney "gets rid of" it, the deficit goes up, not down.

28. Romney also said, "We can't go on the way we're going on, or we'll end up being Greece."

That's painfully untrue.

29. Romney went on to say, "I don't want to raise taxes on the American people."

He may not want to, but according to independent analyses, he's going to.

30. Romney also complained about Obama's tax plan, arguing., "When you raise taxes on small business from 35 percent to 40 percent, you will kill jobs."

Obama has repeatedly cut taxes on small businesses -- by some counts, 18 times -- and if given a second term, his tax plan would have no effect on 97% of small businesses.

31. On U.S. policy in Afghanistan, Romney said, "We haven't heard this president" explain "what's happening and why they're there, what the mission is, what its purpose is, how we'll know when it's completed."

That's the exact opposite of reality.

32. At the same event, again alongside Romney, Ryan said in reference to Israel, "When President Obama made the 1967 borders the precondition to the beginning of negotiations, it undercut our ally."

That's both dumb and dishonest.

33. Romney added, in reference to Iran, "We should make it very clear that we're going to put in place crippling sanctions."

We've already put in place crippling sanctions. How can a presidential candidate not know this?

34. In his inaugural weekly audio message, Romney claimed, the Affordable Care Act "put in place a board of 15 unelected bureaucrats and gave them the power to make additional cuts to Medicare without even having to get approval from Congress. This means they could deny elderly Americans the care they've worked for their entire lives -- all because President Obama trusts bureaucrats more than he trusts seniors and their doctors."

Romney's trying to describe the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), but he's doing so in a way that's completely dishonest.

35. In the same message, Romney said, "According to independent, non-partisan scorekeepers, these cuts the president's people will take to Medicare won't prevent it from going bankrupt."

The lying is just amazing. The independent, non-partisan scorekeepers said Obama's plan would strengthen Medicare's finances and extend its financial health, while Romney's plan would move the Medicare system closer to insolvency.

36. Touting his own agenda, Romney added, "I released a plan to save and strengthen Medicare -- without making any changes for those that are 55 years of age and older."

That's demonstrably wrong. Under Romney's policy, the cost of prescription drug prices and preventive care for seniors would go up immediately -- for current and future retirees.

37. And again in reference to Medicare, Romney said, "No president should put in jeopardy your benefits."

Romney's proposal cuts Medicare benefits.

Previous editions of Chronicling Mitt's Mendacity: Vol. I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X, XI, XII,XIII, XIV, XV, XVI, XVII, XVIII, XIX, XX, XXI, XXII,XXIII, XXIV, XXV, XXVI, XXVII, XXVIII, XXIX, XXX

Romney's task in Tampa: Sell voters on himself, not just against Obama

TAMPA, Fla. – The task before Mitt Romney as he accepts his party’s presidential nomination this week in Florida is to convince the narrow segment of remaining undecided voters to boot President Obama from office, and then, decide on Romney as a suitable alternative.
This week’s Republican National Convention is one of three major opportunities – the other two being his selection of a running mate, and the presidential debates – Romney can count on to reach a large national audience. And for the former Massachusetts governor, that means changing perceptions about his personality and politics after a withering summer of attacks from the president’s re-election team and supportive super PACs.

Shannon Stapleton / Reuters Delegates look at an image of U.S. Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Mitt Romney displayed during the opening session of the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, August 27, 2012.
“I think if the election were held tomorrow, Obama would win the election,” said Steve Schmidt, a senior adviser in 2008 to that year’s GOP nominee, Arizona Sen. John McCain. “And in the balance of days left in this election, Romney has to change the dynamic of the election.”

Republicans will help Romney execute his game plan in a series of speeches and events throughout the week. Organizers hope to project the convention’s overall theme, “A Better Future,” in speeches and events spread across the convention’s abbreviated, three-day schedule. Republicans will weave the theme of Monday’s canceled session (“We Can Do Better”) into the three remaining days’ themes -- "We Built It," "We Can Change It," and "We Believe in America."

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'Meet the Press' moderator David Gregory and NBC's Andrea Mitchell examine Mitt Romney's campaign strategy at the Republican National Convention.
Those themes represent the tasks at hand. Republicans must convince voters that Obama hasn’t done well enough to merit re-election. But Romney will arrive in Tampa with some of the worst personal approval ratings of any presumptive Republican nominee; 44 percent of voters said in the August NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll that they held a negative opinion of Romney, while 38 percent expressed a positive opinion.
For Romney, the convention is as much an exercise in re-introducing himself to voters and softening impressions as it is making the case against Obama.
"He needs to introduce himself to people. Even though he’s the nominee, he lost the summer pretty decisively," said Bob Shrum, the veteran Democratic presidential strategist.
Shrum said the Obama campaign, over the course of the summer, had efficiently "shattered the central rationale for Romney’s campaign, that he’s a businessman who knows how to create jobs."

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Michael Steele, Ed Rendell and Vin Weber join Andrea Mitchell Reports to discuss the key issues regarding the upcoming Republican National Convention.
To do that, Romney will lean on surrogates like former Olympic athletes, who will pay tribute to Romney’s successes as head of the 2002 Salt Lake City games. Other speakers will include members of Romney’s church, fellow Mormons who are expected to pay tribute to acts of charity undertaken by Romney, a former bishop in his faith.

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Is Mitt Romney ready for his moment with America? Chriz Cillizza, Mark Halperin and John Harris discuss.
Another closely watched-speech with potential to move the needle will be the Wednesday night speech by Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan – whose selection represented Romney’s first major decision in the general election. The Republican running mate is expected to fete Romney, as well as make the case for entitlement reforms.
Modern conventions in both parties are carefully scripted to drive a message to a nationally televised audience, leaving for a narrow margin of error for speakers. The primetime lineup has been carefully selected, but the risk that a single speaker could veer off-message hangs over Tampa almost as much as the impending tropical storm.
“You’re supposed to vet the speeches, and you’ve selected the speakers,” said Republican operative Frank Donatelli, the head of GOPAC.
An impolitic remark could hijack news coverage away from the central messages of each night. The GOP is also hoping to avoid what happened in 1992, when several hard-charging speeches by conservatives were blamed for turning off swing voters from President George H.W. Bush’s re-election bid.
But most pivotal of all is Romney’s own acceptance speech, which will be nationally-televised address Thursday night.
Romney has said he’s begun drafting the speech, and appeared to join his wife, Ann, on Sunday in practicing their convention appearances. The Romneys headed to Brewster Academy, a prep school near their home in New Hampshire, for several hours on Sunday afternoon to practice their speeches.

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RNC Chairman Reince Priebus marks the official beginning to the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla.
But he’s overall been generally guarded about the contents of his and Ann’s speeches.
"I like my speech. I really like Ann's speech," he told reporters after a second day of practice on Monday morning.
The national spotlight for Romney will offer a personalizing opportunity for the former Massachusetts governor. But he’ll also have to explain his rationale for running, and make the case against a second term for Obama.
“He needs to bring definition to the race,” said Schmidt. “Why's he running for president? I think it's an unanswered question right now. “
A successful convention might mean a bounce for Romney; McCain led Obama in the immediate aftermath of both of their respective conventions in 2008. Republicans argue that advantage only diminished due to the financial crisis in the fall of that year.
This year, a different obstacle hangs over Romney’s bid to leave Tampa with more energy than Obama: next week’s Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.

Robert Samuelson: ‘Saving’ the middle class

Republicans and Democrats don’t agree on much, but they do agree on this: the middle class. At their conventions, the two parties will compete fiercely for its support. Republicans will accuse Barack Obama of destroying the middle class through policies perpetuating high joblessness and feeble economic growth. Democrats will portray Mitt Romney as a tool of the rich who doesn’t understand the middle class. To the victor may go the election, because “saving the middle class” has arguably become the campaign’s defining issue.
This is mostly political symbolism. The idea that anyone can “save” the middle class assumes that it’s in danger of disappearing, which it isn’t, and that presidents possess sufficient powers to resurrect it, which they don’t. Still, the symbolism is potent because most Americans equate the middle class with the kind of society we are and ought to be. It is a society where hard work and personal responsibility are rewarded — where “getting ahead” is expected; where economic security and social stability are enjoyed; and where privilege is minimized.

The appeal of these beliefs — across many economic, regional, religious and ethnic boundaries — is a great unifying force. It explains why most Americans identify themselves as “middle class.” A recent survey by the Pew Research Center asked people to state their social class. Only 7 percent of Americans called themselves “lower class,” although the government’s poverty rate is 15 percent. People don’t define themselves out of the mainstream.

The same holds at the income spectrum’s opposite end. Despite decades of rising inequality, only 2 percent put themselves in the “upper class.” Many Americans with incomes of $200,000, $300,000 or more refuse to count themselves as rich. They minimize their wealth or privilege and emphasize the middle-class need to strive. Nine of 10 Americans locate themselves somewhere in the middle class. In the Pew survey: 15 percent in the upper middle class; 49 percent in the middle class; and 25 percent in the lower middle class.
Not without reason, the middle class is now routinely described as “besieged,” “battered” and “beleaguered.” The financial crisis and Great Recession subverted two core beliefs: that hard work ensures “getting ahead” and that being middle class provides security. In the Pew survey, nearly three-quarters of Americans say it’s harder to advance now than a decade ago; by 47 percent to 42 percent, more Americans don’t think their children will live better than they do.
Home foreclosures and lengthy unemployment are visible engines of disillusion. True, they don’t affect everyone (about 5 million unemployed have now been jobless for more than six months; from 2007, completed home foreclosures total 4.5 million, reports Moody’s Analytics). But the demonstration effect is strong. “There but for the grace of God go I,” think millions.
This psychological pall is compounded by widespread wealth loss. According to Pew, the Americans in the middle half of the income distribution — defined as households from $39,418 to $118,225 — suffered an almost 40 percent wealth loss from 2007 to 2010. Adjusted for inflation, their wealth, consisting mostly of homes, stocks and bonds, was barely greater than in 1983. “Everyone was getting wealthier through the first half of the decade,” says Pew’s Paul Taylor. “Well, a lot of that was paper wealth and housing wealth” — which went poof. Richer households didn’t fare so badly, because they had a smaller share of their wealth in homes.
Obama and Romney can’t do much to aid the middle class. They face a dilemma. The middle class can’t regain its self-confidence and financial health without a strong economic recovery. But the economy can’t recover strongly without a financially healthy middle class, which provides most consumer spending. Not surprisingly, the economic expansion is glacial. Household debt is reduced gradually. Wealth is slowly rebuilt through higher saving and stock prices — and the hope that home values will follow.
There is also a larger conflict. Sooner or later, broad-based tax increases will be needed to reduce budget deficits. How large depends on how much federal spending is cut. This creates an unavoidable conflict between workers and retirees, because workers are the biggest taxpayers and retirees are the biggest beneficiaries of federal spending. Which middle class deserves support? Cut Social Security and Medicare and help workers. Raise taxes and help retirees.
For now, what’s telling is the resilience of middle-class norms. About 11 million homes are “underwater,” reports CoreLogic: Their mortgages exceed their values. Still, most owners make monthly payments even though defaulting might be advantageous. Similarly, long-term unemployed workers send out hundreds of resumes despite repeated disappointment.
Personal responsibility and a strong work ethic still matter and suggest a durable middle class. It will survive today’s economic setbacks — and political pandering.


On last evening's program, a clip was shown of Mitt Romney saying he needed 50.1 percent to be elected. Both Ms. Maddow and Mr. Hayes agreed a few minutes later in their talk-back session, (Probably the only time that's going to happen). All three are incorrect. Mitt Romney needs 271 electoral votes to become the next president. Albert Gore had way more than 50.1 percent of the vote in 2000 - and it meant nothing. With the voter fraud machinations in Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania, Romney can get there. Playing with votes is what American elections are all about, and probably always have been. This is why Romney and his party have no concern for the sloppy campaign they've run so far: One day it's okay to talk about his business background, the next day it's not; it's always fair for the candidate or his wife to talk about his taxes, but not anybody else; it's fair to say your a resident of Massachusetts when you put Utah down on your income tax. It doesn't matter: what matters is getting minority voters off the ballot, intimidating voters at the polls, changing early voting laws, disenfranchising former felons from voting -- and always, always, always show that you are a white man fighting for the power of white voters to dictate limited rights of citizenship to non-whites. (I'm white, by the way). Control, control, control -- that's what American democracy is becoming, especially this year: the republican governors control their states votings; the RNC controls the convention, Adelson and the Coke brothers control Romney. I'm surprised no republican has yet said, regarding the rest of us, 'let them eat cake.' I really wish they'd get to that part because, after Marie Antoinette said it, heads began to roll.

AUGUST 26, 2012

PARADE Exclusive: A Conversation With the Romneys

The Romney clan on the deck of their New Hampshire home. [Photo: Ben Baker]

Editor's note: As part of PARADE's 2012 election coverage, the magazine will feature President Obama and the first lady in its Sept. 2 cover story.

It's probably the closest the Romneys have come to kicking back during this campaign summer: a late July afternoon on glistening Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire. Grandkids bounce on the trampoline, splash in the gentle waves, soak in the hot tub. The candidate's eldest son, Tagg, 42, and his wife, Jen, keep an eye on their brood while a passel of campaign workers and friends stir things up in the kitchen. 

But you're never off the clock when you're running for president, which is why Mitt Romney‚ wearing pressed jeans and a more relaxed demeanor than he does on the stump‚ and his radiant wife, Ann, agreed to this dinnertime conversation with PARADE contributor Lynn Sherr. On the table, a typical New England lobster-and-corn supper. Nearby, 2-year-old Johnny in a high chair, occasionally cooing at his adoring grandmother. Coming before the announcement of his vice presidential pick and his awkward trip to Europe, the discussion focused on campaign vitriol, the governor's hopes for the Republican convention (set to begin Monday in Tampa), and very pragmatic questions from readers (culled from, CafeMom, and two GateHouse Media newspapers: the Peoria Journal Starand the Canton Repository) about Romney's wealth and how he would have voters' backs if elected president.

Governor, your campaign speeches talk about the middle class, but the vast majority of the questions we received from readers asked about your ability to relate to their struggles. In essence, how do you know what it's like to be someone without means, someone, as one reader puts it, trying to scrape by, living on food stamps?Governor Mitt Romney: Each of us faces struggles of one kind or another. Our life was not characterized by financial stress as much as it was by health issues. I served as a pastor of a congregation and saw people with various challenges and did my best to help them. I believe my experience in the private sector, the voluntary sector, and government has helped teach me what it takes to help people with different types of challenges.

We got this question from Kelsey M. of Orange, Va. 'I'm a stay-at-home mom of two children. How will your presidency improve my life?'
One, you'll be able to see better jobs with rising income again. And you'll know that when your kids go to school, it's a school of your choice, not the government's. And you'll know that when your kids come out of school, there will be a good job waiting for them.

There were a number of questions about your financial wealth. New Jersey resident Harry H. asked if you would make this pledge: If elected, do you promise to bank in the United States?
My investments have been managed for almost the last 10 years by a blind trust. A trustee decides where to put our money. If I am president, my understanding is the same principle applies, that I may not direct any of my investments. I can't tell you what my investments might be because I won't make them. But I am happy to have every investment in the United States.

You've received a lot of criticism from your opponents in the primaries. They said a lot of nasty things. Did it hurt?
No. That's part of the political process. I don't worry about that.
 Interesting—it didn't hurt at all this time.

Why do you think that in a recent poll, you lost out to the president in [voter] enthusiasm?
 To most folks that don't pay a lot of attention to the Republican primary process, I am not so well known. As I get better known, people will have greater confidence that I'm the person who can get this country working again for the middle class. It's nice to be loved, but it's  better to be respected.

On the topic of respect, former New Hampshire governor John Sununu has said that President Obama needs to learn to be American. You've referred to his policies as 'foreign.' Do you believe that President Obama is un-American in any way?
Governor Sununu was not suggesting he was't American, nor do I. I believe he's making us far more like Europe, with a larger, more dominant, more intrusive government. I believe if we keep going on that path, we will end up like Europe, with chronic high unemployment, no wage growth, and economic calamity at the doorstep. I think you have to return to celebrating success, encouraging entrepreneurship, and finding ways to get government out of the way.

Also from a reader, Nancy B., of Winter Springs, Fla.: 'I trust your acumen to assemble a great turnaround team for the economy. But who do you have in mind for advice on foreign affairs?'
I don't have a secretary of state or national security adviser in mind at this point‚ it might be a little presumptuous. That being said, I speak with a number of the former secretaries of state and [other] leaders‚ Condoleezza Rice, Jim Baker, George Shultz, Henry Kissinger, John Bolton, as well as people less well known. My leadership style is to have people of differing viewpoints express them openly and [then I] select among them myself.

Question from Texas resident Jean S.: 'Have you ever felt like a loser? What did you do to overcome that feeling?'
I define myself by my relationship with God, my wife, and my family. And in those relationships, I am not a loser. I don't worry about what happens in politics and the opinions of others, or I'd lose my hair!

And we all know you haven't done that.

MR: Glue keeps it in place. [laughter]


The couple pose in front of a photo backdrop outside their Lake Winnipesaukee, N.H. home.

Let's talk for a moment about your faith. How has tithing [the Mormon practice of giving 10 percent of one's income to the church] shaped your view of how we treat each other?
I love tithing. When Mitt and I give that check, I actually cry.
MR: So do I, but for a different reason.
AR: I know this money is an indication of how much we trust God and love the principle of sacrifice. And it teaches us not to be too, too tied to the things of the world. And it is a very good reminder of how blessed we really are, and most of those blessings do not come from a financial source, but from the power above.
MR: Our church doesn't publish how much people have given. This is done entirely privately. One of the downsides of releasing one's financial information is that this is now all public, but we had never intended our contributions to be known. It's a very personal thing between ourselves and our commitment to our God and to our church. 

Tithing sounds like a form of it takes a village.You're helping the community.

MR:  I think you'll find that conservatives are more generous philanthropically than people who are not conservatives. People who are in favor of small government are very much in favor of personal action to help other people in need. 

Is that a form of socialism?
From the very beginning, the willingness of neighbors to help raise the barn of a next-door neighbor was characteristic of America. But at the same time we take personal responsibility for our lives. Does government play a role? Absolutely. You know, I chuckle when I hear people say, 'Oh, they don't want any government.' Of course we want government! But it is government to encourage the life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness of its citizens, as opposed to direct the course of their living.

Mrs. Romney, many, many readers asked what would be your cause or causes should you become first lady.
A lot of my life I've been working with at-risk youth. There are many lost children in this generation, and it's just shameful. I hope to continue to help at-risk youth make choices that will make their lives better.

What makes you nervous about your husband on the campaign trail?
The only time I interfere is when I feel like his schedule is way too strenuous. He's only got so much he can give every day. So that's when I really put my foot down, saying, 'Dial it back, dial it back, dial it back.'

And never in a debate, never when he's making a speech? 
AR:  Well, I am nervous in debates. I don't like debates because—
MR: —she knows she could do better. [laughs] She wants to get up onstage and give it to them.
AR: Because there's so many traps you can fall in. But I enjoy his speeches. Even when I hear some of the same stories over and over again, I get emotional.

Do you cry?
AR: I do.

Do you, Governor?
MR: I'm emotional. I don't show it quite as clearly as John Boehner, but I'm an emotional person. There is a, I don't know, a societal norm that if you're running for office, you can't be emotional, and perhaps I bow to that too often.

Should you be elected, give me a picture of the White House. What is the feel? PARADE asked you once before if there'd be horses at the White House, and you said yes.
MR: Well, probably not at the White House itself, but nearby so she could go for her therapy. [Ann Romney was diagnosed with MS in 1998.]

Give me your White House vision.
MR: I'd like it to be open and have people feel welcome there. I don't just mean touring it, but also come to the East Room and see a performance of some kind.

Like what?
MR: Well, I would certainly want to hear from the Beach Boys, even though I know it's not the same group it used to be. Also Garth Brooks and Kenny Chesney and Toby Keith, and today's rock stars—The Killers are one group I enjoy.
AR:  I love jazz, I love pop, I love rock, I love classical.
MR: I'd let Alabama come back and sing again, and Aerosmith. Different eras.
AR: We have a friend in the Eagles.
MR: These are not all Republicans, by the way. Some may turn us down, but—
AR: No, they would die to be mentioned.
MR: I think the Obamas have done a nice job of welcoming various artists and having people come enjoy the White House. I also think, by the way, that having two children in the White House is a good thing. I hope, if we are lucky enough to be there, our grandchildren could come on occasion. 
AR: They'd want to move in, Mitt!
MR: I think having little feet in the hallway is wonderful.  

And after the convention, how do you see the Republican Party?
AR:  United.
MR:  We're united now. You go and ask people who voted for John McCain: 'Are you thinking of voting for anyone other than Mitt Romney?' And you will have a very hard time finding someone who's thinking of voting in a different direction. ... We go to the convention with high hopes. There's a lot of enthusiasm for new leadership.
AR: It's a recognition that Mitt and I represent millions and millions of people's hopes. It's women's voices in my head right now.

What do they say?
AR: One is, they'e praying for me, which is unbelievably touching. The second is, 'Your husband has to save this country.' And they say it with such passion and conviction. I feel what they're yearning for and hoping for.

What is that?
AR: What I hear very frequently is, 'My children are going to be worse off than I am.'  And I think that it is the first time in the history of America that one generation can say that. There is concern that a lot of their friends, a lot of their family are out of work; they may be out of work themselves. They really feel like something's gone. 'Mitt always says that we can do better. He's giving them a thread of hope to say, 'Join with us. We're going to be okay.'

Should the party change? There's been a lot of talk that it's gotten a little far to the right.
MR: I can't speak for something as big as 100-some-odd million people. The party is much bigger than any one person.

But you're going to be its leader.
MR: Hopefully a good one. [laughs

From the Archives: A Mitt Romney You Haven't Seen Yet 

PHOTOS: A Glimpse Into the Romney Family Album

Ann Romney Reveals Mitt's Softer Side

Barack Obama: 'We Need Fathers to Step Up'

Barack Obama: A Letter to My Daughters