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Posts Tagged ‘opportunity’

I’m no stranger to really dumb things appearing on my Facebook feed which make a mockery of anyone trying to engage in actual, rational, substantive debate about politics and current events. Usually I let them pass, but today for some reason I feel compelled to engage. So here we go!

First, we start out with a (obviously false) story:

An economics professor at a local college made a statement that he had never failed a single student before, but had recently failed an entire class. That class had insisted that Obama’s socialism worked and that no one would be poor and no… one would be rich, a great equalizer.
The professor then said, “OK, we will have an experiment in this class on Obama’s plan”. All grades will be averaged and everyone will receive the same grade so no one will fail and no one will receive an A…. (substituting grades for dollars – something closer to home and more readily understood by all).
After the first test, the grades were averaged and everyone got a B. The students who studied hard were upset and the students who studied little were happy. As the second test rolled around, the students who studied little had studied even less and the ones who studied hard decided they wanted a free ride too so they studied little..
The second test average was a D! No one was happy. When the 3rd test rolled around, the average was an F. As the tests proceeded, the scores never increased as bickering, blame and name-calling all resulted in hard feelings and no one would study for the benefit of anyone else. To their great surprise, ALL FAILED and the professor told them that socialism would also ultimately fail because when the reward is great, the effort to succeed is great, but when government takes all the reward away, no one will try or want to succeed. It could not be any simpler than that.

Well, everything else aside, all those students deserve to fail economics if they believe that Obama’s policies will lead to a uniformly universal level of wealth. Seriously. The professor should probably not be teaching anyone either, if he really thinks Obama is a socialist. He really isn’t. If you don’t believe me, ask a socialist! But this is where the fun begins. We finish with 5 of the greatest sentences we will ever read, apparently:

Remember, there IS a test coming up. The 2012 elections.

These are possibly the 5 best sentences you’ll ever read and all applicable to this experiment:
1. You cannot legislate the poor into prosperity by legislating the wealthy out of prosperity.
2. What one person receives without working for, another person must work for without receiving.
3. The government cannot give to anybody anything that the government does not first take from somebody else.
4. You cannot multiply wealth by dividing it!
5. When half of the people get the idea that they do not have to work because the other half is going to take care of them, and when the other half gets the idea that it does no good to work because somebody else is going to get what they work for, that is the beginning of the end of any nation.

OK, so let’s bust out the scotch and just take these one at a time.

  1. Well I suppose that’s true enough. Luckily no one is trying to do that! Obama has lowered taxes. True, he has proposed increasing taxes on the wealthiest Americans by letting the top level “Bush tax cuts” expire, but even this will increase taxes by a whopping 3 – 5%, and remember that were talking about marginal rates. This only applies to traditional income, by the way. Capital gains taxes will remain at their historically low levels. So if this modest increase, back to the Clinton-era tax rates (when the economy was so awful!) constitutes “legislating the wealthy out of prosperity” then we should seriously examine our definition of prosperity.
  2. This is just plainly not true. Economics is not a zero sum game. If this were true, what of “creating wealth”?
  3. Again, economics is not zero sum. If this were true, what about the bank bailouts? It turns out the government is really good at giving people free money! I presume that we’re referring to the idea that things like food stamps are just “stolen” out of the pockets of hardworking Americans by the ravenous poor, so lets assume for a minute that statement number 3 is in fact true. Now, lets assume that an employee of a bailed out bank gets a one million dollar bonus with his bailout funds. Not an outrageous assumption. Because the government can’t give someone anything it didn’t take from someone else, we’ll assume that it took that million from a foodstamp recipient. The average benefit is $4.40 per day. Thus, the government would have to take almost 623 years worth of benefits from that person to fund that bonus! That sounds way more egregious to me.
  4. OK. I think this means that you can’t increase (multiply) wealth by decreasing (dividing) it. Actually, I agree! Perhaps we should keep that in mind when we talk about austerity! Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney may want to call their offices.
  5. There just really isn’t a significant group that thinks they don’t have to work because everyone else will just take care of them. I’m sure you can point to an example or two, but that’s anecdotal, not a real chunk of the population. Like I mentioned previously, SNAP benefits average less than five dollars per day. Who needs to work when you have that! Conversely, there are folks who make more in an hour than I do in a year. Their work is clearly paying off! If they actually decided to never do anything again because their taxes may go up by a couple percent, they would be leaving a whole hell of a lot of money on the table, and would be epicly stupid.

As a final point, if we continue the story’s theme of substituting grades and money and accept the statement that the 2012 election is a test, then the only way to pass is to be rich. OK, actually that one may make sense…

Ranting over. I’ll get back to the real world now. I feel like I wasted time by writing this. Or even thinking about it. Ah, well.

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Correction, make that 15 governors (only 14 Republicans, to be fair) that would deny healthcare to millions of people for short term political gain. Its disgusting. 

Note that I don’t actually believe the governors will opt out in the end, I think the politics of that move would be too toxic, and by the time it would come down to it (Jan 1, 2014) the current healthcare obsession will have passed. And so they will very quietly opt in. But the fact they are willing to play games with millions of lives is reprehensible.

And for those of you who think that those denied coverage are just a bunch of lazy welfare cheats who need to get a damn job, read this. An excerpt, describing someone’s attempt to apply for government assistance: 

“I didn’t wear my best clothes, but I wore a light blouse and jeans, and I guess I was just a little too dressed up,” she recalls. “Because the woman just looked at me and said, ‘Are you in a crisis? Your application says you’re in a crisis.’ I said, ‘I’m living in a van and I don’t have a job. I have a little bit of money, but it’s going to go fast.’ The woman said, ‘You have $500. You’re not in a crisis if you have $500.’ She said anything more than $50 was too much.”

If Adkins had filled her tank with gas, done her laundry, eaten a meal, and paid her car insurance and phone bills, it would have used up half of everything she had. But emergency food stamps, she was told, are not for imminent emergencies; they’re for emergencies already in progress. You can’t get them if you can make it through the next week – you have to be down to the last few meals you can afford.

“The money’s for my phone, it’s for gas, it’s for my bills,” Adkins said.

“Why are you in a crisis,” the woman asked, “when you have a phone bill?”

“I need the phone so I can get a job. You can’t look for a job without a phone.”

“Why do you have bills?” the woman asked. “I thought you didn’t have a place to live.”

“I live in my van,” Adkins said. “I have insurance.”

“You have a 2007 van,” the woman said. “I think you need to sell that.”

“Please, I need a break,” Adkins said. “I need some help. I need to take a shower.”

“Why didn’t you have a shower?”

“I live in a van.”

The woman told Adkins to come back when she really needed help.

Even the piece of mind offered by a simple statement that you will be covered if something else goes wrong is better than nothing, and a hell of a lot better than the contempt and derision these people face from their elected officials. 

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South Carolina and Florida will be opting out of the expanded medicaid coverage under the ACA. The result of this will be 1.2 million people without coverage.

So let’s be absolutely clear about this. Two people have decided to withhold medical coverage from 1.2 million people in order to score political points. That’s astounding. But maybe I’m not being fair. FL Gov Rick Scott had this to say:

“Florida will opt out of spending approximately $1.9 billion more taxpayer dollars required to implement a massive entitlement expansion of the Medicaid program,”

OK, so this isn’t about scoring points, its about fiscal responsibility. So again, let’s be absolutely clear. Two people have decided to withhold medical coverage from 1.2 million people in order to keep the bond markets happy. That’s equally astounding. 

But, I’m glad they’re doing this. It’s refreshingly… honest. They are saying to their states’ poor: “your needs are less important to us than reducing the debt”. No Paul Ryan-esque bullshit about how cutting entitlements actually increases entitlements. Just a straight up admission that we really don’t care about you, and if you or your loved ones die from a preventable condition well tough shit, you should have thought about that before you were poor.

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The New York Times has a story out detailing Mitt Romney’s son Tagg’s success in starting a private equity firm immediately after Romney ended his 2008 presidential bid:

Neither had experience in private equity. But what the close friends did have was the Romney name and a Rolodex of deep-pocketed potential investors who had backed Mr. Romney’s presidential run —more than enough to start them down that familiar path from politics to profit.

Two years later, despite a challenging fund-raising climate for private equity, Solamere, named after a wealthy enclave in Utah’s Deer Valley where the Romneys have a winter home, finished raising its first fund. The firm blew past its $200 million goal, securing $244 million from 64 investors, including a critical, early $10 million from Mitt Romney and his wife, Ann, and hefty commitments from wealthy supporters of the campaign.

I’m not suggesting impropriety here, I simply want to highlight that, like Mitt’s highschool years, this is yet another perfect example of the inequality of opportunity present in this country. Tagg Romney points out that his father’s reputation and position didn’t actually win him any investors, just allowed him to get his foot in the door. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it really doesn’t matter either way.

The ability to get your foot in millionaire power brokers’ doors, and borrow 10 million in start up capital from your parents, is a huge opportunity that just doesn’t exist for almost everyone else.

Why can’t we just admit that?

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Much has already been written about this piece, which I found via Andrew Sullivan, describing an incident that occurred at Mitt Romney’s highschool in which Mitt and some of his friends assaulted a gay student.

That’s terrible of course, and he deserves to take heat for it, but I don’t think a single incident from decades ago is enough to say Romney is still a gay basher today. Maybe he is, but we need more evidence. At any rate, I think we can draw a lot of conclusions from details in this story, and I want to take this in a bit of a different direction.

Mitt Romney, whose father was Michigan’s governor at the time, attended Cranbrook, an elite boarding school, described like so:

Built in 1927 by George Booth, publisher of the Detroit News, and named after his father’s alma mater in Kent, England, Cranbrook stood out as an architectural gem in the Michigan woods. Modeled on British boarding schools with “forms” instead of grades, “prefects” instead of RAs, “masters” instead of teachers, it also boasted the work of famed Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen. Cranbrook had all the trappings of an elite school where kids walked around like junior executives and, as Tom Elliott, Class of 1966, recalled, learned mantras such as, “Remember who you are, and what you represent.” “If you went to Cranbrook,” said a classmate, Peter “the Bird” Werbel. “You were crème de la crème.” The Romney children walked under arches reading “A Life Without Beauty Is Only Half Lived”; past a field overlooked by Greek-style sculptures where the Detroit Lions practiced; and then a statuette of the school’s symbol, the archer from Book V of Virgil’s “Aeneid,” who “aimed an arrow high.” (In the mug honoring Romney’s Class of 1965, a naked woman replaced the aiming archer.) They looked out of leaded-glass windows in the academic buildings, crossed the spruce-spotted quad lined with modernist fountains and sleek statues of coursing hounds. They studied in reading rooms featuring frescoes and marble friezes. In the chandeliered dining room, students waited on fellow students and sat on straight-backed spindle chairs bearing the school’s insignia of a proud crane. After dinner, they wiped their mouths with cloth napkins.

At such a good school, Mitt was afforded many opportunities for personal development, and indeed he was involved heavily in school activities and organizations that had a lasting effect on him:

He was a member of 11 school organizations, including the Spectator’s Club and the homecoming committee, and started the school’s booster outfit, the Blue Key Club. It was at Cranbrook where he first lived on his own, found his future wife and made his own decisions. One can see the institution’s influence on his demeanor and actions during those years, but also how it helped form the clubbiness and earnestness, the sense of leadership and enthusiasm, apparent in his careers as a businessman and a politician.

I don’t think you need me to point out that city schools in Detroit were perhaps a bit, er, different. But Cranbrook was an elite school for elite people. Poor Mitt, whose father’s company just couldn’t measure up against the companies owned by the other boys’ fathers, was himself bullied:

Romney even came in for teasing because American Motors, the company his father ran, was considered at the bottom rung of the big auto hierarchy, below General Motors, Ford and Chrysler. “Boys in a boys’ school can tease and make fun of almost anything,” said Bailey, a scholarship student and head prefect of the school who described Romney at the time as an awkward adolescent with a penchant for practical jokes. The children of other auto executives would taunt Romney for the Ramblers he and his father drove.

As the governor’s son, though, Mitt Romney did enjoy an elite status, which showed in his attitude towards the other students:

Others noticed a distance between themselves and Romney. “I was a scholarship student and he was the son of the governor,” said Lance Leithauser, now a doctor, who attended the school with his brother, Brad, now a noted poet. “There was a bit of a gulf.” Even a close pal like Friedemann felt that distance; their friendship was confined to the dorms. When Romney left the campus on weekends, he never invited him. “I didn’t quite fit into the social circle. I didn’t have a car when I was 16,” Friedemann said. “I couldn’t go skiing or whatever they did.” Lou Vierling, a scholarship student who boarded at Cranbrook for the 1960 and 1961 academic years, was struck by a question Romney asked them when they first met. “He wanted to know what my father did for a living,” Vierling recalled. “He wanted to know if my mother worked. He wanted to know what town I lived in.” As Vierling explained that his father taught school, that he commuted from east Detroit, he noticed a souring of Romney’s demeanor.

Back to the gay bashing incident that was the impetus for this article, one of the boys involved in the assault later felt guilty about what he had done, and expected Romney to be disciplined for the attack, as Cranbrook was a notoriously strict institution with no tolerance for misbehavior. As it turned out, Romney faced no consequences. In fact, he faced none for any of his other pranks and outbursts as well:

As chairman of a group of faculty members and students who were in charge of discipline, he described a strict school in which offenders could be “dismissed, period.” Snyder could not recall dealing with any transgressions involving Romney. “I wouldn’t expect to see him,” Snyder said of the disciplinary tribunals. “The family was so straight, they don’t do those types of things.”

Romney had nothing to fear from the school, because he belonged to a well connected family who “don’t do those types of things” even though they clearly did. Given the failure of Cranbrook to discipline Romney, one wonders what became of his victim:

After the incident, Lauber seemed to disappear. He returned days later with his shortened hair back to its natural brown. He finished the year, but ultimately left the school before graduation — thrown out for smoking a cigarette.

Ah yes, that makes sense. He was expelled for smoking a cigarette. Assault and a history of pranks, on the other hand, seem to be just fine (provided your father holds the right job).

The picture this all paints, to me, is that Mitt Romney had a very charmed childhood. He got to attend elite schools where he looked down on those less wealthy than he, which indeed seems to be the institutional culture. Likely because of his father’s position, he enjoyed a consequence-free life at the school. He was afforded every opportunity. In short, he had everything handed to him (on a silver platter, by other students). I don’t bring all this up to say that Romney is a bad person for being rich, or anything like that. I simply want to point out that, when you hear Mr. Romney speak on the fact that in America, everyone has equal opportunities, it is simply not true. Romney himself is proof of that. The fact that he doesn’t seem capable of acknowledging his own tremendously good fortune, nor does he seem to understand that not everyone can have that kind of experience, is to me the most damning thing about him. He seems to completely lack any semblance of empathy or compassion to those less fortunate. Romney acts as if he has achieved what he has in life entirely due to his own hard work and diligence. Again, not to belittle those things because he clearly has worked hard, but much of his success is owed to the wealth and opportunity into which he was born. Much of his personal development has been attributed to his time at Cranbrook, an institution that by all rights should have shown him the door long before he graduated, as it expelled others for significantly more minor infractions that those committed by Romney.

Mr. Romney is an obviously successful individual. He should have a little humility, because he did not accomplish it alone. But he seems to expect everyone else to. Are you unemployed? You’re lazy. Poor? You don’t work hard enough. Republican candidate for President? You’re a smart, hard working, virtuous, shining star of capitalism! Congratulations!

When you combine the above with Romney’s advice that struggling students can just borrow thousands from Daddy, or Ann Romney’s statement that the Romneys had to tough it out in college, living only off the income from Mitt’s stock holdings he was given, then you begin to get a very clear picture. The Romneys quite simply live in a different world, and don’t seem to care much for those outside of it. After all, the only thing it takes for you, too, to have all of their success is just a bit of hard work.

But the reality is obviously different. The Inequality of Opportunity matters, a great deal. But Mitt Romney can’t, or won’t, see that.

He really is John Galt.

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I’ve tried to stay out of this whole Rosen vs. Ann Romney motherhood flap because I think its dumb. That is, until I saw that Ann Romney said this:

“I love the fact that there are also women out there that don’t have a choice, that they must go to work and they still have to raise the kids,” Romney said. “Sometimes life isn’t easy for any of us.”

Look, I understand that some people aren’t going to have the luxury to be stay at home moms if they want to. That’s a fact, and it probably always will be. But do I love it? Hell no, I think it sucks. Ann Romney was very fortunate that she got to stay at home to raise her family and not worry about making ends meet, and I’m not begrudging her that. In fact I’m happy for her. I would love it if more people had that option, if they so chose. Ann Romney, on the other hand, loves that they don’t. She loves that there are moms out there that don’t have the time to spend with their children because they’re too busy trying to pay for food and rent.

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