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Friday, September 21, 2012

Mitt Romney, the 47% & what is & isn't a cakewalk:


I know you want to talk about Mitt Romney’s weekend release of his 2011 tax returns, but bear with me:

Way back in 1971, Philosopher and Ivy League professor John Rawls, published an opus on political philosophy and ethics, called, A Theory of Justice. Rawls makes a compelling case for a social contract in which fairness reigns supreme. In order to get there, he asks readers to imagine a space free from any prejudicial interplays or external influences, called the original position, in which all human beings exist behind a veil of ignorance, and are therefore unaware of their own socioeconomic class, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual identity, ability, etc. Rawls proves that in a ceteris paribus world, free from war, famine, political unrest, historic disagreements, and so forth, human beings who are unaware of the advantages or disadvantages that might befall them by being light or dark skinned, male or female, straight or gay, citizens or immigrants, and anything else about themselves that might confer or remove privilege, would choose to create a society in which everything is as fair as possible. Without exception, everyone is afforded equality of opportunity. And if inequity arises, it can only be allowed to continue if it proves to be of benefit to society as a whole. If things become too unequal, and members of the society are harmed because they don’t earn enough money, or they are denied the education, healthcare, resources and pathways to achieve social mobility, or other forms of success, government must intervene in order to correct whatever is preventing fairness.

Rawls’ society in which what is good and just, is what is fair, sounds awesome, right?

The problem is that we don’t live in a world of ceteris paribus, at least not in the sense that we as Americans can create a nation whose wellbeing is wholly dependent on what we do within the borders of the United States. We can drill for oil in an attempt to lower gasoline prices, for instance, but both the left-leaning Center for American Progress, and the right-leaning Cato Institute, agree that what we pay at the pump has much more to do with rising demand in the developing world and the latest rounds of unrest in the Middle East—a zone that arguably hasn’t known stability since the days of the Ottoman Empire. We can double-down on either Keynesian or Supply-side economics, writ large, in an attempt to accelerate the pace of growth in our economy, but if Europe walks away from the Euro as a common currency, for example, it will mean dampened exports and corporate profits, weakened employment/consumer/investor confidence, shrink our gross domestic product, cause the national unemployment rate to rise to 9% or more, and produce a double-dip recession—although the US economy is lackluster, it is has grown and produced private sector jobs, and so technically the recession that began under George W. Bush ended during Barack Obama first term as President. And these examples don’t even take into account what could happen if we were to suddenly find ourselves grappling with a series of increasingly costly natural disasters. The steps we can take to prevent harm are under our locus of control, yet there is no way to fully inoculate ourselves from the impact that something outside of our locus of control might have on us. This does not mean that we are helpless, weak beings, who occupy space in a chaotic, uncontrollable world. But it does mean that some elements of our wellbeing and success are related to factors beyond our locus of control.

When Mitt Romney asserts that 47% of Americans are, “dependent upon government… believe they are victims… believe they are entitled (emphasis Romney’s) to healthcare, to food, to housing, to you name it… people who pay no income tax,” and concludes, “my job is not to worry about those people [because] I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives,” he is saying two things: One, the world is a perfectly fair place for everyone. Two, there are people in the United States that are not dependent on government. Both of these assertions are not only demonstrably untrue; they are laughably false.

Let’s ignore the fact that Romney’s 47% statistic ignores the burden of other federal taxes, principally payroll taxes which are levied on the first $110,100 of wage income for social security, and all wage income for Medicare. In fact, 80% of all American taxpayers pay more in payroll taxes than federal income taxes as a percentage of income. What this means is that a large share of all households paying no income tax are working households with substantial payroll tax bills. In addition, as many as 15 million households, or individuals, owe no income tax because they took a hit as a result of the global financial crisis, and either saw their earnings fall below taxable levels, or saw their incomes disappear all together, along with their jobs. It seems practically impossible to label workers, and those whose earnings are stunted by a climate of high unemployment, as anything but the antithesis of people who avoid personal responsibility. But I digress.

Let’s also ignore the fact that half the households in Romney’s 47% of Americans statistic, pay no income tax because the standard deduction puts them below the taxable threshold, that three-quarters of the remaining 38 million households consist of either elderly retirees, or families that receive that receive the earned income tax credit to offset the cost of the social security tax on wages, because they are both members of the active workforce, and the chief providers of care to dependent children. And the remaining piece consists of students carrying the financial burden of their own education, and active duty military personnel who are not required to pay income taxes on what they earn during tours of duty in combat zones. One of the great ironies is that the top 1% of filers rake in 23.9% ($258 billion) in reduced taxes thanks to the deductions and inclusions for which they qualify. So while Romney criticizes the 47% for their sense of entitlement and dependence upon government, it is Romney himself, and his fellow elite earners that take the greatest share of the public sector (taxpayer) supported spoils. But let’s ignore this irony as well.

Finally, let’s ignore the fact that according to the (right-leaning) Cato Institute, even before injecting hundreds of billions of public sector (taxpayer) dollars into private sector as part of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) signed into law by George W. Bush, nearly $100 billion in federal tax dollars went to corporate welfare in the form of direct subsidies annually, while fewer than $60 billion total were expended toward to Temporary Aid to Needy Families, (TANF) food stamps, housing subsidies, and the rest of it. Never mind that this one of those Inception moments where you realize that since Romney’s father, George, was on welfare after retuning to the US from Mexico, (a fact corroborated by Romney’s mother, Lenore) he belongs to the victim-playing, entitled, personal responsibility averse, government dependent 47%, but Romney took more than $10 million of public sector (taxpayer) bankrolled bailout money, therefore taking much more in corporate welfare than his father received in social welfare. Add in an additional layer: Based on what we currently know, Romney has paid zero percent income tax on wages—the 13 percent he claims to have paid on all of those tax returns he won’t let us see comes from income on capital gains—despite the fact that the marginal tax rate is 35% for top earners. This means he depends on the government to help him avoid over $4 million in taxes every single year; the feels entitled to pay a little more than $3 million, instead of the $7.5 million he owes. If we try to wrap our minds around these paradoxes and juxtapositions, our brains will explode. Let’s ignore them.

Let’s focus on the fact that Mitt Romney writes off more women than men, and more people of color than whites when he makes his standard of concern an annual salary or statement of earnings that places one squarely in the middle class—which Romney defines as up to $250,000 per year—or in the elite of American socioeconomic life. Let’s focus on the fact that he writes off more red states than swing states or blue states with his 47% statistic. And let’s focus on the fact that he passes damning judgment on those who are not affluent. In essence telling them: Because you shirk personal responsibility, claim victimhood, feel entitled to healthcare, food, shelter, and so forth, without having to work for these, you are a welfare-state slave. If you hadn’t chosen to be so feckless and lazy, you could’ve been rich and free, like me.

I’m sure you remember Hilary Rosen’s statement on Anderson Cooper’s 360 show on CNN, “[Ann Romney] has actually never worked a day in her life. She’s never really dealt with the kinds of economic issues that a majority of the women in this country are facing… [Mitt Romney] seems so old-fashioned when it comes to women… He just doesn’t see us as equal.” The Romney campaign focused on the “never worked a day in her life” part of the quote and accused the Obama campaign of hating stay-at-home moms. The Obama distanced itself from Rosen, and reminded voters that Romney was in cahoots with the GOP Congress and state legislatures responsible for waging the War on Women. And cable news, print publications, and the media, writ large, went guano-crazy over the whole thing. They loved it; couldn’t get enough of it.

I raise this because a few things came out of that media firestorm: First, everyone made an admission that child rearing is no cakewalk, and because moms do much more than dads in the aggregate, they deserve recognition for bearing a disproportionate burden. Second, although surrogates for the Romney campaign never ceded the point, the preponderance of pundits and journalists concluded that if Rosen indeed intended to make the case that it is harder to raise children as a single parent, in a low income household, as a person of color, as an immigrant, and/or in another circumstance that might confer or remove privilege, the empirical data is on her side. There are statistically significant differences between the opportunities and outcomes women with children enjoy when compared across differences in socioeconomic class, race, legal status, level of education, and so forth. Sexism, patriarchy, racism, kyriarchy, and a slew of other isms and archys are quantifiable and qualifiable.

In 1973, the Supreme Court affirmed a woman’s right to choose whether or not to carry a pregnancy to term. And although it has since restricted this right, it remains mostly true, in this country, women are able to choose whether or not to become mothers. But an individual woman does not choose every aspect of the world into which her child is born. She certainly does not choose the fact that as a mother she, and not the child’s father will be legally expected to provide every financial, emotional, educational, and medical need. There is no universal law defining what children are entitled to from their biological fathers, or the male caregivers in their lives. If one parent has full or even partial custody of a child, and she (or sometimes he) needs the other parent to provide time, money, or anything else toward that child’s maintenance and support, the parent in need must win a court case in order to make that happen. It’s not something that just occurs organically.

But if you’re a single mom and your kid violates a curfew law, and when detained is found to be holding a controlled substance, the default is for you to be legally liable for both. The child’s father will not be named in the case, much less charged. If you’re not only a single mom, but also homeless, and you enroll your child using the address of a babysitter, so that your offspring can attend the best school possible, you’ll be charged with felony larceny for stealing $16K worth of “free” educational services, and sentenced to 12 years in jail. The child’s father will not be named in the case, much less charged. There has been a demonstrable rise in the number of single female-headed households in the US, and over the last two decades, the demographic breakdown for the fastest growing group these households belong to is: White women, twenty-something years of age, with some college education, but no four-year degree. 40% of all female-headed households live in poverty. Women are poorer than men regardless of racial/ethnic group, and Latinas, Native American, and black women are the poorest of all.

I offer these examples and statistics to prove that while any individual—in this case, a single mom—certainly is an agent who can choose to empower herself, and choose to improve her circumstances, and her child’s circumstances, yet as a matter of incontrovertible fact, there are always going to be things outside of her control. As a case in point, she has almost zero influence over the fact that as a single mom, she is many times more likely to belong to the 47% of Americans who do not pay income taxes, written off by Mitt Romney, because his wealth, racial identity, and gender privilege lead him to presume she does not comprehend the “dignity of work.” She did not choose to create a society in which both men and women are both equally capable of being parents, but do not have an equal responsibility for both unpaid work as homemakers and caregivers, much less economic support. She did not write public policies that presently do not facilitate equally shared parenting, without penalty to employment, advancement, benefits, and so forth. Single women currently incur all of the consequences when their sexual behavior results in pregnancy. Single men do not. Until such a time that a universal mechanism exists for establishing paternity and legally requiring fathers to contribute their time and money toward the clothing, feeding, housing, care, education, and development of their children, all of these charges will legally remain, almost exclusively, the terrain of moms. By seeking to improve not only her wellbeing, not only the wellbeing of her child, but also the wellbeing of others, a single mom can help transform the US into the nation it should be. Yet she did not make the country as it is. She did not choose the current—much less the historic—inequalities, ambiguities, and uncertainties that lead to the overpopulation of women and people of color in poverty.

She did not choose any of what makes her a likely member of Romney’s discarded 47%.


When Mitt Romney jokes that if his father had been a Mexican immigrant, he’d have, “a better shot of winning this [election],” because “it would help to be Latino,” he both commits the error John Rawls made when relying on the veil of ignorance, and original position, in his A Theory of Justice. And advances the absurd, unsubstantiated notion that his identity as a white, non-Hispanic man, disadvantages him in a country where 43 of 44 Presidents have been white, non-Hispanic men.

Rawls incorrectly assumes that if you strip away socioeconomic class, gender, race, religion, culture, sexual identity, formal education, life experience, legal status, family structure, etc. that there is enough left to constitute a full human being. In other words, he’s making the preposterous claim that identity is the sum of malleable, interchangeable, and superficial traits. But blackface did not actually transform Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll into African American men named Amos and Andy in the 1950s, and a fake accent, hoop earrings, hand gestures, and a handsy boyfriend did not convince anyone that Cecily Strong, from Oak Park, IL, was Mimi Morales, from the concrete jungle, where dreams are made, on last week’s Fall 2012 season premiere of Saturday Night Live. As Elise Rodenbeck recently wrote in Pocho, “Consumerism… [seeks to] process culture, strip it of all that gunk we don’t need (like knowledge and power)… [so that] culture itself has no value outside the bounds of consumption. [If] culture is no different than a box of cereal… why would I want that? Why would I want something that has no monetary value when I could just pass as white and be at the top of the pecking order?... [But, if] culture is not something to be consumed. [Then] it is in our hearts and blood… our minds… more powerful than any trinket, more powerful than capitalism itself.” In other words, Latinidad can’t be veil of ignorance’d away, or worn by Romney like a garment.

Mitt Romney wrongly asserts that he could be the exact same person he is today, after having grown up as a member of the Latino community—specifically as a member of the US-born, Mexican American community from a mixed-status, immigrant household. He also wrongly assumes that this mythical Latino version of himself would find it easier to win a presidential election without changing his policy stances, platform rhetoric, campaign tactics, and/or candidate strategy. Politic365 superstars Adriana Maestas, Dr. Jason Johnson, and Jeneba Ghatt have already addressed the second point, so please allow me to simply share one thought related to the first.

Richard Wright once wrote that black and white Americans are engaged in a war over the nature of reality. Noting that African Americans having looked and brooded upon the harsh lot of black people, and having “compared it with the hopes and struggles of minority peoples everywhere… [until] the cold hard facts have begun to tell them something… [have concluded, that people of color] feel the meaning of history… as though they, in one lifetime, had lived it themselves throughout all the long centuries.”

Latinos are not a monolithic population. We are a US census group carved together out of dozens of countries and dependencies, who share overlapping histories rooted in Latin America and the Caribbean, as it exists today, and as it has existed over the course of the last 520 years. Some of us have always belonged to territories now forming part of this country. Others of us arrived as servants, refugees, workers, students, or to be reunited with our families. We don’t share a common primary language. We don’t even belong to the same racial group. Nevertheless, the vast majority of us come from communities comprised of persons who have brown or black skin because we are the descendents of Amerindians, Africans, or both. Whether or not we choose acknowledge our connections to present day mestizo and indigenous populations, or the peoples of the Diaspora connected to the Transatlantic Slave Trade, to be Latino in the US, means we experience (seemingly endless) moments in which our American identity—our Americanness—is questioned socially, legally, and politically.

At the London Olympics, Leonel “Leo” Manzano won a silver medal in the men’s 1,500-meter final, running the fastest time ever by a US athlete. He celebrated his US record, and medal won for the US, by carrying both an American flag and a Mexican one. The CNN op-ed page read as follows, “[It was] misguided and ill-mannered… As the world looked on, he [Manzano] held up both the U.S. flag and the Mexican flag. Not a good look. And not a good idea… The image didn’t warm my heart. It upset my stomach.” 27,919 people recommended this article. The most popular of the 10,995 comments posted below it read, “What this guy did is wrong… He should apologize or leave USA.”

A US athlete, wearing an American uniform and waving an American flag, after setting a US record, and winning an Olympic medal, is told to apologize, or leave the USA:

Does anyone, anywhere, believe this would have happened if he were not Latino?

Former White House Coordinator of Security Planning for the National Security Council, as well as Harvard and Columbia University professor Samuel P. Huntington, published a text in 2004, whose sole purpose was to paint Latinos as a threat to America’s national identity. Without apology or hesitation he argues that Latino immigrants are not as culturally American as those who came before.

He reaches this egregious and erroneous conclusion, ignoring data from the Pew Center, affirmed by the Economist, and aligned with studies by Nielsen, that immigrants from Latin America, and their children, learn and use English as their primary language, at rates that rival any previous wave of immigrants from anywhere in the world. Ignoring the fact that Latino students have been punished for attempting to maintain their bilingualism since generations and generations before the Civil Rights Movement, and that this attack continues today, decades and decades later. Ignoring the fact that the Supreme Court case declaring the denial of educational opportunities to Latino students, attending under-resourced, segregated schools, a violation of the US Constitution, Mendez v. Westminster, predates Brown v. Board of Education, and was used as the chief precedent in that landmark ruling. Ignoring the fact that the Schott Foundation for Public Education has called the preponderance of college-and-career denying, educational achievement gaps, and persistence of dramatically different graduation rates for whites and Latinos, as well as African Americans, the product of “willful neglect” on the part of federal, state, and local policymakers.

Ignoring the fact that Latinos have fought in every US military conflict since the American Revolutionary War. Ignoring the fact that Latinos founded the city of St. Augustine, hundreds of years before Florida became a state in 1845, and set roots in the West (from Oklahoma to California) long before the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo made this land part of the US. Ignoring the fact that all Puerto Ricans, nearly one of ten Latinos, have been US citizens since the 1917 Jones Act.

The fact that nearly two-thirds of all Latinos are native-born US citizens, and more than one-quarter of foreign-born Latinos are naturalized US citizens should count for something. But since 1 in 3 Americans believe that more than half of all Latinos are undocumented immigrants. The only logical conclusion is, not only have Latinos not been accepted as equals by those who believe “American” is synonymous with “white,” we’ve been targeted for even greater marginalization.

During the Great Depression, half a million Americans were forcibly “Repatriated” to Mexico. They were rounded-up by authorities and forced to comply with a law designed specifically to target their families, regardless of their citizenship status, regardless of their place of birth, their use of the English language, their level of education, etc. because they had brown skin and Hispanic surnames. Although it took 50 years, Japanese Americans received an apology from President Clinton for the Internment, Franklin Roosevelt ordered. It’s been 73 years, but no apology has been issued to Mexican Americans.

History repeats itself. Latinos are not just like the Irish or Italians. We fought institutionalized marginalization before, during, and after, those Europeans reached Elis Island.

We’re fighting it now.

In August 2010, the Civil Rights Division of the US Department of Justice opened an inquiry into charges of racism and abuse of power in the State of Arizona, orchestrated by Maricopa County Sheriff's Department. They refused to cooperate with the investigation. In December 2011, the Justice Department released its finding that the Sheriff’s Department repeatedly arrested Latinos illegally, regardless of whether they were US citizens, legal residents, or undocumented immigrants, abused them in the county jails, and failed to investigate hundreds of cases of sexual assault against adults and minors. The Justice Department report found that the Sheriff’s Department carried out a blatant pattern of discrimination against Latinos, and held a “systematic disregard” for the Constitution. The Justice Department’s racial profiling expert found the Sheriff’s Department to be the most egregious case of profiling ever seen in the US.

The institutionalized racial profiling of Latinos has been embraced at every level; upheld by the highest court in the land. Because of the Supreme Court’s decision not to overturn the entirety of Arizona SB 1070, “papers please” policies will remain Constitutional until their implementation unduly harms and burdens enough American citizens from communities of color to justify their modification. Every single time a law enforcement officer encounters someone he or she deems worthy of questioning, that officer will be entrusted to make a determination on that individual’s American identity. Between April 2010, the time SB 1070 was signed into law, and the June 2012 Arizona v. US decision, the American Civil Liberties Union said their Arizona hotline had already taken over 3,500 calls alleging violations of the rights guaranteed to citizens and US residents by the Constitution. This, in spite of the fact that the ninth circuit, federal court of appeals, upheld an injunction preventing the full implementation of the law until the Supreme Court had reached its verdict.

Welcome to the one Nation, under God, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for All, where 96 year-old, former Arizona Governor, Mexican American, Raul Hector Castro, has already been detained three times.

Mitt Romney—self-admittedly, made happy by becoming rich and famous—asserts life would be even more of a cakewalk for him if only he were Latino. Apparently being the son of a man born into a white, Mormon-American community living in Mexico, has provided him with sufficient justification to don the same brownface for his appearance on Univision that Jimmy Fallon employed in his Late Night sketch, mocking Julian Castro’s DNC speech. If granted Latinidad by a genie, leprechaun, or a wishing-well, however, Romney would find himself dealing with challenges to the legitimacy of his US-born citizenship, as well as relentless investigations regarding the legal status of all of the members of his family. Just ask Republican National Convention speaker, New Mexico Governor, Susana Martinez, if she’d rather answer questions about her undocumented grandparents, or entertain requests that she disclose more than just one complete tax form for 2010, along with an unfinished estimate of 2011, in the final months before Election Day.

Not one, white, non-Hispanic public figure, has ever faced citizenship-related scrutiny.

But believe it or not, having a pack of hateful individuals accuse you of not being an American while you’re a candidate for the Presidency—despite the fact that you’ve already served in an elected office that requires you to represents the interests of all of the Americans residing in one of fifty states, while concurrently keeping a promise to preserve, preserve, defend and uphold the US Constitution—isn’t the worst thing imaginable (especially after earning an undergraduate degree from an Ivy League college, and an advanced degree from an Ivy League law school, like both President Obama and GOP-candidate Romney).

Mitt Romney asserts life would be more of a cakewalk for him if he were Latino, while concurrently (and paradoxically) believing, “If the Hispanic voting bloc becomes as committed to the Democrats as the African American voting bloc has in the past, why, we’re in trouble as a party and, I think, as a nation.” To quote the Mamiverse Team, “It’s one thing to say that the Republican Party will struggle without the Hispanic vote. But [this]… suggests that Mr. Romney is nationalistic and maybe, just maybe, a little racist… Is he worried about Hispanics taking over and white males… becoming a minority [that will be treated exactly the same way the white majority has treated Latinos and African Americans]?”

Being Latino would make him significantly more likely to belong to his 47% statistic. And since Romney has already written off the vast majority of Latinos as those who are, “dependent upon government… believe they are victims… believe they are entitled (emphasis Romney’s) to healthcare, to food, to housing, to you name it… people who pay no income tax… [who] should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

He asserts life would be more of a cakewalk for him if he were Latino, but has expressed zero concern for the findings of the Associated Press-Univision poll, revealing that 81% of Latinos believe all Latinos in the US, not just undocumented immigrants, face significant discrimination. He doesn’t know or doesn’t care that this belief is corroborated and substantiated by National Institute of Justice, Southern Poverty Law Center, and FBI data, demonstrating disproportionate growth in anti-Latino hate crimes and hate groups.

These metrics will never be made tangible for him. But they are painfully real for us.

Juan Varela was shot in his front yard, in front of his mother and brother, by a man yelling, “Go back to Mexico or die!” The Varelas have been US citizens for five generations. Even if they had been immigrants, this would have been an unforgivable, violent hate crime. But the fact that this family’s five generations in the US mean far less than their skin color and surname, is an indictment on what it means to be Latino in 21st Century, post-SB 1070 America.

Shawna Forde and two suspected accomplices woke up Brisenia Flores’ family and told them they were law enforcement officers. When her father questioned the intruders, they stormed into the house and shot him. They shot her mother. And then they shot her, twice, at point-blank range. Brisenia was murdered by Minuteman border vigilantes, despite the fact that she was a US-citizen, despite the fact that she was 9-years-old.

Mitt Romney asserts life would be more of a cakewalk for him if he were Latino. But since the percentage of Latino GOP and Democratic Party presidential nominees remains zero, our chances of burying a 9-year-old family member, murdered by a xenophobic, white supremacist, remain far greater than the chances of any of us being elected President.


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