Friday, July 27, 2012

NY Times Editorial: Candidates Cower on Gun Control, Krugman: Mitt's Gray Areas

Candidates Cower on Gun Control

NY Times Editorial: Friday, July 27, 2012

At a moment when the country needs resolve and fearlessness to reduce the affliction of gun violence that kills more than 80 people a day, both presidential candidates have kicked away the opportunity for leadership. On Wednesday, reacting to the mass murder in Colorado last week, Mitt Romney and President Obama paid lip service to the problem but ducked when the chance arose to stand up for their former principles.

That’s not terribly surprising in the case of Mitt Romney, who has built an entire campaign around an avoidance of specifics and a refusal to take unpopular positions. The governor who once showed mettle by banning assault weapons in Massachusetts told Brian Williams of NBC News that he now believes the country needs no new gun laws and no government action at all.

“Changing the heart of the American people may well be what’s essential,” Mr. Romney said, though he provided not a clue on how he plans to reach that heart and help reduce the nation’s tolerance of violence. He didn’t even seem to understand the gun laws that are in place, saying the Colorado shooter “shouldn’t have had any kind of weapons.” In fact, all of the shooter’s purchases, including an assault rifle, were perfectly legal in the state.

Though Mr. Romney expressed faith in the federal requirement for background checks before buying a gun, he didn’t acknowledge how porous the federal system is — largely by allowing unchecked sales at gun shows — and how much more effective tighter state regulations have been in restricting trafficking in places like California.

States with strict gun-control laws have significantly fewer firearms deaths, according to studies of federal data. Policies like banning assault weapons and requiring trigger locks and safe storage actually work, though few politicians can be heard advocating them.

In a way, President Obama’s remarks were even more disappointing because he fell far short of offering a solution even though he clearly demonstrated an understanding of the problem.

“For every Columbine or Virginia Tech, there are dozens gunned down on the streets of Chicago and Atlanta, and here in New Orleans,” he told the National Urban League convention. “For every Tucson or Aurora, there is daily heartbreak over young Americans shot in Milwaukee or Cleveland.”

But his plan to address the problem appeared to consist of summer jobs for young people and crime reduction programs in cities — perfectly fine ideas but much too weak to reduce the tools of urban bloodshed. He talked about enhanced background checks to weed out criminals and the mentally ill but said nothing about closing the gun-show loophole or the ease with which the mentally ill can get their gun rights restored. (The National Rifle Association insisted on making it easy, a position that the president could fight against without fear of significant opposition.)

The N.R.A. has even blocked federal studies on how to improve background checks, or the effect of high-capacity ammunition clips, as The Times found last year. At a minimum, the president could demand better research and solid data to help make the case for strengthened legislation.

Instead, Mr. Obama spoke largely in platitudes. AK-47s should be in the hands of soldiers, not criminals, he said. Well, yes. Automatic military weapons like the AK-47 have been banned since 1934, making any civilian who possesses one a criminal. The more pressing issue is semiautomatic rifles like the extremely popular AR-15 in combination with high-capacity clips, used by the gunman in Aurora to fire multiple high-powered rounds at moviegoers.

Both candidates once favored banning these kinds of assault weapons. What happened to their courage?

 * * *

Mitt’s Gray Areas 

Paul Krugman

NY Times Op-Ed: July 8, 2012

But that was 44 years ago. And the contrast between George Romney and his son Mitt — a contrast both in their business careers and in their willingness to come clean about their financial affairs — dramatically illustrates how America has changed.

Right now there’s a lot of buzz about an investigative report in the magazine Vanity Fair highlighting the “gray areas” in the younger Romney’s finances. More about that in a minute. First, however, let’s talk about what it meant to get rich in George Romney’s America, and how it compares with the situation today.

What did George Romney do for a living? The answer was straightforward: he ran an auto company, American Motors. And he ran it very well indeed: at a time when the Big Three were still fixated on big cars and ignoring the rising tide of imports, Romney shifted to a highly successful focus on compacts that restored the company’s fortunes, not to mention that it saved the jobs of many American workers.

It also made him personally rich. We know this because during his run for president, he released not one, not two, but 12 years’ worth of tax returns, explaining that any one year might just be a fluke. From those returns we learn that in his best year, 1960, he made more than $660,000 — the equivalent, adjusted for inflation, of around $5 million today.

Those returns also reveal that he paid a lot of taxes — 36 percent of his income in 1960, 37 percent over the whole period. This was in part because, as one report at the time put it, he “seldom took advantage of loopholes to escape his tax obligations.” But it was also because taxes on the rich were much higher in the ’50s and ’60s than they are now. In fact, once you include the indirect effects of taxes on corporate profits, taxes on the very rich were about twice current levels.

Now fast-forward to Romney the Younger, who made even more money during his business career at Bain Capital. Unlike his father, however, Mr. Romney didn’t get rich by producing things people wanted to buy; he made his fortune through financial engineering that seems in many cases to have left workers worse off, and in some cases driven companies into bankruptcy.

And there’s another contrast: George Romney was open and forthcoming about what he did with his wealth, but Mitt Romney has largely kept his finances secret. He did, grudgingly, release one year’s tax return plus an estimate for the next year, showing that he paid a startlingly low tax rate. But as the Vanity Fair report points out, we’re still very much in the dark about his investments, some of which seem very mysterious.

Put it this way: Has there ever before been a major presidential candidate who had a multimillion-dollar Swiss bank account, plus tens of millions invested in the Cayman Islands, famed as a tax haven?

And then there’s his Individual Retirement Account. I.R.A.’s are supposed to be a tax-advantaged vehicle for middle-class savers, with annual contributions limited to a few thousand dollars a year. Yet somehow Mr. Romney ended up with an account worth between $20 million and $101 million.

There are legitimate ways that could have happened, just as there are potentially legitimate reasons for parking large sums of money in overseas tax havens. But we don’t know which if any of those legitimate reasons apply in Mr. Romney’s case — because he has refused to release any details about his finances. This refusal to come clean suggests that he and his advisers believe that voters would be less likely to support him if they knew the truth about his investments.

And that is precisely why voters have a right to know that truth. Elections are, after all, in part about the perceived character of the candidates — and what a man does with his money is surely a major clue to his character.

One more thing: To the extent that Mr. Romney has a coherent policy agenda, it involves cutting tax rates on the very rich — which are already, as I said, down by about half since his father’s time. Surely a man advocating such policies has a special obligation to level with voters about the extent to which he would personally benefit from the policies he advocates.

Yet obviously that’s something Mr. Romney doesn’t want to do. And unless he does reveal the truth about his investments, we can only assume that he’s hiding something seriously damaging.

No virus found in this message.
Checked by AVG -
Version: 2012.0.2196 / Virus Database: 2437/5157 - Release Date: 07/26/12

No comments:

Post a Comment