Romney, the Republican Party, and the 47%

Now we know what Mitt Romney thinks of nearly half of the American people. Thanks to a surreptitious recording made at a Romney fundraiser that was released Monday we get to hear it in Mitt’s own words: “There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the President no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax … My job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

First of all, he is simply factually wrong in the assumption that the supposed 47% of the populace who pay no income tax is the same 47% who may support President Obama for reelection. The truth is, a significant portion of Romney’s support comes from people who pay no income tax. The top ten states in the number of their citizens who pay no income taxes are strongly Republican states, such as Mississippi, Alabama, Texas, Louisiana, and others mostly in the Republican solid south.

Next, it should be pointed out that just because people don’t pay income taxes doesn’t mean they’re getting a free ride or looking for handouts. Most of them don’t pay income taxes because they are living in poverty or at least don’t make enough to qualify as having taxes due on their income. Some are unemployed, and so are earning no income to tax. Many don’t pay income taxes because they qualify for income tax credits related to having minor children in their homes. Others don’t pay income taxes because of other legal deductions, such as, writing off mortgage interest and large medical expenses, or even because they pay into IRA accounts or 401K programs to help subsidize their future retirements.

The other big block of people who don’t pay income taxes are those who are retired living on Social Security and private pensions who no longer generate earned income. Mr. Romney even belongs to a select group of people who pay little or no income tax. Those whose income is derived from capital gains rather than earned income.

Also, just because someone may not pay income taxes, it doesn’t relieve them of the burden of paying payroll taxes, property taxes, sales taxes, gasoline taxes, and sundry other taxes, fees, and assessments to the various governmental taxing entities that are a part of our daily lives. It’s not that they don’t pay any taxes, it’s just that they don’t pay income taxes, so the charges of getting a free ride certainly don’t apply to the majority of those people.

This whole business of denigrating those who pay no income tax is a dangerous and complicated one, politically, and Mr. Romney’s broad-brush inclusion of all of them into the same demographic as those he calls “dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, etc.” is a particularly dangerous one for his campaign. To automatically place the waitress who is working eight or ten or more hours a day for tips in the same box as the lay-about who doesn’t want to work no matter what, is not likely to get Mr. Romney a vote from the industrious working poor in this country.

Americans believe in work more than almost any other people. Ninety-two percent say that hard work is the key to success, according to a 2009 Pew Research Survey. And of all the industrialized nations on Earth, the average work week of the American working class is the highest in number of hours worked. Americans also get the least vacation and leisure time of any industrialized nation.

When he describes people who “believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing,” paid for out of what he calls “entitlement programs,” he is putting retirees who worked hard and paid into Social Security and Medicare so that those programs would be there for them into the same corner as those who have never worked and want those things from their government. Speaking as a retiree who worked for 45 years to have a few years of leisure, a privilege for which I paid what was asked of me, I can’t believe that many thinking, informed retirees would vote for a man who holds them in such disdain.

Romney shows his true feelings for those who really do the work that makes this country great and makes it run, when he says in the recording, “My job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

His job is not to worry about those people? He’s right, of course, right now it isn’t his job. Besides deciding where to hide his money for the lowest tax rate, his only other job is running for President of the United States. If, perish the thought, he was to be elected to that office and still didn’t feel it was his job to look out for the well-being of all of the American people, then he wouldn’t deserve to be President. You see, you can’t just be the president of part of the people and ignore the rest. You are president of all the people, or you shouldn’t be president of any of the people. Mr. Romney says that’s not his job and maybe that’s a pretty major reason not to vote him into that position.

Romney and the Republican party have lost their vision of the social contract between government and the people. In 1987, during Ronald Reagan’s second term, 62 percent of Republicans believed that the government has a responsibility to help those who can’t help themselves. Now, according to the Pew Research Center, only 40 percent of Republicans believe that.

Yes, today’s Republican is not your father’s Republican, and Mr. Romney isn’t his father’s image of what a Republican is or should be. The question is, will there be any pieces left to pick up after November and rebuild a viable, forward-looking, operative Republican party of the future?

Congressman Tells Sandra Fluke to Get a Job

Illinois Republican Representative, Joe Walsh shouldn’t be in Congress. He should be in a mental institution. He has been charged with being more than $100,000 behind in child support owed to his ex-wife, though he considers himself to be a family values champion. He has attacked his Congressional opponent, retired Colonel Tammy Duckworth for using her military service as an unfair advantage against him. He never served in the military and she is a double amputee from injuries suffered in Iraq. Now he’s attacking Sandra Fluke, who earlier this year was made famous by Rush Limbaugh’s attacks against her.

Walsh said at a campaign rally over the weekend, “So at the Democratic Convention Wednesday night their first prime time speaker was Sandra Fluke, whatever her name is.” “Think about this, a 31-32 year old law student who has been a student for life, who gets up there in front of a national audience and tells the American people, ‘I want America to pay for my contraceptives.’ You’re kidding me. Go get a job. Go get a job Sandra Fluke.”

So he’s either deliberately lying to his supporters (??) about the Affordable Care Act’s contraception provisions or he’s just seriously, and completely stupid. Or both. Taxpayers don’t pay for contraception. Ever. And if they did, so what? And Sandra Fluke has never asked for taxpayers to pay for them. She has only advocated that insurance plans not be allowed to opt out of the coverage for religious reasons.

Either way, it’s obvious that he’s a seriously unhinged, psychotic man and unfit for office. Please, Illinois, kick this guy out of Congress. Anyone this awful doesn’t deserve to be one of 535 elite Americans tasked with passing federal laws.

Oh, and Joe Walsh should know that Sandra Fluke has indeed had a job. After she graduated from Cornell University she worked in New York City as a victim’s advocate against domestic violence and human trafficking. Much more important work than being a Congressman, Mr. Walsh. After several years doing that hard work, she decided to get a law degree to be better able to carry on the cause and was accepted by Georgetown Law School from which she just graduated this spring. I am sure she will find gainful employment that will give her a brighter future than that looming on Mr. Walsh’s horizon.

Paul Ryan’s Fascination With a Serial Murderer’s Groupie and What it Could Mean for the Nation

Paul Ryan has worshipped at the feet of Ayn Rand, at least until recently. He has publicly stated that her books were the most pivotal in shaping his public life. He gave them to interns as gifts, and they were required reading for his staff members. He spoke frequently about how the decline in America looked increasingly like something out of an Ayn Rand novel.

He is not alone among public servants in his admiration for Ayn Rand. Others include Sen. Rand Paul, who is named in her honor, and his father, Rep. Ron Paul. She was also mentioned as being very influential by President Ronald Reagan, Sen. Ron Johnson, Gov. Gary Johnson, Rush Limbaugh, former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. But maybe the most famous follower of Ayn Rand is former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, who in the 1950s was part of her inner circle and a close personal confidant.

Ayn Rand seems to have a special appeal to younger people who are empowered by the idea of their individual greatness waiting to explode, ungoverned by the limitations that the world tries to place on them.

As someone once said: “There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.”

Today we live in a country where millions of people object to the idea of giving health care to the tens of millions of Americans who don’t have it, or who take pleasure at the thought of privatizing and slashing Social Security or Medicare. It seems as though the U.S. is the only place where right-wing elites can openly share their distaste for the working poor, and we can trace their philosophical justification for this kind of attitude directly to Ayn Rand.

One thing that isn’t always recognized about Rand’s thinking is that she was a textbook sociopath. In her notebooks she heaped praise upon a notorious serial murderer-dismemberer, and used him as an early model for the type of “ideal man” she promoted in her more famous books. These ideas were later picked up on and put into play by major right-wing figures of the past half century, including those named above as Rand acolytes.

The best way to get to the bottom of Ayn Rand’s beliefs, and maybe understand those who are among her devotees, is to take a look at how she developed the superhero of her novel, Atlas Shrugged, John Galt.

William Hickman

Back in the late 1920s, as Ayn Rand was working out her philosophy, she became enthralled by a real-life American serial killer, William Edward Hickman, whose gruesome, sadistic dismemberment of a 12-year-old girl named Marion Parker in 1927 shocked the nation. Rand filled her early notebooks with ardent praise of Hickman. According to biographer Jennifer Burns, author of Goddess of the Market, Rand was so enthralled with Hickman that she modeled her first literary creation, Danny Renahan, the protagonist of her unfinished first novel, The Little Street, on him.

What Rand admired most about Hickman were his sociopathic qualities: “Other people do not exist for him, and he does not see why they should,” she wrote, gushing that Hickman had “no regard whatsoever for all that society holds sacred, and with a consciousness all his own. He has the true, innate psychology of a Superman. He can never realize and feel ‘other people.'”

This echoes almost word for word Rand’s later description of her character Howard Roark, the hero of her novel The Fountainhead: “He was born without the ability to consider others.”

William Hickman, the “genuinely beautiful soul” and inspiration to Ayn Rand was an under-educated ne’er-do-well, and psychopath whose only claim to public notice was the commission of a brutal and senseless murder.

While disturbing, it’s necessary to read at least the basics of his atrocious crime in order to better understand Rand and what made her tick, because her influence over the very people leading the fight to kill social programs, and her ideological influence on so many powerful bankers, regulators and businessmen who brought the financial markets crashing down, means her ideas are affecting all of our lives in the worst way imaginable, whether we know it or not.

Rand fell for William Edward Hickman in the late 1920s, as the shocking story of Hickman’s crime started to grip the nation. His crime, trial, case, and eventual execution were nonstop headline grabbers for months.

Hickman, who was only 19 when he was arrested for murder, was the son of a paranoid-schizophrenic mother and grandmother. His schoolmates said that as a kid Hickman liked to strangle cats and snap the necks of chickens for fun. Most of the kids with whom he grew up thought he was a budding maniac, though the adults gave him good marks for behavior, a typical sign of sociopathic cunning.

After high school he embarked on a brief and increasingly violent crime spree, robbing dozens of gas stations and drug stores. Along the way it’s believed he strangled a girl in Milwaukee and killed his crime partner’s grandfather in Pasadena, tossing his body over a bridge after taking his money.

I remember very well when I was growing up, my father singing a song made popular at the time of the following crime, called “Little Marion Parker.” The horror of it swept the nation, and was only dwarfed by the later abduction and murder of Charles Lindbergh’s son a few years later.

One afternoon, Hickman drove up to Mount Vernon Junior High school in Los Angeles, telling administrators he’d come to pick up “the Parker girl.” Her father, Perry Parker, was a prominent banker.

Marion Parker

The school administrator fetched young Marion Parker, and brought her out to Hickman. Marion obediently followed Hickman to his car as she was told, where he promptly kidnapped her. He wrote a ransom note to Marion’s father, demanding $1,500 for her return, promising the girl would be left unharmed. Hickman’s extreme narcissism comes through in his ransom letters, as he refers to himself as a “master mind [sic]” and “not a common crook.” Hickman signed his letters “The Fox” because he admired his own cunning.

Hickman and the girl’s father exchanged letters over the next few days as they arranged the terms of the ransom. By the time the last letter was sent by Hickman, he had already murdered and dismembered the girl.

According to a newspaper article from the time, he said, “It was while I was fixing the blindfold that the urge to murder came upon me,” he continued, “and I just couldn’t help myself. I got a towel and stepped up behind Marion. Then before she could move, I put it around her neck and twisted it tightly. I held on and she made no outcry except to gurgle. I held on for about two minutes, I guess, and then I let go. When I cut loose the fastenings, she fell to the floor. I knew she was dead. Well, after she was dead I carried her body into the bathroom and undressed her, all but the underwear, and cut a hole in her throat with a pocket knife to let the blood out.”

Another newspaper account explained what Hickman did next: Then he took a pocket knife and cut a hole in her throat. Then he cut off each arm to the elbow. Then he cut her legs off at the knees. He put the limbs in a cabinet. He cut up the body in his room at the Bellevue Arms Apartments. Then he removed the clothing and cut the body through at the waist. He put it on a shelf in the dressing room. He placed a towel in the body to drain the blood. He wrapped up the exposed ends of the arms and waist with paper. He combed back her hair, powdered her face and then with a needle fixed her eyelids. He did this because he realized that he would lose the reward if he did not have the body to produce to her father.

Marion Parker’s body parts left along the road by William Hickman

Hickman packed her body, limbs and entrails into a car, and drove to the drop-off point to pick up his ransom; along his way he tossed out wrapped-up limbs and innards scattering them around Los Angeles. When he arrived at the meeting point, Hickman pulled her head and torso out of a suitcase and propped her up, her torso wrapped tightly, to look like she was alive. When her father arrived, Hickman pointed a sawed-off shotgun at him, showed Marion’s head with the eyes sewn open (it would have been hard to see for certain that she was dead), and then took the ransom money and fled. As he sped away, he threw Marion’s head and torso out of the car, and that’s when the father ran up and saw his daughter, and screamed.

This is the “amazing picture” Ayn Rand, guru to the Republican/Tea Party right-wing, admired when she wrote in her notebook that Hickman represented “the amazing picture of a man with no regard whatsoever for all that a society holds sacred, and with a consciousness all his own. A man who really stands alone, in action and in soul. Other people do not exist for him, and he does not see why they should.”

Other people don’t exist for Rand, either. Part of her ideas are nothing more than a ditzy dilettante’s bastardized Nietzsche, but even this was plagiarized from the same pulp newspaper accounts of the time. According to an LA Times article in late December 1927, headlined “Behavioralism Gets The Blame,” a pastor and others close to the Hickman case denounced the cheap trendy Nietzschean ideas Hickman and others latched onto as a defense: “Behavioristic philosophic teachings of eminent philosophers such as Nietzsche and Schopenhauer have built the foundation for William Edward Hickman’s original rebellion against society,” the article begins.

This aptly describes Ayn Rand, whose philosophy developed out of her admiration for “Supermen” like Hickman. Rand’s philosophy can be summed up by the title of one of her best-known books: The Virtue of Selfishness. She argues that all selfishness is a moral good, and all altruism is a moral evil, even “moral cannibalism,” to use her words. To her, those who aren’t like-minded sociopaths are “parasites,” “lice” and “looters.”

But with Rand, there’s something more pathological at work. She’s out to make the world more sociopath-friendly so that people like her hero William Hickman can reach their full potential, not held back by the morality of the “weak,” whom Rand despised.

Rand and her followers clearly got off on hating and bashing those they perceived as weak. This is exactly the sort of sadism that Rand’s hero, Hickman, would have appreciated.

What’s really unsettling is that even former Federal Reserve chief Alan Greenspan, whose personal relationship with Rand dated back to the 1950s, did some parasite-bashing of his own. In response to a 1958 New York Times book review slamming Atlas Shrugged, Greenspan, defending his mentor, published a letter to the editor that ends: “Parasites who persistently avoid either purpose or reason perish as they should. Alan Greenspan.”

As much as Ayn Rand detested human “parasites,” there is one thing she strongly believed in: creating conditions that increase the productivity of her supermen — the William Hickmans who rule her idealized America: “If [people] place such things as friendship and family ties above their own productive work, yes, then they are immoral. Friendship, family life and human relationships are not primary in a man’s life. A man who places others first, above his own creative work, is an emotional parasite.”

Republican faithful like Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan read Ayn Rand and declare, with pride, “Rand makes the best case for the morality of democratic capitalism.” Indeed. Except that Rand also despised democracy, writing that, “Democracy, in short, is a form of collectivism, which denies individual rights: the majority can do whatever it wants with no restrictions. In principle, the democratic government is all-powerful. Democracy is a totalitarian manifestation; it is not a form of freedom.” This from the man who could be one heart beat away from the Presidency.

Whenever you hear politicians or Tea Partiers dividing up the world between “producers” and “collectivism,” just know that those ideas and words more likely than not are derived from the deranged mind of a serial-killer groupie. And when you see them taking their razor blades to the last remaining programs protecting the middle class from total abject destitution, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and bragging about how they are slashing these programs for “moral” reasons, just remember Ayn’s morality and who inspired her.

Critics of Ayn Rand would rather dismiss her books and ideas as laughable, childish, and hackneyed. But she can’t be dismissed because Rand is the name that keeps bubbling up from the Tea Party crowd and the elite conservative circuit in Washington as the Big Inspiration. The only way to protect ourselves from this thinking is the way you protect yourself from serial killers: smoke the Rand followers out, make them answer for following the crazed ideology of a serial-killer-groupie, and run them the hell out of town.

We DIDN’T Build It By Ourselves

One of the speakers scheduled for the Republican National Convention is Cheryl Valenzuala. Now most people wouldn’t have heard of her, and if a storm-shortened convention knocks her from the roster due to time constraints, she will probably remain largely anonymous.

Her claim to fame and the reason she’s scheduled to speak at the even is that she’s the owner of a business that her husband Eli and she started in their garage. The company they founded was an upholstery company, and they started it in order to make some extra income in order to help pay for their child’s autism treatments. The business has grown into a company that now makes vests for baseball umpires, and anti-ballistic vests for the Israeli military. The Valenzualas currently employ about forty workers and the company makes about 4.5 million dollars in revenue every year.

The story of their achievement is a warm and fuzzy, heartfelt one. And it appears to go along with the Republican mantra attacking President Obama’s campaign statement that business owners didn’t build their businesses entirely on their own. Of course, what he meant by his statement is true. If for no other reason, the use of normal tax benefits and loopholes, the use of public roads to move goods and supplies, tax-funded education that supplies competent and skilled workers, etc., all add to the ability of business owners to succeed without them having to do all of those things alone.

But there’s often more than those general amenities and advantages available to, and used, by all. There is a myriad of government aid out there to help businesses succeed, and even though an entrepreneur may work long hours and take many risks to do what they do, almost all of them use these services of local, state, and federal government agencies. As seen in an article in National Small Business Week, the Valenzuala’s success was not made entirely on their own either:

For First State Manufacturing, Inc., the dream began in 1998 with a man, a woman, and a sewing machine in yes, you guessed it, a garage in Milford, Del. Today, that dream has become First State Manufacturing (FSM), a thriving business employing more than 40 technicians working in a new 66,000 square-foot facility funded by a $1.8 million U.S. Small Business Administration 504 loan.

Eli Valenzuela learned the upholstery trade from a correspondence course he took in the Army; he applied what he learned while working at Dover Air Force Base upholstering enormous C-5 Galaxy airlifters. With help from SCORE and the Delaware Small Business Development Center, Eli and his wife Cheryl composed a business plan, and opened FSM in their garage. With an initial $20,000 SBA-guaranteed loan they secured larger contracts and also became certified in SBA’s 8(a) Business Development Program.

In 2001 FSM was ready to grow again, with a $96,500 SBA-guaranteed loan to modernize and expand inventory. After the 9/11 tragedy and its economic fallout, FSM obtained a $65,800 SBA disaster loan to maintain their business and employees until revenues returned. FSM revenue doubled from 2007 to 2010, increasing from $2.2 million annual revenue to $4.5 million.

There are other cases where entrepreneurs tapped by the Romney campaign to repeat its “We Built It” message has relied on the government for help with their business.

Dennis Sollmann, the owner of Sollmann Electric Company, appeared in a Romney web ad criticizing the president for his “you didn’t build that” line. It turns out that Mr. Sollmann did millions of dollars worth of work for the government. Also, and probably most famously, Jack Gilchrist, the owner of Gilchrist Metal Fabricating, who starred in another Romney ad, received $800,000 in tax-exempt revenue bonds, as well as sub-contracts in 2008 from the U.S. Navy that helped his business to not only stay afloat, but to grow.

The Valenzuala’s business was built by using millions of dollars of government–public–loan money. What this does, of course, is to prove President Obama’s July comments to be totally correct, even when disingenuously taken out of context in order to manufacture faux controversy. Few, if any, entrepreneurs have built their businesses completely on their own in this country for decades, if ever.

If Cheryl Valenzuala wants to stand in front of the nation and claim that she succeeded entirely on her own, and that the rest of us didn’t contribute to that success in any way, then she has that right. But she will be lying if she does say those things. To tell the real story of how her success was financed and supported by public funds will prove the President’s point. So let’s be honest, Republicans, and take the President’s statement in the context in which it was meant. We all need each other, we all work together, and we have to stop letting politics and political lies diminish those facts. And we don’t need Cheryl Valenzuala or any other entrepreneur to lie about their achievements in order support erroneous campaign rhetoric.