Archive for November, 2012

Orchestra Day

November 30th, 2012 No comments

There’s not much to say about this week other than that it was pretty good overall. My lessons were well-received. I was invited to a Christmas party at Kim’s next weekend. I heard from Oliver in Germany for the first time in months. And there was a nice little concert at school this morning before lunch, which is probably the most noteworthy thing.

The “New Philharmonic Orchestra” came to the school to perform in the gym and teach the students a bit about orchestral music and all of the different instruments involved. I remember my own middle school doing the same thing, which I’d forgotten about until now. It was pretty much the same exact thing for the same reason, only this was a lot more formal and regimented. But the orchestra would come, play some popular pieces including Disney songs and scores from famous movies (today it was a medley of every song from “The Sound of Music”), and try to entice the students into perhaps taking up an instrument themselves. They had one musician introduce each instrument and talk a little about it, then play a short piece to demonstrate.

They also had one student from each grade attempt to conduct the orchestra themselves, which resulted in lots of laughter a new appreciation for the importance of a good conductor. And they had a few students come and ask questions of the musicians, a part of the assembly that was completely useless to me. But overall it was quite enjoyable. I love orchestral music and it’s always a nice opportunity to hear it live, although unfortunately the acoustics in the gym were rather poor.

The whole thing made me regret that I never took up an instrument as a kid—or rather, I never stuck with it when I tried—but I just didn’t have enough motivation back then. I think I’ve probably got enough self-discipline to be able to do it now, but A) figuring out how to take lessons in a country where your grasp of the language is minimal at best is probably just as hard as taking the lessons from an instructor you barely understand, and B) I can’t afford it right now anyway. There are ways around A—I’m sure I could find some kind of online tutor—but currently B is a deal-breaker. Still, chalk up “learning an instrument” on my bucket list of things to do before I die.

Categories: Personal Tags: , ,


November 23rd, 2012 No comments

Well, the high of being back in Japan has finally worn off and I’ve slipped into a melancholy mood for the first time since the return. It’s nowhere near unbearable, just the natural human emotional cycle. What goes up must eventually come down.

It started this past Monday, when for the first time in a long time I gave a truly bad lesson. I was trying out a new game for a first-grade class and it just wasn’t working at all. Games should be simple enough for students to pick up the rules more or less intuitively even if they didn’t fully comprehend the instructions, but the way I designed this game was completely counter-intuitive to them. The students who had the misfortune of participating, it seemed, ended up feeling like they understood the grammar less than when they started. Total failure.

Of course it’s not something that’s never happened before. It used to happen quite frequently last year when I was just starting out and hadn’t yet gotten a feel for what works and what doesn’t. It would typically take one or two failures before I’d have the kinks worked out enough to make a lesson successful. But there was a noticeable difference in the way the classes I always taught first reacted to me as opposed to those I taught last. I’ve done pretty well with the first-graders all year so far and I know I can put together another good one for next time, but even just that one miss was enough to do some damage. A few of the students in that class who normally greet me warmly were giving me the cold-shoulder after that one.

I re-worked the whole thing and it went much much better the second time, and other successful lessons for other grades bounced my mood back up now and then, but it was overall a downward trajectory.

It culminated yesterday with some bad financial news, which ironically was immediately preceded by good financial news. When my visa expired, apparently, the Japanese government cancelled all of my registrations with things like taxes and health insurance. Interac set up a time for me to go with an Independent Contractor to the Togane City Office to re-register. I was picked up after lunch at school yesterday by Ms I-, the same woman who took me shopping when I first moved into my apartment a thousand years ago. At the City Office we discovered that the Alien Registration Card I’d got at the airport was not yet valid because my address wasn’t on it, and I’d been living in Togane illegally since I got back. That turned out to be of no consequence though—I just filled out a form and they put my address on the back of the card and stamped it. And when I re-registered for Health Insurance, they informed me I would only have to pay for the remainder of the fiscal year (until March) and I’d get a 70% discount for reasons I didn’t quite understand. I was behind on my payments for this year’s insurance but this year’s insurance was cancelled so I don’t owe any of that money.

And the other good news is now that I have health insurance again, I can finally see a doctor about the acid reflux problem I’ve had for years and years. Interac has already set up an appointment for me to go with Ms. I- to a doctor on Monday.

But the bad news started when I got home and found my October pay-sheet from Interac waiting for me. I’d been paid in full for the month of September, which I’d assumed was either an oversight on the part of Interac (which has been known to commit a few oversights from time to time) or the simple result of my having a year-long contract with a base monthly salary. I figured I’d just wait and see what happens, and just make sure not to spend too much of that money. But they’d paid close attention to my October pay and started paying me only on the day I returned. After rent, I was left with what amounts to just a few hundred dollars in pay.

Almost immediately after making this discovery I got a call from the branch manager at Interac, first to confirm my doctor’s appointment and second to inform me about the oversight with September’s pay. I wasn’t supposed to receive any of that money, and of course now Interac wants it back. But in their infinite mercy they won’t ask for it back all at once, and instead they’ll deduct a certain amount from my paychecks until I’m square with them again.

I wasn’t about to argue anything about their share of the responsibility for the visa-mess, especially when they literally just agreed to pay an IC to take me to a doctor next week out of their own funds. It would also be pretty useless to do so as I can’t possibly imagine they’d ever agree to cover even half of the income I lost. All I’d be doing is taking an adversarial posture with my employer, and I’d really rather not do that when I’m counting on renewing my contract next year. Besides, the branch manager himself was being incredibly nice about it, and he had nothing to do with the visa oversight in the first place. I now know who it was at the office who fucked up, and I hope he’s glad that for the sake of not ruffling any feathers I’m willing to take all of the responsibility.

If I want to be square with Interac by the end of my current contract, I’ll have to let them take about a third of my net salary each month for the next four months. That will leave me with little more than basic cost-of-living expenses and maybe the odd night out. It’s certainly do-able, I just have to go on living like a hermit which is something I’m quite used to anyway. It’s only going to really be rough during winter break, when everyone is off traveling and I’ll just be sitting at home in my apartment not spending money. No trips to Kyoto or anywhere else this year. At best I might be able to treat myself to one day-trip to Tokyo, but that’s it.

On the plus side, at least I don’t have a girlfriend. I was considering actually putting some effort into finding one when I got back to Japan, but I’m glad I didn’t because I certainly couldn’t afford that right now. Here’s to silver-linings.

Categories: Personal Tags: , , ,

Still Rollin’

November 14th, 2012 No comments

I thought I’d do a quick update post on what’s been happening lately. Even though it’s all pretty much back to the routine at this point, the routine is pretty awesome and worth preserving for future trips down Nostalgia Avenue.

Since I’ve been back and for the remainder of the school year, I’m only teaching with O-sensei and we’re only covering the extra material in the textbooks that the other JTEs don’t have time for. That means instead of teaching grammar points in which there’s a lot of natural lee-way for different kinds of games and activities, we’re doing boring textbook supplemental stuff like dialogs about giving directions or taking a message when you answer the phone. The first-graders have been the exception, our only guideline for the last two weeks being to teach the 3rd-person form of verbs (he plays, she reads, he goes, she studies, etc.). The last two lessons with them turned out to be two of the best I’ve ever done.

First, I was only supposed to review the verbs they already know. Not much to go on, but it gave me a chance to try an idea I’ve had in my head for awhile, to play a sort of baseball-game. A student comes to the front of the room and I pitch a little soft squishy baseball my mother bought for the Kyle-shop at them. They get three tries to hit the ball with their hand (almost all do on the first try—there was only one strike-out and it was hilarious for everyone) and when they do they reach into a cup with folded up strips of paper with Japanese verbs. If the verb is 走る (hashiru) they can get to first-base just by knowing what it is in English (run). They get to second-base by spelling it correctly, and third base by using it in an “I ___” sentence. (“I run home”). They hit a home-run if they can make a correct “He/she ___” sentence which they haven’t learned yet, but which I give them a hint at the beginning can be done by adding “s” to the verb. If at any point they make a mistake or don’t know the answer, I toss the ball at the other team and a student who catches it gets a chance to do what the batter couldn’t. If they can’t (or no one catches the ball) the batter is safe, but if they can he or she is out. I used little flash-cards of Mickey Mouse in a baseball uniform and drew the bases on the blackboard to illustrate the action.


The students had an absolute blast with this game, and O-sensei and I were surprised at how entertaining it was for us. Because there’s such a wide range of student abilities, you had some only hitting singles or not even reaching first, while some hit home-runs with ease. Even students who messed up could be safe at a base and end up scoring for their team, but only if another student batted them in before three outs. The results were as varied as the students, with some classes ending the game in a tie, some just barely winning and some totally blowing out the other team. But by the end of the game, all of the students had their memories refreshed on a whole bunch of verbs, and those who really paid attention had learned how to make 3rd-person form already.

The following week (this past week) was the lesson for actually teaching 3rd-person form. I started by busting out my German and greeting the students with “guten Morgen!” and “wie geht’s?” and “das Wetter heute is sehr shön, ja?” and all kinds of other incomprehensible phrases that sound funny to them. I wrote “Ich spreche Deutsch” on the board and got them to figure out what it was in Japanese and then translate to English: “I speak German.” I then turned to O-sensei and asked, “Do you speak German?” which she does so she got to show off some of her Deutsch-skills as well. I then wrote “She speak German” and asked the students if that sentence was correct. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised, but in every single class there were a significant number of students who already knew that it should be “speaks” for a he/she sentence.

I then used “I play soccer / He plays soccer” as another example and explained that for almost every verb you just add “s” for a he/she sentence. I then went over some common exceptions like do, go, touch, have, and be, and in each case found plenty of students already knew the proper 3rd-person conjugation, so I acted like I was trying to stump them but they were too smart for me. Once that was done I asked if they were ready for a game, to which they always cheered.

This was a very simple game, but it might just be the best I’ve ever done. I divided the class into two teams—orange team and blue team—and showed them that each team had a “moja-moja” ball (a rubber puffer ball my mom also bought for the Kyle-store and is easily the most popular item) with the corresponding color. I had two identical sets of 35 cards with Japanese verbs—the same ones used for the baseball game—and handed them out to each team, with each student taking two and some three. I had 35 pages with an English “I ___” sentence and Japanese translation for each verb, and I’d hold up a page and call out the sentence. There’d be one student on each team with the Japanese verb corresponding to the sentence, and they would have to raise their hand and catch the moja-moja ball, then write the sentence in “He/She” form on their side of the blackboard. So if the sentence was “I speak English” you’d have one student from each team with a card that read 話す (hanasu) and they’d race to catch the ball and run to the board to write “He speaks English”, slamming the ball on the table when they were finished. The faster team would get 10 points, but as long as the other team wrote it correctly (and we made sure they always did) their team would get 5 points. That student would then stay up front to throw the ball to the player with the next card.


Some students had the hang of it right away and had no trouble scoring for their team. But what made it a great game was that when a student wasn’t really sure what to do, their team-members would shout instructions at them for how to properly conjugate or spell the words they needed. So if a student didn’t know that the 3rd-person form is “studies” and not “studys”, their team was sure to correct them as they were writing and to do it as fast as possible. Some students had no idea what they were doing the first time they went up, but from watching everyone else had it so figured out by their second time at the board that they actually won the speed points. They were clapping and cheering and having an incredibly good time, but also actually learning and reinforcing the new knowledge the whole time.

One of the classes got so loud that the teacher in the adjacent room complained to O-sensei afterwards that no one could hear her do her lesson, so we tried to keep it down after that but there’s only so much you can do. But in between every round I just held my fingers to my mouth and made a “shh” sound and they were so eager to keep going that the room would go from pandemonium to sheer silence in about two seconds, only to erupt again with noise when the next sentence was called.

Most times the game ended up being really close, with the lead changing back and forth and the team that started behind coming up to win. Only one game ended with a tie, but the losing side was never all that disappointed because just about every student had had two chances to go and just about all of them won at least one of those times.

I had to write about that lesson in detail because it may be a very long time before I manage to top it.

The other lessons weren’t as awesome, but quite successful in their own right. For the 2nd-graders, after the boring giving-directions lesson in preparation for their interview tests (saved only by the students’ amusement at my impression of Mario wandering aimlessly around a city map to their randomly-given directions) the next material was an even more boring listening-exercise taken straight from the textbook. There was practically nothing that could make that fun, but at least it only took ten minutes, after which O-sensei suggested we play a game I’d made for a random class I had to teach on a different day when some teachers were giving demonstration-lessons and I had an extra lesson with a group of only first-grade girls. For that I just printed a whole bunch of words from the part of their textbook they’d already covered and cut them up, folded them, and tossed them in a cup. A student would come to the front and proceed to take words and try to have their team guess the word either by using gestures, drawing a picture, or pointing to the object in the room if it happened to be in the room. They’d have three minutes to get through as many words as they could, and there were enough really easy words for each student to have some degree of success. We used the same words for the second-graders after the listening exercise and they enjoyed it as much as the first-graders had. As an added bonus, there was school this past Saturday because it was an open house when parents could come watch their kids’ lessons, and a few parents were there and apparently just as entertained by the game as the students.

Finally, I went back to my old tried-and-true Jeopardy game for the third-graders to review the story of the zookeepers having to kill the three elephants at the Ueno Zoo during WWII. I used the same categories I used last year: Missing Word (they fill in the blank with the word from the sentence in the story), What’s Next? (they find the sentence in the story and read the next sentence), Vocabulary (they say the English for a Japanese word from the vocabulary box for the story), Scrambled Sentence (self-explanatory), and Grammar (they choose from three verb forms or prepositions from a sentence in the story). They all remembered the game so no time was wasted on explanations, and many of them were very excited when they saw me setting it up. With six teams and one student standing up to be the hand-raiser for each team, rotating after each questions, it gets very competitive and exciting, especially when hands go up at the same time and I keep things interesting by letting teams with lower scores have the first shot. As usual, they all got really into it and had a great time. It didn’t matter at all that the material was a ridiculously depressing story about dead elephants.

And this week my material is a bland and boring dialog about taking a message from a phone-call, but once O-sensei and I get through the tedious textbook stuff I play the telephone game with the students, having the first person from each row come out in the hall and “take a message” which they then go inside and pass down their rows to the last person who then races to write it on the blackboard for speed-points and accuracy points. These relay games are guaranteed to be fun, but I gave it an extra twist by coming up with 36 funny sentences and going through the name lists for each class to plug one of the actual students’ names in the sentence, so their message would be something like, “Soandso is eating an elephant” or “Soandso wants to fight Obama”. I was a bit worried about embarrassing some students so I gave most of the embarrassing ones to boys who I know have a good sense of humor like, “Soandso is wearing a skirt” or “Soandso wants to kiss Lady Gaga”. I had no idea what to expect, but so far I’ve done it twice and it’s gone over quite well.

And that’s everything on the teaching front. On the social front, I had another fun weekend party this past Saturday, starting at an okonomiyaki restaurant with Kim, Enam, Jack, and Stephen and then migrating to another karaoke place for a private room with a fixed price for unlimited hours (until 6 a.m.) of drinking and singing. I still had a cold when we went out so I hadn’t planned on drinking at all, but it’s kind of a requirement for karaoke and I ended up once again going a little overboard. But—and I never ever thought I’d feel this way—karaoke is such a good time that the inevitable hangover the day after is just as much worth the price as the actual money. It was also just such a nice warm feeling to be back in Japan amongst friends, just hanging out and having a good time, carelessly crooning away to all kinds of music, mostly the stuff we all grew up with.

And there’s not much else to say about that or anything else really. Life is once again a constant series of enjoyable events from Monday to Friday, from the moment I wake up to the moment I fall asleep. All I can do is squeeze as much appreciation out of this time as I can, as one day I’ll almost certainly look back on this time and remember it as the Glory Days. May they continue to roll.

Categories: Personal Tags: , , , ,

Election Wednesday

November 8th, 2012 No comments

The last time I was at home in America on the night of a presidential election was—believe it or not—1996. In 2000 I was in America but in a hospital (though thanks to some hanging chads I was out long before the results were final). In 2004 I was an exchange student in Germany, and four years later in 2008 I was working in Germany as an English trainer. And on the night of the 2012 presidential election, it was daytime in Japan, and I was working at school the whole time.

Polls started closing right when first period began, so I didn’t know any results until the first break between periods. I was playing Jeopardy with a third-grade class while the first states were being called. During second and third period I was just finishing up interview tests for second-graders, so when that was done I could head back to the teacher’s room and follow the results for a little while. Fourth period was luckily my last class of the day, another round of Jeopardy, and by the time lunch was served the outcome was still uncertain.

Other teachers noticed my electoral college map and asked me about who was winning. Romney was ahead for most of the morning, so it looked like he was on his way to victory. I tried to explain how the only states that really mattered were Florida and Ohio—that if Obama won either one of those he was almost guaranteed to win. They asked me who I wanted to win.

Wow, good question. I really wanted neither of them to win. I’d rather have a third-party candidate like Rocky Anderson or Jill Stein—even the libertarian Gary Johnson—than a corporate tool like Obama or Romney. And if I had to choose between just one of the major candidates, I’m not certain who I’d rather see win either. Sure, I despise Mitt Romney and think Barack Obama is a less awful president than he would be, but quite frankly I’m a little sick and tired of all the baggage that comes with it.

Four more years of nonsense right-wing talking slurs accusing the president of everything from being a radical Kenyan-born socialist to a Muslim terrorist sympathizer? Four more years of so-called progressives making excuses for every unnecessary and disastrous deal Obama strikes with Republicans (he’s currently poised to make liberal heads explode by passing the Grand Bargain which guts Medicare and Social Security)? Four more years of all of society’s woes being blamed on leftist policies when in reality nearly all of Obama’s policies are center-right?

I don’t know—maybe I’d rather let Romney take over and let the right-wingers have to defend their guy for the next four years as society continues to deteriorate. Let them have their 20% tax-cut for the super-wealthy and watch the burden on the middle-class increase—then maybe the American people will finally wake up to the reality that trickle-down economics doesn’t work…but probably not.

I’ve been watching Romney’s act for about two years now and I’m already sick of it. The feigned empathy. The fake patriotism. The thin veil of compassion on the outside covering up a sense of smug superiority on the inside. At least Obama wears his smug superiority on the surface. Romney is playing a role, that of a president he thinks the American people want, and he’s not playing it very well. I can’t bear the thought of that guy being my president for four years any more than the Tea Party crowd can bear the idea of Obama being their president for another four.

And to top it off, as an American living abroad there’s no question as to which outcome makes my life easier.

So I give my Japanese colleagues my answer: “Obama”.

I have no classes in the afternoon so I’m able to devote my full attention to the election results as they come in. I keep a window with the Huffington Post’s interactive electoral-college map open and cycle between several live streams of coverage. The CNN stream won’t work, and the MSNBC stream is unbearably choppy. The Fox News stream is easily the highest-quality, but instead of being a stream of the actual Fox News channel it’s being done exclusively for the web so there aren’t any of the pundits we all know and love. Instead it’s a couple of anchors I’ve never seen before, one ridiculously full-of-crap right-winger and one ridiculously full-of-crap Obama supporter. Ironically, this is actually much more “fair and balanced” than the actual Fox News channel, but the commentary is no more intelligent. I end up spending most of my time watching The Young Turks webcast, even though the host Cenk Uygur is on Current TV which isn’t available online.

But it’s the choppy MSNBC live stream I’m watching when Ohio and therefore the presidential race is called for Obama, so it’s Rachel Maddow who gives me the news. I turn to O-sensei sitting next to me and point out what’s happening on my screen. There’s no one else around to tell. O-sensei seems mildly pleased but nothing more. No big celebrations here. Turns out the big party is on Facebook, where just about everyone is making some kind of “hooray for Obama” or at least a “thank god it’s finally over” comment.

The hours continue to roll by. I watch Romney’s cookie-cutter concession speech, happy that he didn’t speak too long and that soon enough I’ll never have to hear him speak again. Obama begins his speech just as homeroom ends and after-school activities begin, but I stay in the teacher’s room to watch the speech. I’ve got a bit of a cold so I’m just planning on going home at the normal time and resting.

Obama keeps speaking, saying nothing. Then he speaks some more, saying even less. Now he’s doing that whole ridiculous rhetorical exercise where he gives shout-outs to average Americans by calling out a random occupation and location. “This victory belong to you…to the schoolteacher in Boise, Idaho…to the plumber in Knoxville, Tennessee…to the waitress in Albuquerque, New Mexico…to the TV repairman in Tuscaloosa, Alabama…” and on and on and shut up already, I get it. When it seems like the speech is just about to end, it goes on for twenty more minutes. Finally Obama brings it to an emotional climax…then keeps talking for two more hours.

He’s still talking when a group of three first-grade girls suddenly appear at my desk and ask me if I’m doing Team C today because they’d like to play some games. I apologize and after asking K-sensei for the Japanese word for election, manage to explain that Obama won today and “Yes we can!” and “hooray!” and all that. The girls had no idea Obama’s job was on the line but they’re happy enough he gets to keep it. They’ll never even hear the name “Mitt Romney”.

The choice between watching Obama continue to spew his empty rhetoric for the next god-knows-how-many-hours and playing a card game with some super-friendly students is faaaaar more of a no-brainer than who I’d rather be president, so I shut down my lap-top and go with them.

When I get home, I watch last Wednesday’s episode of The Young Turks (I got way behind during my stay in America) and found it more enjoyable now that I know how things turn out, and that I’ve just got one week to go before I’m done with election coverage altogether. Then it’s just four more years of Obama continuing to piss me off at every turn—but at least he’s less unbearable to me than Romney.

My experience would of course have been much different if I’d still been in Germany. Most Germans are interested in politics, and most of them know more about American politics than most Americans, so I could have had plenty of conversations with them. Japanese people do not talk about politics ever, and they’re even less interested in international politics as Americas.

But even though I enjoy the whole circus-show of electoral politics and even though I was [mostly] spared the bombardment of campaign ads from my safe-haven overseas, I’m just as glad it’s over as the next guy. Now we can finally stop focusing on trivial campaign minutiae and get back to the business of not trying to change anything.

So you’re voting for Romney? (Part 3)

November 3rd, 2012 No comments


This is the third and final part of my series on why there’s no good reason whatsoever to vote for Mitt Romney, even as a protest of Obama. The first part dealt with Romney’s laughable economic plans, and the second part touched on his shifting stances regarding foreign policy and social issues. This final post will cover the aspect of the candidate that I believe most swing voters ultimately base their final decision on, and that’s the question of character.

If you’ve been pleased with my lack of mud-slinging thus far, prepare to be disappointed because I’m about to take you on a one-way train to ad hominem city. Believe me, I’d rather make my case on facts alone, but most voters’ minds just don’t work that way. You can explain in painstaking detail exactly why a candidate’s economic plan won’t work, but they’ll vote for him anyway if they believe he’s a better person than the other guy. And when it comes to this election, four years of non-stop, vicious attacks on Obama’s character have left a significant chunk of the population with the impression that just about anybody would be a better president.

I will say that the list of Barack Obama’s character flaws is a long one, and it includes selling out most of his convictions for the sake of campaign funding, political expediency, or simply because he doesn’t have a back-bone strong enough to stand up to the opposition. That said, I do still have the impression that buried somewhere deep inside of him, he actually does have convictions—that he actually believes in the ideals he campaigned on in 2008—even if he’s had a lousy record at acting on them.

Mitt Romney, on the other hand, doesn’t appear to have any core convictions beyond sheer self-interest. Like his running-mate Paul Ryan, he seems to share the same kind of ethical philosophy championed by Ayn Rand: there is no such thing as an action that is right or wrong by nature—what is right in any given situation is whatever is to your own personal benefit, even when it comes at the expense of others. If people have to lose their jobs so you can put more money in your pocket, that’s the right thing to do. Life is a game, and the winners are those who look out for themselves. If your objective is to become the President of the United States, you must be willing to say and do anything that will get you to that goal, even engaging in the most flagrant and shameless forms of dishonesty.

The first half of this post will make the case that this is exactly what Romney is doing—lying his way to the White House because to him, the truth doesn’t matter. In the second half, I’ll argue that to Mitt Romney, nothing matters but his own personal success. I hope to convince you beyond any doubt that Romney has no empathy at all for citizens who may be struggling, and I’ll do it without even mentioning the infamous forty-seven percent comments you’re undoubtedly already familiar with.

Romney’s Lies

During the Bill Clinton-impeachment fiasco of the late 1990s, the prevailing conservative opinion (which I agreed with at the time) was that Clinton lying to the American people about cheating on his wife was worse than the actual cheating. It spoke to his character, and anyone who could be so shamelessly dishonest to the American people didn’t deserve to be president. My, how our standards have changed.

To document every single one of Mitt Romney’s lies and deceptions throughout his two-year campaign could fill an entire encyclopedia, so I’ll just look at five of the most significant ones.

1. “We will lose”. Romney’s first attack ad against Barack Obama ended with a sound-byte from Obama saying “If we keep talking about the economy, we will lose.” The implication of course being that Obama’s record on the economy is so weak that he wants to do everything he can to change the subject. The problem? When Obama said that, he was quoting a spokesperson for the John McCain campaign. This is such an obvious and blatant distortion that even the neutral-at-all-costs Politifact gave this their most severe “pants on fire” rating. The reason why is obvious. If Mitt Romney tells an audience, “Barack Obama says if you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that,” then Barack Obama turns around and says, “Can you believe Mitt Romney just said ‘if you’ve got a business you didn’t build that’?” he’d clearly be lying. Yes, those words came out of Romney’s mouth but he wasn’t making that assertion himself. Which brings us to:

2. “We built it”. It turns out that Barack Obama wasn’t making that assertion either. In another blatant example of shamelessly taking things out of context, the Romney campaign completely ignored the line right before the infamous “built that” quote in which Obama talked about roads and bridges. The conservative media likes to pretend that it’s fair game because the context is supposedly worse than the quote itself, but only if you deliberately misinterpret the entire argument. With the exception of the most radical libertarians, the overall point Obama was actually making is something everyone agrees with (even the guy they used in the ad attacking Obama for the quote). Of course business owners didn’t personally build the roads and bridges that made it possible for their businesses to thrive. Of course their success is partially dependent on the advantages provided by a functioning government, like the police departments that protect their property, the schools which educate the workforce, and the internet which almost all modern businesses now depend on. Nobody—not a single human being in the history of civilization—has ever succeeded completely on his or her own with absolutely no help from anyone. But Romney not only attacked Obama for making such a painfully obvious point, but in one of the most asinine political moves I’ve ever seen, his campaign based the entire Republican convention on the tag-line “We built it” as though Obama had personally taken credit for everything every entrepreneur has ever done.

3. “I’m not for a $5 trillion tax cut.” Now we turn from the lies of the Romney campaign to lies that came directly out of the candidate’s mouth. In the first debate, Romney’s decisive victory had nothing to do with the strength of his ideas and everything to do with the fact that Obama was asleep at the wheel, repeatedly failing to call Romney out on his lies. In my mind, the worst lie that Romney was allowed to get away with is that he’s not in favor of a $5 trillion tax-cut. This is not the worst lie because the math does add up to $5 trillion over the course of ten years and Romney can’t change that just by sheer force of will, but because it was the centerpiece of the overall lie Romney was telling the national audience about who he is and what he believes in. He was painting himself as a moderate when his economic plans are anything but. He insisted that he has no intention of letting the rich pay less than their fair share while the burden on the middle class is increased, but in reality that’s precisely what his economic plan would do. Just look at the list of Mitt Romney’s top donors and ask yourself if they’d really be contributing that much money to the Romney campaign if they didn’t expect a return on their investment. If Mitt Romney is elected it’s the safest bet in the world that he’ll implement whatever economic policies the people who bought and paid for him want him to.

4. “Binders full of women.” This was easily the most amusingly awkward line from the second debate, but it’s also the most shameless lie. It’s not as important as the lie about tax policy, but it speaks volumes about Mitt Romney’s character. Romney, in a desperate attempt to close the much bally-hooed “gender-gap” told a story about how when he was hiring people for top jobs in his administration as governor of Massachusetts, he was absolutely indignant when not one female candidate was presented, and insisted that he be presented with lists of qualified women to choose from. In truth, it was a coalition of women’s advocacy groups that pressed him to do this, and he acquiesced to their political pressure. If he were really the stalwart champion of women in the workforce he’d like women to believe he is, you’d think there would have been quite a few female partners at Bain Capital when he was the CEO, but throughout the 80s and most of the 90s there was not a single one.

5. “They’re shipping your jobs to China.” The latest of Romney’s lies is also one of the most shameless. Standing before a crowd of auto workers in Ohio, he told them he’d just read somewhere that Chrysler was planning to move all Jeep production to China. As if that weren’t bad enough, he then issued an attack ad repeating the same “pants of fire” lie. Chrysler had to come out and explicitly state that the claim was untrue just to calm their own workforce thanks to Romney’s attempt to scare them into voting for him.

There are so many more lies I could write about, like the assertion that Obamacare “robs” $700 billion from Medicare (it’s a cost-saving measure that reduces payments to private insurers), or that Obama wants to get rid of the work requirement for welfare (which has no basis in fact whatsoever) but if I don’t stop now I’ll be typing forever. I believe I’ve made my point: the truth does not matter at all to Mitt Romney. All that matters to Mitt Romney is Mitt Romney, which brings us to my final points.

No Empathy

Imagine yourself taking the family on the road for a nice vacation. Without giving it too much thought, you put the dog in a cage and strap it to the roof of the car. When you stop for gas, you notice the dog is frightened out of its mind and that he’s puked all over himself. Do you A) feel terrible about your mistake and let the dog ride in the car for the rest of the trip or B) hose him down and strap him back on the roof? If you answered A, congratulations. You are capable of basic human empathy, of feeling bad about the plight of another, be it your fellow man or man’s best friend.

Most conservatives will brush the now infamous Seamus story under the rug, as after all it happened so long ago and it was only a dog, after all. But I believe it’s completely emblematic of Mitt Romney’s character. This is a person who seems incapable of experiencing any empathy for anyone or anything.

The hands-down strongest case to be made for this (admittedly extreme) claim is just to look at his time at Bain Capital. If you haven’t, I strongly urge everyone to read Matt Taibbi’s piece on exactly what Bain is and what it did under Romney’s leadership. Then, if you suspect that a liberal like Taibbi is probably not giving Romney fair treatment, go ahead and read this piece criticizing the article. If that piece somehow convinces you that Taibbi had it all wrong, read Taibbi’s response to the criticism, and draw your own conclusions about where you stand.

But since you’re almost certainly not going to subject yourself to all that homework, I’ll just sum up briefly. Basically, a venture capital firm like Bain targets companies that are struggling financially, then borrows enough money from big banks like Goldman Sachs to buy up a controlling share of their target company. This can be done without the consent of the company, but at least Bain would usually take the less hostile approach of buying off the company’s management with lucrative bonuses. Either way, it’s the target company and not Bain Capital that are on the hook for all the debt from the money borrowed from the bank. The company can then either start firing workers to lower its costs, or go bankrupt. Either way, Bain Capital is able to extract millions of dollars in management fees while workers lose their jobs.

To be fair, Bain’s involvement didn’t always destroy companies, and there are many companies it actually managed to help. But if involvement with Bain is to a company’s benefit, it’s merely an unintended consequence of Bain’s primary goal—to make as much money as possible for Bain’s executives. And if Bain can make more money by letting the company fail, then it’s tough luck for that company and everyone in it. Ever wonder what happened to KB Toys? Bain happened, and it happened under Mitt Romney.

Your first reaction might be to say “that’s just the nature of capitalism”, but take a step back for a moment and think about it. Yes, Bain is a corporation and it’s the obligation of a corporation to make as much profit as possible, but no one is personally obliged to work for Bain. Could you personally go home with a big fat seven-figure bonus in your pocket knowing that it came at the expense of the livelihoods of thousands of people? Could you personally sleep nice and sound in your mansion at night knowing other people had to lose their homes to pay for yours? If you are that kind of person, I hope you and the Republican Party are very happy together. (I just worry for the well-being of your dog.)

There are some of us—I think the majority—who choose not to become Titans of Finance not because we’re too dumb or too lazy, but because we find the entire nature of the industry morally repugnant. Perhaps you can’t judge Bain Capital for doing whatever it takes to maximize profits and workers be damned, but you’re perfectly entitled to judge the people who choose to work for Bain Capital knowing full well what it does. The people who work in Big Finance are the kind of people for whom self-interest is the beginning and the end of all decision-making, and Mitt Romney is very much of the same ilk.

I’m going to close this argument with one more story that speaks to who Mitt Romney is as a person, and while it didn’t get too much attention when it broke I think it actually says more about his character than any other story that’s come out.

When Mitt Romney was a student in prep school, he had a reputation for being something of a bully, particularly when it came to students he thought were gay. People who knew Romney back then have spoken of an incident in which a student showed up to school with a hairstyle Romney considered too effeminate. Under Romney’s orchestration, a group of his friends pinned the student down as Romney took out a pair of scissors and proceeded to cut the student’s hair while he cried out for help. It’s hard to imagine more humiliating treatment. And even if you’re against homosexuality, try to imagine how you’d feel if someone you love who happens to be gay were subjected to that kind of abuse.

Now, the first thing everyone will say in defense of Mitt Romney is that this happened an incredibly long time ago, and we’ve all done stupid things when we were kids that we later regret. OK, fair enough. I never bullied anyone like that and to my knowledge no one I’m friends with ever did either, but it’s certainly possible for people to grow out of their adolescent immaturity and have a different personality as an adult.

What I take issue with is Romney’s response as an adult to that story being brought up now. When asked to comment about the story, the first thing Mitt Romney does is laugh. You really have to listen to the audio to get a good sense of this, so if you haven’t heard it I implore you to just take a minute and listen to your potential future-president. He laughs it off as though it’s no big deal, then proceeds to offer what is easily one of the most half-hearted “apologies” in political history. If he actually does feel any remorse for what he did, he certainly does the world’s worst job of conveying it.

But what really gets me is this: he says he doesn’t recall that particular incident. That means there are two possibilities. Either Romney is lying—which is quite likely given what we already know about Romney’s relationship with the truth—or he really doesn’t remember. And if we give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he really doesn’t recall the incident, it’s actually far worse than if he’s lying.

What kind of human being does that to another person and not only doesn’t regret it, but actually forgets that he ever did such a thing in the first place? If I’d done something like that as a kid, not a day would go by that I didn’t look back and regret it. Every time I heard a story about bullying I’d think about what I’d done and feel sick about it. But for Mitt Romney—assuming he’s actually telling the truth about forgetting—that kind of abuse he heaped onto a fellow student was just such a normal, routine thing that it didn’t even leave enough of an impression on his mind to be able to recall it as an adult.

I’m sorry, but that kind of person doesn’t deserve to be the president of the United States, and he certainly doesn’t deserve your vote. If Mitt Romney had any shred of honor whatsoever, he would have responded to the story by taking it seriously, by taking responsibility for his brutish behavior as a child and then—most importantly—imploring the youth of America not to follow his example by making that kind of mistake. Especially given all the stories about teenagers committing suicide as a result of bullying these days, the future leader of our country should want to make it absolutely clear that this kind of behavior is unacceptable, and is certainly nothing to laugh about.


There’s so much more I could bring up, but I believe I’ll rest my case. If you’ve read through all these posts and still feel that Barack Obama is so horrible and you’re so unwilling to “throw your vote away” by voting third party that you’ll actually give your vote to a loathsome creature like Mitt Romney, that’s your prerogative. I will say that find it a a little ridiculous that so many people feel that just because we haven’t completely recovered from the second-largest economic collapse in American history in under four years, we need to hand the White House over to the same party that had control when the crisis occurred, but I suppose that’s the society we live in.

Part of me almost hopes that Mitt Romney does win. That way everyone who votes for him now will eventually come to realize what a ridiculous mistake they made. Those Wall Street bankers who are Romney’s top contributors are still engaging in the same activities that caused the last financial crisis, and after suffering no consequences the last time I’d say it’s 99% certain that another one is just around the bend. If it happens under Obama’s watch, it will be his fault but not because of progressive policies. People assume that because he’s a Democrat, Obama’s economic policies have been progressive, but in reality his policies—particularly with regard to the financial sector—have been anything but. At least if the crash occurs under Romney, the blame will be more properly assigned.

So regardless of who you’re planning to vote for on Tuesday, I implore you to vote. If the other guy wins, at least you won’t have to blame yourself for the disasters of the next four years. But if you don’t vote at all, you won’t really have any excuse.

So you’re voting for Romney? (Part 2)

November 2nd, 2012 No comments


This is the second in a three-part series of blog entries directed at swing-voters and rational conservatives who intend to vote for Mitt Romney as a protest vote against Barack Obama. I’m arguing that as bad as you might think Obama is, Romney is far worse in every way. My first piece tore apart the idea that Romney has any good ideas whatsoever about handling the economy. This piece will deal with his stances on foreign policy and social issues, and in tomorrow’s post I will focus exclusively on his character (or complete lack thereof).

When it comes to politicians, I’m not sure there are any in the history of the United States for whom the term “flip-flopper” is more appropriate. When it comes to foreign policy and social issues, you can find a Mitt Romney quote supporting just about every position one can take. His self-contradictions come so frequently that it’s hard to keep up with what he believes on any given issue at any given time.

There’s even a web page exclusively dedicated to Romney’s flip-flops, and while I don’t like how they don’t include links allowing people to check the context from which the quotes are taken, it does give you a good sense of just how spineless and shifty Mitt Romney is. He’ll say whatever he believes the people in the room want to hear (unless he’s specifically decided not to as a political stunt, as he did with the NAACP).

Let’s take a look at the two major areas where Romney’s actual positions are nearly impossible to pin down: foreign policy and social issues.

Foreign Policy

For the past four years, it’s never been easier to figure out what the leaders of the Republican Party believe about any given foreign policy issue. Whatever Obama is for, they’re against—even if they used to be for it. First, Obama wasn’t quick enough to support the Egyptian protesters. A few months later, he was too quick to throw Mubarak under the bus. They were calling on him to intervene in Libya right up until he intervened, at which point the whole idea was a mistake. Now they’re saying he should do more to help the rebels in Syria. You can safely assume that as soon as he helps the rebels in Syria they’ll say he should never have gotten involved. The only things they never criticize the president for are his continuation of Bush policies like drone strikes and indefinite detention.

Mitt Romney has somehow managed to take flip-flopping to a whole new dimension, as he’s not only taken the whatever-Obama-is-for-I’m-against approach throughout his campaign, but in the final presidential debate on foreign policy, right-wingers were baffled to find him agreeing with just about every foreign policy move the current administration has made. Whether he’s an aggressive war-hawk or a peace-loving pacifist depends entirely on the audience he’s speaking to.

Four years ago, Mitt Romney was a fervent supporter of the Iraq war even though there were no weapons of mass destruction. Now, he says he wouldn’t have invaded Iraq if we’d known there were no weapons of mass destruction. On Afghanistan, he used to be against a timeline for withdrawal. In the last debate, he agreed with the president’s timetable. On the Egyptian revolution, Romney once refused to call Mubarak a dictator, but now he says we couldn’t possibly have supported him against the uprising. And when it comes to Israel and Palestine, Romney says in public that he wants to do everything possible to bring about peace, but he tells his supporters behind closed doors that there won’t be peace and he won’t even bother trying to work towards it.

To be fair to Romney, foreign policy just isn’t his thing. His only real international experience is from his time as a Mormon missionary in France during the Vietnam War. Barack Obama never served in the military either, and just because he spent more time living in foreign countries doesn’t necessarily mean he had more foreign policy credentials when he took office. But at least candidate Obama had strong and informed opinions which he famously expressed before his presidential run, starting with his speech against the Iraq war back when many Democrats were still supporting it. Mitt Romney, by contrast, just doesn’t seem interested at all. His own foreign policy team openly wonders whether he’s even reading their briefings. And if you’re going to talk about Iran being the biggest threat to America in the third debate, you might want to check a map first and see where Iran is—especially when you’ve already gotten it wrong five times!

If Mitt Romney actually knew anything about the world outside the United States, he might have some solid opinions about our role on the international stage. But because he doesn’t know and doesn’t seem to care to know, it’s a safe bet he’ll rely exclusively on his foreign policy advisors to set the course for America. So it’s worth looking at who his advisors are.

It turns out, most of them are veterans of the Bush administration. And if you think Dick Cheney’s approach to the rest of the world was great for America, then you’re in a bubble so thick absolutely nothing will penetrate it. Mitt Romney has done fund-raisers with Dick Cheney, praising him as “a person of wisdom and judgment”. Seriously? The kind of wisdom that got us into the Iraq war? The kind of judgment that destroyed America’s international reputation by authorizing torture? Not to mention the wisdom and judgment that urged President Bush to start a war with Iran before leaving office—advice which Bush to his great credit ignored. Even W eventually came to see Cheney’s judgment for what it was—abysmally stupid and reckless—but I guess he never bothered to tell Mitt.

Mitt Romney can say he’s only interested in peace all he wants, but the people who would have his ear as president when it comes to foreign policy are the same war hawks who so enthusiastically pushed us into two wars under Bush, and who would like to see the war on terror continue indefinitely, perhaps by turning Iran into its latest front-line.

Of course this is all speculation, but one thing we do know is that Mitt Romney would increase the defense budget by as much as $2.3 trillion over the next 10 years, money which the Pentagon hasn’t even asked for. And he’s the guy who’s supposed to care about deficits.

I have plenty of issues with Obama’s foreign policy, but one thing I know for certain as a person who’s lived abroad for the entirety of his presidency is that he has unquestionably helped to restore America’s damaged international reputation. If Romney takes power and brings back the same people who demolished it under Bush, I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to win back the admiration and respect we enjoyed for most of the 20th century. Those days are probably permanently behind us already, but every vote for a Romney/Cheney foreign policy is another nail in that coffin.

Social Issues

The president has very little effect on social policies, but it’s worth taking a glance at the myriad of positions Mitt Romney has taken on a few key issues.

Health care is a major economic issue, but I’m including it here because I see it as a moral issue. I personally believe that there are certain institutions in society that should be run exclusively by the government, as introducing a profit-motive leads to terrible results. Health care is the biggest one (others include education, police, and prisons) as what could be more fundamental to the health of a society than how a society deals with the health of its members?

Everybody knows that the Affordable Care Act which President Obama pushed through Congress is almost identical to Mitt Romney’s health care plan for Massachusetts, right down to the individual mandate. Most people don’t seem to realize that the mandate—which is what they invariably hate most about the law—is actually a Republican idea, cooked up by the Heritage Foundation in 1989 and pushed by Republican senators including Orrin Hatch and Chuck Grassley. (And you can be sure that’s true because the source I’m citing is Fox

Way back when the mandate was a Republican idea (which it was until about three seconds after Barack Obama adopted it), Mitt Romney enthusiastically supported it. Naturally, as soon as the poll numbers on the mandate came in and the party completely disavowed the policy and everything to do with it, Romney had to twist himself into a pretzel by explaining that it’s a perfectly wonderful idea at the state level, but utterly unconstitutional and horrible at the national level. That is, until the Supreme Court declared it a tax, at which point he eventually decided it’s a tax and therefore constitutional (but not before agreeing with Obama that it’s not a tax).

At least Mitt Romney has remained consistent that when he’s president, he’ll repeal Obamacare except for the popular parts about covering pre-existing conditions and letting children stay on their parents’ plans until age 26…except when he’s saying the health care law must be “repealed entirely”.

Never mind how tricky it would be to repeal the health care law while maintaining its most popular aspects. (Chalk this one up as another one of Romney’s secret plans.) But if he somehow gets elected and gets massive Republican majorities in both houses of Congress, you can finally kiss Obamacare goodbye.

But let’s turn now to something that might actually happen if Romney gets elected, which is the elimination of a woman’s right to have an abortion. Of course, Mitt Romney was all for a woman’s right to choose when running against Ted Kennedy in Massachusetts, but when trying to please the Tea Party crowd that dog just doesn’t hunt. Now he’s staunchly pro-life and in favor of outlawing abortion except in cases of rape or the life of the mother—unless you believe him when he says he’d absolutely support a personhood amendment which would leave no room for these exceptions.

Of course the Holy Grail of the pro-life movement is the overturn of Roe v. Wade by the U.S. Supreme Court, and there’s no doubt that a Romney-appointed justice would be far more likely to join the right-wingers on the bench in overturning this law than an Obama-appointed justice. So if you’re one of those who only votes based on social issues and abortion is what you care about most, by all means vote for Romney. Just don’t expect him to fight too hard for your cause, because he’s not a true believer.

When it comes to LGBT issues, here we finally arrive at a place where Romney has shown some degree of consistency—by remaining as far right as you can go. He’s opposed to same-sex marriage of course, but he’s also opposed to civil unions. As for his justification for not letting gay couples enjoy the same rights as straight couples even when it’s not considered “marriage”—well, on that he’s not so clear. But rest assured, he says, it has nothing to do with his Mormon faith. It’s about 3,000 years of history. Obviously it would be wrong to change any institution that’s existed for thousands of years…just ask 19th-century plantation owners.

But even if you agree with Mitt Romney on things like abortion and gay rights, it makes very little sense to vote for him based on that. As I said, the president has very little to do with social policy. What you really want is a man with firm convictions, and all you have to do is listen to Mitt Romney speak for five minutes to realize that he has none.

That Mitt Romney has no character is the argument I’ll be concluding my series with, and I expect it to be the most forceful.

To be continued…

So you’re voting for Romney? (Part 1)

November 1st, 2012 No comments


If you thought I’d given up on political blogging, you’re mostly right. I no longer think it’s worth the effort—everything I want to say is already being said by a million other voices and I just don’t have the patience to do the kind of online networking required to generate enough of an audience to make an actual impact.

Further reducing my motivation has been the fact that for the majority of this election season, the outcome has been a foregone conclusion, with Barack Obama leading by a comfortable margin both nationally and in most swing states. Why bother weighing in when it couldn’t possibly make less of a difference?

But now that the race has tightened, my compulsion to get my opinion off my chest has reached an unbearable level. To the low-information voters who flocked to Mitt Romney in droves after his self-rebranding at the first debate, and to the conservatives I know who don’t care for Romney but may end up voting for him anyway, there are things I just have to say, and it’s too much to squeeze into just one post.

The case I’ll be making over the course of three blog posts is not that you should vote for Obama. There are hundreds of perfectly good reasons not to vote for Obama (along with thousands of bad ones, which are the ones you mostly hear about), but my argument will be that there’s not one single good reason to vote for Mitt Romney, even as a protest vote against Obama.

In my entire lifetime, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a candidate less deserving of your vote than Mitt Romney (yes, even George W. Bush), so if you just can’t bring yourself to vote for Obama I sincerely hope you’ll lodge your protest in the form of a third-party candidate instead. Trust me, you’ll sleep much better if you do, especially if Romney does win. That way no one can blame you for what happens under his presidency.

Yes, every politician flip-flops, panders to the crowd, lies and distorts, and sells promises to the highest bidder, but the degree to which Mitt Romney does these things rises to an absurd, almost cartoonish level. The man has absolutely no core convictions, no realistic plans for fixing the economy or improving America’s standing in the world, and not even one discernible positive aspect to his character. If the American electorate actually rewards this spineless, slithering weasel of a politician with the highest office in the land I’ll be so disgusted that I would pack up and move to Japan if not for the fact that I already did.

The rest of this post will deal with the main reason most low-information voters are planning to vote for Romney: they believe he’ll do a better job at handling the economy. I’ll explain why this is utter nonsense, and expose how hollow his economic argument actually is. In tomorrow’s post I’ll touch on Romney’s indistinguishable-from-Bush foreign policy, followed by a look at his ever-shifting stances on social issues. My final post will be the least substantive but most important, as I’ll focus exclusively on Mitt Romney’s character, which is what I believe it really comes down to for most swing voters. If you think Mitt Romney has more character than Barack Obama, you either don’t know enough about Mitt Romney or haven’t thought hard enough about what you do know. Obama is by no means a shining beacon of integrity, but I honestly don’t believe that Mitt Romney possesses even the slightest shred of honor.

As usual, I’ve tried to back up my claims with links to sources as neutral as possible, and where biased sources are cited I’ve tried to include the opposing side as well. To those who agree with me, I hope this will aid you in trying to convince last-minute swing-voters not to make the mistake of voting for Romney. And to those swing voters who currently plan to vote for Romney just because you hate Obama, I address this directly to you:

You’re actually going to vote for Mitt Romney? Really? Why on earth would you do such a thing? Let’s take a look at what your reasons may be and delve into them one by one.

The Economy

Barack Obama has had four years to get the economy back on track, you say, and things don’t feel any different. The unemployment rate may be dropping but you or plenty of people you know are still out of work, and you definitely can’t afford the same standard of living you enjoyed before the recession. If the guy in the White House can’t get the job done, you feel, it’s time to fire him and put someone else in. And even though you’ve never been a big fan of this Romney guy, at least he has business experience, so he probably knows more about how to fix the economy than the guy who’s never run a business in his life.

The conservatives in the media tell you that what’s hampering the economy is this massive budget deficit Obama has created, and the trillions he’s added to the national debt with all that reckless stimulus spending. Romney insists that he’ll balance the budget and get government spending under control.

But is that really true? Let’s not even look at this chart that clearly shows the bulk of the deficit is a result of Bush-era policies—the media has declared any mention of the previous administration off-limits in terms of argument–making—and just focus on Romney’s plan. (Seriously, ignore the chart.)

deficit chart

Essentially, Romney wants to cut federal income taxes by 20% across-the-board. This now-infamous article which appeared in Forbes magazine back in February makes the conjecture that such a move could cost the government $5 trillion over the next ten years. I’d ask you to take a look at the chart above and see for yourself what Bush’s 15% tax cut did to the deficit, but we’ve already agreed to ignore it.

Now you might be thinking, “I’ve heard this $5 trillion number from every Democratic pundit on TV and even from the president himself during the debates.” Since you’re already inclined to distrust the Democratic Party (not without good reason, to be fair), I’d urge you to consider that just because a Democrat says something doesn’t automatically mean it isn’t true. After all, even if you’re a liar-by-nature, if something that happens to be true is to your political benefit, you’re still going to repeat it over and over again.

If you don’t trust the Democratic Party or the Forbes article, check out Politifact’s analysis of Obama’s claim that Romney’s plan would add trillions to the deficit. Politifact relies on its perceived neutrality to stay in business, so they’ve very carefully rated this claim “half-true”. If you look at their explanation, you’ll see that the only reason they can’t rate it completely true is that Mitt Romney has offered no details about what he would cut to offset the lost revenue. Technically, he could slash and burn every single government expenditure from Medicare to the military to keep things deficit neutral, so they can’t know definitively either way. Basically, Romney’s plan will probably increase the deficit but since he won’t tell us exactly what his plan is, we can’t be sure.

But if you still think that business-whiz Mitt Romney might secretly know how to pay for this massive tax-cut without massively increasing the national debt, I offer you this trump card from the totally nonpartisan US Budget Watch, which taking everything into consideration concludes that by 2021, Romney’s plan will increase the debt to 85% of GDP in a best-case scenario, and 96% in a worst-case scenario.

The obvious mathematical problem of the Romney plan has led to much speculation, largely based on a study by the Tax Policy Center, that the money will be coming straight from the pockets of the middle class, specifically anyone earning less than $200,000 a year. Their federal income tax may go down 20% but because things like the mortgage interest deduction, the break for employer-provided health insurance, and child tax-credit will probably have to be eliminated, the effective after-tax income for middle-class families could fall by 1.2%.

This is upward wealth-redistribution at its finest, as a 20% tax-cut doesn’t sound like it’s going to cost you any money and you have to delve deep into the details to see how it could. Plus, you’ve got Fox News articles like this one to cast doubt on the whole accusation. (Essentially, the article says you can’t take the Tax Policy Center study for granted because it’s based on assumptions about what Romney would or wouldn’t cut, and just because those assumptions are based on things Romney has actually said he would or wouldn’t cut doesn’t mean they’re accurate. After all, Romney could be lying about what he would or wouldn’t cut, in which case his plan theoretically could be deficit-neutral!)

In a sense I actually agree with the Fox News piece. All this speculation about increasing the middle-class tax burden is based on the proposition that Romney actually will pay for his tax-cut by eliminating deductions, and I don’t think he has any intention of doing so in the first place. The last Republican president to balance the budget was Dwight D. Eisenhower—they crow loudly about deficits whenever Democrats are in power but whenever a Republican is in office they have no qualms about spending with reckless abandon. Just look at the chart above…no…wait…I told you not to.

Deficits don’t matter.” <– Ignore this quote from Dick Cheney too.

Of course all this blither blather about debt and deficits goes right over the heads of the average voter. What really matters is jobs, jobs, jobs, and Mitt Romney has promised over and over again (about nine hundred and sixty-four times in the debates alone according to my rough count) that he “knows how to create jobs” because he ran a business.

Never mind that this is the shallowest, most weak argument anyone could possibly make. Never mind that this is like saying I know how to fix the nation’s education system because I was a schoolteacher, or that I can solve global warming because I’m a weatherman. Forget what a ridiculous, shallow, this-is-the-only-thing-I-have-going-for-me-so-I-just-need-to-keep-repeating-it-until-it-sinks-into-the-thick-skulls-of-the-nation’s-least-intelligent-voters argument this is when you break it down. Erase from your mind the fact that Massachusetts’ 47th-in-the-nation rate of job-creation under Romney has already undermined his case. Let’s just look at Romney’s “plan” to create 12 million jobs over the next four years and see what it’s based on.

First of all, as has been pointed out in many respectable publications, Moody’s Analytics has predicted a growth in the job rate that will result in 12 million new jobs by 2016 no matter who is president. So if Romney’s plan is to simply sit on his hands and do nothing for four years, he assumes it’s a safe bet 12 million jobs will be created that he can then take credit for.

But when pressed on which of his actual policies will be the cause of all this job-creation, the emperor’s complete lack-of-clothes is revealed. According to this bombshell piece in the Washington Post, Romney’s team claims the numbers are based on several different studies with several different timelines.

Romney says his tax-cut will create 7 million new jobs, and he bases this on a study by John W. Diamond of Rice University who believes that tax-cuts can spur economic growth. Whether or not you share this economic philosophy, it’s important to note that his ‘7 million new jobs’ projection is over a ten year timeline—not four. (Even more telling is the fact that Diamond himself believes that for the plan to be deficit-neutral, the middle-class would have to pay a higher share in taxes.)

Romney says that his energy policies will create 3 million jobs, which he bases on a Citigroup Global Markets study that doesn’t even evaluate Romney’s energy plans, but bases its predictions on current market trends.

Finally, Romney’s claim that he’ll create an additional 2 million jobs by cracking down on China is based on a 2011 International Trade Commission report that predicts (based on 2011 economic numbers) that there could be a gain of about 2 million jobs if China stops infringing on U.S. intellectual property rights. How Mitt Romney plans to stop China from doing this is presumably another one of those secret strategies that he’s waiting until after the election to unveil.

So 7 million + 3 million + 2 million = 12 million new jobs, and holy guacamole this just happens to align perfectly with the amount of new jobs Moody’s expects will be created by 2016 anyway! I’m sure it’s just a wild coincidence.

Mitt Romney is not some kind of economic wizard with some special knowledge of how to create jobs, and he certainly has no intention of balancing the budget and paying down the national debt when he takes office. He’s hoping that the economic recovery we’re already experiencing—the natural economic recovery that follows every recession—will continue into his presidency and he’ll be able to claim credit for it.

Yes, there were things Obama could have done to speed up the recovery but he didn’t do them—the same things Romney could do to speed up the recovery but he won’t do them.

That said, the candidates’ economic policies are by no means identical. There is one very significant difference between Obama and Romney on the economy, and that is the fact that Romney will push for a 20% tax-cut on top of the 15% tax-cut put in place by Bush, the deficit-exploding effects of which are so painfully clear in the chart-that-you-totally-didn’t-look-at. To be fair, Romney’s tax-cuts might not explode the deficit like Bush’s did, but only if the tax-burden on the middle-class is increased.

The choice seems pretty obvious. So remind me again why you’re voting for Romney?

Maybe it’s because you like his foreign policy, his stances on social issues, or his character. Well, let’s just take a closer look at those things, shall we?

To be continued…