Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Still Fighting The Same Old Culture War

(By Kathleen Parker, Washington Post, 26 October 2012)

We shouldn’t be talking about this silliness — Big Bird, “bull­s----er” or a girl’s “first time.”  We should be talking about The Issues, we keep telling ourselves. But in the waning days of the presidential campaign, these are the issues — binders full of cultural issues that continue to divide us and by which Barack Obama hopes to win reelection.  It is no accident that the war of competing economic theories has devolved into the same old culture war, beginning with the debate about the contraception mandate under the Affordable Care Act. Ever since, the Obama campaign has strategically tried to push the Republican Party and Mitt Romney into a corner by advancing the war-on-women narrative.

That Obama has had ample help from certain outspoken players (Missouri and Indiana Senate candidates Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, respectively, to name the most notorious) has only made Romney’s challenges greater. But the war against women has always been a red herring.  Random comments by a couple of outliers provided wind for Obama’s sails. Akin’s remarks, that women don’t get pregnant when “legitimately” raped, was just idiotic and immediately dismissed by Republican Party leadership, including Romney. Yet Mourdock’s view, that a child conceived by rape is God’s will, deserves some perspective.   Obviously, he wasn’t endorsing rape. He apparently belongs to that sliver of pro-lifers who insist that even babies conceived of rape are worthy of protection. They, too, are God’s children.

Although most Americans, including those who are enthusiastically pro-life, support exemptions for rape and incest, Mourdock’s argument is not nonsensical. If life begins at conception, then one life is not worth less than another owing to the circumstances of creation. The embryo bears no blame.  Given this context, Mourdock’s argument is logical.  But we bend logic as needed. We weigh pros and cons and make difficult choices. Thus, most would resolve Mourdock’s Muddle as follows: Given the horror of rape and the consequences for the woman, we find for the woman. It is no good solution, certainly not for the gestating human, but it is acceptable to most. It is also certainly not a decision one should make for another.

Mourdock may have been indelicate in stating his position, but he is hardly a monster for believing that the definition of life, like the definition of rape, should not be parsed. As to Romney’s choice to not comment, why would he? This is the ultimate no-win — and the answer is meaningless except as a political point, which perhaps explains the media’s insistence on a response.  Romney’s position on the subject is clear. He supports exceptions for rape and incest. He also said early in the primary season: “Contraception, it’s working just fine. Just leave it alone.”  So why are we still talking about it? This pseudo-debate is, as Joe Biden would put it, “malarkey.” Just possibly, a child could recognize the “bulls----er” aspect to this non-issue, to borrow the phrasing of Obama during a recent Rolling Stone interview.

The contraception issue never would have come up but for Obama’s decision to force the hand of the Catholic Church. By placing religious institutions in the position of having to provide health insurance to pay for contraception as well as sterilization, which, agree or not, are against church teaching, Obama created the conversation.  Some church leaders support Obama’s position, but not the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Nor do many religious institutions, including the University of Notre Dame, that have sued the Obama administration on First Amendment grounds.

Obama reasoned correctly that he had the majority with him, especially among women and youth, for many of whom these debates seem antiquated to not-applicable. Hence, a new Obama ad by the creator and star of HBO’s “Girls,” Lena Dunham, in which she compares voting for the first time (for a man who understands women) to, you know, “doing it” for the first time. It’s . . . what it is: a message to young women that losing one’s virginity is top of the bucket list, but first you gotta vote for the president who will give you free contraception.  The same ol’ culture wars.  But, of course, women have had access to birth control for decades, and no one is trying to take it away. Anyone who suggests otherwise may have been spending too much time with Big Bird.

The Gimme Society

(By George F. Will, Washington Post, 26 October 2012)

The election-eve mood is tinged with sadness stemming from well-founded fear that America’s new government is subverting America’s old character. Barack Obama’s agenda is a menu of temptations intended to change the nation’s social norms by making Americans comfortable with the degradation of democracy. This degradation consists of piling up public debt that binds unconsenting future generations to finance current consumption.  So argues Nicholas Eberstadt, an economist and demographer at American Enterprise Institute, in “A Nation of Takers: America’s Entitlement Epidemic.” This booklet could be Mitt Romney’s closing argument.

Beginning two decades after the death of Franklin Roosevelt, who would find today’s government unrecognizable, government became a geyser of entitlements. In 2010, government at all levels transferred more than $2.2 trillion in money, goods and services to recipients — $7,200 per individual, almost $29,000 per family of four. Before 1960, only in the Depression years of 1931 and 1935 did federal transfer payments exceed other federal expenditures. During most of FDR’s 12 presidential years, income transfers were a third or less of federal spending. But between 1960 and 2010, entitlements exploded from 28 percent to 66 percent of federal spending. By 2010, more than 34 percent of households were receiving means-tested benefits. Republicans were more than merely complicit, says Eberstadt:

“The growth of entitlement spending over the past half-century has been distinctly greater under Republican administrations than Democratic ones. Between 1960 and 2010, the growth of entitlement spending was exponential — but in any given year, it was on the whole over 8 percent higher if the president happened to be a Republican rather than a Democrat. . . . The Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and George W. Bush administrations presided over especially lavish expansions of the entitlement state.”

Why, then, should we expect Romney to reverse Republican complicity? Because by embracing Paul Ryan, Romney embraced Ryan’s emphasis on the entitlement state’s moral as well as financial costs.   As evidence of the moral costs, Eberstadt cites the fact that means-tested entitlement recipience has not merely been destigmatized, it has been celebrated as a basic civil right. Hence the stunning growth of supposed disabilities. The normalization and then celebration of dependency help explain the “unprecedented exit from gainful work by adult men.”

Since 1948, male labor force participation has plummeted from 89 percent to 73 percent. Today, 27 percent of adult men do not consider themselves part of the workforce: “A large part of the jobs problem for American men today is not wanting one.” Which is why “labor force participation ratios for men in the prime of life are lower in America than in Europe.”  One reason work now is neither a duty nor a necessity is the gaming — defrauding, really — of disability entitlements. In 1960, an average of 455,000 workers were receiving disability payments; in 2011, 8.6 million were — more than four times the number of persons receiving basic welfare benefits under Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Nearly half of the 8.6 million were “disabled” because of “mood disorders” or ailments of the “musculoskeletal system and the connective tissue.” It is, says Eberstadt, essentially impossible to disprove a person’s claim to be suffering from sad feelings or back pain.

“In 1960,” Eberstadt says, “roughly 134 Americans were engaged in gainful employment for every officially disabled worker; by December 2010 there were just over 16.” This, in spite of the fact that public health had improved much, and automation and the growth of the service/information economy had made work less physically demanding. Eberstadt says collecting disability is an increasingly important American “profession.”

For every 100 industrial workers in December 2010, there were 73 “workers” receiving disability payments. Between January 2010 and December 2011, the U.S. economy created 1.73 million nonfarm jobs — but almost half as many (790,000) workers became disability recipients. This trend is not a Great Recession phenomenon: In the 15 years ending in December 2011, the United States added 8.8 million nonfarm private sector jobs — and 4.1 million workers on disability rolls.  The radiating corruption of this entitlement involves the collaboration of doctors and health care professionals who certify dubious disability claims. The judicial system, too, is compromised in the process of setting disability standards that enable all this.  America’s ethos once was what Eberstadt calls “optimistic Puritanism,” combining an affinity for personal enterprise with a horror of dependency. Nov. 6 is a late and perhaps last chance to begin stopping the scandal of plundering our descendants’ wealth to finance the demands of today’s entitlement mentality.

Walt Disney Agrees To Buy Lucasfilm for $4.05 Billion

I must say I hadn't heard a whisper about this but it certainly is exciting news.  Some of the least enjoyable Star Wars films were ones that George Lucas directed himself so maybe the franchise can be reinvented and reinvigorated, a la James Bond franchise since Casino Royale.  I also got a laugh out of the last line of the first article- "The agreement has been approved by the sole shareholder of Lucasfilm." I hope so- it's kind of hard to offer a company up for sale if the sole owner isn't interested in selling it.

Walt Disney Agrees To Buy Lucasfilm for $4.05 Billion

(By James Shillinglaw,, 30 October 2012)
The Walt Disney Company, in a deal that will most likely lead to more films and more theme park attractions, has agreed to acquire Lucasfilm Ltd. in a stock and cash transaction worth $4.05 Billion Lucasfilm is 100 percent owned by Lucasfilm Chairman and Founder George Lucas.  Disney is paying approximately half of the consideration in cash and issuing approximately 40 million shares at closing. The final consideration will be subject to customary post-closing balance sheet adjustments.  "Lucasfilm reflects the extraordinary passion, vision, and storytelling of its founder, George Lucas," said Robert Iger, chairman and CEO of Disney. "This transaction combines a world-class portfolio of content including Star Wars, one of the greatest family entertainment franchises of all time, with Disney's unique and unparalleled creativity across multiple platforms, businesses, and markets to generate sustained growth and drive significant long-term value."

"For the past 35 years, one of my greatest pleasures has been to see Star Wars passed from one generation to the next," said George Lucas, chairman and CEO of Lucasfilm. "It's now time for me to pass Star Wars on to a new generation of filmmakers. I've always believed that Star Wars could live beyond me, and I thought it was important to set up the transition during my lifetime. I'm confident that with Lucasfilm under the leadership of Kathleen Kennedy, and having a new home within the Disney organization, Star Wars will certainly live on and flourish for many generations to come. Disney's reach and experience give Lucasfilm the opportunity to blaze new trails in film, television, interactive media, theme parks, live entertainment, and consumer products."

Under terms of the deal, Disney will acquire ownership of Lucasfilm, a leader in entertainment, innovation and technology, including its Star Wars franchise and its operating businesses in live action film production, consumer products, animation, visual effects, and audio post production. Disney also will acquire the substantial portfolio of cutting-edge entertainment technologies that have kept audiences enthralled for many years. Lucasfilm, headquartered in San Francisco, operates under the names Lucasfilm Ltd., LucasArts, Industrial Light & Magic, and Skywalker Sound, and the present intent is for Lucasfilm employees to remain in their current locations.  Kathleen Kennedy, current co-chairman of Lucasfilm, will become president of Lucasfilm, reporting to Walt Disney Studios Chairman Alan Horn. In addition, she will serve as the brand manager for Star Wars, working directly with Disney's global lines of business to build, further integrate, and maximize the value of this global franchise.

Kennedy will serve as executive producer on new Star Wars feature films, with George Lucas serving as creative consultant. Star Wars Episode 7 is targeted for release in 2015, with more feature films expected to continue the Star Wars saga and grow the franchise well into the future.  Disney said Star Wars continues to resonate with consumers around the world and creates extensive opportunities for Disney to deliver the content across its diverse portfolio of businesses, including movies, television, consumer products, games and theme parks. The Lucasfilm acquisition follows Disney's acquisitions of Pixar and Marvel. The boards of directors of Disney and Lucasfilm have approved the transaction, which is subject to clearance under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act, certain non-United States merger control regulations, and other customary closing conditions. The agreement has been approved by the sole shareholder of Lucasfilm.

Disney Buys Lucasfilm For $4 billion

(, October 2012)

Disney is buying Lucasfilm for $4 billion, adding the legendary Star Wars franchise to the entertainment giant's stable of characters. Lucasfilm is 100% owned by founder George Lucas. The purchase culminates a one and a half year pursuit of the Lucas empire, Disney's CEO said.  Lucas, who receives 40 million Disney shares from the deal, will be the second-largest non-institutional shareholder of Disney, Bloomberg News says, behind the trust of deceased Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.  The 68-year-old Lucas will serve as a creative consultant but plans to retire.  "For the past 35 years, one of my greatest pleasures has been to see Star Wars passed from one generation to the next," said Lucas, chairman and CEO of Lucasfilm, in a statement. "It's now time for me to pass Star Wars on to a new generation of filmmakers." 

Said Disney CEO Robert Iger: "This is one of the great entertainment properties of all time, one of the best branded and one of the most valuable, and it's just fantastic for us to have the opportunity to both buy it, run it and grow it."  The big screen isn't the only place that there might be tales from the galaxy far, far away. "We really like Star Wars' potential on TV as well," Iger says, "and we think (cable-satellite channel) Disney XD will be a great home for that."  The buyout is Disney's fourth largest deal ever. It's behind the $19.7 billion, $7.6 billion and $5.2 billion buyouts of Capital Cities/ABC in 1995, Pixar in 2006 and Fox Family in 2001, respectively, says S&P Capital IQ. It tops the $3.96 billion Disney paid for Marvel in August 2009.

Disney expects to more aggressively expand the Star Wars film schedule, Iger said in a statement. Following the release of Episode VII in 2015, "our long term plan is to release a new Star Wars feature film every two to three years," Iger said.  Star Wars Episodes VIII and IX, Iger said, would follow "probably on a cadence of every other year and then go from there. . . . The (first) film is in early stage development right now."  Based on Disney's closing price on Oct. 26, the deal is valued at roughly $4.1 billion. Disney (DIS) will pay half that value in cash and issue 40 million shares of Disney to pay for the rest. Also included in the deal are special-effects house Industrial Light & Magic, Skywalker Sound and video game company LucasArts.

Lucasfilm spokeswoman Lynne Hale said Disney's "intent is for everyone (in Lucas' various companies) to stay where they are." ILM is headquartered in the Presidio in San Francisco, while Skywalker Sound and Lucasfilm are on a series of ranches Lucas owns in Marin County.  "As far as the legacy George has created, we don't take that lightly," Disney chief Iger said. "We definitely plan to expand the presence of Star Wars in our parks which could include new parks."  Wall Street is hopeful Disney can quickly recoup the money by fully tapping the potential for more movies, theme park tie-ins and merchandise, says David Miller, analyst at investment research firm Caris. "If you look at how acquisitive Disney has been, it's all about content," he says. Lucasfilm "is one of the great entertainment franchises of all time."  Many investors were caught off guard by the announcement, but there have been questions about what Disney would do with its mounting pile of cash. Disney had $4.4 billion in cash and short-term investments as of the end of June. "Disney did a good job keeping this quiet," Miller says.

Kathleen Kennedy, co-chairman of Lucasfilm, will report to Walt Disney Studios Chairman Alan Horn. Kennedy, who produced Schindler's List and War Horse, will become the new studio president and be executive producer on the new films.  Film critic Leonard Maltin, also a historian of the medium, was taken aback by the news and had questions about it.  "There's no way of telling where this is going to go at this point," Maltin said. "Obviously Disney, as they did with Marvel, is investing in a bluechip property that will yield dividends for years to come.   "But it's not a fresh property," he added. "But it remains to be seen if they revive the characters. There are a lot of unanswered questions."  The latest part of the Star Wars saga, Star Wars Episode VII, is targeted for a 2015 release.

 Peter Sealey, a California professor and former president of marketing and distribution for Columbia Pictures, says it appears Lucas gains the most out of the deal.  "George Lucas was never a part of Hollywood, he was always an outlier who left for northern California as soon as he had a hit," Sealey said.  "So this is an end of an era, the story of a brilliant filmmaker who had one incredibly long home run. This was the only exit strategy he really had. He never wanted to grow the company."  Sealey said he can't imagine Disney would let Lucasfilm's entities keep operating away from Disney's home base in the Los Angeles area. "I don't see how or why you keep any of this up in that area, it'll all move down to Burbank," he said.

Disney's theatrical lineup could use a boost in some areas. While the studio's animated Wreck-It Ralph, due Friday, has healthy buzz, other recent releases such as Mars Needs Moms and John Carter have disappointed.  "We actually determined that we'd be better off as a company releasing a sequel to Star Wars than probably most other, I'll call them 'not yet determined' films," Iger said. "So we love the fact that this will take its place in our live-action strategy as an already-branded, already-known quantity."

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Fact Checking The 2nd Presidential And The Vice Presidential Debates

Rather than make any kind of partisan statement about who I think won the debate, I thought the focus should be on the facts presented and since both sides played fast and loose with the facts, any "win" during the debate needs to be viewed with some skepticism.  So, here's the facts as presented by the Washington Post's Fact Checker site.  Read through them and then you can decide who did the best during the debate and who should be / remain president.

The Obama-Romney clash over Libya

Posted by Glenn Kessler, 10/18/2012 TheWashingtonPost

The White House took issue with our instant fact check of the exchange on Libya between President Obama and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. This is probably the pivotal moment of the second presidential debate.

“The day after the attack, governor, I stood in the Rose Garden and I told the American people and the world that we are going to find out exactly what happened. That this was an act of terror and I also said that we’re going to hunt down those who committed this crime.”

— Obama

“I think interesting the president just said something, which is that on the day after the attack he went into the Rose Garden and said that this was an act of terror.... I want to make sure we get that for the record because it took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror.”

— Romney

The moderator, Candy Crowley then jumped in. The first part of her comment has been often replayed, but less focus has been on the second part.  “He did call it an act of terror,” Crowley told Romney. “It did as well take two weeks or so for the whole idea there being a riot out there about this tape to come out. You are correct about that.” This is how we assessed the exchange:

What did Obama say in the Rose Garden a day after the attack in Libya? We covered this previously in our extensive timeline of administration statements on Libya.

“No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for,” Obama said.

But the president did not say “terrorism”— and Romney got tripped up when he repeated the “act of terror” phrasing.

Otherwise, Romney’s broader point is accurate — that it took the administration days to concede that the assault on the U.S. mission in Benghazi was an “act of terrorism” that appears unrelated to initial reports of anger at a video that defamed the prophet Muhammad. (The reporting is contradictory on whether there was indeed a demonstration outside the mission.) By our count, it took eight days for an administration official to concede that the deaths in Libya was the result of a “terrorist attack.”

More to Romney’s point, Obama continued to resist saying the “T” word, instead repeatedly bringing up the video, even in a speech to the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 25. On Sept. 26 — 15 days after the attack — the White House spokesman felt compelled to assert “it is certainly the case that it is our view as an administration, the president’s view, that it was a terrorist attack.”

But White House National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor wrote us to dispute this assessment. He noted that Obama made three statements that referenced “act of terror” in the days following the attack. He further stated that the statement by counterterrorism director Matt Olsen was based on specific criteria regarding the term “international terrorism” and that “there was considerable confusion on the ground” about what actually happened in Benghazi before the attack.

The debate over Libya has become so politically charged and confusing that it’s time for a refresher course to sort this out.

The Facts

Just as it is sometimes possible for Supreme Court justices to pick and choose among legal precedents in deciding a case, here too one can construct different narratives about the administration’s words. Here’s the case the administration is trying to make now.

“No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for.”

— Obama, Rose Garden, Sept. 12

We want to send a message all around the world — anybody who would do us harm: No act of terror will dim the light of the values that we proudly shine on the rest of the world, and no act of violence will shake the resolve of the United States of America.”

— Obama, campaign event in Las Vegas, Sept. 13

“I want people around the world to hear me: To all those who would do us harm, no act of terror will go unpunished. It will not dim the light of the values that we proudly present to the rest of the world. No act of violence shakes the resolve of the United States of America.”

— Obama, campaign event in Golden, Colo., Sept. 13

Note that in all three cases, the language is not as strong as Obama asserted in the debate. Obama declared that he said “that this was an act of terror.” But actually the president spoke in vague terms, usually wrapped in a patriotic fervor. One could presume he was speaking of the incident in Libya, but he did not affirmatively state that the American ambassador died because of an “act of terror.”

Some readers may think we are dancing on the head of pin here. The Fact Checker spent nine years as diplomatic correspondent for The Washington Post, and such nuances of phrasing are often very important. A president does not simply utter virtually the same phrase three times in two days about a major international incident without careful thought about the implications of each word.

The White House understands this. Our timeline noted that only after Matt Olsen went to Capitol Hill on Sept. 19 and called it a terrorist act did White House spokesman Jay Carney on Sept. 20 tell reporters that it was “self-evident that what happened in Benghazi was a terrorist attack.”

In the same briefing, Carney acknowledged that the White House had never before said it was a terrorist act:

REPORTER: “I just hadn’t heard the White House say that this was an act of terrorism or a terrorist attack. And I just –”

MR. CARNEY: “I don’t think the fact that we hadn’t is not — as our NCTC Director testified yesterday, a number of different elements appear to have been involved in the attack, including individuals connected to militant groups that are prevalent in eastern Libya, particularly in the Benghazi area. We are looking at indications that individuals involved in the attack may have had connections to al-Qaeda or al-Qaeda’s affiliates, in particular al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb…. It appears that some well-armed militants seized on the opportunity as the events unfolded that evening. We do not have any specific intelligence that there was significant advanced planning or coordination for this attack. Again, that is the best information we have right now.”

Now, conveniently, Obama reaches back to the period immediately after the attack to argue he did indeed call it an “act of terror.” Funny that his spokesman did not remember that.

As we have previously documented, for at least two weeks Obama in particular did not want to utter the “T” word. His speech to the U.N. General Assembly made repeated references to a vile video that the administration initially suggested was behind the attacks. A day later, he still shied away from calling it an act of terrorism.

QUESTION: “I heard Hillary Clinton say it was an act of terrorism. Is it? What do you say?”

OBAMA: “We are still doing an investigation. There is no doubt that the kind of weapons that were used, the ongoing assault, that it wasn’t just a mob action. Now, we don’t have all the information yet so we are still gathering.”

— Obama, on ABC’s “The View,” Sept. 25.

So at the very least, the administration was not being consistent. Why would Obama readily say “act of terror” for two days but then drop it, and then even resist saying “act of terrorism” when other members of his administration had already acknowledged the term?

Finally, questions continue to linger about whether a protest over the video ever took place outside the diplomatic post in Benghazi before the attack. The Washington Post, quoting eyewitnesses, reported on Sept. 12:

By late Tuesday evening, as many as 50 heavily armed militants had gathered outside its high walls.

They joined protesters outside the consulate who were demonstrating against an American movie that they believed denigrated the prophet Muhammad. But according to one witness, the new arrivals neither chanted slogans nor carried banners….The gunmen soon opened fire, entered the compound and set the consulate’s buildings aflame.

The article also said:

The first protesters had showed up around noon. Wanis al-Sharif, the deputy Libyan interior minister, said in an interview that the demonstrators were angered by a low-budget American film that portrayed the prophet Muhammad in a blasphemous manner. As the day wore on, Sharif said, the anger escalated and people with weapons infiltrated the crowd.

However, questions have been raised about Sharif’s credibility as a source. In the aftermath of the incident, he was removed from his post. The State Department said last week that the street outside the compound had been quiet during the day. This raises the possibility that a crowd of people gathered — or protested — after militants attacked. The compound was later looted.

An article in The New York Times this week muddied the waters further, reporting there was no protest but the attack was in response to the video:

To Libyans who witnessed the assault and know the attackers, there is little doubt what occurred: a well-known group of local Islamist militants struck the United States Mission without any warning or protest, and they did it in retaliation for the video. That is what the fighters said at the time, speaking emotionally of their anger at the video without mentioning Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden or the terrorist strikes of 11 years earlier. And it is an explanation that tracks with their history as members of a local militant group determined to protect Libya from Western influence.

The Bottom Line

In reviewing the documentation again, we see little reason to change our initial assessment.

Obama is correct that, in the day or two after the attack, he did use phrasing such as “act of terror,” though it was more vague than he implied in the debate. Moreover, he then dropped the phrase and for at least a week the administration pushed a narrative that tied the attack as a spontaneous reaction to the video, rather than a terrorist attack.

Meanwhile, Romney is correct that it took at least two weeks for Obama to forthrightly call it a terrorist attack (a statement that came via his spokesman).

The president’s desire to reach back to his initial “act of terror” statements appears to be an effort to mitigate that politically uncomfortable fact.


Fact checking Romney’s ‘binders full of women’ anecdote

By Josh Hicks, Updated: Thursday, October 18, 10:00 AM, Washington Post

“I said: ‘Well, gosh, can’t we find some women that are also qualified? And so we took a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet. I went to a number of women’s groups and said, ‘Can you help us find folks?’ And they brought us whole binders full of women.”

— Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney during presidential debate, Oct. 17, 2012

Mitt Romney shared this anecdote when asked to discuss pay equity for women during Tuesday’s presidential debate. The story seemed to prove the GOP candidate’s sensitivity toward workplace inequality, but critics say he simply sidestepped the issue by not addressing it directly.

The Twitter-sphere quickly lit up with comedic chatter about Romney’s reference to “binders full of women,” but a bigger issue arose shortly after the debate ended. The Phoenix, a Boston-based publication, reported that the candidate had overstated his involvement in starting the hiring initiative. What’s more, it said the number of women who held senior-level positions with the Republican’s government actually declined at the end of his term.

Let’s look at the facts to determine whether Romney told this story accurately.

The Facts

In 2002, a women’s advocacy group known as the Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus asked Bay State gubernatorial candidates to sign a pledge saying they would “make best efforts” to ensure that the number of women appointed to high-level positions would more fairly represent the proportion of women in the population. Romney and his Democratic opponent both signed that commitment, says Liz Levine, who was chair of the group during that time.

(Levine supports President Obama in the 2012 election, according to the Post’s Plum Line blog. )

Romney’s anecdote seems to refer to his coordination with the women’s caucus and a binder that the group assembled for his administration. The binder contained “hundreds” of resumes, Levine said.

The women’s group released a statement Wednesday confirming that it reached out to Romney first, rather than the other way around. The Romney campaign has not disputed that account, but instead issued a news release with comments from former lieutenant governor Kerry Healey, who served as a liaison between the Romney administration and the women’s group.

Healey said that 10 of the top 20 positions in the Romney administration were filled by women. She also noted that Romney’s chief of staff while he was governor, Beth Myers, is a woman. “Our administration actively sought to recruit the best and brightest women the Commonwealth had to offer,” Healy said in the statement.

In an interview, Healey said there’s no conflict between Romney’s debate anecdote and the statement from the women’s caucus. “Both of these perspectives are absolutely correct because both of these things happened,” she said. “The part Governor Romney was talking about was once we got into office and were in transition. That’s when he decided to figure out how he could fulfill his promise, and he reached out to the Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus.”

Healey added that Romney used other resources as well, including his own personal contacts and those of his transition teams for each agency.

The statement from the women’s caucus noted that 42 percent of Romney’s appointments were women during his first two years in office and that the rate for his final two years was a much lower 25 percent. But these numbers don’t actually tell us much, because they don’t account for whether men or women vacated the positions to create the openings to begin with.

The better data set to examine here is women as a percentage of total senior-level positions. After all, appointing women to fill even one-quarter of the new openings during Romney’s last two years could create a big uptick for females if only men left their positions.

In terms of our preferred metric, a 2007 report from the University of Massachusetts shows that the percentage of women holding top Bay State government positions stood at about 30 percent just prior to the 2002 election. The level dropped to 28 percent by the end of Romney’s term and then rose to 34 percent eight months after Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat, took office in 2007.

The downward shift during Romney’s term suggests the GOP candidate might have been less serious about hiring women than he let on. However, Levine said this type of fluctuation is nothing unusual between administrations. She pointed out that new governors tend to set their sights high, but that many of their officials exit near the end of a term, with the vacancies being filled by internal candidates until the governor’s time in office expires.

“If you don’t have a lot of new people in the pipeline, it’s harder to fill those positions with women,” Levine said. In other words, women are at a natural disadvantage in those instances because they already hold fewer positions within the lower ranks.

Jesse Mermell, the former director of the caucus’s female-hiring initiative, known as MassGAP, said during a teleconference with reporters Wednesday that Romney only focused on hiring women when the “spotlight was on.” She also blasted the former governor for relying on outside help to find qualified females for top-level positions. “It’s shocking to me that after 25 years, a professional from the very highest levels of corporate America needed help with this,” she said, adding that Romney should have had his own list ready to go.

We asked Levine whether she feels critical of Romney for accepting help from MassGAP and the women’s caucus. She said: “From my perspective, it’s a sign of strength to be able to reach out to groups and get names and good people who might make your group good.”

The Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus describes itself as a nonpartisan organization. Founder Marge Schiller is a registered Democrat, and many of the group’s leaders donate exclusively to Democratic campaigns. But some key members of the organization, including its former president and numerous board members, are prominent Republicans on the Massachusetts political scene.

Republicans associated with the group include: Ann Murphy, a registered Republican and the organization’s former president; Jennifer Nassour, who was chairwoman of the Massachusetts Republican Party from 2009 until 2011; and Healey.

The Pinocchio Test

Romney suggested during the debate that he took the initiative to find qualified female candidates for his administration by reaching out to women’s groups. But the women’s group that created the “binders” in question said it contacted Romney first, not the other way around. In fact, the organization said Romney signed their hiring-parity pledge while he was still campaigning in 2002.

Overall, Romney seems to have embellished the story here, omitting the role of the women’s caucus in the female-hiring initiative. But he still worked with the women’s caucus and appointed lots of women to top-level positions. Given the passage of time since this incident took place, the gist of his anecdote isn’t totally off-base. The Republican candidate earns two Pinocchios.


Obama’s claim that Romney wants to boost defense spending by $2 trillion

Posted by Glenn Kessler at 06:02 AM ET, 10/19/2012, TheWashingtonPost

 “Governor Romney then also wants to spend $2 trillion on additional military programs, even though the military’s not asking for them.”

— President Obama, in the second presidential debate, Oct. 16, 2012

The assertion that Mitt Romney wants to boost defense spending by $2 trillion over 10 years, even though the military does not want it, has been a key claim by President Obama in presidential debates and Vice President Biden in the vice presidential debate.

It is such a large sum that it is probably difficult for most readers to grasp. But, as we often warn about big budget numbers, it is also a figure subject to so many variables that it should be treated with skepticism. It is certainly not a number that the Romney campaign accepts, though for some reason Romney has not tried hard to rebut it in the debates. (GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan disputed the number in his debate with Biden.)

There are two parts to this statement we will examine — the $2 trillion number and the claim that the military has not asked for this budget. We obviously take no position on the proper size of the U.S. military or the right defense policy. We just want to explain the numbers. Warning: It’s complicated.

The Facts

The $2 trillion figure stems from a statement in Romney’s National Security White Paper:

“Romney will begin by reversing Obama-era defense cuts and return to the budget baseline established by Secretary Robert Gates in 2010, with the goal of setting core defense spending — meaning funds devoted to the fundamental military components of personnel, operations and maintenance, procurement, and research and development — at a floor of 4 percent of GDP [gross domestic product].”

Currently, including war spending, the United States is spending about 4.3 percent of GDP on defense. As war spending decreases, Romney would like to transition those funds to the military’s base budget.

In interviews, Romney campaign officials emphasized that four percent of GDP was a goal, not likely to be reached until the end of a second Romney term, or 2020. That makes a difference in terms of the budget numbers, because most of the $2 trillion comes in the later years. (Some $700 billion of the $2 trillion comes in years 2021 and 2022, after Romney would no longer be president.)

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, for instance, assumed that Romney would hit the 4 percent target in 2016. Travis Sharp, a defense analyst affiliated with the Center for a New American Security who the Obama campaign cites as a source, assumed the target would be hit in 2018. Sharp compared the numbers against Obama’s fiscal 2013 budget to reach his estimate.

From the Romney camp’s perspective, the more relevant comparison is the Pentagon’s fiscal 2011 plan, before Obama ordered nearly $500 billion in defense cuts. That’s because Romney wants to return to that spending path, which officials argue the military wanted before Obama decided to reduce defense spending.

Another factor to consider is the impact of inflation over 10 years. We have previously noted that Obama’s defense budget over 10 years is virtually flat, when inflation is taken into account, even though it grows from $525 billion in 2013 to $634 billion in 2022. In inflation-adjusted dollars, 2022 is just slightly larger than the budget for 2012.

Here’s our favorite example of the impact of inflation: Defense spending technically remained constant from 1987 to 1994 — $282 billion a year. But look what happened to the military during those seven years: The number of troops fell from 2.2 million to 1.6 million, the number of Army divisions was slashed from 28 to 20, Air Force fighter wings dropped from 36 to 22 and Navy fighting ships declined from 568 to 387. That’s because inflation over time ate away at the value of those dollars. By most measures, defense spending was trimmed in that period, though in theory, not a penny was cut.

So that also puts that $2 trillion figure into perspective. Still, from a budget standpoint, any increase in defense spending must be met with decreases in domestic spending, or else the deficit will rise.

Finally, it is important to remember that because the calculations are based on a percentage of GDP, the outcome depends on predictions of the size of the nation’s economy far in the future. Sharp and other analysts rely on the forecasts of the Congressional Budget Office, but even so, the numbers are not etched in stone.

By the Romney campaign’s accounting, the difference over 10 years between Obama’s 2013 budget and Romney’s budget would be a maximum of $1.57 trillion, or $1.35 trillion in constant 2005 dollars. But the comparison to Obama’s 2011 budget would be $988 billion, or $790 billion in inflation-adjusted dollars.

Sharp believes the gap between his calculation and the Romney campaign stems from subtracting savings from reduced war spending.

“I don’t think war costs are the appropriate baseline because I don’t think Romney’s plan should get credit for not spending money that nobody plans to spend anyway,” Sharp said about the Romney campaign’s calculation. “Second, if Romney’s plan gets credit for war savings, then so should Obama’s because the candidates basically agree on what to do.” He also said it was more appropriate to measure the changes from Obama’s current budget, not his higher, earlier budgets.

Romney campaign officials note that no budget containing cuts from the Budget Control Act has been taken up by the Senate or signed by the president. From their perspective, then, stopping defense cuts is not the same as increasing spending. Moreover, they believe it is reasonable to convert money now allocated to wars into funds for a top-notch military down the road.

This brings us to the other part of Obama’s statement—that Romney wants to spend money on “additional military programs, even though the military’s not asking for them.”

When Biden tried to make this point in his debate with Ryan, the moderator, ABC’s Martha Raddatz, interjected that the military “answers to a civilian leader.” In other words, a president issues orders and the generals salute.

In the Bush administration, for instance, two men who later worked for Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, appeared to embrace the idea of keeping defense spending at 4 percent of GDP.

“Consider that, at about 4 percent of America’s gross domestic product, the amount of money the United States expects to spend on defense this year is actually slightly a smaller percentage of GDP than when I left the government 14 years ago, following the end of the Cold War — and a significantly smaller percentage of GDP than during previous times of war, such as Vietnam and Korea.”

— Gates, March 3, 2007

“We’re hovering I think right now at just under 4 percent of gross national product, of G.N.P., as the defense budget. And I would see that in the future as an absolute floor.... And I’m not arguing that it be as high as it was in Vietnam or as high as it was in World War II, but [so] that we can meet the challenges that we see, that I see, in the future [defense spending] at under 4 percent doesn’t make any sense to me.”

— Mullen, Oct. 22, 2007

Mullen continued to make that case as late as 2011:

“At about 4.5% of GDP, the return on U.S. defense spending has been immense and historic…if we are to continue to execute the missions set out by our strategy, we must recognize that returning from war and resetting the force is costly and will require several years of continued investment.”

Of course, the current military leadership says the reduced Obama budget is just fine.

“This is a real strategy. It represents real choices. And I’m here today to assure you that it has real buy-in among our senior military and civilian leadership. This is not the strategy of a military in decline. This is a strategy — and a joint force — on which the nation can depend.”

— Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Jan. 5, 2012

Note that in the debate, Obama carefully used the word “ask.” There may well be a difference between what the military asks for—and what it wants.

The Pinocchio Test

To sum up, the $2 trillion figure is not adjusted for inflation, is based on predictions of the size of the economy 10 years from now and makes assumptions about Romney’s policy that his campaign says are not correct.

Still, Romney is proposing a significant boost in defense spending. By the campaign’s own account, the budget increase is as high as nearly $1.6 trillion over the president’s current path — or at a minimum almost $1 trillion more than Obama’s budget two years ago.

We puzzled over the Pinocchio count here. It is important to remember that the $2 trillion is an outside estimate, not a Romney campaign figure, and that it is subject to all sorts of caveats. But the Romney campaign has not be especially transparent about its overall budget plan either. In any case, Obama might reasonably argue the defense increase is “nearly $2 trillion,” not adjusting for inflation, compared to his current budget.

We will leave it to readers to decide if the military would want budgets higher than currently ordered by the Obama administration. The president’s phrasing is certainly carefully parsed. (UPDATE: Peter Feaver on the Web site makes an interesting argument that we were too gentle here, because, he says, “in order to reach that [Obama] budget goal, the department had to cut many programs that just the year before they had asked for and defended as necessary for national security.”)

One Pinocchio


Fact checking the second presidential debate – Random Roundup

Posted by Glenn Kessler at 02:24 AM ET, 10/17/2012, TheWashingtonPost

(This is an expanded version of material that originally appeared in the Oct. 17 print edition of The Washington Post.)

We heard some oldies but goodies in Tuesday night’s feisty debate between President Obama and former governor Mitt Romney. Here are some factual highlights — or lowlights:

“When Governor Romney said we should let Detroit go bankrupt, I said we’re going to bet on American workers.”

— Obama

“He said that I said we should take Detroit bankrupt. And that’s right. My plan was to have the company go through bankruptcy like 7-Eleven did and Macy’s and Continental Airlines and come out stronger. And I know he keeps saying, you want to take Detroit bankrupt. Well, the president took Detroit bankrupt. You took General Motors bankrupt. You took Chrysler bankrupt. So when you say that I wanted to take the auto industry bankrupt, you actually did.”

— Romney

“What Governor Romney said just isn’t true. He wanted to take them into bankruptcy without providing them any way to stay open. And we would have lost a million jobs.”

— Obama

This interesting exchange is drawn from a headline — “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt” — on an opinion article written by Romney for the New York Times. But he did not say that in the article. (He repeated the line, however, on television.)

Although “bankrupt” often conjures up images of liquidation, Romney is correct in that he called for a “managed bankruptcy.” This is a process in which the company uses the bankruptcy code to discharge its debts, but emerges from the process a leaner, less leveraged company.

Ultimately, along with getting nearly $80 billion in loans and other assistance from the Bush and Obama administrations, GM and Chrysler did go through a managed bankruptcy.

But many independent analysts have concluded that taking the approach recommended by Romney would not have worked in 2008, simply because the credit markets were so frozen that a bankruptcy was not a viable option at the time.

Here’s how the bipartisan Congressional Oversight Panel, in a unanimous finding, framed the issue in a January 2011 report: “The circumstances in the global credit markets in November and December 2008 were unlike any the financial markets had seen in decades. U.S. domestic credit markets were frozen in the wake of the Lehman bankruptcy, and international sources of funding were extremely limited.”

Obama’s claim of 1 million jobs being saved is based on a Bush administration estimate when it extended loans to the automakers. The Bush administration’s Council of Economic Advisers said that “the direct costs of American automakers failing and laying off their workers in the near term would result in a more than 1 percent reduction in real GDP [gross domestic product] growth and about 1.1 million workers losing their jobs, including workers for automotive suppliers and dealers.”

“That’s why I put out a five-point plan that gets America 12 million new jobs in four years.”

— Romney

This number is less impressive than it sounds. This pledge amounts to an average of 250,000 jobs a month; in recent months, the economy has averaged about 150,000 jobs a month.

Moody’s Analytics, in an August forecast, predicts 12 million jobs will be created by 2016, no matter who is president. And Macroeconomic Advisors in April also predicted a gain of 12.3 million jobs.

In other words, this is a fairly safe bet by Romney, even if he has a somewhat fuzzy plan for action. We have often noted that presidents are often at the mercy — or are the beneficiary — of broad economic trends, and Romney’s pledge appears to be an effort to take advantage of that.

“We’ve built enough pipeline to wrap around the entire Earth once.”

— Obama

This “fact” is kind of meaningless — and it’s missing some important context.

The circumference of the Earth at the equator is just over 24,091 miles.

The president is making this claim based on two years of data posted on the Web site of the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration. The data show that from 2008 to 2010, total oil and gas pipelines have increased by 27,899 miles. So that’s certainly circling the globe.

But the total number of pipelines in 2008 was about 2.38 million miles. So that means that Obama’s gain over two years amounts to a little over 1 percent of that total. That sounds much less impressive than “wrap around the entire Earth.”

Indeed, the bulk of Obama’s gain — 19,500 miles — came from gas transmission lines, essentially natural gas piped into homes and buildings. By and large, these pipelines require approvals from states and municipalities, as well as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, an independent agency.

“A recent study has shown the people in the middle-class will see $4,000 per year in higher taxes as a result of the spending and borrowing of this administration.”

— Romney

Romney’s claim that Obama would raise taxes on the middle class by $4,000 has earned him three Pinocchios in the past.

The figure is drawn from a dry report from the American Enterprise Institute, titled “A Simple Measure of the Distributional Burden of Debt Accumulation.” The study tries to calculate the burden of servicing the national debt by various income groups, examining what would happen under current law, current policies and Obama’s budget.

(Current law refers to policies that are supposed to happen, such as expiring tax cuts; current policy reflects the fact that Congress has said it will not let certain tax cuts expire.)

Among the three scenarios, there’s actually not much difference, and the Obama administration’s budget falls right in the middle. In other words, the study shows how much lower taxes could be if the nation did not keep adding to the debt load; it does not show, as Romney suggests, that Obama has some sort of secret plan to raise taxes.

Presumably, a Romney budget would fall in the same range, but he has not provided detailed plans.

“I said I would cut taxes for middle- class families, and that’s what I’ve done, by $3,600.”

— Obama

Obama makes it sound like this is one big tax cut, every year.

The $3,600 figure is actually over four years — $800 in each of 2009 and 2010 due to the Making Work Pay tax credit and $1,000 in each of 2011 and 2012 due to a Social Security payroll tax cut.

But the Making Work Pay tax credit has expired, and Obama has not promised to extend the payroll tax cut, meaning that people’s taxes will go up next year.

“Every middle-income taxpayer no longer will pay any tax on interest, dividends or capital gains.”

— Romney

The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center says that such a tax cut will not greatly benefit middle-income Americans, who typically do not have large stock investments.

For an income range of 50,000 to $75,000 — roughly equivalent to the median income figure in Census Bureau data — the result would be an average tax cut of $167. The people who really make money on capital gains earn far more than $200,000, but Romney’s proposal would only be for people earning less than that.

Still, the Tax Policy Center study does show that Romney’s proposal would not be a bad deal for the elderly who get most of their income from capital appreciation. Their average tax cut would be three times greater than it would for the rest of the tax-paying population.

“There were many days that passed before we knew whether this was a spontaneous demonstration, or actually whether it was a terrorist attack [in Libya].”

— Romney

“The day after the attack, governor, I stood in the Rose Garden and I told the American people and the world that we are going to find out exactly what happened, that this was an act of terror, and I also said that we’re going to hunt down those who committed this crime.”

— Obama

“I think it’s interesting the president just said something, which is that on the day after the attack he went into the Rose Garden and said that this was an attack of terror.... I want to make sure we get that for the record, because it took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror.”

— Romney

What did Obama say in the Rose Garden a day after the attack in Libya? We covered this previously in our extensive timeline of administration statements on Libya.

“No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for,” Obama said.

But the president did not say “terrorism”— and Romney got tripped up when he repeated the “act of terror” phrasing.

Otherwise, Romney’s broader point is accurate — that it took the administration days to concede that the assault on the U.S. mission in Benghazi was an “act of terrorism” that appears unrelated to initial reports of anger at a video that defamed the prophet Muhammad. (The reporting is contradictory on whether there was indeed a demonstration outside the mission.) By our count, it took eight days for an administration official to concede that the deaths in Libya were the result of a “terrorist attack.”

More to Romney’s point, Obama continued to resist saying the “T” word, instead repeatedly bringing up the video, even in a speech to the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 25. On Sept. 26 — 15 days after the attack — the White House spokesman felt compelled to assert “it is certainly the case that it is our view as an administration, the president’s view, that it was a terrorist attack.”

“The unemployment rate was 7.8 percent when he took office, it’s 7.8 percent now. But if you calculated that unemployment rate, taking back the people who dropped out of the workforce, it would be 10.7 percent.”

— Romney

On the surface, Romney’s point seems reasonable, but ultimately this is a misleading metric.

The labor force participation rate in January 2009 was 65.7, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Had the rate remained the same, the labor force would be about 160,158,000. At the current employment level, the unemployment rate would be 10.7 percent.

But this assumes all things are equal in the labor force, when in fact it is constantly churning and evolving. In particular, besides the aftermath of the Great Recession, the composition of the labor force has been affected by the retirement of the leading edge of the Baby Boom generation.

Our colleagues at WonkBlog explored this issue earlier this year, showing that the peak of the labor force participation rate, or LFPR, was reached during the end of President Bill Clinton’s term and that since then it has been on a downward track. “If the same percentage of adults were in the workforce today as when Barack Obama took office, the unemployment rate would be 11.1 percent,” the column noted. “If the percentage was where it was when George W. Bush took office, the unemployment rate would be 13.1 percent.”

The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago in March estimated that just over half of the post-1999 decline in the labor force participation rate was explained by long-running demographic patterns, such as the retirement of the baby boomers. “These patterns are expected to continue, offsetting LFPR improvements due to economic recovery,” the study said.

In other words, all things did not remain equal.

“He said when he was running for office, he would cut the deficit in half. Instead he’s doubled it.”

— Romney

Obama did say he would cut the deficit in half but Romney’s math is wrong. The federal budget deficit in 2009 — which started four months before Obama became president — was $1.4 trillion, when it was about 10 percent of the gross domestic product. For the fiscal year just ended, the deficit was $1.1 trillion, or about 7 percent of GDP.

The budget deficit in 2008 was $438 billion, but it hardly seems fair to compare Obama’s record to that fiscal year, which ended just as the economic crisis erupted.

“The president’s policies throughout the Middle East began with an apology tour.”

— Romney

This Four-Pinocchio claim rears its head again. Readers can refer back to our lengthy look at this issue back in early 2011. The apology tour never happened.

“He called the Arizona law a model for the nation.”

— Obama

The president loves this line, but it simply is not correct. As Romney later pointed out out, he was speaking of “E-Verify,” which is a federal electronic verification system that checks the immigration status of new hires — not the controversial immigration enforcement law known as Senate Bill 1070

This is Romney’s full quote, which came during GOP debate held in Arizona in February:

“You know, I think you see a model here in Arizona. They passed a law here that says, that says that people who come here and try and find work, that the employer is required to look them up on E-Verify. This E-Verify system allows employers in Arizona to know who’s here legally and who’s not here legally. And as a result of E-Verify being put in place, the number of people in Arizona that are here illegally has dropped by some 14 percent, where the national average has only gone down 7 percent.”

Regarding SB1070, Romney position has been vague; he has not even said whether he agreed with the Supreme Court ruling striking down key parts of the legislation.

“He said that by now we’d have unemployment at 5.4 percent. The difference between where it is and 5.4 percent is 9 million Americans without work. I wasn’t the one that said 5.4 percent. This was the president’s plan. Didn’t get there.”

— Romney

Republicans like to cite this “promise” by Obama but it is not as simple as that.

Before Obama took the oath of office, two aides, Christina Romer, the nominee to head the Council of Economic Advisers, and Jared Bernstein, an incoming economic adviser to Vice President-elect Biden, wrote a 14-page report that attempted to assess the impact of a possible $775 billion stimulus package and how much of a difference it would make compared to doing nothing.

Thus, it was not an official government assessment or even an analysis of an actual plan that had passed Congress.

Page 4 of the report included a chart that showed that unemployment would peak at 8 percent in 2009, compared to 9 percent in 2010 if nothing was done. For 2012, the report suggested the unemployment rate would be 5.4 percent after stimulus. But the report also contained numerous caveats and warnings because, after all, it was merely a projection.

Still, the administration later cited the report in congressional testimony, giving it an official imprimatur. So, while Obama officials may not have “pledged” such a goal, it was certainly part of the administration’s talking points.

“One of his big ideas when it comes to corporate tax reform would be to say, if you invest overseas, you make profits overseas, you don’t have to pay U.S. taxes.... And it’s estimated that that will create 800,000 new jobs. The problem is they’ll be in China. Or India. Or Germany.”

— Obama

Obama is quoting from one disputed study.

At issue is a Romney proposal, as part of a corporate tax reform, to allow foreign profits by corporations to be exempt from domestic tax. The Simpson-Bowles deficit-reduction commission, frequently cited by Democrats and Republicans, recommended such a system in its report. “A territorial tax system should be adopted to help put the U.S. system in line with other countries, leveling the playing field,” the report said.

The study cited by Obama, which appeared in Tax Notes, did not actually study Romney’s plan. Moreover, it said that such a system would create 800,000 jobs overseas, but not necessarily at the expense of U.S. jobs if unemployment rates are low.

“He was asked this on Univision the other day. Why, when you said you’d filed legislation in your first year didn’t you do it? And he didn’t answer.”

— Romney

Romney suggested that the president couldn’t answer during a Univision interview for a failed 2008 campaign promise to overhaul the immigration system during his first year in office. We covered this issue in a previous column.

Obama said on Univision that his administration was preoccupied with resuscitating the economy during his first year in office. We noted that the president was indeed busy with various stimulus and bailout programs, but that most of the heavy legislative lifting was done by the summer of 2009.

The president has blamed Republicans for not working with him to enact immigration reform, but his party held the majority in both chambers of Congress during his first two years, and some Democrats showed a reluctance to work on a bill.

News accounts at the time noted that the Obama administration showed little will to push through a deal. Here’s what the New York Times wrote about the matter:

“Aides to Mr. Obama say he does not intend to get out in front of any [immigration] proposal until there is a strong bipartisan commitment to pass it. That stance has the potential to paralyze the process, since lawmakers are looking to him to use his bully pulpit, and high approval ratings, to help them fend off any political backlash among their constituents.” — Josh Hicks

“Any investments I have over the last eight years have been managed by a blind trust. And I understand they do include investments outside the United States, including in Chinese companies. Mr. President, have you looked at your pension? Have you looked at your pension?”

— Romney

“I don’t look at my pension. It’s not as big as yours so it doesn’t take as long.”

— Obama

“Let me give you some advice. Look at your pension. You also have investments in Chinese companies. You also have investments outside the United States.”

— Romney

We have certainly been skeptical of the Obama campaign’s claims about Romney-related investments in Chinese companies, but this was bit of curve ball by GOP candidate.

Generally, the payout from a pension — in this case, from Obama’s years in the state legislature — is based on years of service and other factors, not necessarily how well the pension does in the stock market. (It certainly is an unusually lucrative pension system, as a Chicago Tribune investigation found.) Obama’s defined-benefit pension is valued at between $50,000 and $100,000 on his financial disclosure form.

To our mind, there’s a qualitative difference between a pension-plan investment portfolio and earning returns from contemporary stock investments.

The Romney campaign explains that his point was that international investments are a crucial part of investing today — and that just as Obama has no control over the investments made by his pension fund, Romney has no control over investments made by funds that are part of his blind trust. The Romney campaign says that 19 percent of the Illinois pension fund’s investments are in foreign companies, including dozens of Chinese companies.

“Obama has a pension, managed by the IL Pension fund. He has no control over how they invest it, and they invest some of it in Chinese companies,” a Romney spokesman said. “Romney has a blind trust. He has no control over how the trustee invests it, and the trustee invests some of it in funds that invest in Chinese companies.”

(As has often been noted, as a Senate candidate in 1994, Romney dismissed a blind trust as an “age-old ruse.” In a blast at Sen. Ted Kennedy’s blind trust, Romney said: “The blind trust is an age-old ruse, if you will. Which is to say you can always tell a blind trust what it can and cannot do. You give a blind trust rules.”)

(As is our practice, we generally do not award Pinocchio ratings in these instant round-ups.)


Fact Checking The Vice-Presidential Debate

Posted by Glenn Kessler at 02:02 AM ET, 10/12/2012, TheWashingtonPost

(This is an expanded version of material that originally appeared in the Oct. 12 print edition of The Washington Post.)

There were lots of feisty words and fishy facts in Thursday’s debate between Vice President Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan. Here are some quick highlights.

“We weren’t told they wanted more security there. We did not know they wanted more security.”

— Biden, speaking of the U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya

Biden’s bold statement was directly contradicted by State Department officials just this week, in testimony before a congressional panel and in unclassified cables released by a congressional committee.

“All of us at post were in sync that we wanted these resources,” said Eric Nordstrom, the top regional security officer in Libya earlier this year. A Utah National Guardsman who led a security team, Lt. Col. Andrew Wood, said: “We felt great frustration that those requests were ignored or just never met.”

Maybe Biden was too busy in debate prep to watch?

UPDATE: In a bit of post-debate clean-up of Biden’s remarks, the White House on Friday said Biden was speaking for himself and President Obama, not the administration.

“The congressman here cut embassy security in his budget by $300 million below what we asked for.”

— Biden

Ryan, as head of the House Budget Committee, set broad targets for spending in his budget blueprint that would have cut nondefense discretionary spending by 19 percent in 2014.

There were no specific cuts in embassy security, but Democrats have extrapolated the number, across the board, to come up with this statistic. But it is not a real number with true budget impact. Update: The Hill newspaper detailed some back-and-forth rhetoric concerning the negotiations over the funding, noting that the figure also includes money for construction and maintenance, not just security.

By the way, our definitive timeline on shifting administration statements on the Libya terrorist attack can be found here.

“Prior to the election, prior to him being sworn in, Governor Romney was asked the question about how he would proceed. He said, ‘I wouldn’t move heaven and earth to get bin Laden.’”

— Biden

Romney made this statement in a 2007 interview with the Associated Press: “It’s not worth moving heaven and earth and spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person.”

But Biden has ignored the rest of the interview, in which the AP quoted Romney as saying “he supports a broader strategy to defeat the Islamic jihad movement.” Just a few days later, Romney expanded on his remarks during a debate:

“We’ll move everything to get him. But I don’t want to buy into the Democratic pitch that this is all about one person — Osama bin Laden — because after we get him, there’s going to be another and another. This is about Shia and Sunni. This is about Hezbollah and Hamas and al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood. This is a worldwide jihadist effort to try and cause the collapse of all moderate Islamic governments and replace them with a caliphate.”

“When Barack Obama was elected, they [Iran] had enough fissile material — nuclear material to make one bomb. Now they have enough for five. They're racing toward a nuclear weapon. They're four years closer toward a nuclear weapons capability. We've had four different sanctions, the U.N. on Iran, three from the Bush administration, one here. And the only reason we got it is because Russia watered it down and prevented the sanctions from hitting the central bank.... In Congress, I've been fighting for these sanctions since 2009. The administration was blocking us every step of the way.”

— Ryan

Ryan greatly simplifies things here. Iran has built up its supply of nuclear material, but none of it is usable in a weapon yet. Most experts say the United States and its allies would have ample warning if Iran tried to enrich its nuclear material to weapons grade. (Biden confused matters by asserting that both the Israelis and the United States would know when Iran starts “building a weapon” — that is much more difficult to track.)

Meanwhile, the debate on Iran sanctions is rather familiar. If you go back four years, you will see that it was the Obama campaign that made claims of weakness and fecklessness on Iran. President George W. Bush had considered the building of a multinational coalition seeking to negotiate with Iran as one of his foreign-policy legacies, but Obama officials were critical, saying it offered “weak carrots and weak sticks.”

Now, Ryan’s critique of the sanctions and the U.N. diplomacy is also missing certain nuances.

1. The U.N. Security Council resolution is only the tip of the iceberg. Obama’s initial outreach to Iran, which was largely unreciprocated, and the discovery of another secret Iranian nuclear site near Qom, did help build a stronger international coalition against Iran. The U.N. Security Council resolution is always the lowest common denominator, but passage of Resolution 1929 in 2010 provided a diplomatic rationale for other key players, such as the European Union, Japan and Australia, to pass even tougher sanctions on their own. Indeed, the template for the E.U. sanctions was a set of ideas that could not pass muster with the Russians and Chinese at the United Nations.

2. Not all actions are spelled out. As part of the U.N. sanctions, Russia won an exemption that would have permitted an $800 million sale of S-300 air defense missiles to Iran. But then Russia canceled the sale anyway, in what can only be viewed as the outcome of successful, quiet diplomacy.

3. Consequences are sometimes difficult to predict. The Obama administration’s willingness to pursue a deal to supply fuel to an Iranian research reactor helped convince Russia and China it was serious about a negotiated end to the standoff. But bungled diplomacy and miscommunication on this issue with Brazil and Turkey led to the loss of a unanimous vote at the Security Council.

4. Congressional action can sometimes be a useful tool for diplomacy, but it can also be an irritant. All administrations try to preserve as much flexibility as possible; no one likes to have their hands tied. George W. Bush was especially aggressive about adding signing statements saying he would not be bound by some of the terms of legislation passed by Congress.

We can’t really speak to Biden’s claim that “these are the most crippling sanctions in the history of sanctions, period.” That certainly might be a subjective assessment, but the effectiveness of sanctions is measured by results. The Iranian economy appears to be suffering, but the Islamic Republic thus far has shown little sign that it plans to slow down its nuclear program in response to these sanctions.

“Look at all the string of broken promises. If you like your health-care plan, you can keep it. Try telling that to the 20 million people who are projected to lose their health insurance if Obamacare goes through.”

— Ryan

Ryan is referring to a recent Congressional Budget Office study that gave several scenarios for what could happen to employer-based coverage once the law was implemented. The most positive scenario has 3 million people being added to employer coverage, while “on balance, the number of people obtaining coverage through their employer would be about 3 million lower in 2019 under the legislation than under prior law,” the CBO concludes.

The worst-case scenario was 20 million people, which is where Ryan got his number. It’s worth noting that the baseline scenario — 3 million fewer people — represents just 2 percent of the people who now get insurance through their employers.

Usually, when Republicans cite this figure, they say “up to 20 million,” but Ryan did not even bother with that modifier, making his claim especially alarmist.

The CBO cautions that there is a “tremendous amount of uncertainty” about how employers and employees will respond to the legislation. “One piece of evidence that may be relevant is the experience in Massachusetts, where employment-based health insurance coverage appeared to increase after that state’s reforms,” the CBO noted. Mitt Romney, as governor, ushered in health-care legislation that served as a model for Obama’s health plan

“Romney said, ‘No, let Detroit go bankrupt.’”

— Biden

This statement is drawn from a headline — “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt” — on an opinion article written by Romney for The New York Times. But he did not say that in the article. (He repeated the line, however, on television.)

Although “bankrupt” often conjures up images of liquidation, Romney called for a “managed bankruptcy.” This is a process in which the company uses the bankruptcy code to discharge its debts, but emerges from the process a leaner, less leveraged company.

Ultimately, along with getting nearly $80 billion in loans and other assistance from the Bush and Obama administrations, GM and Chrysler did go through a managed bankruptcy. But many independent analysts have concluded that taking the approach recommended by Romney would not have worked in 2008, simply because the credit markets were so frozen that a bankruptcy was not a viable option at the time.

Biden also overstated the Obama administration’s role in saving the auto industry, glossing over the fact that the outgoing George W. Bush administration first bailed out General Motors and Chrysler.

“They got caught with their hands in the cookie jar, turning Medicare into a piggybank for Obamacare.”

— Ryan

“What we did is, we saved $716 billion and put it back, applied it to Medicare.”

— Biden

Ryan accused the Obama administration of using Medicare as a “piggy bank” but this is a much more complicated story.

This $716 billion figure comes from the difference over 10 years (2013-2022) between anticipated Medicare spending (what is known as “the baseline”) and the changes that the law makes to reduce spending. The savings mostly are wrung from health-care providers, not Medicare beneficiaries — who, as a result of the health-care law, ended up with new benefits for preventive care and prescription drugs. (Some argue that those provider cuts will eventually result in poorer patient care — see next fact check.)

But Biden is completely wrong when he says the money was applied to Medicare. In fact, the anticipated savings from Medicare were used to help offset some of the anticipated costs of expanding health care for all Americans, as Ryan said.

But the transfer does not affect the Medicare trust fund. The Obama health-care law also raised Medicare payroll taxes by $318 billion over the new 10-year time frame, but only a third of that money is credited to the trust fund; the rest goes to general revenues.

Ryan, as House Budget Committee chairman, probably knows he’s playing a rhetorical game here. (We’re not sure what Biden was thinking.) Federal budget accounting is so complex that it is easy to mislead ordinary Americans — a tactic used by both parties.

Ryan is correct that in the health-care bill, the anticipated savings from Medicare were used to help offset some of the anticipated costs of expanding health care for all Americans. But all government money is fungible.

Under the concept of the unified budget, money that is collected by the federal government for whatever purpose (such as Medicare and Social Security payroll taxes) is spent on whatever bills are coming due at that time. Social Security and Medicare will get a credit for taxes collected that are not immediately spent on Social Security, but those taxes are quickly devoted to other federal spending.

The House Republican budget plan crafted by Ryan retains virtually all of the Medicare “cuts” contained in the health-care law, but diverts them instead to his Medicare overhaul. Republicans argue that that is a more effective use of the savings.

“Their own actuary from the administration came to Congress and said one out of six hospitals and nursing homes are going to go out of business as a result of this.”

— Ryan

“That’s not what they said.”

— Biden

Ryan is right on the figure, and Biden is wrong. But Ryan overstates the case.

“It is doubtful that many [hospitals and other health-care providers] will be able to improve their own productivity to the degree” necessary to accommodate the cuts, Medicare actuary Richard S. Foster has written. “Thus, providers for whom Medicare constitutes a substantial portion of their business could find it difficult to remain profitable, and, absent legislative intervention, might end their participation in the program (possibly jeopardizing care for beneficiaries). [Our] simulations ... suggest that roughly 15 percent of [hospitalization] providers would become unprofitable within the 10-year projection as a result of the [spending cuts].”

Last time we checked, 15 percent is just shy of “one out six” (16.67 percent). Still, “unprofitable” is not the same as “going out of business.”

Frankly, if the cuts turn out to be too painful for providers, Congress will likely halt them. That’s what has happened in the past. Just about every year Congress passes the so-called “doc fix,” which defers cuts set in the 1996 balanced budget plan.

“By the way, that $6,400 number, it was misleading then, it’s totally inaccurate now.”

— Ryan

Ryan has changed his plan to overhaul Medicare to address some of the loudest complaints. The new version of the plan includes the option for traditional Medicare, as well as a commitment that at least one health-care option would be fully covered by the government.

Indeed, the new plan is much more generous than the original version. The old plan had capped growth at the rate of inflation. Many experts believed that was too low and pushed more costs on beneficiaries, which is where the estimate of an additional $6,400 in premiums came from.

In the updated Ryan plan, Medicare spending would be permitted to grow slightly faster than the nation’s economy — in fact, at the same growth rate as Obama’s budget for Medicare.

“It’s a plan I put together with a prominent Democrat senator from Oregon.”

— Ryan

“There’s not one Democrat who endorses it.”

— Biden

Here, Ryan goes too far. Biden is right — Ryan worked with former White House budget director Alice Rivlin and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) on versions of his Medicare plan, but both since have distanced themselves from the final proposal, saying it did not reflect their discussions. BusinessWeek reported that Wyden said that Ryan is “talking nonsense” about their partnership.

After the debate, Wyden posted a note on his Facebook page complaining about Ryan’s reference:

The Vice President is right, Romney/Ryan moved the goal post on Medicare and I strongly oppose their plan because I believe it hurts seniors. The Romney/Ryan plan raises the age of eligibility and repeals the ACA leaving millions of seniors with no health coverage. The Romney/Ryan plan on Medicare pulls the safety net out from under the poorest and most vulnerable seniors, taking away the opportunity for nursing home care from seniors who need it and have no other options.

The Wyden-Ryan white paper strengthened the safety net for these dual eligibles. The Romney/Ryan version shreds it. The Republican ticket knows that neither I, nor any other Democrat, would support these policies.

The Romney/Ryan plan on Medicare is further proof that Mitt Romney is singularly unfit to end gridlock and bring bipartisan solutions to Washington.

“Was it a good idea to spend taxpayer dollars on electric cars in Finland, or on windmills in China?”

— Ryan

We’ve written repeatedly about such claims, which are exaggerated. There are foreign connections but the stimulus money was generally spent in the United States.

This “cars in Finland” concerns a loan guarantee to Fisker Automotive, which The Washington Post has identified as troubled. But the company disputes the RNC’s claim that $500 billion in U.S. money (via two loans) is being spent to produce cars overseas. Instead, the company says the money has been spent on design and engineering activities in the United States, and the expenditures have been reviewed by PricewaterhouseCoopers. Ultimately, the company plans to build a lower-priced version of its car in Delaware, using a $359 million loan, but less than $25 million that has been disbursed so far.

Follow the links for more details about that case and the “windmills in China.

“The middle class will pay less, and people making a million dollars or more will begin to contribute slightly more.”

— Biden

In describing the administration’s tax plan, Biden appeared to have moved the goal posts. The president has consistently said he would roll back Bush-era tax cuts for couples making more than $250,000 and individuals making more than $200,000.

“With regard to the assault on the Catholic Church, let me make it absolutely clear: No religious institution, Catholic or otherwise — including Catholic Social Services, Georgetown Hospital, Mercy, any hospital — none has to either refer contraception, none has to pay for contraception, none has to be a vehicle to get contraception in any insurance policy they provide. That is a fact.”

— Biden

Biden went a bit far saying it is “a fact” that religious groups will not pay for contraceptives under the health-care law.

Biden was referring to the so-called contraceptive mandate, which requires insurers to provide coverage for birth control without charging additional co-payments. (We have touched on this issue in two separate columns).

Biden was instrumental in brokering that accommodation in an effort to quell an outcry from Catholic leaders otherwise sympathetic to the Obama administration.

The Obama administration made a decision to fully exempt religious institutions such as churches from this rule. It also said it will exempt religiously affiliated organizations such as Catholic schools and hospitals, but their insurance providers must still cover birth control with no out-of-pocket costs for the insured.

But there are still unsettled issues in this matter.

Some church organizations still object to the mandate despite the exemption for religion-affiliated groups, arguing that they could end up paying for birth control indirectly if the mandate causes their health insurance costs to rise. Furthermore, the Obama administration said in March that it will come up with an accommodation for religiously affiliated employers that self-insure, but it has not yet decided how to handle that seven months later.

Ryan pointed out that the accommodations failed to satisfy many religious groups. “If they agree with you … why would they keep suing you?” he asked.

Here are more details on the lawsuits Ryan was referring to, and the legal arguments involved. — Josh Hicks and N.C. Aizenman


“We should not have called Bashar Assad a reformer.”

— Ryan

Ryan brings up some old history here about the hopes the administration originally had about the Syrian leader.

Most famously, as the uprising in Syria began in 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said that “many of the members of Congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months have said they believe he’s a reformer.” She quickly tried to take back her statement, saying two days later: “I referenced opinions of others. That was not speaking either for myself or for the administration.”

We actually looked into this question at the time and concluded that Clinton’s claim of a bipartisan support for the idea that Assad was a reformer was not credible. She earned Three Pinocchios.

But it is worth remembering this was never stated as an official U.S. policy position, as Ryan suggests.

“We are leaving [Afghanistan] in 2014. Period.”

— Biden

Actually, the administration has long discussed having an “enduring presence” of 10,000 to 15,000 troops, mainly as advisers who would reside on military bases. An agreement must still be reached with the government of Afghanistan.

“Now, we think that government taking 28 percent of a family and business’s income is enough. President Obama thinks that the government ought to be able to take as much as 44.8 percent of a small business’s income.”

— Ryan

Ryan is mixing up some apples and oranges here. The Romney plan would reduce income tax rates, but it does not affect payroll taxes. But to reach his 44.8 percent top rate, Ryan is including Medicare taxes, as we have previously documented.

“Two-thirds of our jobs come from small businesses. This one tax would actually tax about 53 percent of small-business income.”

— Ryan

“97 percent of the small businesses in America pay less — make less than $250,000”

— Biden

This is two sides of the same coin. Higher taxes on individuals would hit 53 percent of business income. But they aren’t necessarily “small” businesses.

There are advantages for companies to file corporate income taxes, but there is one big disadvantage — major shareholders are subject to being taxed twice, first on the corporation’s earnings and then on personal income taxes after dividends are distributed to the owners.

So smaller companies, as well as partnerships, sole proprietorships and some limited liability companies, organize themselves differently. The companies themselves do not pay taxes; instead, the earnings or losses are passed through to the shareholders, who then are taxed at the individual tax rate.

When Republicans often speak of “small businesses,” they are referring to the companies that file under the individual tax code. But not all of them are what most Americans would consider small businesses — and not all of them are that small, either. In fact, a report by the Joint Committee on Taxation — the nonpartisan congressional entity that “scores” tax legislation — found that the number of tax returns by so-called “flow-through entities” has soared in recent years.

As of 2005, the JCT says, retail trade (such as mom-and-pop shops) accounted for about 11 percent of so-called S corporations, holding 12 percent of total assets, and 5 percent of partnerships, with less than 1 percent of total assets. Another 14 percent of S corporations were in construction but the largest category, at 15 percent, were “professional, scientific and technical services.”

Some of these “pass-through” companies are rather large, with revenues of more than $50 million, but they represent just a small proportion of such companies. According to calculations by Donald Marron, director of the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, in 2008 such companies accounted for less than one-tenth of one percent of all returns filed — but they had 40 percent of revenues and 30 percent of all profits.

The result, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation, is that only 3 percent of all “small businesses” paying taxes would be affected by Obama’s plan to lift marginal tax rates on families making more than $250,000 and individuals making more than $200,000. (See page 25 of the JCT report.) That group — about 750,000 taxpayers — accounts for 50 percent of the estimated $1 trillion in business income reported in 2011. The other 97 percent of “small businesses” shared the rest — and under Obama’s plan, they would get to keep their Bush-era tax cuts.

So Biden is correct that the tax hike proposed by President Obama would hit only 3 percent of business owners.

“He’ll keep saying this $5 trillion plan, I suppose. It’s been discredited by six other studies … Six studies have guaranteed — six studies have verified that this math adds up.”

— Ryan

Romney would cut tax rates by 20 percent and eliminate the estate tax, the alternative minimum tax and reduce the corporate tax, which analysts say will reduce revenue by $5 trillion over 10 years. But Romney also has said he will make his plan “revenue neutral” by eliminating tax loopholes and deductions, much as Ronald Reagan did when he passed a tax reform in 1986.

Yet Romney has not provided many details about which deductions he would eliminate. He has suggested the home mortgage deduction, charitable contributions and employer-paid health insurance might be protected; he has also indicated he is thinking of some sort of cap on the amount of deductions a taxpayer could claim.

Moreover, the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center has analyzed the specifics of Romney’s plan thus far released and concluded that the numbers aren’t there to make it revenue neutral.

In the debate, Ryan twice countered that “six other studies” have found that not to be the case, but those studies actually do not provide much evidence that Romney’s proposal — as sketchy as it is — would be revenue neutral without making unrealistic assumptions or changing the parameters of Romney’s tax cut. (Some are not even studies but more like opinion articles.) So Ryan is wrong to assert the studies have “verified that this math adds up.”

(As is our practice, we generally do not award Pinocchio ratings in these instant round-ups.)