Sunday, August 12, 2012

A Question of Disclosure

Mitt Romney has been dogged by a few issues over this campaign, but the one that he can't quite put to bed is his refusal to release more than two years of tax returns. And one of those won't show up till a month or two before election day. Is this odd? Well, it's somewhat out of step with decades of precedent, but there's nothing requiring him to do it. However John McCain is the only other major candidate to release less than three years of returns in the last 34 years, so it could be argued that three years of returns is the traditional minimum.

Now do I think this is a huge issue? Initially, I would have said probably not. But the irony here is that the more Romney digs in his heals on the question, the more interested I become. To paraphrase the old saying, me thinks he doth protest too much. After all, the best way to put it all to rest is to just release a couple more years and tell everyone, politely, to take them and shut up. Nothing stokes curiosity like avoidance. It should also be pointed out that Romney has, at many times during his previous Senate and Gubernatorial campaigns, demanded his opponents release returns. In the case of his Gubernatorial opponent, who had released hers, he even made a point about how her husband hadn't released his returns. The big kicker to this though, is that Romney apparently handed over 23 years worth of returns to John McCain when he was being vetted for the VP slot in 2008. (This is where you would insert the joke about McCain looking at them and promptly turning to Sarah Palin.) But of course we have no idea if the returns had any bearing on McCain's decision at all. The only salient point is that Romney wasn't stingy then, yet now, on the public stage he's getting all shy and retiring.

There are all sorts of theories for why he's not releasing them, ranging from them showing he paid no taxes to whether they would show something fraudulent. Personally, I think it's likely that the reason he won't release them is because they show that, through purely legal means, he made massive amounts of money and paid shockingly little in taxes. That's probably the real bombshell here, that the wealthy have so many tricks and loopholes these days that they can get away with paying a comparative pittance in taxes. In this economy, that could strike a very sensitive nerve. If people struggling to make ends meet see an incredibly rich candidate who consistently paid tiny sums while they send out more than they can afford, it could stir up a lot of animosity. Americans are fine with wealthy people, contrary to the blather you sometimes heard around the 'Occupy' protests, but they are not very forgiving of people they feel are gaming the system.

I don't think this issue is going away. First because he's probably the richest major party candidate who's ever run for President and it seems perfectly reasonable for his employers to know something about his finances. Second, because he's dug in his heels and that will only make people more suspicious. It's a question of why not show them if you have nothing to hide? As many prominent Republicans have rightly suggested it's best to get it over with now. If there's something embarrassing there get it out in the open and put it to rest, then he can move on. But if Romney thinks he can just keep laughing mechanically and saying 'no' without consequences, he may find that the question will never disappear and instead will nip at the heels of his campaign all the way to November. And every time he has to deal with the question, it will force him onto the defensive. Not a good place to be when you are trying to unseat an incumbent President.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Not So Funny

The other day, a man by the name of Sandy Weill announced on CNBC that "what we should probably do is go and split up investment banking from banking." Now, at first blush, you may wonder why this is of any significance. He's hardly the first person to suggest this idea, usually referred to as a reinstatement of the Depression era Glass-Steagall act. You may also wonder, who the hell is Sandy Weill, and why do I care?

Funny story, way back in the late 90's Citibank, a large commercial bank, was all excited about merging with Travelers Group and Salomon Brothers, which were insurance and investment institutions, respectively. This was a problem because of the aforementioned Glass-Steagall Act which barred the merging of high risk, securities firms with commercial lending banks that were expected to be safe and stable places to deposit your money. In the end they did merge and through some impressive Congressional jujitsu it was all made legal, after the fact, by repealing Glass-Steagall and voila! Citigroup was formed and became the first Too Big to Fail bank.

Wait, wait, I'm getting to the funny part! Sandy Weill . . . was CEO of Travelers Group and spearheaded the merger, after which he was CEO of Citigroup! Get it? The same idiot who ensured the creation of Too Big to Fail mega-banks is now going on THE financial news network to say that maybe, just maybe we should consider the reinstitution of the very regulations he helped repeal. It's hilarious, right?

For a more in-depth riff on the comedic stylings of Mr. Weill, I suggest this piece from Matt Taibbi.