10 years of zero taxes and 57 Communists in the State Department

Harry Reid seems to have convinced some wingnuts that “McCarthyism” and “swiftboating” are A Bad Thing.

I can’t think of anything to say in defense of Harry Reid on Romney’s taxes. It seems grossly implausible that anyone said to him what he claims someone said, or that such a person actually could have known what he claims to know. Yes, Romney deserves to get kicked around for withholding the documents, but making baseless charges and demanding that the other side prove that they’re false is so … Republican.

However, I notice that a number of wingnuts who usually embrace their inner Tailgunner Joe (e.g., when Huma Abedin is the target, or with respect to the latest smear on Obama) have suddenly discovered that “McCarthyism” is A Bad Thing. (They’re also down on “swiftboating,” which of course they loved when their side invented portrayed a war hero as a cowardly liar.)

Any chance they’ll generalize their newfound insight, or apply it to their own behavior?

Naaaaaaaahhhhhhh …..


Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

31 thoughts on “10 years of zero taxes and 57 Communists in the State Department”

  1. I note again that it is fairly likely that Romney paid $1,369,095 in taxes in 2009, since that’s what his return shows he paid as estimated tax in 2010. If he had paid nothing in 2009 he probably would not have paid any estimated tax in 2010. That could have been misdirection, of course, but if he really wanted to do that he would have paid a lot more, so I doubt it.

    1. Romney also had in 2010 a carryover capital loss from 2009, which AFAIK means he paid no capital gains taxes in 2009 (and possibly earlier years). If the only taxes he paid in 2010 were capital gains, then it’s hard to see how he paid much anything in taxes in 2009, and possibly earlier years.

      Maybe the estimated tax was from a planned sale early in 2010 where they knew what the net capital gains would be after the carryover. If so, that doesn’t eliminate the possibility of no tax/low tax in 2009.

      Re 10 years of no taxes, that sounds dubious. OTOH, what if Bain structured its investments in it so that there’s no payout until someone sells part or all of their investment in Bain? If the source had been investing in Bain and paid no capital gains taxes for the Bain investment in 10 years, then that’s close to what the source said. Not exactly what the source allegedly said, but close.

      Disclaimer: not my legal field.

      1. I am neither remotely knowledgeable about taxes nor remotely close to the income level where I, personally, have to worry about such matters – but does the Alternative Minimum Tax come into this someplace? Or is that only for Earned Income?

      2. yes, but.

        In 2010 he shows $3.3 million in taxable interest and around $5 million in dividends, of which 2/3 were “qualified,” meaning they were taxed at 15%. If we assume those numbers weren’t much differnet in 2009 we get a tax bill of around $2 million. Assuming some deductions, losses, and so on we could get down to $1.4 million or so pretty easily.

    2. If Romney paid $1,234,567.89 in estimated tax in a given year, you can bet it’s the number his accountant(s) determined was an optimal tradeoff between penalties and possible use of money in investments.
      Nothing more, nothing less.

      1. Maybe, but if he had paid zero tax in 2009 he wouldn’t, AFAIK, have faced any penalties for paying zero estimated in 2010.

        Though come to think of it, even though that’s true, my conclusion isn’t.

        Romney, as he did this year, likely got an extension in 2009. So he didn’t actually know until October, 2010 what his 2009 tax bill was. He would hardly risk making no estimated payments during the year, so what he paid in estimated tax was some sort of accountant’s guess, and probably a high one, as to his 2009 liability.

        So the $1,369,095 should probably be taken as an upper bound. Zero is possible.

        1. Yes. Line 62 of R’s return is estimated tax “and amount applied from 2009” return. If he paid an estimated tax in 2009 based on anticipated net positive capital gains and therefore overpaid, he could have just applied the overpayment to 2010.

          And if he’s really being slippery, he could have paid zero taxes in 2009, but because of an overpayment in 2009 subsequently applied to 2010, be telling the technical truth when he said that he’s paid lots of taxes every year.

  2. Mr Romney has said “I’ll be happy to go back and look” regarding his tax rates.

    MUIR: [F]rom what you have released and from what we have seen we know that there was one year when you paid about 13.9% tax rate. Can we clear this up by asking a simple yes or no question? Was there ever any year when you paid lower than 13.9%?

    ROMNEY: I haven’t calculated that. I’m happy to go back and look …..

    So far, no data from the Romney camp to contradict Reid, even without divulging detailed data. Reid is just playing by the rules of the day.

    1. I’d be happy to go back and look, too. All Romney has to do is release his tax returns to me. But I’m not greedy: he can release them to everyone!

  3. I can’t think of anything to say in defense of Harry Reid on Romney’s taxes. It seems grossly implausible that anyone said to him what he claims someone said, or that such a person actually could have known what he claims to know.

    I think this is a trickier dilemma than you are allowing.

    Assume arguendo that what Sen. Reid said was true (i.e., not just that he was told this, but that the person telling him this was correct). If so, then it is hard to fault him for saying it.

    On the other hand, if we assume that Reid is simply making it up, then clearly he shouldn’t do that.

    I concede that it’s implausible that Romney paid no taxes for 10 years. But I also think it’s implausible that Reid is simply making this up.

    (It is conceivable that what Reid was told was only “roughly” correct, or that Reid has cut corners in the retelling. Then whether (or to what extent) Reid should be faulted depends on how close this is to the truth. If, for example, Romney paid no taxes in five years and paid at 3% or less in five others, I would find it hard to fault Reid for the technical inaccuracy.)

    1. Would a comically low tax rate (2%) count as effectively no tax? Or were there years where Romney made no money, just lived on savings.
      Or all his real growth in his fortune was in oversea / tax sheltered accounts, or deferred compensation?

    2. By way of comparison — I thought the National Enquirer “love child” stories on John Edwards were reprehensible because it seemed impossible to me that they were true. Then it turned out they were true. Likewise Reid’s comments: if he’s right, there’s nothing wrong with having made them.

  4. I don’t know, it would be a lot easier for Romney to prove that he did pay taxes than it was for the people smeared by McCarthy to prove they weren’t communists. If Reid is bluffing, I’m not sure that I really have much of a problem with that.

    1. I think this is why I don’t find Reid’s actions to be very offensive despite them being “so … Republican.”

      All it would take for Mitt Romney to rebut these charges is to do something which he really already ought to have done.

      1. This is a good point, which Mark *somehow* missed:

        (1) It’s possible.
        (2) Something right next door (that Mitt paid chump change in taxes) is very likely.
        (3) The counter documentation is both available, and customarily released.

        Other than that, sure, it’s right next to McCarthyism, in dim light, with bad eyesight, and a bias towards ‘centrism’.

    2. Also, of those people who were accused of having been communists, and who had indeed been communists … so what? For a big chunk of the 1930s, (1) Capitalism, as practiced, had failed disastrously; (2) Communists and their ilk were the only ones standing up to Fascism in the streets of Berlin, across Spain, and elsewhere; and (3) many of the atrocities we now know were committed in the name of Communism were much less well known, and reports that did emerge were dismissed as lies and propaganda. In the 1940s, it was tremendous sacrifices of the Soviet people that won the war – admittedly sacrifices made after Hitler had broken a truly infamous pact with Moscow, and admittedly the sacrifices were extracted and rewarded with tremendous and often arbitrary brutality (see the fictionalization by Vasily Grossman, for example), but it was still Communists who denied Hitler world domination. There are a lot of reasons that when dealing with McCarthy it’s wrong to focus on the falsity of many of his accusations, and to accept his assumption that to have been a Communist was somehow wrong.

    3. Also, the House Un-American Activities Committee had subpoena power, and private individuals lost their jobs, their careers, and their reputations when hauled before it. Whereas Harry Reid is just a public figure making a claim about a guy who wants our vote for President.

  5. I think Reid’s playing “useful idiot” for the Obama campaign here. If, after his allegation, the Romney campaign releases Romney’s returns and they show a rate higher than 0% but presumably lower than 13%, it gives the Obama campaign plenty to pick through. If Romney continues to refuse to release his returns after the allegations, it deepens the sense that something shady exists in the returns.

    A thoroughly Rovian tactic by Reid. But then they’ve been doing it to us for years. And Reid says it’s an extremely credible source: http://livewire.talkingpointsmemo.com/entries/reid-source-on-romney-tax-returns-extremely-credible

  6. It is a reprehensible tactic. Unilateral disarmament is a suicidal tactic. I prefer the former to the latter.

  7. Reid’s accusations aren’t at all like the clamor over Obama’s birth certificate, or his Muslim faith, or his willingness to overlook the stealthy takeover of the government by the Muslim Brotherhood.

    Sensible Republican moderate Peggy Noonan once pointed out, regarding Fidel Castro’s blackmail of Bill Clinton, that it would be irresponsible not to speculate. But this case isn’t like that, either.

    By failing to release his returns, Romney is inviting people to ponder what might be in them.

    If Reid wanted to be like a Republican, he might suggest that Romney’s returns would show payments for pilot lessons for the 9-11 terrorists. As it is, Reid’s merely accusing Romney – under Romney’s own stated standards – of being super smart and successful.

    1. That’s the puzzle: Romney had a team of extremely clever finance geeks able to squirrel away his money in all kinds of dubious places ($100 million in a tax deferred IRA that my wife and I have only been able to put $6000 a year in.) These moves weren’t necessarily illegal, but they are deeply shady and even immoral, particularly when you’re running for president of an entire country–middle-class and poor included–not just for president of the yacht club.

      Just like jumping ahead in a long line is cheating but not illegal, we should probably call Romney’s behavior cheating.

      1. “$100 million in a tax deferred IRA that my wife and I have only been able to put $6000 a year in.” Why have you been putting your widow’s mite into Romney’s fat IRA?

  8. If Reid wanted to be like a Republican, he might suggest that Romney’s returns would show payments for pilot lessons for the 9-11 terrorists.

    That’s exactly right. If we apply the Democrat Test, you can be sure that the Noise Machine would be speculating that Obummer gave to some muzzy charity, socialist organizations, and has a secret family in Kenya he is supporting. Guaranteed. The carbon footprint of this particular Democrat Test would likely release several gigatonnes of carbon into the biosphere.

    1. Suppose someone came to Reid with the line about payments for pilot lessons. Would it be OK for him to repeat that? After all, “some say…”

      1. because it’s not plausible in the least. (Romney would never pay for retraining a worker. )
        Reid’s claimed source was a Bain investor, not some ‘someone’.

        Heck, if half of what R’s are saying about Obama’s Chicago Thug, power mad, ruthless methods were true, Obama would already have Romney’s records in hand. Reid’s source would be the IRS.

  9. You can’t blame Romney if he’s paid no tax: it’s the culture he lives in.

    1. You can blame Romney to the extent that not everything that is permitted under the the law is either ethical or moral. Romney has a history of questionable actions–not illegal ones necessarily, but ones that would cause any ethical/moral individual to question his character or lack thereof.

      The largest of these seems to be the way he’s handled his enormous wealth in order to deprive his fellow citizens of his public investment (taxes) when most of us have been paying our fair share. That he’s running for president based on the record of his poor character is just fuel for the fire.

  10. mr. kleiman, it is with a profound sense of disappointment that i note your descent into concern-trolling. mr. zasloff, in his post above, completely destroys your position. i don’t know that i’ve ever read a post from you so monumentally off-base than this one. reid is not demanding that romney prove a negative. romney has an infallible affirmative defense by releasing the tax returns and showing the world he has paid income taxes every year. i think that senator reid needs no defense but rather deserves plaudits and commendations.

    did brett bellmore get the password to your account or something?

  11. Mark, you know literally nothing about the tax code’s application to the super-rich, and you know literally nothing about Harry Reid’s connections and sources of information.
    Yet your first reaction is, “Reid is an evil liar of McCarthyite proportions.”
    What the hell is wrong with you?
    Why don’t you maintain some appropriate skepticism for a while until we see how this plays out?

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