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An Open Letter to My Adopted Mom

Victor M. Feraru   |   October 18, 2012    1:21 PM ET

Dear Mom,

I have recently read a lot of heart breaking letters on The Huffington Post. They reminded me a lot of my past and my biological family. Those letters also reminded me of how much you have positively influenced my life.

We are about to graduate from college. I say "we" because you have been my inspiration and have pushed me towards greatness. Who would have known that I would make it up from the gutter of life to receive a college degree, to be accepted to law school and to have a bright future ahead of me?

Apparently you did.

My vision has been clouded by forty foster homes, three groups homes, adopted parents who passed away and a biological family that hated me from infancy. I never knew the meaning of "me and you against the world" until you brought me into your life. This is not an excuse, it is an explanation. You know me better than I know myself.

There were days that I thought you would kick me out and I ran away. I wanted to give up and you would not let me. You would not accept failure and yet would understand when I made mistakes.

A police officer that knew me once said, "You did a good job raising yourself."

I suppose he meant that I survived and perhaps that is an honor unto itself. Still, you taught me how to love.

My biological family abandoned me years ago and you adopted me as an adult. You understood my past when they judged me harshly. They could have been there when I was young and simply ignored me.

I was supposed to be dead, crazy or in prison for life. Which explains why I tried committing suicide when I was younger and have been hospitalized and imprisoned too. By the grace of some deity I survived it all. You have always encouraged me to look forward and to keep moving upwards. You remind me that in any situation, "this too shall pass" and it does.

Even your mother, my adopted grandmother, was proud of me. As Grandma became more and more elderly, I would drive to Pennsylvania to visit her. I wanted to hear stories about my adopted family so I would know about the people who took me in.

Imagine the love I felt when I walked into the nursing home and everyone knew me already. My grandmother thanked me for being a part of the family as if I were doing her the favor and she also taught me how to love, by her example. I remember being able to talk to her about my gay lifestyle. Without an ounce of hesitation my grandma, your mother would always be ready with animated advice.

There is also your brother and sister-in-law, my Uncle Kenny and Aunt Diana. They have always offered love and support and have never outwardly judged me ever. Instead they always answer the phone and give good advice or just general conversation that tells me I am accepted and protected. Contrast that with my biological uncle who hated me from birth, mostly because of his hatred of his sister, my biological mother. Though I am certain he hates me because I am Hispanic, gay and born out of wedlock. "I could never have you around my children," he once said in reference to my homosexuality. I have come full circle: when I was rebellious I would tell you I wanted to be straight to get a rise out of you. You would tell me, "You don't really want to do that, you would not be happy."

It has not been easy from my end. It is not easy to accept help or trust others after all of the betrayals I have experienced in life. It is also not easy to trust myself.

I realize I have not always been easy to deal with and I have not always said thank you and that you have my unconditional love.

In a few months I will have my undergraduate degree and in less than a year I will be in law school. I have mundane problems now that the scars in my life are slowly fading away. I am lucky to have someone as loving and understanding as you in my life. I am proud to call you my mother and I am my mother's son.

With Love,


Obama Saves 47 Percent For Last

Luke Johnson   |   October 16, 2012   11:14 PM ET

President Barack Obama waited until his final exchange to attack Mitt Romney's much-maligned comments at a fundraiser that 47 percent of Americans are "dependent on government" and see themselves as "victims."

"I care about 100 percent of the American people. I want 100 percent of the American people to have a bright and prosperous future," said Romney.

Obama replied that Romney is a good man who loves his family and cares about his faith. He then pivoted to Romney's 47 percent comment, which referred to the percentage of Americans not paying income tax. He had not mentioned the comment in the first debate.

"But I also believe that when he said behind closed doors that 47 percent of the country considered themselves victims, who refuse personal responsibility, think about who he was talking about," Obama said.

"Folks on Social Security who have worked all their lives. Veterans who have sacrificed for this country. Students who are out there trying to hopefully advance their own dreams, but also this country's dreams. Soldiers who are overseas fighting for us right now. People who are working hard every day, paying payroll tax, gas tax, but don't make enough income."

He went on, "And I want to fight for them and that's what I've been doing for the last four years. Because if they succeed, I believe the country succeeds. When my grandfather fought in World War II and he came back and got a GI Bill that allowed him to go to college, that wasn't a handout --that was something that advanced the entire country and I want to make sure that the next generation has those same opportunities. That's why I'm asking for your vote and that's why I'm asking for another four years."

The debate ended.

Paige Lavender   |   October 12, 2012    4:51 PM ET

Republican John Koster, a congressional candidate in Washington's 1st District, criticizes the "slothfulness and laziness" of the poor in a newly unearthed video.

According to the Seattle Times, Koster made the following remarks at a 2011 Christmas fundraiser in Everett, Washington:

Reform isn’t just taxing the rich, the very people by the way who create jobs. Our economic system has been the envy of the world for generations, but it seems to get more convoluted and more onerous every year. Under this administration it has become a system that punishes those who dare to dream, those who dare to invest, those who dare to work hard or succeed. It seems to reward the mediocrity — dare I say it, slothfulness and laziness — of those who choose not to do those things. Furthermore, it creates a dependency on government programs, even an addiction I would say, by virtue of the sense of entitlement that it creates. I can tell you, those people aren’t the 99 percent.

More recent remarks Koster made when asked about Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's now-infamous "47 percent" video don't express the same sentiment. In a recent interview with the Seattle Times, Koster said Romney -- who claimed "47 percent" of Obama supporters are "dependent upon government" and "victims who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them" -- was "altogether wrong."

“I know what he’s saying, but I think he figured there are people who have paid into Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security... and to just write them off, alienates them," Koster said. "It’s saying, ‘I don’t want to talk to these people.' I know what he’s saying, but it just came off altogether wrong.”

Watch the video of Koster's "slothfulness" remarks above. (via Think Progress)

Paige Lavender   |   October 10, 2012    3:42 PM ET

Searching Google Images for the phrase "completely wrong" brings up a page full of photos of Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney.

Many Twitter users -- including comedian Rob Delaney, who is known to often hassle Romney on Twitter -- pointed to the unfortunate search results Wednesday:

The "completely wrong" search is a result of Romney's own statement on his now-infamous "47 percent" remarks.

"Well, clearly in a campaign, with hundreds if not thousands of speeches and question-and-answer sessions, now and then you're going to say something that doesn't come out right," Romney said. "In this case, I said something that's just completely wrong."

A Google spokesman confirmed to Slate that the search results are not intentional.

Below, an example of the "completely wrong" Google Image search results:
completely wrong

CORRECTION: This story originally stated Twitter users pointed to the Google search on Thursday. It's been corrected to reflect that took place on Wednesday.

The High Engagement Work Culture: A New Perspective for Framing the Debate About Capitalism

Peter Smirniotopoulos   |   October 4, 2012    3:13 PM ET

There has been a running theme in the presidential election -- going back to the early days of the GOP primaries--that has been reflected, more than any other, in my blog entries: Coming out of the Great Recession of 2008, what kind of Capitalism do we want to promote and sustain as the economic foundation for the United States.

My thoughts on the varieties of Capitalism, including whether or not we can truly call the current U.S. system "Capitalism" at all, have been covered in a number of blog entries on HuffPost Politics as well as on other websites for which I am a contributor, going back almost four years.

Approximately one month after candidate Barack Obama was elected president, I wrote "Is the U.S. Capitalist, Socialist or Something In-Between" for The New Geography. In that article, I argued that

Capitalism [as contrasted with Socialism] is a much more vague idea but essentially reverses priorities, putting the predominant role in the hands of private interests such as investors and corporations. State power in a capitalist country usually focuses on the creation of standards, public health, safety, and welfare, such things as regulating the currency, protecting the environment, and assuring the health of the populace.

Bailing out a completely broken mortgage finance system that rewarded handsomely (some would say shamelessly) myriad private-sector entities and the mortgage industry represents a shift towards socialism. Providing over $100 billion in taxpayer support for AIG is socialism, not capitalism. Providing $200 billion of taxpayer support to prop up consumer credit, so that Americans can return to a false economy predicated upon unbridled, conspicuous consumption, is socialism not capitalism.

The fact that these and other extraordinary moves by the federal government are undertaken in the name of saving our capitalistic economy and staving off a severe economic depression does not change the fact that we are experiencing - first under Bush and soon under Obama - a powerful drift towards extended state control of the economy. Free-wheeling and unfettered profit-making and corporate greed on the way up, backstopped by enormous government bailouts on the way down, represents in some ways the worst of both worlds .

During the GOP presidential debates, I wrote a series of blog posts about statements made by the candidates on the subject of Capitalism and a "free-market economy." In "Finally Newt Gingrich Gets Two Things Right," I offered the following observations about our capitalistic system:

So here are the facts: The GOP holds up the concept of Capitalism as the bulwark of our economic freedoms, providing opportunity for all in a free-market system where anyone can aspire to and achieve greatness and financial success; where merit is the sole arbiter of the economic fruits of one's labor. Of course, if the complete meltdown of our financial markets, leading to the largest economic collapse since the Great Depression, has taught us anything it should be that this Pollyanna view of Capitalism is antithetical to the way things actually work in America today.

There is no "level playing field" because the largest corporations -- not the small businesses that account for the majority of jobs created in this country -- have an unfair competitive advantage over everyone else; only they can afford to pay hundreds of millions of dollars annually to lobbyists who write laws worth billions of dollars to them in revenue, and then get them passed through a corrupt legislative system where money talks. The "Capitalism" that's practiced in this country is more like crony capitalism on the way up (where those with money, power or some combination of both reap the largest rewards through their undue influence over legislation and regulation), and Socialism on the way down (where the rich and powerful get the elected leaders in their back pockets to foist losses off onto the American people through bail-outs, new tax loopholes, and less regulation).

Much more-recently, in my blog series "A Better Form of Capitalism," I posited that if the 99 percent want to make a positive impact on the 1 percent -- if they, indeed, are interested in creating a better form of Capitalism in the U.S. -- they need to make much more well-informed consumer choices about with whom to spend their money. In the third entry in that series, "'If 'Corporations Are People, Too [My Friend],' Shouldn't They Behave Ethically," I discuss both Paul Hawken's 1993 book The Ecology of Commerce: A Declaration of Sustainability, and David Jones' 2012 book Who Cares Wins: Why Good Business Is Better Business, which argues that corporate principles providing a solid foundation for becoming a good corporate citizen will differentiate the successful corporations from their mediocre competition over the next few decades.

In August, management consultants David Bowles and Cary Cooper, following up on their 2009 book Employee Morale: Driving Performance in Challenging Times, published The High Engagement Work Culture: Balancing Me and We. The fact that this book exists at all, in this stubbornly pro-employer environment, may be remarkable in-and-of itself. However, perhaps much more to the book's credit is how compellingly the authors make their argument that work cultures that favor "the lone hero" have led to an overall indictment of Capitalism, increasing exposure to corporate risk and constraining long-term profitability.

Employers wringing out incrementally more productivity from the workforce -- not through positive motivation and reinforcement but through every employee's deepest, darkest fears that their next paycheck may be their last if they don't "toe the line" -- has become the new normal in the "post-apocalyptic" economy. Consequently, I mistakenly thought The High Engagement Work Culture would be a management primer focused principally, if not exclusively, on how managers and H.R. directors can create work environments that maximize worker satisfaction with their lot, through some form of "participation" in the bigger picture (employing that old workplace meme: "A happy worker is a productive worker").

However, Bowles and Cooper's approach is much broader than that, tying the book's premise into the Great Recession, and suggesting that what is at least partly to blame for the events leading up to the free-fall of financial, mortgage, and residential markets nationwide is not simply Wall St. greed but a larger problem of toxic corporate cultures, particularly in the worldwide financial services industry. This summer's LIBOR rate-setting and Standard Chartered Iran money-laundering scandals, on top of revelations about J.P. Morgan's potentially $9 billion loss in bad proprietary trades on credit derivatives (initially mischaracterized by Wall Street rock star and JPM CEO, Jamie Dimon, as unfortunate but nonetheless garden-variety interest-rate hedging transactions), would seem to support the book's thesis.

The High Engagement Work Culture may be worth reading just for the opening chapter, in which the authors summarize the causes of the collapse of the financial services, residential mortgage, and housing markets in the U.S. To my knowledge, no one has taken a look at the symptomatology leading up to the 2008 crash from the perspective of Wall Street's prevailing corporate culture, with the insights only these two authors can provide.

In the financial services industry, it is generally accepted that cultures of the member firms are hard driving, individual ("hero," "star") oriented, always on the knife-edge, much like the businesses they are in. Firms like Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs make their money from trading, from being brokers for others who trade, from advising companies on mergers/acquisitions and from listing new companies on stock exchanges, among other things... The low tide of the Crash exposed the dark side of the culture of these companies.

The book, quoting Nobel-prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, goes on to state:

Too little has been written about the underlying moral deficit that has been exposed--a deficit that is larger, and harder to correct... We have created a society in which materialism overwhelms moral commitment, in which the rapid growth that we have achieved is not sustainable environmentally or socially, in which we do not act together to address our common needs... There has been an erosion of trust -- and not just in our financial institutions. It is no too late to close these fissures.

After identifying fundamental flaws in the overall corporate culture of U.S. financial services companies as a significant, contributing factor leading up to the Great Recession, the authors set out a complex framework for understanding all work cultures, offering a hierarchy of factors, among which "external factors" such as national culture, norms, values, and practices, form the base. For anyone interested in what kinds of paradigm shifts might need to take place within our capitalist system in order to avoid another crash of the size and magnitude of the one from which we're still digging out, this book is worth what is perhaps the less-engaging technical sections in which the authors lay out this framework.

The section describing what comprises "worker engagement" is particularly enlightening as well. There is also a very interesting discussion in the technical section of the book about the *role of ego* in work cultures generally. The book concludes with two, extensive case studies -- BMW Group and Whole Foods Market -- to elucidate the authors' theories about how a high-engagement work culture contributes, among other things, to a stronger brand, increasing market share, and higher capital values, all things generally lauded in a capitalistic system.

In addressing how this high-engagement work culture improves the bottom line at BMW group, co-authors Bowles and Cooper state:

[N]ot only is [BMW Group] one of the largest and most successful industrial companies in the world, but it has a distinct philosophy that favors its overall workforce, and not just those at the top. It values people, and rewards them based on that value. The benefits of this flowed to BMW after the Crash in spectacular fashion, when the "rebound" effect caused by unprecedented demand from Asia required a level of teamwork that would not have existed at those companies that had 'slashed and burned' between 2007 and 2009.

Regarding Whole Foods, Bowles and Cooper state:

Like BMW, Whole Foods takes a stand in favor of its workers, and caps the rewards of its top management in order to balance things across the whole organization. But both companies go much, much further than the area of pay in the respect they pay to their workforce. Like BMW, Whole Foods benefits from this with everything from high engagement to the ultimate recognition that the market can confer: a high share price.

The Right has framed the discussions about the U.S. and Capitalism, disjointed as such discussions have been in this election cycle, as a zero-sum game: You're either in favor of unbridled, unregulated Capitalism (because this is, indeed, the only way to grow the economy, or so goes their meme) or you're a Socialist bent on transforming America into a complete Nanny State, where an extremely small minority of "makers" prop up an increasingly larger group of "takers" (what Romney claimed in his $50,000-a-plate Boca Raton fundraiser is comprised of 47 percent of Americans; the lazy freeloaders who refuse to be accountable for their own economic and social circumstances).

Regrettably, the Left has repeatedly failed to explain how, by restoring the fundamentals of a truly free-market form of Capitalism -- one in which the special interests with the most buying power no longer get to game the system to their advantage and everyone else's detriment -- the U.S. economy will return to a more robust pace of growth.

The High Engagement Work Culture perhaps bridges these two extremes, offering a fascinating and important perspective into how organizational and industry cultures can benefit greatly -- or, in the case of the Great Recession, bring to its knees -- an economic super-power such as the United States. The authors have done an excellent job of laying the foundation for their thesis. There's much here that can and should be applied to the larger debate about what kind of Capitalism the U.S. should practice in the future.

  |   October 3, 2012   11:26 AM ET

Mitt Romney, in his infamous secretly recorded remarks, divided the American electorate into the lazy-entitled-non-taxpaying 47 percent who support President Obama, and everybody else. Ryan Grim has a speech by Paul Ryan using a different (and, from the right-wing perspective, more hopeful) division of 70-30:

WATCH: Ryan Claims '30 Percent Want Their Welfare State'

Ryan Grim   |   October 2, 2012    5:37 PM ET

WASHINGTON -- Mitt Romney and his running mate, Paul Ryan, share a similarly dim view of a very large portion of Americans, according to previously unreported remarks by Ryan. Both believe that many of their fellow citizens are dependent on government and have no motivation to improve their lives -- but they disagree over the precise number.

Romney's estimate, famously, is 47 percent. For Ryan, it's 30 percent.

"Seventy percent of Americans want the American dream. They believe in the American idea. Only 30 percent want the welfare state," Ryan said. "Before too long, we could become a society where the net majority of Americans are takers, not makers." (It's not definitively clear whether Ryan said "the welfare state" or "their welfare state." HuffPost originally transcribed it as "their welfare state." Regardless, the comment was made in reference to people on government assistance.)

Ryan's comments were delivered as part of his keynote address at The American Spectator's 2011 Robert L. Bartley Gala Dinner, which the magazine posted online. A reader tipped HuffPost to Ryan's speech, given in November -- six months before Romney's videotaped remarks.

"There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what," Romney said at a fundraiser in May, first reported by The Huffington Post. "All right -- there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that, that they are victims, who believe that government has the responsibility to care for them. Who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing."

Romney's remark, which he called "inelegant," but hasn't retracted, has won him widespread condemnation. Conservative fans of Ryan, meanwhile, have worried that Romney's poor candidacy might reflect negatively on Ryan. But there is only 17 percentage points of distance between Ryan and Romney's assessment of the American people.

One difference between the two, at least, is that Ryan said he believes that half the people who get more from the government than they pay in would prefer not to be in that situation.

"Today, 70 percent of Americans get more benefits from the federal government in dollar value than they pay back in taxes," Ryan said. "So you could argue that we're already past that [moral] tipping point. The good news is survey after survey, poll after poll, still shows that we are a center-right 70-30 country. Seventy percent of Americans want the American dream. They believe in the American idea. Only 30 percent want their welfare state. What that tells us is at least half of those people who are currently in that category are there not of their wish or their will."

The other half, by implication, are there because they want to be. For Romney, there's nothing that can be done about those types of people. "My job is not to worry about those people," Romney said in the full clip of the fundraiser, obtained by Mother Jones. . "I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."

UPDATE: 7:18 p.m. -- Brendan Buck, Ryan's campaign spokesman, said Ryan's videotaped remark was, "Only 30 percent want the welfare state." Buck added in an email: “Paul Ryan’s message at this open forum -- just as it is every day on the campaign trail –- was one of upward mobility and opportunity for all Americans. The discussion was about the size of government and nothing more.”

Amanda Terkel   |   October 1, 2012   10:22 AM ET

The labor union AFSCME is out with a new video featuring Richard Hayes, the man who picks up Mitt Romney's trash at his oceanfront mansion in La Jolla, Calif.

In the spot, Hayes talks about how hard he works in his job each day and criticizes Romney's comments about the 47 percent:

My name is Richard Hayes, and I pick up Mitt Romney's trash. We're kind of like the invisible people. He doesn't realize that the service we provide -- if it wasn't for us, it would be a big health issue, us not picking up trash.

Residents do come out and shake our hands. Sometimes they give us hugs and thank us for the job we're doing, hand us water and Gatorades. Tell us we're doing a good job and keep up the good work. Picking up 15, 16 tons by hand, that takes a toll on your body. When I'm 55, 60 years old, I know my body's gonna be break down [sic]. Mitt Romney doesn't care about that.

According to Politico's Morning Score, the Hayes video is the first in a series of interviews with workers intended to be "part campaign attack, part online testimonial, part survey tool and part recruiting tool."

Romney's campaign did not return a request for comment.

The National Review notes that Romney actually spent a day as a trash collector while running for governor, and observed that he felt "invisible" in the job. From p. 251 of his book "No Apology":

During my campaign for governor, I decided to spend a day every few weeks doing the jobs of other people in Massachusetts. Among other jobs, I cooked sausages at Fenway Park, worked on asphalt paving crew, stacked bales of hay on a farm, volunteered in an emergency room, served food at a nursing home, and worked as a child-care assistant. I’m often asked which was the hardest job -- it’s child care, by a mile.

One day I gathered trash as a garbage collector. I stood on that little platform at the back of the truck, holding on as the driver navigated his way through the narrow streets of Boston. As we pulled up to traffic lights, I noticed that the shoppers and businesspeople who were standing only a few feet from me didn’t even see me. It was as if I was invisible. Perhaps it was because a lot of us don’t think garbage men are worthy of notice; I disagree -- anyone who works that hard deserves our respect. -- I wasn’t a particularly good garbage collector: at one point, after filling the trough at the back of the truck, I pulled the wrong hydraulic lever. Instead of pushing the load into the truck, I dumped it onto the street. Maybe the suits didn’t notice me, but the guys at the construction site sure did: “Nice job, Mitt,” they called. “Why don’t you find an easier job?” And then they good-naturedly came down and helped me pick up my mess.



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We Are The 100 Percent

Peter S. Goodman   |   October 1, 2012   12:02 AM ET

As Election Day approaches, much of the nation must surely be experiencing Percent Fatigue.

The campaign took shape amid talk of the 99 Percent and the 1 Percent -- the divide delineated by Occupy Wall Street that speaks to how more and more of the spoils of the American economy have been flowing upward.

More recently, the 47 Percent joined the conversation, thanks to the now-infamous video of Mitt Romney telling campaign contributors in Florida that nearly half the electorate is comprised of deadbeats who mooch off the government.

Last week, two academics conjured up a handy new cohort, the 96 Percent, in a clarifying op-ed in The New York Times. They cited a Cornell University survey that found that nearly every American at some point in their lives makes use of government-furnished benefits, from federally guaranteed student loans and the mortgage interest tax deduction to Medicare and Social Security.

Permit me to inject one more label into the mix in an effort to bring this cycle to its necessary fruition: In the end, this election is about the 100 Percent.

That's the share of Americans who, in one way or another, depend upon a functioning government and who require an operative spirit of collective interest to address collective challenges. That's the percentage that will absorb the resulting disaster -- though in sharply varying degrees of comfort -- should the ideological extremists who have captured the Republican party manage to impose their vision on the nation.

That vision is no less than the dismantling of government as we have known it in the decades following the Great Depression, an event that featured an implosion of fortunes so comprehensive that it altered basic understandings about the role of the state in American society. It delivered the social safety net, not least unemployment insurance and Social Security, while strengthening the notion that a well-functioning market system requires regulators with authority to intervene in the public interest. It produced a rich legacy of public works, from hydroelectric dams to parks, whose benefits were distributed broadly.

Romney's bid for the White House -- the most intellectually vacuous, mean-spirited and (thankfully) ineptly run campaign in recent memory -- has boiled down to one central idea: The government is just an elaborate welfare dispensary for lazy, morally degenerate people who would rather feast on food stamps than work for a living.

In seeking to cast President Barack Obama as the supposed champion of this model, Romney has eagerly pandered to the libertarian fantasy that the best role for government is no role at all. He has played on the part of the American identity inclined to celebrate our frontier roots while in essence arguing that only losers need government services.

Romney's cynical campaign has been underwritten by the one constituency that would actually benefit from a crippled government: mega-corporations whose profit opportunities would be boosted in the immediate term by not having to worry about pollution limits, public health interests, labor codes or any other impediment to doing as they please. (And, yes, a handful of well-connected executives would profit handsomely, too.)

Actual human beings -- round up and call them the 100 Percent -- would take a hit, either via the direct weakening of services like public schools and public transportation, or indirectly through the fundamental degradation of American potential.

This is not to say that the government should shoulder every burden or seek to solve every problem. This is not to take away from the need for a vibrant private sector, which will continue to be the engine for economic growth and innovation. Rather, it is a simple statement of reality: Whoever you are and whatever you do, you could not do it without a little bit of government every now and again, libertarian fantasies notwithstanding.

Whatever your station, you are not better off in the long term if we allow the ranks of the officially poor -- now 46 million -- to grow while we weaken the social safety net. We are collectively less secure in an economy in which everyone must go it alone.

The entrepreneurs who have built their own businesses ought to take pride in having done so. But no business, not the corner delicatessen, not the largest Wall Street bank, can exist without the schools that have taught their workers how to read and do arithmetic. They could not function without the highways that enable their wares to be transported. They need the electrical grid, firefighters at the ready, and the courts that prevent someone else from merely ripping off their creations.

This all seems so obvious, yet it collides with the Republican narrative in which anything that can't be privatized isn't worth doing, and anything done by government is a waste of hard-earned tax dollars. This is the narrative that will have currency if the Republicans capture the White House.

The wealthiest Americans have long been retreating to fortresses of one variety another -- to gated communities in well-heeled suburbs, to private schools and exclusive social clubs. Perhaps this is the American future, one in which you either amass enough wealth to live inside a private land of plenty, or in which you find yourself staring at the wrong side of a fence, drinking toxin-laden water, sending your kids to crumbling schools and riding dilapidated public buses over pothole-strewn streets to jobs that pay too little to support your family.

Maybe that works for the people who can pay to get inside, some fraction of the 1 percent. Maybe they can still hire enough security guards to keep the disaffected at bay, effectively criminalizing joblessness and poverty while shipping the malefactors off to private prisons.

But what kind of future is that? Not just for the people on the wrong side of the fence, but for everyone else, too? How stable is such an order?

In a shocking new book, "Invisible Men: Mass Incarceration and the Myth of Black Progress," University of Washington sociologist Becky Pettit finds that on any given day nearly two out of five young, African-American men who lack high school diplomas are incarcerated. Such men are today more likely to be in prison than employed.

She and other experts draw a straight line from the dearth of support for public works to these alarming levels of incarceration: Deprived of quality schools, large numbers of young black men drop out, ensuring high levels of unemployment. Many resort to the drug trade.

Among the 1 Percent, this reality tends to be either ignored or discussed as a misfortune confined to another realm and best addressed through charity, rather than in the context of future American security. That's a problem. How safe should anyone rationally feel knowing that millions of working-age, able-bodied men see criminality as the only viable route to sustenance?

More broadly, how are American businesses supposed to prosper if huge slices of the population are economically marginalized? How can free enterprise work if much of the population is so consumed with finding the money to educate children and ensure access to health care that they are afraid to spend on anything else? The government needs to play a role in ensuring that our most critical needs -- housing, health care, education -- are more broadly available. That's not socialism. That's what has long been the American way.

We are the 100 Percent, our fortunes collectively dependent upon a functional society.

Government is no panacea, but it is the best mechanism for attacking the collective problems that are left unaddressed by the marketplace.

Elise Foley   |   September 26, 2012    7:32 PM ET

GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney touted his health care law as governor of Massachusetts on Wednesday, a move that tends to create awkwardness for the candidate as he tries to thread the needle between standing behind his achievement and criticizing the president's health care law, which is modeled after it.

"I think throughout this campaign as well, we talked about my record in Massachusetts, don't forget -- I got everybody in my state insured," Romney told NBC's Ron Allen in an interview. "One hundred percent of the kids in our state had health insurance. I don't think there's anything that shows more empathy and care about the people of this country than that kind of record."

Romney's passage of universal health care in Massachusetts was one of his top actions as governor, but it's also one fraught with tension for the candidate with some conservatives. The Affordable Care Act, the law signed by President Barack Obama, is a major point of contention for Republicans. Romney has called for a repeal of the law, but his opponents on both sides have been eager to point out that Obamacare was based on Romney's framework.

Although he does not often discuss his health care law, Romney invoked it Wednesday during a broad attempt at damage control after a video released last week showed him dismissing 47 percent of Americans as "dependent on government" and saying his "job is not to worry about those people."

Romney has since emphasized that he wants to be president of all Americans, and made a similar point to NBC.

"I think people have the chance, who watched our Republican convention, to see the lives that I've had a chance to touch during my life," he said, "to understand that as I served as a pastor of a congregation with people of all different backgrounds and economic circumstances, that I care very deeply about the American people, people of different socio-economic circumstances."

Jon Ward   |   September 26, 2012    9:10 AM ET

Mitt Romney's campaign released an ad on Wednesday showing the Republican nominee talking, for the first time in any of his television spots, directly to the camera.

It's the kind of personal and direct approach that some in the press, such as Politico's Maggie Haberman, have been wondering why Romney didn't use much earlier in the campaign. And as Haberman notes on her blog, the decision to wait until this late in the campaign to do a direct-to-camera ad gets at the tension within the Romney campaign over the question of how to handle its candidate's infamous problems connecting with voters.

The Romney campaign spent most of the spring and summer insisting the election was all about President Barack Obama and his record, while the Obama campaign spent the summer tearing Romney down personally and painting him as a secretive, nefarious corporate raider.

One of the biggest questions of the presidential election now, with not much more than a month to go, is whether Romney can win back undecided voters who may have been open to voting for him but who have been turned off by a negative impression of who he is personally.

A poll by Quinnipiac for The New York Times and CBS News, out Wednesday morning, had some brutal numbers for Romney in states he must win, like Florida, and in states where a loss would make it very difficult to win, like Ohio. The Quinnipiac survey showed Obama up nine points over Romney in Florida and up 10 in Ohio, where both Romney and Obama are campaigning on Wednesday.

Those numbers may be outliers, as Politico's Alex Burns notes, but they are still evident of a very concerning trend for Romney. As one influential Iowa Republican insider put it to The Huffington Post on Tuesday, it feels like the race is "slipping away."

Romney's campaign is putting a lot of hope in his ability to do well in his three debates with the president. The first of those is next Wednesday, in Denver.

Romney's ad seeks to solve a problem that his campaign has been late in addressing: he is perceived to be lacking in empathy, and he has not explained how his policies will help those Americans still trying to make it out of poverty or out of a "paycheck to paycheck" middle-class lifestyle into something resembling financial security.

Watch the ad:

Full script:

“Too many Americans are struggling to find work in today’s economy. Too many of those who are working are living paycheck to paycheck, trying to make falling incomes meet rising prices for food and gas. More Americans are living in poverty than when President Obama took office and 15 million more are on food stamps. President Obama and I both care about poor and middle-class families. The difference is my policies will make things better for them. We shouldn’t measure compassion by how many people are on welfare. We should measure compassion by how many people are able to get off welfare and get a good paying job. My plan will create 12 million new jobs over the next four years -- helping lift families out of poverty and strengthening the middle class. I’m Mitt Romney and I approve this message because we can’t afford another four years like the last four years.”

UPDATE: Greg Sargent at the Washington Post reports that Romney's new ad will air in all of his media markets across nine battleground states:

A Democrat familiar with ad buy information tells me that starting Friday, the new ad the Romney campaign rolled out today will begin airing in all of Romney’s media markets in nine swing states, and it will be the only Romney ad running in them.

This underscores that the Romney campaign is betting all of its chips on the new approach represented in the minute-long ad, which is about cleaning up the mess made by Romney’s remarks about the freeloading 47 percent, and about reframing the Romney message as a forward looking one. The Dem source says ad buy info indicates that other currently running spots -- one hits Obama as soft on China; the other is a positive ad touting Romney’s plan for the middle class -- will be replaced by this one.

The Democratic National Committee issued a web video Wednesday in response to Romney's ad, contrasting his on-camera appeal with clips of past statements that contributed to his "out of touch" image, including his line about firing people, the infamous $10,000 bet during a GOP primary debate and footage from the "47 percent" secret fundraiser. At the end of the video, the DNC amends Romney's slogan to "Believe in half of America."

Sabrina Siddiqui contributed reporting.


Why the Poor Pay Far More Than Romney

Earl Ofari Hutchinson   |   September 25, 2012    2:35 PM ET

Every study of taxes and taxation has been virtually unanimous that GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney got it dead wrong that millions of poor and working people pay no taxes and in essence leech off the system. The taxes that the 47 percent that Romney blew off as tax losers pay are for Medicare, Social Security, payroll taxes, and excise taxes. They pay a far higher percentage of the state taxes than the top 1 percent of income earners in nearly very state, as well as sales taxes. Even the number that supposedly pay not a dime in federal tax is badly overstated. The Urban Institute-Brookings Tax Policy Center whittled the number down to 14 percent of households that paid neither federal income tax nor payroll tax in 2009. Even this is misleading. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities found that between 1989 and 2006 more than half of the tax filers who received the Earned Income Tax Credit received it for no more than a year or two at a time and generally paid substantial amounts of federal income tax in other years.

It's not solely a matter of splitting hairs over dollars and cents and percentages that pay and don't pay to. The poor and lower income workers pay more than Romney for several well calculated reasons. There are too few rich people, who pay too little taxes, and while the government bills still have to be paid, they continue to rise. This is more than simply a case of armies of corporate shilling tax lobbyists that rig the tax system to insure that the rich duck and dodge their fair share. The poor have always been viewed as a ready, easy, and accessible piggy bank for state and federal governments to pay their always increasing bills.

The prevailing thinking is that workers consume while the rich and corporations (their employers) produce. In other words they produce the capital that fuels the engine of commerce and that in turn fuels the engine of government, so therefore the tax burden for every type of consumption fee from food to gasoline, must be borne by the poor and workers. Romney may have been "inelegant" as he put it in stating this, but he has hit on that theme repeatedly on the campaign trail. That government is a major impediment to private industry revival and expansion. His answer is even less taxes on the rich and corporations and though unstated since it would be the political kiss of death in an election year to openly say it, that the poor and workers must bear even more of the tax burden to make up for the shortfall.

This is what happened when Reagan slashed taxes (prematurely it turned out and had to increase them later). Bush Sr., despite his disastrous campaign promise that there would be no tax hike on his watch then promptly turned around and reneged on that promise once in the White House, did the same. They shifted upward the tax burden even more to the workers. The two Bush tax cuts had the same effect. The rich paid even less and the tax burden shifted upward again to the poor and workers. According to David Kay Johnston, "In 2008 nearly one in every 200 high-income taxpayers paid no federal income tax, up from about 1 in 1,500 in 1998" and that "the share of high incomes that were untaxed increased more than sevenfold to one dollar of every $166."

But spending on government services and defense as well as two costly wars also rose and had to be paid for. In eight years, Bush increased government spending by a colossal 104 percent. But Bush alone didn't increase spending. He just increased it exorbitantly. Government spending increased under President Clinton by 11 percent as it has with every other president whether Republican or Democrat in past decades.

There is no way to avoid this. Government bills have to be paid, and spending despite much talk, and the many cut government spending plans put forth will continue to rise due to one simple fact. There are more people who need more services, and they cost more, and with no way short of massive elimination of those services, somebody has to pay for them. That somebody will continue to be Romney's mythical 47 percent. Even under the most cheery fiscal forecasts on spending, almost inevitably there will be another shift upward in taxes to working persons and the poor, the only question is how much and when.

Who pays and how much will continue to be hit points Romney will use against President Obama to try and make the point that taxes are an unfair burden on everyone, especially corporations and mid-size businesses that prevent them from revving up the economy. But the price to do that won't change. It will take revenue, and lots of it, because those same corporations and private business and investors such as Romney and Bain have their hand out to government for legions of government subsidies, tax breaks, and contracting programs that benefit them. They aren't poor but many of them are as much a part of the 47 percent as the poor.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a frequent political commentator on MSNBC and a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the author of How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK-Radio and the Pacifica Network.

'You Jerk': 47 Percenter Single Mom With Kids On Medicaid Responds To Romney

Jeffrey Young   |   September 24, 2012    1:43 PM ET

Gracie Fowler didn't earn enough money to pay income taxes last year. She won't make enough this year, either, and has turned to Medicaid to make sure her two small children have access to health care.

Despite what Mitt Romney seems to believe, she's not content to go on being one of the 47 percent of Americans who don't pay federal income taxes.

"Who wants to be poor? Half of Americans? What an ugly, ugly statement about Americans," said Fowler, a 35-year-old single mother who lives in Orlando, Fla. "Being poor has never been the place you want to be."

A secretly recorded video of a $50,000-per-person Romney fundraiser shows the Republican presidential nominee and former Massachusetts governor bemoaning the fact that 47 percent of Americans don't pay federal income taxes. He declares that they are people "who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it."

"You just said about Americans that half of us are cool with feeling like we need a handout, we need to be babied?" said Fowler. "That's what you think of us? Us hard workers, us college-educated, us non-criminals, us parents, us workers?"

According to Romney, this group -- nearly half the country -- will always support President Barack Obama over him in the race for the White House. That's certainly the case with Fowler.

"You jerk. My children are entitled to health care. They're humans," she said.

Fowler completed her college degree in May 2011 but has had a rough time finding work. She made $11 an hour at a mortgage-title processing company from January until earlier this month, when the firm laid her off. Fowler has been uninsured for most of the last decade but made sure her son, 8, and her daughter, 7, got covered by Medicaid. She isn't eligible for unemployment insurance because she didn't work long enough, and she said the job search has been "frustrating."

If Romney wins, the Medicaid benefits that allow Fowler's children to see a doctor could be in jeopardy. Romney and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), support transforming Medicaid from an entitlement program open to anyone who qualifies into a group of state-run programs that receive a lump sum of federal "block grants" every year.

Ryan's plan, adopted by House Republicans in March, would slash Medicaid funding by $810 billion starting next year. The result would be 14 million to 27 million fewer people with health care coverage, according to an analysis by the Urban Institute in Washington.

Since children make up half of Medicaid's 62 million enrollees, they would be vulnerable to the budget cuts. Romney also would repeal Obama's health care reform law, which is projected to add 11 million low-income uninsured people to Medicaid starting in 2014.

To Fowler, Romney's 47 percent are in reality the "half of us who are dying and crying every day, you know, having a hard time feeding our children." Fowler and her children also receive food stamps.

"You can't be in contempt for half the population and be president," Fowler said of Romney. "This is the message that you've just sent to Americans and it was off the chain."

'Please, Let Me Have That Problem,' Says 47 Percenter And Business Owner

Jeffrey Young   |   September 21, 2012    2:32 PM ET

Doug Walter seems like just the sort of self-starting, up-by-the-bootstraps small-business owner with whom politicians like to have their pictures taken. When Walter got laid off and couldn't find work for almost three years, he decided to take job-creating into his own hands and open a consignment shop in southeastern Pennsylvania.

But what distinguishes Walter, a 45-year-old husband and father of four, from the entrepreneurs routinely praised by officeholders and candidates is that he's one of GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney's 47-percenters. Walter didn't make enough last year to pay federal income taxes and doesn't expect he will this year, either. And during a rough past few years, Walter has taken advantage of assistance from government programs designed to give people a hand when they're down.

Romney caused a stir with comments he made during a fundraiser in May about low-income Americans. The comments came to light when secretly recorded video of the remarks found its way to The Huffington Post and Mother Jones last week.

"There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what," Romney told donors at the private $10,000-a-head fundraiser.

"All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it," Romney said.

Walter sees a parallel between the damage these statements caused Romney and the continuing fallout from a comment President Barack Obama probably wishes he'd never hear again. "To my very conservative friends, I laughed and said, 'Well, this is Romney's 'You didn't build that','" said Walter, who lives in Ivyland and operates his store in nearby Warrington, about 30 miles north of Philadelphia.

And Romney's got a point -- sort of, said Walter. "He's right. Half of America doesn't pay taxes. But you know, there's a difference between making $23,000 and not paying taxes and making $223,000 and not paying taxes. There's a huge difference."

As Walter tries to build his business and hopes one day to be able to pay himself a salary, he's confounded by rich people who complain about paying taxes. "Oh, please, let me have that problem," he said.

The wealthy ought to appreciate where their tax dollars go, as Walter sees it. "Taxes are paid so that the community remains whole, OK? Simply put, rich people pay taxes so that their government and their local municipalities will keep them safe from the people who don't have money."

For Walter, his neighbors and others struggling since the Great Recession began in 2007, not paying taxes isn't a boon. "I don't think they want the government to pay their way, to give them food, clothing and shelter," he said. "They would rather do something for themselves."

"I see there's people who just want to wear their pajamas outside and collect that government check once a month and they're OK with that," Walter said. "But that standard of living is not what most people want."

For Walter, the assistance he's received has been a means to get back on his feet and a way to eventually not have to rely on help from the government. He was paid unemployment insurance for the full 99 weeks allowed and received food stamps for a while. He will get help paying his heating bills this winter, and qualified for needs-based grants that cover the costs of his youngest child attending Pennsylvania State University.

Signing up for unemployment felt "wrong" at first and Walter didn't fight when his food stamp benefits were taken away. "I had pants with no holes in them and so I kind of felt like maybe I didn't belong there. I can still afford $12 jeans at Walmart so maybe I don't need to be there," he said of the government office that handled his food assistance.

So does Walter feel like Romney was talking about him? "I mean, my daughter's going to school for no charge to me. I think that type of blanket statement like that would definitely apply to me," he said.

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