Kent Pitman

Kent Pitman
New England, USA
Philosopher, Technologist, Writer
I've been using the net in various roles—technical, social, and political—for the last 30 years. I'm disappointed that most forums don't pay for good writing and I'm ever in search of forums that do. (I've not seen any Tippem money, that's for sure.) And I worry some that our posting here for free could one day put paid writers in Closed Salon out of work. See my personal home page for more about me.


DECEMBER 11, 2011 2:21PM

A Wager of No Consequence

Rate: 26 Flag

I’ve got a beef with whole “Mitt’s bet” thing from last night’s debate that’s a little different than what I’m seeing in most of the media.

But I’ll start with a recap in case you aren’t up to speed.

What Happened?

Last night in the Iowa GOP debate, Mitt Romney and Rick Perry were sparring over whether Mitt ever supported individual health care mandates. To hammer home his claim that he hadn’t, Mitt tried to bet Perry $10,000 that he was right. “I’m not in the betting business ...” Perry replied. (If Perry had always shown this degree of good judgment, he’d probably still be a contender. This, at least, was a smart response.)

So the bet didn't get made, but it has still caught the eye of the media, mostly because the proposed amount highlights Romney’s wealth. Perry spokesman Mark Miner said later, “Mitt Romney probably had $10,000 in his pocket.”

And Jon Huntsman’s campaign rushed to get onto the bandwagon with this brief and probably quite effective commercial:

What’s Bugging Me

What has me annoyed about the offer of the bet is how it seems to say something really damning about all of them and the world they live in. It epitomizes the easy way that the Republicans show they are above the issues they debate about. It’s a lot like the war on drugs, for example. People are routinely put in jail for quite minor offenses while the rich can do the same act with complete impunity as mere sport.

I quote here from the Iowa Code (Chapter 725 VICE):


1. Except as permitted in chapters 99B [“Games of Skill or Chance, and Raffles”] and 99D [“Mutuel Wagering”], a person shall not do any of the following:

a. Participate in a game for any sum of money or other property of any value.

b. Make any bet.

c. For a fee, directly or indirectly, give or accept anything of value to be wagered or to be transmitted or delivered for a wager to be placed within or without the state of Iowa.


2. A person who violates this section is guilty of the following:

a. Illegal gaming in the fourth degree if the sum of money or value of other property involved does not exceed one hundred dollars. [...]

b. Illegal gaming in the third degree if the sum of money or value of other property involved exceeds one hundred dollars but does not exceed five hundred dollars. [...]

c. Illegal gaming in the second degree if the sum of money or value of other property involved exceeds five hundred dollars but does not exceed five thousand dollars. [...]

d. Illegal gaming in the first degree if the sum of money or value of other property involved exceeds five thousand dollars. Illegal gaming in the first degree constitutes a class "C" felony.

And since Perry didn’t accept the bet, I doubt any legal problem actually occurred. And the bet wasn’t offered to Huntsman, so he probably isn’t in a legal position to accept. As such, he’s probably off the hook, too.

But it doesn’t matter. Even if they had been real bets, I’m quite sure no one would have been prosecuted. I just don’t have enough faith in the US justice system any more to think it really cares about what rich people do.

Putting This in Perspective

I’m somehow reminded of a speech given by Chris Rock in the period leading up to the 1996 re-election of Bill Clinton. This bit was a favorite of mine and shows really keen insight on Rock’s part.

I like Clinton. I like Clinton. Ya know why I like Clinton? Because he’s got real problems. You know, he doesn’t have President problems. He’s got real problems like you and me. That’s right, running out of money, his wife’s a pain in the ass. All his friends are going to Jail. You know, I know Bill Clinton. I am Bill Clinton.

The essence of Rock’s point was that since Bill Clinton has the same problems you and I have, he wasn’t as likely to try to pass a bunch of stupid laws that make the mere being of you and me illegal. There’s something about being rich and in politics that increases the likelihood of becoming detached from the impact of the laws being made.

I think it’s why they can talk casually about deporting eleven million people as if it were no big deal. I think it’s why they can talk about turning women into felons for getting an abortion or now even for using birth control. It’s why they can talk about repealing Obama’s health care achievements (“ObamaCare”) as if it were a good thing. All of these things seem come from one basic place: Security in the knowledge that, whatever the impact, it won’t happen to them. And the rest of us be damned.

It’s why Newt Gingrich can emerge “largely unscathed” [] from last night’s debate, even though in previous years he was reprimanded by a bipartisan Congress for ethics violations as Speaker of the House. Small matter to guys like this. Ethics, schmethics. A simple matter of money buys a lot of PR and voilà, the record is clean. He’s as good as new after something that would dog the rest of us for our entire lives—not to mention that he’s free to contribute again to the passage of the kind of legislation the Republican party likes best: the kind that promises “accountability” and that assures that people will pay dearly for the choices they’ve made. And by people will pay, they mean the “little people,” that is—people like you and me, not the rich people like were on that stage in the debate.

If you got value from this post, please "rate" it.


Mark Pritchard picked out another good quote from Chris Rock back in 2008. Why isn’t Chris Rock one of the pundits we see after debates? He’s really so on the mark and he expresses things in emotional terms that people can really understand.

Also, about the law, it looks to me like the venue is also at risk under 99B.9 [“Gambling in Public Places”], too. And, fortunately for Huntsman, if his acceptance (which I assume came from his home bas in Utah) were treated as legal, the Utah laws on betting seem more flexible and look to me like they only make any potential crime a misdemeaner.

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That's one theory. I can think of another as how to play with that, if its kind of risky. :)
Don, I couldn't make sense of your remark, though I appreciate you taking the time to drop by.
Kent, I saw the news last night about the 'bet' situation and ignored it because from what I could tell it was simply a distraction from the important issues. Nevertheless, I certainly appreciate your discussion about the bet as seen from your interesting perspective. Also, the Bill Clinton of '96 as Chris Rock described him is a far different Bill Clinton when it comes to personal wealth in 2011. Quite amazing how one formerly '99 percent' person became a '1 percent' person in only 15 years!
as long as americans are willing to be 'little people,' others will gratify that weakness.
Designanator, it's true that fortunes change, but at least Clinton is doing something important for humanity with his wealth. I don't think it's terrible to have wealth. I think it's terrible to let the having of wealth blind you to the problems of people who don't have it.

Al, it's a legitimate observation. I think what you're seeing in the US is the emergence of a pushback on that. These things don't happen overnight.
I have to say here Kent, that if the bet is considered so called white collar crime, nothing will come of it at all.
And since it was taken as a distraction from the debate and not taken seriously at all, who cares??

I think our now defunct corrupt system is beyond broken.

This coming election has for sale signs all over it. With Obama already out on the take from corporate'military interests, like the fundraiser he recently attended with tickets for over $30,000, where is the outrage??

I got plenty.

It s time for us to say loudly NO MORE.
The Occupy Wall Street movement is bringing this craziness out to the forefront.
I say either speak out or remain silent and sit on your hands.
I choose to speak out here and quit now.
I can write my own post about this.
I did not make it completely through last night's debate. the loop feeds on the media are enough for me anyway.
Mission, regarding outrage, I think they'd say the same as you: “I got plenty.” But in their case, they'd mean “I got plenty of money, so why should I be outraged?” Thanks for chiming in. I'm in general agreement with you, as you might surmise.
I might add Kent, the corporate/military has got plenty of willing candidates eager to take that money they hand out.
yet to them, it is a wager of no consequence.
the candidates are bought and paid for.
the blood money is in their bank accounts to spend, or wager as they see fit.
Don Rich. That was a compliment.
If politicos jibber use jabberwocky.
WE don't understand politicians?
Because they aren't saying anything.
Politicos call saner folk old nitwits.
They can't comprehend tease/wits.

Folk diminish the-own-self if proud.
There're good and bad proud traits.
Thankfully you didn't rip a big farts.
No piss-off a black and white skunk.
He/She can lift a tail and squirt you.
No tear-off cattail and smack Kerry.
I just came from a gregarious dinner.
I jest tuning in to go say hi. Take nap.
Never cower. Ya lose goof reputation.
Once one sells-outs? You sees crumbles.
The cookie crumbles. You not so kooky.
Fame is short lived? No kill reputations.
My Father use to spiel pleasantly. Great!
No endorse baloney-arrogant delusions!
The world delusion are volatile and vain!
Just saying ...
We all have opinions. We can't convey awe.
They are frauds ...
Yesterday at `
The NYC Met`
They sang a live Opera ref` Dark and sinister.
It's a tale of turmoil, power, and vain politics.
Art, “turmoil, power, and vain politics” indeed. Thanks for visiting.
The only candidate on that stage who was able to provide a real response to the Twitter question that asked when was the last time he or she had struggled with a financial problem was Bachmann, and even hers went far back into her childhood. I thought that was an even bigger testament of how disconnected they all are from the average American.

Kent: You said it well:

" A simple matter of money buys a lot of PR and voilà, the record is clean. He’s as good as new after something that would dog the rest of us for our entire lives. . . "

An ordinary person would feel shame. But that's not part of the rich person's (especially the rich politicians's) emotional make up. Here's how F. Scott Fistzerald put it in "The Rich Boy:"

"Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft, where we are hard, cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand."
He’s as good as new after something that would dog the rest of us for our entire lives
And the worst thing is, any one of these clowns would be ahead in the polls against Obama next year if the economy is in the tank.
Good catch Kent. There are lots of Repubs looking for excuses not to support Romney, or to persuade others not to support him. This will help their cause.
Lezlie, I was distracted when that question came on so only kind of halfway took note. Sounds like I should go back for another look. Thanks for the summary, though. It does sound important. I do know they were all talking about their humble beginnings trying to out-humble each other to the point that I finally screamed out loud (though only my wife could hear) “yes, yes, uphill in both directions” per the long tradition of “When I was a kid,...” stories that parents tell about how hard it was to get to school.

Jeremiah, thanks for the quote. You touch obliquely on another point that I think is pertinent, but that I steered clear of in this piece just to keep it pointed: the issue of old vs. new money; that is, between money you earn yourself and dynastic fortunes you are born with or can bequeath to your children. These guys are all about everyone proving themselves, and yet they hate the estate tax. Yet a 100% estate tax (which even I wouldn't advocate, but just to take an extreme example) would make it much more likely that everyone's stake in the world was earned... at least until confederations of good ol' boys figured ways to pass money among each other in a way that defied the tax. Romney, for example, was born with money, and acknowledges it. That means any claim that he has made it in business might be true, but still isn't the same as you or I claiming it. I have some business experience myself and I can tell you that having even modest money in the bank makes a huge difference in how long you can go before you have to give up. (One sees that even in his presidential campaign, which can be managed comfortably with perhaps less worries about budget than his competitors.) If you don't have that, it's a very different story in terms of what you have to rely on and what you have left in the end. The idea that these guys don't distinguish, for example, between small and large business in much of their rhetoric. Small business starting out hungry is a different game than big business. One is new money, the other old money, in some metaphorical sense. A big company going out for a public offering is a very different exercise than a small company getting a bank loan, especially in this economy. And a big company trying to offer health care for employees is way different than a small company trying to do so. They try to paper over it as if the needs of both are the same in hopes of gaining the support of both, but really it's not that way at all.
Excellent post, Kent. I'm reminded of this double standard every time I read in the newspaper about some celebrity caught with drugs, perhaps while driving, and agreeing to go to into rehabilitation. You or I? We'd be in jail. (Well, if we did that sort of thing...)
Lefty, next year is impossibly far off from a prediction standpoint in that regard. One has to work these things moment-by-moment.

Abrawang, I don't know if that's good or bad. I actually seem to be in a minority on this, but I think Newt is a more formidable candidate than Mitt. If I were reporting this with intent of biasing the election one way or another, rather than to express outrage, I don't know how I'd want to slant it. I'm hopeful than in the end, reason will win the day. Speaking of which, I wish Huntsman and Roemer had been on the stage last night. Those have been the most rational of the voices, though I was hugely disappointed in Huntsman at selling out on Climate Change this week.
Rob, yeah, that's the kind of thing I meant to allude to in speaking of the war on drugs. It really is two utterly different standards. Thanks for visiting, by the way.
I always attend debates with $10K in my pocket. Doesn't everyone?
Coyote—oh, I'll just bet.
This resonates with me especially since having read Glenn Greenwald's latest book, With Liberty and Justice for Some. These are great examples of the two-tiered justice system he describes in detail.
I think your point extends beyond just the politicians. It extends to a lot of folks who are simply incapable of the kind of empathy that can accept that "it can happen to me." Not only does it "not apply to me," it can't happen to me (lose my job, have an accident, lose my health insurance, get arrested). If more of us would identify with the idea that bad things DO happen to good people, we'd be a much better society.
thanks - this is why i read you - was that the back of trumps massive head? god i am glad you had to watch that and not I.
"Security in the knowledge that, whatever the impact, it won’t happen to them. And the rest of us be damned."

This quote sums it all! Excellent article, as usual.
Kent writes: "It epitomizes the easy way that the Republicans show they are above the issues they debate about."

Excellent point, but many of the Democrats are in the same situation. None of these guys worry about where the next paycheck is coming from. They don't worry about losing their health insurance. They don't face bankruptcy. Their children don't have to patrol the streets of Haditha in order to make money to pay for college. They get VIP rates on their home mortgages, and their houses do not get foreclosed. Half of them are millionaires; some are multimillionaires. After their time in congress is done, many go on to lofty positions in corporations, where princely salaries and golden parachutes await them. Republican or Democrat, I really don't trust any of them, though I'll grant that with the typical Republican there is more not to like.
Kent, you always pick up on the most fascinating details. And you understand these boneheads and wolves better than they do themselves.
$10,000 says Mitt's a Mormon.
Any takers can forward their bank notes to OWS.
I like it, good reasoning and a sense of humor.
rated with love
Snippy, thanks for the reminder about Glenn's book. I'm anxious for it to become available on audiobook so I can listen to it on my long commute to work. It does sound quite relevant.

FLW, I think part of the Republican narrative is to reassure their voters that it's OK only to think of themselves. For all people regularly point to places where the Democrats are lobbyist-influenced in some of their policies, their overall core messages do not try to emphasize proud individualism as a reason not to care about others.

Snowden, I'm glad you got what you were looking for from this, and that you didn't have to watch the debate. There weren't really any surprises. Actually, one reason they should not exclude the minority candidates like Huntsman and Roemer would be that it would be more lively. Even Ron Paul, traditionally a wildcard, was pretty boring in this one.

Kanuk, thanks for visiting and for the words of support.

Mishima, I won't quibble with your characterization. It's not a perfect set of choices for sure.

TGD, thanks for the kind words. Thanks for visiting.

Anthony, my remark to Coyote above notwithstanding, I'm, uh, not in the betting business. But thanks for visiting. And no reason anyone playing along at home can't send to OWS anyway, even without engaging a bet.

Poetess, thanks for dropping by. I'm glad you got both something serious and a laugh. A well-rounded outcome.
I put up a post about a semi-sarcastic add playing up gambling, as I was writing it and had seen yours, hence the cryptic remark as to another kind of approach to damage control.
Don, thanks for the clarification.
Kent writes: "People are routinely put in jail for quite minor offenses while the rich can do the same act with complete impunity as mere sport."

Kent, there's a 14th Amendment angle to this that I don't think has been discussed yet.

These days, when people think about the 14th Amendment and equal protection, they often think about issues related to equality of rights, such as the right to marry. But the original context of the 14th Amendment in particular had a lot to do with crime and punishment. After the civil war a number of states enacted "black laws." Some of these laws made certain actions legally punishable if done by blacks, but not if done by whites. Other laws meted out special punishments for blacks that were not applied to whites.

In the discussions in Congress at that time, one senator noted that "all citizens shall be forever equal, subject to like penalties for like crimes and no other.” Sen. Howard, speaking of the effect of equal protection, noted that "this abolishes all class legislation in the States and does away with the injustice of subjecting one caste of persons to a code not applicable to another. It prohibits the hanging of a black man for a crime for which the white man is not to be hanged."

Cut to today. In recent years, we don't have laws that specifically authorize lesser punishments for crimes done by the rich. But increasingly, in effect we have unofficially done just that. We now have "castes of persons" who receive differential treatment under the criminal laws based on their economic status. E.g., if you get caught with drugs, you go to prison. If Rush Limbaugh gets caught with drugs, he goes to rehab. If you shoplift a pair of socks, you are prosecuted. If corporate officials engage in fraud, thereby causing the near collapse of the worldwide economic system, there is no prosecution. If you engage in a criminal conspiracy, you go to jail. If Richard Nixon engages in a criminal conspiracy, he gets pardoned.

Again, there are no laws that authorize this, but we have a culture that does. While it is not a violation of the letter of the Constitution, surely it is a violation of the spirit of the Constitution, and in particular of the spirit of the 14th Amendment.
Mishima, it seems a good point. Thanks for making it.
Sometimes, Kent, I wish I could walk down the street to Ashmont Station, take the train and meet you in Harvard Square ...

Perhaps we'd find a cup of tea ...

Perhaps we'd ride the train back to Park St. and we could take a leisurely walk through the Public Gardens ... how do we forget awe ... and beauty ... and all we want ... to really matter ...

Games of skill ... hmmm ... one wonders ... what games ... what skills ...

“... and the rest of us be damned.”

I don’t deal well with anger ... especially my own ... I bury it so far away ... I hardly know it’s there ... but I feel a kettle reaching its boil ... deep ... inside ... of me ...

Reading through the comments. a thought occurs ... what about an experiment ... let’s eliminate ... all health insurance ... for everyone ... everyone ... for six months ... let’s let everyone come into the same boat ... just because ... and see what song is sung ... for everyone ... then ... even for those who simply reach, then, into their pockets and find easy ways to pay ...

... wandering back ... to poetry ... poetry where truth speaks its voice in clearest tones ... how many ways ... to eliminate ... poetry ...

where is the poet ... now ...
Anna, thanks for the kind and thoughtful response. To the meat of your remark: If you eliminated all health care, of course, many would die, but I assume your point is that it's frustrating that there's not a level playing field. I agree. To that end, you might recall my 2009 post Health Insurance: A Modest Proposal in which I suggested a Constitutional amendment in which Congress should only be allowed “the least good health insurance afforded to any American citizen.” If you want poetic justice, that has it in my view. And as a matter of pragmatics, I think if Congress had to worry its own provisions would apply to itself, it would get health care fixed quickly. Of course, it would require some other agency to pass it—Congress isn't going to do that to itself. Citizen initiative petition, I suppose. (Cue Open Salon's Al Loomis. He's always asking why the US doesn't have such a thing at the federal level.)
Pushing Swift to the side for the moment, Kent, and I do remember your piece ... I just think why not ... let everyone feel what no insurance ... none at all ... feels like ... people are already dying of that ... have been for far too long ... do those tears feel less pain ... perhaps if the halls of DC had a more personal sense of it ...
let us all know what struggle is ... and how struggle really feels ...

sorry ... kettle heating up ... health care and urgent fear ... are what first ... brought me here ... and where I first met you ...

... where is the poet ... now ...
Well, sacrificing some of us in order to make a point is an interesting theory. It's what done in wars. We call on some to give their lives for the many. But wars are often courts of last resort and I'd rather not see them done before other options are exhausted. I still think there are some less drastic ways to make the point that might still work, as OWS is trying to show, and I think focusing on electing someone who doesn't promise to eliminate health care will be one of those things. Also, the supreme court is presently considering the constituationality of the individual mandate; it will be interesting (and a little scary) to see the outcome of that, but if they decide it's unconstitional, I think that will motivate the Democrats to go and vote and hopefully insist that this time Obama try for universal health care.
I'm not thinking of sacrificing anyone to make a point. Every fibre of my being is opposed to that. But ... aren't those who ... for whatever reason ... do not have now ... have not had for far too long to contemplate ... perhaps have never had health coverage ... been sacrificed ... with no remorse ... all these years ...

Yes, please, may something, someone, all of us, do something to allow the luxury here ... of universal health care ... oh yes ... please ...

gambling ... betting ... ears that refuse to hear ... enough of this ... enough ... how many already ... silently ... are being sacrificed ... right now ... how do we make their voices heard ... still I think ... experiment ... see what it feels like ... to be the ones not heard ...
see what if feels like ... not ... to feel ... secure ...
Amen to the thousadnth power. That's the first thing I said when I heard about the bet thing: it's illegal, but nothing would happen to them! And the Newt running for President thing - surely there is a way to disqualify someone for the ethics trouble he got into. I know if he applied for a regular salaried federal job (not an appointee) with that record, he'd be out!
Blue, I suppose you could make it illegal, but it seems like if the population knows it's so and wants to elect the person anyway, maybe they should be allowed to. This is, for example, the reason I thought the business about Obama's birth was so irritating. It's true he was born in Hawaii, but many didn't believe it. I can't control that. But what I feel most strongly about is that if he was elected when everyone knew there was a controversy, then that should trump (pardon the unintended pun) the issue of the controversy. The public effectively decides the controversy and the election in the same stroke. Same with Newt's issue. If it matters to them, they can say it at the voting booth. I'd love to disqualify Newt but they'd love to disqualify some people I'd want, and I don't see starting an escalation like that. Better to simply leave it to the people. Or that's my working theory on it right now after a considerable amount of thought. Someone could advance an argument as to why that's not a good theory, but it would have to be based on more than the fact that it creates a good outcome in the case I personally prefer.
And still, while the pundits fall all over themselves to show us wooden Romney's latest gaff, I've not heard one treat the issue that caused the bet, that is whether or not the critical wording was expunged from Mitten's book. Was Perry right? It should be easy enough to research, if only the "lame stream media" took its job seriously. Or if Perry had enough of a brain to say "damn the bet, I'll show you the proof." But then again he would have had to actually read the book instead of relying on some handler's summary, which is why he didn't have the courage of his conviction to stand up to Mitty.
Good catch Kent.
Tim, I've been meaning to check politifact or something to see if they did the research, but I just don't care about the underlying issue. It's a pointless issue. I live in New England and was here for Romney's health care shift. It's something he presided over and was proud of, and it's just obvious to me he's backtracking for show. If the Republicans liked it, he'd be crowing about it. The issue of whether he took pride in it makes no difference. I didn't really like the form of the mandate myself, but I like it's effect. I'll like universal health care better if we can get that, especially if it comes out of the ire of the Supreme Court overturning the mandate this summer, which they might. Meanwhile, it's the “we live above it” aspect that's no small matter to me. They are just so insulated that these are pure abstracts to them. But I had cancer, and was lucky enough to have coverage. They would say I had made a good choice to be covered and that people should have the “freedom” to not make the choice to be covered and to take the consequences. But it's not freedom to make the choice when most people making the choice do it for economic reasons—can't afford to be covered. That's not a choice, that's a failure of the employment system. Most people want it and it's out of reach. Only if you have millions do you think of it as a choice, as Romney and others do. Only if you make $60K per speech, as Newt brags, do you think that people made a foolish choice to not get out of New Orleans for Katrina. Some people couldn't afford to get out. Seeing that as either foolish or a choice is what makes this all so very sad. These guys are too isolated from reality to run this country.
The essence of Rock’s point was that since Bill Clinton has the same problems you and I have, he wasn’t as likely to try to pass a bunch of stupid laws that make the mere being of you and me illegal. Yeah Really! HNY to you.
Algis, thanks for dropping by. Glad it resonated with you. Happy holidays to you, too.