Saturday, October 27, 2012

Editorial: Defeat the Vultures

The presidential race is entering the stretch run and it’s still too close to call, which is good news for the TV stations in the eight or nine battleground states who have political ads lined up to run for every available commercial minute, but for the rest of us it’s pretty nerve-wracking.

The third and final debate was supposed to be on foreign policy but still managed to occasionally find its way back to the economy and other issues of interest to Ohio, which seems to be the only state that really matters to the candidates. But that’s OK because I live in Texas, and thank goodness the Lone Star State is not the bellwether for the nation.

You might remember Rick Perry, our governor for life, from his brief foray into the GOP presidential campaign. A tea partisan by the name of Ted Cruz got the nomination for the US Senate and is the odds-on favorite to win the general election by convincing his fellow Republican primary voters that conservative Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (R) was too moderate to trust in Washington. Cruz is so far to the right that his Democratic opponent, Paul Sadler, a former state representative, got the endorsements of the Dallas Morning News, El Paso Times, Fort Worth Star Telegram and the San Antonio Express-News, but Cruz has raised $3.5 million since the primary while Sadler raised only $358,734 (and was glad to get that) during the third quarter. The once-proud Texas Dems haven’t won a statewide race since 1994. A YouGov poll of likely voters in Texas, released Oct. 16, found Mitt Romney leading President Obama 55-41 and Cruz leading Sadler 51-36. At least we don’t have to watch those endless attack ads.

It’s frustrating to hear working people say they’re supporting Romney because he was a successful businessman, as if his experience as a predatory capitalist had anything to do with improving the lives of working people and their families. As our cover story by Gary Cohn notes, Bain Capital under Romney’s leadership gained control of GS Industries, a Kansas City steel maker, in 1993, and Bain put the company in bankruptcy in 2001, when Romney was still listed as CEO. A few months later, Bain announced that it was reneging on its promise to provide lifetime health insurance for retirees to improve its bottom line.

Romney claims he’s been out of Bain management since 2002, but he still has a financial interest in the firm, and he has a history of playing fast and loose with the facts. And Greg Palast recently uncovered Romney’s recent ties with vulture financier Paul Singer, who has made a specialty of buying up debt bonds at a few cents on the dollar and then using political connections to collect on the bonds. Singer’s vulture fund bought debt from Third World countries, such as the Congo, and then seized $90 million from foreign aid to that embattled nation, which could have been used to end a cholera epidemic, among other things. Singer’s tactics are outlawed in Britain and all over the world, Palast noted on Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now! show on Oct. 18, but it is still legal in the US, where Singer’s vulture fund feasted on the corpse of another victim, the once-world-leading Delphi auto parts division of General Motors (see Dispatches, page 5).

Singer, with the participation of Ann Romney, and other hedge funders bought stock in Delphi at 67 cents a share, threatened to shut down the parts supplier — which would have put GM and Chrysler out of business — if the government didn’t go along with their takeover. The government knuckled under, which kept the steering wheels and steering columns coming. GM and Chrysler survived but the hedge funders profited enormously as the government took over Delphi’s pension obligations and the new Delphi management shut down 28 of 29 parts plants in the US, costing 25,200 UAW members’ jobs as the factories were moved to China. The revived Delphi stock rose to $22.

“Mitt Romney said, ‘Let Detroit go bankrupt.’ And everyone thought this was a great, principled position,” Palast told Goodman. “And yeah, he wanted it to go bankrupt so that he could buy the auto parts division for literally pennies, 67 cents a share, then flip it for 30, 40 times that amount. In addition, don’t forget that this is TARP money. This is money that comes from the US taxpayer.”

Palast also explained that Singer is probably the most important of Romney’s coterie of billionaires, as the original $1 million donor to the 37-billionaire PAC called Restore Our Future. “He’s the guy who kind of signals all the other billionaires where to put their money. So, Singer is very, very important to Mitt Romney.”

But as Singer buys companies out of bankruptcy, he also, in effect, buys Third World nations out of bankruptcy, picking up their debt for pennies on the dollar and then holding their assets for ransom. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has led the Obama administration’s effort to put Singer out of business, saying his vulture tactics are a threat to the world economy. That may have played a major role in motivating Singer’s political intervention. Romney’s top foreign policy adviser and potential secretary of state is Dan Senor, who now works for Singer’s hedge fund, Palast noted.

Among other things, Senor, a hawkish protégé of wrongheaded neocon Bill Kristol, was the George W. Bush administration’s spokesman during the occupation of Iraq. Senor went to work on Wall Street after he left the Bush administration. He has advised Romney on foreign policy since 2006. As Romney’s senior foreign policy adviser, he has backed an Israeli strike on Iran and promoted Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. During Romney’s trip to Israel in July, Romney cited Senor’s book about Israeli entrepreneurship in his heavily criticized remarks that suggested economic disparities between Israelis and Palestinians could be chalked up to “culture.”

If Senor was the one who advised Romney that Syria is Iran’s path to the sea, as Mitt Romney said during the foreign policy debate on Oct. 22 (Iran borders the Caspian Sea, the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, but not Syria), Senor’s grasp of the Middle East apparently is not much better than mentor Kristol’s, who famously played down the differences between Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims before the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

If you think the Obama administration is not hard enough on the malefactors of great wealth who drove the world into the economic ditch during the Bush Jr. administration, the prospect of a Romney administration should scare you. After all, Obama alienated Wall Street by backing the modest reforms of the Dodd-Frank bill in 2010 that tried to put some regulations back on the Wall Street casino — and that’s another bill that Romney would try to repeal on his first day in office.

Senor’s prominence in Romney’s circle of advisers foreshadows a foreign policy that would take a harder line against Iran, which probably would backfire by forcing moderate Iranians to embrace patriotic anti-Western views; he would embrace Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, which would alienate Palestinians as well as Arab neighbors; and he would give a green light to vulture capitalists such as Paul Singer to continue their buccaneering at home and abroad with the full faith and credit of the State Department as well as the US Treasury.

As election day approaches, vote early if you can. Celebrate if you can vote for a progressive Democrat (or independent, such as Sen. Bernie Sanders in Vermont), but settle for centrist Dems against nearly all Republicans. As we discovered after the 2010 election debacle, when progressives withhold votes from Democrats and let new Republican majorities push through draconian changes in a dozen states while they blocked progressive initiatives in Congress, the people who were punished are jobseekers who must forget about extended unemployment benefits; teachers and other public employees who find their pensions under attack to cut taxes for the rich; mothers in low-income families who find their food-stamp allocation shrinking and women’s health services cut off; and high school graduates who find that their only route to college runs through military service in Afghanistan and other hotspots to be determined because state lawmakers have reduced higher education appropriations and congressional Republicans have targeted Pell Grants. Elect candidates who will help. — JMC
From The Progressive Populist, November 15, 2012
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Selections from the November 15, 2012 issue

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Does Romney deserve a free pass on foreign policy because he never represented a nation?

By Marc Jampole
The consensus in the main stream news media is that Obama won the debate on foreign policy, but that Romney did okay.

The view that Romney held his own neglects the fact that Mitt once again repudiated 24 months worth of speeches and position papers to list to the center. He accused Obama of projecting weakness abroad and yet ended up saying he’d do exactly what the President has done. At certain points, Romney was incoherent in response to Obama’s articulate and respectful chiding.

Whoever wins the election, Obama’s line about Romney’s idea of increasing our battleships will go down as one of the greatest of all debate putdowns. Here is the most extended version of it:
“You mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military’s changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines…And so the question is not a game of Battleship, where we’re counting ships. It’s what are our capabilities.”

While demurring from the mainstream view that Romney did okay enough to help himself, I want to consider the excuse that some like Cokie Roberts gave for Romney: a sitting president has an enormous advantage over the challenger when it comes to foreign policy.

It sounds reasonable until you actually examine the evidence. Even after four years as president, Bush II had no more experience in foreign policy than Kerry. The same for Bob Dole and President Clinton; the same for Walter Mondale and President Reagan. While challenger Clinton’s and Reagan’s foreign policy credentials couldn’t compare to the incumbents, they articulated easy-to-understand global visions and voters hated the policies of the incumbents, Bush I and Jimmy Carter, respectively.

In short, lack of foreign policy experience is not an excuse for Romney, but a flaw in his candidacy that voters should and will weigh when deciding for whom to cast their vote.

At least the inexperienced Clinton and Reagan offered voters a choice, each in his own way. By contrast, Romney offers nothing different in substance or action from Obama. Mitt’s only difference on foreign policy is one of style. Instead of speaking softly and carrying a big stick—yet another way in which Barack Obama resembles past Republicans, Mitt would propose we thrust our horns out, snort, kick the earth a few times and plunge into that China shop.

As many Democratic, liberal and progressive candidates, office holders and pundits have already recommended, perhaps we should judge Romney by the advisors he has retained. About two-thirds are former Bush II officials and the main guys all advocated or helped to plan or wage the disastrous Iraq war. Romney himself has now flipped and flopped on every foreign policy issue; and on many of them he flipped and flopped in the third debate.  Maybe instead of believing that Mitt has settled in the center, we should instead assume that he will listen to his neo-con advisors. The guys who brought us an expensive goalless war, torture, diminished respect among our allies and the hatred of many in the Moslem world

We can’t afford to give Romney the chance to put the neo-con warmongers back in charge.

Monday, October 22, 2012

I thought Mitt’s big issue was low taxes for rich; turns out he wants to use presidency to make money

By Marc Jampole
Over the weekend I read Lee Fang’s expose of the “Romney Family Business” in the latest issue of The Nation.

All this time I thought that the only thing Mitt Romney really cared about was lowering taxes on the wealthy. It turns out he plans to peddle influence and sell off the government to cronies and those who pay to be his pal—CORRECTION—the pal of his son Tagg. You know the young Mormon who wanted to slug the President of the United States.

Lee Fang reports that Mitt’s tag-along son owns a company that is a fund of funds for rich investors. For a big take of the action and fees up front, Tagg’s company, Solamere, invests the money of very rich folk into various hedge funds and private equity funds. But they do it through a series of corporations in the Cayman Islands and elsewhere so that the investors don’t pay taxes. It makes the Bush family ties to Saudi oil interests seem virtuous.

But wait, it gets worse.

Investors expect, and get, special access to the presidency.

The article focuses on the potential for giving away the government store to cronies. Here’s one example of what we might expect from a Romney presidency: twice on the campaign trail, Mitt has gone out of his way to praise a for-profit college called Full Sale University in comments about education reform.  Full Sale is owned by one of the Solamere equity partners, TA Associates.  It’s a real bargain, too—LOL—the third most expensive college in the country.

We can expect Romney to privatize as much as he can and then give the rights away in sweetheart deals to cronies, defined as those who invest with Tagg.  BTW, here’s what privatization mean to the U.S. economy: middle class government jobs are replaced by jobs that pay less and more money goes to the executives and owners of the companies with the government contracts.

But wait, it gets worse.

Solamere has invested in Hart Intercivic, which makes voting machines that Politico reports are prone to failures and counting errors. And yes, the Hart Intercivic machines are being used on voting day in parts of Ohio. Of course the good little Tagg-along would never dream of cooking the voting books. That would be illegal.

At this point, it might be best to begin remembering the difference between aristocracy and plutocracy. Aristocrats can be rich or poor, although the rich aristocracy will often help poor relations, especially the talented ones, kind of like Gavin Newsom and John Kerry got help as youths. (Of course, when the help is offered to all regardless of family background it’s sometimes called a meritocracy and sometimes called godless socialism.)  You can’t stop being an aristocrat, because it’s in the blood.

But the plutocracy operates on a cash only basis. If you don’t have the money, you have no influence in government. Without the big bucks, you are essentially without a vote.

Keep that in mind in the case that Mitt Romney wins the presidency.

Do voters condone lying by candidates? Corruption of elections may begin with the public

By Marc Jampole
The reaction to the vice presidential and the second presidential debates reminds me of a mirror. When you look in a mirror you see yourself. In the case of these debates, it appears that opinion writers, pundits, political advisors and bloggers are all seeing what they want to see. Yes, I believe that both the President and Vice President kicked butt, but I’m a liberal. The twisted arguments I have read on both sides make me discount all opinions, including my own, as subjective wishful thinking. Maybe I’m just seeing the reflection of my own views in the mirror. As with the first debate, we really won’t know who won until we see the polls in about a week.

Perhaps the most talked-about moment in the debate has been Mitt Romney’s unfortunate elision of “binders full of resumes of women” into “binders full of women.” Many Democrats and feminists have been giving Romney a hard time about the remark. The remark as stated does commoditize women, that is, treat them as interchangeable commodities. But give the guy a break.  It was another verbal flub and nothing more. I’m not voting for Mitt because I don’t like his stands and his plans and I don’t think he would make a competent leader of a democracy, but I’m willing to give him a free pass on this remark and rather focus on his awful positions on women’s reproductive rights, health care, the fact that women still make less than men for the same jobs and other important issues. The election is too important to sweat the small stuff.

The fact that the story Romney told about his binders was false raises a more important issue—lying by candidates.  Romney said that he asked for the resumes, when in fact they had been given to him and his opponent in the election before the votes came out in Mitt’s favor.  The Republicans have used these kinds of distortions as a major strategy of the campaign, as fact-checking services have revealed time and again.

But does the public care if candidates lie?

An opinion poll on the homepage of Yahoo! the day before the second presidential debate suggests that many do not.

First, let’s be clear that these online polls are not scientific since people can vote more than once using different computers and the participants are not screened to represent an accurate demographic cross-section.  For example, the Yahoo! polls always skew slightly to the right, meaning that the results always favor the conservative view more than scientific polls conducted by reputable organizations do. This rightward lean could reflect the fact that retired people tend to be more conservative and have the time to do these polls, or it may suggest that Yahoo! is used by a right-leaning demographic or it may be caused by another factor.

The results of Yahoo! polls can be particularly suspect because instead of asking yes-and-no questions, the possible answers always come with a characterization that spins them in one way or another. Here’s today’s poll, for example:
Was Candy Crowley wrong to fact-check during the debate?
            Yes, it’s not the moderator’s place.
            No, she made a good correction.

But what if you think that it is the moderator’s place to fact-check, but do not think Crowley’s correction was accurate? How do you vote then?

Taking the inherent inaccuracies of the Yahoo! poll into account, I am nevertheless completely shocked and dismayed by the results of the Yahoo! Poll on candidates’ lying. Here’s what the approximately half million people who answered the question said:
Do you expect candidates to lie during the debates?
Yes, it’s part of the game: 58%
No, they should be honest: 42%

Even if we factor in people voting twice and take into account the chatty but distorting way Yahoo! asks its questions—even when we consider all those factors, we can only conclude that a large part of the American public believes that its okay for our candidates and elected officials to lie to us. (BTW, I don’t want anyone to infer that I believe that conservatives condone lying more than liberals or centrists. I don’t, although I do believe that the current crop of conservative politicians do lie a lot more than other candidates, and a lot more than conservatives of the 60’s and 70’s did).

Lying and corruption are supposed to be the exceptions that we root out of the system. We are supposed to be shocked when we see students in cheating scandals, scientists giving false results or executives cooking the books.  We’re supposed to base our decisions on the truth and consider the liar a pariah.

But evidently, large numbers of Americans have become ethically challenged. They believe that it’s not how you play the game, but if you win. They follow the cynical political philosopher Machiavelli and think that the ends justify the means.

Is this what the American compact has come down to? Lie to get what you want.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Romney tops 850 lies

During the town-hall debate on Long Island Tuesday, New York, Igor Volsky of counted 31 "myths" told by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney but Steve Benen of MaddowBlog identified 41 instances of Mitt's Mendacity, out of 49 misstatements of the truth told during the entire week.

Since Benen has been chronicling Mitt's Mendacity for 39 weeks, starting when the presidential campaign heated up in January, we consider Benen's as the official count, and Romney's 49 stretchers bring him to 857 told so far this year. If there is a bigger liar in American politics, we're at a loss to identify him. (We exclude active Fox News hosts and commentators.)

We expect Romney to breeze past 900 lies in this coming week -- we invite you to guess how many lies he will tell in Monday's foreign-policy debate -- but it will still challenge his creativity to reach the plateau of 1,000 lies in the two weeks remaining in the campaign.

As Benen wrote:

President Obama and his campaign team have been increasingly assertive of late in accusing Mitt Romney of dishonesty, but the president is still cautious in how he makes the charge. 
In this week's debate, for example, Obama was willing to go so far as to say, "Not true, governor," when the president heard something obviously false. The problem, of course, is that the Republican challenger strayed from the truth with unfortunate frequency -- leading Obama to repeat the words "not true" a half-dozen times. 
I suspect the president was probably annoyed, both with Romney's dishonesty and with the challenge of coming up with alternative ways to let the audience know the Republican was repeating falsehoods. I know the feeling ...