Check out what the loopy Ayn Randroids are up to now. In long-suffering Detroit, a libertarian real estate developer wants to buy a civic crown jewel, Belle Isle, the 982-acre park designed by Frederick Law Olmstead—think the Motor City’s Central Park—and turn it into an independent nation, selling citizenships at $300,000 per. Not, mind you, out of any mercenary motives, says would-be founder Rodney Lockwood—but just “to provide an economic and social laboratory for a society which effectively addresses some of the most important problems of American, and the western world.” (Sic.)
Address how? Well, let’s say I’ve never seen a document that better reveals the extent to which, for libertarians, “liberty” means the opposite of liberty—at least since Rick Santorum held up the company town in which his grandpa was entombed as a beacon of freedom.
An aspiring Ayn Rand himself, Lockwood has set out his vision in a “novel,” poetically titled Belle Isle: Detroit’s Game Changer. Although he’s actually done the master one better, by imagining he can get his utopia built. Last week he presented the plan, alongside a retired Chrysler executive, a charter school entrepreneur (who apparently enjoys a cameo in the novel running one of the island’s two K-12 schools) and a senior economist at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, to what The Detroit News called “a select group of movers and shakers at the tony Detroit Athletic Club,” who included the president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Never let it be said Rod Lockwood (perfect pornstar name? You be the judge) hasn’t thought this thing through. The plan is foolproof: “Belle Isle is sold by the City of Detroit to a group of investors for $1 billion. The island is then developed into a city-state of 35,000 people, with its own laws, customs and currency, under United States supervision as a Commonwealth.” Relations with neighboring, impoverished Detroit will be naught but copacetic, and not exploitative at all: “Plants will be built across the Detroit River…. with the engineering and management functions on Belle Isle. Companies from all over the world will locate on Belle Isle, bringing in massive amounts of capital and GDP.” (Because, you know, tax-dodging international financiers of the sort a scheme like this attracts are just desperate to open and operate factories.) Government will be limited to ten percent or less of GDP, “by constitutional dictate. The social safety net is operated charities, which are highly encouraged and supported by the government.”
Although, on Belle Isle, “the word ‘Government’ is discouraged and replaced with the word ‘Service’ in the name of buildings.” Note the verb-tense slippage between present and future throughout. Lockwood is a realist.
He says what he imagines is a “Midwest Tiger”—helpfully explaining that his self-bestowed nickname is “a play on the label given Singapore as the ‘Asian Tiger.’ Singapore, in recent decades, has transformed itself into the most dynamic economy in the world, through low regulation, low taxes and business-friendly practices.”
Singapore. You know: that libertarian paradise where chewing gum is banned; thousands of people each year are sentenced to whippings with rattan canes for such offenses as overstaying visas and spray-painting buildings; the punishment for littering can be $1,000, a term of forced labor and being required to wear a sign reading “I am a litter lout”; and where pornography, criticizing religion, connecting to an unsecured Wi-Fi hotspot and (yes!) over-exuberant hugging are all banned. Freedom!
What are the Commonwealth’s other inspirations, you ask? “The country of Liechtenstein, which, although a monarchy, has a very effective government.”
And indeed, just like little Liechtenstein, Belle Islanders will enjoy protection from America’s security umbrella: “As a Commonwealth of the United States…Belle Isle pays its share of the U.S. defense budget, based on its population. It amounts to about $2,000 per person per year.” In fact Belle Islanders can expect nothing but fiscal gratitude from citizens of the United States. Yes, “a citizen who lives on Belle Isle who operates an investment fund with world-wide customers will pay no income taxes” to the United States. “Won’t the US lose a lot of tax revenue?” Oh, ye of little libertarian faith. “It will probably gain revenue…. Entrepreneurs from around the world will locate on Belle Isle and headquarter there, but often have their plant operations in the US because the island is so small. Businesses producing products in the U.S. will still be taxed at US corporate rates…. the influx of capital and jobs will be staggering…. Detroiters will see this vision as the answer to their prayers, and how could the federal government deny Detroit a chance to turn itself around, accelerate its re-birth, all at no cost to the taxpayer? How could they deny this long standing population of over 700,000 their first real shot at the American dream.” (Sic.)
Want in? Three requirements. First, of course, you need to come up with $300,000. “Will the citizenship fee pay for the purchase of any land for homes or businesses on Belle Isle?” “No—that will be an additional cost.” But look what that $300,000 buys you: “One of the core values” of the new nation, Lockwood writes, “is respect for all its citizens, no matter their station in life.”
Second: approval by the “citizenship board.” (Freedom!) Third step: “a command of English.” Because nothing says “respect for all its citizens” like “funny-talkers need not apply.”
And yes, it’s true, Lockwood proposes the “Rand” as the name of Belle Isle’s currency. But I’m sure he means Rand as in “Ayn Rand,” not, you know, Rand as in “South Africa,” the former home of a social system that functioned by surrounding minority enclaves of affluent whites with a reserve army of impoverished and disenfranchised blacks. Not like that at all.
What could go wrong? What’s the downside? After all, writes Lockwood in the section of his FAQ asking, ‘What is Bell Isle used for currently?”, “It is uninhabited and functions as a public park.” Just like that dead zone between 59th and 110th Streets in Manhattan.
You can sign up for updates on the project here. Although, take note, in order do so you have to give the organizers your phone number. Because, you know… freedom.
By: Rick Perlstein, The Nation, January 28, 2013
One week from today, voters across the country will head to the polls and elect a president and a Congress. Literally billions of dollars have been spent so far to influence the outcome, not to mention countless hours of personal sacrifice and effort. Alas, politics is a zero-sum game: there will be no return on investment for the losers. Even if a candidate wins by a single vote, his or her backers can be rewarded with extraordinary power, access and profit, while the very narrow loser gets nothing, and the supporters, less—just red ink on the ledger.
So in this last week of campaigning, all the stops come out. For too many political operatives that have long since discarded notions of professional ethics, the only question about a dirty tactic is: will it work? In July, the answer is likely to be “probably not,” because the trick can be discovered and the candidate branded as dirty, or a cheater.
But now, with so little time left—with no real time for tricks to be exposed nor for narratives about questionable tactics to shape up—dirty moves look pretty appealing. (It also helps that the national press, aside from being overwhelmed with the conclusion of so many important races, is also distracted by a historically catastrophic storm).
And so we’ve seen them. On the top line, this dynamic probably explains the Romney campaign’s decision to run a series of ads in Ohio claiming that, thanks to Obama’s auto bailout, Chrysler is going to move all Jeep production to China. This is not true in any possible interpretation of the facts, and I have to think that, despite his loose relationship with the truth, there’s no way Romney would go this far out on a limb in the summer time. (As John Nichols writes today, “Yes, Romney’s a Liar, but This Is Getting Ridiculous.”) The company itself has blasted this as “a leap that would be difficult even for professional circus acrobats,” while assuring panicked workers, and Vice President Biden has aggressively fought back, asking “Have they no shame?” Newspapers editorials across the state are blasting Romney’s lie.
Normally, this is the type of blowback that would really harm a candidate, but the Romney camp’s calculation is clearly that there just isn’t time for that—and meanwhile, many low-information voters can be scared into voting Romney. I’m not sure that’s the right calculation, but one they’ve made: after three days of pushback from the company and pretty much everyone else, Romney responded Tuesday afternoon by releasing a radio version of the ad that’s even more dishonest than the original spot.
But beneath headline-level antics like this, things are getting even dirtier. Scott Keyes at ThinkProgress reported today that the Romney campaign in Wisconsin is training volunteers to explicitly mislead voters:
Documents from a recent Romney poll watcher training obtained by ThinkProgress contain several misleading or untrue claims about the rights of Wisconsin voters… One blatant falsehood occurs on page 5 of the training packet, which informed poll watchers that any “person [who] has been convicted of treason, a felony, or bribery” isn’t eligible to vote. This is not true. Once a Wisconsin voter who has been convicted of a felony completes his or her sentence, that person is once again eligible to vote.
The poll workers are also being given incomplete information as to what can be used as identification to vote in Wisconsin.
Meanwhile, voters in Virginia—where both the presidential race and key Senate race are essentially tied—are receiving truly deceptive robocalls about President Obama’s relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
First, the phone rings and “William Kristol” comes up on caller ID. (Yes, that one). His group, the Emergency Committee for Israel, is paying for the call, which features random remarks from different Obama and Netanyahu speeches spliced together as if the two had a debate—and one in which Obama basically tells Netanyahu to get lost. Ron Kampeas at JTA has the transcript:
DEBATE ‘MODERATOR’: Welcome to the first debate between Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Mr. President, we’ll start with you.
OBAMA: I’ve made it clear that the United States respects the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic of Iran and is not interfering with Iran’s affairs.
“MODERATOR”: Mr. President, thank you. Mr. Prime Minister, your response.
NETANYAHU: The Jewish state will not allow those who seek our destruction to possess the means to achieve that goal. A nuclear armed Iran must be stopped.
“MODERATOR”: Mr President, your rebuttal.
OBAMA: Obviously there are some differences between us.
ECI: Friends, Americans and Israel cannot afford four more years of Barack Obama. This call was paid for by the Emergency Committee for Israel because your vote will make the difference in this election.
I highly doubt Kristol would try this stunt in September. But in one week, there will be earth-shifting news about either the re-election of President Obama or the election of Mitt Romney. Nobody would care about a silly robocall in Virginia, despite the impact it may have had on voters in a critical state.
Look for more things like this in the week ahead—they are a virtual certainty. And if you get a weird robocall, or visit from a misleading activist, jot down the details and contact a friendly reporter. (My information is above, and local news reporters are likely to be interested as well).
By: George Zornick, The Nation, October 30, 2012
It is no secret that political candidates are capable of doing awful things when they are reach the desperate final days of an election campaign.
But trying to scare American workers into believing that a government initiative that saved their industry was some sort of secret scheme to shutter major plants and offshore jobs is more than just creepy. It’s economic fear-mongering of a sort that is destructive to the spirit of communities and to the very future of the republic as an industrial force.
George Romney, who led the remarkable American Motors Company project that would eventually produce the Jeep, never in a political career that saw him win election as governor of Michigan and seek the Republican nomination for president would have engaged in such calumny.
But George Romney’s ne’re-do-well son, a very different sort of businessman who devoted his career to taking apart American companies and offshoring jobs, is trying to resurrect his presidential candidacy with a big lie.
And the lie is about Jeeps.
Jeeps are made in Toledo, Ohio, where the iconic American vehicle has been produced since 1941, and Romney needs to win Toledo and the rest of northwest Ohio if he is to stand a chance of winning the battleground state that is key to the presidency.
Last week, Romney went to the region and shocked voters by suggesting that: “I saw a story today that one of the great manufacturers in this state, Jeep, now owned by the Italians, is thinking of moving all production to China.”
The story, an October 22 report by Bloomberg News, which specifically stated that: “Chrysler currently builds all Jeep SUV models at plants in Michigan, Illinois and Ohio. [Fiat/Chrysler executive Mike] Manley referred to adding Jeep production sites rather than shifting output from North America to China.”
Yet, Romney spoke of the company that manufactures Jeeps “moving all production to China.
The statement stirred fundamental fears in a regional that has been battered by plant closings. So much so that Jeep’s parent company, Chrysler, rushed to clarify that Romney was completely, totally, incredibly wrong. “Let’s set the record straight: Jeep has no intention of shifting production of its Jeep models out of North America to China,” announced Chrysler.
Company spokesman Gaulberto Ranieri said that Romney had remade the facts so aggressively that: “It is a leap that would be difficult even for professional circus acrobats.”
What was Romney’s response to being caught in a lie.
He lied bigger.
The Romney campaign is now airing an ad in Ohio that claims President Obama, with the auto bailout that saved domestic vehicle production, “sold Chrysler to Italians who are going to build Jeeps in China.”
The ad concludes that Romney—whose Bain Capital enterprise identified as “a pioneer of outsourcing”—“will fight for every American job.”
Kathleen Hall Jamieson, the director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, and one of the nation’s top experts on political advertising reviewed the ad and dismissed it as “inferentially false.”
“They are inviting a false inference,” Hall said of the Romney campaign’s attempt to suggest that Obama had engineered a change in Jeep’s status that would see the Toledo plant shuttered and its more than 3,500 workers idled.
The Washington Post “Fact Checker” site reviewed Romney’s ad and declared: “the overall message of the ad is clearly misleading—especially since it appears to have been designed to piggyback off of Romney’s gross misstatement that Chrysler was moving Ohio factory jobs to China.”
The pushback from Obama’s backers and his campaign has been aggressive.
Former President Bill Clinton flew to Ohio and decried Romney’s claim as “the biggest load of bull in the world.”
Vice President Joe Biden said: “I have never seen anything like that. It’s an absolutely, patently false assertion. It’s such an outrageous assertion that, one of the few times in my memory, a major American corporation, Chrysler, has felt obliged to go public and say, there is no truth.”
An Obama campaign ad announced that “now, after Romney’s false claim of Jeep outsourcing to China, Chrysler itself has refuted Romney’s lie.”
What was Romney’s response.
Up the ad buy.
Expand the big lie so that it is now enormous.
The deception has become such a serious issue that, on Tuesday, Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne felt compelled to clarify what is becoming an international controversy.
“Chrysler Group’s production plans for the Jeep brand have become the focus of public debate. I feel obliged to unambiguously restate our position: Jeep production will not be moved from the United States to China,” wrote Marchionne, who added:
North American production is critical to achieving our goal of selling 800,000 Jeep vehicles by 2014. In fact, U.S. production of our Jeep models has nearly tripled (it is expected to be up 185 percent) since 2009 in order to keep up with global demand…
With the increase in demand for our vehicles, especially Jeep branded vehicles, we have added more than 11,200 U.S. jobs since 2009. Plants producing Jeep branded vehicles alone have seen the number of people invested in the success of the Jeep brand grow to more than 9,300 hourly jobs from 4,700. This will increase by an additional 1,100 as the Liberty successor, which will be produced in Toledo, is introduced for global distribution in the second quarter of 2013.
There was nothing unambiguous about that statement. Yet Marchionne continued: “Jeep is one of our truly global brands with uniquely American roots. This will never change. So much so that we committed that the iconic Wrangler nameplate, currently produced in our Toledo, Ohio, plant, will never see full production outside the United States.”
“Jeep assembly lines will remain in operation in the United States and will constitute the backbone of the brand,” confirmed Marchionne. “It is inaccurate to suggest anything different.”
That’s a rare commitment by a manufacturer—far more clear and unequivocal than the commitment Bain Capital made to the companies it bought up, tore apart and outsourced.
Yet, Mitt Romney’s campaign is still running the ad.
That’s made United Auto Workers union president Bob King furious:
It is especially hypocritical of Mr. Romney’s statements and new ad is Bain Capital’s closing of profitable U.S. facilities and shifting work to China to make even higher profits like what is happening today in closing a profitable Sensata plant in Freeport, IL, to move the work to China. Romney says in the ad that he will fight for every American job, so why isn’t he fighting for the American jobs at Sensata? And why isn’t he intervening with his own Bain Capital to keep these jobs in the U.S. rather than outsourcing them to China? We just wish that Mr. Romney was as committed to investing in the U.S. as Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne is.
Americans will remember that President Obama stood behind American working families and American communities in rescuing the U.S. auto industry and that Mr. Romney opposed the rescue and now attacks Chrysler with misinformation. In putting out this misinformation, Romney is recklessly undermining Chrysler’s reputation and threatening good American jobs.
Imagine if Mitt Romney were to be elected president of the United States.
Imagine if he had to go into negotiations with Marchionne, or another CEO of another industrial giant, about protecting US jobs. Or expanding US manufacturing.
Would the executive trust Romney?
Or would the executive remember Romney as the politician who lied and then lied bigger in order to get what he wanted?
That’s a question that American voters who want their country to have a future as a country that makes cars and trucks and Jeeps would be wise to ponder as November 6 approaches.
By; John Nichols, The Nation, October 30, 2012
Over the weekend, a top GOP aide said President Obama got the idea from Romney. A look at his past positions shows that’s not true.
Over the weekend, top Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom made an audacious claim:
“[Romney's] position on the bailout was exactly what President Obama followed. I know it infuriates them to hear that…. The only economic success that President Obama has had is because he followed Mitt Romney’s advice.”
As Fehrnstrom predicted, liberals are reacting with irritation and incredulity. They point out — not for the first time — that Romney published a New York Times op-ed in November 2008, even before Obama had taken office, headlined, “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.”
The case is actually a little more complex than that, although Fehnstrom’s claim is still hard to take seriously. To understand how we got here, here’s a brief history of Romney’s statements on the car industry.
During the 2008 primary campaign, Romney won Michigan, a victory that was in part attributed to his promises to save the Motor City’s main industry. “If I am president, I will not rest until Michigan is back,” he said. “Michigan can once again lead the world’s automotive industry.” His campaign contrasted that with John McCain, who said, “I’ve gotta look you in the eye and tell you that some of those jobs aren’t coming back.” Romney’s main policy prescription was a series of federal spending for retraining and green tech, to be doled out in $20 billion chunks over five years. The McCain campaign derided thisas a “$100 billion bailout of the auto industry.”
By November 2008, shortly after Obama’s election, the economy was in free-fall. Here’s an excerpt from Romney’s now-infamous column:
If General Motors, Ford and Chrysler get the bailout that their chief executives asked for yesterday, you can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye. It won’t go overnight, but its demise will be virtually guaranteed. Without that bailout, Detroit will need to drastically restructure itself …. Detroit needs a turnaround, not a check.
Romney called for a “managed bankruptcy,” in which company’s executives would be replaced and union contracts would be renegotiated with more favorable terms. Reversing his position during the Republican primary, he said shedding excess workers was now essential. He wanted the government to oversee the bankruptcy but for it be paid for with private-sector funding. But as former Obama administration “car czar” Steven Rattner and others have pointed out, there did not appear to be any private money on the sidelines. Markets were in disarray and credit was drying up fast — and so, they argue, the federal government’s coffers were the only thing standing between GM and the company’s total demise.
In May 2009, Romney appeared on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace, who pressed him on the issue:
WALLACE: Wouldn’t that, at a time when we were in the depths of the recession, when we were really right in the midst of what looked like a financial crisis — wouldn’t that have been disastrous for the economy?
ROMNEY: It’d have been precisely the right thing to do for the economy. To help General Motors at that point, before it had received tens of billions of dollars from the government, go through a structured process either in court or out of court to rid itself of its excessive union contract obligations, would have been the right course, and at that point the government could have helped with warranty guarantees and so forth, with debtor possession financing …. We wouldn’t have closed the business down or liquidated it, we instead would have helped it restructure. It was the right course to take, it’s being taken now, too late unfortunately, and as a result the government ends up with more than 70 percent of GM.
Already, we can see Romney struggling with the issue. But the gist of his main answer is already in place: The government funding was wrong, but the restructuring was right.
In June 2011, he reprised this point on the CBS Early Show: “When I wrote that the auto industry was asking for a bailout, we are unwise to send billions of dollars [to companies], instead — finally — the president recognized I was right, and finally took the company, in the case at General Motors, the company finally went through bankruptcy and went through a managed bankruptcy, came out of bankruptcy and is now recovering.”
With the Michigan primary looming in late February 2012, and his numbers sagging as Rick Santorum surged, Romney was again on the defensive. On February 14, he wrote an op-ed in the Detroit News (now paywalled online), writing, “The president tells us that without his intervention things in Detroit would be worse. I believe that without his intervention things there would be better.” He appeared with Wallace a few days later, and the host again pressed him. Romney once again insisted that GM could have gone through a managed bankruptcy without federal bailout funds.
That brings us to the present day, and Fehrnstrom’s comments. There have been two important shifts in Romney’s position. The first is from pre-recession, 2008 campaign Romney, who supported a $100 billion government investment in maintaining Detroit jobs, to recession-era Romney, who adopted the idea that the automakers needed pain — including potentially significant job loss — to survive. The major questions here are (1) whether it was feasible for the companies to find private financing to restructure and (2) whether the associated job loss and economic ripple effects would have been acceptable. While Romney is correct that the restructuring was what he suggested, his idea at the time was hardly unique; there was a consensus that the companies needed to be significantly reshaped. The question was how to do it, and he said the answer was without federal funds.
The second shift is from the the stance Romney has taken since his op-ed to Fehrstrom’s comments on Sunday. Fehrnstrom is overreaching in claiming that Obama adopted “exactly” what Romney recommended, given his longstanding opposition to the bailouts. It’s understandable that Romney would want to align himself with the successful rescue of the auto industry: While the bailouts are still unpopular with Americans overall, a plurality agree that they helped the economy. Moreover, the move is comparatively popular in Rust Belt states and among working-class white voters with whom Obama is otherwise weak.
Romney’s position on how to handle the carmakers may not have been realistic, but it was far less cartoonish than his liberal critics have suggested. Trying to rewrite history, however, won’t answer their attack.
By: David A. Graham, Associate Editor, The Atlantic, April 30, 2012
As is the case with many politicians, Mitt Romney’s greatest strength is also his biggest weakness. His experience as a corporate executive should make him a good presidential candidate in a year when the economy is bad. However, while the former liberal and former governor of Massachusetts can speak fluently about the economic big picture he is completely tone deaf when he tries to relate to the middle class families who are hurting so badly.
Romney can’t even relate to the average race fan. Yesterday, at the Daytona 500 track, a reporter asked him if he followed NASCAR. Romney said he didn’t follow the sport “as closely as some ardent fans, but I have some friends who are NASCAR team owners.” That’s Romney’s problem in a nutshell. He knows the owners of most corporations but doesn’t know any of the employees.
Friday, speaking in Detroit, which is the poorest city in America, Romney told voters that his wife “drives a couple of Cadillacs, actually.” Romney could promise to put two Cadillacs in every garage but it wouldn’t have the same ring as Herbert Hoover pledging to put a single chicken in every pot.
Last June, Romney told voters, “I’m also unemployed.” It’s easier for Romney to be unemployed than other people since he has stashed millions of dollars in bank accounts in Switzerland and the Cayman Islands. If he keeps talking like that he’ll still be unemployed next year.
Last August he told an Iowan, “Corporations are people, my friend.” If corporations are people, why isn’t the investment firm Goldman Sachs doing a long stretch in a federal pen for defrauding thousands of investors?
Instead of sympathy from the former Bain capitalist, voters get a 59 point economic plan and power point presentations. Then, of course, he asked Texas Gov. Rick Perry to agree to a casual $10,000 bet. I could go on and on, but I don’t have the space here to chronicle every misstep Romney has made when he tries to relate to working families.
Romney’s platform betrays his background as much as his personality.
Mitt supported the Wall Street bailout for bankers and billionaires but opposed the GM bailout that saved the jobs of thousands of auto workers.
Mitt supports the Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget which decreases federal spending for financial assistance for seniors who can’t afford to heat their homes but preserves the federal freebies to big oil to the tune of $4 billion a year.
Romney, like many other prominent politicians, is of the manor born. But Mitt, unlike the others, never developed the common touch. Franklin Delano Roosevelt came from the same privileged background as Romney, but he could talk to an assembly line worker or a farmer without sounding patronizing. When Bill Clinton told Americans in 1992 that “I feel your pain,” he meant it because he had felt the pain as a boy growing up in a poor town in Arkansas. In contrast Clinton’s opponent, the patrician president George H. W. Bush didn’t even know what a super market scanner was.
You can take Mitt out of the manor but you can’t take the manor out of Mitt.
By: Brad Bannon, U. S. News and World Report, February 27, 2012