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The Real Battle For The Soul Of America

Mitt Romney likes to say that this election is a battle for “the soul of America.” He’s right — just not in the way that he thinks.

Romney asserts that President Obama wants to “fundamentally transform America,” turning the country “into a European-style entitlement society.” In fact, Romney and his Republican presidential rivals have a far more radical transformation in mind. They envision a dramatically shrunken federal government and a dangerously unraveled social safety net.

Theirs is not the self-styled compassionate conservatism of a George W. Bush. “It is compassionate to actively help our fellow citizens in need,” Bush said in 2002. “It is conservative to insist on responsibility and results.”

A decade and a Tea Party later, active help — at least active help from the federal government — is out of Republican fashion. Of course Republicans have traditionally favored state over federal involvement, but the degree of proposed retrenchment during the current campaign is remarkable — and troubling.

Consider Romney’s answer to a question at the last debate about the safety net in an age of austerity:

“Well, what we don’t need is to have a federal government saying we’re going to solve all the problems of poverty across the entire country, because what it means to be poor in Massachusetts is different than Montana and Mississippi and other places in the country,” Romney said.

“And that’s why these programs, all these federal programs that are bundled to help people and make sure we have a safety net, need to be brought together and sent back to the states. And let states that are closest to the needs of their own people craft the programs that are able to deal with the needs of those folks.”

Romney went on to tick off specific programs: food stamps, housing vouchers, Medicaid, emergency heating assistance.

“What unfortunately happens is, with all the multiplicity of federal programs, you have massive overhead with government bureaucrats in Washington administering all these programs. Very little of the money that’s actually needed by those that really need help, those that can’t care for themselves, actually reaches them,” Romney added.

Nice talking point, if it were true. As the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities has demonstrated, the major programs for the poor are extraordinarily efficient, even taking into account state as well as federal administrative costs. In 2010, 96.2 percent of Medicaid spending went for care; 94.6 percent of food stamp spending went for food; and 90.9 percent of housing program dollars went to rental assistance for low-income tenants.

Even for the man who ran Bain Capital, that shouldn’t seem like massive overhead.

The more important point is the degree to which Romney & Co.’s back-to-the-states approach would shred protections for the most vulnerable Americans. Romney’s observation about the differences between being poor in Massachusetts and Mississippi underscores the importance of a national safety net. Mississippi has more needs, and less money, than does Massachusetts.

Indeed, it was Richard Nixon who, reacting to reports about pockets of deep poverty and hunger in a wealthy nation, instituted a guaranteed federal minimum income for the elderly and disabled (Supplemental Security Income, or SSI) and set national eligibility levels for food stamps.

Imagine what would have happened during the recession if, say, food stamps — now known as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) — were a fixed block grant to states, as Romney envisions. Needs rose dramatically, but states, already strapped for cash, would not have been able to meet them.

Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, understands the importance of the federal role — or once did. His observations about the need to return control to states came in the context of a discussion about the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).

Yet Gov. Romney, in 2003, called on Congress to “support the highest possible funding,” adding, “We need to get the funds to those who need help the most to stay safe and warm this winter.”

Indeed, one of Romney’s leading supporters in New Hampshire, Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte, is lobbying for more LIHEAP money —  funding, by the way, that the president proposed cutting, and that already comes in the form of a block grant to states that decide how to use it.

It’s an important safety net,” Ayotte told Newsweek. “I’m not against having a safety net for those who are most in need.”

Is Romney? Are his rivals? Because the impact of their plans would be to shred the safety net. Making sure that doesn’t happen is the real battle for America’s soul.


By: Ruth Marcus, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, January 12, 2012

January 15, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The GOP’s Blatant Racism

In the British original of The Office the main protagonist, David Brent (US reincarnation: Michael Scott), wistfully recalls a tender moment during his favorite war film, The Dam Busters, involving the hero pilot, Wing Commander Guy Gibson. “Before he goes into battle, he’s playin’ with his dog,” says Brent.

“Nigger,” says his sidekick, Gareth (Dwight in the States), recalling with glee the name of the dog.

Brent flinches, eager to mitigate the slur. “Yeah!… it was the ’40s,” he says, “before racism was bad.”

The problem with the illusion of a postracial society is that at almost any moment the systemic nature of racism, its legacy, methods and impulses, might have to be rediscovered and restated as though for the first time. If the problem has gone away, those who point it out or claim to experience it are, by definition, living in the past. Those who witness it in action must be imagining things. Those who practice it are either misunderstood or maligned.

So it has been these past few weeks with Republicans on the stump, campaigning as though in a time “before racism was bad,” when Rick Perry’s family had a hunting lodge known as Niggerhead and white people could just run their mouth without consequences. In Sioux City, Iowa, Rick Santorum was asked a question about foreign influence on the economy. As he meandered incoherently through his answer, he came out with this gem:

“I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money; I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money.”

“Right,” said one audience member, as another woman nodded.

“And provide for themselves and their families,” Santorum added, to applause. “The best way to do that is to get the manufacturing sector of the economy rolling again.”

The black population of Sioux City is 2.9 percent. In Woodbury County, in which Sioux City sits, 13 percent of the people are on food stamps, an increase of 26 percent since 2007, with nine times as many whites as blacks using them.

Just a few days later, in Plymouth, New Hampshire, Newt Gingrich told a crowd, “I will go to the NAACP convention and explain to the African-American community why they should demand paychecks…[instead of] food stamps.” African-Americans make up 0.8 percent of Plymouth’s population. Food stamp use in Grafton County is 6 percent—a 48 percent increase since 2007.

And then there’s Ron Paul, who would like to repeal civil rights legislation and who once claimed that “order was only restored in LA [after the Rodney King riots] when it came time for the blacks to pick up their welfare checks.” Or at least newsletters bearing his name did—newsletters he paid for and once defended. Paul now claims that they had nothing to do with him.

The point here is not to accuse the GOP hopefuls of racism. That would be too predictable and has been done with great effect elsewhere, prompting denials that are beyond pathetic. Ron Paul, it turns out, has been passing as Malcolm X. “I’m the only one up here and the only one [including] in the Democratic Party that understands true racism in this country is in the judicial system,” he said. Santorum’s defense, on the other hand, is that he temporarily lost the ability to speak English. The best he could come up with, after several attempts, was that he really said “blah” people.

Neither is the point to show how Republicans leverage racial anxiety for electoral effect. According to the Agriculture Department, more whites use food stamps than blacks and Latinos combined. By coloring poverty and food insecurity black, even in areas where few black people exist, Republicans hope to spin food stamps as a racial entitlement program, diverting attention from their attempts to balance the budget on the stomachs of the poor. Republicans want to slash spending on food stamps by around 20 percent and in June voted to cut the WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program, which provides assistance to poor pregnant women, mothers and children, by 10 percent. All of this is important. But efforts to encourage whites to identify with their race rather than their class, as though the two could be separated and then ranked, is an age-old ploy perfected first by Southern Democrats.

No, what feels new here is the collapse of the broad consensus about racial discourse in electoral politics since the ’60s. The Nixon Strategy dictated that racism would continue to be an integral part of electoral campaigns, but those who used it would work in code. Reagan visited Philadelphia, Mississippi, where three civil rights workers were murdered, to talk about “states’ rights” and went on to trash “welfare queens”; George W. Bush spoke at Bob Jones University; his dad had “Willie” Horton (the architect of that ad is now on Team Romney). The point was to frame a politics that scapegoated blacks in a manner that racists would recognize but that would also provide plausible deniability against accusations of racism.

Today it seems as though Republicans who might be put off by racist rhetoric are in short supply, as though the presence of a black president has left them blind to their own sophism. No candidate’s polling numbers nose-dived after his remarks; there was precious little in the way of mainstream media frenzy—as recently as 2006, George Allen’s “Macaca moment” cost him his Senate seat. There is no parsing these statements. They are what they are. We are back to the days when conservatives feel comfortable calling a spade a spade. Some commentators have described it as a dog whistle: a call set to a tone that rallies some without disturbing others—a special frequency for the inducted. But this is no dog whistle. This is Wing Commander Gibson taking his mutt for a walk and calling him loudly and fondly by name.


By: Gary Younge, The Nation, January 10, 2012

January 15, 2012 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Racism | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Scott Walker, Texas Ranger: Taking On “The Evil Empire Of Public Employees’ Unions”

While Rick Perry campaigned in South Carolina Thursday, criticizing Mitt Romney’s tenure at Bain while bragging about his own pro-business record, another controversial conservative governor was hanging out in Texas: Scott Walker. The Wisconsin governor, who sparked a firestorm last spring with his effort to eliminate collective-bargaining rights for state employees, keynoted a lunch at the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s annual legislative orientation, held at the Hilton Hotel. Outside, a large crowd protested with signs supporting the effort to recall the polarizing Wisconsin chief executive.

The Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF)—a think tank with a clear and aggressive policy agenda of slashing government until it’s all but nonexistent—is a dominant player in Texas conservative politics. While the Texas Legislature won’t meet until next year, TPPF’s annual policy orientation is nonetheless a gathering of many big names in Texas politics, and its panels often help set the conservative agenda. Not surprisingly, the group ferociously defends Perry’s record in Texas, arguing that the Texas model is the one every state might emulate. Walker was there to tell them just how much he agreed. But not before a Russian-doll-like series of introductions set the stage for him.

“If America is where the world turns for liberty, Texas is where America turns,” began Brooke Rollins, the president and CEO of TPPF. Then came Wendy Gramm, the wife of former Senator Phil Gramm, Ronald Reagan’s favorite economist, and a woman now perhaps best known for sitting on Enron’s board during its scandal. She currently chairs TPPF’s board of directors. She was introducing Steve Moore, the former head of the Club for Growth.

In case Walker’s appearance didn’t already have enough gravitas, Moore decided to offer some scale. He explained that Walker is “a hero of our movement” for having taken on “the evil empire of the public employees’ unions.” “I have very rarely seen such a profile in courage,” Moore told the crowd.

When Walker finally walked on stage, the room of conservative policymakers gave him a standing ovation just for showing up. You might say it was a friendly crowd.

The thing is, though, that none of Walker’s actions sound particularly revolutionary in Texas. The Wisconsin governor outlined his policy approach—tort reform, lowering taxes, and dismantling union power—to a crowd that lives in a right-to-work state with low taxes and few regulations. Walker hardly needed to explain why raising taxes wasn’t an option. For most Texas Republicans, to do so would be heretical. While Wisconsin protests against Walker were bringing that state to a standstill last year, Perry signed a budget slashing state services, including a more-than 10 percent cut in education funding, and it’s still unclear whether there will be any political ramifications. In a state where Republicans have won every statewide race for over a decade, the thing Texas conservatives are sometimes missing is an enemy.

Walker, on the other hand, isn’t lacking for foes. Walker’s war stories about dealing with protesters and fighting against the Wisconsin teachers’ unions captivated his audience. “Collective bargaining is not a right,” he told the cheering crowd. “Collective bargaining is an expensive entitlement, and it’s time we stood up and put the power back in the hands of the taxpayers!”

“The reason I became the number-one target of 2012 public employees’ union is because I took away their money,” he went on, later noting that after his policies took effect, one union fired 42 percent of its staff. The crowd chortled at that. Walker noted that he would almost undoubtedly face a recall election this summer and that the opposition had more intensity and enthusiasm than the taxpayers he’d been protecting.

When Rollins came back on stage to thank the governor, she seemed enchanted. Walker’s story, she said, reminded her of Ronald Reagan’s speech on the 40th anniversary of D-Day. She read selections from Reagan’s speech that detailed the courage of Marines, and explained that “the courage and the incredible heart that it takes to do the right thing is something that is missing from the public square.”

She then noted that she was “not comparing the AFL-CIO to Germans.”

That didn’t stop the crowd from giving Walker his second standing ovation.

January 15, 2012 Posted by | Collective Bargaining, Public Employees, Unions | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Untenable Figure: Mitt Romney And 100,000 Jobs

Last week, when we first looked at the former Massachusetts governor’s claim that “we helped create over 100,000 new jobs,” his campaign provided a list that included the growth in jobs from three companies that it said Romney helped to start or grow while at Bain Capital: Staples (a gain of 89,000 jobs), The Sports Authority (15,000 jobs), and Domino’s (7,900 jobs).

As we noted,  “This tally obviously does not include job losses from other companies with which Bain Capital was involved — and are based on current employment figures, not the period when Romney worked at Bain.”

Glenn Kessler live chatted with readers on this topic.  Read the chat transcript now.

In Saturday’s ABC News-Yahoo debate, Romney expanded on the list: “There’s a steel company called Steel Dynamics in Indiana, thousands of jobs there; Bright Horizons Children’s Centers, about 15,000 jobs there; Sports Authority, about 15,000 jobs there, Staples alone, 90,000 employed. That’s a business that we helped start from the ground up.”

Last week, when we looked at this 100,000 figure, we evaluated it along with Romney’s claims about President Obama’s job creation figures, which overall earned One Pinocchio. Earlier, we had ruled that it was all but impossible to prove or disprove Romney’s claims on job creation. But in light of Romney’s comments during the debate and some additional research, we have come to a new assessment.

The Facts

By all accounts, Romney was a highly successful venture capitalist. While running Bain Capital, he helped pick some real winners, earning his investors substantial returns. High finance is a difficult subject to convey in a sound bite, so Romney evidently has chosen to focus on job creation.

This is a mistake, because it overstates the purposes of Bain’s investments and has now led Romney into a factually challenging cul-de-sac.

Romney never could have raised money from investors if the prospectus seeking $1-million investments from the super wealthy had said it would focus on creating jobs. Instead, it said: “The objective of the fund is to achieve an annual rate of return on invested capital in excess of the returns generated by conventional investments in the public equity market and the private equity market.”

Indeed, the prospectus never mentions “jobs,” “job,” or “employees.”

Second, it has become increasingly hard to understand how Romney’s personal involvement played a role in creating these jobs, especially years later.  He clearly is adding up all the jobs now at the companies that are thriving, arguing these numbers far outweigh the job losses at companies that failed. But as the Wall Street Journal reported Monday, the failure rate one can attribute to Bain Capital changes significantly if one counts five years from an investment or eight years from an investment.

Bain, in fact, rejected the Journal’s analysis, saying it  “uses a fundamentally flawed methodology that unfairly assigns responsibility to us for many events that occurred in companies when we did not own or control them, and disregards dozens of successful venture capital investments.”

In other words, Bain appears to be rejecting a central premise of Romney’s calculation — that years after the investment ended, one can attribute either good news or bad news about the company to Bain’s involvement.

Romney is generally careful to use phrases such as “helped create.” He also acknowledged Saturday that we “were investors to help get them going.” But even that overstates the case.

Bain may have provided management expertise or money when others would not, but a company such as Staples — one of the biggest contributors to Romney’s job figures — was largely the brainchild of entrepreneur Tom Stemberg. Stemberg presumably should get most of the credit for inventing a killer new business category. (Left unsaid, of course, is all the jobs that might have been lost at small stationery stores unable to compete with the low prices of Staples, Office Depot and so forth.)

Moreover, should Romney even get any credit for jobs at Domino’s, as his campaign claims? The deal in which Bain Capital bought Domino’s closed on Dec. 21, 1998, according to a Domino’s news release that referred to “Milt Romney.” Less than two months later Romney had left Bain to run the Salt Lake Olympics, meaning he had barely any role in running the company once it became part of the Bain investment portfolio.

When Romney made a run for the governorship, the Boston Globe reported in 2002 that he had not been involved in the details of many deals toward the end of his Bain experience: “These days, Romney can say he hasn’t inked a deal in many years. Even during the end of his tenure at Bain, from 1994 to 1999, he played the role of CEO and rainmaker rather than delving into the details of buyouts.”

Interestingly, when Romney ran for the Senate in 1994, his campaign only claimed he had created 10,000 jobs. In one ad, a narrator said: “Mitt Romney has spent his life building more than 20 businesses and helping to create more than 10,000 jobs. So when it comes to creating jobs, he’s not just talk. He’s done it.”

Now, apparently, those 10,000 jobs have increased tenfold, apparently in part because of Bain investments in which Romney had at best a tangential role.

In the 2008 presidential campaign, as far as we can tell, Romney never highlighted any number for jobs created, having learned a lesson from how ruthlessly he was attacked by Sen. Edward Kennedy in that Senate race for jobs lost through Bain investments.

We asked the Romney campaign for a response, but did not get one.

The Pinocchio Test

Romney certainly has a good story to tell about knowing how to manage a business, spotting opportunities and understanding high finance. But if he is to continue to make claims about job creation, the Romney campaign needs to provide a real accounting of how many jobs were gained or lost through Bain Capital investments while the firm managed these companies — and while Romney was chief executive. Any jobs counted after either of those data points simply do not pass the laugh test.


By: Glenn Kessler, The Washington Post, January 10, 2012

January 15, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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