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“Democracy Is An Annoying Obstacle”: Plutocrat Bosses To Employees, “Vote For Romney, Or Else”

It’s quickly becoming the story of the election season. Every day there’s a new report of bosses putting pressure on employees to vote for Mitt Romney or very bad things will happen. The threats range from job loss to wage cuts, and the Gilded Age-style strong-arming shows no signs of slowing.

Most recently, we’ve learned that Arthur Allen, CEO of ASG Software Solutions, sent an email to workers with the following subject line: “Will the US Presidential election directly impact your future jobs at ASG? Please read below.”

David Siegel, the billionaire founder of Westgate Resorts, has been playing the worker intimidation game. So have the Koch brothers, sending anti-Obama voter materials to 45,000 employees of their Georgia Pacific subsidiary (thanks to AlterNet’s Adele Stan for bringing us that story). In Michigan, the president of Lacks Enterprises warned his company’s 2,300 employees that their paychecks will shrink if Obama is re-elected.

On a June conference call to the National Federation of Independent Businesses, Mitt Romney himself enthusiastically pushed the tactic:

“I hope you make it very clear to your employees what you believe is in the best interest of your enterprise and therefore their job and their future in the upcoming elections.”

At a time of rampant job insecurity, workers across the country are fearful of doing anything to jeopardize their paychecks. And in a tight race, every vote counts.

Which is what the plutocrats are worried about.

Unfortunately, the history of worker intimidation during election season has a long and sordid history in the United States. Thomas Ferguson, professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, notes that such activity has repeatedly bubbled up during periods of turmoil: “In the 19th century, voting was often public, so manufacturers would sometimes march their workers to the polls to vote as a bloc,” said Ferguson. “In company towns, employers used all kinds of tactics to intimidate workers. During political crises, such as the 1890s or the New Deal, heavy-handed efforts by employers to influence worker votes were rampant. In 1896, for example, factory owners posted signs saying that their businesses would close if Republican William McKinley lost to William Jennings Bryan. Similar efforts also marked the New Deal elections of 1936 and 1940.”

In a nation where children are taught that every citizen has the right to vote, it would be nice to think that voter intimidation was relegated to the history books by the Voting Rights Act of 1965. But that legislation only outlawed the targeting of voters by race or color.

Bosses have little to fear from knowingly misinforming or threatening workers during election season. Calculated and determined efforts at worker intimidation are as brazen as ever this year. Professor Ferguson notes that the waning power of unions, along with non-enforcement of laws, has emboldened employers. CEOs are feeling quite comfortable putting their intimidation efforts into writing and making them public. There is no federal election law that specifically blocks bosses from telling workers they could lose their jobs if they vote for a particular person.

Defenders of the practice like to say that bosses are just expressing their opinions, much in the way a union might expressing political opinions to the owner of a firm. Except for this small difference: a union can’t fire an employee.

The recent voter intimidation frenzy points to the plutocrats’ pesky problem of basic math: They are outnumbered. Citizen United, which unleashed unlimited corporate spending, certainly tilted things in their favor, but even that has not been enough to ensure that the presidency is in their pocket. The 2008 financial crash and ensuing recession have exposed enough of their dangerous and criminal activity to make voters question the idea of putting a financier in the White House. Ironically, a Romney win would likely lead to austerity policies that would weaken the economy and make the products and services of most businesses harder to sell. But plutocrats can see no further than the number represented by their marginal tax rates, and so they must have Romney in Washington. Democracy is merely an annoying obstacle.


By: Lynn Stuart Parramore, Sr. Editor, AlterNet, October 16, 2012

October 17, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Aiding And Abetting”: How The Press Helped Mitt Romney Reinvent Himself

Analyzing the presidential campaign in the wake of the first debate, Time’s Mark Halperin wrote on October 10 that Mitt Romney’s sudden “rush to the center” politically had emerged as the key topic – “the central tactical issue”– for the Barack Obama’s team to address. Halperin stressed it would be a challenge for Democrats because the Romney’s campaign’s “brazen chutzpah knows no bounds.”

How odd. At the first debate Romney had so brashly reinvented himself by shifting his position on taxation, immigration and health care away from the Republican Party, that the onus was on Obama to counter Romney’s slick maneuver. In other words, Romney’s flip-flops, according to Halperin, were a major problem for the Obama campaign, not for the Republican who late in the game unveiled a new political persona. (Farewell “severely conservative.”)

It’s also telling that on October 10, Halperin considered Romney’s makeover into a moderate to be the campaign’s dominant issue. Yet one week earlier on the night of the first debate when Halperin graded both participants, the pundit made no reference to Romney’s “rush to the center.” In real time, Halperin heaped praise on Romney’s style “(Started strong, level, and unrattled — and strengthened as he went along”) as well as his substance (“He clearly studied hard.”)

Final grade, Romney: A-

Between the first debate and October 10, Romney’s brazen flip-flops were not subject to any serious critique from Time’s political team. What coverage Romney received for altering his campaign positions (aka his “tack toward the political center“) mostly revolved around how conservative activists reacted to Romney’s sudden embrace of moderate rhetoric. (They’re totally fine with it.) Time was much less interested in what the about-faces said about Romney’s candidacy, his character or what his presidency might look like.

The fact that the Republican candidate had radically altered his positions on core domestic issues just one month before Election Day was not treated as a campaign evolution that reflected poorly on Romney. To the contrary, it was largely portrayed as a savvy move by the Republican.

Time’s soft peddling of Romney’s broad reinvention was typical of how the Beltway press has politely covered the candidate’s latest chameleon turn.

Politicians once flip-flopped at their own risk knowing the price they’d likely pay from the hypocrisy-sensitive press corps. Indeed, there was a time when it meant something if a candidate made it clear he didn’t believe what he had been saying on the campaign trial, and the press held that revelation against the candidate. Recall that Al Gore was hammered in the press in 2000 as a politician without any core convictions. And George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign was largely built around calling Sen. John Kerry a flip-flopper; a tag that stuck thanks in part to the press coverage.

But this campaign Romney has mostly skated through his latest reincarnation, as pundits marvel at the political ease and wisdom of his flip-flops: “Crafty” announced The Daily Beast. At BuzzFeed, Blake Zeff suggested Romney had bet his entire campaign on the hope that “the era of the flip-flop as untenable, campaign-ending, non-starter is over.” It if is, Romney has the press to thank.

Just look at how his jarring reversals have been watered down in recent days [emphasis added]:

• “Romney ditched that strategy and repeatedly softened the ideological contrasts with Obama.” [Daily Beast]

• “Romney polished the rough edges” [Los Angeles Times]

• “Behind the new efforts by the Romney campaign to soften his conservative edges” [New York Times]

• “It also meant altering or softening his positions on a handful of bedrock issues.” (BuzzFeed)

Romney abandoning the hard-right persona he crafted and campaigned on for the last four years is ‘softening the edges’? Besides, Romney’s maneuver is no big deal, goes the media narrative, because candidates always shift their beliefs for the general election.

From the Washington Post:

Of course, a second-half pivot is a time-honored maneuver in the political playbook. In a primary campaign, a candidate must play to the passions of the base; as he moves toward the general election, the sensibilities of swing voters become paramount.

Right. But we’re not talking about a “time honored” primary-to-general election pivot happening now. We’re talking about a candidate who was trailing in the polls and who decided in October to reinvent himself. That’s not the norm in American politics, although the press has tried to pretend it is. Note that when Obama did reverse his position on the issue gay marriage in May, he offered a public, detailed explanation as to why. Not Romney. He doesn’t bother to explain his campaign 180s and the press doesn’t seem care.

They’re too busy admiring the “chutzpah,” as Halperin called it.

These tweets last week from Politico reporter Ben White helped capture the media’s admiration for Romney’s flip-flops:

Very soon the Mitt Romney who ran in the primaries will be entirely erased. In his place will be a moderate who may win.

— Ben White (@morningmoneyben) October 10, 2012

Want to know why Romney is softening on abortion? Married moms in swing states, per Bloomberg poll.

— Ben White (@morningmoneyben) October 10, 2012

Dismiss it as etch-a-sketch if you will but the Romney reinvention is brilliant politics

— Ben White (@morningmoneyben) October 10, 2012

See? Romney’s reinvention, his decision to alter his views on the central issues of the campaign weeks before Election Day, is “brilliant.” The brash flip-flopping doesn’t reflect poorly on the candidate or suggest that Romney’s unsure, or unprincipled, about his positions. Instead, it signals savvy politics and “crafty” campaigning.

For the final push of this campaign Mitt Romney is trying to reinvent himself as a moderate, less-scary Republican. And the press is helping him at every turn.


By: Eric Boehlert, Media Matters, October 16, 2012

October 17, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Death By Ideology”: Among The Lying Liars, Mitt Romney Doesn’t See Dead People

Mitt Romney doesn’t see dead people. But that’s only because he doesn’t want to see them; if he did, he’d have to acknowledge the ugly reality of what will happen if he and Paul Ryan get their way on health care.

Last week, speaking to The Columbus Dispatch, Mr. Romney declared that nobody in America dies because he or she is uninsured: “We don’t have people that become ill, who die in their apartment because they don’t have insurance.” This followed on an earlier remark by Mr. Romney — echoing an infamous statement by none other than George W. Bush — in which he insisted that emergency rooms provide essential health care to the uninsured.

These are remarkable statements. They clearly demonstrate that Mr. Romney has no idea what life (and death) are like for those less fortunate than himself.

Even the idea that everyone gets urgent care when needed from emergency rooms is false. Yes, hospitals are required by law to treat people in dire need, whether or not they can pay. But that care isn’t free — on the contrary, if you go to an emergency room you will be billed, and the size of that bill can be shockingly high. Some people can’t or won’t pay, but fear of huge bills can deter the uninsured from visiting the emergency room even when they should. And sometimes they die as a result.

More important, going to the emergency room when you’re very sick is no substitute for regular care, especially if you have chronic health problems. When such problems are left untreated — as they often are among uninsured Americans — a trip to the emergency room can all too easily come too late to save a life.

So the reality, to which Mr. Romney is somehow blind, is that many people in America really do die every year because they don’t have health insurance.

How many deaths are we talking about? That’s not an easy question to answer, and conservatives love to cite the handful of studies that fail to find clear evidence that insurance saves lives. The overwhelming evidence, however, is that insurance is indeed a lifesaver, and lack of insurance a killer. For example, states that expand their Medicaid coverage, and hence provide health insurance to more people, consistently show a significant drop in mortality compared with neighboring states that don’t expand coverage.

And surely the fact that the United States is the only major advanced nation without some form of universal health care is at least part of the reason life expectancy is much lower in America than in Canada or Western Europe.

So there’s no real question that lack of insurance is responsible for thousands, and probably tens of thousands, of excess deaths of Americans each year. But that’s not a fact Mr. Romney wants to admit, because he and his running mate want to repeal Obamacare and slash funding for Medicaid — actions that would take insurance away from some 45 million nonelderly Americans, causing thousands of people to suffer premature death. And their longer-term plans to convert Medicare into Vouchercare would deprive many seniors of adequate coverage, too, leading to still more unnecessary mortality.

Oh, about the voucher thing: In his debate with Vice President Biden, Mr. Ryan was actually the first one to mention vouchers, attempting to rule the term out of bounds. Indeed, it’s apparently the party line on the right that anyone using the word “voucher” to describe a health policy in which you’re given a fixed sum to apply to health insurance is a liar, not to mention a big meanie.

Among the lying liars, then, is the guy who, in 2009, described the Ryan plan as a matter of “converting Medicare into a defined contribution sort of voucher system.” Oh, wait — that was Paul Ryan himself.

And what if the vouchers — for that’s what they are — turned out not to be large enough to pay for adequate insurance? Then those who couldn’t afford to top up the vouchers sufficiently — a group that would include many, and probably most, older Americans — would be left with inadequate insurance, insurance that exposed them to severe financial hardship if they got sick, sometimes left them unable to afford crucial care, and yes, sometimes led to their early death.

So let’s be brutally honest here. The Romney-Ryan position on health care is that many millions of Americans must be denied health insurance, and millions more deprived of the security Medicare now provides, in order to save money. At the same time, of course, Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan are proposing trillions of dollars in tax cuts for the wealthy. So a literal description of their plan is that they want to expose many Americans to financial insecurity, and let some of them die, so that a handful of already wealthy people can have a higher after-tax income.

It’s not a pretty picture — and you can see why Mr. Romney chooses not to see it.

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, October 16, 2012

October 17, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Chain Of Command”: Hillary Clinton Takes Responsibility For Libyan Tragedy, Republicans Explode

For weeks, Republicans have been trying to turn the 9/11 attack on the American embassy in Benghazi into a scandal. They’ve claimed the president refused to acknowledge that the attack that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others was terrorism, though he called it an “act of terror” the day after the tragedy. They’ve accused the White House of rejecting calls for more security that came from the embassy in Tripoli.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has stepped into the fray to clarify the situation.

“I take responsibility,” she told CNN. “I’m in charge of the State Department’s 60,000-plus people all over the world (at) 275 posts. The president and the vice president wouldn’t be knowledgeable about specific decisions that are made by security professionals. They’re the ones who weigh all of the threats and the risks and the needs and make a considered decision.”

This clear statement of chain of command has activated Republicans’ Clinton hysteria to a level that hasn’t been seen in years. They’ve said she was falling on her sword and taking a grenade for the president, who defeated her in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary.

The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin, who often blurs the line between blogger and campaign spokesperson, responded offensively. She tweeted, “First Bill humiliates her and now Obama does.. Hillary no feminist, more like doormat.”

When Obama advisor David Axelrod tweeted, “Sick. Mitt mouthpiece jumps shark,” Rubin responded: “So is Obama going to hide behind her skirt Tuesday night? Why would the president let Hillary end her career in disgrace?”

Apparently taking responsibility for something that is actually your responsibility is a “disgrace” to Republicans.

Evidence suggests that the Bush administration ignored several warnings leading up the 9/11 attacks and the only administration official who ever took responsibility and apologized for not preventing them was Richard Clarke, a holdover from the Clinton administration.

Rudy Giuliani said that Republicans “should be exploiting” this tragedy to make a case against President Obama. Now that this plan is failing, they’ve returned to the same old sexist attacks on Hillary Clinton.


By: Jason Sattler, The National Memo, October 16, 2012

October 17, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Incestuous Connections”: Will Federal Funds Subsidize Tagg Romney’s Private Equity Bonanza?

Nobody with the bad manners to ask the question would be likely to get the opportunity at the upcoming presidential debate, but someday—especially if Mitt Romney enters the Oval Office —someone will ask about his son Tagg’s privte equity firm.

Like the businesses operated by the first President Bush’s sons three decades ago, Tagg Romney’s Solamere Capital is rife with potentially embarrassing conflicts of interest. Founded in 2008, by eldest son Tagg and his father’s chief fundraiser Spencer Zwick, Solamere is a “fund of funds” representing more than a dozen private equity outfits, including Mitt’s Bain Capital.

What Solamere’s partnerships and investments also show is the stunning reliance of these rugged millionaire individualists on government contracts and programs. Their financial addiction to federal funds is almost amusing, especially given Romney’s infamous remarks about the “47 percent” who supposedly pay no taxes and depend on government largesse to meet all their needs.

Reporter Lee Fang closely scrutinizes those issues and Solamere’s incestuous connections with the Romney presidential campaign in the current issue of The Nation, with the support of the Investigative Fund (where National Memo editor-in-chief Joe Conason serves as editor-at-large).

Consider the man who hosted the $50,000-a-plate fundraiser where Romney made those comments in his huge, luxurious Boca Raton home. Marc Leder’s Sun Capital private equity firm is a partner in Solamere—and also owns part of the Scooter Store, a company that markets motorized wheelchairs, which Medicare beneficiaries buy with federal funds. Unfortunately the growth of the motorized scooter industry has relied heavily on as much as $500 million annually in improper and even fraudulent Medicare billing.

The Affordable Care Act—which Mitt Romney has vowed to repeal—contains a section requiring stringent reform of the motorized wheelchair benefit to prevent fraud. Would President Romney restore that reform to save Medicare funds even if his son’s business would suffer?

Another health sector suffering from rampant fraud is pediatric dentistry, with scandals in several states that involve very expensive, totally unnecessary treatments of poor children that are paid for by Medicaid—and earn huge profits for “dental management companies” owned by private equity firms. If Solamere is earning huge profits from dental mismanagement, would a Romney administration’s Medicaid agency crack down—or turn a blind eye?

Aside from exploiting Medicare and Medicaid, the private equity industry sees major profit opportunities in education—and in particular the for-profit colleges whose dubious practices and educational failures have become controversial in recent years. As Fang recalls, Mitt Romney himself promoted a for-profit institution called Full Sail University during a town hall event in New Hampshire last year, claiming that it could help students “hold down the cost of their eduation.”

Full Sail is actually the third most expensive college in the country—and happens to be owned by TA Associates, a private equity operation associated with the Romney financial empire. Would a Romney administration continue the current efforts to reform the for-profit colleges? Or would it coddle an industry that is becoming notorious for ripping off students and leaving them in debt and unemployed, after sucking down their federal loan funds?

Fang’s reporting may provide an instructive preview of the years to come in a Romney administration, with various Bush-like sons cashing in on White House connections. But the story of Solamere also suggests the hollowness of Romney’s anti-government rhetoric. More and more, the most apt description of private equity is “no, you didn’t build that.”


By: Joe Conason, The National Memo, October 16, 2012

October 17, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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