Saturday, July 14, 2012

Romney on the ropes

This has been a bad week for Mitt Romney.

The Obama campaign has been hitting hard on the unfavorable images of him as the head of Bain Capital investment firm -- the primary source of his vast wealth.   The campaign thought the shrewd business man image was a winner and tried to use it to portray him as the one who could get the country back on track economically.

Instead, the Democrats have been fairly successful in turning the Bain CEO image into a heartless capitalist who takes advantage of the little guys who lose their jobs while benefitting himself and his wealthy investors.

This line of attack was already having a negative effect in the polls -- still small, to be sure, but it's the kind of thing that accumulates and builds.

Now on top of that, however, the Dems are focusing on the conflicting statements about how active Romney was in running Bain from 1999, when he left to take over the Utah Olympics Games preparation, until 2002 when he retired from Bain Capital.

In filing his campaign financial disclosure forms, he said he had no decision-making role during those three years -- which incidentally are the years when Bain began outsourcing jobs and led to many jobs lost and companies closing.  He says he was not responsible for those decisions.   (He doesn't, however, say he would have made different decisions or moved the company in different directions.)

Now documents have been uncovered that contradict the story of his inactive role.   When he was running for Massachusetts governor, it was in his interest to show that he had kept his primary residence in the state while working in Utah.   So he emphasized how often he came back, participated in business meetings, as well as social and family events.

Also the Bain documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission in 2002, which are sworn statements and would constitute felony charges if false, list Romney as "sole stockholder, chairman of the board, chief executive officer, and president and thus is the controlling person of Bain Capital."

Sole stockholder, chairman of the board, CEO, and president?   That says he was Bain Capital -- it was his and he was it.   And yet he was not responsible in any way for decisions made or actions taken by the company????

So he's got to make a decision -- and he's got to do something fast other than just saying Obama's attacks on him about this are "disgusting" and "lies."    Show us how they are lies, Mittens.   You can't get away with just saying they are lies.  The documents are real.   Even if you turned over day-to-day operations to someone else, it's inconceivable you wouldn't be in on major decisions as long as it's you and you are it.

It sounds like this is typical Mittens behavior.    You just fill out the form in front of you the way it will look best for your immediate purpose.  Rules and consistency and integrity are for the "little people."

Remind you of anyone?    Remember Leona Helmsley (who went to prison for some kind of financial fraud, as I remember).   She was famous for saying "Only the little people pay taxes."   I think she meant that the rich have their loopholes, their tax shelters, etc.

Come on, Mittens.   You can't have it both ways.   This is the real world.


PS:  And while you're at it, you'd better come up with something better as an excuse not to reveal any tax returns before 2010.   As your father said, when he submitted 12 years of tax returns when he ran for president, "one year could be just a fluke."

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Shocking report on Penn State cover-up

Former FBI Director Louis Freeh's report on his internal investigation of the Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal has revealed shocking findings -- beyond anything reported before -- of an extensive cover-up stretching from 1998 to 2011 by some of the most powerful officials at Penn State.

We already knew that the beloved head coach Joe Paterno was summarily fired, that the President of the University had to resign, and that a Senior Vice President and the Athletic Director still face criminal charges for failure to report the abuse.

But it's even worse than was publicly known before.  

Freeh's team conducted 430 interviews and examined 3.5 million emails and other documents -- an investigation that was far more extensive, and covering a longer period of time, than the Grand Jury investigation that let to Sandusky's conviction on 45 criminal acts involving 10 boys over a 15 year period.

Tracking the email exchanges between the principal administrators (Paterno, the Athletic Director, the Senior VP, and the President) plus the head of campus police has been very revealing of the cover-up and their motives.

In addition to the cases that were part of the trial, Freeh's report says that several janitors at the gym had also observed Sandusky abusing boys -- but were afraid to report it for fear of losing their jobs.   One of them, a Korean War veteran, recalled seeing Sandusky raping a boy and said it was the "most horrific" thing he had even seen.

After a mother reported her son's accusations:

But it was the subject of much talk and emails among those four administrative officers -- about how to handle it.   Their concern was about the effect on the athletic program and the university, not about the boys.

Sandysky was allowed to retire the following year -- and to keep an office on campus and to continue using gym facilities, where he further abused boys he brought there from his Second Mile program.

 There are unmistakable parallels here with the Catholic Church child abuse scandals:

(1)  Both show a misplaced concern for the abusers and the reputation of the institution rather than for the children;

(2)  Both institutions have their own internal "police" and seem to feel immune from ordinary laws;

(3)  Both involve male-only domains that center on a fervent allegiance to a shared cause and institution that they feel must be preserved.

(4)  Both involve worship at the altar of a god.   With the Catholic Church, it is the Almighty God of Heaven;  with Penn State, it is the Almighty God of Football.   The gods come first, the men come second, and the children are the forgotten victims.

It's a bad combination.


33 and counting

The House has voted, for the 33rd time, to repeal Obamacare.    Isn't this getting to be a bit redundant?   It's never going to get through the Senate;  and, if it did, Obama would veto it.   So it's purely a political stunt.

Wouldn't once or twice have been sufficient to get everybody on record so the other side can use it in campaign ads?   What's the purpose of the other 31 times?

Frankly, I just don't see how any self-respecting Republican could bear the shame of the depths to which the Repubs have sunk in their hyper-partisanship.   Here's but a few zingers:

1.  "Our agenda is to ensure that Obama is a one-term president."   And following that up by being opposed to anything he proposes.

2.  The "voter ID" laws.   Apparently they think they can't win on the issues, so they resort to trying to suppress the number of voters who will vote Democratic.   Estimates are that up to 1, 000,000 voters in Pennsylvania alone could lose their right to vote.

3.  Their (unfortunately successful) attempt to deceive the voters about what they really stand for.   Again, apparently they think they can't win on the issues, so they resort to deception about what they stand for.

4.  Creating a false crisis out of the deficit.    The deficit needs to be brought down, but not on the backs of those already losing government help.   Don't cut domestic assistance programs even further until the economy improves.

5.  Give tax cuts to the wealthy because they are the "job creators."   Bullshit.   "Trickle down" never worked, never will.    Increasing government spending is a better job creator.   The Repubs refuse to acknowledge that the loss of government jobs (federal, state, and local) due to slashed budgets is the primary cause (and the easiest solution) to the continuing unemployment problem.

6.  Increasing corporate welfare while slashing welfare for the poor.   Again, the myth of trickle down economics.

7.  Making up stuff, like "death panels," to scare people into thinking Obamacare will hurt them.   Counting on getting people to vote against their own best interests.

It did my heart good to play the clip of Romney being booed in his NAACP convention speech.   It was widespread, loud, and prolonged (15 seconds) and came in response to his saying he would repeal Obamacare.  OK, give him credit for going before the NAACP crowd at all (George W. Bush didn't.)   And for saying directly to them what he says elsewhere -- that he will repeal Obamacare.   But he didn't help himself in trying to woo black voters.


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Corporate profits vs. human response

My favorite AJC editorial columnist, Jay Booker, has written a telling opinion piece about the difference between corporations' interest in profits and government's mission to help solve people problems.   It is neatly contained in one simple story.

Tomas Lopez was a lifeguard employed by a private company to provide lifeguards for the city of Hallandale, Florida.    Recently, Lopez was fired for helping to save a drowning man at a nearby beach section that was not part of the city contract.  The man's condition was serious enough that he had to be hospitalized in intensive care but was expected to recover.

Lopez's employer gave him a second chance.  They called him in and asked if he would do the same thing again in similar circumstances.   When he said "yes," they told him that he could no longer work for them as a lifeguard.  They also fired two other lifeguards who said they would make similar decisions.

Lopez was quoted, "It was the moral thing to do.  I would never pick a job over my morals."

Booker explains the employer's point of view.  As a business they have only one mission:  to maximize profits for its shareholders.  They had to consider liability and contract obligations. 

Joy Cooper, mayor of Hallandale, was "horrified" by the company's action and is rethinking the decision to hire private companies to provide the city's services.  A man's life was at stake, and putting business profits first "doesn't reflect our culture.  We're a small, caring community," she said.

Bookman then contrasts this to the mission of the government -- "Government's essential purpose is to serve people, even the hapless swimmer who chose to venture beyond the protected swimming area."

This, of course, is what happens when governments outsource their services -- whether it be the Blackwater combat privatization in Iraq, which operated without all of the restraints and the diplomatic backing that the government forces operated under -- or whether it is guarding swimmers on public beaches or fighting fires.

The question is:  what is the basic motive and the basic mission of the organization.   I prefer the humanitarian focus of government -- with all its inefficiency and potential corruption -- to the known hard-hearted and equally corrupt practices of private enterprise.

Even more, I long for the older values and the more local nature of businesses that led them to regard their integrity and reputation for customer satisfaction as the most important measure of success.   When success is measured in the size of contracts, the lower costs of massive purchasing power, and the streamlining of operations by national franchising -- then you tend to get impersonal coldness.   It doesn't have to be that way -- evidence of corporate "moral values" in a few national enterprises (like Starbucks).   But it often seem to be.


Monday, July 9, 2012

Is it "flaunt" or "flout" -- or both?

flaunt, v.  to display ostentatiously or impudently, to show off.

flout, v.  to treat with contemptuous disregard;  to indulge in scornful behavior.

Example:  She flouted her father's rules by flaunting her new tattoo.

Karl Rove did both -- an ostentious display of his contemptuous disregard for the campaign finance regulations.   He will claim that he did nothing wrong -- which in itself is part of the contempt he is ostentatiously displaying.    There's a little taunting in there too.

The SuperPACs that were made possible by SCOTUS's Citizens United decision require that, in exchange for unlimited donations to political action committees, there can be no coordination with the campaign they support with their ads.

Karl Rove runs the chief Republican SuperPAC American Crossroads, which aims to raise an obscene amount of money to run ads that will support Romney's campaign, as well as other Republicans in congressional races.

All this flaunting and flouting?   It took place a couple of weekends ago.   The Romney campaign held a retreat for its high value donors ($50,000 a head) where they could rub shoulders with a Who's Who gaggle of the Republican party.

One of the Who's Who attendees was Karl Rove.   There was, of course, no coordinating anything about his ad campaign with anybody there.  He doesn't need to "coordinate."   Rove also gave a speech for the donors during the weekend at a place outside the retreat.   See . . .  they held it outside the place where the retreat was taking place;  and it wasn't listed in the agenda of activities of the retreat.    ergo:   it was perfectly legal.

But get this:  Rove's speech was arranged by Romney's son, Tagg Romney, and Tagg's business partner, Spencer Zwick -- who also happens to be the Romney campaign's chief fundraiser.    That doesn't prove anything either, I guess.   But it sure smells bad.

Campaign finance laws prohibit coordinating the SuperPac ad campaign with the campaign itself.   This is very clearly coordinating fund-raising efforts for both the campaign and the SuperPac.   Is that legal?

If that isn't actually breaking the law, they're at least flouting the law -- and flaunting the fact that they're flouting it.    Sort of like thumbing your nose, and saying nyah, nyah, nyah at the other side -- and at the election commission itself.

I think an investigation is in order -- and preferably a sanction and a huge penalty -- like about $10 million.


Sunday, July 8, 2012

Congratulations, Barney and Frank

Barney Frank, Massachusetts congressman for more than 20 years, and his partner, Frank Ready, were married yesterday.   Frank becomes the first openly gay person in Congress to get married.   Massachusetts Governor Duvall Patrick officiated in the ceremony.   Guests included House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senator John Kerry.

Another signpost on the road of change.   A perfectly legal ceremony performed by the governor of the first state to adopt marriage equality in 2004.

Just wish you weren't leaving Congress, Barney.   Your intelligence and caustic wit will be missed.


Romney and the Repubs

John Boehner, Republican leader in the House, says that "Voters aren't going to fall in love with Mitt Romney."   But they'll vote for him, because they don't want Obama.  He went on to explain:   90% of the voters will decide their vote based on Obama -- either for him or against him.   So it isn't all that important that they won't fall in love with Romney.

It's all of a piece.   Boehner's counterpart in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, famously defined the GOP agenda as "making sure that Obama is a one-term president."    So that's their strategy.

But here's my take on it.   It doesn't really matter all that much whom the GOP nominates.   The conservative vote will be anti-Obama.   So all their really good candidates can afford to sit this one out -- just in case the Repubs lose, you know?

Well, they just might lose.   Romney just can't seem to get it right.   His jokes are lame and unfunny.    His statements fall over themselves in contradiction.   His wealth and life style (all those homes, garage elevators for cars, Swiss bank accounts) can't be spun as populist -- no way.   And the Dems are certainly trying to make him look like the robber baron he is in how he made his wealth at Bain Capital.

So why does it seem so close in the polls?   Even the state wide, electoral vote polls are not very comforting.   Oh, Obama still has the advantage, but the margins in the swing states are tightening -- and swing really means that.  They could swing -- one or all -- the other way.

This should be the year of an intense debate about basic beliefs in the function of government -- because the contrast is stark.   The two men couldn't be more different, either in political philosophy or in life style.

This past week was a good contrast -- both in style and in policy those styles embody.   Romney and his family (30 in all, with 5 sons, 5 daughters-in-law, and 18 grandkids) took a vacation from campaigning and played in one of their multi-million dollar vacation homes, the one on the waterfront in New Hampshire, complete with power boat big enough to hold 24 people.

The Obamas went on a bus trip through the swing states of Ohio and Pennsylvania, eating lunch in diners, talking with working class voters, many of them out of work or with stories of lack of needed health care.   Obama talked with them about his own family's struggles when he was growing up.

So the Republican National Chairman, Reince Priebus, went on the talk shows this morning and said the president "acts like he's not living on Earth."   He was talking about policies, not life style -- but it's just as absurd for them to take that line of attack.   They're trying to scare people into believing that Obama wants to take away everything they know and love about their lives.  That's all they've got -- no economic policies or domestic policies that will help.  And a candidate that they don't love.  So all they can do is try to scare people and pass voter ID laws that will suppress the Democratic vote.

Pretty sad way to try to win an election.  But it could work.    They have obscene amounts of money to advertise their lies.