Ridding the Country of the Useless

It seems we’ll be talking about Bain Capital from now to November. The Obama campaign released their two-minute ad – with folks from now-defunct GST Steel on how Bain bought the place, dismantled it for enormous profit, and walked away, leaving their lives ruined, and then Romney had to fire back:

The centerpiece of Mitt Romney’s campaign today is a web video on the human cost of the “Obama economy.” It focuses on three individuals, still out of work, and ends on this note: “Hope and change has not been kind to millions of Americans, but they still believe in this great country, and deserve a leader who believes in them: Mitt Romney.”

Romney’s ad is content-free of course – there’s no defense of Bain, just the assertion that Romney believes in America, unlike some people you might know. Bain may actually be a vulture organization, feeding off those who might be vulnerable, ruining lives while getting fat. That’s not addressed. It’s just that Obama promised good stuff, and there’s no good stuff yet, or not enough of it. The Romney ad makes no claims he will make things better, but that’s not the point. The other guy didn’t fix things fast enough, which is, as everyone knows, the same as not fixing them at all, which is the same as making them worse. At least that seems to be the message.

And there is also the inevitable attraction – to the cutthroat businessman, with none of that weepy and weak compassion nonsense, who will come in and cut out the fat in every operation in sight, abandon and sell off what’s useless, or not showing a healthy profit, and let the chips fall where they may. The mood of perhaps half the nation is angry in that way – the useless should perish – greedy workers who won’t accept lower wages to keep our businesses thriving, and cops and teachers and firefighters, who Chris Christie calls the new Welfare Queens, expecting job security in a world where there is no security, where you make it or you lose. Life isn’t fair – suck it up and stop whining. Of course these angry people assume that they are not among the useless. But one does need to be careful – hedge fund managers are not useless, nor are CEOs, nor are bank executives, or venture capitalists. They make America great. What have you done lately? If we’re going to clean house and, without pity, purge America of all the useless leaches, few are safe.

That’s generalized, but one of Andrew Sullivan’s readers makes it specific:

As I see it, the real problem is not that Bain ultimately shut down GST. Absent those lucky duckies on the wingnut welfare circuit, no one’s guaranteed permanent employment. The problem is that, in doing so, they reneged on a series of financial promises made to GST’s then-employees and retirees: their pensions and health care benefits. These pensions and benefits were part of the employees’ compensation – earned over many years on the job. Romney, in order to maximize Bain’s short-term profit on the deal, broke those promises. That is a fundamental breach of the social contract between employer and worker. Moreover, it is simply a loathsome way to do business.

Yes, fair is fair. One shouldn’t break contracts. But these guys do:

You know, it’s interesting, as an attorney, I spend a lot of time reading the libertarians over at the Volokh Conspiracy. To a man, they purport to believe in the sanctity of contract rights. During the auto bailout, they raged and gnashed their teeth when various bondholders were forced to take losses by the big unions and their lackeys in the administration. Remarkably, they never have anything to say when a worker gets screwed out of earned pension benefits or health care coverage. It’s as if the contract rights of labor are somehow illegitimate or second-class compared to the inviolate rights of the One Percent.

Yes, someone should ask them about that – not that it matters. It seems that when useless people enter into contracts, then those contracts are in fact useless – null and void. It depends on your perspective. And you don’t ask questions;

Reporters covering Mitt Romney’s campaign sent out a volley of tweets on Wednesday, complaining that they had been prevented from asking the presumptive Republican nominee questions at an event in Florida.

Trouble between the campaign and the press apparently started at the beginning of the day. Sara Murray, a Wall Street Journal reporter, tweeted that journalists had been told they would not be asking any questions of Romney. “Isn’t that our decision?” a reporter asked.

Then, the press corps was told that Romney was having an off the record meeting with “middle class families.” Politico’s Ginger Gibson noted that they used to be able to see these meetings happen, but were now having their access cut off.

Things only deteriorated from there. A public event followed the private meeting, and campaign aides tried to physically prevent reporters from asking Romney questions at the rope line where he was greeting voters. The reporters “refused to leave,” in New York Times reporter Michael Barbaro’s words.

The questions would have been about Bain, and Time’s Joe Klein offers this:

Mitt Romney is clearly a candidate terrified by his own mouth. What other explanation for his campaign’s extreme efforts to prevent reporters from asking him questions? I know that there isn’t much public sympathy for journalistic whining – including my own occasional, stupid laments – about the lack of access. But Romney’s staff has clearly taken this to a new level, preventing reporters from even watching the candidate’s mini-town meeting with middle-class voters at one stop. I don’t know how to improve this situation, but I suspect that reporters shouting questions at Romney when he’s trying to shake hands with citizens on a rope-line isn’t helping any.

You do have to wonder, though, how much skill and confidence Romney will bring to meetings with foreign and Congressional leaders if he can’t figure out how to talk to the press.

But then Jonah Goldberg wants Romney to “get very angry” at the press – so perhaps as Leona Helmsley once said that only little people pay taxes, only little people foolishly think they have any right to ask questions. Only whiners ask about Bain. Life is hard. Deal with it.

And life is so hard that we have to deal with the national debt, no matter who gets hurt, which led to this:

President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) clashed during a White House meeting on Wednesday, with the Speaker telling the president that he was “not going to allow a debt-ceiling increase without doing something serious about the debt,” Boehner’s office said.

The president convened the meeting of the bipartisan congressional leadership to discuss his “to-do list” for Congress, but an aide to the Speaker said the bulk of the meeting was spent on other issues, including a pile-up of expiring tax provisions and the next increase in the federal debt limit.

Boehner asked Obama if he was proposing that Congress increase the debt limit without corresponding spending cuts, according to a read-out of the meeting from the Speaker’s office. The president replied, “Yes.” At that point, Boehner told Obama, “As long as I’m around here, I’m not going to allow a debt-ceiling increase without doing something serious about the debt.”

It came down to an ultimatum – make the Bush tax cuts for the very wealthy permanent, and cut programs for the poor and the elderly and the unemployed, or the House will not authorize an increase in the debt ceiling, the nation will default on all its treasury bonds, the markets will crash and the economy will collapse, and our credit rating will be downgraded again. Boehner is quite willing to shut down the government over this – we’ll pay no bills and shut everything down. And yes, it’s kind of a Bain Capital move – rip everything apart to extract what you want. And perhaps it’s meant to be bold and daring and manly.

And consider what Boehner said at the Peter G. Peterson Fiscal Summit – “We shouldn’t dread the debt limit. We should welcome it. It’s an action-forcing event in a town that has become infamous for inaction.”

And the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein explains what seems to be going on:

These comments have been the occasion for much wailing and gnashing of teeth, as if anyone, anywhere, believed that the Republicans’ 2011 debt-ceiling antics were some sort of one-off. But Boehner was clear on Tuesday. “I will again insist on my simple principle of cuts and reforms greater than the debt limit increase,” he said.

Of course he will. For one thing, it worked well for him in 2011. Republicans got more than $900 billion in immediate spending cuts, as well as $1.2 trillion in triggered spending cuts – though they don’t much like the $500 billion or so of those cuts scheduled to fall on the Pentagon. They also drove President Obama’s approval ratings beneath 40 percent. And while I’m not one who thinks Republicans intentionally tank the economy to undermine Obama, there’s little doubt that the effect of the debt-ceiling debacle was to set back the recovery, brightening Republican prospects and darkening Democratic ones. The fact is that it’s easier to be sanguine about economic showdowns when you’re not the ones in charge.

But of course Boehner could have demanded Obama’s immediate resignation, and that of Joe Biden, immediately making Boehner, the Speaker of the House, president. If you have a tool to ruin the country unless you get what you want you might as well use it. And half the country would cheer, as that last election, where the little people elected the wrong guy, would be moot. But Boehner didn’t think of that, just another ultimatum on the debt. And Klein argues that was pretty much his only choice:

The Democrats, for once, have nothing but fiscal leverage. They’ve got the expiration of the Bush tax cuts, which all Republicans would hate and many Democrats would welcome. They’ve got the aforementioned spending trigger, which Republicans really have begun to fear for its cuts to defense spending. They can do nothing – or, more likely, offer Republicans a deal they can’t accept – and the resulting paralysis will swing fiscal policy far, far, far to the left. Threatening to default on the national debt is Boehner’s only piece of counter-leverage.

So of course Boehner will try and use the debt ceiling as leverage again.

And Klein sees this as the new normal:

It’s pretty clear that, at this point, there’s no going back to the time when debt-ceiling increases came smoothly. If I were the market, I’d take the fact that the leader of one of the two parties has publicly said that he “welcomes” debt-ceiling showdowns as evidence that the United States is almost certain to default on its debt – if only temporarily – within the next decade or so.

And Klein doesn’t see what Democrats and the business community can do to stop him:

Somehow, the debt ceiling needs to be taken off the table once and for all, either because Republicans forced a default in a way that they were blamed for the consequences and scared into never doing it again, or because the president successfully pulled off one of the more creative maneuvers suggested during last year’s showdown (Bill Clinton, for instance, argued that Obama should invoke the Fourteenth Amendment – which says “the validity of the public debt of the United States … shall not be questioned” – to raise the debt ceiling unilaterally).

And Talking Point Memo’s Brian Beutler is just puzzled:

When Republicans went home for recess last August, after placing the country’s AAA credit rating at risk, and narrowly avoiding a self-imposed default on the national debt, they caught such an earful from constituents that they spent several weeks toning down their rhetoric and avoiding big public spats with Democrats.

So what gives? Why would Republicans signal to voters that they want to put the country through the same fiasco again – particularly when the outcome of the presidential election remains in doubt and Boehner’s House Republicans are already expected to lose several seats?

Beutler suspects the answer has something to do with “the degree to which the Republican Party has been radicalized and behaves as if it’s in the midst of an insurgency” these days:

This is a generational imperative for the GOP. The 2001 and 2003 Bush cuts are key to the decades-long conservative goal of redistributing wealth further up the income ladder and rolling back the federal government’s role in providing social services. All of the cuts are scheduled to expire at the end of the year, and if President Obama wins in November, he’ll have a lot of leverage to demand that the Republicans own up to the results and allow the cuts for high-income earners to expire. Or Obama could let them all expire and then introduce the “Obama tax cuts” on day one of his second administration … unless the GOP had an ace up its sleeve. If the debt limit needs to be raised in December, the GOP could take it hostage and demand that Democrats renew all the Bush tax cuts, and defuse automatic spending cuts (the so-called “sequester”) with cuts to other domestic programs. It’s an almost unfathomable threat, but trying, if Obama wins, might be their only hope.

That’s a Hail Mary approach, but there are other considerations:

In a way, Boehner’s redrawn line in the sand suggests Republicans aren’t all that confident they’ll take the presidency in 2012. After all, why would they want to create a huge, unnecessary mess for Mitt Romney? If they were pretty sure he was going to win, they wouldn’t. But in the run-up to the election, it will help clarify for voters what the Republican agenda is: low taxes, deep cuts to domestic spending programs, and a take-no-prisoners approach to achieving it. To this end, Boehner plans to pass a full extension of the Bush tax cuts later this year and blame Dems for their looming expiration.

If they run on this and lose, they’d be testing the limits of democratic accountability to press ahead with the debt-limit strategy anyhow – especially in a lame duck session. But if they run on it and win then they’ll have a fair claim to make dramatic changes to how the federal government collects and spends money.

But either way, Boehner is trapped:

His conservative members are still bloodthirsty, and untrusting of the leadership. He’s had countless fights with them blow up in his face over the past year and a half, and they’ve defected from some of his key, successful initiatives by the dozens. To make matters worse for him, his party is expected to lose House seats in November. If Boehner’s fighting for his speakership, this is a way to make a final appeal to the radicals in his party. But it comes at the expense of his vulnerable, more risk-averse members. The irony is that his plan to stave off a leadership fight might ultimately cost him more seats in November.

Yeah, he’s in a tough spot, but we have to live with the consequences when the economy collapses again. It’s a real bitch being one of the useless little people. And it only gets worse:

Nearly all Senate Republicans joined their House colleagues in risky territory Wednesday by voting in support of the controversial GOP budget, authored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) – a blueprint for the country’s future that has become a political lightning rod and a defining document for the 2012 elections.

Among its most contentious features, the plan would phase out the existing Medicare program and replace it with a subsidized private insurance system for seniors; dramatically slash Medicaid spending and hand the program over to the states; cut food and nutrition programs for poor people; and allow interest rates on student loans to double; all while dramatically reducing taxes, particularly on wealthy Americans.

It’s a governing agenda many Republicans would like to wash down the memory hole. But over the past year it’s become a Kryptonite touchstone for conservative purity – a plan most Republicans feel compelled to support, but which they understand to be politically deadly.

Actually it’s the Bain Capital model, writ large – a cutthroat plan with none of that weepy and weak compassion nonsense, where you come in and cut out the fat in every operation in sight, abandon and sell off what’s useless, or not showing a healthy profit, and let the chips fall where they may. The useless should perish after all. The nation would be better off.

Yes, but it didn’t work before:

The Senate GOP boxed themselves in to support of the framework by overwhelmingly voting for a similar plan last year. The budget votes in 2011 proved politically disastrous for Republicans, who had misjudged the midterm election results as enthusiasm for far-right policies. It turned out to be a dramatic overreach, and Republicans have expended a great deal of effort in the months since trying to fight Democrats to a draw on Medicare and force them into voting for major cuts to that program.

But they’ve been unable to walk away from their agenda – and Democrats were thrilled to force their GOP counterparts to embrace it all over again on the Senate floor.

And the rest of us, the useless little people, just watch. After all, Mitt is answering no questions. Why should he? Can you say this about yourself?

Supplemented by a dozen interviews – from local real estate experts to private equity partners – we get a detailed look at the current state of Mitt’s money, pinpointing his net worth at $230 million, split between nine different asset classes. Highlights include the sale of nearly all of his individual equities – he sold 71 stocks since his last disclosure – and a big move into cash. He now holds $16 million, up from $1 million in August.

Such men don’t answer questions. So we may be talking about Bain Capital, and its analogs, from now to November – talking to ourselves. But life isn’t fair – suck it up and stop whining. You’re lucky you even get to vote. And you’ll surely vote for ridding the country of the useless, because you surely can’t be one of them. But don’t be so sure of that.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
This entry was posted in Bain Capital, Debt-Limit Debate, John Boehner, Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan Budget and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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