Sunday, August 28, 2011

"Omelet" sells out

Thrilled to report that the staged reading of An Omelet for Vinnie, my play about the reunion of estranged father and son veterans at a halfway house in upper Manhattan, which was produced by the Malibu Stage Company Repertory Theatre, sold out last night!

Legendary actors Ed Asner and John Savage were joined by Malibu Stage Company actors Oscar Best and Sarah Phillips. Director Richard Johnson tells me the play was a huge hit.

Sometimes we get dealt a bad hand, which often happens in air travel these days, and I'm heartbroken to report that I wasn't able to attend the reading last night because the 1 p.m. flight I was scheduled to be on was delayed for close to five hours due to mechanical problems with the aircraft. And, as the customer service agent at the gate said, too, there was "no guarantee" that the plane would be airworthy in time to take off at 5:30 either; "if you guys wanna hang around to see if it takes off, that's okay," she said.

From late the night before, I had a strange sense of foreboding about the trip that I couldn't quite pinpoint. I'd never felt that way before a flight before, and I'm glad that the Delta pilot made the decision to put passenger safety first.

It's been a childhood dream to watch Ed Asner perform in one of my plays, and the reading Saturday night was a once in a lifetime event. Moreover, I'm a huge fan of John Savage.

I would have moved heaven and earth to be there, but it was just not possible, so I'd like to thank the cast, Richard Johnson, the artistic director, Geoffrey Ortiz, chairman of the Board of Directors of the Malibu Stage Company Repertory Theatre who produced the play, and everyone involved in making magic happen Saturday night for me, as well as all who were fortunate enough to have been there.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Michael Winship

Rick Perry's Tall Tales of Texas
By Michael Winship

Although born and raised and raised in a small town in the Finger Lakes region of New York, I'm the hybrid child of an upstate NY father and a mother from Texas -- they met at Fort Hood (then Camp Hood) during World War II. And you thought different species couldn't mate.

As a result, we were the only kids on the block who said, "Y'all," or had relatives named Bubba, Vade, Hoyt and Cleburne. My mother's father was known in our family as Granddaddy Lloyd. CARE packages of unshelled pecans and Frito-Lay products (then largely unknown above the Mason-Dixon Line) would arrive at Christmastime. And among the books in our house was a buff-covered, dog-eared paperback titled Tall Tales of Texas.

I flipped through it over and over. Inside were wild and woolly stories of the outlaw Sam Bass, frontiersman and Texas Ranger Bigfoot Wallace, Davy Crockett at the Alamo. Even taller were tales of Pecos Bill, with his lasso made from a live rattlesnake, the toughest cowboy in the world; and his wife Slue-Foot Sue, riding down the Rio Grande on the back of a giant catfish.

So, courtesy of some Lone Star DNA and basic reading comprehension skills, I think I know a Texas tall tale when I hear one, and presidential candidate and Texas Governor Rick Perry's tales of "the Texas miracle" are as tall as they come.

Between December 2000 and December 2010, the state did have a net gain of 907,000 jobs, more than half the 1.6 million new jobs nationwide during that same period. But a lot of the state's success in job creation looks more like dumb luck than evidence of ole Pecos Perry's political prowess or expertise in governance. "It's not that the emperor has no clothes," Dan Hamermesh, an economics professor at the University of Texas, told the website AOL Jobs. "But he's got little more than a fig leaf over his crotch. It is a true fact, but he had nothing to do with it."

Perry points to deregulation and low taxes, including an incentive program called the Texas Enterprise Fund, said to have created 58,000 jobs, but there were many factors largely beyond his control, including increased trade between the United States and Mexico and the high price of gasoline that pumped revenue into the state, accompanied by new technologies for oil and gas extraction. In the August 15 New York Times, Clifford Krauss reported, "The oil and gas industry now delivers roughly $325 billion a year to the state, directly and indirectly. It brings in $13 billion in state tax receipts, or roughly 40 percent of the total, financing up to 20 percent of the state budget."

What's more, a lot of the increase has been funded -- say it ain't so, Pecos! -- by federal largesse, including President Obama's economic stimulus. In the last ten years, federal spending in the state has more than doubled to over $200 billion a year (thanks in large part to NASA and the many military installations in the state, including the aforementioned Fort Hood, one of the world's largest military bases and the biggest single employer in Texas).

Of all the US government jobs added in this country between 2007 and 2010, 47 percent of them were in Texas. According to Jared Bernstein, former economic adviser to Joe Biden, "Texas employment wasn't down much at all in these years, as the state lost only 53,000 jobs. But looming behind that number are large losses in the private sector (down 178,000) and large gains (up 125,000) in government jobs." Which shows, Bernstein goes on, that Texas has followed "a traditional Keynesian game plan: as the private sector contracts, turn to the public sector to temporarily make up part of the difference."

In 2009, Governor Perry made a show of rejecting $556 million in federal funds for unemployment, saying there were too many strings attached. In fact, that money was equal to only two percent of the more than $20 billion in stimulus money Texas did accept, including cash used to cover 97 percent of the state budget's shortfall for 2010, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

This, in spite of GOP attacks on the public sector, Perry's claim that the stimulus was failed and misguided and the pledge in the announcement of his presidential candidacy that he would "work every day to make Washington, DC, as inconsequential in your lives as I can." As the August 20 Washington Post noted, "The significant role of government in Texas' relative prosperity stands in stark contrast to the 'go-it-alone' image cultivated by Perry, who credits a lack of government interference for fostering a business-friendly environment in Texas."

For those like Governor Perry who brag about being no-nonsense, freedom-loving cowpokes, it's a delusion that goes all the way back to the early settlement of the American West. As Patricia Nelson Limerick writes in her seminal history The Legacy of Conquest, "At any period in Western history, the rhetoric of Western independence was best taken with many grains of salt." Whether it was fighting Indians or gaining access to public grazing lands, the federal government has always been integral. "Nothing so undermines the Western claim to a tradition of independence," she writes, "as this matter of federal support to Western development...

"And yet humans have a well-established capacity to meet facts of life with disbelief. In a region where human interdependence has been self-evident, Westerners have woven a net of denial." Sounds familiar.

Accompanying Governor Perry's denial is cronyism and patronage, both good ole boy-style and corporate (of the $102 million in campaign contributions raised for his gubernatorial races, Katrina vanden Heuvel wrote, half came "from just 204 sources," and the Los Angeles Times reports, "Nearly half of those mega-donors received hefty business contracts, tax breaks or appointments under Perry.")

So, too, with greed comes hubris and shortsightedness. The Times' Krauss reported, "Critics, among them Democrats... have long complained that the state's economic health came at a steep price: a long-term hollowing out of its prospects because of deep cuts to education spending, low rates of investment in research and development, and a disparity in the job market that confines many blacks and Hispanics to minimum-wage jobs without health insurance."

A report from the policy research and advocacy group Demos and the Austin-based Center for Public Policy Priorities notes "27 percent of Texas workers lack health insurance compared to 17 percent nationally. The ranks of the uninsured have grown steadily as access to employer-sponsored health insurance has declined... Fewer than half (48 percent) of the state's workers have access to a retirement plan at work, a figure that has plummeted since reaching a high of 61 percent in 2000."

Over the past twenty years, college costs in Texas have quadrupled, with the steepest jump occurring since tuition was deregulated by the state in 2003. Former first lady Barbara Bush observed in a February op-ed that the state ranks 49th in verbal SAT scores, 47th in literacy and 46th in average math SAT scores: "We rank 36th in the nation in high school graduation rates. An estimated 3.8 million Texans do not have a high school diploma... the United Way estimates that the price tag for dropouts to Texas taxpayers in $9.6 billion every year.” But the state's latest budget cut $4 billion from public schools.

A recent, four part series on Perry's Texas from a team at the Houston Chronicle reports, "After a decade of Perry-style frugality the Texas welcome mat is growing increasingly threadbare as the state struggles to accommodate a booming, young populace hoping to travel its roads, get educated in its schools, drink its water and access its health care system. During Perry's tenure the state has postponed investment or turned to debt to finance crucial infrastructure needs, experts say."

The average urban Texan loses a week a year to traffic delays on the state's "overburdened" highway system. While Perry boasts of luring thousands of doctors to the state, "lawmakers this year cut $805 million from doctors serving Medicaid patients" and "postponed $4 billion in Medicaid costs for payment in the next payment cycle." Texas is 48th out of 50 states in the number of physicians per 100,000 residents.

Perry doubts climate change is real, yet, "As Texas endures its most severe one-year drought in its history, state leaders have identified $53 billion in state investments needed to expand water capacity by 2060 but have not resolved how to pay for it. Unless Texas increases its water resources, experts say 83 percent of Texans will not have an adequate supply of water in times of drought." Perry issued a proclamation urging Texans to pray for rain.

With more bad news ahead, stagnant wages and an explosion in population and the labor force that now has unemployment advancing much faster than Perry's touted job growth, "the Texas miracle" is heading into a ditch.

Which brings to mind another tall tale, the old joke about the Texan who says to an Eastern visitor, "Yessir, I can drive across my ranch all day and all night and still not get to the other end." To which the visitor replies, "I know what you mean. I have a car like that, too."


Michael Winship is senior writing fellow at Demos, president of the Writers Guild of America, East, and former senior writer of Bill Moyers Journal on PBS.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

"An Omelet for Vinnie"

Elated to say that the Malibu Stage Company Repertory Theatre will be presenting a one-time staged reading of my play, An Omelet for Vinnie, starring legendary actors Ed Asner, and John Savage, on the evening of
Saturday, August 27th.

The play is about the reunion of estranged father and son, both veterans of different wars, in a halfway house in upper Manhattan.

Details at this link:

Monday, August 22, 2011

Some Final Thoughts on the Dominique Strauss-Kahn Case

Cyrus Vance, the Manhattan district attorney, had little choice but to drop the criminal charges against Dominique Strauss_Kahn.

While there is no question that whatever happened in the Hotel Sofitel room that day included sex, there is reasonable doubt that force was involved which is the maid's assertion, and physical force is required for a charge of forcible rape. To accuse someone of rape is immensely serious, and must result in the most severe penalties. When a woman is psychologically coerced to comply with a man's advances that does not meet the criteria of forcible rape. Period.

It was a grave mistake on the part of the Manhattan district attorney to rush to judgment based on any one person's story. In this case, it was the maid's story. The defendant wasn't even able to utter a sound before trial by media resulted in his having to give up control of the IMF, and forget about any presidential aspirations he may have had.

Apparently, this was not the first time this woman claimed she was raped. As the prosecution contends, there were many inconsistencies in her story.

While those who say that it was up to a jury to render a decision on her credibility, beyond reasonable doubt,

the defendant was held, and treated like a criminal, without being given even a fleeting benefit of the doubt. That is unacceptable.

Mr. Strauss-Kahn will return to Paris where he will face other charges which, while also questionable, will certainly raise serious questions about his mental stability, at the very least, as well as whether or not he is fit to hold public office. He is seriously sleezy, but seriously sleezy is not the same as rapist.

The allegations of the Sofitel maid must not be dismissed altogether. The issue of psychological coercion, of having someone in a position of authority command one to perform sex acts or lose one's job, must also be addressed.

Any relief this woman will have to depend upon a civil settlement. If, as it appears, her motive was to accuse a wealthy, and highly visible public figure of something that might destroy his career and, when that fails, go after him in a civil action, she has succeeded in her mission. That said, while the charges against Strauss-Kahn may be dismissed, one must not dismiss the maid completely, and instead examine just how rampant sexual harassment in the workplace is, as well as how to contain it.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Michael Winship

How Washington Could Create Jobs Right Now
By Michael Winship

I like to ask friends about the oddest summer job they ever had. One talks about how he used to don a rubber suit every morning at a Sylvania electronics plant in Syracuse, NY, and climb into a tank, where he dipped television tubes into some sort of mercury solution. He now moonlights as a thermometer.

Another spent a summer walking from floor to floor of a Manhattan skyscraper. His job was to take a long stick and un-jam the mail chute that ran alongside the elevator banks from the highest floor of the building to the bottom. When he reached the basement, he took the elevator back to the top and started all over again, a Sisyphean postman.

A third worked in a factory that canned orange juice concentrate. In the process of filtering for impurities, the pulp was removed from the juice. But lots of people insisted on the authentic taste and texture of pulp in their o.j., so my friend's job was to sit with an ice pick and an enormous frozen block of pulp. As cans of concentrate came by on a conveyor belt, he'd chip off a bit and throw it in.

Much of that kind of summer work doesn't exist these days for teenagers or anyone else, not only because of our snail-like jobless recovery, but also the simple reality that technology has kissed goodbye to so many of our relatively mindless, rote occupations. My first college summer job was working at The New Republic magazine, where I was in charge of compiling the publication's semi-annual index, a deadly duty that required a typewriter and piles of index cards on which were noted subjects, authors, dates, etc. I then spent several days taping them onto long sheets of legal paper which were shipped off to the printer. My first published work. Today, computers compile and collate that kind of data in nanoseconds. Good for them and us, I guess, but at least it was a job when I needed one.

Technology, outsourcing, the colossal economic meltdown of 2008 -- according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in June, there were 4.5 out of work men and women for every available job. That's down slightly from 4.6 to 1 in May, but "still extremely high," reported Heidi Shierholz of the progressive Economic Policy Institute. "June marks two-and-a-half years straight that the job seeker's ratio has been substantially above 4-to-1... [That means] for three out of four unemployed workers, there are simply no jobs."

She continues, "Unfortunately, instead of helping the unemployment situation, the debt ceiling deal..... will slow growth and make joblessness worse." Gene Robinson of The Washington Post concurs and adds: "The Republican solution has been to eliminate jobs rather than create them. Last month, the economy added 117,000 jobs -- a performance so weak that unemployment changed little. The private sector actually added 154,000 jobs, but the public sector lost 37,000 jobs as Republicans continue to impose an austerity program at an inopportune moment."

Republican House members even oppose House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson's proposal to set up a joint select committee on job creation, with representatives from both parties, similar to the new, debt deal supercommittee that's supposed to carve at least $1.2 trillion out of the deficit. (Hard to believe Capitol Hill could ever resist creating yet another committee but go figure.)

Speaker John Boehner's spokesman says it "sounds like a scheme for more of the same failed 'stimulus' government spending," but as Gene Robinson noted, "The GOP seems to believe that a federal, state or local job somehow isn't a 'real' job. I'll bet most Americans know otherwise."

Because there actually are lots of solid proposals beyond the Republicans' broken record of more tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy, deregulation and continued exploitation of fossil fuels -- "their mantra," as Wall Street exec and former Treasury official Steven Rattner writes, of "repeal and retrenchment, devoid of new initiatives or a positive agenda."

There are jobs to be had, jobs for the creating, even good ones, if Washington can just pull its head out of... the hole it's dug for itself. But just as a starting point of reference, for all the GOP denigration of TARP, actions by the Federal Reserve and the Obama stimulus, according to a recent report issued by the non-partisan policy group Demos, "It's important to remember that we dodged a far more lethal bullet. The Great Recession could have turned into another Great Depression. The fact that it did not is attributable to the federal government's forceful macroeconomic intervention in late 2008 and early 2009. Economists Alan Blinder and Mark Zandi (one a former Clinton appointee to the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, and the other a former economic advisor to Senator John McCain) have estimated that the nation's unemployment rate would have reached 16 percent rather than its actual 10.1 percent in the absence of this intervention."

The report, "Back to Work: A Public Jobs Proposal for Economic Recovery," written by Rutgers law and economics professor Philip Harvey, recommends an approach that "doesn't require us to wait for the economy to recover in order to put people back to work. It puts people back to work as a way of nourishing the recovery. It's a strategy for producing a job-led recovery rather than the jobless recovery we have been experiencing so far.

"The recovery strategy... is conceptually simple: Create jobs for the unemployed directly and immediately in public employment programs that produce useful goods and services for the public's benefit. What this does for the unemployed is obvious. They get decent work while they wait for the recession to run its course... Benefits delivered... trickle up to the private sector, inducing private sector job creation that supplements the immediate employment effect of the job creation program itself."

A million temporary jobs in a federally administered, direct jobs creation program -- jobs in childcare, eldercare, education, public health and housing, construction and maintenance, recreation and the arts. And as many as 414,000 jobs created outside the program. Annual cost in program spending: $46.4 billion. Actual net cost, taking into account revenues and savings: only $28.6 billion. How? For a fuller explanation, you can read the complete Demos report at: (Full disclosure: I'm a fellow at Demos.)

By the way, Harvey adds, "We currently need about 8.2 million more jobs to reduce the nation's unemployment rate to 4.5%. Creating that many jobs in a program like the one described... would require a net increase in federal spending of about $235 billion during the first year... If the Bush-era tax cuts had been allowed to expire at the end of 2010, the federal government would have collected about $295 billion in additional revenue during 2011. This would have been more than enough to cover the cost of the job program."

Aspects of the report's proposals are mirrored by legislation soon to be introduced by Illinois Democratic Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky -- the Emergency Jobs to Restore the American Dream Act. Over two years, her plan would cost $227 billion and would be paid for by tax increases for those earning more than $1 million and $1 billion, closing corporate tax loopholes and ending subsidies for big oil. She says such programs as a School Improvement Corps, a Park Improvement Corps, a Community Corps, and the Neighborhood Heroes Corps, among other such New Deal-echoing creations, would create 2.2 million jobs and decrease unemployment by 1.3 percent.

Before you uncase your dueling pistols or put quill to parchment in an angry letter to the Times, for those of the right and center who seethe that Rep. Schakowsky's plan veers too close to the days of FDR or even the sunny side of Bolshevism, there's also a proposal floating about from the Alliance of American Manufacturing, a coalition of leading manufacturers and the United Steelworkers, that focuses on private sector job creation. One manufacturing job, they say, supports four or five others.

Among its provisions, according to AAM's executive director Scott N. Paul: a national infrastructure bank leveraging capital for transportation and energy projects (a similar proposal is favored by President Obama); reshaping the tax code "in a revenue neutral way to provide incentives for job creation and investment," including R&D tax credits and lower tax rates for manufacturing in America; "buy America" provisions for all federal spending; expediting small business loans; and shifting "some education investment to rebuilding our vocational and technical skills."

I especially like this one: "Kick any CEO off of federal advisory boards or jobs councils who has: (1) not created net new American jobs over the past five years, or (2) is expanding the company's foreign workforce at a faster rate than its domestic workforce. Replace them with CEOs who are committed to investing in America. Shame is a good motivator."

The president will make a major speech on jobs shortly after Labor Day. According to the Associated Press, "It is likely to include tax cuts to help the middle class, a build-up-America construction program that goes beyond any infrastructure proposal Obama has had already, and targeted help for the particularly worrisome group of people who have remained unemployed for many months in a row."

All good, but unfortunately, if the past is any indication, what President Obama proposes will not be as bold or far-reaching as many of the ideas presented above. It certainly won't include my personal favorite, as suggested by Steve Benen at Washington Monthly's "Political Animal" blog: "Have the White House take the several hundred letters GOP lawmakers have sent to the executive branch since 2009, asking for public investments, and let President Obama announce he'll gladly fund all of the Republicans' requests that have not yet been filled. This is especially important when it comes to infrastructure, a sector in which GOP members have pleaded for more investment in their areas...

"If these Republican lawmakers have identified worthwhile projects in need of government spending, which they themselves insist will boost the economy, why not start spending the money GOP officials want to see spent?"

Why not indeed? Alas, such an idea runs smack into more deficits: a deficit of irony among Republicans, certainly, but worse, a deficit of commitment and vision from a White House which until now at least, has been more focused on the pragmatic middle, despite a gainsaying opposition that yields nothing. Still, as Benen writes, "When Republicans say 'no jobs, no way,' at least the nation will be able to see where both parties stand, and then choose accordingly next year." Amen.


Michael Winship is senior writing fellow at Demos, president of the Writers Guild of America, East, and former senior writer of Bill Moyers Journal on PBS.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Mitt Perry?

Think about it, what would the former governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney, need for a winning ticket in the 2012 presidential race?

As John F. Kennedy realized back in 1960, whether you're a Democrat or Republican, it is hard to win any presidential race without a Southern stronghold like Texas.

But, it's even harder for Republicans. As an article in CNN first reported, no Republican ticket has succeeded in winning the White House in the past thirty years or more without a Texan as part of the team.

So, there is nothing curious about Perry's grand entrance recently in the Republican fold. Is his decision to run, as Perry asserts the result of his wife's coaxing, or perhaps somehow related to the same folks who coaxed him to change parties after being a Democrat for years?

It is, after all, about packaging. Essentially, Perry is Romney with a bit more testasterone maybe. They're both wedded to big business. They both morph according to political convenience. Both are uber-politicans. Both tout their business acumen which, roughly translated, means they're effective in the sack with corporate special interests. Both seem to respect corporate personhood more than human personhood. And, both Perry and Romney will benefit from the Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United. Romney is indeed the Tweedle Dee to Perry's Tweedle Dum.

So, why then wouldn't Romney and Perry join forces? They seem to complement each other like two sides of the same coin. It would come as no surprise were Gov. Romney to invite Gov. Perry to be his vice president. Why? Again, go back over the Republican administrations of the past thirty years or more, starting with Ronald Reagan, et voila, there's been a Texan on the ticket.

And, in a Shakespearean twist of irony, a Democratic senator from Massachusetts' decision to invite another Texan Lyndon B. Johnson, led to passage not only of the Civil Rights Act, but the Voting Rights Act, and sweeping legislation for desegregation.

Even Democrats have been forced to pay lip service to the so-called Southern strategy that Perry, Bachmann, Paul, and Palin represent, a strategy first adopted by Richard Nixon, and continued under Pres. George H.W. Bush, that other "Texas miracle."

The Southern strategy, as the New York Times first reported back in 1996, was to win elections by exploiting racial antagonism harbored by Southern white voters against African-Americans using the euphemism of states' rights. The "states rights" argument has often been code for circumventing the Civil Rights Act, and the Voting Rights Act. Why should
the Republican nominating process in 2012 be any different?

To the contrary, what's happening now is remarkably similar to what happened half a century ago. John F. Kennedy, a Northerner, found himself partnering up with Lyndon B. Johnson, the quintessential Southerner.

But it wasn't until Richard Nixon came along that the ascendancy of Southern white supremacy became a political strategy.

Rick Perry's comet-like entry into an otherwise insipid Republican field reeks of of the tea party's promise "take our country back." And, whether he likes it or not, Mitt Romney will have to fast rewind to another president, Ronald Reagan, and also find himself partnering up with a Texan.

By the time Labor Day 2012 rolls around, Mitt Romney and Rick Perry will congeal so effectively that, like peanut butter, they will simply come to be known as "Mitt Perry."

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Rick Perry by the Numbers

Okay, now that Texas governor, Rick Perry, is officially a candidate for president, and while he's busy putting out the pablum that he wants to "get America working again," as he told a South Carolina audience yesterday, it might be helpful to look at some statistics about just how that state has changed while he's been at the helm:

First, Gov. Perry would like you to think he is for smaller government, but as when he became the governor of Texas in 2000, the total spending by the Texas state government was approximat­ely $49 billion, according to Economic Policy Journal.
Perry nearly doubled the total spending by Texas state government in the past ten years.

Secondly, Despite anything the governor would like you to think, and according to usdebtcloc­, the debt to GDP ratio in Texas is 22.9% and the debt per citizen is $10,645. In California, a state that is in a state of fiscal emergency, the debt to GDP ratio is just 18.7% and the debt per citizen is only $9932. Don't expect the Perry campaign to announce these figures any time soon.

And, let's not forget, that the total debt for the state has nearly doubled since Perry took over as governor back in 2000, per the Web site Politifact.

In terms of the myth of job creation, yes, as governor, Perry created about a million new jobs, but as NPR reports, the jobs he created "are not sufficient for families to support themselves." Texas has underfunded its medicaid program, as well as postponed its payments to schools and, per NPR, many thousands of teachers can expect to receive layoff notices.

Mr. Perry would also probably want you to forget that he is a lapsed Democrat with religious extremist ties that make the Rapture folks look like they play for the little league.

As Rachel Maddow reports, the stadium prayer event the governor did a week ago links him directly to religious leaders who think that Hurricane Katrina was the lord's way of retaliating against the sinners of New Orleans, and who say there is a direct correlation between man's sins and violent storms, flooding, and even the horror of the nuclear power plant meltdown in Fukushima. The teflon Texan is spiritually in bed with folks that make Michele Bachmann's wildest statements seem moderate by comparison. And, like that other Texan whose seat he inherited when George W. Bush ran for president, Rick Perry thinks he has a direct line to the Almighty, too, so should he be elected, we can certainly expect more jihads in the name of a war on terror.

Listening to Gov. Perry babble on about the sins of regulation, and how this has messed up the so-called free market reminds one of another strikingly handsome, charismatic figure, Ronald Reagan, and like the former president, Mr. Perry appears to have completey forgotten his humble Democratic beginnings. As the voters learn more about his far-fetched claims of economic prowess, this will cost him bigtime in November, 2012.

(with thanks to a comment on my HuffPost article for this information)

Saturday, August 13, 2011

From Michael Winship

Big Business Has Been Very Very Good to Mitt Romney
By Michael Winship

As the noted philosopher and rock and roll irritant David Lee Roth once said, "Money can't buy you happiness, but it can buy you a yacht big enough to pull up right alongside it."

I often think of his sage words as I watch the early days of the 2012 political campaigns. For the phrase "buy you a yacht," simply substitute "buy you an election." Then behold the havoc wrought by Citizens United and other court decisions that have unleashed a mudslide of corporate cash into our electoral system, much of it anonymous, hurling the average citizen out of the democratic equation.

An estimated $40 million will be spent in those nine Wisconsin State Senate recall elections -- most of it from outside, third-party interest groups and twice what was spent last year on all 116 of the state's legislative races. Most believe President Obama will raise a billion dollars or even more for his re-election bid; enough, as NPR's Peter Overby observed, to buy up all the TV ads on the Super Bowl -- four times.

The Republican nominee may also raise and spend a billion. If it turns out to be former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, buying that electoral yacht will be a tad easier than for others. Back in 2007, The New York Times estimated his worth at nearly $350 million, and he plowed a reported $44.5 million of his own money into his 2008 presidential campaign.

Certainly, there has been a deep strain of noblesse oblige throughout the history of American governance, the wealthy feeling the urge (and having the disposable income and free time) to come to the aid of their country, both for good and ill. But with Romney, so much a complaisant creature of the corporate culture that dropped us into our current mess without a parachute, we have a tsunami-in-waiting.

As he scurries to the right, running away from his moderate record as Massachusetts governor (although there's no escaping the irony of this week's reports that the state's upgrade to an AA rating from Standard & Poor's during his tenure was achieved, in part, through tax hikes), it's illuminating to remember not only how Romney amassed his personal fortune, but also how the fundraising apparatus surrounding him probes for yet more ways to scam the system. Not content with the freewheeling liberties already granted by the courts, his money machine relentlessly pursues ever more insidious routes to the fattest wallets and checkbooks.

The opening chapters may be familiar to you. As a June 2007 article in the Times reported, Romney's personal fortune was amassed from his leadership at the private equity firm Bain Capital. "Mr. Romney's Bain career -- a source of money and contacts that he has used to finance his Massachusetts campaigns and to leap ahead of his presidential rivals in early fund-raising... exposes him to criticism that he enriched himself excessively, sometimes by cutting jobs to increase profits." The newspaper quoted Boston University business professor James E. Post: "Increasingly, this world of private equity looks like a world of robber barons, and Romney comes out of that world."

A similar article that same month and year in The Boston Globe noted that Bain Capital specialized in leveraged buyouts and cited MIT Sloan School of Management professor Howard Anderson. Bain, he said, would do "everything they can" to increase the value of the companies it bought. "The promise [to investors] is to make as much money as possible. You don't say we're going to make as much money as possible without going offshore and laying off people."

Stephen Colbert may have summed it up best: "Mitt Romney knows just how to trim the fat. He rescued businesses like Dade Behring, Stage Stories, American Pad and Paper, and GS Industries, then his company sold them for a profit of $578 million after which all of those firms declared bankruptcy. Which sounds bad, but don't worry, almost no one worked there anymore."

Another of the companies sucked into Bain's gravitational pull was the medical testing firm Damon Corp. that, according to the Globe, “later pleaded guilty to defrauding the federal government of $25 million and paid a record $119 million fine.

"Romney sat on Damon's board. During Romney's tenure, Damon executives submitted bills to the government for millions of unnecessary blood tests. Romney and other board members were never implicated... But court records suggest that the Damon executives' scheme continued throughout Bain's ownership... Bain, meanwhile, tripled its investment. Romney personally reaped $473,000."

But unlike the companies it bought, at Bain itself, failure could be rewarded -- if your name was Mitt. Take a look at the sweetheart deal Romney got when he took over Bain Capital, a spinoff of consulting firm Bain & Company where he had been an executive. In an arrangement any start-up enterpriser would kill for, as per the Globe, founder Bill Bain guaranteed that if the Bain Capital experiment tanked, "Romney would get his old job and salary back, plus any raises handed out during his absence." What's more, if he proved unfit for the task, "Bain agreed to craft a cover story if necessary, promising to bring Romney back to the consulting firm and explain Romney's return as a matter of his being more valuable to Bain as a consultant."

Nice. No wonder Romney told an Iowa crowd this week that, "Corporations are people, my friend." Like Garrett Morris' Chico Escuela in the early days of Saturday Night Live, big business been berry berry good to him. Would that it had been berry berry good to the hundreds fired at companies taken over by Bain Capital.

Yes, corporate people power has served Romney well, especially when it comes to political fundraising. As Huffington Post reported this week, "According to disclosure reports filed at the end of July, 61 registered lobbyists and five lobbyist-linked political action committees contributed $137,650 to Romney's campaign between Jan. 1 and June 30, 2011. The former Massachusetts governor raised more money from lobbyists during this period than all of his competitors combined... Craig Holman, legislative representative for the watchdog group Public Citizen, told HuffPost that Romney's lead in lobbyist cash 'strongly suggests that Romney is the favored candidate for wealthy special interest groups, especially K Street. They clearly think that they can get their foot in the door with Mitt Romney.'"

Then there's this in the July 20 Washington Post: "The largest corporate sources of money for Romney are mostly finance industry leaders, including Morgan Stanley and Bank of America. Goldman Sachs employees have given nearly a quarter of a million dollars in contributions... The keys to his success appear to be large donors and contributors from the New York area. Nearly three-quarters of Romney's money came from donors giving the maximum $2,500 contribution, and one in eight of Romney's donors live in New York City and its suburbs." Of the $18 million raised by his campaign in the second quarter this year, one million came from a single trip to New York in May, including a University Club event crammed to its poshly appointed walls with banking executives.

So it's not surprising that in the Romney camp, the creative accounting techniques perfected by Wall Street are a specialty. It was again The Boston Globe -- which seems to have covered Romney's political ambitions since they first danced in his head -- that wrote back on April 15, "The former Massachusetts governor has become a master of a controversial but legal fund-raising technique that relies on a network of loosely regulated state political action committees to collect those funds."

Example: four members of the Marriott hotel family, close friends with the Romneys and fellow Mormons, wrote checks totaling $215,000 to Romney's campaign, far more than an individual is allowed to give to federal political committees. "Romney, more fully exploiting the system he employed in the 2008 election cycle, got around those restrictions by taking in contributions through political committees set up under the rules of individual states. Most of the money was then transferred to Romney's federal political action committee, Free and Strong America, and used to pay the salaries of top aides, political consultants, and traveling expenses."

Consider, too, the super PAC Restore Our Future, supposedly independent, but run by former Romney political aides in support of their man's candidacy. Restore Our Future raised $12.2 million in the first half of 2012. Under the new, relaxed rules it can raise unlimited funds but must disclose who contributes and cannot legally coordinate with the candidates themselves or the candidates' official campaign committees. Of Restore Our Future's 90 wealthy donors so far, the ubiquitous Marriotts among them, four gave a million dollars apiece. One was John Paulson, described by the website Politico as "a New York hedge fund billionaire who became famous for enriching himself by betting on the collapse of the housing industry."

The other three allegedly are corporations but none of them conduct any real business. Two, Eli Publishing and something called F8 LLC, each list the same Provo, Utah, address as trusts set up by the families of two executives at the anti-aging product company Nu Skin Enterprises. Nu Skin founders and fellow Mormons Stephen Lund and Blake Roney were big contributors to Romney's first White House campaign in 2008. (For what it's worth, twice in the nineties, Nu Skin was hauled before the Federal Trade Commission and paid a total of $2.5 million to settle allegations of unsubstantiated product claims.)

The other shell company, W Spann LLC, was even more mysterious. As first reported by Michael Isikoff of NBC News, it was dissolved only months after it was created, and just two weeks before Restore Our Future reported the company's donation. As Isikoff wrote, "Campaign finance experts say the use of an opaque company like W Spann to donate large sums of money into a political campaign shows how post-Watergate disclosure laws are now being increasingly circumvented."

After days of media demands and questions, the man behind W Spann finally came forward: Edward Conard, a retired managing director of -- surprise -- Bain Capital. But he only stepped up after the groups Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center requested investigations by the Justice Department and the Federal Elections Commission. He made his donation "after consulting prominent legal counsel regarding the transaction," Conard said, "and based on my understanding that the contribution would comply with applicable laws."

Phony businesses set up for the sole purpose of laundering campaign money and shielding who's really behind massive contributions? The donors responsible for the dummy corporations all say they have noting to hide. So why hide it? Maybe to keep their distance, because Restore Our Future could be planning attack ads on Republican rivals and President Obama that will be harsher and more truth bending than anything Romney and his nearest and dearest can officially support.

We need to discover this and other answers before the money machine completely supplants the voting machine, and any last chance to have our voices heard is permanently stilled by cold hard cash.


Michael Winship is senior writing fellow at Demos, president of the Writers Guild of America, East, and former senior writer of Bill Moyers Journal on PBS

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Rick Perry and J.R. Ewing: Both Bad for Jobs

Now it's well, almost, official that Texas governor Rick Perry will throw his Stetson in the ring and seek his party's presidential nomination, though it's taking longer for him to declare than it takes most cowboys to die from a bullet wound in westerns.

And, right around the time the Republican National Convention meets in Tampa next August, Dallas will be back on the map not only because of Rick Perry, but because the hit TV series of thirty years ago will be making a comeback. While the show's producers might call this a coincidence, they couldn't have picked a better time to debut. The comparisons between the "Dallas" on TV, and the kind of country Rick Perry would work to preserve are irresistible.

Okay, I confess to have watched "Dallas" often myself, and to be captivated not just by the relationship between J.R. and Bobby, but by the Mercedes sports cars, and perfectly chiseled features of opulence. I found myself quickly sucked up into a vacuum of unparalleled luxury, and simultaneously excluded from it for, during the day, I joined the multitudes who were either working a nine to five job, or looking for one. The last part of the newspaper one might expect to find J.R. Ewing mulling over is the "help wanted" section. It's no easier to imagine Rick Perry mulling over the classifieds either unless he's looking to buy a new yacht.

Since he took over as governor of Texas, an office abandoned by George W. Bush in 2000 when he entered the presidential race, Rick Perry has been about as good for job growth as J.R. Ewing.

Yes, it's true that Perry will boast that, on his watch, Texas added more than a million new jobs, more any other state and, according to ABC News, it's equally true, and widely known, that they were predominantly low paying jobs. What the governor may not be too quick to admit though is that Texas ranks up at the top of the list of states having the most minimum wage workers.

The great partiarch of that Dallas ranch comes to mind when you consider how a governor could let an innocent man be executed knowing considerable evidence existed that showed the man was innocent. Consider the character of a public official who, when confronted with the man's likely innocence, opts to fire members of a commission working for the man's exoneration, and has the man executed anyway. If that doesn't smack of J.R. Ewing, what does?

Of course, there are differences, too. Rick Perry isn't an oil man like J.R. Ewing, though most of the state's economy still depends on oil and gas, and he hasn't moved one finger in the direction of changing that.

Do we really want a commander-in-chief who hails from a state that not only has had the most growth of minimum wage jobs in the past decade, but also the most executions, and how will this help contain our global military efforts?

Moreover, while Texas is one of the fastest growing states in the country, and has the second largest population, how does the state legislature, and its Republican governor plan to address the state's gaping budget deficit of $27 billion? By cutting funding for public schools by nearly $5 billion. According to the Huffington Post, layoffs in education and state agencies combined will cost about 100,000 workers their jobs. Keep this in mind when you watch the airwaves inundated with advertisements extolling Perry's prowess at job creation. Remember, too, that he'd rather hire more ranch hands and gardeners for J.R. Ewing than teachers, and fire fighters.

After all, when was the last time you saw gardeners involved in collective bargaining? Surely not in feudal times, and this is exactly where the governor of Texas, and his radical right cronies, would like to time travel most.

In fairness, Texas isn't the only state targeting education as a way to remedy their growing budget deficits. California, New Jersey, and Wisconsin have also done so. Notably, though, in the past decade, this has only happened on a Republican governor's watch. If there's ever a question as to who should be forced to endure the gravest austerity measures, make no mistake, it will be those least represented by unions.

The idea of balancing the budget on the backs of state workers is a heinous one, and that anyone could be taken seriously as a presidential candidate who would greenlight such a policy smacks of the right wing reactionaries who, with their phobic preoccupation with the federal budget deficit, mask their real concern which is keeping the wealth exactly where it has been for the past thirty years in the upper 2%, and insulating it from attack.

Public workers have something else that folks like Governors Walker and Perry want to do away with, strong unions. It's not the size of federal government, per se, that Tea Party supporters like Rick Perry think needs shrinking. They want to divest public unions of their power. In a clash of management and labor, Gov. Perry wants to ensure that labor loses, or if they get anything, what they get amounts to little more than the crumbs from the table.

It's not in the least surprising that Rick Perry joins the cowards chorus who want to see the public sector take the largest hit as he happens to be a fan of the Tea Party, a group that claims to support smaller government.

Yet, though he inveighed against the size of the federal government, as ABC News also reports, that didn't stop Governor Perry from taking every federal dollar of stimulus money he could get his hands on.

The next time you're at a rally, and you hear a candidate for public office advocate for smaller government, ask them if they believe in smaller government enough that they would resign to make it happen.

It's going to be hard for Gov. Perry to keep a straight face when he tries to talk about balancing the budget during the presidential campaign season in light of how he balanced his state's budget. It's also going to be too easy to defuse any pablum he puts out about job creation. If given half a chance, there would be no public sector if it were up to Perry. Walker, Bachmann, and Rand Paul, there would be only a "private" and a "less private" sector.

The truth is, Texas is now doing to public workers what Wisconsin did. Were the White House to be handed over to Rick Perry by election, or by Supreme Court, we'd see union busting unlike anything we've seen since the days of Ronald Reagan not to mention even greater cuts to education, law enforcement, and social agencies.

A Rick Perry presidency would only benefit those who are part of his cabal and hurt those who aren't. In 2007, he ordered all 12 year old girls vaccinated against HPV not because he's health conscious, but because a lobbyist for the HPV vaccine also happened to be a close personal friend. Sounds like something right out of the J.R. Ewing playbook.

As ABC notes, something else that might bring a big smile to J.R.'s face is if he were to hear Gov. Perry tell a rally of Tea Partiers, back in 2009, that having Texas secede from the union is indeed "an option."

So, if you find yourself seduced by that big Texan smile, the allure of massive amounts of testasterone at play, if you miss the cowboy mystique of his predecessor, George W. Bush, another Texan and former president, remember this: the only union Gov. Perry is interested in is the kind you can secede from.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

"The New Era of Hostage Politics"

The New Era of Hostage Politics

By Michael Winship

When I arrived in Washington this past Sunday, just as the debt ceiling crisis was approaching its climax, all the flags surrounding the capital's Union Station stood at half-mast. I blackly joked with my brother and sister-in-law that maybe they'd been lowered to mark the death of the New Deal. (In fact, they honored the recent passing of former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman John Shalikashvili.)

As for those throngs of sightseers, defying the malarial heat and clogging the DC streets and sidewalks? I imagined them engaged in that phenomenon known as "last chance tourism" -- getting to a location before it disappears, like the melting glaciers of the Rockies.

But my bleakest fantasies aside, Washington and America still stand, although the shining city on a hill Ronald Reagan liked to extol has been graffitied with the intemperate sloganeering and mudslings of Tea Partiers and others of the right who believe the best government is none at all, and selfishly would have those in need huddle, jobless and hungry, in the dark. (What's the old joke: how many laissez-faire economists does it take to screw in a lightbulb? None -- the market will take care of it.)

Like so many progressives, I tried, really tried to find a silver lining in the deal that finally was brokered, much as one occasionally hears news reports on the "upside" of global warming. (Wider shipping lanes in the Arctic -- hooray!) Programs for the poor seem to be protected, for now. Medicare cuts allegedly don't affect beneficiary payments. The Bush tax cuts for the wealthy still expire in 2013! (I'll believe it when I see it.)

All cold solace at best. Because it's impossible not to shake the idea that in their unthinking zeal to slash spending, carve down the deficit, and destroy the opposition, Republicans are like the guy drilling holes in the hull of his foundering lifeboat to let the water out -- despite the objections and pleas of the other passengers.

Which reflects a larger problem. As Jonathan Bernstein wrote in Monday's Washington Post, "...The GOP's incentives are skewed. Rather than caring about policy, they appear to care more about symbolism, such as a Balanced Budget Amendment, than about actual policy. Rather than caring about cutting the best deal they can get, they appear to care more about proving their loyalty to the cause (they refused to deal on health care even though so doing might have gotten them more of what they wanted)...

"This requires them to oppose Democratic presidents regardless of what it means in substantive gains or losses. The result is that Republicans wind up following the lead of hucksters and talk show hosts, even when it leads them to strange places. And that, not anything inherent in Congress even in polarized times, winds up yielding a dysfunctional legislative process."

Like it or not, arcane and abused as some of its procedures are, corrupted by money and influence, complicated beyond reason and in gross need of reform, what's left of our system only works if there are rules of procedure and behavior. Sometimes those rules are unwritten, more tradition than codified in law, mutually accepted by all concerned. Lose that, as we now have, and everything else goes straight to hell.

The don't-give-a-damn, slash-and-burn, hostage taking methods used by Republican leadership in the debt fight are distressingly undemocratic and seriously undermine the remnants of this fragile, representative republic. Worth it, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said the other day. In fact, he could imagine a repeat performance.

And so they will keep doing it again and again because, as we've just seen, it works. President Obama and many of his fellow Democrats have let them get away with it and even acted as accessories to the crime, caving in and buying into the notion that at a time when further government stimulus is crucial for jobs and growth, the main thing to do is to cut spending. It wouldn't surprise me if future legislation from the GOP came in the form of ransom notes, words and letters torn from newspapers and magazines and pasted on the page, more threat than law.

In the immediate wake of the debt ceiling war, the impasse over the Federal Aviation Administration -- now temporarily broken in the face of public opinion, nearly 75,000 put out of work and potentially hundreds of millions in lost tax revenue -- is ample evidence of Republican intent. When Democrats pushed back against an attempt to overthrow a National Mediation Board ruling making it easier for airline (and railroad) workers to unionize, the House refused to reauthorize FAA funding, normally a routine decision, then offered a puny, one-month extension but furthered the blackmail by threatening to shut off subsidies for rural air service in the home states of key Democratic Senators Harry Reid, Jay Rockefeller (chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee) and Max Baucus (chairman of the Senate Finance Committee).

New York Senator Chuck Schumer said, "Airports are the economic engines of the small communities around the country, and that economic engine is now stuck in neutral... [Republicans] have taken brinkmanship again one step too far." Even Texas Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison said the move was "not honorable," but when Rockefeller cried foul, the man who added the rural airport provision, Republican Congressman John Mica, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, disingenuously claimed: "It's just a tool to try to motivate some action to get this resolved."

In other words, our way or no highway in the sky. One reader of the website Talking Points Memo wrote, "They don't care about the will of the people, they don't care if government works (because they have convinced themselves that it's inherently bad) and they would rather have the country go down the tubes than not get what they want."

With appropriations legislation due for debate after the summer recess ends, there's much, much more of this kind of tactic to come. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi says she has a secret plan to defeat future hostage taking but "if I were to tell you... it would be defanged."

Unfortunately, when a secret plan is announced in public in advance of execution not only is it no longer secret, it usually turns out there wasn't much of a plan in the first place. We'll see.

One thing I do know: the only way to defeat truculent bullies and extremist ideologues is to fight back, stand up, say no. And much as it may go against your accommodating soul, Mr. President, that means you, too. Please step up to the plate.


Michael Winship is senior writing fellow at Demos, president of the Writers Guild of America, East, and former senior writer of Bill Moyers Journal on PBS.

Friday, August 05, 2011


Legendary comedian Lucille Ball would have been 100 years old today, August 6th. Her birthday: August 6, 1911.

Happy Birthday to everyone's favorite Lucy!!!