Friday, February 24, 2012

"Mike Daisey Takes a Bite Out of Apple"

By Michael Winship

If you would seek proof of that famous Margaret Mead adage, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has,” look at what’s happening as more and more people protest Apple Inc.’s labor practices in China.

Take it one step further: if you should ever doubt the impact a solitary artist can have against injustice, meet Mike Daisey.

Daisey is a monologist, a creator of one-man shows, whose performance piece “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” has jolted audiences into action as he parallels the obsessions of Jobs, the recently deceased former CEO of Apple; our consumer-driven lust for iPods, iPhones, and iPads and the human toll taken by their manufacture.

Apple – like virtually every other electronics manufacturer – subcontracts much of the work that goes into building its devices to companies in Asia. One of them, Foxconn Technology, is the largest private employer in China. Its factories there and in other parts of the world put together approximately forty percent of all the consumer electronics devices on the planet. Their largest facility, Foxconn City, is in Shenzhen, just across the border from Hong Kong, and employs nearly a quarter of a million workers.

As The New York Times reported late last month, “Employees work excessive overtime, in some cases seven days a week, and live in crowded dorms. Some say they stand so long that their legs swell until they can hardly walk. Under-age workers have helped build Apple’s products, and the company’s suppliers have improperly disposed of hazardous waste and falsified records, according to company reports and advocacy groups that, within China, are often considered reliable, independent monitors.

“More troubling, the groups say, is some suppliers’ disregard for workers’ health. Two years ago, 137 workers at an Apple supplier in eastern China were injured after they were ordered to use a poisonous chemical to clean iPhone screens. Within seven months last year, two explosions at iPad factories, including in Chengdu [the capital of Sichuan province in southwest China], killed four people and injured 77. Before those blasts, Apple had been alerted to hazardous conditions inside the Chengdu plant, according to a Chinese group that published that warning.”

The explosions were due to accumulations of aluminum dust from the polishing of thousands upon thousands of iPad cases. There have been more than a dozen suicides as well – part of Foxconn’s solution was to install nets around buildings to catch jumpers – and accounts of workers fired after their hands were made useless by repetitive stress injuries.

Many have reported on the working conditions at Foxconn, but it’s Mike Daisey’s one-man play, media coverage of his work and the broadcast of a one-hour version on the public radio series This American Life that seem to have galvanized public opinion.

Physically large and in charge, Mike Daisey’s performance style suggests a peculiar combination of the late Spalding Gray and Lewis Black of “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” He sits at a table on a bare stage with some notes and a glass of water and simply tells his story; at times hysterically funny, at others, poignant, withering and accusatory. Some might find his manner a bit loud and overbearing: the night we were there last fall, media moguls Barry Diller and David Geffen were sitting a couple of rows in front of us and walked out after the first fifteen minutes or so. (Don’t try to deny it: we have your ticket stubs.)

But maybe it wasn’t Daisey’s profanity and mild bellicosity that got under their skin and instead, some simple truths. Daisey begins by detailing his own passion for all things Apple (“I am an Apple fanboy, I am a worshipper in the cult of Mac”) and slowly segues into stories from the company’s history and its increasing dependence on Chinese labor. Daisey traveled to China to see it all firsthand.

“You know,” he says, “when we dream of a future when the regulations are washed away and the corporations are finally free to sail above us, you don’t have to dream about some sci-fi-dystopian-Blade Runner-1984 bull____. You can go to Shenzhen tomorrow – they’re making your s___ that way today.”

All the bad publicity and petitions that sprang up, especially after Daisey’s public radio appearance apparently have gotten to super secretive Apple, which at an estimated worth of more than $465 billion has now surpassed ExxonMobil as the largest publicly traded company in the world. They’ve launched a PR counteroffensive that included this week’s “exclusive” visit to Foxconn City by Bill Weir of ABC’s “Nightline,” who reported on the suicides and other health issues but said, “China has very different values when it comes to gainful employment” and compared some of the complaints to what “you’d hear at any factory or college campus.”

Weir breathlessly referred to Apple products as “precious objects” and “works of art” and said that although Bob Iger, the CEO of the Walt Disney Company, ABC’s owner, sits on Apple’s board and the Steve Jobs Trust is Disney’s largest individual stockholder, “I only agreed to report exactly what I saw.”

In its latest, annual Supplier Responsibility Progress Report, Apple for the first time released a list of its subcontractors and announced that it has joined the Fair Labor Association, which makes unannounced factory inspections to check on working conditions and report violations. And last Saturday, Foxconn announced it’s raising salaries by as much as 25 percent (to $400 a month) and reducing excessive overtime.

But not so fast. According to the activist, Hong Kong-based Students and Scholars against Corporate Misbehavior, “The new basic wage… only applies to the workers in Shenzhen. In inland provinces, where two-thirds of production workers are based, basic salary remains meager. Given that inflation in China is high. Foxconn is just following the trend of wage increases in the electronics industry in China.”

As for the Fair Labor Association, it’s not all that independent. Writing on the CNN website, Scott Nova, executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium notes, “… Most of its money -- millions of dollars per year -- comes from the very companies whose labor practices it is supposed to scrutinize. Although Apple has not disclosed its financial relationship with the Fair Labor Association, it is likely now the organization's largest funder. Moreover, on the association's board of directors sit executives of major corporations such as Nike, Adidas and agribusiness giant Syngenta. The job of these executives is to represent the interests of other member companies, such as Apple. Under the Fair Labor Association's rules, the company representatives on the board exercise veto power over major decisions.”

Jeff Ballinger, director of Press for Change, a labor rights group, told The New York Times, “The Fair Labor Associaion is largely a fig leaf. There's all this rhetoric from corporate social responsibility people and the big companies that they want to improve labor standards, but all the pressure seems to be going the other direction -- they're trying to force prices down.”

Yes, Foxconn employees make well above the average salary of Chinese workers and yes, there are cultural issues and the overwhelming tide of globalization. But Apple is sitting on cash reserves of nearly $100 billion. As others have noted, just one tenth of one percent of that could go a long way toward improving conditions for its workers in China. They could even set up a health care plan. And as an anonymous former Apple executive said, “Suppliers would change everything tomorrow if Apple told them they didn’t have another choice.”

Meanwhile, Mike Daisey keeps performing “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” around the country. He finishes another New York run at the Public Theater on March 18, but you can listen to the This American Life radio version and at his website,, you now can download the entire script.

Daisey says, “If Apple would spend less energy finessing its public image, and instead apply its efforts to real transparency and accountability, it could be a true leader for the electronics industry. Apple today is still saying what it said yesterday: trust us, we know best, there's nothing to worry about. They have not earned the trust they are asking for.”

There’s much protesters can do: petitions, letters, phone calls, boycotts. And Daisey has written that, “Talking about it, thinking about it when making purchasing decisions, and understanding it is not just symbolic. In a world of silence, speaking itself is action. It can be the first seeds of actual change. Do not be afraid to plant them.”

In other words, Mike Daisey proclaims, “Spread the virus.”


Michael Winship, senior writing fellow at Demos, is senior writer of the weekly public television series “Moyers & Company.”

Monday, February 20, 2012

Private Company Makes Bid to Control State Prisons

As a spunky thirty year old, I went to visit my dad in Boca Raton one summer, and perhaps for the shock value confided to him that I was writing pornography. My father wasn't easily shocked. He looked at me, and said simply, "There's lots of money in pornography."

And, he was right. There was then and still is lots of money to be made in hard and soft porn, but the real money to be made now is in prisons.

Last week Reader Supported News reported that a giant private prison company, Corrections Corporations of America, has approached virtually every state in the union with the offer that they'd buy up their prisons, and "manage convicted criminals at a cost-savings."

What better time for such an offer, too, when states like California are releasing many minor offenders for lack of money, but a closer look shows that this kind of offer is not unlike a leveraged buyout of federal and state prisons, but with one obvious caveat: per Reader Supported News, too, the company in this case, Corrections Corporations of America, is demanding a 20 year contract. And, more importantly, prisons must be delivered 90% full. 90% full of what, you might ask, of human "product." Inmates are the assets at the root of prison privatization.

CCA has already devoted $250 million to this so-called prison management venture which is, in reality, not unlike the reconstruction deals awarded to Halliburton after the occupation in Iraq. The independent contractors earn just as much revenue as the parent company.

1 in 100 Americans are behind bars as the New York Times has reported. The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world. That number is bound to grow when more companies like Corrections Corporations of America get a whiff of all the money to be made in this industry.

This is nothing new, of course, former vice-president, Dick Cheney's Vanguard Group, while dealing in mutual funds, has famously found a breeding ground for investor money in private prisons for the past several years.

What's the difference between what CCA is doing, and what Vanguard and other companies that deal in privatizing prisons have done?

Well, for openers, Corrections Corporations of America is taking its bid to the states, 48 states in all, and is insisting upon a 20 year contract for services rendered. More importantly, CCA will only work with those states that produce can produce a full house, thus they provide dangerous incentives to law enforcement, district attorneys, and judges to book first and ask questions later, if ever. Essentially, what Corrections Corporations of America is capitalizing on is the burgeoning incarceration business.

To think that any firm can engage in gross profit-making activities that lead to questioning whether those who are incarcerated even benefited to their right to a fair trial is nauseating and noxious in any society that even pretends to be democratic.

For the practice of incarceration based on crime to be privatized, and that insidious practice to be neutralized by euphemisms like convict "management" is repugnant, an no less repugnant than an image of the devil selling time shares in hell.

CCA claims it will help states control costs of their prison system, but what they really want, of course, is a piece of the action. The larger question is, does anyone deserve to make profit off human "product," especially when that profit margin depends upon locking up as many of those who have been systematically disenfranchised by ajudicial system that has been compromised for generations?

When payday for corporate carpetbaggers comes as a consequence of further marginalizing those who already endure chronic civic disenfranchisement can there be greater moral turpitude than that?

Indeed, any firm whose sustainability hinges on the management, and exponential proliferation of human "product" for profit can only be called a corporate pimp and since, as Mitt Romney says "corporations are people," it must follow then that corporations can be pimps, too.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The "Nuclear Renaissance?"

Here we are almost a year away from the nuclear meltdown in Fukushima that happened as a result of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami on March 11th of last year, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission announces that it is approving licenses to begin construction on the first nuclear power plants to be built in 30 years. The two new nuclear reactors will be in Georgia.

Southern Company's bid for the two nuclear plants, a project known as the Vogtle project, was greenlighted, as the Associated Press reports, despite the objections from NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko who considers safety still a big issue, and one that has yet to be resolved. Jaczko says, "We've given them a license. They have not given us any commitment they will make these changes in the future."

And, according to the AP, too, the plants could begin operating as early as 2016, and 2017.

What an odd idea, too, to have a "nuclear renaissance" in the wake of the latest report from Bloomberg that the temperature in a damaged reactor in Fukushima rose to perilous levels even after safety measures were attempted. Yes, that's right, nearly one year after the disaster, one of the now defunct reactors is still dangerously hot.

Why should Southern Co., and Georgia Power concern themselves with safety hazards like prolonged blackouts, or multiple meltdowns at various U.S. sites? There are no earthquakes in the U.S., right?

And, is the NRC abandoning its pledge, in the aftermath of the nuclear disaster in Japan, to enhance safety at nuclear power plants reactors in this country? Is it responsible governance to build more nuclear plants without unequivocal assurance that they are sound and relatively risk-free?

More importantly, why isn't this story getting more of a mainstream media boost especially given all the hooplah about Ahmadinejad, uranium enrichment, and a nuclear Iran?

President Obama doesn't appear to be concerned about any risks from nuclear meltdown. He's so excited about the new Vogtle project, he's even offered more than $8 billion in federal loan guarantees.

Whose brainchild was Vogtle? Arguably, the the Nuclear Energy Group, a powerful Washington lobbyist, was fine tuning the details on that eight billion as were aforementioned companies Southern Company, and Georgia Power. Oh, and by the way, as noted by the AP, Westinghouse, will be simulating the same reactor design for other yet to be approved for nuclear plants slated for construction in Florida and the Carolinas.

So, at a time when European countries like Germany have been vocal about rethinking their use of nuclear power as an alternate form of energy in light of Fukushima, it seems nothing short of perverse that the federal government should not only restate its commitment to nuclear energy as an alternative, but even go so far as to allot billions in the process at a time when states like California can use a stimulus package more than the nuclear power industry can. Indeed, if we're going to bailout anyone, it should be institutions of higher learning, and not instruments of potential mass casualty like nuclear reactors and drones.

And, as if to add insult to injury, the U.S. is currently engaged in an economic embargo, and on the verge of war with another country, Iran, that continually argues it wants to use nuclear reactors for the same reasons.

There are 104 nuclear reactors in the U.S. many of which would probably not pass a stress test, and a license has just been granted to build another two plants, the greatest increase in the past 30 years. The President has offered billions to help bolster this "nuclear renaissance" at a time when the Republicans are calling for austerity programs, and spending cuts that will impact seniors, workers, students, and those who depend upon government-subsidized health care programs.

This is not the time for a Democratic president to succumb to the wishes of the nuclear energy lobby. This is not the time for a Democratic president to agree to subsidize entitlement programs for big energy companies, but instead this is the time for federal resources to be shared with states that are hurting, so they don't have to turn another college student away, lay off any more firefighters, teachers, and law enforcement.

Time to put the "nuclear renaissance" on hold, and instead look to forge a stronger infrastructure that protects the weakest among us instead of exposing them to more peril.

We don't need a "nuclear renaissance," Mr. President. We need a renaissance in higher education. The many thousands of students who will be unable to go to college because they can't afford tuition, and those children who have to take a bus to go to a school several miles away because their elementary school was closed due to budget cuts, their kind of energy is more important to this country now than nuclear energy. Better to wait another 30 years before building another nuclear reactor, and instead share that $8 billion with those states that have the most egregious budget shortfalls.

"Money Throws Democracy Overboard"

By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

Watching what’s happening to our democracy is like watching the cruise ship Costa Concordia founder and sink slowly into the sea off the coast of Italy, as the passengers, shorn of life vests, scramble for safety as best they can, while the captain trips and falls conveniently into a waiting life boat.

We are drowning here, with gaping holes torn into the hull of the ship of state from charges detonated by the owners and manipulators of capital. Their wealth has become a demonic force in politics. Nothing can stop them. Not the law, which has been written to accommodate them. Not scrutiny -- they have no shame. Not a decent respect for the welfare of others -- the people without means, their safety net shredded, left helpless before events beyond their control.

The obstacles facing the millennial generation didn’t just happen. Take an economy skewed to the top, low wages and missing jobs, predatory interest rates on college loans: these are politically engineered consequences of government of, by, and for the one percent. So, too, is our tax code the product of money and politics, influence and favoritism, lobbyists and the laws they draft for rented politicians to enact.

Here’s what we’re up against. Read it and weep: “America’s Plutocrats Play the Political Ponies.” That’s a headline in “Too Much,” an Internet publication from the Institute for Policy Studies that describes itself as “an online weekly on excess and inequality.”

Yes, the results are in and our elections have replaced horse racing as the sport of kings. Only these kings aren’t your everyday poobahs and potentates. These kings are multi-billionaire, corporate moguls who by the divine right, not of God, but the United States Supreme Court and its Citizens United decision, are now buying politicians like so much pricey horseflesh. All that money pouring into super PACs, much of it from secret sources: merely an investment, should their horse pay off in November, in the best government money can buy.

They’re shelling out fortunes' worth of contributions. Look at just a few of them: Mitt Romney’s hedge fund pals Robert Mercer, John Paulson, Julian Robertson and Paul Singer – each of whom has ponied up a million or more for the super PAC called “Restore Our Future” -- as in, "Give us back the go-go days, when predators ruled Wall Street like it was Jurassic Park.”

Then there's casino boss Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam, fiercely pro-Israel and anti-President Obama's Mideast policy. Initially, they placed their bets on Newt Gingrich, who says on his first day in office he’d move the American Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, a decision that would thrill the Adelsons but infuriate Palestinians and the rest of the Muslim world. Together, the Adelsons have contributed ten million to Newt's “Winning Our Future” super PAC.

Cowboy billionaire Foster Friess, a born-again Christian who made his fortune herding mutual funds instead of cattle, has been bankrolling the “Red White and Blue Fund” super PAC of Rick Santorum, with whom he shares a social right-wing agenda. Dark horse Ron Paul has relied on the kindness of PayPal founder Peter Thiel, a like-minded libertarian in favor of the smallest government possible, who gave $900,000 to Paul’s “Endorse Liberty” super PAC. Hollywood’s Jeffrey Katzenberg has so far emptied his wallet to the tune of a cool two million for the pro-Obama super PAC, “Priorities USA Action.”

President Obama -- who kept his distance from Priorities USA Action and used to call the money unleashed by Citizens United a “threat to democracy” -- has declared if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. He urges his wealthy supporters to please go ahead and back the super PAC. "Our campaign has to face the reality of the law as it stands," his campaign manager Jim Messina said. To do otherwise, he added, would be to "unilaterally disarm" in the face of all those Republican super PAC millions. So much for Obama’s stand on campaign finance reform – everybody else is doing it, he seems to say, so why don’t you show me the money, too?

When all is said and done, this race for the White House may cost more than two billion dollars. What’s getting trampled into dust are the voices of people who aren't rich, not to mention what's left of our democracy. As Democratic pollster Peter Hart told The New Yorker magazine’s Jane Mayer, “It’s become a situation where the contest is how much you can destroy the system, rather than how much you can make it work. It makes no difference if you have a ‘D’ or an ‘R’ after your name. There’s no sense that this is about democracy, and after the election you have to work together, and knit the country together.”

These gargantuan super PAC contributions are not an end in themselves. They are the means to gain control of government – and the nation state -- for a reason. The French writer and economist Frederic Bastiat said it plainly: "When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men living in society, they create for themselves, in the course of time, a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it." That’s what the super PACs are bidding on. For the rest of us, the ship may already have sailed.


Bill Moyers is managing editor and Michael Winship is senior writer of the weekly public affairs program, Moyers & Company, airing on public television. Check local airtimes or comment at

Tuesday, February 07, 2012


Bet you didn't it possible for a legend to get older. You were right! James Dean, who would have been 81 tomorrow, is now an eternal boy.

Happy Birthday to a rebel whose cause has now become our cause.

At the DMV

At the DMV today, it occurred to me that the DMV is the great equalizer. Great or small, rich or poor, no matter who you are, or what you do, you have to get your registration renewed. If you have a car, that is.

There was a time when, as the maxim goes, there were two things one couldn't escape: death and taxes. Well, we all know that the death part still applies, but how about those taxes?

If you happen to have been born right, like Mitt Romney's sons, you can get away with keeping $100 million in a trust account with your name of it, tax-free. Mr. Romney claims not to know anything about the money that was in his now defunct Swiss bank account as it was part of what is called a blind trust. Do you suppose that trust is the same as our national motto, "In God We Trust?" In God, we place blind trusts?

Moreover, if you happen to be the head of a Fortune 500 company with subsidiaries overseas like Bain Capital, Exxon-Mobil, or General Electric, there is always some legal loophole hanging around that enables you to escape paying millions of dollars in taxes. These are the "entitlement programs" Republicans don't want to talk about. These are the entitlement programs that won't go anywhere if you put another Republican in the White House in 2012.

So, as I waited for my number to be called, I thought about how it is that someone can be pulled over by law enforcement and issued a citation, often in excess of registration fees, for simply being a few days over their vehicle registration deadline date while others can go for years, even a whole lifetime, without paying a nickel in taxes. Who pulls them over? Isn't that what the Attorney-General is supposed to do?

On my way home, I wondered what kind of system is this free enterprise that it's only free for zillionaire CEO's or their progeny, and very costly for the rest of us.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Saul Alinsky, Who?

By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

And now, a word about a good American being demonized, despite being long dead. Saul Alinsky is not around to defend himself, but that hasn’t kept Newt Gingrich from using his name to whip up the froth and frenzy of his followers, whose ignorance of the man is no deterrence to their eagerness, at Gingrich’s behest, to tar and feather him posthumously.

In his speeches, Gingrich pounds away at variations on the theme like the piano player in a cheap Western saloon. He declares, “The centerpiece of this campaign, I believe, is American exceptionalism versus the radicalism of Saul Alinsky,” or, “I believe in the Constitution, I believe in the Federalist Papers. Obama believes in Saul Alinsky and secular European socialist bureaucracy.”

It’s all quite clever and insidious, a classic lesson in how to slander someone who cannot answer from the grave, reminiscent of the tactics Gingrich used in those GOPAC memos back in 1996, when he suggested buzz words and phrases to demonize opponents: corrupt, decay, pathetic, permissive attitude, self-serving, and, of course, radical.

In the case of Saul Alinsky, most of the crowd knows nothing about the target except that they’re supposed to hate him. And why not? There’s the strange foreign name – obviously an alien. One of them. And a socialist at that. What’s a socialist? Don’t know -- but Obama’s one, isn’t he? Barack Hussein Obama, Saul Alinsky – bingo! Two peas in a pod, and a sinister, subversive pod at that.

But just who was Alinsky, really? Born in 1909, in the ghetto of Chicago’s South Side, he saw the worst of poverty and felt the ethnic prejudices that fester, then blast into violence when people are crowded into tenements and have too little to eat. He came to believe that working people, poor people, put down and stepped upon, had to organize if they were going to clean up the slums, fight the corruption that exploited them, and get a handhold on the first rung of the ladder up and out.

He became a protégé of labor leader John L. Lewis and took the principles of organizing into the streets, first in his hometown of Chicago, then across the country, showing citizens how to band together and non-violently fight for their rights, then training others to follow in his shoes. Along the way, Alinsky faced down the hatred of establishment politicians, attacks both verbal and physical, and jail time.

He was a gutsy guy. Outspoken, confrontational, profane with a caustic wit, one journalist said he looked like an accountant and talked like a stevedore. He had a flair for the dramatic, once sending a neighborhood to dump its trash on the front step of an alderman who was allowing the garbage to pile up. Or immobilizing city hall, a department store or a stockholders meeting with a flood of demonstrators demanding justice.

One thing Newt has right -- Saul Alinsky was a proud, self-professed radical. Just look at the titles of two of his books – “Reveille for Radicals” and “Rules for Radicals.” But a communist or socialist he was not. He worked with them on behalf of social justice, just as he worked alongside the Catholic archdiocese in Chicago. When he went to Rochester, NY, to help organize the African American community there after a fatal race riot, he was first invited by the local Council of Churches. It was conscience they all had in common, not ideology.

As far as his connection with Barack Obama, the president was just a kid in Hawaii when Alinsky died, something you would expect a good historian, as Gingrich claims to be, to know. The two men never met, although when Obama arrived on the South Side of Chicago as a community organizer, some of his grass roots work with the poor was with an Alinsky-affiliated organization.

But that’s how it goes in the fight for basic human rights. Alinsky’s influence crops up all across the spectrum, even in the Tea Party. Get this: according to The Wall Street Journal, the conservative holy of holies, the one-time Republican majority leader in the House of Representatives, Dick Armey, whose Freedomworks organization helps bankroll the Tea Party, gives copies of Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals” to Tea Party leaders.

Watch out Dick – you could be next on Newt’s list, although, curiously, in his fight against the wealthy Mitt Romney, Gingrich himself has stolen a page from Alinsky’s populist playbook. After Romney beat him in the Florida primary, Newt insisted he would continue the fight for the nomination and shouted, “We’re going to have people power defeat money power,” a sentiment that was Saul Alinsky through and through.

Alinsky died, suddenly, in 1972. At the time, he was planning to mount a campaign to organize white, middle class Americans into a national movement for progressive change, a movement he vowed to take into the halls of Congress and – his words -- “the boardrooms of the megacorporations.”

Maybe that’s why Newt Gingrich has been slandering Alinsky’s name. Maybe he’s afraid, afraid that the very white folks he’s been rousing to frenzy will discover who Saul Alinsky was – a patriot in a long line of patriots, who scorned the malignant narcissism of duplicitous politicians and taught everyday Americans to think for themselves and fight together for a better life. That’s the American way, and any good historian would know it.


Bill Moyers is managing editor and Michael Winship is senior writer of the new weekly public affairs program, Moyers & Company, airing on public television. Check local airtimes or comment at

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Romney's Dukakis Moment?

One can fake many things in life, even an orgasm, but one can't fake military experience. Mitt Romney has never been in the military.

It was also true that a senator from Chicago, Barack Obama, who became a candidate for president had no military experience, but not anymore. Obama has been commander-in-chief for the past three years, and while there are those on both the left and right who oppose some of his policies, the argument that the president is inexperienced is no longer valid.

But, this isn't about defending the president's foreign policy record. This is just to say that his likely Republican challenger doesn't have one.

In his Nevada primary victory speech Saturday, Romney accused the president of "shrinking our national defense," adding that he will "insist on a military so powerful that no one in the world would think of challenging it," but when did Mr. Romney become such a hawk?

One shudders to think of a more powerful military given that, over the past decade or more, the U.S. has immersed itself in conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Libya, Yemen, Syria, and is currently insinuating its way into Iran. Indeed, one shudders to think of a foreign policy more hawkish than that of the Obama administration.

Also, how did Romney happen upon such a keen understanding of the workings of the Department of Defense?

Romney vows to keep America strong by not cutting the defense budget, but for a man whose entire life, with the exception of four years as governor, was spent in the private sector, what does he know about defense budgets?

Or, for that matter, what does he know about the national debt? To him $3 trillion is a scary big number that's even bigger than the hundreds of millions he has in his various bank accounts.

As a young man back in the 1960's, Romney followed the family tradition of avoiding the military by serving as a Mormon missionary in France at the onset of the war in Vietnam. His sons, like their dad, are avoiding service by helping their dad's campaign, Romney says. He now has the temerity to suggest that he is is better equipped to lead the way on foreign policy than the man who has just spent three plus years as commander-in-chief.

While Romney likes to think of business as his trump card, so to speak, recent coverage of Bain Capital and his tax shelters overseas has driven him into "greener" pastures by working to assure defense contractors that he's got their back.

And, when Romney says he wants to make this "an American century," don't think for a moment that he isn't thinking about Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Boeing, General Dynamics, Raytheon, and others who have received billions in government bailouts over the past few years. This is who he has in mind when he speaks of maintaining a "strong defense" just as when he promises to balance the budget and not raise taxes, Romney means that he won't raise taxes on the rich.

But, you say, an Obama presidency will keep defense contractors and big business happy, too. Yes, it sure does look like we're about to go over a cliff regardless who's at the wheel, but having Obama in the driver seat has meant a sharp turn away from financial catastrophe despite the best efforts of the obstructionist party to push us over, so when Romney talks about fiscal health he means that any government program that doesn't benefit big business is disposable.

Consider what he said in Las Vegas that drew thunderous applause about how the Declaration of Independence promises "Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness" not "Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of government handouts." Those government handouts he has in mind are not the ones that went to Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac, or the banks, but the ones that went to single mothers who are heads of household, Planned Parenthood, and health programs that benefit legal immigrants.

Yes, what Romney didn't say was that it's not called a handout when a big corporation accepts government money, but doing business. According to The Huffington Post, one of Bain Capital's affiliates was bailed out by taxpayers to the tune of $44 million. Not to mention, too, that companies asssociated with Bain had no problem taking state and local taxpayer subsidies that totaled in the millions.

When Romney told fellow Republicans in Las Vegas that the state's real unemployment is about 15%, it gave him the opportunity to add that Nevada has "had enough of Obama's help." He ought to know a thing or two about wearing out a welcome mat. Masssachusetts had enough of Romney's help when he stepped down as governor.

He said he'd create jobs as president, but thanks to other Republicans running for president, we now know more about Romney's record as head of Bain Capital than he'd like. Arnold Schwarzenegger should join Donald Trump and endorse Mitt Romney as Romney can also be called the Terminator.

As The Boston Globe reported back in 2007, hundreds lost their jobs when Bain Capital took over companies that were buried in debt, like Ampad, making millions off their losses. More importantly, as governor, Romney fought against raising the minimum wage. You can count on him to do the same as president.

But, enough about Bain Capital. Newt Gingrich has already managed to deflate that balloon, and play the leveraged buyout card, so Romney's next move may well be away from his job deflation policies and into a domain about which he knows even less: foreign policy.

Watching his victory speech about a strong defense reminded me of another Massachusetts governor, Michael Dukakis, whose Democratic campaign for president against Republican George H.W. Bush essentially fell apart when a photograph of him sitting atop a military tank hit the airwaves. What chutzpah many thought back then for a New England liberal to pose as a military hawk. But, remember, Governor Dukakis served in the Army. He wasn't a missionary in France for three years at the height of the Vietnam war.

Also, Governor Dukakis was elected for two terms as governor of Massachusetts. Indeed, Dukakis was the longest serving governor in that state's history. Under criticism by the George H.W. Bush campaign for a flaccid stance on defense, his opponents seized on Dukakis's opposition to the death penalty, as well as his veto of a bill that would have required that children recite the Pledge of Allegiance in Massachusetts' classrooms. So, during his visit to a General Dynamic plant when he was the Democratic nominee for president, Dukakis strove to counter the image that he was weak on defense by mounting a tank.

The image of "Dukakis in the tank," as it came to be known, was not only synonymous with a public relations nightmare, but of arrogance. Is it any less arrogant for Mitt Romney, a man who repeatedly touts his background in the private sector as his main selling point in a weak economy, to challenge the defense record of a sitting president who has weathered not one, not two, but three theaters of war?

All the focus on how Gov. Romney has managed to escape paying millions of dollars in federal taxes through the Cayman Islands, now defunct Swiss bank accounts, and opening businesses in his son's name has managed to deflect attention away from the obvious: Romney understands a cash field in the Cayman Islands better than a land mine in Afghanistan.

The closest Mitt Romney has come to making foreign policy was when he deposited money into one of his offshore accounts.

Curiously, too, Dukakis's nemesis, Republican presidential candidate George H.W. Bush, whose campaign tag line was "Read my lips, no new taxes." In Nevada, Mitt Romney said he will balance the budget without raising taxes. Neither Bush nor Romney has any credibility on that score as the only one who would have been capable of balancing the budget without raising taxes is Harry Houdini. The question isn't whether or not taxes will be raised, and on whom. The 2012 presidential and congressional election will decide that.

The Republican soon-to-be nominee chose corporate service after returning from his conveniently timed stint as a missionary during the Vietnam war days unlike the president who chose community service instead. It's true, President Obama didn't see battle either, except as commander-in-chief for the past three years, and unless the Romney campaign has a death wish they should stay away from challenging Mr. Obama's record as commander-in-chief.

If corporations are people, too, as Mitt Romney is fond of saying, how is it that they've managed to escape serving their country? If corporations are people, and he's sincere about making this an "American century," then the Romney camp should come up with a plan to draft corporations for military service.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Dare it!

"On now, dare it. Let there be life!"

(From "Ulysses" by James Joyce)

Joyce was born 130 years ago on Feb. 2, 1882 in Dublin, Ireland.

Feb. 2nd marks 90 years since the first complete edition of "Ulysses" was published by Shakespeare & Company, Sylvia Beach's bookstore in Paris. Joyce insisted the novel be published in time for his 40th birthday on 2/2/22.