60 Minutes FAIL: 10 Questions Scott Pelley Didn’t Ask Mitt Romney But Should Have

On last night’s broadcast of 60 Minutes, in place of the hard-hitting interview that viewers might have expected for a presidential candidate (something more along the lines of, say, Steve Kroft’s righteous pummeling of President Obama, which aired later in the broadcast), audiences were instead treated to a nothing-to-see-here talking-point-a-thon in which Scott Pelley not only allowed Mitt Romney to weasel out of every one of the (very few) hard questions he actually asked but also missed numerous opportunities to try to get the candidate to talk about some of the most serious (and legitimate) voter concerns regarding this campaign.

Here, then, is my list of

10 Questions Scott Pelley Didn’t Ask Mitt Romney But Should Have:

1. Gov. Romney, you say that

the President’s decision not to meet with Bibi Netanyahu, prime minister of Israel, when the prime minister is here for the United Nations session, I think, is a mistake and it sends a message throughout the — the Middle East that somehow we distance ourselves from our friends and I think the exact opposite approach is what’s necessary.

Let’s talk about the Mideast policy you unveiled at that Florida fundraiser last May, which became public thanks to Mother Jones and the “47%” video. That policy, as you articulated it in the video, seems to be based on your belief that the Palestinians have “no interest whatsoever in establishing peace and that the pathway to peace is almost unthinkable to accomplish.” Here is what you proposed:

So what you do is, you say, you move things along the best way you can. You hope for some degree of stability, but you recognize that this is going to remain an unsolved problem. We live with that in China and Taiwan. All right, we have a potentially volatile situation, but we sort of live with it, and we kick the ball down the field and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve it.

What kind of message do you think your characterization of the Palestinians might send, especially in the context of the comments you made in Jerusalem last July, suggesting that their culture is inferior, comments that many Palestinians and others found offensive, and what message do you think your plan — essentially to do nothing to try to work for peace in the region — might send throughout the Middle East?

2. Gov. Romney, many Americans are concerned about your response to the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on the anniversary of 9/11, which took the lives of Ambassador Chris Stevens, along with members of his staff and security detail. Even some prominent members of your own party have suggested that your reaction was an ill-advised rush to judgment about a volatile international situation about which you did not have all the facts. How would you reassure voters who think your response raises questions about your ability to serve as commander-in-chief?

3. What would you say to voters who perceive your response to the attack on Ambassador Stevens and his staff in Benghazi, namely that you expressed no apparent grief or regret about the tragic loss of life of individuals in service to our country even when you had the opportunity to clarify your remarks the next day, once you did have all the information, as exploiting a national tragedy as a way to try to earn political points?

4. Are you aware that most of the 47% of Americans you identified in the Mother Jones video as paying no taxes, the ones you said you could never get to “take personal responsibility and care for their lives,” are working people who are not exempt from payroll taxes, and that therefore many of them are actually taxed at a higher rate than you are?

5. Since the very small minority of Americans who pay “no income tax” are families living in poverty, low-income seniors who have paid all their lives into the system that now supports them, and active duty soldiers deployed to combat zones, would you like to take an opportunity now to reconsider your description of these Americans as people

who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.

6-9. Suggested follow-ups to this exchange:

PELLEY: The tax rate for everyone in your plan would go down.

ROMNEY: That’s right.

PELLEY: But because you’re going to limit exemptions and deductions, everybody’s going to essentially be paying the same taxes.

ROMNEY: That’s right. Middle-income people will probably see a little break, because there’ll be no tax on their savings.

6. Are you saying that you’re going to cut capital gains taxes on middle-income people? Do you understand that most middle-income people do not have any capital gains?

7. Are you aware that most middle-income families are not able to amass enough in savings for the interest on it to amount to anything and that therefore a tax cut on that interest would mean nothing to most middle-income people?

8. When you say that “middle-income people” are likely “to see a little break,” are you still talking about those earning $200,000-250,000, as you defined “middle income” last week?

9. You seem to be saying that the effect of your tax reform would be net neutral. If that is true, what exactly is the point of it?

10. Why won’t you release your damn tax returns?

University of I’ve-Got-Mine

In a recent post, I set out to discuss a proposal by the University of Chicago economist Luigi Zingales that advocated equity financing of higher education, which he outlined in a June 2012 New York Times op-ed, but reconsidered that project when I realized that Zingales’s political connections, including his close association with GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, made for a more interesting story, especially in light of the author’s coyness with respect to his political motivations, about which the Times article and accompanying author bio are silent. In making his pitch for equity funding of higher education, he presents himself strictly as a professor and an economist, situating his authority and credibility on the topic entirely in that context. He is of course a professor of economics, but there is no question that his position is also very much informed by his political affiliations, which he does not disclose. As my own position is also political, I have no objection to hearing out the positions of others who come to their beliefs by way of their politics, including when theirs are different from mine. But I think it is important to be forthright about political orientation and values if we intend a healthy debate, and Zingales was not at all forthright in those respects in his presentation to readers.

In this post, I revisit the op-ed, but not because I think his idea deserves to be taken seriously. It doesn’t. Zingales has established precisely zero credibility for one of his central claims, in which he attributes the decreasing affordability of higher education to “crony capitalism,” which he further claims enriches professors at the expense of “everyone else.” As I discussed previously, his unwillingness or inability to acknowledge that the overwhelming majority of professors in the U.S. are not pulling down anywhere near as much bank as he is seems disingenuous. As I also observed, his credibility is further challenged by an impressive tolerance for cognitive dissonance that enables him to give bestie Paul Ryan and his family a pass despite their extensive record of self-enrichment via federal generosity, which I guess is somehow not “crony capitalism” but rather just good old-fashioned free-market capitalism the way God intended.

Rather, I have reconsidered because that op-ed was read and taken seriously by a lot of people, meaning that it has become part of the mainstream of public discourse on the very real problem of college affordability for American students, and especially because it is a fine example of what is so incredibly wrong with the assumptions that inform a lot of that discourse.

Zingales proposes that “Investors could finance students’ education with equity rather than debt. In exchange for their capital, the investors would receive a fraction of a student’s future income — or, even better, a fraction of the increase in her income that derives from college attendance.” According to the author, “Equity contracts would diversify the risk of failure, with highly compensated superstars helping to finance the educations of less successful college graduates,” although it is not at all clear how that would work.

He further claims that the contracts will somehow “avoid pushing graduates into lucrative jobs just to pay off debt,” which sounds great in theory, but I don’t think it could possibly be true in practice. I don’t see how such an arrangement wouldn’t push graduates toward “lucrative jobs,” including by initially pushing them towards undergraduate majors that are considered more likely to lead to such jobs. I doubt Dr. Zingales is naive enough to believe otherwise, and since he provides no evidence to support his claim, I suspect that he is being disingenuous, especially when he adds this part:

Most important, these contracts would provide financiers with an incentive to counsel students wisely, as financiers would profit from good educational investments and lose from bad onesThis would create more informed demand for the schools, exerting pressure on them to contain costs and improve quality.

Leaving aside for now the suggestion that improved quality is somehow a logical result to expect from budget cuts, I am wondering what “good educational investments” that would result in “profit” for the “financiers” might look like. The specifics are left to our collective imagination. But the focus of media attention to the topic suggests that the operative definition of a good educational investment is one that maximizes future earnings in relation to tuition investment, on the assumption that a good investment is definable in exclusively economic — and exclusively individual — terms.

One influential study of “return on investment” (ROI) conducted by PayScale (a company that collects and analyzes salary and other career-related data) ranked 853 U.S. colleges and universities according to the extent to which “what you pay to attend” is worth “what you get back in lifetime earnings.” You probably won’t be surprised to find that of the top 20 schools with the highest ROIs, all but two are private, six are Ivies, and the total tuition at all but three tops $200K. Apparently even that astronomical tuition investment is totally worth it because of the “projected net return on investment” over 30 years: $800K for the #20 college on the list (Rensselaer Polytechnic) and over $1M for the institutions ranked 1-9.

Thankfully, as of course we all know, the playing field for admission even to elite universities is completely level, and so there is no object whatsoever for any student who would like to attend a high-ROI institution. (Alevei![1]

There is also the role of undergraduate major in calculating ROI. U.S. News recommends “College Majors with the Best Return on Investment,” and Fortune reveals “The 15 College Majors with the Biggest Payoffs.” Kiplinger offers a helpful list of the “Worst College Majors for Your Career” and Time outlines the “20 Best- and Worst-Paid College Majors.” The “best ROI” majors include (pre-)medicine, engineering (looks like any kind will do), economics, finance, or anything that leads to a career in the pharmaceutical industry. Selecting one of these financially promising majors, according one expert, will justify going to a more expensive school” because “there’s more job opportunities” and these jobs “pay better.”

So, is majoring in philosophy (Kiplinger‘s 4th “worst major”) at Stanford (4th highest institutional ROI) a good educational investment or a bad one? Can a high-ROI school compensate for a low-ROI major, or vice versa? Is it still a good investment to pursue a high-ROI major, like electrical engineering (5th “best major”), even if it’s at a low-ROI institution?

And which is the better investment: $200K in tuition for an anthropology major (#1 “worst major”) at a high-ROI institution or at a lower-ROI university at half or even a third of the cost? Will equity financiers want to invest in anthropology majors at all? Might their “wise counsel” include discouraging students from pursuing low-ROI majors? Should anthropology and all other low-ROI majors then be reserved exclusively for those students who can pay their own way?

Will financiers support students who want to attend higher-cost high-ROI institutions if they pursue low-ROI majors? Will they support students at low-ROI colleges at all? Is a low-ROI major and/or attendance at a low-ROI institution a bad investment? Is it a better investment not to go to school at all?

Zingales doesn’t address these issues, not a surprise since he never even gets around to defining “good educational investments” beyond announcing that “financiers would profit” from them and “lose from bad ones.” But it does seem like a free-market guy like him would be totally down with the ROI-rankings game. By the way, his own institution offers “far above median” faculty salaries and enjoys considerable renown, despite its less-than-stellar institutional ROI ranking (#78).

And while Zingales offers no evidence for his claim that somehow equity financing will “avoid pushing graduates into lucrative jobs just to pay off debt,” the framing of his proposal in relation to the investor’s incentive for profit suggests that in the system he envisions, the “wise counsel” of the “financiers who would profit from good educational investments” may well steer students toward high-ROI majors if not compel high-ROI major selection as a condition of funding.

I would love for this to be nothing more than some slippery-slope paranoia on my part, but I don’t think it is. For one thing, there is just no evidence that Zingales’s formulation assumes any kind of educational or cultural value beyond the individual ROI model for the student and “profit” for the “financier.” For another, the ubiquity of ROI as the central assumption of recent public discourse on the topic of the value of higher education suggests that it is not. And for yet another, programs that tie eligibility to very specific kinds of “educational investments” are already part of the discussion. For example, the Amazon Career Choice Program for warehouse employees of the behemoth online bookseller (and everything-else seller) is, according to its FAQ page, “unlike traditional tuition reimbursement programs” in that they “exclusively fund education only in areas that are well-paying and in high demand.” (Those are my italics, but it was not my idea to use “exclusively” and “only” redundantly. Thanks to my low-ROI undergraduate major, today I can easily recognize such graceless syntactic constructions, and the satisfaction I take in doing so is what they pay me with instead of money.)

But none of this quite gets at the real problems with the discourse in general and the Zingales proposal in particular, one of which is this: There is no cultural consensus that students will make the best educational decisions when they base those decisions primarily (if not solely) on the basis of expected individual financial ROI. Should we accept that assumption as a logical guiding principle for any serious discussion of higher education? The case has not been made convincingly or really at all that this kind of thinking is the wisest course for our society, and I have a pretty strong suspicion that it is not. [2]

And speaking of unconvincing arguments, Zingales insists that despite how all this looks, what he is advocating “is not a modern form of indentured servitude.” In his pre-emptive defense against the charge, which he is right to anticipate, he reveals another problematic ideological stance that has gone mostly (but not entirely) unchallenged in the wider public debate of whether college is “worth it.” Zingales says that what he is proposing is not indentured servitude but rather

a voluntary form of taxation, one that would make only the beneficiaries of a college education — not all taxpayers — pay for the costs of it.

I could not agree more that the beneficiaries of a college education should absolutely be paying for it. Where Zingales and I disagree is in our respective understandings of who the beneficiaries really are.

The problem is not that we have a system in which those who are not “the beneficiaries” of higher education are somehow the ones paying for it. The problem is that too many of the beneficiaries are not paying anywhere near enough for it, too many of them resent what little they do pay, and too many of them would like to pay even less.

This is at least in part because a lot of people honestly don’t see themselves as beneficiaries of the education of other people, which I have to agree is a logical conclusion in the context of the dominant ideology that informs popular opinion on the topic of higher ed, which is (say it with me) that it is all about individual financial ROI. In that context, why would people see themselves as beneficiaries of any education but their own?

But they are. We all are. That a whole lot more people benefit from the education of a single individual than merely the individual and that these benefits are cumulative and span generations is indisputable. We are incredibly fortunate to live in a mostly safe, mostly civilized, and relatively prosperous society with extraordinary rights and resources that are foundational for anyone who wants to build anything. That Americans have achieved so much that is truly extraordinary — think moon-landing extraordinary, Internet extraordinary — is a direct result of the high cultural value that we the people have placed on education in general and higher education in particular, in which we have invested accordingly. In this sense, and I want to make clear that I think this is the sense that matters most, higher education is not merely or even primarily an investment in an individual.

But somehow the idea that it is has become a powerful cultural assumption. Yes, the individual benefit of a college education is undeniable, but it makes no sense to assume (or to try to dictate) that it is valuable only in terms of the financial return to the individual (and to the “financier” who pays for it). What an incredibly cynical, short-sighted, and unimaginative view that is.

Imagine what our society might look like if Americans had always thought that way. Imagine a United States with no G.I. bill, no Claiborne Pell, no cultural tradition of education as a public good. How many valuable advances and innovations in the sciences, technology, medicine, and yes, the arts and the humanities, would never have happened if only affluent people could access a quality university education, if the only higher education open to most Americans was training to be good little worker bees in jobs that are some billionaire’s idea of what is best for us?

The debt that a student takes on is all too individual, but the benefit of that individual’s education is collective. And until we can find a better way to make higher education more affordable and more accessible, we ought to be working harder to support individuals for whom student loans are the only option, even the ones who don’t opt for high-ROI majors and those for whom high-ROI institutions are out of reach. Students who choose alternatives to financial self-enrichment, who choose to pursue work in areas that make life worth living not only for themselves but also for others — and that includes pre-school teachersartistsanthropologists, and philosophers, as well as doctors and engineers — are good educational investments even if “financiers” don’t ever recoup a dime of “profit” off them.

I guess it’s easy to blame the student debt crisis on college students and graduates and professors and administrators, or to propose a funding scheme like Zingales’s that does nothing to address the real causes of increasing college unaffordability, starting with the national disgrace that is the systematic public divestment from state universities. I guess that’s easier than taking on the devastating consequences of student-loan debt on individuals and on the U.S. economy in any meaningful way.

It is hard not to be discouraged at the moment, especially given the possibility that the nation might elect a smirking, dishonest presidential candidate whose idea of fiscal responsibility is disparaging poor people and stashing millions in overseas accounts to avoid paying his taxes. And never mind his equally dishonest, free-marketeer, I-built-that running mate, whose own accumulation of wealth via government subsidies entitles him to a description so many times stronger than hypocrite that even this low-ROI English major can’t think of one that rises to the occasion.

But I hope that the cynical ideology that an educational investment is (and ought to be) an individual thing, that the point of education is an exclusively individual benefit, that the benefit can only be measured as a return on investment that can be counted only in dollars, and that any notion of a “greater good” is socialism and therefore bad does not discourage and even prevent people from pursuing educational goals that aren’t an obvious fast track to generating big revenue for themselves (and “profit” for their “financiers”). The last thing we need in this country is to continue to celebrate and reward the ideology of greed that has gotten us into so many of the messes that we are collectively in today. If we allow that ideology to continue to define our education policy, it is not going to be a win for most of us.


Notes:

[1] Of course it is not at all clear that factors that have nothing to do with quality of education, such as the socioeconomic privilege and social advantages that many high-institutional-ROI students and alumni enjoy, can be ruled out as significant influences on a high-ranking institution’s ROI. That is, such a return may not be a function of the institution itself but rather reflective of the relative privilege of the students most likely to be admitted. On a related note, see Thomas Edsall’s March 2012 New York Times article “The Reproduction of Privilege,” which  identifies “anti-democratic trends” in the admissions policies of the “most competitive” colleges, many of which are of course also high-ROI institutions.

[2] And don’t even get me started on how all this institutional ROI business does absolutely nothing to address the highly problematic role of elite colleges and universities in perpetuating social inequality. In discussions of ROI, that function goes completely unremarked even though it a key feature of what makes a high-ROI institution such a “good educational investment” in the first place. These institutions actually exacerbate the class divide, as Thomas Edsall observes in “The Reproduction of Privilege,” cited in Note 1 and linked again here.

Confessions of a Job-Creator

I am a public-sector employee, a professor at a state university, a member of a labor union. The work I do has been described by a presidential candidate as “indoctrination.” I subscribe to the New York Times, I’m a member of the ACLU, I support my NPR member station, and I drive a foreign car. I supported President Obama’s campaign in 2008 after voting proudly for Hillary Clinton in the primary, and I am supporting him again this year.

In other words, some people think I represent a lot of what is wrong with this country.

But here is something they don’t know about me:

I am a job creator.

Some people think they know some things about us job creators. The guy whose job it is supposed to be to represent me in the U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), who has of course been featured before on these pages, thinks he knows some things about us job creators. He sent me an email the other day, like he likes to do sometimes, to make sure I didn’t miss his latest op-ed, which ran August 30 in his favorite small-town, low-circulation weekly, which apparently lets him publish whatever disingenuous propaganda he thinks his corporate overlords might want to read. The title of his latest is “Survey Highlights Top Concerns of U.S. Job Creators,” and you can read it in its entirety here.

For openers, Rep. Upton observes that “small business owners continue to lead the way for our economic recovery here in Michigan and throughout the United States.” He adds that “They not only embody the entrepreneurial spirit of our free market economy, but play a vitally important role when it comes to job creation, innovation, and local growth.”

It’s true. The stopped clock is right this time. Not to worry, though. It doesn’t last. The rest of the column is more of the usual BS we have come to expect from Rep. Upton, God love him. His response to concerns about energy costs cited by the “job creators” in the survey is to go on about some ditch-digging jobs that he says will save the U.S. economy. He addresses concerns about healthcare costs by announcing that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) hurts small businesses because it “does nothing to actually address the cost side of the equation.”

You’d think a member of Congress who spends so much time obsessing about health care in general and the ACA in particular would be aware of factual information about legislation that passed his chamber while he was in office, such as that the ACA contains no requirement that actual small businesses (as in the kind with 50 or fewer employees) provide insurance for their employees, that it includes no penalty for those who decline to do so, and that it actually offers incentives in the form of tax credits for small businesses who opt (yes opt, as in do something voluntarily) to provide coverage for their employees. You’d think Rep. Upton would know about that. [1]

And you are probably as surprised as I am to learn that the generous flow of profits to the job-creating healthcare industry, i.e. the “cost side of the equation,” which as Rep. Upton rightly notes, the ACA unfortunately does little to correct, is somehow not something that he can get behind. As Richard S. Levick put it in an article in Fast Company in July, “5 Ways Insurers Can Position Themselves To Win Under The ACA“:

It’s not every day that an industry has as many as 46 million new customers delivered to its doorstep. But when the U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-4 to uphold the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the controversial individual mandate last week, that’s precisely what happened for health insurance companies across the country.

Somehow this is not good enough for Rep. Upton, whose congressional career functions effectively as a wholly owned subsidiary of the industry?

OK, I exaggerate. “Wholly owned” probably isn’t fair. I mean, it isn’t fair to the oil and gaselectric utilities, and mining industries who are also major stakeholders in the Upton enterprise.

But we were talking about job creators, weren’t we? All right. Here’s my story:

In 2007, I invested $23,000 in a small-business start-up. That was all the money I had in the world. It was actually more than all the money I had in the world, because $15,000 of it was a cash advance I took out on my Visa card, which because it was 2007 I could do at a rate of 3.9%. The business was an automotive repair shop that Mr. Alevei was starting. He would run the business and fix the cars. I would keep my day job, help with the books, and do some web design. There was no question in my mind but that this would be a good investment. (Spoiler alert: It has been.)

Once Mr. Alevei decided to go for it, we got to work on researching and writing his business plan, looking for a location for what would be his new shop, and trying to figure out how we were going to pay for everything that needed to happen to get him up and running. Writing the business plan was a project that turned out to be an excellent fit for many of the skills I have acquired over the years, not in business but in academia. A business plan is like scholarly research. It makes an argument and supports it with evidence. It requires a ton of research and a compelling narrative. Basic English-major stuff. It has to make the case to lenders and other potential investors that the proposed business will be a solid investment.

In order to make our case, we had to conduct a market analysis, develop viable sales and marketing strategies, articulate both a mission and a vision (not the same thing, it turns out), analyze our position in relation to the shops and dealerships who would be our competitors, develop and articulate a brand identity, and of course spell out our projected start-up costs, operating costs, and revenue assumptions, all of which then had to be connected to the overall market and presented – and justified – in excruciating and itemized detail. Our start-up costs included things like capital purchases (the equipment and supplies Mr. Alevei would need to start working on cars initially and projections for additional capital investments over time), real estate costs, insurance, permits and inspections, and personnel, although at the beginning it was just Mr. Alevei on the clock something like 80 hours a week and me making a hash of the books on Saturdays.

I handled a lot of the research and analysis and wrote the narrative. Mr. Alevei created the spreadsheets that outlined our cost and revenue assumptions and projections, producing multiple versions that explored and applied several possible cost and revenue permutations and contingencies and made predictions about cashflow and about profit and loss through the first twelve months. He drew up balance sheets and we prepared personal financial statements. We estimated labor costs, average sales, profit margins for parts, taxes and fees. I was happier to be finished with the business plan than I was when I finished my doctoral dissertation five years earlier.

In other words, we totally built that.

And in the process, we were very fortunate to have access to quite a few publicly funded resources, including our local library, which offers seminars and mentoring opportunities for people interested in starting new businesses and also has a large collection of relevant books and other media. Mr. Alevei took a course on business planning and was in every way the brains behind our many spreadsheets. We met with a mentor from SCORE, a nonprofit association funded by the Small Business Administration to support entrepreneurship. On a completely volunteer basis, our SCORE mentor took the time read our business plan and give us feedback.

Our biggest break of all came in the summer of 2007, when Mr. Alevei called the Michigan Small Business and Technology Development Center (MI-SBTDC), which is also supported by federal (SBA) funding to help new and growing businesses. The MI-SBTDC set us up with a mentor, although guardian angel might be a better description. Our mentor provided numerous hours of hands-on support, including extensive assistance as Mr. Alevei wrangled with those spreadsheets, as well as moral support, helping to keep our spirits up during some difficult times, such as when we were worried that we would not get financing, could not find an appropriate and affordable location for the shop, did not see how we were ever going to be able to make it happen. That mentor has become a dear and beloved friend, and he is still an invaluable source of knowledge and support to Mr. Alevei. All the services and support he provided to us were available at zero cost to us.

So yeah, we built it. But we did not do it by ourselves. We couldn’t have.

Mr. Alevei opened his shop on November 1, 2007. We are really looking forward to celebrating his five years in business two months from now. I could not be more proud of Mr. Alevei, who over the past five years has worked until 2 a.m. more times than I can count, sometimes coming home and sleeping only three hours before getting up to do it all over again. He deserves all the credit for the thriving and still-growing business he has built. No one could have worked harder or been smarter, more resourceful, or more determined. And today, in addition to himself, he also employs two full-time technicians, a full-time service manager, a part-time accountant, and a part-time support staffer.

Mr. Alevei created those jobs. And as he would be the first to agree, so did I.

Yes, my $23,000 investment in the company is part of it (an investment that has been paid back in full, by the way), and my work on that excruciating business plan is too. And yes, there was also the labor I contributed for the first six months, when I kept the books. Sure, I did this work badly, but I would point out here that (a.) I did it badly for free, and (b.) sucking at it made the it even more difficult and unpleasant. (On the plus side, the experience was heartening for me in its clear affirmation of my decision at age 18 not to major in accounting.)

But here’s the part they really don’t teach you in school or anywhere else when you’re trying to start a business (and I mean the kind business that requires significant outlays of capital, the kind that really does create jobs): Even if you are ridiculously fortunate and your business does well right out of the gate (alevei!), it is still almost certainly going to take some time before it generates enough profit for you to take home a paycheck at all, let alone before you can take home a paycheck that’s anywhere near enough to live on. So if you don’t have a lot of savings that you can live on and that somehow does not have to go into the business, or if you can’t get the kind of business loan and line of credit (which Mr. Alevei and I can tell you can be very hard to get at start-up) that makes it possible for you to survive for as long as it takes for the business to establish itself and start earning you a living, you’re going to be looking at the possibility of some very hard times. [2]

And so it is the case that sometimes even businesses that are doing OK, even businesses that are doing well, don’t make it. They don’t make it for no other reason than that their owners aren’t making it. It’s not because they aren’t working hard enough and it doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t doing it right. But if an individual’s livelihood or a family’s livelihood has to be staked entirely on the business, it is going to be very, very difficult for the individual or the family to buy itself the time that any new business is going to need to start making a living for anyone.

And that’s where this New York Times-subscribing, NPR-listening, Hillary Clinton-loving, foreign-car-driving, Obama-supporting, state employee public sector union professor comes in.

Because it was my paycheck (the one some people don’t think I deserve) and my health insurance (which some people criticize as overly generous) that made it possible for my family to keep a roof over our heads, food on our table, and clothes on our backs (not to mention keeping the student-loan kneecap-busting brigade away from our door while I kept up the outrageous monthly payments that will add up to triple what I borrowed before it’s all over).

It was my paycheck – my below-market state employee’s paycheck – that bought the shop the time it needed, bought Mr. Alevei and me the time we needed so that he could have the chance to put everything he had into making his business the success it is today. There is simply no way that we could have survived long enough without my paycheck for the shop to succeed and to create those five good-paying, secure jobs that did not exist in 2007. And even with this level of success, I still could not possibly consider quitting my day job any time soon.

So let’s hear it for the job-creators, all of them, not just those lucky few who are well connected and/or amply capitalized and/or create jobs only if they absolutely have to and/or don’t actually create any jobs, not just the “job creators” who really do seem to believe that they built that all by themselves.

And anyone who thinks that state employees are a drain on the system, that we don’t deserve the middle-class existence we are fortunate to enjoy (for the time being, anyway), that our belowmarket salaries are still somehow a bad investment of public funds should know this: The percentage of state university budgets that actually comes from state appropriations is at an all-time low nationwide as state legislatures increasingly divert public money away from public education.

So, not only did I work my ass off for those (semi-)state-funded paychecks in a demanding full-time job that I am actually pretty damn good at, but the contributions to actual, tangible job creation that this public-sector union-member has made have not depended on any government grants or loans or contracts. This is in contrast to every single “I built that” bullshit artist who took the stage at the Republican National Convention last week to support Mitt Romney‘s campaign and proclaim their self-righteous, rugged-individualist, free-market, all-by-myself bootstrap delusions to anyone delusional enough to fall for them.

Rep. Upton concludes his op-ed thusly:

A responsible general would never lead an army into battle without the weapons and resources needed for victory.  In the fight for our economic recovery, we can no less give our employers the certainty and resources they need to succeed.

I wonder if he is talking about “employers” like Mr. Alevei and me. But given that the federal tax rate we pay here in the Alevei household is twice the “job creator” rate that GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney says he pays, and I don’t see Rep. Upton, his party, or their presidential nominee making a case that Mr. Alevei and I deserve a big tax break or really any kind of break at all, I have to say I doubt it.


Notes:

[1] See “Employer Responsibility Under the Affordable Care Act,” an analysis and report by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. You might as well take a look at it, because there’s a good chance that your House representative hasn’t.

[2] And don’t forget that you are somehow going to have to start making the payments on those loans and lines of credit right out of the gate. And so although it left us pretty significantly undercapitalized, we ultimately decided against taking out a start-up loan or line of credit, and instead decided to make a go of it on my $15,000 cash advance, Mr. Alevei’s cashed-in 401K, and $8,000 that I inherited from my grandma, for the following reasons:

a. No bank would consider lending us less than $40,000 and most preferred to make loans larger than even that.

b. The interest rates quoted to us even during those pre-crash halcyon days of summer 2007 were astronomical – double digits. Those were the rates reserved for people like us, i.e. people without a lot of savings or family money, just starting out in business.

c. Repayment of the start-up loan would be tied to the length of our commercial property lease, which was three years.

d. The monthly payment on a $40,000 loan at 12% to be paid back within three years was more than our monthly mortgage payment. A lot more. We knew there would be no way we could possibly make those payments, living as we would be on a single paycheck.

Best Episode Ever

I don’t know whose idea it was to have Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes guest-host, or who picked the screwball comedy “2012 Republican National Convention,” but this is hands-down the funniest episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 EVER.

Bonus: Gov. John Kasich (R-OH) pretending to be charismatic = priceless and adorable.

Hard-Working Americans Like You

It’s been an amusing week around chez Alevei, especially since Mr. Alevei has somehow ended up on the mailing list for the Republican National Committee, perhaps thanks to a family member or two who still think his politics may be worth trying to salvage. Most exciting of all, he is now therefore eligible to participate in the RNC 2012 Presidential Issues Survey, which has just arrived in the mail, along with a nice note From the Desk of Mitt Romney, cheerily dated “Monday Morning,” that opens with the salutation, “Dear Fellow Republican.” Because the envelope is marked “urgent,” Mr. Alevei of course felt that he had no choice but to give it his immediate attention.

Gov. Romney writes that he and his “friends at the Republican National Committee” are interested in finding out “what hard-working Americans” like Mr. Alevei “want this campaign to be about.” In addition to his “honest, thoughtful answers” to the survey questions, which “will help guide our blueprint to victory” (yes, that is really what it says, guide our blueprint), naturally Gov. Romney “would appreciate” Mr. Alevei’s “financial support as well.”

Also tucked into the envelope is a longer letter from RNC chair (and “obvious anagram”¹) Reince Priebus filled with the usual underlining of important points. You know, like “Make no mistake: the very future of our nation will be determined by the outcome of the 2012 election,” and “Barack Obama is hoping his constant demagoguery, blustery partisan rhetoric, billion dollar war chest and hundreds of millions of dollars from his Big Union Bosses will buy him another term.² We cannot allow that to happen.” That kind of thing.

One thing both letters have in common is their insistence on how truly valuable Mr. Alevei’s thoughts and feelings “on the major issues of the day” really are to the RNC. As Mr. Priebus explains, “The experience you bring to the table is critical to our Party’s success.”

You see, Mr. Alevei has been “chosen to participate in this Survey,” writes Mr. Priebus, because of his “active political involvement and steadfast commitment to the Republican Party” in his “area.” And in his note, Gov. Romney identifies Mr. Alevei as “one of our country’s most active Republicans.”

All this has led me to wonder whether Mr. Alevei has been engaging in political activities about which I am somehow unaware. That seems unlikely, so I am left with the exciting possibility that a long-haired pro-choice civil libertarian who supports same-sex marriage and is married to a Jewish liberal feminist university professor who works for the state may actually be the RNC’s best hope for “active” and “steadfast” support for their idiotic Romney/Ryan ticket come November. (Yes, I do have a rich fantasy life, but alevei.)


 Notes:

1. The brilliant and hilarious Esquire political writer Charles Pierce came up with that one in this August 7 post.

2. I’ve said it before, more than once, actually, but these people are truly and utterly without shame.

Calling the Kettle Crony, Part 2: Charles Koch

If you’ve been here before, you might remember that in my previous post, I said that I had been starting to think that Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney “truly take the absolute effing cake when it comes to astonishingly shameless hypocrisy on the topic of Crony Capitalism and How It Is Destroying America” but that it is possible that I have since been proven wrong.

That’s right; I thought I had it all figured out, but then former Michigan governor and present-day bad-ass brainiac Jennifer Granholm, host of The War Room on Current TV, had to go and post a link on her Facebook page last Friday to an August 16 op-ed that exposes Rep. Ryan and Gov. Romney for the amateurs they are.

That op-ed, “Why We Fight for Economic Freedom,” has left me with no choice but to reconsider my earlier statement because of the very real possibility that the title of Absolute Effing Cake-Taker When It Comes to Astonishingly Shameless Hypocrisy on the Topic of Crony Capitalism and How It Is Destroying America might perhaps be more appropriately awarded to its author. He is none other than that Quintessential Crony Capitalist Hypocrite himself, Charles Koch. (Yes, he’s one of those Kochs.)

Granholm and the Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs discussed Mr. Koch’s op-ed on the August 17 edition of War Room (video here). I have not yet watched, mostly because I was afraid they’d use up all the good lines and I’d have nothing left to write about, but I am sure it will be well worth my time and yours.

Mr. Koch’s op-ed was published on Newsmax, and I am reluctant to link to it directly because of my conviction that no one should ever have to visit Newsmax for any reason. If you’re not familiar with Newsmax, the best comparison I can come up with to try to describe it is to say that it’s kind of the Weekly World News of political, um, journalism. It’s also kind of like the Onion, except it’s not funny, and it is bankrolled and run, respectively, by two Clinton-era miscreants: billionaire nutjob Richard “Arkansas Project” Scaife and Christopher “OMG Hillary Killed Vince Foster!” Ruddy.

Anyway, despite my reservations, here is the link to the op-ed. You’ve been warned.

The squeamish should please note that I will excerpt generously, so they will not miss much if they opt not to give Newsmax the satisfaction of a page view. While charges of cherry-picking could conceivably be leveled, I have to point out in my defense that there is pretty much not one single word in the entire piece that isn’t an unbelievable sack of disingenuous, self-righteous, hypocritical malarkey, with the possible inclusion (as Mary McCarthy once famously put it) of “and” and “the.” The whole thing is nothing but cherries.

I have to start with a quick spoiler alert: Koch never actually identifies the “we” in the title (“Why We Fight for Economic Freedom”). The text of the 800-word op-ed contains ten occurrences of “I” and only one of “we” apart from the title. We (meaning us, or everyone who has a perfectly good day to ruin by actually reading it) are left to infer that he probably means himself and his conjoined twin brother, David, to whom he is attached at the wallet and at the basal ganglia.

This seems to be the guiding principle of the op-ed, its thesis, the reason “Why We Fight”:

I want my legacy to be greater freedom, greater prosperity and a better way of life for my family, our employees and all Americans. And I wish the same for every nation on earth.

Except for public employees in Wisconsin. Those commies can go suck it. Except for this commie, the one my dad, Fred “I Heart John Birch” Koch, liked to kick it with back in the 1930s.

OK, I added that last part.

(But see “Joe Stalin Made Me Rich, But I’m Really a Free Market Patriot,” by Theo Spencer, linked here, and “Kennedy’s Death Is Used as Gimmick to Recruit New John Birch Members,” linked here, by the legendary and controversial journalist Drew Pearson, who is not to be confused with this guy. In December 1963, Pearson reported that Mr. Fred Koch and several other like-minded “disgruntled tycoons” were behind full-page ads in the Washington Post and the New York Times claiming that JFK was “a martyr to communism,” despite their pre-assassination charges that President Kennedy was “consorting with communism.” Pearson notes that Mr. Koch the elder “built 15 refineries in Russia,” which he suggests “would appear to put him more in favor of coexistence [with the USSR] than the late JFK.” After listing the names of those who paid for the ads, he concludes: “These are the men who are using Kennedy’s death to campaign for new members to the John Birch Society.”)

Let’s move now to some context so that we can be sure everyone is up to speed on the clear and present dangers to Charles Koch’s Economic Freedom, which he must therefore Fight For, because as he urgently reminds us in the op-ed, “Nations with the greatest degree of economic freedom tend to have citizens who are much better off in every way.”

This is probably going to seem like a digression because the threat to Mr. Koch’s Economic Freedom may not be immediately obvious from the following example, but let me assure you that this is a Deadly Serious topic about which I would not joke nor from which I would even dare to digress. Anyway. As I was about to say, in this Politico article from May 2012, “GOP Groups Plan Record $1B Blitz,” Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei report that

Republican super PACs and other outside groups shaped by a loose network of prominent conservatives – including Karl Rove, the Koch brothers and Tom Donohue of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce – plan to spend roughly $1 billion on November’s elections for the White House and control of Congress, according to officials familiar with the groups’ internal operations.

That total includes previously undisclosed plans for newly aggressive spending by the Koch brothers, who are steering funding to build sophisticated, county-by-county operations in key states. POLITICO has learned that Koch-related organizations plan to spend about $400 million ahead of the 2012 elections – twice what they had been expected to commit.

Just the spending linked to the Koch network is more than the $370 million that John McCain raised for his entire presidential campaign four years ago. And the $1 billion total surpasses the $750 million that Barack Obama, one of the most prolific fundraisers ever, collected for his 2008 campaign.

As you can see, then, Allen and VandeHei spell out in no uncertain terms just how grave the threat to Charles Koch’s Economic Freedom really is. It should be obvious to everyone now that this threat is so dire that Mr. Koch is left with no choice but to spend $400 million dollars on the 2012 presidential and congressional campaigns. I mean, just imagine how much more he would be able to spend to make sure that the White House and Congress are fully staffed with people for whom restoring and protecting his Economic Freedom is Job One if he weren’t so brutally oppressed by the appalling lack of Economic Freedom under which he currently chafes.

As Mr. Koch notes in his op-ed,

No centralized government, no matter how big, how smart or how powerful, can effectively and efficiently control much of society in a beneficial way. On the contrary, big governments are inherently inefficient and harmful. And yet, the tendency of our own government here in the U.S. has been to grow bigger and bigger, controlling more and more. This is why America keeps dropping in the annual ranking of economic freedom.

While this statement might sound kind of ridiculously paranoid and delusional, please note that only a real giver and true mensch would selflessly give away the kind of money that he and his brother are putting into the 2012 elections, which I probably don’t need to remind you is something he is doing for no other reason than to help select staff for an organization he believes is “inherently inefficient and harmful.” That takes a truly generous heart, not to mention a complete and total lack of acquaintance with the concept of irony.

Elsewhere in his op-ed, Mr. Koch invokes Karl Marx and toilet-paper rationing (really), and he rightly calls out the “far too many legislative proposals that would subsidize one form of energy over another,” which he — rightly again — sees as interfering with Economic Freedom for All Americans. But I have to admit that I found that part a little confusing. I thought guys like him were usually OK with subsidizing one form of energy over another, as long as the “one form of energy” isn’t renewable, and Mr. Koch does in fact confirm this by railing on about wind energy subsidies, which he considers an “obvious example” of the ways in which support for renewable energy is at odds with Economic Freedom for All Americans.

In his defense, he could be legitimately unaware that the oil industry is heavily subsidized in the United States and in the rest of the world. (See, for example, “U.S. Fossil-Fuel Subsidies Twice That of Renewables” and “Fossil Fuel Subsidies Six Times More Than Renewable Energy.”). We are talking about someone who may be getting most of his information from Newsmax, after all, so how exactly would you expect him to know about documentable things that really happen in the actual world? He has been very busy Fighting for Economic Freedom for All Americans, including You People, so he obviously has more important things to do than inform himself appropriately and behave accordingly. Fighting for the Economic Freedom of All Americans is a big job. Take it easy on the guy already. Sheesh.

So it is entirely possible that while he was busy Fighting for the Economic Freedom of All Americans, Mr. Koch might have missed “World Energy Outlook 2011,” a report issued by the International Energy Agency in November of last year. According to the report:

Fossil-fuel subsidies as presently constituted tend to be regressive, disproportionately benefiting higher income groups that can afford higher levels of fuel consumption. Cutting the payments would also help tackle climate change. Eliminating subsidies by 2020 would cut global energy demand by 3.9 percent in that year, the equivalent of 600 million tons of oil. The savings would rise to 4.8 percent by 2035.

But do you think Charles Koch, champion of the Economic Freedom of All Americans, has time to worry his pretty little head about disproportionate benefits going to higher income groups or the negative impact of oil subsidies on climate change? Please. Of course he doesn’t. What part of Fighting for Economic Freedom do You People not understand? We are talking about Freedom for All Americans, for God’s sake, and that literally means All Americans, from Paul Ryan to Mitt Romney to the Koch brothers themselves. And even that does not begin to consider their many dependents.

Yes, that’s right: their dependents. You People really have no idea how many mouths those poor Kochs have to feed, do you? Well, know this: Koch Industries has no fewer than 172 members of Congress to support during the 2012 election cycle! That support has already totaled $1,677,301 so far this year, not counting anything they have spent since July 1. And before you start trying to say they probably only support Republicans, you should please note that a staggering one percent of their contributions went to Democrats, one of them being Paul Ryan’s cousin-in-law.

We’re talking about total contributions of over $13 million — and that is just what they gave to individual congressional candidates — since 1990. But Mr. Koch makes it crystal clear that he expects absolutely nothing in return! I mean, you tell me if this sounds like a guy who expects anything from the government:

Repeatedly asking for government help undermines the foundations of society by destroying initiative and responsibility. It is also a fatal blow to efficiency and corrupts the political process.

And he should know!

Speaking of what an awesome giver Mr. Koch is, have I mentioned that Koch Industries spent over $8 million last year to lobby Congress on oil and gas industry issues, plus another $5.3 million so far in 2012? What, you think Congress is going to lobby itself? Fighting for Economic Freedom for All Americans is very, very expensive!

But a smart business leader like Mr. Koch is not going to spend all his money in one place. He and his brother also invest heavily in the job-creating climate-change-denial industry, which as you know occupies a critical front in the Fight for Economic Freedom for All Americans. Just to take one example of their considerable generosity: The Kochs are key bankrollers of our friends at the Manhattan Institute, particularly when it comes to supporting that organization’s tireless work to disseminate propaganda on behalf of the fossil-fuel industries. I hope you don’t think that continually having to try to contradict every legitimate climate scientist on the planet Earth, including ingrates like this guy, comes cheap. It doesn’t.

And neither does getting their messages of urgent disentruthfulness out to the public. Even though it all functions in the service of — that’s right: Economic Freedom for All Americans — maintaining that level of projectile anti-intellectualism is itself the very opposite of free. In fact, according to the tree-hugging hippies at Greenpeace, Koch Industries spent over $61 million between 1997 and 2010 to support the Manhattan Institute and other think tanks that traffic in environmental Newspeak. And according to ThinkProgress, “Koch Industries outspends Exxon Mobil on climate and clean energy disinformation.”

Mr. Koch also helpfully demonstrates in his op-ed that it is not only altruistic billionaire mensches like himself who want the kind of Economic Freedom that cannot possibly thrive in a nation with a big control-freak government, which of course is what has always stood in the way of America‘s world leadership in anything that matters. He does this by quoting a millionaire mensch, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who you might not realize was totally on the same page as Mr. Koch in his suspicion and condemnation of big government. As Mr. Koch reminds us,

It was President Franklin Roosevelt who said: “Continued dependence on [government support] induces a spiritual and moral disintegration fundamentally destructive to the national fiber. To dole out relief in this way is to administer a narcotic, a subtle destroyer of the human spirit.”

Who knew FDR was such a free-market free spirit? Knowing how busy Mr. Koch is, though, I wonder whether he ever got around to reading President Roosevelt’s 1935 State of the Union address, the source of the quote, in its entirety. Earlier in the speech, the president had this to say:

We find our population suffering from old inequalities, little changed by past sporadic remedies. In spite of our efforts and in spite of our talk we have not weeded out the overprivileged and we have not effectively lifted up the underprivileged. Both of these manifestations of injustice have retarded happiness. No wise man has any intention of destroying what is known as the “profit motive,” because by the profit motive we mean the right by work to earn a decent livelihood for ourselves and our families.

We have, however, a clear mandate from the people, that Americans must forswear that conception of the acquisition of wealth which, through excessive profits, creates undue private power over private affairs and, to our misfortune, over public affairs as well. In building toward this end we do not destroy ambition, nor do we seek to divide our wealth into equal shares on stated occasions. We continue to recognize the greater ability of some to earn more than others. But we do assert that the ambition of the individual to obtain for him and his a proper security, a reasonable leisure, and a decent living throughout life is an ambition to be preferred to the appetite for great wealth and great power.

I recall to your attention my message to the Congress last June in which I said, “Among our objectives I place the security of the men, women, and children of the Nation first.” That remains our first and continuing task: and in a very real sense every major legislative enactment of this Congress should be a component part of it.

I have no idea why Mr. Koch would have left that part out because it sounds like exactly the same thing as Fighting for Economic Freedom for All Americans.

And here’s where the president seems to have been going with that whole “subtle destroyer of the human spirit” thing (again quoting from the 1935 SOTU):

I am not willing that the vitality of our people be further sapped by the giving of cash, of market baskets, of a few hours of weekly work cutting grass, raking leaves, or picking up papers in the public parks. We must preserve not only the bodies of the unemployed from destitution but also their self-respect, their self-reliance, and courage and determination. This decision brings me to the problem of what the Government should do with approximately 5,000,000 unemployed now on the relief rolls.

About one million and a half of these belong to the group which in the past was dependent upon local welfare efforts. Most of them are unable for one reason or another to maintain themselves independently – for the most part, through no fault of their own. Such people, in the days before the great depression, were cared for by local effort – by States, by counties, by towns, by cities, by churches, and by private welfare agencies. It is my thought that in the future they must be cared for as they were before. I stand ready, through my own personal efforts and through the public influence of the office that I hold, to help these local agencies to get the means necessary to assume this burden.

The security legislation which I shall propose to the Congress will, I am confident, be of assistance to local effort in the care of this type of cases. Local responsibility can and will be resumed, for, after all, common sense tells us that the wealth necessary for this task existed and still exists in the local community, and the dictates of sound administration require that this responsibility be in the first instance a local one.

There are, however, an additional three and one-half million employable people who are on relief. With them the problem is different and the responsibility is different. This group was the victim of a Nation-wide depression caused by conditions which were not local but national. The Federal Government is the only governmental agency with sufficient power and credit to meet this situation. We have assumed this task, and we shall not shrink form it in the future. It is a duty dictated by every intelligent consideration of national policy to ask you to make it possible for the United States to give employment to all of these three-and-a-half million people now on relief, pending their absorption in a rising tide of private employment.

It is my thought that, with the exception of certain of the normal public building operations of the Government, all emergency public works shall be united in a single new and greatly enlarged plan.

I know all this probably makes it look like Mr. Koch deliberately misrepresents what President Roosevelt actually said in an utterly shameless, dishonest, and despicable way. But I am sure that is not the case. I am sure there is a plausible explanation for how Mr. Koch could have misunderstood the president’s speech to the extent that he seems to think it meant the exact opposite of what it actually says.But there is something Mr. Koch says in the article that he and I definitely agree on:

Today, many governments give special treatment to a favored few businesses that eagerly accept those favors. This is the essence of cronyism.

He could not be more on the money on this one. And when Charles Koch defines “the essence of cronysim” (which he really does in all kinds of ways), he is obviously speaking from experience. For instance, Koch Supply & Trading was selected by the Bush Administration in 2002 “to provide approximately 8 million barrels of crude oil to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve,” according to this Department of Energy press release. And Reuters reported in a February 2011 article titled “Koch Brothers Positioned To Be Big Winners If Keystone XL Pipeline Is Approved,” that

Koch Industries is already responsible for close to 25 percent of the oil sands crude that is imported into the United States, and is well-positioned to benefit from increasing Canadian oil imports.

A Koch Industries operation in Calgary, Alberta, called Flint Hills Resources Canada LP, supplies about 250,000 barrels of tar sands oil a day to a heavy oil refinery in Minnesota, also owned by the Koch brothers.

Flint Hills Resources Canada also operates a crude oil terminal in Hardisty, Alberta, the starting point of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

The company’s website says it is “among Canada’s largest crude oil purchasers, shippers and exporters.” Koch Industries also owns Koch Exploration Canada, L.P., an oil sands-focused exploration company also based in Calgary that acquires, develops and trades petroleum properties.

In sum, perhaps I am being too cynical in my adorable little outrage over the facts that not only can a handful of extraordinarily wealthy people essentially buy elections out from under 240 million eligible voters who helped to subsidize their wealth in the first place but that they are somehow also able — publicly, and completely and utterly without shame — to work themselves up into a righteous lather as if they are somehow the victims in all this and the rest of us just need to understand what it takes to Fight for Economic Freedom for All Americans. If they become even more obscenely “overprivileged” in the process, well, that’s their reward for Fighting the Good Fight for All Americans, just as God and FDR intended.

And if they want to buy an election because they’re pissed off at the president for standing in the way of their next not at all crony-capitalistic government windfall? Well, they should go right ahead! This is America! And in the America that Mr. Koch envisions, where Economic Freedom will one day ring for All Americans, we will all someday be just as free as he is now to buy whatever kind of political system we want, too. And if there is no way most of us will ever be able to afford to do that, well, the free market will have spoken and it doesn’t want to hear any backtalk from the likes of You People.

Finally, Mr. Koch leaves us with this ominous observation:

In a system without economic freedom, the wealthiest are the tyrants who make people’s lives miserable.

Tell me about it.

“Legitimate rape,” really?

OK, I really wasn’t prepared to have to deal with this level of stupidity so early in the week nor so soon after the multiple head explosions I experienced earlier today as a result of my looking into whether Mitt Romney might be a teensy bit of a hypocrite on the subject of crony capitalism.

But when a candidate for the U.S. Senate (who is also a six-term congressman in the House of Representatives) says

First of all, from what I understand from doctors, (pregnancy from rape) is really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.

well, I can’t just look the other way, as much as I’d like to. But I will keep this one short. On the topic of Missouri Senate candidate and currently serving House Representative Todd “Legitimate Rape” Akin (R-You’ve Got to Be Kidding Me. People Actually Elected This Horse’s Ass to National Office?), I will say only the following:

1. If nonconsensual sex did not result in pregnancy, there would be a hell of a lot fewer people on this planet right now than there actually are.

2. Many of the Republicans who are now scurrying to disavow Rep. Akin’s comments are some of the same people who have co-sponsored misogynistic bills right along with Missouri’s finest that indicate that they believe there is such a thing as non-forcible rape, the existence of which they felt should be codified into law. And they are also some of the same people who were poised to bankroll his Senate campaign. Do I really need to point out that in his SIXTH term in the House of Representatives, Akin is far from an unknown quantity, so they don’t get to pretend to be all surprised and shocked and everything and act like they are just now finding out that this guy is anyone other than exactly who they thought he was all along and knowingly supported until he had to go and say out loud what a lot of them are thinking, possibly blowing their chances of taking control of the Senate, which alevei.

3. The House Science Committee really flew up its own ass when it let Todd Akin be on it and therefore should probably be disbanded until such time as its membership can be limited to people with an actual clue, which while we’re at it should also be a prerequisite for serving in Congress to begin with.

4. This is why God doesn’t want you to go on the TV on Sundays, Rep. Akin.

Calling the Kettle Crony, Part 1: Mitt Romney

As I wrote last week, getting your head around the idea of GOP vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) as even remotely credible on the topic of calling out “crony capitalism” requires a superhuman tolerance for cognitive dissonance or an extraordinary sense of humor or both.

Specifically, I suggested that the very idea of Rep. Ryan’s endorsement of A Capitalism for the People: Recapturing the Lost Genius of American Prosperity, a new book decrying “crony capitalism” by the University of Chicago economist and self-proclaimed drain on the economy Luigi Zingales, is kind of a ridiculous, hypocritical outrage that really ought to be hilarious but isn’t because of what Rep. Ryan’s power and influence could potentially mean for actual people who are not Paul Ryan or Luigi Zingales.

As I hope I made clear in that post, this is by no means to suggest that Rep. Ryan is not an expert in crony capitalism. Of course he is. [1] That’s part of what makes him such a great match for his running mate, Governor Mitt Romney.

The campaign, including a Republican primary season that I hope I never have to try to convince any sane person to believe actually happened, has been a long, brutal slog for the governor, and over the course of it, one thing that has become increasingly obvious to everyone is that the many gifts and blessings bestowed upon the presumptive GOP presidential nominee by his creator do not include a sense of humor. And yet even knowing that, I am still able to find it remarkable that in the course of deploying one of his favorite general-election campaign tactics — righteously accusing President Obama of crony capitalism (claims that have earned him four Pinocchios — reserved for “whoppers” — from the Washington Post‘s Fact Checker column) — Gov. Romney somehow manages to do it every single time with an impressively straight face. My mom sometimes says, “I never get too old not to be disappointed by people,” and I guess I have to say I hear that.

To be fair, though, everyone in the world who is not Kristi Yamaguchi knows perfectly well that Gov. Romney is well acquainted with crony capitalism, so at least theoretically, goes the logic, he should be able to recognize it when he sees it. And, speaking of Kristi Yamaguchi, Wayne Barrett reported in the Daily Beast in May that

one circle of Romney donors [is] tied to a tainted Olympic contractor who has given more than a million dollars in campaign donations. After being granted immunity by prosecutors, the contractor, Sead Dizdarevic, admitted making $131,000 in cash payments to Romney’s predecessors. The cash was used, at least in part, to subsidize the IOC gifts. Yet it was Romney, not his indicted predecessors, who awarded Dizdarevic the hospitality deal that’s made him the ticket king of the Olympics to this day.

David Simmons also testified in the 2003 federal trial of Romney’s predecessors, in a case that was ultimately dismissed. But unlike Dizdarevic, Simmons pleaded guilty to a federal tax misdemeanor as part of a cooperation agreement that allowed him to avoid a multi-count felony indictment.

According to the Salt Lake Tribune, the guilty plea was connected to Simmons giving a fake job to John Kim, the son of a critical IOC member, to qualify him for a sham visa, and then submitting fraudulent tax and immigration filings to cover up the alleged conspiracy.

Since that time, Simmons and his family have given more than $317,000 to Romney and affiliated campaigns, and business associates of the family have added nearly $160,000 more. Simmons and his wife, Melinda, donated $32,100 themselves, going back to 2006.

The stories of the many interesting maneuvers that Mitt Romney had no choice but to finesse if he was going to succeed in his important mission to make Kristi’s Olympic dreams come true in Salt Lake City are many, various, and complex, so I encourage you to read Barrett’s meticulously researched article in its entirety.

In the meantime, while we are on the topic of astonishing hypocrisy, let’s remember back to Gov. Romney’s February 2012 op-ed in the Detroit News, in which he called the U.S. auto industry bailout “crony capitalism on a grand scale.” As if that bit of evidence of his astounding lack of self-awareness weren’t sufficiently spit-take inducing, Mitt “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt” Romney really brought his A game when he announced in May 2012 that he is now prepared to “take a lot of credit for the fact that this industry’s come back.”

Of course, this probably sounds completely insane to any normal person, so let me explain. What you may not realize is that opposing the bailout in November 2008 and then calling it “crony capitalism” in February 2012 is absolutely what saved the auto industry and with it approximately one million jobs. [2]

The liberal media is of course withholding the credit that Gov. Romney “will take a lot of,” thank you very much, for no other reason than to help his political enemies. So don’t believe all that stuff the Washington Post reported in May 2012 in their pitiful lamestream-media attempt to debunk the governor’s not-even-joking claim that he is responsible for saving the auto industry. The Post — if that is its real name — would have us believe its outlandish claim that

Many independent analysts have concluded that taking the approach recommended by Romney would not have worked in late 2008, simply because the credit markets were so frozen that a bankruptcy [which Romney advocated] was not a viable option.

The Post is also guilty of relying on sources who have little experience with or understanding of the industry, such as former GM executive Bob Lutz, who also rejected Gov. Romney’s bid for credit. (“What these people always deliberately forget is there was no money,” Lutz said, because of the meltdown of the global credit market. “Nobody had any money.”)

And don’t believe Reuters, either. They reported in February that Lutz, a Republican, was “infuriated” by Romney’s charge of crony capitalism. “This is the lie that gets told again and again and again — government intervention wasn’t necessary, that this was creeping socialism, that Obama wants to take over or give a sweetheart deal to the unions,” he said. Lutz also dismissed Romney’s claim that “we didn’t need the government and this could have been a privately run bankruptcy with the normal Chapter 11” as “fiction.” [3]

But can you blame Mitt Romney, a man who wouldn’t have an elevator in his garage or a dancing horse that gets him tax breaks worth $77K a year if he didn’t get pretty much everything he wants in this life, for thinking he can have this auto-bailout things both ways, too?

So, let me quickly summarize here, because I can see how this might all be a little confusing: For Mitt Romney, the auto bailout is nothing less than a disaster for the industry and an egregious example of the worst kind of crony capitalism that saved a lot of jobs for which we should all thank Mitt Romney. Everybody clear now? Good.

As I was working on this post, I was starting to think that Rep. Ryan and Gov. Romney truly take the absolute effing cake when it comes to astonishingly shameless hypocrisy on the topic of Crony Capitalism and How It Is Destroying America.

But it turns out I was wrong about that. An op-ed that recently came to my attention suggests that the title of Absolute Effing Cake-Taker When It Comes to Astonishingly Shameless Hypocrisy on the Topic of Crony Capitalism and How It Is Destroying America would perhaps be more appropriately awarded to its author.

More on that in Calling the Kettle Crony, part 2, coming later this week. File it under “I never get too old not to be disappointed by people.”

Notes:

1. If you didn’t have time to follow the links in last week’s post, allow me to direct you again to some of the credentials that qualify him. Particularly noteworthy are Joe Romm’s article, “Paul Ryan And His Family To Benefit From The $45 Billion In Subsidies For Big Oil In His Budget,” and Bob King’s “Koch brothers have Paul Ryan’s back,” as well as “Ryan Family Financially Benefits from the Health Insurance Industry,” by Tara Culp-Ressler, and “Ryan’s Shrewd Budget Payday,” by Daniel Stone.

2. Here’s Gov. Romney in February 2008:

If General Motors, Ford and Chrysler get the bailout that their chief executives asked for yesterday, you can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye. It won’t go overnight, but its demise will be virtually guaranteed.

Now here he is in February 2012:

The president tells us that without his intervention things in Detroit would be worse. I believe that without his intervention things there would be better.

And finally May 2012:

My own view, by the way, was that the auto companies needed to go through bankruptcy before government help. And frankly, that’s finally what the president did. He finally took them through bankruptcy. That was the right course I argued for from the very beginning. It was the UAW [United Auto Workers] and the president that delayed the idea of bankruptcy. I pushed the idea of a managed bankruptcy and finally when that was done, and help was given, the companies got back on their feet. So I’ll take a lot of credit for the fact that this industry’s come back.

3. According to the Post, the bipartisan Congressional Oversight Panel had this to say at the end of 2008:

The circumstances in the global credit markets in November and December 2008 were unlike any the financial markets had seen in decades. U.S. domestic credit markets were frozen in the wake of the Lehman bankruptcy, and international sources of funding were extremely limited. Bankruptcy with reorganization of the two auto companies using private DIP [debtor in possession] financing did not appear to be an option by late fall 2008, leaving liquidation of the firms as the more likely course of action absent a government rescue.

The Post also reported that President George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers projected in December 2008 that

the direct costs of American automakers failing and laying off their workers in the near term would result in a more than 1 percent reduction in real GDP [gross domestic product] growth and about 1.1 million workers losing their jobs, including workers for automotive suppliers and dealers.

U of M student awarded $4.5M

AP (August 16): Lawyer ordered to pay $4.5M to gay U-M student

DETROIT – A jury on Thursday awarded a gay University of Michigan student body president $4.5 million in his lawsuit against a former Michigan assistant attorney general who posted about him in an anti-gay blog.

Armstrong accused Shirvell of defamation as well as emotional distress for his actions on the blog, in Facebook posts and during visits to the Ann Arbor campus.

“I’m just incredibly humbled by what happened today,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “This is truly a victory — not just for myself, but for a lot of other kids out there.”

Full article here.

Alevei!