OBAMA IN BEDLAM: It’s not that complex!

TUESDAY, JULY 17, 2012

Part 2—Endlessly feigning confusion: Does Obama care about outsourcing?

“Probably not,” says David Brooks, in today’s New York Times. Here’s what Brooks says in our hard-copy Times. On-line, results may differ:
BROOKS (7/17/12): Does Obama believe any of this? Probably not. There’s no real evidence that, when he’s off the campaign trail, he has any problem with outsourcing and offshoring. He’s lavishly praised people like Steve Jobs who were prominent practitioners. He’s hired people like Jeffrey Immelt of G.E., whose company embodies the upsides of globalization. His economic advisers have generally touted the benefits of globalization even as they worked to help those who are hurt by its downsides.

The Obama campaign has is taking this tack because it is trying to hang globalization and creative destruction around Romney’s neck. Just as Republicans spent years promising voters that they could have tax cuts forever, now the Democrats are promising voters that they can have all the benefits of capitalism without the downsides, like outsourcing.
Does that make sense? We can’t really say. On Saturday, Matt Yglesias made a similar presentation at Slate, saying he’d offer more pensees during the week. One way or the other, we hope he keeps his promise.

Below, you see a chunk of what Yglesias said. In his fuller text, he echoes Brooks’ view about Obama and outsourcing—but please note something else. With great ease, he removes the mystification which surrounds Mitt Romney’s tenure at Bain after 1999:
YGLESIAS (7/14/12): Stipulate that Romney somehow had nothing to do with running a company of which he was the CEO and sole shareholder. Does he think, in retrospect, that his subordinates did something wrong by offshoring jobs? Clearly he didn't, which highlights the absurdity of his claims not to have been responsible. It's true that he wasn't running the [company] on a day-to-day basis, but he really was titular CEO and had Bain been doing something he deemed outrageous he could and should have stepped in to stop them. But he doesn't believe that. And what's more, all indications are that Barack Obama also doesn't think Bain was doing anything wrong...
Good God! How easily Yglesias describes Romney’s status at Bain during the disputed years from 1999 through 2001! On a day-to-day basis, he wasn’t running the company, Yglesias says. But he was still Bain’s CEO (and owner). Presumably, he could (and should) have stepped in if he thought Bain was doing something wrong.

All across the mainstream press corps, the hacks and the hustlers have been scratching their heads about this rather simple state of affairs. They've puzzled about Romney’s status at Bain during these deeply confusing years (examples to follow).

Yglesias make the situation sound remarkably simple. Romney wasn’t running Bain day-to-day. But as Bain’s owner, he could have stepped in to reverse decisions he found outrageous or wrong.

We assume Yglesias is basically right on these basic points—and we note how easy this is to explain. Why have so many journalists labored so hard, trying to puzzle this out?

On an individual basis, we can’t answer that question. In fact, many of our mainstream journalists are quite easily confused. It may be that they’re truly puzzled by Romney’s status at Bain during this period.

That said, some major journalists seem to be trying to spread confusion. Yesterday, in yesterday's editorial, the New York Times wrote this:
NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL (7/16/12): Mr. Romney’s descriptions of when he left Bain have been erratic and self-serving. In 2002, when he needed to show he was still a Massachusetts resident, he denied he had quit in 1999, saying he had taken a leave of absence to run the Olympics committee. A series of documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Committee show that Bain certainly didn’t describe him as absent after 1999.

A former Bain managing director, Edward Conard, said on MSNBC Sunday that Mr. Romney remained C.E.O. “legally” so he could negotiate his generous exit deal.

But now that Bain has been accused of helping other companies outsource jobs overseas, laying off steel company employees and wiping out their pensions, Mr. Romney says he had no management role after 1999. A Kansas City steel plant that Bain bought in 1993 under Mr. Romney’s control, for example, went bankrupt in 2001, costing 750 workers their jobs and pensions. After the Obama campaign made an ad featuring several of the angry workers, the Romney campaign said he couldn’t be blamed because he left Bain in 1999.
“Now that Bain has been accused,” Romney says he had no management role after 1999? This construction conveys the impression that Romney has been shifting his story, the way slippery liars so constantly do.

But here Romney is in October 2002, in a debate with Shannon O’Brien, the Democratic nominee for governor of Massachusetts. O’Brien asks a very good question. Romney answers in the way the Times says he has just conjured “now:”
O’BRIEN (10/02): When you cut people’s health care benefits, cut their pension benefits and closed the plant, it has become known that your company made $102 million in profits from the sale of that company, from dismantling that company. My question to you is, couldn’t you have made $80 million instead of $102 million and helped keep people in their health care benefits for a little bit longer or extended their pension benefits?

ROMNEY: I was off at the Olympics at the time—

O’BRIEN: Are you going to answer the question?

ROMNEY: I was at the Olympics when that occurred.

O’BRIEN: Are you going to answer the question? The fact is you were still signing documents as CEO of the company while you were away. As a matter of fact, in the summer of 2001, when you were leaving the Olympics, you made a statement in the paper that in the summer of 2001, you were finally relinquishing 100 percent control of your position in Bain. And so, apparently you hadn’t relinquished that beforehand.
We think that exchange comes from the final gubernatorial debate on October 29, 2002. But as you can see from that exchange, there is nothing new about Romney’s stance—and there is nothing especially new about the known facts of this case.

Starting in 1999, Romney was living in Utah, where he was running the Salt Lake City Olympics. But he was still Bain’s CEO (and owner) and he was still signing documents.

That very morning, in 2002, these familiar old facts were spelled out in Boston’s two major daily newspapers. Yvonne Abraham’s report appeared in the Boston Globe—almost ten years ago:
ABRAHAM (10/29/02): Romney, who was CEO of Bain Capital until 2001, has repeatedly said he was on leave from the company in 1994, when strikes erupted at Ampad's now-closed Indiana paper plant, and again in 2001, when GST Steel, a Kansas City plant, laid off workers and closed.

Yesterday, his campaign released a letter from the former CEO of GST, absolving Romney of any responsibility for the plant's closing. The campaign also produced a letter from Bain's lawyers, saying Romney was not actively involved with Bain after Feb. 11, 1999, even though he was sometimes called on to sign Bain's SEC filings.
Just as it ever was! Romney was CEO of Bain through 2001. But according to Romney, he wasn’t actively managing the company after 1999, though he sometimes signed documents.

Is that a confusing state of affairs? We’d have to say it isn’t. As everyone except major journalists knows, many people own entities which they don’t actively manage. Examples:

If you perform at a comedy club, the owner may pick you up at the airport and drive you to your hotel. Or the owner may be in Bora Bora, where he’s been living for years.

Sometimes, baseball owners actively run their teams. (They’re often described as “meddling” owners.) In other instances, owners of teams leave that task to others.

Duh. An owner doesn’t necessarily manage his business. Nothing is confusing about this, until “journalists” take a rooting interest in a White House campaign.

At that point, everything gets confusing! The confusion can be extended for years. Our journalists are expert at feigning confusion. It may be their greatest skill.

What did Romney do at Bain? We’d like to see more reporting on that, as we’ve said since the start of the year.

Does Obama “believe” the charges he’s making? That’s part of the story too.

But that editorial in the Times struck us as highly misleading. Meanwhile, we’d have to say that many pundits are feigning a boatload of confusion about Romney’s status at Bain.

From 1999 through 2001, Romney was still the owner of Bain. Presumably, he was legally responsible for the various things Bain did. Presumably, he could have stepped in if he thought Bain’s decisions were wrong.

On the other hand, Romney was living in Utah. Presumably, he wasn’t making Bain’s day-to-day decisions, although more facts could emerge (or be invented).

Whatever one thinks of Romney and Bain, this basic outline just isn’t confusing. Until our “journalists” start feigning confusion, as they so skillfully do.

Tomorrow: Collins and Blow—and more


  1. Brilliant column! Cuts right to the heart of the contrived controversy over when and how Romney left Bain.

  2. Actually commentators other than Yglesias, even from the left, have offered more or less the same boiled down treatment. Did Bain change its basic values the second Mitt turned his back? Is Mitt shocked -- shocked!! -- to learn what his minions were pulling the minute he was off saving the Olympics?

    In this confusing age of globalization, there are plenty of arguments for some off-shoring. Why doesn't Mitt make them? Who wants to pay $1,000 for an iPad and other such indispensable knick-knacks just for the "Made in USA" stamp on the back?

    In 1964 we off-shored rock-n-roll to England. That worked out OK.

    This is the central danger of having "moderate" Mitt in the White House. Like W., he wants the presidency on his C.V. so badly he'll say or not say anything to get there. And once he gets there Rudderless Romney will do as he's told by God knows who.

    I'm paranoid enough be believe all presidents have their unseen masters. But with Mitt it'd be especially so if the election's bought with 501(c)4 money.

  3. CEO's don't really have to run companies on a day to day basis. Day to day responsibilities can, and in a large company, must be delegated. They can be responsible for overall strategic decisions which can be immensely important to a company but isn't the kind of work that is quantified by punching a time clock. It may be quite true that during Romney's Olympic period he didn't show up at the office much if at all. But I would be surprised, shocked even, if he didn't keep in touch with what was happening with Bain and remained the ultimate authority within the company on all high level management decisions. For one thing, the Olympics just wasn't that big a deal.

    1. Yes, the point is which responsibilities did he have? Some CEO's are involved in day-to-day operations, and some are only involved in strategic decision-making. One way or the other, they have responsibility for decision-making. So no matter what Romney was really doing he still had responsibility. Either that or he wasn't really CEO. Calling someone a CEO that had no responsibility for either short- or long-term decisions is false.

  4. Great Howler piece, as usual.

    Some people say Romney ran Bain years after he claims he departed. They point to his CEO position, SEC filings, ongoing income, public statements, etc. Others say he may or may not have been running Bain, but he's still responsible for what it did -- it was his company after all, and he was still CEO. Still others say he had nothing to do with the company after he "left" and isn't responsible for anything it did thereafter -- so what if his name was on the masthead and he was sole owner. And besides there's nothing wrong with what Bain did, this is American capitalism!

    Bob says, he doesn't know what Romney was doing after he "left", or whether what Bain did after Romney "left" is any different or worse than what it did before Romney "left", or who's right about what Romney did after Romney "left". But, Bob helpfully reports that "presumably" more facts could emerge (or "invented", he hastens to add, should he not like the conclusion).

    About this, Bob is absolutely right -- presumably more facts could emerge and that what some some people are saying may be wrong, though who those people currently are, Bob doesn't know.

    And all this, don't you see, is remarkably simple! Reporters and editorial writers aren't covering the matter exactly as Bob would wish!

    How much longer before "looting" is in the hall of infamy along with "invented the internet"?

    Perhaps a weasel (rather than a wolf) is the more appropriate mascot for this site?

    1. Yawn. I'm boring even myself. Wake me if I say anything useful.

  5. "An owner doesn’t necessarily manage his business. Nothing is confusing about this, until “journalists” take a rooting interest in a White House campaign."

    You're so dead on. Feigning confusion is what they do toward a political end that's usually not even ideological, it's personal. Sickening.

  6. Neither Romney nor any other person has ever been the sole shareholder of Bain Capital. There have always been many partners holding shares.

    It seems like this mistake will never die because Romney was listed as a sole shareholder of one of Bain's _funds_ that has the word "Bain" in the title.

    Am I really the only one to notice this?

  7. Obama says Romney was responsible for outsourcing, the Burden of Proof is completely on Obama.

    Lost in all of this are exactly *what* "SEC filings" were filed? Surely they have a from nake like 10-Q or 10-K filed by publically traded companys? If anyone ID'd these forms I guess I missed it. Aside from that is whether they have any legal or practical meaning for a company not publically traded.

  8. How does Romney attend board meetings of Bain acquisitions, sign six filings on Bain acquisitions, get a six figure salary as an executive, list himself as sole owner and CEO with the SEC in these years, and insist he was not "involved in the operations of any Bain Capital entity in any way?

    1. Exactly, Anonymous. Romney's defense and Bob's defense of his defense seems to be that Romney, as sole owner and CEO of Bain, had no idea what was going on in his own company and was just blindly signing away at whatever was put in front of him w/o asking any inconvenient questions or showing any significant curiosity about what was going on in his own company. Either that, or he was apprised of what was going on and didn't care about all the people who were losing their jobs and pensions and is now feigning ignorance.

      Is this anyone's idea of presidential timber?

  9. Self-styled “independent fact-checkers” at the Annenberg Center and the neocon-dominated
    Washington Post have positioned themselves as ardent defenders of Mitt Romney’s claims that
    his Bain Capital tenure ended in 1999 despite questions raised by contradictory information
    submitted by Romney himself.

    Indeed, the behavior of these “fact-checkers” is rapidly becoming the journalism scandal of
    Campaign 2012 as the likes of Brooks Jackson at Annenberg’s FactCheck.org and the Post’s
    Glenn Kessler act more as querulous lawyers protecting Romney than as journalists seeking
    the actual facts surrounding Romney’s curious business narrative.

    Much as the Post’s Ceci Connolly and the New York Times’ Katharine Seeyle engaged in
    aggressive – and dishonest – journalism to portray Vice President Al Gore as a serial liar
    during Campaign 2000, Jackson and Kessler are performing a similar role in portraying
    Obama and his campaign officials as liars now.


    1. "http://consortiumnews.com/2012/07/14/the-romney-fact-checking-scandal/"

      Nothing here about exactly what type of SEC filings were in this link, and what legal or practical meaning they had.

      Clearly there needs to be better reporting, I for one would like to know the answers to those questions.

  10. Off shoring jobs has been going on for years and has had a massive impact, and has been widely discussed. I think the public in significant measure is aware that this has been happening, though probably the understanding of the entire phenomenon isn't widely grasped. It's a huge subject. It's cost millions and millions of jobs, but the argument is that if it wasn't done, clothing, computers, TVs and zillions of other products would be way more expensive, which would be bad for everyone, particularly the poor and the middle class.

    Romney, in each of his previous runs for office against democrats has been attacked for Bain's bankrupting company's, destroying pension funds, but I think Obama's ads criticizing the off-shoring is new. Romney, as he did in the past when attacked for bankrupting companies, has countered this off-shoring charge with the contention that he was out saving the Olympics so wasn't involved. apparently, whenever he takes a leave of absence, the company goes and loots everyone's pensions and off-shores job, with him being completely in the dark about it.

    He could argue that the Bain off-shoring was a wonderful thing for the country, but he apparently doesn't want to be in the position of boasting about the off-shoring jobs. And he is in a bit of a trap, because he still was president of Bain, and a significant owner of Bain, when this off-shoring happened. Even if he was off working 100 hour weeks saving the Olympics, how can he disclaim responsibility? After all, his whole campaign is that the economy stinks; Obama is President; ergo it's Obama's fault - but Obama is less responsible for the economy than Romney was as CEO of Bain when it off-shored workers.

    AC in MA

  11. Shannon O'Brien (who lost the gubernatorial race to Romney) was on Maddow the other night. With a lawyer's due care about her choice of words and the limits of her knowledge of the facts (she refused to acquiesce in Rachel's misleading summaries of what she was trying to say), O'Brien surmised that Romney's $100,000 payments from Bain after 1999 were his compensation for serving on the board. (Think about it -- 100 K would be a tiny salary for the CEO of something like Bain). Her larger point was this: as a responsible board member, he would have been well aware of the policies of which he now claims ignorance. Thus, either Romney was either a responsible member of that board, in which case his claims of ignorance are hard to believe, or he was not serving on the board in a responsible manner, in which case he didn't earn that 100K and, more important, shouldn't claim to have been a responsible business person throughout his active business career. All this to address Bob Somerby's somewhat misguided emphasis on CEO's, owners, and day-to-day operations.

    And there's a larger, ethical issue. Romney's entry as CEO on the SEC filing means something, perhaps legally but certainly in financial circles where (believe it or not) a lot rides for others who are making deals on the CEO who ultimately is backing those deals and, in general, on the value of a person's word. I have read that Bain, in the Romney years, became more feared than respected in finance circles. Not hard to see why, if Romney always played as fast and loose with the truth as he appears to have done starting in 1999. (I carefully refrain from asserting that Romeny actually lied or lies -- he's probably too clever for that, and has a lot of lawyers who help him find a technically "truthful" ground.)

    1. A lot of people are missing Somerby's point. Somerby is NOT saying Romney bears no responsibility for what happened at Bain, whether or not he was actively running the place. He's saying that the press corps is making a muddle of something that is actually quite clear. Why some of you can't understand that, but instead repeat something Somerby himself says as though he never said it, deserves its own post.

    2. "Romney's entry as CEO on the SEC filing means something,"

      Right, what *exactly* does it mean? The Globe and Mother Jones would like us to think that it means something, but they did not "show their work" did they? What were the forms? They should have a specific form number on the top like "1040" that some of us "submit" to the IRS. Then what do these forms and their contents *actually* mean legally and practically?

      Nothing on that yet.

  12. And another point, which touches on a previous discussion: the more this is about the tenure of Romney at Bain, the less it is about what Bain did, and whether or not that is good for the country, and whether those experiences make Romney fit for office. It trivializes the greater point, and makes it easier for the "fact checkers" to go into orgasmic displays of righteousness about the trivial, which is what they prefer doing above all else. Bain is about real issues. Real peoples' lives were damaged, while other people made off like bandits from that damage. But here we are arguing over what dates Romney was working at the company -- as if he'd have done anything differently. When you take your eye off the ball, you often strike out. The ball here is the outsourcing, the union busting, the pension looting. It's a given that Romney was a party to it, or it would be if the left had the brains it gives itself credit for.

    1. Example of making out like a bandit - $106,000,000 IRA

    2. "Example of making out like a bandit - $106,000,000 IRA"

      What *kind* of IRA? Traditional? Roth? Simple? SEP? Self-Directed?

      Maddow didn't say did she?

  13. TIL, I appreciate your point about Somerby's larger argument. But when his larger argument has been quickly and easily made, he continues with the section beginning,
    "As everyone except major journalists knows, many people own entities which they don’t actively manage." That section muddies his larger argument, if you ask me, and fans the very distractions you are concerned about. (No wonder D in Cal endorsed this post.)

    1. D in cal is a troll, and not a very bright one. He saw something that he thought would get a response, and jumped on it, the way a troll will. If you are going to use him as a gauge of Somerby's, or anyone's, intent, you're in for an interesting ride.

      As for Somerby's attitude towards Romney and Bain, the following paragraph makes it clear:

      Good God! How easily Yglesias describes Romney’s status at Bain during the disputed years from 1999 through 2001! On a day-to-day basis, he wasn’t running the company, Yglesias says. But he was still Bain’s CEO (and owner). Presumably, he could (and should) have stepped in if he thought Bain was doing something wrong.

      Again, the overall point of his post is NOT whether Romney was responsible for what happened at Bain, but the way the press corps is bungling the whole thing and going off on a tangent,and he sticks to that point pretty well,unless you wanted him to be talking about something else, in which case the whole thing would look distracting. People need to remember this is a blog about the media first, everything else, second.

    2. Excuse me, but what Yglesias said is exactly what I've been hearing across the board, including from those dread MSNBC hosts who Bob has set up as Voldemort to his Harry Potter.

      And the real funny (if you can call it that) part is that Romney himself has simplified the issue. No longer does the "media" have to go case by case to find examples of Bain's misdeeds then stack that up against any of the examples of Bain riding to the rescue of a few troubled companies, which are also surely out there.

      Romney himself has stipulated that Bain did some pretty bad things, only it all happened after he was no longer calling the shots, in any way, shape or form.

      Now all that remains is to find some evidence that says that Romney still had his hand in Bain while he was rescuing the Salt Lake City Olympics.

      And what do you know? There it is.

    3. "And what do you know? There it is."


  14. i enjoy your writing ,its so readable ,pleasurable and easy to read .. thx .

  15. Romney's response to the attacks on Bain are at http://www.mittromney.com/blogs/mitts-view/2012/06/obamas-false-attacks?cct_info=1|25219|7946991837|140658214|7857667414||24705678454|tc||d||www.dailypolitical.com|&cct_ver=3&cct_bk=private%20equity%20investment%20firm&gclid=COTymJbNorECFaQaQgoduHqOnQ

    1. Gee, thanks Dave! How could I ever have found mittromney.com without your help?

  16. He was out of the loop. Bad things happened? Not his fault.

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