APPRAISING THE RUBES: Dionne starts getting it right!


Part 3—Pensions were looted, he says: Good god!

It wasn’t enough that Ed Rendell staged that brain-jangling segment with Sharpton, picking nits and defending Mitt Romney’s looting of pension funds. (It was “legal and proper,” Rendell said. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/22/12.)

It wasn’t enough to drive the nation into a state of narcolepsy, making angels leap to their deaths from the heads of pins.

None of that was enough. Yesterday, Rendell had to criticize Obama’s ads about Bain! Just like Darling Cory!

Self-dealers of the world, unite! On Sunday, Cory Booker said the ads are “nauseating.” Yesterday, Rendell followed suit; with great sorrow, he said the ads are “very disappointing.” Peter Baker reports the boo-hooing in today’s New York Times:
BAKER (5/23/12): But the White House approach has stirred dissent in the party. Two days after Cory A. Booker, the Democratic mayor of Newark, called the focus on Bain Capital a “nauseating” part of campaigning, another top Democrat, former Gov. Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania, added his own concerns about the attacks.

“I think they’re very disappointing,” he told the Web site BuzzFeed. “I think Bain is fair game, because Romney has made it fair game. But I think how you examine it, the tone, what you say, is important as well.”

Mr. Rendell praised Mr. Booker. “People in politics should tell the truth,” he said. “He could have qualified it better; he could have framed it better. But if you’re in this business, none of us like negative ads.”
None of us like negative ads! Truly, that’s world-class clowning. But in these ways, hustlers like Booker and Rendell keep the faith with their big-money friends. And the public keeps getting handed piffle concerning the work of Bain.

What did Romney do at Bain Capital? We would love to see major journalists report this matter with more clarity. Right now, very few voters have any idea how Bain Capital worked.

More generally, very few people understand what the term “private equity” means. Very few people could explain what “private equity” firms typically do, or how they differ from other firms. Very few people could explain what a “leveraged buy-out” is. Few people could explain how a firm like Bain can make big bucks by buying a company which is in decline, then taking it into bankruptcy.

The typical voter has no idea how such endeavors work. And sure enough! As usual, our big newspapers have made little attempt to explain such matters, even as the debate about Bain has rolled forward, picking up steam.

They’ll tell you about Mitt Romney’s dog, or about his conduct in high school. But what did Romney do at Bain?

The high lady Collins won’t say! More generally, our big newspapers have little attempt to tell you.

What did Romney do at Bain? Four months ago, Reuters presented a detailed report about some conduct by Romney which just doesn’t look very good. Last night, finally! One major pundit actually seems to have read it!

E.J. Dionne appeared with Big Ed. The analysts cheered as he said it:
SCHULTZ (5/22/12): You know, Romney wants everybody to talk about the positives of Bain Capital and that's what his surrogates are saying. But is he able to answer for the pain and suffering that his businesses caused?

This is a vital part of the campaign. When you kick 350 people to the road and you take $100 million, the American people, I don’t think they—I don’t think they are compassionate to that kind of business. Is the Romney campaign worried this Bain thing is not going to go away?

DIONNE: I think so because obviously the Obama people want to turn it into a character issue and people tend not to like the boss who has fired them.

The other issue is, what do these guys do with pension funds? You know, a lot of—some of these deals, the pension funds get looted and people who were promised a pension can’t collect it. Sometimes retirees who have health care promised to them, they lose that promise.

I think this will be a challenge for journalism because not all of these details are public...I think that you need a really detailed look at Bain because Romney started out making it a big deal in the campaign. And we need to know, what did they do?
Good God! Somebody finally said it! Pension funds got “looted,” Dionne said, using the language we’ve been suggesting for the past four months.

One night before, the utterly hapless Sharpton/Rendell were picking nits about numbers of jobs. Dionne actually took the discussion where rubber starts meeting the road.

Did Romney “loot” workers’ pension funds? Did the federal government have to step in to clean up after this looting? That’s what Reuters reported, four months ago, though the Rendells and the Sharptons still haven’t heard—or they’re just keeping quiet.

This Monday, in the Washington Post, Dionne was almost as tough:
DIONNE (5/21/12): [H]aving made an issue of Bain on the plus side, [Romney] also has to answer for the pain and suffering—or, as defenders of capitalism like to call it, the “creative destruction”—that some of Bain’s deals left in their wake.

This leads naturally to the question of how creative the destruction wrought by our current brand of capitalism actually is. Since the dawn of the leveraged buyout era three decades ago, many friends of capitalism have questioned whether loading companies with debt as part of these deals is good for companies and for the economy as a whole.

Does this approach cause unnecessary suffering among the employees of the companies in question and the communities that often lose plants and jobs as a result? Sucking pension and health funds dry to aggrandize investors seems less like a creative act than a betrayal of workers who made bargains with their employers in good faith.
In his column, Dionne didn’t name Romney’s name when he talked about “sucking pension funds dry.” Nor did he really explain what he meant by that construction. Nor did he mention subsequent bailouts by the federal government.

But Dionne was moving in the right direction when he wrote that column. Last night, he took another large step, suggesting that Romney—omigod!—had looted some pension funds.

“Looted!” He used that word!

Did Romney “loot” workers’ pension funds? Four months ago, Reuters reported on his conduct with respect to GST, a Kansas City steel mill. “The U.S. Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp…determined in 2002 that GS [Bain] had underfunded its pension by $44 million,” Reuters reported. Reuters noted that the PBGC, a federal entity, had to bail out the underfunded pensions, though workers still lost large chunks of their pensions because of Romney’s underfunding / looting.

Romney underfunded those pensions—then Bain walked away with large profits. And the government picked up the tab!

Reuters did that report four months ago. That same week, David Cay Johnston told Schultz that there were other companies where Romney had similar problems.

But so what? From that day to this, the silly hacks we get sold as our “intellectual leaders” haven’t shown the slightest sign of wanting to explore this conduct. The Bookers and Rendells have bellowed and cried, with a hustler like Rachel Maddow trying to cover for what Booker did. (Incredibly, she continued this scam last night. More to come.) Sharpton probably has some reason for keeping his fat trap shut too.

Can we talk? In many cases, your corporate-assigned “intellectual leaders” are actually hustlers. And younger “leaders” on the way up aren’t about to tattle.

What did Romney do at Bain? Last night, Dionne broke a code of silence. He referred to the looting of pension funds! “I think this will be a challenge for journalism,” he said.

Last night, Maddow was still pretending that Darling Cory is being mistreated for what he said. In such a corporate world, will “journalism” ever tell you what Bain did?

Suckers! Unless you scream and yell and shout and insist, you don’t even stand a chance!

Tomorrow: Back to the initial theme of this week’s reports

Concerning your corporate-selected intellectual leaders: Your lizard brain says they’re on your side.

Well guess what? They aren’t on your side!


  1. When Sharpton, along with Jackson and others, were leaders in the Black community, it was said they liked to keep the sheep ignorant because the sheep would always need them to lead them.

    If, as may well happen, we get a Pres Romney and both houses of Congress are Republican, these so-called Liberal intellectuals will still have their jobs fomenting outrage against the very people they indirectly helped elect by keeping us dumb. And some of us will look up to them for guidance on how to get through this bleak time in our history.

  2. Here's the sad truth which seems to have eluded even you, Bob.

    The nation has just about completed its slide from democracy to plutocracy, and the election of Mitt Romney, should it happen, will just about finish the job --- until a crisis of historic proportions like the Great Depression wakes us up again.

    Money rules. So much so that anybody harboring political ambition, like Cory Booker, will call looting of pension funds out of bounds in a political campaign. Booker seems to know what to kiss and when.

    Bill Clinton learned this lesson 20 some years ago when he ran smack up against big money in his heroic attempt to pass the country's first national health insurance plan. He, as well as John McCain and Russ Feingold, warned us that we will never pass big-ticket legislation to solve big problems until we first rein in the influence of big money in elections and on elected officials.

    This, of course, was a time when we actually had Tom Delay handing out big oil campaign contributions on the floor of the House while debate on an energy bill was going on. And yes, Bob, that was WIDELY reported, but we slept right through it. After all, times were good in the 1990s, and we apparently believe that they would always be good.

    This slide to plutocracy began when Ronald Reagan began to convince the emerging Baby Boom voters that "government is the problem" and that to even be Democrat was to be absolutely Godless and in favor of killing babies, unbridled sex with unbridled horses, and, horror upon horrors, gays getting married.

    And they have used those "moral" issues to convince a critical mass of voters to vote against their own economic interests. As I have noted before, when Claire McCaskill ran for re-election as Missouri State Auditor, she was up against a convicted embezzler who slipped in and won the GOP primary against a hand-picked party hack who didn't even bother to campaign. The state party disowned their own candidate, and the embezzler still got 40 percent of the vote.

    When you begin with 40 percent in the bag, all you got to do is get another 11 percent and you're in. And as we learned in both 1994, and 2010, that's not altogether that hard to do, especially when you got big money behind you and a Supreme Court that equates money with speech.

    Good grief, the 2008 economic collapse should have put an end to all this "supply side" nonsense that created the greatest transfer of wealth into the hands of the already super-wealthy few in world history.

    But instead of moderating, the GOP turned even harder to the right, with their only goal being to foment as much hatred of the newly elected president as they could muster and win the next election, the well-being of the nation and its people be damned.

    And now, they are offering perhaps the biggest plutocrat we have seen in our lifetime as its nominee for president.

    Are you really surprised?

    1. Your newsletter, sign me up.

    2. Well, here's another thing that eludes Bob.

      E.J. Dionne can write from now until November how Romney looted pension funds. It won't make any difference to those who are already convinced that Obama's goal is to turn the United States into the new Soviet Union.

      It will take principled Republicans more interested in the good of the nation than in winning the next election to stand up against what is happening in their own party, and to the nation as a result.

      But then again, we learned in 2010 what happens when anyone dares to do that. That election was not only a takeover of the House from Democrats to Republicans, it was also a very thorough purge of the Republican Party of its few remaining moderates.

    3. Another AnonymousMay 23, 2012 at 6:20 PM

      A very cogent and sensible analysis, Anon@11:23AM (and 11:52AM).

      However, I have to take issue with two points you made:

      "Good grief, the 2008 economic collapse should have put an end to all this "supply side" nonsense that created the greatest transfer of wealth into the hands of the already super-wealthy few in world history."

      Putting an end to the supply side nonsense requires that the other side present an alternative way of understanding economic policy and explain it in a way that can be understood by ordinary people, and resonate with them. And it has to be done day after day.

      Prominent liberals in the media, with the exception of Krugman and a handful of others, have largely taken a pass on this task. In many cases, they have even repeated the other side's class warfare rhetoric! (See Cory Booker).

      "E.J. Dionne can write from now until November how Romney looted pension funds. It won't make any difference to those who are already convinced that Obama's goal is to turn the United States into the new Soviet Union."

      No, it won't. But they're not the target audience. The target should be the many ordinary people, weak partisans and undecideds (yes, they exist), who don't know what Romney did and would be angry about it if they did know.

      The task of telling them (messaging) is the essence of politics.

  3. Oh please keep this fight going...EJ Dionne, Rendell, this is perfect. What a friggin Ruling Class! Don't worry about it Prez...look at this way, if you win, you win. If you lose, at your age, you stand to be wealthier than Romney in a decade. You AND the wife can make big bucks. Hell, the kids can make it too! See Chelsea.

    I'm dating myself now, but it all reminds me of an exchange from the old Redd Foxx show, Sanford and Son. Fred's son Lamont is solicited by neighbors to run for political office. He declines, saying "I don't have any experience'. The old man responds...."Experience? EXPERIENCE? Man, we ain't talkin brain surgeon here...we're talkin about a chance to make a salary and a fortune to boot...

    1. Not to mention the old Robert Redford film, "The Candidate" which looks like prophecy. These aren't candidates anymore. These are commodities to be packaged and sold.

      And dear Somerby has still not tumbled onto the fact that politics bears no resemblance to an Ivy League debating tournament, where rules of proper decorum apply.

      But then again, Somerby seems to blame "liberals" and "pseudo-liberals" in the media when the other side won't play by the rules, while still insisting "our side" must fight a knife fight by the Marquis de Queensbury rules.

    2. *Are* they "your side," Anonymous?

      Or are you above it all?

      No -- it's just the same shit different day from you, as always.

      We understand, you don't give a damn about facts.

      You'll have to forgive the rest of us for not sharing in your stupidity. Or don't forgive us, but we reject your clown show all the same.

    3. "No -- it's just the same shit different day from you, as always."

      Yeah, isn't that the truth!

      Oh, I'm sorry. I thought you were talking about Somerby instead of projecting.

    4. To be clear:

      Yes, I don't care about facts & that is my clown show.

      My code for that is "fight by the Marquis de Queensbury rules."

      But everyone can see that, so why don't I go sell it somewhere else?

      Who can say. Perhaps I am just a gasbag.

      Perhaps? Who am I kidding?

  4. This is like that bit on "You Bet Your Life" where when a contestant happened to say the secret word, a duck with a cigar would come down from the rafters. This time, the word was "looting." Until someone, somewhere in the media said "looting," everyone but Bob Somerby was an incompetent rube-running hustler. And once someone, somewhere said "looting," Bob was right forever, times infinity, no backsies.

    1. Right. "Everyone" was an "incompetent rube-running hustler." Let's see . . . Maddow, Booker, Rendell. Yep, that's everyone.

    2. I meant media people, not politicians. Bob's axe to grind -- as usual -- was that the media people didn't focus on the item and use the precise language he finds best.

      So if Rachel Maddow or Al Sharpton says that Bain was "looting," will they get those elusive Somerby Karma Quatloos? Or will he instead switch gears and rip them for how they didn't do it soon enough for his liking?

    3. "Bob's axe to grind -- as usual -- was that the media people didn't focus on the item and use the precise language he finds best."

      Exactly. The item he's talking about happens to be the most salient and damning aspect of Romney's record. Presumably, if liberal media people are interested in winning, they would mention this whole underfunded pension and government bailout thing whether or not they use the word "looting." The word "looting" is merely his example of what an effective rhetorical device looks like.

      His basic point is that Maddow and Sharpton aren't fighting effectively. What's wrong with pointing that out?

      In Sharpton's case, he let the discussion get bogged down in irrelevancies. In Maddow's case, she clearly covered for her friend Booker and deceived her viewers in the process.

    4. The coverage for her friend is certainly there, but I'm not sure where the deception is.

    5. The Sharpton segment was all about how if Romney is claiming to have created jobs, let's see the jobs he created. That's an obvious line of investigation and attack. But Bob doesn't like it for some reason, so he put all his chips on "looting.". It's a fine word, fine concept, great. Why it has to be that and nothing else, or why that too can't be put to rest with platitudes like "sometimes businesses fail," is an exercise best left to Bob.

    6. Fair enough. I agree that the jobs created vs. jobs lost is an obvious line of attack, as you say. Bob's just saying the discussion got lost in the weeds.

      Also, he isn't talking just putting his chips on looting and nothing else. He's also talking about the government bailout. Both points are harder to rebut with "sometimes businesses fail." Most businesses don't take taxpayer money AND make huge profits when they fail. This kind of stuff makes even conservatives angry.

      The deception, urban legend, is that she never showed a clip of Booker's full comments regarding Bain Capital.

  5. A quick check of synonyms for looted suggests pillaged, plundered and ransacked. I'm sure Bob would be equally happy if any of those words were used. He just wants someone to have the guts to call a spade a spade, but sadly most of these pigs - Maddow, Booker, Rendell, Brooks and the rest - have their snouts in the same trough.

    1. "It's a rather brutal story. Romney took over Ampad, drove it into bankruptcy, and Bain turned its $5 million investment into $100 million. The workers at the plant in Marion, Indiana, lost their jobs, wages, health care, and pensions." That's from Maddow's blog. Do you know what you are talking about?

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