Free-market capitalism and universal social policies go well together—this isn’t about big government, it’s about smart government.

Helsinki Finland designHelsinki, Finland

Anu Partanen, The Atlantic

Bernie Sanders is hanging on, still pushing his vision of a Nordic-like socialist utopia for America, and his supporters love him for it. Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, is chalking up victories by sounding more sensible. “We are not Denmark,” she said in the first Democratic debate, pointing instead to America’s strengths as a land of freedom for entrepreneurs and businesses.

Commentators repeat endlessly the mantra that Sanders’s Nordic-style policies might sound nice, but they’d never work in the U.S. The upshot is that Sanders, and his supporters, are being treated a bit like children—good-hearted, but hopelessly naive. That’s probably how Nordic people seem to many Americans, too.

A Nordic person myself, I left my native Finland seven years ago and moved to the U.S. Although I’m now a U.S. citizen, I hear these kinds of comments from Americans all the time—at cocktail parties and at panel discussions, in town hall meetings and on the opinion pages. Nordic countries are the way they are, I’m told, because they are small, homogeneous “nanny states” where everyone looks alike, thinks alike, and belongs to a big extended family.

This, in turn, makes Nordic citizens willing to sacrifice their own interests to help their neighbors. Americans don’t feel a similar kinship with other Americans, I’m told, and thus will never sacrifice their own interests for the common good. What this is mostly taken to mean is that Americans will never, ever agree to pay higher taxes to provide universal social services, as the Nordics do. Thus Bernie Sanders, and anyone else in the U.S. who brings up Nordic countries as an example for America, is living in la-la land.

But this vision of homogenous, altruistic Nordic lands is mostly a fantasy. The choices Nordic countries have made have little to do with altruism or kinship. Rather, Nordic people have made their decisions out of self-interest. Nordic nations offer their citizens—all of their citizens, but especially the middle class—high-quality services that save people a lot of money, time, and trouble. This is what Americans fail to understand: My taxes in Finland were used to pay for top-notch services for me.

Bernie SandersREUTERS/Jim YoungBernie Sanders is espousing a Nordic-style social safety net.

When I lived in Finland, as a middle-class citizen I paid income tax at a rate not much higher than what I now pay in New York City. True, Nordic countries have somewhat higher taxes on consumption than America, and overall they collect more tax revenue than the U.S. currently does—partly from the wealthy. But, as an example, here are some of the things I personally got in return for my taxes: nearly a full year of paid parental leave for each child (plus a smaller monthly payment for an additional two years, were I or the father of my child to choose to stay at home with our child longer), affordable high-quality day care for my kids,one of the world’s best public K-12 education systems, free college, free graduate school, nearly free world-class health care delivered through a pretty decent universal network, and a full year of partially paid disability leave.

As far as I was concerned, it was a great deal. And it was equally beneficial for others. From a Nordic perspective, nothing Bernie Sanders is proposing is the least bit crazy—pretty much all Nordic countries have had policies like these in place for years.

But wait, most Americans would say: Those policies work well because all Nordics share a sense of kinship and have fond feelings for each other. That might be nice if it were true, but it’s not, as anyone who has followed recent political debates about immigration or economic policy in Nordic countries understands.

Nordics are not only just as selfish as everyone else on this earth but they can—and do—dislike many of their fellow citizens just as much as people with different political views dislike each other in other countries. As for homogeneity, Sweden already has a bigger share of foreign-born residents than the U.S. The reason Nordics stick with the system is because they can see that on the whole, they come out ahead—not just as a group, but as individuals.

Even so, surely these Nordic “socialist nanny states” pay the price in squashing entrepreneurship and business innovation? This is another refrain I repeatedly hear: Nordic countries have produced no Steve Jobs, no General Motors, and no medical breakthroughs. In short, American entrepreneurs, scientists, and other innovators have changed the world while Nordic countries fall short of taking risks and working hard.

This is what Hillary Clinton implied when she responded to Sanders’s praise of the Nordic region in the first Democratic debate. “When I think about capitalism,” Clinton said, “I think about all the small businesses that were started because we have the opportunity and the freedom in our country for people to do that and to make a good living for themselves and their families… And I think what Senator Sanders is saying certainly makes sense in the terms of the inequality that we have. But we are not Denmark. I love Denmark. We are the United States of America.”

SwedenMichael Campanella/Getty ImagesSweden has a larger share of foreign-born residents than the US.

In reality, however, Nordic nations have produced what is, by any metric, an impressive output of successful entrepreneurs, international businesses, and brands. Sweden has Ikea, H&M, Spotify, and Volvo, to name a few. From Denmark have come Lego, Carlsberg, and one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, Novo Nordisk. A Swede and a Dane co-founded the video calling service Skype.

The core programming code of Linux—the leading operating system running on the world’s servers and supercomputers—was developed by a Finn. The Finnish company Nokia was the world’s largest mobile phone maker for more than a decade. And newer players like Finland’s Supercell and Rovio, creators of the ubiquitous video games Clash of Clans and Angry Birds, or Sweden’s Mojang, the publisher of the equally popular video game Minecraft, are changing the face of online gaming.

Nordic countries are well-ranked when it comes to helping facilitate starting a business. At the most basic level, what the Nordic approach does is reduce the risk of starting a company, since basic services such as education and health care are covered for regardless of the fledgling company’s fate. In addition, companies themselves are freed from the burdens of having to offer such services for their employees at the scale American companies do. And if the entrepreneur succeeds, they are rewarded by tax rates on capital gains that are lower than the rate on wages.

Nordic economies go through cycles like all countries, and they make mistakes like everyone else—Finland is in the midst of a recession right now, whereas the Swedish economy is doing phenomenally well. As in any region, some Nordic companies eventually crash and burn, and others never get off the ground.

Some continue to dominate their market for decades. This is all as it should be in free-market, capitalist economies—which is what Nordic countries are. In fact, as capitalist economies the Nordic countries have proven that capitalism worksbetter when it’s accompanied by smart, universal social policies that are in everyone’s self-interest.

From my Nordic-American perspective, I’m actually surprised by how many Americans discount Bernie Sanders’s policy proposals  because at their root they’re no different from what the Nordic countries have already proven works. I understand why Sanders supporters believe in his vision, and I can assure them that they are not being the least bit naive.

The problem is the way Sanders has talked about it. The way he’s embraced the term socialisthas reinforced the American misunderstanding that universal social policies always require sacrifice for the good of others, and that such policies are anathema to the entrepreneurial, individualistic American spirit. It’s actually the other way around. For people to support a Nordic-style approach is not an act of altruism but of self-promotion. It’s also the future.

CopenhagenFlickr/Tony WebsterCopenhagen, Denmark.

In an age when more and more people are working as entrepreneurs or on short-term projects, and when global competition is requiring all citizens to be better prepared to handle economic turbulence, every nation needs to ensure that its people have the education, health care, and other support structures they need to take risks, start businesses, and build a better future for themselves and for their country. It’s simply a matter of keeping up with the times.

Americans are not wrong to abhor the specters of socialism and big government. In fact, as a proud Finn, I often like to remind my American friends that my countrymen in Finland fought two brutal wars against the Soviet Union to preserve Finland’s freedom and independenceagainst socialism. No one wants to live in a society that doesn’t support individual liberty, entrepreneurship, and open markets.

But the truth is that free-market capitalism and universal social policies go well together—this isn’t about big government, it’s about smart government. I suspect that despite Hillary Clinton’s efforts to distance herself from Sanders, she probably knows this. After all, Clinton is also endorsing policies that sound an awful lot like what the Nordics have done: paid family leave, better public schools, and affordable day care, health care and college for all.

The United States is its own country, and no one expects it to become a Nordic utopia. But Nordic countries aren’t utopias either. What they’ve done has little to do with culture, size, or homogeneity, and everything to do with figuring out how to flourish and compete in the 21st century.

In the U.S., supporters of not only Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, but also of Donald Trump, are worried about exactly the kinds of problems that universal social policies can help solve: worsening income inequality, shrinking opportunity, the decline of the middle class, and the survival of the ordinary family in the face of globalization. What America needs right now, desperately, isn’t to keep fighting the socialist bogeymen of the past, but to see the future—at least one presidential candidate should show them that.

Read the original article on The Atlantic. Check out The Atlantic’s Facebook, newsletters and feeds. Copyright 2016. Follow The Atlantic on Twitter.

 

Millennials have been betrayed by previous generations

A staggering Guardian investigation reveals how far from being “the most indulged young people in the history of the world,” westerners born in the 1980s and mid 1990s have actually been betrayed by previous generations who have left them in debt, jobless and locked out of property markets.

The series, which will be published over the next couple of weeks, will combine decades of data on 8 of the largest developed nations in the world with accounts of “the fortunes, feelings and finances of the developed world’s young adults, as well as looking at fallacies surrounding them.” The newspaper also promises to analyze what the results of these “betrayals” have been and will be, such as a decline in birthrates.

From The Guardian:

In our series, we will reveal that today’s young people are not delaying adulthood because they are – as the New Yorker once put it – “the most indulged young people in the history of the world”. Instead, it appears they are not hitting the basic stages of adulthood at the same time as previous generations because such milestones are so much more costly and in some cases they are even being paid less than their parents were at the same age.

In Australia, millennials are being inched out of the housing market. In the UK, new figures will show the notion of a property-owning democracy has already been terminated. In the US, debt is the millennial millstone – young people are sitting on $1.3tn of student debt.

Across Europe, the issue centres more around jobs – and the lack of them. The numbers of thirtysomethings still living with their parents is stubbornly high in countries such as Italy and Spain, with grave implications for birthrates and family formation in places whose demographics are already badly skewed towards elderly people.

“We’ve never had, since the dawn of capitalism really, this situation of a population that is ageing so much and in some countries also shrinking, and we just don’t know whether we can continue growing the economy in the same way we once have,” said Prof Diane Coyle, an economist and former UK Treasury adviser.

This election year is shaping up to be America’s most serious constitutional crisis since the Civil War

 

Robert Kuttner

The 2016 election year is shaping up to be America’s most serious constitutional crisis since the Civil War — and the most important partisan re-alignment since 1932 or maybe since 1860. To appreciate what’s at work, it’s important to understand these two trends, and how they interact.

The essence of the constitutional crisis is that one of our two parties, the Republicans, has stopped conceding the legitimacy of the Democrats. This has been building for decades, but it went critical under Obama.

The Republican leadership, and most of the 2016 presidential field, basically don’t concede that Obama is a legitimate President of the United States. You see this in charges of his alleged Muslim religion and foreign birth and his supposed radicalism (Obama is basically a centrist and instinctive compromiser — well to the right on key issues of such presidents as Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, and even Nixon and Eisenhower.)

The Republican refusal to even consider a presidential nominee to the Supreme Court is only the latest example, and it comes on the heels of several threats to shut down the government or to refuse to roll over the national debt if Obama did not give in to Republican demands, a scorched-earth tactic that dates back to the Speakership of Newt Gingrich in the 1990s.

This degree of permanent partisan obstruction is something new and menacing, and it interacts poisonously with the vision of America’s founders. They wrote a Constitution with lots of checks and balances to promote compromise, not on the assumption that one of the two parties would simply refuse to play. But the checks and balances create paralysis if one of the parties proceeds in bad faith.

In political science, the concept of legitimacy is essential to a functioning democracy — in two senses: Legitimacy means that the authority of the government is accepted as earned rather than being a function of brute force; and it means that one party accepts that the other is loyal. For one party to deny the legitimacy of the other has not happened since the Civil War, when Southern Democrats were literally traitors to the Union, and the South viewed Lincoln’s Republican Party as an occupying army to be resisted by every means including force and assassination.

Republican obstructionism today operates against the long-term erosion of American democracy, and it leaves government paralyzed in the fact of mounting national problems. That further erodes legitimacy and democracy itself.

The hollowing out of democracy is reflected in the loss of confidence in public institutions, in the fact that big money has been crowding out citizen participation. Republicans have contributed to this trend by their money-is-speech ideology and by sponsoring measures that make it more difficult to vote — reversing a two- century trend of expanding democracy. Meanwhile, ordinary people feel more and more alienated from both the economy and the system of government.

So we have a constitutional crisis — one party destroying the ability of the government to govern, combined with a crisis of our democracy at a time when we need government to act.

Republicans, as far-right corporate conservatives, have pursed this strategy knowingly and cynically, in the hope of weakening government and its capacity to regulate and to collect taxes. They have perfected a dog-whistle strategy in which appeals to racism are couched as a rejection of political correctness, producing support by working class voters for policies that don’t really serve their interests.

But be careful what you wish for. This vacuum of functioning democracy in the face of mass frustration was ready-made for the emergence of a demagogue. And for Republicans, the appalling thing about Donald Trump is that he is no conservative.

He is far to the right on immigration and on national defense — well to the right of most of the corporate elite; but he is surprisingly leftwing on trade and on corporate exports of jobs. He doesn’t hate government, and would defend such programs as Social Security. You could imagine him expanding public works. And he is a lot more tolerant of gays and reproductive rights than most of the Republican base. He is also dangerously reckless as a potential commander-in-chief.

The emergence of Trump has so upset the Republican elite that there is serious talk of running an independent Republican against him, with the full knowledge that this would surely throw the election to Hillary Clinton, another centrist Democrat who has more in common with mainstream Republicans than Donald Trump does.

Many Republicans would rather see a Clinton presidency and continue their familiar tactics of obstructionism than a Trump presidency in which they could lose control of their party to a populist. Republicans would still likely control the House, and most governorships. The crisis of government authority, legitimacy and deepening popular disaffection would only deepen, and they would hope to pick up the pieces in 2020.

The great political scientist, Walter Dean Burnham, wrote of “critical elections,” in which major partisan realignments took place because of shifting socio-economic needs and demands that neither major party had addressed. The year 1932 saw such an election. Franklin Roosevelt turned the Democrats into a progressive party, and mobilized large numbers of voters who had either not been participating or who had been voting Republican. To a lesser degree, 1980 was a realigning election, as many white working class voters turned to Reagan, either because of his social conservatism, his nationalism, his optimism, or all three.

But what kind of realignment will we see in 2016? If, say, Elizabeth Warren rather than Bernie Sanders were the prime challenger to Hillary Clinton, we might have seen the Democrats once again as a full-throated progressive party, capturing the broad economic disaffection and turning it into a governing majority. But at this point, Bernie Sanders is fighting the good fight but is a long shot; meanwhile, it is the Republican primaries where turnout is increasing, pulling in large numbers of disaffected people to vote for Trump.

If Clinton beats Sanders for the Democratic nomination, and Republican elites manage to deny Trump either nomination or election, all of that bottled up frustration still will have to go somewhere. In 1933, Roosevelt managed to turn the economic and political crisis in a constructive direction. In 1860, the constitutional crisis was resolved only by a war, one that many in the white South are still fighting.

In 2016, it’s hard to see a path that will restore either a government with broadly accepted legitimacy, or one capable of governing, much less one capable of solving the festering economic injustices that have brought our politics to such an angry boil. It is a recipe for more demagoguery and more permanent crisis.

Sometimes in circumstances like these, leaders rise to the occasion. We surely need such leadership now.

A “complete rebuild” of the U.S. election system is needed to take money out of politics.

By Jack Rasmus

As the United States election cycle began to ramp up last summer, for example, the New York Times/NBC News poll showed no less than 84 percent of U.S. voters – Democrats, Republicans, and Independents alike – shared the common view that there was simply “too much money” flooding into U.S. elections today. While 85 percent of those in the poll further indicated that either major changes or a “complete rebuild” of the U.S. election system was needed to take money out of politics.

Forget minor tweaking reforms of campaign financing. The people of the U.S. now believe the entire process is rigged in favor of rich contributors and corporations who fill to over-flowing the campaign coffers of their chosen politicians.

A related major concern expressed by those polled was that those billionaires writing the checks for candidates were “hiding behind the curtain” as never before. The electoral system itself was becoming increasingly opaque. Seventy-five percent of those polled thus demanded full disclosure of just who was providing all the money.

The current election cycle is just now getting underway with the primary season and nominating of candidates, so total spending won’t be known for at least mid-2017 at the earliest. But there are signs appearing in numerous places that this election year will break all records for money flowing from the billionaires, their banks, and their corporations to their “hat in hand” candidates, as they regularly stumble over themselves and trek one after the other attending private meetings with the Koch Brothers, the Sheldon Adelsons, the Paul Singers, Goldman Sachs and other bankers – and all the rest of the billionaire class who write checks for tens of millions of dollars at a single sitting – to fund whichever candidate bends his knee and bows his head the most in committing to their favorite economic interest or pet political cause. And bend and bow they do.

Marco Rubio

For example, there’s the Republican presidential candidate, Marco Rubio, who led the attack on Argentina in the U.S. Congress to pressure that country’s Kirchner government to concede to the blackmail by U.S. vulture funds led by multi-billionaire, hedge fund magnate, Paul Singer. A financial supporter of the expansion of Israeli settlements in the west bank of Palestine, Singer is an ardent advocate that “Israel can do no wrong.” As Singer’s boy in the U.S. Senate, Rubio consistently takes a hard line on every Israel debate and vote, effectively representing Singer’s views and interests. Not surprisingly, for that Rubio has been repaid well. Singer is Rubio’s second biggest campaign contributor, second only to Florida real estate billionaire, Norman Braman. Multi-billionaires, both have already contributed more than US$11 million in 2015 to Rubio’s campaign. Software billionaire, Larry Ellison, the world’s fifth richest person, worth $47 billion, has also already contributed millions to Rubio. All three no doubt appreciate Rubio’s pledge to eliminate all taxes on capital gains and dividends, which would mean $1 trillion tax free to them and their billionaire friends. Rubio’s election campaign committee and his “Conservative Solutions” super PAC have accumulated more than $60 million in 2015. Bush money is reportedly moving to Rubio recently as well.

Ted Cruz

Then there’s candidate Cruz. His billionaires include ultra-right wing, hedge fund owner Robert Mercer, who contributes to restoration of the death penalty, advocates return to the gold standard, funds pro-life and anti-gay causes, and collects machine-guns for a hobby; Toby Neugebauer, the billionaire Houston investment banker; and Farris and Staci Wilks, extreme bible-thumpers, who view the U.S. from a prism of the biblical old testament, and whose family has made their billions by fracking and poisoning land in the U.S. from Texas to Montana. All have all written checks to the Cruz campaign for more than $10 million each thus far, and contribute heavily to Cruz’s super PAC, “Keeping the Promise,” and his campaign committee, together worth at latest estimate more than $100 million. Cruz repeatedly pilgrimages to their respective billionaire compounds and retreats, that is, when he’s not getting loans from the big Investment bank, Goldman Sachs, where his wife worked as a managing director, and from which Cruz has been given low interest loans.

Jeb Bush

Jeb Bush got most of his money from his personal and family investment sources, from his super PAC, “Right to Rise,” to which wealthy friends have already contributed $118 million in “outside money,” from his election committee with a pot of more than $40 million more so far, from his 50+ per year public speeches for which he is paid an average of $40,000 each, and unknown amounts from his multi-billionaire Bush dynasty family. Another big billionaire contributor, writing a $10 million check recently, was the notorious Hank Greenberg, former Chairman of the American Insurance Group that the government and U.S. taxpayer bailed out to the tune of $180 billion in the 2008 crisis.

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton’s money comes from all the above sources and then some. For example, there’s hedge fund billionaire, George Soros, who contributed $8.5 million just last year. And the media billionaires, Haim and Cheryl Saban, who have directly already contributed millions; and reportedly may have contributed an estimated $10-$25 million more indirectly from their own personal foundation to the Clinton’s foundation: a favorite way the rich contribute to each other. Both Hillary and Bill have also had multi-million dollar royalty book contracts, Hillary’s latest worth $5 million. She is also the biggest recipient of contributions from professional Lobbyists among all the candidates. Her campaign committee has amassed $115 million as of January 2016 and her super PAC, “Priorities USA,” more than $40 million.

The Clintons, however, have especially farmed the speech circuit for big money ever since Bill left office. That’s how former presidents and other big-name, high visibility politicians who have performed well for the rich are “paid off” in the U.S. when they leave office. Corruption is “post-hoc” in the U.S. system, a more sophisticated arrangement than crude graft or theft while in office practiced in other countries. Bill Clinton has earned more than $100 million in speeches alone since 2001. Hillary and Bill have earned another $25 million just since her announcement to run. And then there are Hillary’s “closed door talks,” off-the record, unrecorded, Q&A sessions of an hour or so, which Hillary has held with scores of financial institutions, banks, and big companies since announcing her candidacy.

Her speeches and talks average $225,000 to $275,000, according to her “schedule A” campaign finance statement that is public record. When challenged by Sanders why she has been accepting fees of $275,000 from scores of bankers and big corporations, including a recent 3 speech $675,000 fee from Goldman Sachs, her reply was “I don’t know, that’s just what they offered”. Yeah, out of the pure generosity of their banker hearts, expecting nothing in return no doubt.

The Clintons have given more than 50 speeches each in 2014 alone, according to public records. Adding it up, it’s more than $25 million in speeches and “talks” in 2014 alone. Their 2014 income was $28 million and net worth $110 million. At least $28 million, and likely far more will eventually be reported for 2015 later this summer. Even more for 2016.

Trump and Sanders

Trump claims his net worth is more than $10 billion, and receives $3 million per show just as host of the TV show, “Celebrity Apprentice,” providing ample cash for his campaign, that is, so far. His long list of investments generate millions more in cash every year.

Sanders relies on small donors, has no super PAC or outside money, while his campaign committee reportedly has accumulated $95 million. He owns no business and his net worth is reportedly $330,000.

Estimating the Totals

A proxy of just how much money is involved this year is perhaps estimated by how much in total was spent on the 2014 midterm Congressional elections, where no presidential candidate was running. No less than $3.77 billion was spent that year. And that was what was only official reported to the Federal Election Commission for donors contributing more than $200 – excluding as well all spending on state and local government races and excluding what is called “dark” money from nonprofit organizations – called 501( c) (4) shell groups-like Karl Rove’s notorious “Crossroads GPS,” which has reportedly raised $330 million in recent years. Spending by 501s is directed at attacking a candidate’s opponents instead of contributing to the favorite candidate via PACs, super PACs, campaign committees, party committees, and the like. But it is campaign spending on behalf of candidates, nonetheless. Super-PACs and 501s are projected to spend more than a $US billion each in the current year.

Totals for 2015 from all the above sources – i.e. corporate and special interest PACs, super PACs, leadership PACs, the 30,000 Washington, D.C. lobbyists, the 501s and their “Limited Liability Company” middlemen who raise money from the super-wealthy but can legally keep their names unreported, from House and Senate and political party fund raising committees, and so on – were likely more than $5 billion, at minimum. But public records for 2015 totals won’t be released by the government until June 30, 2016

For the entire 2015-2016 election, the cumulative totals will no doubt range from $10 to $15 billion. But the actual totals will have to wait even longer, until June 30, 2017. But even then will reflect only what is officially reported, as more “dark money” flows into elections in increasingly opaque system that grows progressively “darker” as the mountains of election money provided by billionaires, corporations, and bankers grow ever higher.

“I Give the Governor Credit”: Rubio Praises Snyder’s Handling of Flint’s Man-made Water Crisis

'A motley assortment of Grand Rapids-area legislators resembling a rural PTA.' (Click to see larger version.) - PHOTO COURTESY GOV. SNYDER'S OFFICE

Photo courtesy Gov. Snyder’s office

They say a picture is worth 1,000 words.

And if you’re the embattled governor with more than 500,000 people demanding your arrest, you’d probably think long and hard about what any picture of you expresses.Well, that’s what you’d think, anyway.

After all, take a look at the latest photo opportunity from the Snyder administration. It was the signing of a bill appropriating $28 million in short-term aid for the people of Flint.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock in the U.P., you’re aware that decisions made by a Snyder-appointed emergency manager led to the city’s water being poisoned with lead, and the city’s infrastructure being damaged, perhaps permanently.

Needless to say, offering funding to deal with this man-made problem should be an excellent opportunity for the governor to rehabilitate his image as a bean-counting skinflint. He couldn’t pick a better time to demonstrate to the overwhelmingly poor, majority black citizens of Flint that he cares, that he is contrite, and that, good to his word, he will do what it takes to “fix” the problem.

So take a look at this photo, which Michigan Radio has credited to Gov. Snyder’s office, and tell me how it isn’t a PR disaster.

First of all, why are these people smiling? You’d think their faces should show stolid determination to help the people of Flint. Instead, they’re grinning as though the event were Snyder’s birthday party, and the bill a gift to him.

Second, why the heck was this event held in Grand Rapids, 100 miles away from Flint?

Then there’s the motely assortment of Republican legislators gathered around the governor. As far as we can tell, the only legislators from southeastern Michigan were Rep. Martin Howrylak (Troy, Clawson) and Rep. Kathy Crawford (Novi).

So who are those other legislators, particularly the ones who make it look like the meeting of a rural PTA? (For instance, that’s Rep. Holly Hughes in the ill-fitting, bright blue suit, and Rep. Phil Potvin in the circa-1977 used-car-salesman polyester number.)

Well, you can’t see all of them, but they are mostly republican state senators and representatives from Kent County and an arc of counties north, west, and south of there. (In other words, districts even more distant than the Grand Rapids location.)

There are some outliers we can identify, among them Kevin Cotter, who, as house speaker, probably has to be present. But what is the preposterously plaid Potvin doing there? His district is up in Wexford, Osceola, and Mecosta counties. Also, he’s got to be the last person you’d want at a press conference earmarking money for an environmentally damaged public water system. Why is that? Well, Progress Michigan reported that Potvin was caught dumping toxic pollutants into the ground in Wexford County, right in his own district. And that district includes Nestlé’s Ice Mountain Bottling Plant. Isn’t that a liability, given the way Nestlé’s former CEO once called the idea that “as a human being you should have a right to water” “extreme”?

Not that Gov. Snyder is necessarily guilty by his association with his own legislators, but … wouldn’t you want at least a 10-foot pole between you and Potvin while signing a bill helping the very people whose water was poisoned by people you appointed, answerable only to you?

Compounding my surprise, didn’t Gov. Snyder just hire two public relations companies to help him with this PR pileup? How could any PR professional allow a tone-deaf press photo like this to have been contemplated — let alone staged, shot, and released to the public? You might as well release a photo of the Hindenburg crashing.

I was so flummoxed by this disastrous photo that I got into a conversation about it with Detroit-based public relations professional David Rudolph. He’s bent our ear from time to time, and he’s a PR guy who believes he and his clients should be accountable and truthful, “even when it hurts.” He said the photo was a classic case of “how to make a horrible situation look worse.”

“Here’s how it should have went down,” he said. “Sign the bill in Flint with the mayor, with community folks, and wrap yourself with the people you are trying to help.”

It’s good advice, and you wonder if the governor has been pitched the idea. And bear in mind, Rudolph is a black Republican who not only supports Snyder but knows him personally.

“I would advise the governor your new working office is in Flint,” Rudolph says. “Show these people you mean it by moving every department having a hand in fixing the problem [to] Flint. This is not brain surgery: Do the right thing and let people see you care and feel their pain. His daily briefing reports should start with the state of Flint.”

Last Thursday’s Republican debate was held in Detroit, the Flint water crisis was only brought up once, thanks to a question from Fox News moderator Bret Baier. Marco Rubio responded by praising Michigan Governor Rick Snyder. “The politicizing of it, I think, is unfair,” Rubio said, “because I don’t think that someone woke up one morning and said, ’Let’s figure out how to poison the water system to hurt someone.’ … I give the governor credit. He took responsibility for what happened.”

First of all, maybe Snyder is simply too used to the executive culture of being a private sector CEO. The maladroit handling of this press conference suggests that only yes-men are penetrating his inner circle.

Also, he really must be tone-deaf to go through with this cheery dog-and-pony show, let alone to utter words such as this: “I always try to think about the person in Flint that can’t use the water coming out of the tap and what their life’s like and how they’re in a worse place than I am.” (“A worse place than I am”? That’s contrition?)

Finally, there’s the possibility that the photo is exactly what it appears to be: Michigan’s GOP legislators, particularly on the west side of the state, circling their wagons and playing exclusively to their constituencies. In which case, it means they wrote off the poor people of Flint months ago.

Frankly, that’s the scariest prospect of all: that Snyder and company view this photo as an asset.

If that’s the case, the people in this photograph are far beyond the help of any PR agency.

Donald Trump Responds To Romney’s ‘Roundhouse’

Following the unprecedented Romney roundhouse kick to Trump’s character, The Donald is about to rebuff “the loser.” As John McCain backs Romney’s rant, it appears yesterday’s Koch Borthers, Icahn, Murdoch mega-donor call for a truce has been broken as Trump prepares to return fire against “failed candidate Romney” and his establishment cronies.

 

Via Ben Garrison

GOP frontrunner Donald Trump responded to former Mitt Romney’s broadside on Thursday by saying the candidate “begged” for his endorsement.

“He was begging for my endorsement,” Trump said at a rally later in the day in Portland, Maine.

“I could’ve said ‘Mitt, drop to your knees.’ He was begging me,” he added.

Trump was referring to the 2012 race for president in which Romney, the GOP nominee that year, sought Trump’s endorsement.

But if they wre friendly four years ago, that relationship has clearly deteriorated. Earlier Thursday, Romney gave a fairly unprecedented speech in which he railed against Trump, whom he called a “fraud,” “con man,” “phony,” and “fake,” among other things.

“His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University,” Romney jabbed. “He’s playing the American public for suckers. He gets a free ride to the White House, and all we get is a lousy hat.”

Throughout his speech in Maine, Trump repeatedly and extensively lashed back out at Romney.

“Mitt is a failed candidate, he failed badly,” Trump said. “That is a race that should have been won.”

He repeatedly called Romney a “choke artist” throughout the speech, an insult he’s used against Marco Rubio, a top Trump rival for the 2016 nomination.

“He’s a choke artist, I started hitting him so hard,” Trump said.

“We can’t take another loss. He choked, he choked like nobody I’ve ever seen except for Rubio,” he continued.

At other points in his speech, Trump called Romney a “disaster” candidate in 2012. The billionaire businessman then mentioned a fundraiser he held for Romney that “ruined” his carpet. Trump said Romney did not compensate him for the damages.

“Hey maybe I can send Mitt a bill for ‘carpet ruined.'” Trump quipped.

Trump also called out Romney for turning on him after their 2012 endorsement event.

“He came out, it was very nasty, I thought he was a better person than that,” Trump said of Romney’s speech on Thursday. “So you help somebody, and then he turns. Now, I will say this. He probably had a right to turn, because nobody could’ve been nastier in getting him not to run [again, in 2016] than me.”

He added that Romney “doesn’t have what it takes to be president.”

Who Said It: “Donald Trump Has Shown An Extraordinary Ability To Understand Our Economy, To Create Jobs”

Moments ago Mitt Romney concluded a fiery speech in which he blasted Donald Trump, accusing him of being a “con man” and asking republicans to choose anyone else. Among the point he brought up was that Trump’s domestic polices would sink America into a recession, that his foreign policies would make the world less safe, and criticized Trump’s personal qualities, calling him “a bully” and “a misogynist.”

However, what we found particularly ironic is that Mitt Romney, who previously had led Private Equity firm Bain Capital, mocked Trump’s business acumen by pointing out his track record of having various bankruptcies under his belt which “have crushed small businesses and the men and women who worked for them.”

This is precisely what he said: “But wait, you say, isn’t he a huge business success that knows what he’s talking about? No he isn’t. His bankruptcies have crushed small businesses and the men and women who worked for them.”

We found this particularly ironic coming from the man who made profits for himself by saddling companies with massive debt loads to generate outsized returns on equity in a 3-5 year investment horizon.

Here is how Romney himself fared as a businessman, based on a WSJ report from 2012:

Mitt Romney’s political foes are stepping up attacks based on his time running investment firm Bain Capital, tagging him with making a fortune from the rougher side of American capitalism—even as Mr. Romney says his Bain tenure shows he knows how to build businesses.

 

Amid anecdotal evidence on both sides, the full record has largely escaped a close look, because so many transactions are involved. The Wall Street Journal, aiming for a comprehensive assessment, examined 77 businesses Bain invested in while Mr. Romney led the firm from its 1984 start until early 1999, to see how they fared during Bain’s involvement and shortly afterward.

 

Among the findings: 22% either filed for bankruptcy reorganization or closed their doors by the end of the eighth year after Bain first invested, sometimes with substantial job losses. An additional 8% ran into so much trouble that all of the money Bain invested was lost.

 

Another finding was that Bain produced stellar returns for its investors—yet the bulk of these came from just a small number of its investments. Ten deals produced more than 70% of the dollar gains.

 

Some of those companies, too, later ran into trouble. Of the 10 businesses on which Bain investors scored their biggest gains, four later landed in bankruptcy court

 

So let’s get this straight: the man who led to 17 of the 77 business Bain invested in closing down in bankruptcy, and another 4 going Chapter 11 after Bain extracted all the possible value, is criticizing Trump for engaging in Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection?

We wonder how many large businesses – because Bain does not bother with small business LBOs – “and the men and women who worked for them were crushed” as a result of Romney’s own attempt to extract as much value as possible by layering dozens of companies with massive debt loads?

To be sure, we don’t criticize Romney’s business model: it is what he does, just like what Trump does is to run companies, and the ultimate result is always failure. But we do find it grotesquely ironic that Romney has the gall to mock Trump’s business record when he himself is a far greater abuser of US bankruptcy laws.

This is, after all, capitalism. But for Romney to turn around and so blatantly ignore his track record when blasting Trump’s is, in a word, preposterous.

* * *

And speaking of ironic, we can’t help but be amused by what Romney said in February 2012 when Trump endorsed Romney’s presidential campaign:

“I am so honored and pleased to have Donald Trump’s endorsement. Donald Trump has shown an extraordinary ability to understand how our economy works. To create jobs for the American people. He’s done it here in Nevada. He’s done it across the country.He understands that our economy is facing threats from abroad. He’s one of the few people who stood up and said China has been cheating. They’ve taken jobs from Americans. They haven’t played fair. We have to have a President who will stand up to cheaters.”

 

Oops