Bob Franken

King Features Column

(As usual, the agreement with the syndicators means this column appears here a week after its newspaper release)

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       FOR RELEASE FRIDAY, JAN. 13, 2012
       Here is what’s confusing: The free-enterprise system, held up as such an ideal, is supposed to reward those who risk THEIR capital and THEIR livelihoods in pursuit of the American Dream.
       How did that morph into the nightmarish way Mitt Romney and the others of his ilk game the system? They make huge fortunes gambling with the precious savings scraped together by millions of others who than suffer the loss of their future. These greedy manipulators add to their bulging coffers no matter what.
       They love to proclaim that their frontier spirit of entrepreneurship is what encourages innovation. But, research and development is one of the first outlays to go in their process of reducing every business to nothing more than a ledger-sheet entry. There is no more cutting-edge experimentation. Cutting workers, however, is high on their list of ways to achieve precious efficiency, tossing them off onto an economic landscape the profiteers have robbed barren.
       Romney started out wealthy, thanks to his accident of birth. His claims that he ever sweated unemployment deserve the ridicule they’ve gotten. He’s used his silver spoon to scoop up untold millions at Bain Capital, a private equity firm that used OTHER people’s money to buy existing companies and do whatever it took to maximize their resale value. If, as it so often did, that meant pulling the rug out from under employees, so be it. That’s the way things work in their Darwinian world, where Survival of the Richest

       Romney and his hired guns dismiss such talk as the “politics of envy,” and his opponents might well be envious of the wealth he has at his command — not only his own but that of the other big-money operators who will do and spend whatever it takes to make sure the field stays UNlevel. There is a fierce lobbying effort under way, for instance, on behalf of the very very exclusive and secretive world of private equity to maintain laws that tax profits at an even lower rate than most companies’.
       What’s bizarre is where we are hearing some of the attacks against Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital and from whom. Rick Perry (remember him?) calls private equity firms “vultures.” The buzzword in Gov. Perry’s Texas is “laissez faire,” although you don’t want to hear how the natives pronounce it. His noninterference has left a state with significant pollution and public health and education problems, to say nothing of low wages.
       Then there’s Newt Gingrich, with his multiple personalities. Mean Guy is trashing Bain Guy, accusing his firm of routinely “looting a company and leaving behind broken families and broken neighborhoods.” This might seem a bit less desperate were it not for Newt’s cozy relationship with corporations both during his tumultuous congressional career and afterward. The $1.6 million in payments he got from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which left a lot of broken neighborhoods themselves, for his advice as a “historian” were just examples of what he rakes in from big business. Give Romney a little credit here when he refers to the attacks from within his own party as the work of “some desperate Republicans.”
       Other than that, though, he continues to try to ignore those battling to be the anti-Mitt and tries to stay above that fray by casting himself as the most effective anti-Barack.  “This president doesn’t understand how the economy works,” he declares at every opportunity.
       While Romney’s “I like being able to fire people” quote was definitely taken out of context, it was really a dumb thing to say. It spoke not to any burning desire to do so, but certainly betrayed a willingness to. What’s mind-boggling in Mitt’s case is that he would present himself as someone who can solve debilitating unemployment even though he and his amoral counterparts caused it in the first place. Their version of free enterprise has come at an unaffordable cost.
       © 2012 Bob Franken
       Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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