Bob Franken

King Features Column

(The usual disclaimer: Thanks to the syndication deal, this appears here a week after its newspaper release)

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       Have you noticed these days that a few companies make it a point when answering calls from customers to have the rep announce he or she is speaking from someplace in the United States? Very smart.
       Those enlightened enterprises have recognized that they can gain points from the hostility so many Americans feel toward outsourcing. In addition to the constantly irritating communication problems, the so-called customer service centers, the ones relocated to the far reaches of the planet, reflect the mentality of profit-at-all-cost corporations who cavalierly wrench jobs away from home and send them to the Third World boiler rooms with their meager wages.
       Outsourcing has become such a potent symbol of U.S. economic travails that Mitt Romney campaigns on the promise to bring jobs back. Turns out, he helped send them away in the first place.
       That’s the gist of a Washington Post story detailing how Bain Capital, Romney’s now-infamous private-equity firm included in its portfolio ventures that specialized in creating and operating those offshore pittance-wage outposts. Such revelations have a potential to inflict critical injury on the campaign of a candidate who has had to fight an image of fat-cat insensitivity, someone who represents the excesses and manipulations of financial operators who make their fortunes with little regard for the rest of society.
       Certainly, President Barack Obama thought so. The same day the article appeared, he worked a slam into one of his speeches, excoriating Romney as an “outsourcing pioneer.”
       Pretty powerful stuff. Or it could be, except that given the Democrats’ normal inability to play offense and exploit a huge advantage, this issue probably will be allowed to get lost in that gnat-size memory span of the American voters.
       The way these things usually work is that anytime the Hood Robins are exposed, they use their tremendous resources to distort the issue. They come up with a response that is so confusing that the voters simply give up.
       Case in point: After the article appeared, the Romney campaign put out a statement, calling it a “fundamentally flawed story that does not differentiate between domestic outsourcing vs. offshoring nor vs. work done overseas to support U.S. exports.”
       Will someone please explain what those words mean? That response had no purpose whatsoever except to obfuscate, which is a polite way of saying … well, you know.
       And it works. While Mitt and his lackeys were sniffing in outrage at the very suggestion that such business practices were helping to create what amounted to an American caste system, he and his corporate pals were gathering behind very closed doors with Republican stars and top campaign advisers to celebrate their purchased royalty and plot the final steps of their United States of America buyout.

       There is an inherent difficulty with the argument that it requires big-business experience to run the country. The problem is that the conglomerates these days care only about the stockholders and, of course, the bloated salaries of their top executives. Everyone and everything else be damned: employees, communities and consumers just distractions from the mission.
       A government, at least one with our founding promises, must balance the needs of private enterprise with fairness and compassion. That’s easier said than done, but ignoring the second part can lead to the very erosion we are experiencing right now.
       If Mitt Romney and the rest of those partying by the slopes of Park City really want to do their part, then they will be more willing to pay their fair share and support the kind of regulation and bargaining rights that spread the wealth. Otherwise, the nation they profess to love so much will continue to slide downhill. But let’s give credit where it’s due. At least they flaunted their privilege in Utah. They could have followed their instincts and outsourced their shindig to some low-wage spot overseas.
       © 2012 Bob Franken

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