Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Mitt Romney: Job Killer

   These days you just don't know what story line to believe. Take the box-office hit that portrays Abraham Lincoln's role as a vampire killer. I don't know. That doesn't match any of my previous reading.

   Then we have the narrative from Mitt Romney — job creator, economic prince on a white steed. It sounds plausible. He certainly dresses the part.

    Ah, but now we come to understand the extent to which that claim is fiction — how instead of creating U.S. jobs in his past corporate life, Romney slew 'em.

   This story line comes not from minds of Hollywood but from The Washington Post.

    We're not talking about just a few jobs, a handful of shops shut down here, firms downsized there. We're talking about thousands of jobs lost through outsourcing.

    For better (investors) or ill (your neighbors), Romney's company, Bain Capital, was absolutely a huge player in employing the fine people of India.

    Not Indiana. India.

    With Romney at the wheel, Bain was a giant in outsourcing, a trailblazer, a goliath, a veritable G.M. or Ford, except that the latter have tended to employ Americans.

     Bain was a "pioneer," the Post reports, "when the departure of jobs from the United States was beginning to accelerate."

     This is a trend that has, as Carl Sagan might have intoned, moved "billions and billions" of dollars worth of paychecks abroad.

     Now, we all know that outsourcing boosts corporate profits, and lowers prices for services or products. Of course, the same can be said for illegal immigration. It's all part of the "global economy" to which we are all shackled. Love it or leave it — the globe, that is.

    As for Romney, shall we blame him for lassoing the American dream in such spectacular fashion? Some, particularly depending on their own lofty earnings levels, will say, "of course not." Who am I to say?

    One thing to say about the type of business that made Romney drip with wealth while so many tread water, is that it reflects an economy whose course is increasingly difficult to change.

     Take big-box retailers. Bain Capital is credited with helping office-supply giant Staples, among others, get through rough times. Retailing behemoths are a way of life for Americans today. At the same time, they arguably are the biggest reason why the U.S. economy is so hard to steer anew when things go awry. Our nation has much bigger, and much fewer, retail employers than in previous generations.

      Two massive factors — outsourcing and oppressive big-ness — tie policymakers' hands when they try to do something about the economy. And both factors have made a lot of money for a few in the moneyed — Romney-ed — set.

      Now we add another factor about what continues to vex our nation while benefiting a very few, including Bain's once-leading light. While the U.S. government tries to balance its books, offshore corporations and people with the means of sheltering their wealth deprive the Treasury of those dollars, though they benefit from the "land of the free" in every way.

     Romney is one such player, parking millions of dollars away from the IRS's reach in the Cayman Islands.

     So, when pointing out that President Obama has had difficulty stoking the economy and dealing with the deficit, Romney knows three good reasons for it. He's had a hand in each.

     Republicans are fond of saying that Obama never created a job before he became president. True. Then again, he had no experience either in killing U.S. jobs. Apparently this is a good thing to have on one's resume these days.

     Obama, in the face of a do-nothing Congress, has done just enough to avert a second Great Depression. Decide for yourself if that is significant.

     Meanwhile, mega-corporations and tax-sheltered millionaires continue to thrive in ways akin to the bloodsuckers to which Honest Abe is taking a hatchet in theaters near you.

     Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

America, the gated community

    Somewhere in pledging allegiance to trickle-down schemes, buying warfare on credit, and putting the interests of millionaires ahead of our own, a lot of us forgot what government does.

    Here's what we forgot: More than transporting us, lighting our streets and making our taps flow, government invests in human potential.

    Or at least it did.

    When did that change?

    First, a lot of us, including electoral majorities, convinced ourselves we could afford no more government, when in fact all we needed was a tax system that paid for all the government we refused to pay for (see: "wars," "nation-building," "Bush," "unprecedented peacetime military buildup," "Reagan"). Hucksters convinced many of us that tax cuts would pay for themselves and more. Meanwhile, the deficit numbers said, "You gotta be kidding."

   Somewhere along the line, adherents who believed they had all the government they needed started thinking of it as simply an impediment to what else they wanted.

   The American experience ceased being one of improving on its potential — our potential — of maximizing what was shared by us all. Instead it became a system of parceling out its assets, like selling public open spaces or privatizing everything that moved.

   This syndrome clearly is at play in the debate over President Obama's decision to block deportation of young people whose parents came here illegally and who have been educated by our schools.    

    Despite the hyena screams of Obama's incessant enemies, the only thing wrong with what the president did on this was taking three years to do it. (Notice that Mitt Romney won't say he'd reverse it.) But when Obama did it, he said exactly the right things.

   These are people whose educations have been our investment. It's in our interest to reap the fruit of those investments. Not to mention, it's the right thing to do on behalf of people who broke no law.

    The arguments against allowing these young people to remain and obtain work permits run counter to every notion this country has harbored about investing in the potential of its people.

    Those arguments were in play recently when Metro State University in Denver decided to offer a special tuition rate to undocumented individuals who live in Colorado, sparing them crushing non-resident costs. This was an option blocked statewide by House Republicans in the 2012 legislative session.

    To critics in the Colorado statehouse, this is simply a zero-sum matter — that doing this for these people will cost more ("these people" who still will be paying dearly for their share of the higher education they attain). Republicans cited costs in California and Texas, which have offered similar arrangements for undocumented students.

    Of course, that "costs" argument can be used against public education itself. Why pay for colleges and public schools if it doesn't directly benefit me in my fortified lair?

    Thank goodness previous generations didn't think of the public schools, land grant colleges and the GI Bill in the same way.

    The reason why we cultivated all of the above is that everyone would benefit from the improved education, the improved productivity, the unleashed ingenuity, the intellectual multiplier effect, the general and massive contributions of educated people.

    Is this so hard to understand?

    Anyone who starts thinking of education solely as a zero-sum matter has lost touch with what made America what it is.

    What this attitude spawns is less of a general community in this land we love than a bunch of gated communities in which individual needs are met because those on the inside have the means. The rest of you can simply keep out.

    In that atmosphere, one can understand why illegal immigration could be seen as a mortal threat, even when the "threat" in question is the person insidiously repairing one's roof after the storm, cleaning one's hotel room after the weekend getaway and busing one's table after the three-cocktail lunch.

    One nation, under God, with liberty and justice for those who have the security code at the gate.

    Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The fire next door

   FORT COLLINS, Colo. — We watched the fireworks. Then we watched the fire. It continues to singe our eyelashes.

   Last Wednesday, the pyro bombs weren't gunpowder-made but thunderheads popping off in the night. We watched them in our driveways, wondering which would bring rain.

   Instead ... .

  Though the stormfront flung hail on some parts along the foothills and twisters along the Plains, the moisture we expected didn't come.

  Three days later, one of those lightning strikes likely set asmoldering the hot spot in nearby hills that became one of Colorado's largest wildfires ever. God knows when it will subside.

  I know it's not what John Denver meant, but I've seen it raining fire in the sky, and it doesn't look like folk music. It looks like a war against mankind. It's an invincible, inhuman force bearing more firepower than an army of atomic scientists.

  With down-slope winds pushing east the first two days, the plume across our sky resembled a wall of sandpaper. When those winds subsided a day later, one-quarter of Fort Collins' alpine backdrop smoldered like an old-time city dump.

  The eastward plume reached as far as Nebraska before the winds shifted. Now? Tucson? Tokyo?

  Leathernecks who raced to the scene were dealing with flames. Those of us stationed below were dealing with the rest. I happened upon two Poudre Fire Authority firefighters holding down the fort at our neighborhood station, their associates having joined the battle in the highlands.

  "That's beetle kill," said one firefighter, pointing at a black column arising among the white high atop a ridge — flames incinerating wood already dead. "Black smoke any lower on the hill, it's a house," he said.

  This is third major fire in a month in our county. Larimer County is huge — 2,600 square miles — so there are places for most of us to hide shy of jumping in a stock pond. Then again, by Tuesday, the High Park fire, 10 miles from town, exceeded the square mileage of Fort Collins itself.

  Fire has always been nature's way amid the pines. Those who know nature best assert, however, that key factors at play aren't natural, like the lack of sustained killing freezes that once controlled those pine beetles. That's just another facet of gradually increasing global temperatures, combined with drought, that are making the West more brittle than in any time in memory.

  The Rockies have odd ways of telling us things are askew. Consider the case of "pink snow" in the highest of high country, a tint owed to red dust blown from time zones away. Scientists say the dust is carried across oceans as glaciers recede and global desiccation becomes more severe.

  The other day I spoke with an editor friend in southeastern Arizona and complained that smoke from his wildfire, the Whitewater Baldy blaze along the Arizona-New Mexico state line, was compromising my mountain views. Now it's our turn to be blocking someone's view.

  It shouldn't take exercises like these to appreciate how we all share the same river of air, the same global thermostat. The day the High Park fire started west of my city, many places along the Front Range had record high temperatures, in the mid-90s, just as they had two days earlier. And it's not yet summer.

  Climatologists caution us not to make too much of temporal events — blistering heat waves in the Dakotas, or cold snaps leaving icicles on Florida oranges. It's all about the big picture, they say. It's not about one season but many.

  But the big picture is increasingly alarming — droughts, pestilence, killer storms, wildfires like this. We see what the firefighters are doing on the ground. What are we as a society doing about that big picture? Almost nothing, as we stand out in our driveways hoping for thunderheads to do our bidding.

   Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Referendum? Make that two in 2012

   "The race may be a referendum on Mr. Obama, as Republicans want, or, as Democrats prefer, a choice between a president nursing the economy back to health and a challenger who represents the failed policies that caused the crisis in the first place."


    The New York Times' Jonathan Weisman and Mark Landler couldn't have framed it better. That's how President Obama has to frame it, but not as either/or. 

    Absolutely, make it a referendum on what Obama has done, as well as on what an obstructionist opposition party has wrought.

    If the "failed (GOP) policies" the Times cites in its prescient description of the choice ahead are seen as more of the "blame Bush" narrative — more living in the past — they're not.

    This is about the tea party now, not George Bush. It's about how Mitt Romney would serve as its marionette.

    Bush had a founder's hand in the Great Recession, sure, but it was the tea party that prevented Obama from doing what he ought to make things what they ought to be.

     "Slashing spending while the economy is deeply depressed is self-defeating strategy," writes Nobel laureate Paul Krugman. Ah, but of course when the strategy is to drag down the "Obama economy," as Romney frames it, it is just what the tea party and Republicans in Congress have ordained: disabling it.

     Considering what Obama has had to face in Congress — a perpetual filibuster in the Senate and a tea party-directed House — to accomplish what he has is no small feat. It is amazing to hear the frothy right talk about Obama's out-of-control spending, when acknowledges he has "presided over the slowest growth in spending of any president using raw dollars" — second-slowest when adjusted for inflation.

      At the same time, taxes as a percent of GDP are the lowest since the 1950s, a trend that began with Reagan and one that has dragged the nation into a deep well of red ink. Meanwhile we waged multiple wars of choice, spent blindly on military needs, and failed to address problems with Social Security and Medicare. Can you say "intractable federal debt"?

    An untidy truth is that war is good for an economy, particularly America's economy, since America makes the world's arms.

    And yet the "Bush economy" went into the toilet despite all that war making, with its job creation and munitions making. And don't forget what it's done for American contractors.

    Conversely, Obama has drawn down both wars, which means fewer jobs, less spent on munitions — not good for the economy, particularly this economy.

    It has been odd since Obama took office to hear the same people rail against his domestic spending — much driven by the state of the economy he inherited. These people said almost nothing about the spending devoted to warfare under Bush.

    How dare Obama spend on America's roads, its bridges, its schools, its water systems. Shouldn't we be spending that in Iraq or Afghanistan?

    Indeed, we should be spending money here and now. Recent job figures say as much. But the obstructionist wing of government will have nothing of it, of course. For one thing, if the economy gets better too quickly, Obama's re-election chances improve similarly.

     Hence, for sure no Republican was going to support America Jobs Act, the $450 billion stimulus package Obama proposed in September.

     The proposal would have paired a cut in the payroll tax with a boost in spending for infrastructure, state aid for schools and first-responders, and additional unemployment relief.

     Nein. Nicht. No. Nyet. How many ways can the GOP say no?

     So, sure, make it a referendum — on Obama and what he has tried to do, and on what the GOP has tried to do to bring him down along with America's economy. What a patriotic act.

     Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: