Mitt, Moochers, and Mormonism’s “Other” Legacy

By Mary Barker, Religion Dispatches, September 21, 2012

Growing up with Mormon narratives—a two-part memoir and reflection on the good, the very bad, and a dreamed-for future. -  Mary Barker is a professor of political science at Syracuse University’s campus in Madrid, Spain as well as at the Universidad Pontificia Comillas

There are many stories on which a Mormon is raised: narratives of the elect, America and the Constitution, the latter days, and free agency—all of which play a role in Mitt Romney’s “severe” conservatism. The bombshell release of video in which he trumpets his disdain for moochers, and reveals a remarkably casual approach to Middle East politics, all resonate with the Calvinist heritage of Mormon theology, as well as with principal Mormon narratives. But Mormonism also holds the seeds of a decidedly progressive politics—a possible Mormon liberation theology.

Does Romney’s religion matter? It’s a question that has been asked many times this election season. My answer, below, is in two parts, as I journey from End Times theology (the “latter days”) through Mormonism’s radical social and political past.

I.

I grew up at the end of the world. As a Latter-day Saint, I made my debut just before the final curtain. During my youth, rumors circulated about neighbors and boyfriends whose special “patriarchal blessings” prophesied that they would never taste of death. That fairly clearly set the limit on time. The rebellious Sixties just confirmed what the Cold War had already shown us—that we were in a final showdown with evil that would only get worse until the second coming of Jesus which is now.

Mormons have a smidgen of the survivalist in them. They expect total political and economic collapse, and are instructed to store what has come to be known as the “two-year supply”—a stock of water and imperishable food items to sustain them in the event of (the imminent) catastrophe. My dad used to tell us that he built our ranch to be able to house the extended family during the chaos to come; and possible treks on foot back to Nauvoo,Illinois, the site of the original Garden of Eden and the future New Jerusalem, punctuated normal conversation.

As an elementary school student, I used to draw crayon farms with imaginary fields that could provide for all our needs, and I am still plagued by an obsessive-compulsive ritual that must stem from these days. I harbor secret fears about being able to provide for my own children in the event of apocalypse, and play mental games in which I am magically granted all of the foods (“carrots, peas, beans, corn…”) or personal items (“soap, shampoo, toothpaste…”) that I can pronounce in my head before, let’s say, the subway door closes. (I’ve gotten good at it.)

End Times talk left me with an ingrained pessimism that took years to overcome.

The most sinister elements of the End Times narrative, however, involve the unconscious attitudes and orientations it engenders. These include a lack of social trust, militarism, and narcissism (a preoccupation with one’s own elect status and general safety and an interpretation of scripture in which ancient writings were really meant for us; the people to whom they were addressed being a sideshow in our drama).

Manichean and alarmist, it pits Light versus Dark—extreme dark. Those who belong to the Light “hear my voice” (i.e. recognize and believe the right doctrines—in this case, Mormon) and “follow my commandments,” which favor a “purity” understanding of religion. The Book of Mormon, for example, ranks fornication as “most abominable above all sins save it be the shedding of innocent blood” and Mormon leader Bruce R. McConkie wrote in his encyclopedic Mormon Doctrine that it is better to surrender your life than to allow someone to “steal your virtue,” leaving you “unclean.” It also encapsulates the class understandings of the Calvinist heritage.

Those of the Light should not be hard to identify, then. They are us. In these times, however, the wicked walk the earth disguised as the righteous, deceiving even the “very elect.” Despite a “veneer of piety,” McConkie warned, the Gentiles (non-Mormons) will be subject to “apostate darkness and… every form of evil.” “Any show of godliness is to be in form only,” he cautioned, “not in substance.” For the then-Apostle Ezra Taft Benson, this veneer was evident in the Sixties antiwar movement. He warned the faithful against wearing clothing or otherwise displaying “the broken cross, anti-Christ sign, that is the adversary’s symbol of the so-called ‘peace movement.’” The watchword, then, is beware.

In their nightmare scenarios, harsh punishments await the unbelieving and refractory. McConkie claimed that capital punishment was ordained of God and that sexual “perversions” were “worthy of death.” The fact that Western governments no longer applied such penalties simply attested to their “apostasy.” The God of Mormon scripture stands ready to damn the unbelieving, who are “ripe for destruction.” During the End Times, Jesus will lead God’s army with the “flame of devouring fire” to strike down the wicked, who will be “cast out,” “destroyed”—“the whole vineyard burned”—and become “as stubble.”

End Times talk fosters extremely conservative politics. Every change—in gender roles, in sexual mores, in the religious backdrop of national politics—represents a move toward Satan. This includes constitutional interpretations that allow for a living understanding of its principles. Shrouded in an aura of the Mormon divine, America’s founding documents must be preserved on stone tablets, not allowed to breathe and grow. The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “We say that God is true; that the Constitution of the United States is true; that the Bible is true; [and] that the Book of Mormon is true.”

In its brashest manifestations, End Times thinking gives us Glenn Beck’s conspiracy theories, with their convoluted reasoning and circuitous connections. What sounds outrageous in the unapologetic, forthright discourse of Beck, however, springs from the unacknowledged or semi-conscious visions of a much larger segment of the population.

I have never met Beck, but I knew him as a child. His name back then was Cleon Skousen, and we had his books. The two brains think alike. Skousen’s The Naked Communist (1958) presented a paranoid and simplistic case for the worldwide Soviet-Communist conspiracy, with pages of instruction urging parents, teachers, students, and ministers to be ever alert to the stealth communist penetration of society (“education was infiltrated by the Socialist-Communist contingent over thirty-five years ago” and they have “ambitions to eliminate all local control”). From exposing left-leaning bias in the media to taking one’s children to church; being active in the PTA (“If you are not, Communists and centralized planners will take over”); fighting against the separation of church and state in the public schools; and subscribing to U.S. News and World Report; we were all to be vigilant or our children and our nation would soon be lost.

The Naked Communist was written at the urging of the Prophet David O. McKay, who also offered financial support; found a publisher; and recommended it over the airwaves at the 1959 Mormon General Conference (or “Conference”), the most important meetings in the Mormon year.

In Skousen’s follow up, The Naked Capitalist (1970), communists had already infiltrated the government, schools, media, and even the churches. Everyone was in on the conspiracy—especially the Democratic Party, but also Presidents Eisenhower and Nixon. He backed his claims by citing the Bible as easily as he did presumed communist insiders, and defended Senator Joseph McCarthy, the “tough, frustrated, American ex-Marine” who was crucified by the “liberal press.”

Skousen casts a long shadow. His work has been praised and promoted not only by Beck, but also by Romney and Rick Perry. At his funeral, Apostle (and now prophet) Thomas S. Monson eulogized him, as did Senator Orrin Hatch from the Senate floor. On occasion, he overstepped even Mormon bounds, however, and the Church eventually withdrew its active support.

“When the Prophet Speaks, the Debate is Over”

Nothing is pounded into a Mormon’s head more firmly than that the Church cannot steer him wrong. From the Prophet Brigham Young in 1870 (“I have never yet preached a sermon and sent it out to the children of men, that they may not call Scripture”) to the Improvement Era magazine of 1945 (“When our leaders speak, the thinking has been done. When they propose a plan—it is God’s plan. When they point the way, there is no other which is safe”), the message is clear. The Apostle N. Eldon Tanner put it succinctly in 1979, When the prophet speaks the debate is over.”

“Follow the Prophet” is the theme of children’s songs, refrigerator magnets, breakfast mugs, and board games. The then-Apostle Harold B. Lee added politics: “You may not like what comes from the authority of the Church,” he cautioned. “It may contradict your political views… But if you listen to these things, as if from the mouth of the Lord himself… the promise is that ‘the gates of hell shall not prevail against you.’”

No leader was considered more in tune with the Lord’s political counsel than the Apostle and Prophet Ezra Taft Benson, who continues to be read and re-read today. A tireless anti-Communist crusader and admirer of the John Birch Society, Benson’s packaging of the message parallels Skousen’s right down to the racial affronts (he claimed that the civil rights movement was a “tool of Communist deception”). And while the Church could distance itself from Skousen, it could not (and still cannot) from Benson. Moreover, Benson’s jeremiads resonated with that of the Church hierarchy generally. Any who disagreed (rumors abounded) failed to speak publicly.

In Benson’s view, the Book of Mormon (considered a record from the ancient Americas) prophesied the communist conspiracies of his day. God had made this record available to us for our instruction, to learn from them and their destruction. He summed it up best in a Conference talk of 1972 by stating, “There is no conspiracy theory in the Book of Mormon. It is a conspiracy fact.” Skousen-like, he saw communism as having already penetrated deep into American society.

That any central planning served demonic ends was as evident to Benson as the Soviet Antichrists who practiced it; and it was as easy for him to make the hop, skip, and jump from central planning to federal regulations and redistribution in democratic societies as it is for Beck to draw straight lines on a chalkboard today. Moreover, since we stood opposed to them, our system—capitalism (already ordained by the Calvinist heritage)—stood as God’s alternative to the socioeconomic designs of the devil. Finally it may be concluded that, as with all things godly, the purer the better. Libertarian economics thus intertwined with cosmic reality to animate policy debates. But even this is an older story of rightward bias.

The Church supported right-to-work legislation even before the dawn of the twentieth century. As early as 1886, the Deseret News opposed any binding union activities. The Apostle Joseph F. Merrill, speaking at the 1941 Conference, referred to closed shops as “Satan’s club,” and in 1965, the Prophet David O. McKay wrote to Mormon congressmen urging them to protect right-to-work legislation in the name of “free agency.”

“That’s Not Flip-Flopping”

A key principle of Mormon theology, “free agency” is foundational, with roots extending all the way back to the Mormon pre-earthly existence, which was also the scene of a momentous battle. God had centered his plan for our earthly salvation on freedom, and had to defeat the followers of Lucifer, who proposed to force us all to obey God and thus guarantee our eternal reward. Ironically, however, Mormon leaders don’t apply the concept where it seems to fit best (the freedom to “sin”) but instead to economic policy, where it is largely irrelevant. Lucifer would have forced us to obey God’s commandments, not tampered with tax schedules.

Nevertheless, “free agency” became the rallying cry of right-wing politics; one in which no distinction was made between totalitarianism and the American safety net. Benson argued that supporting the “weak, indolent, and profligate,” was “economic and social cannibalism,” and that we shouldn’t “deny the fruits of success to those who produce.” Cleverly drawing on John Locke (Thomas Jefferson is cited only as a proponent of private charity), he contended that welfare programs were the “legalized plunder” of “unscrupulous individuals” and that the minimum wage would inevitably end in “totalitarianism.” Even a little bit of socialism was bad, he argued, being akin to “a little bit of theft or a little bit of cancer.”

The choices were stark; no less than between “God and liberty” or “atheism and slavery” (Conference, 1965). Benson even urged Mormons to precipitate Church leadership in the struggle, thereby proving their “valiance.” The devil had succeeded in “neutralizing much of the priesthood” (Mormon men), he argued. “To have been on the wrong side of the freedom issue during the war in heaven meant eternal damnation,” and nothing less hangs in the balance today. The “choice spirits” take the lead, he cajoled; they don’t wait “to be commanded in all things.” After all, the prophecy did not say that the Church would save the Constitution, but rather that the “elders of Israel” would. “What are you waiting for?” he wondered.

In the style of Beck, he claimed that to remain on the sidelines was akin to collaboration with Hitler. “There has never been a greater time to stand up against entrenched evil.” What counted as evil? “No matter what you call it—communism, socialism, or the welfare state—our freedom is sacrificed,” He went on to mention both the minimum wage and foreign aid.

Individual welfare initiatives, he warned in 1966, though seemingly innocuous, nevertheless represented the small doses of Satan’s piecemeal advance. Once again the rallying cry goes out: “Are you prepared to see some of your loved ones murdered, your remaining liberties abridged… and your eternal reward jeopardized?”

If this all sounds eerily like Tea Party madness, then you’ll understand why Utah is awash in it, but End Times talk isn’t just about communism and its supposed cousin, the welfare state. Big Conspiracies are on the move. Any large, powerful organization of global reach (except the US military) is suspect.

LaVerkin, Utah, for example, passed an ordinance in 2001 making it a “United Nations-free zone” (the UN being a “sign of the times” and a horrendous mistake that Skousen thought we should rectify). The law banned the UN from La Verkin and required anyone collaborating with it to file an annual report and post a sign in the window stating, “United Nations Work Conducted Here.” It also protected native La Verkin soldiers against UN “involuntary servitude.”

The Cold War is over; both Benson and Skousen are dead; but End Times influence lives on. Even those who might squirm at the more brazen scenarios may nevertheless have absorbed some of the assumptions; namely that the good works of outsiders prove nothing about their intentions; we can only trust our own (if Eisenhower is suspect, how much more so a Muslim Kenyan); and we must turn back the tide of welfare encroachment.

End Times talk is all about division—it’s us versus them. Ironically, Mormons are so trusting of us that Utah has become the scam capital of America, and the them is so politically skewed that no amount of good works on the part of the political left frees it of suspicion, nor does any scandal or plunder detract from the right’s “elect” status.

Despite his profligate past (as the pro-choice governor of Massachusettsand author of Romneycare), Mitt is one of the Mormon us. My mom tells a Romney redemption story that illustrates this us-them divide. She did not vote for Senator Kerry in the 2004 presidential election because, as she explained it, he “flip-flopped.” So when the next election rolled around, I teased her about her support for Romney, pointing out that he, too, had “flip-flopped”—and on issues important to the faith. “That’s not called flip-flopping,” she replied, “That’s called repentance.”

II.

When I first cut my teeth on politics as a young adult, my dad and I had an argument in which he said (hyberbolically, and for effect) that he wished that he could resurrect FDR just in order to shoot him. So intertwined is Mormonism with the socioeconomic status quo that its Utah members often take the Republican Party to be God’s Party.

Mormon Utah is arguably the most conservative state in the Union, being the only one in which the third-party candidate for president in the 1992 election, Ross Perot, finished second, beating Bill Clinton. Mormon narratives borrowed from Calvinism favor the job-creating elite (heroes among the Mormon “elect”) and speak words of tough love to the unregenerate poor. Others borrowed from John Nelson Darby and the Dispensationalists place us at the end of the world in a Manichean showdown with evil. These narratives foster a “severely conservative” politics.

Yet neither exhausts the plethora of Mormon narratives, and the minority of Mormon Democrats finds plenty of sustenance in their religious tradition as well. Take my father, for instance. Despite his words and ballots cast, my Republican dad acted with the noblesse oblige of a Roosevelt. As the police commissioner for Salt Lake City, he donated a pay raise to buy sports equipment for the Central City Community Center, and when the Republicans tried to block the police from forming a union, my dad not only defended their right to it, but also helped them to set it up.

My mom was surprised one morning by a Native American gentleman at the doorstep who handed her an envelope full of cash. It turns out that, years before, my dad, a lawyer, had defended the tribe’s water rights and never sent a bill. Now that it had the money, the tribe wanted to pay.

The Democrats of Utah loved him. A professor of mine once congratulated me in the hallway—for my dad’s great work, he said. The last fifteen years of my dad’s career were spent in the consumer protection division at the Attorney General’s office, mostly fighting Utah Power & Light. So while my dad may have followed Calvinist and End Times political imperatives at the ballot box, he was a “King Benjamin” at heart.

The temporal and spiritual leader of Zarahemla (a Book of Mormon people), King Benjamin gave a long discourse that Mormons quote much like other Christians do the Sermon on the Mount. It includes plenty of hellfire and damnation, but also this: “I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.” It goes on to warn against denying the petition of anyone for sustenance or aid by claiming, for instance, that the petitioner deserves his fate:

Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I… will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance… But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent… For behold, are we not all beggars?

If End Times talk is closed and divisive, King Benjamin talk is open and charitable, releasing some of the puffed up air of the “elect.” Kindness; compassion, service; they are so much the currency of religion that it’s sometimes easy to overlook them, but Mormons spend more of their time thinking about how to help the neighbors than they do worrying about communist teachers in the schools.Utah breathes volunteerism just as it does Tea Party platitudes, and the two are not unrelated; for the best of conservatism isn’t about astringent Calvinism, but rather the efficacy of private action.

Even critics of Mormonism attest to this spirit of King Benjamin in their characterization of them as “unceasingly kind.” Matt Stone, co-creator with Trey Parker of South Park, whose episode on the Joseph Smith story is punctuated with the musical refrain “dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb,” has stated that “[e]very Mormon we’ve met is a nice person. And even when they know who Trey and I are from our work—work that some Mormons don’t really like—they’re totally nice to us.”

Beyond individual charity, however, a central pillar of Mormon doctrine is unabashedly communitarian. The initial Mormon movement broke social norms in a way so shocking that they were forced to flee the United States to what was then the wilderness. These early Mormons practiced polygamy, of course, but equally shocking was their following of the United Order—a short-lived communal sharing arrangement that while not eliminating private property altogether nevertheless substantially redistributed land and output for the benefit of all. Considered God’s plan for his children, this moves Mormons beyond individualism and towards a Christian form of socialism. Largely relegated to the dusty past, its theological standing is nevertheless much firmer than any right-to-work politics that has dominated the tradition of late.

Perhaps the best contrast between the jealous End Times mentality and the open King Benjamin heart, however, may be seen in what is referred to now as the “clash of civilizations.” In my day, it didn’t involve Muslims so much as it did Catholics, who are condemned by Mormons much more severely than others in that they are considered responsible for the “great apostasy” of the Church. The Mormon restoration narrative requires, of course, a previous demonic apostasy, and in Mormon Manichean discourse the Catholic Church is scary.

Catholicism, Mormons claim, was founded by “the devil” (Apostle Orson Pratt). It has produced nothing but “famine for the word of God,” profound “intellectual stupor,” and dense “spiritual darkness” (B. H. Roberts, Mormon theologian). In Catholicism, “Satan’s own culture flourished” and its sacraments have “befouled” those originally given by the Lord. The pope is the “son of perdition” and it all reeks with the stench of blasphemy, idolatry, and lust which do nothing but “defile the earth” (Apostle James E. Talmage). It is surely the “Church of the Devil,” the “mother of harlots,” and the “whore of all the earth” (McConkie). My own grandfather contributed to this narrative with works like Apostasy from theDivineChurch.

Yet, a separate narrative softens, if not negates, such judgments. When the first Catholics and Jews trickled into Utah territory, for example, the Prophet Brigham Young opened Mormon churches for their use until they could build their own houses of worship. Knowing something about the Catholic Mass, the Mormon director of the Saint George Tabernacle Choir directed his group in the singing of the Catholic liturgy, in Latin, so that a high Mass could be sung for the newly arrived Father Scanlon in 1873.

Catholics have been extended free airtime on Mormon-owned radio stations and Mormon largesse has contributed to the renovation of the Cathedral of the Madeleine in Salt Lake City as well as to Catholic soup kitchens and other humanitarian efforts. Mormon and Catholic leaders have prayed in each others’ houses of worship and collaborated on a number of political initiatives. Speaking at the commemoration of the Cathedral’s one hundredth birthday, the Prophet Thomas S. Monson acknowledged the ecumenical spirit expressed in its tolling of the bells at the passing of each Mormon prophet since 1919.

Heavenly Mother

Mormonism’s Calvinist heritage is trumped—at least theologically, if not politically—by the United Order and King Benjamin sensitivities. Its Manichean elements have been softened through its coexistence with the flesh and blood faithful from outside the tradition. Other elements of Mormonism similarly cut in more than one way. Central to contemporary debates concerning gender and sexuality, for example, are Mormon narratives of the priesthood (it is only for men) and the family. While the former has been channeled into an attack on feminism (the Church campaigned vigorously against the ERA), it has not prevented the Church from empowering women.

In the nineteenth century, Romania Bunnell Pratt was the second woman doctor west of the Mississippi(1877) and one of many Mormon women of the time who were encouraged to attend universities in the East.Utah Territoryextended women the right to vote as early as 1869, earning it a visit by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Martha Hughes Cannon, a physician (University of Michigan, 1881), and polygamist Mormon wife, successfully ran against her own husband to become America’s first female state senator. This should not be surprising coming from a tradition that includes a goddess, Heavenly Mother.

(Other traditionally marginalized groups may not fare so well with Mormon doctrine. Homosexual unions, for example, run counter to Mormon narratives in a way that working women do not. They challenge not only traditional marriage on earth but the whole cosmic Mormon family plan which requires heterosexual partners that progress to godhood, beget spirit children, and raise families for eternity.)

A Mormon Liberation Theology?

One of the best kept secrets in the tradition is that early on Mormons were overwhelmingly Democrats, so much so that the Prophet Brigham Young assigned certain families to become Republican in order to create a bipartisan environment. Utah voted for FDR four times and Truman thereafter. It did not become solidly Republican until the 1950s, and was undoubtedly influenced by the Cold War and then the turmoil of the civil rights movement and rebellious youth culture. The deal was sealed by Roe v. Wade.

With the Cold War fading, however, apocalyptic narratives may abate, opening space for new “King Benjamin” political alignments. Mormons have not followed some of their Evangelical counterparts in their substitution of Islam for the Soviet menace, for example, and there are no Mormon gaffes on this score akin to those of Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and Franklin Graham—even though End Times prophesies place Mormons squarely behind Israel in all land disputes with its Muslim neighbors. Abortion remains a challenge, but with no doctrinal obstacles to birth control, Mormons could join hands with likeminded Democrats to forge a more robust policy of prevention.

Most importantly, there are seeds for a Mormon left-leaning politics in its cosmic tales, and perhaps even for a Mormon form of liberation theology. “Free agency,” the lynchpin of the Mormon Plan of Salvation, emphasizes the individual’s right to choose his or her own path (to follow God or to go one’s own way); the narrative of King Benjamin; the United Order; and the conception of a Heavenly Mother (co-equal with God), along with Mormonism’s previous empowerment of women all provide potential resources for a discourse that speaks to the liberation and well-being of all.

So steeped was my childhood in King Benjamin sympathies that I await the catalyst that gives rise to a waiting-in-the-unconscious wave of social justice politics across my beloved Mormon valley. In my own restoration daydreams, the pre-Tea Party Romney once played the role of Nixon opening China—the Mormon politician who flip-flops one last time to let his King Benjamin heart flood the Tea Party plains. While Mitt has since dashed the hopes of this particular fantasy, there are certainly others waiting in the wings.

 

http://www.religiondispatches.org/archive/atheologies/6412/mitt%2C_moochers%2C_and_mormonism%E2%80%99s_%E2%80%9Cother%E2%80%9D_legacy

 

 

Republican Leaders Asked to Skip Values Voters Summit

BY Julie Bolcer, www.advocate.com,September 11 2012 

A letter asks Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan and others to decline an invitation to speak at the event hosted by the antigay Family Research Council.
Since its launch in 2006, the annual Values Voters Summit in Washington, D.C. has become a must-do event on the Republican political calendar, where high-profile hopefuls court influential religious conservatives in an atmosphere infused with antigay messages and demonstrable falsehoods.

This year a coalition of human rights groups including LGBT advocacy organizations is urging top Republicans such as vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan and House majority leader Eric Cantor to decline invitations in order to avoid legitimizing the “demonizing lies” of the host, the Family Research Council. The host and one of the cosponsors, the American Family Association, have falsely linked homosexuality to pedophilia and the Holocaust, among other untruths that have been debunked by researchers and scientists.

Calling the FRC “far outside of the mainstream,” seven groups sent a letter to invited speakers last week saying, “We urge you not to lend the prestige of your office to the summit.” The letter concluded by saying, “We urge you to decline the FRC’s invitation and not share the stage with and lend your credibility to an organization that spreads demonizing falsehoods about other people.”

Congressman Ryan and Majority Leader Cantor are scheduled to speak during the morning plenary session at the summit’s opening day this Friday. Good as You reports that scheduled speakers also include Ann Romney, the wife of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

The letter was sent by leaders of the Southern Poverty Law Center, Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, Human Rights Campaign, National Black Justice Council, National Council of La Raza, Faithful America, and People for the American Way Foundation. Representatives from most of the groups spoke to reporters in a press briefing call Tuesday morning.

“It is entirely inappropriate for mainstream elected officials who are responsible for advocating for the best interests of America’s diverse constituents to appear at an event for a group that actively works to banish LGBT people to the outskirts of society,” said HRC president Fred Sainz. “The only thing FRC advocates for is the demonization of those who do not fit into their narrow worldview.”

While the FRC opposition to marriage equality may contradict the emerging majority of Americans in favor, its president Tony Perkins last month exerted control over language in the Republican Party platform that opposes same-sex marriage, calls for a federal constitutional amendment banning such unions, and endorses the Defense of Marriage Act. Romney and his running mate, Ryan, also support those positions.

The FRC has been designated as a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a classification that Perkins and others blamed for the nonlethal shooting of a security guard at the group’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. last month. During the call Tuesday, SPLC president Richard Cohen reiterated his group’s explanation that the classification comes not from the FRC’s religious views or opposition to marriage equality, but from its “baseless and incendiary name-calling and lying about the LGBT community.”

Representatives on the call conceded that Republican leaders may be unlikely to skip a meeting with active conservative voters at the height of election season, but they claimed credit for the cancellation of at least one prominent speaker. Faithful America director Michael Sherrard said Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York had been promoted on the schedule, but his office confirmed he would not attend after more than 20,000 people signed an online petition asking him not to speak. It was unknown whether Dolan, the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, had formally been invited or just listed by the summit’s organizers.

“It’s unclear whether he was actually on the schedule to begin with, but it’s equally clear that they were acting in response” to the petition, said Sherrard.

If leaders such as Ryan and Cantor do not heed the letter and attend the Values Voters Summit as scheduled, the human rights groups intend to bring the elected officials’ far-right association to the attention of media. Some of the other speakers include anti-Muslim activists such as Frank Gaffney, opponents of gay parents including Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver, and Lila Rose, who has “called for abortions to be performed in the public square,” according to People for the American Way Foundation president Michael Keegan.

“What’s remarkable about the summit is that it really does show how closely aligned the so-called mainstream conservatives are with these extreme groups,” he said. “Elected officials can’t pretend to be mainstream figures while appearing at an extremist event.”

http://www.advocate.com/politics/2012/09/11/republican-leaders-asked-skip-values-voters-summit

Romney’s Neocon Foreign Policy: Written by Those Who Ignored al Qaeda Threat

Consortium News [1] / By Robert Parry [2] posted on Alternet.org, September 11, 2012 |  

This article originally appeared as a special report on the Web site of Consortium News. Sign up for e-mail alerts on Consoritum News content here [3]. (Mid-page, right-hand column.)

Eleven years after the fact, the key relevance of 9/11 to Campaign 2012 is that Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has surrounded himself with neoconservative foreign policy advisers much as George W. Bush did in 2001, when the neocons let their ideological obsessions blind them to the threat from al-Qaeda.

In spring and summer 2001, the CIA and counterterrorism experts frantically rang warning bells, trying to get President Bush to order a full-court press aimed at stopping an attack that al-Qaeda was plotting. U.S. intelligence agencies weren’t sure exactly where al-Qaeda would strike but they were sure that something big was coming.

The neocons, however, had regarded the Clinton administration’s fear about al-Qaeda terrorism as a distraction, a relatively minor concern when compared to the neocon certainty that the far greater Middle East danger came from Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

In the neocon world view, “regime change” in Iraq would be the great “game changer,” setting in motion the toppling of hostile governments in Syria and Iran – and ultimately enabling Israel to dictate surrender terms to its close-in adversaries, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.

So, when many Clinton holdovers renewed their alarms in 2001, the warnings fell mostly on deaf ears inside the Bush administration. Indeed, some of Bush’s top neocons believed the CIA analysts were being tricked into getting the inexperienced young President to take his eye off the ball, that is, off Iraq.

In an op-ed [4] for the New York Times on the eleventh anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, journalist Kurt Eichenwald fills in some missing pieces to the pre-9/11 narrative, putting into context the infamous “Presidential Daily Brief” of Aug. 6, 2001, which was entitled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.”

Since the PDB was declassified in 2004, Bush’s defenders have argued that the President’s indifference to the warning was because the PDB was mostly a historical recounting of past al-Qaeda operations. But Eichenwald writes that the PDB was only one of a series of alarming reports that counterintelligence officers were putting before Bush and his national security team.

“While those documents are still not public, I have read excerpts from many of them, along with other recently declassified records, and come to an inescapable conclusion: the administration’s reaction to what Mr. Bush was told in the weeks before that infamous briefing reflected significantly more negligence than has been disclosed,” Eichenwald writes. “In other words, the Aug. 6 document, for all of the controversy it provoked, is not nearly as shocking as the briefs that came before it.”

‘Imminent’ Strike

For instance, Eichenwald reports that by May 1, 2001, the CIA had informed the White House that “a group presently in the United States” was plotting a terrorist attack. By June 22, a PDB called the expected al-Qaeda strike “imminent” although the precise timing was considered flexible.

So, when the Aug. 6 PDB arrived, it already had a troubling context, mounting evidence that al-Qaeda had placed a team of terrorists inside the United States with plans for a dramatic attack on American soil. Yet, Bush brushed aside the Aug. 6 warning while vacationing at his Texas ranch and literally went fishing. Why?

Eichenwald writes that Bush’s nonchalance could be traced to the success of neocon advisers in convincing the President that the warning was “just bluster.” The neocons have never been known to be humble in their assessment of their own intellectual prowess and that self-certainty apparently swayed Bush.

According to Eichenwald, “An intelligence official and a member of the Bush administration both told me in interviews that the neoconservative leaders who had recently assumed power at the Pentagon were warning the White House that the C.I.A. had been fooled; according to this theory, Bin Laden was merely pretending to be planning an attack to distract the administration from Saddam Hussein, whom the neoconservatives saw as a greater threat.

“Intelligence officials, these sources said, protested that the idea of Bin Laden, an Islamic fundamentalist, conspiring with Mr. Hussein, an Iraqi secularist, was ridiculous, but the neoconservatives’ suspicions were nevertheless carrying the day. In response, the C.I.A. prepared an analysis that all but pleaded with the White House to accept that the danger from Bin Laden was real.”

Eichenwald writes that a PDB of June 29 read, “The U.S. is not the target of a disinformation campaign by Usama Bin Laden.” The brief listed evidence, “including an interview that month with a Middle Eastern journalist in which Bin Laden aides warned of a coming attack, as well as competitive pressures that the terrorist leader was feeling, given the number of Islamists being recruited for the separatist Russian region of Chechnya,” Eichenwald reports.

The CIA continued to build on its case, including comments from operatives close to bin Laden that the impending attack would have “dramatic consequences” with heavy casualties. “Yet, the White House failed to take significant action,” Eichenwald writes.

“Officials at the Counterterrorism Center of the C.I.A. grew apoplectic. On July 9, at a meeting of the counterterrorism group, one official suggested that the staff put in for a transfer so that somebody else would be responsible when the attack took place, two people who were there told me in interviews. The suggestion was batted down, they said, because there would be no time to train anyone else. …

“On July 24, Mr. Bush was notified that the attack was still being readied, but that it had been postponed, perhaps by a few months. But the president did not feel the briefings on potential attacks were sufficient, one intelligence official told me, and instead asked for a broader analysis on Al Qaeda, its aspirations and its history. In response, the C.I.A. set to work on the Aug. 6 brief.”

More Witnesses

Over the past several years, other senior intelligence officials have commented on the mounting evidence of a planned attack and the failure of Bush to react.

“It all came together in the third week of June,” said Richard Clarke, who was the White House coordinator for counterterrorism. “The CIA’s view was that a major terrorist attack was coming in the next several weeks.”

In late June, CIA Director George Tenet was reported “nearly frantic” about the likelihood of an al-Qaeda attack. He was described as running around “with his hair on fire” because the warning system was “blinking red.”

Some information even began to reach Washington reporters, but apparently not enough or the right ones. New York Times reporter Judith Miller, in a 2006 interview with AlterNet [5], said a well-placed CIA official briefed her on an al-Qaeda intercept over the July Fourth holiday in 2001.

“The person told me that there was some concern about an intercept that had been picked up,” Miller said. “The incident that had gotten everyone’s attention was a conversation between two members of al-Qaeda. And they had been talking to one another, supposedly expressing disappointment that the United States had not chosen to retaliate more seriously against what had happened to the [destroyer USS] Cole [which was bombed on Oct. 12, 2000].

“And one al-Qaeda operative was overheard saying to the other, ‘Don’t worry; we’re planning something so big now that the U.S. will have to respond.’”

Miller, who herself had close ties to the neocons, expressed regret that she had not been able to nail down enough details about the intercept to get the story into the newspaper. The Alternet interview was published in May 2006 after Miller resigned from the Times, in part, over her cozy ties with key neocons in Bush’s administration.

On July 5, 2001, at a meeting in the White House Situation Room, counterterrorism chief Clarke told officials from a dozen federal agencies that “something really spectacular is going to happen here, and it’s going to happen soon.” But instead of sparking an intensified administration reaction to the danger, the flickering light of White House interest in the terror threat continued to sputter.

By July 10, senior CIA counterterrorism officials, including Cofer Black, had collected a body of intelligence that they presented to Director Tenet.

“The briefing [Black] gave me literally made my hair stand on end,” Tenet wrote in his memoir, At the Center of the Storm. “When he was through, I picked up the big white secure phone on the left side of my desk – the one with a direct line to [national security adviser] Condi Rice – and told her that I needed to see her immediately to provide an update on the al-Qa’ida threat.”

After reaching the White House, a CIA briefer, identified in Tenet’s book only as Rich B., started his presentation by saying: “There will be a significant terrorist attack in the coming weeks or months!”

Rich B. then displayed a chart showing “seven specific pieces of intelligence gathered over the past 24 hours, all of them predicting an imminent attack,” Tenet wrote. The briefer presented another chart with “the more chilling statements we had in our possession through intelligence.”

These comments included a mid-June statement by Osama bin Laden to trainees about an attack in the near future; talk about decisive acts and a “big event”; and fresh intelligence about predictions of “a stunning turn of events in the weeks ahead,” Tenet wrote.

Rich B. told Rice that the attack will be “spectacular” and designed to inflict heavy casualties against U.S. targets. “Attack preparations have been made,” Rich B. said about al-Qaeda’s plans. “Multiple and simultaneous attacks are possible, and they will occur with little or no warning.”

When Rice asked what needed to be done, the CIA’s Black responded, “This country needs to go on a war footingnow.” The CIA officials sought approval for broad covert-action authority that had been languishing since March, Tenet wrote.

Dismissive Aides

Despite the July 10 briefing, other senior Bush administration officials continued to pooh-pooh the seriousness of the al-Qaeda threat. Two leading neoconservatives at the Pentagon – Stephen Cambone and Paul Wolfowitz – suggested that the CIA might be falling for a disinformation campaign, Tenet recalled.

But the evidence of an impending attack kept pouring in. At one CIA meeting in late July, Tenet wrote that Rich B. told senior officials bluntly, “they’re coming here,” a declaration that was followed by stunned silence.

Through the sweltering heat of July 2001, Bush turned his attention to an issue dear to the hearts of his right-wing base, the use of human embryos in stem-cell research.

Medical scientists felt stem cells promised potential cures for debilitating and life-threatening injuries and illnesses, from spinal damage to Alzheimer’s disease. Yet, despite this promise, the Christian Right objected on moral grounds to the extraction of cells from embryos, even if those destined for destruction as waste at fertility clinics.

While the team of al-Qaeda terrorists made final preparations for their attack, the U.S. press corps also missed the drama playing out inside the U.S. intelligence agencies. The hot stories that steamy summer were shark attacks and the mystery of a missing Capitol Hill intern Chandra Levy, who’d had an affair with Rep. Gary Condit, a California Democrat.

The news media pretended that its obsession with Levy’s disappearance was a heartfelt concern to help her parents find their missing daughter; the sexual gossip about Levy and Condit proved to be just a fortuitous byproduct. Yet, as cable news played the Chandra Levy case 24/7, a far more significant life-or-death drama was playing out inside the FBI and CIA.

Flight Schools

At the FBI’s Phoenix field office, FBI agent Kenneth Williams noted the curious fact that suspected followers of bin Laden were learning to fly airplanes at schools inside the United States.

Citing “an inordinate number of individuals of investigative interest” attending American flight schools, Williams sent a July 10, 2001, memo to FBI headquarters warning of the “possibility of a coordinated effort by Usama Bin Laden” to send student pilots to the United States. But the memo produced no follow-up.

CIA officials encountered similar foot-dragging at the White House. At least two officials in the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center were so apoplectic about the blasé reactions from the Bush administration that they considered resigning and going public with their concerns. Instead, the CIA hierarchy made one more stab at startling Bush into action.

So, on Aug. 6, 2001, the CIA dispatched senior analysts to brief Bush who was starting a month-long vacation at his Crawford ranch. They carried a highly classified report with the blunt title “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US.” This PDB summarized the history of bin Laden’s interest in launching attacks inside the United States and ended with a carefully phrased warning about recent intelligence threat data:

“FBI information … indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York. The FBI is conducting approximately 70 full field investigations throughout the US that it considers Bin Ladin-related. CIA and the FBI are investigating a call to our Embassy in the UAE in May saying that a group of Bin Ladin supporters was in the US planning attacks with explosives.”

Bush was not pleased by the CIA’s intrusion on his vacation nor with the report’s lack of specific targets and dates. He glared at the CIA briefer and snapped, “All right, you’ve covered your ass,” according to an account in author Ron Suskind’s The One Percent Doctrine, which relied heavily on senior CIA officials.

Putting the CIA’s warning in the back of his mind and ordering no special response, Bush returned to a vacation of fishing, clearing brush and working on a speech about stem-cell research.

Yet, inside the FBI as the month wore on, there were more warnings that went unheeded. FBI agents in Minneapolis arrested Zacarias Moussaoui in August because of his suspicious behavior in trying to learn to fly commercial jetliners when he lacked even rudimentary skills.

FBI agent Harry Samit, who interrogated Moussaoui, sent 70 warnings to his superiors about suspicions that the al-Qaeda operative had been taking flight training in Minnesota because he was planning to hijack a plane for a terrorist operation.

But FBI officials in Washington showed “criminal negligence” in blocking requests for a search warrant on Moussaoui’s computer or taking other preventive action, Samit testified more than four years later at Moussaoui’s criminal trial.

No Urgency

A big part of the problem was the lack of urgency at the top. Counterterrorism coordinator Clarke said the 9/11 attacks might have been averted if Bush had shown some initiative in “shaking the trees” by having high-level officials from the FBI, CIA, Customs and other federal agencies go back to their bureaucracies and demand any information about the terrorist threat.

If they had, they might well have found the memos from the FBI agents in Arizona and Minnesota. Clarke contrasted President Bill Clinton’s urgency over the intelligence warnings that preceded the Millennium events with the lackadaisical approach of Bush and his national security team.

“In December 1999, we received intelligence reports that there were going to be major al-Qaeda attacks,” Clarke said in an interview. “President Clinton asked his national security adviser Sandy Berger to hold daily meetings with the attorney general, the FBI director, the CIA director and stop the attacks.

“Every day they went back from the White House to the FBI, to the Justice Department, to the CIA and they shook the trees to find out if there was any information. You know, when you know the United States is going to be attacked, the top people in the United States government ought to be working hands-on to prevent it and working together.

“Now, contrast that with what happened in the summer of 2001, when we even had more clear indications that there was going to be an attack. Did the President ask for daily meetings of his team to try to stop the attack? Did Condi Rice hold meetings of her counterparts to try to stop the attack? No.”

In his book, Against All Enemies, Clarke offered other examples of pre-9/11 mistakes by the Bush administration, including a downgrading in importance of the counterterrorism office, a shifting of budget priorities, an obsession with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and an emphasis on conservative ideological issues, such as Reagan’s missile defense program.

A more hierarchical White House structure also insulated Bush from direct contact with mid-level national security officials who had specialized on the al-Qaeda issue.

The chairman and vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission – New Jersey’s former Republican Governor Thomas Kean and former Democratic Indiana Rep. Lee Hamilton, respectively – agreed that the 9/11 attacks could have been prevented.

“The whole story might have been different,” Kean said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on April 4, 2004. Kean cited a string of law-enforcement blunders including the “lack of coordination within the FBI” and the FBI’s failure to understand the significance of Moussaoui’s arrest in August while training to fly passenger jets.

Yet, as the clock ticked down to 9/11, the Bush administration continued to have other priorities. On Aug. 9, Bush gave a nationally televised speech on stem cells, delivering his judgment permitting federal funding for research on 60 preexisting stem-cell lines, but barring government support for work on any other lines of stem cells that would be derived from human embryos.

Scientists complained that the existing lines were too tainted with mouse cells and too limited to be of much value. But the news media mostly hailed Bush’s split decision as “Solomon-like” and proof he had greater gravitas than his critics would acknowledge.

One Last Pitch

CIA Director Tenet said he made one last push to focus Bush on the impending terrorism crisis, but the encounter veered off into meaningless small talk.

“A few weeks after the August 6 PDB was delivered, I followed it to Crawford to make sure the President stayed current on events,” Tenet wrote in his memoir. “This was my first visit to the ranch. I remember the President graciously driving me around the spread in his pickup and my trying to make small talk about the flora and the fauna, none of which were native to Queens,” where Tenet had grown up.

Bush and his neocon advisers continued their hostility toward what they viewed as the old Clinton phobia about terrorism and this little-known group called al-Qaeda. On Sept. 6, 2001, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld threatened a presidential veto of a proposal by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., seeking to transfer money from strategic missile defense to counterterrorism.

Also on Sept. 6, former Sen. Gary Hart tried to galvanize the Bush administration into showing some urgency about the terrorist threat. Hart met with Condoleezza Rice and urged the White House to move faster. Rice agreed to pass on Hart’s concerns to higher-ups. However, nothing was done before al-Qaeda struck on Sept. 11.

When the first plane crashed into the North Tower at the World Trade Center in New York at 8:46 a.m., President Bush was on a trip to Florida, visiting a second-grade classroom. After the second plane hit the South Tower at 9:03 a.m., White House chief of staff Andrew Card whispered into Bush’s ear that “America is under attack.”

Bush sat dumbstruck for seven minutes holding a book, The Pet Goat. He later said he didn’t react immediately because he didn’t want to alarm the children.

Though Bush’s neocon advisers had been disastrously wrong about anticipating al-Qaeda’s terrorist strike, they quickly turned the catastrophe to their advantage by convincing Bush that he should go beyond simply striking back at al-Qaeda; that he should seize the opportunity to take out Saddam Hussein as well.

The Bush administration was soon on course to launch not only an invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, but Iraq as well. The neocons also revived their dreams about using Iraq as a launching pad for additional “regime change” in Syria and Iran. In the short term, the 9/11 disaster worked out so well for the neocons that some cynics began to suspect that the neocons had secretly wished for the attack all along.

As the years wore on, neocon hubris contributed heavily to the bloody mess in Iraq as nearly 4,500 U.S. soldiers died along with hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. The war in Afghanistan became a blood-soaked quagmire, too. The price tags for the wars were soon exceeding $1 trillion.

Bush’s military overreach set the stage for the 2008 election of Barack Obama who famously opposed the Iraq invasion as a young aspiring politician in Chicago. Yet, despite the calamities in their wake, the neocons never went far from the center of Washington influence and power. They retreated to high-paying jobs at think tanks, wrote books and sought out a new Republican presidential hopeful.

The Romney Retreads

The smart neocon bet was soon placed on Mitt Romney, who like Bush was a relative neophyte on foreign policy. The smooth-talking neocons quickly earned a place of trust in the Romney camp. The former Massachusetts government largely delegated to the neocons the job of writing his foreign policy white paper, “An American Century [6].”

Romney allowed the title to be an obvious homage to the neocon Project for the New American Century, which in the 1990s built the ideological framework for the Iraq War and other “regime change” strategies of President Bush. Romney recruited Eliot Cohen, a founding member of the Project for the New American Century and a protégé of prominent neocons Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle, to write the foreword.

Romney’s white paper chastised Barack Obama for committing himself to pulling out the 30,000 “surge troops” from Afghanistan by mid-2012 and conducting a gradual withdrawal of the remaining 70,000 by the end of 2014. Romney’s white paper argued that Obama should have followed the advice of field commanders like then-Gen. David Petraeus and made withdrawals either more slowly or contingent on American military success. The white paper also opposed a full withdrawal from Iraq.

The white paper made clear that if Romney wins the White House, he is determined to reconstruct much of Bush’s foreign policy, complete with a renewed insistence on U.S. military dominance of the world and a full restoration of neocon influence.

Romney’s “An American Century” also brought back a favorite tactic of the Bush years, the baiting of Americans who dare criticize the nation’s hubristic foreign policy of the last decade. Echoing a favorite Republican talking point, Romney scolded Obama for supposedly “apologizing” for America.

The white paper stated: “In his first year in office alone, President Obama issued apologies for America in speeches delivered in France, England, Turkey, and Egypt not to mention on multiple similar occasions here at home.

“Among the ‘sins’ for which he has repented in our collective name are American arrogance, dismissiveness, and derision; for dictating solutions, for acting unilaterally, for acting without regard for others; for treating other countries as mere proxies, for unjustly interfering in the internal affairs of other nations, for committing torture, for fueling anti-Islamic sentiments, for dragging our feet in combating global warming, and for selectively promoting democracy.

“The sum total of President Obama’s rhetorical efforts has been a form of unilateral disarmament in the diplomatic and moral sphere. A President who is so troubled by America’s past cannot lead us into the future.”

In other words, Romney’s neocons were reaffirming their long-held pattern of demonizing anyone who tries to discuss U.S. foreign policy honestly. After all, the neocons of the Bush years were guilty of pretty much every “sin” that is cited above. Apparently, it’s disqualifying to tell the truth if it makes the neocons look bad.

Romney also attacked Obama for even modestly trimming the U.S. military budget, which is now is roughly equal to what is spent by all other nations on the planet combined. According to “An American Century,” Romney “will put our Navy on the path to increase its shipbuilding rate from nine per year to approximately fifteen per year. He will also modernize and replace the aging inventories of the Air Force, Army, and Marines, and selectively strengthen our force structure.

“And he will fully commit to a robust, multi-layered national ballistic-missile defense system to deter and defend against nuclear attacks on our homeland and our allies.” The white paper did make one concession to reality by conceding that “this will not be a cost-free process. We cannot rebuild our military strength without paying for it.” The white paper added:

“Romney will begin by reversing Obama-era defense cuts and return to the budget baseline established by Secretary Robert Gates in 2010, with the goal of setting core defense spending — meaning funds devoted to the fundamental military components of personnel, operations and maintenance, procurement, and research and development — at afloor of 4 percent of GDP,” or about $565 billion.

Protecting Israel

Typical of a neocon-written white paper, there also was the obligatory declaration that the United States must do whatever is necessary to protect Israel’s interests. It stated: “Israel is the United States’ closest ally in the Middle East and a beacon of democracy and freedom in the region. The tumult in the Middle East has heightened Israel’s security problems.

“Indeed, this is an especially dangerous moment for the Jewish state. It has deteriorating relationships with Turkey and Egypt. It faces longstanding dangers from Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon, a violent and highly unstable Syria, and a nuclear-aspiring Iran whose leadership is openly calling for Israel’s annihilation.

“To ensure Israel’s security, Mitt Romney will work closely with Israel to maintain it strategic military edge. … The United States must forcefully resist the emergence of anti-Israel policies in Turkey and Egypt, and work to make clear that their interests are not served by isolating Israel.

“With regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Romney’s policy will differ sharply from President Obama’s. …  President Obama for too long has been in the grip of several illusions. One is that the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is the central problem in the region [which has] led the administration to believe that distancing the United States from Israel was a smart move that would earn us credits in the Arab world and somehow bring peace closer.

“The record proves otherwise. The key to negotiating a lasting peace is an Israel that knows it will be secure. … The United States needs a president who will not be a fair-weather friend of Israel. The United States must work as a country to resist the worldwide campaign to delegitimize Israel. We must fight against that campaign in every forum and label it the anti-Semitic poison that it is. Israel’s existence as a Jewish state is not up for debate.”

Romney also suggested an expansion of legal authority for U.S. officials conducting the “war on terror.” His white paper said: “As president, Mitt Romney will empower all relevant military, intelligence, and homeland security agencies with the appropriate legal authority and policy guidance to dismantle terrorist groups and prevent terrorist attacks on our homeland and on targets abroad.”

Those broader legal authorities would take aim at what Romney calls “an emerging threat to the homeland [from] the radicalization of U.S. citizens and residents leading to ‘homegrown’ Islamist terrorism. … Mitt Romney will make countering this mounting danger a top priority. …

“Our counterterrorism professionals will need to continue to develop ‘fusion centers’ and other innovative systems to collect and systematically analyze information about domestic activities. They will need the capacity, consistent with U.S. law, to collect and unflinchingly analyze communications between terrorist networks abroad and people within our borders.”

It’s always hard to know what neocons mean when they say “consistent with U.S. law,” since they devised the Bush administration’s doctrine of unlimited presidential powers, but the word “unflinchingly” suggests they envision a robust domestic spying program.

With most political observers predicting a close election in November, the neocons hope that they can ride back into power in Washington behind a President Romney and then resume their role as his foreign policy foremen, advising the inexperienced Romney much as they did the novice Bush.

In making a choice for President, therefore, the American voters must realize that they are electing not just the people on the ballot but a cast of advisers who come along with the winners. Mitt Romney has made clear that he will staff much of his foreign policy team with neocon retreads from the Bush-43 administration.

Though these neocons always talk tough, the overwhelming evidence now indicates that when the United States was actually under the imminent threat of a domestic attack, the arrogant neocons blocked a meaningful response. Then, after the devastation, they compounded the mistake by diverting the U.S. military into a war on Iraq, which had nothing to do with 9/11.

One of the questions that American voters might want to consider before Nov. 6 is whether a Romney presidency, staffed with belligerent neocons, would make the United States safer or put its citizens more at risk. 

See more stories tagged with:

9/11 [7],
romney [8],
bush [10],

 

 

Links:
[1] http://www.consortiumnews.com
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/robert-parry
[3] http://consortiumnews.com/archives/
[4] http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/11/opinion/the-bush-white-house-was-deaf-to-9-11-warnings.html?_r=1&ref=opinion
[5] http://www.alternet.org/story/36388/
[6] http://mittromney.com/sites/default/files/shared/AnAmericanCentury-WhitePaper.pdf
[7] http://www.alternet.org/tags/911
[8] http://www.alternet.org/tags/romney-0
[9] http://www.alternet.org/tags/bin-laden
[10] http://www.alternet.org/tags/bush-1
[11] http://www.alternet.org/tags/saddam-hussein
[12] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

Greed and Debt: The True Story of Mitt Romney and Bain Capital By Matt Taibbi

Rolling Stone, August 29, 2012  

The great criticism of Mitt Romney, from both sides of the aisle, has always been that he doesn’t stand for anything. He’s a flip-flopper, they say, a lightweight, a cardboard opportunist who’ll say anything to get elected.

The critics couldn’t be more wrong. Mitt Romney is no tissue-paper man. He’s closer to being a revolutionary, a backward-world version of Che or Trotsky, with tweezed nostrils instead of a beard, a half-Windsor instead of a leather jerkin. His legendary flip-flops aren’t the lies of a bumbling opportunist – they’re the confident prevarications of a man untroubled by misleading the nonbeliever in pursuit of a single, all-consuming goal. Romney has a vision, and he’s trying for something big: We’ve just been too slow to sort out what it is, just as we’ve been slow to grasp the roots of the radical economic changes that have swept the country in the last generation.

The incredible untold story of the 2012 election so far is that Romney’s run has been a shimmering pearl of perfect political hypocrisy, which he’s somehow managed to keep hidden, even with thousands of cameras following his every move. And the drama of this rhetorical high-wire act was ratcheted up even further when Romney chose his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan ofWisconsin– like himself, a self-righteously anal, thin-lipped, Whitest Kids U Know penny pincher who’d be honored to tell Oliver Twist there’s no more soup left. By selecting Ryan, Romney, the hard-charging, chameleonic champion of a disgraced-yet-defiant Wall Street, officially succeeded in moving the battle lines in the 2012 presidential race.

Like John McCain four years before, Romney desperately needed a vice-presidential pick that would change the game. But where McCain bet on a combustive mix of clueless novelty and suburban sexual tension named Sarah Palin, Romney bet on an idea. He said as much when he unveiled his choice of Ryan, the author of a hair-raising budget-cutting plan best known for its willingness to slash the sacred cows of Medicare and Medicaid. “Paul Ryan has become an intellectual leader of the Republican Party,” Romney told frenzied Republican supporters in Norfolk,Virginia, standing before the reliably jingoistic backdrop of a floating warship. “He understands the fiscal challenges facing America: our exploding deficits and crushing debt.”

Debt, debt, debt. If the Republican Party had a James Carville, this is what he would have said to win Mitt over, in whatever late-night war room session led to the Ryan pick: “It’s the debt, stupid.” This is the way to defeat Barack Obama: to recast the race as a jeremiad against debt, something just about everybody who’s ever gotten a bill in the mail hates on a primal level.

Last May, in a much-touted speech in Iowa, Romney used language that was literally inflammatory to describeAmerica’s federal borrowing. “A prairie fire of debt is sweeping across Iowa and our nation,” he declared. “Every day we fail to act, that fire gets closer to the homes and children we love.” Our collective debt is no ordinary problem: According to Mitt, it’s going to burn our children alive.

And this is where we get to the hypocrisy at the heart of Mitt Romney. Everyone knows that he is fantastically rich, having scored great success, the legend goes, as a “turnaround specialist,” a shrewd financial operator who revived moribund companies as a high-priced consultant for a storied Wall Street private equity firm. But what most voters don’t know is the way Mitt Romney actually made his fortune: by borrowing vast sums of money that other people were forced to pay back. This is the plain, stark reality that has somehow eluded America’s top political journalists for two consecutive presidential campaigns: Mitt Romney is one of the greatest and most irresponsible debt creators of all time. In the past few decades, in fact, Romney has piled more debt onto more unsuspecting companies, written more gigantic checks that other people have to cover, than perhaps all but a handful of people on planet Earth.

By making debt the centerpiece of his campaign, Romney was making a calculated bluff of historic dimensions – placing a massive all-in bet on the rank incompetence of the American press corps. The result has been a brilliant comedy: A man makes a $250 million fortune loading up companies with debt and then extracting million-dollar fees from those same companies, in exchange for the generous service of telling them who needs to be fired in order to finance the debt payments he saddled them with in the first place. That same man then runs for president riding an image of children roasting on flames of debt, choosing as his running mate perhaps the only politician inAmericamore pompous and self-righteous on the subject of the evils of borrowed money than the candidate himself. If Romney pulls off this whopper, you’ll have to tip your hat to him: No one in history has ever successfully run for president riding this big of a lie. It’s almost enough to make you think he really is qualified for the White House.

The unlikeliness of Romney’s gambit isn’t simply a reflection of his own artlessly unapologetic mindset – it stands as an emblem for the resiliency of the entire sociopathic Wall Street set he represents. Four years ago, the Mitt Romneys of the world nearly destroyed the global economy with their greed, shortsightedness and – most notably – wildly irresponsible use of debt in pursuit of personal profit. The sight was so disgusting that people everywhere were ready to drop an H-bomb onLower Manhattanand bayonet the survivors. But today that same insane greed ethos, that same belief in the lunatic pursuit of instant borrowed millions – it’s dusted itself off, it’s had a shave and a shoeshine, and it’s back out there running for president.

Mitt Romney, it turns out, is the perfect frontman for Wall Street’s greed revolution. He’s not a two-bit, shifty-eyed huckster like Lloyd Blankfein. He’s not a sighing, eye-rolling, arrogant jerkwad like Jamie Dimon. But Mitt believes the same things those guys believe: He’s been right with them on the front lines of the financialization revolution, a decades-long campaign in which the old, simple, let’s-make-stuff-and-sell-it manufacturing economy was replaced with a new, highly complex, let’s-take-stuff-and-trash-it financial economy. Instead of cars and airplanes, we built swaps, CDOs and other toxic financial products. Instead of building new companies from the ground up, we took out massive bank loans and used them to acquire existing firms, liquidating every asset in sight and leaving the target companies holding the note. The new borrow-and-conquer economy was morally sanctified by an almost religious faith in the grossly euphemistic concept of “creative destruction,” and amounted to a total abdication of collective responsibility by America’s rich, whose new thing was making assloads of money in ever-shorter campaigns of economic conquest, sending the proceeds offshore, and shrugging as the great towns and factories their parents and grandparents built were shuttered and boarded up, crushed by a true prairie fire of debt.

Mitt Romney – a man whose own father built cars and nurtured communities, and was one of the old-school industrial anachronisms pushed aside by the new generation’s wealth grab – has emerged now to sell this make-nothing, take-everything, screw-everyone ethos to the world. He’s Gordon Gekko, but a new and improved version, with better PR – and a bigger goal. A takeover artist all his life, Romney is now trying to take over America itself. And if his own history is any guide, we’ll all end up paying for the acquisition.

Willard “Mitt” Romney’s background in many ways suggests a man who was born to be president – disgustingly rich from birth, raised in prep schools, no early exposure to minorities outside of maids, a powerful daddy to clean up his missteps, and timely exemptions from military service. In Romney’s bio there are some eerie early-life similarities to other recent presidential figures. (IsAmericareally ready for another Republican president who was a prep-school cheerleader?) And like other great presidential double-talkers such as Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, Romney has shown particular aptitude in the area of telling multiple factual versions of his own life story.

“I longed in many respects to actually be in Vietnam and be representing our country there,” he claimed years after the war. To a different audience, he said, “I was not planning on signing up for the military. It was not my desire to go off and serve inVietnam.”

Like John F. Kennedy and George W. Bush, men whose way into power was smoothed by celebrity fathers but who rebelled against their parental legacy as mature politicians, Mitt Romney’s career has been both a tribute to and a repudiation of his famous father. George Romney in the 1950s became CEO of American Motors Corp., made a modest fortune betting on energy efficiency in an age of gas guzzlers and ended up serving as governor of the state ofMichiganonly two generations removed from the Romney clan’s tradition of polygamy. For Mitt, who grew up worshipping his tall, craggily handsome, politically moderate father, life was less rocky: Cranbrook prep school in suburban Detroit, followed by Stanford in the Sixties, a missionary term in which he spent two and a half years trying (as he said) to persuade the French to “give up your wine,” and Harvard Business School in the Seventies. Then, faced with making a career choice, Mitt chose an odd one: Already married and a father of two, he left Harvard and eschewed both politics and the law to enter the at-the-time unsexy world of financial consulting.

“When you get out of a place like Harvard, you can do anything – at least in the old days you could,” says a prominent corporate lawyer on Wall Street who is familiar with Romney’s career. “But he comes out, he not only has aHarvardBusinessSchooldegree, he’s got a national pedigree with his name. He could have done anything – but what does he do? He says, ‘I’m going to spend my life loading up distressed companies with debt.’ ”

Romney started off at the Boston Consulting Group, where he showed an aptitude for crunching numbers and glad-handing clients. Then, in 1977, he joined a young entrepreneur named Bill Bain at a firm called Bain & Company, where he worked for six years before being handed the reins of a new firm-within-a-firm called Bain Capital.

In Romney’s version of the tale, Bain Capital – which evolved into what is today known as a private equity firm – specialized in turning around moribund companies (Romney even wrote a book called Turnaround that complements his other nauseatingly self-complimentary book, No Apology) and helped create the Staples office-supply chain. On the campaign trail, Romney relentlessly trades on his own self-perpetuated reputation as a kind of altruistic rescuer of failing enterprises, never missing an opportunity to use the word “help” or “helped” in his description of what he and Bain did for companies. He might, for instance, describe himself as having been “deeply involved in helping other businesses” or say he “helped create tens of thousands of jobs.”

The reality is that toward the middle of his career at Bain, Romney made a fateful strategic decision: He moved away from creating companies like Staples through venture capital schemes, and toward a business model that involved borrowing huge sums of money to take over existing firms, then extracting value from them by force. He decided, as he later put it, that “there’s a lot greater risk in a startup than there is in acquiring an existing company.” In the Eighties, when Romney made this move, this form of financial piracy became known as a leveraged buyout, and it achieved iconic status thanks to Gordon Gekko in Wall Street. Gekko’s business strategy was essentially identical to the Romney–Bain model, only Gekko called himself a “liberator” of companies instead of a “helper.”

Here’s how Romney would go about “liberating” a company: A private equity firm like Bain typically seeks out floundering businesses with good cash flows. It then puts down a relatively small amount of its own money and runs to a big bank like Goldman Sachs or Citigroup for the rest of the financing. (Most leveraged buyouts are financed with 60 to 90 percent borrowed cash.) The takeover firm then uses that borrowed money to buy a controlling stake in the target company, either with or without its consent. When an LBO is done without the consent of the target, it’s called a hostile takeover; such thrilling acts of corporate piracy were made legend in the Eighties, most notably the 1988 attack by notorious corporate raiders Kohlberg Kravis Roberts against RJR Nabisco, a deal memorialized in the book Barbarians at the Gate.

Romney and Bain avoided the hostile approach, preferring to secure the cooperation of their takeover targets by buying off a company’s management with lucrative bonuses. Once management is on board, the rest is just math. So if the target company is worth $500 million, Bain might put down $20 million of its own cash, then borrow $350 million from an investment bank to take over a controlling stake.

But here’s the catch. When Bain borrows all of that money from the bank, it’s the target company that ends up on the hook for all of the debt.

Now your troubled firm – let’s say you make tricycles in Alabama – has been taken over by a bunch of slick Wall Street dudes who kicked in as little as five percent as a down payment. So in addition to whatever problems you had before, Tricycle Inc. now owes Goldman or Citigroup $350 million. With all that new debt service to pay, the company’s bottom line is suddenly untenable: You almost have to start firing people immediately just to get your costs down to a manageable level.

“That interest,” says Lynn Turner, former chief accountant of the Securities and Exchange Commission, “just sucks the profit out of the company.”

Fortunately, the geniuses at Bain who now run the place are there to help tell you whom to fire. And for the service it performs cutting your company’s costs to help you pay off the massive debt that it, Bain, saddled your company with in the first place, Bain naturally charges a management fee, typically millions of dollars a year. So Tricycle Inc. now has two gigantic new burdens it never had before Bain Capital stepped into the picture: tens of millions in annual debt service, and millions more in “management fees.” Since the initial acquisition of Tricycle Inc. was probably greased by promising the company’s upper management lucrative bonuses, all that pain inevitably comes out of just one place: the benefits and payroll of the hourly workforce.

Once all that debt is added, one of two things can happen. The company can fire workers and slash benefits to pay off all its new obligations to Goldman Sachs and Bain, leaving it ripe to be resold by Bain at a huge profit. Or it can go bankrupt – this happens after about seven percent of all private equity buyouts – leaving behind one or more shuttered factory towns. Either way, Bain wins. By power-sucking cash value from even the most rapidly dying firms, private equity raiders like Bain almost always get their cash out before a target goes belly up.

This business model wasn’t really “helping,” of course – and it wasn’t new. Fans of mob movies will recognize what’s known as the “bust-out,” in which a gangster takes over a restaurant or sporting goods store and then monetizes his investment by running up giant debts on the company’s credit line. (Think Paulie buying all those cases of Cutty Sark in Goodfellas.) When the note comes due, the mobster simply torches the restaurant and collects the insurance money. Reduced to their most basic level, the leveraged buyouts engineered by Romney followed exactly the same business model. “It’s the bust-out,”one Wall Streettrader says with a laugh. “That’s all it is.”

Private equity firms aren’t necessarily evil by definition. There are many stories of successful turnarounds fueled by private equity, often involving multiple floundering businesses that are rolled into a single entity, eliminating duplicative overhead. Experian, the giant credit-rating tyrant, was acquired by Bain in the Nineties and went on to become an industry leader.

But there’s a key difference between private equity firms and the businesses that wereAmerica’s original industrial cornerstones, like the elder Romney’s AMC. Everyone had a stake in the success of those old businesses, which spread prosperity by putting people to work. But even private equity’s most enthusiastic adherents have difficulty explaining its benefit to society. Marc Wolpow, a former Bain colleague of Romney’s, told reporters during Mitt’s first Senate run that Romney erred in trying to sell his business as good for everyone. “I believed he was making a mistake by framing himself as a job creator,” said Wolpow. “That was not his or Bain’s or the industry’s primary objective. The objective of the LBO business is maximizing returns for investors.” When it comes to private equity, American workers – not to mention their families and communities – simply don’t enter into the equation.

Take a typical Bain transaction involving an Indiana-based company called American Pad and Paper. Bain bought Ampad in 1992 for just $5 million, financing the rest of the deal with borrowed cash. Within three years, Ampad was paying $60 million in annual debt payments, plus an additional $7 million in management fees. A year later, Bain led Ampad to go public, cashed out about $50 million in stock for itself and its investors, charged the firm $2 million for arranging the IPO and pocketed another $5 million in “management” fees. Ampad wound up going bankrupt, and hundreds of workers lost their jobs, but Bain and Romney weren’t crying: They’d made more than $100 million on a $5 million investment.

To recap: Romney, who has compared the devilish federal debt to a “nightmare” home mortgage that is “adjustable, no-money down and assigned to our children,” took over Ampad with essentially no money down, saddled the firm with a nightmare debt and assigned the crushing interest payments not to Bain but to the children of Ampad’s workers, who would be left holding the note long after Romney fled the scene. The mortgage analogy is so obvious, in fact, that even Romney himself has made it. He once described Bain’s debt-fueled strategy as “using the equivalent of a mortgage to leverage up our investment.”

Romney has always kept his distance from the real-life consequences of his profiteering. At one point during Bain’s looting of Ampad, a worker named Randy Johnson sent a handwritten letter to Romney, asking him to intervene to save an Ampad factory inMarion,Indiana. In a sterling demonstration of manliness and willingness to face a difficult conversation, Romney, who had just lost his race for the Senate inMassachusetts, wrote Johnson that he was “sorry,” but his lawyers had advised him not to get involved. (So much for the candidate who insists that his way is always to “fight to save every job.”)

This is typical Romney, who consistently adopts a public posture of having been above the fray, with no blood on his hands from any of the deals he personally engineered. “I never actually ran one of our investments,” he says in Turnaround. “That was left to management.”

In reality, though, Romney was unquestionably the decider at Bain. “I insisted on having almost dictatorial powers,” he bragged years after the Ampad deal. Over the years, colleagues would anonymously whisper stories about Mitt the Boss to the press, describing him as cunning, manipulative and a little bit nuts, with “an ability to identify people’s insecurities and exploit them for his own benefit.” One former Bain employee said that Romney would screw around with bonuses in small amounts, just to mess with people: He would give $3 million to one, $3.1 million to another and $2.9 million to a third, just to keep those below him on edge.

The private equity business in the early Nineties was dominated by a handful of takeover firms, from the spooky and politically connected Carlyle Group (a favorite subject of conspiracy-theory lit, with its connections to right-wingers like Donald Rumsfeld and George H.W. Bush) to the equally spooky Democrat-leaning assholes at the Blackstone Group. But even among such a colorful cast of characters, Bain had a reputation on Wall Street for secrecy and extreme weirdness – “the KGB of consulting.” Its employees, known for their Mormonish uniform of white shirts and red power ties, were dubbed “Bainies” by other Wall Streeters, a rip on the fanatical “Moonies.” The firm earned the name thanks to its idiotically adolescent Spy Kids culture, in which these glorified slumlords used code names, didn’t carry business cards and even sang “company songs” to boost morale.

The seemingly religious flavor of Bain’s culture smacks of the generally cultish ethos on Wall Street, in which all sorts of ethically questionable behaviors are justified as being necessary in service of the church of making money. Romney belongs to a true-believer subset within that cult, with a revolutionary’s faith in the wisdom of the pure free market, in which destroying companies and sucking the value out of them for personal gain is part of the greater good, and governments should “stand aside and allow the creative destruction inherent in the free economy.”

That cultlike zeal helps explains why Romney takes such a curiously unapologetic approach to his own flip-flopping. His infamous changes of stance are not little wispy ideological alterations of a few degrees here or there – they are perfect and absolute mathematical reversals, as in “I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country” and “I am firmly pro-life.” Yet unlike other politicians, who at least recognize that saying completely contradictory things presents a political problem, Romney seems genuinely puzzled by the public’s insistence that he be consistent. “I’m not going to apologize for having changed my mind,” he likes to say. It’s an attitude that recalls the standard defense offered by Wall Street in the wake of some of its most recent and notorious crimes: Goldman Sachs excused its lying to clients, for example, by insisting that its customers are “sophisticated investors” who should expect to be lied to. “Last time I checked,” former Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack sneered after the same scandal, “we were in business to be profitable.”

Within the cult of Wall Street that forged Mitt Romney, making money justifies any behavior, no matter how venal. The look on Romney’s face when he refuses to apologize says it all: Hey, I’m trying to win an election. We’re all grown-ups here. After the Ampad deal, Romney expressed contempt for critics who lived in “fantasy land.” “This is the real world,” he said, “and in the real world there is nothing wrong with companies trying to compete, trying to stay alive, trying to make money.”

In the old days, making money required sharing the wealth: with assembly-line workers, with middle management, with schools and communities, with investors. Even the Gilded Age robber barons, despite their unapologetic efforts to keep workers from getting any rights at all, builtAmericain spite of themselves, erecting railroads and oil wells and telegraph wires. And from the time the monopolists were reined in with antitrust laws through the days when men like Mitt Romney’s dad exited center stage in our economy, the American social contract was pretty consistent: The rich got to stay rich, often filthy rich, but they paid taxes and a living wage and everyone else rose at least a little bit along with them.

But under Romney’s business model, leveraging other people’s debt means you can carve out big profits for yourself and leave everyone else holding the bag. Despite what Romney claims, the rate of return he provided for Bain’s investors over the years wasn’t all that great. Romney biographer and Wall Street Journal reporter Brett Arends, who analyzed Bain’s performance between 1984 and 1998, concludes that the firm’s returns were likely less than 30 percent per year, which happened to track more or less with the stock market’s average during that time. “That’s how much money you could have made by issuing company bonds and then spending the money picking stocks out of the paper at random,” Arends observes. So for all the destruction Romney wreaked onMiddle Americain the name of “trying to make money,” investors could have just plunked their money into traditional stocks and gotten pretty much the same returns.

The only ones who profited in a big way from all the job-killing debt that Romney leveraged were Mitt and his buddies at Bain, along with Wall Street firms like Goldman and Citigroup. Barry Ritholtz, author of Bailout Nation, says the criticisms of Bain about layoffs and meanness miss a more important point, which is that the firm’s profit-producing record is absurdly mediocre, especially when set against all the trouble and pain its business model causes. “Bain’s fundamental flaw, at least according to the math,” Ritholtz writes, “is that they took lots of risk, use immense leverage and charged enormous fees, for performance that was more or less the same as [stock] indexing.”

‘I’m not a Romney guy, because I’m not a Bain guy,” says Lenny Patnode, in an Irish pub in the factory town ofPittsfield,Massachusetts. “But I’m not an Obama guy, either. Just so you know.”

I feel bad even asking Patnode about Romney. Big and burly, with white hair and the thick forearms of a man who’s stocked a shelf or two in his lifetime, he seems to belong to an era before things like leveraged debt even existed. For 38 years, Patnode worked for a company called KB Toys inPittsfield. He was the longest-serving employee in the company’s history, opening some of the firm’s first mall stores, making some of its canniest product buys (“Tamagotchi pets,” he says, beaming, “and Tech-Decks, too”), traveling all over the world to help build an empire that at its peak included 1,300 stores. “There were times when I worked seven days a week, 16 hours a day,” he says. “I opened three stores in two months once.”

Then in 2000, right before Romney gave up his ownership stake in Bain Capital, the firm targeted KB Toys. The debacle that followed serves as a prime example of the conflict between the old model of American business, built from the ground up with sweat and industry know-how, and the new globalist model, the Romney model, which uses leverage as a weapon of high-speed conquest.

In a typical private-equity fragging, Bain put up a mere $18 million to acquire KB Toys and got big banks to finance the remaining $302 million it needed. Less than a year and a half after the purchase, Bain decided to give itself a gift known as a “dividend recapitalization.” The firm induced KB Toys to redeem $121 million in stock and take out more than $66 million in bank loans – $83 million of which went directly into the pockets of Bain’s owners and investors, including Romney. “The dividend recap is like borrowing someone else’s credit card to take out a cash advance, and then leaving them to pay it off,” says Heather Slavkin Corzo, who monitors private equity takeovers as the senior legal policy adviser for the AFL-CIO.

Bain ended up earning a return of at least 370 percent on the deal, while KB Toys fell into bankruptcy, saddled with millions in debt. KB’s former parent company, Big Lots, alleged in bankruptcy court that Bain’s “unjustified” return on the dividend recap was actually “900 percent in a mere 16 months.” Patnode, by contrast, was fired in December 2008, after almost four decades on the job. Like other employees, he didn’t get a single day’s severance.

I ask Slavkin Corzo what Bain’s justification was for the giant dividend recapitalization in the KB Toys acquisition. The question throws her, as though she’s surprised anyone would ask for a reason a company like Bain would loot a firm like KB Toys. “It wasn’t like, ‘Yay, we did a good job, we get a dividend,’” she says with a laugh. “It was like, ‘We can do this, so we will.’ ”

At the time of the KB Toys deal, Romney was a Bain investor and owner, making him a mere beneficiary of the raping and pillaging, rather than its direct organizer. Moreover, KB’s demise was hastened by a host of genuine market forces, including competition from video games and cellphones. But there’s absolutely no way to look at what Bain did at KB and see anything but a cash grab – one that followed the business model laid out by Romney. Rather than cutting costs and tightening belts, Bain added $300 million in debt to the firm’s bottom line while taking out more than $120 million in cash – an outright looting that creditors later described in a lawsuit as “breaking open the piggy bank.” What’s more, Bain smoothed the deal in typical fashion by giving huge bonuses to the company’s top managers as the firm headed toward bankruptcy. CEO Michael Glazer got an incredible $18.4 million, while CFO Robert Feldman received $4.8 million and senior VP Thomas Alfonsi took home $3.3 million.

And what did Bain bring to the table in return for its massive, outsize payout? KB Toys had built a small empire by targeting middle-class buyers with value-priced products. It succeeded mainly because the firm’s leaders had a great instinct for what they were making and selling. These were people who had been in the specialty toy business since 1922; collectively, they had millions of man-hours of knowledge about how the industry works and how toy customers behave. KB’s president in the Eighties, the late Saul Rubenstein, used to carry around a giant computer printout of the company’s inventory, and would fall asleep reading it on the weekends, the pages clasped to his chest. “He knew the name and number of all those toys,” his widow, Shirley, says proudly. “He loved toys.”

Bain’s experience in the toy industry, by contrast, was precisely bupkus. They didn’t know a damn thing about the business they had taken over – and they never cared to learn. The firm’s entire contribution was $18 million in cash and a huge mound of borrowed money that gave it the power to pull the levers. “The people who came in after – they were never toy people,” says Shirley Rubenstein. To make matters worse, former employees say, Bain deluged them with requests for paperwork and reports, forcing them to worry more about the whims of their new bosses than the demands of their customers. “We took our eye off the ball,” Patnode says. “And if you take your eye off the ball, you strike out.”

In the end, Bain never bothered to come up with a plan for how KB Toys could meet the 21st-century challenges of video games and cellphone gadgets that were the company’s ostensible downfall. And that’s where Romney’s self-touted reputation as a turnaround specialist is a myth. In the Bain model, the actual turnaround isn’t necessary. It’s just a cover story. It’s nice for the private equity firm if it happens, because it makes the acquired company more attractive for resale or an IPO. But it’s mostly irrelevant to the success of the takeover model, where huge cash returns are extracted whether the captured firm thrives or not.

“The thing about it is, nobody gets hurt,” says Patnode. “Except the people who worked here.”

Romney was a prime mover in the radical social and political transformation that was cooked up by Wall Street beginning in the 1980s. In fact, you can trace the whole history of the modern age of financialization just by following the highly specific corner of the economic universe inhabited by the leveraged buyout business, where Mitt Romney thrived. If you look at the number of leveraged buyouts dating back two or three decades, you see a clear pattern: Takeovers rose sharply with each of Wall Street’s great easy-money schemes, then plummeted just as sharply after each of those scams crashed and burned, leaving the rest of us with the bill.

In the Eighties, when Romney and Bain were cutting their teeth in the LBO business, the primary magic trick involved the junk bonds pioneered by convicted felon Mike Milken, which allowed firms like Bain to find easy financing for takeovers by using wildly overpriced distressed corporate bonds as collateral. Junk bonds gave the Gordon Gekkos of the world sudden primacy over old-school industrial titans like the Fords and the Rockefellers: For the first time, the ability to make deals became more valuable than the ability to make stuff, and the ability to instantly engineer billions in illusory financing trumped the comparatively slow process of making and selling products for gradual returns.

Romney was right in the middle of this radical change. In fact, according to The Boston Globe – whose in-depth reporting on Romney and Bain has spanned three decades – one of Romney’s first LBO deals, and one of his most profitable, involved Mike Milken himself. Bain put down $10 million in cash, got $300 million in financing from Milken and bought a pair of department-store chains, Bealls Brothers and Palais Royal. In what should by now be a familiar outcome, the two chains – which Bain merged into a single outfit called Stage Stores – filed for bankruptcy protection in 2000 under the weight of more than $444 million in debt. As always, Bain took no responsibility for the company’s demise. (If you search the public record, you will not find a single instance of Mitt Romney taking responsibility for a company’s failure.) Instead, Bain blamed Stage’s collapse on “operating problems” that took place three years after Bain cashed out, finishing with a $175 million return on its initial investment of $10 million.

But here’s the interesting twist: Romney made the Bealls-Palais deal just as the federal government was launching charges of massive manipulation and insider trading against Milken and his firm, Drexel Burnham Lambert. After what must have been a lengthy and agonizing period of moral soul-searching, however, Romney decided not to kill the deal, despite its shady financing. “We did not say, ‘Oh, my goodness, Drexel has been accused of something, not been found guilty,’ ” Romney told reporters years after the deal. “Should we basically stop the transaction and blow the whole thing up?”

In an even more incredible disregard for basic morality, Romney forged ahead with the deal even though Milken’s case was being heard by a federal district judge named Milton Pollack, whose wife,Moselle, happened to be the chairwoman of none other than Palais Royal. In short, one of Romney’s first takeover deals was financed by dirty money – and one of the corporate chiefs about to receive a big payout from Bain was married to the judge hearing the case. Although the SEC took no formal action, it issued a sharp criticism, complaining that Romney was allowing Milken’s money to have a possible influence over “the administration of justice.”

After Milken and his junk bond scheme crashed in the late Eighties, Romney and other takeover artists moved on to Wall Street’s next get-rich-quick scheme: the tech-Internet stock bubble. By 1997 and 1998, there were nearly $400 billion in leveraged buyouts a year, as easy money once again gave these financial piracy firms the ammunition they needed to raid companies like KB Toys. Firms like Bain even have a colorful pirate name for the pools of takeover money they raise in advance from pension funds, university endowments and other institutional investors. “They call it dry powder,” says Slavkin Corzo, the union adviser.

After the Internet bubble burst and private equity started cashing in on Wall Street’s mortgage scam, LBO deals ballooned to almost $900 billion in 2006. Once again, storied companies with long histories and deep regional ties were descended upon by Bain and other pirates, saddled with hundreds of millions in debt, forced to pay huge management fees and “dividend recapitalizations,” and ridden into bankruptcy amid waves of layoffs. Established firms like Del Monte, Hertz and Dollar General were all taken over in a “prairie fire of debt” – one even more destructive than the government borrowing that Romney is flogging on the campaign trial. When Hertz was conquered in 2005 by a trio of private equity firms, including the Carlyle Group, the interest payments on its debt soared by a monstrous 80 percent, forcing the company to eliminate a third of its 32,000 jobs.

In 2010, a year after the last round of Hertz layoffs, Carlyle teamed up with Bain to take $500 million out of another takeover target: the parent company of Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin-Robbins. Dunkin’ had to take out a $1.25 billion loan to pay a dividend to its new private equity owners. So think of this the next time you go to Dunkin’ Donuts for a cup of coffee: A small cup of joe costs about $1.69 in most outlets, which means that for years to come, Dunkin’ Donuts will have to sell about 2,011,834 small coffees every month – about $3.4 million – just to meet the interest payments on the loan it took out to pay Bain and Carlyle their little one-time dividend. And that doesn’t include the principal on the loan, or the additional millions in debt that Dunkin’ has to pay every year to get out from under the $2.4 billion in debt it’s now saddled with after having the privilege of being taken over – with borrowed money – by the firm that Romney built.

If you haven’t heard much about how takeover deals like Dunkin’ and KB Toys work, that’s because Mitt Romney and his private equity brethren don’t want you to. The new owners of American industry are the polar opposites of the Milton Hersheys and Andrew Carnegies who built this country, commercial titans who longed to leave visible legacies of their accomplishments, erecting hospitals and schools and libraries, sometimes leaving behind thriving towns that bore their names.

The men of the private equity generation want no such thing. “We try to hide religiously,” explained Steven Feinberg, the CEO of a takeover firm called Cerberus Capital Management that recently drove one of its targets into bankruptcy after saddling it with $2.3 billion in debt. “If anyone at Cerberus has his picture in the paper and a picture of his apartment, we will do more than fire that person,” Feinberg told shareholders in 2007. “We will kill him. The jail sentence will be worth it.”

Which brings us to another aspect of Romney’s business career that has largely been hidden from voters: His personal fortune would not have been possible without the direct assistance of theU.S.government. The taxpayer-funded subsidies that Romney has received go well beyond the humdrum, backdoor, welfare-sucking that all supposedly self-made free marketeers inevitably indulge in. Not that Romney hasn’t done just fine at milking the government when it suits his purposes, the most obvious instance being the incredible $1.5 billion in aid he siphoned out of the U.S. Treasury as head of the 2002 Winter Olympics inSaltLake– a sum greater than all federal spending for the previous sevenU.S.Olympic games combined. Romney, the supposed fiscal conservative, blew through an average of $625,000 in taxpayer money per athlete – an astounding increase of 5,582 percent over the $11,000 average at the 1984 games inLos Angeles. In 1993, right as he was preparing to run for the Senate, Romney also engineered a government deal worth at least $10 million for Bain’s consulting firm, when it was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. (See “The Federal Bailout That Saved Romney,” page 52.)

But the way Romney most directly owes his success to the government is through the structure of the tax code. The entire business of leveraged buyouts wouldn’t be possible without a provision in the federal code that allows companies like Bain to deduct the interest on the debt they use to acquire and loot their targets. This is the same universally beloved tax deduction you can use to write off your mortgage interest payments, so tampering with it is considered political suicide – it’s been called the “third rail of tax reform.” So the Romney who routinely rails against the national debt as some kind of child-killing “mortgage” is the same man who spent decades exploiting a tax deduction specifically designed for mortgage holders in order to bilk every dollar he could out of U.S. businesses before burning them to the ground.

Because minus that tax break, Romney’s debt-based takeovers would have been unsustainably expensive. Before Lynn Turner became chief accountant of the SEC, where he reviewed filings on takeover deals, he crunched the numbers on leveraged buyouts as an accountant at a Big Four auditing firm. “In the majority of these deals,” Turner says, “the tax deduction has a big enough impact on the bottom line that the takeover wouldn’t work without it.”

Thanks to the tax deduction, in other words, the government actually incentivizes the kind of leverage-based takeovers that Romney built his fortune on. Romney the businessman built his career on two things that Romney the candidate decries: massive debt and dumb federal giveaways. “I don’t know what Romney would be doing but for debt and its tax-advantaged position in the tax code,” says a prominent Wall Street lawyer, “but he wouldn’t be fabulously wealthy.”

Adding to the hypocrisy, the money that Romney personally pocketed on Bain’s takeover deals was usually taxed not as income, but either as capital gains or as “carried interest,” both of which are capped at a maximum rate of 15 percent. In addition, reporters have uncovered plenty of evidence that Romney takes full advantage of offshore tax havens: He has an interest in at least 12 Bain funds, worth a total of $30 million, that are based in the Cayman Islands; he has reportedly used a squirrelly tax shelter known as a “blocker corporation” that cheats taxpayers out of some $100 million a year; and his wife, Ann, had a Swiss bank account worth $3 million. As a private equity pirate, Romney pays less than half the tax rate of most American executives – less, even, than teachers, firefighters, cops and nurses. Asked about the fact that he paid a tax rate of only 13.9 percent on income of $21.7 million in 2010, Romney responded testily that the massive windfall he enjoys from exploiting the tax code is “entirely legal and fair.”

Essentially, Romney got rich in a business that couldn’t exist without a perverse tax break, and he got to keep double his earnings because of another loophole – a pair of bureaucratic accidents that have not only teamed up to threaten us with a Mitt Romney presidency but that make future Romneys far more likely. “Those two tax rules distort the economics of private equity investments, making them much more lucrative than they should be,” says Rebecca Wilkins, senior counsel at the Center for Tax Justice. “So we get more of that activity than the market would support on its own.”

Listen to Mitt Romney speak, and see if you can notice what’s missing. This is a man who grew up inMichigan, went to college inCalifornia, walked door to door through the streets of southernFranceas a missionary and was a governor ofMassachusetts, the home of perhaps the most instantly recognizable, heavily accented English this side ofEdinburgh. Yet not a trace of any of these places is detectable in Romney’s diction. None of the people in any of those places bled in and left a mark on the man.

Romney is a man from nowhere. In his post-regional attitude, he shares something with his campaign opponent, Barack Obama, whose background is a similarly jumbled pastiche of regionally nonspecific non-identity. But in the way he bounced around the world as a half-orphaned child, Obama was more like an involuntary passenger in the demographic revolution reshaping the planet than one of its leaders.

Romney, on the other hand, is a perfect representative of one side of the ominous cultural divide that will define the next generation, not just here inAmericabut all over the world. Forget about the Southern strategy, blue versus red, swing states and swing voters – all of those political cliches are quaint relics of a less threatening era that is now part of our past, or soon will be. The next conflict defining us all is much more unnerving.

That conflict will be between people who live somewhere, and people who live nowhere. It will be between people who consider themselves citizens of actual countries, to which they have patriotic allegiance, and people to whom nations are meaningless, who live in a stateless global archipelago of privilege – a collection of private schools, tax havens and gated residential communities with little or no connection to the outside world.

Mitt Romney isn’t blue or red. He’s an archipelago man. That’s a big reason that voters have been slow to warm up to him. From LBJ to Bill Clinton to George W. Bush to Sarah Palin, Americans like their politicians to sound like they’re from somewhere, to be human symbols of our love affair with small towns, the girl next door, the little pink houses of Mellencamp myth. Most of those mythical American towns grew up around factories – think chocolate bars from Hershey, baseball bats fromLouisville, cereals fromBattle Creek. Deep down, what scares voters in both parties the most is the thought that these unique and vital places are vanishing or eroding – overrun by immigrants or the forces of globalism or both, with giant Walmarts descending like spaceships to replace the corner grocer, the family barber and the local hardware store, and 1,000 cable channels replacing the school dance and the gossip at the local diner.

Obama ran on “change” in 2008, but Mitt Romney represents a far more real and seismic shift in the American landscape. Romney is the frontman and apostle of an economic revolution, in which transactions are manufactured instead of products, wealth is generated without accompanying prosperity, andCayman Islandspartnerships are lovingly erected and nurtured while American communities fall apart. The entire purpose of the business model that Romney helped pioneer is to move money into the archipelago from the places outside it, using massive amounts of taxpayer-subsidized debt to enrich a handful of billionaires. It’s a vision of society that’s crazy, vicious and almost unbelievably selfish, yet it’s running for president, and it has a chance of winning. Perhaps that change is coming whether we like it or not. Perhaps Mitt Romney is the best man to manage the transition. But it seems a little early to vote for that kind of wholesale surrender.

This story is from the September 13, 2012 issue of Rolling Stone.

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