Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Romney Used To Set Ants On Fire; Now He Enjoys Firing People


I realize Willard didn't actually say he likes firing people, though I do think it just the least bit peculiar that when he said what he meant to say, the words that came out of his mouth included "I enjoy firing people who..." As I will explain in a moment, this is a really sensitive subject for me, and I do wonder about someone who would think to put those particular words together. Believe me, there have been people I would have like to see a lot more than fired, and Ken assures me that I spoke about it at the time in terms of murder; for me, firing people is too serious. And the real point for me is that Willard is someone who made a fortune by empowering a lot of people, who may or may not have enjoyed it, to fire a huge number of people. Let me explain why I'm so sensitive about this.

When I was building my own independent record company in San Francisco, I managed to subsist on $5,000 a year. It didn't feel like I was "poor" because I was lovin' life. I was helped along by food stamps for a time, and I was young and healthy and didn't have any worries about medical care. I ate simply, paid $75/month in rent and drove an ancient but easy-to-fix Ford Fairlane. The company had some success, or at least appeared to, and with one thing leading to another, I wound up as president of a division of Warner Bros. My old annual salary soon became by daily salary. It was difficult, even uncomfortable, for me to come to grips with that kind of money.

Many of my peers got into a kind of potlatch mentality-- burning up their accumulated wealth, not with elaborate totem poles, but through expensive drug use. Drug use had long ago disappeared from my life. I recall that one of the ways I rationalized the shocking influx of this kind of money was by telling myself that the burden of having to fire people was so horrifying that no one other than a psychopath would do it for less money. When the economy dipped, as it inevitably did from time to time, and profits for the corporation went down, even if from other, more profligate divisions, the corporate masters would send us a percentage of what needed to be trimmed off the bottom line. Sometimes they'd just send a body count-- the number or percentage of people who had to be fired. It was the worst part of my job. In fact, in the midst of one of these periodic bloodlettings I decided to retire.

Firing people for something that was unrelated to their job performance was inhumane and horrifyingly ugly. I was shocked the other day when Mitt Romney said he "enjoyed" it. Even the worst and most heartless executives I ever met didn't enjoy it. People would get drunk to get through it. Watching Romney glibly mention his "enjoyment" at firing people actually shocked me. And scared me. He's not just the guy who strapped Seamus to the top of his car; he's a full on sociopath who finds pleasure in firing people. David Atkins hit the nail on the head yesterday:
But watching the video clip is profoundly disturbing in a way that goes beyond just a thoughtless gaffe. James Fallows postulates that it's because he used the word "enjoy" in the context of the act of firing someone--an act that should in no way be enjoyable for the person on either end of the pink slip, if they have any empathy.

But not even that gets at the heart of what is so wrong with Romney's statement. It goes much deeper, to Romney's sense of privilege, and a relationship to the world around him that is alien to most Americans and reinforces everything that is wrong with the 1% in America.

The key part of what's off-putting about the gaffe isn't the first part about liking to fire people, so much as the second part about "who provide services to me." Liking to fire people is bad enough, but this is the real kicker.

When it comes to basic services like healthcare, almost no one in America sees the relationship that way. Most of us wouldn't speak of "firing" our health insurance company. No matter how much we might detest our insurance company, we probably wouldn't describe the experience of removing ourselves from their rolls an enjoyable one.

But most of all, we don't see the health insurance company as providing us a service. We see ourselves, rather, as indentured supplicants forced to pay exorbitant monthly rates for a basic need that responsible people with means can't get out of paying for if we can help it. We don't see ourselves as in control of the relationship with them. They are in control of us--and no more so than when we get sick and need the insurance most. If the company decides to restrict our coverage or tell us we have a pre-existing condition after all, we're in the position of begging a capricious and heartless corporation to cover costs we assumed we were entitled to based on a contractual obligation. It's precisely when we need insurance most that we're least able to "fire" the insurance company.

The same goes for the rent/mortgage, for the utilities, for the car, for the cell phone bill, for nearly everything. Most of these things are necessary commodities for most Americans. Many are socially expected, even if not technically necessary. They all have (usually far overpriced) unavoidable monthly charges and premiums that fall on overworked and underpaid Americans every month like a load of bricks. We see many of them increase by at least 5-20% year over year even as our wages stay flat. All we can do is struggle to keep up, trying to find the least bad service for the lowest price we can afford, but knowing we're getting gouged every step of the way.

Romney talks about paying for health insurance as if it were the same as getting a pedicure, hiring an escort or getting the fancy wax at a car wash. It's a luxury service being provided to him, and he doesn't like it, he can take his business elsewhere. Romney's is the language of a man who has never wanted for anything, never worried about where his next paycheck would come from, never worried about going bankrupt if he got sick.

It is the language of an entitled empowerment utterly alien to the experience of most Americans, who feel victimized and bled dry without recourse by these rentier corporations. Romney sees himself as in charge of the relationship between himself and these entities. Most Americans don't. That's why the statement rankles and feels so off-putting to us. The mention of enjoying the act of "firing" them is just icing on the cake.

I still get nightmares about having had to fire people who worked for me. I wonder if Mitt Romney gets wet dreams over it. Did he enjoy beating his children too? And by the way, Joan Walsh wrote this morning how on Sunday she "was sure Newt Gingrich’s slashing King of Bain ad, attacking Romney as a looter and a job destroyer for his Bain Capital record, would be devastating in a country where the economy is the top issue and unemployment remains high.
It was devastating, all right. To Gingrich. The former House speaker got a beatdown from fellow conservatives this week, with Rush Limbaugh mocking him as an Occupy Wall Street supporter and the National Review harrumphing at the notion that Gingrich targeted Romney’s Bain success because he “apparently expect(s) Republican voters to regard that as a liability.” By the time he made his “I’m tied for fourth place!” speech in New Hampshire Tuesday night, Gingrich looked broken. He abandoned his slashing attacks on Romney’s career and stuck to decrying the “years of decay” under President Obama, recounting his alleged successes as House speaker in the 90s, and rambling wearily about “innovation.” A few minutes later, over on Fox, a disapproving Sean Hannity smacked sixth-place loser Rick Perry for his attacks on Romney, and echoed Limbaugh’s sneering comparison with Occupy Wall Street ideology.

It’s an interesting moment. Multiple news organizations reported that even close allies are telling Gingrich to cut out the attacks on Romney, but he’s already purchased an estimated $1.5 million in South Carolina airtime for his “House of Bain” spots, plus a nasty ad claiming Romney had “governed pro-abortion” in Massachusetts. What’s Gingrich going to do? He hates Romney, but he loves predatory capitalism as much as Limbaugh does. He doesn’t believe his own Bain Capital attacks. Can he continue to hurt Romney without damaging his own chances to return to the right-wing gravy train when he goes down to defeat? Trust me, the monied interests are not interested in hiring anti-capitalist “historians” to not-lobby for them. Gingrich is torn between vengeance and greed. Sucks to be him. Fun to watch.

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At 9:25 PM, Anonymous me said...

Romney has made hundreds of millions of dollars firing people. So under those circumstances...

At 1:33 AM, Anonymous Dollared said...

Amen - As a hanger-on near the 1%, it is the sense of entitlement that is most galling.

But to change the subject, I really want to revive an old concept: the "skimmer." A Skimmer participates in society and maximizes their take while minimizing their give. The first time I heard about it was in old style transportation licensing, where somebody could run ten buses a day from NY to Boston, and lower the fare to the point where not only nobody else could compete, but then they couldn't afford to run a bus from NYC to Scranton (much less from Trenton to Princeton). Today, Skimming is the 1%'s national pastime. Bankers, cellular providers, Halliburton (HQ in Dubai), and yes, private equity assholes are Skimmers. They rig things so the benefits come to them and the losses go to others. But more importantly, they take control of the most profitable actions, and leave all the other necessary actions of our society unfunded. That is skimming. We should revive the term.

At 2:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So under those circumstances, still only a psychopath (or "me", obvioiusly a would-be happy leech)) would like it.

At 5:21 AM, Anonymous me said...

Hey Anon - you don't read this blog much, do you.

At 5:23 AM, Anonymous me said...

I think Dollared has a good idea. This "skimming" is republican ideology distilled. We need to call them out on it.

At 6:20 PM, Anonymous robert dagg murphy said...

Skimming is what health insurance (not health care which has nothing in common with health insurance) does. They rake off all health care costs to the maximum. Hopefully our new Affordable Health Care Act which now restricts profit and overhead to 20% and in some cases to 15% with larger companies will put a dent in this profiteering and maybe even force a single payer system since the big hauls will be gone. Practically all insurance is a skimming operation.


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