fresh voices from the front lines of change







In a 1994 science-fiction novel called Interface, a Presidential candidate has an electronic chip in his brain that links his mind to real-time polling data. His words, deeds, even his thoughts are immediately responsive to the public mood. Mitt Romney seems a lot like that – except that Romney’s chip is connected to money.

That money’s Romney’s own, along with that of his contributors and his entire financial class. His economic arguments may be incomprehensible but his motives are easily understood. In the words of Snoop Dogg, “he’s got his mind on his money and his money on his mind.”

To know the man you must know his money. That means a new report listing his chief campaign contributors can also give us insight into Romney’s mind, and those of his powerful backers.


The Campaign for a Fair Settlement’s new report provides detail on some of Romney’s major financial supporters, individually and by industry, with an emphasis on banking. The list includes a number of financiers with extreme political views, many of whom have a history of non-productive and socially destructive investments. That’s not an accident.

The report’s Principal Author, Dan Petegorsky, focuses on the “bundlers” who corral and browbeat others into contributing to the campaign. Bundlers are motivated enough to contribute hard work, as well as lots of cash, to a campaign. (They’re also easier to identify; campaign laws and court rulings have made it much harder to identify Super PAC and other contributors.)

I provided some research support for this report. Sometimes that involved phone calls with Petegorsky, where he’d float a name and I’d laugh and say something like “Really? He’s the one who said ABC/was charged with XYZ/had a bacchanal at…

But while the anecdotes can be entertaining, their plans for the country are no laughing matter.


Who’s raising money for Mitt? There’s Daniel S. Loeb, the “Robespierre of the Hedge Fund Revolution.” Loeb compared himself and his coddled peers to exploited laborers at the thought of paying the same tax rates as everyone else, using the words of Thomas Jefferson: “”A wise and frugal government … shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned.”

International Wagerers of the World, unite! You have nothing to lose but your capital gains … What triggered this Joe Hill-like rhetoric? The thought of asking hedge fund managers to pay taxes under the same rules that apply to people like police officers, firefighters, or nurses.

Then there’s Steve Schwarzman, who raised the ante on Loeb by saying that eliminating the hedge fund managers’ loophole would be like “Hitler invading Poland.” Schwarzman co-founded the Blackstone firm with Peter G. “Pete” Peterson, the billionaire who has funded so much of the “deficit” hysteria and austerity hype that’s being embraced by both parties under the “Simpson Bowles” umbrella.

Barclays Bank, which illegally rigged LIBOR lending rates, is well-represented on the bundler list. (Its CEO, Bob Diamond, was scheduled to host a Romney fundraiser in London but was inconveniently forced to resign shortly before Romney’s arrival on that ill-fated visit.)

Goldman Sachs executives are Romney bundlers, as is John Paulson. While Paulson’s name is less well-known, he made a fortune betting against mortgage-backed securities. Goldman did too — especially because they let Paulson pick the securities they sold to their own customers in the ABACUS trade. They concealed Paulson’s involvement by fraudulently claiming someone else was selecting the securities, and then placed large bets against their own clients.

John Devanay’s on the list. Like Goldman, he sold securities he knew were junk. So’s my former employer, AIG. (I wasn’t in the financial products division.) And so are the accounting firms that were at the heart of so many of these scandals, and against whom there seems to be very strong prima facie grounds for charges. (We’ll never know, since the Justice Department chose not to pursue the investigation.)

These aren’t just Romney’s peers, and friends, and backers. They’re the same people who helped wrecked the economy in 2008 and then sneered at their own newly-jobless victims, as Romney did in that video: “I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” No wonder Romney promised to stop any attempt to police them when he pledged to overturn the tepid Dodd/Frank financial reform bill, giving them free reign to do it all again.

They say “money talks,” and that was the sound of its voice.


Romney’s key financial backers say they’re “makers” and most other Americans are “takers.” But they’re not “makers.” They’re “book-makers.” They encourage other people to gamble and keep a piece of the winnings for themselves.

They didn’t “build that.” They didn’t build anything. They got rich betting on “that,” often harming its employees and society as a whole in the process. (I wrote about how this has poisoned one of the most important parts of our economy – health – in “Sick Money.”)

“Makers” are people who actually build things and hire people. Sure, some have acted unethically. But the best of them raise the country’s overall wage base, while arguably improving our quality of life. Romney’s backers – the “bookmakers” – don’t have any particular interest in seeing these socially productive “makers” succeed. That’s one way to make money, but nowadays it’s hardly the easiest.

The bookmakers love to say that their critics are people who hate success. Not true: Their critics are people who want to rein in unproductive, socially harmful, predatory, and near-sociopathic forms of greed. Big difference.

The “bookie” agenda can be found, in more or less severe forms, in economic proposals with labels like “austerity,” “Simpson Bowles,” “deficit fix,” and “bipartisan.” But the Romney/Ryan/Republican economic platform ireflects that agenda in its most naked and shameless state.

The Agenda

The GOP has departed radically from the postwar economic consensus that led Eisenhower to build the national highway system and George W. Bush to invest a quarter of a trillion dollars in infrastructure. Why?

Makers need educated employees. Bookmakers don’t.

The “bookie” financier agenda guts funding for education, a mainstay of both parties for generations. Here’s their attitude: If one of our investments needs workers, outsource it and let India or China pay the cost of educating them.

Makers need roads and bridges. Bookmakers don’t.

Our roads are crumbling. Our bridges are falling down. But when you don’t make anything you don’t need raw materials brought to you, and you don’t need products shipped to market. You don’t even need public transportation so your employees can get to work – because ideally you won’t have any employees.

The Society of Civil Engineers says it will take $2.2 trillion to restore our crumbling infrastructure — money that would also create jobs. That boost would help everybody, including the Makers. Everybody, that is, except the Bookies. So we’re not spending the money, and under their agenda we never will. If they prevail, the results are estimated to include $3.1 trillion in lost economic growth, “Maker” businesses paying an added $430 billion in transportation costs, and household incomes falling by more than $7,000 annually.

The Bookies don’t care. They like their special tax breaks.

Makers need a market for their products. Bookmakers don’t.

One of the reasons both parties supported a thriving middle class is because that created a lot more people who could buy cars and televisions – and, later, computers and cell phones. But bookmakers don’t need a market for their products, because they don’t make anything.

Wall Street speculation and the job losses that can result doesn’t faze them. Neither do declining wages, growing wealth inequality, or lost social mobility. Those things may deprive the Makers of paying customers. But the Bookies can bet against the Makers as easily as they can bet in favor of them.

Makers need a planet which is hospitable to human life. Bookmakers don’t.

Ever wonder how people can care so little for the future of the planet? That’s easy: Climate change’s greatest devastation won’t begin for decades. Bookmakers only worry about the next quarterly report.

And as the air and water quality decline, they know they’ll be able to move to other, more hospitable climes.

Hedging Tomorrow

The novel Interface was co-authored by renowned sci-fi author Neal Stephenson. Unlike Cory Doctorow, I’m not sure it’s one of his best works. Literary questions aside, its premise is flawed: Today’s ultra-rich don’t want to get your opinions so they can tell politicians what to think. They intend to tell you what to think, and they may have the resources to do it.

But then, Neal Stephenson couldn’t have known that back in the pre-Citizens United days of 1994.

The Bookies have a message for the future – for the millions who will become refugees because of coastal flooding, for the growing ranks of the impoverished at home and abroad, for those who would have no hope of a better life in their agenda is enacted. The message is this:

“We’ll never convince you to take personal responsibility for your lives …”

That kind of talk, the kind of talk we heard on the Romney video, may be illogical and cruel. But they’re human, after all, and this kind of thinking anesthetizes their consciences so they can close the next deal. It even lets them shut out any thought of the world their own descendants will inherit.

Our children’s children’s children: What a bunch of takers.

Who are the powerful people Mitt Romney represents? They’re the Bookies. They build nothing, create nothing, contribute nothing. They gamble on the futures of others and don’t care who wins or loses. They’re radical, and they’re angry (See “The Radical Rich“). And, increasingly, they’re in control.

Grim forecasts don’t necessarily disturb them. They can hedge anything, even the future. And they’ll be dead and gone before the coming generations pay the greatest price of their success. In the meantime there’s good money to be made. You can even made a profit by betting against tomorrow.

It’s like they say: There’s a market for everything.

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