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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on January 10th, 2012
by Pincas Jawetz (pj@sustainabilitank.info)

TWO NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIALS of JANUARY 10, 2012:

—  The Corporate Candidates

The Republican presidential hopefuls with backgrounds in ordering layoffs and lobbying Congress can’t relate to struggling voters.

—  Violence Continues in Syria

The Arab League is failing to do all it can to encourage a peaceful solution. It needs to get tougher with President Bashar al-Assad.

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The Corporate Candidates

Published: January 9, 2012

The more Mitt Romney pretends to empathize with the millions of Americans who are struggling in this economy, the less he seems to understand their despair. And the rest of the Republican field seems to have no more insight into the concerns of most voters than he does.

Mr. Romney claims his background as a businessman provides him with an understanding of the economy and the ability to fix it. His opponents — particularly Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul and Rick Perry — say their political experience provides the same advantage. In truth, none have offered anything but tired or extremist economic prescriptions, providing little evidence that they can relate to those at the middle or bottom of the ladder.

The problem with Mr. Romney’s pitch is the kind of businessman he was: specifically, a buyer of flailing companies who squeezed out the inefficiencies (often known as employees) and then sold or merged them for a hefty profit. More than a fifth of them later went bankrupt, The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday. This kind of leveraged capitalism, which first caught fire in the 1980s, is one of the reasons for the growth in the income gap, tipping the wealth in the economy toward the people at the top.

Mr. Romney doesn’t like to talk about the precise nature of his business experience. Instead, he prefers to claim his occupation as a leveraged buyout king actually benefited ordinary workers, even casting himself as one of them. “I know what it’s like to worry whether you’re going to get fired,” Mr. Romney said, astonishingly, on Sunday. “There were a couple of times I wondered whether I was going to get a pink slip.” Mr. Romney, the son of privilege and power, has never known personal economic fear, and said laterthat he was referring to his early days at Bain Capital, the investment firm he would later run.

He has, however, been responsible for issuing many a pink slip while leading Bain. The firm bought Dade International, a medical supplier, and collected eight times its investment but laid off 1,700 workers, The New York Times has reportedReuters reportedlast week that a steel mill in Kansas City, Mo., was shuttered less than a decade after Bain bought it, and its 750 laid-off workers got no severance pay.

Mr. Romney dismisses these layoffs, and thousands more, as the cost of capitalism. He claims that, over all, Bain’s investments produced a net gain of 100,000 jobs. But his campaign and his former firm have refused to provide any documentation for that number, showing exactly how many people were laid off and how many hired as a result of Bain’s investments during his period there. The claim cannot be taken seriously until he does so.

Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Perry have sharply criticized Mr. Romney for his buyout work, but some of those attacks ring hollow. Mr. Gingrich himself was on an advisory board for Forstmann Little, another private equity firm with a business model similar to Bain’s. Mr. Perry simply seems opportunistic. He criticized Mr. Romney for ruthlessly practicing modern-day capitalism a day after he called Mr. Obama “a socialist.”

Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Santorum have avoided talking about their own financial histories, having become multimillionaires by peddling their influence to big corporations after leaving Congressional office. For voters worried about the economy, neither a past record of buyouts nor lobbying should inspire any confidence.


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Violence Continues in Syria

Published: January 9, 2012

The Arab League is failing the Syrian people. President Bashar al-Assad of Syria grudgingly agreed to the league’s peace plan last month, but his brutal 10-month crackdown against mostly peaceful protesters shows no signs of easing. To have any chance of stopping the bloodshed, the league — backed by the international community — needs to get tougher with the butcher in Damascus.

We always suspected that the manipulative Mr. Assad would pay only lip service to the plan. He promised to end the violence, withdraw troops from residential areas and talk to the opposition. He also agreed to allow the league to monitor progress. But Syrian activists say that in the two weeks since 100 or so monitors arrived, at least 400 more civilians have been killed, in addition to the 5,000 dead already counted by the United Nations.

Independent accounts are hard to come by because Syria also reneged on its promise to allow greater news media access. Still, the reports are credible enough to unnerve many Arabs; last week, the Arab Parliament, which advises the league, questioned whether the monitoring mission should be abandoned since Mr. Assad seemed clearly to be using it as cover for further repression.

Yet the Arab League’s official response has been pathetically weak. Meeting in Cairo on Sunday, Prime Minister Sheik Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr al-Thani of Qatar, the chairman of the league’s committee on Syria, and other officials did little more than plead with Mr. Assad to end the bloodshed and let the monitors operate freely.

This won’t work. The only meaningful course is for the Arab League to enforce theeconomic sanctions it approved in November. These include a freeze on Syrian government assets in Arab countries and a ban on transactions with Syria’s central bank.

In addition, Arab League members should insist that the United Nations Security Council — stymied for months by Mr. Assad’s enablers, Russia and China — condemn his behavior and impose tough sanctions of its own that would also bring pressure to bear on his allies. And they should lean on Turkey, which promised sanctions against Damascus, to follow through.

League officials have agreed to continue the monitoring mission (at least until they reassess later this month) and boost its size. There is also talk of United Nations-led training for monitors, who are very inexperienced.

In theory, these are good ideas. But they assume that Mr. Assad is not playing for time and playing the Arab League for a fool as he clearly is. People across the Arab world are horrified by the bloody events in Syria and fears of broader war. Their leaders and the major powers must do all they can to peacefully stop the violence.

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