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The Son-in-law Senator from Wisconsin

February 23rd, 2012 · No Comments · Capitalism, Economics, Media, Politics, Populism, Taxes, The Budget

The nice thing about “stupid” is that you don’t have to make anything up or manipulate anything or try to exaggerate anything…stupid is as stupid does. Rarely, however, do public men who are so stupid that you wonder how they can tie their shoes allow their stupidity to show up in the clear, bright glare of a Washington, D.C. congressional hearing afternoon.

Nonetheless, such was our good fortune recently. We were honored and entertained by the Junior Senator from Wisconsin as he—bravely–took on the powerful forces of….well, actually, no one apparently told him that U.S. Senators are right at the top of the pecking order in this country when it comes to raw power. He acted like some kid trying extra hard to persuade the coach that, despite the fact that he has never played the game, he deserves to be on the varsity.

Johnson is like Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin or Rick Perry. When he speaks you wait for the lines that you are going to pass on to your friends later. You listen because that is what all fans of good comedy and satire do instinctively. Stop and wait for the repeatable stuff…the really inanely funny stuff.

Of course, politics is not without pathos and a real sense of great loss. (This simpleton, thanks to the Supreme Court and a few billionaire buddies, fooled the same Wisconsin citizenry who elected Scott Walker and threw out a brilliant, solid, 24-karat gold statesman, Progressive Democratic Senator Russ Feingold.) So who is laughing…well, we’re smiling through gritted teeth and you’ll see why.

Here is a more accurate version of Johnson’s self-made-man biography than he presented in his campaign. He worked tirelessly around the clock to earn the enormous tuition at the local public university, the University of Minnesota, which at that time cost $990. Now, many people worked their way through college, some through private universities, some occasionally working from 4 in the afternoon to 7 a.,m. the next morning on the railroad. It was good money but much needed. Others, like Johnson, worked at Walgreen’s and went to public universities. But…$990? That merely covered books in some ivy-covered places.

Our future business genius likes to lecture people like Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke on what business is really like, (Unlike Johnson, Bernanke, actually did graduate from high school, got 1560 out of 1600 on his SATs, earned a scholarship to Harvard, before which he actually taught himself calculus. While at Harvard he earned a B.A, Summa Cum Laude in economics and then a Ph.D in economics from M.I.T. before becoming the head of the Economics Department at Princeton.)

But what about Senator Johnson? What kind of certificate did Senator Ron get? He got a marriage certificate. He married his college sweetheart, the daughter of the founder of Curwood, later a principal part of billion-dollar Bemis Corporation. ( Bemis was founded mid-19th Century as Bemis bag, wrapping potatoes and flour and other products in burlap and cotton bags.)

Ron’s father-in-law, a brilliant engineer by the name of Howard Curler, and his partner Robert Wood took polyurethane technology into the food wrapping business with clear plastic wrap for cheese and meats and made a fortune by eventually selling the company to Bemis. Curler later became CEO of the whole shebang, a $5.3 billion international corporation.

After college, Johnson was working for the college yearbook and college ring company, Jostens, an old line, traditional company in Minnesota that had long held the lion’s share of the college ring and yearbook market. People go to college; they buy a yearbook printed by Jostens; they graduate and buy a college ring from Jostens; Jostens has a deal with the colleges. Yes. You guessed it. Raw, on-the-cutting-edge business excitement.

So, after almost but not quite getting his MBA (?), he sought out the world of entrepreneurship. And he found his future in Wisconsin. The company’s name was PACUR, and they were new. According to his political biography, they agreed to start over just for him. You see, the company that Ron Johnson says he helped start was incorporated in 1977. Johnson joined them in 1979. He must have been one hell of a salesman to push his way into that company.

Well, not really. Like his father-in-law’s business, it was in the packaging field. In fact it was very much like his father-in-law’s business in that it had been founded by Pat Curler, the son of Howard Curler. The company was created to service just one customer: Curwood division of Bemis, the CEO of which…you guessed it was Pat Curler’s father.

How much of a partner Johnson was can be imagined from the name: PACUR. (For Pa(t) Cur(ler). Nonetheless, Johnson’s political bio tells the story of how he and his partner worked hard and he occasionally had to get out there and operate the packaging machines. He doesn’t say what happened to the products that he packaged when or if he ran the machines.

Johnson had gone to high school but didn’t get a degree. Somehow he was accepted to college and graduated. Then he went to grad school but didn’t get an MBA. Who knows why? The fact is that he knows some accounting and he supposedly did the accounting for PACUR…again we don’t know how the books came out at the end of the year.

Thirty or so years later, what would you do with a brother-in-law who had been deadwood for all those years? (If he had been. We don’t know that Johnson was. We just know from his statements and questions in the Senate that he is pretty dumb.) Why not let him get out once in a while…like to the U.S. Senate.

So one version—ours—is that the company finally got rid of him to get some work done. You can almost hear old man Curler telling his son: “Let him go out and be your own personal, paid, powerful lobbyist for lower taxes and easier rules for exporting things…like jobs…to China. Let him get in there and fight for lower wages, fewer entitlements, destruction of unions…all those things that great American corporations have come to stand for.”

And that is where we find our working class hero today.

And what has the Son-in-Law Senator done thus far? After using what looks like about a million bucks of his own money and three quarters of a million of outside money to outspend Senator Russ Feingold about 5-to-1, he won the Senate election in Wisconsin in 2010. Most people say that he bought the election. however it happened, the people of Wisconsin have replaced a brilliant man with a conniving dolt.

Now, by simply taking his comments and actions at random…we’ll prove it.

Number one…in 2010, he joined in with the “distinguished” hack economist and Right Wing Republican Douglass Hotz-Eakin to say that the Affordable Care Act, i.e., health care reform, will do two things. One…it will drive up costs. Two…it will lower the quality of care.

This article is the reason why dumbbells like Johnson should not be allowed to associate with crooks like Holtz-Eakin. And neither should be allowed to put anything into print.

The studies by the CBO say that health care costs will come down because of increased competition. We now spend 18% of GDP on health care. The OECD spends 6%…and in those countries, everyone is covered. In this country, not only have our health care costs been rising, but the quality of care has gone down, and 49 million people out of about 112 million working families have no health care at all except to visit an emergency room.

Health care quality in the United States right now is lower than that of 36 other countries, countries like: France, Italy, San Marino, Andorra, Malta, Singapore, Spain, Oman, Austria, Japan, Norway, Portugal, Monaco, Greece, Iceland, Luxembourg, Netherlands, United Kingdom, Ireland, Switzerland, Belgium, Columbia, Sweden, Cyprus, Germany, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Israel, Morocco, Canada, Finland, Australia, Chile, Denmark, Dominica and Costa Rica.

Johnson has no credibility as an authority on health care. His only claim to know anything about it is that he was involved with a company that had employees and those employees had health care. In his 30 years “in business” we never saw…not once…any startling or innovative proposals from Johnson to change one damned thing about the increased costs of health care or the decreased quality of care being given to his employees.

In fact, as you have seen in his bio, there is good reason to believe that he has only a very tenuous claim to even having business experience, even though he was in “business” as a rich man’s son-in-law for about 30 years.

You don’t see Pat Curler, his “partner” and brother-in-law running for Senate. Curler, or his brother Jeff, who ran or still runs Bemis, have real jobs in which they are really needed. Johnson, most people would assume, is the buffoon…or so he seems in the Senate…constantly prefacing every comment to people like Ben Bernanke or Doug Elmendorf…people who know every single detail about government and business…with the statement….”as a businessman” (like some Gilbert and Sullivan character) or….”and as a former accountant and businessman, I look for metrics…” Of course when he finds the metrics, he doesn’t know what they really mean or what to do with them.

Businessmen like, say, Jeffrey Immelt or Warren Buffett or Bill Gates or the late Steve Jobs don’t constantly remind everyone that they were “in business.” They are business. It is what they do. Business and finance. They don’t have to say it. People can tell as soon as they speak.

And we must point out that Douglass Holtz-Eakin is to economists what Johnson is to Senators. He was the head of the CBO when the CBO came out with a study that said clearly and very emphatically that tax cuts, like the two Bush tax cuts, which have now become $4 trillion of the $15 trillion national debt that the country owes, do not pay for themselves.

In other words, if you cut taxes by $1 trillion, that is how much you are need to borrow from the Chinese…you and me and everyone who now has to pay back the people we borrowed from to get those tax breaks. Holtz-Eakin and his GOP colleagues say that the increased economic activity will increase government revenues.

The independent, bi-partisan CBO study said that at best you might get back about ten percent of the $1 trillion…maybe…eventually. The simple record of the Bush Administration tells us that the two tax cuts did nothing to prevent either deficits or a burgeoning national debt that grew by $7 trillion under Bush…before the crash!

So if you think people are too hard on poor Holtz-Eakin remember this. He knows the truth…he’s an economist and he also appears to be a living, breathing human being with a couple of degrees in economics. But he lies. Why do people lie? Money. It is in his interest to lie because he works for millionaires and billionaires and because those tax breaks at the top were worth, to each millionaire—just those 4% cuts in taxes over ten years—at least $1.2 million in unpaid taxes. You can imagine now why the billionaire Koch brothers support “think tanks” that pay people like Holtz-Eakin huge annual fees to lie to the public.

Ron Johnson is like so many of those contrived “self-made-men” in the GOP. Unlike the Democratic Senator from New Jersey, Frank Lautenberg. He was the son of poor unskilled immigrant parents. He joined ADP payroll services as its first salesman, and basically from scratch worked his way up to Chairman while making it a global leader. He retired from business, joined the Senate in 1982, kept his mouth shut until he really understood government, then became a leader in the Senate, then retired from the Senate in 2001.

After a couple of years, Bob Torrecelli got into trouble and the New Jersey Democrats needed a candidate quickly and badly. Lautenberg agreed to return and joined the Senate again when he was 80. He’s now 88. That’s what you would call a “businessman” and a Senator. Not someone like Ron Johnson. The best you can say for him is that he is the son-in-law of a businessman. And he is certainly not the image of a Senator.

In the case of Senator Johnson’s attack on health care reform, his limited intelligence causes him to assume that the free market…once it is free…will not work. This, in fact, is one economic principle to have been proved repeatedly, not only over the decades of restricted free trade under the Republicans but actually worked for his father-in-law’s company, even though Johnson couldn’t see it right under his nose.

Howard Curler made a better mousetrap…actually a better way of wrapping meat. There were other chemical companies who made plastic. There were other wrapping companies who had customers who were in the supermarket business. He invented a process and made it work and it took Curwood into Bemis and made Bemis the huge $5.3 billion company it is. It was because of an open market opportunity that the company grew. Others could have, and some undoubtedly have, done the same…but it was freewheeling competition that drove the improvements…a need, a demand…that was filled.

We have a huge need for lower cost health care. One third of Americans are prospects. Right now, a handful of giant insurance companies have control of the health care industry. Under Obama, any health care company will be able to compete with others in exchanges—open competition. In those countries where non-profit private insurance (there are no “for-profit” private health care insurers elsewhere in the world.)

So the costs will drop as more and more companies enter the market, and those companies that Johnson and Holtz-Eakin are, frankly, trying to protect, will have to lower their prices, and therefore their exorbitant costs and salaries and bonuses…and probably about $500 million a year will be lost to the Republican campaign coffers.

Holz-Eakin understands how this works, but he is a disgraced economist, a paid shill for the Republican Party and for the Health Insurance Industry. Johnson simply doesn’t understand—because he has never had to negotiate contracts or bids.

There is virtually no businessman who would deny that the bidding process done well is the best way of driving down prices and at the same time insuring timeliness and quality of work. That’s how it works. It isn’t complicated. And that is why the rest of the world, even those with private insurers, have only one-third the health care costs that we do.

Here’s how Johnson’s mind works (or he is a liar…either way it’s no good.) He says that Medicare started out 50 years ago costing x and now it is x plus 200…example. Ice cream cones used to cost a nickel, now they cost a buck and a quarter. Big deal. The problem is not Medicare. It is the costs that Medicare is forced to pay because of inflated health insurance charges. Medicare rides along on private health care prices. Health care reform institutes competition and real competition brings prices down.

The cost of one day in many hospital emergency rooms leading to staying overnight is about $21,000. Why? That is why half of all personal bankruptcies are from people who fall ill or are injured but have no health insurance. And it is to reduce those costs over time, with all Americans sharing the costs to bring those prices down that the President fought for and won health reform.

Senator Johnson, though so new that he is probably unable to find his own office half the time, has decided to attack the President on his budget. He has a bar chart that Chairman Bernanke, Secretary of the Treasury Geithner and new OMB Chairman Jeff Zeints all, frankly, ridiculed. Johonson, however, seemed to use it as some kind of life raft, only allowing answers that would lead the witness to agree with the numbers on the chart, which were obviously wrong.

Senator Johnson claims that the government has expanded because while we normally use about 20% of GDP for the federal government, we now use 25%. Well, how much is 5% of GDP? Five percent of GDP (13 trillion dollars) is about $650 billion. Now where could Barack Obama have spent that extra 650 billion dollars? Could it have been on unemployment and welfare for 15 million people unemployed (350 billion dollars) and a loss of revenue of another 350 billion dollars from the taxes not paid by those unemployed?

Could that be where the missing 650 billion, (or more) the 5% switch from positive to negative came from? Yes, that would be it. And Johnson is simply manipulating figures like some high school student trying to make points that he could use with Wisconsin voters. But it didn’t work. He’s too incompetent.

The fact is that government is smaller than it was when President Obama took office just as many state and local governments are. Wages have been frozen. Austerity is coming in the form of an across-the-board cut of 4 trillion dollars as a result of the Congress’s failure to act. Why? Because the Republicans will not cut taxes on billionaires and would rather reduce Social Security benefits and Medicare benefits…as Senator Johnson accuses the President of avoiding. Of course he avoids it. First, let billionaires pay more than 14% in taxes, which is what like Mitt Romney pays. Let them pay the top rate of 35% without deductions…then the government would be way into a surplus.

You can say what you want, but you can’t take 500 billion dollars out of the GDP and then say that the higher percentage of government costs is because of more spending. Government stayed the same or shrank a little. The GDP fell below 13 trillion dollars by the amount that the percentage went up. It is not rocket science, but neither is it something that people like Bernanke, Geithner and Zeints are going to let Johnson harangue about.

But here is even more evidence that Johnson knows little about “business” and nothing about the business of running government. He is supposed to be a Tea Party member. Tea Party members say that they were not captives of the takeover by Americans for Prosperity or FreedomWorks, both of which are themselves funded by the billionaire Koch brothers. They say that they are concerned about costs of government. But are they? If they are, why are they Republicans?

When Ronal Reagan came into office, with inflation and stagnant employment and high interest rates, the U.S. Government had a slight deficit…in 1979, it was something like $80 billion. It was basically balanced if necessary with a few adjustments. And that was in a bad economy. By 1979, the cumulative national debt had grown to 900 billion dollars.

After Reagan came in, he cut the top income tax rate from 74% down to 50% and then to 28%. Within 8 years our national debt had ballooned to $2.14 trillion…in 8 short years it had grown 2-1/2 times what it had taken 250 years to build up. When George H.W. Bush came into office, he was faced with some deficits of $500 billion a year! He had to raise taxes, but even so, when he was finished with his term, the deficit was now $4 trillion.

Let’s stop right here. From $800 billion to $4 trillion and from annuals of $80 billion at worst to annuals of $500 billion! What happened? The economy didn’t triple or quadruple. We didn’t enter into World War III, (although Reagan did quadruple the defense budget) No. It was the tax cuts. We had been taking x amount to pay the bills and then suddenly we were taking x-minus several hundred billion dollars…with no change in spending.

We should have seen quickly that we were out of balance and put the taxes back where they were instead of making all kinds of excuses and playing with budget tricks as the Tea Party Right Wing Fascists do now…to try to confuse the issue. But Senator Johnson didn’t say…gosh these Republicans built up a 13 trillion dollar national debt. They came in blaming President Obama.

The Tea Party Republicans came in and sat with and voted with and cheered on the Republicans who had created the mess. Because they are Republicans and there is no difference. In fact, they are worse. They are the Neo-Fascists…they want big monopolistic corporations, they want to restrict your civil rights, your rights to health care, to the vote, to women’s rights and simply go make war on Iran. That is the Neo-Fascists alliance with the super-rich. They want to end Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Johnson stupidly calls this a “lawless” administration. It is “flaunting existing law” according to Johnson. Why does he say this? Because he supports the health insurance industry, he doesn’t like the law that says that church-sponsored hospitals who provide health insurance still have to offer birth control pills to people who want them. Johnson doesn’t like the law, and forgetting he is supposed to support laws, he simply calls the law “lawless.” In the same interview he maintains that “private companies should not be forced to offer products for free” which of course is even more ridiculous.

This is about contraception, which the Catholic Church is against. Of course hospitals and insurance companies are going to be made to continue to provide contraception to those who seek it when it is part of their health insurance. It has to be at least offered. That’s the new law. Johnson calls the administration a “lawless” administration and the President a poor leader.

We are not a Roman Catholic country. We are a country that is non-denominational and that is the way the laws are, and always have been, written. Women in overwhelming numbers want to be able to have birth control alternatives. Johnson does not want them to have birth control. And of course he is also against abortion. In other words he is the very definition of stupid.

In interviewing Treasury Secretary Geithner on the 2012 budget, he starts off by saying that it is the beginning of the fourth year of the President’s first term and he has not yet addressed the problems of Social Security or Medicare. Suddenly the Son-in-Law Senator is an expert on the problems that Congress has working on…without Republican help…for the last ten years and which these current Republicans only made worse by adding $10 trillion dollars to the national debt. They added $7 trillion during the Bush years before the crash and then they deliberately let Wall Street pull the rug out from under the economy which has caused another $3 trillion in deficits.

Secretary Geithner wasn’t having any of it. So he begins to explain what the Senator is talking about in budget terms. But Johnson won’t let him. He only wants a yes or no answer to the one question he asks, as if he is some kind of prosecutor–from which occupation he is about the furthest thing one can imagine. So he gets no answer. Now he is obviously angry because he can’t follow the plan and use the simplistic bar chart that his aides had set up for him to “trap” Geithner into an answer that they could use for political purposes.

Johnson kept trying to lock Secretary Geithner into saying that the President would not make a budget…”what’s your plan”…kept asking. Finally, Geithner said that they tried to hammer out a plan last March, then in the Summer, then the Fall…but nothing was resolved (because the GOP Senate is stonewalling) and so the President introduced his “budget” the 2012 spending and revenue estimates.

Of course the issue is budget cuts. The Republicans seem to feel that Americans don’t care if they cut Social Security and Medicare. Maybe their polling tells them that if they push austerity through SSI and Medicare benefit cuts, they will get reelected.

There will be 4 trillion dollars in budget cuts over the next ten years. That is what the law demands and that is what the Obama administration has put into the budget. But that didn’t fit Senator Johnson’s charts. Senator Johnson, the new Senator should be reminded that the arbitrary and difficult cuts being put into the budget are because the GOP would not agree to increase revenues on the richest Americans at the same time. So it is all falling on budget cuts.

So the “sequester,” the arbitrary cuts, go into effect. That is the “meat axe” approach that the Congress is forced to take because the Republicans have all pledged to Grover Norquist never to raise taxes again. They care more about a lobbyist for the rich than their own constituents.

So then Johnson tried to trick the Secretary into saying that the Administration does not cut spending because the long-term budget goes up by $1 trillion over the ten-year window of the long-term budget ($46 trillion was projected last year to $47 trillion…long term…this year.) But of course this bumpkin can’t make the point because Geithner immediately points out that a huge number of Americans are about to retire and get Social Security and Medicare, so there are many, many cuts made elsewhere to accommodate for that. And, he says, even with all that happening, we still only added $1 trillion onto $46 trillion.

Johnson then tries to manipulate numbers, by saying that this and that have no value. In other words, on only his authority and government budget expertise…which is less than zero…he determines that this part is irrelevant and that part is not right…and therefore…the cuts in the deficit only amount to $400 billion. Geithner doesn’t even bother to reply.

Senator Johnson has recently spent a good deal of his time attacking the President’s Budget. The most charitable thing that can be said for his comments and questions is that perhaps the GOP leadership has asked him to do it or made him do it. Either way, his commentary is childish at best and very unsuitable for any grown man, let alone an elected Senator.

The simple fact is that the Neo-Fascist Republicans are taking advantage of something that they know is a blue chip argument…that the President has increased spending. What they mean, if you pin them down, is that…because of the Bush Recession…total revenues are down and expenditures are up. So the Neo-Fascists can claim that President Obama is setting records for greater spending. But that is not wasteful spending. It is spending that the Neo-Fascists have created…unemployment leading to the need for welfare, Medicaid, food stamps, homeless shelters, unemployment insurance. This is what the President is spending on…because of the Bush Recession.

Secretary of the Treasury Geithner, having heard Johnson refer to the President as lacking leadership and having heard him continually misstate the figures in the budget…stating that the budget is being increased because it is bigger in 2021 than it is today, called his charts..adolescent.

Actually, the bar charts are childish, when Johnson admits that the budget was much smaller ten years ago than it is today and that the dollar value of expenditures increase. Johnson deliberately, for show-and-tell purposes, deliberately leaves out any factors that might influence changes in the budget. His whole “…answer yes or no” approach, his silly, immature “gotcha” game did not work with Geithner, Bernanke or Zeints…who, by the way, as an individual made more personal income than Son-in-law married into when he was half Johnson’s age.

The biggest factor in the budget is unemployment and on this the Republicans are basically blackmailing the President again. Because of recent failures of Republican Senates to approve pro-growth measures, we still have high unemployment numbers. Budgets are based on reality. The reality is that the Administration knows, and therefore must project in budgets, the fact that the Republicans will filibuster any attempts to create jobs for the millions of unemployed.

The Democrats do not have the ability to get on the national media and fight against a propaganda war that would be (and is being) waged by Fox Broadcasting, Fox News Channel, Fox Business Channel, theWall Street Journal, and by radio networks carrying 90% conservative talk-show hosts like Rush Limbaugh, Hugh Hewitt, Michael Savage, Laura Ingraham, Bill O’Reilly, Glenn Beck and others.

The fact that the Neo-Fascists have filibustered 200 bills in the Senate, a large number of which were job creating bills is lost because the Right Wing media will not report it. Instead they blame the President. These people, remember, work for big corporations who work for the billionaire owners of their potential advertisers. They will not rock the boat if it means…and it does…big losses of advertising revenues.

While questioning Chairman Bernanke, Johonson said “at some point Socialism and Communism is a number and that number is the size of its (the debt apparently) relationship to the economy.” From that comment you can understand Johnson’s simplistic mind-set. He is stuck in previous decades, which means that he is not current on world issues and that clearly indicates he is what many people thought he was.

Johnson is intellectually lazy, has no depth of information and does not try to acquire it, cares little about the current issues that the people face and that affect this country. He considers a government helping its people with welfare and unemployment, while he, a very rich man because of his marriage calls that “at some point Socialism and Communism.” Welfare, when thrown out of work for two years, is not Socialism. Nor is it Communism. Only a person like Senator Johnson, defending the super-rich and their tax cuts would say so.

So we see some of Johnson’s underlying problem. He is clearly mentally weak and intellectually and morally lazy. He probably had too much time on his hands at PACUR, which is probably why the family kicked him out and made him run for the Senate. His thought processes aren’t too clear…Socialism and Communism have nothing to do with the size of a national debt. Brazil is not Communist, nor is Spain, nor any of the other Western European countries…or Japan.

His foolish attempt at publicity, using sophomoric bar charts and rattling off miss-stated numbers like an ill-prepared high school debater only shows that he is a one-trick pony and that the one trick wasn’t very good in the first place.

Senator Ron Johnson, while he may be a disgrace to the good name of Wisconsin politics, is not alone as one of the least efficient and most wasteful Senators of Congressional time in history.

There are many more in this new, Neo-Fascist Republican Tea Party group. They signed on to help the Koch brothers and the Adelsons and the Friesses and the EXXON/MOBILs and the BPs of the world hold on to their riches while oppressing the average American citizen.

Thanks to the voters who put them in, we must now wait six years to get rid of them. That could well be a disaster for this country.

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