Occupy the First Amendment?

So it seems the Occupy movement has gotten around to the courts. Specifically, the Supreme Court and the Citizen’s United decision.

At least some of the protesters are looking for a constitutional amendment to undo the Citizen’s United decision (I’m not sure why they would protest at the courts for that, but there it is). I doubt such an amendment is possible, but I am reasonably sure it is a bad idea.

I am no fan of the quantities of money that flow into politics. But I have to believe the answer is transparency. When an ad is on TV, or in the mailbox or wherever, the party paying for the ad should be prominently displayed. Complete information on where the money came from should be easily found on line. When an individual is the source of money, the individual’s  job/business needs to be identified.

Money does corrupt, but when the whole transaction is open to scrutiny, the voters can choose what corruption they want to vote for. Consumers can choose what businesses they do or do not want to patronize.

Maybe that would not work. But I would rather try it first before we start carving out exceptions to the First Amendment.

Hat tip: Ann Althouse

Keystone Pipeline

As part of the two-month extension of the payroll tax cut, GOP officials demanded an expedited decision on the project.

And Obama did the only thing he could do given that limitation.  He stopped the project.

Steve Benen at The Washington Monthly, at the end of his post on the subject, includes this claim that Obama’s decision was an act of courage:

Bill McKibben, 350.org founder and Keystone XL protest leader,issued a statement this afternoon, lauding President Obama. “[T]his isn’t just the right call, it’s the brave call,” McKibben said. “The knock on Barack Obama from many quarters has been that he’s too conciliatory. But here, in the face of a naked political threat from Big Oil to exact ‘huge political consequences,’ he’s stood up strong.”

Ann Althouse thinks the decision was pure politics:

 It wasn’t so much a question of whether he should make the right decision or do what would help him get re-elected. It was which way to decide would better help him get re-elected.

Althouse is probably closer to the truth.

I may be mistaken, but I detect a hint of snark in Althouse’s comment.  Since Obama has stopped trying to compromise with the Republicans and started being more confrontational, I have come across many complaints from the right about how Obama is now in “campaign” mode.

Of course they complain of it. Obama is very good at campaigning, too good from the GOP perspective. If they did not want him in campaign mode, they should have been more cooperative when he was in “governing” mode.

Also from Benen’s post:

I’d argue that this is the outcome Republicans wanted all along. The GOP didn’t really want the pipeline; they wanted the ability to whine about the absence of the pipeline. This wasn’t, in other words, about energy production; this was about creating an issue for the 2012 campaign.

I agree with that. But I think this backfires on the GOP (though in the end it won’t mean much either way). Obama now gets credit from the liberals for stopping the project and can persuasively argue to moderates that the GOP tied his hands.


Romney’s Bain, Part 3

There is an interesting tidbit in an article from The Boston Globe titled “The Making of Mitt Romney”. The article is not available free, but there is an excerpt at Mass Resistance.

Through Ampad, Bain bought several other office supply makers, borrowing heavily each time. By 1999, Ampad’s debt reached nearly $400 million, up from $11 million in 1993, according to government filings.

Sales grew, too – for a while. But by the late 1990s, foreign competition and increased buying power by superstores like Bain-funded Staples sliced Ampad’s revenues.

So, one of Bain’s investments contributed to the bankruptcy of another of Bain’s investments. For all I know, that was smart business, but it strikes me as kind of dumb. It constitutes a failure on the part of Bain to recognize that consequences of a trend that Bain helped put into motion.

I can imagine a conversation:

“We have created a situation where we can use our buying power to force manufacturers to sell us their products at lower prices.”

“Hey, this would be a great time to get into manufacturing those products!”



Romney’s Bain, Part 2

Any effort at looking at what Bain Capital did while Mitt Romney was in charge will turn up some info on the paper product plant in Marion, Indiana that Bain owned Ampad acquired in 1994.  I have not put a lot of effort into finding more details, so it may be this story is already on the internet somewhere.  Well, now it is here too.

Before typing this up, I had a chat with a friend of mine (no liberal, he!) who lives in Marion, reads the paper, and has always seemed to have his ear to the ground to verify my version of events is reasonably accurate.

I was living in Marion in 1994. I got the Marion Chronicle Tribune (no liberal, it!) every day and I read it.  Most of what I know is from what I read in that paper.

The local SCM plant was purchased by Ampad. According to this timeline, it was a year before  all the employees were let go.  They were then allowed to apply to get their jobs back. Almost all of them did apply and did get their jobs back. My friend remembers that the wage scale was cut 25% and all seniority was lost.

Some period of time passed by, I’m guessing a month or so (but maybe just a few days…). The company announced changes in the work rules. The employees grumbled but kept working. This happened a few times (three, four?). The last time, rules were instituted to restrict bathroom visits.

The workers finally went out on strike. They picketed the plant for a period of time (I think a couple of weeks, maybe a month). Then the company announced the plant was closing and moved the equipment out.  The jobs were gone.

I am perfectly willing to admit that sometimes companies closing plants is, in the long run, a good thing. It might not ever be for the local community, but it can be for the company’s overall health. These events are sometimes necessary evils.

But what Bain did in Marion was a bit above and beyond the call of duty. Even at the time, I felt it was obvious that the plant was purchased for the purpose of closing it. But someone thought “Instead of just closing this plant, let’s see what we can squeeze out of it first.” The employees were not just let go, they were abused to see what it would take for them to strike.

My memory is that the paper reported a “no comment” from Bain Capital on at least a few occasions. Maybe there is “another side to the story,” but Bain had no interest in telling that story.

Income Inequality is Not the Problem

Now Mitt Romney is getting a lot of criticism for saying that income inequality should be discussed in “quiet rooms” instead of in our public debates.   Mitt deserves this criticism.  It is absurd to say this does not belong in the public debate.

Apparently, the Obama re-election campaign is going to talk about income inequality a lot.  They may or may not be talking about it correctly.

Here is a chart I stole from TPM:


The chart shows that the problem is not income inequality.  The problem is income growth inequality.  From 1947 to 1979, all income groups saw roughly equal percentage growths in their incomes.  This still results in an increase in income inequality.  If you are making one million dollars, a 2.5% increase is $25,000.  If you are making $25,000, a 2.5% increase is only $625.  But that’s OK.

Income inequality, in and of itself, is not the problem.  In fact, it is an important feature of our economic system.   Incentive does matter.  Yes, many of the wealthy got that way by sheer luck or happenstance or accident of birth.  But I’m betting (willing to believe…willing to delude myself…too lazy to research it)  most of them achieved their wealth through hard work that contributed positively to the overall economy and that most of them did so because of the incentive of wealth (though I think many just were having fun and the wealth was simply bonus).

The problem is income growth inequality.  There is going to be a lot of discontent when the wealthiest continue to get even richer while the bulk of the population is treading water (especially relative to inflation) or getting poorer.

Note that the wealthy did better when everyone did better.



Romney’s Bain, Part 1

It seems like all the news is talking about what Romney did at Bain Capital and whether it was good for the economy or not.

I feel like I have a lot of different things to say about this, but if I try to put them all in one post, well, it would probably never get finished.

So to begin with, something simple.

Newt Gingrich has lately decided that what Mitt did at Bain was bad for the country.  This is particularly interesting given that just a few weeks before, Newt was taking credit for helping Romney get rich.

“I was part of (the late Rep.) Jack Kemp’s little cabal of supply-siders who, largely by helping convince (President Ronald) Reagan and then working with Reagan, profoundly changed the entire trajectory of the American economy in the nineteen-eighties,” Gingrich said. “You could make the argument that I helped Mitt Romney get rich because I helped pass the legislation.”

So there it is, Newt flip flopping about the master of flip flopping.

The Great Blizzard of 1978

One of my favorite internet stops is the Cubby-Blue blog by Tim Souers.  Tim is an excellent artist, a passionate Cubs fan, and a creative genius.  Three days ago he posted illustrated instructions for making Banoffee pie. Part of the process calls for whipping your own whipped cream.  This led to my posting the following story in the comments.


A long time ago…it was my first year out of Indiana U., living in married housing (my bride still being in school) and working as a supervisor in one of the dorm cafeterias.

The Great Blizzard of ’78 arrived. I walked to work through snow up to my armpits. Given the weather few (if any) other full time employees made it in. But the student workers were available. My job was to trim the menu to what the student workers could prepare without the help of full time staff.

The desert menu called for zebra pudding which is chocolate graham crackers lined up on edge with whipped cream in between and then cut on a diagonal. The whipped cream was made on site. I gave the student the go ahead to make it and a bit of instruction (not quite the blind leading the blind…a few gallons of whipping cream and a bunch of sugar in the floor mixer and whip til it peaks).

A few minutes later I returned to see how it was going. We shut the mixer off and checked if it peaked and it just about did and I said “another minute” and we turned it on and I turned around from that huge bowl full of white fluffy whipped cream to some paper on a clipboard on a stainless steel table and talked about something or other.

I turned back around and the bowl was no longer full of white fluffy whipped cream. No, it had collapsed and was now a smaller (but still large) quantity of butter.

No zebra pudding was served that day and the desert/pastry chef had less need of butter or sugar for a couple of weeks.

Sendak on Blake

I have never been a fan of Maurice Sendak.  I was eight when Where the Wild Things Are was published, but I do not think I ever heard of it or Sendak until I was in college.  I am not sure I have ever read any Sendak, but I know I have at least paged through Wild Things and looked at the pictures (the only way to read a book, right?).  The pictures never did anything for me. Clips from the movie do nothing to make me want to see it.

Over the past year, I have come to understand that Mr. Sendak, whatever his talents as a writer, is quite a character.  There is a wonderful interview with NPR’s Terry Gross on Fresh Air.

Now I notice this bit of video on YouTube in which he says something that makes me feel better about myself.  At just around the 1:54 mark, he discusses the poet William Blake.  He has a whole shelf devoted to Blake and has read a lot of and about Blake.  He loves Blake, especially as an illustrator (which makes sense).  But the part I love is

I don’t understand him. I still can’t read through one of his illuminated ma…I can’t. I don’t know what the hell he’s talking about.

I have tried reading Blake on many occasions, but I have never gotten very far.  I do not understand him.  It is good to know that it is not just me.

I have, as I have aged, begun to sense that much poetry does not yield understanding without repeated reading.  But who wants to read without understanding?  I suppose that is what the rhythm and language is for, to provide pleasure while waiting for understanding.  I just made that up, but I can’t believe that (having majored in English Lit) I have never been told it.

At some point I plan to read Blake again.  And I will read him aloud and will plow through even when I’m lost.

Maybe that plan should apply to reading Sendak…..

The Universe and You and I

It seems that all of my life I have read about people looking up into the night sky and feeling small.  I have never understood this.  There has never been a time in my life that looking upon the night sky did not make me feel large.  There is that immense space and I am part of it.  I can, at least, vaguely comprehend it.  Those moments are the most spiritual moments of my life.

There is a marvelous video of the physicist Neil deGrasse Tyson making a few remarks about the universe and our place in it.  He doesn’t say much I don’t already know, and a lot of it I have said myself.  He probably says it better (and with more authority!)

We are stardust. Life is nothing more than common chemicals “doing” chemistry. Life is inevitable and the universe is full of life scattered all around. This is not science fiction, it is simply the odds. You and I are a part of it.*

Happy New Year world!

*People who do not read this blog may or may not be part of it….  :)