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.… :)