Monday, October 31, 2011

October 31, 2011--In Transit

We needed to leave Maine a few days earlier than planned because of the approaching October blizzard. Of course, we drove into the heart of it and got stranded in central Connecticut. Fortunately we found a room in a Holiday Inn in Waterbury--the last room--and some passable but welcome food for dinner.

It then took us most of yesterday to get from there to New York City. Like others on the road, we needed to dodge downed trees--there were thousands--and power lines. But we are safe in the city though we are concerned about those in much worse shape. Power in many areas will not be restored for at least a week.

The record snowfall in Connecticut for the entire month of October had been 1 1/2 inch. On Saturday-Sunday where we were there was at least 14 inches on snow.

I am a bit out of gas and will return to my more usual form of blogging on Tuesday.

Friday, October 28, 2011

October 28, 2011--Tracking

While friends here are out in the woods tracking moose and deer--the hunting season is in full sway--I've been doing some tracking of my own: for under-cabinet lights.

We need to bring more light to the work area in the kitchen and I spotted some xenon-strip lighting that would be ideal. I searched on the Internet and came up with a highly-rated type and a supplier in California that offered the best price. Including no tax and free shipping. So I placed an order and in an instant, via email, learned it would arrive within 5 to 10 business days.

A day later, I was given a UPS tracking number and a way to trace it's progress from Baldwin Park, California to New Harbor, Maine.

Over the next few days I followed the progress of the package. Reading from the bottom up, day-by-day, from October 10th through the 17th, here's what I watched with growing anticipation:

New Harbor, ME 10/17/2011 6:01 A.M. Out For Delivery
Rockland, ME, 10/16/2011 11:23 P.M. Arrival Scan
Chelmsford, MA, 10/16/2011 6:45 P.M. Departure Scan
Chelmsford, MA 10/16/2011 11:33 A.M. Arrival Scan
Baldwin Park, CA, 10/11/2011 1:43 A.M. Departure Scan
Baldwin Park, CA, 10/10/2011 7:24 P.M. Origin Scan

While the lights were on-route, we decided to go with different ones and I called the company to let them know; and they, without attitude, said, just refuse them and the UPS driver will return them to us. And added, via the same tracking number you will be able to follow their return to California. Over the next 5 days, here is what I saw unfold--the package wending its way from:

Rockland, ME to
Chelmsford, MA to
Shrewsbury, MA to
New Station, PA to
Columbus, OH to
Maumee, OH to
Hodgkins, IN to
Vernon, Ca and finally to
Baldwin Park, CA

This may not be like hunting for big game, but tracking it still is, this time from the comfort of home where things are dry and sort-of warm.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

October 27, 2011--Midcoast: Lobster Fra Diavolo Concluded

“We’ll only here a couple more weeks,” Rona said to the lobsterman, “But if you’re still open maybe we’ll come back for some more. We, I mean he, want to make one last seafood stew. You don’t have any clams and mussels I suppose?”

He shook his head. "Just bugs. I mean lobsters. But we'll still be here. We're open all year." And then acknowledging me, still half behind Rona, as we turned to leave, he said with a wink, “I hope that fra diavolo of yours turns out OK. Maybe as good as my wife’s.”

“I’ll settle for OK,” I said, also with a wink, which, because of my obscured vantage point, he couldn’t possibly see.

I headed quickly to the car, Rona trailing with the bag of lobsters held carefully away from her body as if they were an offering. One cannot be too careful when it comes to transporting extra-lively lobsters, I thought. I was eager now to get them home and deal with whatever was in store for us.

When there I offered, “Can I do anything to help with the steaming?” I was still not convinced that Rona was up to the challenge.

But she shot me a look as if to say, “Back off. You’re in my space. Don’t crowd me. It’s hunting and gathering time in Midcoast Maine.”

And so I backed off but not before retrieving the largest pot we have from the cabinet and filling it with about two inches of water. Rona in the meantime was at the computer and, I assumed, googling “steaming lobsters.” Peering at the screen I could hear her saying to herself, “It looks as if you steam them based on their weight. For pound-and-a-halfers I think 14 to 15 minutes should work. Maybe 14 since they’ll get cooked more when we add them to the far diavolo sauce.” I stood in the living room nodding, attempting to send subliminal instructions.

She got up to turn on the stove top and then, checking the water I had put in the pot, glanced in my direction as she took it from the stove to the sink and proceeded to pour out half the water, muttering, “I’m not boiling them; I’m steaming them. No need to drown them.” I looked down at my feet.

I overheard her talking to herself, “It says to plunge them into boiling water head first. She next retrieved the bag of lobsters from the refrigerator. “It’s the most humane way to do it, they say,” and dropped the bag into the sink. From the lobsters struggling within it, the bag, as if alive itself, expanded and contracted and slid back and forth in the sink.

“I need to get the rubber bands off their claws. It says that if you don’t, in the steaming, some of the taste from the rubber can permeate the meat and . . ..”

I couldn’t contain myself, “Sorry to be interfering,” It was clear from Rona’s reaction that I was, “but if you do that won’t you be putting yourself at risk when you try to get them in the pot. The pot we have isn’t that big and . . .”

“And, nothing! I’m not putting myself at risk. Please. I’m just steaming a couple of lobsters and I won’t be trying to put them in the pot, I will be putting them in the pot. So, as I said, back off. I need to do this on my own.”

I got the point and retreated into the living room, but not that far that I couldn’t observe or overhear since she continued to talk to herself. Actually, now more to the lobsters than herself.

“I’m only taking off the rubber bands. Hold still for a moment.” She had emptied them into the sink. I could hear the sounds of their crusher and pincher claws and carapaces as they scratched around in the aluminum basin.

“There, isn’t that better? I know what I have to do and you know that too.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “You knew this was the deal. It’s cruel I admit. But it’s a part of nature. We’re all a part of nature and in one way or other all of our times will one day come.”

The water by then was boiling and I could see the steam rising from the pot. I was nervous and could only imagine what Rona was feeling. On the other hand, I checked myself—“What’s the matter with me? What’s the big deal? As Rona was saying earlier—isn’t it time to stop pretending that our food comes to us bloodlessly with the killing part kept at enough of a distance so that we can deny the reality of what’s involved?”

I looked across to the kitchen and saw that Rona had retrieved one of the lobsters from the sink. Holding it in the air for the last time it squirmed in her hand, violently snapping its claws in impotent frustration. Rona appeared to be rock solid in her resolve. With her other hand she reached to remove the lid.

“Do you want any help with that?” I called over to her. She didn’t even bother to look my way. “I can . . .”

Before I could utter another word, I watched as she plunged the first lobster head first into the steam bath. “I read,” she again said to him, “that it,” I knew what the it was, “that it won’t hurt. Maybe,” she corrected herself, acknowledging the truth, “not for more than a second or two.”

And then she averted her eyes as she submerged it and quickly closed the lid. I watched as she stood by the stove, I assumed waiting to see if it in fact was quick and painless. Satisfied, she reached back to the sink for the second one; but just as she was about to do with it what she had done to its brother, she hesitated and leaned closer to the bubbling pot.

“What am I hearing?” I heard her ask, “It’s now at least 15 seconds since I put you in there so why I am hearing sounds from the pot?”

“Maybe,” I ventured to say, “the agitation of the water and steam is moving him around so that it’s bumping into the inside of the pot. I’m sure it’s . . .”

Without turning toward me, Rona said, again more to the lobster than to me, “The sounds I’m hearing are from you, not the boiling water or steam. You’re either still alive or, since that can’t be, as I read, there can be spasms. After you pass. I mean, are killed.”

Using the k-word, having crossed that line, she turned her attention back to the second homarus, which followed its cousin, this time quite professionally, into the bubbling cauldron.

Rona set the timer to 14 minutes and began to pace about the kitchen, always with her eyes on the pot, humming something inaudible.

I started to think again about the diavolo sauce. We had stopped to pick up a pound of the last of the locally-grown tomatoes and I had some fresh clam juice to add the to mix. And of course just the right mix of peppers to make sure the fra was very diavolo. If those lobsters of Rona’s are steamed just right, I thought, we had the makings of a splendid meal.

Lost in my recipe reverie, it seemed as if the 14 minutes evaporated. I heard Rona say, “OK guys, it’s time to get you out of there.” She had our big tongs in hand and extracted them from the steam bath one by one, both glowing a dark red. Just as they look at the nearby restaurants that make them their specialty.

“You can come back,” Rona called out to me. “I’ll let them cool for a few minutes then get the meat out of the shells. If I do say so myself, they look just right.” She was smiling ear-to-ear I suspected as much for what she felt she had accomplished—and for a Brooklyn girl indeed had—as for how well they seemed to have turned out.

We had a splendid dinner. The lobsters were perfectly steamed and picked and my sauce I felt certain compared favorably with the lobsterman’s wife’s.

Over our second glass of pinot noir, Rona looked across at me—obviously feeling very good about herself—and said, “I’m ready to go back to New York now. And when we return in the spring let’s be sure to steam all our own lobsters.”

“For sure, “I said.” Then added, “Maybe while we’re in the city we’ll go down to Chinatown for some shrimp with lobster sauce. It’s still one of my favorites.”

Rona continued to smile as she sopped up the last of the diavolo sauce with the final bits of lobster meat.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

October 26, 2011--Midcoast: Lobster Fra Diavolo

Thinking about Maine is to think about lobster. The best book about the state and its remarkable and diverse history is Colin Woodard’s Lobster Coast. The Homarus Americanus is even featured on Maine license plates. As is the potato in Idaho’s and the orange in Florida. This tells you a lot about all three places.

We have been indulging in lobsters, overindulging, even though they are forbidden to Semitic people. If you are curious about what else is, check Leviticus 11:1-47. All shellfish such as shrimp and clams and mussels, crab and scallops are verboten. But for us, it’s half the reason to have a house here since these are delicious and all are indigenous to Maine. Still, they are unkosher. In my old Brooklyn neighborhood they would disdainfully be labeled traif.

On the other hand, in my old neighborhood there would be a Chinese restaurant on almost every block. This is true for all non-orthodox Jewish neighborhoods. The reason—where better than a Chinese restaurant to indulge in all kinds of traif? Spare ribs, roast pork, and best of all, shrimp with lobster sauce. Traif-on-traif. Jews, like everyone else, like occasionally to do a little transgressing.

Thus, Maine for us is traif heaven. One doesn’t have to go very far to find delectable lobster rolls, steamed lobster, lobster boiled by the bays and rivers, and stuffed lobster. Stuffed, by the way, invariably with shrimp and crabmeat. Traif-on-traif-on-traif.

And in our kitchen, one can frequently find lobster in our fish stew and, as two nights ago, lobster fra diavolo.

I must confess that when we make our own lobster rolls or fra diavolo style, we go to one of the local lobster pounds and buy already steamed lobsters. In effect, since they are steamed (or boiled) while still alive, we leave the killing to others. Just as we do for chicken and beef. But for chicken or beef the slaughtering happens well out of view. Supermarket steaks come already dressed and packaged in Saran. It is all very abstract—the reality of the fate that has befallen the steer or hen.

But for homard, even if you have them steamed to order, before they are lowered into the cauldron, you either have participated in selecting them and/or watched them being plunged, kicking if not screaming, into the bubbling vat. Not the most affecting of experiences, even for a non-PETA person.

Still rationalizations come easily—nature is cruel, we are a part of nature, and it is in our nature to eat vegetables, meat, and all varieties of seafood. All of which have to be harvested or, there is no other way to put this, killed. And so we think more about what to do with the lobster than what is being done to it.

The other day there was a problem: we planned to make fra diavolo for dinner, but all the local places which through the summer we had depended upon to do the steaming were shut down for the season. There were a couple of fishermen coops where live lobster were still available, but the boiling fires had been dampened and we were left with having to come up with an alternative dinner menu.

“But wait,” Rona said while I began to suggest that maybe we could grill some pork chops, “Why not buy two lobsters and . . .”

“And what? Kill them, I mean steam them ourselves?”

“Why not? We are beginning to consider ourselves at least half-time Mainers. We heat the house with a fireplace and propane stove, we do more and more of our own house maintenance chores, we work our own garden, we . . .”

“You mean to tell me,” I interrupted her list making, “that you are willing to let me steam our own lobsters? I thought you weren’t comfortable with that.”

“I’m not. I thought . . .”

“You see what I mean? You’re not comfortable with this.”

“Let me finish. I’m not against our doing our own steaming but I am against asking you to do it.”

“You mean . . . ?”

“Yes. I mean I want to do it. Not you.”

I think my mouth must have dropped open. When we had an infestation of houseflies Rona absented herself as I raced about swatting them by the score. When a cricket invaded our house she said she didn’t want it killed. That crickets bring good luck to a house. (Though she did a quick reversal when one cricket became a dozen. That much good luck we didn’t need and so the swatting commenced.) And she cringes when local friends who hunt talk about eating what they kill. So I thought . . .

Before I could complete that thought she had directed me to the Pemaquid Coop, the oldest in Maine, established right after the Second World War by returning veterans, a place that looks as if it has not undergone any form of change or fixing up since the 1940s. In other words—very authentic, very atmospheric to the eye of half-time Mainers.

The place felt deserted. “All the fishermen must be out in the bay” I ventured, “Pulling traps. Maybe we should just forget the whole thing. We have boneless pork chops in the frig,” more traif, “and we can get some nice . . .”

“Let’s see if we can find someone,” Rona snapped as determined as I ever remember her.

And wouldn’t you know it, before I could come up with another suggestion for dinner—maybe defrost that chicken pot pie we’ve been meaning to have—a grizzled lobsterman in knee-high rubber boots shuffled out of the shed.

“How can I help you folks?” he asked smiling. “Sure beautiful out this afternoon.” He let his eyes sweep across the harbor.

Stepping in front of me, Rona said, “It sure is a nice time of year.” He continued to smile as if proud of his waterfront. “We’re hoping you have some fresh lobsters. We could use a couple of pound-and-a-quarter-pound-and-a-half hardshells? We’re making fra diavolo this evening.”

“I think I can accommodate that. My wife prepares that too. Do you make your own tomato sauce? That’s the right way. You can still get some local tomatoes. Reilly’s has them. I got some there yesterday after I got done here.”

“You’ll have to ask him about the sauce,” Rona said. He’s the cook,” she gestured back over her shoulder in my direction. “I do the buyin’ and some of the prep work; he does the cookin’. Though tonight I’m gonna be steamin’ the lobsters.”

“You sure we can’t get any already . . .” I squeaked.

Rona cut me off again. I was sure she was smirking. Ignoring me she asked, “Can I help pick ‘em out? I like the liveliest ones. A friend here told me—a local person—that they’re the freshest and tastiest.”

“All the ones I have were brought in just a few hours ago. Though the price is hurtin’ us again. We were doing OK through the summer but right now I’m worried about how we’re going to get through the winter.”

“Any reason for that?” Rona asked, “With gasoline prices a little lower I woulda thought you guys would be doin’ at least as well.” I noticed that Rona was being careful to drop her g’s.

“Some of it’s supply and demand. The economy’s still lousy and folks must already be cutting back in anticipation of the holidays. If the choice is a lobster dinner in a fancy restaurant or Christmas gifts for the kids, that’s an easy one. Though not an easy one for us. We have kids too. But you folks are still on holiday. You don't need to . . ."

“We sort of live here too,” I said, still half-hidden behind Rona who moved to her left in an attempt to obscure me further. Again, I decided not to finish my thought.

“So come on down here to the dock with me,” he beckoned to Rona, “That’s where I got the hardshells stashed. We don’t have to talk about my problems. Your husband there I can see is eager to be getting to his fra diavolo.”

“Not until I do my thing,” Rona muttered to herself.

Down on the floating dock—I remained up by the shed—Rona leaned over the edge so she could get a better look into the container that held the lobsters while the lobstermen peered at the tangle of clearly lively hardshells. I could see them thrashing about even from a distance.

“How do these two look to you?” I could hear him ask, holding two struggling lobsters aloft. Rona moved closer to get a better look at them. I could see her smile and nod her approval. He had a paper bag and somehow managed to get them both stuffed into it. It was a good thing, I thought, that they had two sets of rubber bands around their claws. I would have been impossible to bag them otherwise.

Back in the shed he weighed them—exactly three pounds. “That’ll be eighteen even,” he said. Rona fished in her wallet for a twenty. “See what I mean about the prices? Two months ago these here would have set you back about 25 bucks.” With resignation he shrugged his shoulders.

“We’ll only here a couple more weeks,” Rona said, "But if you’re still open maybe we’ll come back for some more. We, I mean he, want to make one last seafood stew. You don’t have any clams and mussels I suppose?”

He shook his head. "Just bugs. I mean lobsters. But we'll still be here. We're open all year." And then acknowledging me, still half behind Rona, as we turned to leave, he said with a wink, “I hope that fra diavolo of yours turns out OK.”

To be concluded tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

October 25, 2011--Herding Cats

I admit to being euphoric when it looked as if the Occupy Wall Street "movement" might turn into an actual movement much as the early teabaggers skillfully morphed into the Tea Party. I was hoping that they would form a progressive version, say, the 99 Percent Party, that would push the Democrats to the left.

Yes, there were the tea-crazies in hats festooned with tea bags and decked out in revolutionary garb. And obscenely there were those who represented Obama with a Hitler mustache. But in spite of the liberal media attempting to portray them mockingly as illiterate extremists who would disappear in a few weeks they got their act together, formed a political party--one that in effect took the Republican Party hostage--and had a great deal of success at the polls. In the last congressional election they helped the Republicans storm back into power, electing 80 freshman GOP members to the House and four or five to the Senate.

Moderates such as John McCain and now Orin Hatch cravenly disavowed their own personal histories so they could sell themselves to the Republican-Tea Party base as one of their own. Recall McCain and Hatch spent their careers in the Senate making deals with Ted Kennedy. You would never know that from what they are saying these days about immigration, education, and health care.

What the tea-folks had going for them after their initial success at shouting down Democratic congressmen at their back-home town meetings was a well financed campaign to turn their initially inchoate anger into a well disciplined movement. With the lifting capacity of Fox News' propaganda efforts, the ultra right wing billionaire Koch brothers underwrote Dick Armey and others to create a political party with a simple, chantable agenda that calls for--

A balanced federal budget
Dramatic cuts in government at all levels
A simplified tax system
Reduced taxes
The repeal of "Obamacare"
The end of regulations on the environment and business

All of this, in fact, could be reduced to one slogan--Get Government Off Our Backs.

They Occupy folks, on the other hand, though they have been at it for more than a month, have not coalesced around an agenda. Any agenda. Even one that would not be as simple as the Tea Party's.

If you read the signs they are carrying, if you follow interviews with participants, if you keep track of organized groups who have attempted to join them, and perhaps want to co-opt them, what they are calling for is all over the map.

For as many who are demanding a redistribution of wealth from the top 1 percent to the bottom 99, there are participants who are agitating for the legalization of medical marijuana. For those recent college grads who are there to make it known that there are few jobs for them, there are others pushing for an expansion of animal rights. To match those calling for holding Wall Street criminally responsible for the economic collapse there are some marching in support of more government support for housing for the poor.

A reason why the Tea Party has been so successfully organized is not just that there is big corporate money supporting them. Even if George Soros were to write a check for $100 million to catalyze an Occupy agenda it wouldn't work.

Progressives, Democrats are not susceptible to being organized. Look at the history of the Democratic Party. Someone once said that it's easier to herd cats than to get Democrats to agree on anything.

Conservatives, Republicans, on the other hand, are very disciplined. Get them the talking points and they stay on message. Even if it means making things up or not telling the truth. They are ultimately fundamentalists--many in a religious sense, others around secular issues. And when the religious and secular can be brought together, it is powerful--there can be, will not be any deviation.

Abortion is a case in point of course but so are other cultural and political issues where the secular and religious can be conflated. Much of the "debate" about global warming is as much religious as scientific. The "creation" of the earth and its ultimate disposition are in God's hands. Not man's. So the scientific evidence is disavowed, ruled non-discussable. It is all subsumed by belief, not thought.

Down on Wall Street, on the other hand, everything is up for grabs. Each person's idea and issue (often it is a single idea or issue), though it too can be belief-based, is as important as any other and emerges from personal feelings as opposed to a mandate.

At a time when the most powerful political ideas must be reducible to bumper stickers, the Tea Party wins.

Monday, October 24, 2011

October 24, 2011--Day Off

I will return tomorrow with thoughts about why Occupy Wall Street is fizzling out.

Friday, October 21, 2011

October 21, 2011--Florida Dreaming 2: Marco Rubio

And now one of my wintertime Florida U.S. Senators, Marco Rubio, has been caught in a whopper of a lie.

Recall who he is--

With the passionate embrace of the Tea Party, young and inexperienced as he was, he was elected to the Senate a year ago and became an instant Fox News and GOP darling. He was thought to be a Cuban-American Dan Quayle, a perfect vice presidential candidate to put on the Republican ticket in 2012. This, even before he had spent one day in Congress.

The political gleam in GOP eyes was from the belief that putting the first Hispanic on a national ticket would stop the flow of Latinos from loyalty to the Republican to the Democratic Party. This has been seen to be imperative since more than anything else, Obama was elected by increasing the Dems share of Hispanic voters.

But who needs experience when one has a full head of hair, a winning smile, the support of the Tea Party, and a compelling personal story? Especially that, a compelling family rags-to-riches family history. How his parents escaped from Cuba after Castro took over, eventually became citizens (not illegals), and comfortably middle class.

But there is one problem--his compelling personal story is an out-and-out lie.

Here's the truth from the Washington Post. A truth not disputed by Rubio:

During his rise to political prominence, Sen. Marco Rubio frequently repeated a compelling version of his family’s history that had special resonance in South Florida. He was the “son of exiles,” he told audiences, Cuban Americans forced off their beloved island after “a thug,” Fidel Castro, took power.

But a review of documents — including naturalization papers and other official records — reveals that the Florida Republican’s account embellishes the facts. The documents show that Rubio’s parents came to the United States and were admitted for permanent residence more than 2.5 years before Castro’s forces overthrew the Cuban government and took power on New Year’s Day 1959.

Rubio's rejoinder is not a denial but a confirmation--that his parents didn't tell him the truth about their personal history. That since they left Cuba so long ago--55 years ago--they forgot exactly when it was. Before Castro came to power or after? And that they passed along to him the story that it was after Fidel took over while in fact it was before and that they were economic, not political refugees.

So not only are presidential candidates dropping by the wayside but now also potential vice presidents.

Maybe it is time to get the house insulated. But, then again, isn't my summertime senator Olympia Snowe dancing with the Tea Party as she scrambles to get reelected? Perhaps we should move to Libya now that Gaddafi's gone.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

October 20, 2011--Romney & Bain & Company

For some time here I have been suggesting that if Mitt Romney were not a Mormon he would be the odds-on favorite to win the Republican nomination and could beat Barack Obama in the general election.

In fact, Romney may still win the nomination.

Consider the competition--Herman Cain? That 9-9-9 business will have a shelf life of maybe two more GOP debates. Especially the last 9--a 9 percent national sales tax that is so regressive that even regressive-loving conservatives think it goes too far.

Michele Bachmann, the front runner a month and a half ago? A Constitution-loving right-winger who doesn't know even the simplest facts about American history is an embarrassment to even those who hate the liberal arts and reject all of modern science. And having a pray-the-gay-away husband who she "submits" to is too much for the country-club set.

And Rick Perry, whose wife is now saying was told to run for president by a burning bush, is too "progressive" for values primary voters. His not being eager to deport all Mexicans and wanting to prevent teenage girls from acquiring the HPV virus almost qualifies as the work of the Devil.

Gingrich? Santorum? And poor Jon Huntsman? They're all single-digit players.

(As a sidebar, I wonder what Mike Huckerberry must be thinking--in their field of contenders he could have been nominated in a walk. But then he'd have had to give up his Fox News, big-money gig.)

So with Christie and Rudy dropping out, still standing is good old reliable Romney.

I thus thought I should make an attempt to learn more about him, especially his work with Bain & Company. It is his best asset--having worked for decades in the corporate sector--and his greatest liability--he has been accused of taking over companies, consolidating them, and firing hundreds of workers--not good when people's concerns are jobs, jobs, jobs--while he made billions for the company and hundreds of millions for himself.

Here then is a lengthy except from Wikipedia about Romney's Bain years. It appears to be fair and balanced and I can confirm its accuracy from other research that I did--

In 1977, he was hired by Bain & Company, a management consulting firm in Boston that had been formed a few years earlier by Bill Bain and other former BCG employees. Bain would later say of the thirty-year-old Romney, "He had the appearance of confidence of a guy who was maybe ten years older." With Bain & Company, Romney proved adept at learning the "Bain way", which consisted of immersing itself in each client's business, and not simply to issue recommendations, but to stay with the company until they were effectively changed for the better. With a record of success with clients such as the Monsanto Company, Outboard Marine Corporation, Burlington Industries, and Corning Incorporated, Romney became a vice president of the firm in 1978 and within a few years one of its best consultants. Romney became a firm believer in Bain's methods; he later said, "The idea that consultancies should not measure themselves by the thickness of their reports, or even the elegance of their writing, but rather by whether or not the report was effectively implemented was an inflection point in the history of consulting."

Romney was restless for a company of his own to run, and in 1983 Bill Bain offered him the chance to head a new venture that would buy into companies, have them benefit from Bain techniques, and then reap higher rewards than just consulting fees. Romney was initially cautious about accepting the offer, and Bain re-arranged the terms in a complicated partnership structure so that there was no financial or professional risk to Romney. Thus, in 1984, Romney left Bain & Company to co-found the spin-off private equity investment firm, Bain Capital. Bain and Romney spent a year raising the $37 million in investment money needed to start the new operation, which had fewer than ten employees. As general partner of the new firm, Romney was frugal and cautious, spending little on office appearance and finding the weak spots in so many potential deals that by 1986, very few had been done. At first, Bain Capital focused on venture capital opportunities. Their first big success came with a 1986 investment to help start Staples Inc., after founder Thomas G. Stemberg convinced Romney of the market size for office supplies; Bain Capital eventually reaped a nearly sevenfold return on its investment, and Romney sat on the Staples board of directors for over a decade.

Romney soon switched Bain Capital's focus from startups to the relatively new business of leveraged buyouts: buying existing firms with money mostly borrowed against their assets, partnering with existing management to apply the "Bain way" to their operations (rather than the hostile takeovers practiced in other leverage buyout scenarios), and then selling them off in a few years. Bain Capital lost most of its money in many of its early leveraged buyouts, but then started finding successes with spectacular returns. Indeed, during the 14 years Romney headed the company, Bain Capital's average annual internal rate of return on realized investments was 113 percent. Romney excelled at presenting and selling the deals the company made. The firm initially gave a cut of its profits to Bain & Company, but Romney later persuaded Bain to give that up.

The firm successfully invested in or acquired many well-known companies such as Accuride, Brookstone, Domino's Pizza, Sealy Corporation, Sports Authority, and Artisan Entertainment, as well as lesser-known companies in the industrial and medical sectors. Romney's cautious instincts were still in force at times; he wanted to drop a Bain Capital hedge fund that initially lost money, but other partners prevailed and it eventually gained billions. He also personally opted out of the Artisan Entertainment deal, not wanting to profit from a studio that produced R-rated films. Romney was on the board of directors of Damon Corporation, a medical testing company later found guilty of defrauding the government; Bain Capital tripled its investment before selling off the company, with the fraud being discovered by the new owners (Romney was never implicated). In some cases Romney had little involvement with a company once acquired.

Bain Capital's leveraged buyouts sometimes led to layoffs, either soon after acquisition or later after the firm had left. Bain Capital officials later said that overall, more jobs were added than lost due to these buyouts. In any case, maximizing the value of acquired companies and the return to Bain's investors, not job creation, was the firm's fundamental goal, as it was for most private equity operations. Regarding job losses, Romney later said, "Sometimes the medicine is a little bitter but it is necessary to save the life of the patient. My job was to try and make the enterprise successful, and in my view the best security a family can have is that the business they work for is strong." Bain Capital's acquisition of Ampad exemplified a deal where it profited handsomely from early payments and management fees, even though the subject company itself ended up going into bankruptcy. Bain was among the private equity firms that took the [highest] fees, and [other deals of this sort [occurred] as Romney was leaving the firm. He said in retrospect, "It is one thing that if I had a chance to go back I would be more sensitive to. It is always a balance. Great care has got to be taken not to take a dividend or a distribution from a company that puts that company at risk. [Having taken a big payment from a company that later failed] would make me sick, sick at heart."

Far from a perfect record, but if I were Obama I'd be worried.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

October 19, 2011--"Thank God They Don't Have Children"

So said Susan Gutfreund about her friends Sid and Mercedes Bass who are divorcing.

I do not know any of these people though I do notice that they frequently show up on the New York Post's Page Six and in the society pages of the New York Times.

The women always seem to be wearing Oscar de la Renta and the men always appear to be unhappily in tow. Unless they opt out of another gala and their wives are forced to show up with a "walker."

But from what I am now reading, it looks as if Sid Bass is opting out permanently.

A little background--

Sid is loaded. In fact, all of them are. He got his hundreds of millions from his great uncle who wildcatted in the West Texas oil patch before hitting it big. When the good uncle passed on, Sid became instantly wealthy and had lots of time on his hands to do whatever, became instantly attractive to a string of glamorous wives, and entered into the pleasures of their glamorous lives.

He met the most-recent Mrs. Bass, Mercedes, when she was Mrs. Francis L. Kellogg whose then husband was special assistant to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. She was known as quite the party girl, and quite the card, famous for her proclivity to dance on the tops of tables at various New York hot spots and for tossing food and silverware around at toney parties in the Hamptons. In fact, that's how Sid met her--she hit him in the head with a dinner roll one night in Southampton.

Shortly after that, they ran off together to Paris but were quickly discovered and special assistant Kellogg was soon to learn that Mercedes was about to leave him for Sid.

They had a very gay life, Sid and Mercedes. She especially became interested in the opera. That is opera at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York. So interested that she got Sid to make the largest gift the Met ever received from an individual benefactor--$25 million in 2006, when that was still real money. And for that money, the Met named the Grand Tier for her--The Mercedes Bass Grand Tier.

But, in truth, Sid hated opera. On those occasions when she dragged him along, he was often noticed to be snoozing. What he did come to love, though, was painting. His painting and that is apparently the reason for the divorce, which is reported to be proceeding, at least for now, amicably.

He is 69 and wants to withdraw from the social swirl and devote himself fullish time to his version of art (he recently completed a portrait of Barbara Walters). Mercedes, 67, continues to want to go to the opera. They have obviously grown apart.

And I say--Good for them! Follow your bliss! You only live once. Or, with hundreds of millions, maybe twice or, at most, three times.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

October 18, 2011--Fannie-Freddie

For years I've been hearing from Republican friends that the root cause of the 2008 financial collapse were the mortgages Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac made during the Clinton years to low-income home buyers.

In other words, according to the GOP talking points--(1) don't blame Wall Street and the likes of Goldman Sachs; (2) don't blame Republicans; and above all (3) do blame those low-income types who shouldn't have been buying homes in the first place.

In regard to number 3, also make sure you understand who those low-income people were--minorities. You know that Clinton, he and his fellow liberals couldn't stop themselves from pandering to those black folk and Hispanics, probably half of whom were illegals.

Since I didn't have enough facts before me, when confronted with this critique of Clinton, Freddie, and people of color, I mumbled something like, "This doesn't sound right to me." On both sides of the argument we had our opinions but not much evidence to back them up.

Now I do.

Part of the conservatives claim has been that the collapse of the sub-prime mortgage market was precipitated by people with Freddie-originated mortgages who overwhelmingly defaulting and that this then brought about the implosion of the derivatives-based house of cards. They also asserted that those who got their home loans through private sources--banks--defaulted at a much lower rate than the low-income Fannie people and thus should not be blamed for the crisis. Further, is was and is argued by Wall Streeters and Republicans that the Fannie mortgages made up the bulk of the total mortgage pool and, as a result, the loans to low-income people disproportionately contributed to the meltdown.

Wrong on all counts.

Here are the facts--

In regard to the Fannie-Freddie portion of the mortgage market it is important to note that they are of two types--those initiated by them and those that are made by banks that are then secured by F-F. So, to conflate both kinds and to attribute all of them to low-income borrowers is to dissemble.

But, even having said that, when the riskiest mortgages were made during the 2000s, Fannie and Freddie were under political attack because they were riddled by scandals and thus they remained largely on the sidelines. As a result, both their original and securitized mortgages in dollar terms declined as a percentage of the total pool. For example, between 2003 and 2007 (George W. Bush years) while overall mortgage debt grew by 11.9 percent a year, the portion funded by both types of F-F loans grew by "only" 7.6 percent.

And then about those default rates that brought things crashing down. It was largely caused by the private, bank-initiated loans, not Fannie and Freddie mortgages.

Specifically, the rate of delinquencies for the Fannie-Freddie mortgages in 2004 was 4.3 percent whereas the bank loans had a rate more than three times that--15.1 percent. In 2005, the F-F failure rate was 7.8 percent compared to 28.7 percent for bank loans; and then in 2006 and 2007, Fannie-Freddie default rates reached 13.2 and 14.9 percent while those for private market mortgages soared to 45.1 and 42.3 percent.

So there you have them--the facts.

Monday, October 17, 2011

October 17, 2011--Midcoast: Overheard at Renys

“We need a mattress cover,” Rona said. “They have them at Renys. And, while we’re there, I could also use some paper towels.”

Renys is a local general store with a wide range of goods from glassware to spices to lamps to shoes to bed linens and paper goods. All at prices that rival WalMart, which we feel good about not having nearby.

“And also some painters tape. I need to touch up a few spots in the kitchen. And, I almost forgot, another bottle of fish oil pills. We’re almost out.”

As usual, the list was getting longer as we darted across Main Street. “And don’t forget,” I added, “Those almonds that they have. They’re delicious and only $4.95 for an eight-once can.”

“And what about wrapping paper? We have a gift for Ken and his wife that we want to give them before we leave.”

“Then there is . . .”

Rona cut me off. “We’ll be in town tomorrow so hold off on other things. This way we’ll have an excuse to go to Renys .”

Most everything on our list was to be found in the basement so I said, “I’ll go down there while you round up the mattress cover and nuts on the first floor.”

Rona scooted back toward the bed linens and I headed for the broad wooden staircase that leads to Renys Underground.

As usual, the stairs were crowded with shoppers lugging hand baskets full of cleaning products, Halloween treats, and costumes and so I needed to slow down to allow the congestion to thin out.

“The next thing you know, they’ll be telling us what to eat.” Two women, clearly friends, had run into each other and stopped mid-stairs to catch up with each other.

“They already are.”

“I hadn’t heard that yet. Who? Where?”

“Well, there are these New Yorkers who were here for Columbus Day and the Pumpkinfest who told Tom and me that down there the mayor, what’s-his-name, is telling people what they can and cannot eat.”

“Not exactly,” her friend said, “but it is true that he—Bloomberg is his name—has forbidden restaurants from using certain kinds of shortening when baking and frying.”

“And didn’t Michelle Obama do the same thing?” Her friend made a face. “The next thing you know they’ll . . .”

“. . . tell us what kind of light bulbs to use,” her friend completed her thought. “Soon we won’t be able to buy anything but those horrible looking fluorescents. I know they use less electricity and all that, but my chandelier will look awful with them. And they cost a fortune.”

“They’re supposed to last much longer though.”

“But in the meantime to replace all six bulbs will cost me more than fifty dollars. Which I don’t have.”

“Neither do I, to tell you the truth. In fact things are so hard for us right now that George and I are deciding whether to celebrate Thanksgiving or Christmas. We don’t think we can afford to do both.”

This was difficult to listen to. There I was full of good fortune and privilege while here they were, all hard working, worried about which holiday to celebrate. And placing much of the blame on the government.

I was tempted to say something but couldn’t think of just what. Agree with them? (which I couldn’t fully do, particularly about the government); commiserate? (that was not my place and beyond that couldn’t think of what I might say); try to be helpful? (again, I couldn’t figure out how, and knew that whatever I tried to do would hurt their pride).

And so I averted my eyes and slipped past them, thinking again how unfair life has become and how difficult it is to think about what would make things better.

As I turned toward the gift-wrap section, I could still hear them, “I don’t know why this light bulb thing makes me so crazy. How dare they! If they would only get out of their fancy offices once in a while and come up here they might learn something about the way real people live and are struggling and how we hate all these intrusions in our lives. I know we need the government—but light bulbs! Lord help me.”

Friday, October 14, 2011

October 14, 2011--Florida Dreaming

Just as I was beginning to think about Delray Beach--it's damp and chilly now along the coast of Maine--I learned about some more absurd thinking-out-loud by my Florida wintertime governor, Rick Scott.

This time he's picking a fight with the liberal arts.

It's not enough that he has required potential welfare recipients and the unemployed to get tested for drugs before receiving benefits--and paying for the tests themselves--or turning back federal stimulus money that would cost Florida nothing but pay for tens of thousands of jobs; not only has he signed legislation that overturns local gun laws and imposes a state requirement that allows anyone to take concealed weapons into libraries and airports; but now he wants to eliminate state funding for the study of psychology and anthropology at Florida's public colleges and universities.

I am not making this up. Here are his own words on the subject:

Scott said Monday that he hopes to shift more funding to science, technology, engineering and math departments, the so-called "STEM" disciplines. The big losers: programs like psychology and anthropology and potentially schools like New College in Sarasota that emphasize a liberal arts curriculum.

"If I'm going to take money from a citizen to put into education then I'm going to take that money to create jobs," Scott said. "So I want that money to go to degrees where people can get jobs in this state. Is it a vital interest of the state to have more anthropologists? I don't think so."

Disciplines he wants to eliminate are those that hone people's skills to think critically and analytically--which would be a political disaster for him. The last thing he wants is anyone in the state having the capacity to understand how he is wrecking their futures and how his fanatical policies are condemning anyone not fortunate enough to be able to take full care of themselves to fall by the wayside.

I think I'll call the plumber and electrician to see if they can keep our pipes from freezing. Maybe I don't want to sojourn in Rick Scott's Florida this winter.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

October 13, 2011--Occupy Wall Street: What's (Hopefully) Going On

Finally the mainstream media are paying attention to the protests on Wall Street. It took some over-zealous New York City police to zap participants with pepper spray to get the attention of the networks, cable news channels, and major newspapers.

It also helped that folks on Fox News, Republican right-wingers, and their corporate and banker patrons denounced the protesters in the most incendiary ways, calling them a "mob" and "anarchists" and class warfare storm troopers. The same people who said not a word when Tea Partiers descended on Washington with pictures of Obama with a Hitler mustache and spit in the faces of Democrat congressmen are in a tizzy that some of the original OWS occupiers are Yippies and anti-globalists. They indeed came in full costume (or topless) and painted faces as Tea Party marchers who equally ridiculously wore paunchy revolutionary garb and tea bags hanging from their ten gallon hats.

Theatrics aside, what's going on?

The Tea Party was mobilized by mainly middle-class, middle-aged people feeling frustrated and angry about the direction in which they saw the country hurtling. They worried that they would lose their jobs, their savings, and their homes. And they were right about that.

Where they fixed the blame, however--on governments in general and Obama in particular was only partly right. The left out the main culprits--the unregulated banks and financial institutions that turned everyday mortgages into chips to be gambled in the world's largest and fixed casinos--the stock and derivatives markets.

But, though they misapplied blame, Tea Party members were justified in being in a rage and were smart and successful enough to seize control of the Republican Party and transform it into an arm of their movement.

it is now maybe the equally frustrated and angry Wall Street progressives' turn.

While at the heart of the Tea Party movement was the realization that middle-class people's homes and savings were in peril, for most of the early OWS organizers and participants what was at risk is their future. Young people this time are in the lead. And the self-motivation activating them is the perception that though they did what was required to prepare for work and careers they cannot find decent jobs, and if they are fortunate enough to find any they are likely to be underemployed and earn much less than they would have a few years ago.

An astonishing 65 percent of young college graduates are living at home with their parents because they can't pay for places of their won and see little to be optimistic about.

They are also taking note of the fact that not everyone is struggling. Indeed, an essential part of their agenda is to take public note of the dramatic expansion of the wealth gap. Whereas in the early 1980s only 10 percent of the national income was concentrated in the hands of the top 1 percent, currently that top 1 percent's share is 23.5 percent and as a result it is looking as if we are moving into a new Gilded Age.

It is too soon to know if what we are witnessing in the streets will lead to a progressive equivalent to the Tea Party; but Democrats, including President Obama, are showing early signs of support for this new form of Populism.

Perhaps, then, we will see a genuine debate about our state of affairs, including how we got into this mess and how each side sees us recovering.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

October 12, 2011--Lady Gaga

I have a friend who years ago played keyboards for a garage band called After Glows.

We were having dinner the other night and he wondered out loud how singers these days become famous. He and I go back far enough to know that there is nothing equivalent to the Ed Sullivan Show, which was a launching pad for Elvis and the Beatles among many others.

And we're young enough to know that MTV no longer plays music videos. They have descended to showing "reality" shows such as Jersey Shore. And of course radio shows such as the Make Believe Ballroom, the Hit Parade, and Casey Kasem's American Top 40 have long since vanished as a place to hear new songs and savor hits.

"I suppose like everything else," my friend said with a rueful sigh, "these days you get your music out, get paid attention to--or not--and become famous--or not--via the Internet."

"There aren't even record stores anymore," I said. "Remember those where there were little booths in which you could play and listen to singles"

"I'm not old enough to remember those," he said with a wink. (He is.)

So yesterday morning I asked Doug about this. He's very musical, up on small bands and groups, and is too young ever to have watched Ed Sullivan, though he does remember Tower Records.

"Well, there are music 'stores,'" he said, making air quotes.

"Really," I said, not able to think where to find one now that Tower is out of business.

"You really are old," he said with a broad smile. "Ever hear of the iTunes Store?"

"Touché," I said. "Rona uses it all the time to download albums for her iPod."

"Exactly," he said. "And about your other question--how do bands and individuals get known and famous these days," I nodded, "It's also largely through the Internet. If it wasn't for YouTube and Facebook, very few musicians would get their work heard and seen--and I emphasize seen--by more than a handful of people. There are fewer in-person or TV venues for new music than when you were coming up. There were, what, three TV networks then and radio networks like NBC that had stations all over the country. So an Alan Freed or a Cousin Brucie or a Wolfman Jack had national audiences for their music shows and tens of millions would tune in every day."

"And a lot of how songs got played on their shows," Rona added, "was because of payola. The A&R reps would make the rounds and distribute the new singles with hundreds of dollars sipped in the record sleeves."

"That got outlawed," I said, though Doug and Rona who know more about how the real world worked were skeptical about that.

"But," I said, "if you're right and folks get known through the Internet isn't that a version of a truly unregulated free market where payola wouldn't work?"

"Yeah," Doug said, "but how a video posted on YouTube goes viral is not necessarily because it's guided by Adam Smith's Invisible Hand."

"There's a lot that can be manipulated on the Internet by savvy record company marketers," Rona agreed.

"But," Doug said, "YouTube and the other social media can be good and fair market places for new people trying to get paid attention to. If you hear a piece of music on a local college radio station--which, by the way, are the places in much of America, including up here in Maine, where a lot of people hear new things--you can let your hundreds of Facebook friends know about it--actually send them a link to the music itself so they can hear it on their computers, which by the way are the modern day equivalent of your record booth--who, if they like it in turn can send it to their hundreds of 'friends.' This is the way things have a chance to go exponentially viral, with millions potentially being exposed to something that started very small, very local. All, by the way, for free."

"It's the same way revolutions happen these days."

"Exactly. Like in Tunisia and Egypt."

"And maybe Wall Street," I couldn't resist adding.

So later that day, at Doug's suggestion I tuned into WCLZ based in nearby Yarmouth. As I expected, it sounded very basic, clearly not a big budget operation. And, no surprise, considering how out of things I am, I immediately encountered a group I had never heard of--the Decemberists, an indie folk-rock group from the Portland in Oregon whose lyrics, I later learned, include many rural references and images, including "Down By the Water" which I heard on WCLZ. And as I also learned, apropos of my talk with Doug, the album and which it is a track, "The King Is Dead," was launched on the Internet. The "Down By the Water" single was downloadable for free from the band's Website. Described as the "most pastoral, rustic record they've ever made," by Douglas Wolk of Rolling Stone, the album reached No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart in February.

From this kind of virtual reality, no need to remind myself, Lady Gaga was spawned.

Now, I thought, with all this new, hip knowledge about how things work and knowing about a very cool band, I could revisit my Facebook page and profile. When I joined Facebook, as with everyone, I was prompted to make a list of my favorite books, TV shows, movies, and music to share with my friends.

I was OK with books and movies--I could come up with lists to disguise my advanced age and uncoolness; but when it came to music, all I could think was to list Frank Sinatra; the Beatles; and, stretching for something perhaps a little hipper, the Chambers Brothers.

But before embarrassing myself, I checked to see what some of my coolest Facebook friends had listed--Warren, for one, had the Chemical Brothers, Massive Attack, and Liz Phair. She, at least, sounded vaguely familiar.

But now I could link my new favorite, the Decemberists, and add a couple of more I also encountered for the first time yesterday--Sonic Youth and Scissor Sister, a girl group that emerged from the gay club scene in New York. The city to where we will be returning in a few weeks when our pipes up here begin to freeze.

In addition to the weather, I too will be feeling a lot cooler.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

October 11, 2011--Chelsea Clinton, N.C.

As reported last Friday in the New York Times:

Chelsea Clinton Joins Board of Diller’s IAC

A securities filing issued on Monday disclosed that Chelsea Clinton, 31, is now a director of IAC/InterActiveCorp.
Chelsea Clinton has joined the board of IAC/InterActiveCorp, the Internet media company controlled by Barry Diller.

A securities filing issued on Monday disclosed that Ms. Clinton, 31, is now a director of the company, whose portfolio of Web sites includes the Daily Beast, CollegeHumor and It also publishes Newsweek magazine.

Ms. Clinton will earn $50,000 per year as an IAC board member. The company also granted Ms. Clinton $250,000 worth of IAC shares that vests in equal installments over three years.

The post is Ms. Clinton’s first directorship. Ms. Clinton, 31, is pursuing a doctorate at Oxford University, working at New York University and working with the Clinton Foundation and the Clinton Global Initiative, according to the IAC release. Her business experience consists of stints in her 20s at the consulting firm McKinsey & Company and the hedge fund Avenue Capital.

Mr. Diller, the chief executive of IAC, was a supporter of Ms. Clinton’s father, Bill Clinton, in the 1992 presidential election. He also supported Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential campaign.

Emphasis added, but other than that--no comment.

Monday, October 10, 2011

October 10, 2011--Mitt Romney's "Cult"

A desperate Rick Perry, slipping in the polls, has finally played the Mormon Card.

At the heart of the Texas governor's campaign to appeal to the Republican base are his efforts to present himself as the most Christian, most evangelical of all the candidates.

An implied subtext is that love him or hate him at least he's not Mitt Romney. This means that he isn't a flip-flopper. To his credit he stood behind his attempt to enact Dream-Act-like legislation in Texas to enable children of illegal immigrants to be helped to attend college and he still think it a good idea for adolescent girls to get the HPV vaccination. But, above all, it means that he is not a Mormon.

To most evangelical Christians, Mormonism is not a religion but a cult. And in spite of its official name, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, it is not by them considered to be a Christian denomination.

To get a flavor of this, here is a selection from Got Questions?org: The Bible Has Answers!, a Website devoted, among other things, to exposing Mormons as cultists:

Mormons believe the following about God: He has not always been the Supreme Being of the universe, but attained that status through righteous living and persistent effort. They believe God the Father has a “body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s.” Though abandoned by modern Mormon leaders, Brigham Young taught that Adam actually was God and the father of Jesus Christ.

In contrast, Christians know this about God: there is only one true God, He always has existed and always will exist, and He was not created but is the Creator. He is perfect, and no one else is equal to Him. God the Father is not a man, nor was He ever. He is Spirit, and Spirit is not made of flesh and bone.

Mormons believe that there are different levels or kingdoms in the afterlife: the celestial kingdom, the terrestrial kingdom, the telestial kingdom, and outer darkness. Where mankind will end up depends on what they believe and do in this life.

In contrast, the Bible tells us that after death, we go to heaven or hell based on whether or not we had faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. To be absent from our bodies means, as believers, we are with the Lord. Unbelievers are sent to hell or the place of the dead. When Jesus comes the second time, we will receive new bodies. There will be a new heaven and new earth for believers, and unbelievers will be thrown into an everlasting lake of fire. There is no second chance for redemption after death.

Mormons believe that there are different levels or kingdoms in the afterlife: the celestial kingdom, the terrestrial kingdom, the telestial kingdom, and outer darkness. Where mankind will end up depends on what they believe and do in this life.

In contrast, the Bible tells us that after death, we go to heaven or hell based on whether or not we had faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. . . .

So you see, Romney presents issues for fundamentalist Christians--who politically are eager to see the U.S. transformed into a Christian theocracy--because he, a cultist, might become their candidate or, even more concerning, their president. They are having enough trouble dealing with Obama's alleged religion to want to think about having a Mormon in the White House. What would happen if a President Romney decided to take a few more wives or . . .

So, to play on these concerns, at the conservative Values Voters Summit last week in Washington, to set the stage for his comments, Rick Perry had the Texas pastor Robert Jeffress introduce him. The same pastor Jeffress who established a "Naughty and Nice List" where businesses are listed based on whether or not they openly celebrate Christmas, saying " "I want to do something positive to encourage businesses to acknowledge Christmas and not bow to the strident voices of a minority who object to the holiday."

Regarding Mitt Romney, here are the pastor's exact words--

Mitt Romney is a Mormon, and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. Even though he talks about Jesus as his lord and savior, he is not a Christian . . . Mormonism is not Christianity. Mormonism is a cult. And just because somebody talks about Jesus does not make them a believer.

Of course the Perry team would not say anything on the record about Jeffress' slander. They didn't even mention that in its early years even Christianity was considered to be a cult. All they did was stand around and wink.

After he spoke, the good pastor at least had the courage of his convictions when he said:

I think it's going to be a major factor among evangelical voters. The thing is they won't be honest and tell you that it's going to be a major factor. Most people don't want to admit--even evangelical Christians--that they have a problem with Mormonism. They think it's bigoted to say so. But what voters say to a pollster sometimes is different than what they do when they get into the privacy of the voting booth.

No matter. What does matter is getting a true Christian nominated. Then they will deal with Obama.

But just in case Romney manages to win the nomination, Jeffress is prepared to swallow hard and encourage his followers to vote for him:

I'm going to instruct, I'm going to advise people that it is much better to vote for a non-Christian who embraces biblical values [including, I suppose, that God has not always been the Supreme Being, that He needed to attain that status] than to vote for a professing Christian like Barack Obama who embraces un-biblical values.

This requires a little translation, which even his biblically-illiterate flock should be capable of understanding--

"It is better to vote for a professing Christian cult member like Romney than a professing Christian like Obama who is really a Muslim who was born in Kenya."

Friday, October 07, 2011

October 7, 2011--Keeping 'em Down On the Farm

Crystal is very smart and always tells it like it is. So, yesterday morning, when over coffee we were talking about the economy--up here in Maine and nationally--she said, "Don't tell me there are no jobs. I can tell you about five right now."

"And the problem is?" I asked.

"The problem is that to consider any of them, people have to get over their egos. Sure times are very tough and there are few ideal jobs, or even highly desirable ones, but there are jobs as long as you can manage to deal with lowering your expectations."

She also said that during hard times many of us have to make all sorts of compromises. That that's the way it is. While waiting for things to turn around or the Occupy Wall Street folks to become a powerful force for structural economic change--just as the Tea Party members have--we have to suck it up and do the best we can.

She is the opposite of unfeeling and so I didn't take what she was saying as insensitive or mean-spirited. Just that she was being ruefully realistic.

Later in the day, catching up with my reading, I saw a front page article in the New York Times that reminded me of what Crystal was saying. (It is linked below.) It's about a government program that was designed to enable farm owners, when needed, to legally hire non-American seasonal workers.

The H-2A program, when unemployment was low and it was difficult to find American workers to pick crops, made it easy to "import" documented workers.

Farmers such as John Harold, who is portrayed in the article, owns a 1,000 acre farm in western Colorado and for a decade made good use of the H-2A program. Onions are among his best and most profitable crops and they require many field hands when they are ready to be harvested.

This year, thinking that because times are hard and thus it would be possible to hire many unemployed citizens--the work pays $10.50 an hour--Mr. Harold looked for fewer than usual H-2A workers. But he found it difficult to find enough Americans, even at this decent wage, to sign on. Since he got a late start in hiring locally, he had to scramble to get all the workers he needed from Mexico or risk losing much of his crop.

And, he found, most of the locals he did manage to hire began quitting after only 6 hours on the job. They said the work was too hard. John Harold says that "They wanted that $10.50 an hour without doing very much." He mused, "I know people with college degrees, working for the school system and only making 11 bucks."

Another farmer, Kerry Mattics had a similar experience. He said he couldn't retain most of the American workers because the work is outdoors--"So if it's wet, you're wet, and if it's hot, you're hot."

I know we have all sorts of problems with many government program,s but H-2A doesn't appear to be one of them. The problem may be closer to home. Later today I have to ask Crystal what she makes of this. I think I already know.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

October 6, 2011--Day Off

I slipped behind schedule. I will return tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

October 5, 2011--Immigration Factoid

Buried in a recent story in the New York Times about how illegal Mexican immigrants who have been deported still make great efforts to get back into the U.S. to visit family and friends are some revealing facts about the Obama administration's attempts to secure the border and deport undocumented people. (Article linked below.)

Whatever one thinks about The Fence and deportation policy, Obama should get more credit than he does for being more effective at keeping people out and sending others home than any of his predecessors. Including tough-talking Repubicans.

Here are the facts--

More fencing has been built during the past two-and-a-half years than during all previous administrations.

More border parol agents and troops are stationed along the border than at any time.

During the Obama years thus far more than 1.1 million immigrants have been sent home. Far more than by any president since Dwight Eisenhower back in the 1950s.

Based on this record, I wonder why Obama is still being lambasted by the GOP for being soft on immigration policy.

One reason, of course, is that he is eager to court Hispanics as political supporters and thus does not want to call too much attention to these facts.

And then of course Republicans do not recognize this or any other of his accomplishments.

You could feel the likes of John McCain chocking on the faint words of praise he managed to utter after Obama gave orders to and then "took out" Osama bin Laden. And so what could one expect from the GOP about something this politically potent.

Nonetheless, the fact are the facts.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

October 4, 2011--Pay For Failure

Imagine the following--

You've applied for a job at Hewlett-Packard and, good news, it's offered to you. Next comes the discussion about your compensation--how much you'll be paid and your benefits package. The money sounds good as do the health care plan and the company's contributions to your 401(k).

But then you ask what the deal will be if you're let go. Even in a circumstance "without cause."

"What do you mean?" the human resources staffer asks. If the company has such a policy--and most don't--she'll say, "If after five years here you are let go we do have a modest severance package. You'll get one week's pay for every year of employment. But, if we have to terminate you before five years, unfortunately there is no severance."

If you find a way to mumble how unfair this seems to you--why, for example, severance doesn't kick in until after five years, the HR person might appropriately say, "This is the way capitalism works. If you and the company do well, you'll be rewarded; if it or you don't do well, there is a price to pay."

If she were being honest, she might add, "This is especially true if you do not do well. As a private company we do not reward failure."

If she were being fully honest, she would add, "That is, unless you're the CEO. Then these rules do not apply."

And in fact this policy in regard to CEOs was exposed a few days ago when Hewlett-Packard fired its CEO, Léo Apotheker, after he had been on the job only 11 months.

He was deemed by everyone on the H-P board to have been an utter failure, and yet he walked away with at least $23 million in termination benefits. (See linked New York Times article.)

In his case he was very generously rewarded for failure.

The deal that guaranteed his payoff was struck before he spent one day on the job.

He knew in advance that no matter how he or the company fared during his tenure--no matter how brief--he would receive a cash payment for the equivalent of two year's base pay (that would net him $2.4 million); a bonus of another $2.4 million (this was what it was anticipated he would receive if he survived for at least a year but which he was paid even though he was asked to resign a month short of that); and of course there were all sorts of H-P stock goodies loaded on (including future stock bonuses that he will receive after, as anticipated, the company does better under the leadership of his successor CEO, Meg Whitman).

When confronted about why H-P and most other Fortune 500 companies routinely put so much on the table before a person proves himself, corporate compensation experts claim that it is necessary to make these kinds of up-front deals because otherwise it would be impossible to recruit these high-flying corporate types.

They offer a baseball analogy--you have to be willing to ante up tens of millions for an Alex Rodriquez because if the Yankees don't the Red Sox will scoop him up.

I know A-Rod and, with all due respects, Mr. Apotheker is no A-Rod. Rodriquez has hit more than 600 home runs whereas Apotheker was fired from his last job as co-CEO at SAP after just six months. He was, in effect, unemployed and I am sure would have jumped at the H-P job without any guaranteed money.

Minimally his wife would have signed a performance-based contract just to get him out of the house.

Speaking of performance-based, isn't that what capitalism is supposed to be about? No pay for failure? That if you have something at risk--venture capital or money invested in the company's stock--when things go well you get the big bucks; but when they don't you lose your stake? That's what I learned from my reading of Adam Smith.

So I am confused.

In classic Free Market philosophy entitlement programs for average folks are called into question--if you can't make it on your own, too bad. Let your family or your community or your church take care of you.

Isn't this what we're hearing from Republicans these days?

But if you're the CEO of a Hewlett-Packard, with nothing at risk--in fact, just the opposite--not to worry. Their corporate entitlement program will make sure everything is taken care of.

But about this we are hearing not a peep from the likes of Mitt Romney, John Boehner, Eric Cantor, or Paul Ryan.

Monday, October 03, 2011

October 3, 2011--Midcoast: Boobies

Even here things can get complicated.

The weather has been an early fall blessing. A few days last week could actually have been called hot. We haven't had to make a fire except for romantic purposes; and even when I rise before the sun to get this typing done, I haven't had to turn on the electric heater we have placed near my writing table to take the chill out of the dawn air as well as from my two hunt-and-peck fingers.

I feel guilty about being so fortunate. Rona, as always, reminds me when I am feeling that way that I should enjoy it because, as she ominously but wisely puts it, "Your turn too will come."

This is not to report that it has. I continue to be more than fortunate. But nearby, there are complications.

I have from time-to-time mentioned, as a friend Char last year said, that she likes the local newspaper because it does not contain any "real news." I have come to appreciate that. How the Lincoln County News provides respite from the screaming headlines of the New York Times and the Breaking News of the 24/7 cable news channels.

In the weekly LCN there are articles about the rivers and ponds; grange hall socials; new commercial ventures; weddings, births, and passings; and much about the high schools--mainly how their teams are faring and in May about their graduates' plans.

Schools reopened about a month ago and recently there is a version of real news here about one that has national echos. I wouldn't be surprised if it gets picked up by the Times and CNN.

On the front page of this week's paper, below articles about how the governor is thinking about consolidating the state's 911 call centers in an effort to save money and how Wiscasset Raceway is about to hold its first race of the year--say goodbye to tranquility--there is a controversy at Medomak Valley High School about breast cancer awareness bracelets.

This should be benign enough. Actually something school officials should feel good about--how their students are taking on a worthy cause.

The problem, though, is what is printed on the bracelets--

I Boobies.

According to school officials these bracelets--the "boobies" part--is distracting. They claim that they "carry a sexual connotation," and thus banned them and began suspending students who choose to defy the prohibition. Up to 12 students wearing the bracelets deemed offensive were not allowed to attend class.

But it seems that the I ♥ Boobies flap is not confined to Lincoln County or Maine. They have been banned in several other states; though, when challenged there, courts have ruled that the First Amendment protects this as an expression of free speech.

As in other situations where banning a book or a movie assure a wider audience, fully three-quarters of Medomak students are now wearing the cancer awareness bracelets. In part in solidarity with their suspended classmates.

Wisely, school superintendent Susan Pratt, aware of the meaning of the First Amendment and the feelings of an increasing number of parents who support their children, has lifted the ban, though she as yet hasn't indicated when it will take effect.

So real life intrudes along the post-season coast of Maine.

But on page three of the LCN , to distract myself from all of this, I turn to news about the Garden Club of Wiscasset welcoming Debbie Cupo while local quilters are starting a Groovy Girls Sewing Club and the Railway Museum is expanding it hours and . . .