June 04, 2011

Just saying

I have often heard people described politically as being to the right of Attila the Hun, the barbarian whose rampages around Europe in the 400s earned him the title "the scourge of God."

While I am not attempting to claim Attila for the progressive camp, it does seem only fair to point out that he didn't seem to be too big on property rights, which has long been a major component of conservatism.

I'm just saying...

June 03, 2011

Mad Men revisited

Once upon a time, consumer demand in the US was driven in significant part by middle class consumption and the idea of shared affluence.

Goodbye to all that. Rich folks are pulling the train these days, which makes sense since they seem to be sitting on the cookie jar.

Here's a snip from a blog post from Ad Age:

The wake of the global economic recession has shown a spotlight on the yawning divide between the richest Americans and everyone else -- inflation-adjusted incomes of most American workers have remained more or less static since the 1970s, the income of the rich (and the very rich) has grown exponentially. The top 1% alone control nearly 40% of the wealth.

And while the social and political effects of this inequality may be cause for concern, the accrual of wealth among the very few is of great consequence for marketers, since 10% of U.S. households "account for almost half of the consumer spending" and represent about one-third of total GDP, according to the American Affluence Research Council.

Simply put, a small plutocracy of wealthy elites drives a larger and larger share of total consumer spending and has outsize purchasing influence -- particularly in categories such as technology, financial services, travel, automotive, apparel and personal care.

Welcome to the surplus population. There's more on that here.

WHAT HE SAID. Krugman nailed it today on the economy.

WHAT WAS THEIR FIRST CLUE? Ken Ward reports in the Charleston Gazette today that Massey Energy's board was aware that it might have had a tone and image problem.



June 02, 2011

Done deal

It looks like the sale of Massey Energy to Alpha Natural Resources is a done deal. Legal challenges to the sale have been turned back, while shareholders voted yesterday to approve it.

It really is the end of an era. For decades, Massey was a massive presence in West Virginia, not only in the coal industry, but in state politics, the media, and the courts. Its former CEO Don Blankenship was the face of Big Coal.

My initial reaction was to view the sale as a good thing. However, Ken Ward at Coal Tattoo had a great post yesterday about remaining questions regarding Alpha and promises that may have been made to retain key Massey personnel, including those connected to the management of the Upper Big Branch and Aracoma mines.

I can't help but think Alpha would have to get up pretty early in the morning to be worse than Massey in the Bad Old Days. We'll see.

Ward, who for my money is America's best coal reporter, posted this quote from Delaware Judge Leo Strine Jr. about Massey:

Convinced that it knew better than the public authorities charged with enforcing laws designed to make mining a safer and cleaner business, Massey management, with board knowledge, fostered an adversarial relationship with the company’s regulators and accepted as ordinary the idea that the company would regularly be accused of violating important safety regulations.

Of course, when a company has strong opinions about knowing better than the regulators, it is optimal to match that with a record of worker safety and environmental protection that is substantively spotless. But in the case of Massey, no such match existed, at least insofar as one credits actual judgments and other regulation-related losses suffered by the company under Blankenship’s tenure as CEO.

HOW WE GOT IN THIS MESS. Here's a brief from the Economic Policy Institute on the 10th anniversary of the Bush tax cuts.

THIS DIDN'T HELP EITHER. Here's a look at major companies that made big bucks but managed to have a negative tax rate.

SPEAKING OF MESSES, here's Robert Reich on the state of the US economy.

ALL THIS FROM TEETH? Scientists have found clues about the social structure of human ancestors from studying their teeth.


June 01, 2011

Of dogs, politics and scatology

Arpad, shown here before his summer haircut, goes wherever he wants to.

Anyone who has been around the block a few times knows that politicians can be full of surprises. Sometimes they do things that are disappointing or downright infuriating. Sometimes they surprise you the other way, by supporting decent stands for reasons which may be principled, cynical or even kind of random.

The surprises can come both from ones you like and who support your issues and from those you think are hopeless.

A while back, a friend of mine who happens to be a Quaker with some lobbying experience (you know who you are) gave me some good advice for the occasions when they go your way. I may be paraphrasing, but I remember her words coming out something like this:

When the dog uses the bathroom in right place, you gotta say "Good boy!"

Actually, the original version might have been a bit more colorful. Still, it stuck in my mind as good advice. I always try to say "thank you" when there's an occasion.

DEBT CEILING The US House majority is playing a game of debt ceiling chicken to force major cuts in domestic spending. To extend the canine metaphor, I believe that would constitute going to the bathroom in the wrong place.

STUDENT LOANS might be the next bubble.

BACKROOM DEALS?. Here are some interesting developments in the sale of Massey Energy to Alpha Natural Resources.

THIS IS YOUR BRAIN on religion.


May 31, 2011

The Fountainhead of what, exactly?

It has long been the practice of El Cabrero to take swipes at the wretched ideology of Ayn Rand, which, like a movie zombie, keeps coming back to life. But as I mentioned a while back, I have vowed to actually read her major novels.

I am now about 300 pages into The Fountainhead, which is to say less than half way. Now I realize and freely admit the errors of my ways: rather than just whacking her economic and political beliefs, my time would have been just as well spent making fun of her literary style.

The characters are basically cartoonish caricatures strutting and fretting on the stage. The hero is a monomaniacal architect with no social skills who makes buildings like no other (although they sound pretty boxy). He has trouble finding business so far, but isn't that pretty much the way markets work and aren't markets supposed to be all good all the time in Randland?

The author's idea of courtship and romantic relations is really weird. The sex scenes are like rape, but the characters seem to like it that way, to the extent that they actually like anything, which they don't, which is even weirder. Every such contact seems laced with a bit of sadism and hatred.

It's kind of like watching a bad airplane movie when you're too tired to read but can't go to sleep. I can hardly wait for Atlas Shrugged, which is even longer.

OUR WORST DEFICIT might be one of imagination.

TALKING SENSE ON TAXES. Stating the obvious is a good thing these days.


THIS IS YOUR BRAIN on free will.