Where is my tribe?

drums-2026535_960_720In the last two days I’ve been tone policed for being unkind, uncool, and tribal. Mind you, the single person doing the tone policing had nothing to say about what I signified. Typical of tone policing, it’s all about style over substance, the signifier, not the signified.

So I confess. Surprising nobody, I’m both unkind and uncool. Looked at across the great spectrum of human behavior where, oh, let’s say Hitler occupies one extreme, lacking in both kindness and coolness (well, there’s that whole fashion sense/propaganda style thing, but I digress), and on the other end there’s some saint or other noted for both kindness and coolness. Bono, maybe? I’m sure the tone police will pardon me for falling somewhere closer to the middle than not.

But am I tribal? Damned skippy. Let me tell you a little about my tribe.

We abhor political violence. Continue reading

When a company cuts jobs, it shouldn’t spin that reality with corporate bullshit

time_magazine_-_first_cover

Time magazine’s first cover

The owner of the grandparent of weekly news magazines, Time, has decided to shed 300 jobs through layoffs and buyouts to reduce its costs.

A media corporation whacking jobs to save money? That’s not surprising news in the digital era. But what continues to aggravate and irritate is the lame corporate-speak executives use to explain the “downsizing” and to insist better, more profitable days lie in the future.

Consider remarks in a memo to staff from Time Inc.’s chief executive officer, Rich Battista:

[O]ne of the key components of our go-forward strategy is reengineering our cost structure to become more efficient and to reinvest resources in our growth areas as we position the company for long-term success. Today we took a difficult but necessary step in that plan as approximately 300 of our colleagues throughout Time Inc.’s global operation will be leaving the company. …

Time Inc. is a company in rapid transformation in an industry undergoing dynamic change. Transformations do take time and patience, but I am encouraged by the demonstrable progress we are making as we implement our strategy in key growth areas, such as video, native advertising and brand extensions, and as we see positive signs of stabilizing our print business, which remains an important part of our company. [emphasis added]

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Who really pays for cutting back rules limiting toxic emissions?

President Donald’s administrative minions, since day one, have been “reviewing” federal regulations they argue are so costly they curtail growth in American manufacturing, and worse, put American jobs at risk. Thus they are focusing on rules that govern environmental reviews in permitting processes and regulate impacts on worker health and safety.

Pollution Free ZoneIndustry groups oppose one particular regulation — the rule tightening ozone emissions under the Clean Air Act’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards.

According to a Reuters story by David Lawder, “The National Association of Manufacturers said the EPA’s review requirements for new sources of emissions such as factories can add $100,000 in costs for modeling air quality to a new facility and delay factory expansions by 18 months.”

According to Lawder, “Several groups argu[ed] this would expose them to increased permitting hurdles for new facilities, raising costs.” [emphasis added]

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The UK election: Another fine mess you’ve got us into

poundsinkingThe English have a fine word for the political mess it finds itself in at the moment–kerfuffle, which is defined as “a commotion or fuss, especially one caused by conflicting views.” Boy, if there was ever a kerfuffle, we’re in one right now.

Theresa May and the Tories, who were expected to have a 100 seat majority even as late as the morning of the election by some polls, actually lost seats, and its Parliamentary majority. The result of this is the Tories can’t form a government on its own, unless it tries to form a minority government (which has happened before in postwar history, under Labour in the 1970s). Jeremy Corbyn, who, if you believed the press and even many Labour politicians (cue Tony Blair), was expected to lead the party to electoral disaster, didn’t. In fact, the reverse occurred. Labour received 40% of the vote (as compared with the Conservative’s 42%), its best showing in years. It’s the biggest Labour Parliamentary gain since Clement Atlee.

So there is a lot of crow to be eaten around now, or should be, anyway. We could start with the pollsters, who were generally calling for a solid Tory victory, with one two exceptions. The YouGov poll was the most notable outlier, with its outright prediction of a hung Parliament, which is exactly what we got. It was rejected outright by practically everyone when it was released prior to the election, however. So, like the last two major elections (the 2015 Parliamentary election, and the Brexit vote) the vast majority of pollsters got it completely wrong. Continue reading

What he promises, and what his budget does, differ markedly on fixing waterways

trump speechPresident Donald stood this week on the bank of the Ohio River before 400 steelworkers, coal miners, and construction workers with barges of coal parked behind him. Amid departures from his text to chastise those he called “obstructionists,” President Donald touted his plan to spend $1 trillion to rebuild the nation’s airports, roads, bridges and tunnels and all other elements of American infrastructure.

With barges as his background canvas, he told of lapses and collapses in the nation’s inland waterways. He cited a gate failure at the Markland Locks on the Ohio River that took five months to repair. He pointed to a massive section of a canal wall that collapsed near Chicago, delaying shipping. [See speech video.]

A release from the White House press office coincided with President Donald’s remarks. Regard inland waterways, the release said:

The infrastructure of America’s inland waterways has been allowed to fall apart, causing delays and preventing the United States from achieving its economic potential. According to [the American Society of Civil Engineers], most of the locks and dams needed to travel the internal waterways are past their 50-year lifespan and nearly 50 percent of voyages suffered delays. Our inland waterway system requires $8.7 billion in maintenance and the maintenance backlog is only getting worse.

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Don’t worry: The rich will save the federal government. No, really. Right?

Imagine you’re filthy rich. A one-percenter. You’ve got tons of investments and other sources of interest-based income. Yes, I know, you’ve got that vacation house in Aspen and that skiing chalet in Zermatt. But those, and the house in the Hamptons, are getting a little pricey for upkeep and paying the household staff a livable wage.

Image result for tax images creative commonsYou’re tempted to sell off some of those investments to bring in some cash because the market’s pretty good right now. Besides, your Bentley is now three years old. Time to replace it with a new, $310,000 Mulsanne.

But your  team of crack accountants tells you to hold off selling anything: “Remember, President Donald says he’s gonna push serious tax reform through Congress real soon.” In fact, the president’s treasury secretary said the new tax plan would be “the biggest tax cut and the largest tax reform in the history of this country.”

You, of course, salivate, thinking of all the money you’ll save if your top income-tax rate falls from 39.6 percent to 35 percent, to say nothing of the cut to 15 percent applied to all the businesses you own. (You know, of course, that team of crack accountants has for years kept you from paying anywhere near the top rate.)

So you indeed hold off selling. You tell all your one-percenter and one-tenth-of-one-percenter pals to hold off, too. So they do.

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President Donald on coal: ‘Yes.’ His chief economic adviser: ‘No.’

EnergyIs there a sane mind in the White House, one who believes the resurgence of coal promised by President Donald is a fiction concocted to garner November votes? Or who at least believes the coal industry is dead on its feet?

Even after his election, the president continued to promise coal renewal. In an address at the Environmental Protection Agency in March, he said:

We will unlock job producing natural gas, oil and shale energy. We will produce American coal to power American industry. [emphasis added]

President Donald has taken steps to unleash coal. He’s rolled back clean-air policies and regulations of previous administrations. He’s taken aim at President Obama’s Clean Power Plan with the goal of killing it. He has ordered the lifting of a moratorium on coal leasing on federal lands. Continue reading

A tale of newspapers’ financial collapse in three charts …

CATEGORY: JournalismThree charts from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, two covering about 15 years, bluntly demonstrate the swift collapse of the centuries-old newspaper industry business model. They also herald the rise of an information-disbursing replacement — the internet.

A 2015 survey by the American Society of News Editors shows newsroom (not overall) employment in the nation’s 1,400 daily newspapers at just under 33,000 people. That’s down from a high of 56,000 newsroom employees in the early ’90s. Of course, those paying attention to newsroom cuts over the past two years have seen what newspaper managements, particularly at Gannett, have done to its remaining workforce. I estimate the daily newsroom workforce to be down to nearly 31,000.

The BLS data covers all employment in the newspaper industry, not just reporters and editors, and not just from dailies. The Editor & Publisher Yearbook lists more than 6,500 community weeklies, defined as any newspaper publishing at least once a week but no more than three times a week.

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John Oliver’s beatdown of DaVita reminds us: Richard Nixon was an American liberal icon

Noam Chomsky, of all people, has called Tricky Dick “America’s last liberal president.” Sadly, he couldn’t have been more right.

Way back in 2008 I said this:

If he were a candidate in the 2008 presidential election, Richard M. Nixon would be more progressive than either the Republican or Democratic nominees.

What a ludicrous thing to say, right? I mean, Nixon was as twisted and corrupt as any president in US history. Hunter Thompson said “Nixon was so crooked that he needed servants to help him screw his pants on every morning.” He got caught with said pants down in l’affaire Watergate and had to resign. He’s the reason anything remotely scandalous has to have a name ending in “-gate.”

Worst. President. Ever. A fixer of the first order. All of which attached, by association, to the Republican Party, making his name synonymous with the rank evil of the American conservative polity.

That he was congenitally shady is unarguable, but the conservative part probably isn’t fair at all. Continue reading

Want to save local news? Kill off local newspapers. Really.

Consider this verdict based on the evidence of economics: Local print newspapers ought to die. Now. That’s what one observer believes, and he’s pretty convincing.

CATEGORY: JournalismNewspapers are on their deathbeds now, burdened by several diseases associated with print. Their physical infrastructure — printing presses, distribution means such as delivery trucks, the large buildings that typically house them (and heating, cooling and electrical costs), news stands, and single-copy racks — is too expensive to maintain. The advertising revenue that system once gleaned in bucketloads is now merely a trickle.

Newspapers’ core product — presumably valuable local news — is insufficient to fill the space around the ads, so fluff of little or no value to local readers — wire copy, advice columns, national and international news, crossword puzzles, sports agate copy, and so on — occupies the remaining space.

Ben Thompson, who writes and speaks about strategy and business, argues to save local news, everything not associated with local news ought to be stripped away. A journalist entrepreneur focused solely on local news could fund that operation with subscriptions — not advertising, he says.

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Export U.S. coal to Asia? Not so fast, say three West Coast states — and Canada?

Coal-Train-300x268It appears Canada may no longer be a willing partner for American coal companies wishing to export coal to Asia. No economically feasible alternatives to get coal to Pacific Rim markets exist for those companies, either.

News item from October 2016:

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A coal company with mines in Montana and Wyoming said Thursday that it’s begun exporting fuel to Asia through a Canadian shipping terminal, after its years-long effort to secure port access in the U.S. Pacific Northwest has come up short.

That’s not surprising. The use of coal in America, as S&R explained last year, has stalled — and it’s not going to rebound despite President Donald’s promise to revive the coal industry. So the owners of big coal mines in Montana and Wyoming are looking to export coal to Asian markets to shore up revenues.

But the states of California, Washington, and Oregon have opposed coal export terminal projects in Oakland, Calif.; Bellingham, Gray’s Harbor, and Longview, Wash.; and Port of Morrow, St. Helens, and Coos Bay, Ore. So coal corporations have decided to ship through Canadian ports on its western coast. For now, maybe.

Continue reading

United Airlines and its ‘calculated misery’: happy customers just aren’t needed to make money

The future of Oscar Munoz, the CEO of United Airlines, has just been re-accommodated.

You remember him, of course. After airport dragoons dragged a boarded, seated, paying customer off a United aircraft, Munoz’s first PR apology contained what Scholars & Rogues has called the “word of the year”: “I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers.”

telemmglpict000125651009-large_trans_nvbqzqnjv4bqbe6o56qrl4zbrlmqqi7ubfvse9jsn00kzbur3ixhagoWell, that’s cost him. Munoz had been groomed to move upstairs from CEO to chairman of United Continental Holdings, the airline’s owner. (You do remember, of course, that Continental agreed to merge with United seven years ago.) Well, Munoz won’t get that top job.

United’s twin clusterfucks of policy execution (overbooking issues) and PR aftermath (“re-accommodated”) have derailed Munoz’s career — well, a little. He may lose about $500,000 from his bonus, because it’s tied in part to what airlines call KPI — key performance indicators, as indicated in consumer satisfaction surveys. But don’t shed a tear for Munoz — he received $18.7 million in total compensation for 2016, more than triple that of 2015. Continue reading

S&R at 10: Still thinking, ’cause it ain’t illegal, and we want to keep it that way

Fanaticism consists in redoubling your effort when you have forgotten your aim— George Santayana, 1863-1952

We’re not fanatics here at Scholars & Rogues. As our founder, Sam Smith, writes today on our 10th anniversary, our unruly mob of scholars and rogues believes in a “fierce commitment to confronting challenging questions facing ourselves, our society and our communities.”

S&R-logo-originalMany, if not most, of those challenges arrive at our digital doorstep because those who are fanatics have lost both their aim and their minds. We, as do you, routinely witness assaults on common sense, on dignity, on respect, and on intelligent public discourse.

We’ve tried to be more than mere witnesses here. When we’ve seen stupidity, we’ve shouted, sometimes whispered, “Hey! That’s not right. Don’t do that.”

But that’s not enough. To again paraphrase my favorite fictional president, Andrew Shepard, those who have lost their way or their minds on an issue do two things and two things only: Telling you to be afraid of it, and telling you who’s to blame for it.

Continue reading

Economic development, and the decline of rural prospects, is a tale of many cities

Economic neglect unleashes the stalking demons of fear and bigotry.

We have seen those demons basking in the movements which gave us Brexit in the UK, Donald Trump’s election in the US, and which may soon yield Marine le Pen as the new Vichy leader of France.

I have started visiting small towns and cities around the UK in an effort to both understand what is happening there, and to promote small business investment in those areas.

I won’t post all the episodes here, but you can follow along at Coffee Conspiracies on YouTube.

In this episode, I look at the data for every local authority in England and Wales and consider the opportunities and threats for their communities.

Tesla is insanely overvalued vis-a-vis Ford and GM

Tesla logo

Every once in a while I’m reminded in stark terms why I’m not a market trader, why I don’t consider even the most sacrosanct economic “laws” as nothing more than generic guidelines, and why the market should always be treated as if it’s almost, but not quite as rational as a rabid, starving badger suffering from mad cow disease. Today’s example is this: Tesla shares break $300 for the first time, closing in on GM’s market cap.

In no way is Telsa anywhere near as valuable as Ford or GM. Last quarter, Telsa sold 25,418 vehicles. Ford, on the other hand, sold nearly 10x that many in March alone. And GM? They sold 203,133 vehicles in March. Continue reading

HB2 cost NC a lot more than $3.76B

The AP says the “bathroom bill” cost North Carolina $3.76 billion. The real damage is likely much, much higher.

The AP yesterday released an analysis indicating that reaction to North Carolina’s discriminatory HB2 – the “bathroom bill” – cost the state a staggering $3.76 billion in lost business, projected over 12 years. That’s a remarkable hit to economy, but as I read the full details of how the AP arrived at that number, I can’t help wondering just how badly they underestimated the true damage that former governor “One Term” Pat McCrory and the rest of the jackals in the state GOP caused NC.

Have a look at the WaPo article linked above, then consider: Continue reading

If Congress decides to spend $1 trillion on infrastructure, keep tabs on who gets it

The grades are in. The nation’s infrastructure is close to failing.

aging-infrastructureThe 2017 report card of the American Society of Civil Engineers, posted today, gives the infrastructure on which America depends for commerce, defense, recreation, flight, food, water, waste — almost everything — an overall grade of D+.

From the ASCE report:

The 2017 grades range from a B for Rail to a D- for Transit, illustrating the clear impact of investment – or lack thereof – on the grades. Three categories – Parks, Solid Waste, and Transit – received a decline in grade this year, while seven – Hazardous Waste, Inland Waterways, Levees, Ports, Rail, Schools, and Wastewater – saw slight improvements. Six categories’ grades remain unchanged from 2013 – Aviation, Bridges, Dams, Drinking Water, Energy, and Roads.

The areas of infrastructure that improved benefited from vocal leadership, thoughtful policymaking, and investments that garnered results.

Scholars & Rogues has long considered addressing the nation’s infrastructure needs essential for the nation’s economic, cultural, resource, and domestic security (see here, here, here, and here). Continue reading

The ‘enemy of the American People’ doesn’t work at your local newspaper

It engenders anger to know the president of the United States says that what I did for a living for 20 years — and what I’ve spent 25 years teaching — represents the acts of “an enemy of the American People.”

CATEGORY: JournalismPresident Donald, titularly “the most powerful man in the world,” will eventually learn not to pick fights with people who buy ink in 55-gallon drums — and have plenty of digital and video ink to spare.

He’s awakened a slumbering watchdog. Recall journalism’s reactions to President Nixon’s overt and covert deceits. The nation’s best newspapers rose to challenge the president — and Nixon lost. Trust in the executive branch withered. Remember, too, the swell of entrants to the nation’s journalism programs (well, after “All the President’s Men” hit the big screen). Will that happen again in President Donald’s first term?

President Donald’s fortunate in the timing of his presidency. The last 20 years have left journalism in a weakened, altered state. Reasons are many — management reacting too late to the challenge of the internet, a decline in interest in the field among the young, and massive losses of revenue prompting executives to pare the workforce of daily print journalists by 20,000 positions, about 39 percent.

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Few rules, fewer regulators — President Donald’s shrink-the-government plan

In the absence of rules and sheriffs, bandits will multiply.

CATEGORY: PoliticsLawGovernment3The end game of the heavily mediated engine driving American political strife boils down to these questions:

  • What is the appropriate size of the federal government?
  • Who should decide that?
  • Who should run the “right-sized” government based on what values determined by whom?

Big, big money was wagered in the 2016 election cycle on the outcome of this game as gazillionaires of the right and left poured donations (wonder how many are legal?) into competing PACs, SuperPACS, and 501C’s.

The Democrats shouted: We need social equality. Continue reading

Dear Liberals: you don’t vote in your economic best interests, either

trump-votersBottom line: almost ALL Americans vote against their best interests.

For years progressives have been hammering conservatives – specifically social conservatives – who “vote against their own interests.” As in, poor working people who vote for the wealthy GOP interests that are the reason they’re poor, and whose policies insure they will remain that way. I have certainly been among this crowd – I remember wondering back in the 1992 election what the fuck could be wrong with Arkansas Bush I voters, for instance. They concluded that Dubya’s Daddy was the sort of guy “they’d like to have a beer with.” Somehow a Northeastern blueblood Skull & Boneser who’d been born with a silver spoon up his ass was more “one of them” than, you know, the guy who was actually born in the trailer park down the road.

It was irrational, it was self-defeating, and it was stupid beyond all imagining. Continue reading