Archive for the 'business' Category

Trifecta, etc.

Saturday, December 20th, 2014

Conrad Black:

a Saudi move on this scale, with the resulting self-inflicted reduction in their income, makes no sense for the marginal impact it will have on American future production and imports; it is a geopolitical move targeted much closer to home.

Al-Badri’s flimflam, for which there is much precedent in the history of OPEC (essentially, the cartel is a perpetual quarrel among thieves pretending to be price-fixing), naturally seeks to disguise the fact that Saudi Arabia is trying to discourage the use of Iranian and Russian oil revenues to prop up the blood-stained and beleaguered Assad regime in Damascus, to finance Iran’s nuclear military program, and to incite the continuing outrages of Hezbollah and Hamas in Lebanon and the Palestinian Territories against Israel. The exotic community of interest that has suddenly arisen between the historically Jew-baiting Saudis and the Jewish state is because the countries in the area fear, with good reason as far as can be discerned, that the UN Security Council members, plus Germany, may be on the verge of acquiescing in Iran’s arrival as a threshold nuclear military power. The oil-price weapon, in the face of the terminal enfeeblement of the US administration, is the last recourse before the Saudis and Turks, whatever their autocues of racist rhetoric, invite Israel to smash the Iranian nuclear program from the air.

It is perfectly indicative of the scramble that ensues when a mighty power like the United States withdraws, fatigued but undefeated, from much of the world, that Saudi Arabia, a joint venture between the nomadic and medieval House of Saud and the Wahhabi establishment that propagates jihadism with Saudi oil revenues, makes common cause with Israel in a way that inadvertently relieves much of the Russian pressure on Ukraine, which was not an objective in Saudi calculations at all. From the Western standpoint, this is a lucky bounce of the political football. But it is Saudi judgment of its self-interest opposite the contending factions in Syria and the hideous prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran that is discommoding the Saudi leaders, not the ineluctable exploitation by the United States of its own oil resources

It’s commonest for people to see ambiguous things through an internal prism that shapes the picture into something to which their internal, unconscious, self-regard can relate. (In the two examples linked here, for example, the first self-relating was to victimhood, and the second self-relating was the desire to be adored by hundreds of millions; in that regard the stories are not at all contradictory.) Anyway, back on planet earth, E&P CEO’s see the oil price plunge as about shale, and some geopolitical pundits see Iran as the prime target. As for us, we’ve always thought that shale, Iran and Russia were all in the mix, and that it must have seemed elegant to the price plungers that launching the only weapon Saudi Arabia has in its arsenal could produce a trifecta.

Bonus fun: we saw the Decatur plant of Caterpillar on CNBC yesterday, and is that a hoot! Reminds us of our favorite TV series, Industry on Parade, writ very very large. A GMW of 1.4 MM lb? Are you kidding? Man, we’d love to visit that place!

Yes, but what’s the timing?

Friday, December 19th, 2014

Spengler hits the nail on the head; can’t say it better, so let him say it. JOM pokes fun at the misplaced hauteur of the bien-pensants. WRM adds to the mix, as does Harvey Mansfield. As for us, we see things coming to a head too, but what about the timing of some new preference cascade? Hard to say, since we were totally surprised when oil went to $147 a barrel, and were just as surprised that it’s now down to $50 or so. Suffice it to say that we will probably be shocked by the particulars of some nasty events that make the “micro-aggression” meme a crumbling thing, but we won’t be surprised if it happens in the next 24 months or so…

A tale of two cities, Godfather II, and more

Thursday, December 18th, 2014

Hanoi, via Michael J. Totten:

Vietnam’s Communist Party figured out that communist economics were bankrupt even before the Berlin Wall fell, a mere ten years after winning the war and conquering the south, and in 1986 it implemented the reforms known as Doi Moi. Decades later, the result is an extraordinary explosion of new prosperity that nullifies nearly everything the party did and said when it first came to power…

Vietnam developed what some have called “street front capitalism” where microbusinesses proliferated. You’ll still see them all over Vietnam now. Women sell fresh produce and baked goods from baskets. Men grill meat and sell it to passersby who sit on little stools and eat at tiny tables right on the sidewalk. Everything you can imagine is sold from little stalls in the night markets.

Nowhere in the world have I seen so many boutiques, from cafes and pubs to clothing and electronics stores. I can’t say with this with certainty, but I suspect, due to the sheer number of Vietnamese involved in one kind of small business another, that more people in Vietnam understand the basics of business and capitalism than people in the United States. And that’s in the north, which still lags behind the south. “When the communist leadership decided in the mid-1980s to put Karl Marx and Adam Smith into a blender and see what came out,” David Lamb wrote…

When Vietnam was still economically Marxist it was one of the world’s poorest countries. “Ninety percent of the roads were unpaved; farmers in the most impoverished provinces got by on the equivalent of perhaps five dollars per month; nationally, bicycles outnumbered cars forty-to-one…Personal freedoms had vanished for all but the communist elite. Food was rationed. A pair of shoes was beyond the means of most families, unless they were prominent Party members”…

“The results of Doi Moi over the first eight or nine years were dazzling,” Lamb wrote. “The annual inflation rate fell to single digits from 700 percent. Farmers, freed from collectivization, transformed Vietnam from a rice importer into the world’s second-largest rice exporter after Thailand. The gross domestic product grew by nearly nine percent a year. Thirty-five thousand small businesses started up in the private sector.”

Havana, etc. via Michael J. Totten:

the waiter at the restaurant where I had lunch handed me a card indicating the establishment has a page up on Trip Advisor in case I felt like writing a review once I got home. The Internet scarcely exists in Cuba. It’s banned in private homes. No Cubans surf Trip Advisor when they wonder where they should go out to lunch. Who can afford to go out to lunch? The government imposes a Maximum Wage of twenty dollars a month.

These people have been crushed into poverty and are kept there by force. The restaurant is strictly for foreigners from nations with minimum wages rather than maximum wages. The staff have probably never seen their own Web site. And yet, they have 157 reviews. You might think, if you looked it up on the Internet, that eating out and vacationing in Cuba is no stranger than doing so in Puerto Rico or Aruba or anywhere else in the Caribbean. Yet Cuba is little different from East Germany when it was still cut off from West Berlin by the Wall…

Police officers pull over cars and search the trunk for meat, lobsters, and shrimp. They also search passenger bags on city busses in Havana. Dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez wrote about it sarcastically in her book, Havana Real. “Buses are stopped in the middle of the street and bags inspected to see if we are carrying some cheese, a lobster, or some dangerous shrimp hidden among our personal belongings.” If they find a side of beef in the trunk, so I’m told, you’ll go to prison for five years if you tell the police where you got it and ten years if you don’t…

Beef is reserved for the elite and those who get tips from tourists or remittances from abroad. A Cuban who kills a cow is supposedly in big trouble. “You’ll be charged with murder,” one person told me. I’m not sure what that means, exactly, and the closest I can come to verifying it is an article in The Economist published in 2008. “In a place that before 1959 boasted as many cattle as people, meat is such a scarce luxury that it is a crime to kill and eat a cow.” Another person told me that farmers will sometimes push a cow onto the road around a blind corner when they hear a car coming. That way the animal (though possibly also the driver) will be killed “naturally” and can be eaten without the threat of a prison sentence.

We have friends in South Florida whose families became refugees and whose small businesses were confiscated and destroyed by Castro and his thugs; we understand where Marco Rubio is coming from. However, it’s not obvious to us that flooding Cuba with US tourists and their connectivity demands, as well as some US investment, is a bad thing, even if it is proposed by the US branch of Hasta la Victoria Siempre LLC.

Is an alternate ending for Godfather II not possible? The Castros are now Batista. When Hyman Roth and Michael Corleone went to Havana in December of 1958, they had no idea that the Batista regime would fold the next month. Maybe tens of thousands of mini-Roths, and refugee relatives from Miami, New Jersey, etc. would make it easier for the current thugocracy to remain in power, but maybe not. Could a lot of new people and new money undermine a “maximum wage”? Police states appear often very strong until suddenly they’re not. Is there a Hanoi under the surface of Havana? And what becomes the next stage for Hanoi, BTW? We don’t have the answers to the questions above, but don’t predict stability in inherently unstable conditions.

One thing leads to another, sometimes in strange ways — Fibonacci???

Friday, December 12th, 2014

From an E&P CEO:

the Saudis want to chill investment in new oil supply to help protect OPEC’s future. In round numbers we have had about 5 MBOPD increase in world oil demand over the last 5 or 6 years. Over the same time period US oil production has grown from nearly 4 MBOPD (from 5 to 9 MBOPD) — 80% of the increase in WORLD demand!

This is NOT good for OPEC. I suspect that we will have ugly oil prices ($60 – $75) for around a year as that is long enough to stop many current oil supply investments and, more importantly, serve to chill the appetite for future large investments in oil supply growth (deep water, arctic, marginal shale, marginal tar sands, etc) which is the Saudi goal in my opinion. I do not believe that the current price ($65) is a sustainable price going forward. It would not encourage enough new supply

This seems plausible enough, and if true, might have seemed even elegant in the planning, since it kills or wounds three birds with one stone (Iran needs $136 oil to balance its budget, Russia $100). But that was then and this is now, and things seem to have spun out of control. All of which led us to Cramer’s discussion of what the charts are telling us about the future price of oil.

Suddenly a word appeared that we had not heard in a long time — Cramer said that trading often forms Fibonacci sequences. Fibonacci? Huh? Suddenly it’s everywhere. We couldn’t find our copy of Vincent Scully’s book, but sure enough, the Golden ratio is right there at the Parthenon. Jeepers. (Ancient Greeks? — watch out AS!)

Perfection!

Saturday, December 6th, 2014

Just the other day we noted Wretchard’s comment that American politics has become radically divided in two, in part due to an almost psychotic media-reality split, and voilà, we’ve found a glittering gemstone. Consider this magnificent tune. We’d wager that most of its apparent target audience would find it either irrelevant or offensive, while we can easily imagine a conference room of media consultants recommending it with straight faces. Media-reality split. But wait, there’s more!

It’s hard to know whether this Rolling Stone piece on the song is meant as a positive description or subversion. Subversion would be our guess. It’s easy to imagine the high-paid media consultants chortling as they thought: wait til Elizabeth Warren’s people get a load of this. But then again, it’s just as easy to see the consultants thinking that the rubes will really go for this — or maybe both thoughts at the same time. Whatever. We just hope everyone got a good payday out of this masterwork, particularly the graphics guy who helpfully inserted the word ‘cuz at three minutes into the song.

For future reference

Friday, December 5th, 2014

The New New Republic announces a restructuring and, without apparent irony, calls the departing editor “the beating heart of this brand”:

we are re-imagining The New Republic as a vertically integrated digital media company. Gabriel is ideally suited to bridge traditional journalism and digital media. He is committed – as am I – to The New Republic’s mission of impact, influence and persuasion, but understands that fulfilling that mission in today’s media landscape requires new forms.

He truly reflects the “straddle generation” of journalists and editors who remain deeply rooted in the qualities of traditional journalism – having worked with brands such as the New York Observer and The Atlantic – but also understands what it takes to create content that will travel across all platforms. We believe he is the right person to help us to maintain the core DNA of The New Republic, while propelling us forward…

we will be making significant investments in creating a more effective and efficient newsroom as well as improved products across all platforms. This will require a recalibration of our resources in order to deliver the best product possible. In order to do so, we’ve made the decision to reduce the frequency of our print publication from 20 to 10 issues a year and will be making improvements to the magazine itself. Given the frequency reduction, we will also be making some changes to staff structure.

Maybe things will work out for the 30 year old who bought the magazine 2 years ago. Stranger things have happened we suppose. Certainly the writing style and word selection of the “straddle generation” make a strong impact.

All of this reminds us of the so-called Twitter Revolution, which worked out so well as you recall. We’ll watch and see what happens in this case. Tick. Tick. Tick.

UPDATE: Tock. Well, that didn’t take long!

Been there, done that

Thursday, December 4th, 2014

Marketwatch (slightly edited):

It’s official: America is now No. 2…China will this year produce $17.6 trillion — compared with $17.4 trillion for the U.S.A. As recently as 2000, we produced nearly three times as much as the Chinese. To put the numbers slightly differently, China now accounts for 16.5% of the global economy when measured in terms of purchasing-power parity (PPP)

PPP? Where have we seen that before? Ah yes, we considered it at length a decade ago. (China has grown spectacularly in the last decade of course, but PPP is a little exaggerated compared to other measures.)

PS: doesn’t the reporter seem kind of happy about the story and headline?

What’s the end game for the theater?

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014

Wretchard says American politics has seemed to split in two, and it’s hard to argue with that. Right now the mobile cameras of CNN are cruising the streets of NYC with seemingly thousands of people in what appear to be highly organized protests. The CNN commentary is exactly what you’d expect. It’s the narrative at work that we were talking about the other day. Obviously the merits of each of these incidents will vary all over the place, but it seems like a sure thing, unless the ratings drop into the toilet, that a new and long-running reality TV show has been born. Our question is: what’s the end game? Unless the country has really lost its marbles, a new policy of police-duck-and-cover and crooks-do-what-you-want cannot end well for its proponents. Insane policies have a history of not ending well. So what’s the end game here after incident 50 or 75?

Update: media insanity unbounded.

Madness of various sorts

Monday, December 1st, 2014

ZH:

total outstanding US public debt just hit a new historic level which probably would be better associated with a red color: as of the last work day of November, total US public debt just surpassed $18 trillion for the first time, or $18,005,549,328,561.45 to be precise, of which debt held by the public rose to $12,922,681,725,432.94… total US debt to nominal GDP as of Sept 30, which was $17.555 trillion, is now 103%.

If you think that’s bad, get a load of this.

Incredible

Sunday, November 30th, 2014

Bloomberg:

“If the governments aren’t able to spend to keep the kids off the streets they will go back to the streets, and we could start to see political disruption and upheaval,” said Paul Stevens, distinguished fellow for energy, environment and resources at Chatham House in London, a U.K. policy group. “The majority of members of OPEC need well over $100 a barrel to balance their budgets. If they start cutting expenditure, this is likely to cause problems.”

Oil has dropped 37 percent this year and, in theory, production can continue to flow until prices fall below the day-to-day costs at existing wells. Stevens said some U.S. shale producers may break even at $40 a barrel or less. The International Energy Agency estimates most drilling in the Bakken formation — the shale producers that OPEC seeks to drive out of business — return cash at $42 a barrel.

“Right now we’re seeing a price shock coming out of the meeting and it will be a couple of weeks until we see where the price really falls,” said Yergin. Officials “have to figure out where the new price range is, and that’s the drama that’s going to play out in the weeks ahead.” Brent crude finished last week around $70, and New York oil near $66. Brent is now at its lowest since the financial crisis — when it bottomed around $36.

Fadel Gheit: “fracking is like a virus and it’s going to proliferate and it will eventually spread even to Russia and Saudi Arabia.” Shale, it’s the future. Wow.

Strategery

Thursday, November 27th, 2014

Bloomberg:

American producers risk becoming victims of their own success. At today’s prices of just over $70 a barrel, drilling is close to becoming unprofitable for some explorers, Leonid Fedun, vice president and board member at OAO Lukoil (LKOD), said in an interview in London. “In 2016, when OPEC completes this objective of cleaning up the American marginal market, the oil price will start growing again,” said Fedun, who’s made a fortune of more than $4 billion in the oil business, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. “The shale boom is on a par with the dot-com boom. The strong players will remain, the weak ones will vanish.” Oil futures in New York plunged as much as 3.8 percent to $70.87 a barrel today, the lowest since August 2010. At the moment, some U.S. producers are surviving because they managed to hedge the prices they get for their oil at about $90 a barrel, Fedun said. When those arrangements expire, life will become much more difficult, he said.

So much for knocking conspiracies and grand strategies. Saudi Arabia is by far the global low cost producer of oil. In business there are two basic strategies; you can be the low cost producer or you can sell to a niche market. The low cost producer occasionally decides it’s a good time to wipe out pesky upstarts like shale and that appears to be part of what’s going on today. Also not good for Iran and Russia, as the NYT notes.

But the oil price plunge seems odd, does it not? Who would have predicted this a year or two ago (like so many other things!)? One of those unexpected discontinuities we think about from time to time. Such things tend to have unintended consequences, and in recent days “unintended consequences” have generally been bad. We’ll see…

Everything old is new again

Monday, November 24th, 2014

Tufts:

In the fifth year of the Peloponnesian war (427 BCE), Athens’ ally Corcyra fell victim to internal strife, a vicious struggle between the commons, allies of Athens, and the oligarchs, who were eager to enlist the support of the Spartans. The revolution began when Corinth, an ally of Sparta, released Corcyraean prisoners with the promise that the former prisoners would work to convince Corcyra to abandon its ally Athens and join the Peloponnesian side. These men brought Peithias, a pro-Athenian civic leader, to trial on charges of “enslaving Corcyra to Athens”. He was acquitted and took revenge by charging five of them in turn. However, these men burst in upon the senate and killed Peithias and sixty other people.

Shortly after this, skirmishes broke out in the city, between the commons, who enlisted the aid of the slaves, and the oligarchs, who hired mercenaries, which ended with the oligarchs being routed. The Athenian general, Nicostratus, tried to bring about a peaceful settlement and ensure an offensive and defensive alliance between Corcyra and Athens. Nicostratus agreed to leave five Athenian ships to defend Corcyra while five Corcyraean ships accompanied him. The commons tried to get their enemies to serve upon these ships that were departing with Nicostratus. Their enemies, fearing for their lives, seated themselves as suppliants to the goddess Hera, and eventually were convinced to stay on the island in front of the temple.

Four or five days after these events, Peloponnesian ships approached Corcyra and engaged the smaller number of Athenian vessels, while the Corcyraean vessels were ineffective due to disorganization. The Peloponnesians drove off the Athenian and Corcyraean ships, laid waste to the surrounding country, but chose not to attack the city itself . Disorder and panic were rampant through the city, as rumors reached the population.

The Peloponnesians eventual departed under fear of the approach of a larger Athenian fleet. The commons took this opportunity to slay as many of their enemies as they could get their hands upon. The managed to slay some of the men who had appealed to Hera as suppliants. The others committed suicide or killed each other. This was the beginning of the chaos in Corcyra and “the Corcyraeans were engaged in butchering those of their fellow-citizens whom they regarded as their enemies: and although the crime imputed was that of attempting to put down the democracy, some were slain also for private hatred, others by their debtors because of the monies owed to them.”

What’s up with this? Angelo Codevilla explains.

That’s a nice country you’ve got there

Saturday, November 22nd, 2014

Wretchard et al, with some minor edits:

No one knows if the administration will manage in the next five weeks to strike what many in the White House consider the most important foreign policy deal of all time: an accord with Iran that would forestall its ability to make a nuclear weapon. But the administration has made one significant decision: If agreement is reached, it will do everything in his power to avoid letting Congress vote on it. Sneak it in the back door and declare victory. Nothing warms the cockles of his heart more than “it is so ordered”. But that has been the pattern for the administration. It claimed al-Qaeda decimated, maintained the attack on the Benghazi consulate was caused by a video, swore that the mandates were not taxes, that you could keep your doctor or health plan; it celebrated the fresh wind of an Arab spring that blew through Libya, Egypt and Syria. It claimed the doorman Putin has been put in his place. Which of these is true? But there are many who still believe. Unfortunately they may be surprised one day when all the dreams of grand bargains, resets, pivots, springs and a World Without Nuclear Weapons don’t actually come true. The disappointment may be a bitter one.

That’s a nice country you’ve got there; be a pity if anything happened to it. Also, Roger Kimball is upset for some reason.

The drips are dropping

Saturday, November 15th, 2014

Rather than focus on the horrible (e.g., this and this), or the merry / silly but good, we’ll mention the pernicious but naive today. A fellow who was a year behind us in B school runs a very large company and has done very well for himself; he censored his media employees so they could not say politically inconvenient things, no doubt on many occasions (for which the BOD arguably should censure him). What’s up with that? No plausible deniability in case the worm turns (which it has)?

2030 is just around the corner?

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014

Bloomberg:

best argument against regulating carbon emissions from U.S. coal plants has always been this: If China won’t act, what use is it? Why risk harming the U.S. economy if the resulting drop in emissions isn’t enough to slow the worst effects of climate change? The U.S.-China climate agreement announced last night turns that argument on its head. Under the deal, China will aim to begin reducing its carbon emissions by 2030, and the U.S. will reduce its emissions by as much as 28 percent by 2025, compared with 2005 levels — “reductions achievable under existing law.” Translation: The U.S. can only honor its commitment if proposed regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency, which aim to reduce power-plant emissions 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, are allowed to proceed. So if some in Congress block those rules, they risk tanking the agreement with China, which in turn gives China a reason to back out of the deal. The EPA rules that previously looked senseless in the absence of Chinese emissions reductions are now, arguably, the single most important thing the U.S. can do

This is a parody, right? Possibly related.

Life then and now

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

HuffPo:

Mia Love made history on Election Night 2014 as she beat out Democratic contender Doug Owens to become the first black (Haitian-American), female Republican to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. This is a stunning triumph in the predominately white and conservative state of Utah, where only 1.3 percent of the population is black. For many Americans unfamiliar with the significance of race, racism and inequality within our nation’s borders, Mia’s victory seemingly sends a clear message that America is truly “post-racial,” particularly if a black woman can get elected to office by a majority-white, conservative and religious constituency. Her white supporters likewise congratulate themselves, proclaiming that Love’s achievement is indicative of a more progressive and democratic society in general where tolerance and inclusion are on the rise, moving beyond the evils of individual bigotry. Starkly exposed since the election of President Obama in 2008, her GOP colleagues and supporters hope that her presence as a newly elected official will demonstrate how far the GOP has come, embracing difference that was so clearly lacking. Some believe her victory will do wonders for the GOP, which struggles to gain a significant share of the coveted “minority vote.” But will her election play a major factor in gaining greater access to black Americans, or is it merely a veil?

To many African Americans and other individuals engaged in politics who followed Mia Love’s House candidacy up to her historic victory, she is a paradox. As a black, female Mormon, her conservative ideals are deemed peculiar as she begins her office in the House of Representatives while balancing a triad of oppressive social constructs that are leveled against her. Not only have blacks historically and continually had to battle for their right to coexist as equals in U.S. society, but women have similarly pushed against a glass ceiling. Even today, women still struggle for equal pay, equal rights and equal protection under the law in the workplace. Mia, as a black female, represents one of the most discriminated-against racial groups in the country. To a degree, the same can be said for her Mormon identity, as the LDS faithful endured bitter hatred and state-sanctioned domestic terrorism in Missouri and Illinois in the 1800s. Mormons remains grossly misunderstood and often unfairly judged with respect to their religious views, while mainline evangelical traditions continue to wield Christian privilege at the expense of “fringe” religions like Mormonism. How does a black, female conservative and Latter-day Saint manage to negotiate so many foreboding white contexts?

Love’s political convictions show a strong support for values that do not necessarily represent her interests as a member in any of these oppressed groups.

We were somehow reminded of this from a decade ago:

Here is the signal fact of our progress in the last century. If you were born in 1900, your life expectancy was in the forties, and GNP per capita was about $4000. If you are born today, your life expectancy in about eighty, and statistically, as an average American, you are ten times richer. In reality you are a hundred or a thousand times richer, if you factor in your ability to be in Paris tomorrow for $500, your ability to watch events from fifty years ago as they actually happened, etc. – not to mention that your toddler’s severe pneumonia can be reliably cured in 48 hours or so. Only a little of this has to do with government.

Mostly it is because far more than 50% of everything ever invented in the history of humanity was invented in the last 130 years, and perhaps 50% of that was invented by Americans. Milton Hershey invented the candy bar, Carrier invented the air conditioner for a tire plant, Sears invented catalogue distribution, Henry Ford invented cheap cars, some guys from Texas Instruments commercialized the transistor. It is almost impossible to overstate the importance of the invention and wide use of brand names, which communicate the quality and dependability of every product we buy. This alone deserves the Nobel Prize. And it was a large and growing market, the availability of risk capital, the development of standardized accounting principles, and protection of intellectual and personal property by the courts that made this possible

Moreover, in the years since we first wrote the paragraphs above, the following inventions and innovations have appeared on the scene: the iPhone, the iPad, YouTube, the World of Google, ubiquitous wireless, texting, twitter, tumblr, the cloud, and the entire universe of real-time, mostly inane interconnectedness

That HuffPo guy sure seems unhappy in 2014. Again we’re reminded that no one in America remembers what life was like without telephones, running water, indoor plumbing, cars, airplanes, central heating, or electric lights. A quote from Henry Adams is apt: “The American boy of 1854 stood closer to the year 1 than to the year 1900.” Vanishingly small numbers of Americans have a visceral understanding of what 1854 was like, and what the heck Adams was talking about.

A program — offered seriously — for 2014-2016

Thursday, November 6th, 2014

The Nation has an agenda for 2014-2016:

immigration reform. Announce a serious executive action. Go to the South Valley of Texas and/or the Arizona border, and make appearances with some of the little girls and boys who are trying to come to the United States to avoid their dangerous, hard-scrabble lives in Honduras and Guatemala…

Cancel the Keystone XL Pipeline. Then elevate climate change as an issue…Meet with China and India on climate issues, before the next round of global climate meetings. Set aside big chunks of public land and ocean, and hold photo ops in spectacular natural settings as you do so…Host a national teach-in with real climate scientists, on C-Span, and use it to drive a nail in the coffin of the fake, corporate-funded, “climate denial” science. Pull together a meeting of coastal mayors to talk about what “resilience” steps to take to prepare for the next Superstorm Sandy — this is not only necessary, it’s a good way to raise the issue of needed infrastructure spending. Take the climate disruption issue head-on, and make it part of the legacy. No previous leaders have met the challenge of global warming, a threat that affects both national and world security…

Go up to the edge of normalizing relations with Cuba. Send the Attorney General down to Havana to work out the details. I understand that current law prevents fully normalizing relations with Cuba, but there are a series of executive actions that would weaken the embargo, increase American prestige in this hemisphere, and help stabilize working relationships with Cuba on a series of bilateral issues. Even better, take these executive actions just before the entire hemisphere meets at the Summit of the Americas in Panama in May, actions that will enhance America’s reputation across Latin America.

Use changing national attitudes on marijuana to weaken the wasteful and ineffective war on drugs. Better yet, use executive power to weaken our harsh and racist criminal injustice system. Reclassify marijuana as a less-dangerous drug. Commute sentences of nonviolent pot prisoners (a disproportionate number of them young African-Americans!). Appoint a blue-ribbon presidential commission on drug reform and criminal justice reform, with a mandate to report back quickly on issues from marijuana legalization to curbing police brutality to eliminating three-strikes-and-you’re-out policies to reforming harsh sentencing to ending the militarization and weaponization of local and state police departments to stop and frisk to racial profiling.

Nominate Tom Harkin to the Federal Reserve Board…

issue a Good Jobs Executive Order that would reward companies that pay their workers a living wage, allow them a voice at the workplace without having to go on strike, adhere to federal workplace safety and fair labor standards and limit the pay of their chief executives to some reasonable ratio to that of their average workers.

Nominate a diverse set of progressives to fill every judicial vacancy at every level, and then make this a huge national throwdown fight when they are not approved. Given the poor public view of the runaway, activist, Citizens United–tainted Supreme Court, judges could become one of the big issues of the 2016 campaign. Be the change you want to see. Sí, se puede.

That’s a winning platform alright! Perhaps there’s a reason for all the drug talk. And this from Patterico. Hinge, hinge, unhinge.

Bonus fun: compare George Will’s recommendations with the Nation’s. Questions? Anyone?

More chaos

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014

France’s foreign minister in the WaPo:

Syria’s second-largest city and part of humanity’s ancient heritage, Aleppo is the martyred center of the resistance to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, having been under constant bombardment by his forces since 2012. Now Aleppo is caught between the regime’s “barrel bombs” and Daesh’s cutthroats.

The city is almost entirely encircled, connected to the outside world by a single road to Turkey. The regime is seeking to destroy the resistance through cold and hunger. While 1 million people have left to join the flood of Syrian refugees, some 300,000 Aleppans are holding on, threatened with the same death and destruction that the regime has inflicted on Homs and the suburbs of Damascus.

The dictator prefers to deliver Aleppo to terrorist atrocities, even if that means allowing Daesh to flourish…the terrorist group known in the Arab world as Daesh — we do not use Islamic State, because the group is neither truly Islamic nor a state — is dispatching its murderers to…Aleppo

(Politically correct flourish as usual.) Meanwhile, one report says the oil business for ISIS is good: “ISIS can make over $1 million a day from the trade” on the Turkish-Syrian border.

What’s up (or down) with oil?

Monday, November 3rd, 2014

BI:

advances in hydraulic fracturing have fueled what some call the Great American Shale Boom. Oil and natural gas extracted from shale basins have left the US flush with energy. It’s been a boon for US energy-related jobs and equipment suppliers. But it’s not cheap to tap these so-called unconventional plays. In other words, crashing oil prices will soon make many of these energy sources money-losing projects. Morgan Stanley estimates the average breakeven oil price for these US plays to be about $76 to $77 per barrel. Goldman Sachs puts that number at closer to $75. If the price of oil can’t cover production expenses and these companies are forced to idle their operations, then you could expect spending to drop, jobs to get cut, and delinquencies and defaults to rise. To make matters more complicated, many of these energy companies are financing their operations by borrowing in the junk-bond market

Oil closed at below $79 today. We certainly remember the bad old days when oil was twice that price. It’s hard to believe that the recent plunge in oil prices is an considered attack on US fracking, but these are strange times and the strangest things have become unsurprising.

You learn something new every day

Saturday, November 1st, 2014

Until today, we had never heard of James Burnham or his famous Suicide of the West. We saw an apt quote cited by Scott Johnson today, so we’ll read some Burnham. He was taught by a charter member of the Inklings, and he was a Trotskyist before his enlightenment. We’ll definitely read The Managerial Revolution. Most surprising to us is that Suicide was published in way back in 1964. Kind of a slow-motion suicide for a long time, but things seem to have gone asymptotic in the last year or so.