This young lady has what might be the least salable skill ever, but it’s fascinating to hear.
Last week’s selection of Elton John’s “Bennie And The Jets” generated a lot of smart comments, especially one about John and his songwriting partner, Bernie Taupin. And that got me to wonder — what happened to songwriting?
Because it’s grown to mostly suck.
That’s not to say popular music was once always great. I’ll refer you to Exhibit A, 1952′s “(How Much Is) That Doggy In The Window?” as evidence that bad songs have always been with us. And there are still some fine popular songs being recorded today, I’m sure. Although I can’t think of one which has actually made the charts.
Time was though, that American popular music defined the grown-up listening experience, but then Rock’n'Roll came along and changed all that. Rock is essentially adolescent — and I say that as a compliment and not a complaint. It’s permanent (although not exclusive) adolescence is its essential charm. The problem is that popular music followed it down that same path, leaving precious little for the grownups to listen to when we want something a little more grown up.
So what does this have to do with the death of — or at least dearth of — great songwriting?
The American Songbook was filled with popular music written by professional songwriters, who sold their wares to professional vocalists, who performed with professional bands, with arrangements by professional arrangers. That’s a classic Smithian division of labor, and the results were frequently stunning and timeless. It’s also a tough field to break into.
Rock is much more democratic, too. You didn’t need those big orchestras and all those professional writers and arrangers and such. You just needed four or five guys, some inexpensive instruments, and a place to practice. So that’s where the new music started coming from as the old talent aged and the young Baby Boomers wanted something new.
The singer-songwriters were the next nail in the coffin, however — and I say this as a huge fan of the genre.
Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Neil Young, Lou Reed, Janis Ian — I could go on, just plucking singer-songwriter names out of my iTunes library at random. They have written and performed great songs. By and large however, the singer-songwriter writes a different style of song than your average Rogers & Hart or Cole Porter. The professional songwriters of old wrote music to sell to vocalists. So they tried their best to write timeless and adaptable songs. The singer-songwriter writes much more personal material, almost exclusively for themselves to perform. You can cover Dylan, but people will always compare you to the original Dylan. But anyone from Sinatra to Brian Setzer can sing a selection from the Great American Songbook and make it completely their own.
Later came the music video, and the rise of the studio producer and the singer-dancer-who-can’t-much-sing. And that was the final nail. Ah, well — it was good while it lasted.
For what it’s worth, I loved all those late ’70s/early ’80s videos, too. The songs might not have been timeless or adaptable, but they were sure a whole lot of fun. So I’m not being a Grumpy Old Man about all these changes. You can’t roll back the clock, or even achieve stasis in popular music, any more than you can in any other form of commerce.
Which brings us to John & Taupin. These two men are so talented and in so many different kinds of music, that I believe they would have thrived artistically and commercially during any musical era. Tonight’s pick, “Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word” could easily have turned out maudlin or saccharine. Instead they wrote a timeless ballad to a situation relatable to any grownup, anywhere.
That’s some fine songwriting right there, so I’m sorry if I alarmed you with exaggerated reports of its death.
Democratic Rep. Gary Peters, who is locked in a tight battle with Republican Terri Lynn Land, has replaced his campaign manager.
Paul Tencher, who ran now-Sen. Joe Donnelly’s winning campaign for the Democrats in Indiana last cycle, will take over as the head of Peters’s campaign operation. Tencher will replace Julie Petrick, who is stepping aside for personal reasons, Peters said in a statement.
Those personal reasons might have something to do with what Politico later describes as “a fairly lackluster few months” for the Peters campaign. Land has had her campaign braced by a couple of timely anti-♡bamaCare!!! ads being run by those dastardly Koch Brothers.
The GOP got a boost here in Colorado last week when Cory Gardner dropped into the Senate race while the hapless Ken Buck dropped out. But Mississippi Democrats got a boost of their own. The Hill has that story:
[Democrats'] shining hope is that Republicans have been in that position before and squandered their chances with poor candidates and intra-party fights.
Developments like Friday’s in Mississippi, where Democrats recruited former Rep. Travis Childers into the contest, are exactly what Republicans don’t need. The fact that the one-term congressman was wooed into a long-shot contest shows Republicans still haven’t solved their primary problem.
Childers is Democrats’ insurance policy, the same way Joe Donnelly was in Indiana and even Chris Coons was, to a lesser degree, in Delaware in 2010 — and now both are in the Senate. But in the heart of Dixie, Democrats can’t win without a pro-gun, anti-abortion, conservative Democrat like Childers who voted against the Affordable Care Act.
I’m not sure anyone had Mississippi in play, but Childers could certainly put it there.
The Democrats are playing defense, so almost any widening of the playing field is bound to hurt them. Mississippi would be an exception to that rule.
ObamaCare isn’t achieving its primary goal of extending coverage to the uninsured, according to a new study.
The survey released Thursday by the McKinsey & Co. consulting firm found that only 27 percent of people who have selected a plan on the new exchanges didn’t previously have coverage.
The Obama administration says 4 million people have selected a plan since the exchanges launched on Oct. 1, but has not said how many of them already had an insurance plan.
At a healthcare industry conference on Thursday, Gary Cohen, a top official at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), said it’s not something the administration has the ability to track.
“That’s not a data point that we are really collecting in any sort of systematic way,” Cohen said, according to The National Journal.
But what about the fierce moral urgency of covering 47 million Uninsurred-Americans who were dying of lethal conservatism?
I know, I know — I’ve asked that question before, and you already know the answer: ♡bamaCare!!! was never about them; it was about centralizing money and power in Washington. The uninsured will do what they’ve always done, and as it turns out, mostly chosen to have done. They’ll pay cash for their minor needs and go to the E/R for their major needs, if any.
It’s the rest of us who will be stuck with higher prices for poorer service and all the attendant increases in taxes and bureaucracy. Not to mention the exploding deficits.
This, by the way, is what Michelle Obama calls “God’s work.”
Makes you wonder who or what the hell it is she worships.
It’s the thug’s version of legal niceties:
“We will respect the historic choice of the people of Crimea,” said State Duma speaker Sergei Naryshkin at a meeting with the Crimean delegation and top Russian lawmakers.
“We support the free and democratic choice of the population of Crimea,” he added in comments broadcast on state television.
Naryshkin said the move was linked to the need to ensure the “rights and freedom of citizens and simply protect human life” in Crimea, amid Ukraine’s turmoil after the fall of president Viktor Yanukovych.
Masked Russian troops on the trouble peninsula are there to make sure the vote goes off without any unexpected hitches.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro went on CNN to issue a heartfelt non-apology for all the oppression and killing and whatnot:
Think about what the U.S. government would do if a political group laid out a road map for overthrowing President Barack Obama, Maduro said in an exclusive interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.
“What would happen in the United States if a group said they were going to start something in the United States so that President Obama leaves, resigns, to change the constitutional government of the United States?” Maduro said, according to a CNN translation of his remarks. “Surely, the state would react, would use all the force that the law gives it to re-establish order and to put those who are against the Constitution where they belong.”
I’m starting to not disbelieve him on that last point.
Walter Russel Mead says Russia has now blown past three Western plans to restore peace in Ukraine. Here’s the latest:
Plan C, which Putin shot down in the last 24 hours, was apparently based on the hope among some policy makers that a confused and misguided President Putin had made a dreadful blunder in Crimea. The plan was to offer the poor, trapped Russians a graceful way out of their predicament that would ultimately restore Ukrainian unity as the country moved West. The plan collapsed when Lavrov blew off the West and refused to even meet with Ukraine’s foreign minister and now the Russians are kicking the fragments to bits as the Crimean regional authorities announce plans for a referendum on annexation by Russia.
Plan C as Mead describes it is Gandalf-grade magical thinking. Putin doesn’t want an off-ramp; he wants to restore the Near Abroad to Mother Russia.
Putin’s plan goes like this: Help foster crisis in troubled neighbor. Move in troops to “help” and “restore order.” Have locals hold vote to ratify Russian presence and/or de facto (or even de jure) annexation.
Meanwhile, Professor Ditherton Wiggleroom works on new formulations to restore “peace in our time.” And I thought I was only joking a couple of weeks ago on Trifecta when I called him our first Brony-American president.
There are serious measures we could take immediately to really punish Putin, but we won’t because cheap energy is anathema to the Wiggleroom Administration. But Putin means business and we don’t. The rest is just a matter of how emboldened Putin feels, and if a time comes when Wiggleroom decides his ego is hurt enough to do something energetically stupid in response.
Honestly I’d rather we just lose this one graciously.
Tammy Bruce took her Trifecta segment and turned it into a must-read piece with a point she didn’t make on PJTV:
Now we can add another bizarre, and potentially dangerous, unilateral decree from the administration: Mr. Obama has ordered a change in immigration rules making it easier for so-called “minor” terrorists to gain refugee status and asylum in the United States.
I know some may think this is a story from the parody publication The Onion, but unfortunately, what was once absurd satire has now become reality. As he threatened at the State of the Union, Mr. Obama used an executive directive to unilaterally ease restrictions specifically for asylum-seekers who have provided what his administration terms “limited material support” to terrorist groups.
I argued on my radio program that after the disastrous rollout of Obamacare and its continued collapse, Mr. Obama would suffer a narcissistic collapse, compelling him to take actions meant to punish the people he views as responsible for his failure — the American people.
Here we have the very definition of inevitability:
Colorado is spending $1 million on television ads making fun of marijuana users who space out during everyday tasks — an effort to stop stoned driving.
The Colorado Department of Transportation unveiled the “Drive High, Get a DUI” campaign Thursday, the state’s first effort since marijuana was legalized in 2012 to remind drivers that pot should be treated like alcohol and not used before driving.
The real problem with driving stoned is getting up off of the sofa to do it.
(I couldn’t find the actual ad, but the video I did find fits quite nicely.)
The Pentagon’s latest budget request would reduce Army end strength to 440,000. While this reduction has caused a great deal of consternation in some quarters, this is not nearly enough.
In this age of budgetary and strategic uncertainty, the best course of action is to radically transform the Army by cutting the number of active-duty personnel by more than 75% to 125,000. To compensate for the resulting downsizing, the Army should adopt a multifaceted-approach to increase the quality, flexibility, and combat power of the force. This approach would entail stricter recruiting and promotion selection standards, significantly higher pay, greater emphasis on education and training, lengthier enlistment terms, longer deployments, a no-tolerance policy for criminal and disciplinary infractions, an increased use of private contractors for non-combat roles, and a rethinking of our reliance on the National Guard and Reserve.
It is possible to radically increase the lethality of an individual soldier, given enough money and technology. What tech can’t replace is boots on the ground. Or as Lenin put it, “Quantity is quality of its own.”
But I like the American version better: No replacement for displacement.
That’s Niagara Falls looking completely wrong because 1) It’s frozen over, and 2) there’s no Superman rescuing a ten-year-old boy. There are some more stunning pictures at the link, but from USA Today there’s also this:
Globally, Earth had its fourth warmest January since record keeping began in 1880, according to a climate report released Thursday by scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
The month was warmer in 2002, 2003 and 2007.
January’s global average temperature was 54.8 degrees, which was 1.17 degrees above the 20th-century average of 53.6 degrees.
We could do with some of that warming over here.
Another post, another Fed President warning us off of QE:
Dallas Fed President Richard Fisher in a speech last night in Mexico City warned that the Fed’s quantitative easing has overstayed its welcome. “I fear that we are feeding imbalances similar to those that played a role in the run-up to the financial crisis,” Fisher said in remarks to the Association of Mexican Banks. He also noted that when it comes to the stock market, the price-to-projected forward earnings, price-to-sales ratios and market capitalization as a percentage of GDP, are at levels not seen since the dot-com boom of the late 1990s. In the associated video, Yahoo Finance Editor in Chief Aaron Task weighs in on whether or not investors should be concerned based on Fisher’s comments and his track record with predictions like these.
Another cautionary tale reported this morning: subprime lending is making a comeback.
Jesse Columbo coined the term “bubblecovery” to describe this funny money recovery we’ve been “enjoying” for nearly six years now. And like the last one, it will pop.
Only this time we’ll be starting with a multi-trillion-dollar bloated Fed, trillion-dollar deficits, and 18% underemployment.
Philly Fed Chief Charles Plosser is worried about the “unintended consequences” of QE3:
Plosser told CNBC that the U.S. was still suffering from “lasting effects” of the recession and “may never return” to its previous growth rates—and warned that policy should not bet on growth returning to previous rates, saying it could be “many, many years.”
With gross domestic product expanding at a 2.4 percent annual rate, according to the Commerce Department last Friday, Plosser said that the country was “pretty close” to its steady state growth and may never get back to where it once thought it could be. “To keep trying to think that we’re going to do that, means that we keep trying to overplay our hand in terms of policy,” he added.
“I am very worried about the potential for unintended consequences of all this action. And it’s very difficult for us to know because we’ve never done this before,” Plosser said, adding that the curbing of this extra liquidity in the global economy would be “very challenging”.
“Sometimes if you don’t have Plan B, you don’t have a plan,” he warned.
I’ve made these two points before but they bear repeating.
The first is that our “new normal” of low growth and high underemployment is being purchased at the cost of anywhere from $600,000,000,000 to $1,000,000,000,000 a year in deficit spending and a further $900,000,000,000 to $1,020,000,000,000 a year in quantitative easing. We long ago reached the point of diminishing returns on easy money.
The second is what happens when the Fed needs to unwind its $4,100,000,000,000 (and growing) balance sheet.
To remove the excess liquidity it pumped into the economy, the Fed will have to sell its Treasuries at a discount, since they were “twisted” into lower-interest bonds, and will be competing on the bond market with higher-interest new debt being issued by the Treasury to cover our continued deficit spending. Further discounting might be required if there simply isn’t enough of a bond market to buy all that old debt on top of all the new debt and on top of all the debt refinancing Washington has to do since the Treasury deals mostly short-term notes.
(Whew — that was a sentence, eh? But if you think the description was something, wait until we see this stuff in action.)
So by this time next year the Fed might need to start pulling, say, $5,000,000,000,000 back out of the economy. But due to heavy discounting, bond buyers only put $4,000,000,000,000 back into the Fed’s coffers. That’s an awful lot of funny money floating around, competing with your not-so-funny money. But how does Washington spell relief? I-N-F-L-A-T-I-O-N.
And keep in mind, the better the economy is doing when the Fed begins its Hoover Damn Project, the higher interest rates will be — and the heavier the Fed will have to discount. That of course means even more leftover funny money and higher inflation.
But the joke’s on them, since the Washington behemoth now sits so heavily on our economy that robust growth, as Plosser was just saying, is unlikely to return.
So it’s quantitative easing today, quantitative easing tomorrow, quantitative easing forever!
Chris Cassidy for the Boston Herald:
Hillary Clinton’s stunning H-bomb — comparing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Ukrainian invasion to Adolf Hitler’s 1938 seizure of Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland — was a blatant attempt to distance herself from the Obama administration as she prepares to mount a 2016 campaign for the White House, critics said.
“As secretary of state, Hillary Clinton was enthusiastically for the reset with Putin,” William Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard, told the Herald. “Now, as a presidential candidate, she’s appalled by it. Will the real Hillary please stand up?”
For modern, national Democrats, bold foreign policy statements aren’t about bold foreign policy. It’s all merely for domestic consumption and electioneering. Which by itself is fine, I suppose. The problem is, bad actors like Putin know this far better than any low-information voter.
They’d be tired by now of getting played, if only they had any idea they were getting played.
Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey testified that he’s not exactly pleased with the plans outlined by the new Quadrennial Defense Review:
Dempsey predicted that it would become increasingly difficult to balance the competing demands of protecting allies abroad, securing Americans at home and deterring future wars.
“The smaller and less capable military outlined in the QDR makes meeting these obligations more difficult,” he said. “Most of our platforms and equipment will be older, and our advantages in some domains will have eroded. Our loss of depth across the force could reduce our ability to intimidate opponents from escalating conflicts.”
Dempsey added: “Moreover, many of our most capable allies will lose key capabilities. The situation will be exacerbated given our current readiness concerns, which will worsen over the next three or four years.”
It’s cool. The Professor ends wars, yo.
More seriously: We always do this, don’t we?
We got sick of the world after WWII and cut our forces. Next thing we knew there was a major land war in Korea. We got sick of the world after Vietnam and cut our forces. Next thing we knew the Soviets were all over Africa and Central America. We got sick of the world after the Cold War and cut our forces. Next thing we knew, 9/11 and Afghanistan and Iraq. Here we are today, still planning blithely to cut our forces to levels not seen since before Pearl Harbor, while the Russians are playing Annex Thy Neighbor with the choice bits of Ukraine.
The only conclusion to draw is that we’re very slow learners.
Well, that and Democrats can’t be trusted with military budgets in peacetime. They get a pass during wartime only because of FDR.
Daniel Fata was the Pentagon’s point man in the US response to Russia’s 2008 invasion of Georgia. Stephen Benedict Dyson spoke with him for WaPo on Russia’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine.
Fata is suspicious of Putin’s claim that his intervention in Ukraine is limited in scope and designed to protect Russian citizens. Putin gave similar assurances to the United States over Georgia, Fata recalls. “He lied.” Putin’s intention all along in Georgia was to bring about the end of the government of President Mikheil Saakashvili, who survived in office but whose standing was weakened by the war. In Crimea, Fata is convinced that Putin’s ultimate objective is “to try and take Kiev if he can, and if the consequences aren’t too severe for him.”
The United States should have three goals in the current crisis, in Fata’s view: Russia must be deterred from attempting to advance any further into Ukraine; the United States must reassure its allies and partners in the region that their security will be guaranteed; and Russian gains must be rolled back. In Georgia, the United States achieved the first two of these goals, but to this day has not accomplished a roll-back of Russian gains. Fata believes achieving these goals is critical not only for Ukraine but for the credibility of U.S. policy in the region and around the world. “We cannot seem to be weak or hesitant. That doesn’t mean mobilize yet but it does mean we need to be resolute and have some form of an actual, executable plan for how we will shore up our allies.”
Haughty reminders that “Invading Crimea in March simply isn’t done, dear,” will hardly do the trick.
Dan Joseph talked to DNC committee members about Hillary Clinton’s accomplishments:
Some said she had about a hundred moments of greatness when she served under President Obama – but, strangely, couldn’t name a single accomplishment of hers, besides marrying Bill Clinton.
Another attendee mentioned Clinton’s stance on abortion as a reason to be super excited for Hillary Clinton in 2016. As for her accomplishments, none came to mind, but she noted that Obama saw a reason for her to be nominated as Secretary of State.
I’m surprised no one mentioned this, but I was always fond of her 1998 cover of Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man.”
The Syrian Civil War set in a western country as seen in a second-a-day video.
A Chinese passenger jet with more than 200 people on board flew through the trajectory of a North Korean rocket that had been fired minutes earlier, the South Korean government said.
North Korea fired the rocket Tuesday at 4:17 p.m. without giving any navigational warning, Kim Min-Seok, a spokesman for the South Korean Defense Ministry, said Wednesday.
Seven minutes later, a China Southern Airlines plane carrying 220 passengers from Japan’s Narita airport to Shenyang in China passed through the rocket’s trajectory, he said.
“It was a very dangerous situation,” Kim said during a news briefing. “North Korea’s provocative actions violate the international navigation laws and pose a great threat to the safety of civilians.”
I know the question is as old as North Korea, but what [REDACTED] are the North Koreans up to?
Tammy Bruce is filling in for Bill Whittle, and she found what is easily the most disturbing story of the week.
That’s the sound a sinking Sink makes, if Peter Schorsch has it right:
Following up on Marc Caputo’s number-crunching and my accompanying analysis, I reviewed the latest data on the early-ballots returned to the Pinellas Supervisor of Elections. First of all, the race is ending as I expected it to — with a bang and not a whimper. On Monday and Tuesday, 10,079 ballots were returned. The 5,625 ballots returned on Tuesday were the most since the ballots were mailed in mid-February.
A surge this large and a week before Election Day is out-of-the-ordinary in Pinellas County elections. It was not present in St. Petersburg’s 2013 municipal race. It was not present in the 2012 general election.
But this surge is not surprising considering that both David Jolly and Alex Sink are flawed candidates, both running for local office for the first time. Voters have needed time to decide who they were voting for and/or if they were voting at all. Moreover, as explained in yesterday’s post, several Pinellas municipalities, including Clearwater, Pinellas Park, and Safety Harbor, have hotly-contested elections on the same ballot as the congressional race and some voters in those cities may be/have been holding their ballots while those campaigns play out.
Diving into those ten thousand ballots which have been returned the last two days, it’s clear the trend is moving – decidedly – in the GOP’s favor.
I know, I know — “Don’t get cocky.”
You won’t get the desktop out from under my desk until you pry it from my desk’s cold, dead hands, but:
Worldwide personal-computer shipments may decline by a steeper-than-forecast 6.1 percent this year as demand weakens in emerging markets, researcher IDC said.
PC unit sales are projected to fall for a third straight year to 295.9 million from 315.1 million in 2013, IDC said today in a statement. The researcher, which in January predicted a 3.8 percent drop in 2014 and growth of less than 1 percent in 2015, now estimates the declines will persist through 2018.
On a second reading though, I have to wonder how much of that emerging market weakness is due to increased use of tablets and smartphones, and how much of the weakness might be due to emerging markets’ increasing weakness.
Ralph Peters is one of my favorite authors of modern fiction, in no small part because of his talent for creating real characters and then putting them (and the reader) through absolute hell. But that’s nothing compared to what the retired Army LTC had to say on Fox last night:
Look, the bottom line on this is Russia has a real leader. You may not like him, and I don’t, but he is brilliant and ruthless, he has clear goals and he moves straight toward those goals. The West lacks a leader. Like it or not, the president of the United States is the de facto leader of the West, and our president just is — he’s incapable and unwilling to lead.
The weakness is phenomenal. Now, you know, we are not weaker than we were in the Carter years. I was in that military, it was pathetic. Our military today is the best in the world, best in our history, although Obama wants to dismantle it. We’re also immensely wealthier than the Carter years. The problem is, that as a president Obama is far weaker than Carter, and he’s probably the worst president we’ve ever had.
He is a man who’s incapable of making a hard decision. And by the way, one other key point, Vladimir Putin believes in Russia. He believes in Russia’s destiny, its mission. Obama does not believe in American exceptionalism. He does not believe in this country.
RCP has the video if you want to watch Peters in action.
That last bit isn’t news however to anyone paying attention to these things. Here’s Professor Wiggleroom in his own words:
I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.
When everyone is special, no one is.
Republicans have another winner on their hands in Oregon:
“With regard to rape, we can’t know what it means to the woman.”
Todd Akin? Richard Mourdock? Neither. That was Oregon State Representative Jason Conger, a current candidate in the Republican primary race for the US Senate.
Rep. Conger reportedly made the statement on the Kremer and Abrams show on FM News 101 KXL in Portland, Sunday October 20, 2013, in response to a question about why, in 2011, he sponsored Oregon House Bill 3512, a medical emergency abortion bill that had no provision for incest or rape.
As Marc Abrams, one of the hosts of the conservative-progressive show (think CNN’s Crossfire), wrote the following day at Blue Oregon, Rep. Conger repeated the statement several times.
Mr. Abrams also confirmed to me in an email exchange, as part of my research for this article, that the quote is accurate and unaltered. He openly admitted he is a liberal journalist (though without a “horse in this particular race”), and was equally quick to state he believed he provided Rep. Conger with the opportunity to clarify his statement, but no such clarification was offered.
That’s Tom Dougherty in a must-read piece over at Practical Politicking.
Why does total BS like “Life of Julia” help win elections? Because of not-infrequent-enough nutjobs like these.
You might have read — and I meant to blog about this last week, but it got lost in the shuffle — about the kerfuffle between Apple CEO Tim Cook and conservative think tank (and Apple shareholder) National Center for Public Policy Research. NCPPR wants Apple to spend less money on alternative energy sources for its data centers and offices and whatnot, and pay more attention to the bottom line. Cook got angry, and compared Apple’s alternative energy efforts to its efforts to make its devices more accessible to the disabled — it’s not about the bottom line, it’s about doing what he feels as CEO is “right.”
PJM’s own Walter Hudson had this to say about it:
Stockholders went on to vote down a proposal to halt environmental efforts which hurt the company’s bottom line. In other words, stockholders voted against making money.
The episode evokes comparisons to Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged and the character of James Taggart, heir to a railroad company who squanders his inherited wealth on altruistic efforts which ruin both his company and the national economy. Like Cook, Taggart believes business should be motivated by more than profit. Like Cook, Taggart believes business holds some inarticulate responsibility to help people.
I respect and admire my colleague, but I’m more than a little suspect of his formulation. Taggart was the titular head of a railroad he didn’t know how to run, and sought to fix its declining fortunes through political pull instead of actually taking care of business. “It’s not my fault!” he was known to shout at every disaster that occurred under his watch. Taggart didn’t even want to run a railroad company; he just wanted to be loved.
Tim Cook is the hands-on CEO of one of the world’s most valuable and profitable companies. Before that, he was its operations officer — and Apple was and is widely considered to have the sharpest operations of any big company on the planet. Cook runs Apple and runs it well. Does he want to be loved? Dunno. He’s too busy running Apple to ever talk about his personal life. Ever.
So I find any Cook-Taggart comparison… a bit silly.
When Big Government takes my tax dollars and gives it to some dead-end “green” company to make car batteries nobody wants, I get angry because there’s nothing I can do about it, at least not until the next election. And we just saw how the “next election” turned out. When a private company — even one I might own a few shares of — decides to do the same, I can sell my shares or stop buying their products.
Or I might think, “This could be very cool.”
And I say that for a couple of reasons.
The first is that alternate energy is worth pursuing, even if you don’t believe the science is settled on global warming. I certainly don’t believe that it is. But the fact is that we have all sorts of un- or under-tapped energy sources, and they’re not going to improve because of government diktats. We’ll get to those sources because private industry will find profitable ways to tap them. It could be a fracker in North Dakota or a tech giant building out server farms around the world. Hopefully it will be both, because cheap energy is one of the keys to wealth creation and upward mobility for millions if not billions of human beings.
That’s worth pursing, even if in the short run it shaves a few cents or even a few dollars off the share price.
Now for the second reason.
Apple is one of the biggest users of batteries on the planet. Every iPhone, every iPad, every MacBook runs on battery power. Apple devices also tend to get the best battery bang for the size, compared to the competition. This is a company which understands better than probably any other on the planet how to make devices which conserve power while still producing best-in-class performance. If Apple wants to continue to improve, they should absolutely pursue every kind of energy source Cook believes might produce future improvement for Apple’s devices and for its customers. Will there be blind alleys and dead ends? Sure.
The Apple Newton was a dead-end device, but creating that product also resulted in the super-low-power ARM chips which run damn near every decent mobile device on the planet. Progress is sometimes what happens when you fail, as any Megan McArdle reader can tell you.
If somebody is ever going to invent the sci-fi solar-hyrdogen-kinetic battery-capacitor-hybrid or whatever that never needs a charge, I bet that company will be Apple. And the reason is precisely because Tim Cook is willing to take his eye off the bottom line in the pursuit of something that might just end up insanely great.
ONE MORE THING: Apple’s shareholders cheered at Cook’s statement, and Walter has a problem with that. But why? A company is owned by its shareholders and if they want to pursue their green dreams, who are we to tell them no? If Walter wants to sell his shares (if he owns any) or quit buying Apple products (if he has any) then that’s his happiness to pursue.
But I’m a happy Apple owner in both senses — and plan to remain one.
A House hearing on the IRS targeting scandal rapidly broke down into a heated and deeply personal argument between a top Democrat and Republican, moments after former IRS official Lois Lerner once again invoked her Fifth Amendment right not to testify.
Lerner, who last year refused to answer questions about her role in singling out Tea Party and other conservative groups for extra scrutiny when they applied for tax-exempt status, was called back before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Wednesday. Though Republicans argue she waived her Fifth Amendment right by giving a statement during the last hearing, Lerner continued to invoke that right on Wednesday.
“On the advice of my counsel, I respectfully exercise my Fifth Amendment right and decline to answer that question,” she said in response to several questions.
Give her immunity and let’s see how near the head this fish rots.
Radio Shack will close “underperforming” stores — and lots of them:
The struggling consumer electronics retailer announced Tuesday that it plans to close up to 1,100 underperforming stores in the U.S., or about 26% of its current company-owned stores.
“Over the past few months, we have undertaken a comprehensive review of our portfolio from many angles — location, area demographics, lease life and financial performance — in order to consolidate our store base into fewer locations while maintaining a strong presence in each market,” RadioShack CEO Joseph Magnacca said in a statement. “The result of that review is our plan to close up to 1,100 underperforming stores. We will continue to have a strong, unmatched presence across the U.S. with over 4,000 stores including over 900 dealer franchise locations.”
There is (was?) (soon won’t be?) a Radio Shack in here my tiny bedroom town of Monument, CO. The last time I was in there was about three years ago, when I absolutely had to buy an overpriced audio cable right the heck then. And I didn’t recognize the place as anything like the Radio Shack I used to know. Or as Jim Dalrymple said, “the RadioShack I grew up with lost its soul.”
I was reminded of what happened to The Sharper Image. What was once a place to geek out on really cool, hard-to-find nerd toys became a purveyor of gimmicky plastic crap.
Such a shame.
Javier Manjarres reports:
Congressman Alan Grayson is once again in hot water, as a Orlando judge has just granted a temporary protective injunction again him. Lolita Grayson, who filed for divorce a couple months back, filed the restraining order against her husband after alleging that he shoved and injured here this past weekend.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, the Orange County Sheriff’s office is conducting a “Domestic Violence investigation which is open and active at this point.”
Lolita should change her name to Julia.
Yesterday’s Trifecta shoot ran into overtime yesterday, so I forgot to post a Monday Edition ♡bamaCare!!! fail — but it wasn’t for lack of an actual fail. Here’s what I should have posted, and I’ll find something even fresher for this afternoon:
The Obama administration is set to announce another major delay in implementing the Affordable Care Act, easing election pressure on Democrats.
As early as this week, according to two sources, the White House will announce a new directive allowing insurers to continue offering health plans that do not meet ObamaCare’s minimum coverage requirements.
Prolonging the “keep your plan” fix will avoid another wave of health policy cancellations otherwise expected this fall. The cancellations would have created a firestorm for Democratic candidates in the last, crucial weeks before Election Day.
The White House is intent on protecting its allies in the Senate, where Democrats face a battle to keep control of the chamber.
“I don’t see how they could have a bunch of these announcements going out in September,” one consultant in the health insurance industry said. “Not when they’re trying to defend the Senate and keep their losses at a minimum in the House. This is not something to have out there right before the election.”
Another delay in a desperate attempt to avoid the inevitable political fallout against the law’s Democrat handmaidens?
That Means It’s Working™.