Obama goes back to Bush playbook and declares war on “price gouging” oil companies

"I’m concerned about higher gasoline prices. The government has the responsibility to make sure that we watch very carefully and investigate possible price-gouging, and we will do just that." — George W. Bush, 4/17/2006

Congress is vowing to take actions that it believes will reverse runaway crude and gasoline prices. Oil rose above $136 a barrel on Monday – more than double what it cost a year ago – and gas hovered around $4.07 a gallon.” – CNN, 6/24/2008

"We are going to make sure that nobody is taking advantage of American consumers for their own short-term gain." – Barack Obama, 4/20/2011

gasprices21Whenever the price of gas spikes the call goes out from Washington to investigate price gouging. Unfortunately, this leads to one of the great intellectual challenges of capitalism: Defining price gouging. Problem is no one can separate “taking advantage of consumers for short-term gain” from what is usually called profit taking.

To quote Collateral Damage Sr.: "In a society that has a free market fetish, if not a religion, what is price gouging? Is nine percent profit gouging the price? Or 15 or 50 percent? At what price point does profit change into gouged profit?"

Well, here are a few samples from people who have tried to split that particular hair.

First, former Rep. Bart Stupak, (D-Mich), from 2006:

When we were doing the Energy Policy Act last fall, in the town of Midland, right by my district there, gas went up 90 cents in one day. Now, is that not gouging?

If you take a look at it, from September 2004 until September 2005, refineries have increased their prices 255 percent. Isn’t that gouging?

I mean, I think we all know what gouging is. What we need is a federal standard so we can hold the oil companies’ feet to the fire and make sure we know what factor goes into every gallon of gasoline, so at least the American public will have some transparency and get a fair shake on what goes into a price of a gallon of gasoline.”

Next up:

New York State law prohibits price gouging during a state of emergency. The law specifically provides that, in order to prevent any party from taking unfair advantage of consumers during an abnormal disruption of the market, the charging of "unconscionably excessive" prices is prohibited.”

I like that one the best because it is by the former Attorney General/Governor of New York, Eliot Spitzer. Did he wonder about price gouging as he paid all those ladies of negotiable morality?

And finally this one from the very accurately named blog, Neutral Source:

There is no objective definition. Economists–who specialize in price theory and the behavior of markets and can study these things ad nauseum–have no definition for it, either. In fact, economists have avoided the term as if it were a social disease. A review of all the microeconomics textbooks on Neutral Source’s bookshelf reveals that none have as much as an index entry.”

Price gouging, like porn, is in the eye of the beholder. One thing everyone agrees on about it is that it is always committed by someone else.

For businesses price gouging is "when my competitor gets away with charging more than I thought to charge."

For the general public, price gouging is when a company that I don’t work for or have investments in is charging me too much. Profits are when my company is making enough money to not lay me off.

Actually addressing this problem would involve fundamental changes in our system that are much needed but which no one is willing to actually contemplate. Instead we will get more of this Kabuki Theater. The next act will come when the oil companies declare their quarterly earnings. This will be followed by bi-partisan denunciation of  their “excessive profits” and a number of bills will be proposed which will go nowhere.  Then the oil companies will attempt some sort of PR move to show that they are really nice guys and that will be that.

 

If Obama can win a Nobel for not being Bush, why can’t I?

What did this year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner spend today doing? Deciding how many troops to send into combat.

Mrs. CollateralDamage called it this morning: Obama got the Peace Prize for being anyone but GW. It is an absurd award. The President, as he himself would probably point out, has yet to do anything to deserve it. This one is even sillier than the one they gave to Al Gore. Or, as Mrs CD put it, “I wasn’t George Bush last year, why didn’t I win?

I do not mean to blame my President for this. It is entirely the Nobel committee’s silliness.

Tom Lehrer once said that irony died when Henry Kissinger won the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize.  This one is light years better than that.

Shoe-thrower shows the power of product placement

bush-shoe2When Muntazar al-Zaidi threw his shoes at President Bush he unintentionally gave the Baydan Sho Co.’s Model 271 one of the greatest endorsements ever.

Ramazan Baydan, owner of the Istanbul-based company, has been swamped with orders from across the world, after insisting that his company produced the black leather shoes. He has recruited an extra 100 staff to meet orders for 300,000 pairs of Model 271 – more than four times the shoe’s normal annual sale. (Nice to see George is creating jobs somewhere!)

Baydan is planning to rename the model “the Bush Shoe” or “Bye-Bye Bush”.

“We’ve been selling these shoes for years but, thanks to Bush, orders are flying in like crazy. We’ve even hired an agency to look at television advertising,” he said.

About 120,000 pairs have been ordered from Iraq and a US company has ordered 18,000 of the shoes, which have been on the market since 1999 and sell at around $41  in Turkey.

10 things a satirist gives thanks for

  1. The Bush Administration
  2. GM’s “leadership” (What’s the difference between the cub scouts and GM? Adult supervision.)
  3. Sarah Palin and her handlers sarah-palin-turkey-slaughter-big
  4. The voters of Minnesota. Jesse Ventura! Al Franken! (someone’s spiked the 10,000 lakes).
  5. Jaguar Land Rover for applying for a bailout.
  6. Barney Frank: “These two entities — Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — are not facing any kind of financial crisis. The more people exaggerate these problems, the more pressure there is on these companies, the less we will see in terms of affordable housing.
  7. The Chicago Cubscub curse
  8. Alan Greenspan
  9. The phrase “too big to fail.” Econ speak for: About to bite the dust.
  10. Joe Biden: “When the stock market crashed, Franklin Roosevelt got on the television and didn’t just talk about the princes of greed. He said, ‘look, here’s what happened.’”

Penguin seal

Rebranding America

A post from Marketing 2.0 where I am also a contributor:

I cannot think of another brand that has had the total image change the US is attempting. It’s like trying to turn the Pinto into a Volvo. There’s no doubt that we need a rebranding. While there are no world-wide poll numbers on dissatisfaction with George W., it is safe to say they are at least as low as they are here at home.

Cynics will tell you — not incorrectly — that branding is all about image: New chrome, new font, new scent, new claims. The cynics are correct because they have seen this happen with repeatedly. (My favorite example: Anyone actually believe BP as an environmentally friendly oil company?)  (Read the rest by clicking here)

Let the Munich, er, moral, er, Beijing Games begin!

Today is the start of the most odiferous Olympics since the widely boycotted Moscow games of 1980. It is difficult to catalog the extent of the Chinese government’s horrors — even just since Tienanmen Square — so allow me to quote someone else:

China’s well-documented and continuing abuses of human rights in violation of internationally recognized norms, stemming both from the authorities’ intolerance of dissent and the inadequacy of legal safeguards for basic freedoms. Reported abuses have included arbitrary and lengthy incommunicado detention, forced confessions, torture, and mistreatment of prisoners as well as severe restrictions on freedom of speech, the press, assembly, association, religion, privacy, worker rights, and coercive birth limitation.

And this wording is the cleaned up and diplomatic version put forth by the US State Department, an organization not generally known for its willingness to call major trading partners to task on these issues. Thankfully Mr. Bush has undercut even these slight words of criticism (as well as his own tepid comments on the subject) by attending the games.

The most fascinating thing to watch will unfortunately not be in the athletic sphere but the contortions performed by the sponsors and the media to play up allegedly idealistic goals of the games while minimizing the facts on the ground.

You can get an idea of the depth and seriousness of the journalism I am expecting by this selection of headlines from today’s USAToday:

It’s a fascinating moment when sites like OhGizmo are doing better coverage than the MSM: Beijing Olympic Organizing Committee Bans “Professional Camera Equipment” For Non-Press Visitors. It’s not a big story, but it is an indicative one and one which is based on that oh so difficult task of actually examining the record.
Also there was this one which mostly got covered by the MSM as a crackdown on prostitutes:
I should temper this rant slightly, a few MSM stories of note:

Huzzah to our dear, dear irony-free friends at Google for this inspiring post on their official blog:

I’m happy to present the 2008 Summer Games on Google, a site that features a number of our products to help you stay updated on Summer Games happenings. And it’s available in 66 countries and 31 languages, from Australia to Uruguay, and from Arabic to Vietnamese. We collaborated with a data provider to make it easy …

Given the circumstances “collaborated” is definitely not the word you want to use. How about “worked with”?

Well, since these are supposed to be a particularly environmentally friendly games (don’t breathe the air), I will reuse and recycle something written earlier under the headline Spielberg declines to help the Munich, er, Beijing Olympics

Coverage of the games is going to be fascinating to watch. Sports journalists are generally not the hardest hitting reporters and I suspect their employers won’t have much interest in covering what is actually happening in the world’s largest economy.

It would be nice to think that marketers have any concern about ill-will coming from supporting the games this year. It would be nice and it would be wrong. There will be no ill-will because consumers won’t care. Certainly here in the US these will just be another Olympics in an exotic locale. There will be no news to rival Hitler declining to shake Jesse Owens’ hand. Instead their will be pomp and circumstance and more of our collective denial. Thanks to Mr. Spielberg’s decision, though, Beijing will have to look elsewhere for an overly sentimental ending.

Graphic via ClaudiAx.net.

Remarks by the President at Ceremonial Groundbreaking of United States Institute of Peace

Cry Havoc, and Loose the Penguins of Irony!

Mr. Secretary, thank you for your kind introduction, and thank you for inviting me to join you to break ground for the United States Institute of Peace’s new home.  I’m really pleased to be here.  I appreciate what you do to resolve conflict and support new democracies and to build peace by promoting effective diplomacy.

‘Cuz I sure as hell am not going to.

Prez sez if he were younger he’d go to Afghanistan; an opinion apparently not shared by his daughters

I must say, I’m a little envious. If I were slightly younger and not employed here, I think it would be a fantastic experience to be on the front lines of helping this young democracy succeed… It must be exciting for you … in some ways romantic, in some ways, you know, confronting danger.” — The Clueless One during a video conference with civilian & military personnel who are facing real danger in Afghanistan. At no time did he say, “Dang, I knew I should have gone to Vietnam.”

Having decided to accept less qualified applicants, Army also decides to give them less training

clipped from www.boston.com
“We are doing everything we can without jeopardizing the quality of the training to make it more efficient and compress it,” Colonel Joe Gallagher, chief of plans for the US Army Training and Doctrine Command, said in an interview earlier this month. “The whole intent is to get the soldier into the unit where he can be used faster. Time will tell if something is missing.”

  blog it

This is spin talk for we are so short of warm bodies that we will do anything. Unfortunately the proof of whether something is missing is … horrible. This is far too reminiscent of what the military did in the late 60s/early 70s. And look how well that turned out.I take this a bit personally as these are the people who are going to be next to Staff Sgt. Big Brother Collateral Damage should he ever have to play another round in the George Bush Desert Classic.

Any senior officer who signed off on this should resign or face a court-martial.

And, by the way, congrats to Jenna Bush on her engagement. Since she’s not in the service. I assume her fiance is.

Remember: Army Strong is Army Dumb

Oklahoma license plate lets you show your support for the “War Against A Feeling”

licenseOklahoma, the state that was the site of the worst case of domestic terrorism in US history, has a new license plate commemorating the current offensive against a concept. I’m looking forward to the follow up: Tags that show support for the Global War On Extremism, Gen. Petraeus’s current cause celebre. How about one that says “My country invaded Iraq and all I got was this lousy recession”? There’s definitely a market for it. Recent polls show 2/3rds of the people in the US now expect a recession.

U.S. escalates war on concepts: “The enemy is extremism”

pogoIn an interview on NPR Gen. David Petraeus showed that logic is not a required course at the Army War college:

Q: A simple question that many in America are now wrestling with: Who is the enemy and what is the U.S. fighting for?

A: The enemy is extremism, we think, and it is extremism that comes in various forms.

I forget, is it the infantry or the artillery who are trained in extreme combat?

Isn’t moderation the best weapon against extremism? But if you do it too well you run the risk of being extremely moderate.

If the enemy is extremism does this mean we’re about to attack the X Games?

Maybe we could attack marketers who use the word extreme when ever they want to appear “hip” and “down” with the kids these days?

I look forward to the Armed Forces blowing up statues of Sen. Barry Goldwater who famously said that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.

Isn’t going to war a very extreme act?

One definition of extremism is “any political theory favoring immoderate uncompromising policies.” Invade the vice president’s office immediately.

This reminds me of something George Bush the elder said during the first Iraq contretemps: “We are fighting to prove that might does not make right.”

The war on extremism makes the war on terror look good.

Iraqi city terrorized by giant badgers — on the lookout for mushrooms, snakes

There is a new hazard at the George Bush Desert Classic

BASRA, Iraq (AFP) – The Iraqi port city of Basra, already prey to a nasty turf war between rival militia factions, has now been gripped by a new fear — a giant badger stalking the streets by night. Local farmers have caught and killed several of the beasts, but this has done nothing to dispel rumours of a bear-like monster that eats humans and was allegedly released into the area by British forces to spread panic.

Great now we face an additional threat from RUS.

Buttercup: What about RUS-es?
Wesley: Rodents Of Unusual Size? I don’t believe they exist.

Doesn’t Wesley already sound like he works for the administration? (Earlier in the movie he proves he isn’t aware that one of the classic blunders is getting involved in a land war in Asia.)

Remember: If we don’t fight the giant badgers in Basra, soon we will be fighting them here. This syllogism so favored by the Administration was also used during Vietnam. In Dispatches, Michael Herr has the perfect response: Well maybe we could beat them here.

BTW, if the headline doesn’t make sense CLICK HERE and prepare to laugh. A lot.