Are you sure Mr. Gibbon was talking about the Roman Empire?

“The image of a free constitution was maintained with a decent reverence.”

– Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

Bust on right is Constantine the Great. (No relation).

Bust on right is Constantine the Great. (No relation).

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.

 

WikiLeaks is at the cutting edge of irony

From Glenn Greenwald’s piece in Salon:

WikiLeaks suggested the “other source” was Daniel Domscheit-Berg, a former WikiLeaks associate who WikiLeaks claims took, without authorization, many WikiLeaks files when he left.

I am a fan of what WikiLeaks does but not so much of Julian Assange.

I’m sure he’s very upset about this.

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Transocean cites safety record in doling out bonuses despite 11 deaths and totally screwing up the Gulf

Even the slogan is ironicNever, ever, let it be said that mere facts will come between an executive and his or her bonus. Transocean which – along with BP – is responsible for 11 deaths while creating the worst environmental disaster in US history, used its safety record as the reason for giving out exec bonuses.

According to the company’s financial proxy:

"Notwithstanding the tragic loss of life in the Gulf of Mexico, we achieved an exemplary statistical safety record." Based on the total rate of incidents and their severity, "we recorded the best year in safety performance in our company’s history."

Transocean’s PR person (now there’s a job for you) said, "The statements of fact in the proxy speak for themselves” before adding the requisite comments about feeling bad for all the little people.

It is worth noting that the company’s execs did NOT get their bonuses the year before because of safety issues. It really isn’t reasonable to expect them to go two years without bonuses. That could lead to the departure of all the great talent that got the company to where it is today.

Let us not think that Transocean is alone. Our good friends in the banking industry have been doing the exact same thing even while they were destroying the economy.

The past few years have been very rewarding for bank employees. OK, maybe not the government rescues, stagnant loan books, layoffs and litigation. But none of these disasters hurt pay at banks.

A review of call reports filed with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., compiled by BankRegData.com, shows that average compensation in the last few years rose — and at the same rate as it did before the crisis. Employees of the largest banks realized the largest gains. The increases significantly outstripped inflation and can’t be attributed solely to shifts in pay schemes or recovering profitability. Banking in general shielded pay from its cost-cutting ax.

Ah, personal accountability in action.

As American Banker points out: “Over the last eight years, average compensation for a full-time bank employee has risen 35% to $83,050, twice the rate of inflation. In 2003, the banking industry’s 1.3 million full-time employees took home $78.3 billion. In 2010, its 2.1 million employees took home $168.1 billion.”

How much of that do you think went to the tellers and branch managers?

Oh and don’t forget: It’s all those millionaire public-sector employees’ fault.

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Did someone say, “Bikinis with push-up tops for 8-year-olds?”

Abercrombie & Fitch is selling the ‘Ashley push-up triangle’ top  which features thick padding in the cup to give the illusion of a larger chest size. What’s news about that? It’s for girls 8 to 14.

Yes, for a mere $24.50 you too can pimp out your not-yet-tween girl and remind her that its all about the cup size.

Ambercrombie bikini

It’s good to see that old A&F (where my grandfather once went to kit-up for safaris) is keeping true to its newer brand promise of making money off the sexual exploitation of children. (If they’re going to do that shouldn’t they be a division of American Apparel? Here are the details on the latest in a long line of sex harassment suits against CEO Dov Charney.)

A few other things A&F has done to live up to its brand promise:

  • Ads that feature shop assistants in lieu of models, often posing semi-nude.
  • An ‘Impact Team’ to ensure all employees comply with its ‘look policy’.
  • Paid $2.2 million to settle a suit over allegations it forced its employees to buy and wear its clothes while on the job.
  • Paid $50 million to settle a discrimination lawsuit brought by pretty much every non-Caucasian who made the mistake of getting a job with A&F.
  • Paid $13K to an employee forced to work out of site of the public because she had a prosthetic arm

Is this the worst ad placement ever?

hanger

Probably not, but it’s still impressive.

It’s a winner!

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IRONY OVERLOAD ALERT: Nigeria charges Dick Cheney in bribery case

Nigeria will file charges against former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and officials from five foreign companies including Halliburton Co. over a $180 million bribery scandal, a prosecutor at the anti-graft agency said.

NIGERIA is upset over financial fraud? Mr. Pot meet Mr. Kettle. HALLIBURTON is involved in bribery? I’m shocked. Just shocked.

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US has record number of millionaires, poor people, irony

Two news stories from the same day:

Millionaire Population Soars — Again

According to a new survey from Phoenix Marketing International’s Affluent Market Practice, the number of American households with investible assets of $1 million or more rose 8% in the 12 months ended in June. The survey says there now are 5.55 million U.S. households with investible assets of $1 million or more.

USA’s poverty rate reaches highest level in 51 years

A total of 43.6 million people lived in poverty last year, up from 39.8 million in 2008 — the third consecutive annual increase. Extended unemployment benefits lifted 3.3 million people out of poverty, compared with 900,000 in 2008.

The Penguins of Irony’s favorite moment in the effort to save journalism from its future

Here are two of the 10 projects that came out of the “Journalism That Matters” conference at the University of Washington in January.

  • Abundant Journalism: Led by Fancher, this group eventually wants to link journalism projects and initiatives with potential donors.
  • Microfinance: The initiative would provide business and micro-finance training for journalists who want to launch new media ventures.

Whether all 10 initiatives that came out of the JTM Pacific Northwest conference can score the necessary funding to survive remains uncertain. While some have obtained initial grants, others remain unfunded. [Former Seattle Times Executive Editor Mike] Fancher acknowledged that each will face heavy competition for financing.”

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Montblanc regrets “honoring” Gandhi with $24K fountain pen

Either Montblanc’s execs have a brilliant sense of irony or they’re complete idiots, you decide.

image_thumb15 Whichever is the case, they have “unconditionally apologized” to an Indian court about it – at least until the court rules on whether the company can continue to sell the pen. The pen was marketed as a way of honoring 140th birthday of the brilliant spokesman for the poor.

What, you may ask, justifies the $24,000 cost of this ink delivery system?

The gold and silver limited edition pen includes an engraving of Gandhi and comes with an eight-meter golden thread that can be wound around the pen, representing the spindle and cotton Gandhi used to weave simple cloth.

Montblanc made only 241 of the handmade pens, one for each mile Gandhi walked in his famous march against salt taxes in 1930. And you thought they were insensitive!

It should be noted that the company did think of the needs of the less affluent consumer when producing this pen. They are also offering ballpoint and rollerball versions for a mere $3000 per.

Fight at health-care forum leaves anti-reform protester with big medical bills

Kenneth Gladney, 38, of St. Louis, claims he was injured when union members attacked the politically conservative Gladney last Friday. The union denies says this and says Gladney started it. Both sides are preparing the traditional “I’m made of rubber, your made of glue defense.” Whoever’s fault it was, the melee ended in six arrests. It was one of several at meetings around the country held to discuss ideas to reform the nation’s costly health care system.

Gladney is accepting donations toward his medical expenses. Gladney told reporters he was laid off recently and has no health insurance.”

Sadly the article doesn’t mention if anyone asked Gladney “Oh, irony where is thy sting?”

 

Cry Havoc and release the Penguins.

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Nigeria launches re-branding campaign: “At least we’re not AIG”

nigeria_419_shirt Apparently having a name synonymous with corruption (for a good reason) is not all that good for your national image. So Africa’s most populous nation has decided to tackle it’s massive corruption problems with that most modern approach: Marketing.

“At international airports, in trains, in shopping malls, and almost everywhere, every Nigerian is a marked person,” Dora Akunyili, information minister and self-styled chief image maker said at the launch of the re-branding campaign this week. “We are pulled aside for questioning. We are seen as potential drug pushers or fraudsters. We are unfortunately denied the benefit of the doubt.”

Thus the new slogan “Nigeria: Good People, Great Nation.” And really they should’ve added: “At least we’re not AIG.”

Eat a dozen donuts and “support teen diabetes”

KKchallengeParticipants in the The Krispy Kreme Challenge run two miles from the NC State Belltower to the Krispy Kreme store located on Peace St. in Raleigh. After downing a full dozen of the famous Krispy Kreme doughnuts, the runner must run the two miles back. All in one hour.

I would like to believe this is irony in the cause of a greater good. It is certainly oddity in the cause of a greater good.

I am astounded there are people who can run two miles after downing a dozen donuts.

I am terrified there are people who can down a dozen donuts in one sitting of well under an hour.

For those of you keeping score at home that works out to 2400 calories consumed (assuming you consume the basic Krispy Kreme and not any of the other flavors). From a dozen Krispies you would get 144g of fat or 216% of  your required daily allowance (based on a 2K calorie diet and these numbers are all from KK’s website who knows what the FDA would call it). If you weigh 180 pounds you would burn off 470 calories running four miles. Not sure how many calories you would lose if you … um … regurgitated at the finish line which is certainly what would happen to me should I make it that far (highly unlikely).

Cheers to the Krispy Kreme Challenge folks for helping out others (some 5500+ participated this year) AND for not hiding the impact of consuming all this stuff.

From their fun facts page:

  • If stacked, the boxes used during the challenge would stand over 16 stories tall.
  • If stacked, the doughnuts eated during the course of the day would stand over
    twice as tall as the BB&T building at Two Hanover Square, the tallest building in Raleigh.
  • Collectively, the Krispy Kreme Challengers will eat over a third of a ton of doughnuts
    on the day of the race.
  • This year’s competitors will run over 4,000 miles.
  • The number of Calories eaten on the day of the race is enough energy to power a 60W light bulb for over 125 hours.

Alcohol-enforcement official faces career-ending irony

A member of the city commission responsible for enforcing liquor laws was arrested early Thursday on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol. Danny Kim, 33, was arrested shortly after 2 a.m. Thursday at Kilauea and Makapu’u avenues near Kapi’olani Community College. Kim, one of five members of the Honolulu Liquor Commission, was booked and released on $500 bail about two hours after his arrest.

Penguins Employee of the month