Corporate America: blame the government

After trying too hard to be just the funny political commentator guy, Dana Milbank’s got his mojo back.  This column excoriating the CEO of Massey Energy (the guy who blames the government for killing the workers in his coal mine is terrific:

If Don Blankenship had any sense of shame, he’d crawl into a mine and hide.

As CEO of Massey Energy, he has presided over a coal company that had thousands of violations in recent years, leading up to the April explosion that killed 29 of his miners. The company now faces a federal criminal investigation into what the government has called negligent and reckless practices

The CEO was asked what he could have done to prevent the deadly explosion. “I probably should’ve sued MSHA” — that’s the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration — “rather than waiting” until now, he said. In the future, he added, “you’ll see not only coal companies but many companies resist the efforts of EPA and others that are impeding their ability to pursue their careers, or their happiness.”

Poor CEO Blankenship. That mean federal government is not allowing him to pursue his happiness, just because his employees are dead…

It’s easy to paint Blankenship as a villain, with his moustache, double chin and rough edges (he twice lamented the “abstract poverty” in the world). But his theme — and his complete absence of corporate responsibility — is very much the message corporate America has adopted in this mid-term campaign year: If you’ve got a problem, blame the government.

Consider the efforts this month by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, once a center of moderate Republicanism that worked with both parties but now a sort of radicalized corporate Tea Party, spending $75 million this fall mostly to defeat Democrats. The chairman of the group’s board — on which Blankenship served until recently — accused the Obama administration and congressional Democrats of a “general attack on our free enterprise system.” Specifically, the chamber accused the Democrats of “an ill-advised course of government expansion, major tax increases, massive deficits, and job-destroying regulations.

Taxes? The nonpartisan Tax Foundation in May described Americans’ tax burden in 2009 as the lowest since 1959. Job-destroying regulations? The lack of regulation on Wall Street led to a financial collapse that killed millions of jobs. Massive deficits? One of the biggest causes of the gap is the $800 billion stimulus package supported by — wait for it — the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. And the chamber wants the government to spend even more: It demands that Congress “quickly pass a multiyear federal surface transportation bill.” That would costs hundreds of billions more. And let’s not forget the chamber’s desire to “get the money from the government” to help pay for the BP oil cleanup.

The motto of corporate America ought to be: “blame the government (except when we need help).”  The transparently stupid pure politics of complaining about government expansion and deficits in one breath and asking for more government spending in the next is just too much.  But, I guess it’s not when you have no shame.

Time to go “Office Space” on your fax

Really fun and interesting article in ComputerWorld about “10 obsolete technologies” to kill in 2010.   #1 is the fax machine:

The fax machine was obsolete 15 years ago. When someone says “fax it to me,” I always feel like I’m being punk’d. A fax machine is nothing more than a printer, scanner and an obsolete analog modem that work together to waste time, money, paper and electricity.

Documents that are faxed usually start out in digital format. So, to send a digital document digitally, it must be converted into a paper format. You insert the document, and the fax machine scans it back into a digital format. It then uses an analog modem from 1993 to convert the digital image into sounds!

The modem plays the noise over the phone line. At the other end, another fax machine also has a modem, which listens to the sounds, and converts them yet again into a digital document, just before it prints it out on paper. Now the data in the document has to be converted somehow into a digital format — either scanned or typed in by hand.

The document almost always begins and ends in digital format. But during this epic journey, the document is digital four times, paper twice and sound once.

The mass delusion that perpetuates this obscenely inefficient technology is that paper “hard copy” is somehow more legitimate. In fact, gluing a copy of someone’s stolen signature to a document, then faxing it, is the easiest way mask a forgery because of the low quality of fax output.

People, let’s stop the madness. Just e-mail it.

#2 is the car cigarette lighter.  The author suggests replacing it with a USB port or standard plug.  Now that‘s a helluva an idea.  Somebody really ought to do that one.  But, damnit, I’m not giving up on my landline phone (#7).

Chart of the Day

Via Yglesias via WSJ, which oddly has a chart which punctures the balloon of Republican hysteria on Obama’s proposed tax plan (extend the Bush tax cuts for all but the highest earners).


Looks good to me.  I’m pretty comfortable with that millionaire couple seeing their taxes go up $50K.  Something tells me that won’t bring the economy to a screeching halt, either (those rates worked out okay under Clinton).

Nobody cares about the deficit. Really.

Interesting post from Ezra Klein on the stimulus today (and good followup by Jonathan Bernstein).  First, Ezra:

The original stimulus package should’ve been bigger. Rep. David Obey, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, says the Treasury Department originally asked for $1.4 trillion. Sen. Kent Conrad, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, wanted $1.2 trillion. What we got was a shade under $800 billion, and something more like $700 billion when you took out the AMT patch that was jammed into the package. So we knew it was too small then, and the recession it was designed to fight turned out to be larger than we’d predicted. In the end, we took a soapbox racer to a go-kart track and then realized we were competing against actual cars.

This was a mistake, of course. But the mistake may not just have been the size of the stimulus package. I wonder if it wasn’t fed by a belief that there’d be other chances. If all we needed was the $700 billion package, then great. But if unemployment remained high and the recovery had trouble taking hold, surely there would be the votes for further stimulus and relief spending. No one in the political system could possibly look at 10 percent unemployment and walk away from it, right?

Wrong. Ten percent unemployment and a terrible recession ended up discrediting the people trying to do more for the economy, as their previous intervention was deemed a failure. That, in turn, empowered the people attempting to do less for the economy. So rather than a modestly sized stimulus leaving the door open for more stimulus if needed, its modest size was used to discredit the idea of more stimulus when it became needed.

Bernstein admits to being totally surprised at the inability to pass more stimulus and takes a look at the politics of the situation.  I think the most important contribution of his post is emphasizing that all this deficit talk is pure political posturing and nothing more:

Here’s what I do know.  Regardless of what anyone says, the budget deficit is a voting issue for precisely no one.  No one.  It wasn’t for people who voted for Ross Perot, it isn’t for the Tea Party crowd today.  Moreover, even today, the Democrats remain the party of smaller deficits, and the Republicans remain the party of large deficits…

Is this just a question of numbers, in which the fact of 41 Republican Senators is really, when all is said and done, the whole story?  I think that’s very much true on some issues — but on this one?  Once again, I don’t know.

I’m certain that it’s not because voters actually care about the deficit.  I’m certain that it’s not because of genuine Republican concern about the deficit — a quick look at GOP positions on extending the Bush tax cuts make it clear that they continue to be for larger, not smaller, deficits (and that goes too for any Democrats who want to make permanent lower tax revenues without an offset).

The great success of the Republican party (with complicity from the media) in recent months has been convincing Americans that they really care about the deficit.  They don’t.  Nobody cared about the deficit when unemployment was just fine and we were bubbling along under Bush.  It’s just a handy target for political frustration, nothing more.  Especially annoying about all this, as Kent Conrad pointed out in a recent interview with Ezra, is that you can be for short-term deficits and trying to reign in longer ones.  Not at all a contradictory proposition (In fact, reforming health care does more for our long term structural deficits than anything else), but, sadly, it seems most Americans– with help from the Republican party– believe otherwise.

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