Workin’ in the Mill

Apparently, Craig Bouchard has decided to build a new aluminum mill – in Ashland Kentucky. That’s something that ‘t doesn’t happen very often. In America, at least. Allysia Finley, over at The First Street Journal took a look at it following a story in the Wall Street Journal.

In April the CEO of Braidy Industries, Craig Bouchard, announced his company would build a $1.3 billion aluminum mill in Ashland, Ky., creating 550 jobs. Within the past few weeks, he has received 2,600 applications—many with heart-wrenching personal anecdotes.

Ashland, a small Appalachian town on the Ohio River, was once an industrial powerhouse. Fifty years ago, nearby coal mines churned out cheap energy and raw materials for steel production. But in recent decades the region has suffered a series of blows. In 1998 Ashland Oil relocated to the Cincinnati suburbs. Two years ago, AK Steellaid off 600 workers. Last year CSX Railroad cut 100 jobs due to reduced traffic from the coal mines. Unemployment in Greenup County stands at 8.9%.

Last month President Trump —who won the county with 71% of the vote—ordered an investigation into whether aluminum imports were jeopardizing national security. It’s a step toward the tariffs that protectionists hope will revive America’s Rust Belt. But the best hope for towns like Ashland is innovation and investment by men like Mr. Bouchard.

He’s the kind of businessman who might appear on a union hit list. The CEO cut his chops in derivatives trading before buying the scraps of a bankrupt Chicago steel company in 2003 with his brother James. Within five years, the Bouchard brothers had built their company, Esmark, into the nation’s fourth-largest steel conglomerate.

They sold it for $1.2 billion to the Russian steelmaker Severstal in 2008, shortly before the stock market and steel industry crashed. Thousands of workers subsequently lost their jobs. Mr. Bouchard blames the United Steelworkers. He had first tried to sell a partnership stake in Esmark to the Indian company Essar Steel. But the United Steelworkers sought to force a sale to Severstal, which the union perceived as more labor-friendly. Had the Essar deal been consummated, Mr. Bouchard says, “every one of those people would have their jobs today” because all of the company’s debt would have been paid off.

The episode soured him on organized labor, and it’s one reason he was determined to build his new aluminum plant in a right-to-work state, where workers can’t be compelled to join a union. Before choosing Ashland, he drew up a list of 24 potential sites. The logistics favored Ashland, and Kentucky offered $10 million in tax incentives as well as low-cost electricity. But Mr. Bouchard says he was prepared to build elsewhere had Kentucky’s Republican governor, Matt Bevin, not signed right-to-work legislation in January.

Pay at the plant, which is expected to be up and running in 2020, will start at $50,000 a year and average $70,000—about twice the median household income in Ashland. Workers will also have access to health insurance, fitness facilities and a day-care center.

There’s more at the WSJ link, although it is subscriber only. But there is enough here to draw some conclusions.

First, Ashland is a superb location, especially for heavy industry, on the Ohio River, only a few miles from an Interstate Highway, lots of railroad infrastructure, and lots of unemployed people, both a legacy from coal mining. Nor does it hurt, that the Kentucky government offered $10 million in tax incentives and cheap electricity (aluminum production takes a lot of electricity, I seem to remember).

And finally, Kentucky is a right-to-work state, and Bouchard, like so many of us, has been turned anti-union, by the unions, themselves. Many of us watched as the were the main actors in destroying many of the industries that dominated my childhood, primary steel, the big 3 automakers, and many others. Apparently including Bouchard’s Esmark Steel. Nor does he appear to be exactly planning on exploiting his workers, starting them at $50K, and averaging $70K, that’s a pretty decent living, and working conditions are no longer really a contract condition, they’re a government regulation. Yes, often a silly group of them.

One of the things that the unions used to kill enterprises, and why it is a very silly move anymore to buy a legacy business, are the defined benefit pension plan, Allysia says this.

The pension decisions of decades in the past are still weighing down American manufacturers today. Those decisions cannot all be blamed on unions; management too frequently took decisions concerning pension plans and funding which worked fine for the individual managers in the fifties and sixties, but are unsustainable today. Defined benefit plans are being replaced by 401(k) plans, and the like, plans which do not depend upon the company’s future contributions to those plans. The defined benefit plan, if not properly funded as the company moves along, is, in effect, paying retired personnel a wage for no longer working.

That’s correct, and a good deal of that was taking the easy way out, rather than fighting the union. And by the way, it is not only business, it’s the basic problem (besides corruption, of course) with government, in Chicago, in Detroit, in Illinois, in California, and pretty much anywhere that government employees have unionized, because politicians, being the weak-willed creatures they are, have almost always not funded the retirement systems as required (often the unions haven’t, either).

And that’s why smart people go for a 401k these days, which was originally designed for the self-employed. If you fund it yourself, it tends to get funded, if you depend on other people’s money, well people are subject to the temptation of shinier objects than taking care of those who used to work with them.

Fracking OPEC

Well, we’ve mentioned that this would happen a few times, here and elsewhere. And it has. Jazz Shaw wrote back in December.

If you’ve been watching the oil market half as closely as Wall Street in general you’ve seen something rather remarkable happening this week. At the end of last month, OPEC finally decided that they were getting beaten badly enough with scandalously low oil prices and decided to jointly cut production. Since oil is always a significantly volatile global market, the system responded almost immediately, with oil climbing back up above the $50 per barrel mark for the first time in a couple of years. That helps out some of the member nations while not being high enough to significantly spike gas prices at the pump back in America.

So why not trim the flow back even further and bump those prices higher still? One OPEC spokesperson was extremely open about their strategy. The low prices have largely pushed U.S. shale oil production into low gear. It’s simply not profitable to produce when the price is down in the forties or even thirties. But if the price gets up to a few bucks above sixty dollars per barrel it will be rich times in the shale fields again and we’ll bust the market open, leading to another round of depressed prices. The Nigerian petroleum minister was quite clear about it in an interview this week. (Bloomberg)

Later on, he refers to it as not an evil conspiracy but just business, which is kind of true. It’s a would-be monopoly trying to set the price of a commodity, instead of letting the market do its thing. And you know something, it never works for long. Something always changes things. Here too.

Last Thursday, John Sexton wrote this.

OPEC, the oil cartel really cares about the world. That’s the message of a new monthly report issued Thursday. OPEC says what the world needs now is a bit less supply on the global oil market. In particular, they would really appreciate it if the United States would stop producing so much damn oil…for the good of the world of course. From CNN Money:

The report said that balancing the market would “require the collective efforts of all oil producers” and should be done “not only for the benefit of the individual countries, but also for the general prosperity of the world economy.”

OPEC said that one producer in particular is to blame: The U.S., where shale producers have continued to ramp up their drilling despite lower crude prices.

The increased production has undermined OPEC’s efforts to keep prices between $50 and $60 per barrel.

But the OPEC effort didn’t work for long. Prices are back below $50 a barrel now and thanks to increased efficiency, U.S. producers can still make money at those prices. Now OPEC has to decide whether to extend the production cuts into the latter half of the year or simply give up on the effort. Nitesh Shah, a commodity strategist at ETF Securities, says OPEC’s strategy has been a bust. He writes, “repeating the same strategy for another six months will do little to shore up oil prices.” “OPEC nations have given up market share and have barely reaped any price gains,” he adds.

OPEC could try even deeper production cuts but OPEC members won’t like that. So OPEC is left begging the U.S. to give them a break for the good of the world economy. We could do that, but here’s another thought: Let’s continue taking their market share and reducing their control over the world’s energy market.

Heh! Yep, we could do that, but why would we? Our people like to work and make money for their families, and they’re damned good at it, as well. Our country is designed for cheap energy, that’s why we have been a bit sluggish since the seventies. We are also free marketeers, buccaneers, really, who always find a way to make money while providing a better service, cheaper.

It’s our way in geopolitics as well, it’s how we destroyed the Soviet Union. And for anybody who still harbors the risible notion that Putin wanted Trump as President, well, this is certainly not in Russia’s interest either. Interesting, isn’t it, that American fracking that only last year needed oil prices of ~$60 per barrel to be profitable, is now profitable in the mid to high $30 dollar range.

The free market: What can’t it do?

Moral Cowardice, the FBI, and Us

Bookworm had some more to say about Comey and the FBI in general.

Comey pretended that his moral cowardice was a virtue, a dangerous attitude that empowers weak people and that permeates the entire FBI.

As Comey’s firing as FBI director continues to roil the Left, all sorts of interesting things are emerging. For example, it was Comey who gave Bill Clinton a pass in 2002 following an investigation into Clinton’s Marc Rich pardon. Having been one of the Whitewater investigators, you’d think Comey would have figured out early that, where there’s a Clinton, there’s a rat to be smelled, but somehow . . . he didn’t.

Comey was also the one who authorized the FBI to spend $100,000 investigating Dinesh D’Souza’s $20,000 illegal campaign finance donation. One could say that keeping elections clean is so important that money is no object, but that’s not what the FBI and other government branches had said before they got D’Souza — a prominent Obama and Democrat Party critic — in their sights. Previously (and since then), for small dollar campaign finance violations, the government had handed out small punishments. […]

Kimberly Strassel has written a scathing article detailing Comey’s ongoing corrupt practices, made all the more damning by the fact that she pretends to take Comey at his word — namely, that he sees himself as a model of virtue and rectitude constantly saving the day:

. . . [I]t seems the head of the FBI had lost confidence—even before TarmacGate—that the Justice Department was playing it anywhere near straight in the Clinton probe. So what should an honor-bound FBI director do in such a conflicted situation? Call it out. Demand that Ms. Lynch recuse herself and insist on an appropriate process to ensure public confidence. Resign, if need be. Instead Mr. Comey waited until the situation had become a crisis, and then he ignored all protocol to make himself investigator, attorney, judge and jury.

By the end of that 15-minute July press conference, Mr. Comey had infuriated both Republicans and Democrats, who were now universally convinced he was playing politics. He’d undermined his and his agency’s integrity. No matter his motives, an honor-bound director would have acknowledged that his decision jeopardized his ability to continue effectively leading the agency. He would have chosen in the following days—or at least after the election—to step down. Mr. Comey didn’t.

Which leads us to Mr. Comey’s most recent and obvious conflict of all—likely a primary reason he was fired: the leaks investigation (or rather non-investigation). So far the only crime that has come to light from this Russia probe is the rampant and felonious leaking of classified information to the press. Mr. Trump and the GOP rightly see this as a major risk to national security. While the National Security Agency has been cooperating with the House Intelligence Committee and allowing lawmakers to review documents that might show the source of the leaks, Mr. Comey’s FBI has resolutely refused to do the same.

And where is the rest of the FBI in all of this? Some agents are taking a “brave” and “virtuous” stand too. In true FBI tradition, showing the backbone and strength for which they’re known, they’re changing their Facebook pictures to show Comey’s face, rather than their own [that’s sarcasm, in case you wondered]:

FBI agents are reportedly changing their Facebook profile photos to pictures of James Comey — or pictures of them with Comey — to show their support for the sacked FBI director.

The Daily Beast reported that at least a dozen agents had changed their photos, a gesture usually reserved for fellow agents slain in the line of duty.

According to Gateway Pundit, though, some agents are thinking of going public about their disagreements with Comey. The link in that article is to an October 17, 2016 article in which anonymous FBI agents say they’re displeased with Comey’s handling of matters.

Isn’t that special? They’ve changed their profile picture like any good twelve-year-old girl would do.

Bookworm calls it craven moral cowardice, I think that might be a bit strong, although basically right.

Here’s the thing, for the ordinary street agent (or his supervisors) it’s a tough call that I’m not all that willing to make for them. Think about it, you’re in (probably) your forties, married, mortgage (probably a big one if your at HQ) car payments, kids who you want to go to college, all the various and sundry financial commitments that American collect, plus likely student loans still, since these guys are all accountants and/or lawyers. Add to that the fact that most of your friends work for the government.

How likely would you be to jeopardize your entire life over a moral issue that requires you to defy your chain of command? We all sitting out here in the heartland say that we would in a heartbeat, but maybe we ought to think about it for a bit. Those things happen to us all, they’re the minor little things (seemingly) that lead us off the straight and narrow. There’s some in my life, and I’ll bet there’s some in yours. Some I did the right thing, and some I didn’t. Maybe you always did. Good for you, you’re a better man than I, or a man that lies to me and himself. We ain’t none of us perfect.

Remember when we were dating, we didn’t ask the girl to marry us when we picked her up at her parent’s for the first date – that comes later maybe, it’s a progression. So is this, it starts with a minor thing, covering an extra cigarette break, and then one gets one’s loyalty involved in the group.

We’ve heard a lot about Comey wanting to become another J Edgar Hoover, that’s a scary thought, right? Well, which one? When Hoover got the job back in 1927, his mandate was to clean up an agency badly corrupted by the Teapot Dome scandal, he did a ruthless and good job – to the point that still, to this day, we expect absolute honesty from an FBI agent. That’s some legacy, that is. Yes, he went mad, figurately (and maybe literally) when his love of power corrupted him, and the whole thing went off the rails. That’s why it’s a ten-year maximum term now. Live and learn.

But for Comey, maybe it started with the pass he gave in Clinton back in 2002, but maybe it was much earlier, and much less important. I don’t know, and I doubt Comey does either. But yes, Book is right, he’s a moral coward (perhaps a craven one) but you know, most of us are.

One of the reasons our founders are so revered is that they put everything, including their unstretched necks, on the line, and many of them paid that price. They were very exceptional men. Another one who did is Martin Luther.

One who almost did is Thomas Cranmer, Elizabeth I’s Archbishop of Canterbury when Mary came to the throne, he lost everything, and confessed the charge of heresy, at the stake he recanted his confession. That’s a noble act, but he no longer had anything to lose, no matter what he said or did, they were going to burn him at the stake. I’ve said it, so have you I bet. Nothing left to lose may as well do the right thing.

Well, Comey was there, trusted by nobody, he had little to lose, and he failed that test, as well.

God help him.

Book ends with this, she is completely correct.

The above is why those voters who pay taxes like President Trump. He’s not beholden to anybody and he reacts as a taxpayer would: This guy is doing a bad job, he’s abusing his power, and he shouldn’t be getting a salary. He needs to be fired.

No wonder Trump terrifies the resident rats in the D.C. Swamp.

 

Video Saturday

Welp, folks, unexpectedly (yes, it really was) I ended up out of here shortly after lunch and not back till midnight, when my stiff old body fell into bed. So instead of my wittering this morning, how about a few videos,  heck they’re even fairly current. 🙂

 

Hopefully do better tomorrow.

 

Comey, Enforcing the Law, and Integrity

Director James B. Comey speaks during an F.B.I. press conference at the J. Edgar Hoover Building in Washington, D.C. on Monday, June 23, 2014.

I suppose we should talk a bit about Comey getting his butt fired since it seems everyone else is. The best I’ve read is here.

J Edgar Hoover ran the FBI as if it were his private secret police force. He exceeded his authority, and spied on, blackmailed, harassed, intimidated, and threatened everyone. He became politically unstoppable. He was in power for 48 years. Though hated and feared by several presidents (all of whom had the power to fire him) none dared to oppose him. The only thing that removed Hoover from power was death. The man was a monster.

James Comey was the Director of the FBI. He was fired yesterday. He wasn’t remotely as bad as Hoover.

Yet.


Life is cruel. Sometimes it puts you on the horns of a dilemma. If you do the right thing… you’re fucked. If you do the wrong thing… you’re fucked.

Regardless of his flaws or merits, recent events gave Comey a shit sandwich. There’s no good answer for the role he had to play. What the hell would you do?

Imagine that you’re the head of the FBI. The most powerful nation in the world is trying to democratically elect it’s next leader, who will be your boss. The shit has been hitting the fan all year. Now it’s getting worse.

Your staff shows up with incontrovertible evidence that the leading candidate engaged in serious shitweaseling. This would sink any other person on earth, including you. Normally this would lead to a trial and very possibly time in “Federal pound me in the ass prison“. But this is the favored presidential candidate we’re talking about!

You’re sick with worry. You’re not hungry but you eat a stale donut left from the morning briefing. This information has you trapped.

Do you proceed? Recommend criminal prosecution for a person who’s acted criminally based on the overwhelming evidence of crime? Normally you would, but the other candidate is an orange tinted blowhard who makes everyone in DC break out in hives. The press is screaming that the guy is “literally Hitler”. Whatever you do will influence the election. Who needs this shit? Three hundred million people in the US and they couldn’t come up with two who are squeaky clean?

The donut went down badly. You remind yourself to have a doctor tweak your blood pressure meds. Your secretary is making Vince Foster jokes behind your back. The punchline is “assisted suicide”. You know there’s an office pool; they’re betting on whether you’ll be transferred to Guam or a windowless office in the basement. This job sucks!

The evidence of malfeasance on your desk grows. Objectively, it’s much worse than Watergate. You can say it’s literally bigger than Watergate and be using the word “literally” properly.

Do you wanna’ be Dudley Do Right and send this on for prosecution? Are you sure? The criminal in question is really good at getting away with stuff and she’s probably going to be your boss!

Keep reading the AC, he’s got this one nailed, plumb and square, too. Later on, he says this,

If Comey was like a certain irrelevant and obscure blogger he’d give up and light the fuse. Have an epic ten minute press conference composed of mostly swearing and hand out all (or most) of the relevant evidence. I don’t think like secret squirrel people. I don’t want to be the sole possessor of any potential president’s dirty laundry! The whole thing would end with something like “Fuck it. These people aren’t just criminals, they’re idiots. I don’t care what you do with this information because I quit. I’m going fishing.”

Yep, so would I. Like him, I’m not nuanced enough for this stuff. Probably why I’m not a politician, I can’t lie effectively to myself. And make no mistake, that’s what it is. Like AC, I’m a simple man, who likes it that way.

I feel sorry (kind of) for Comey. He got himself in a very tight spot, no good answers and not much of any way to salvage your career, legacy, whatever you want to call it. But not very. The man took an oath to uphold the Constitution, to enforce the law. There wasn’t a supersecret clause that said except against Clinton, Inc, nor was there one that said unless it hurts Donald Trump.

He’s hardly alone, this sort of moral cowardice is the very substance of the ‘Swamp’, and it is very seductive. We’ve all seen it, although probably not on this level, the little white lie, no one will know, it won’t matter, all that bushwah. Well, that’s exactly how Comey destroyed his life, and maybe his organization. He didn’t intend to get caught in a web of lies and deception, he simply told a little one, one day, to make his life easier. And then every day, he had to tell more to protect the one that went before.

That’s what it means when you hear us say, with Niccolo Machiavelli in his Discourses,

“For the great majority of mankind are satisfied with appearances, as though they were realities, and are often more influenced by the things that seem than by those that are.”

The way my mom taught that lesson, lo these many years ago is this.

If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember what you said.

And it ties back into something else, we prattle on about sometimes, usually because it’s being violated.

“The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” Makes life simple, somehow.

Back in the stone age, when I grew up, we had a word for it. That word was integrity. It’s right there on the FBI shield, in English, even. Maybe some people should read a bit better.

Don’t do this at home (or at work)!

Time to lighten up a bit, thanks to Oyia Brown.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This safety meeting is adjourned.

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