Recent Posts


Downsizing Applebee’s: A Canary in the Coal Mine

by Invenium Viam on April 19, 2017 · 1 comment

applebees_closedLast month, on March 3, 2017, Business Insider announced that Applebee’s Restaurants would close “… between 40 and 60 locations this year.” One of those locations is a couple of blocks from my house, which closed its doors a few days ago.


“We believe that restaurant closures are an important tool to preserving the financial health of the system,” acting CEO Richard Dahl bloviated in a call to investors. While Dahl’s statement was PR honey-and-lemon-flavored ear wash intended to put an ExecuSpeak spin on things, the fact is that Applebee’s had already closed 46 locations in 2016 in anticipation of what analysts feared might be the onset of a ‘restaurant recession’ this year, whatever the hell that is.


Dahl became the acting CEO when former CEO Julia Stewart – one of the highest-profile and longest-serving chief executives in the casual restaurant industry – was forced out on February 17 (along with her CFO) and formally resigned on March 1. Stewart’s departure is the latest in a long string of restaurant-chain CEO resignations in the wake of declining sales and traffic industry-wide over the last year. Her beheading came after a failed campaign to recapture market share with an attractive new menu of $10 entrees. As a marketing professional, the meaning of that campaign was crystal clear to me – Applebee’s primary clientele, a vast swath of the wage-earning middle-class, was extremely price sensitive and the target price point is $10.


Ten dollars.


Business Insider attributes Applebee’s lackluster sales to ” … the rise of fast-casual restaurants like Chipotle and Panera, and the fact that more people are eating at home because grocery prices are falling …” but that argument is missing the forest for the trees. It is informed by competitive positioning and sales figures (two data sources that consume enormous mind share of business executives to the point of tunnel vision), based on the presumption that if restaurant customers in their market demographics are not buying from us (i.e., Applebee’s), they must be spending their food dollars elsewhere. That’s a bad assumption, utterly without foundation.


There are many reasons why that argument doesn’t hold water. First, Chipotle is only now showing signs of renewed life after a disastrous 2015 loss of market share and tumbling stock prices due to E. Coli deaths and illnesses from food-borne pathogens at restaurants across the country. The current stock price is $470, only somewhat improved from a low of $413 on January 8, 2016 and still down more than 25% from an all-time high of $640 on October 30, 2015 – the day before the E. Coli outbreak went public. To be sure, Panera’s sales, market share and stock prices have all jumped, partly based on a “clean food” initiative that appeals to high-wage techies and well-compensated DINK’s, but that is a notable exception to current trends. Besides, have you noticed grocery prices going down? I haven’t. The historical trend in grocery prices is an increase of 2-3% annually and that trend has held for a couple of decades, at least. In 2014, there was a huge jump in prices at the grocery store and even with stable prices in the cost of gasoline over the last several years, the cost of groceries hasn’t declined. And even if grocery prices were declining, wouldn’t that translate to more money in the pockets of consumers and more of their food dollar being spent dining out? No, it makes no sense …


All this begs the question: Is there a better explanation of why Applebee’s was forced into a survival-mode strategy of cutting 100+ stores? And just how is all this political, guy? Answers: Yes, there is a better explanation. And it’s political because downsizing Applebee’s is a metaphor of a downsizing middle-class.

More below the fold

{ 1 comment }

David Hann: income inequality isn’t a bad thing

by The Big E on December 20, 2013 · 1 comment

Facepalm 42Hann

Sen. David Hann (R-Eden Prairie) is getting national attention for some not terribly smart comments he made at a recent hearing at the State Capitol. On Wednesday, a commission held a hearing on income inequality and how it is hurting the poor, working class and middle class. Hann said he didn’t think income inequality was that big of a problem.
This isn’t the first stupid thing that Hann has said or done. While chairing the committee that oversaw Minnesota’s health insurance industry, he took a job with an insurance firm. Then he tried to hide it. The other legislator who took the same job, resigned under pressure.
From botching simple tasks like dumping a nominee to demonstrating his mastery of failed messaging to boasting he increased spending (doesn’t the MNGOP want to reduce it?) to leading the fight against marriage equality, his reputation is becoming legendary.
Here’s Hann’s meandering, pseudo-intellectual skullduggery (my emphasis):

It would be interesting to have a chart to show…who pays taxes and where the tax money comes from. It … would probably look exactly the opposite, that the great proportion of the revenues government collects would come from this top end, with very little if any … at the lower end. You talk about where the money goes, and to suggest it would be good to eliminate or somehow minimize the top end would be an advantage to the government, I’m not so sure that would make sense.
As a thought experiment, let’s say we passed a policy in the state of Minnesota that said nobody could make more than $500,000 a year. I’m not suggesting we do that, but if we did that, it would certainly reduce the inequality gap, but all the people making over $500,000 a year would move out of state. And what would happen to the revenues to the state if we did that? I don’t think that would be a positive thing to the state of Minnesota to have that kind of policy on any level.
Again, my larger question is, it’s a great observation to point out there’s inequalities. And you said that your point is not that they should be the same, but it’s clearly the point that there’s bad things about inequality, and yet, I’m not so sure, not persuaded by your data, that that is a bad thing.

{ 1 comment }

Building for Economic Growth and Economic Decline

by Grace Kelly on October 31, 2013 · 0 comments

Our current society and economic health is built on continuous economic growth. Yet natural economic cycles are both boom and bust, which we have tried to minimize through government policy. Nature has four seasons where life has adjusted for cycles. Just like nature, our society should have a healthy economic down cycle.


The push for an economic decline can come from a giant banking failure, climate change mega disasters, nuclear accident, nuclear war or a global medical epidemic.


Building a society for an economic down cycle is a concept not currently in our academic thought. After finishing my Carlson MBA, I kept researching. While these are not the final answers, I think this a good beginning. I am planning on following up this overview with articles that give the individual arguments, evidence and links.


If you want to maximize employment of people then minimize the extraneous costs of hiring people like health care, pensions/social security, education and transportation. All the directions the Democrats have been going, do help businesses hire people flexibly.


Let failure happen – of businesses. The belief of too big to fail is should become the belief that that big is destined to fail. Using public money to prop up badly functioning business weakens the economy. The worse case of this is the recent banking crisis. Note how banks continue to make the same bad investments that caused the problem in the first place.



Obama-facepalmOne of the things that mainstream media tends to overlook in the current debate over the roll-out of the Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”) is that it employs the very market solutions that business-centric Republicans love to tout as the panacea for all that ails, but either don’t really seem to understand, or only apply topically when needed — like zinc ointment for a skin rash.
One reason the media keep missing it is because the White House Office of Communications (WHOC) repeatedly fails to point it out.
We need to remember that Obamacare is not socialized medicine, or anything remotely like it, no matter what those reality-challenged moonblind sub-normals in sloth cloth say on the buzzbox.
The foundation of Obamacare is state-based insurance exchanges. The idea is not to socialize medicine, but to socialize risk across a broader population base and thereby to reduce costs for everybody. In fact, that’s all insurance companies of any stripe do — socialize risk by spreading loss across a large subscriber base. The ACA state-based insurance exchanges just make it more efficient.
Here’s where market principles apply: as health insurance companies compete for customers within a huge pool of potential customers, over time there will be winners and losers, as there are in any competitive marketplace. Those who survive and prosper will be those who figure out ways to: 1) Provide better services at lower cost; 2) Create more efficiencies in providing those services; 3) Find innovative ways to create those efficiencies; 4) Increase productivity while decreasing overhead.
What’s for a free market capitalist and Austrian School Tool not to like? Maybe the regulations?

{ 1 comment }

The rich man’s obscene conniving

by Dan Burns on August 27, 2013 · 0 comments

1231629_658541084156873_2080957381_nYou’d think that this “smoking gun” would change the White House’s intent. I’ve seen no indication that it has. They’ve likely known, all along.

When a little birdie dropped the End Game memo through my window, its content was so explosive, so sick and plain evil, I just couldn’t believe it.
The Memo confirmed every conspiracy freak’s fantasy: that in the late 1990s, the top US Treasury officials secretly conspired with a small cabal of banker big-shots to rip apart financial regulation across the planet. When you see 26.3 percent unemployment in Spain, desperation and hunger in Greece, riots in Indonesia and Detroit in bankruptcy, go back to this End Game memo, the genesis of the blood and tears.
The Treasury official playing the bankers’ secret End Game was Larry Summers. Today, Summers is Barack Obama’s leading choice for Chairman of the US Federal Reserve, the world’s central bank. If the confidential memo is authentic, then Summers shouldn’t be serving on the Fed, he should be serving hard time in some dungeon reserved for the criminally insane of the finance world.
The memo is authentic.

As you presumably have long suspected, the rich man’s “philanthropy” is indeed primarily about helping himself:


corporate_sponsors_zpsc30a6ea3Common rants, and suggested replies. I chose the following, for an example, because it’s especially relevant in Minnesota, right now.

4) CLAIM: “If you tax wealthy people too much, they’ll stop working!”
Example: Bill O’Reilly
“If you tax achievement, some of the achievers are going to pack it in. Again, let’s take me. My corporations employ scores of people. They depend on me to do what I do so they can make a nice salary. If Barack Obama begins taxing me more than 50 percent, which is very possible, I don’t know how much longer I’m going to do this. I like my job, but there comes a point when taxation becomes oppressive. Is the country really entitled to half a person’s income?”
HOW TO RESPOND: Where do you start? We could start with the fact that in the early 1950s the top tax bracket paid 91 percent of their marginal income in taxes. In the 1970s, they paid around 70 percent, and today, they pay 35 percent. Now, the top bracket pays so little in taxes that many pay less than middle-class taxpayers. Next, research shows that this claim is false. A study by Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez and Stefanie Stantcheva find that “the top tax rate could be as high as 83 percent — as opposed to 57 percent in the pure supply-side model — without harming economic growth.” The authors argue that even using the assumptions of conservatives, we could have a 57 percent top tax rate (13 percent higher than currently) without decreasing economic activity. Further, they find that better assumptions would allow for a more than doubling of our tax rates without any negative impact on growth. The reality is that tax breaks for the rich don’t make rich people work more and create jobs, but rather the opposite is true. Tax breaks for poor and middle-class people stimulate demand, thereby creating more jobs. Even if conservatives are right, and people like Bill O’Reilly will quit their jobs, that seems like an advantage, not a disadvantage.

Actually, the “How To Respond” stuff probably won’t accomplish much, because old blowhard righties don’t care about facts, drunk or sober. For some reason, they have their heads permanently up the rich man’s behind. I just humor ‘em, myself, when they start raving about politics. Until I can get out of range, that is. But the article is a useful reference in any case.


Most expensive carThe greatest boldest Republican lie is that the rich will move out because of higher taxes. Companies want low prices but the rich really want the best at any price. A higher price actually seems to be attraction for the rich.


It seems as if companies continue to have no limits when they put a price tag on a car, especially with a world full of oil millionaires and rich collectors who will do anything for a rare exotic super car. The Lamborghini Veneno has just recently raised a bar that will most likely never stop rising…So how much does a carbon-fiber monocoque chassis and carbon-fiber-reinforced-polymer bat-mobile cost? How about $3.9 million (3 million euros or 2.6 million pounds) and only 3 will be made and sold. All of them are already sold, so chances of ever seeing one, is slim to none.


Would the rich want the best government and the best place to live? The evidence really stacks up the rich want the best at any price.

{ 1 comment }

Why do so many hate their jobs?

by Dan Burns on June 25, 2013 · 1 comment

Chain-GangThey most certainly do, and aren’t shy about saying so.

The survey classifies three types of employees among the 100 million people in America who hold full-time jobs. The first is actively engaged, which represents about 30 million workers. The second type of worker is “not engaged,” which accounts for 50 million. These employees are going through the motions at work…
The third type, labeled “actively disengaged,” hates going to work. These workers — about 20 million — undermine their companies with their attitude, according to the report…
The report found that different age groups and those with higher education levels reported more discontent with their workplace. Millennials and baby boomers, for instance, are more likely to be “actively disengaged” than other age groups. Employees with college degrees are also more likely to be running on auto pilot at work.

Maybe it has a lot to do with this:

{ 1 comment }

classwarThis report is actually from late last year, but nothing’s changed. There are numerous rational, reasonable, legitimate plans out there for dealing with U.S. budget issues with a maximum of fairness and effectiveness, and without the crass, corrupt idiocy that currently dominates public discussion of these (and most other) issues. Conservatives from both parties, realizing (in the crude sort of way that they “realize” anything) what a threat such plans might pose to frenzied, heedless corporate profiteering and therefore their own political sinecures, are spurning them in terror, the way that stupid people do in general when their fundamental views are questioned, even a little bit.

This is the second edition of an Institute for Policy Studies study that debunks the premise that the United States of America is broke. We released the first one a year ago, shortly before the supercommittee — a congressional panel tasked with putting our nation on a sound fiscal path — fizzled into obscurity…

Our proposed reforms amount to $881 billion in potential new revenue and savings per year. These measures would eliminate most of the budget deficit, leave plenty of resources for jobs and for the nation’s pressing human and environmental needs, and stave off those…across-the-board cuts. We have not assembled an exhaustive list of rational budget-cutting alternatives. But we have demonstrated that there are sensible ways to achieve a more sustainable budget without shredding our already threadbare safety net. Together, these measures would generate more than enough savings to prevent a (further) harmful shift toward austerity.

(Institute for Policy Studies)


{ 1 comment }

Oh, the poor put-upon rich man

by Dan Burns on March 8, 2013 · 0 comments

‘Scuse me while I (sniff) shed a tear!


A quote from a fellow at the (Tax Policy) Center, which is described as a nonpartisan “research organization,” succinctly sums up the problem: “My sense is that high-income people feel abused by being targeted always for more taxes,” Roberton Williams tells (Stephen) Homemaker (of the Associated Press). “You can understand why they feel that way.”


To learn if middle class families feel “abused” in the current economy or why high income families pay as much as they do, the reader must skip past seven full paragraphs of political context about President Obama calling on Congress to close a “bunch of tax loopholes that are benefiting the well-off and the well-connected” (an idea that sounds absurd in light of the already unbearable tax burden), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) rejecting that premise, and Democrats proposing a tax on “people making more than $1 million” to replace the sequester.


In paragraph 24, Ohlemacher finally presents a reason for the higher tax rates — though even this is delivered as an opinion from “Liberals and Democrats” and is not accorded the factual tone of Williams’ observation that the rich feel “abused.”


“Liberals and many Democrats say rich families can afford to pay higher taxes because their incomes have grown much more than incomes for middle- and low-income families,” Ohlemacher writes, quoting CBO data showing that “after-tax incomes for the top 1 percent of households more than doubled from 1979 to 2009, increasing by 155 percent,” while “incomes for those in the middle increased by just 32 percent during the same period.”


(Think Progress)


I don’t know, how it is that many people are apparently able to reconcile any degree of self-respect with “careers” that basically consist of only pulling their heads out of the rich man’s butt now and then for long enough to spout some wretched drivel on his behalf.


From another source:



Note that that graphic is based primarily on numbers from Bloomberg. Not what you’d call an “anti-business” source.




Business Insider magazine recently polled a group of registered voters, asking them for their preferences on three different Congressional plans that have been floated to help the nation avoid damage from the looming sequester.


The poll found that when the voters didn’t know which plan was whose, the policies that most voters preferred were those offered up by the Progressives Caucus in the House of Representatives.


More than half of those polled favored “The Balancing Act” plan, proposed by the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Shockingly, 47 percent of Republicans polled preferred the House Progressive approach, instead of the across the board cuts proposed by Republican Congressional leaders…


Or, to put it simply, very few Americans like the ideas and policy proposals coming out of the Republican Party, and a few of the Conserva-Dems. It’s clear that Americans know which ideas that will actually help the country, and disagree with the bizarre Republican position that only those things that help the billionaire class and corporate America will help working people.


(The Smirking Chimp)