How did the American banking industry escape the crash of 2008 with so few scrapes and bruises, let alone so little jail time? It's easy to blame a general lack of regulation—but smarter to point the finger at the regulatory Securities and Exchange Commission itself. Last week one retiring SEC attorney, 66-year-old James Kidney, went out on a limb and agreed:
Tell your grandma that Christmas card is never coming—the USPS announced today that one first-class stamp is now going to cost you just shy of two quarters, at the new rate of 49 cents. Up from the previous price of 46 cents, the three-penny increase is due to swiftly declining profits that the United States Postal Service has been dramatically struggling with the past few years. This is the first spike of that magnitude since 2002, and follows up 2013's inflation from 45 cents to 46.
People are strangers out here on the oil patch, and public conversation is terse and muted. You never know when an oil company manager or safety inspector or corporate spy is sniffing around. I learned after the first day in Williston, N.D., that my usual work uniform of an old sports coat and tie made me suspect. Leaving the tie at the motel helped, but not much.
Oil wells and sheet-metal buildings are hideous things, but America the Beautiful resumes as soon as you get past the last grim RV park and last signs of our shoddy civilization. The easiest way to refresh the soul is to look on the map for a big chunk of green: a national park or preserve or forest, or in the case of the Bakken, the Little Missouri National Grassland.
Boomtowns don't have to be ugly. San Francisco was built during the Gold Rush, as was Sacramento and dozens of still pretty towns in the Sierra Nevada. Virginia City, home to the Comstock Lode, quickly built up neighborhoods of ornate mansions and a main street that offered everything from Oscar Wilde lectures in the opera house to exotic prostitutes from Australia and China. But since the 1960s, when America lost its ability to see or create beauty, our endless boom and bust cycle produces nothing but garbage: garbage housing, garbage retail, garbage jobs and garbage products.