Daily Archive: 12/23/2011

Dec 23 2011

Holiday Shopping Insanity & The Real Economy

I long ago stopped with the Holiday shopping and spending madness that now starts in September. I can’t remember the last time I set foot in a store the day after Thanksgiving. There isn’t anything that my family needs that badly that I would subject myself to obsessed drivers vying for the parking spot closest to the doors if over crowded shopping centers. Or to the rudeness of shoppers, young and old, who will do just about anything from pepper spraying you to walking over your dead body to get to one of the 24 pairs of Nike Air Jordan’s on the shelf, or some other heavily discounted item, that they have waited countless hours for with a thousand other shoppers.

This isn’t just shoppers behaving badly, this is pure insanity driven by greed.

Despite the all this spending frenzy, the economic outlook for retailers isn’t all the booming:

Half off at the entire store at Ann Taylor. Sixty percent at Gap. Forty percent off almost everything at Abercrombie & Fitch.

Aggressive last-minute deals in the days before Christmas are good for procrastinators, but they could be an alarm bell for the retail industry.

While scattered markdowns are standard every year, discounts across entire stores – which analysts say are more widespread than last year – suggest merchants are stuck with too much merchandise.

“It’s really a game of chicken,” said David Bassuk, managing director and head of the retail practice at the consultant firm AlixPartners.

Many retailers entered the season “with pretty optimistic plans” that shoppers would rush into stores and pay full price, Mr. Bassuk said. But that did not pan out, and the final days before Christmas have retailers being “much more aggressive in terms of promotions being offered,” he said.

Shoppers are filling their holiday lists against the backdrop of an uncertain year, with stubbornly high unemployment, increased food prices, volatile gas prices and unpredictability for stocks and Europe’s debt crisis. The government on Thursday said that third-quarter economic growth had not been as brisk as it previously estimated, because of a drop in consumer spending on services like health care.

The American worker is taking home less, if he’s even lucky enough to still have a job, with the real unemployment rate is 11%. The big deal in the news today is the House Republicans caved to demands for a two month extension of the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits that will have to hashed out again when Congress comes back from their extended Winter vacation then end of January.  

Dec 23 2011

Get Out Of Jail Free

(h/t Calculated Risk)

Details of Mortgage Servicing Settlement Between Banks and AGs Begin to Emerge

By Massimo Calabresi, Time Magazine

December 23, 2011

In return for the $5 billion in cash and the $20 billion in credits, the banks would be released from claims against them for servicing and foreclosure abuses that might be brought against them by the states and the federal government. The states also release the banks from origination claims, that is, claims they might face for all the fraud and duplicity they engaged in when they made bad loans at the height of the housing craze. The banks do not get immunity or a release of for individual claims by homeowners-just a release from past practices State- and Federal-initiated claims. They also don’t get released for securitization abuses of the kind Citibank and Goldman Sachs have been investigated for.

The Iowa AG’s office, which led the negotiations, is bracing for criticism of the deal. The limited payments are likely to be criticized, as is the release for origination abuses. The state negotiators say all the originators are already out of business and that in most cases the claims would be too old to prosecute. Arguments over what the banks would and wouldn’t get off the hook for are what led several liberal State AGs to bolt from the deal. The $25 billion version of the price tag drops to $19 billion if California stays out of the deal, which looks likely. Other states that have dropped out have been in talks with Housing and Urban Development chief Shaun Donovan about coming back into the fold: in particular, Donovan has been in talks with New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in recent weeks in the hope of getting him back into the deal, but that also seems unlikely.

Dec 23 2011

Alberta Tar Pit

When it comes up again, as it inevitably will, you’ll want this link to remind people that it’s all about lining the pockets of Oil Companies.

Not Jobs.

Not Angry Brown Heathens squatting on our Jesus Gas.

Money for corporatists.

Provision May Halt Pipeline, but Oil Is Still Likely to Flow

By JOHN M. BRODER and DAN FROSCH, The New York Times

Published: December 23, 2011

Stephen Harper, the Canadian prime minister, said in a television interview this week that if the United States blocked the Keystone pipeline, Canada would look to China as a market for its oil.

“I am very serious about selling our oil off this continent, selling our energy products off to China,” Mr. Harper said.



(E)xperts in oil economics say that the oil is coming out of the ground in any event because of steadily growing global demand and the heavy investment in infrastructure already made in Alberta.



“In an era of limited accessibility to overseas oil resources and in contrast to conventional oil fields that produce at their peak production level for only three to six years before going into decline,” Mr. Budzik said, “long-lived productive assets such as oil sands provide a company some insurance as to its long-term financial viability.”

Dec 23 2011

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

Japan Times Editorial: Fukushima Nuclear Crisis Far from Resolved

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda on Dec. 16 declared that the stricken reactors at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant have entered the state of “cold shutdown” and that it has been confirmed that the nuclear crisis has “been resolved”(Shusoku ni itatta.) As far as Tepco and the goverment are concerned, “Step 2” of their “road map” to bring the nuclear crisis under control has been accomplished one month earlier than originally scheduled. After the completion of Step 2, work that will eventually lead to removal of molten nuclear fuel and decommissioning of the stricken reactors is supposed to start. But the prime minister’s declaration that the crisis has been resolved will not be accepted by many people, especially those in Fukushima Prefecture. [..]

Tepco’s middle- and long-range scenario includes such risks as spontaneous restart of a fission process, new hydrogen explosions, corrosion of the pools containing spent nuclear fuel, leakage of contaminated water or mud, and another strong earthquake and tsunami. Clearly, the nuclear crisis remains far from resolved and Tepco and the government must continue to make their utmost efforts to bring the situation at the Fukushima plant truly under control as quickly as possible and ensure that enough workers remain at the site to cope with any dangerous developments.

Alexander Cockburn: Loom of the Jackboot: Obama Gives Military Extreme Powers

Too bad Kim Jong-il kicked the bucket last weekend. If the divine hand that laid low the North Korean leader had held off for a week or so, Kim would have been sustained by the news that President Obama had signed into law a bill that puts the United States not immeasurably far from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in contempt of constitutional protections for its citizens or constitutional restraints upon criminal behavior sanctioned by the state.

At least the DPRK doesn’t trumpet its status as the least-best sanctuary of liberty. American politicians, starting with the president, do little else.

A couple of months ago, came a mile-marker in America’s steady slide downhill towards the status of a Banana Republic with Obama’s assertion that he has the right as president to secretly order the assassination, without trial, of a U.S. citizen he deems to be working with terrorists. This followed his 2009 betrayal of his pledge to end the indefinite imprisonment without charges or trial of prisoners in Guantanamo.

After months of declaring that he would veto such legislation, Obama has now crumbled and will soon sign a monstrosity called the Levin/McCain detention bill, named for its two senatorial sponsors, Carl Levin and John McCain. It’s snuggled into the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act.

Paul Krugman: The Post-Truth Campaign

Mitt Romney is blazing new trails in politics, where not telling the truth doesn’t seem to have any consequences.

Suppose that President Obama were to say the following: “Mitt Romney believes that corporations are people, and he believes that only corporations and the wealthy should have any rights. He wants to reduce middle-class Americans to serfs, forced to accept whatever wages corporations choose to pay, no matter how low.”

How would this statement be received? I believe, and hope, that it would be almost universally condemned, by liberals as well as conservatives. Mr. Romney did once say that corporations are people, but he didn’t mean it literally; he supports policies that would be good for corporations and the wealthy and bad for the middle class, but that’s a long way from saying that he wants to introduce feudalism.

Michael Winsap: Happy Holidays, Corporate America – I’d Like to File a Complaint

In the spirit of the season, I’d like to file a complaint – about complaints. Corporate America just doesn’t handle them the way they used to. As in, at all.

I grew up in retail. My father owned a drugstore in upstate New York and was as old fashioned as the next guy when it came to the rules of doing business. As in, Rule #1: the customer is always right. Rule #2: see Rule #1.

Unless, of course, he caught a customer shoplifting, in which case all rules and rights were suspended, including habeas corpus. Make an attempt to sneak out of his establishment with a bottle of moisturizer or a pair of sunglasses and prepare for the thunder of God’s own drums. I never heard him yell at his own kids the way he yelled at any young, incipient Artful Dodger who tried to skip the joint with a purloined Snickers bar tucked under his shirt.

New York Times Editorial: The House Backs Down

For a full year, House Republicans have replaced governing with confrontations that they allow to reach the brink of crisis, only then making extreme demands in exchange for a resolution. On Thursday, that strategy crumbled. Battered by public opinion and undermined by more reasonable Senate Republicans, the House’s leaders backed down and signed off on a deal to continue the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance for two months.

The House Republicans’ stubborn opposition to the extension “may not have been politically the smartest thing in the world,” Speaker John Boehner said, in the understatement of the week. He still called it “a good fight.”

David Sirota: ‘Tis The Season of Fake Outrage

One of the defining qualities of late December is the predictable and ritualized nature of America’s holiday season. Other than discovering what’s inside the wrapped gift boxes, there’s no mystery or suspense to it anymore. The Christmas music starts right before Thanksgiving. Then come the flickering lights, the red-and-green decor, Hollywood’s vacation movie blitz, and finally, with media charlatans turning the key, the fake outrage machine rumbles back to life.

Like a narcissist’s souped-up 4-by-4, this turbocharged colossus of self-righteous indignation makes a lot of noise and leaves a mess in its wake-but ultimately says a lot more about its drivers’ pitiable insecurities than anything else.

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Dec 23 2011

On this Day In History December 23

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

December 23 is the 357th day of the year (358th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are eight days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1893, The opera Hansel und Gretel by Engelbert Humperdinck is first performed.

The libretto was written by Adelheid Wette (Humperdinck’s sister), based on the Grimm brothers’ Hansel and Gretel. It is much admired for its folk music-inspired themes, one of the most famous being the Abendsegen (“Evening Benediction”) from Act 2.

The idea for the opera was proposed to Humperdinck by his sister, who approached him about writing music for songs that she had written for her children for Christmas based on “Hänsel und Gretel.” After several revisions, the musical sketches and the songs were turned into a full-scale opera.

Humperdinck composed Hansel and Gretel in Frankfurt am Main in 1891 and 1892. The opera was first performed in Weimar on 23 December 1893, conducted by Richard Strauss. It has been associated with Christmas since its earliest performances and today it is still most often performed at Christmas time.

Dec 23 2011

The Colbert Nation Super PAC Presidential Primary

No Joke.

Last night I had TDS/TCR duty and while I found this story incredibly funny, it’s also very serious and topical.

(h/t qm1pooh)

_____________________

The question on everyone’s mind, indeed the only question of any political significance whatever this election cycle is whether Stephen Colbert’s Stephen Colbert’s Colbert Super PAC™ will be allowed to sponsor this year’s South Carolina Republican Primary.

I’m sure you all remember this segment from 12/7-

where Stephen reveals his negotiation to place a simple non-binding referendum question on the 2011 South Carolina Republican Primary ballot.

In order to address the issue of Corporate Personhood, the enfranchised People of the Sovereign State of South Carolina declare that:

   ( ) Corporations are people.

   ( ) Only people are people.

As Stephen reveals today in his explosive guest editorial in The State, South Carolina’s leading newspaper for publishing explosive guest editorials by Stephen Colbert, South Carolina has 2 (count ’em) TWO State Mottos-

   Animis opibusque parati – “Prepared in mind and resources.”

   AND

   Dum spiro spero – “While I breathe, I hope.”

Oh, and that his Stephen Colbert’s Colbert Super PAC™ has made a firm cash offer of $500,000 to become the official sponsor of the South Carolina Republican Primary.

This is no joke.  Stephen has in fact written “No Joke” on the memo line of each check.

ek you say, how can someone “sponsor” a Primary?

Civium Coniunctionem

Please remember to say that like Hermione and not Ronald.

For years the South Carolina Republican Party has paid for the expenses of each county.

Colbert Sought Naming Rights For South Carolina Primary

By Reid Wilson, National Journal

December 22, 2011 11:20 AM

Until 2008, the state Republican Party had paid for the entire primary process, renting the polling places and voting machines, printing the ballots and providing the volunteers. In 2008, the state paid for both parties’ competitive primaries.

No joke: Stephen Colbert wants naming rights to S.C. GOP primary

Richard Fausset, L.A. Times

December 22, 2011 9:28 am

This month the State newspaper in Columbia, S.C., reported that Colbert offered to help cover the costs of the Jan. 21 presidential primary, the first in the South, if the state GOP would change its name to “The Colbert Nation Super PAC Presidential Primary,” just as Frito-Lay has paid to affix “Tostitos” to “Fiesta Bowl.”

He also asked the party to support placing a referendum question on the January ballot asking voters whether they believe “corporations are people,” an issue at the heart of the Citizens United case, or “only people are people,” an assertion echoing a 1984 Depeche Mode hit.

The State’s Gina Smith reported that the GOP passed on the naming rights, but agreed to put the question on the primary ballot in exchange for a pledge of a “significant contribution” from Colbert’s PAC.

Then, however, the South Carolina Supreme Court struck all referendum questions from the ballot.

That wasn’t the end of things. South Carolina’s GOP is also caught up in a complicated drama over how much of the primary it should pay for, and how much of the tab should be picked up by the government. Matt Moore, the executive director of the state GOP, has said he believes that a recent court ruling makes the state and counties “solely responsible for the primary.”

South Carolina GOP rebuts Stephen Colbert on primary naming rights

By MICHAEL A. MEMOLI, Sacremento Bee

Published: Thursday, Dec. 22, 2011 – 12:00 am

Ultimately, the South Carolina Supreme Court decided that the state’s counties had to foot the bill for the cost of the election. And Colbert is offering again to step to the plate, under the same conditions he offered before.

“The counties need the money, and Colbert Super PAC wants to give it to you; call it a Christmas Miracle,” he says.

op. cite

The South Carolina Republican Party confirmed they had been engaged in talks with Colbert, talks sources said have continued for months. And party chairman Chad Connolley did visit Colbert in New York, a spokesman confirmed.

Colbert’s not giving up on S.C. primary

Reuters

Dec 22, 2011 21:10 IST

Colbert said talks continued with the state party over plans including still selling them the naming rights or whether the GOP would petition to get his referendum back on the ballot. When that failed, he said he reached out to the state Democrats, who agreed to seek to reinstate the referendum. At that point, the state Republicans declined Colbert’s money because they “were concerned about the sanctity of the primary election.”

“If nothing else good comes from this, we have at least narrowed down the exact value of sanctity – somewhere between $200,000 and $400,000,” Colbert wrote.

Colbert wrote that he thought the issue was dead, until learning that South Carolina’s Republican party had reneged on almost all funding for the primary, which prompted him to offer to cover the counties’ $500,000 shortfall.

Colbert guest editorial: Naming rights, state mottoes and the GOP primary + video

By Stephen Colbert – Guest Columnist, The State

Thursday, Dec. 22, 2011

I assumed that was the end of the story, but last week I saw that the South Carolina GOP has reneged on funding any part of the primary, save for the legal minimum percentage of candidate filing fees, leaving the financially strapped counties on the hook for $500,000. That’s money that counties need for emergency services, infrastructure repair, and to complete the wall to keep out North Carolinians. Once again, our first-in-the-South primary is in jeopardy.



Colbert Super PAC will cover the counties’ $500,000 shortfall. In return, I ask for only two things: that you support the Democrats’ petition to get my referendum back on the ballot, and that you grant me the pre-negotiated naming rights, which, I think we can all agree, you now own. To paraphrase Ronald Reagan, “You paid for that microphone!”

Do not despair

Oh, and you may resume breathing.  Stephen has left us this message of eksmas cheer (op. cite)-

Dear Colbert Super PAC Members And Incorporated MemberCo’s,

Colbert Super PAC got you a Christmas present, but it didn’t arrive in time. You want to know what it was anyway?

I was going to give you the South Carolina primary. I was so sure you’d like it, I didn’t even ask for a receipt.

I’ve explained it all in an opinion piece that’s just been published in “The State” newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina. You can take a look here.

Sorry it didn’t get here in time. Remember, it’s the thought that counts. So next year I’m going to give you thoughts.

Whatever holiday you celebrate this season:

Merry Christmas from Colbert Super PAC!

   Stephen Colbert

   President And Fourth Wise Man

   Americans For A Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow

Contributions to Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow (“ABTT”) are not deductible as charitable contributions for federal income tax purposes. ABTT may accept unlimited corporate contributions, unlimited individual contributions, unlimited labor-union contributions, and unlimited PAC contributions. Contributions from foreign nationals and federal-government contractors will not be accepted. *Federal law requires ABTT’s best efforts to obtain and report the name, address, occupation, and employer of any individual who contributes more than $200 in a calendar year.