Blogs

A Very Grinchy Christmas

| Fri Dec. 26, 2008 1:42 AM EST

A VERY GRINCHY CHRISTMAS....There's just no way to sugar coat this. Retail sales fell off a cliff this year:

When gasoline sales are excluded, [retail sales fell] 4% in December.... The holiday retail-sales decline was much worse than the already-dire picture painted by industry forecasts, which had predicted sales ranging from a 1% drop to a more optimistic increase of 2.2%.

....A final burst of spending retailers hoped for last weekend never came. Shopper traffic fell 27% compared with the same time last year, while sales declined 5.3%, according to ShopperTrak RCT Corp., which tracks sales in retail outlets nationwide.

Christmas this year was pretty grim in China too. And they're expecting worse next year.

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Meet the Woman Whose Bra Brought Down a Governor

| Thu Dec. 25, 2008 1:23 PM EST

From The New Yorker:

Pamela Davis, blond suburban mother of three, was told that her bra would be the best place to wear the wire that kick-started a long investigation into Chicago graft and that ultimately caught the governor of Illinois trying to sell Barack Obama's Senate seat. Davis is the president and CEO of Edward Hospital, in Naperville, Illinois. She is proud of the fact that on her twenty-year watch the hospital has grown from a hundred-and-sixty-two-bed community facility to a four-hundred-and-twenty-seven-bed regional medical center that leads the county in babies delivered.

Back in 2003, Davis was trying to get approval for a new medical office building from the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board. A night or two before a hearing was to be held, Davis recalled, something strange happened. A business acquaintance of hers, Nicholas Hurtgen, then a managing director of the Chicago office of Bear Stearns, called her at home and told her that unless she agreed to use a certain contractor she should pull her building request, because it wasn't going to be approved.

Greed, I understand—if not to this extent. But I will never understand why these morons continue to use the phone (see: Eliot Spitzer) for their shenanigans.

But, anyway, here's to pissed off chicks everywhere! Read the piece. Davis is open about her disrespect both for Chicago corruptions and bumbling FBI drones who refused to take her seriously. Good thing she didn't give up.

Merry Christmas!

| Thu Dec. 25, 2008 1:20 PM EST

MERRY CHRISTMAS!....Santa brought Inkblot and Domino an exciting collection of boxes, ribbons, and wrapping tissue! They're very excited. What did Santa bring you?

God Rest Ye Worried Gentlemen: The Recession Hits Old Folks Hard

| Thu Dec. 25, 2008 12:52 PM EST

This holiday season brings no glad tidings to America's old folks. A recent report from the Urban Institute outlines the recession's impact on older workers, and its implications for retirees, as well. The report is so concise and comprehensive—and so grim—that it is worth including here almost in it entirety. The gist of it is that old people are far worse off than they were in the last deep and protracted recession, in the early 1980s, because we have lost more jobs, more government benefits, and more of our life savings.

For older workers, this recession is unprecedented. Last month, 298,000 Americans ages 65 and older were unemployed, 50 percent more than when the recession began a year ago.

During previous downturns, relatively few older Americans were counted as unemployed. Although many lost their jobs, they generally retired instead of looking for work. During the severe 1981-82 recession, seniors' unemployment rate grew by just 0.8 percentage points – only about one-fourth the increase for prime-age workers (25 to 54).

Today, however, seniors are nearly as likely as their juniors to join unemployment lines, because pink-slipped seniors can no longer afford to put their feet up. Shrinking Social Security benefits, traditional pension plans, and 401(k) balances combine with soaring health care costs to force them to keep pounding the pavement.

Your Christmas Eve Miracle Story

| Wed Dec. 24, 2008 7:30 PM EST

YOUR CHRISTMAS EVE MIRACLE STORY....Our nation's news media is surprisingly devoid of feel-good Christmas stories for us today, so this will have to do: it's the tale of Bess, a little black cat who was, unbelievably, stranded underneath a window seat for nine weeks without food and water but then rescued and resuscitated.

This is not quite as good as the story of a cat who trekked 30 miles across town to find its owner. I'm not sure it's even as good as the story of my friend's cat, which had cancer and finally disappeared one night for good, only to show up two years later hale and hearty. What's more, poor Bess might have permanent neurological problems because of her trauma — though I'm not sure how you can tell in a cat anyway. But it's Christmas Eve, and she's back, and apparently she's happy and purring. Enjoy!

Scrooged by the Democrats: Will the Rich Ever Pay Their Fair Share?

| Wed Dec. 24, 2008 6:46 PM EST

All of us who have been taught the Biblical story of Christmas (since my grandfather was a Methodist minister, that certainly includes me) will remember that Jesus is supposed to have been born in a stable because there was "no room at the inn." Less often repeated is the reason why his parents had hit the road in the first place, despite the fact that Mary was nine months gone at the time. According to the Book of Luke, "it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed." The Romans ordered all people to go to their home towns to register for a census, which was needed in order to institute the new tax system. That's why the holy family was schlepping the 90 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem when Mary went into labor.

The Bible never tells us how much Joseph—an impoverished carpenter with two dependents, one of them a kid who wasn't even his—ended up having to pay in taxes. But it's safe to assume that the local Romans, and the wealthy Sadducees who supported them, got off easy in comparison to working stiffs like Joseph. Maybe they even got off as easy as rich Americans have, under the tax cuts passed by the Bush Administration in 2001 and 2003.

During the Democratic primary campaign, Barack Obama, along with all of his Democratic contenders, promised a swift repeal of these tax cuts. A rollback of tax cuts benefitting only corporations and the wealthiest individuals was supposed to provide the financing for Obama's policy proposals, from education and health care to infrastructure and green energy. But by September, the Democratic nominee was already backpedaling on his pledge, and within three weeks of his election, Obama's economic advisors confirmed that, after all, the new president might just let the Bush tax cuts expire on schedule in 2011, rather than eliminating them two years earlier. The decision is based on the premise that it is unwise—in economic as well as political terms—to raise taxes during a recession, since lower taxes stimulate the economy.

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It's Lott-Tastic!

| Wed Dec. 24, 2008 2:47 PM EST

IT'S LOTT-TASTIC!....I just love me some righteous John Lott bashing, and Nate Silver delivers with the latest example of Lott's customary careful use of primary sources in an op-ed over at Fox News. It's true that his mistake is a small one in the grand scheme of things, but two items make this latest Lott affair especially awesome:

  1. The op-ed in question is co-authored by Ryan S. Lott. You may recall him as the "ry" in Mary Rosh. Awesome!

  2. In comments to Nate's post, Lott says both he and Fox have corrected the error. But it's a stealth correction: you'd never know the op-ed had been changed unless you clicked over to Lott's personal website where he mentions it. Awesome!

Good times. Brings back memories, this does.

Shadow Banking

| Wed Dec. 24, 2008 1:17 PM EST

SHADOW BANKING....Like Ezra Klein, Dean Baker, and me (and a cast of thousands) Paul Krugman is puzzled that so many economists failed to see the housing bubble in real time. But even those who did see it mostly didn't realize that the bursting of the bubble would lead to such an epic financial meltdown. Here's Krugman's explanation:

I think it's understandable, though not entirely forgivable, that economists didn't see the risks of a broad financial breakdown. We're accustomed to thinking of banks as big marble buildings with "member of the FDIC" signs in the window; besides, those are the institutions on whom the standard data series report. (Indeed, some economists still fixate on those data, which is why there are still economists denying that there's a credit crunch.) So neither the size nor the vulnerability of the "shadow" or parallel banking system were widely understood.

I don't know if this is right or not, but it's the first time I've really seen someone take a crack at addressing this question. So I thought I'd pass it along.

What Gays Can Teach Blacks About Civil Rights

| Wed Dec. 24, 2008 1:11 PM EST

I've been mulling over this column by Andrew Sullivan on Rick Warren. He gets it right; his logic is elegant and even moving.

"And this Rick Warren flap at its core, I think, is about the difference between those who see a civil rights movement as a means to wield power and those who see it as a means to spread freedom."

"My long conflict with some parts of the gay left is precisely about this distinction, and [his book] Virtually Normal was an attempt to construct a theory for gay civil rights which rests on as much freedom and as little power as possible. I want to live in a free society alongside people who genuinely believe I am a sinner destined for hell - and I want to get along with them. I am concerned (but not obsessed) with changing their minds, but totally repelled by the idea of coercing or pressuring them to do so. I am simply interested in having the government treat me as it would treat them. Once we establish that, we can all believe and say and argue for precisely what we want."

Amen, brother. The civil rights movement wasn't about forcing America to love black people. It was about forcing America to treat us like other citizens and otherwise leave us the hell alone. So what if the guy next door hates blacks or faggots? Hate on, moron. Unless he takes some sort of action that infringes on my rights—like burning a cross or gay-bashing me. Then my government better damn well ride to the rescue.

Too many blacks, I think, have forgotten this essential truth about our quest for justice. It's not about power. It's about freedom. And it shames me the extent to which blacks are using their all too new power to help oppress others. Any time a black person invokes the phrase 'civil rights', they should be required to define the term. I got a dollar that says most will wax eloquent on black rights and the wrongs done them. All too few would speak in universal terms. Don't let them (us) get away with it. They'll thank you later.

Question

| Wed Dec. 24, 2008 12:54 PM EST

QUESTION....What's the deal with fusion power these days? Is it still 30 years off, same as always?