Sunday, January 2, 2011

Last Call

Dollar stores are a major player in the retail game.  These stores used to be considered mainly for the lower end of shopping, but after the economy took its toll on middle class consumers, the shopping trends have allowed them to not only expand but offer day to day products such as produce and office supplies.  Their smaller sizes and price tags appeal to folks living hand to mouth as well as shoppers who are looking for a low price on general items, or who miss the fun of harmless trinket shopping in tight times.

In this article, Time explains how Wal-Mart is responding to this threat.  The dollar stores typically do not have enough inventory or selection for customers to do all of their shopping there, but in convenient locations (focused near bus stops or other areas with high foot traffic) they have mastered the grab and go style of shopping that appeals to people on a budget, or in a hurry.  Wal-Mart is responding by underselling the products the dollar stores carry, but the most interesting part is that they plan to start mini-stores to compete with the convenience and locations of dollar stores.  

The CEO of Family Dollar says they live off "the crumbs" that Wal-Mart leaves behind.  An entire industry can survive off of this, and has so far.  Wal-Mart has grown successfully while failing miserably at generating any loyalty of affection from its customers.  It will be interesting to see how this plays out, and how it will affect consumers if Wal-Mart takes over this market as well.  

The Worst Thing I've Heard All Year

Jody Lynn Bennett, 37, was arrested and booked in the Indiana County jail after stealing two Game Boy consoles from the casket of a teenager who died on Christmas day after a car accident.  Bennett also stole "several" game cartridges, also intended to be buried for the teen.  He is currently being held on a $15,000 bond.  

This is the stuff that just makes me cringe.  I am ashamed to be of the same species as this man.  The article briefly mentions a history of drug and alcohol abuse, and while I understand that addiction can make us do things that are far removed from our character, there is no explanation for this.  This is just disgusting.  

Stupidinews: Bad Day For Arkansas Critters

In two (seemingly) unrelated events, more than a thousand blackbirds fell dead from the sky in the town of Beebe, AR.  An Arkansas Game and Fish Commission spokesman also says dead fish cover at least 20 miles of the Arkansas River, near the town of Ozark, AR.  So far, there are no answers for why either event took place, but the two towns are about 270 miles apart.

It makes one wonder.  Twenty miles of water is a lot of sickness or contamination, more than can be attributed to the meth lab or farm runoff that is usually to blame.  Coincidence? If so, it's a big one.   Right now, living fish are being examined, because the surviving drum fish are showing signs of illness.

The GOP Perpetual Motion Machine

Steve Benen is right:  the GOP-controlled House knows absolutely that their first order of business come next week, to try to repeal the Affordable Care Act, is just so smoke and mirrors.  They have the votes to do it in the House.  It won't get past the Senate, and it certainly won't get past a Presidential veto.  So why do it?

...But there's almost certainly a realization on everyone's part that House Republicans are doing this for show. If passed, their repeal measure can't pass the Senate, and wouldn't overcome a veto. The GOP wants to pursue repeal just so they can say they pursued repeal. This isn't going to be policymaking from responsible, problem-solving lawmakers; this is going to be a public-relations stunt. We can probably expect quite a bit of this over the next two years -- Republicans are great at campaigning, but tend to have trouble governing once the election has come and gone.

But I continue to think there are opportunities here for Democrats. To hear Upton tell it, one of the very first votes House Republicans will cast in the new Congress is raising taxes on small businesses. And adding over a trillion dollars to the debt. And taking away health care coverage for millions. And making seniors pay more for prescription drugs while weakening Medicare. And allowing insurers to discriminate against children with pre-existing conditions.

To be sure, Republicans won't put it this way, but their rhetoric is irrelevant against the reality -- by voting for repeal of the Affordable Care Act, they're voting for the consequences that come with the law's elimination.

If Dems fail to go on the offensive on this, they're missing an opportunity.

No offense, Steve...but Democrats failed to take that opportunity for all of 2010.  As a result it cost them 60 plus seats and control of the House.

What would ever possess you to believe that the Democrats will attack the Republicans on this now?

Republicans are doing the "people's business".  They will try to repeal the ACA again and again.  And they will get away with it because the Democrats will not act, as Steve M. points out.

And that happened not because the law was so awful, but because the Democrats squandered every opportunity to push back against anti-reform propaganda, from the beginning of the effort to pass the law until the present day. So now the Democrats are so far behind that it isn't enough merely to sing the law's praises -- selling this law is like selling a tainted brand, Tylenol after the poisonings or BP after the oil spill.

I'm not saying Democrats should give up. I'm just saying it's a long, long slog. It's a fight that will be won, if it is won, primarily on the basis of emotion, not facts.

Frankly, if Democrats are going to win, they're going to win because of time. Their best hope is to let the law come into effect and say, after some time has passed, "Oh, you like that? That's Obamacare." (Of course, many provisions of the law don't take effect for years.)

On the other hand, there's one potentially huge pitfall for Republicans in their plan to fight the bill a hundred different ways (total repeal efforts, repeal efforts by pieces, defunding efforts, legal challenges): in the next two years, unemployment will still be high, and they'll be the party that seems obsessed with health care rather than the economy and jobs. That was the Democrats' downfall over the last two years; maybe now it will be the Republicans'.

Sure.  But unemployment will be Obama's fault too.  And the Dems won't push back on that, either.  I'm becoming increasingly convinced that we will have to go through four, maybe eight years of complete Republican control before America realizes what it has lost.

Of course by then it will be far, far too late for our country.

Houston, We Have An Air Pollution Problem

The state of Texas has decided it doesn't think greenhouse gases are a problem.  The Lone Star State has decided it will not obey the EPA's ruling that the Supreme Court confirmed in 2007 that greenhouse gases are a pollutant, and has filed for an injunction against EPA rules that take effect today.  The injunction that the state filed last month was turned down flatly, so Texas is filing again.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said the state was determined to fight the EPA's intentions, saying that Congress had rejected such carbon rules but the EPA was now trying to legislate them itself through administrative rules.

"Texas law does not currently deem greenhouse gases to be pollutants," Abbott said. "Once again, the federal government is overreaching, and improperly intruding upon the state of Texas and its legal rights."

Backed by a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision, the EPA issued a finding last year that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases endanger human health and welfare.

Since then the agency has moved forward with developing rules under the Clean Air Act to limit emissions blamed for climate change. Beginning January 2, EPA will require large emitters such as power plants, refineries and cement makers to obtain permits for polluting greenhouse gases.

EPA also said it will issue permits for Texas, which has refused to adopt rules for emissions. Opponents of the climate rules say they will hurt the economy and kill jobs.

Earlier this year, Abbott said, EPA indicated it would give states one year to implement new greenhouse gas limits before taking control of permits.

"Today, the EPA said that, rather than giving Texas even a year, it would unilaterally take over the state's air permitting responsibilities on January 2, 2011," Abbott said.

The petition asks the appeals court to step in immediately and halt the EPA's "exercise in administrative fiat."

Hey Texas?

Don't like it?


Bunch of folks decided 150 years ago that would be a pretty good idea.  Didn't work out so well.  You don't want to play by federal law?  The other 49 states would like Texas's federal money back.  Lord knows we need it.  Real simple solution to this.  Supreme Court settled this four years ago. 

We'd like our border agents back, too.  We'll need them to patrol to keep you guys from heading north.

Go for it.

Look For The Union Scapegoat Label, Part 2

Another day, another NY Times article about how public employee unions must be the source of all fiscal evil.

A new regime in state politics is venting frustration less at Goldman Sachs executives (Governor Christie vetoed a proposed “millionaire’s tax” this year) than at unions. Newark recently laid off police officers after they refused to accept cuts, and Camden has threatened to lay off half of its officers in January.

Fred Siegel, a historian at the conservative-leaning Manhattan Institute, has written of the “New Tammany Hall,” which he describes as the incestuous alliance between public officials and labor.

“Public unions have had no natural adversary; they give politicians political support and get good contracts back,” Mr. Siegel said. “It’s uniquely dysfunctional.”

Even if that is so, this battle comes woven with complications. Across the nation in the last two years, public workers have experienced furloughs and pay cuts. Local governments shed 212,000 jobs last year.

A raft of recent studies found that public salaries, even with benefits included, are equivalent to or lag slightly behind those of private sector workers. The Manhattan Institute, which is not terribly sympathetic to unions, studied New Jersey and concluded that teachers earned wages roughly comparable to people in the private sector with a similar education.

Benefits tend to be the sorest point. From Illinois to New Jersey, politicians have refused to pay into pension funds, creating deeper and deeper shortfalls.

In California, pension costs now crowd out spending for parks, public schools and state universities; in Illinois, spiraling pension costs threaten the state with insolvency.

And taxpayer resentment simmers. 

Incestuous. Dysfunctional.   This is how we have trained a generation of private sector workers who have seen nearly everything taken from them, and seen their real wages and benefits stagnate for decades, to attack public workers and their unions on sight.

In Tea Party America, teachers, firefighters, cops and city workers are held beneath contempt.  Hundreds of thousands have been laid off.  Hundreds of thousands more have seen their hours and benefits cut, just like the rest of us.  While the real robber barons continue to shift the country's wealth to themselves, we fight over who gets the larger table scraps.

The Village media exists to protect their wealthy owners.  And they have done a better job than anyone could have possibly imagined.  We have tens of millions of Americans willing to strip money from their fellow working class wage earners, the people who protect our communities and teach our children, in order to cut taxes for the rich and for corporations, as record profits continue to roll in.

And when public employees are stripped and shoved out into the snow, the next attack will come upon the schools, police, and firefighters themselves.  Why should taxes pay for them, will be the cry.  Let's privatize them to save money.  Why should people without school-aged children pay for schools?  Why should people who live in the urban parts of the county pay the same taxes for fire and police protection as the exurbs?

A la carte government, privatized, corporatized, pick your provider.  The hand of the free market will dispose of those who can't compete...and those who don't pay.  Only one police provider authorized in the county?  Pay up or else.  Gotta be better than those union guys, right?  One of your neighbors got robbed, protection rates for the block just went up.  You get what you pay for in Tea Party America.  Don't like it?  Protect yourself with the Second Amendment.  Libertarian utopia.

That's where all this is heading, of course.  It won't stop with public employee unions.  It won't until everything is for-profit, and the profits go to the top.
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