Following a less-than-spectacular holiday shopping season, two 20th century mainstays of America’s retailing culture appear to be a step closer to historical nostalgia. As reported by the Associated Press, the parent company of Sears and K-Mart announced that it is planning to close at least 100 stores, “a move that sparked speculation about whether the 125-year-old retailer can avoid a death spiral fed by declining sales and deteriorating stores.” AP reported that Sears Holdings Corp., “a pillar of American retailing that famously began with a mail-order catalog in the 1880s, declared Tuesday that it would no longer prop up ‘marginally performing’” Sears and K-Mart locations.

In 2005, following K-Mart’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing, the two retail giants merged under the umbrella of Sears Holdings, and in the ensuing years the company has tried without much success to find a profitable niche for the hybrid retail partnership.

In the meantime, competitors Wal-Mart and Target have become nearly ubiquitous upon America’s urban landscape, slowly replacing aging and out-of-step Sears and K-Mart retailers with monster “super-stores” offering consumers cheaper merchandise, along with a full line of groceries, auto service, optical centers, barber and beauty services, and a combination of fast food restaurants and take-home pizza chains.
 

The results of the Associated Press’ survey of 36 Keynesian economists — economists who believe that government is the driving force behind a strong economy — are in: President Obama received just “mediocre marks” for his handling of the economy since his inauguration on January 20, 2009. Half of those surveyed rated his performance as “fair” while 13 rated it as “poor.” The remaining five gave the president a rating of “good.” None rated his performance as “excellent.”

The survey included explanations for why his performance was so poor even though he has surrounded himself with Keynesians. Some said he didn’t do enough: The stimulus wasn’t big enough. William Cheney, chief economist at John Hancock Financial Services, said Obama’s administration “generally tried to take the right kinds of measures but have often failed to lead with enough vigor to overcome political obstacles.”

Some said he tried to do too much and got distracted by hammering Congress into voting for his healthcare takeover. Joel Naroff, president of Naroff Economics, said, “Health care wasn’t necessarily the most important thing to be dealing with when you’re in the midst of the worst recession since the Great Depression.”

With the latest announcement of its sale of 16 newspapers, the New York Times continues to sell off assets to stay alive. The sale of its papers in Florida, South Carolina, and California is expected to generate a much-needed capital insertion of about $150 million, less than was expected. Those newspapers’ revenues had been steadily declining, falling another 7 percent for the first nine months of the year.

Just days before the sale was announced the Times' chief executive officer, Janet Robinson, also announced her retirement. She had been in the difficult position of trying to put a positive spin on bad news to the point where even comedian Jon Stewart took advantage of her woes in a short video clip.

 

The government of Japan and the communist dictatorship ruling mainland China announced a landmark agreement this week to facilitate trade between the two powers without using the U.S. dollar, relying instead on the Japanese yen and the Chinese yuan.

According to the terms of the deal, the two governments agreed to encourage trade directly in yen and yuan without having to use American dollars as an intermediary — the current practice. Companies in Japan and China will soon be able to convert the currencies directly. And the Japanese government also agreed to hold Chinese yuan in its foreign-reserves portfolio.

It remains unclear exactly how and when the agreement will be implemented. But according to news reports, both governments have already set up a working group to iron out the details. Officials said the move was aimed at reducing risk and transaction costs.

The new currency deal comes as the communist Chinese dictatorship has been taking increasingly bold steps to expand the international role of the yuan. The regime’s officials have also become ever-more vocal in attacking the dollar’s global reserve status, calling instead for a more international system managed by a world entity such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF). 
 

National Transportation Safety Board Chairwoman Deborah Hersman has called for states to mandate a total ban on cellphone usage while driving. She has also encouraged electronics manufacturers — via recommendations to the CTIA —The Wireless Association and the Consumer Electronics Association — to develop features that "disable the functions of portable electronic devices within reach of the driver when a vehicle is in motion." That means she wants to be able to turn off your cellphone while you're driving.

With very little evidence, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration claims that there were some 3,092 roadway fatalities last year that involved distracted drivers. Americans ought to totally reject Hersman's agenda. It's the camel's nose into the tent. Down the road, we might expect mandates against talking to passengers or putting on lipstick while driving. They may even mandate the shutdown of drive-in restaurants as a contributory factor to driver distraction through eating while driving. You say, "Come on, Williams, you're paranoid. There are already laws against distracted driving, and it would never come to that!" Let's look at some other camels' noses into tents.

Rep. David Reichert (R-Wash.) along with two other House members has asked the Internal Revenue Service to investigate the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) for acting more like a profit-making insurance company rather than a tax-exempt advocate for senior citizens. The AARP’s close control and micro-marketing management of companies it allows to use its brand amounts to profit-making activity that should be taxable, assert the lawmakers and others. But for years the AARP has largely successfully defended its non-profit status all the while growing into the seventh largest insurance company in the country.

Reichert, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, told Fox News: “They’re really trying to manage these companies to increase their revenues.” And they have succeeded greatly. During the recession, when many of its members were struggling financially, AARP’s revenues just from its affiliation with United HealthCare alone jumped from $284 million in 2007 to $427 million in 2009 and $670 million in 2010. But because of their tax-exempt status, little of this is subject to income tax.

How did your U.S. Representative and Senators vote on last summer's debt deal that raised the national debt limit while promising to reduce future spending and deficit projections? How did your Representative vote on a measure that would have repealed the federal phaseout of the ubiquitous incandescent light bulb? And how did your Senators vote on an amendment to prohibit U.S. citizens  from being held indefinitely in the ongoing war against terrorism without being given a trial?

The answers to all three questions above are in our latest "Freedom Index" in the January 9, 2012 issue of The New American and also available online as a downloadable PDF.

The New American's "Freedom Index" is a congressional scorecard that rates all members of the House and Senate based on their adherence to constitutional principles of limited government, fiscal responsibility, national sovereignty, and a traditional foreign policy of avoiding foreign entanglements. The index is published four times each two-year congressional term; each index rates Congressmen based on 10 key votes.

Even the left-leaning Washington Post has acquired a sour taste over the Obama administration’s deplorable investment in Solyndra, the defunct solar-panel maker that reaped more than $500 million in taxpayer-backed loan guarantees. The administration’s fervor for the so-called "green" energy program, the newspaper noted in a recent article, was "infused" with political motives that spawned reckless policymaking and resulted in millions of wasted taxpayer dollars.

"Meant to create jobs and cut reliance on foreign oil, Obama’s green-technology program was infused with politics at every level, The Washington Post found in an analysis of thousands of memos, company records and internal e-mails," the article reads. "Political considerations were raised repeatedly by company investors, Energy Department bureaucrats and officials at the White House."

"The records, some previously unreported, show that when warned that financial disaster might lie ahead, the administration remained steadfast in its support for Solyndra."

How well can a shrimp perform on a treadmill? It’s a question that has puzzled mankind for ages. Fortunately, some researchers at the College of Charleston, South Carolina, are in the process of answering it — at a cost to U.S. taxpayers of a mere $682,570 (and counting).

The project first came to light in an April 2011 report on the National Science Foundation (NSF) issued by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.). Coburn, famous for his annual reports on government waste, found what he considered to be “over $3 billion in mismanagement at NSF,” including $1.5 million to build a robot that can fold laundry (at a rate of one towel every 25 minutes), $300,000 to study whether Facebook’s FarmVille helps build personal relationships, and (at the time of the report) $559,681 to see if shrimp’s treadmill performance is impaired by disease. Since then, says CNSNews.com, the shrimp research grant has been increased to $682,570.

The study is, in fact, not as ridiculous as it sounds. According to a description of the study on the NSF’s website, it aims to discover how “human-made marine stresses [are] affecting the marine life we need.” Specifically, College of Charleston biology professors Louis Burnett and Karen Burnett

On December 22 President Barack Obama released the following message through the White House’s Twitter account: "Thanks to all who shared #40dollars [sic] stories. Today's victory is yours. Keep making your voices heard — it makes all the difference. — bo"

This was in direct response to the Republican House of Representatives capitulating to the President and the Democratic Senate and allowing a shortened 2-month extension of the payroll tax cut, rather than forcing through the 1-year extension that the GOP was gunning for.

 

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