‘Tis the season for lackluster holiday sales and prosperous debt collectors. Fa la la la la, la la la la...
Everything is a little downbeat according to the economic news leading into the holiday shopping season reported on the November 18 "CBS Evening News" - that is of course unless you're in the debt business.
"It happens to be pretty good," said Brandon Bradshaw about this shopping season. "So, we're one of the lucky ones."
But, CBS Correspondent Randall Pinkston trotted him out for a reason.
"Brandon Bradshaw's business? Debt collection," concluded Pinkston. "Russ, retailers are counting on shoppers like him because this is the make-or-break season. Fourth quarter - stores depend on holiday shoppers for 25 to 40 percent of their annual profits."
What is it with the MSM and their fetish with worrying so much about everyone but Americans? For the L.A.Times, for instance, even the weakness of our dollar is cause for worrying over how bad it is for... wait for it... foreign companies. While our dollar weakens and could perhaps bring us major economic trouble, the L.A.Times shows serious concern and laments that the soft currency crisis is hurting European companies who are finding their prices rising because of our falling dollar.
The Times is all upset that foreigners are losing profits, but there isn't a word in its story about what it might do to Americans, befitting its general disinterest in America and perfectly reflecting its heightened concern for foreigners. Worse, the tone of this article serves only to make America look like the bad guy once again, like it's our fault that the falling dollar is hurting those poor, innocent Europeans.
On Tuesday, "Good Morning America" reporter Bianna Golodryga hyperventilated about high gas prices and highlighted a man who alleged that the cost of fuel is keeping him from going to church and that it could ruin Christmas. Golodryga piled on, suggesting that some Americans would be forced to eat "cheaper foods" such as pasta and peanut butter instead of fruits and vegetables.
Only a few days later, Golodryga, who covers business and economic issues for GMA, proved her journalistic independence by gushing over liberal billionaire Warren Buffet, or "Robin Hood," as she called him. While Golodryga lobbied for holding on to the death tax (or, as she called it, the estate tax), co-host Diane Sawyer rhapsodized over how Buffet is battling "on behalf of fairness in taxes." (The leftist billionaire has claimed recently that he pays less taxes, percentage-wise, than his receptionist.)
The Anchoress, a three-time Weblog Awards finalist and 2007 Catholic Blog Awards Winner (congratulations!) in the Best Political/Social Commentary category (scroll down at link to see it), delivered a cold but necessary shower earlier this evening to those of us who are tempted to exaggerate or overstate the impact New Media is having on most Americans.
I'll bet that a lot of us can relay similar stories to the ones she referred to in her very perceptive post ("Good news leaks past the embargo on good news…"; links that contradict the Old Media-driven beliefs described and bolds/italics were included in her original):
Unfortunately, it is still true that until a new president is installed in the WH, preferably one with a D after the name, only the downsides are newsworthy, and that holds true in every subject. Every subject. My elderly family members are convinced that everything, everywhere, is going to hell, and they are fretful and terrified. They think everyone is out of work, the economy is in a recession, the war in Iraq is lost and there are no real terrorist threats - that’s just made-up stuff. They’re sure America is dying. They are sure the world is headed for famine. They are depressed and do not want to send out Christmas cards, because how can you do that when so much is bad in the world?
What's another $1 trillion here and there among friends - especially when it promotes a leftist agenda?
Throwing around a big number like that obviously isn't a problem for one liberal executive. Woody Tasch, the chairman of Investors' Circle wrote in the November 15 Christian Science Monitor that since we can spend money on Iraq, we can spend $1 trillion over five years for socialist causes.
"Economists project that the cost of the war in Iraq, when all is said and done, will come in at $1 trillion or more," wrote Tasch. "I say: Let's do it again! Let's allocate another trillion dollars - but this time for the good of all humanity and all species. Let's do it with the same moral urgency and vision that has made America great at so many critical junctures in history."
After Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) reported higher third-quarter earnings and predictions of a "strong" holiday shopping season, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) surged 320 points after taking a battering over the previous week.
In an Andy Rooneyesque rant about how his latest movie-going experience "left much to be desired," CBS White House correspondent Mark Knoller hinted he wouldn't mind seeing liberal consumers groups tackle hefty snack prices at the nation's movie theaters. He even suggested the short titles for two bills Congress could draft on that front.
From Knoller's November 12 Couric & Co. blog post (emphasis mine):
The fact is, most movie theaters are glorified snack bars. On average, they keep only 50% or less of the ticket price, far less for blockbusters in their opening weeks. Much of a theater’s profit comes from the concession stand.
Regal, one of the nation’s largest multiplex chains, reported the 3rd quarter profit margin at its snack bars exceeded 86%.
And the markup – especially on popcorn – is eye-popping. The Los Angeles Times last year calculated that just $30 of raw popcorn can translate into as much as $3,000 in sales at the snack bar.
That sounds like a markup that would make the oil industry blush.
It's hard to overstate the importance of the study released today by the Treasury Department ("Income Mobility in the U.S. from 1996 to 2005"; press release; full study PDF).
That's because it provides documented evidence of more, not less, economic mobility than in previous eras. Beyond that, taken in combination with an independent report I covered last week, it demonstrates beyond any reasonable doubt that the first four-plus years of the Bush economy were exceptional.
Tuesday's read-the-whole-thing feature editorial at OpinionJournal.com provides a great overview (bolds are mine), plus some tantalizing details:
What's another $500 taken out of your paycheck over the course of a year? It probably isn't much to global warming alarmists like Al Gore, but that's what it could cost you if legislation pending in the U.S. Senate is passed into law.
Does that $500 have your attention? Well, multiply that times every member of your immediate family.
According to a November 11 Washington Times editorial, a bill introduced in the Senate by Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and John Warner (R-Va.) that would require companies to scale back greenhouse-gas emissions could cost Americans $4 trillion to $6 trillion over the next 40 years.
If that bill were passed and made law, the tax would cost every man, woman and child - more than 303 million Americans - $494 a year, a significant burden on the U.S. economy.
In a move that must be causing Excedrin headaches at the New York Times and other Old Media outlets, USA Today reports that the Wall Street Journal's new owner expects to tear down its subscription wall:
News Corp. (NWS) Chairman Rupert Murdoch said Tuesday he intends to make access to The Wall Street Journal's website free, trading subscription fees for anticipated ad revenue.
"We are studying it and we expect to make that free, and instead of having 1 million (subscribers), having at least 10 million-15 million in every corner of the earth," Murdoch said.
News Corp. has signed an agreement to acquire Dow Jones (DJ), and the deal is expected to close in the fourth quarter. A special shareholders meeting is scheduled for Dec. 13 in New York.
Murdoch said he believes that a free model, with increased readership for wsj.com, will attract "large numbers" of big-spending advertisers.
Wealthy Americans are becoming increasingly interested in donating to global causes. Since 1997, the rate of global giving has increased steadily at an average of 12.5 percent each year. According to a recent Financial Times story, JPMorgan Private Bank has “noted a rise of about 20 percent over the last year in client interest in overseas donations, with high-net-worth individuals looking to support education, health and economic expansion projects in developing countries.”
And they aren’t alone. Financial planners and international banks have seen similar upswings. It all begs the question—why?
What does this increased giving tells us about Americans?
That's Bill Lerach. Yes, THAT Bill Lerach. The self-styled, one-time "King of Torts," and former partner at the once-untouchable Milberg Weiss law firm. The now criminally convicted Bill Lerach.
For those who are unfamiliar with the story of Bill Lerach and Milberg Weiss, here's a relatively quick synopsis, courtesy of a subscription-only editorial at the Wall Street Journal excerpted by yours truly in May 2006, when Milberg Weiss and two of its partners were indicted:
It’s a little odd when a reporter contradicts herself and discloses she doesn’t necessarily agree with what she’s reporting.
But that’s what happened this morning when CNBC’s Maria Bartimoro appeared on the November 12 “Today” to report the chances of a recession. “Today” host Meredith Vieira asked Bartiromo if she thought the economy was heading into a recession after Bartiromo delivered a report about economic fears.
“You know Meredith, I do not,” Bartiromo said. “My gut feeling tells me that we have strength around the world. Economies like China and India and Europe continue to grow and that certainly helps American companies that have operations there. I think that that growth will probably offset the weakness that we’re seeing in housing and of course this pressure from oil.”
In one of the more hyperbolic segments to air on "Good Morning America," ABC reporter Bianna Golodryga fretted that November's unusually high gas prices could lead to poor health, less church and no Christmas. On Monday's program, Golodryga warned viewers that unnamed "reports" allege that "some people are foregoing routine visits to the doctor and are opting for cheaper foods, like pasta and peanut butter, as opposed to protein, fruits and vegetables, in order that they can save as much money as possible" at the pump.
The ABC reporter also managed to find an extreme example and introduced America to Juan Martinez of Phoenix, Arizona. According to Golodryga, the spike in prices has taken "a toll on the family's relationship with God." It seems as though the Martinez clan is cutting back on religious attendance due to the 40 mile journey trek to their church. (Are there no closer places to worship in the Phoenix area?) Additionally, GMA featured footage of Golodryga shopping with Martinez as she lamented, "...Even holiday gift shopping won't be the same." Apparently, there will be less Christmas presents this year.
With all due respect to the chairman (Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke), he would see the recession that so many others are feeling if he would only open his eyes. While Mr. Bernanke and others are waiting for the official diagnosis (a decline in the gross domestic product for two successive quarters), the disease is spreading and has been spreading for some time.
How overmatched were the two lukewarm-at-best Republicans that "Today" tossed in against two partisan Dems this morning? If NBC scheduled this unfair a fight for Sunday Night Football, Al Michaels would be calling the play-by-play between the New England Patriots and the proverbial Little Sisters of Mercy.
The Today show's farce of a "voter panel" was invited to discuss politics and the state of the country this morning. With tens of millions of voters to choose from, NBC can of course contrive any cross-section it wants. So the views expressed by the participants say relatively little about the mood of the country -- but a lot about the network's own political bias.
Someone needs to tell me why this news about discretionary income isn't as significant as I believe it is.
But first, three warnings: 1. I'm not about to spend the $250 needed to read the full report from the Conference Board that backs the story (their "about" page is here). 2. I don't feel totally comfortable with how the statistic is measured -- "Households with discretionary income, as defined by the study, are those whose spendable income exceeds that held by households with similar demographic features." 3. I don't feel totally comfortable that the statistic has been measured consistently.
Now with the disclaimers out of the way, here's the stunning news: More Americans have "money to burn," technically known as "discretionary income," than at any time in the past quarter-century, and perhaps in the country's history.
A lot more. A whole lot more.
So many more that I went as far back as I could for comparable stats.
For general debate and discussion. Possible talking point: The current bearishness for the dollar is like nothing I've ever seen. Honestly, is there ANYBODY bullish on the dollar?
With that in mind, could ALL these people be right, and the dollar is going MUCH lower? Or, as contrarian analysis dictates, when so many people agree on the future direction of an asset, it has to start going the other way?
Also, are you concerned about a low dollar? How is it impacting you, your business, or your personal finances if at all?
What could be more timely than a study about debt? With all the networks crying about oil prices and threats to the economy, consumers are feeling squeezed. Director of the Business & Media Institute, Dan Gainor appeared on the Fox Business Channel today to talk about the Culture & Media Institute and Business & Media Institute joint study, "DEBT Who'$ responsible?" That found the broadcast networks blame businesses, not borrowers for spendthrift ways.
"When you look at how the networks cover [debt] what you find is they ignore personal responsibility and flip it around and blame business for debt. Six times more they blame business than borrowers and almost two-thirds of the time they ignore the whole concept of personal responsibility," Gainor told viewers.
Christmas is still nearly seven weeks away, and already the media are offering a “Bah, Humbug” for retail sales and the U.S. economy.
CNN shoveled coal at the positive economic news on November 2 and immediately moved into full Grinch mode.
“You know, just earlier this week the broadest measure of the economy, Kyra, the GDP, came in at 3.9 percent, stronger than expected. What’s working against it, though, the financials, concerns that we’re going to have a lot more carnage coming from that very important sector, consumer spending …” said “Newsroom” correspondent Susan Lisovicz.
On September 24 of this year, Alexis Christoforous of “CBS Morning News” warned, “It could be a blue Christmas for many of the nation’s retailers.”
When the Labor Department on Friday announced a strong gain of 166,000 jobs during October, double expectations, ABC and CBS gave it a few seconds while NBC ignored the good news, but on Wednesday night NBC, as well as ABC and CBS, led with a bad day on Wall Street they painted as a harbinger of impending economic doom. NBC anchor Brian Williams piled on the bad news as he insisted he took “no pleasure” in highlighting it. With “DANGER SIGNS” on screen, Williams announced: “Good evening. The following sounds pretty awful -- and we take no pleasure in reporting it -- but today Wall Street fell, the U.S. dollar fell, GM is in bad shape and the housing market continues to be in big trouble.”
CBS displayed “MARKET TURMOIL” on screen as Katie Couric opened with how “investors were carrying a world of worries on their shoulders today” because of “the falling dollar, record high oil prices, the mortgage mess, the housing slump, and a possible economic slowdown. And they responded by dumping stocks. That sent the Dow plummeting more than 300 points for the second time in a week.” Over on ABC, Charles Gibson teased his top story: “Tonight, oil gushes and Wall Street plunges.” Gibson cutely led: “Wall Street today took a nose dive sharp enough to make investors' ears pop.”
Cramer, host of the CNBC’s “Mad Money” called liberal Democratic New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo as “communist” on CNBC’s November 7 “Street Signs.”
“[W]itness the fact that right now, the most important man in America for the stock market – the most important man and I mean it negatively is this guy Andrew Cuomo, the New York State Attorney General,” Cramer said. “I’m getting tired of the New York State Attorney General being the most important man in America.”
Yesterday during the 7 p.m. hour of FBN’s “America’s Nightly Scoreboard” theBusiness and Media Institute’s Director Dan Gainor went head to head with John Coifman of the Natural Resources Defense Council. The topic of discussion was “business going green” and whether or not it can put businesses in the red. The first part of the video can be seen below.
David Asman asked Gainor, “What’s wrong with going green?”
Back in the 1990s, TV journalists worried that Bill Clinton wasn’t getting enough credit for the wonderful things that happened while he was President. NBC’s then-White House correspondent Andrea Mitchell whined on CNN’s Larry King Live back on August 18, 1994 that her fear was that Clinton “doesn’t get credit for a lot of the good, positive things he’s done.... The economy is in better shape....He should be getting some credit for the economy.”
Now that a tax-cutting Republican is in the White House, however, big media types are working to bury the news of America’s strong economy. Today’s Investor’s Business Daily has a fine summary of recent good news in an editorial headlined, “The Media’s Blackout on the Boom.” Here’s a key excerpt:
Friday's employment report, showing a much-higher-than-expected increase of 166,000 in nonfarm payroll jobs, was only the latest in a spate of remarkable reports showing the economy's stunning resilience.
In an article counseling readers to cancel the pity party the Washington Post wants to throw for "Young Altruists In the Crowded Field of Public Interest," Rand Simberg at Transterrestrial Musings nails it, and in the process hammers home a reality that Old Media reporters and pundits never seem to comprehend (links were in original post):
..... Who is it that really changes the world, and for the better?
I would argue that it is the people like Bill Gates, or Henry Ford, or Thomas Edison, or the Wright brothers, who have a much larger and more beneficial effect on the world than people who "want to make a difference."
Author and political reporter Timothy Carney has an interesting item this morning in the Washington Examiner about how Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) practically gets campaign contribution kickbacks from her support for subsidies to the drug industry for the so-called emergency contraceptive pill Plan B. Emphasis mine. (h/t James Joyner):
Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., portrays herself as a scourge of the pharmaceutical industry, but she has shown that she’s willing to help a drugmaker if that’s what it takes to profit Planned Parenthood, her indispensable political ally.
Clinton’s campaign Web site touts that she has “battled the big drug companies.” Yet she has sponsored many bills that would directly subsidize Barr Laboratories, maker of the emergency contraceptive pill Plan B, which also functions as an abortifacient. Thanks to a deal cut between Barr and Planned Parenthood, those taxpayer subsidies will yield generous profits for the pro-choice group that every four years spends millions trying to elect a Democrat to the White House.