Amazon didn’t kill Macy’s — Macy’s did

❝ It has been a very bad week for some of the country’s biggest department stores, with Macy’s feeling the brunt of it. The mass-market retailer’s stock has dropped 16 percent since it announced disappointing holiday sales results and details on thousands of job cuts on Jan. 4.

Macy’s has said that it has too many stores, in too many underperforming locations. It’s closing 100, and no one should be surprised if that number grows in future years.

❝ Macy’s has also blamed what it calls “changing customer behavior.” That’s code for the rise of Amazon.com and the adoption of e-commerce shopping in general. It’s also the idea that a new generation is spending more money on experiences over physical goods.

But while Amazon has certainly had a hand in Macy’s struggles — and we’ll get back to this in a bit — Macy’s should look within, first, for the cause of its current predicament. Because if not Amazon, someone else would have come along and taken advantage of the complacency that’s been on display inside Macy’s over the last decade.

❝ For starters, a trip into Macy’s this holiday season felt like a visit to a teenager’s bedroom: In its Paramus, N.J., store, items were strewn everywhere and no useful answers were to be had.

Even in a neat Macy’s, the selection of merchandise has left a lot to be desired — namely because there doesn’t appear to be much stuff that you can’t find elsewhere.

Prior to the rise of e-commerce, Macy’s could get away with some of this. But you can now buy the same stuff in lots of places — whether from Amazon or a brand’s own website. Comparing prices has gotten infinitely easier, too.

❝ The bottom line, however, is that Macy’s stores, by and large, have looked and felt the same forever. And in digital, Macy’s has long been on the defensive.

Now, take this object lesson and show it to someone in the “leadership” of the Democratic Party.

With the exception of Obama’s presidential campaigns pretty much everything that party has offered around the country for decades felt like 1984. With the addition of candidates whose main qualification was “they’ve been waiting long enough for a chance”. Not just presidential candidates; but, everything down the ballot to governors and state representatives.

Losing a few here and there was akin to simply missing your turn. We’ll try, again, later on. Little or no thought of changing times inside Macy’s or Democrat politics. Macy can blame Amazon and the Republicans will claim superior strategy. Both are about intellectual laziness and ennui.

Bernie Sanders made Hillary Clinton a greener candidate

Hillary Clinton is her party’s presumptive nominee. Whether Sanders drops out tomorrow or the day he loses the roll-call vote at the Democratic convention in Philadelphia, his campaign is over.

But if ever there were a losing campaign that achieved some major wins, it’s Sanders’. Not only did he force Clinton to talk more about economic inequality, he pushed her to promise stronger action to fight climate change and rein in fossil fuel companies. If Hillary Clinton becomes president and keeps some of her more recent promises to restrict oil drilling and fracking, Sanders will deserve a share of the credit.

When Sanders first got into the race, it didn’t look like he would adopt climate change as a major issue…Then, gradually, Sanders started to focus on the issue and develop a strong climate agenda….By January, the Sanders campaign was using the climate issue to attack Clinton, going after her for the vague and incomplete nature of her climate plan. The two campaigns battled on Twitter over whose climate and clean energy platform was stronger. Clinton clearly felt the need to start competing with Sanders for the votes of climate hawks.

The one-two punch of pressure from the green grassroots and pressure from Sanders pushed Clinton leftward on a number of energy issues.

First, last fall, Clinton finally came out against the Keystone XL pipeline, shortly before Obama rejected it. She also declared that she was opposed to offshore drilling in the Arctic Ocean. And she shifted her position on fossil fuel extraction on public land, from saying it was necessary to saying she wanted to move toward an eventual ban.

As Sanders picked up steam, she gave still more ground to climate activists. In February, she voiced her opposition to offshore drilling in the Atlantic. She also moved to assuage concerns that she is pro-fracking, saying in a March debate that she wants more regulation of fracking, and that she opposes the practice in instances when the local community is against it, it causes air or water contamination, or it involves the use of secret chemicals…

Last month, in recognition of Sanders’ strong showing in the primaries, the Democratic National Committee allowed him to appoint five members to the party’s Platform Drafting Committee, while Clinton got to appoint six. Among Sanders’ choices was Bill McKibben, the climate activist who founded 350.org, led the charge to block Keystone XL, and calls for dramatically reduced fossil fuel extraction…

As Sanders said at a Monday night rally in San Francisco, “When we began our campaign, our ideas were considered a fringe campaign and fringe ideas. That is not the case today.” Sanders lost the primary race, but he has changed the Democratic Party and the politics of climate change.

The next part is the hardest. The part ofter the election.

Yes, I’m worried about American voters and how gullible they may be. After all, our country elected and re-elected both Reagan and George W. Bush. Still, my cynicism is countered by a reasonable quantity of optimism. There really is enough of an army of both smart citizens and smartass politicos to hope that reason prevails.

The hard part is going to be resisting the impulse to press the Democrat Establishment into honoring progressive promises made before and during the campaign. Uh-uh. Their reaction will be immediate and regressive. The Left will be shut out like someone with OCCUPY WALL STREET tattooed on their forehead – at an ExxonMobil shareholders’ meeting.

Not that I’m confident about staying within the Democrat Party long-range, anyway. Just saying, give ’em that first hundred days that impresses the mainstream media before pressing the integrity button to see what happens. There are smart folks in Bernie’s campaign right now who are calculating the when and how to initiate a grassroots 3rd Party campaign. They have beaucoup programmatic tasks and they can be revised to include an independent party if needed. There are lots of variables in those calculations and no need to hurry the process.

The demographics of Obama’s victory – what it means for 2016

Obama’s demographic edge: Yes, the auto bailout mattered in Ohio. Sure, Hurricane Sandy helped the president. And, yes, the economy was the No. 1 issue. But make no mistake: What happened last night was a demographic time bomb that had been ticking and that blew up in GOP faces.

As the Obama campaign had assumed more than a year ago, the white portion of the electorate dropped to 72%, and the president won just 39% of that vote. But he carried a whopping 93% of black voters (representing 13% of the electorate), 71% of Latinos (representing 10%), and also 73% of Asians (3%). What’s more, despite all the predictions that youth turnout would be down, voters 18-29 made up 19% of last night’s voting population — up from 18% four years ago — and President Obama took 60% from that group. The trend also played out in the key battleground states…

The GOP’s demographic dilemma: Obama’s demographic edge creates this dilemma for the Republican Party: It can no longer rely on white voters to win national elections anymore, especially in presidential cycles. Indeed, according to the exit poll, 89% of all votes Mitt Romney won last night came from whites (compared with 56% for Obama). So the Republicans are maximizing their share with white voters; they just aren’t getting the rest. And come 2016, the white portion of the electorate will probably drop another couple of points to 70%…

Making history: Finally, it was an historic-making election. With Obama’s re-election, we now have the first time since Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe that Americans have elected three two-term presidents in a row… Tammy Baldwin will become the Senate’s first openly gay member… The Senate will have at least 19 female members — the most ever — and there’s a chance that number could increase to 20 if Heitkamp wins… Maryland and Maine became the first states to approve of gay marriage at the ballot box… And initiatives to legalize marijuana passed in Colorado and Washington state.

Romney ran a campaign based somewhat logically on the decisions made by Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. Hey – it worked for them. Why shouldn’t it succeed, again?

Nixon decided to appeal directly to American racism. In the face of civil rights victories, he knew it would take decades for whites – convinced they are superior to non-whites – to accept and adjust to increasing equal opportunity in a nation that only paid lip–service to the concept for centuries. He won.

Reagan followed the same strategy – updated. He cast growing equal opportunity in education and employment as a threat to white workingclass voters. Your jobs are threatened unless you vote for me. He won.

There wasn’t a single Republican SuperPAC that strayed from the message of FEAR! Cripes, that doesn’t even work anymore for the pope. And demographic changes made the difference.

Democracy and opportunity can’t be stopped for long, reversed at all. Gay rights, a volunteer-only military that had to screw tens of thousands of National Guard members to proceed with Bush’s Wars, Hispanic communities that have learned to fight the political fight for equal opportunity started back in the day of Rosa Parks, come together with the segment of white American workers who battled and survived the Great Recession through the liaison that included trade unions. The auto states of Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin were states where white workingclass voters marched in defense of their rights – and for President Obama. The same happened in workingclass communities on either coast.

What do the Republicans have left? The neocons led by Karl Rove tried to order Romney off the stage to halt a damned good concession speech. We saw the tea party and the religious nutball fringe stick to the old guns of bigotry and bibles – and they gave the Republicans the House, again. The Confederate wing of Congress. Then, they got to watch the majority of all Americans join a coalition of colors, ethnicities, gender and faith in democracy that united to defeat them.

Will the Republicans change? Frankly, I don’t give a damn. I don’t think either the neocons or teabaggers have the integrity to change. Sure, they’ll try on some new plastic clothes to disguise whatever their next strategic decision may be. They remain committed to and controlled by the most reactionary elements of American corporate wealth. What will they give up to remain in charge?

I imagine I’ll watch Obama’s team manage Hillary’s campaign four years from now. And I’ll probably vote for her.

Obama – 4 more years

And my analysis and opinions aren’t ready, yet.

New family tasks take my morning priority. But, I can sit down and gather my thoughts after a bit of reading.

One new fact, though – reflecting both faster communications and Obama’s ability to be campaigner-in-chief:

How much longer than 2008 did it take for Obama to be declared winner?

12 minutes.

Record NM wildfire studied to evaluate forest fire management

A wall of smoke advances across a vast swath of rugged country in southwestern New Mexico where the nation’s wilderness movement was born nearly a century ago…

…But to land managers and scientists, the record-setting blaze represents a true test of decades of work aimed at returning fire to its natural role on the landscape — a test that comes as many Western states grapple with overgrown forests, worsening drought and a growing prospect for more megafires…

Unlike last year’s megafires in New Mexico and Arizona, this blaze is burning in territory that has been frequently blackened under the watchful eye of the Gila’s fire managers.

Starting in the early 1970s, the Gila has been leading the way when it comes to implementing such an active fire management strategy. Instead of immediately dousing flames in the wilderness, forest managers have let them burn as long as conditions are favorable.

The question that the Whitewater-Baldy fire is expected to answer is whether that strategy will pay off with more natural, less intense fires.

“There’s a great opportunity here to study a fire like this,” said Matthew Rollins, the wildland fire science coordinator with the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Center in Virginia.

“The opportunity exists to look at how this fire has behaved differently in terms of vegetation mortality, effects on wildlife and fish habitat and water quality,” Rollins said. “We can study how it burned in the wilderness relative to areas with other types of fire management strategies and other types of ignition patterns.”

So far, the word from the fire lines is that the majority of the 227,000-acre blaze has burned with low to moderate intensity, not the kind of near-nuclear strength that was exhibited last year with the Las Conchas blaze in northern New Mexico. In that case, entire mountainsides were vaporized, leaving nothing behind but the white ashy skeletons of what used to be trees.

And as for those unburned pockets within the fire’s boundaries, Rollins said he believes many of those spots have experienced low-intensity fire numerous times over the last century to make them more resilient…

I think it’s going to be a success story for the use of fire for managing forests,” Rollins said. “It might not look like it on TV right now, but we haven’t had any fatalities or dramatic housing loss like we see in Southern California or it burning so dramatically close to communities like last year’s Las Conchas fire…”

On Saturday, the more than 1,200 firefighters who are battling the fire continued to build lines to corral the flames before more threatening winds and dry conditions developed.

Up here in Santa Fe county we’re about 250 miles from the fire. Still, at least one day and night of every three is tough on my ancient respiratory system. I doubt my younger neighbors are faring much better – depending on wind direction.

This study and impending work made for a lively and interesting discussion at lunchtime, today. One of the voices at the table has firsthand experience fighting wildfires – coming from a Forest service family. The rest of us have spent varying chunks of time studying the history of western forest fires and fire management. You had better invest a little time when you live in a region where firestorms are not uncommon, lives and property can be incinerated in a matter of hours and minutes, as much can be lost in flash floods during monsoon season close on the heels of fire season.

The consensus was that management plans that approximate the natural cycles of burn and regrowth native to the region before it was overtaken by cattle ranching – are the best chance for longterm survival of forests. A style that allows for the best longterm appreciation of nature’s bounty may be counter to settlements as poorly sited for fire safety as trailer parks built in southeastern flood plains; but, environmental goals should reflect sensible accommodation to historic processes.

Looking forward to the information gathered and analyzed.

China adds another environment-related industrial priority


Fishing in a seawater canal that leads to the desalination plant

Towering over the Bohai Sea shoreline on this city’s outskirts, the Beijiang Power and Desalination Plant is a 26-billion-renminbi technical marvel: an ultrahigh-temperature, coal-fired generator with state-of-the-art pollution controls, mated to advanced Israeli equipment that uses its leftover heat to distill seawater into fresh water.

There is but one wrinkle in the $4 billion plant: The desalted water costs twice as much to produce as it sells for. Nevertheless, the owner of the complex, a government-run conglomerate called S.D.I.C., is moving to quadruple the plant’s desalinating capacity, making it China’s largest.

“Someone has to lose money,” Guo Qigang, the plant’s general manager, said in a recent interview. “We’re a state-owned corporation, and it’s our social responsibility.”

In some places, this would be economic lunacy. In China, it is economic strategy.

As it did with solar panels and wind turbines, the government has set its mind on becoming a force in yet another budding environment-related industry: supplying the world with fresh water.

The Beijiang project, southeast of Beijing, will strengthen Chinese expertise in desalination, fine-tune the economics, help build an industrial base and, along the way, lessen a chronic water shortage in Tianjin. That money also leaks away like water — at least for now — is not a prime concern.

“The policy drivers are more important than the economic drivers,” said Olivia Jensen, an expert on Chinese water policy and a director at Infrastructure Economics, a Singapore-based consultancy. “If the central government says desalination is going to be a focus area and money should go into desalination technology, then it will.”

The government has, and it is.

You needn’t be as old as me to remember when we did things like this in the United States. Even apart from nuclear weapons. 🙂

Basic interstate highway construction was advanced by the Eisenhower administration. Space exploration and rocket technology was advanced by commitments made by the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. Millions of Americans found new job skills and jobs to match. Thousands of American corporation built the know-how to lead the world in new endeavors.

There were others; but, these are the first couple that come to mind.

Since the days of Reagan – nada, nuttin’ honey. Think we have the politicians, nowadays, to regain that kind of international and national competitiveness?

Maths powers Google’s auction strategy for Nortel patents

Google’s bids for a pool of wireless patents were based on mathematical constants, say sources.

The portfolio of 6,000 patents was auctioned to realise some value from the assets of bankrupt telecoms firm Nortel. During the sale, Google’s bids were based on pi, other constants and the distance between the Earth and the Sun.

Google lost the auction as a consortium including Apple and Microsoft made the winning bid of $4.5bn…

The sale of the patent portfolio started as a five-way scrap between two separate consortia and individual firms including Google and Intel. Initial estimates suggested the portfolio would attract around $2bn but the four days of intense bidding saw the total rise sharply.

During its bids, Google picked numbers including Brun’s constant and Meissel-Mertens constant that were said to have “puzzled” others involved in the auction. When bids from rivals hit $3bn, Google reportedly bid pi, $3.14159bn, to up the ante.

Either they were supremely confident or they were bored,” Reuters’ source said.

It is not clear what inspired Google to draw on obscure mathematics for its bids. However, Google co-founder Sergey Brin is widely acknowledged to be a maths prodigy and the bids may reveal his influence…

Ultimately the portfolio was being fought over by two groups: Google and Intel on one side and the Microsoft/Apple-led consortium on the other.

Reuters completely missed the Third Force analysis, which is – Google is often guided by a sense of humor reflecting the attitudes of the founders.

Doctor Doom Version 2.0


Click photo for video – about 9 minutes long. Sorry for the commercial.

John Taylor visited CNBC the other morning to discuss currency trading – a topic guaranteed to give you an ulcer if you do it for a living – or bore you into a greenback coma.

As an ingredient of his analysis, he makes the point that the Republican Party is using their majority in the House of Representatives to send our economy into another recession. We have left the boundaries of the Great Recession caused essentially by greedy investment banks and criminal mortgage procedures – aided by Republican policies obscuring and inhibiting oversight. They have decided to trigger another – deliberately.

He says this is a strategy decision by the Republican Party. Cause another recession – blame the Democrats and President Obama for it. Run for office as the alternative which will save the world.

I wonder if the Democrats and Obama have enough smarts, enough power to prevent this from happening?

Britain’s top general says West need not “defeat” al-Qaeda

The new head of Britain’s armed forces, Gen Sir David Richards, has warned that the West cannot defeat al-Qaeda and militant Islam.

He said defeating Islamist militancy was “unnecessary and would never be achieved”. However, he argued that it could be “contained” to allow Britons to lead secure lives.

Gen Richards, 58, said the threat posed by “al-Qaeda and its affiliates” meant Britain’s national security would be at risk for at least 30 years.

The general, who will tomorrow lay a wreath at the Cenotaph in Whitehall in memory of Britain’s war dead, said the West’s war against what he described as a “pernicious ideology” had parallels with the fight against Nazi Germany in the Second World War…

He said the British military and the Government had been “guilty of not fully understanding what was at stake” in Afghanistan and admitted that the Afghan people were beginning to “tire” of Nato’s inability to deliver on its promises…

The general said: “In conventional war, defeat and victory is very clear cut and is symbolised by troops marching into another nation’s capital. First of all you have to ask: do we need to defeat it [Islamist militancy] in the sense of a clear cut victory? I would argue that it is unnecessary and would never be achieved.

“But can we contain it to the point that our lives and our children’s lives are led securely? I think we can.”

He also said the real weapon in the war against al-Qaeda was the use of “upstream prevention” as well as “education and democracy”. The problems that gave rise to militant Islamism were unlikely to be solved soon, he added.

On the issue of future wars, the general said he could see no case for military intervention in other countries “at the moment” but added that he would be “barmy to say that one day we wouldn’t be back in that position”.

I’d love to see discussion with the general more detailed than that contained within the short attention span of the Telegraph. Not a bad newspaper for conservatives; but, sorely lacking in thoroughness and detail providing information for truly thoughtful analysis.

Still, there’s more truth here than you could expect from what passes for popular conservative media in the United States.

The surge is working in Afghanistan

The video speaks for itself. General McChrystal is confident the surge he has set into motion in Afghanistan is providing results. Click on the photo. Watch the video. Reflect upon what you know, what you see, where this is going.

Meanwhile:

U.S. forces have driven the Taliban from most towns and villages in the strategic Helmand province of Afghanistan, leaving incoming troops with the mission of holding key areas and rebuilding the economy, Marine commanders say.

“They’ve taken on the Taliban, the insurgency, right in the heartland and they’ve defeated them,” said Marine Maj. Gen. Richard Mills in an interview with USA TODAY.

Much of the Taliban’s leadership and support comes from the mostly Pashtun province and nearby Kandahar. Helmand, the country’s largest province, also produces most of the country’s poppy crop, which has helped fund the insurgency.

Recent attention has been focused on President Obama’s orders to send about 30,000 reinforcements to Afghanistan this year. But an influx of Marines to Helmand province last year has produced dramatic results, raising hopes that the gains can be consolidated and spread elsewhere, Mills said.

“I see us moving away from the clear phase and moving into the hold and build” phase, Mills said.

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