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Lifetime pensions are one of the factors killing Sears

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I spent a lot of time walking around Sears stores when I was a kid. It was my grandfather’s favorite place to shop for tools so at least once a week, while my mother was at work, we would make a trip to the store near his house in Washington, DC. I didn’t care much about the tools, to be honest, but they also had toys.

Sears has been closing stores for the past 10 years, trying to find some way to remain profitable. About three or four months ago I walked into a Sears store at a mall near my house. I was killing time waiting for a table at a restaurant, but I did buy a small set of tools, partly because I needed them and partly out of nostalgia. I went back to that same store about a month later and it was gone, an empty shell.

Yesterday, Sears announced its quarterly results and they were not good. From CNN Money:

Sears Holdings, which owns the Sears and Kmart brands, reported yet another huge loss in the second quarter — $508 million, about twice as much as it lost a year earlier…

Sears’ market value is only $134 million…

Sears and Kmart had 3,500 combined US stores in 2005, when they merger. Today they have fewer than 900, and the company announced in August that 46 more will close before the holiday shopping season.

There are certainly plenty of reasons for Sears decline, starting with WalMart but also Amazon and the internet in general. Sears was slow to move from traditional mall-based retail stores to online sales at a time when online was growing and malls were dying.

But there’s another factor dragging the company down which the CEO focused on in a letter that accompanied yesterday’s quarterly statement: The company’s ruinously expensive pension plan.

Lampert said Sears has paid almost $2 billion into pension plans in the past five years, and $4.5 billion since Sears and Kmart merged in 2005 to form Sears Holdings. The company pays retirees about $300 million a year, filings show.

If Sears could have put that money into operations, “we would have been in a better position to compete with other large retail companies, many of which don’t have large pension plans,” Lampert wrote in a blog post.

He also faulted the “very difficult” environment for retailers, but he said Sears has been “significantly impacted” by pension obligations.

Sears was once the largest employer in the U.S. and still has 100,000 pensioners. So it has spent $4.5 billion on pensions while going from 3,500 to 900 stores. And it’s currently spending double the market value of the entire company per year on pension obligations. Meanwhile, Amazon and Walmart have 401k plans that offer some matching of contributions (Amazon’s is pretty low) but don’t offer a guaranteed pension for life.

Something similar can, of course, be said about state pensions. Sears was founded and based in Chicago. The entire state of Illinois has been undergoing a pension crisis for years. This Crain’s piece from April summarizes the current situation:

Consider that the unfunded liability in the state’s combined retirement systems has risen in 11 of the state’s past 12 years—despite a roaring stock market, despite a steady increase in contributions that now amount to a stunning $8 billion or so a year, and despite passage several years ago of a plan that markedly reduces benefits for those hired after Jan. 1, 2011. Between 2004 and 2016 (the last year for which audited financials are available) unfunded liability quadrupled, to $123.8 billion, according to the Illinois Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability, the Legislature’s financial watchdog unit.

The sad, slow demise of Sears is something to keep in mind as states around the country deal with their own pension obligations. This is something that is eating state budgets and taking money away from other priorities. There is not an unlimited supply of money to keep paying people to not work, no matter what unions convinced state governments to agree to decades ago.

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Dianne Feinstein: ‘Twas the media that outed Kavanaugh’s accuser

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Is that right? The way DiFi puts it here, you would think Christine Blasey Ford’s name appeared like a bolt from the blue in the pages of the Washington Post on Sunday afternoon. In reality, the press had spent the previous 72 hours murmuring about a mysterious letter in Feinstein’s possession that may or may not contain a serious allegation against Kavanaugh. No one would say what the letter alleged but the Intercept knew that Feinstein knew something about it. BuzzFeed also knew that Feinstein knew something. Under pressure, Feinstein herself announced that she had finally referred the matter to the FBI. After sitting on it for two months. Six days before the Judiciary Committee was scheduled to vote.

All of which is a long way of asking: Who do you suppose it was that tipped the media to Ford’s accusations, putting them in a position to “out” her at the eleventh hour?

Tom Cotton has a zany theory.

Democrats outed her. Maybe not Feinstein personally or someone acting at her behest, but someone in the Capitol high enough up the chain to have known Ford’s name. (Given that the Intercept and BuzzFeed are both online-only outlets, I’d guess the leaker trended younger.) And the very obvious reason they did so was because they were frustrated that Feinstein had held this weapon for two months and never used it, even during the closed session of Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing, leaving him on track to join the Court before the end of the month. A liberal, possibly on Feinstein’s own staff, shoved Ford into the spotlight for reasons of political expedience. Feinstein can babble all she likes about respecting the privacy of victims but them’s the facts.

Also, not to nitpick, but no one “outed” Ford. Unless I missed something, at no point did any media outlet reveal her identity against her wishes. She chose to speak on the record to WaPo over the weekend after Ronan Farrow and outlets like BuzzFeed came knocking, believing that someone *would* end up revealing her name against her wishes before long. But no one (I think) actually did so before the WaPo story came out. Whether Democrats might have been so frantic to stop Kavanaugh that they would have forced Ford’s name into print if she had declined to speak up this past weekend is a fascinating what-if. Probably they would have — which seems to have been Ford’s conclusion too. Again, so much for the privacy of victims.

Charles Cooke wonders if Ford ever really wanted to testify at all:

Dianne Feinstein has not yet submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee the original letter she was sent by the accuser. The Democratic party is almost universally calling for an FBI investigation that it knows full well is not going to happen, and should not happen, and using its absence as a reason for the hearing to be delayed. And, right on cue, certain figures on the Left have begun to play this both ways: Originally, the lack of an invitation to testify was cast as a “silencing act.” Now, the Senate’s broad invitation to the accuser to testify in whatever way she sees fit is being cast as . . . yes, as a “silencing” act. Perhaps there is something else going on here, but sure looks to me as if the aim is to delay, delay, delay — and keep the accuser as far as is possible from being required to take an oath.

Mark Judge and Patrick Smyth have both submitted statements to Grassley’s committee via counsel, notes Cooke. That’s enough for a criminal indictment if facts emerge to show they’re lying; submitting false information to a congressional panel amounts to lying to a federal official just as submitting false information during an FBI interview does. The one and only player in this drama who has yet to send a statement to the committee, as Cooke points out, is Ford herself. That’s curious, although of course not proof that she’s afraid to tell her story under oath. I think she will testify since that’s the foreseeable outcome of her decision to go on the record with WaPo. She knew that her testimony would be demanded after the story appeared and that it’d look very bad if she refused to provide it. She must have resolved to testify this past weekend, with the last few days of will-she-or-won’t-she drama little more than a PR play to frame the upcoming hearing as unfair no matter what happens.

Here’s Scarborough, who spends most of his time bashing the Trump Party nowadays, crystal clear on who it was that “outed” Ford.

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Sen. Lindsey Graham Fires Off Midnight Tweet: “Kavanaugh Nomination is Still on Track – Stay Tuned!”

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Senator Lindsey Graham; Photo: Twitter avatar

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) fired off a midnight tweet praising President Trump and reassured the American people that Kavanaugh’s nomination is still on track.

“Stay tuned!” Lindsey Graham said.

“Great job tonight by President @realDonaldTrump in Las Vegas laying out how strong America has become economically and how much safer we are with a strong military.”

Graham then said: The President is dead right about Judge Kavanaugh being highly qualified, the right person for the job, and also right about letting process play out.

Kavanaugh nomination is still on track. Stay tuned!


Senator Lindsey Graham was referring to the President’s comments during his rally in Las Vegas wherein he praised Brett Kavanaugh.

Graham has certainly changed his tune as of late–usually no ally to the President, he vowed to get Brett Kavanaugh confirmed as quickly as possible.

Christine Ford has accused–without corroborating evidence–Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her at a drunken high school pool party decades ago.

Accuser Christine Blasey Ford believes she runs the U.S. Senate as she continues to make outrageous demands of how and when her hearing will be held.

The lawyer for Christine Blasey Ford told the Senate Judiciary Committee her demands for her public testimony at a hearing–preeminent is that Judge Brett Kavanaugh testify first and that he not be allowed to be in the hearing room when she testifies, reported TGP’s Kristinn Taylor.

Laura Ingraham reported the scheduled Monday hearing where Kavanaugh and Ford were invited to testify may be postponed. Kavanugh accepted but Ford has declined so far to appear Monday.

“Two sources have told me that @SenateMajLdr is WAVERING and may ask to further delay Monday hearing. GOP base will be in full revolt if so. Tune in tonight!”

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The inevitable “celebrities assure Ford they believe her” MoveOn video

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A leftover from yesterday. Not all of the women in the clip are celebrities, please note, just enough to add a patina of Importance to it. What right-thinking progressive would care about a video of average Americans stating their political views without a four-second cameo from Julianne Moore?

A fun fact about MoveOn, the creators of this spot: The group got its name from its efforts to get the country to move on from Republican efforts to impeach a credibly accused left-wing sexual predator. That’s the sort of feminist bona fides I always prize in woke attack ads involving rape. I try to resist Whataboutism, particularly when the matter at hand involves something as grave as what Ford’s alleging, but whenever the left starts sermonizing at Republicans about treating victims of sexual assault properly a variety of leering Democratic ogres waddles out onstage in the right-wing imagination. It’s led by the Kennedys, grinning broadly, drinks in hand, pants around their ankles, but not limited to them. Which is not at all to imply that Kavanaugh should get a pass because Ted Kennedy got one for 50 years: If he’s guilty, he should be borked with gusto and impeachment proceedings begun to remove him from the federal bench.

But it is to say that, despite their alleged wokeness, progressive outrage at sex offenses and judgments about who deserves the benefit of the doubt and who doesn’t remain mainly a matter of political expedience. Hint that you might blow up Roe and you’re guilty as charged. Hint that you’ll storm the ramparts if Roe is blown up and you’re entitled to a robust presumption of innocence. And that’s not just a historical relic; it continues to the present day. Which is why, although her reasoning is nonsense, Kirsten Gillibrand’s not entirely wrong in calling Monday’s hearing a “sham.” It is a sham in the sense that it’s being presented as a fact-finding inquiry when it’s not. No facts or lack thereof will be produced that changes any Democratic votes. This is a political exercise, not an investigative one.

To prove that I’m not doing knee-jerk Whataboutism here, let it be noted that the right has its own core constituency that seems completely disinterested in the facts of an alleged sexual assault when a political prize is within reach.

Worried their chance to cement a conservative majority on the Supreme Court could slip away, a growing number of evangelical and anti-abortion leaders are expressing frustration that Senate Republicans and the White House are not protecting Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh more forcefully from a sexual assault allegation and warning that conservative voters may stay home in November if his nomination falls apart…

The pleas are, in part, an attempt to apply political pressure: Some evangelical leaders are warning that religious conservatives may feel little motivation to vote in the midterm elections unless Senate Republicans move the nomination out of committee soon and do more to defend Judge Kavanaugh from what they say is a desperate Democratic ploy to prevent President Trump from filling future court vacancies.

Franklin Graham, heir to the Graham family’s evangelical legacy, insisted yesterday that no one should get too worked up about what might have happened between a pair of teenagers. And that’s your daily news bulletin from “moral majority.”

One other thing. Befitting how rote and thoughtless the true message of the MoveOn ad is — “Ford is telling the truth because I *heart* legal abortion” — the format of the ad itself is painfully familiar. This style of staccato cross-cutting between people repeating each other’s lines to emphasize the message is so stale that even the parodies of it seem old. It’s phoned in, figuratively and apparently literally.

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