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Gender: Male
Hometown: Detroit, MI
Member since: Fri Oct 29, 2004, 12:18 AM
Number of posts: 75,816

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The Helium Cliff

from the Chicago Sun-Times:

If inhaling helium from balloons to talk like “Alvin the Chipmunk” is your thing on New Year’s Eve, be sure to thank your host, who probably paid double this year for the light-weight gas because of a global shortage.

Chris Doolin, who runs Doolin’s Party Supplies at Grand and Halsted, pays double for her helium, so her customers now pay double, too.

“People are willing to pay the extra price, and they’re glad to have it,” Doolin said.

A helium tank that fills about 500 balloons used to rent for $95 but now goes for $200, Doolin said. Because of the shortage, she has turned away lots of business, including graduation parties and corporate events. She usually gets 30 tanks a month from her supplier, but now she’s able to wrangle only five. ...............(more)

The complete piece is at: http://www.suntimes.com/news/17254044-418/helium-shortage-means-price-of-balloons-is-rising.html

Retail Workers Bear Brunt Of Sluggish Holiday Sales

(NPR) Several large retailers took a leap of faith on what they thought would be a gangbuster holiday season, hiring more seasonal workers this year than last.

Sales during the two months before Christmas weren't all that stunning, however, and that's meant fewer opportunities for seasonal workers.

Some of them worked vastly fewer hours than they expected. Onieka O'Kieffe, 23, was hired by Lush Cosmetics in midtown Manhattan for the holiday season. Lush told her she'd be working 20 to 30 hours per week, she says, but instead, she's getting only 10 hours a week at most. That's bad news for someone who has a few thousand dollars of credit card debt. O'Kieffe says she's losing out on hours because Lush just hired too many people this holiday.

"There's been times where there's 10 of us in the store and there's no customers," O'Kieffe says. ...........(more)

The complete piece is at: http://www.npr.org/2012/12/30/168283255/retail-workers-bear-brunt-of-sluggish-holiday-sales

Chris Hedges - Live in Los Angeles (pts I-III)

Rafael Nadal out of Aussie Open

MADRID -- Rafael Nadal will miss the Australian Open because of a stomach virus, further delaying his comeback after being sidelined since June.

The Australian Open, the year's first Grand Slam tournament, begins Jan. 14. The virus kept Nadal from making his return at Abu Dhabi this week.

The Spaniard said Friday his withdrawals had nothing to do with the tendinitis in his left knee, which forced him to take a break last summer following his second-round loss at Wimbledon to then 100th-ranked Lukas Rosol. Nadal also missed the London Olympics.

"My knee is much better and the rehabilitation process has gone well as predicted by the doctors," Nadal said in a statement. "But this virus didn't allow me to practice this past week, and therefore I am sorry to announce that I will not play in Doha and the Australian Open." .................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://espn.go.com/tennis/story/_/id/8786752/rafael-nadal-pulls-australian-open-due-virus

Woman dies, three fall ill aboard Toronto-bound VIA Rail train

from the Toronto Star:

An elderly woman is dead and three other passengers were taken to hospital Saturday after developing flu-like symptoms on an eastbound VIA Rail train.

The train, headed to Toronto from Vancouver, was stopped in Parry Sound, Ont., for six hours starting at 5 a.m. after an 86-year-old woman was reported to be unconscious and unresponsive. Emergency crews boarded the train and confirmed the woman had died.

The two compartments occupied by the passengers were quarantined, and the train arrived in Toronto just before 4 p.m.

The train left Vancouver on Christmas Day. The woman who later died had boarded in Edmonton on Dec. 26 with two relatives. .................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/article/1308374--woman-dies-three-fall-ill-aboard-toronto-bound-via-rail-train

World's tallest building is kinda crappy

There are lots of noteworthy facts about Dubai’s Burj Khalifa: it’s the tallest building in the world and the tallest free-standing structure in the world, and it contains an elevator that travels the longest distance in the world, to name a few. But despite all these impressive accomplishments, the Burj Khalifa has a major problem.

A poop problem.

In an interview with “Fresh Air’s” Terry Gross last month, author Kate Ascher discussed her recently published book on the skyscraper (via Boing Boing):

TERRY GROSS: Right. So you know, you write that in Dubai they don’t have, like, a sewage infrastructure to support high-rises like this one. So what do they do with the sewage?

KATE ASCHER: A variety of buildings there, some can access a municipal system but many of them actually use trucks to take the sewage out of individual buildings and then they wait on a queue to put it into a waste water treatment plant. So it’s a fairly primitive system.

GROSS: Well, these trucks can wait for hours and hours on line.

ASCHER: That’s right. I’m told they can wait up to 24 hours before they get to the head of the queue. Now, there is a municipal system that is being invested in and I assume will connect all of these tall buildings in some point in the near future, but they’re certainly not alone. In India many buildings are responsible for providing their own water and their own waste water removal. ..................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://www.salon.com/2012/12/29/worlds_tallest_and_smelliest_building/

Holiday shopping is down, mall blight is up

from Grist:

Holiday shopping is down, mall blight is up
By Susie Cagle

It seems a lot of Americans shifted the gift this holiday season. Early reports from retailers indicate this may well be the least shop-happy winter since the apocalyptic recession Christmas of 2008. And climate change sure isn’t helping.

Reuters reports:

Shares of retailers dropped sharply on Wednesday, helping drag broader indexes lower, as investors realized they were likely to be disappointed when companies start to report results in a few weeks’ time.

“The broad brush was Christmas wasn’t all that merry for retailers, and you have to ask what those margins look like if the top line didn’t meet their expectations,” said Kim Forrest, senior equity research analyst at Fort Pitt Capital Group.

Growth was always expected to slow this season, though an improving employment picture and rising home values had helped mitigate the worst fears. But then Superstorm Sandy hit the East Coast in late October, mild weather blunted sales of winter clothing and rising concern about the “fiscal cliff” became more of a reality, dragging down already-pessimistic forecasts.

(T-minus how long until someone rebrands swimsuits as a great climate collapse fashion choice?)

Stores stand to scoop up nearly a third of their annual sales over the holiday season, so this drop could be significant — but could it be enough to push us closer to a more lasting shifting of the gifts?

Sales may be down on the whole, but they’re also moving from the brick and mortar world to the digital, leaving us with empty, useless retail spaces and dead, blighted malls from coast to coast. According to Atlantic Cities, shopping mall vacancy rates are now hovering around twice what they were 10 years ago. The head of a leading commercial real estate firm said of these ghost malls, “I don’t think we’re overbuilt, I think we’re under-demolished.” .................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://grist.org/news/holiday-shopping-is-down-mall-blight-is-up/

Prisons in Mexico on Verge of Collapse

MEXICO CITY, Dec 28 2012 (IPS) - Edgar Torres Castillo, 21, has spent two years in the prison of Gómez Palacio, in the Lagunera district between the northern Mexican states of Durango and Coahuila – an arid zone known as one of the most dangerous parts of the country.

Amparo Castillo, the mother of Edgar, who was sentenced to eight years in prison for stealing a cell-phone, last saw him during a Dec. 18 visit to the prison. “I thought he was acting strange, he seemed really sad and as if he had been hurt,” she told IPS by phone. “We spent just an hour together before they started to shoo us out – things were really tense,” she said with anguish in her voice.

In the wee hours of the morning on Dec. 17, the police transferred 137 prisoners from the Gómez Palacio prison to federal penitentiaries.

The next day, at the end of the visiting hours, people living in nearby homes heard loud bursts of gunfire and cries inside the prison. The authorities reported that 25 prisoners and six unarmed guards had been killed during an escape attempt. ................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://www.ipsnews.net/2012/12/prisons-in-mexico-on-verge-of-collapse/

2013 as Year Zero for Us -- and Our Planet

from Tom Dispatch:

The Sky’s the Limit
The Demanding Gifts of 2012

By Rebecca Solnit

As this wild year comes to an end, we return to the season of gifts. Here’s the gift you’re not going to get soon: any conventional version of Paradise. You know, the place where nothing much happens and nothing is demanded of you. The gifts you’ve already been given in 2012 include a struggle over the fate of the Earth. This is probably not exactly what you asked for, and I wish it were otherwise -- but to do good work, to be necessary, to have something to give: these are the true gifts. And at least there’s still a struggle ahead of us, not just doom and despair.

Think of 2013 as the Year Zero in the battle over climate change, one in which we are going to have to win big, or lose bigger. This is a terrible thing to say, but not as terrible as the reality that you can see in footage of glaciers vanishing, images of the entire surface of the Greenland Ice Shield melting this summer, maps of Europe’s future in which just being in southern Europe when the heat hits will be catastrophic, let alone in more equatorial realms.

For millions of years, this world has been a great gift to nearly everything living on it, a planet whose atmosphere, temperature, air, water, seasons, and weather were precisely calibrated to allow us -- the big us, including forests and oceans, species large and small -- to flourish. (Or rather, it was we who were calibrated to its generous, even bounteous, terms.) And that gift is now being destroyed for the benefit of a few members of a single species.

The Earth we evolved to inhabit is turning into something more turbulent and unreliable at a pace too fast for most living things to adapt to. This means we are losing crucial aspects of our most irreplaceable, sublime gift, and some of us are suffering the loss now -- from sea snails whose shells are dissolving in acidified oceans to Hurricane Sandy survivors facing black mold and bad bureaucracy to horses starving nationwide because a devastating drought has pushed the cost of hay so high to Bolivian farmers failing because the glaciers that watered their valleys have largely melted. ..................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175632/tomgram%3A_rebecca_solnit%2C_2013_as_year_zero_for_us_--_and_our_planet/

Robert Scheer: Cerberus Collected Ex-Government Opportunists

from truthdig:

Cerberus Collected Ex-Government Opportunists

Posted on Dec 28, 2012
By Robert Scheer

How fitting that Dan Quayle, a bumbling excuse for a vice president of the United States, should end up as a top executive of a $20 billion private equity firm mired in controversy. Quayle, who signed on with Cerberus in 1999, was with that company during its takeover and subsequent bankruptcy of Chrysler, questionable military contracting deals in Afghanistan and, most recently, manufacturing the assault rifle used in the Newtown, Conn., massacre.

The former Indiana senator, to whom most of us in the press corps covering George H.W. Bush’s presidential campaign in 1988 referred to as the Ken doll, must have found life in the private sector so much more rewarding, but how much so is not known, since Cerberus is privately held.

Dan and his son Ben Quayle, a congressman from Indiana, have been ardent supporters of the NRA, but even they must have been shocked by the latest—and not only—incident involving one of Cerberus’ product lines. The company now acknowledges that its gun unit, Freedom Group Inc.—which refers to itself as “the largest manufacturer of commercial firearms and ammunition,” sold in 80 countries—is a public relations embarrassment and has put it up for sale.

In case you missed the connection, as did too many in the mainstream media, the former vice president was rewarded for his gaffe-filled performance in that job with the far more lucrative position of chairman of Cerberus Global Investments LLC. He was hired for that post by Cerberus CEO Stephen Feinberg, an alum of the disgraced and defunct junk bond emporium Drexel Burnham Lambert. ................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/cerberus_collected_ex-government_opportunists_20121228/

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