The Hightower Report
The Jingling Bells of July; and When the Banks Are the Robbers
The Jingling Bells of July
The summer doldrums are upon us, bringing searing heat and energy-sapping humidity. So, naturally, people all across our sweltering nation are thinking of only one thing: Christmas.
Say what? Yes, Santa in summer! Several big retail chains, desperate to lure economically depressed shoppers into their struggling outlets, hit upon the brilliant idea last month of convincing customers that they should rush to the mall in the heat of summer to get a jump on their Christmas shopping. I'm assuming that someone left these marketing geniuses out in the sun too long, shriveling their brains down to the size of dried figs.
Nonetheless, Target, Toys R Us, and Sears are among the slaphappy giants that have recently been stringing up lights, hanging sparkly ornaments, and blaring Christmassy tunes over their store speakers in an all-out effort to push the summer Christmas-in-July theme. "We really wanted to create that sense of excitement, that sense of urgency," gushed a Target spokeswoman, sounding slightly panicky, not to mention nuttier than a fruitcake.
For America's middle-class families these days, income is down, firings are common, jobs are scarce, and expenses keep rising (including those for back-to-school purchases they'll soon have to make). So, how much ho-ho-ho and buy-buy-buy do these retailers think people have in them? Indeed, J.C. Penney Co. is among the big merchants taking a pass on the forced merriment of this off-season. "Customers don't like it when you push Christmas too early," a top J.C. Penney executive told the Associated Press.
You don't have to be a Scrooge to recognize reality. "It's too hot to think about Christmas," one shopper told an AP reporter. Another was more pointed: "I just got laid off," she said.
Retail giants should listen to common sense and give consumers some breathing room. Christmas has already been made too commercial in its own season – why rush it?
When the Banks Are the Robbers
Oh, them wild and naughty bankers! What in the world will those rapacious rapscallions of Wall Street do next?
Just recently, we learned from Kenneth Feinberg, the government's special investigator of banker pay, that top executives of 17 financial giants shoveled $1.6 billion in excess compensation to themselves in 2008 – at the very moment their failing banks began to draw billions of bailout dollars from us taxpayers. Among the pranksters pocketing eye-popping amounts were the high-rolling bank bosses at American Express, Bank of America, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase & Co., PNC Financial Services Group Inc., and Wells Fargo.
So, what's the punishment these self-serving money manipulators can expect from Washington's arbiter of excessive executive pay? None. In a stunning show of soft-on-crime leniency, Feinberg declared that he will not even attempt to recoup any of the $1.6 billion the money-grubbers grubbed from us. Declaring that he thought shaming these bad boys was enough, Feinberg asked plaintively, "At what point are you piling on and going beyond what's warranted?"
Shaming them? They're Wall Street executives – they were born without the shame gene! Piling on? They imploded their banks, crashed our economy, got Washington politicos of both parties to save their jobs, paid themselves a looter's level of taxpayer booty, and now are getting a free pass to continue their flimflammery. Feinberg even refuses to release their names. Some shame!
If you rob a bank, the law hunts you down and throws your scrawny butt in jail to teach you and other robbers a lesson. But the lesson that Feinberg has given to America is that if you run a bank and rob the people, the law kisses your ample butt, giving you and others permission to find ever more creative ways to keep stealing from us.