Friday, April 21, 2017

Shopping Malls Try Gimmicks to Fend Off Their Inevitable Death At Hands of Online Commerce

The Indianapolis Business Journal has an interesting article on how shopping malls are trying desperately to survive as online commerce increasingly takes over:
Malls are fighting for shoppers with one thing their web rivals can’t offer: parking lots.
With customer traffic sagging, U.S. retail landlords like Indianapolis-based Simon Property Group Inc. are using their sprawling concrete lots to host events such as carnivals, concerts and food-truck festivals. They’re aiming to lure visitors with experiences that can’t be replicated online—and then get them inside the properties to spend some money.
“Events draw people to come to the shopping center,” said Craig Herkimer, whose company, KevaWorks Inc., is working with big landlords including GGP Inc. and Simon to produce outdoor events. “They generate revenue for the owner and offer a chance for cross-promotion, so they can try and drive more customers into the stores.”
Mall owners across the country are grappling with store closings and declining rents. Retail property values are down 3 percent in past six months, as all other types of commercial real estate showed gains, according to the Moody’s/Real Capital Analytics indexes. A Bloomberg gauge of publicly traded mall landlords has tumbled 15 percent in the past year through Thursday, the worst performance among U.S. real estate investment trusts.
Amazon.com Inc. and other internet retailers continue to grow, while department stores including Sears Holdings Corp. and Macy’s Inc. have been closing hundreds of locations. Payless Inc., the discount shoe seller, is among the latest to announce a massive shuttering—of 400 stores—as part of a bankruptcy plan.
The article notes that the United States is home to approximately 1,100 malls.  The structure that is the mall, as well as the large parking lots surrounding the building, consume a considerable amount of real estate.  When those malls fail, they become extremely difficult to repurpose.  They often end up being a blight on the neighborhood for years.

Photo of Simon Shopping Mall
It would appear that in searching for gimmicks to drive foot traffic to the retail stores, mall owners are fighting a losing battle.   With the exception of certain consumer items, consumers prefer the convenience of shopping from the convenience of their homes.  That is a niche that Amazon has cornered, although even that company faces growing competition when it comes to online retail.

But as one looks to the future of retail, one wonders if even the Amazon model might be outdated.  The Amazon approach right now is for wholesalers and manufacturers to ship goods to the company which it then stores in incredibly large "fulfillment centers."  Then when a customer orders the item from the Amazon website, it gets shipped once again, this time to the customer.  Amazon became popular because it enhanced customer convenience by eliminating the need to visit a brick and mortar store to shop.  But the Amazon retail approach, which requires considerable overhead, doesn't provide much in the way of cost savings to the consumer.  Eventually Amazon may be replaced with a web-based shopping approach that links customers with wholesalers and manufacturers so that items may be purchased directly, saving consumers a substantial amount of money while cutting out brick-and-mortar online retailers such as Amazon.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Indy Star Columnist Praises Broad Ripple "Improvements" While Ignoring Challenges Residents Face

Generally once a week I make the trip to Broad Ripple to visit my friend and local attorney Mark Small. These occasions often, okay "always", involve tossing back a few beers while we discuss life and politics. Even though Mark is a whacked out liberal, we do share the same opinion on Broad Ripple, where he has lived for several years, i.e.  the new development and resulting congestion in the "Village" has cause it to lose its charm.

Indianapolis Star Matthew Tully doesn't agree.  In today's column he sings the praises of Broad Ripple development.
Broad Ripple looks a little different these days. 
You can perhaps see that best from the patio of Three Sisters Café on Guilford Avenue. As I sat there the other day, I looked north toward the heart of the village, at a strip of colorful bars, restaurants and stores on Broad Ripple Avenue. Behind them stood a brand new development —  a sprawling grocery store and high-end apartment complex that recently opened. That taller development doesn’t just stand behind the heart of the village, it seems to hover over it. 
Matthew Tully
You can see a lot of other change throughout Broad Ripple, from the much-debated parking garage that popped up a few years ago on College Avenue, to so many small businesses that have come or gone, to the bustling area that south Broad Ripple has become. And then there is the change to come: A tortured redevelopment project at College and Kessler and, of course, the red line transit expansion.
Anyone who has followed Tully's writing career knows he has never once written in opposition to corporate welfare. He is perfectly fine with taxpayer money being diverted from such things as roads and schools to the pockets of developers.. Not once did Tully utter a negative word about the Broad Ripple parking garage at the intersection of College and Broad Ripple Avenue, a structure built with tax dollars then simply given away to one of former Mayor Greg Ballard's biggest contributors.

 Of course if you drive by the structure now you discover what was going on.  The building contains a number of business establishments with parking only a secondary thought.  Bottom line is that we taxpayers built a commercial building for a politically-connected developer.  That's what it was about.
And yet to this day Tully cannot bring himself to say a negative word about how taxpayers were mislead and ripped off about the purpose of the structure.

In Tully's column he doesn't make the slightest effort to talk to any of the long time residents of Broad Ripple, people like Mark Small.  If he did, he would find a different story.  People in Broad Ripple are unhappy with the congestion which has added considerable time to any commute.  They are unhappy about the high rise buildings that have caused Broad Ripple to lose its "village" feel.  As far as the red line transit expansion going up congested College Avenue, resulting in the loss of desperately needed traffic lanes, pretty much any Broad Ripple resident will tell you that mistake.

Of course, Tully doesn't live in the Broad Ripple Village area any more.  A few years ago, he moved to Carmel.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

President Trump Defends Fox's Bill O'Reilly: "I Don't Think Bill Did Anything Wrong"

A few days ago, the New York Times broke news about  sexual harassment lawsuit settlements involving Fox "The Factor" host Bill O'Reilly:

For nearly two decades, Bill O’Reilly has been Fox News’s top asset, building the No. 1 program in cable news for a network that has pulled in billions of dollars in revenues for its parent company, 21st Century Fox.
Behind the scenes, the company has repeatedly stood by Mr. O’Reilly as he faced a
Bill O'Reilly
series of allegations of sexual harassment or other inappropriate behavior.
An investigation by The New York Times has found a total of five women who have received payouts from either Mr. O’Reilly or the company in exchange for agreeing to not pursue litigation or speak about their accusations against him. The agreements totaled about $13 million.
Two settlements came after the network’s former chairman, Roger Ailes, was dismissed last summer in the wake of a sexual harassment scandal, when the company said it did not tolerate behavior that “disrespects women or contributes to an uncomfortable work environment.”
The women who made allegations against Mr. O’Reilly either worked for him or appeared on his show. They have complained about a wide range of behavior, including verbal abuse, lewd comments, unwanted advances and phone calls in which it sounded as if Mr. O’Reilly was masturbating, according to documents and interviews.
The reporting suggests a pattern: As an influential figure in the newsroom, Mr. O’Reilly would create a bond with some women by offering advice and promising to help them professionally. He then would pursue sexual relationships with them, causing some to fear that if they rebuffed him, their careers would stall.
O'Reilly has tried to dismiss the settlements as merely payoffs for nuisance suits. As an attorney, I've seen many nuisance suits.  Settlements for nuisance suits are generally a few thousands of dollars, certainly never millions.  These suits would not have been settled for such sums if there wasn't serious wrongdoing involved.

President Trump, however, disagrees.  In an interview with the New York Times, Trump stated:

“Personally, I think he shouldn’t have settled,” Mr. Trump said in an interview in the Oval Office with Times reporters. “Because you should have taken it all the way; I don’t think Bill did anything wrong.”
“I think he’s a person I know well — he is a good person,” Mr. Trump said.
President Trump likewise thought the sexual harassment suits against former Fox News Chief Roger Ailes were also baseless:
"I think they are unfounded just based on what I've read," Trump said of the accusations against Ailes. "Totally unfounded, based on what I read."
I guess we shouldn't be surprised by Trump's reaction considering his own history with women.


Monday, April 3, 2017

More Flynn Foreign Payments Revealed; Trump-Friendly National Enquirer Labels Flynn a "Russian Spy"

A few weeks ago it was revealed that General Michael T. Flynn, who advised President Trump on foreign policy, and briefly served as National Security Adviser in the Trump administration, was acting as an agent of of a foreign government, namely Turkey.  Flynn's company received $530,000 for 90 days of work to investigate and undermine a political opponent of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who engaged in a political crackdown after surviving a military coup.

That's $5,889 a day that Flynn's firm was being paid by Turkish interests, all the while traveling around
General Michael T. Flynn
the country with the Donald Trump campaign.  It's a good gig if you can get it.

But it turns out, there were more payments. Recently, Flynn amended federal disclosure documents to show payments from Russian outfits, i.e. Volga-Dnepr Airlines and Kapersky Government Security Solutions, Inc, each of which paid him $11,250.  Flynn was also paid $45,000 by RT, the state Russian news agency, for a speech he gave in 2015, another payment he failed to disclose.

Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, indicated the payments might result in a referral to the General Accounting Office, which might ask for a return of all the money.  As Rep. Chaffetz notes, former military officers simply are not allowed to take these type of payments.  It is not a stretch to think there might be criminal liability involved with the payments, which might further explain why Flynn is requesting immunity for his testimony.

An interested and related development comes from of all places, the National Enquirer.  Last week's edition of the supermarket tabloid had blazened across the front page the headline:  "TRUMP CATCHES RUSSIAN'S WHITE HOUSE SPY!"    Here is a summary:

Add caption

Here is the start of the article inside the paper:




National Enquirer's CEO David Pecker is a good friend of President Trump.   Pecker's publication has enthusiastically supported his campaign for President.  During various points in the campaign, the National Enquirer published scandalous (and unverified) stories about Trump's opponents which Trump then used on the campaign stump.  These National Enquirer stories includes the bizarre piece claiming that Sen. Ted Cruz's father was involved in the plot to assassinate President Kennedy.  Despite the absurd stories that regularly appear in the magazine, President Trump has on several occasions said the Enquirer is a credible source of information..

While the Enquirer has zero credibility as a news source, the story calling Flynn a Russian spy is noteworthy for this reason:   The story almost certainly didn't go to print with Trump's direct or indirect blessing.  The story represents the beginning of the new spin that Trump wasn't personally complicit with Russian meddling in the campaign, that he was instead a victim from unscrupulous Russian agents like Flynn.

General Flynn take a look at the Trump bus.  You're going to soon find yourself underneath it.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Governor May Consider Imposing Tolls on Indiana Roads

WIBC reports:
Tolls are in and cigarette taxes are out if Governor Holcomb gets his way in a final road funding bill. 
Gov. Eric Holcomb
Holcomb is offering his most specific ideas so far on the final shape of a road funding plan. He says the cost of building and maintaining roads should fall on those who drive on them, and says provisions in both the House and Senate bills calling for the state to apply for federal tolling approval probably have to be part of a final plan. 
Neither the House nor the Senate package reaches the one-point-two-billion dollars a year the state says it needs in order to fully fund roads, but Holcomb says their combinations of gas taxes and tire and vehicle fees would be enough to pay for road maintenance for the next 20 years. He says in six or seven years, the state will have to take "a hard look" at imposing tolls to raise money for new construction. But he says he doesn't want tolls on urban bypasses -- he's thinking more of truckers going state line to state line.
Hopefully the legislature and the Governor will come to their collective senses and not inflict toll roads on Hoosiers.  I'm confident that most drivers loathe tolls and would rather pay for roads through taxes.   Personally I cannot imagine ever voting for a politician who imposed tolls on Indiana highways.