Author Archives: Ian Lind

Hints about the future of rural America?

I thought these observations gleaned from recent news stories, were worth sharing. They arrived in emails from someone who comments as “Compare Decide”.

The good news is that JC Penney has made its first profit since 2010.

The bad news is that they have decided to close up to 140 stores.

The worse news is that this will probably trigger the closing of many struggling shopping malls.

http://www.marketwatch.com/story/jc-penney-to-close-130-to-140-stores-sales-dip-2017-02-24-12485289

Most of these articles on this subject frame it in terms of the rise of online shopping, or the executive mistakes of the past.

But it has been little noted that these store closings are in rural areas.

The story of the century is the decline, obsolescence and doom of small towns and outside suburbs, and so few seem to see this pattern.
….

But back in September of 2016, an optimistic JC Penney was planning on replacing Sears and Macy’s.

http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-rise-of-jc-penney-20160826-story.html

Some of J.C. Penney’s most profitable locations turned out to be small stores in rural areas where the retailer pays almost no rent; two California stores opening this year will be completely funded by the landlord.

A less happy story from yesterday.

http://news.morningstar.com/all/dow-jones/us-markets/201702248502/jc-penney-to-close-more-than-100-stores-3rd-update.aspx

Penney on Friday eked out its first annual profit since 2010, but executives said they were closing weaker stores so they could focus their investments on revamping those in stronger markets. Penney said it would identify the locations that are set to close next month, though executives said many were smaller stores in rural locations.

Geography is critical.

Optimism is still evident in some parts of the retail industry.

But another mall giant, Gap Inc., posted higher comparable quarterly sales for the first time in two years. “If you read the headlines today, you’ll see the words dead, dying, sick. We are none of those,” CEO Art Peck told investors late Thursday. “We are healthy and strong and have a plan and clear direction.”

Um, that’s what JC Penney was saying last year….

Journalist jobs among the most vulnerable?

A brief column by Shelley Palmer has some troubling news (“The 5 Jobs Robots Will Take First“).

I expected the first to go would be things like warehouse worker, truck driver, etc.

Instead, at the top of Palmer’s list are middle management jobs, sales jobs, and–are you ready–“report writers, journalists, authors & announcers.”

Writing is tough. But not report writing. Machines can be taught to read data, pattern match images or video, or analyze almost any kind of research materials and create a very readable (or announceable) writing. Text-to-speech systems are evolving so quickly and sound so realistic, I expect both play-by-play and color commentators to be put out of work relatively soon – to say nothing about the numbered days of sports or financial writers. You know that great American novel you’ve been planning to write? Start now, before the machines take a creative writing class.

I know that a lot of financial reports are written by computers. Basic stories about upcoming public meetings or events can probably be done the same way.

And its certainly true that stories drawn from industry press releases can easily be automated. Or, as is already the case, simply reprinted without rewrites.

Complex news reporting will be more difficult to automate, at least I would hope so.

The state of the news industry is tenuous enough without worrying about the economics of news robots.

Column examines issues of proposed new jail and prison

The state and the legislature are approaching decisions on the future of our prison system on two separate tracks.

Just how this process is unfolding was the subject of my Civil Beat column this week (“Ian Lind: Count On Hawaii To Ignore Logical Prison Report/In the rush to build a new prison, the Legislature is likely to shunt aside the work of a task force it created just last year“).

On the one hand, the legislature last year approved over $5 million for planning of a replacement for the aging Oahu Community Correctional Center, the state’s largest jail. And a new bill moving ahead this year calls for setting aside that plan, and instead beginning planning on a new and much larger prison. The current prison at Halawa would then be used as the new jail. That new plan got the quick endorsement of the head of the state’s prison system, despite the obvious problem that facilities are normally designed around their intended functions, and so the design of the current prison is much different than what is needed in a jail. And a new larger prison is likely to cost upwards of $1 BILLION, a figure likely to make even stalwart proponents gasp.

But last year’s legislature also created a task force charged with reviewing correctional “best practices” in use elsewhere that could be used to reduce Hawaii’s jail and prison population, allowing any new facilities to be downsized rather than enlarged. The task force, unfortunately, was not endowed with any budget, but has been meeting since last June without benefit of funding.

The task force has released an interim report, with its final report and recommendations due prior to the opening of the 2018 legislative session. It’s well worth reading.

Here’s my brief summary:

“To improve outcomes and bring costs under control, Hawaii must chart a new course and transition from a punitive to a rehabilitative correctional model,” the task force says in its preliminary report. The move is driven by “the fact that all but a few of the men and women who go to prison will one day return to the community.” Therefore, the task force says, the question for public policy is how to use their time in prison to shape their lives for the better and change the behavior that landed them in prison.

The report proposes moving away from viewing prison as punishment and instead treating incarcerated persons “with aloha” as a core value.

One key is education and training for prison and jail workers, and the task force recommends creation of a corrections academy for employees in both the executive and judicial branches.

It recommends setting targets for reducing the prison population through diversion programs, bail reform and efficiencies in processing pre-trial detainees, and “focused, evidenced-based rehabilitative programs for those in prison.”

“The question should not be how large a new jail needs to be, but how small the jail can be with successful diversion programs? Overbuilding would be one of the worst mistakes the State could make,” the report states.

In any case, a messy issue. Check my take in Civil Beat. Feel free to comment here.

Feline Friday: They’re inside cats now

Romeo welcomes you to another Feline Friday!

All the cats take turns lounging in the sun that shines in through the sliding doors to the deck of our still somewhat new house, but Romeo is the only one who still stares into the outside world for long periods, taking in as much as he can. I’m pretty sure he’s standing guard in case any wandering cats appear. I’ve seen a couple since we moved 18-months ago, but generally this does not seem to be cat territory.

Our cats used to have free access to the outside when we lived in Kaaawa. We had two cat doors, one on each end of the living room. Occasionally we would close them in due to bad weather or some other reason, but generally they could sit outside whenever they were in the mood.

Not so since we moved to our house in Kahala. With a somewhat busy street in front, we decided this was a good time to transition them back to a more boring but much safer lifestyle. They’ve adapted much better than we feared. I thought the enforced indoors might generate more pushback in the way of general sissyness, but that never happened. Of course, they are all senior citizens now and perhaps that accounts for the difference.

–> Click here to see all of today’s Friday Felines!

Mr. Romeo