CHINA MINE EXPLOSION | At least 92 dead in coal mine disaster in northeast China. Gas explosion on weekend claims scores of lives at Xinxing Coal Mine in Hegang, Heilongjiang province. (Photo below: Relatives of miners await news from mine officials. Aly Song, Reuters.)
CAPSIZED INDONESIAN FERRY CLAIMS 26 LIVES | Another 17 passengers still missing. Overloading is common in ferries serving Indonesia's thousands of islands. Ferry off Sumatra had 296 passengers and crew but capacity of only 273 people.
ROSY CANADIAN BANK FORECAST | Big Five will finish out year with strong 4Q numbers. Banks begin reporting this week. Their capital ratios are among world's best. Collectively, will come close to matching last year's profits. Loan losses expected to peak 1Q or 2Q of fiscal 2010. (Photo: "Centre ice," King and Bay Streets in Toronto, head office location of Canada's Big Five banks.)
ENCOURAGING U.S. ECONOMIC OUTLOOK | Economists upgrade forecast for 2010. Chicago Fed chief sees jobless rate peaking early next year, at 10.5%, a bit higher than current 10.2%. Small businesses, whose job creation usually leads employment recovery, are borrowing again. NYT reports Obama's stimulus package has done more good than it gets credit for - pushing U.S. GDP into positive territory by 3Q, for instance, less than half a year after his inauguration.
AFGHAN QUAGMIRE | Two unnamed Karzai ministers target of embezzlement probe. Actually, almost all of Karzai's ministers are under suspicion, probably including the defense minister who impressed Globe and Mail's editorial board - in that paper's lead story this morning - with complaint that Obama is dragging his heels on more troops. CP has rather horrifying report on how Afghan detainee abuse has been routine for decades. Corrupt government, sadistic police force, army culturally allied with Taliban, and women treated even worse under Karzai than Taliban - this is what we're fighting and dying for in propping up Afghan government whose legitimacy is recognized by few locals or ISAF troop-contributing nations. Damned right Obama's thinking twice about more troops.
"PUBLIC OPTION" NOW CENTRE STAGE IN U.S. HEALTHCARE DEBATE | Dems win first Senate vote. But Saturday's 60-40 vote, with all Republicans opposed, is only "end of the beginning." Lieberman of Connecticut vows he will vote against a final Senate bill that includes the public option. But minus the new government-run "public option" insurer, reform largely amounts to a windfall for private insurers and Big Pharma. (Photo: Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) debate healthcare reforms yesterday on "Meet the Press.")
FUTILITY OF MICROSOFT TRYING TO "BUY" NEWS | In talks with Murdoch to take WSJ off Google. Rumoured deal would have Murdoch demand Google drop WSJ, New York Post and other News Corp. properties, with Microsoft's rival Bing engine getting exclusive access. But "exclusive" content migrates within 30 seconds, by most estimates. I noticed last night, for instance, that Reuters carried a rewritten Sunday New York Post exclusive that Jamie Dimon is tipped as Geithner's replacement, and a detailed synopsis of a Sunday NYT editorial calling on Goldman Sachs to turn over its bonus pool to Treasury to retire national debt.
SWINE FLU PEAK? | CDC reports H1N1, like most outbreaks, shifting east to Mideast, Central Europe. May have peaked in North America, but flu levels still far higher than usual at this point in flu season. Vaccine continues to be in shorter supply in U.S. than Canada.
One of the estimated 14,000 to 25,000 vacant homes in once-flourishing Buffalo, N.Y.
BLIGHT ON BUFFALO | Decay of Rust Belt city "a slow-moving Katrina," says local official. Former industrial powerhouse has lost half its population, or 300,000 people, since 1950. In some recession-hit neighbourhoods, only 20% of the houses are occupied.
CLIMATE-CHANGE COST | Experts say $28 trillion (U.S.) in property damage to port cities by 2050. That would be result of expected 0.5%-metre rise in ocean levels as Greenland ice pack melts.
WIKI EXODUS | Thousands of Wikipedia contributors are quitting. All of the most important, most easily researched topics have been done. And remaining contributors are alienated by accumulation of rules restricting new entries and editing/updating of existing ones.
McDONALD'S LOSING LUSTRE | U.S. same-store sales down in October. Recession has finally caught up with Golden Arches, victim of high unemployment that has curbed out-of-home meals. Also, its McCafe concept has not been the blockbuster it expected. In Canada and at its U.S. outlets, Tim Hortons acted quickly on the McCafe threat, matching Mickey D in ubiquity and diverse menu offerings.
Honda Insight and Ford Escape. Which would you choose for your motor trip from Toronto to the Laurentians? On poor sales of small cars: "This doesn't mean Americans don't want fuel economy," writes auto critic Jerry Flint. "It may mean that vehicles that were small, unappealing, underpowered and uncomfortable are still small, unappealing, underpowered and uncomfortable."
NOT SO FAST | Forbes columnist breaks with consensus that small cars are next battleground. Notes that among heaviest casualties of current auto slump have been small cars. Industry volume is down 27% to September. Meanwhile, Yaris sales are down 40%, Aveo down 30%, Accent down 40%, VW New Beetle down 50%, Scion 1C down 60%. Meanwhile, sales are off only 10% as a group for small crossover SUVs: Honda CR-V and Pilot, Toyota RAV 4 and Venza, Ford Escape, Chevy Equinox and Dodge Journey. "Americans drive more than Europeans and Asians," writes Jerry Flint, auto writer since 1958. "And thus it's reasonable that we want cars to be more powerful and more comfortable since we spend a lot of time in them. Larger vehicles are as a rule safer than smaller ones (another important topic on which government candour is lacking). Large vehicles carry more people, groceries and vacation stuff. What good does it do to move people into subcompacts if that kills carpooling? Cars will get smaller. How well they sell is another question." Flint also notes the up to $10,000 (U.S.) higher cost for going from gasoline to hybrid version of same vehicle (you're buying a car with two engines, after all; only plug-ins are all-electric) - one reason Honda's Insight, its smallest hybrid, sold just 16,000 cars YTD, about half what Honda expected.
SNOOKERED | Travel website names ROM "Crystal" among world's 10 ugliest buildings. Joins "Beehive" in Wellington, N.Z. and Paris' Center Georges Pompidou. ROM head William Thorsell sold board and donors on what turned out to be inferior knock-off of celebrity architect Daniel Libeskind's own recent addition to the Denver Art Museum, which actually is mostly glass. For engineering and cost reasons, ROM "Crystal" is just a few strips of glass on metal cladding that has the allure of a construction-site outbuilding. Libeskind is pictured below in Denver; his ROM monstrosity at Inright.
INDIA LABOUR WOES | "Social contract," strong unions and GDP slump bring rampant labour unrest. Has sometimes turned to violence as strikes up 48% over last year at factories attempting layoffs, which go against Indian culture. Foreign employers hit by labour disruptions this year include Nestle, Nokia, Honda and Hyundai Motor.
CANDY WAR | Nestle joins Hershey, Ferrero and Kraft in pondering takeover bid for Cadbury. Kraft bid is hostile but would have easiest time with regulators. Nestle might try to play white knight. But candy giant Nestle (Kit Kat, Aero, Coffee Crisp, Smarties) would be forced to shed some of its own and Cadbury's brands to satisfy EU anti-trust authorities, maybe Canadian and American, as well.
CARCASS PICKED CLEAN | Ciena to pay bargain $769 million (U.S.) for core Nortel assets. Former pipsqueak rival to Nortel beats out bid by Nokia Siemens for bankrupt Nortel's optical networking and carrier ethernet business. Nortel once had a market cap north of $200 billion (U.S.). This one is up there with the Avro Arrow as a Canadian industrial tragedy.
Kate Moss in promotion shot for her Topshop collection.
KATE MOSS GIVES COMFORT TO "PRO-ANOREXIC" MOVEMENT | Being a waif trumps eating. Moss endorsement last week of anorexics' motto raises new questions about how widespread is anorexia. Incredibly, so-called "pro-anorexic" websites outnumber by 5 to 1 sites for recovering anorexics and healthy dieting.
FRAIL MAIL | U.S. Postal Service in crisis after posting $11.6 billion (U.S.) in losses 2007-09. Volume of mail carried fell 13% in fiscal 2009. USPS wants to cut employer pension contributions and drop cherished Saturday service, eliminated eons ago by much healthier Canada Post.
QUOTE OF THE DAY | "Let's make cars people want to make out in again." -Chrysler turnaround tagline, as announced at a presentation for analysts and the auto press earlier this month, reported in current Business Week. And couldn't be further from the truth, except for the gymnastically adept, since the "new Chrysler" is to be built around Fiat minicars.
Courtesy The New Yorker, Nov. 16 edition.
Please consider joining me as an elf this holiday season by participating in the Toronto Star's Santa Claus Fund, a century-old Toronto tradition. The Star uses donations to assemble and distribute gift boxes to thousands of less-financially advantaged children throughout the GTA. Each box contains a book, clothing and a toy. You can read all about it, including first-hand accounts of Toronto families in need, at http://www.thestar.com/santaclausfund. I'm counting on your kindness to help put smiles on thousands of young faces this December 25th! Many thanks, David