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The SodaStream Fracas That Fizzled

Mike Coppola/Getty for SodaStream

The news that Scarlett Johansson was representing the Israeli firm SodaStream caused Al Jazeera to call it a controversy—based on four tweets.

What if you try to create a celebrity scandal and no one listens?Such was the case on Al Jazeera’s blog “The Stream,” which reacted to the news that Scarlett Johansson had been named the “global brand ambassador” of Israeli carbonation company SodaStream by latching onto the potentially ideal recipe for outrage—a Hollywood A-lister plus the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—with an article on Monday entitled “Criticism as Scarlett Johansson becomes new face of SodaStream.

Fat Stacks

Fed Reserve Is Insanely Profitable

LM Otero/AP

On February 1, Janet Yellen will take over America’s central bank, a cash cow that makes the Fortune 500 look like peanuts.

The Federal Reserve is the most powerful and influential financial institution in the world and it is also one hell of a business.The Fed, like Newt Gingrich, was hatched in secret one hundred years ago, on a small island off the coast of Georgia.  It was created to bring order to a chaotic banking system in the wake of a string of financial crises around the turn of the century. What's gotten the mainstream media buzzing about the bank of late is the fact that, for the first time in it's century-long history, a woman will be running the show.

BAD NEWS

December's WTF Jobs Report

© Rick Wilking / Reuters

With only 74K new jobs and the unemployment rate at its lowest since 2008, the December monthly jobs report dumped a steaming pile of caution on the red carpet of economic optimism.

The last couple months have seen a surge of economic optimism. The Federal Reserve decided the economy is strong enough to start tapering its bond purchases. The economy grew at a 4.1 percent annual rate in the third quarter of 2013 and the fourth quarter of 2013 is looking pretty good. The jobs market has been picking up steam, adding an average of more than 200,000 positions over the last four months. The deficit is shrinking rapidly.But Friday morning, the monthly jobs report dumped a steaming pile of caution on the carpet.

Do the Math

Hey, The Deficit Is Shrinking

Ruediger Trebels/ImageZoo/Corbis

Budget hawks want compensating budget cuts to extend long-term unemployment benefits. But one look at the Treasury’s latest balance sheets undermines the House GOP’s argument.

Should Chris Christie ever stop talking, political attention will likely be focused once again on the question of extending unemployment benefits. This month, the assistance expired for the long-term unemployed—some 1.29 million people were collecting as of late December. The Senate is moving to expand them. This week, a procedural vote passed with 61 votes, allowing the full Senate to vote on it.The House, naturally, is resisting. Many House Republicans don’t believe unemployment benefits help the unemployed.

Revolutionary

Henry Ford’s Genius Wage Hike

Hulton Archive/Getty

A century ago, the Ford Motor founder shocked the world of business by doubling wages to $5 a day. No altruist, he was playing a long game—one today’s short-sighted CEOs can’t fathom.

On January 5, 1914, the business world witnessed a revolutionary, shocking act. Henry Ford, founder, chief executive officer, and dictator of the Ford Motor Company, unilaterally raised—doubled!—the wages of thousands of production workers to $5 per nine-hour day, from about $2.38. Ford’s company was the unorthodox leader of what was rapidly growing into an iconic American industry. And Henry Ford was already regarded as an eccentric, an outsider, somewhat strange.

DEAL

Machinists Sign Boeing Contract

Ted S. Warren/AP

New plane to be built in Washington.

The Machinists union signed an eight-year contract with Boeing, offering concessions in exchange for the aviation giant’s decision to assemble its new 777X plane in the Seattle area. Boeing and Washington governor Jay Inslee applauded the deal, with the latter saying Washington had “secured its future as the aerospace capital of the world.” Local union officials had urged workers to oppose the deal, which allows the highly profitable Boeing to freeze employee’s pensions and change their savings plans. But they were overruled by national union leaders, and the deal was approved by a narrow 51 percent vote. Shocked opponents blamed political pressure, and workers’ fear for their jobs in the wake of Boeing’s threats to move production elsewhere.

Read it at Associated Press

Stay Gone

You Can Run, But You Can’t Die

FBI and Glynn County Sheriff's Office/Reuters

Aubrey Lee Price disappeared in 2012, allegedly suicidal over the millions he was found to have embezzled from his banking job. As fake-dead fugitives go, it was amateur hour.

You can run but you can’t die.That’s the message that Aubrey Lee Price learned today. The 47-year-old financier disappeared in the summer of 2012 after having allegedly embezzled $17 million from a Georgia Bank, and had told associates he was going to kill himself. This week, he was arrested after a Georgia policeman pulled him over for a traffic violation.   At first, Price, a clean-cut banker, seemed to be part of the solution to the problems of Montgomery Bank & Trust, a two-branch bank that first opened in 1926, in Ailey, about halfway between Atlanta and Georgia’s Atlantic coast.

Looking Up

Pay Raises Across America

Noah Berger/Reuters

No thanks to Congress, the minimum wage in several states and cities will rise in 2014. That will help the working poor and lift wages for even more Americans.

Here’s my bold prediction for 2014: lots of Americans will finally get wage increases.The obsession of large companies with low wages—even amid a record stock market, record profits, an record amounts of cash on their balance sheets—has been one of the more unsavory and frustrating aspects of the current economic expansion. Lots of businesses can easily afford to pay more. But they don’t—because they don’t have to, because the labor market is weak, because they’re obsessed with boosting profits, because labor unions are almost non-existent, and because societal and cultural norms have changed significantly.

Cheers

The Economy’s Secret Success

Richard Drew/AP

The financial failures of the Great Recession—bank busts, foreclosures, and bankruptcies—shrank dramatically this year. And the success will feed on itself.

In 2013, the U.S. economy managed not just to survive a series of shocks—the fiscal cliff, the sequester, tax increases, the government shutdown, the advent of the Affordable Care Act—but to power through them. As we speak, the U.S. is closing out its 54th month of growth, and the headline growth numbers are as good as they’ve been in years. The stock market is at a record high.This confluence of events remains something of a mystery. The U.S.

#SantaFail

Send in the Drones

Charlie Riedel/AP

How did this holiday go so wrong? From Black Friday overload to ecommerce’s last-minute delivery disaster, this sure-thing shopping season was a major turnoff for customers.

This was a strange holiday shopping season. There’s  disappointment among the bricks-and-mortar retailers who saw traffic fall, and even more for those last-minute online shoppers who had to explain some empty spots under the Christmas tree.In theory, this should have been one of the best seasons in recent memory. The economy is growing rapidly. Despite tax increases and the government shutdown and sequester, consumers were buoyed by rising housing prices and an improving jobs market.

Business

Daniel Gross

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