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Looking at a looming default

Updated: Thursday, October 17, 2013
Looking at a looming default story image
KALAMAZOO, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - We're 10 days along in the partial government shutdown, and if this goes on for another week, our Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew says we, as a country, will no longer be able to pay all of our bills.

What does that mean for our financial security?

Some in Congress say it really wouldn't amount to much. Most economists, on the other hand, say it could spark global economic chaos.

Tonight in Tom's Corner, Tom Van Howe says if he were a betting man, he'd put his money on those who deal in numbers every day.

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If I was going to have heart surgery, I’m fairly certain I’d want the guy holding the scalpel to be someone who does nothing but heart surgeries. A guy who could almost do it in his sleep.

And so it is with our government and our economy.

So if I hear Congressman Justin Amash of Grand Rapids—and only Mr. Amash—say, "there's no way we'll default on October 17. We have enough money to make interest payments. The real question is how do we restructure our government so we don't keep hitting the debt ceiling?"

He sounds pragmatic, confident, and unconcerned.

And there are others in congress who say "not to worry;" that if we have to start cherry picking for a while, to choose who we're going to pay and who we're not, so what?

Confident and reassuring.

Setting aside the fact Congress has a constitutional responsibility to pay who we owe—on time—there are whole bushel baskets full of economists who are saying loudly and repeatedly that the impact of default could be calamitous; not just for us, but for the world.

I know there's  a widely-held, cynical assumption that if you ask 20 economists the same question, you may get 20 different answers. And on some matters that may be true.

But this time around they're pretty much shouting with one voice. And they're telling Congress to get its act together.

Since cherry picking seems acceptable for the moment, let me cherry pick a few.

Gerald Epstein is an economist at the University of Massachusetts. "A default," he says, "will make the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy look like a cakewalk."

Everybody knows who Warren Buffett is. He may not be an economist but he gets a free pass because he understands money as few others do. "Default," he said, "would be like a nuclear bomb - too horrible to use."

And there's Tim Bitsberger, a former Treasury official under George W. Bush. "If we miss an interest payment, it would blow Lehman Brothers out of the water."

And this from Bloomberg news—it would be "an economic calamity like none the world has seen."

There is a FOX News economist, Peter Morici, who thinks default would be the best thing that could ever happen to the United States, but his evaluation gets neutered by the sheer weight of the other side.

At stake is the perception the world has of us. That perception has already been scarred a little by the government shutdown.

But U.S. Treasury Bonds are thought of as the world's primary risk-free asset.

That rock-solid confidence, despite our $17 trillion deficit, is what has made the dollar the world's most widely-used currency.

If we fail to make payments on those bonds, the perception of us as the world's richest and most stable country will take a dive, along with anyone willing to buy a little slice of America’s debt.

And its beyond my perception that the right wing of the Republican party would be willing to carry the specter of of default, with all of its dark possibilities, to the brink or beyond because it doesn't like Obamacare.

And if Justin Amash and his friends are so willing to reject the warnings of economists all over the country, maybe they'll listen to two organizations that have long supported conservative politics: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers.

In letters written a few days ago, both are urging Congress to rise above their differences and do what's right for the country.

Raise the debt limit. And do it now.

I couldn't say it any better myself.

In this corner...I'm Tom Van Howe.

Business News

Last Update on November 24, 2014 08:29 GMT

GAS PRICES

CAMARILLO, Calif. (AP) -- A national survey reveals the average price of regular gasoline has plunged another 10 cents a gallon over the past two weeks, to $2.84.

Industry analyst Trilby Lundberg says the decline continues a trend that has seen prices in the U.S. fall by 88 cents since May.

Lundberg says lower crude oil prices are continuing to drive prices down, along with an abundant oil supply and the rising value of the U.S. dollar.

The highest priced gas in the Lower 48 states was found in San Francisco at $3.14 a gallon. The lowest was in Albuquerque at $2.47 a gallon.

The average price for midgrade gas in the U.S. is $3.08. For premium it's $3.24.

REGULATING CAR SERVICES

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- North Carolina has become a prime market for the smartphone-based car services Uber and Lyft -- and is likely to join a push around the country to regulate the fast-growing businesses.

A big draw for the companies is the state's mix of mid-sized cities, which are full of college students but lack extensive mass transit networks to serve their spread-out geography.

The companies' expansion has legislators in North Carolina and elsewhere scrambling to study their business models ahead of sessions in 2015 when they could address insurance, car inspections or criminal background checks.

Transportation analyst Douglas Shinkle of the National Conference of State Legislatures thinks at least 20 legislatures are likely to take up legislation on Uber, Lyft and similar services in 2015 after several passed laws this year.

MERGER SURGE-HEALTH INDUSTRY

Health care M&A leads global deal surge

UNDATED (AP) -- It's been a big year for deal making and the health care industry is especially visible in that arena.

Large drugmakers are buying and selling businesses to control costs and deploy surplus cash. A rising stock market, tax strategies and low interest rates are also fueling the mergers and acquisitions.

It's all combining to make 2014 the most active year for health care deals in at least two decades. Data provider Dealogic says the industry has announced about $438 billion worth of mergers and acquisitions worldwide so far, about 14 percent of the $3.2 trillion total for all industries. Overall, M&A is on track for its best year since 2007, the year before the financial crisis intensified.

One analyst says deals are being driven by "cost pressure on the entire health care system," as insurers and government health plans increasingly hold down or even reduce reimbursements to drug, device and service providers.

Companies also are looking to expand market share, and boost their portfolios in hot areas such as drugs for cancer and hepatitis C.

JACOBS ENGINEERING-CEO RETIREMENT

PASADENA, Calif. (AP) -- The construction services firm Jacobs Engineering says CEO Craig Martin will retire in late December because of health reasons.

The company announced Sunday that former CEO and current board chairman Noel Watson will serve as executive chairman until a replacement for Martin is found.

The 65-year-old Martin joined Jacobs in 1994 and became CEO in 2006.

The Pasadena, California-based company helps design and build large, complex facilities for oil and gas companies, chemicals companies, governments and a variety of industrial customers.

Martin will step down Dec. 26, the last day of the company's first fiscal quarter.

SHIPPING SEASON

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Icy conditions have forced an early end to shipping on the Upper Mississippi River.

The season officially closed Thursday with the towboat Mary K. Cavarra and its load of four barges heading south through Lock & Dam No. 2 at Hastings, Minnesota.

The Star Tribune (http://strib.mn/1yIQ8un ) reports it's the earliest closing in 45 years. The season began last spring with the second-latest opening and came to a 26-day halt in midsummer so crews could clear flood-borne silt from the navigation channel.

Executive director Bob Zelenka of the Minnesota Grain and Feed Association says it's been a challenging year. Zelenka says the river is the cheapest way of moving crops. But the river's early closure means finding alternative ways to get those crops to New Orleans and foreign export markets.

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