Stuff to Read

To read together — “We Are the 99.9%” by Paul Krugman and “The Reign of the One Percenters” by Christopher Ketcham.

Um, has the “black Friday” thing gotten out of hand? Wal-Mart shoppers in California resort to pepper-spray to eliminate the competition.

“People started screaming, pulling and pushing each other, and then the whole area filled up with pepper spray,” the Sylmar resident said. “I guess what triggered it was people started pulling the plastic off the pallets and then shoving and bombarding the display of games. It started with people pushing and screaming because they were getting shoved onto the boxes.”

The rich get richer; the not-rich scratch and scramble and trample each other for discounted Xboxes. Stephanie Clifford writes for the New York Times:

Budget-minded shoppers will be racing for bargains at ever-earlier hours while the rich mostly will not be bothering to leave home.

Toys “R” Us, Wal-Mart, Macy’s, Kohl’s, Best Buy and Target will start their Black Friday sales earlier than ever — at 9 and 10 p.m. in some instances — with dirt-cheap offers intended to secure their customers’ limited dollars. A half a day later, on Friday morning, higher-end stores like Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom will open with only a sprinkling of special sales.

The low-end and midrange retailers are risking low margins as they cut prices to attract shoppers, while executives at luxury stores say that they are actually able to sell more at full price than in recent boom years.

Next up: Wal-Mart opens arenas so the wealthy can sit in luxury boxes and watch the poor fight over flat-screen televisions.

12 thoughts on “Stuff to Read

  1. This quote came to mind:

    “We must never adjust ourselves to economic conditions that take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few. We must never adjust ourselves to the madness of militarism, and the self-defeating effects of physical violence. … MLK


    For Wal-Martyrs peper spray is just the new way of saying, “Pardon me.”

  2. That Ketcham article was great – depressing, but great.
    And he’s right.
    I lived in NYC right as the biggest changes started, in 1981 and left right as it started to get really, really stupid – 1991.
    I moved into a NY that had ethnically diverse neighborhoods, like the East Village and Lower East Side. The last bastions for semi-affordable apartments in Manhattan was from the Financial District north until 23rd ST – not counting the West Village, which had been overpriced by the late 60’s early 70’s. And even there, people were starting to share space as opposed to living alone. Anywhere else in the Manhattan you had to pay “key money” for a rent-controlled apartment, so you could pay reasonable monthly rent. If I remember right, it was about $5,000 – almost a 1/2 years salary, so I lived in Queens.
    I tended bar in the East Village, and my friends were local Ukrainians and a smattering of other minorities. Almost all of them, like me, artists/actors/writers.
    I saw the apartment rents increase, and I witnessed profitable local ethnic restaurants and shops close as landlord doubled, tripled, and sometime quadrupled the rent. And what took over? Generic chains, from drug stores, to coffee shops, to shitty franchise pizza and burger places. Who would go to a generic chain in NYC when there were a million Mom & Pop restaurants, deli’s, cafe’s, etc? Well, when they moved out the local choices, it became a choice of chains. Then crack hit in the mid-late 80’s, and crime exploded. The differences between the rich and poor widening every day. Almost every interesting neighborhood gentrified.
    Exactly 4 years ago today, the day after Thanksgiving, I was up from NC for the holiday and decided to go back and see what the old neighborhood looked like. Since my favorite, the 2nd Avenue Deli had just closed – due to a massive rent increase, I started off my day by taking a cab to Katz’s Deli on Houston. Still there, and still great – but the prices – Oy yoy yoy! But hey, when in… So I stuffed my face with pickled cucumbers and green tomato’s, and had a pastrami sandwich (much leaner than 2nd Ave’s) thicker than three volumes of an encyclopedia. As they say, “To die for…”
    And then I started hobbling around the old neighborhood, bad ankle and all. My friend, who ran a Ukrainians butcher shop that his grandfather started, and was where James Beard bought his meat, had just closed it down. The people who ate kielbasa and liverwurst and sala (bacon that you eat smoked, without further cooking it), had either died off (no jokes, please), moved out, or changed their diets. And the younger Slav’s had moved out, or again, had changed their diet.
    And as I walked around, this once teaming multi-cultural area looked homogenous. Maybe one or two old ethnic holdouts, Italian, Russian, Ukrainian, Polish, per block, where before, EVERY store was like that. They were replaced by either chain food and coffee places, or shops aimed at rich yuppies, selling tchatchka’s, antiques, and 60’s and 70’s memorabilia, for outlandish prices. It was no longer a neighborhood, it was an urban strip mall.
    I limped around, looking for shops that I used to go into, restaurants that had a great this, or a great that. Almost everything I knew was gone and upgraded for undiscerning yuppie youth. Poverty was still around, because you still had City Housing. But even The Alphabet Jungle (Ave’s A-C), near the projects, had become a yuppie haven.
    I went into a bar that I recognized, the others all gone, and bumped into a guy I used to serve drinks to. He also happened to be just visiting, and we compared notes. Only there were few notes to compare. The notes formed a dirge.
    And then I went up the Upper East side to go the Museum of Art. And that hadn’t changed as much. I recognized a lot of local restaurants and shops from my youth. But that part of town didn’t undergo much change. It didn’t need to. It was always wealthy, or had been for decades, so things didn’t have to close to accomodate the influx of rich white ‘hipsters.’ What was there had long catered to those with money. I couldn’t tell if the insides had changed, or the price of meals had gone up as astronomically as in the East Village, because I had no point of reference, since I didn’t frequent these places in my youth, merely passed by them.
    I’m not sure Thomas Wolfe was completely right when he said (wrote) “You Can’t Go Home Again.” If you’re rich, little’s changed, and you’d probably recognize ‘home.’ It’s in the poorer areas where the rich decided to move the riff-raff out to the boroughs, or out of town, once and for all, that about the only thing that’s reminiscent of home, are the street and avenue names. Outside of that, it’s like a tactical economic nuke had been used. The people were all gone. The buildings were there, but not recognizable.
    My cousin and I had dinner, where I treated, at an outrageously expensive mid-town restaurant. I then took the train home, realizing that unless I won Power-ball, I’d never have a chance to live in Manhattan again. And not sure, even if I did win, that I’d want to.

  3. Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t the name “Black Friday” come from retail-store employees as a way of saying they fking HATED this day? And now it’s the name stores proudly call today? Very weird, unless I’m mistaken.

    Wal-Mart shoppers in California resort to pepper-spray to eliminate the competition.

    Gosh, I just absolutely cannot imagine where they got the idea that whipping out pepper spray just to get some people out of their way was an OK thing to do.

    • I believe “Black Friday” was so named because it put retailers “in the black,” so to speak. As opposed to “in the red.”

  4. Sylmar (where the pepper spraying occurred) is an armpit. Lower, barely middle class part of LA, kind of on the fringe of town. Nobody with any money ventures anywhere near there. Instead of luxury boxes, I could see live pay-per-view of the spectacle. I’m surprised somebody hasn’t already done it.

  5. I remember going into Lowe’s a few years ago, just after Thanksgiving. They had already started a barrage of MIDI Christmas carols on a tape loop. It was bad enough being there for fifteen minutes, but as I checked out, I made a comment to the cashier and she responded to the effect that the “music” was already driving her crazy. She had another month to endure.

    At the “black sites” they use music to torture people, on “Black Friday” they start to torture employees with insipid, repetitive, treacly “music”.

    Fortunately, the management of Lowe’s saw the error of their ways and has not done MIDI Christmas carols since. They also start them later. You might even get to hear “David Seville and the Chipmunks” do Handel’s “Messiah”. I guess there is such a thing as progress.

  6. During the years of the Viet Nam war is when Christmas started coming earlier and earlier. The reason was that in order to get Christmas packages and other Chirstmas items; e.g., trees, garlands, etc., to the soldiers in Viet Nam in time for Christmas, they had to be bought in October and mailed before Thanksgiving to get to the soldiers. Things have never been the same since. I worked in retail then and attended a lot of meetings to learn to fend off the complaints that inevitably came as a result of all those early Christmas displays. Yet, working on the floor, I worked with many a mother who was there to get Christmas to her son in Viet Nam. Of course, that was if her son did not get injured or killed before Christmas.

  7. One of my favorite journalists, and later NY Times Op-ed columnists, died yesterday. Here’s a fine eulogy by Gary Hart:

    Also this, from Booman:
    “Tom Wicker died today. Unless you are of a certain age, you probably don’t know who he was. His coverage of the JFK assassination earned him the respect and admiration of a lot of people. One of the things he reported during the chaos after the shooting was the content of the speech Kennedy was en route to deliver when he died. Here are some excerpts:

    The speech Mr. Kennedy never delivered at the Merchandise Mart luncheon contained a passage commenting on a recent preoccupation of his, and a subject of much interest in this city [Dallas], where right-wing conservatism is the rule rather than the exception.

    Voices are being heard in the land, he said, “voices preaching doctrines wholly unrelated to reality, wholly unsuited to the sixties, doctrines which apparently assume that words will suffice without weapons, that vituperation is as good as victory and that peace is a sign of weakness.”

    The speech went on: “At a time when the national debt is steadily being reduced in terms of its burden on our economy, they see that debt as the greatest threat to our security. At a time when we are steadily reducing the number of Federal employees serving every thousand citizens, they fear those supposed hordes of civil servants far more than the actual hordes of opposing armies.

    “We cannot expect that everyone, to use the phrase of a decade ago, will ‘talk sense to the American people.’ But we can hope that fewer people will listen to nonsense. And the notion that this nation is headed for defeat through deficit, or that strength is but a matter of slogans, is nothing but just plain nonsense.”

    Kennedy was fighting The Stupid, too. Mr. Wicker made sure we knew that in his first report. Rest in peace, Tom Wicker.

    Yes, RIP, Mr. Wicker.

  8. Powerful posts today. Thanks, everyone. I would only add that we, the great unwashed out here, seem to have learned our lessons well from our ‘betters,’ that 1% who have pillaged and plundered and (corrupted) us to the point where we’re acting accordingly.

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