richardf8: (Default)
Learned from [livejournal.com profile] level_head who learned it from [livejournal.com profile] rowyn that at a Wal-Mart in Valley Stream, an employee was stampeded to death by a mob awaiting the store's early opening. Do read the story if it is not familiar to you.

Now, where to even begin?

Well, let's see, let's begin on Thanksgiving, when people who were working retail had to be prepared to wake up at 2 or 3AM to be at stores by 4am for 5am openings. Many would have had to have earlier Thanksgiving meals, or given up on it in order to be alert the next day. This was noted by friend Stego.

This is in service of what?

Then there are those 5:00 store openings as well, littered with loss-leaders to entice people into the stores. Heavy discounts on flat screen TV's were common, not just at Wal-Mart, but at Best Buy, and many other outlets across the nation.

This is in service of what?

Then there are the people determined to be first in line, determined to beat their neighbors to those loss-leaders. Instead of getting a good night's sleep and spending the day after Thanksgiving in quality time with family and friends, they're up at God-knows-when so they can get this stuff that no one really needs.

This is in service of what?

There's desperation all over this scenario - the retail worker desperate for a paycheck, the retailer desperate for sales, the consumer desperate for the discount. And all this desperation collided tragically on Friday in Valley Stream, and a man died.

This in service of what?

Ben Zoma would say: "Who is rich, he who is happy with his portion." (Avot 4:11)

If everyone in America followed Ben Zoma, our economy would collapse in a heartbeat. So we live in a world of manufactured need, and discontent with our portion is the engine that drives our economy. And right now, problems in banking and industry are forcing some to learn to be content with their portion, and others to look for bargains that will allow them to assuage their discontent within the constraints imposed by those problems.

Sales like the Black Friday sales are designed to capitalize on the discontent that our culture works so hard to manufacture. And that discontent is a powerful enough force that this year, it killed a man.
richardf8: (Default)
Here are some thoughts of mine on the matter of the Real Estate market correction and its consequences.

The assumption that the bubble came about solely because of subprime lending unhinging home prices from inflation misses the point. The Fed lowering the Prime Rate to levels that were unsustainable in order to combat inflation near the beginning of this decade did a lot to make people seek new mortgages and re-finances who perhaps otherwise would not have. It demonstrates a failure of the "Free Market" that prices so quickly began to outstrip value. One thing this should teach us is that homes, real-estate, have an intrinsic value, separate from the market value. The bursting of the bubble is a "correction," but this is a more tragic correction than, say, a correction in the stock market, because rather than being stock certificates, these are people's homes. So these homes go into foreclosure because, in many cases, the homeowner is burdened with a debt that exceeds the value of his collateral. Seen this happen first hand.

Banks could have taken two approaches - 1) Take a loss by writing a new mortgage for the real value of the house, or 2) Take a bigger loss by foreclosing the home and reselling it in a depressed market, depressing it even further.

Banks seem, by and large to have chosen option 2. It seems to me that any "bailout" would have to favor option 1 - I suspect many homeowners currently faced with foreclosure would greet a manageable monthly payment at a fixed rate with relief.

And this brings me to my last point. If you are buying a house because you plan to fix it up and resell it within a year, perhaps an ARM makes sense. But if you are buying a house as a roof over your head, and a nest egg, then the ARM is a predatory instrument. Especially in times where the prime rate is unsustainably low. If subprime lending is to continue, ARMs should not be among the instruments used: a subprime loan presumes a precarious borrower, it is folly to imagine that such a borrower will be able to manage a higher payment when the rate goes up.

So, my proposals are as follows:

1) Do not write (or underwrite) loans for more than the home is reasonably worth.

and

2) Do not make ARMs available to subprime borrowers. The more precarious your economic situation, the more important it is that your housing costs be Fixed, not Variable.

Item 1 is tricky, because it raises the problem of how to assess a property's intrinsic value (by which I really mean the market value in a market which is neither inflated nor depressed). I suppose a formula that looks at average home prices over a fairly long period of time, adjusted for inflation would come close.

The effect of people not being to obtain loans for a ludicrously overvalued home would be that they could not make offers on them and the prices would have to reach sane levels before the loans would be written.

Pet Peeve

Jan. 24th, 2004 12:30 pm
richardf8: (Default)
I am tired of hearing from advertisers how I can "save up to N or more." It's either up to "N" or it's "N" or more. But the phrase as uttered does not establish "N" as either an upper or lower limit, it merely appears to. In this construction "N" is merely some arbitrary number pulled out of the marketing wonk's asshole, which, incidentally, is the orifice directly beneath his nose. (I say "his" because I am a sexist pig who refuses to believe that a woman would come up with such stupidity).
richardf8: (Default)
According to The New York Times(free registration required), Walmart has been locking its overnight workers in, with no way of getting out, and admonishing them never to use the fire exit unless there is an actual fire.

This has resulted in workers who have had workplace injuries, had heartattacks at work, and become sick at work, failing to get medical attention in a timely fashion. In short, this is precisely the kind of work environment American Workers sacrificed life and limb to eliminate in the first half of the 20th Century.

As this nation is now taking steps to dismantle the very regulations that are designed to protect American workers, and to create a new class of workers "to fill jobs that Amercan workers will not fill," it is time to seriously consider if we want America to continue to be a first world nation, or if we want to join the third world, where hoardes of underpaid, cruelly treated workers support a small elite of wealthy criminals. On significant issues like Health Care and Higher Education we are significantly behind countries like Canada and England. Moreover, much of that slippage has happened since 2001.

It is no coincidence that Bush's new immigration proposal followed close on the heels of Wal-Mart getting busted for using illegals as cleaning staff. This is what happens when Big Business owns the political process; you get oligarchic totalitarianism, which is every bit as inimical to the libertarian spirit as, say, communist totalitarianism.

I recently picked up some copier paper and an inkjet cartridge at a 24-hour Wal-Mart around here. Thankfully a 24 hour store can't lock its workers in, but I don't think I'll be going back, anyway.

"Falling Prices" depend, it seems, on:
Falling Wages,
Falling Healthcare, and
Falling Working Conditions

The price of "falling prices" is just too high.
richardf8: (Default)
Well, by this time, Thanksgiving has been and gone. Leftover turkey waits (or lurks) in the fridge until such time as it is redeployed as "another Thanksgiving dinner that couldn't be beat," and the countdown has begun: N shopping days left until . . . The Holiday Which Must Not Be Named.

This bugs me.

If you've been reading this journal for any amount of time, you'll know that I'm Jewish. You'll also know that I am very direct, if not downright rude, in my assessment of the world. I don't believe in what is derisively called "political correctness."

I got an e-mail from a Co-Worker asking me if I would object to any Christmas Holiday Which Must Not Be Named (HWMNBN) decorations. I told her that as long as she didn't want to turn our entire work area into a creche I was cool with it. In fact she wanted to display a small creche that she did not feel she would enjoy at home, because it would become lost in the clutter. I told her to go ahead. This was an interaction between two adults, one showing the sensitivity to ask before placing religious iconography in a mixed-faith work area, and the other showing the tolerance to say "go for it." I thought that this was what "diversity," "multiculturalism," and "tolerance" were all about. Apparently, I was wrong.

An E-Mail went out to our entire organization from our facilities people explaining that seasonal decorations would be allowed (most gracious of them) but must be secular in nature (my co-worker was not free to display her creche, nor would I be free to display a menorah, if I wished). I am so glad that I can count on facilities (and truth be told, probably legal as well) to save me from having to make any decisions about what I may or may not consider offensive.

So anyway I get home and [livejournal.com profile] morgan1 is searching around frantically for some antlers we bought to put on the cats. She was planning to wear them for her company's holiday picture. We find them, and she gets some wrinkles ironed out of them and the holiday picture is taken. A day later, her company announces that the holiday picture must be retaken because some people had worn Santa hats or Antlers. They were evidently trying to avoid a holiday theme in their holiday picture.

Now, I just need to ask, what the HELL is going on here? What's so bad about Christmas that we must scrub the word from our national vocabulary? True, not all Americans celebrate it. Some of us celebrate Chanukah, some Solstice, some of us, nothing at all. And why solve the "problem" of creating a potentially "hostile" religious environment by creating an environment uniformly hostile to religion? I know that the answer lies in corporate fears of liability.

But I have another question. What if I did bring in a Menorah? My coworker has been forbidden her creche, but since mine is not the religion of the dominant regime would anyone say anything to me? Or would they too be afraid of being accused of discrimination because I am a minority? I have a hypothesis, of course, but the failure of the only experiment I can design to test it could result in major loss of income for me, so I shall refrain.

But it occurs to me that both my coworker and I are being discriminated against. As people who might be inclined to actually show a shred of spirituality, we are being denied the freedom of speech to do so. Which raises another question in my mind -- for all the right wing talk of this being a "Christian nation," for all the disputation about whether to cut "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance (itself a prayer to an idol), and the inscription "In God we Trust" on our coins, for all the separation of church and state, do we perhaps have a state religion which has nothing to do with spirituality? Of course we do.

Every year, those Mammonite priests called "analysts" take measure of our shopping habits, spending, "confidence," and other factors, and are ready to tell us as early as December 26th whether we have upheld our religious duty to provide the economy with a good "holiday season" or if we have failed, and will be punished by Mammon himself with that most horrible of plagues, a "downturn." If you're unemployed, its because you didn't spend enough during the holiday season.

Indeed the admonitions begin the day after Thanksgiving, when we are all supposed to hit the malls in a great horde, and the very size of that horde may be sufficient to divine whether Mammon will inscribe us in the book of "growth" or the book of "downturn" for the coming fiscal year.

And the Christian who thinks about Jesus may just decide to go to church on Christmas.
And the Jew who contemplates the miracle of the oil may decide that the lighting of the Menorah and eating Latkes, and giving the kids some Chocolate to gamble at dreidel with is enough.
And the Wiccan who thinks about the Solstice may just decide that a really big Bonfire is the best invitation for the sun's return.

In short it serves the needs of commerce very well to cut us off from our spiritual centers, and the despiritualization of America is less about not offending anyone than it is about leaving us all with a void that we seek to fill at a mall.

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