The Bonfire of the Retail Vanities

The above two images [click them for a larger view] are of the row of shops across the street from the law office where I work.

From left to right, here is the list of these oh-so-vital service-providers:

Sofa – Table – Chair, upscale furniture boutique

Wishing Well Floral & Gifts

Bone-Jour, gourmet dog food bakery (I’m not making this up!)

Miss Meers, women’s “Sex and the City”-style shoe boutique

Sit Still, haircuts for toddlers

Spoiled Rotten, upscale children’s clothes

Aqua Nails Bar, purveyor of manicures and pedicures

Seeing this string of shops, you have to wonder pretty hard about the future of this society.  This is the stuff for which we allow our overclass to continue closing factories and dictating the technologies and terms of “our” supposedly non-negotiable way of life?  This is the bedrock of an economy?

Obamanocchio: “Papa, I Want to be a Real Banker-Boy”

The proof that Brand Obama is merely a re-labeling of Brand Clinton and Brand Reagan could hardly be coming harder and faster.

The latest revelation is the new-and-not-improved economic give-away, which is as venal as it is hopelessly, laughably, moronically, decrepitly ill-targeted.

The great Doug Henwood puts it this way:

They’re worse than I expected, and I wasn’t expecting much in the first place (see: Obamamania, a febrile disease).

[I]t looks like the Treasury and the Fed will pump up some $250-500 billion to help hedge funds buy bad assets – with the FDIC guaranteeing the buyers against losses.  In internal administration battles, Geithner “successfully fought against” stricter rules on executive pay, and beat back the attempts to replace top maangement.

Of course, to say that Geithner won these battles is to say that Obama agreed with him. Once again, the embodiment of hope and change went with the status quo when he didn’t really have to. There would have been little political price to pay for putting the screws to the banksters.

This is looking more and more like Japan’s disastrous indulgence of their “zombie banks” in the 1990s than Sweden’s successful bailout, the model for the “nationalize them and clear the decks” approach. Instead of a few rough years, we’re likely to get a miserable decade.

For what it’s worth, my own view is this:

The problem is that making new loans is not only not the right answer, it’s not even possible. The Reagan Revolution /Great Restoration/New Democrats strategy of relying on credit expansion to fill the demand hole caused by heightened fucking of the working class is now at its final — and completely logical — end.  Either we start to reverse the basic class-fuck from above, or this depression continues to deepen.

Meanwhile, it’s important to ask:  What’s the dream outcome of what’s being attempted by Obama?  Another six month round of credit card balance transfers and fever-brained real estate bidding wars?  Based on what underlying new real production and income?

Astrologer Jeffrey Sachs’ Latest

Jeffrey Sachs is at it again. Having gained fame as a theorist of why mass starvation is better than price inflation in the Second and Third Worlds, Sachs is now telling First Worlders that 21st century capitalism is going to be just peachy keen:

Taking shape, therefore, is nothing less than a new 21st-century model of capitalism itself, one which is committed to the dual objectives of economic development and sustainability, and is organised to steer core technologies to achieve these twin goals.

Consider the challenge of a bankrupt automobile sector, with General Motors and Chrysler on the verge of insolvency, and Ford not far behind. Rather than viewing the crisis merely as a traditional left-right debate over bail-outs versus market-driven bankruptcy, Obama recognised that the near-bankruptcy of the sector calls for a hands-on approach to transform the core of automotive technology itself. In the Obama strategy, GM will not be closed to punish it for past corporate or societal mistakes. It’s worth far too much as a world leader in the electric vehicles of the 21st century.

The work of moving from a few demonstration vehicles to a new mass industry will take a least a decade. The government will have to support research and development, the high costs of early models, public awareness and acceptance, and the supporting infrastructure. In the case of plug-in hybrids, this means a high-performance power grid fed by sustainable power generation, such as solar or wind power, or coal plants that capture and store the carbon dioxide. For fuel cells, it means a new infrastructure of hydrogen filling stations along the interstate highways and in the major cities.

All this, Sachs assures, is being brought to fruition by “a team of scientific and technological advisers of stunning quality, including two Nobel laureates (Steven Chu and Harold Varmus), and longstanding leaders in climate, energy, ecology and cutting-edge technologies.”

And, the good news doesn’t stop there, kids!  “[W]ith America’s technological prowess, and Obama’s pivotal commitment, it [the United States] is likely to jump to the lead.”

So,in Sachs’ professional analysis, we stand not here:

…but here:

This stunningly ignorant and dangerous piffle redoubles my appreciation of Dmitry Orlov’s observation that economists are “astrologers to the wealthy.”

Why (Most) Movies Suck

The market totalitarians who call themselves “conservatives” are messing their drawers over the very idea of adding $50 million to the laughably puny $145-million annual budget of the National Endowment for the Arts. “Conservatives,” you see, say they think the NEA is a boondoggle.

Contrast this sense of where boondoggles come from with the excellent recent reportage of New Yorker critic Tad Friend on the workings of the corporate capitalist movie studios — where $50 million, by the way, is less than half of what gets spent there on a single movie, a.k.a. “property,” according to Friend.

As Friend reports:

“Studios now are pimples on the ass of giant conglomerates,” one studio’s president of production says. “So at green-light meetings it’s a bunch of marketing and sales guys giving you educated guesses about what a property might gross.

This, of course, means that:

Marketing considerations shape not only the kind of films studios make but who’s in them—gone are lavish adult dramas with no stars, like the 1982 “Gandhi.”

Even within this situation, which is well-known to industry insiders, if not the general public, there is no doubt what corporate capitalist movies are:

Marketers and filmmakers are often quietly at war. “The most common comment you hear from filmmakers after we’ve done our work is ‘This is not my movie,’ ” Terry Press, a consultant who used to run marketing at Dreamworks SKG, says. “I’d always say, ‘You’re right—this is the movie America wants to see.’ ”

Friend finds the resulting imperatives “unexpected,” but nonetheless does a great job listing them.

Read moreWhy (Most) Movies Suck