Archive for December, 2008|Monthly archive page

Closed Stores: Street and Mall Life?

We’ve all heard the news on the economy. The latest large number of articles describe the number of stores that have closed. Reportedly 160,000 stores will close in 2008. Estimates are that even more could shut their doors in 2009.

Yes, everything from electronics to apparel are filing for bankruptcy protection. Others, like Starbucks did earlier this year, are simply closing down store fronts. The pundits tell us that 40% of store sales and profits come during the holiday season and this year consumer spending dropped significantly–27% in sales of big ticket items like appliances and electronics.

Many of us have been wondering where the spending has been coming from for the last few years. We also figured that sales were also continuing to grow via the Internet, making one wonder about the continued existence of stores.

During the talks I had before hiring a publicist to help me market my book, Hollywood Bohemians, everyone’s focus was on the Internet. Three of them told me that if I want to sell books, you have to create an Internet marketing campaign. People are not only buying through Amazon, they are meeting in online sites with a shared focus, such as GoodReads and LibraryThing, and they are learning about books from fellow members.

With the decline in overall spending and the greater shopping online more stores will close.

My question: what will the streets of our cities and suburban malls look like when the stores shutter? What will you pass when you walk along Main Street or along a numbered street or avenue in a city? How many panes of glass will you look into and see the remnants of a counter, or empty tables? Will you stroll from one end of a Mall to the other and count more dark spaces than ones with the lights on? Who is going to change all those Mall directories?

Who Knew?

Who wondered a few years ago about the people buying up property in their city? Me and my friends.

A local columnist asks the question as part of the end of 2008 wrapup. How could anyone not asks who could be paying all thismoney for these places when the housing prices were going up insanely?

In DC, buildings with a hundred ormore units went up with everybody asking $600,000 for one-bedroom boxes. Washington had 1/3 investor ownership of condos, second only to Miami. But with all the homes values dropping and the funny money disappearing, what’s happening in DC now.

A neighbor told me that on our street with 1,200 square foot houses, a person was paying over $2400 a month in rent. With that being about $28,000 a year, and a rule of thumb of taking on a mortgage at 40% of one’s income, this person could buy a house at over $400,000 given a fixed rate of 5.75% over 30 years.

The largest house on our street to go on sale over the last two years went to a person for $375,000 in late September 2007. One slightly smaller house went on foreclosure for $181,000 in the fall of last year and required complete renovation worth an estimated $125,000 in materials and labor. Asking near $400,000, the place remains unsold.  The Federal Home Loan Bank Corp purchased another house roughly the size of the first house for $376,000 in September 2008. It seems the houses on the street are holding their value.

Yankees Salaries and Taxpayer Santa

I am a huge Yankees fan and I wanted to see the team improve. Therefore I understand and accept the spending of all those big bucks on free agents (Mark Teixeria for $180 million over eight years and pitchers AJ Burnett and CC Sabathia for $82.5 million for five and $ 161 for seven). My pro worker sentiments support players getting as much as they can but also know that the owners are always making more profits.

Much of the criticism has been on the lack of a salary cap in baseball. This allows for teams like the Yankees and Boston to spend because of the revenue that they make. However, one dean of the baseball writers argues such spending is the American way.

A system that spurs such terrible inequity in our nation’s wealth holdings and salaries as well I am not in favor of at all. It also leads to high prices for tickets, which price out many people from being able to attend games. Supporters of instituting a salary cap also know that some team owners are more interested in milking a profit from the team than in spending up to the cap but they argue that baseball and its luxury tax are much worse.

My main concern is precisely what is mentioned toward the end of the last article. Let’s be real about where the money comes from. The taxpayers in cities from New York City to Washington, DC are building the physical plants for these teams free of charge and in some instances getting hammered in the rental agreements by these teams as well.

Yankees Holiday Gifts

The Holidays are for giving. So three of Major League Baseball’s free agents learned.

The Yankees just signed Mark Teixeria for $180 million over eight years.

This after getting pitchers AJ Burnett and CC Sabathia for $82.5 million for five and $ 161 for seven.

Along with Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, NY owns the four largest player contracts in the sport.

The Teixeria move surprised many analysts although several regular columnists knew that the Yankees needed hitting and the slugging first baseman offered them their best chance.

As a fan I am thrilled because the team needed a big bat. But there is still something to be said for raising great players through the farm system instead of throwing wads of cash around –says more for your baseball acumen.

Most importantly, I hope this keeps the Yankees from giving a contract to Manny Ramirez, who made his name mud with most fans by forcing his way out of Boston through giving limited effort on the field and in the dugout.

Great Theater & Music

Have seen Grey Gardens twice and love the musical. Mother/daughter dynamics, cat ladies, celebrity, divorce, insanity, the Kennedys, Jackie O.. It’s all here. Smart songs, a flowing, easy to follow book, despite using the flashback device make this show. 

This play centers around the glamorous Beale women and their tumultuous dealings with men, attention and love.  Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale (aka the quirky bohemian heiress Big Edie) and her permanently apron-strung namesake (the downright demented Little Edie) as they appear here are based on the cult-favorite Maysles brothers documentary. The first act features a courtship between Little Edie (Jenna Sokolowski), desperate to escape the dominion of her self-absorbed, bohemian mother, and an ambitious Joe Kennedy (Matthew Stucky, milking that famed accent). The retro, meandering melodies of much of the songs come about through the theatrics of Edith (Barbara Walsh) and her live-in gay accompanist George (Bobby Smith, his quip as he leers at Kennedy, “Somewhere in Athens, there is a pedestal missing its statue,” says volumes). Sokolwski fears the histrionics of dame Edith will destroy her engagement, and she is of course proven right.

In addition, the show raises serious points — how much attention does a mother need and how much does she deprive her children when she takes? how traditional does a wife have to be in the mid-twentieth century? how damaging is it to be homosexual male in mid-century New York? how does an adventurous girl retain her virtue or the public appearance thereof in order to “marry well?”

A simple, well-defined stage setting and solid performances served the Studio Theater production in Washington, DC well; although no one can match the career-defining Broadway version for Christine Ebersole

BLAGOJEVICH Detroit and Wall Street

The imbalance in the treatment between Wall Street and the UAW and car companies is now being referenced in a few places
I heard Mark Shields go to town on the bashing of blue collar workers while the white collar Wall Street execs continue to do very well on last Friday’s Inside Washington.  He even doubts that they are still the party of the workers.

Buddies of mine and I have long given up hope on either party representing the interests of workers, who are working two and three jobs and still taking out thousands of dollars in credit card debt to attempt to live like they did years ago (middle class).

Lesbians and Gays in Movies and TV still Suffer: Patriarchy’s Old Masculinity Fears

As this astute article points out, what drives all the questions to James Franco about kissing Sean Penn in Milk. The touching of a pair of male lips consistently results in every interviewer forgetting that they are talking about ACTING. David Letterman even wanted the actor to fail in his mission of being in character and being believable!

One thing matters. Interviewers have to flex their masculinity muscles and the actors have the unenviable task of proving those same muscles exist in them while trying to explain that it is part of their jobs as actors.

Is the US culture really in a post-ironic, post-homophobic, pseudo-Sapphic homophobic era? How much has the culture changed in its views toward same-sex sexuality? How does the titillation of audiences today from two women kissing on Gray’s Anatomy compare with the elegant Lesbian-tinge mannish suits of Marlene Dietrich and Dorothy Arzner I examine in my book Hollywood Bohemians?

How does these masculinity fears compare with the costuming and posturing of Rudolph Valentino during his reign in the mid-1920s, or to the Paramount publicity pictures of Cary Grant and Randolph Scott sharing their Malibu Beach house, especially the one below:


The images from old Hollywood usually involved gender inversion rather than sex behavior because the cultural understanding of why people are homosexual was generally believed to be the former rather than the latter. This enabled those older images to carry some humor and avoid the direct confrontation that comes from two men or women engaging in sexual/loving intimacy. Images like this one were owned by Paramount Pictures but I think this romanticism proved too much for the photograph to appear in the media, or at least I did not find it anywhere.

The reactions of firing the “lesbian” characters from Gray’s Anatomy and the rampant need for disavowal of the kiss from actors like Gyllenhall (Brokeback Mountain) and Franco demonstrate little acceptance. Images of sexual and loving intimacy still spur these reactions (take a look at the message board for the ABC program Brothers and Sisters).

Bailout Blanks

This analysis explains how much money the Fed has pumped directly into the banks and the credit institutional system.

While the author concentrates on all the magical efforts being tried to get money into the system, he only briefly mentions that the banks are hoarding the money.

Please! Where is the impetus to tie the Fed money lending to the banks and credit institutions lending money? How difficult is this for the Fed and for Congress and the White House. If you want them to lend money then mandate the lending of this money or refuse to give it. It is not as if these banks and insurers outright “deserve” to get money. It is certainly not as if giving them money has no consequences. We taxpayers are loaning them this money and that costs both in potential loses and in not being able to spend this money for other purposes. It also costs in creating a potential inflation crisis.

Bailout Financial Transparency

Where’s the financial details about the ledgers of all these banks and insurance companies that have indulged in the federal trough? Why should money be doled out to companies by us when we have no information about the extent of their debt and what kind of debts they have? What kind of assets do these companies have and how much of each?

Wouldn’t a sane person require this information before they invested? As taxpayers do we not deserve the right to know all the details about the taxpayer’s money? Meanwhile, the sellers of all these derivatives skate away undiscussed. Many people like myself think these people committed a fraudulent act, selling mortgages to people that they knew could not afford them. Why has there been no discussion of the profits and commissions made by these dealers through these deals?

Meanwhile, a new set of standards are applied to the automobile manufactures. We even know what cents on the dollar the Congress wants the bond holders to accept. We also witnessed a ton of union bashing. More and inaccurate dirty laundry comes out all the time about the members of the union.

Anybody show me where the facts on the financial industry are?

Bloomberg Yankees and Mets Tickets

Washington’s Stadium business has nothing on New York City. The release of emails from the Mayor’s Office illustrates that they are more active traders than the general managers at the baseball winter meetings. Here’s the deal

Guess they want those luxury boxes. Give up some taxpayer money and revenue— no problem. Oh and the expectation that the stadiums will bring about economic development and earn revenues….