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Archive for the ‘Economy’ Category

pg-32-brothel-AFP-g_251491s“A Berlin brothel is claiming the title of Germany’s first ‘green’ sex establishment after offering clients eco-discounts if they can prove they arrived by bicycle or public transport.

“The concept has been dreamed up by the Maison d’Envie (House of Desire) brothel in the city’s fashionable Prenzlauer Berg district where Germany’s Green party won 46 per cent of the vote in last month’s general election.

“Regina Goetz, the former prostitute who runs the establishment, explained yesterday: ‘The environment is on everyone’s lips around here and it’s pretty hard to find a parking space, so we came up with the idea of an eco-discount of €5 (£4.60) for anyone who leaves the car at home.’

“Ms Goetz, 56, said that the recession had cut the brothel’s turnover by almost half, but the introduction of eco-discounts has proved so successful that business was virtually back to normal again.” (cont’d @ The Independent UK)

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vasectomy“It is too early to proclaim a bona fide trend in elective sterilization, because no organization regularly tracks the number of vasectomies performed on an annual or even a monthly basis. The most recent comprehensive data come from a study published in The Journal of Urology in 2006, which estimated that about 527,000 vasectomies were performed in this country each year.

“But the recent anecdotal data, if they hold, would have a historical parallel in the Great Depression, when the birth rate fell sharply.” (more @ NY Times)

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gop-govs[“I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!” (Claude Rains in “Casablanca”)]

“The list of governors threatening to decline federal stimulus money last month read like a list of Republicans considering running for president in 2012: Govs. Mark Sanford, Bobby Jindal and Sarah Palin led the anti-stimulus charge. 

“But what began with a bang is ending with something closer to a whimper. . . .

“All three found that praise from the conservative movement in Washington meant nothing to furious state legislators of both parties. And in the end, along with other conservative Republican governors, the three submitted letters in recent days asking to be eligible for federal funds, a spokesman for the White House Office of Management and Budget confirmed.” (more @ Politico.com)

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“In a recession, what people want is a happy ending.

“At a time when booksellers are struggling to lure readers, sales of romance novels are outstripping most other categories of books and giving some buoyancy to an otherwise sluggish market.

Harlequin Enterprises, the queen of the romance world, reported that fourth-quarter earnings were up 32 percent over the same period a year earlier, and Donna Hayes, Harlequin’s chief executive, said that sales in the first quarter of this year remained very strong. While sales of adult fiction overall were basically flat last year, according to Nielsen Bookscan, which tracks about 70 percent of retail sales, the romance category was up 7 percent after holding fairly steady for the previous four years.” (more @ NY Times)

Related: That Old Flame

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“As the national economic crisis has deepened and social services have become casualties of budget cuts, libraries have come to fill a void for more people, particularly job-seekers and those who have fallen on hard times. Libraries across the country are seeing double-digit increases in patronage, often from 10 percent to 30 percent, over previous years.

“But in some cities, this new popularity — some would call it overtaxing — is pushing libraries in directions not seen before, with librarians dealing with stresses that go far beyond overdue fines and misshelved books. Many say they feel ill-equipped for the newfound demands of the job, the result of working with anxious and often depressed patrons who say they have nowhere else to go.” (more @ NY Times)

RelatedIt Has Computers, Gives Advice and Is Free

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“Dough, wonga, greenbacks, cash. Just words, you might say, but they carry an eerie psychological force. Chew them over for a few moments, and you will become a different person. Simply thinking about words associated with money seems to makes us more self-reliant and less inclined to help others. And it gets weirder: just handling cash can take the sting out of social rejection and even diminish physical pain.

“This is all the stranger when you consider what money is supposed to be. For economists, it is nothing more than a tool of exchange that makes economic life more efficient. Just as an axe allows us to chop down trees, money allows us to have markets that, traditional economists tell us, dispassionately set the price of anything from a loaf of bread to a painting by Picasso. Yet money stirs up more passion, stress and envy than any axe or hammer ever could. We just can’t seem to deal with it rationally… but why?” (more @ New Scientist)

RelatedWhy Money Doesn’t Buy Happiness

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cuba_postcard“Roughly a year after Fidel Castro stepped aside and handed much of the responsibility for leading Cuba to his brother Raúl, there is new momentum in Washington for eliminating the ban on most U.S. travel to the island nation and for reexamining the severe limitations on U.S.-Cuban economic exchanges.

“At a Capitol Hill news conference scheduled for tomorrow, a wide array of senators and interest groups — including Senate Democratic Policy Committee Chairman Byron L. Dorgan (N.D.); Banking Committee Chairman  Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.); Richard G. Lugar (Ind.), the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; and Human Rights Watch — will rally around a potentially historic bill to lift the travel ban.” (more @ Washington Post)

Update

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moneylightsCornell University economist Robert H. Frank on “Finding new opportunities amid the economic wreckage”: 

“The economic bonfire fueled mostly by consumption in recent years has ended. As we have watched the familiar statistics plummet, with credit cards maxed out and home-equity loans a thing of the past, the reality has slowly become clear: We won’t return to the economic world of 2007 anytime soon, if ever.

“But would we want to? In the boosterish world of CNBC, life without an ever-rising Dow Jones average and year-to-year gains in holiday-sales figures would self-evidently forecast protracted misery. Yet matters are less hopeless than they seem. There is an easily attainable future in which we consume less than at the peak of the boom and yet still enjoy far better opportunities to construct a fulfilling life for ourselves.” (more @ The American Prospect)

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“Over the last four decades, Powell’s Books has swelled into the largest bookstore in North America — a capacious monument to reading that occupies a full square block of this often-drizzly city [Portland, Oregon]. But this year, growth has given way to anxiety.

“Michael Powell, the store’s owner, recently dropped plans for a $5 million expansion. An architect had already prepared the drawings. His bankers had signaled that financing was available. But the project no longer looked prudent, Mr. Powell concluded — not with sales down nearly 5 percent, stock markets extinguishing savings, home prices plunging and jobs disappearing.

“‘It’s going to take a period of time to recover,’ Mr. Powell said. ‘Whether it’s 2 years or 10 years I don’t know, but I don’t think it’s going to be quick. People are nervous.'” (more @ NY Times)

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On the same day the New York Times reported that the city’s yellow cab industry is being spared from the worst effects of the recession by allowing riders to pay by credit card, the MTA announced major fare hikes for public transportation commuters:

“After a fiery hearing Wednesday, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority voted 12 to 1 to approve subway, bus and commuter train fare hikes from 25% to 30% and impose severe service cuts, including elimination of two subway lines and 21 local bus routes. . . .

“Starting May 31, the monthly MetroCard, now $81, will cost $103 and a weekly MetroCard, now $25, will cost $31. The one-way bus and subway fare will rise from $2 to $2.50, a whopping 25% increase.

“Commuter train fares rise June 1, while MTA bridge and tunnel tolls jump July 11. Service cuts also include longer gaps between trains and the closure of a few stations overnight.” (more @ The Daily News)

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wizardofozWas Dorothy in Frank Baum’s 1900 children’s novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz a Populist “Everyman” who — with William Jennings Bryan (Lion), a farmer (Scarecrow) and an industrial worker (Tin Woodman) — went off to see the Wizard (President) to voice support for the use of silver as currency? Or, more critically, as economists today “fear an onset of deflation, and economic certainties melt away like a drenched wicked witch,” are there lessons to be learned from Oz?

“In 1964, high school teacher Henry Littlefield wrote an article outlining the notion of an underlying allegory in Frank Baum’s book. He said it offered a ‘gentle and friendly’ critique of Populist thinking, and the story could be used to illuminate the late 19th Century to students. . . .

“[Littlefield] believed the characters could represent the personalities and themes of the late 1800s, with Dorothy embodying the everyman American spirit.

“US political historian Quentin Taylor, who supports this interpretation, says: ‘There are too many instances of parallels with the political events of the time.’ . . .

“But not everyone believes The Wonderful Wizard of Oz includes any hidden meanings.

“‘Nobody ever suggested it until 1964,’ says Bradley Hansen, who is a professor of economics at the University of Mary Washington. ‘There’s no solid evidence that Baum had written it as a monetary allegory,’ he adds.”

As for the value of Baum’s book to present-day economists, Taylor agrees that despite the references to late 19th-century economic issues, “little can be learnt from Baum about the modern economic crisis.” (more @ BBC News)

RelatedSarah Palin As Dorothy? We’re Not In Kansas …

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The full episode of last night’s The Daily Show featuring Jon Stewart‘s “interview” of CNBC’s Jim Cramer can be viewed here.

Related

UpdateRoubini: CNBC’s Jim Cramer A “Buffoon”

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niffenegger“Six years after the publication of her blockbuster best-selling novel, ‘The Time Traveler’s Wife,’ Audrey Niffenegger has sold a new manuscript for close to $5 million, according to people with knowledge of the negotiations. It is an especially significant sum at a time of retrenchment and economic uncertainty in the publishing world.

“After a fiercely contested auction, Scribner, a unit of Simon & Schuster, bought the rights to publish the new novel, ‘Her Fearful Symmetry,’ in the United States this fall. The book is a supernatural story about twins who inherit an apartment near a London cemetery and become embroiled in the lives of the building’s other residents and the ghost of their aunt, who left them the flat. . . .

“‘Her Fearful Symmetry’ is set to go on sale at the end of September, and will coincide with the British publication by Jonathan Cape this fall. The film adaptation of ‘The Time Traveler’s Wife,’ directed by Robert Schwentke and starring Rachel McAdams and Eric Bana, is scheduled for a February release.” (more @ NY Times)

RelatedCape confirms Niffenegger deal

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cheers“For nearly 35 years, or almost half of his life, [Eddie] Doyle has been the smiling face behind the bar at Cheers – the Beacon Hill pub that inspired the TV show with the same name in the early 1980s. As one of Boston’s last fabled bartenders, he served drinks and advice for five decades. . . .

“But a few weeks ago he was told by Tom Kershaw, owner of the Cheers bar, that the recession had hit his industry and he was being laid off.  . . . As word spread of his layoff, many people, such as former Boston mayor Raymond Flynn, said that the city has lost an institution.

“‘He’s as important as George Washington to this city; he’s that well known,’ said Flynn. ‘The Cheers bar was internationally famous, but before it was internationally famous I think Eddie really brought them that notoriety and that attention. They say it’s a bar where everybody knows your name but it’s really a bar where everybody knows Eddie Doyle.'” (more @ Boston Globe)

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obama-bushFrom an opinion piece by Jackson Diehl, deputy editor of The Washington Post‘s editorial page, suggesting that Obama may be more comparable to George W. Bush than Franklin Roosevelt:

“So Obama hasn’t strayed far from Karl Rove’s playbook for routing the opposition. But surely, you say, he’s planning nothing as divisive or as risky as the Iraq war? Well, that’s where the health-care plan comes in: a $634 billion (to begin) ‘historic commitment,’ as Obama calls it, that (like the removal of Saddam Hussein) has lurked in the background of the national agenda for years.”

[Forgive me, but I’m having a little trouble accepting a comparison between an illegal war that continues to cost countless billions of dollars and thousands upon thousands of lives, both American and Iraqi, with plans to reform the U.S. health care system, no matter how expensive. There’s more to fume about in Diehl’s piece but I think this gets my point across.]

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citylightsFrom The Nation archives, reviews of a dozen vintage films reflecting “the hardships and aspirations of Americans in the first Great Depression”:

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digestReader’s Digest Association Inc., the closely held magazine publisher, hired law firm Kirkland & Ellis LLP to explore restructuring options including a possible bankruptcy filing, a person familiar with the situation said.” (via Bloomberg)

[While I have never been a reader of the Digest, and have always scoffed at their library of “condensed books,” Reader’s Digest was my father’s magazine of choice — my father-in-law still swears by it — as well as a ubiquitous presence in every doctor’s and dentist’s waiting room visited during my childhood.]

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nea“Unemployment rates are up among working artists and the artist workforce has contracted, according to new research from the National Endowment for the Arts.  Artists in a Year of Recession: Impact on Jobs in 2008 examines how the economic slowdown has affected the nation’s working artists.  The study looks at artist employment patterns during two spikes in the current recession – the fourth quarters of 2007 and 2008.  This downturn reflects larger economic declines: a Commerce Department report last week noted a 6.2 percent decrease in the gross domestic product in the last quarter of 2008.

“Among the findings:

  • Artists are unemployed at twice the rate of professional workers
  • Unemployment rates for artists have risen more rapidly than for U.S. workers as a whole
  • Artist unemployment rates would be even higher if not for the large number of artists leaving the workforce
  • Unemployment rose for most types of artist occupations
  • The job market for artists is unlikely to improve until long after the U.S. economy starts to recover” (via mediabistro)

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sportsstuff“The sports collectibles industry looks like it is going to take a big hit because of the souring economy, and there’s lots of speculation that the hobby’s biggest auction house, Mastro Auctions, won’t be around much longer. The Illinois company – the nation’s largest sports memorabilia auction house – is the target of a federal investigation into shill bidding and fraud, and [last month], the Daily News reported that it has problems paying consigners.” (via NY Daily News)

Related

[Until a few years ago, and for more than a decade, I was a prominent and respected member of the sports collectibles industry. Early on, I ran a mail order business specializing in historic and rare sports programs and tickets; and for several years after that, I ran a catalog auction, Sloate & Smolin, in partnership with Barry Sloate, a specialist in early cards and memorabilia; I also ran my own online memorabilia auction, About Time Auctions. So when I say that the sports collectibles industry has never been a place for the faint of heart, I speak from experience.

Bill Mastro, the founder and president of Mastro Auctions, has a long and complicated history with the “hobby” – Mastro is one of the people most responsible for transforming a one-time hobby into a major industry and for making a fair number of people, himself especially, quite wealthy along the way. But there are low moments in the Mastro story as well, some of which are reported by Michael O’Keeffe and Teri Thompson in their 2007 exposé, The Card: Collectors, Con Men, and the True Story of History’s Most Desired Baseball Card.

As for the broader concerns of the hobby-industry, a “crash” in the hobby market has been anticipated for years — since before I became a full-time dealer in the early 1990s — but never materialized. But this time might be different – facing the one-two punch of a sinking world economy and the possible demise of one of the industry’s leading auction houses, the hobby this time really might be going down for the count.]

Update:

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record-market“So maybe it shouldn’t come as a shock that now, as we scarily slump our way into an economic downturn destined to put Carter/Reagan-era stagflation to shame, music that came out around the Great Depression is feeling curiously current. In 1998, the venerable reissue label Yazoo Records compiled 46 songs of bank failure, credit collapse, rent inflation, joblessness, and panhandling, on a two-volume set entitled Hard Times Come Again No More; five years later, the Sony/RCA imprint Bluebird Jazz gathered up 24 such performances on a disc called Poor Man’s Heaven. When these collections were released, they didn’t receive much media attention, maybe partly because their themes still seemed distant. But since then, history has flipped, and now, it’s impossible to hear these old 78s without thinking about what you read in the business section this morning.” (via GOOD)

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