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    The Long, Cold Christmas

    My morning commute these days takes me through a shopping center; the train lets me off underneath it. It's been Christmas in the mall since the first day of November. That's no surprise. Christmas has become the crutch our retail economy leans on. Many stores run in the red for eleven months and see Christmas put them in the black for the year. A bad year calls for a big Christmas, and a string of bad years calls for bigger and bigger Christmases. If shoppers don't keep finding more and more money for Christmas presents, the whole economy shrinks. It doesn't sound sustainable, but I don't blame local merchants for wanting to start Christmas early and hoping to extend that sweet jolt of retail steroid. We are out of other ideas.

    Part of the shopping center was once a department store, famous in our area and featured in a well-known Christmas movie. People in this city are enormously proud of that movie, and proud that it was shot here. I have been urged, while standing in check out lines, to visit the house where many of the film's family scenes were filmed. We don't have too many other things to be proud of. But the store shown in the movie has not a department store for many years; it closed before I came to this city. Still, the store windows have traditional Christmas window displays, all Dickensian scenery and nodding, grinning mechanized dolls. We will go through the motions of Yuletide joy. But there are no children's toys in the space beyond those windows. Last year the old department store became a casino.

    The casino's advertising mixes with the lights and Christmas wreaths and the carols piped onto the sidewalk. Gamblers stand outside, smoking. It's hard to see anyone who looks like a high roller. Most of the gamblers seem lower-middle-class, hard working people come to gamble. They are not on vacation, and this is not a resort. The casino's posters are pathetic come-ons, designed to flatter the gamblers that they are daring and glamorous: "Risk Takers Wanted" and "We Turn Gamblers Into Legends." I never see anyone who looks like a legend, and I find the posters sad. No one should be played for a sucker so plainly and publicly. Nobody's self-deceptions should be used to con them in the public square.

    We have been voting whether to allow this casino ever since I arrived in this city. It feels like I have voted against it every two or four years. The casino was always voted down until 2012. The long, sluggish recession finally made it impossible for the rest of the voters to say no. We had to do something, anything, to bring some money back to downtown. We are out of other ideas.

    Christmas is a cold season, and it gets longer every year. The only part of Christmas that never starts any earlier is charity. The lights are on commercial trees and the seasonal music is on the radio long before the Salvation Army appears. People ask you to spend early and often. They're slower about asking to give. Christmas charity still starts on the old schedule, reflecting older values. As for the rest, the bleaker things get, the more Christmas we all seem to need: more shiny lights and temporary discounts, more glossy commercials and easy sentiment. The harder it gets for everyone, the more we are prodded to celebrate and to spend. We watch endless fantasies of bleak, Dickensian London, and those not making sufficiently merry are told not to be like Scrooge. Most Americans are in no danger of being like Scrooge; saving too much of our enormous wealth is not really our big problem. We may be in a remake of A Christmas Carol, but we're not playing the lead. Instead it's the Bob Cratchits who are asked to be the founders of their employers' feasts, to spend money they don't have, to work themselves a year older but find themselves not an hour richer, all to leave an annual profit in the boss's stocking. Dickens's Scrooge finally vows to keep Christmas all year round; our Scrooges would probably do the same thing if they dared.


    They had a big fight over opening casinos here in Bmore, too, as if we needed gambling to go along with the drug-dealing and murdering. Among the opponents were the already-established casinos nearby.

    Well, I'm right with you. I don't think gambling in the middle of downtown is what we need.

    And it's clear how well the casino in Detroit turned that city around.

    Andrew Cuomo would beg to differ--me, I was only in a casino once, in Vegas, and I dropped a single nickel in a slot machine for a token experience (this was a  long, long, time ago).  The vibe of desperation pervaded with the hope of something for nothing was beyond depressing.


    That said, and couching casinos as a tax on people who don't believe in the law of averages, it's their life, ain't it?

    Well, at least here in Wisconsin, there is an effort to once again put Christ back in Christmas. Or something like that.

    With Black Friday behind us and Good Friday on the horizon, I read this (at the link) and wonder: Does anyone have a crucifix I can borrow?

    And BTW, Doc - Very well written. Bleak, to be sure. But your summation about "Christmas the year 'round" is poignant in its irony.

    "We are out of other ideas." The unsustainability of this consumer economy is becoming abundantly apparent to those who are paying attention, especially now that the wealthy oligarchs have turned upon the very consumers they supposedly rely upon to instead rob them of whatever wealth they might possess. More and more it looks like an end game; a mop up operation before we put the final nail in the coffin of this 100+ year economic experiment in consumerism and move on to the next, whatever that might be.

    For now, this economic system appears to be dead in the water with no wind at its back. And so we huff (replace department stores with casinos) and we puff (extend worklife to a period seemingly beyond the grave) in attempt to breathe life into canvas hanging loosely from the mast.

    Merry Christmas? And to all, a good night.

    Oh but Sleepin, we have the grandest casino in the entire frickin world:


    And, there is insider betting.

    the end

    It is actually a very strong point you make DDay that accentuates my premise about this being the death throes of consumerism as an economic science. Wall Street has definitely changed. It no longer even offers a pretense of actually consolidating capital for purposes of creating new industry and businesses. Instead, it is a casino where new devices are invented and the game is rigged in ways so that the Investment Banks are now in the business of "creating wealth" on their own, WITHOUT anything as bothersome as having to facilitate any actual growth in the economy.

    They are part of the same forces that keep preaching "Austerity" as a responsible path to a "healthier, more robust economy." If you can't see the obvious paradox in that equation ("Excuse me, but just WHOSE robust economy are we talking about here?"), then I suggest you avoid needlepoint or other close work as your next recreational pursuit.

    Good to see you, DDay.



    Okay, no more needlepoint. hahahahahah

    Oh, I gotta tellya Sleepin, my son laughs every time he visits me (which is 6 times a year instead of 3 times a year since his bride's family lives up here) that the game is fixed. hahahahah

    Yeah, stay out of casinos and stay out of wall street. And, by the by, never capitalize wall street. hahahahahah


    Good to see you again Sleepin.

    Hope you and your's are doin fine!

    It is heart breaking that the ghost of Higbee's is now a casino.  Taking  a trip to Public Square was a right of passage for teenage girls to buy a dress for a formal dance and eat at the Silver Grill on the top floor. That was there I had my first slice of lemon poppy seed bread with cream cheese spread.  You must be referring to The Christmas Story.   


    Yes, I mean The Christmas Story. And yes, it's a shame that Higbee's has been replaced by a casino.


    Bleak House.

    Wish it weren't so well written, Doc.

    It would've made me feel less bleak.

    The Big Casino latest venture, led by various hedge funds like Blackstone (which is largely composed of and funded by TBTF banks that crashed the economy last time w/real estate chicanery)- Rental Obligation Bonds (ROBs - my acronym), similar to CDO/mortgage backed securities except, as Motherjones notes if a ROB blows up:

    ...There's one significant way, however, in which this kind of security differs from its mortgage-backed counterpart. When banks repossess mortgaged homes as collateral, there is at least the assumption.....that the homeowner has, indeed, defaulted on her mortgage. In this case, however, if a single home-rental bond blows up, thousands of families could be evicted, whether or not they ever missed a single rental payment.

    "We could well end up in that situation where you get a lot of people getting evicted... not because the tenants have fallen behind but because the landlords have fallen behind," says Dean Baker....


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