[Marxism] The two Americas

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Aug 4 08:00:40 MDT 2011


NY Times August 3, 2011
Death of Homeless Man After Beating by Police Stirs Outrage
By IAN LOVETT

LOS ANGELES — In one video, the sound of a Taser going off is 
followed by a man screaming in pain. In another, footage from a 
security camera on a public bus, riders describe police officers 
beating a man to death in graphic terms. “They beat him up, and 
then all the cops came and they hogtied him, and he was like, 
‘Please God, please Dad!,’ ” one said.

The death of Kelly Thomas, a homeless man with mental illness, 
after an encounter with members of the Fullerton Police Department 
in California has set off a furor in this Orange County community, 
amid allegations that six police officers used excessive force to 
try to quiet Mr. Thomas.

At a City Council meeting this week, hundreds of angry residents 
assailed their elected officials, calling the Police Department 
corrupt, demanding the resignation of the police chief and 
promising to recall several council members.

“There was a lot of fear and anger and shock,” said Bruce 
Whitaker, a Fullerton council member. “Homeless individuals are 
concerned for their own safety, and they have nowhere else to go.”

Still, what exactly happened on the night of July 5 remains the 
subject of multiple investigations, and to date the police have 
not offered a clear report of what occurred, with the Orange 
County district attorney’s investigation continuing.

It began when the Fullerton police responded to reports of a man 
trying to break into cars, and soon they made contact with Mr. 
Thomas, according to Sgt. Andrew Goodrich, a police spokesman. At 
the end of the altercation, Mr. Thomas, 37, lay unconscious and 
severely beaten, and he was taken to a hospital. Pictures of him 
at the hospital show his face swollen, bruised and bloody. He was 
taken off life support and died five days later.

Initially, the episode attracted little public attention. But as 
the photographs of Mr. Thomas and videos of the beating and its 
aftermath began to surface on the Internet, public outrage grew.

Mr. Thomas’s father, Ron Thomas, said he circulated the videos and 
photographs because he worried that nothing would be done to bring 
his son’s assailants to justice.

“Nobody else cared,” he said. “My son was brutally beaten to death 
by six cops. It needed to get attention.”

Since the most recent video — the bus surveillance tape, which the 
blog Friends for Fullerton’s Future obtained through a public 
records request, was released at the start of this week — five 
police officers involved in the episode have been placed on paid 
administrative leave (another was already on administrative 
leave). The F.B.I. has also opened its own investigation into 
whether Mr. Thomas’s civil rights were violated.

Still, this move may not placate Fullerton residents, some of whom 
claim that the episode is endemic to the city’s Police Department, 
which is protected by several City Council members who used to 
serve on the force. One council member, Sharon Quirk-Silva, has 
called for the police chief to resign.

====

NY Times August 3, 2011
Even Marked Up, Luxury Goods Fly Off Shelves
By STEPHANIE CLIFFORD

Nordstrom has a waiting list for a Chanel sequined tweed coat with 
a $9,010 price. Neiman Marcus has sold out in almost every size of 
Christian Louboutin “Bianca” platform pumps, at $775 a pair. 
Mercedes-Benz said it sold more cars last month in the United 
States than it had in any July in five years.

Even with the economy in a funk and many Americans pulling back on 
spending, the rich are again buying designer clothing, luxury cars 
and about anything that catches their fancy. Luxury goods stores, 
which fared much worse than other retailers in the recession, are 
more than recovering — they are zooming. Many high-end businesses 
are even able to mark up, rather than discount, items to attract 
customers who equate quality with price.

“If a designer shoe goes up from $800 to $860, who notices?” said 
Arnold Aronson, managing director of retail strategies at the 
consulting firm Kurt Salmon, and the former chairman and chief 
executive of Saks.

The rich do not spend quite as they did in the free-wheeling 
period before the recession, but they are closer to that level.

The luxury category has posted 10 consecutive months of sales 
increases compared with the year earlier, even as overall consumer 
spending on categories like furniture and electronics has been 
tepid, according to the research service MasterCard Advisors 
SpendingPulse. In July, the luxury segment had an 11.6 percent 
increase, the biggest monthly gain in more than a year.

What changed? Mostly, the stock market, retailers and analysts 
said, as well as a good bit of shopping psychology. Even with the 
sharp drop in stocks over the last week, the Dow Jones is up about 
80 percent from its low in March 2009. And with the overall 
economy nowhere near its recession lows, buying nice, expensive 
things is back in vogue for people who can afford it.

“Our business is fairly closely tied to how the market performs,” 
said Karen W. Katz, the president and chief executive of Neiman 
Marcus Group. “Though there are bumps based on different economic 
data, it’s generally been trending in a positive direction.”

Caroline Limpert, 31, an entrepreneur in New York, says she is 
happy to spend on classic pieces, like the Yves Saint Laurent tote 
she has in both chocolate and black, but since the recession, she 
avoids conspicuous items.

“Over all, you want to wear less branded items,” she said. “If you 
have the wherewithal to spend, you never want to be showy about 
it.” Still, she said, she is quick to buy at the beginning of each 
season. “I buy things that could sell out.”

The recent earnings reports of some luxury goods retailers and 
automobile companies show just how much the high-end shopper has 
been willing to spend again.

Tiffany’s first-quarter sales were up 20 percent to $761 million. 
Last week LVMH, which owns expensive brands like Louis Vuitton and 
Givenchy, reported sales growth in the first half of 2011 of 13 
percent to 10.3 billion euros, or $14.9 billion. Also last week, 
PPR, home to Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent and other brands, said its 
luxury segment’s sales gained 23 percent in the first half. 
Profits are also up by double digits for many of these companies.

BMW this week said it more than doubled its quarterly profit from 
a year ago as sales rose 16.5 percent; Porsche said its first-half 
profit rose 59 percent; and Mercedes-Benz said July sales of its 
high-end S-Class sedans — some of which cost more than $200,000 — 
jumped nearly 14 percent in the United States.

The success luxury retailers are having in selling $250 
Ermenegildo Zegna ties and $2,800 David Yurman pavé rings — the 
kind encircled with small precious stones — stands in stark 
contrast to the retailers who cater to more average Americans.

Apparel stores are holding near fire sales to get people to spend. 
Wal-Mart is selling smaller packages because some shoppers do not 
have enough cash on hand to afford multipacks of toilet paper. 
Retailers from Victoria’s Secret to the Children’s Place are 
nudging prices up by just pennies, worried they will lose 
customers if they do anything more.

While the free spending of the affluent may not be of much comfort 
to people who are out of jobs or out of cash, the rich may 
contribute disproportionately to the overall economic recovery.

“This group is key because the top 5 percent of income earners 
accounts for about one-third of spending, and the top 20 percent 
accounts for close to 60 percent of spending,” said Mark Zandi, 
chief economist of Moody’s Analytics. “That was key to why we 
suffered such a bad recession — their spending fell very sharply.”

Just a few years ago, luxury retailers were suffering. Too many 
items were chasing too few buyers, and high-end stores began 
cutting prices. As a result, consumers awaited 70 percent 
discounts rather than buying right away. Sales of luxury goods 
fell 17.9 percent in October 2008 from a year earlier, 
SpendingPulse said, and double-digit declines continued through 
May 2009.

Now, many stores are stocking up on luxury items, as shoppers 
flock to racks of expensive goods.

“They’re buying the special pieces, whether it’s the exotic 
leathers, the more fashion-forward pieces,” said Stephen I. 
Sadove, the chairman and chief executive of Saks Fifth Avenue. 
“There’s a dramatic decline in the amount of promotions in the 
luxury sector — we’re seeing higher levels of full-priced selling 
than we saw prerecession.”

In 2008, for example, the most expensive Louboutin item that Saks 
sold was a $1,575 pair of suede boots. Now, it is a $2,495 pair of 
suede boots that are thigh-high. Crème de la Mer, the facial 
cream, cost $1,350 for 16 ounces at Bergdorf Goodman in 2008; it 
now costs $1,650.

“I think that she’s willing to pay whatever price the manufacturer 
and the retailer deem appropriate, if she sees that there’s 
intrinsic value in it,” Mr. Katz said.

Part of the demand is also driven by the snob factor: at luxury 
stores, higher prices are often considered a mark of quality.

“You just can’t buy a pair of shoes for less than $1,000 in some 
of the luxury brands, and some of the price points have gone to 
$2,000,” said Jyothi Rao, general manager for the women’s business 
at Gilt Groupe, a Web site that sells designer brands at a 
discount. “There’s absolutely a customer for it.”

Jennifer Margolin, a personal shopper in San Francisco, said she 
had noticed changes in clients’ attitudes. They “pay full price if 
they absolutely love it,” she said. “Before it was almost 
completely shying away, where now it’s like, ‘O.K., I’m 
comfortable getting a Goyard bag,’ but they get it for the quality.”

Goyard bags, in addition to having a distinctive pattern, will 
usually run a few thousand dollars. And, yes, they are selling out 
quickly.




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