Monday, December 06, 2004

Kowinski photo. A red, green--and Blue---Christmas Posted by Hello
Dreaming of a Blue Christmas

What do you get if you buy your Christmas treats and decorations at Costco, shop for gift books at Barnes & Noble, get your fashion-conscious sister her gift from Anne Klein and the kids clothes from Ralph Lauren Childrenwear, send your Christmas cards from Blue Mountain Arts, toast the season with Cuervo at the Hard Rock Café, get your tickets on Expedia to fly home for the holidays on Jet Blue, take the kids to see "Shark Tale," then chill out and watch "Enterprise" on TV while rooting for the Pittsburgh Steelers to make it to the Super Bowl?

A Blue Christmas, that's what.According to the website "Choose the Blue" at, these companies gave most of their reported political donations to Democrats.Choose the Blue lists companies by categories. Their lists appear slim, but they are using information in the public domain, including figures from another website,

Depending on your assumptions, there may be some surprises here.Even though their nickname is Big Blue, you might not figure IBM for a Blue company, but they are---with 70% of their donations going to Democrats. And Blue Mountain Arts is 100% blue. But even though they're in a blue state and they are called the Dodger Blue, the LA Dodgers are deep in the Red, to the tune of 98% for Republicans.

The site states its premise: "If each American who voted for John Kerry spends $100 in 2005 on a Blue company instead of a Red company, we can move $5 billion away from the Republican companies and add $5 billion to the income of companies who donate to Democrats. This will be noticed!"

But why wait until 2005? Start this holiday season! But buyer beware: this is just a summary, and a company not appearing doesn't mean they aren't Blue. The following information is based also on lists provided by This list will be updated through the holidays.

Where to shop Blue: Costco (98%), Barnes & Noble (98%), Borders (100%), Trader Joe's (100) the Gap (61%) and Nordstroms are among the top choices. Powell's Bookstores in Portland, OR and online is blue, though they sell red books, too, little ones and big ones.

Blues give raspberries to: Wal-Mart, Sam's Club (81% Red), Saks (95% Red) and Target (72% Red.)

For the handyman on your list, choose Ace Hardware (87% blue) over Home Depot (93% Red.) Black and Decker tools are a solid blue choice (100%).

Blue Fashions: Anne Klein (100%), Ralph Lauren Childrenwear (100%), J. Crew (100%),Liz Claiborne (76%),the Estee Lauder companies (Donna Karan, Kate Spade, Tommy Hilfiger---all 91%), S Schwab (100%), Capital Mercury Apparel (98%).

Not Blue in any color: Fruit of the Loom (100% Red)Pendleton (91% Red), Guess (83% Red.)

Want Blue Feet? The Footlocker (100%) and Sketchers (100%). Nike is "weak blue."
For Blue Toys, it's Mattel, and for a blue night's sleep, Serta.

Blue electronics: This is a heavily Blue sector. IBM leads the pack at 71%, followed by Sun (69%), Hewlett Packard (61%) and Intel (53%).Software companies are led by Real Networks (100%), Adobe Systems (100) and include Microsoft (61%) and Oracle (58%).

Wireless is another story: of those listed, only T-Mobile (at 52%) is in the Blue. The Reddest is Edge (100%). Your blue long distance provider is Working Assets (100%), but MCI is sorta blue, too.

Books: You can't judge a book by its cover, but the publisher might help. Notable among the Blues are Chronicle Books (100%), Random House (86%) and Simon and Schuster (78%).

Online and Catalog Blues: L.L. Bean (100%), and Sharper Image (93%).

Entertainment Blues: In movies, Dreamworks SKG (makers of "Shark Tale") is 92% Blue, the Walt Disney group (Walt Disney,Miramax , Hollywood Pictures, Touchstone) is 71% Blue.
On the other hand, Metro-Goldwyn Mayer and 20th Century Fox are slightly more Red (above 50%).

In television, Viacom (CBS, Showtime, MTV, BET, UPN, Spike TV, Nickelodeon,Comedy Channel, Movie Channel, Sundance Channel, etc.) is 78% Blue, Walt Disney TV (ABC, ESPN) is 71% Blue, while General Electric (NBC, CNBC, MSNBC, Bravo) is 67% Red. No surprise that Fox is Red, but only at 57%, but Starz at 96% Red? And Univision (including Telefutura) is 100% Red.

TV station chains: The notorious Sinclair Group is 95% Red, and TDS Telecommunications is 62% Red. But Granite Broadcasting, with stations in Detroit, Fresno, Buffalo, San Francisco and elsewhere, is 60% Blue.Satellite: DISH Network (Echostar) is 55% Blue, while Direct TV is a News Corp. outfit (parent of Fox) and is 57% Red.

Big Radio: Surprised that it's mostly Red? Led by Clear Channel at 70% Red. But Emmis Communications (Power 106 in LA, plus other radio and TV stations) is 92% Blue.

Ticketmaster (which owns is 95% Blue. Netflix is 100% blue.

Martha Stewart Living is 100% Blue.

Shipping those Christmas gifts? No good Blue choices here at all---the major carriers are mostly Red. The U.S. Post Office is the default.

All that shopping may take some gas. You can fuel Blue at Shell Oil (57%) and that's about it, except for Costco customers where they sell gas. For car insurance, it's the aptly named Progressive (91% Blue). (But names can also be deceiving, when an outfit called Clean Energy Vehicle Natural Gas is 100% in the Red.)

For eating out at national chains, it's not easy being blue. Hard Rock Café is the top choice at 100% Blue, and sadly (or not) you want to avoid Olive Garden, Chilis and Hooters, all above 90% Red. Whatever else they may represent to you, Starbuck's is 100% Blue. So you latte liberals can stick it to the Reds.

In fast food, the top Blue is Arby's (100%), while McDonalds, KFC, Wendy's and A& W are all above 80% Red. Why not try a local restaurant?

Shopping for food is also a challenge, unless you can find a Whole Foods Market (100% blue.) But in your local and hopefully unionized grocery, you can buy Campbell soups (92%), Ben & Jerry's products (100), Green Mountain Coffee(100), and Tom's of Maine products with a Blue conscience.

Hoisting a cold one may mean a Guiness (which actually should be room temperature); Coors and Anheuser-Busch are mostly Red. You could just ask for a Blue (made by Labatt) which at least is Canadian. Or even a Red Bull, which is blue.

Your wine can be red as long as it's from Gallo (93% Blue). Diageo North America may not be a household name, but it is a Blue company (62%) that makes Cuervo, Johnnie Walker, J&B, Baileys, Smirnoff and Tanqueray brands, among others.

If you've got no other interest, the sports teams to root for are the NBA's Charlotte Bobcats (100% Blue), MLB's Arizona Cardinals (56% Blue) and the NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers (58% Blue.) Prepare to boo the New Orleans Saints (100% Red), LA Dodgers (98% Red), New York Jets (92% Red) and Phoenix Suns (97% Red).

Does travel make you Blue? Not much of it does. Jet Blue is Blue (by 88%), as is Aloha and Alaska Airlines. But with most airlines and car rental companies listed, you'll be seeing red.

The Blue Hotels: Loews (99% blue), Hyatt (87% B), and Diamond Resorts (90%).But you won't find a Blue room at the inns of Mariott or Omni, with Ramada and Super 8 chains just over the 50% Red.

Some of this information appears not to be entirely up-to-date, and certainly there are a lot of companies not named in either Blue or Red. In many categories, remember, you have locally-owned or locally made choices. But it's something to consider. Happy Blue Christmas everyone!Choose The Blue

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

photo by Kowinski. origins of the shopping mall were European: the Galleria of Milan Posted by Hello
The Wal-Mart Empire Stumbles---is it ready to fall?

The Wal-Mart Empire stumbled at the start of the 2004 Christmas season, failing to meet even its reduced sales expectations for November. This titan of the retail universe saw other trouble-spots in its imperial dominion that could threaten its future.

Having prospered in the past decade with low prices dependent on very low-wage manufacturing workers in China, Wal-mart started seeing those workers demanding more money, the right to organize unions, and even threatening to go on strike. These primarily young and now urban workers were seeing a domestic luxury market develop, fueled by Chinese executives, investors and others who were benefiting handsomely from China's urban growth and new manufacturing prominence. They want to be consumers, too.

But while Chinese workers agitate to increase their purchasing power, the manufacturing jobs that left the U.S. contribute to declining purchasing power in the world's top consumer nation. Right now those Chinese jobs depend on Americans spending. And so does the immediate future of Wal-mart and the American economy.

Yet the Wal-Mart market and the Wal-Mart culture virtually guarantee that U.S. consumption will sooner or later go into a slide downward. Whether it starts now or later, or whether it will be a slow, gradual slide or a quick, steep one, remains to be seen. But the logic of the Wal-Mart revolution makes it inevitable.

Wal-Mart has replaced the shopping mall as America's shopping center. The shopping mall was European in origin and style. It brought urban amenities and a European philosophy to American suburbia, with pedestrian spaces, greenery, sidewalk cafes, small shops and street kiosks---all of which were new to America but common in Europe. All this was married to American retail technology, modern enclosures and comfort control, with additional models in the department store, public market and the mythical American small town square. But the basic impulse was European, as were the classic shopping mall designers like Victor Gruen.

Wal-Mart's company culture is a weird combination of Japanese corporate style of the 1980s, and southern U.S. evangelicalism. But behind the techno-boosterism and phony "associates" rhetoric, Wal-Mart brought a third world market style to retailing. Low prices are the god worshipped here, and besides an innovative and unforgiving computerized inventory and supply system, and the bait-and-switch trick of loss leaders (one low price item in each department, while the rest are no cheaper and may be more expensive than competitors' prices), this god demands low wages: not only for those Chinese workers, but for the Wal-Mart workers themselves. They are paid so badly and typically receive such bad benefits that full time Wal Mart employees regularly avail themselves of welfare, food stamps and health care paid by taxpayers (while Wal Mart executives lobby in Washington to lower taxes and cut public spending.)

When Wal-Mart prefers a Chinese manufacturer over an American one because of cost, those American jobs are lost because the plant is likely to close. Those workers who find new jobs are usually paid half or less of what they used to make---for example, at a Wal-Mart. In the short run, lower wages increase Wal Mart's market share, because it becomes the only retailer these workers can afford. But in the long run, it is a suicidal spiral, and even Wal-Mart will feel the pain of a collapsing consumer economy.

Right now the consumer economy is propped up by easy credit. That is, credit is easy to get, though increasingly hard to pay for, as credit card companies invent more hidden fees and arbitrarily raise interest rates to levels that, until banks got the laws changed, used to be considered usurious.

As incomes go down, credit payments will be harder to maintain, and bankruptcies will increase. This is on top of other economic problems that will deal a series of body blows. Already the U.S. dollar is teetering, as creditor nations---like China---get worried that federal deficits are out of control. If the consumer economy weakens, say this Christmas season, the pressure on the dollar will only get worse.

In the coming decade, the U.S. faces the apparent problem of retiring baby boomers, and the likely twin problems of declining oil reserves and the increasingly obvious effects of global heating. Just as the shopping mall symbolized an affluent society in search of comfort and fun as it made shopping into its principal cultural activity, Wal-Mart symbolizes a middle American landscape in decline. The ugly big box, a neon-studded warehouse crowded with cheap goods like a third world market, surrounded by crumbling neighborhoods, pitted highways and toxic waste dumps, will symbolize this new America, far outside the gated and guarded palaces of the wealthy, and the increasingly remote urban stage sets for celebrity television.

Beyond that is an unknown American future. It may be taking shape now. It may bring some strange constellation of cheery Wal-Mart associates and evangelical churches in a broad swath of suburban slum and slowly abandoned towns in depopulating states. Or the country may start out in a new direction, as it could have earlier this November, and apparently didn't. But the logic of what Wal-Mart has set in motion and what it represents, in combination with what is happening and not happening in Washington, is leading to crisis for the American consumer society.

It couldn't go on like this forever anyway, but there might have been---and might yet be---a more conscious transition. But the highway of the immediate future seems to be paved with deception and denial. That'does seem to be the way empires often crumble.