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Is Your Neighborhood Store Safe? Amazon and Store Closings

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Amazon has reached the far corners of the earth… and the highest elevations.  Delivery men venture 11,562 feet up in the Himalayas to leave a package.  While the company may serve a useful purpose in remote regions, its phenomenal growth also reveals that no town is immune from its less desirable consequences.  The online retailer’s omnipresence has been all too apparent in Chicago, New York, and London in recent months, where stores have been closing in droves.

Treasure Island Foods of Chicago, a family-owned business started by Christ Kamberos in 1963, announced at the end of September that after 55 years it was closing all remaining stores in just two weeks.  Now, the lights are out and the shadows empty shelves are all that remain, with the scent of fresh sourdough and gyros cooking on the spit only in shoppers’ reminiscences as they walk by the darkened windows.

Julia Child once described Treasure Island as “America’s Most European Supermarket.”  In my memory, it was unforgettable.  The stores always had treasure troves for every season, from delicious green picholine olives from France, to liver pâté and English Blue Stilton at Christmas, and of course, Marmite.  Not to mention exotic cookies and chocolates from all over the world: marzipan and chocolate from Switzerland and Austria, shortbread from Scotland, and crisp butter wafers from the Netherlands are a few examples.  It was a haven for special gifts during the holidays.

Treasure Island was not alone in the struggle to survive amidst food delivery apps and Amazon.  Not only were customers buying goods online, but Amazon was also shifting into the grocery market by taking over Whole Foods.  Not surprisingly, Chicago’s other local grocery chain Dominick’s closed in 2014.  The city lost one of its most beloved bakeries too in 2017 when the Swedish Bakery closed after 88 years in business.  Gone were the days of mouth-watering rum balls, Princess Torte laden with green marzipan, and toska cake.  In its final days an estimated 500 customers per day flocked in to have one last tasty treat.

Purchasing items online might be convenient but the trend has serious costs for many industries, not only food.  Retail has been hit hard.  Sears recently filed for bankruptcy and is closing 142 stores.  So did Toys R Us, shuttering its outlets last summer.  Luxury goods retailer Henri Bendel announced in September that its stores will be closing too, after 123 years.

What’s more the change is not just in the United States.  In the UK, Marks & Spencer plans to close 100 stores by 2022.  Debenhams and House of Fraser in London are also in trouble.  In March of 2018, Sweden’s H & M reported the lowest first quarter profits in more than a decade, down 62%.  When large international stores are being squeezed, one can understand how local shops are struggling to keep afloat.  A recent Atlantic article observes that Manhattan is becoming a “rich ghost town.”  So many store fronts once filled with interesting items are now empty, a trend that the author predicts will move to other cities.  Will the choices for future shoppers be restricted to chain stores and dark unrented windows?  Local small retailers unable to afford high rents are gradually being nudged out of existence.  They need help.

Could Local Currencies Save Our Neighborhood Stores?

The answer may be introducing local currencies.  Studies have shown that municipal currencies stimulate the local economy.  They serve as shock absorbers and protect in times of recession.

Switzerland has had the WIR since 1934 and Ithaca, New York introduced its own currency known as Ithaca Hours in 1991.  Ithaca Hours started out with 90 individuals who were willing to accept the currency as a payment for their work, and expanded to become one of the largest local currency systems in the U.S.  Ithaca’s example was an inspiration for municipal systems in Madison, Wisconsin, and Corvallis, Oregon.

The UK also has several local currencies including the Bristol Pound.  The former Mayor of Bristol accepted his entire salary in Bristol Pounds, and more than 800 businesses accept the local currency.

Once local currencies are in circulation, consumers can continue using their national currency to purchase from large retailers and from online giants like Amazon.  Their local currency, though, is typically used at local businesses.

As an example, were a Chicago currency implemented, consumers might use their U.S. dollars to purchase goods online but would use their Chicago currency to buy locally.  Legislators and communities could thus lend a helping hand to local gems that remain in our towns.  Lutz Cafe and Pastry Shop, for instance, established in 1948, is unique to Chicago, and creates some of the most delicious cakes in the world.

By 2003, there were over 1,000 local currencies in North America and Europe.  Yet this is a mere fraction of the total number of cities.  If local currencies expanded to a majority of towns, perhaps our beloved neighborhood stores would be able to survive the online onslaught.

The Benefits of Preserving Local Shops

Consumers lose a service every time a small shop shuts down.  A local paint store, for instance, can provide advice on what paint to use for a particular purpose, how to use it, etc.  Nowadays, in many towns, these stores have closed.  Consumers’ options are limited to buying online without input from an expert, or from a large national chain, where they will be lucky to find advice comparable to that from a specialized store.  The same holds true for many kinds of home repair.

Then there is the charm of familiar faces at the corner store.  Growing up near Treasure Island as a child, I could scarcely forget the cherry-cheeked cherub-like server at the deli counter.  After noticing this eight-year-old’s tendency to gorge on free olive samples once a week, he would always laugh heartily with those chubby cheeks and remark with a chuckle that I would end up eating all the olives before reaching the check out line.  Ordering specialty olives online is just not the same.  There may be no checkout line, but also no one to talk or joke with.  The same is true for the automated Amazon Go stores.  The nice deli server today is out of a job after decades of service.

Another hidden cost of online purchases is environmental.  Aside from fossil fuel emissions, delivery of a parcel requires packaging, and often bubble wrap, made of low-density polyethylene, a form of plastic that comprises 20% of global plastic pollution.  Reusable bags and a neighborhood store within walking distance are clearly better for the environment.

Amazon’s reach extends to places like Leh, India, high in the snow-covered Himalayas, where many of its goods may not be available in town.  And one can appreciate and understand the value of online purchases in such rural communities.  In fact that was exactly the original purpose of Sears with its iconic catalogue.

Yet in cities where one can readily buy the same items in stores nearby, we have to try to refrain from the convenience of one-click shopping.  The more we purchase online items, the more we pollute the environment and kill local stores.  Without small businesses, cities will eventually become homogenized with block after block of chain retailers, or dark empty windows, as has started to happen in Manhattan.  The character of a quaint town or a trendy metropolis becomes obsolete.

Gone will be the unique gift shops and the luxury tailor.  When the British high street becomes indistinguishable from U.S. ghost towns and when the only place to eat is a chain burger joint, the fun of traveling and the adventure of new places will be lost forever.  The vibrant world of new flavors and experiences will be no more.

So please think twice before clicking an online purchase.  You may be signing your local store’s death warrant.

Author’s note: this piece first appeared in CounterPunch.org

Meena Miriam Yust is an attorney based in Chicago, Illinois. Educated at Vassar College and Case Western Reserve University School of Law, she published a draft Migratory Insect Treaty with commentary in the Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law.

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Economy

Pandemic Recovery Creates a 50-50 Future

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Suddenly, the world changed; 50% in one-way and 50% the other way. It makes no difference where you stand or sit, because the changes are right across the world. It makes no difference if they are good or bad, because some are laden with heavy losses and some flying high with extraordinary opportunities. What is most critical is to recognize their hidden patterns and acquire special skills to respond quickly to avoid any serious fall or optimize a real potential in real time. As many times before, during centuries past, the world is morphing into something astonishing that we may not be able to recognize from where we stand today. Hyper-accelerated-future forcing change; 50% up and 50% down, therefore, we have to select your own paths. It is sink or swim time, again. One-hour study of cataloging major shifts during the last few centuries drastically transforming human behavior for good will do the trick.

The political offices: there are some 100 new national elections across the world within the next 500 days. In most cases, the economy will be the deciding factors over pandemic recovery. Outside the developed nations, death is a common place amongst struggling nations. Nevertheless, indices on suffering and pain are very high, the voice of the public highly audible, damages to the economy highly noticeable and the level of incompetence of leadership increasingly highly visible. The new visible challenges are the lack of speed on upskilling and transformation to manage mobilization of entrepreneurialism at grassroots level. Bureaucracies will not turn economies around. Most of the leaderships are ‘campaign’ trained and not ‘pandemic’ trained. The new races may topple 50% of incumbent leaderships in serious upsets.

The voting: Despite all the technological advances, there is no room in the world for some Social Media or Tik-Tok to decide a national election. The millennia old voting systems stand in line; make a cross by hand and drop it in a voting box will remain as most desired by the populace.  The challenges are not to fall over technology and human-programmed-AI to decide a winning team, stay credible, and follow safe procedures. Any deviation from these traditional models may result in outright rejections of 50% of the coming elections.

The workforces: There are billion displaced workers, due to pandemic, an additional billion already  replaced due to technological advances and a billion further misplaced where their real talents never recognized, considered as out of the box thinking and now working in miss-matched jobs. Challenges are to create globally accepted “Remote-Working-Protocols’ a Charter of Rights for Remote Workforce and make such ideas respectable and rewarding. The restless citizens are ready to march, 50% of the regions of the world are neither prepared nor have any solid solutions for such calamites.

The offices: The world has moved to remote, the vaccine-waiting years will carve permanence to new remote protocols and routines.  This is a new tsunami but it has far too many positive sides embedded. Books on ‘rise and fall’ of downtown are not published yet; hidden fears of massive downtown real estate collapse preclude any serious dialogue on global podiums. Challenges are to create intense citywide live and open debates on city planning based on new realities and not real estate. Nevertheless, Remote Work will have the most dramatic life altering impact on the global workforce and may force 50% of office towers empty and downtowns go dim.

The travelling: The silence of tourism is a global calamity impacting small medium and big businesses servicing such sectors. The global public will not be ready until vaccination reaches in many billions, a multi-year task. This will create vacuums and major shifts will occur. The challenges are to create a new post vaccine, sanitized, destination travel-world. Overall 50% locations, routes, and services may not survive.

The trade-events: The local-national-global conferences and trade shows were always the bloodstreams of commerce now replaced by live streaming the old-event-industry gasping for oxygen. The high cost of travel and lack of bold contents were always the lingering challenges, unless there are new discussion formats and real value offerings the event industry is sinking. Despite the new powers of virtualization, real content management will decide the winners and create new trends before some 50% may give up entirely.

The education: While the new generations need free education, the post vaccination worldneeds lesser education and more special skills; pragmatic, productive and profitable.  The digital platforms ensure instant access to maxi-mini-micro-upskilling and reskilling and eliminating multi-year of memorizing irrelevancy needs lingering since last century. The brand new models of ‘education-delivery’ with direct and measured return on value are where the future parked. The challenges are to bring real and proven entrepreneurialism into colleges and universities and unless taught by decade plus hard-core raw business experiences, business education is becoming an expensive liability.  The colleges and universities of the past could further stay in denials, but going forward new paths 50% may not survive.

The economies: The future of the world is digital; therefore, digitized economies of the post vaccination world will thrive; paper-based economies will end up in waste-paper-baskets. Tragically, paper-pushing economies had all options, often at little or no cost but bureaucracies strongholds kept them in the darkness. The challenges are to convert denials into positive mobilization of small medium business economies across a nation. Maybe, the only way left for them to start on a new page. The global rate of accelerated performance after full vaccination will crush 50% of the paper-based economies.

The groups and societies: Across the world, for the first time in 100 years the big and small societies of the world are forced into isolation, long enough to think hard, ponder and posture, altering lifestyle mode and testing their psyche about their immediate and far-away surroundings. Extreme boredom took each one many times over to their private caves of silent spaces where like finishing a forty-day and forty-night minimum requirement for deeper thinking of sorts became a valuable gift of global age understanding, provided under forced isolation by Covid-19.

Historians will recognize this as a global mind shift era of this century, affecting the five billion connected alpha dreamers who will change the world because they a little bit more connected to diversity, tolerance, and see global issues clearly. The cruelty of Covid measured in millions of body bags and treacherous loss of life remembered in eternity; the survivors from trenches, drenched in waist-high filth for years during the First World War crawled out as philosophers of time on peace and harmonious living.  There will be dramatic and noticeable changes in all big and small societies and cultural groups around the world and 50% may completely change their thinking but more in a humankind way and for common good.

A new dawn emerges, discovering hidden and untapped entrepreneurialism of some 500 million small medium enterprises of the world and a billion new entrepreneurs on the march.  Where are you standing, on what fronts, with what abundance and voids, what options and what possible moves and most importantly, what you need? Economic revolution demands revolutionary action on productive-performances.

Relentless in pursuit and authoritative with action, Expothon is tabling a very special and bold agenda and starting a high-level global series of virtual events starting early 2021. Going forward, the virtualization of the national economies will boost vertical sectors to new heights, globalization creates new links to global exportability, therefore, grassroots prosperity and upskilled performance must adjust to absorb the new loads.

The big change, the new reset, these are not easy tasks, but a good dialogue will start the wheels in the right direction. Open your hidden talents, help mobilize local midsize business economies, identify the missing links and raise collaborative awareness, the rest is easy. 

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Economy

The Economy Against the Tide

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The world evidently grappled with the effects of the Covid pandemic in 2020 and continues to wedge forward against the odds to survive and stay afloat. The major economies contracted as the global boards pinned records after records in economic depreciation, monetary devaluation and corporate deterioration. However, whilst the pandemic pushed the metaphorical brake over the developed and developing economies alike, and simultaneously nudged the least developed into desperation, China posted surprisingly positive growth figures as it bid adios to the yesteryear. While anything remotely lucrative seems like a farce nowadays and although the relatively booming Chinese economy seems superficial at the first glance, a detailed analysis dissects the tenets of the trade that have set the People’s Republic apart from the struggling world.

China stands as the figurative ‘Ground Zero’ of the Coronavirus pandemic; reporting the earliest emergence of the virus in the ultimate month of 2019.  China later went on to have a gloomy start to the new year; struggling to deal with the strange occurrences, rising death toll and having no answer to the surging uncertainty. The new year celebrations were cancelled, holidays extended and even corporate giants like Toyota and Apple were resorted to immediate closure across the Mainland. The year expected to be of expansion turned polar as the world started to isolate the country to contain the virus; turning exports to the lowest levels over decades of preceding economic flourish.

However, while many global experts predicted the downfall of China; extrapolated by the dismal figures of the first few months of 2020, China quickly recovered and surpassed expectations in both containing the virus within the country and stabilising the tattering economy. The main contender and outright rival of China, however, faced the music in the most ironic way possible. Whilst the United States pillared on the trade war between the two since before the Covid pandemic, Mr. Trump left no stones unturned in maligning China for spreading the virus around the globe; deliberately and in an attempt to exponentiate its accession to power over US. The US economy faced the brunt of the pandemic rather expectantly since the time was wasted on hurling accusations instead of proactively adopting protective measures beforehand. While US is currently the worst affected country around the globe, its economy is no different than the mounding death toll on charts each day.

The US economy contracted on record levels and even itsworld-renowned indexes like DJI and S&P500 posted negative rallies; first since the Great Depression of 1929. Although the economic damage to the US has been cushioned, now twice, by heavily strategized monitory polices of the FED and colossal fiscal stimulus, the world superpower is showing signs of weakness as it deals with over 250,000 fresh cases each day yet can’t function to facilitate the 14 million and counting Americans facing unemployment for months and seeking benefits, taking the national bill to unprecedented heights.

Even compared to the regional counterparts, China stands out in much more than just the economic stability. Europe currently deals with a detrimental surge of the virus-variants while simultaneously accommodating the challenging deals across the borders in the wake of Brexit. The United Kingdom faces contradictions over new trade policies and procedures; not just with EU but with its very own states like Northern Ireland. The monetary rates now touch zero with a possibility of further plunge into the negative territory as London shivers with fatal blows of the highly infectious variant of Covid and the nation facing the second country-wide lockdown as hospitals run at full capacity.

Meanwhile, EU falters with the economic fiasco even under the improving financial conditions and finally grabbing an agreement on the year-in-year-out negotiations of the Silk Road Initiative. The distinction, however, is clear as while Germany, Europe’s most powerful economy, wrestles with a catastrophic recession, China completely avoided recession throughout the year 2020. While Germany looms into negative growth rates, China posted a steep 6.5% growth in the last quarter (Oct-Dec); a cumulative growth of 2.3% in 2020. A stark opposite of the slump caused by Covid restrictions that initially pulled China’s economy down by 6.8% in the first quarter compared to 2019.

While China has been gauged as “The only major economy to quickly recover from the pandemic and find the normal course of business operation”, the recovery has been uneven over multiple sectors of the domestic industry. The boom in the economy has been celebrated and attributed to the growing optimism of Chinese investors in the relentless recovery of the economy. The Shanghai stock market was recently pulled up by 1% even under the rippling conditions of the global economy. However, while the consumer electronics sector has enjoyed the waves pushed by the ‘stay at home’ mottos under the lockdown, service businesses like hotels and restaurants have faced a crunch which has eventually carried forward to the blue-collar workers in China. While the factories in the Mainland have turned into an overdrive to fill in the boom of exports since many countries face a manufacturing break, the exporters to the poor countries are dealing with the devastation alike to their clients. While magnates like Jack Ma have made a fortune, the recent graduates are struggling to find new jobs.

Now, with the resurgence of the virus, the fear in lacing the country again. The recent tally has jumped up to 769 new cases whilst reporting first death in over six months. However, the health officials have deemed the sporadic spread as ‘very, very small’. Ultimately, China came about to be a tough nut to crack, analytically due to its effective centralised strategies in dealing with the pandemic followed by aggressive policy making; focusing on the advanced manufacturing industries to stay proximate to core competencies whilst simultaneously maintaining a free market structure in other areas of the economy, setting a path for a predicted average 5.7% growth until 2025. Thus, paving China’s way to attain the coveted title of ‘World Superpower’ and surpassing US by 2028.

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Indian Farmers Protest Against the Parliament’s Encroaching Bills

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The new agricultural reforms in India aim to permit farmers to offer their produce to private purchasers beyond a state-run discount or wholesale markets, where farmers are guaranteed a minimum cost for their yields.

However, the farmers state that the laws would undermine their livelihoods and will solely be profitable to large companies, leaving producers helpless under the heel of a free market. Such patters can be gauged from the Modi government’s corporation-oriented policies. For instance, the current corporate tax rate – 30 percent – has been considerably reduced: 22 percent for existing companies and 15 percent for those established after 1st October, 2019. 

Farmers regard these bills with suspicion, for they feel threatened by the corporatization of their agricultural domain and the dismissal of the MSP regime. Introduced in 1966-67, the MSP regime promises the sale of specific crops at a fixed price thus assuring the farmers of a regular income in spite of escalating input costs and unstable prices.

Primary leaders of farmers’ associations have called for protests, even willing to observe fasts during the protest in order to challenge the new farmer laws. With almost 250 million protesters, to protest is being called the largest protest in human history

This is the second time in the previous two weeks that the farmers have called for country-wide protests, requesting all the people to organize sit-ins outside the district organizations across the state. The protests are being led by a large number of farmers sitting outside the capital, New Delhi, obstructing main highways heading towards the city.

Chief Minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal, and his party ‘Aam Aadmi Party’ have supported the sit-ins by fasting with them. Kejriwal encouraged his party workers and members to join the campaign and asked Modi’s Bharatiya Janta Party to set aside arrogance and fulfill the demands of the farmers.

The agriculture sector contributes almost fifteen percent to India’s $2.9 trillion economy and enrolls the greater part of the nation’s 1.4 billion individuals. In recent years, this sector has been facing setbacks and driving a huge number of indebted farmers to take their lives.

Modi said the enactment was required to support the agricultural sector, and that the new laws would profit the farmers and “free” them from the oppression of middlemen. Farmers, generally from Haryana and Punjab and considered the “grain bowl” of India, have denounced the laws as “hostile to farmers”.

The farmers have demanded revocation of the new laws and assurance of the Minimum Support Price for their yields.“It’s been months now since the farmers began protesting. We have sent a few written messages to the Prime Minister, Agricultural Minister is demonstrating our hatred to the hostile laws but the BJP government is careless on this issue,” said the farmers’ leader.

One elderly woman, aged 75, said that “unless and until Narendra Modi withdraws these laws, we will not go back. This government should know about the strength and determination of the Punjabi people.”

The Indian Supreme Court has received many petitions regarding a ban on the protest, but the top court has declined such calls and ordered the government and unions to form a committee in which the experts would mediate between the concerned parties.

On the birth anniversary of Sikh leader, Guru Nanak, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a Zoom meeting that Canada would always defend the right of peaceful protest.

Federal Minister Fawad Chaudhry termed Indian behavior with farmers as “shameful”. He stated that the Indian government’s policies were the biggest threat to regional peace. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres called on the Indian government to allow protests, asserting the right to raise a voice and show opposition to the government.

The vociferous calls have certainly proven to be a feather in the farmers’ cap, as India’s Supreme Court has recently ordered for the suspension of these farming bills.

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