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      So, Sanders has most likely lost. Last minute upsets are possible, but highly unlikely. And now come the calls for Bernie to be conciliatory. This misses the point. Sanders doesn’t need anything Clinton can give. Any promises she makes with respect to his priorities are not credible. He’s old and his career is all but […]
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Breitbart goes after Krugman. Yessss!

Breitbart, or whoever is running the show over there since the founder let his ire get the best of him, is claiming that Paul Krugman has filed for personal bankruptcy in the past.

OooooOOOooooo, the geeky professor with sharp wit is starting to get under the skin on the right.  He might even be making sense.  Is it possible that his message is getting through to the average American? And he’s so fricking persistent.  Well, we can’t have that.  Must. Smear. Relentlessly.

Excellent.  He’s making progress.

Bwahahahahahhhhh!!!

How you know the End is Nigh

We’ve been living with out of control capitalism, now in New Accelerated Format, for almost five years now.  It’s a quickened version of what’s been happening over the last 30 years.  Ever since Reagan, the media has bamboozled the public into giving the rich whatever they damn well please with the expectation that the rich will let us keep our jobs.  The evidence has shown that this does not work but you’ll have to read Krugman for the wonky stuff and teensy (or completely absent) labels on the x and y axises of his graphs.  I guess economists don’t need labels and units but it drives this chemist crazy.

I’m not here to talk about all the overwhelming evidence of wrongdoing that has been going on since 1980, or the massive layoffs that have probably permanently impoverished my generation or the fact that all of this has happened with the complicity of an older generation of seniors who thought the whole world revolved around what happened between women’s legs.  No, I am here to talk about the end times.

In this case, it will be the period of time when the strip miners of Wall Street have taken the top off the mountain almost completely and there is very little wealth left to extract and more and more middle class people are waking up to discover that “we wuz robbed” and there’s just no THERE, there anymore.  Where will the excess gobs of cash come from then?  I mean, after the obscenely rich have cornered all of the disposable income, and then some, in their underground lairs surrounded by their faceless, nameless goons in cold and modern chic livery, do they sit around with their heads in their hands weeping like Alexander that there is no more money in the world to conquer?

Heck no!

NOW, they get in on the payday loan scam.  It’s fricking brilliant!

Major banks have quickly become behind-the-scenes allies of Internet-based payday lenders that offer short-term loans with interest rates sometimes exceeding 500 percent.

Subrina Baptiste of Brooklyn says JPMorgan Chase allowed payday lenders to seize child-support funds in her account.

With 15 states banning payday loans, a growing number of the lenders have set up online operations in more hospitable states or far-flung locales like Belize, Malta and the West Indies to more easily evade statewide caps on interest rates.

While the banks, which include giants like JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Wells Fargo, do not make the loans, they are a critical link for the lenders, enabling the lenders to withdraw payments automatically from borrowers’ bank accounts, even in states where the loans are banned entirely. In some cases, the banks allow lenders to tap checking accounts even after the customers have begged them to stop the withdrawals.

What are the chances that Barack Obama will look up from scheming with his 25 year old male senior advisors to “help” the Congress “win” in 2014 by focussing all of their PR efforts on a couple of distracting issues instead of fixing the problem of chronic unemployment and gross exploitation of average Americans, or directly challenging the Republicans with muscular Liberalism, and actually develop some sense of outrage that is strong enough to prod his justice department to actually, you know, DO something to the banks besides taking them to the back bedroom, closing the door and instructing them to wail loudly as he smacks the bed with his belt?

Yeah, I didn’t think so either.

By next year, when we’re all on Obamacare (sorry, Democrats, you’re going to have to own this one in an election year.  Hope you’re ready, but all indications are that you are not.) and trying to pay all of our bills on time, with a heaping side of gigantic health insurance thrown in for good measure, there will be an increasing number of us vulnerable to the siren song of the payday loan.  “Borrow now against your paycheck, pay 500% interest later!”  What could be more natural?

The big banks are investing in it heavily, wouldn’t you know.  So, this has to be one of the signs of the end.  Now that the MBAs have skillfully evolved the work place every two seconds in accordance to their bonus shortened attention span, AND severely crippled productivity by putting all the burden of getting things done on the shoulders of a few, and because they have so completely decoupled the cause and effect relationship of work with positive reinforcement, given the fruits of labor to the shareholders, closed the pension funds, and divested themselves of all responsibility to the people who, you know, WORK,  now that they’ve scraped every last penny out of every last bank account, it is now time to reserve all incoming pennies for their own purposes too.

All our monies are belong to them.

And then what?

I’m not sure but I suspect it ain’t going to be pretty.

Jon and Paul

I’m still here!  Still working on that project in a super secret location and had some surprises lately that have kept me busy.

In the meantime, I’ve seen the kerfuffle between Jon Stewart and Paul Krugman over Platy, the $1 TRILLION dollar platinum coin and I’m going to side with Krugman on this one.

Jon Stewart, meet me at camera 4.

Ok, see here’s the thing.  I know the coin idea, which was viable until the Fed shot it down, sounded bug f^&*ing nutz. I’m guessing your brother had something to do with your attitude.  Maybe there’s some internal family related capture going on there that you might not be quite willing to admit to.

But I figure it this way. It’s like someone is trying to abduct you in the grocery store parking lot.  If they’re going to get all insane, YOU need to get all insane.  Like roll your eyes back in your head, let out some blood curling shrieks, foam at the mouth, lose control of your bladder.  If you don’t do anything just as crazy to make the abduction more trouble than it’s worth, the crazy guy is going to take you for a nice loooooong ride from which you may never return.

Besides, Jon, you can’t claim to be just a funny guy and then get all serious when you interview people like Chris Christie.  Or conversely, you can’t not do your homework, make some half-assed, pompous pronouncement and then pull this “Oh, I’m just a funny guy with a fake news program” shit. People will get confused. You know and I know and Paul Krugman knows that there are a lot of people who depend on you to circumvent the media filters to tell the truth.  I’m sorry, Jon, but you have become a Peter Parker and with your power, you have an awesome responsibility.

I was very disappointed in the way you behaved on Monday night when you lectured Krugman.  You’ve done a lot of good, Jon, but Krugman is on YOUR side and when you pulled that crap on Monday night, you just created a rift that the Republicans and their media allies are going to drive a truck through. It would have been better for all of us for you to invite Paul on The Daily Show and then go at him hammer and tongs.  Krugman would have made a great guest.  Even if you don’t agree with him, he’s got a rapier wit and at least his arguments make sense.  Sniping with your megaphone just looks childish ego trip.  Perhaps you need to spend some time attending David Brooks’ Humility course at Yale.

You’re not the only game in town.  You are merely one of the more important pieces in the rag-tag group of allies trying to fight the forces of meanness, inequality and exploitation.  Get your head out of your ass.

I’ll be right back… sooner or later.  Carry on.

To all those rich people who think they are the most productive people on earth

Don’t flatter yourselves.  Dragons are not productive.

Every school kid knows this.

Just sayin’.

********************************************

Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz have a chat:

 

Stuff that go together: How the rich are getting it wrong

Davos, Switzerland- Home of the World Economic Forum, the small evil group that runs the world to which no one we know belongs.

Chrystia Freeland discusses Plutocrats with Sam Seder on The Majority Report

Conjuring a High Tech Labor Shortage by Stan Storscher of Talking Union

Technology or Monopoly Power?, Paul Krugman, Conscience of a Liberal.

and the consequences:

The Drug Shortage No One is Talking About by Charles Pierce, Esquire

Study Ties Drug Shortage to Poorer Cancer Survival, Fox News (Ewwww)

Growing Drug Shortage Problematic for Patients, Doctors, ABC News

The drug industry in America has ceased to be.  It is an ex-industry.  It has joined the choir invisible.  The remaining multinational Pharmas’ strategy is to buy up the patents of struggling small biotechs and to use academic labs for the research they jettisoned.  But I’m reminded of something Mark Lynas said in his recent lecture on why he is no longer anti-GMO.  In our frenzy of making sure that big companies adhere to strangulating limits on their technology, we have allowed monopolies to thrive in the GMO industry while killing off emergent competition and potential diversity.

In the case of the drug industry, we have demanded so much hoop jumping in order to create the most perfect, side effect free, litigation proof drug that the only companies that can afford to get a drug through the approval process are the largest ones with the deepest pockets.  And even those companies can’t do it after having invested billions of dollars in research.  If you are a small biotech, the costs of verifying that your lead compound meets the increasingly more stringent safety profiles is cost prohibitive.  No matter how hard you work for how long, it is more and more likely that you will have to sell your miracle drug patent to a large pharma at a fraction of its potential earnings just in order to recoup your investment.  The drug industry news is full of small biotechs having to lay off their entire research staff in order to take their discovery through the next phase of development.  That throws the research community into ever increasing precariousness, diminishing the prospects of young scientists and discourages students from pursuing science as a career.  And that, in turn, is eventually going to affect the quality of academic research upon which many big multinationals now intend to feed.  I’m still predicting that the brains are going to go to western Europe to do research because governments there still have a commitment to education and protecting their workforce.

Our research capabilities in this country have shrunk profoundly in the last 5 years.  We don’t introduce many drugs to the market anymore.  What is in research are new, even more expensive technologies.  But since the research community is much smaller, there is a bottleneck we have imposed on research.  Only a tiny fraction of the potential is being investigated now.  It’s primarily centered around cancer, which is very important, of course.  But what if your problem isn’t cancer?  What if you just need your thyroid medication?  Or your generic ADD medication?  Well, there’s no money in generics and to repair the plants is expensive and that eats into “shareholder value”.  So, the cost of generics is going to have to go up.  The result will be more expensive generics as patents expire, more older generation drugs for everyone, a few very expensive newer drugs for those that can afford them and the cost borne by all of us.

The plutocrats and their political allies have allowed this to happen.  They have overvalued their own importance and undervalued the importance of everyone else.  They have put the attainment of money and the acquisition of power at the pinnacle of the greatest of human achievements and have demoted the quest for knowledge.

Chrystia Freeland makes some interesting points in her discussion with Sam Seder on the nature of money and plutocracy.  She has talked to plutocrats of the Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg variety.  And they have told her that to the billionaire and the mailman, a Big Mac is still a Big Mac.  In other words, you can only consume so much in your lifetime.  Even if you buy the best of everything and search out the most perfect experiences, you may have more money than you will ever be able to use in your life.  Of course, a perfect experience to one person may not be a perfect experience to another.  For example, I’ve lived close enough to NYC to see many Broadway plays in the 20+ years I’ve been in New Jersey.  At this point, Broadway is no big deal to me anymore.  Oh, sure, I’d love to see the Book of Mormon but I could be content to see the touring company at a opera house in a smaller city.  The performances are going to be pretty much the same.  Maybe I would miss the lights of Times Square afterwards but I’ve been there so many times that it’s not a heartstopping thrill anymore.  There are other things that are interesting that don’t cost much money.  I still like Big Macs.

A similar observation can be made about the nature of work.  I understand that billionaires these days are the “working rich” and that their days are filled to the brim with lots of thinking and decision making and that those thoughts and decisions affect thousands of people.  But then I think about how hard my colleagues and I worked in the last year we were employed and those days were also filled to the brim with thoughts and decision making that affect thousands of people.  Just because we did a lot of it on our feet or with our hands as well as our minds does not make it less important to the world.  It is hard to see how Mark Zuckerberg could be working harder than we did in absolute terms.  In other words, to the billionaire and the drug discoverers, there are still only 24 hours in a day and some of those hours are taken up with sleeping, eating and excreting.  I suppose you could eat your lunch at your desk while you multi-task.  Yep, we did that too.

So, it’s not consumables that set us apart except in quantity and quality because taste and temperament may play a role.  And it’s not the degree of hard work or time because we all face the same time constraints.  And it’s not genius because I worked with a lot of extraordinarily smart people who were not rich and know some extraordinarily rich people who are not smart.

What it seems to be the crucial component is being, or being born, in the right place at the right time with the right idea for which you can capture a market or schmooze your way to the top of the corporate ladder or gamble away other peoples’ money at the global casino.  It is this elusive property of being struck by lightning at least once in your lifetime that counts.  And with that once in a lifetime experience, you can dictate the lives of others, elevate your own contributions and denigrate theirs.

And ruin the drug supply.

So, all we need to do is add “Leadership Council” to our soiree

I was reading Krugman today about how Starbucks did a Komen with the “Come Together” campaign to make customers pressure their Congress reps and senators to shred the social insurance programs when I decided to look up the infamous “Fix the Debt” website.  It’s run by some shadowy group of rich people called the CEOs Fiscal Leadership Council.

Starbucks does a Komen

The CFLC is populated by the usual suspects of deadbeat corporate executives that we’ve seen in the past 4 years.  The CEO’s of Citigroup, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase and AT&T are on the list.  But so is T. Rowe Price, the 401K specialists.  (There couldn’t be a conflict of interest there, could there?  Nahhhh)  According to the Huffington Post, the CFLC consists of some of the most notorious pension plan underfunders.  Isn’t that sweet?  They are leading us to give up the only means of surviving in old age after they raid their company pensions to pay those M&A bonuses.  Now that’s Leadership.

Then I got to wondering, who commissioned this group?  I mean, was there a Congressional decree?  Did the President assemble this meetup of malefactors?  Because, how else did they get the “Leadership Council” thing in the title?  Who do they think they are leading?  I don’t remember asking for leadership off the so-called “fiscal cliff”.  I’m wracking my brains trying to figure out who appointed these guys, and they are almost all guys.  Wait, let me check.  There are 4 recognizably female names on a list of approximately 150 members. Good job, guys!  Does that mean women can’t be leaders or that they resist being lead?  Clarification is needed here.

And then I started to think, why don’t we left of center unpaid pundits (yes, I do flatter myself. If I don’t, no one else will) have a leadership council or many leadership councils?

For example, where is the Senior Research Investigators Leadership Council that will put pressure on Congress to stop listening to whiny pharma CEOs who keep telling our elected officials that they can’t find good help anymore?

How about a New Deal Democrats Leadership Council to tell Congress to stop listening to whiny rich CEOs that robbed us blind in the past four years?

Or a Dirty Fucking Hippy Leadership Council to tell Congress to get its shit together and do the right thing before we get our shit together and run against them?  Just an idea.

Or a La-La-La I Can’t HEAR You Leadership Council that will help Americans kick the cable TV news and talk radio habit so they’ll stop being suckered in by self-interested CEOs whose messages clog the airwaves.

Add your Leadership Council titles and purposes in the comments section.  I formally commission the best Leadership Council idea.  No, no, don’t thank me.  I take on this burden of Leadership for You.

Negotiations, Marketing and Sandy

Republicans steal Obama’s lunch money again

This morning’s post of stuff is in no particular order.  The first and third may be related.

Krugman writes in his blog, Conscience of a Liberal, today that, as expected, Obama is turning out to be a lousy negotiator on the so-called Fiscal Cliff conundrum:

Here we go again — or so I find myself fearing.

Obama’s fiscal deal offer was already distressing — cuts to Social Security, and a big concession, it turns out, on taxation of dividends, retaining most of the Bush cut (with the benefits flowing overwhelmingly to the top 1 percent). It wasn’t clear that the deal would have gotten nearly enough in return.

But sure enough, it looks as if Republicans have taken the offer as a sign of weakness, as a starting point from which they can bargain Obama down. Oh, and they’re not giving up at all on the idea of using the debt ceiling for further blackmail.

In other words, all of a sudden it’s feeling a lot like 2011 again, with the president negotiating with himself while the other side enjoys the process.

The Republicans have been dying for Obama to offer a social insurance program cut.  For weeks now, they’ve been saying that Obama wouldn’t name any spending cuts in a game of gotcha chicken.  The minute Obama blinked it was a.) not going to be enough to satisfy them and b.) going to come back to bite the Democrats in the ass because they were the ones who finally conceded on spending cuts that no one likes without getting much of anything in return.  So, what does Obama do?  He blinks.  Not only does he blink, he practically gives away every advantage he had and the Bush tax cuts remain pretty much intact for the 1% while the Chained CPI takes a big chunk of money away from vulnerable seniors as well as raising their taxes.

By the way, there is a very good reason why the Chained CPI is a horrible idea.  It’s predicated on the idea that seniors will choose to scale down on their consumer choices.  They’ll buy more generic goods at the grocery store or go to Walmart more often than Macy’s.  (Great, I can just imagine what my limited fashion choices are going to look like in 20 years.  More sparkly things that fit my tall frame even less well because all of the patterns are cut for some 5’2″ model from the Phillipines.)  And I might as well just forget about replacing any Apple gadgets when I hit retirement age.

How does this benefit Main Street?  If seniors now have to forgo the few little luxuries they have or pick the progressively less expensive items, isn’t that going to have an effect on what is sold and consumed?  And won’t that eventually impact the economy and create a progressively larger drag on it?  Just askin’ because to Republicans, the fate of the economy doesn’t seem to be very important as long as they get their exemptions on their dividends and they don’t have to look at a poor person in Walmart clothing.  What I see evolving is a modern version of the Sumptuary Laws where the “most vulnerable seniors” will still be able to buy low quality consumer goods because that’s where they are in the social ladder and should not seek to rise above their station.

More on this: Thereisnospoon’s post from this morning laments along with Markos Moulitsos at DailyKos that Obama is a bad negotiator and he’s is going to betray the left that supported him.

Let me tell you a little joke:

There was a dull witted guy who came home from work early one afternoon to find his wife in bed with another man.  The guy is distraught so he goes to the kitchen and returns with a sharp knife.  Then he stands over the bed and holds the knife to his throat.  The wife looks up and starts to laugh.

“Why are you laughing?”, he says, “You’re next.”

Ba-dum-dum.

I kept thinking about this joke all during the election season and I would have told it sooner but some people would have just called me a racist.

On to Sandy.  I got an email from Senator Menendez about the negotiations for Hurricane Sandy funds and it has occurred to me that if Menendez and Lautenberg concede on the so-called “Fiscal Cliff” negotiations, it could be that they’re being pressured to give in or the funds will be much, much smaller than we need or non-existent.  Would the Republicans screw business owners in New Jersey who have been footing the bill for their states for decades by getting the least amount of federal funds back for every dollar they send to Washington?  Sure they would.  They’re not concerned with the fate of New Jersey, the shore communities that make their livings in the summer or the fact that the Northeast Corridor trains from DC to New York cut through this state or that New Jersey towns are really suburbs of either New York City or Philadelphia.  No, all that matters is that the Republican donors get to sit on as much wealth as they can possibly accumulate under them.  I’d like to hear what is going on with the Sandy reconstruction funds and be reassured that they aren’t being held hostage to the Republican terrorist threat but I am not hopeful.

The last item has to do with marketing.  There’s a grocery store in my town that I have been going to faithfully since I moved here in 1992.  But lately, the things I like are disappearing from the shelves.  It started with some bagged salad items but the trend is picking up steam lately.  Suddenly, I can’t find 2% yogurt anymore.  More than once I’ve bought groceries home, stuck my spoon in what I thought was going to be a thick and creamy Greek yogurt and unwittingly spooned a glob of honey flavored paste in my mouth.  Almost every flavor of yogurt on the shelf is 0% fat yogurt.  Oh sure, there are something like *two* flavors out of zillions that are 2%.  They’re usually in flavors I don’t like, like pineapple.  Don’t get me wrong, I like pineapple but I don’t want it in my yogurt.  I want lemon in my 2% Greek yogurt.  Can’t find it anymore on my grocery store shelves.

A similar thing has happened to the UHT milk.  The store has moved the location of the UHT milk to the juice aisle and reduced the size of the section devoted to it.  No explanation.  It just happens to be the only milk I buy because otherwise, fresh milk spoils in my house before we get around to drinking it.  You can store UHT milk forever.  But no, the UHT milk is on its way out.

The hummus crisis is emblematic of this trend.  In my grocery store, we have more flavors of hummus than I can count:

I can’t believe that Hillsborough can really distinguish between so many brands and flavors of hummus.  I’d like to see how much hummus gets dumped by the store.  But there is only one kind of babaganoush, which my house prefers.  We also like Tsazhiki but it’s ridiculously expensive.  I’d be inclined to make it myself but I don’t want to make it with 0% fat Greek yogurt, which is just about all there is.

I blame marketing and those stupid loyalty cards.  Apparently, there weren’t enough of us buying Chobani 2% lemon yogurt and now, the marketing people at Chobani and Shop Rite headquarters are going to send nothing but 0% yogurt from now until doomsday.  The thing that drives me nuts is not that they should be sending less of the flavors that were selling slightly less well but it turns out that they aren’t sending any of those flavors at all.  It’s apparently all or nothing in marketingland.

It somehow never occurs to them that flooding the shelves with only one type of yogurt or middle eastern spread or milk or whatever is reducing their sales.  I won’t buy 0% yogurt because it tastes bad, I don’t care how many suburban soccer moms have decided that 2% fat in yogurt is bad for you, I’m not buying the 0%.  Ever.  I do not like mouthfuls of pasty yogurt so I will go without it.  So, right there, Shop Rite has lost my yogurt purchases when I used to buy yogurt there routinely.  But it’s even stupid from a Greek yogurt perspective.  When Greek yogurt first hit the stores several years back it was special because of the unique flavors like lemon, honey and pomegranate.  If Greek yogurt manufacturers drop that uniqueness and instead go for more mainstream flavors like strawberry and the absolutely worst flavor in the world, strawberry-banana, what will make Greek yogurt stand out among the Dannons, Yoplaits and store brands that are much less expensive?  Instead of being something special that Americans would experience and come to love gradually, the Greek yogurt manufacturers have killed themselves by listening to their marketing experts and become just like every other yogurt on the shelves.  Except because their yogurt is strained, the end product of a 0% yogurt has none of the creaminess of a typical American or European style yogurt.  So now not only is the flavor not “Greek”, it’s got the consistency and mouthfeel of Elmer’s School Paste.  I will now go out of my way to Wegmans to find something that is now considered “niche” or I’ll make it myself.  Same with babaganoush.  From now on, I’ll go somewhere else for that or I’ll buy an eggplant for half the price at the little farmer’s market produce store and make it myself.

The steady encroachment of marketing on my grocery purchases feels like a combination of Soviet five year plans crossed with bullying.  “You buy the yogurt we have because we tell you what you want and like even if you don’t want or like it and now we have no way of knowing what you want or like because we don’t give you any way to make a choice that we can collect data on.  Suck it up, suburbanite.  Why do you have to be different from your neighbors??”  I guess I don’t like the idea that I am subsidizing the rest of Hillsborough’s preferences (we don’t know how much they prefer these items because the loyalty cards can’t measure lack of choice) with higher costs for the items I actually like or can’t even find anymore.

Do we know that all the residents of Hillsborough like the same thing or am I the only one who ever complains?

Don’t answer that question.

In any case, the trend continues in Shop Rite which means I am finding myself buying more and more stuff at other stores.  It’s a shame.  I really used to like that grocery store.  But whatareyagoingtodo?  I want choice.  I gotta be me.

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