In this week’s New Yorker

February 1, 2012

Aside from another great Barry Blitt cover, what’s best about this issue are two long, engrossing, disturbing features. Ian Parker goes into the minute details of everything that led up to the suicide of Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi, including his awkward relationship with his dorm roommate Dahrun Ravi. The article mostly exposes the painfully dysfunctional ways that teenagers learn to communicate — and even more important, NOT to communicate — with other people directly. Meanwhile, Ian Frazier’s “Our Local Correspondent” piece uses the closing of the Stella D’oro cookie factory in the Bronx as a way of addressing how private-equity firms (like Bain Capital, where Mitt Romney gained his business experience and vast wealth) have set about ruining small business in America, not unlike the way the big banks ruined the economy through sub-prime mortgages. Very illuminating and disheartening — and a stark depiction of how the system has been set up to profit the 1% wealthiest Americans and screw over the rest of us.

Some key passages: When Stella D’Oro founder Joseph Kresevich died in 1965, his stepson Phil Zambetti took over. “Wages went up. Workers received health insurance paid for by the company, a fully funded pension plan, sick leave, and up to four weeks’ paid vacation a year. They [got] a factory-wide birthday holiday (for everybody’s birthday, celebrated annually on the same day), with pay. Stella D’oro sponsored a local Little League team, donated cookies to charity events, opened a restaurant with cheap and good Italian food next to the factory, hosted Kiwanis Club meetings at the restaurant. The company’s delivery trucks were step vans painted white with a gold band running around the lower half and forest-green hubcaps. They added a rhythm to the neighborhood as they came and went straight from the factory to stores, with no warehouse in between…”

When the factory closed October 9, 2008, “the laid-off bakers and mechanics and packers applied for unemployment insurance, and the president of the Bronx Economic Overall Development Corporation urged them to go to a workers’ center on East 149th Street for career counseling and training vouchers.
“In the second week of October, just days after the factory closed, Goldman Sachs announced that it would pay out twenty-three billion dollars in holiday bonuses to its executives and staff. The amount was the largest bonus pool in the hundred-and-forty-year history of Goldman Sachs. At the highest average salary Brynwood [the private equity firm that sold Stella D’oro to the company that shut the factory down and moved its business to Ohio] had offered — about seven hundred and eighty dollars a week — the hundred and thirty-four Stella D’oro workers together would have had to work forty-hour weeks for about forty-two hundred years to earn twenty-three billion dollars.”

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