Uber’s Continued Decline: Tipping

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Q: What did the leper say to the prostitute?
A: Keep the tip.

I consider myself a decent tipper at restaurants and bars, driven in part by a desire to reward good service and compensate staff I encounter regularly, but also because I believe crappy tippers are reviled in the backroom and are more likely to find a booger in their pappardelle. Tipping in its barest form is really an exercise in avoiding personal shame and reducing fear of the unknown.

Still, I find the archaic tradition of tipping a mostly distasteful charade by management seeking to minimize costs perpetrated on consumers of practically everything that involves interaction with a human service provider. Rather than paying a decent wage, restaurateurs, cab companies, parking lot owners, and many others would rather shame their customers into making up the difference between poverty and minimum wage for their forlorn employees. It’s been a scourge of travelers for years now. Doormen, bellhops, concierges, cab drivers, baristas, bartenders, dudes who ticket your $100 third piece of luggage at the airport. All have a hand out for compensation; each capable of fucking you up should you fail to measure up. Stiff the baggage handler and when you arrive in Oakland you’ll discover your luggage is in Auckland. Boston? Oh, I thought you said Austin.

I pity the fools who dine with the mentally impaired who labor over the excruciating details of determining the tip. The guy who tries to determine to the exact penny a tip that when added to the bill will result in a round number. The guy who debates whether to tip on the bottom line or on the price minus tax. The guy who throws his share of the bill on the table, conveniently forgetting to add a tip.

And What about an expensive bottle of wine? Does the waiter deserve $27 more for corking a $150 bottle than a $15 bottle?

Not only is tipping essentially a shakedown, the practice is extremely uneven in its application. Someone who serves you “food” at Applebees expects a tip; that same person at McDonalds does not. You tip the guy who takes your bag at the curb, but not the guy who takes your bag at the jetway. Why not? Perhaps the best argument against this stupidity comes from Mr. Pink:

Now today we learned that Uber – that paragon of ride-hailing companies – is planning to modify their app to allow riders to tip drivers at the end of a ride. There was a time when the value proposition of Uber was the seamlessness of the ride: you hail, you get a ride, you get out, done. No money changes hands. Now, Uber – a so-called 21st Century entrepreneurial company whose mission is to disrupt the taxi status quo – is re-introducing a throwback to the 19th Century tip option. Presumably, like every other company that recoils at paying a living wage Uber has opted to press more of their salary challenges upon the customer/rider.

Now, instead of enjoying the promised seamless ride on Uber, the rider (most likely drunk) must decide whether to pay only the agreed-to fare (and risk a minus-2 star rating from Jugdish, along with banishment from hailing Uber for 2 weeks), or knuckle under and tack on 20+ percent while questioning Uber’s supposed superiority over a yellow cab.

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Where’s Alex Jones on Alexandria?

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Okay, but what about the baseball shooting hoax?

Should we expect Alex Jones and his conspiracy website Infowars to call bullshit on the recent alleged shooting at a Republican baseball practice in Alexandria, Virginia last week? The one in which a person supposedly from Illinois whose name is said to be James Hodgkinson might have opened fire on Congressmen and aides with what might or might not have been an assault rifle and/or a semi-automatic pistol?

After all, the whole episode parallels the so-called Sandy Hook massacre in which 20 children and six staff members were supposedly mowed down in 2012 by a whacked out dude code-named Adam Lanza. After Sandy Hook, Infowars and like-minded patriots called into question the validity of the attack, claiming it was a staged event by anti-gun zealots looking to gin up sympathy for shredding the Second Amendment.

Proceeding with careful analysis, Infowars’ grand pooh-bah Jones said in 2014, “I’ve looked at it and undoubtedly there’s a cover-up, there’s actors, they’re manipulating, they’ve been caught lying, and they were pre-planning before it and rolled out with it.”

Might not the same be said about the baseball assault? Wouldn’t it be consistent in the eyes of Infowars followers for anti-gun nuts to stage an attack on Representative Steve Scalise, Republican Whip, and others in his entourage so as to foster support for stricter gun laws, or worse, total confiscation of all firearms?

Think about it. Have you seen any pictures of anyone shot at the ball-field besides Scalise? Where are these people? And what about Scalise’s alleged gunshot wound? A bullet to the hip and he’s in grave danger of losing his life!? Never in the history of Westerns and Arnold Schwarzenegger movies has anyone croaked from a shot to the hip.

Are people really supposed to believe that the “cop” shown in this clip throwing out the first pitch of the eventual ballgame between R’s and D’s was struck by a bullet from a deranged middle aged white guy? He seems fine enough to cast aside the prop crutches and hurl a fast ball down the middle.

And why were the Capitol police at a practice scrimmage on a weekend? Obviously they knew in advance about the plan and were poised to take in Democrat stooge Hodgkinson before he could rat about the conspiracy.

Finally, you can rearrange the letters in “Hodgkinson” to spell “Kinghoods.” More than anything else, that constitutes compelling and irrefutable proof that the shooting was a hoax.

Major Terata will continue to monitor the situation closely for ties between Scalise, Hodgkinson and the pizza joint that fronts for John Podesta’s pedophile ring.

Kalanick Takes a Hike

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Uber Ex-CEO Travis Kalanick counsels a driver on how to be a more effective asshole.

Uber founder Travis Kalanick has finally resigned his position as company CEO just a few days after saying he would take a short sabbatical from the job. After upsetting the moribund taxi industry with a slick app that connects people seeking rides with drivers seeking to give rides, Kalanick presided over a steady compendium of foolish errors that blemished Uber’s image – but hasn’t dented the company’s valuation (yet). These include sexual harassment, price-gouging customers during times of panic, hosting phony versions of their app to elude local laws, bait-n-switching drivers by lowering their take per ride, prying into the privacy of a rider who was raped by an Uber driver, deploying an app called “Hell” to track rival Lyft drivers.

Uber is a living case study of all that can be morally wrong with a company.

But as we blogged in July 2015, the biggest affront to society that Uber might inflict is the exploitation of its massive database of rider behavior. Uber knows an awful lot about where their customers come from and where they go, when they go, how long they stay, how often they visit a destination, when they deviate from a pattern of travel. All of this info poses a tremendous opportunity for Uber to fuck with people’s lives in ways small and large.

Advertisers crave access to the data so as to offer deals based on where people go. Law enforcement wants rider data to make cases and solve crimes.

And most concerning are governments that want access to the data so as to monitor behavior, predict unrest and clamp down on the populace. In early June, it was reported that the Egyptian government asked Uber for access to Uber’s live ride tracking tool known internally as “Heaven.” (Sidebar: Tools called Heaven and Hell – Is Kalanick a Dante fanboy?)

Supposedly Uber declined, so the Egyptian apparatchiks offered preferential treatment to a local rival called Careem who also supposedly declined. Egypt’s police state must have gotten a boner thinking about how they could predict the time and location of protests and shut down ride-hailing services to thwart transportation options to the protest sites.

As Uber strives for world domination, they will undoubtedly face greater pressure from governments (including the U.S.’s NSA) to share live and archived data on riders. Odds are, they’ll buckle.

Kalanick’s resignation will be met positively by investors, but the genie is already out of the bottle. Things are destined to get worse with Uber – only now the damage will be under the radar instead of on TMZ.

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Trump’s ISIS Head-fake

trumpisisRemember Tora Bora? Until the other day it hadn’t been in the news for years, so it’s completely understandable if someone born after 1996 thinks Tora Bora is a tiki bar drink served in a coconut carved in the shape of a monkey’s face. But others will recall it as the rugged mountainous region interlaced with caves and tunnels on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan where Osama bin Laden and his murderous Al Qaeda and Taliban acolytes hid out after the U.S. began its retaliation for the events of 9/11. It was at Tora Bora where American special forces closing in on bin Laden’s ass were pulled aside, on the orders of the George W. Bush administration, so that the local Afghan mujahadeen could close the deal. Who’d a thunk that the Afghan mujahadeen might be susceptible to taking bribes to allow bin Laden to escape into friendly Pakistan where he’d live another dozen years to watch porn and plot intergalactic destruction?

Anyway, after a decade in which Tora Bora was so low key that even Airbnb to this day has no listings, we saw this ominous headline:

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The first and only legitimate reaction has to be: Why is ISIS still around to sneak into Tora Bora given Trump’s claim more than a year ago that he has the best plan to beat the Islamic State (a plan he was keeping secret so as not to tip off terrorists, or worse, to inform one of his competitors for the nomination of his master plan)? The future POTUS boasted at the time at a rally in Connecticut, “We’re gonna beat ISIS very, very quickly folks. It’s gonna be fast. I have a great plan. It’s going to be great. They ask, ‘What is it?’ Well, I’d rather not say. I’d rather be unpredictable.”

Strangely – after all, he said he already had the perfect plan – once in office on January 28th, Trump signed one of those nifty leather-bound folders with his Crayola thus ordering his generals: “Within 30 days, a preliminary draft of the Plan to defeat ISIS shall be submitted to the president by the secretary of defense.”

Then, precisely 30 days later the Defense Department laid on Mr. Orange a plan so terrific he had no choice but to tout its brilliance. “As promised, I directed the Department of Defense to develop a plan to demolish and destroy ISIS, a network of lawless savages that have slaughtered Muslims and Christians and men, and women and children of all faiths and all beliefs. We will work with our allies, including our friends and allies in the Muslim world, to extinguish this vile enemy from our planet.”

That’s the plan. And that’s why ISIS now owns Tora Bora.

I Love the Smell of KY in the Morning

I have a feeling actual Vietnam vets may not agree with draft-dodging Trump who once said this: “It’s amazing, I can’t even believe it. I’ve been so lucky in terms of that whole world, it is a dangerous world out there. It’s like Vietnam, sort of. It is my personal Vietnam. I feel like a great and very brave solider.” And this: “You know, if you’re young, and in this era, and if you have any guilt about not having gone to Vietnam, we have our own Vietnam — it’s called the dating game. Dating is like being in Vietnam. You’re the equivalent of a soldier going over to Vietnam.”

Trump’s version of a land mine? Vaginas.

Presumably Mr. Germ-a-Phobe Donald Trump has managed to escape contracting any serious venereal diseases throughout his meat-market days (although based on his pronouncements of late, we can’t rule out the belated effects of syphilis). And because he personally requires no assistance to deal with sexually transmitted diseases, it only makes sense that no one else in America should either.

Today, six members of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA) resigned in protest of the Trump administration. One of those members, Scott Schoettes said, “The decision to resign from government service is not one that any of us take lightly. However, we cannot ignore the many signs that the Trump administration does not take the on-going epidemic or the needs of people living with HIV seriously.”

Schoettes noted that the Trump administration took down the Office of National AIDS Policy website and has not yet appointed anyone to lead the White House Office of National AIDS Policy.

Maybe if Schoettes and his gang had served in Playtime-Vietnam like Trump, he wouldn’t need to fret over a few HIV/AIDS sufferers who must recognize that, according to the late, great and likely queer Jerry Falwell, “AIDS is not just God’s punishment for homosexuals. It is God’s punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals.”

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The Cabinet of Dr. Demento

PuckerTrump ran a cabinet meeting in front of the press and in a fashion usually associated with such illustrious narcissists as Kim Jong-Un and Saddam Hussein, went around the room and extracted statements of praise and fealty from the pitiful underlings. While each cabinet member sought to out-suck the previous sycophant, Trump sat there with an evil grin – relishing the embarrassment he was putting his staff through.

The spectacle simply added new reaffirmation that Trump is a sick fuck. He had the nerve to spout such bullshit as:

  • “Never has there been a president, with few exceptions who has passed more legislation, done more things.” The Republican controlled Congress hasn’t passed a single piece of major legislation.
  • The wonderfulness of his plan for the “single biggest tax cut in American history.” He has not proposed a plan; Congress ain’t working on one.
  • Taking credit for an economy that generated 1.1 million jobs in the past seven months, noting “No one would have believed it.” In the previous seven months, the economy generated 1.3 million jobs – also unbelievable, I suppose.

Observers continue to debate whether Sir Orange is a liar or hopelessly deluded. Does it really matter which?

Knowing that most people could not watch the entire cabinet charade without throwing up along the way, we at Major Terata have compiled the best of the worst ass-kissing statements and helpfully rated them on the “pile of shit” meter. You’re welcome.

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Dem Bums

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After losing by -2.8 million votes, Dems have to do better

Once again readers of the New York Times were treated to sage analysis about how the Democrats are a pubic hair away from complete irrelevance. In today’s Sunday Review section Frank Bruni moans that the Dems continue to fail nationwide because they haven’t “put forward the right candidate for a largely working-class region whose barns need paint, whose town centers want for bustle and whose manufacturing plants are too few and far between.” Of course, he takes for granted that the Dems could do such a thing without impacting their majorities in the big cities where voters don’t have barns to paint, but do have legitimate urban-centric concerns.

I’m always fascinated by such articles that declare the Democratic party all but dead. A disconnected dinosaur. In no way do I believe the Democrats are mostly ept (as opposed to inept), and any political party can always do better. But damn, why are commentators always chanting kaddish over the corpse of the Democratic party when the stats suggest something else. Consider:

  • In 2016, the Democrat candidate for president captured almost 3 million more popular votes than the Republican. If Dems have a problem with winning the presidency, it’s largely due to an archaic Electoral College system that disfavors them – not a lack of voter enthusiasm. (Sidebar: the last time a Republican won an open presidential election with a majority of popular votes was almost 30 years ago with George H. W. Bush’s victory over powerhouse Mike Dukakis in 1988.)
  • Although Senate Democrats represent 55 percent of the population, they hold an emasculated 48 percent of the seats in the U.S. Senate. Their weakness in the Senate is more a function of the stilted way in which each state is allotted two Senators than their crappy campaigning skills.
  • Republicans control the House of Representatives in large part through blatant gerrymandering which took place after the 2010 Census was completed. Although each party has taken advantage of this decennial opportunity to redistrict their states, it was only in 2010 that the computational and data mining capability advanced far enough to enable widespread, pinpoint gerrymandering. The result was that in many states the Reps took 60-80 percent of the House seats even though they had won the state with just a bit over 50 percent. The House Reps are ahead of the Dems by 39 seats, but the gap is largely because of gerrymandering rather than voters’ disgust with the donkey party.
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    Oddly-shaped North Carolina House district #12 that conveniently helps the Reps beat the tarheel out of the Dems.

So it’s fair to say the Dems could do better, but the litany of commentary that excoriates them for loss of influence in American government seems misguided. Perhaps the pundits should look at the systemic flaws in our electoral processes at least as hard as they look at Hillary Clinton’s pants suits.

At the end of the NYT article, Bruni reports on a conversation he had with Renee Gardner, a hotel maid in Fleischmanns, NY in the heart of the old-time Catskills. I guess because she’s more than 75 miles from a big city, she was compelled to vote for Trump (who presumably promised to bring back the borsht mines.) Here’s what she had to say: “Everything Trump was talking about sounded fantastic. And I believe most politicians are crooks, so let’s get a real person in there — even if he’s a crook, too. But I’ve learned a lot … he’s a moron.”

There may be hope yet.

RIP Adam West

Although die-hard Batman fans favor the darkness of the franchise captured in the several films – especially “The Dark Knight” featuring a staggering performance by Heath Ledger as the Joker – over the campy, 1960s television take on the DC Comics’ heroes and villains, the TV series was nevertheless a generally popular success during its bumpy three year run.

As a boy of about 10, I chose to skip joining the Boy Scouts because the den meetings took place on Thursdays – the same bat-time that the show aired on the ABC bat-channel. The network, hurting for content, decided to air two Batman episodes on consecutive days each week, ensuring the series would become particularly addictive to those with pliant minds. (Sidebar: It was common for the script writers to title each companion episode for the week as a couplet unworthy of Shakespeare, e.g.: “The Puzzles are Coming” followed by “The Duo is Slumming”.)

Adam West, who played millionaire Bruce Wayne and his alter-ego Batman died the other day at 88, thus reviving oldster’s memories of that campy Batman show.

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This is what passed for hunk in 1968

Forced to recall 1960s Batman in West’s wake, I fondly remembered one of my favorite episodes (#37 & #38) entitled “Hot Off the Griddle” / “The Cat and the Fiddle.” In the first half of the two-part episode that aired on a Wednesday lo the many decades ago, the Catwoman has incapacitated Batman and sidekick Robin on the roof of a building where a pair of giant magnifying glasses loom over the Dynamic Duo. Catwoman has put a plan in motion whereby the sun will soon align with the magnifying glasses and griddle the two heroes. Like every baddie in the movies, she inexplicably bolts the scene before the sizzling destruction occurs. In the second half, Batman and Robin miraculously escape the clutches.

Can you guess/remember how they got away? Answer below. Hint: Think “Apocalypto.”

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Muz-Ban 2.0: Still Buggy

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Saudis lick Trump’s golf balls, stay off Muslim ban list

Trump is having a hell of a time with his Muslim travel ban order. And as with everything Trump touches, much of the turbulence has been self-inflicted by a man who can’t seem to control himself.

After his first attempt to block Muslims from selected countries via Executive Order 13769, federal courts intervened to halt the implementation on the basis of its flagrant unconstitutionality. When courts take such actions they outline their reasoning and usually supply a roadmap on what alterations it would take to pass Constitutional muster. Rather than take a hint, master deal-maker Trump would prefer to double down, auger in deeper and further imperil his big “national security” initiative.

Much has been written about Trump’s dysfunction on this topic: his feral tweets that contradict his administration’s messaging, his attacks on the Justice Department as if they’re a fourth arm of the government not under his control, his insistence on making statements that only fuel his opponents case just as the issue is about to come before the Supreme Court.

We at Major Terata are more interested in exploring the makeup of the countries subjected to the ban. Trump’s “Executive Order Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States” calls for the suspension of entry of certain aliens from six countries: Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. All are shady countries to be sure; besides Iran, each is a near-anarchic entity hosting a hotbed of brewing terrorism.

But what about Iraq? Why aren’t they on the list? After all, here’s what the order says about that dysfunctional land: “Portions of Iraq remain active combat zones. Since 2014, ISIS has had dominant influence over significant territory in northern and central Iraq. The ongoing conflict has impacted the Iraqi government’s capacity to secure its borders and to identify fraudulent travel documents.”

A top harborer of ISIS, and yet Iraq’s swarthy citizens can just waltz right onto American soil, zipping right thru Customs while their comrades from Syria endure cavity searches executed by gerbils in TSA uniforms before being sent back. I imagine those unmolested Iraqis then renting a penthouse in Trump’s DC hotel and slaughtering a camel in the lobby bar while making clandestine deals with flaks from the Flynn Intel Group.

Remember an event called “9/11”? Nineteen terrorists hijacked four planes and used them to kill more than 3,000 people in the worst terrorist attack in modern history. Here’s where they came from: Saudi Arabia (15), United Arab Emirates (2), Egypt (1), and Lebanon (1). None of these proven exporters of terrorism is affected by the ban.

Omar Mateen who shot and killed dozens of party-goers at an Orlando nightclub was born in Hyde Park, NY to parents who came from Afghanistan, a lawless country under partial control of the evil Taliban – and one that is not on Trump’s travel ban.

And what about husband and wife team of Syed Farook and the pig-faced Tashfeen Malik, the perpetrators of the San Bernardino massacre in 2015 that took the lives of 14 people? Farook was born in Chicago and has roots in Pakistan where Malik was born. Pakistan, which aids the Taliban and gave quarter to Bin Laden is conspicuously absent from Trump’s lists of baddies.

And the other day, Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen ganged up against Qatar as a sponsor of terrorism. Trump quickly took credit for the action against the tiny Persian Gulf country, but said nothing about Qatar’s absence from his ban. Perhaps the presence of a huge U.S. Army base outside of Doha influenced Trump’s genius deal-making brain against blacklisting both a sponsor of terrorism AND a good American buddy.

Worth noting: since the Sept. 11 attacks, no one has been killed in the United States in a terrorist attack by anyone who emigrated from or whose parents emigrated from any of the nations on the Muslim ban list.

Prohibition Distillery

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Roscoe, NY on the bucolic upper branch of the Delaware River has long been known for two things: top-notch fly-fishing and the Roscoe Diner. Situated about halfway between IBM’s one-time biggest NY-computer development labs – Poughkeepsie & Endicott – the Diner became the go-to compromise location for engineers and managers from the two plants in the 1980s to meet and plot world domination.

Things have changed . . . for the better. Roscoe is now host to a fabulous distillery called Prohibition Distillery that produces some very nice bourbons, gins and vodkas.

On a boring drive along New York’s Southern Tier Expressway (aka. Route 17, I86, and the Quickway), I stopped into sleepy Roscoe to gas up and go. The next thing I knew I was sampling some really fine spirits and enjoying a tour of the liquor works. I walked out with bottles of their top-end bourbon and an amber-colored gin that had spent some time curing in used whiskey barrels.

The word “hand-crafted” gets thrown around a lot, but the booze produced by this micro distillery definitely captures the original intent.

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Kathy Griffin Gives Bad Head

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Kathy Griffin supplied the enemy right wingers with some “fair and balanced” ammo against their own chicanery.

The next time some liberal whines about an alt-right threat on the life of Obama, or Hillary, or Elizabeth Warren, or Anthony Wiener (OK , maybe not him) – Kathy Griffin can stand tall knowing she has served up an uber-antidote for the conservatives.

Griffin quickly went to Twitter to atone…

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(Sidebar: At this point, is the “Follow” button even necessary?)

Sorry, Kath: co-opting ISIS imagery for comedy works about as well as Nazi ovens. Just ask Jerry Lewis.

The Verdict: Banishment from “New Years Rocking Eve” with human toilet brush Anderson Pooper. And then oblivion.

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Integrity Steps Aside for Trump

coatBefore Trump acquired the fabled Mar-a-Lago from breakfast cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post, the compound gates sported the coat of arms of Joseph Edward Davies, Marjorie’s third husband. In 1939 the powers that be in Britain granted Davies the heraldic symbol which features a fist holding an arrow atop a shield of three lions and two chevrons. Below the shield is a ribbon upon which the word “Integritas” – Latin for integrity – appears boldly.

After Trump came along, he saw to it that the places in and around Mar-a-Lago would continue to showcase Davies’s coat of arms with one small alteration: the word “Integritas” would be replaced with “Trump.” This makes sense as Trump must mark everything he owns (or borrows) with his moniker. In with Trump and out with Integrity – is there a better metaphor for the man’s intrusion into America’s business?

It’s fair to say Davies’s heirs and rightful owners of the coat of arms are upset by Trump’s confiscation of the family’s symbol. It’s a moral and probably legal offense. Some heirs want to sue, but at least one elder advises against it; not that there’s insufficient case, but as he notes about Trump, “I knew him and the way he operates. And the way he operates, you don’t sue Trump, because you’ll be in court for years and years and years.”

Integritas indeed.

You can read more about this typically Trumpian theft in the New York Times.

But if you thought Mr. Orange would stop there, you haven’t seen the FBI’s new seal.

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Where will Tiger Woods Strike Next?

First we have this stunning headline:

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Then just a few hours later, this shocker:

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What’s next, Tiger drops a deuce in the 18th hole at Trump National?

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F is for Ford

fordDetroit automakers hate government regulations and will deploy armies of lobbyists to get their way in Washington. And they routinely win. The argument goes like this: auto industry experts at such companies as GM, Chrysler and Ford know way more about the car business than “Washington bureaucrats” … and besides, if said auto industry experts get it wrong, Washington will bail them out anyway, so what’s the problem?

Since the 1973 OPEC shaft-job Washington regulators have consistently called for higher fuel efficiency from the automakers’ fleets only to receive immense pushback from the U.S. industry which wants to sell more high-profit, big-ass vehicles that slurp gas. Although profit is the motive, the industry will insist the regulatory goals are technically infeasible – just like it was infeasible to engineer cost-effective airbags, until foreign competition introduced them. And then miraculously, Detroit managed to comply.

Getting back to fuel economy: as long as gas prices stay low, everything’s copacetic. But when gas prices spike (often before the emergence of a recession), buyers head for the smaller, more efficient vehicles which are for the most part supplied by Detroit’s competition. GM’s mix of vehicles leading up to the Great Recession was heavy on trucks and SUVs. The economy turned south, people fled the big rides, and GM headed for bankruptcy – only to be backstopped by Bush’s TARP bailout to the tune of $30 billion (that includes GMAC).

Now Ford is back complaining about fuel efficiency regulations – specifically the requirement that the industry deliver greater numbers of electric vehicles. Ford CEO Mark Fields squawked about it to Bloomberg News in December 2016. According to the report :

“Ford Motor Co. plans to lobby President-elect Donald Trump to soften U.S. and state fuel-economy rules that hurt profits by forcing automakers to build more electric cars and hybrids than are warranted by customer demand. ‘In 2008, there were 12 electrified vehicles offered in the U.S. market and it represented 2.3 percent of the industry,’ Mark Fields, chief executive officer of Ford, said in an interview at Bloomberg’s Southfield, Michigan, office Friday. ‘Fast forward to 2016, there’s 55 models, and year to date it’s 2.8 percent.’”

Clearly Ford wants to go in a direction opposite that of Tesla Motors which has been the top cheerleader for electric vehicles and a leading pioneer of the technology.

Then in early April, the market cap of Tesla Motors surpassed that of Ford suggesting that investors have a sense that electric is a bigger deal than CEO Fields believes. Then on May 22, Ford abruptly fired Fields who had been at the company for 28 years.

Ford Chairman Bill Ford said at the time, “Our world has changed dramatically. Look at the pace of change and the competitors coming into our space, and we need to match or beat that.”

Ya think?

Roger and Out

British actor Roger Moore died the other day at age 89. Best remembered as the man who played the iconic role of James Bond in seven films running from 1973 to 1985, Moore was already established as a suave, swashbuckler in the early 1960s TV hit “The Saint.” Surely his comfort playing the deboniare Simon Templar character paved the way for him to take over Bond from Sean Connery.

The early James Bond movies starring Connery were patently ludicrous – just consider how the comic Austin Powers films are more like remakes than parodies. By the time Moore took on the Bond mantle, the producers had openly embraced the stupidity of the plots and widened the aperture for wry humor – something that the droll Moore executed with aplomb.

One of my favorite scenes comes near the end of the ridiculous “Moonraker” in which Moore as Bond accompanied by main squeeze Holly Goodhead commandeer the bad guy’s space shuttle and blast evil orbiting nerve gas containers to kingdom come. (Sidebar: the inclusion of a hot chick named “Goodhead” shows how lazy the screenwriters became in the middle of the franchise before tightening things up in the Daniel Craig period.) Following the successful annihilation of the nerve gas Bond and Goodhead are caught on video having sex in the weightlessness of space. The MI6 chief demands answers. The best line ever: “I think he’s attempting re-entry, sir.”

Perhaps the best homage to the Bond series came in the form of clever cartoon parodies published in Mad Magazine. One such parody was of Moore’s first outing as Bond in “Live and Let Die” which takes place in the underworld of New Orleans. Bond seeks out villain Mr. Big in the Fillet of Soul restaurant which caters to the black community. Here is Mad’s take on the encounter which like all good parodies enhances the foolishness by treading closely to the target of ridicule.

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Here’s the original risible scene.


How Bond escapes becoming an ingredient in the jambalaya is beyond me.

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Solved: The Mystery of the Dead (W)Ailes

ailesLast week, the unidentified rotting corpse of a 50-foot-long corpulent creature washed up on a beach in Indonesia. Confused locals took photographs with their smartphones that went around the world of the immense blob of slimy, smelly flesh. Noxious decomposition gases bloated the body and seeped out, causing the inquisitive nearby to retch and vomit.

Then just the other day at least part of the mystery was unraveled: 21st Century Fox announced the death of retired/ousted Fox News head Roger Ailes. After a necropsy of the beast revealed the remains of what appeared to be several blond interns in its belly, authorities concluded the body was that of Ailes.

How he floated from his home in Palm Beach all the way to the Indian Ocean after falling and striking his head on May 10 remains unsolved.

Thumbtack’s Subliminal Message

The Wall Street Journal reports on a new surge in home improvement business driven in large part by homeowners’ choosing to fix up the places they live rather than go through the hassle of moving to better digs. Concurrent with this trend comes the growth of companies like Angie’s List and Thumbtack that can match homeowners seeking services with independent handymen ready to bid for odd jobs.

In a recent ad, Thumbtack explains how their free service delivered via an easy-to-use app can help busy homeowners work down their to-do lists by hiring pros for whom no job is too small.

Near the end of the ad, Thumbtack illustrates how the app offers choices of bidders along with prices and ratings.

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And then how the homeowner can then select the better choice.

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It’s funny though how Thumbtack shows the user picking the white guy over the black guy, even though the two have the same rating and the black guy is 20 percent cheaper.

Could it be that Thumbtack thinks its user base is racist? More likely the ad agency employs blinkered millenials in their “creative” department who have never set foot outside their suburban neighborhoods or their bucolic campus safe spaces.

More TV Ads Humiliating Men

Speaking of TV ads…

Three years ago, we penned a blog titled “Mad Men Showcase Stupid White Men” – the gist of which was how Madison Avenue ad agencies produce TV spots that attempt humor at the expense of white males. We highlighted several examples of how the white male is portrayed as the buffoon – an approach that would cause unfettered uproar if the subject was a woman or a minority.

Apparently, no one in the industry read our blog, because the assault continues to this day. Here are some recent examples:

Common on TV today is the ad for yet another drug to cure or control a malady that people used to ignore or never knew they had. The usual approach is to show the soon-to-be-healthy sufferer going through the routine motions of life, pursuing happiness thanks to the subject drug. One such ad is for Toujeo, a drug designed to control blood sugar. In this spot, a dumpy middle aged man struggles with his defiant dog, cluelessly pours olive oil on the floor while he reads a recipe, and clumsily stumbles on a treadmill (next to a hot black chick who no doubt considers her fellow exerciser unworthy of human status). And then the ad really gets annoying; dumpy-boy starts jiving uncontrollably to Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Let’s Groove.” Unqualified to be on “Dancing with the Stars – Leprosy Colony Edition,” the guy is shown jerking about in the kitchen, the office, while mowing the lawn.

Jesus, if shooting up Toujeo turned me into an uncoordinated disco dancer lacking the self-control not to perform in public, I’d rather take a blood sugar level of 400 any day.

Toujeo

Kayak is one of many so-called fare aggregators that roots around the web looking for the best prices on things like airfares, hotels and consumer goods. Others include Trivago, Expedia and Priceline. To make a point that Kayak is more efficient in winnowing down the options, their ads show people trying to find the best suited product in a fashion that is inferior to the power of the Kayak algorithm. In this weird TV spot, a woman searching for the best fitting jeans surveys several women modeling jeans. Suddenly an overweight bearded dude with hefty man-boobs pops out of a fitting room wearing a pair of mom-jeans that are a couple dozen sizes too small. Along with all the women, he is summarily dismissed by the prospective buyer. Proof that this type of shopping can’t measure up to the wonders of Kayak. But why add the goofy guy into the mix? Because the ad wouldn’t have been as “clever” without the humiliation of a white dude.


Kayak

I can attest from experience that La Quinta is a crappy hotel chain. The front desk is staffed by what appear to be meth addicts, the rooms smell bad and come with outdated furnishings, and the highlight of the free breakfast are the Froot Loops. In a TV ad that comports with the quality of the hotels, La Quinta showcases a total asshole who apparently can dominate a business meeting by arrogantly pointing with his eyeglasses. To make things worse, it seems the others in the meeting fall for the histrionics of this jerk.

Later, Mr. Glass Pointer – who also sports a horrible beard and a paunch – surveys a La Quinta room and judges it worthy. Anyone in business for a few years has probably encountered one or more such douche bags bloviating in meetings, acting like the king of all knowledge.

Why La Quinta would choose such an asshole to be the one to declare their rooms worthy remains a mystery.


La Quinta

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IBM: Dow and Out?

ibmdow
What is the life span of a stock in “dog-of-the-Dow” years?

It’s been a rather bad month for IBM.

Since announcing 1Q 2017 earnings in early April, the stock is down over 20 points to $150 a share – a drop of 12 percent. And for good reason. Included in the rosy remarks by CFO Martin Schroeter (“In the first quarter, we continued to deliver strong performance in our strategic imperatives, with revenue up 13percent at constant currency. Our cloud offerings were up 35 percent this quarter, led by Cloud-as-a-service, which was up over 60 percent”) was the revelation that IBM’s “revenue for the quarter was $18.2 billion, which is down two percent.” And with that, IBM managed to log its 20th straight quarter without growing revenue.

20 quarters ago is just around the time Ginni Rometty took the helm from Sam Palmisano which means IBM’s revenue nosedive corresponds almost exactly to her run so far as CEO. Many people have called for Ginni’s head – but instead of getting the axe from the BOD, she instead received a pay hike of 60 percent to $33 million. Fully 46 percent of shares votes against the ill-conceived raise – a measure of protest practically unheard of in corporate America. (It’s hard to calculate with precision, but a good guess is that Rometty’s salary increase exceeded the combined raises of 20,000 other IBMers.)

Other less-than-comforting IBM news in the recent past includes:

  • “Oracle of Omaha” Warren Buffett’s better-late-than-never sale of a major stake. Perhaps now considered the “Nitwit of Nebraska,” Buffett took an estimated $812 million loss since buying up a huge stake a few years ago.
  • Credit rating cuts by S&P and Moody’s, and stock downgrades from Societe Generale, Zacks Investment Research, and RBC.
  • In a solid expression of support, the IBM Pension Fund managers actually dump IBM stock from their portfolio.
  • A lawsuit by the state of Pennsylvania claiming IBM failed to live up to a multi-million dollar contract to update the state’s unemployment claims system.
  • The shedding of $20 billion in market cap in a mere 30 days.

Despite all this negativity, no one really expects IBM will go casters-up any time soon. It will undoubtedly trudge along selling off assets, laying off employees, engineering tax dodges, and yes, delivering some remarkable technologies that have kept the company in the game for more than 100 years.

The question we have at Major Terata is whether IBM will remain a component of the Dow Jones Industrial average.

The Dow Jones Industrial average is a distillation of the performances of a supposedly representative set of 30 global companies mixed up with pixie dust into a concoction which yields a number that investors every business day duly prostrate before.

Here is a list of the current members of the Dow:

dow-table

IBM and HP are the only companies in the Dow’s subsector of “Computers/Technology.” But given that computers and technology make up less than 10 percent of IBM’s revenue (assuming “technology” means “hardware”) does its representation of the category even make sense? Unless the Dow boys create a new subsector that comports with what IBM wants to be (a stew of cognitive computing, cloud delivery models, blockchain, weather data, etc.), IBM’s inclusion in the Dow would not seem to be particularly compelling. Wouldn’t it make more sense to replace IBM with Facebook, Google or Amazon – companies that are larger and more relevant to today’s economy?

The DJIA is certainly a top go-to metric for the state of the larger stock market, but it’s also a tool to cheer on investors to load up on more equities. And for that reason there is undoubtedly a desire on the part of the Dow’s stewards to ensure laggards don’t stay around long to drag down the average. After all, in 1982 the DJIA included such has-beens as Woolworths, United Carbide, International Paper, US Steel, International Harvester, and the American Can Company.

IBM makes up about 5 percent of the Dow average, and had it been exorcised from the list and replaced with a hotter property, who knows how high the DJIA would be right now. If IBM continues to tread water and continues to hold back the DJIA, don’t be surprised if it doesn’t make it to a 40th anniversary as a Dow component.

But It Could Be Worse

IBM has taken its share of lumps, but compared to these horrible companies Big Blue is a national treasure.

  • Wells Fargo – Scammed its own customers by opening bogus bank accounts in their names, and fucking up their credit ratings. They’re so bad, the top miscreant executives were forced to pay back ill-gotten bonuses – something virtually unheard-of in modern American business.
  • Volkswagen – Unable to meet emissions promises in their “clean” Diesel engines, VW relied on embedded software to cheat the EPA test machines. And when confronted with the evidence, they lied until they could no longer sit inside a Passat without banging their noses on the windshield.
  • Valeant – Acquired rights to old-time specialty medicines and jacked up retail prices a hundred-fold, thus extorting desperately ill people in the pursuit of naked greed. Thankfully, Valeant’s decline yielded one good thing: Bill Ackman had to take a pipe up the ass on his investment in the morally bereft company.
  • Spirit Airlines – Take it from Kate Hanni, former executive director of FlyersRights.org: “They are the absolute worst airline in the country. If it costs a little more, take the other airline.”
  • Snap – Purveyor of a mostly inane smart-phone app with features easily copied by Facebook; goes public then announces $2.1 billion loss. Shareholders running for the hills after the stock falls well below the IPO price.
  • Uber – The list of shenanigans pulled by the ride-hailing company is mindboggling, the most recent being the deployment of tricky apps designed to work around local regulations barring them from operating. The level of deceit on Uber’s part should seal the verdict that they are a loathsome enterprise bent on winning at any cost.
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Those Who Can’t Do Preach

IvankacoverIvanka Trump, no doubt with extensive help from one or more ghostwriters, released a new book titled “Women Who Work: Rewriting the Rules for Success” – and the response has been either stellar or vicious depending on whether the reader is a Trump sycophant or an actual working woman who finds the idea of a coddled Ivanka lecturing about something with which she has no experience repugnant.

Below is a graph of the book’s reviews garnered on Amazon as of May 6, and its bifurcated distribution of 1 and 5 star endpoints with virtually nothing in-between speaks volumes about how Ivanka is perceived. It’s rare to find such widely disparate sentiment for a book.

Ivankabook

Major Terata Publications has often railed against the celebrity vanity book project for they gobble up publishers’ attention and crowd out talented and struggling authors who are writing more interesting and creative material. It’s understandable that a publisher would feel more confident in making revenue quotas with a book associated with a celebrity with a large, loyal, established following – but there’s something sad about an industry relegating its presumed core mission to second-class status.

Like all Trumps, Ivanka’s ulterior motive is brand enhancement – and “Women Who Work” is really nothing more than a vehicle to inspire (coerce?) women to buy her shit in the hopes that doing so will make them more like the wildly successful author. Forget that Ivanka was born into fabulous wealth and handed a business on a silver platter – maybe buying a pair of her foreign made sweat-shop shoes could actually rewrite the rules for success.

The book proffers cracker barrel philosophy and corn-pone bromides such as

  • “If you want to achieve greatness, stop asking for permission.”
  • “The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.”
  • “All women benefit immeasurably by architecting their lives.”
  • “Honor yourself by exploring the kind of life you deserve.”

If any of these sound familiar, it’s because Ivanka has quoted other women – which means “Women Who Work” is actually a meta-book, a directory for received wisdom.

One of my favorite passages involves Ivanka recalling how tough it was to hump her ass around the country campaigning for daddy – so tough in fact that she rarely found time for “treating myself to a massage or making much time for self-care.” I’m surprised she didn’t mention the time her Kia broke down in Iowa and she had to replace the fuel pump … by herself…in the dark…with an emery board.

As for the Amazon reviews, the negatives cluster around the notion that it is insulting and unseemly for a pampered heiress to tell real working women what they’ve been doing wrong. And the positives seem to be written by Trump supporters who want to counteract the low scores. Examples from both sides below:

  • Ivanka shows again how the entire Trump family, even the women, know nothing about the reality of working women. Tone deaf and annoying this book isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.
  • Written by a woman who has nannies, drivers, maids, possibly a personal chef.
  • Ivanka should donate the proceeds from the book to those children and families her family is harming by taking healthcare away from. She has no clue what it is like to have no barriers in life and succeed despite your barriers.
  • She has no idea what it means to be a working woman, coming from a privileged upbringing and having all doors open to her without any qualifications (e.g., Anna Wintour’s job offer) or working her way up. And, btw, ALL women work.
  • A book written for working women by a woman who does not work.
  • This reeks of being a useless publicity stunt to enhance the trump brand. Please close your wallet and save the money for an author who has real work experience. It really pushes the boundary of what you define as work. It’s very interesting to consider the channels the author used to achieve success. The women in my family told me that they found it insulting. Consider work from the perspective of someone who didn’t take time to write their own book.
  • Purchased just because Liberal/Democrats are complaining about it. My next trip to the bookstore I’ll purchase several copies for gifts. Keep whining…this book may be the best selling book of all time!
  • Great Book! #MAGA
  • Growing up as the daughter of a billionaire would certainly have its challenges! Ivanka Trump has captured the emotional depths of working women everywhere. She has an uncanny ability to identify with all walks of life. Highly recommended!

I never thought of it that way – maybe being the daughter of a billionaire is really a pre-existing condition.

(Sidebar: wouldn’t it be better for the cover to exhibit a woman actually working – something like this?)

Ivankacover1

LaFerrari Aperta

ferrari-laferrari-aperta-2016-gallery-prew-1-tr

Sure, the LaFerrari Aperta has a top speed of 217 MPH, can go from 0 to 60 in 3 seconds and costs just a bit above $3 million – but how many cup holders does it have?

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The Outrage of Eddie Munster


Paul Ryan recites the hypocritic oath.

Billions of gallons of ink will be spilt over the House of Representative’s vote yesterday to repeal Obamacare and replace it with “something terrific” – if you consider “terrific” the taking away of myriad benefits so that the savings can be pasteurized and homogenized into tax cuts for top-earners. We’ll leave it to the many fuming pundits to excoriate the replacement bill, its feckless Republican supporters, and especially Trump who outright lied about rescuing America from failing Obamacare with his phantom plan to 1) deliver better care at 2) lower cost to 3) more people. (Normally when you’re O for 3, you’re out.)

There is much to hate about the Republican’s replacement known as AHCA, but among the most truly galling parts of the whole sordid episode was the rank hypocrisy exhibited by Speaker of the House and Eddie Munster doppelganger Paul Ryan. When the Democrats were busy ramming Obamacare down the throats of Americans in 2009-2010, aggrieved Paul had much to complain about the process. Although the Dems held dozens of Congressional hearings and public forums on the subject, and took more than a year from start to finish, Ryan whined that the bill was progressing too quickly and opaquely.

Ryan, in an interview in July 2009 said this about the Obamacare bill: “I don’t think we should pass bills we haven’t read and don’t know what they cost.” Of course, by the time Obamacare was voted on, people had plenty of time to learn what was in the bill and the Congressional Budget Office had published its cost analysis.

Still, Ryan of 2009 makes a valid, general point. Unlike the usual Congressional fodder consisting mainly of bills to rename post offices or establish National Toe Fungus Awareness Day, bills of the magnitude of Obamacare which affected more than 15 percent of the U.S. economy must be thoroughly debated and scored by the CBO before going to a vote.

Yesterday, the Republicans narrowly passed the week-old AHCA bill without holding a single hearing. Had they done so, they would have gotten an earful from some people who know a bit about health care, including the AMA. And the vote went ahead absent a CBO score which will come later and certainly reveal some true ugliness in terms of numbers of people who will lose coverage. This version of AHCA has to be at least as shitty as the previous bill that went down in flames in March – and that one was said to cause 24 million people to lose coverage by the middle of the next decade.

The big question: Where was Ryan’s outrage about a process that was 100 times worse than what he complained about when the Dems were making legislative sausage? Did he leave it somewhere on the Munsters 50th Anniversary Tour?

eddieryan

Speaking of Classic Old TV

Gotta love this Honeymooners spoof.

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The Berry Doesn’t Fall Far From the Dingle

wattersdickJesse Watters, smirky understudy to former Fox miscreant Bill O’Reilly stepped on his own dick the other day by proffering very ill-timed innuendo about Ivanka Trump’s skill at holding a phallic microphone. Ill-timed because the last thing Fox needs now is another frat-boy scandal. The show known as “The Five” – which is coincidentally what Watters calls his masturbatory hand – went to break after Jesse’s suggestive aside. When they came back Watters explained that his admiration for Ivanka’s talent referred to her jazzy-style voice. Everyone knows that during that fitful break, “The Five” producers and staff were frantically trying to come up with an explanation Jesse could offer on air other than “Ivanka obviously gives good head.”

As of this writing, Watters is on “vacation” from the show he just started appearing on – a suspicious turn of events that is reminiscent of O’Reilly’s sudden hiatus that preceded his ouster. Watters, who performed juvenile segments as part of “The O’Reilly Factor” was seen as a kind of O’Reilly protégé which explains his remark about Ivanka’s talent for fellatio. (Sidebar: it’s questionable as to whether milquetoast mannequin Jared Kushner would be able to convincingly confirm his wife’s oral prowess.)

At the rate Fox is burning through its male “talent” we may soon see an entirely reconfigured prime-time line-up anchored by “The All New Penguin Factor.”

nun

Before joining “The Five,” Jesse Watters had a bit segment called “Watters’ World.” (Nothing like taking inspiration from one of the biggest Hollywood disasters of all time.)

Watter’s shtick was to go out on the sidewalks of New York and ambush clueless passers-by to ask them simple or provocative questions. The goal: to prove that most people (read: Obama/Clinton voters) are too moronic to be taken seriously in modern America. This attempt at partisan humor was a standard of radio asshole Sean Hannity who would send his crew out to lob such inquiries as “who is the vice-president?” or “which came first, World War One or World War Two?” Invariably, Hannity’s people would stumble upon a drunk or a challenged individual who would fail the test to everyone’s delight.

Watters copied Hannity’s gig like a shameless Chinese DVD factory. No doubt his interviews were heavily edited to make sure only the stupidest of respondents made the cut. I can only imagine how many takes were discarded in which an irritated New Yorker replied to Jesse with a dismissive “go fuck yourself.”

I always hated this type of bullshit because the likes of Hannity, O’Reilly and Watters would rather use the material more to demonstrate their arrogant superiority than to make an attempt at intelligent humor. I would love to see a crew barge unannounced into Fox studios and pose some of the following questions to the illustrious talking heads.

Could they answer them? Can you?

1. “What’s the GDP of The United States?”

2. “What state has the highest percent of its population on Medicaid?”

3. “How many aircraft carriers does the U.S. have in active duty? How about Russia and China?”

4. “Who was the first president to submit a budget with a deficit greater than $1 trillion?”

5. “Which came first, the Dred Scott decision or John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry?”

6. “Which country gets the most US economic and military assistance?”

7. “What does the Third Amendment prohibit?”

8. “Who is the President of the Senate? Who is the President pro tempore of the Senate?

9. “Does Ivanka Trump really know how to operate a jackhammer?”

jackhammer-photo-u1

1. $18 trillion
2. New Mexico – 33%
3. 10 -1 -1
4. George W. Bush
5. Dred Scott – 1857
6. Afghanistan
7. No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law
8. Mike Pence / Orrin Hatch
9. She’s a great jazz singer

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Trump’s Massive Tax Hike on American Corporations

taxenbelope
Trump’s “tax reform plan” on the back of an envelope.

Trump released a one-page list of “bullet points” that was touted by his administration as a once-in-a-generation tax overhaul, but derided by economists as nothing more than a big tax cut for corporations and rich people. What went unnoticed is that by setting the corporate tax rate to 15 percent, Trump would inflict a serious tax hike on a multitude of corporations that currently pay a lot less than that. Many in fact pay less than 0 percent. Is Trump prepared to withstand the backlash from aggrieved companies that see his massive tax hike as a betrayal?

Consider Facebook which paid -$429 million on profits of $1.06 billion in 2012. That’s a tax rate of -40 percent. I highly doubt Mark Zuckerberg is gonna press “like” on Trump’s new 15 percent slam. And what about Southwest Airlines, Texas Instruments, Occidental Petroleum, Duke Energy, Priceline, Corning, Consolidated Edison and the New York Stock Exchange – all of whom had positive net earnings but paid less than zero corporate taxes in 2012? How will these companies continue to exist if they are required to reach the 15 percent threshold?

Then you have General Electric, Verizon, Boeing and Northeast Utilities that paid no federal income tax for five straight years. Hell, GE booked $27.5 billion in profit over five years and paid -$3.05 billion in tax for a rate of -11 percent. If they have to pay taxes, will GE ever bring good things to life again?

Pundits and politicians who bemoan America’s high corporate tax rate of 35 percent never mention that no company with even a half-smart tax accounting department pays anything close to that figure. The juicy loopholes involving inversions, stock options, depreciation, foreign earnings and on and on give corporations a massive toolbox to avoid taxes. Of course it would be irresponsible for a company beholden to shareholders to pay more than their legal requirement – but the solution should focus on the loopholes, not an arbitrary reduction of the top rate.

A one-time Treasury official, Len Burman, summed up the situation well: “In a rational system, a corporation’s tax department would be there to make sure a company complied with the law, but in our system, there are corporations that view their tax departments as a profit center, and the effects on public policy can be negative.” Knocking out the complicated loopholes and setting a rational rate would allow companies to downsize the tax departments, and bring some needed equity to the system.

But there’s no reason for optimism. Loopholes are like weeds – even if Congress eliminated the most egregious of them, within a year corporate lobbyists would succeed in adding back dozens of new ways to game the system.

Meanwhile, rank and file citizens who have few if any tools in their tax-avoidance toolbox are sitting ducks. Most middle class people will see minimal reductions, and many who live in states with high local income taxes may actually see their federal tax burden increase. At least these losers will have the satisfaction of knowing that when they press “send” in Turbotax that someone in GE’s tax profit center will be pressing “receive.”

This Week’s Biggest Asshole

The award goes to Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies – a group that “studies immigration” and concludes there must be less of it. He’s also the author of “The New Case Against Immigration: Both Legal and Illegal” whose cover captures the true spirit of the American dream. I suppose Lady Liberty put her hand up after Krikorian’s ancestors came through Ellis Island.

krik

Unlike most of his anti-immigrant ilk, Krikorian is not a big fan of Trump’s border wall for the simple reason that it won’t work. Nevertheless, he now advocates for it because of its symbolism. “Following through on wall construction is one of the ways that the political class can win back trust on this topic. It’s a tangible thing. You can take pictures of it and imagine it in your head.”

That’s right. You can take pictures of it! And imagine it! In your own head!

That’s pretty stupid, but what makes Mark Krikorian this week’s biggest asshole is his shameless call to spend billions on a worthless piece of shit. He says, “Even if the border wall did no good at all to control immigration, it would be important to build. Even if it did nothing, even if it was completely ineffective, it’s important politically.”

Perhaps in parallel with building the beautiful wall, we should commence a mission to send men to colonize the sun. Even if that was completely ineffective, it would make for some good pictures.

(Sidebar: No doubt picking next week’s biggest asshole will be a contest among the tax-cutting Republicans who will suddenly forget all about the crippling effects of ballooning deficits they harped about for the past eight years.)

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“O” Zone Depletion

Bill O’Reilly articulates his feelings about getting the boot from Fox

In his most recent and ill-timed book release titled “Old School,” one-time king of Fox punditry Bill O’Reilly – sounding like a crotchety bastard who demands of neighborhood kids: “get off my lawn!” – bemoans the loss of such wonders as land-lines, and misses the days when a kid could enjoy the freedom of falling off a bike and breaking his skull instead of having to wear a doofy-looking helmet that might save his life. Those who disagree with Mr. O are derided as “snowflakes” – presumably a swipe at people who now attend “New School.” This is just what America needs right now: a clueless screed by an angry white dude who remembers the world through the eyes of Ward Cleaver who was often justifiably “hard on the Beaver.”

olddrool

Another observation O’Reilly makes of the “old schoolers”: “Boys never bothered girls because of the ‘Brother and His Large Friends’ rule.” I interpret that to mean that if it weren’t for those annoying protectors, O’Reilly and his fellow O.S.-ers would have been free to cop feels, slip tongues, reach under plaid uniform skirts, and otherwise take advantage of the fairer sex. Contrast O’Reilly’s righteous defense of girls from “Old School” to his alleged (and now infamous) “loofah” comments to Andrea Mackris who sued him in 2003:

lawsuit

I guess Andrea didn’t have a brother with large friends at the time.

In any event, O’Reilly’s dalliances with women who find him repulsive go back a long way, and have left a trail of million-dollar settlements – ultimately paid for by 21st Century Fox corporation and its shareholders. Despite the continued misbehavior, Fox Chairman Rupert Murdoch stood by his ratings beast O’Reilly whose prime-time cable show brought in disproportionate revenues for the company. Until it didn’t. After a scathing front-page story in the New York Times (and a steady drumbeat of follow-up coverage) detailed Mr. No Spin’s sordid behavior, advertisers headed for the hills. The loss of revenue coupled with more derision than even hard-boiled Fox execs could bear drove the Murdoch’s to the same decision they arrived at with portly blob Roger Ailes this past summer.

Despite paying the $13 million bill for O’Reilly’s misbehavior, Fox kept him in the prime-time slot, judging the settlements a simple cost of doing business. But all good things must come to an end, so O’Reilly has taken his $25 million severance and left what had long been known to his critics as the “Oh, Really? Factor.”

Once he takes a well-deserved vacation – perhaps Thailand where he can proposition pre-teen sex workers who are too young to sue – Bill O’Reilly can start work on his next book, a sequel this time.

boldfresh

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The Easter Charade

fifth
“On the Avenue….Fifth Avenue…”

Ever since Jesus Christ rose from the dead, and with the help of a bunny rabbit saw his own shadow thus predicting 2,000 more years of Christianity, followers have celebrated the event by hiding and seeking brightly painted eggs. The tradition of rolling Easter eggs across the lawn became a staple at the White House starting in 1878 after Ulysses S. Grant signed a law banning such activity at the Capitol grounds.

The tradition continued this past Sunday at the Trump White House (no, not Mar-a-Lago – the other one.) Here are some of the highlights.

trumpeaster
Trump kicks off the festivities by nominating his new head of the National Science Foundation.

President
Trump starts the race to see which foreign kid will be first to run back across the border.

tiffhunt
A lucky girl finds the one-of-a-kind Tiffany egg.

trumpivanka
Trump thinks he found two hidden ostrich eggs.

spicer
Spicer and Kim Jong-un debate who walked on water better – Jesus or Dear Leader.

melania
Melania hides an egg where no one will find it.

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Alien Abduction

trumpalienThere’s only one explanation for it: Trump was abducted by aliens and replaced with a hollow orange shell topped by a lemon meringue hairpiece. Sometime after January 20 – perhaps from the rooftop of Trump Tower or the 9th hole at Mar-A-Lago – aliens took over a man who had boasted bluntly about upending the status quo in America, and left the country with a guy who seems to have misremembered everything he promised as a candidate.

On China

Then: “On day one of a Trump administration, the US Treasury Department will designate China a currency manipulator. I will direct the Secretary of the Treasury to label China a currency manipulator.”

Now: “They’re not currency manipulators.”

On NATO

Then: “I said a long time ago that NATO had problems. Number one it was obsolete, because it was designed many, many years ago.”

Now: “I said it’s obsolete. Now it’s no longer obsolete.”

On Syria

syria1

syria2

On the Export-Import Bank

Then: “I don’t like it because I don’t think it’s necessary.”

Now: “Actually, it’s a very good thing. And it actually makes money, it could make a lot of money.”

On the Border Wall

Then: “I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.”

Now: “We’re going to get reimbursed. But I don’t want to wait that long. But you start, and then you get reimbursed.”

On Moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem

Then: “I’ll move the embassy on day one.”

Now: “I am thinking about the embassy, I am studying the embassy [issue], and we will see what happens. The embassy is not an easy decision.”

On Unemployment

Then: “Don’t believe these phony numbers. The number is probably 28, 29, as high as 35. In fact, I even heard recently 42 percent.”

Now: (Spicer) “I talked to the president prior to this, and he said to quote him for this, ‘they may have been phony in the past, but it’s very real now.”

On the Debt

Then: Get rid of the more than $19 trillion debt “over a period of eight years.”

Now: (Mulvaney) “I’m not going to be able to pay off $20 trillion worth of debt in four years.”

On the Military

Then: “We’re going to rebuild out military. Our military is in shambles.”

Now: “It’s so incredible. It’s brilliant. It’s genius. Our technology, our equipment, is better than anybody by a factor of five. I mean look, we have, in terms of technology, nobody can even come close to competing.”

On Healthcare

Then: “I know that we’re all gonna make a deal on health care — that’s a very easy one. And I think that’s gonna happen very quickly.”

Now: “Now, I have to tell you, it’s an unbelievably complex subject. Nobody knew health care could be so complicated.”

On Golfing

Then: “I’m going to be working for you, I’m not going to have time to go play golf.”

Now:

trumpgolf

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Hungry Monster Interview

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The following is a reprint of an interview conducted with Herb Schultz, author of RonnieandLennie that first appeared April 8, 2017 on The Hungry Monster.

A Turbulent Time

RonnieandLennie is a story about conjoined twins, set in the hippie days of 1960s, which depicts the challenges of being incredibly close to family at all times. Where did the inspiration for this story come from?

I’ve had a long-time fascination with the lives of the original Siamese Twins, Eng and Chang Bunker. These two men joined at the chest for their entire lives managed to marry sisters and father 21 children between them. I found that amazing. I tried to imagine how the Bunkers – or any conjoined twins – negotiated life’s private moments in the company of one other. It’s almost impossible to comprehend simple acts like going to the bathroom, meeting a girl, having sex – accompanied at all times by another human being. I assumed any conjoined twins would long to be separated, yet I discovered in my research that sometimes newly freed siblings would suffer from chronic adjustment disorder. Being attached to the same person for decades then suddenly cut loose could be the foundation for an interesting conflict. I built the story of Ronnie and Lennie around their picaresque lives together in a turbulent time contrasted with tragic setbacks that arise following their accidental separation.

Ronnie and Lenny are fascinating characters with much depth. They go through many trials throughout the story. What is one obstacle you felt was important for their characters?

Again, going back to the Bunker’s, Chang was the dominant brother over Eng which was the basis for a good deal of conflict and animosity between them. Unlike normal identical twins who seem to me to be highly compatible with very similar interests, I imagined conjoined twins having great difficulty living in harmony. Ronnie is dominant like Chang, Lennie is more submissive like Eng. So the biggest obstacle for Ronnie and Lennie is their physical attachment to one another. But equally challenging is their innate, fraternal desire to make each other happy. The conflict impels them.

The story is set in 1960’s America. Did you grow up in this time? I felt that you captured the essence of this time well. Why did you pick this era for your story?

Once Ronnie and Lennie are introduced, the bulk of the story takes place as they grow up in the 1960s and early 1970s – which is when I was a kid around the same age as them. Perhaps because this was my first novel I fell back on writing about an era with which I had first-hand experience. As Ronnie and Lennie are rather feral kids raised by their single, middle-aged aunt, I wanted to put them in a time when kids could behave with wild abandon – before the world became paranoid and protective. I wanted them to do crazy things. Experiment with sex, music, drugs without helicopter parents hovering about to ruin the adventure. I also needed to set it in a time when separating conjoined twins was impossible or at least too risky.

I also set the beginning of the story – before the twins are born – in 1950s Las Vegas which is a fascinating time and place. Big hotels and casinos are just starting to boom. The army is blowing up nuclear bombs in the desert. It was great fun researching and writing about those times.

What is the next book that you’re writing and when will it be available?

After RonnieandLennie, I wrote two more novels and a collection of short stories. Another genre that I enjoy is the tale of the con-game and revenge. My second novel, “Architect’s Rendition” is the story of an architect, determined to marry his mistress, enlists three associates in a complex scheme to murder his wife, and each other. The third is “Double Blind Test” in which a professional mediator is conned by identical twin businessmen who sought her help to resolve a dispute. She later meets another woman in a suspiciously similar circumstance, and the two women team up to take down the con artists.

After the publication of the short story collection “Sometimes the Sun Does Shine There,” I started writing screenplays, and have spent the bulk of my energy in that dispiriting endeavor.

Find RonnieandLennie at majorterata.com.

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Untied Airlines

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A United Airlines passenger who had paid for a valid ticket and was sitting in his assigned seat – locked and in the upright position, tray table stowed – was forcibly removed by thuggish “airport cops” because the airline needed four seats for some crew members. The story has reverberated around the globe and much opprobrium and vitriol has been justifiably spewed United’s way – including some harsh treatment for the CEO Oscar Munoz.

Among the more asinine things Munoz said in defending the removal was that poor United Airlines crew aboard the flight from Chicago to Louisville “were left with no choice but to call Chicago Aviation Security Officers to assist in removing the customer from the flight.” That’s right: United had no other choice but to manhandle the guy out from his seat, bang his head silly, and drag him down the aisle like a deer shot in the woods.

You can throw a dart in the internet and likely find a story that takes a shit on United’s and Munoz’s head (just click here ); this blog is about the completely stupid practice of purposefully overbooking flights. Although legal in this industry at least, it seems patently unfair – and bad business – to sell seats more than once and then play a game of chicken at the gate (or on board) with your customers when more than 100 percent of them show up for a service for which you already took their money.

The airlines execute this practice because they have observed that some customers don’t show up for the scheduled flight – and the financial wonks at the airlines cravenly see opportunity to make a few more bucks. You never see such behavior at a Broadway show, a baseball game, or at any number of venues where tickets are purchased in advance. If someone buys a ticket to sold-out “Hamilton” and on the way to the theater is involved in a car accident, that person’s seat remains empty when the curtain goes up. You don’t see flunkies milling about outside the Richard Rogers Theater trying to sell that patron’s seat again. The understanding outside the airline industry is that once a seat is sold, revenue is recognized, so there’s no justification for selling it again.

Nonetheless, the airline industry which for years struggled with huge losses came up with the idea of overbooking as a hedge against flying planes with empty seats. Using powerful computers and data mining software, the airlines calculate the likelihood that on any given flight, at any given time and day, some number of passengers will not arrive on time (or at all). I suspect this works out nicely for the airlines most of the time; they scratch out extra revenue from selling a handful of seats twice. And they get to screw the people who failed to show up by charging them an exorbitant fee to rebook them. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if United would bump the co-pilot if they could sell his seat to a higher bidder.

But from my experience it seems quite common that the airlines flub the bet and are forced to deal with the self-inflicted problem of winnowing out some legitimate ticket-holders. The obvious solution: bribery. Almost always the airlines can entice enough travelers who are not in immediate need of cramming their asses into seats the width of a booster chair to forego the flight with vouchers to be used on future air travel. It’s funny to watch the gate agent play this moronic auction game while passengers sit and stew. The agent starts out with a low-ball figure which everyone knows is not the best and final offer (known as a BAFO), but soon enough a number north of $500 is proffered and some people cave in and relinquish their seats.

But not always. When this happens, the airlines can (again, legally) pick out the passengers for involuntary expulsion. How they do this probably borders on illegal or unethical discrimination. People chosen for involuntary expulsion almost always leave without incident, harboring disgust and revulsion for the treatment meted out by the airline. (Remember: it’s the airlines who put themselves into this public-relations chokehold with their overbooking schemes.)

The weird twist in the latest United Airlines imbroglio is that the people chosen for involuntary expulsion were asked to vacate the jet to make room for four United crew members who had to deadhead to Louisville. That’s right – United kicked paying passengers off the flight so that they could fly employees in their place. One of those people, a doctor who argued that he needed to be in Louisville the next day to see patients, refused to deplane – and the ugly mess was caught on video which has been watched more than 100 million times. (Some pundits argued that United blew it because they didn’t offer him a bigger voucher, but that’s a red herring – as if bigger and better bribery is the always the answer.)

Consider the magnitude of CEO Munoz’s asshole-dom when he said United was “left with no choice but to call Chicago Aviation Security Officers.” Chicago to Louisville is less than a five hour drive, and it probably costs a few thousand to charter a flight, yet United decided it was better to embroil themselves in a public relations fiasco of legendary proportions than to make alternate plans to get the crew to Kentucky. Why would United repel their own customers by acting like fascists? If you have to ask that, you haven’t flown in the past decade. (Sidebar: when the four crew members finally took their ill-gotten seats, the derision from the other passengers was devastating.)

As I write this United stock (UAL) is down $2.50 a share which means that since the forced expulsion became widely known the company has shed $750 million in market cap. But hey, they had no choice.

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United crash lands on Wall Street

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