I Ain’t Got Time to Be a Human Being

ventura1Jesse Ventura possesses an unusual and varied resume. Born James Janos, Ventura was a member of a U.S. Navy underwater demolition team who went on to the World Wrestling Federation portraying a flamboyant, sexually-ambiguous professional wrestler nicknamed “The Body.” Despite his participation in the garish WWF circus – a role that might have disqualified him for elected office until you think about Ronald Reagan, Clint Eastwood, Fred Thompson and Sonny Bono – Ventura succeeded in becoming the governor of Minnesota. Ventura had a radio show, was the host of the television shows “Conspiracy Theory” and “Off the Grid,” and did some movies, most memorably playing a beefy commando-type named Blain in 1987’s “Predator” who declares after taking some shrapnel, “I ain’t got time to bleed.” Ventura used that instant cult line as the title of his book. Damn, the dude is an author too.

Now you can add douche-bag litigant to Jesse Ventura’s resume.

Just the other day, a jury in St. Paul, MN awarded Jesse a $1.8 million judgment against the estate of Chris Kyle, a former Navy SEAL member, for defaming “The Body” in his book “American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History.” Kyle claimed in his book that he encountered an unnamed former SEAL he called “scruff face” in a bar, and punched him out when “scruffy” made a disparaging remark to the effect that as the SEALs were conducting themselves poorly overseas, they “deserved to lose a few.” Although Kyle never mentioned the real name of the asshole in the bar, he later confirmed the person he wrote of was none other than super action hero, Jesse Ventura.

Ventura denies any of this took place and sued Kyle for defamation, but even as Kyle was murdered a while back and is therefore unavailable to defend himself, Ventura found it necessary to continue the litigation against his estate anyway. It therefore became the burden of Kyle’s widow and executrix of the estate, Taya, to defend against the charges.

Considering all the factors, it seems astounding that Ventura prevailed in court. First of all, the burden of proof in cases of libel and defamation against famous people is nigh unsurmountable. Once a person becomes a public figure, First Amendment protections for a tormentor kick in hard. Hell, Larry Flynt ran a cartoon in his “Hustler” magazine years ago portraying religious wing-nut Jerry Falwell having sex with his mother in an outhouse. Falwell sued . . . and lost!

Secondly, Kyle says it happened, Ventura says no. Without any witnesses you might think the jury would lean toward finding for Kyle, given that he’s supposedly innocent until proven guilty, and this was a case of one man’s word against another. But there was a witness – and he backed up Kyle. At the trial, another SEAL veteran, Jeremiah Dinnell, testified he saw Kyle punch Ventura after the former governor said that “what we are doing overseas, we deserve to lose guys.” Dinnell stated he watched Ventura fall and get up again. Ok – two against one. Even better for Kyle’s estate.

Thirdly, Ventura has a long history of being outspoken on issues of government over-reach, so it should not come out of left field that he might take a dim view of America’s mis-adventures overseas. Examples of his positions include the beliefs that crime statistics are distorted to encourage racism, thet 2008 financial bailouts were conspiracy to keep fat cats in business, that banks and privately run prisons gets rich on the drug war, that the Bush administration knew 9/11 was coming, and that the TSA’s full-body scanners are unconstitutional. Regarding the scanners, Ventura sued the U.S. government, and after a judge threw him out, Jesse went on a rant, saying he would henceforth refer to the country as the Fascist States of America. “I will never stand for a national anthem again. I will turn my back and raise a fist the same way Tommy Smith and John Carlos did in the ’68 Olympics.” Does it stretch the imagination to believe he might later make the alleged caustic remarks about Navy SEALs?

In the end, Ventura prevailed in court and won a huge judgment that will essentially be paid for by the widow of Jesse’s harsh critic. To me, that seems unseemly. The amount of the judgment was determined in part to compensate Ventura for lost business; he claimed that offers from producers and promoters dried up after Kyle conflated him with “scruff face.” More likely, the Ventura cultural phenomenon petered out on its own, as is so often the case with over-the-top loudmouths whose shtick devolves from being funny to just plain irritating (think Morton Downey, Jr.)

Jesse should accept his win like a man, and renounce the judgment. Give the widow a break.

You really want us to leave you in peace?

Israel is again engaged in armed conflict with one of its neighbors, this time the Palestinians and their Hamas-led government in the narrow Gaza Strip. And once again, America is trying to lead a futile effort to secure a truce. Secretary of State John Kerry, like all his predecessors going back to the 1970s, is shuttling about the Middle East and Europe in search of a solution. Truly a thankless job. And for his efforts, Kerry got the back of the hand from Israel Minister of Defense Moshe Ya’alon who said, “The only thing that can ‘save us’ is for John Kerry to win a Nobel Prize and leave us in peace.” Now that’s what I call gratitude.

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I wonder if Ya’alon also wants the U.S. to leave Israel in peace by withholding the $3 billion a year in foreign aid they receive. Does he want the U.S. to stop being the only country in the world that consistently votes against U.N. resolutions that condemn Israel. Will Ya’alon call for the return of the U.S.-funded Iron Dome missile defense system that costs $50 million a pop, plus $40K-$100K per Hamas-fired rocket shot down? I suspect not.

Given that sentiment among regular Americans and the politicians who have long unblinkingly supported Israel seems to be turning a tad sour, I would suggest that the Israeli leadership do an attitude check before they alienate the only friend they have in the world.

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Senator Walsh’s Secret Speech Revealed

walsh1Much has been written and reported lately on the charges of plagiarism by Montana Senator John Walsh. Will the Army War College strip him of his Masters degree? Is his political career, once considered formidable, poised to come crashing down? Walsh isn’t saying much. But thanks to stealthy investigation by Major Terata Publications, we’ve gotten a secret draft copy of a speech Walsh is preparing to deliver in the coming days on nationwide television, presumably “Tosh.0″.

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Good evening ladies and gentlemen (ref: Hitchcock, Alfred. Universal Television, 1955.)

Two score and seven times two years ago my father brought forth upon this continent a new son (me), conceived in haste and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal . . . some more equal than others. Kinda like a rising tide that lifts all boats – yachts more so than dinghies, to be sure.

Call me Ishmael if you want but my given name is John Walsh (no, not the guy from “America’s Most Wanted”). I’m the junior Senator from the great state of Montana, and I’m here to tell you about a date which will live in infamy: April 5, 2007.

I was pursuing a Masters Degree from the U.S. Army War College. Why? Because I have a dream. I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Baghdad sons of former Baathists and sons of former Baathist-haters will be able to sit down together at the table and share a falafel, or some hummus, or whatever the hell they eat there. Yes, I had other motivations as well, but believe me, nabbing the War College degree was one small step for Walsh, a giant leap for Walsh-kind.

Before I proudly accepted my coveted War College diploma and the political perks it would bestow upon me, I texted my good friend and colleague Joe Biden, “Why am I the first Walsh in a thousand generations to be able to get to university? Why is my wife the first woman in her family in a thousand generations to be able to get to university? Was it because all our predecessors were thick?” Biden chuckled and told me to be sure to credit him if I ever wrote it down. Wise counsel that I wish I had followed before turning in my Master’s thesis on that infamous date of April 5, 2007.

I began the Masters program having nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat, and after plagiarizing about 20 percent of my thesis, I can say now that never was so much owed by John Walsh to so few scholars. As I once said, a mind is a terrible thing to waste.

I’m so sorry. Plagiarism is an unacceptable breach of trust. But I blame my momentary, fleeting mistake on post traumatic stress disorder – and a dependency on madeleines that I acquired during my tour of duty in Iraq. Late one night while typing frantically to meet the thesis deadline I popped a Madeleine into my mouth. No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory, the thesis unimportant.

Now with my career hanging in the balance, I call upon my supporters and opponents to stick with me. Can’t we all just get along? Forgive me for I can see clearly now. I can see all obstacles in my way. Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind.

But if you can’t find it in your hearts to forgive me, I will understand. Don’t cry for me Montana. The truth is I never left you. I kept my promise. Don’t keep your distance.

In the coming days I will assess the situation and make my decision whether to continue as your Senator. The world will little note, nor long remember what I say here, yet I offer this in closing: God bless you and God bless the United States of America. And I am the Walrus.

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Just Another Political Hack After All

cuomo1Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York and son of the insufferable Mario Cuomo who also held the high office from 1983 to 1994, just stepped in a pile of do-do that might have enough odor to derail his obvious presidential aspirations. Much like his father, Andrew knows he’s smarter than everyone else in the state, and he takes every opportunity to drill it into the minds of the lesser mortals under his tutelage. But Andrew is much shrewder than Mario the Magnificent; he is a cold-hearted calculator of the zeitgeist and molds his policies and persona to match. Although a Democrat in a heavily “blue” state, Andrew Cuomo has fashioned himself closer to the center, if not center-right, by capping property tax increases, setting up special tax enclaves for companies, pushing for casinos, busting teachers’ union balls, and talking tough on crime. Clearly the man is angling toward a shot in 2020 or 2024.

Noting that New York State is among the more egregious in the nation when it comes to political corruption (at least 26 state politicians have been indicted or run out of office for bad behavior since 1999), Andrew Cuomo set up an august commission to investigate and ferret out corruption. Named the Moreland Commission after Sherman Moreland, a legislator who in 1907 backed a law giving special investigative powers to the governor, Cuomo set up a body about a year ago that would be “totally independent“ and could “look at me, the lieutenant governor, the attorney general, the comptroller, any senator, any assemblyman.” About 6 months later, Andrew closed down the commission, making the dubious and lame observation that they no longer needed to investigate because they had successfully put the fear of god in New York’s politicians, rendering them all incapable of ever being corrupt from this time forward. Mission accomplished.

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Now we know the real reason for the abrupt de-commissioning of the Morelanders – they we’re getting too close to Andrew and his charlatans. The Moreland Commission had issued a subpoena for some company records as part of an investigation into legislative shenanigans, unaware that the company, Buying Time, was also in the employ of Prince Andrew. When Cuomo’s top aide, Larry Schwartz heard about the subpoena he ordered the commission to back off. Sadly, they cowered like compliant doggies, instead of standing firm like an empowered group such as they should have done.

Faced with this untidy mess, Cuomo is now tap-dancing, declaring that the Moreland Commission was never chartered to look beyond the despised legislature to begin with. “It’s my commission. I can’t ‘interfere’ with it, because it is mine. It is controlled by me,” claimed Cuomo, sounding a bit like the guy who oft repeated, “I am not a crook.”

Although Andrew Cuomo is a better governor than George Pataki was, which is not saying much, he is a dangerous fellow who lets his ambition get ahead of his appointed mission. Not unusual for a politician you might say, but it’s way past time that changed. For starters, strike Andrew Cuomo from the short list of “will-they-won’t-they” characters fawned over for their presidential timber.

I’m on hold. Don’t die yet

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Another day, another botched execution. This time in Arizona where a cretinous murderer, Joseph Wood III, was injected with a proprietary concoction of lethal drugs that was supposed to kill him in under 15 minutes, but took nearly two hours to do the job. In fact, the execution dragged on so long, Wood’s lawyers actually had time to file an appeal to the Federal District Court to stop the spectacle, call Justice Anthony Kennedy of the U.S. Supreme Court for a favor, and take in a movie. Truly amazing.

I’m against capital punishment (error-prone, too expensive, not evenly applied, too often vengeful), but goddamn, if you’re gonna do it, do it right. Thousands of times a day, veterinarians around the country and the world put down animals in an effective, repeatable and humane way. What’s the fucking problem when it comes to humans? I believe that the states, in an attempt to appear thorough and responsible, over-complicate the process. Wood’s lawyers appealed to the Supreme Court to delay the execution until the state of Arizona revealed their secret sauce. The Court sided with Arizona on their wish to keep it under wraps. Why? Are they afraid another state will copy the formula and undercut them at Whole Foods?

Memo to states that still have capital punishment – consult the American Veterinary Medical Association before trying any more harebrained home-made elixirs. Otherwise you may come under pressure from the families of murder victims demanding implementation of new protocols. Richard Brown, brother-in-law of one of Wood’s murder victims asked, “why didn’t we give him Drano?” I suspect wardens in most states with capital punishment on the books would scratch their heads and mutter, “never thought of that, sounds good though.” Absent a better alternative they might just decide to give Drano a try.

What a PR coup that would be for S.C. Johnson Company.

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People. Passion. Possibilities. Plutocracy.

abbvie1Is it unpatriotic not to pay taxes? A number of corporate leaders and their apologists in Congress would seem to hold a strong negative sentiment, taking umbrage at the notion that shimmying gracelessly through a tax loophole they bought and paid for from the politicians is in any way un-American. Saving on taxes in their view just makes good, ole-fashioned business sense, doncha know?

Take the case of AbbVie, a spin-off of Abbott Labs in the pharmaceutical industry which just agreed to buy its European rival Shire for a tidy $54 billion. The big story in most business news articles was not about the extended R&D the combined company might produce, or the cost savings that might be passed onto consumers, but of the generous tax benefits bestowed upon the combined entities: an effective rate that will fall from 22 percent to 13 (a number enjoyed by precious few middle-class jerks who commute 90 minutes every day for a living.) In fact, CEO Richard A. Gonzalez made it clear to analysts: “It will be domiciled in the U.K. for tax purposes.” Less emphatically stated was that AbbVie would still be run out of Chicago and listed on the New York Stock Exchange, as if nothing had happened other than the millions in tax savings.

And what about those savings? It’s a zero-sum game, and someone has to lose if AbbVie and the multitude of other US corporations gain by taking advantage of generous “inversion” laws, including Walgreens, Pfizer, Omnicom, Eaton Corp, Aon and Medtronic. Those losers are the rank and file taxpayers who have to make it up in higher taxes, or by suffering future deleterious effects of deficit spending. Every U.S. company that does an inversion and “domiciles” in a candy-cane tax haven like Ireland or the Netherlands gets to freeload off the significant benefits of the American business environment: access to a rich consumer base, an orderly legal system, ironclad patent and copyright protection, a decent infrastructure, the strongest military defense in the world, financial stability, and a vaunted university system producing quality talent.

Don’t expect Congress to remediate the situation – too many are signatories of the “Grover Norquist” pledge never to raise a tax, which in their narrow minds includes closing an egregious loophole.

Consider:

Where would Amazon, eBay, Facebook and Twitter be without the internet which came into being as a descendant of the Department of Defense’s DARPA network?

How much did Pratt & Whitney and GE benefit from government-funded R&D on jet propulsion? Same goes for Boeing and Lockheed which benefited enormously after the U.S. government pioneered wartime aviation.

Could United Van Lines and Schneider Trucking exist without the interstate highway system? Could Walmart have grown as large without it?

What would American Airlines, Delta, Southwest and all the other carriers do without an FAA and air traffic control? Or the NTSB which investigates accidents and provides a fig leaf for the carriers to use when communicating with rattled fliers?

Perversely, the tobacco industry is as healthy as it is today in part because the Surgeon General’s office decades ago mandated warning labels which the industry first despised then later used as a shield against paying out billions in lawsuit judgements.

We know GM would not exist had the U.S. government told them to shove it. Same for Morgan Stanley, Merrill-Lynch, Bank of America and possibly Goldman-Sachs. Taxpayer-backed bailouts kept them alive.

And, Life Sciences/Pharmaceutical industry players like Mylan and AbbVie that are the biggest inversion-loophole pursuers have benefited tremendously from generous U.S. goodies like patent protection, world-class R&D (e.g. human genome sequencing) that is put into the public domain, and hundreds of billions in purchases of drugs, at retail prices no less, by Medicare and Medicaid.

So, yes – dodging American taxes while enjoying all the benefits of being an American company in every respect except your “domicile” is unpatriotic. You’re like the boorish guest who comes to a party without a gift for the host, and then bolts just as it’s time to clean up the mess. You don’t deserve to be awarded a government contract. And stay off our roads and stop using our water!

If you don’t like it, call in the Irish Marines.

RIP Johnny Winter

I was surprised to read of the recent death of bluesman Johnny Winter – surprised that he hadn’t died five years ago. Three or four years ago I attended an intimate concert featuring Winter and his band at the Bearsville Theater in Woodstock, and like many in the audience, was shocked when two stagehands escorted a visibly-weak Johnny by the elbows like a doddering hospice denizen to a folding chair in center stage.

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Promo photo from the Bearsville Theater gig.

Johnny Winter played some damned-loud, badass stuff that evening, seated the entire time as though waiting patiently for the next order of all-you-can eat wings at Crapplebee’s. His feeble eyes, no doubt impaired by albinism, darted about; most likely he was unable even to see the audience given the glaring lights. Half way through the show, a middle-aged, Woodstock groupie climbed onto the stage and gave Johnny a big hug. The bouncers pounced, but I don’t think Johnny knew what hit him. He never missed a note; probably used to being accosted on stage by crazy women over the course of his memorable 40 year career in rock n roll.

Johnny Winter’s influence on music is undeniable. To wit: the opening band that evening at the Bearsville Theater was the Jonny Monster Band – a killer blues trio no doubt inspired by the white haired man who sat hunched like a codger under the hot lights picking out pure delta blues.

RIP Johnny Winter. And check out the Jonny Monster Band.

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A Picture’s Worth a Thousand Outrages

monA couple years ago in the tiny village of Borja, Spain, an elderly woman named Cecilia Giménez tried her hand at restoring a flaking, century-old fresco of Jesus Christ. She failed. Obviously underqualified to do a paint-by-numbers donkey, Giménez turned the delicate fresco of the thorn-crowned Christ into what became known as “Monkey Jesus.”

Shocked parishioners of the Santuario de la Misericordia church where the fresco resides initially assumed they were the victims of vandalism. Only later did Giménez come forward and take credit for the simian transformation. And in a strange twist, she became a quasi-celebrity. She has sold her artwork on eBay and in a gallery show in Borja, and “Monkey Jesus” merchandise is available online.

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Furthermore, the church started charging people to leer at the defaced mural, raising close to $100,000 from more than 75,000 voyeurs.

Now, in a somewhat related story, a stolen Matisse painting titled “Odalisque in Red Pants” was recently returned to the Contemporary Art Museum of Caracas where thieves had replaced the original with a fake. Astoundingly, no one noticed for at least two years that a fake has been placed on the hook where “Odalisque” had once hung. After the chicanery was discovered, art experts huffed that the fake was poorly executed – a claim that seems overplayed given the length of time the fake occupied prime wall space unchallenged.

Decide for yourself. Which of these is the real Matisse?
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WWI a Hundred Years Later

keegan_first_l For all intents and purposes, the Second World War was a continuation of the First World War, yet while the events that contributed to the start of WWII are well-known, those leading to the outbreak of WWI are less so – at least in America. No country invaded another, nor bombed a military outpost in a surprise attack. In fact, much of the inter-governmental chatter prior to military engagement was devoted to diplomatic activity designed to avoid, or at least limit confrontation. In retrospect, WWI seemed to happen in spite of the combatants rather than because of them. As John Keegan writes in his comprehensive “The First World War,” “A train of events that led to its outbreak might have been broken at any point during the five weeks of crisis that preceded the first clash of arms, had prudence or common goodwill found a voice.”

Keegan’s book is an essential for anyone who doesn’t know what Gavrilo Princip did, or what happened at Verdun, or were unaware that Japan was an ally of Great Britain and France before turning the other way in WWII. I suspect that because WWI started a century ago and that the U.S. fought in it for just 14 months, Americans know little about it. If you feel you might be one such person, Keegan’s book comes highly recommended.

RIP Archie

I used to read Archie comics as a pre-teen, and honestly don’t know whether I enjoyed it or not. I can’t remember any plot in detail, although I recall Reggie was a prick, Jughead was a needle-nosed idiot, Mr. Weatherbee was a blob, Mrs. Grundy was the stereotypical spinster, and Archie was the all-American boy with the curious tic-tac-toe board on the side of his head.

My vaguest recollections are that I preferred Betty to Veronica, even though both were drawn such that they could have been identical twins. It was Betty’s desire to please Archie that trumped Veronica’s wealth and sophistication. Later on, my allegiance to Betty waned, and today I would say I’m more of a Veronica-man. Her blue-black hair, sexy smile and outsized portfolio are hard to resist. In any event, I sincerely hoped Archie would persuade the two lovelies into a ménage a trois, as I’m quite sure Reggie had already accomplished.

Now we may never know, as Archie was recently killed taking a bullet meant for a politician. The politician, Kevin Keller, is a gay gun-control advocate who is targeted for assassination by a man harboring hard-felt disagreements with Keller’s positions. Archie steps in to break up the shot, and takes lead to the chest – a mortal wound. According to Archie Comics publisher Jon Goldwater, “”Archie Andrews is a very iconic all-American hero. To have him literally take a bullet for the ideas of diversity and equality in a comic book is a very powerful statement.”

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You may think that killing off the lead character would end the series, but the publishers intend to continue the saga of the Riverdale denizens, telling the story of how they manage with the loss of the red-haired hero.

RIP Archie, even though you are a drawing.

And the answer is:

The real Matisse is on the left.

Google

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Take Back Your Huddled Masses Yearning to Breathe Free

JP-IMMIG1-articleLargeDo you remember where you were when the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 was enacted? Neither do I, but thanks to meticulous records kept by the U.S. Congress, we know that George W. Bush signed the act into law on December 23, 2008 – just a month before he left office. The gist of the law is to prevent children who arrive unaccompanied to the borders of the U.S. from being immediately deported back to the widespread evil conditions prevailing in the countries from whence they came. (It doesn’t apply to children from Mexico or Canada.)

It would appear Bush was pro on the law as he made sure to get it done in the remaining month before he left office. Prior to the signing, White House Deputy Press Secretary Tony Fratto, said that the bill “has been a priority issue for the administration in preventing the trafficking of persons around the world. So this is a piece of legislation we’re very proud to sign.” Based on its stated purpose that seems to be a reasonable sentiment.

Six years later the Republicans in Congress are bemoaning an unintended consequence of the law: families suffering deplorable and lawless conditions in Central America (Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala in particular) are sending their unaccompanied kids to border crossings in the mistaken belief they will be granted absolute asylum. As it is the children’s families who are initiating the movement, the activity does not meet the stated goal in Wilberforce of curtailing human trafficking – but should we care?

The Republicans cry “hell yes” and furthermore lay complete blame for this recent onslaught of the wretched refuse squarely at the feet of Obama. Such an accusation from the GOP would be specious had Obama not been caught red-handed in Shushufindi dressed as the Pied Piper of Hamelin, tooting his flute and leading a line of destitute Ecuadorean children north to the Rio Grande. (It’s on YouTube somewhere– check it out.)

As Texas is often the terminus of mass immigration, let’s hear from their Congressional delegation:

Representative John Carter of Texas: “The president caused this self-inflicted crisis on the border by refusing to enforce the law.”

Senator Ted Cruz of Texas: “It is a disaster of the president’s own making. It is a disaster that is a direct result of President Obama’s lawlessness.”

Senator John Cornyn of texas: “The president’s administrative policies have played a huge role in encouraging tens of thousands of children to risk their lives by traveling across Mexico.”

The Texan’s concerns have some validity, but what did “Barack the Impaler” have to do with it? If anything, Obama’s administration is a bigger deporter of illegals than any of his predecessors.

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In reality, the incursion of unaccompanied children is nothing more than a simple case of a special-interest group (Central American families living in fear) exploiting a loophole in a U.S. law – that by itself should qualify the interlopers for immediate citizenship. After all, exploiting loopholes in loosely-written laws is a time-honored American tradition.

The better focus of attention should be not on a rough-hewn “solution” to the problem – billions to secure the border (whatever that means), massive deportation of otherwise law-abiding workers, expensive incarceration – but on diluting the underlying motivations of the sorry souls who choose to risk life and property to come to the U.S. in the first place. (I always get a kick out of proposals to encourage illegal alien “self-deportation” – how bad must we make life in the U.S. to compel the illegals to leave en masse? Can’t vote! – Who cares? Can’t get a driver’s license! – I’ll drive anyway. Can’t get Obamacare! – Wait, you’re threatening to withhold Obamacare? Put your ass in jail! – Who’s gonna mow your lawn?)

In reality, few Americans want to understand the actual dynamics driving mass immigration to the borders of what’s been called is the most exceptional country in the world. That might take thought and introspection. In short – we somehow, inadvertently bring the plague upon ourselves. For example:

-> Families in Central America urgently need to escape the virulent violence in their countries and neighborhoods – violence multiplied by guns sourced legally from the U.S. and shipped to gangs south of the border. Translation: The U.S. economy supplies the weapons that devastate Central American society which in turn drives the populace to our insecure, porous borders.

-> Farmers in Central America have difficulty competing against heavily-subsidized Americans who benefit unfairly from ethanol mandates and super-cheap crop insurance subsidies. Mexico (the land that domesticated corn in the first place) simply can’t match up against indefensible American corn subsidies. Translation: America fucks up the agricultural economy of Mexico and Central America then wonders why the disenfranchised farmers bolt north to mow lawns and clean pools in the land of plenty.

-> Americans like drugs, especially certain narcotics produced in places like Columbia, Mexico and Panama. Americans fund the drug economy so as to ensure they get access to the stuff they want most. Should a few dozen “brown” locals get wasted in the process, so be it. As long as they don’t storm the Bastille.

The bottom line: Americans hate illegal immigration even as their behavior encourages it. They want swift solutions that cost nothing and don’t interfere with their cross-border travel. And they like to distill a complex problem down to a sound-bite: “Obama invited the illegals to here.”

Third Prize is: You’re Fired!

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I was born too early to appreciate the artistry and technique of soccer, a sport that garnered virtually no attention in America when I was a kid. Soccer fanaticism was left to the next generation who played the low-impact, highly-aerobic game after grade schools across the nation favored it. Now with the World Cup underway, and soccer-mania pimped on every mainstream media outlet, coupled with an avid base of fans who grew up playing the game and understanding its intricacies, Baby Boomers are finding it necessary to learn some basics lest they appear even more out of step with the times.

Situations that call for a penalty kick, or reasons why additional playing time is tacked on after the game appears to be over, are just a couple of the mysteries that have been revealed to older soccer neophytes.

And then just the other day I learned that the losers of the semi-final World Cup rounds play each other for third place. Third place! I somehow suspect that after taking a 7-1 drubbing at the hands (feet?) of Germany, that the last thing the Brazilian team wanted to do was play once more for the bragging rights of third place.

The two semi-final losers should just play rock-paper-scissors – the winner gets to forfeit the soccer match and go to the beach instead.

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Suspect Decisions – What Happens Next?

SawingTreeLimbHeisSittingOn-565x418News reports abound with stories of decisions made by governments, businesses, sports franchises, religions and many others that on the face seem remarkably suspect. Decisions that lead inexorably to pain, suffering, disenfranchisement, disillusionment, ennui, and any number of unproductive reactions.

It disturbs me that so often the question “what happens next?” rarely accompanies the story. I understand this line of thinking is not the purview of the neutral reporter – but where are the editorialists? Or the psychics?

Run it up the flagpole, let’s see who salutes

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The Senate passed the “All American Flag Act” the other day, and assuming Obama signs it (what choice does he have lest he hand a club to his enemies with which to beat him silly), the act will become law of the land. It calls for all government-purchased American flags to be made 100 percent from materials “grown, produced, or manufactured in the United States.” No more importation of flags from such anti-American entities like China. The law’s sponsor, Sherrod Brown said “It is the right way to honor our veterans and it is the right way to support American workers and businesses.”

What happens next?

Most American companies in the flag manufacturing business suffer when they can’t easily procure all the necessary flag-making components (cloth, ink, thread, dyes, packing materials, et.al.) from approved American vendors. Those that can have to jump through regulatory hoops to prove their “Flag Act” compliance.

Prices for flags sold to the U.S. Government soar as fewer companies can supply them, and those that do must pay 10 times the wages as their Chinese counterparts who are now no longer allowed to compete.

American companies that make flags for foreign countries are boycotted or socked with high tariffs in retaliation.

Hobby Lobby lobbyists lobby for hobbyists. Workers? Not so much

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The Supreme Court allowed Hobby Lobby, a privately-owned purveyor of cheap framing supplies and other sundries, to refuse to provide health insurance coverage of their female employees’ contraceptive needs, as to do so would violate the religious sensibilities of owners of the company. Consequently, Hobby Lobby and their ilk have been freed to cherry-pick the things they don’t support in Federal laws and disobey them.

What happens next?

Private companies like Hobby Lobby are acquired by large corporations that are motivated to take advantage of the special Supreme Court dispensation to ignore laws. The acquiring companies, which may possibly be run by atheists or those who don’t share the beliefs of the original acquired company’s owners, nevertheless get to deny employees benefits and pass those savings onto … themselves.

Companies operated by Jehovah’s Witnesses decide to halt coverage of blood transfusions for their employees as such procedures violate admonitions set down in the wacky parts of the Bible. Other religions follow suit. On the chopping block: vaccinations, vasectomies, sex-reassignment operations, psychotherapy, and anything related to stem-cells.

New fringe “religions” crop up to exploit the religious-objection loophole formed by the Supreme Court. The IRS attempts to call them out as shams, but is vilified and emasculated by the right-wing for intruding upon the First Amendment. The new “religions” attract many new “worshippers” seeking self-actualization and tax breaks.

Facebook’s future revealed: Zuckerberg registers Assbook.com

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Unbeknownst to about 700,000 Facebook users, the social media behemoth ran a psychology experiment on them – the type of activityconsidered unethical by the APA. Facebook skewed the feeds of these users toward overly positive or negative sentiments for the purpose of evaluating the tenor of their subsequent posts. Guess what! People who receive positive feeds post positive stuff! Same for the negative guys! Everyone hopes this cures cancer.

What happens next?

Facebook apologizes for the hundredth time for punking its user base, promising never again to . . . oh, nevermind.

Sitting atop so much “big data”, Facebook devises ever more sinister experiments to peer into the minds and hearts of its users, tailoring its products and acquisition strategy accordingly. That is to say, to monetizing every aspect of social media.

In five years, weary of the whole social media drudge, Facebook users bolt en masse, leaving behind a shell of a company with no assets worth shit.

North Carolina whistles past the graveyard

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Prodded by tourism-based businesses, the NC Republican legislature decided to bury a long-range climate study that predicted a 3-foot rise in ocean levels by 2100 in favor of a whitewashed report that shortened the horizon to 30 years and the estimated rise to a mere 8 inches (or the length of an erection the legislature aspires to.)

What happens next?

North Carolina takes no meaningful steps to prepare for the onslaught of ever-rising ocean levels, and increasingly devastating hurricane surges. Tourism-based businesses benefit from lax taxes and regulations – for a while.

A Category 5 storm wipes out the Outer Banks. Cape Hatteras becomes Isle de Hatteras. North Carolina legislature (still dominated by climate-denying Republicans) calls for a Federal bailout, which they get on a silver platter. How do they spend it? Can you say “tax cut”?

The next chapter for A-Roid?

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Unknown until now, the doctor in charge of overseeing drug use for Major League Baseball decided to allow now-disgraced Yankee Alex Rodriguez to use the performance-enhancing drug testosterone in 2007, the year he hit 54 home runs, had 156 RBIs, and was named MVP for the third time. Later on, this same transgression would earn A-Rod a lengthy suspension and forfeit his mega-salary.

What happens next?

Reinvigorated by the news of hypocrisy, Rodriguez’s people launch a PR campaign to get Major League Baseball to back off the suspension – an effort doomed to failure.

Undaunted, the lawyers sue hard, and sometime on or before 2020, MLB settles without admitting guilt.

To demonstrate their softer side as they’re called out for perfidy, MLB forgives Pete Rose and admits him back into baseball from which he has been banned since 1989. A long shot, but maybe Bud Selig plays Pope before his retirement next year and absolves sinner Rose.

Posted in Business, Politics, Sports | Comments Off

Blissfully Ignorant

201406-hd-the-toast-of-new-yorkIraq is falling apart, the Maldives are disappearing, Fukushima continues to bleed radiation into the ocean, Haiti struggles with a cholera epidemic, Russia menaces Ukraine. Domestically, Detroit is going under, prisons here are fuller than in any totalitarian-run country, guns keep killing people (sorry, people keep killing people), and the gap between the rich and everyone else has widened to unprecedented proportions. Hell, North Korea is primed to start WW III after a barber shop in the UK made fun of Kim Jong-Un’s wacky hairdo.

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With such turmoil surrounding an increasingly anxious populace, it’s good to know Travel and Leisure magazine is there to provide soporific comfort.

A profile of two glamorous people in the latest edition of the light-weight, half-magazine/half-advertisement escorts the reader far, far away from the troubles that intrude daily. We’re talking about Alexander Gilkes and Misha Nonoo (is that a real name, or were her parents fans of Mork & Mindy ?). Travel and Leisure calls her “an emerging fashion darling,” a description more powerful than ipecac syrup.

Indulge yourself on this brief verbatim interview, note the frequent use of “$$$” and shameless namedropping (strozzapreti Bolognese, Belstaff biker jacket ), and try not to blow chunk.

“Alexander Gilkes took the art world by storm with his online auction site, Paddle8; his wife, designer Misha Nonoo, is an emerging fashion darling. Together they lead us on their tour of Manhattan.

—As told to Julia Chaplin

Eat “We’re always at the corner table at Sant Ambroeus SoHo ($$$), which is like a time warp to 1950’s Milan,” Gilkes says. “You get looked after with old-school attention.” Nonoo suggests the pasta with lamb ragù, mint, and pistachio: “It’s naughty but heavenly.” Antonioni’s ($$$), on the Lower East Side, is “as if the Godfather’s gay nephew opened an Italian restaurant,” Gilkes jokes. “There’s chintzy animal-print wallpaper—but the strozzapreti Bolognese is the best hangover cure ever.”

Shop “The real gems at SoHo’s What Goes Around Comes Around are in the basement,” says Nonoo, who obsessively collects vintage pieces from Thierry Mugler and Claude Montana. “I recently found an amazing old waxed-cotton Belstaff biker jacket there,” Gilkes adds. He also recommends the Upper Rust in the East Village. “We go to find eccentricities to decorate our Greenwich Village apartment—such as old racetrack chalkboards, postal sorting stations, and Nantucket antiques.”

Do For a romantic treat, Gilkes and Nonoo love TriBeCa’s Aire Ancient Baths. “It’s in a cavernous basement with candles and sensual music,” she says. “My favorite thing is the flotarium.” “Seeing art is all about presentation. The Guggenheim Museum, with its Frank Lloyd Wright spiral rotunda, always makes us swoon.” 

In the end, the couple swoon over the bulky, gimmicky Guggenheim Museum which belies their fundamental bourgeois roots, and makes me feel better that I’m somewhat cognizant of real world problems instead of pretending they don’t exist.

The Softer Side of “In your face”

Yesterday the Supreme Court shut down a Massachusetts law that imposed a no-protest buffer zone around abortion clinics there. The goal of the law was to establish a safe distance between patients and crazy bastards bent on harassing them with in-your-face polemics and lurid photos. Not everyone outside the clinics is a psycho, but all it takes is one to mess up your day. Nonetheless, the Court unanimously struck it down. The logic was articulated by Antonin Scalia who barked, ““Protecting people from speech they do not want to hear is not a function that the First Amendment allows the government to undertake in the public streets and sidewalks.” I guess Scalia never heard of libel.

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In any event, it seems fair then to ask when a 250 foot no-protest buffer zone around the Supreme Court Building will be dismantled. Can we expect to see that barrier fall like those around abortion clinics in Massachusetts and elsewhere? Unlikely. This Roberts court has seen fit to upend dozens of well-established laws and conventions that affect multitudes of ordinary American citizens, but like the man behind the curtain to whom no one should pay attention, they eschew any attempt at transparency in their deliberations, and scurry from situations that might require engagement with regular people.

A Bridge Too Far

First there was the phony “traffic study” in Fort Lee, NJ that resulted in horrendous, manufactured gridlock leading to the George Washington Bridge, then came the revelation that money to be used exclusively for Port Authority of NY & NJ projects was improperly diverted to repair the Pulaski Skyway, a bridge in New Jersey leading to the Lincoln Tunnel. Gov. Chris Christie has denied involvement in anything nefarious, but still – what’s next?

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Pulaski Skyway

Given the portly Christie’s obsessions with bridge controversies and food, I can envision some variant of the following headlines appearing in the pun-addled New York Post following the next New Jersey fiasco.

“Bridge on the River Chai Latte”
“London (Broil) Bridge”
“Golden Corral (formerly Gate) Bridge” –
“Pont Neuf with Hollandaise Sauce”
“Pasta Verrazano Bridge”
“Frog’s Neck Bridge”
“Bridge of Thighs”

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Shirts and Skins?

wampumThe Washington Redskins lost trademark protection from the U.S. Government the other day on the basis that the term “redskins” is considered disparaging to Native Americans. Apparently this is not the first time the Patent and Trademark Office nixed a name for protection. Others that have fallen short include a rock band called the Slants (disparaging to Asians) and Heeb Magazine (disparaging to Heebs, I guess). But when you consider the sheer volume of trademark requests (>300,000 in 2012), the USPTO denies very few on the basis that they are disparaging.

The assumption is that the owners of the Redskins will finally capitulate and change the team’s name. To what, who knows. Some ideas floating around include Warriors, Redhawks, Renegades, Pigskins, and just plain Skins. (If they go with Skins, I sure as hell hope a new franchise is formed called the Shirts.)

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Regardless of how the Redskins handle their name, will they retain the Native American garb worn by their squaws?

But what about all the other offensive names adorning professional sports teams? Can we expect forthcoming rescission of trademark protection for them. Next on the chopping block?

Minnesota Vikings
The original Vikings of Scandinavia practiced a method of execution called the “blood eagle” that involved cutting the ribs of the victim by the spine, breaking the ribs so they resembled blood-stained wings, and pulling the lungs out through the wounds in the victim’s back. Disparaging to anyone whose ancestors suffered this torturous procedure.

San Francisco 49ers
Named for the gold-addled maniacs who rushed to California to pan streams for the shiny metal, the 49ers bear the stain of a period in our country’s history that resulted in attacks on Native Americans, who were forcibly removed from their lands. An estimated 100,000 California Indians died between 1848 and 1868, and some 4,500 of them were murdered. Now that’s what I call disparaging.

New Orleans Saints
Sainthood is bestowed on dead people whom the Catholic Church deems worthy of significant recognition. The whole process can take centuries, and requires documentation that the candidate has performed at least two miracles (walking on water, then changing it into wine while still walking on it might qualify.) Disparaging to all those non-Catholics out there whose chances of sitting in Heaven’s skybox next to the Big Guy are nil.

New York Yankees
Disparaging to Confederates.

Cincinnati Reds
Disparaging to Communists

Chicago White Sox
Disparaging to nerds.

Kansas City Chiefs, Cleveland Indians, Atlanta Braves, Chicago Blachawks
Why stop with the Redskins when plenty more teams have shamelessly co-opted the Native American for profit. Bad shit happened to the Indians in Kansas in the 1800s. Cleveland uses a cartoonish “Chief Wahoo” image, Atlanta fans chant a phony Indian war-call while making chopping tomahawk motions, and the Blackhawks logo is at least as bad as the Redskins’.

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Trademarks revoked! Suggested new names: Kansas City Titties, Cleveland Grovers, Atlanta Gridlock, and Chicago Argyle Sox.

Fun with Dick and Liz (not them, the other boring ones)

Soon after Dick and Liz Cheney co-wrote an Op-Ed column recently for the Wall Street Journal excoriating Obama and his administration for lackluster foreign policy performance, opining that “rarely has a U.S. president been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many,” countermeasures came swiftly. Even Megyn Kelly of Fox News took Mr. Five Deferments and his dimwit daughter to task, stating the obvious: “Time and time again, history has proven that you got it wrong in Iraq as well, sir. You said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. You said we would be greeted as liberators. You said the insurgency was in the last throes, back in 2005. And you said after our intervention that extremists would have to ‘rethink their strategy of jihad.’ Now with almost $1 trillion spent there, with 4,500 American lives lost there, what do you say to those who say, ‘You were so wrong about so much at the expense of so many’?” Ouch. Coming from a Foxette … double ouch.

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But in my opinion the best, drollest response to Cheney’s overwrought declaration came from White House Press Secretary Jay Carney: ““Which president was he talking about?”

A tart and succinct parting shot from the soon-to-be-retired Carney.

It’s Nice to be Inhaled

WordPress, the hosting site for this and countless other blogs, supplies its contributors options for how they wish to deal with readers’ comments. The blogger can go from allowing anyone to comment at will without moderation, all the way down to mandatory moderation before the comments see the light of day. This punitive approach is provided in case the blogger wishes not to have his or her blog polluted by insolent spammers. Unfortunately, this is the option I have been forced to choose.

Although WordPress provides comment management tools, I would have thought they’d have created enough “artificial intelligence” to be able to tell spam from bona fide comments, making it easier on the blogger. After all, I’d much prefer to let meaningful comments pass through unmolested than to have to intervene manually.

For example, consider these well-thought out, incisive, verbatim comments that required my overt approval – when clearly they were written by sentient readers and needed no intrusive pre-review on my part.

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Okay, maybe I’ll keep the spam filter on for now.

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Little Jimmy Scott

scott-obit-1-master675David Mamet’s “Glengarry Glen Ross” is a tale of unscrupulous real estate salesmen, one of which makes a Faustian bargain that brings about his unceremonious doom. The stage play is tight: rapid-fire dialog, spare set, a mere 90 minutes in length with a single intermission. Turning it into a movie required special attention: casting all-star talent (Al Pacino, Jack Lemon, Alec Baldwin, Kevin Spacey, Jonathan Pryce, Ed Harris, Alan Arkin), adding some scenes that weren’t in the stage play (most notable: Alec Baldwin’s luscious rant), and tacking on a soundtrack evocative of the action both desperate and triumphant.

After watching the movie, I quickly ran out to the Virgin Record store and copped the soundtrack album. The motivation was the closing track as the credits rolled: a snappy version of Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies” by Al Jarreau. I discovered that many of the songs on the album never played in the movie – I guess the producers needed extra material to fill out an album. One number in particular was a haunting, sultry song called “Street of Dreams” sung in a longing, trembling contralto. A voice that Madonna claimed was the only one that could make her cry. The voice of Little Jimmy Scott who died the other day at age 88.

(Click here to listen to “Street of Dreams” by Jimmy Scott.)

When I first heard “Street of Dreams” I thought the singer was a woman. In fact, Jimmy Scott was born with Kallman’s Syndrome, a disease that essentially froze his maturation right around puberty time, leaving him with the singing voice of a choirboy. He eschewed hormone treatments that might have spurred growth (he was only 4’10”) out of fear that his signature singing voice would be altered.

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Young Jimmy Scott

Scott had what might be called a two-tailed career – success in youth and in old-age, but lengthy obscurity in what should have been his prime years. He sang with Lionel Hampton in the 1940s and 50s, and produced popularly successful recordings. In 1963 it looked like Jimmy Scott was about to break out, but after cutting the album a manager from the past emerged from the shadows claiming Scott was still under contract to him. The album was shelved, and so was Jimmy Scott’s career – for thirty years. Not until the 1990s did he finally get the respect he deserved, garnering a Grammy nomination for his album “All the Way.”

Around 2002, I attended a free concert headlined by Jimmy Scott in a park somewhere near City Hall in Manhattan, and afterwards stood online for a CD-signing. When it was my turn to get the autograph, I mentioned my admiration for his work on the Glengarry soundtrack. He seemed caught off guard, and perhaps mistook me for a life-long fan, because he graciously engaged in a longer-than-usual conversation (for a signing event) about his outlook and plans for the future. He was accompanied by a much younger woman whom I assumed was an agent or publicist, but after reading in his obituary that Scott was married five times, it was probably another future Mrs. Jimmy Scott.

You gotta love show-biz – looks, age and stature mean nothing when you’ve got talent, fame and money. More power to him – RIP.

Big Fat Fucking Sign of the Times

When Donald Trump set out to put up a skyscraper in Chicago – perhaps America’s premier city for architecture – the people of the Windy City feared the installation of a garish, glittery box clad in gold windows and topped with some outlandish 200 foot finial. Instead they breathed a sigh of relief when they got a bona-fide gem of a building standing tall along the Chicago River nearby the venerated Wrigley Building.

20090518_Trump_International_Hotel_and_Tower,_Chicago

Here is one glowing assessment:
“The Trump Tower Chicago makes great use of its available space while creating another icon in the city’s skyline. Also important, its setbacks pay homage to the Art Deco-era skyscrapers that made Chicago a living architectural museum. And it manages to reach for the stars without stepping on the feet of other buildings in the area. To its neighbors, it appears as an equal. That’s because the first setback is at the same height as the cornice on the Wrigley Building, the second is the same height as Marina City, and the third is at the top of the former IBM Building across the street.”

All seemed well until Trump ordered the installation of a wince-worthy sign – constructed of letters 20 feet tall – spelling out (what else), T-R-U-M-P. Affixing names on signature buildings in Chicago is considered gauche, which begs the question: “what took Trump so long?” Now Trump and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel are clashing which is precisely the situation coveted by Trump. As they say, “there’s no such thing as bad publicity.”

trumpsign

And speaking of big, fat fucking signs of the times, I read that uber-mid-life slacker Jimmy Buffet has attached his name to a new timeshare complex in St. Thomas, VI. You gotta love the guy. He’s turned one catchy, steel-drum-inflected song into a lucrative career all out of proportion with his contributions to society. According to the website , time-share owners will enjoy such amenities as Margaritaville Restaurant on the beach, 5 O’Clock Somewhere tiki bar, pool and hot tub just steps from Water Bay and uniquely designed MargaritaVillas. I can see it now – hundreds of overweight, middle-aged white couples (aka. Parrotheads) in flip-flops and flowered shirts stumbling along the beaches, over-priced Margaritas in each hand and illegible tattoos on each calf.

parrot

But why do we need a Jimmy Buffet time-share option at all when just about every time-share located in Florida and the Caribbean already reeks of Buffet-mania? You can’t walk from the hot-tub to the bathroom (assuming you don’t just go in the hot-tub) without being assaulted by Jimmy and his long lost shaker of salt, or brutalized by Zac Brown and his fat ass in the sand.

What we really need today is a Marilyn Manson time-share.

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A Movie About a Nice Jewish Boy

MV5BMjIyNzc3NDM2N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTcyMTk2MTE@._V1_SX214_AL_“Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon,” produced and directed by Mike Myers is one of the most fascinating and entertaining documentaries made in the past ten years, and for people over 50 years old will bring back some delightful memories of rock n roll in the 1970s and the contemporaneous life-style.

Given the breadth of what the man was involved with and the extended cadre of celebrities that he knew and managed, I feel somewhat ashamed that I had never heard of Shep Gordon before. His story starts in the 1960s with a road trip to LA after failing as a probation officer at a juvenile prison in California. Shep stops at a motel outside LA where he meets Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. The movie is filled with serendipitous encounters such as this that seem too unreal to be true.

For no other reason than Shep is Jewish, Hedrix thinks he should become a manager. He further suggests Shep take on a scraggly, misfit band called Alice Cooper. The tales of how Shep Gordon manipulated public opinion about the degenerate Alice Cooper and merchandized the band to number 1, multi-millionaire, private jet status are mind-blowing. Whoever said “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” must have been thinking of Alice Cooper.

A significant thread through the movie is the life-long friendship that Shep and Alice have nurtured and enjoyed to this day, and it serves as a springboard by which Myers reinforces Shep’s status as a “supermensch” – a man of integrity and honor who would do anything for a friend. The movie recollects countless examples of Shep’s generosity, the most poignant being his enduring support of five orphans he barely knew – the connection being simply that he had had a brief fling with their grandmother.

Although Shep managed Alice Cooper and as such got close with rock royalty like Mick Jagger, John Lennon, Steven Tyler and Iggy Pop, he was not an enthusiastic fan of the genre, preferring Motown and Folk. Confounding his peers, Shep took on management of Anne Murray, a Canadian singer with a crystal voice and an straight-laced image to match. Music industry insiders thought it a fool’s errand to try to promote the likes of Anne Murray, who sang about snowbirds and “honey, wheat and laughter” at a time when booze, drugs, androgyny and general unwholesomeness dominated rock n roll. In 1973 Shep booked Anne at the Troubador in LA, a small, intimate club, and arranged for several rock stars to attend the set. His mission was to have Anne Murray photographed surrounded by top talent, surmising correctly that anyone who saw the picture would demand to know more about the unknown chick in the middle. Soon afterwards, Anne Murray was featured in numerous trade rags and performed on “The Midnight Special” – the top rock n roll show on TV (back when being on TV meant something.)

John Lennon, Anne Murray, Alice Cooper and Mickey Dolenz at the Troubour
Anne Murray and some other people

In the second half of the film, Shep observes that fame and unhappiness seem inevitably intertwined. He notes the early deaths of Joplin, Morrison, Hendrix, the alcoholism of Alice Cooper, the paralysis of Teddy Pendergrass (another of Shep’s clients) following a car crash. Then one day while having dinner during the Cannes Film Festival (by this time Shep had moved into movie production: “The Duellists,” “Choose Me,” “Kiss of the Spider Woman”) he meets Roger Vergé, one of the greatest chefs of all time – but virtually unknown outside the world of gourmands. Vergé is the first person Shep encounters who is both famous (within his chosen field) and happy. He resolves to become an accomplished chef himself. Later, when Shep learns that Vergé and his fellow chefs actually reap little financial reward for their efforts, he embarks on an effort to change the dynamic, and in the process creates what we now know as the “celebrity chef.” Emeril Lagasse was Shep’s first client and the rest is history.

The unlikely tales go on and on. I highly recommend the film, for as the tag-line says, “Discover the man who saw everything and went looking for more.” Watch “Supermensch” and find out how this regular schmo from the suburbs of New York City came to be best buddies with the likes of Michael Douglas, Groucho Marx, Ron Wood, the Dalai Lama, Tom Arnold, Sylvester Stallone, and dozens more.

Cantor Chants the Blues

cantor1

Too much already has been written and spoken about in the couple of days since Eric Cantor lost his primary race for the right to represent the 7th congressional district of Virginia to small-town college professor David Brat – an event that has been called “an earthquake,” “a tectonic-plate shift,” “a David and Goliath story,” and a “mind-blowing modern-day ‘Dewey Beats Truman’ moment” (nevermind that the original famous headline was “Dewey Defeats Truman”.) There’s been much speculation by the voyeuristic punditocracy on the meaning and ramification of Cantor’s double-digit drubbing – the first time in American history that a House Majority leader was beaten in a primary. A bitch-slapping worse than when House Speaker Thomas Foley lost in a general election to a newcomer.

I don’t intend to pull out a smudged crystal ball and start opining on the future. That’s the job of cretins like Cokie Roberts and Gail Collins. Rather, I offer a few observations:

• Supposedly Brat won because he maniacally beat up Cantor for his softness on illegal immigration. Forget whether Cantor was a pro-“amnesty” liberal or a latter-day Torquemada. Is the blight of illegal immigration really plaguing the 7th congressional district of Virginia to such an extent that it is their most urgent crisis? Seems a stretch. Whatever evils accompany illegal immigration, I have to believe the bulk of them affect border states like Texas and Arizona, leaving little for genteel Virginia to be upset about. Latinos make up less than 5 percent of the district, which includes some of Richmond and its Caucasian suburbs; is the 7th district really a magnet for illegals? Once again, it seems the people have voted against their interests by giving up the benefits of having their congressman wield the power of the Majority leader so that a phantom boogeyman can be vanquished from their midst.

• Every pundit has remarked with incredulity that Cantor’s massive re-election war-chest of $5.4 million was impotent against Brat’s tiny $200,000 budget. But keep in mind, Brat received what was surely millions of dollars’ worth of free publicity from right-wing radio hosts like Laura Ingraham, Glen Beck and Sean Hannity who carried his water for hours on end each day. Cantor surely squandered his money on suspect marketing tactics, but let’s not pretend Brat won on a 27-1 discount.

• Representative Peter King of New York made the following comment after Cantor’s demise: “The results tonight will move the party further to the right, which will marginalize us further as a national party.” No doubt adding Brat to the line-up will move the GOP further right, and you can expect other knock-kneed Republicans to rush to the right out of fear of catching Cantoritis. And Cantor’s loss may marginalize the party in the sense that fewer Americans will identify with the party – but so what? Through such nefarious tactics like gerrymandering, voter suppression laws and obstructive filibusters, the GOP has effectively stifled the power of those who don’t identify with them. We keep hearing that the GOP is becoming the party of older whiteys, leaving behind the growing population of blacks, Latinos, etc – yet everyone’s talking about a perpetual Republican House, the likelihood that the GOP takes the Senate this year, and the possibility of a Republican winning the presidency in 2016.

Is it possible to hold both houses of Congress, and the presidency, and the Supreme Court, and the majority of governorships – and still be marginal?

Only in America.

Posted in Movies, Music, Politics | Comments Off

Justly Scrutinized: Don Zimmer, NRA, Elise Stefanik, Mary Soames

p1_zimmerDon Zimmer died the other day. The various headlines and photo captions noted unanimously that the 83-year old former NY Met and bench coach for the Yankees had established a career of 60 uninterrupted years in baseball. How sad then that the most prominent memory of this icon of America’s Pastime is the time Pedro Martinez grabbed him by the head and threw him to the turf at the start of a bench-clearing brawl between arch-rivals Yankees and Red Sox. After a few retaliatory pitches earlier in the game, the vile Roger Clemens threw high at Manny Ramirez and that was all she wrote. I saw that episode on TV in real-time and must have watched it again at least a dozen times. Sorry Don. If you’re coaching ball in heaven, stay in the dugout if Ty Cobb spikes Joe DiMaggio.


Tempers flare in Beantown

Who Does the NRA Work For?

I believe it is possible to support the Second Amendment and still revile the NRA. After all, the NRA – actually a lobbyist for gun-makers, more so than a gun-owner’s advocate – routinely goes off the reservation of sanity and backs such dangerous notions as the inviolable rights to make and own guns that resist fingerprints, and the manufacture of bullets capable of penetrating “bullet-proof” vests. Both these positions offend law enforcement – a group that you would normally expect to be pro-gun. Yet the NRA stands firm. Any restriction of any kind remotely connected to a gun of any kind is anathema to the NRA.

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Are those hollow-point croissants?

So of course, they now find themselves in a jam following the publication of a lucid essay on their own website titled ““Good Citizens and Good Neighbors: The Gun Owners’ Role.” The gist of the essay is that mass congregations of dudes bearing assault rifles in public places like restaurants might scare patrons, thus turning otherwise neutral people on gun rights against them. The essay says, “While unlicensed open carry of long guns is also typically legal in most places, it is a rare sight to see someone sidle up next to you in line for lunch with a 7.62 rifle slung across his chest, much less a whole gaggle of folks descending on the same public venue with similar arms. Let’s not mince words, not only is it rare, it’s downright weird and certainly not a practical way to go normally about your business while being prepared to defend yourself. To those who are not acquainted with the dubious practice of using public displays of firearms as a means to draw attention to oneself or one’s cause, it can be downright scary. It makes folks who might normally be perfectly open-minded about firearms feel uncomfortable and question the motives of pro-gun advocates.”

In other words, people who might otherwise be inclined to support gun rights decide not to after bringing their 80-year-old mother to Applebee’s and encountering 20 guys in camo brandishing AK-47s all pissed that the two-for-one beer tap ran dry. As this observation about appearances makes perfect sense, the NRA leadership is as usual counter-intuitively apoplectic. The poor writer was simply trying to help the NRA leadership avoid alienating the centerline voting public, and for that he is pilloried. Somehow, I suspect the NRA will contort the essay into a secret Obama ploy to confiscate guns. That of course will result in a spike in gun buys – which is exactly why the NRA exists in the first place.

(Side note: a vicious psychopath has just been arrested in the stabbing deaths in New York of a few people, including two young children in an elevator in their apartment complex, one of whom died. How long before the NRA and its backers foment a facetious campaign calling for all steak knives to be registered?)

New Ideas? New Leadership? How about some New Imagination?

Driving up the New York State Thruway I heard an advertisement paid for by people supporting the candidacy of Elise Stefanik for the 21st Congressional district high up in what is called “North Country.” Stefanik who is a young darling of the right (supported by Paul Ryan, Karl Rove) is campaigning on the tag line: “New Ideas, New Leadership.” Blah. That flavorless stew reminds me of the scene in “Back to the Future” where the mayors of 1955 and 1985 employ the same lame-o motto: “Progress is his middle name!”

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Anyway, Elise notes in her ad that, if elected, she will work hard to “Repeal Obamacare and replace it with common sense solutions.” Forgetting the reality that the first time Obamacare could possibly be repealed is early in 2017, when all the provisions will have been established for better or worse, would it be too much to ask “what do you want to replace it with?” I’m fairly tired of hearing about “repeal and replace” without much on the “replace” side of things. She doesn’t mention any ideas in her radio ad, but perhaps that’s because time is limited. I checked her website instead and there she lists some things she’d like to enact, although they don’t seem replacement-worthy.

Elise would enact these provisions if given the chance:

1. “Let people shop for insurance across state lines.” I used to work at an insurance company and I can testify that they dissect every shred of data when setting policy prices. If some sick bastard in New York saw a cheaper policy for sale in Idaho, I can guarantee that before he could sign his name on the line that is dotted, the Idaho company would have adjusted the rates to take into account his rapidly-diminishing vital signs. In the end, crossing state boundaries to buy insurance would quickly result in homogenized premium prices, accruing a net zero in savings.

2. “Pursue real tort reform.” An easy target, puffed up by crazy stories of people “winning the lottery” over minor surgical gaffes. Of course, we also hear on occasion about a patient who suffers from the amputation of a healthy limb, or one who dies because the doctor accidentally prescribed 10x the amount of a strong drug. Does Elise think these people should have no standing to pursue recompense? In any event, the whole “tort reform” angle is not supported by the evidence. According to Forbes, “A new study reveals that the cost of medical malpractice in the United States is running at about $55.6 billion a year – $45.6 billion of which is spent on defensive medicine practiced by physicians seeking to stay clear of lawsuits. The amount comprises 2.4% of the nation’s total health care expenditure.” Two point fucking four percent. Can we move on please? Besides, if Elise got her way, the sellers of malpractice insurance would have a cow and see to it she became a one-termer.

3. “Fight the waste, fraud and abuse that costs our health care system billions each year.” Give me a break. This is worse than “New Ideas, New Leadership.” The generic “waste, fraud and abuse” are perennial boogie-men, but no seems to able to a) effectively define them, and b) show how to eliminate the onerous costs without spending more to investigate and prosecute the subject offenses. I’m sure someone’s grandmother somewhere is scamming the system to get a fully-pivotal, earthquake-proof, Corinthian leather-seated wheelchair for free, but do we want the US Government to spend $100K to prosecute the “theft” of a $5K wheelchair? Better to go after the wheel-chair company for their loose practices with respect to Medicare – but that would entail taking on a revered “job creator.” Never gonna happen.

4. “Protect those with pre-existing conditions by funding state-level high-risk pools” Given that those with pre-existing conditions are already protected under O-care, this sounds like a tweak.

5. “Allow individuals and families to purchase insurance on the same tax-advantaged basis as businesses.” I’m good with that. But please don’t whine when the budget deficit increases as a result. Just please admit you don’t care about deficits when you give away tax bennies.

Mary Soames dies at 91. Did she have the teeth of a 291 year old?

Getting back to recently dead people, I see that Mary Soames, the last surviving child of the lion of Britain, Sir Winston Churchill died at age 91 on May 31. Mrs. Soames lived an unusual and varied life, one that allowed her to accompany Sir Winston to such memorable events as the Potsdam Conference where Roosevelt and Stalin tagged along. Despite her historic pedigree, I was more fascinated with the photo of her as a young woman during WWII, surrounded by smiling British soldiers. Damn – what they say about British teeth!

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Maserati Toys with its Brand

qmasLate last summer I strolled into the Maserati dealership on North Rush Street in Chicago where a fetching young woman guided me through the merchandise adorning the spotless floor. After a brief stop to ogle beautiful Ulysse Nardin watches, I got the lowdown on the new Quattroporte GTS, the Cambiocorsa, the Gran Turismo, and the brand new revitalized Ghibli. She also introduced me to a variety of other exotic cars available for sale: the Lamborghini Aventador and the Gallardo, the Aston Martin Vanquish, the Bentley Mulsanne, various Ferraris, a few McLarens. You know – the rides of the 1 percenters.

What struck me though was the Ghibli, the namesake of a sexy, rakish Maserati model introduced in 1966 that ran through production year 1973. (The name “Ghibli” refers to hot dust-bearing wind of the North African desert; Maserati also produced a car called the “Mistral” which refers to a strong, cold northwesterly wind that blows through the Rhône valley and southern France into the Mediterranean. Perhaps a “Santa Ana” vehicle is on the drawing board in Modena.)

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1967 Maserati Ghibli

The saleswoman explained that the Ghibli was set to retail for about $75K – a far cry from the flagship Quattroporte which goes for about $110K. She commented sotto voce that Maserati might be making a mistake by pricing a car that closely resembles the Quattroporte at three-fourths the price; a creature of commissions, the woman obviously feared that customers would opt for the less-expensive but pedigreed Ghibli, thus thumping her take-home pay.

I too wondered whether Maserati was making a strategic error. After all, Maserati has been forever a member of a category of cars considered “exotics:” limited in production; gorgeous of style; priced out of reach; endowed by a legacy of precision engineering and European racing credentials. The whole idea of Maserati (and Ferrari, Lamborghini, Aston Martin, Bugatti, McLaren) is exclusivity. Even more so than Mercedes, Porsche, Jaguar, Alfa Romeo and even Lotus. My concern: that Maserati may have made a blunder that could hurt its solid brand image – not unlike what Cadillac had done with the clunky Cimarron in the 1980s or Porsche with their Corvair-like 914. Believe me – the Ghibli is no Cimarron. . . but introducing a line within Maserati that costs just a tad more than a Jaguar F-Type or a Corvette sounds risky.

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Basic management texts describe revenue as the product of P times Q – price of the item times the quantity of the item sold. Luxury companies like Maserati, Tiffany, Bergdorf-Goodman, Patek-Philippe, Christian Louboutin and Kiton rely on exclusivity – ie. big P small Q. Reversing the arrangement – bigger Q, smaller P – fundamentally reframes the company’s brand, oftentimes for the worse.

I saw a Ghibli this week parked in a municipal golf course lot alongside dented Hyundais and rusty Subarus. There was no “Dead Head” sticker on the bumper, but like the song says, “you can never look back.” If too many dentists and Chipotle franchisees start driving Maseratis, the jig is up.

Joe Nocera Sucks Bezos’s Kneecaps

New York Times op-ed contributor Joe Nocera made his bones reporting on financial markets, but lately he’s been on a crusade against the NCAA. Nocera calls out the NCAA for treating college football and basketball players – guys who help drive millions (billions?) of dollars of revenue for the colleges and the NCAA itself – as nothing more than amateur “student-athletes” who partake of sport as though it were a hobby to enjoy between Calculus and Kierkegaard. I’m with Nocera on his assessment of the NCAA as a cretinous bunch of hacks enabling the exploitation of young people, most of whom will not enjoy a lucrative professional sports career awaiting them, nor a college degree either. You see, once the “student-athletes” are deemed insufficiently talented to propel the university to TV-revenue glory, they’re cut from the roster and set adrift, incapable of completing the curriculum.

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Joe Nocera keeps his head from falling off

So passionate is Joe Nocera about the evils of the NCAA, that the scribe penned a piece that opened as follows: “Twice a year in Vienna, the members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries gather to decide on the short-term direction of oil prices. Sometimes, O.P.E.C. agrees to cut back on oil production, pushing up the price of oil. Other times, it decides to boost production. Always, the goal is to fix the price of oil, rather than allow it to be set by the competitive marketplace. Indeed, collusion and price-fixing are the main reasons cartels exist — and why they are illegal in America. Yet, in Indianapolis a few weeks from now, a home-grown cartel will hold its annual meeting, where it, too, will be working to collude and fix prices. This cartel is the National Collegiate Athletic Association.”

This cartel is the NCAA – sayeth Joe the Nocera.

So imagine my surprise upon reading Joe’s column today in the New York Times titled sarcastically, “Amazon’s ‘Bullying’ Tactics.” Nocera defends Amazon’s tactics which include such peevish behavior as purposely delaying shipment of books by certain publishers, denying buyers the opportunity to pre-order books, and taking down “buy” buttons on selected books. Normally such impudence would be met with a rush of buyers to alternative outlets – but as we all know, that is problematic because Amazon has gobbled up much of the e-book marketplace and now acts like the monopsony that it is. They use their bigness to unlawfully lower the prices of what it buys – a violation of the antitrust laws. Kinda like a cartel, right Joe? Joe’s response (not to me, but in his piece): “No matter what you think of Amazon’s tactics, they surely don’t violate any laws.”

Coincidentally (or not) another Op-Ed piece on the subject appears right next to Nocera’s paean to Jeff Bezos’s Amazonian behemoth: How Book Publishers Can Beat Amazon by Bob Kohn who takes a contrarian view to Nocera’s. In Kohn’s view, Amazon is using monopsony power to fuck up those publishers and authors who won’t bow to its tyranny – and I’m on Kohn’s side.

Books by rabidly anti-NCAA/pro-Amazon Nocera are published by Penguin – and so help Joe if Penguin doesn’t toe the line with Bezo the Clown. He may have to turn his NYT column into a book promotion advertorial.

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The Adventures of Bezo the Clown

bezoAmazon.com was founded by Jeff Bezos as a book seller in the mid-1990s on the principle that revenue growth was paramount if the on-line store (then a novelty) was to compete against long-established companies like Borders, Waldenbooks and Barnes & Noble. On day one, Amazon had precisely zero customers so they needed an angle to lure buyers away from the well-stocked aisles of the big retailers. And the strategy was to sell books at the lowest price available – even if the transaction resulted in a loss for Amazon.com. Dot-com era shareholders and venture capitalists were cool with the plan, and their investments served to bridge the debit gap between the price of books sold and the cost incurred to procure them in the first place.

Nearly twenty years later, Amazon is for the most part running the same strategy. Only now, as a mature company, Amazon finds its shareholders are not as sanguine as before. Years of minimal profit (or outright losses, see bar graph) have taken a toll on Bezos’s avaricious company. The stock is tumbling.

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The infinitesimal black bars are profit for the year.

Under unusual pressure to perform, Bezo the Clown is trying something new. Not a departure from the subsidized-sale model that has sustained the business to date, but a scorched earth policy against the very people who make his book-selling arm possible: authors and publishers. Through the short-sightedness of publishers and the big retail book sellers, Amazon was allowed to cement a powerful control point by establishing the de-facto e-reader device accompanied by a simple-to-use online store. The fact that a few years prior, the music industry went through exactly the same type of upheaval which ended with an outsider (Apple) becoming the control point, it’s astounding that the book industry completely missed seeing the same inflection point in its industry. Had a book-friendly B&N launched the Nook a few year earlier – something easily accomplished had anyone thee been awake – they could have dominated their industry. Instead they’re hanging onto life by their fingertips, closing stores and contemplating sell-off.

In any event, now that Amazon has hegemony over the industry, it’s making punitive demands of its suppliers (authors and publishers) in the form of reduced royalties, mandatory loyalty oaths, and for those who push back, ostracism. Amazon is regularly delaying delivery of books from certain recalcitrant publishers, or refusing to sell them at all. So much for partnership. It’s ironic that most of the “big six” publishers who tried to cut a pricing deal with Apple were punished by the Justice Department, while the most evil of the players in the book-selling industry – Amazon – was granted freedom to march forward unscathed. Now Bezo the Clown holds a near-monopoly position and is exploiting it exactly as any business textbook would forewarn.

I have four books available on Amazon and I can tell you that they essentially offer you the sleeves off their vest. For example, in return for selling books exclusively on Amazon, the author is rewarded with a special promotion: the privilege of giving away books for free for up to five days. What a deal! What a country! I have removed my books from distribution for B&N Nook, Apple iPad, Sony eReader, Kobo, and who knows what else – just to be able to give away my book for free on Amazon. Yes – traffic on Amazon for my books spiked, but to what end? No royalties. Loss of sales on other outlets. Knowing for three months that I played the tool for Amazon.

My take: Amazon is becoming Walmart. Not in the retail business sense of dominating commerce, but in the evil sense of restricting flow of free trade while exploiting the working stiff. They’re a bully to its suppliers, and a dictator of choice to its customers.

I appeal to all avid readers: assuming you have one, buy local in your friendly indie book shop (I’ll give a shout-out to IndieBound ). And, to the friendly indie shops: invent a better way to for customers to purchase e-books. Collude with your competitors if you have to – after all, you’re dealing with John Sherman’s worst nightmare.

Golden Parachute in Iran: Death by Hanging

Accused: Stanley O’Neal
Occupation: CEO, Merrill-Lynch
Crime: As the sub-prime crisis swept through the global financial market while clueless Stanley checked his Blackberry, Merrill Lynch announced losses of $8 billion.
Penalty: Severance package included Merrill stock and options worth $161.5 million on top of the $91.4 million in total compensation he earned in 2006
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Accused: John Thain
Occupation: CEO, Merrill-Lynch.
Crime: Misrepresented the assets and liabilities of Merrill-Lynch to acquirer Bank of America while renovating his office to the tune of $1.2 million. US Government must come in to prop up the weakened merger at tax-payer expense.
Penalty: Total compensation of $83,785,021, which included a base salary of $750,000, a cash bonus of $15,000,000, stock grant of $33,013,151, and options grant of $35,017,421.
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Accused: Robert Nardelli
Occupation: CEO, The Home Depot
Crime: Oversaw flat growth at Home Depot while rival Lowes doubled revenues. Treated employees like shit. Shareholders felt like said shit-upon employees.
Penalty: Severance package was estimated at $210 million.
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Accused: Carly Fiorina
Occupation: CEO, HP
Crime: Steward of limp performance in a growing market; in the face of massive resistance, drove the ill-conceived acquisition of Compaq, a major seller of PCs just as the PC era was about to go into the history books alongside the Pony Express.
Penalty: Paid slightly more than $20 million in severance.
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Accused: Mahafarid Amir Khosravi
Occupation: Billionaire Iranian investor
Crime: Forging letters of credit with the help of high-level bank managers in order to get loans from Saderat, one of Iran’s largest banks.
Penalty: Death by hanging.

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The Customer is Always Right a Pain in the Asset

GM_RECALL_INQUIRY_2_36404083+(3)General Motors just received a financial penalty of $35 million (the highest allowable) meted out by the US Transportation Department for their “criminal” behavior surrounding the flawed ignition switches installed in Chevy Cobalts whose failures led to at least 13 deaths. As GM marches inexorably from this PR nightmare into a full-scale litigation shit-storm, it’s worth recalling a time when corporate America valued customers – and even its employees (horrors!) – over shareholders.

This was a time, dating back to perhaps Marshall Fields’s famous declaration that “the customer is always right,” when companies directly correlated their own financial successes with the happiness of customers. Dig out pre-1990s corporate literature, or read management text books from that era and you’ll see paeans to “customer satisfaction,” “respect for the individual,” “it’s all about the customer,” and “commitment to quality.” Hell, you couldn’t swing a dead cat in 1985 without hitting a “quality circle” or someone yammering on about ISO9000. This was an era of growing global trade when the names Edwards Deming and Malcolm Baldridge meant something, and the arcane phrase “six sigma” was bandied about by secretaries and statisticians alike.

It was “all about the customer” because as anyone with a spot of real-world experience knows, customers have mobility, and they can take their spending elsewhere whenever they feel under-appreciated. But is that still true? Merger and acquisition activity has soared in the past decade, leaving fewer choices for customers – especially in the financial, airline, media and national retail industries. Although the Federal Trade Commission approves just about every M&A proposal, presumably following due diligence, it seems the undesired outcomes always unfold anyway: reduced competition, employee layoffs, higher prices for crappier service. And big paydays for the shareholders – some of the heftiest being the executive architects of M&A to begin with.

It used to be a business foundation: good customer service meant greater revenue, market share and profit. Corollary to that was the notion that happy employees produced better goods and services, which led to satisfied and loyal customers. In other words, shareholder value was a by-product of attention to customers, not something that needed artificial engineering. There was little need to buy back shares, conduct wholesale layoffs, slice R&D spending, and move jobs off-shore. These tactics have only proliferated in the past couple of decades, with an acceleration in the last few years. Perhaps it’s an artifact of the internet and the formation cheap, online trading capability that has created legions of greedy day-trading, stock-watching Warren Buffet wannabees. It may also derive from the unconscionable tax breaks given to hedge funds that bestow superannuated powers upon them to influence corporate behavior.

Rather than show a modicum of concern about the drivers and passengers of its compact Cobalt, GM chose instead to cover-up and obfuscate information that could have saved lives. Undoubtedly, engineers, lawyers, actuaries and tax experts inside the company made a cost-benefit analysis that was geared toward holding the shareholders harmless. And now, with a heaping dollop of gall, GM is working a legal strategy to avoid paying claims in the billions by virtue of their government-forced bankruptcy in 2009. At that time I was on the side of letting GM liquidate. They had thumbed their noses at the government’s calls to field a more energy-efficient fleet, and when the economy tanked and buyers of multi-ton trucks disappeared, there was good old GM, French-cuffed arm extended for a nice fat handout. If they succeed with the “we wuz bankrupt” defense, auto buyers should look elsewhere for their future forms of ground transportation.

I mentioned the airline industry as one in which the customer has taken a cramped steerage seat way behind the coddled shareholder.

I write this blog high above the Rocky Mountains flying Delta 407 to Las Vegas. I barely made the flight which was scheduled to depart 10:45 (notice I did not say departed 10:45). After dropping off my rental car at the permanent dig site that is JFK airport, I took the Airtrain to Delta’s terminal 2 which deposited me on the sidewalk a good 10 minute hike (with bags) to the agent, who brusquely told me that because I had arrived 42 minutes before take-off, I could not check my bags. Had I been there 45 minutes before takeoff, OK. 42 minutes? F.U.

With insouciant disregard for my plight, the “bitch-of-the month” candidate informed me I would have to board the next flight – at 3:30. I told miss bottle-blonde that I would take my chances at the gate with an oversized bag, and demanded a boarding pass, which she tossed in my general direction. After rushing through security with half my clothing piled in a plastic bin, I scanned the signs for gate B36. Hmm. Nothing but C-gates. And a small sign that indicated A and B gates were located a shuttle bus-ride away in terminal 4. It seems Delta hadn’t gotten around to instructing JFK staff to note the change in terminal locations on the Airtrain billboard. Damn you Delta!

I popped out of the shuttle bus at terminal 4, wandered around for a few minutes looking for the elevator to the gates because the sign above my headed pointed in the wrong direction, and finally began my half-marathon to gate B36. As my luck would have it, two of the three moving sidewalks were out of order. And by my luck I mean “good” – at least it wasn’t a three-fer. Huffing and dry-mouthed, I made it to gate B36 just in time to hear the gate agent announce that the flight was delayed to 11:15. Good for me I guess – but what about the sacred 45 minute bag-check cut-off to boarding time? Did bottle-blonde not know that my arrival at her desk had actually occurred 73 minutes in advance? Or, like lazy corporate America, had she simply given up on the old adage “the customer is always right” and gone back to checking for a spike in Delta’s stock price? After all – if I miss the flight, Delta can charge double to some antsy slob waiting on standby at the gate like a Kindergartner about to pee his pants for a shot at the treasured no-show seat.

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Mainframe Turns 50; Founder Rolls in Grave

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This past month IBM celebrated the 50th anniversary of the introduction of the System 360 computer, the first in a long line of what would be come to be known as “mainframes.” In a move that was later called a “bet the business” strategy, IBM brought out a revolutionary system of computers, storage and software that changed business processes and cemented IBM’s position as the leader in technology for decades to follow. Despite numerous predictions that, like the dinosaurs, the mainframe was due for imminent extinction, in fact the product has sustained a good portion of IBM’s earnings year after year. (Rather than chafe at the comparison to dinosaurs, IBM notes that the lumbering creatures dominated the planet for millions of years.)

I suspect then that the cameo appearance of the IBM System 360 in last week’s episode of “Mad Men” entitled “The Monolith” was no coincidence. No doubt the vaunted IBM marketing machine went to work on the unusual product placement, matching the anniversary to the time-frame that the award-winning AMC series portrays. (By the way, I like the imagery of the rectangular black door that faces Don Draper as he exits the elevator at the opening of the episode – a not-so-subtle allusion to the original monolith in “2001: A Space Odyssey.” After all, everyone knows that the name of the movie’s computer – HAL – was a nod to IBM. Or is that an urban legend?)

Dig up any old photos of IBM employees from the mid-1960s (especially those in sales and marketing) and you’ll see buttoned-down, not-quite dapper Don Drapers. They may not be as handsome as Don, but the thin-tie conservative vibe is all there. And this conservatism in dress and manner persisted well past the late-90s dot-com boom when NASDAQ upstarts like Sun Microsystems and Silicon Graphics relaxed working conditions and dress codes to stimulate creativity and nurture supposed genius.

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So imagine my surprise when I visited the ibm.com website the other day and came across this banner highlighting IBM’s eponymous cognitive computer named after the company’s founder, Thomas J. Watson.

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I can only imagine Watson’s reaction to the sight of a spike-faced freak gracing an IBM property. After rolling over in his grave a few times, which would Watson demand first? “Lose the piercings” or “Put on a shirt and tie.”

Trump disses Mies Van Der Rohe

Continuing with advertising . . .

A glossy, full-page ad for Trump Hotels ran in the New York Times last Sunday, picturing a sultry woman in a gold dress walking away from a leering man in a tuxedo, his tie undone and his thoughts (this being a Trump ad) undoubtedly teetering toward unchivalrous behavior yet to come.

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But forget the randy implication of a couple about to couple upon leaving an elegant Manhattan rooftop bar. It’s the tagline that kills me: “Whoever said less is more, never had more.” Although the sentiment captures Trump’s materialistic mentality, it’s clear that the junior copywriter who penned that blurb knows nothing about the elegance of simplicity. A more appropriate tagline for the Trump ad would have been the one I saw emblazoned like graffiti on a paintball emporium in Times Square: “Too much is never enough.” After all, Donald Trump is the king of too much: hotels, condos, golf courses, casinos, men’s wear, colognes, vodka – although his actual involvement in the enterprises is never quite certain. In many cases he’s simply licensing his name to some schmuck hoping to elevate his own vacant brand above that of Chucky Cheese.

Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe, the famous International Style architect who so thoroughly influenced urban structures from the 1950s on is most famous for expounding the ethos of “less is more.” The concept arose in the post WW I 1920s and 30s out of the German Bauhaus movement of architecture and design as a reaction to the heavy, overly-decorated designs associated with bourgeois buildings whose owners sought to mimic the royalty of Versailles and the castles of the Loire Valley (think Disney’s plastic Magic Kingdom.)

Tom Wolfe captured the sentiment well in his book “From Bauhaus to Our House”: “The bourgeoisie had always been great ones for false fronts, thick walls of masonry and other grant materials, overlaid in every manner of quoin and pediment and lintel and rock-faced arch, cozy anthropomorphic elements such as entablatures and capitals, pilasters and columns, plinths and rusticated bases, to create the impression of head, mid-section, and foot; and every manner of grandiose and pointless gesture–spires, Spanish tile roofs, bays, corbels–to create a dishonest picture of what went on inside, architecturally and socially. All this had to go.”

Clean design devoid of unnecessary frills was paramount.

It’s ironic that an ad for Trump would dismiss “less is more” given that many of his buildings derive directly from the foundations established by the International Style purists, and epitomized by Mies Van Der Rohe’s iconic Lake Shore Drive residences in Chicago, and the Seagram Building and Lever House, both on Manhattan’s Park Avenue.

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But leave it to Trump to extol the virtues of over-the-top garishness whenever the opportunity arises.

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When Charlie Met Meathead

meatRob Reiner may best be known either as the son of comic icon Carl Reiner, or as the tormented, droopy-‘stached “Meathead” Michael Stivic on the seminal “All in the Family” TV show of the 1970s. In fact, Reiner’s greatest accomplishments may actually be his directorial efforts on such films as “Stand By Me,” “The Princess Bride,” “When Harry Met Sally,” and “This is Spinal Tap.” Casual movie-goers tend to be oblivious as to who directed the film they’re about to watch unless it’s the product of Steven Spielberg, George Lucas or Martin Scorsese – and I suspect people are largely unaware of Reiner’s body of work.

No doubt with the help of his famous father, Reiner got started acting on TV early, playing a kid on “77 Sunset Strip” in 1959. Before landing the plum assignment as a major character on “All in the Family,” he did bit parts in no less than 16 series, many of them TV “classics”: “The Partridge Family,” “Batman,” “Gomer Pyle,” “That Girl,” “The Beverly Hillbillies,” and “Room 222.” By the time he completed his stint as “Meathead,” Reiner was ready for movies – pursuing a path much the same as his fellow TV personality Ron Howard.

A couple weeks ago on April 28, Reiner was feted by the Film Society of Lincoln Center as the 41st Chaplin Award recipient – an honor that seems well-deserved to me. Again, most people probably identify Reiner with “Meathead,” but keep these stats in mind: he has 24 director credits, 26 producer credits, 22 writer credits, 10 soundtrack credits, and 65 acting credits (TV & film).

“Stand By Me” is a heartfelt coming of age movie based on a novella by Stephen King that introduced a number of actors who went on to take on starring roles (River Phoenix, Kiefer Sutherland, Wil Wheaton, Corey Feldman). “Misery” from another King novel about a writer rescued from certain death only to become a prisoner of his biggest fan is chilling and disturbing (even if you closed your eyes during the “hobbling” scene.) “The Princess Bride” is a clever and amusing tale (some may even say “inconceivable”) that showcases some interesting casting (Andre the Giant, Wallace Shawn) and a couple cameos (Billy Crystal and Carol Kane). And of course, the most hilarious mockumentary of all time, “This is Spinal Tap,” a movie that set the standard that was followed by such funny stuff as “Best in Show.”

Paradoxically, I find that Reiner’s most successful movie – “A Few Good Men” – to be one of his weakest. The movie garnered four Academy Award nominations including Best Supporting Actor (Jack Nicholson) and Best Picture (although once again, the Academy found it unnecessary to nominate Reiner who directed the picture.) The plot is totally predictable, and the character development is formulaic. And some of the acting by lesser players is particularly wooden. True, “You can’t handle the truth!” is a memorable line, but what about “I eat breakfast 300 yards from 4000 Cubans who are trained to kill me”? Who really talks like that? Furthermore, in 1992, after the break-up of the Soviet Union and the year the movie came out, the likelihood of Cuba attacking Americans on Guantanamo was ludicrous.

But my biggest complaint is with the courtroom drama segment in which cocky Navy lawyer Lt. Kaffee (Tom Cruise) goads Guantanamo commander Col. Jessup (Nicholson) into admitting he ordered an illegal code red, thereby bringing about his own arrest and downfall. Strictly convenient B-Grade Perry Mason bullshit. It gives Jessup a chance to go ballistic while Kaffee stands there in perfect smugness for out-lawyering the tough commander – only in Hollywood. As Roger Ebert wrote in a pan, “A Few Good Men is one of those movies that tells you what it’s going to do, does it, and then tells you what it did.”

Still in all, congrats to Reiner for his Chaplin Award.

The Incredible Shrinking Florida

New climate change reports continue to speak of doom coming before the end of the century, and Florida is continually held up as the poster child for destruction. More than any other part of America, Florida seems to be the farthest along in suffering the noticeable ill effects of one of global warming’s biggest threats – the relentless rise of ocean levels. This story in the New York Time the other day describes the increasingly frequent flooding of sea water into the tony South Beach enclave of Greater Miami. I personally know some people who have had to sit by helplessly on several occasions while salt-water mixed with sewage and automobile fluids flowed into their in-ground pool.

But in spite of all the demonstrable evidence of trouble, three presidential hopefuls from the Sunshine State seem not to care: Sen. Marco Rubio, Former Governor Jeb Bush and current Governor Rick Scott are ominously quiet about the fate of their state. Given that Republicans (especially the primary voter types) tend to disbelieve climate change, and are outright hostile to any meaningful steps to tend to it such as carbon taxes or other regulations, no one seeking high office from the GOP side can summon the courage to take a stand – even as their own constituents regularly have to traipse thru brackish waters when crossing the street.

Miami mayor Philip Levine said, “Sea level rise is our reality in Miami Beach. We are past the point of debating the existence of climate change and are now focusing on adapting to current and future threats.” According to the article, “In the face of encroaching saltwater and sunny-day flooding like that on Alton Road, Mr. Levine has supported a $400 million spending project to make the city’s drainage system more resilient in the face of rising tides.”

My take – until the GOP leaders in Florida acknowledge the problem and take meaningful actions, I demand that not one penny of Federal funds goes toward this $400 million project – or to defray any other costs rising from a rising sea.

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The cross-roads(waters?) of SoBe and SoFi

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Cruel, but Becoming Less Unusual

sign2For the first time in more than 80 years, Oklahoma would execute two criminals on the same night: the dark and dreary evening of April 29. Due to some appalling incompetence, however, the state executioners only managed to get through one – and that was by accident.

Bad-guy Clayton Lockett was prepped to receive a triple dose of nasty chemicals injected one by one into his groin, as the usual spot on the arm would not yield a worthy vein. The first (midazolam) was meant to sedate him, the second (vecuronium bromide) was designed to paralyze him, and the third (potassium chloride) stops the heart. As lethal drug #2 was coursing its way into Lockett’s bloodstream, he unexpectedly tried to sit up and mumbled some words that suggested he wasn’t feeling no pain. Seems the person who set up the needle in Lockett’s groin didn’t do a quality job and as a result, not enough sedation made it into the condemned’s body. No matter. Lethal drug #3 did the trick, but not in a manner suitable for public viewing, as the executioners quickly lowered the blinds on the gruesome display. They also wisely postponed the second execution – after all, where were they gonna find a better phlebotomist on such short notice?

Consider this. Oklahoma went to the mat to stage this spectacle, and most likely scheduled two on the same day as a thumb in the eye of those bleeding-heart, anti-capital punishment wimps who had made so much noise about the unseemliness of using untested drugs and dosages to kill someone. And after being handed a victory by the State Supreme Court which green-lighted the use of the mystery cocktail of drugs over the objections of the death-row men’s lawyers, Oklahoma went ahead full steam – only to blow the whole thing, thereby handing over a huge club to their adversaries with which to beat them silly. As David Dow, a death penalty appellate lawyer in Texas, put it, “For a state that executes people, they are awfully bad at it.”

I’ve been an opponent of capital punishment mainly on the grounds that irreversible mistakes can get made, but also because its application around the country is uneven, and because it serves no purpose other than to satisfy the desire for revenge. But even pro-capital punishment people have to be shaking their heads at the sheer costs involved: expensive trials and mandatory appeals (which are necessary given the history of prosecutorial corruption, negligent defense and investigative errors), developing execution methods and training the “hangman,” PR issues, and sometimes, remunerating convicts following exoneration.

Oklahoma’s blown two-for-one special might have inadvertently become the incident that brings the death penalty to the beginning of its end in the US.

Geniuses of the Obvious

This past Saturday, Greg Mankiw writing in the New York Times reported on a study out of the University of Chicago that sought to discover the forces that drive political slant in the media. After a few years of research, the results are in! According to Mankiw, “The bottom line is simple: Media owners generally do not try to mold the population to their own brand of politics. Instead, like other business owners, they maximize profit by giving customers what they want.”

That’s it. After conducting extensive surveys, searching through newspaper articles using tailored algorithms, and correlating observations, they concluded that media give their customers what they want.

You only have to listen once to Sean Hannity, Rachel Maddow, or Ed Schultz, or read a couple editorials by the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times to understand intuitively that this is the nature of the news business – one that produces annual reports for hedge fund managers, and is beholden to stockholders who want to see returns. Shocker.

Maybe He’d Have Better Luck Picking His Nose

Required reading for fans of horse-racing from the Wall Street Journal writer Jim Chairusmi: “Why California Chrome Won’t Win the Kentucky Derby.” In his April 29 article, “Carnac” Chairusmi offers “Six Reasons to Look Beyond the Likely Favorite in the Run for the Roses.” The best reason? The favorite rarely wins. Lot’s of solid logic in this article, yet Chairusmi forgot the most significant reason of all: No horse named California Chrome has ever won in the entire 139 year history of the Kentucky Derby. QED.

For those fans looking forward to the Preakness and Belmont Stakes: read this article and do the opposite.

RIP Bob Hoskins

Francis Coppola’s film “The Cotton Club” starring Richard Gere and Gregory Hines received mixed reviews when it screened 30 years ago, but it remains one of my favorite gangster movies. The story is a mixture of real-life players and actual incidents blended with fictional characters – and the music and dancing are top-notch. (Side note: The Broadway hit “After Midnight” captures much of the same Harlem vibe and Duke Ellington swing that Coppola sprinkled so thoroughly throughout the movie.)

Although Richard Gere did a passable job playing Dixie Dwyer, a jazz musician who gets taken under the wing of Dutch Schultz (Gere did his own cornet playing), and Gregory Hines and his brother Maurice deliver some awesome tap-dancing, the most compelling characters are the second-stringers: Fred Gwynne (aka. Herman Munster), Julian Beck and, best of all, Bob Hoskins.

NPG x31047; Bob Hoskins as Owney Madden in 'The Cotton Club' by Adger W. Cowans

Hoskins, who died the other day at age 71 played the role of Owney Madden with appropriate flair and primal viciousness, just like the man he portrayed: an immigrant from England (Leeds) who worked his way up from petty crimes to ownership of the real Cotton Club. Although Hoskins himself is a limey from West Suffolk and has a thick Cockney accent, he manages to speak in the film with an Americanized tongue. Just as he did when playing Eddie Valiant in what I consider a brilliant film, “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” According to his obit, Hoskins discovered the role as a human amongst cartoon characters to be more than a bit daunting. In a 2009 interview with The Telegraph of London, he recalled how his doctor advised him to take five months off after finishing the film. “I think I went a bit mad while working on that,” he said. “Lost my mind. The voice of the rabbit was there just behind the camera all the time. You had to know where the rabbit would be at every angle. Then there was Jessica Rabbit and all these weasels. The trouble was, I had learnt how to hallucinate.”

hoskinsobit2-master675

Hoskins’s highest achievement came a couple years later following his portrayal of driver for a high-priced “escort” in the film “Mona Lisa” in 1986, snagging a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination for Best Actor – which might be enough to get him into next year’s “In Memoriam” segment on the Academy Awards. Then again, he played “Mario” in “Super Mario Bros.” so who knows?

End Note

Regardless of what you think about Don Sterling, owner (for now) of the LA Clippers – does it bother you that he’s going down on the strength of a tape of a private conversation? One that he did not record or release himself?

Had the NSA captured the racist declarations instead of his petulant mistress V., and had an Edward Snowden-type mole leaked the transcripts, would people on the left be as excited to see the old codger taken down?

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Amnesiac Advertising

bkIf you’re over 40 years old – and especially if your name is “Herb” – you undoubtedly remember a gruesome television ad campaign for Burger King called “Where’s Herb?” The conceit behind the 1985-86 campaign, developed by J. Walter Thompson, entailed a hapless character who had never experienced the sublime pleasure of consuming a Whopper (the greasy hamburger, not the sex organ.) Burger King customers were invited to try to identify the mysterious burger-virgin – which was a pointless exercise at the time as Burger King hadn’t yet socialized Herb’s likeness. That didn’t come until a couple months later during the Super Bowl. And as you might expect from a clueless, three-piece-suit Madison Avenue agency, JWT concocted the stereotype of “Herb” as a fashion-addled, middle-aged nerd, complete with the obligatory horn-rim glasses, white socks and high-water, stovepipe trousers. (Side note: “Where’s Herb” was the last campaign JWT did for Burger King.)

Prior to the big reveal, the campaign deployed guerilla marketing techniques by keeping “Herb” under wraps in an attempt to build curiosity and anticipation, which as I recall never happened. Fundamentally, no one cared about the whereabouts of some asshole who never sank his choppers into a Whopper. Furthermore, BK’s offer of a discount off a Whopper to anyone who announced “I’m not Herb” when ordering, also failed to take root. In reality, anyone who actually considered uttering such a moronic claim in public thought twice about it lest they appear to be an even bigger dick than the creepy Herb.

Now it seems Burger King has a bad case of amnesia because they’re trying it again – this time with a the shop-worn character “Subservient Chicken.” A half-page ad in the New York Times this weekend pleads, “Have you seen this chicken?” and advises, “If found, please email chicken@burgerking.com.” Presumably, like “Herb”, the whereabouts of the “Subservient Chicken” will stay tantalizingly out-of-reach until some big signature event when the fugly fowl rears his bright red comb. And again, will anyone care? Unless the chicken is called subservient for reasons related to S&M, I’d guess “no.”

1398459696000-XXX-BURGER-KING-SUBSERVIENT-CHICKEN

If past is prologue, expect this lame ad campaign to run a few months before finding its rightful place in the dustbin of history. I can only imagine Don Draper deftly sticking a Lucky in his mouth and uttering a put-down that would make the actual Burger King cry.

Don Sterling Joins the Neanderthals of Sports Bigots

LA Clippers owner Don Sterling is in a jam for recently revealed remarks that to the untrained ear might be considered racist – although his history of such indiscretion goes back a long time. In addition to his ownership of a big-league basketball team, Sterling also makes coin by being a slum-lord. Some time ago, In an exchange with a property supervisor of a building he had just purchased, Sterling remarked on the “odor” of the place. “That’s because of all the blacks in this building, they smell, they’re not clean,” he said, according to the supervisor. “And it’s because of all of the Mexicans that just sit around and smoke and drink all day.” He added: “So we have to get them out of here.”

His opinion of the race of most people who play for his Clippers and the NBA overall is consistent with his views of his smelly tenants.

Classy shit. Definitely worthy to be cast among these sports clowns of yore:

Marge Shott – Cincinnati Reds owner in the 1990s:

Elegant Marge bestows wisdom accrued from many years of managerial experience: “Never hire another nigger. I’d rather have a trained monkey working for me than a nigger.” And a favorite of many: “Everybody knows Hitler was good at the beginning, but he just went too far.”

Jimmy “the Greek” Snyder – Sportscaster

Half-wasted, quoted in a restaurant in 1988 while opining on the demise of the poor, discriminated white man in sports: “The black is a better athlete to begin with because he’s been bred to be that way, because of his high thighs and big thighs that goes up into his back, and they can jump higher and run faster because of their bigger thighs and he’s bred to be the better athlete because this goes back all the way to the Civil War when during the slave trade…the slave owner would breed his big black to his big woman so that he could have a big black kid.” Thighs that go up his back? Seems Jimmy needs an anatomy lesson in-between sensitivity training.

Al Campanis – Baseball executive

Uncle Al the Kiddie’s pal explains black inferiority to everyone on Ted Koppel’s show: Blacks “may not have some of the necessities to be, let’s say, a field manager, or, perhaps, a general manager” for these positions. Later on he notes that blacks are often poor swimmers “because they don’t have the buoyancy.” Eureka!

Lush Rambo – Radio personality

Regarding Donovan McNabb, QB for the Eagles: “I’m sorry to say this, I don’t think he’s been that good from the get-go. I think what we’ve had here is a little social concern. I think the media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well.” But as McNabb proved for El Rushbo – QB is the white man’s burden.

Fuzzy Zoeller – Pro golfer

On Tiger Woods’s victory at the 1997 Masters, in front of a TV camera, for which its properties to record audio and video I presume the Fuzz-boy was familiar: “You pat him on the back and say congratulations and enjoy it and tell him not to serve fried chicken next year. Got it?” Then Fuzzy walks away from the camera but can’t resist throwing one more line out. “Or collard greens or whatever the hell they serve.” Whatever the hell they serve? What an ass. Zoeller lost a lucrative endorsement from Kmart, as well as his reputation for being a nice guy.

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This Week in Jerk-ville

clar

Mr. Affirmative Action

The Supreme Court voted 6 to 2 to uphold a ban on using affirmative action to make college admission decisions in Michigan. The ruling sets in motion the likely spread of AA bans in other states. Whether that is good or bad will be debated forever. But one element is undeniably smelly: Clarence Thomas and his vote to expunge AA. Here’s a mediocre jurist crapping on affirmative action after personally benefiting from it throughout his career beyond all reasonable expectations. In his middling memoir, Justice Clarence bemoans the evils of affirmative action as a stain on one’s career – yet he never turned down the opportunities that came along with it.

Perhaps a movie could be made that involves a time-traveling DeLorean that transports mild-mannered & mute Jerkoff Justice Clarence back to 1955 where he nips AA in the bud, thereby eliminating his chances of getting into Yale, and by extension his appointment to the Supreme Court, which means he’s not really Justice Clarence anymore, thereby creating a paradox that confuses the audience like every other time-travel movie.

Selective Phrases

Every so often I receive an email ranting about the insidiousness of the Affordable Care Act, one that cites actual passages from the law to demonstrate not only its foolishness, but how it will inevitably bring about the decline and fall of the United States. Again, like Affirmative Action, ACA will be debated forever. But emails such as these do more to spread ignorance than enlightenment.

Because the email author attempts to build credibility by citing chapter and page of the law, the reader can easily verify veracity. I found one claim to be particularly amusing for its blatant and sophomoric deception. The emailer points out this statement in the law – “The tax imposed under this section will not be treated as a tax,” adding indignantly, “How could anybody in their right mind come up with that?”

Here’s the full passage from the law: “The tax imposed under this section shall not be treated as tax imposed by this chapter for purposes of determining the amount of any credit under this chapter or for purposes of section 55.” Section 55 deals with the Alternative Minimum Tax.

Truncating the sentence – a jerky, shop-worn, bush-league tactic.

Cliven Bundy supporters run for the hills

Cliven Bundy may be a jerk for grazing cattle on federal lands without paying the fee – which happens to be a fraction of the cost he would have to pay if he grazed on private land – but the asshole politicians and pundits who elevated him to hero status are the true jerks in this stupid episode.

Such luminaries as Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Sean Hannity defended Bundy’s “right” to graze on federal land for free, finding no irony that the situation boiled down to someone ripping off the government. Are Bundy’s actions any different than those of a person who would cut down a fir tree in Central Park to take home to decorate for Christmas? Still, because Bundy was taking on the Bureau of Land Management, part of the big, bad Federal government, he was likened to the Patriots at the revolution.

Then Bundy was taped giving his enlightened position on the fate of “Negroes.”

“I want to tell you one more thing I know about the negro. When I go, went, go to Las Vegas, North Las Vegas; and I would see these little government houses, and in front of that government house the door was usually open and the older people and the kids…. and there was always at least a half a dozen people sitting on the porch. They didn’t have nothing to do. They didn’t have nothing for the kids to do. They didn’t have nothing for the young girls to do.

And because they were basically on government subsidy – so now what do they do? They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never, they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered are they were better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things? Or are they better off under government subsidy?”

Are they better off under government subsidy? Cliven, you of all people should know the answer to that, as a man who has benefited from government subsidy for a decade or more.

Suddenly the supporters – the real jerks – ran for the hills. Here’s a sampling of some of the post-Negro-speech “outrage” that was issued by the formerly-enamored hero worshippers:

Sean Hannity – Pundit who devoted hours of air time to Bundy’s cause celeb cried, “His comments are beyond repugnant to me. They are beyond despicable to me. They are beyond ignorant to me.”

Rand Paul – Bundy’s “remarks on race are offensive and I wholeheartedly disagree with him.”

Dean Heller – The Nevada Senator, who had called Bundy a patriot, “completely disagrees with Mr. Bundy’s appalling and racist statements, and condemns them in the most strenuous way.”

Michele Fiore – The Nevada Assemblywoman who came to Bundy’s defense said, “I strongly disagree with Cliven Bundy’s comments about slavery.”

(Side note: it looks like all these politicians use the same PR firm, given the similarity of responses and the degree to which they “disagree”.)

Because it’s there

“It is a bitter, bitter disappointment. I’m probably worse off than most in some ways.” That was the sentiment of British investment banker James Brooman after realizing that in the wake of a huge avalanche on the Khumbu ice-fall on Mt. Everest, he’d not be summiting the world’s highest (and perhaps most crowded) peaks. I hope for Brooman’s sake, he didn’t whine too much in the presence of the families of the 16 Sherpas who died in the avalanche. They might consider their lost climbers to be just a hair worse off than the frustrated banker.

And if self-pity wasn’t jerky enough, Brooman quit his job, sold his apartment and used up most of his savings to pay for the trip.

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