Wednesday, April 18, 2018

1933 Everyone Needs a Fixer

Mike “Tom Hagen” Cohen may be trump and Hannity’s fixer.  But he’s certainly not the first and he won’t be the last.

Not exactly a job you can find on LinkedIn or Monster-dot-com. And no one posts these job openings in a public space -- at least not yet.  But there are plenty of them in the woodwork and while helpful, you don’t need to be a termite to find them.

Most of us don’t remember Eddie Mannix. He was Hollywood’s go to guy to make sure the public images of stars were, shall we say, normalish. And there’s famous fixer Anthony Pellicano, of Michael Jackson and John DeLorean fame.  He’ll soon be out of jail.

It’s not restricted to Hollywood as we’re finding out.  Take a look at New York’s Ben Brafman and Washington’s Bob Strauss.  And the ever reliable “crisis manager” Judy Smith, also of Washington.

The popular definition of a 21st century fixer is the same as the popular definition of a 1970s street pimp: He or she does nothing, but does it with great style.

The definition is good as far as it goes. But fixers really don’t do actual nothing.  They pick up phones or connect their clients with payments.  Most of them, like the pimps of yesteryear, work on commission.

There are so many around these days, they might have to advertise much like personal injury lawyers.  One I knew personally but whose name won’t be disclosed in order to protect my remaining good knee, got paid a couple of grand just to pick up the phone and advise a scandalmonger to stand down, even if he shouldn’t have.

Of course, everyone today is a star, if nowhere else but in their minds. And therefore, everyone needs a fixer.  

But especially guys like trump. Man, wouldn’t you like to have been a fly on Mikey’s wall? Think of the dirt you could dish. The presidency brought no change in this president’s modus operandi. He’s been the same for … well, forever.

Of course, after one “fixes” for a while, a problem can develop. Like Cohen, they may do things that lead to the need for fixer fixers.  And that can spark a chain reaction.  Cohen needs a fixer.  Then Cohen’s fixer needs a fixer and then the fixer of the fixer of the fixer needs a fixer.  

And there’s risk.  Sometimes, fixer’s fixer’s fixers stop in their tracks and don’t know where they are or what they’re doing.

This is a condition known as Fixer’s Block. It’s like writer’s block. Except that when you have writer's block you can simply keep working.  Fixing, on the other hand, is like a game of musical chairs. And when the fixing stops, someone gets hurt.

Of course, there’s always a major alternative: don’t break anything.  Like your vows or promises or contracts. It’s easier than you think.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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Monday, April 16, 2018

1932 trump's War of Diversion

1932 trump’s War of Diversion

Someone ring the bell for the next round.  With all his troubles in the legal area of New York and the legal and legislative arenas of Washington what does trump do?  What so many other scandal scarred presidents have done before him.  He starts a war.

America didn’t not learn its lesson on nation building by getting rid of the evilest of evil terrible horrendous miserable dictators of the moment, Saddam Hussein.  And the foibles of other presidents were small compared to what trump faces.

Both Bushes had outs they failed to take in Iraq.  Reagan had an out and failed to take it in Nicaragua. And Nixon?  Yes, even Nixon had a legitimate exit strategy.  It’s obvious trump has none.  And the only thing he knows to do is lie. 

What about this time?  In his announcement of strikes against Syria Friday he described in gruesome detail the effects of chemical weapons on the people who died when -- as we’re told -- Syria’s government used them against innocent civilians.  

Do you think he really cares about those people?  Only if the military attacks keep his real worries off the front page, the cable panel “news” shows and the lead to the nightly news.

trump cares about glorious pieces of chocolate cake.  And women who willingly oblige him but who wouldn’t give him the time of day let alone access to their bodies if he weren’t a multi thousandaire.[i]

The military strikes against the Assad regime are not going force Assad into a Saddam Hussein style hidey hole in the middle of a traveling tent city in the middle of the desert.   And they’re not going to divert attention from Mueller vs. trump or the woes of his Tom Hagen-like consigliere Mike “the fixer” Cohen (a Long Island boy, by the way.)

Envision:  trump, like HW Bush before him, rings up a couple of other world leaders -- in this case England and France and asks them to send a couple of army grunts to participate in the invasion. They agree.

Then he calls Assad and says “Look Haf-azz, we’re going to hit some of your poison gas stations and you’d best move all that evil crap somewhere else so you’ll still have it on hand when you need gas a few more A-rabs.”

Assad answers: “Haf-azz was my father, I’m Bashar al Assad. But you can call me Al.  Listen up, bud: you’re going to have to telegraph your intentions in a tweet otherwise the world will know we’re phone buddies and Facebook friends.”

trump: “Yeah, you got a point.  I’ll tweet something out while I’m on the toilet after dinner.”  

Which is what happened.

Looks like he managed to knock the legal troubles off the front page, at least for the Sunday papers.  Not a mention of that at the top of the websites of the New York Times or Daily News.  And the Post led with a story about Mrs. t, Melanoma, who thinks she’s not getting enough attention from the media these days.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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[i] Thanks to Gail Collins for “thousandaire.”

Friday, April 13, 2018

1931 A Taxing Time of Year

It’ll soon be over.  Tax deadline is Tuesday, April 17th. Usually it’s the 15th of April. If that happens on a Saturday or Sunday, it’s on the following Monday. This year it’s on Tuesday because this Monday is a holiday in Washington DC, Emancipation Day.

There’s an irony in there somewhere.

But that’s for another time.

The fact is you have a little more time to get the return done.  And if you have problems, the good men and women of the Internal Revenue Service are here to help.  Devote a full day to attempted connection.

Ask your question. Write down the answer.  Re-place the call. Ask your question again.  Re-place the call. Ask your question a third time. If two of the answers match, go with that one. If none of the answers match, flip a coin. (Okay, okay, you don’t have a three sided coin.  So draw straws.)

And please remember that while it’s nearly impossible to connect by phone with the IRS, the IRS does not connect with you, at least by phone. If they have something to say, they’ll say it in a snail mail.  So any calls you get from someone who says he or she is from the tax office and that you owe a bunch of money, tell them to come and arrest you.  They won’t. Or tell them that you gave that money to a Nigerian Prince who asked for it in an email.

Here are some things we’ve learned as a long time tax payer.  

--Remember that BS they gave you when you signed up for your IRA? You know. Where they told you they won’t take taxes out on payday but when you start withdrawing, you pay a lower tax because you’re in a lower bracket.  Guess what.  You probably aren’t in a lower bracket and you’re going to pay through the nose.

--The Shoe Box System of filing paper doesn’t work. You have to separate out the income statements and the deductions. If you don’t and you’re going to file on or near deadline, you’ll go nuts with those shoe boxes full of receipts and miscellaneous junk you’ve thrown in because you don’t know what else to do with it.

--When you finish sorting paper, look on the floor for stuff you dropped.  You’re going to drop something. It’s a law of nature.

--Sort out the stuff you don’t need but don’t throw it out or shred it. Put it in one of those plastic grocery bags if you’ve kept at least one that doesn’t have a hole in it. (Recyclable plastic bags are so fragile, you can cut them with a sharp look.)  Stash the bag somewhere and hold on to it for a while because chances are you’re going to need something you thought you could discard.

--If you have room, keep the trash for a few years.  Put a label on the bag.  Use a piece of paper and a piece of Scotch Tape.  Post it notes have a way of wandering off.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them.
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Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Spy vs. Spy 2.0

Cuban expatriate Antonio Prohias created these guys and they’ve been published in MAD Magazine ever since 1961.  They’re essentially two versions of the same spy. The only difference is one has a white suit and the other’s is black.  Prohias had them chasing each other and trying to put one another out of business.

Fast forward to today.  Both of these cartoon fellas are still at it.  But they have new competition.  We call it Spy vs. Spy 2.0 to give a modern and high tech twist to an old story.

The 2.0 crowd has no physical features. No black suit. No white suit. No beak-like faces.  We don’t yet know about the bombs behind their backs. But they are far more dangerous.

No bodies, but they do have names.  

Siri is the spy who lives in your Apple devices.
Alexa is the spy who lives in your devices.
Cortana is the spy who lives in Windows 10.
Hey is not really a name.  But to summon her, all you have to say is “Hey, Google!”  Kind of magic words.

Spies live secret lives.  Unless they get caught, we never know who among us is one of flesh and blood.  But the techno spies make no secret of who they are or even where they are.

You summon them by name or magic words and they appear in your ears to do their day jobs.  These include looking up stuff on the internet, finding things you want to read, ordering merchandise, making phone calls… that kind of thing.

But no matter what you say, they’re listening.

Let’s say you have a Poodle named Ralph.  Ralph is asleep over in the corner on his rug.  His paws are extended forward and he rests his head on them.  He’s having doggy dreams. 

But if you suddenly say “Hey, Ralph,” Ralph wakes up -- usually instantly -- and looks at you as if to say “What’s up, boss?”

It’s what dogs do.  But the spies don’t have feet or eyes.  And they never sleep.  In order to respond to the commands, they have to listen to everything.

When you tell Alexa to find the nearest Pizza joint, she doesn’t stand up groggily shake or stretch to get the kinks of sleep out.  She’s there right away and she’s ready for action.

In order to do that, the spy has to be listening to everything that goes on in the room.  Everything. That argument you’re having with your spouse.  Your side of the phone conversation you’re having with the collection agent, the customer service agent, the landlord or your Aunt Tilly in the nursing home.

Always listening. Always alert.

And these gizmos are getting smarter all the time.

“Siri, open ‘’”
“Sorry. The government seized the page because there were hooker ads and maybe sex traffickers and other nefarious characters. It no longer can be opened.”

“Hey, Cortana,” where is the best place to buy a pizza around here?”

“There are 15 places that serve Pizza within three miles of here.” (Reads list.)

But if you think about it, the spies are taking in all kinds of other information about you.  Maybe they know about your checking account balance from the most recent time you checked your bank’s web app.  Maybe they know you’re planning a surprise party for your spouse. Will they spill the beans ahead of time?  Unknown.

Warrantless searches by private parties are not illegal.  If you break into the house down the block and snoop, maybe find some suspicious activity, the court won’t throw out the evidence.  Warrants are for cops and prosecutors.  Other than that, you may be charged with breaking-and-entering or even burglary. But what you discover can’t be excluded if you find 400 unpaid traffic tickets in the house you burgled.

So as we have discovered from Facebook v. Everyone else, all this stuff is sitting in computers in someone’s data farm.
And they’ll sell you to the highest bidder.

Advice for the victims? Unplug.

I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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Monday, April 09, 2018

1929 Rebellion at the Denver Post

The before and after staff pictures were taken in 2013 and earlier this month. There, in two photographs you can see the staff cutbacks at the 125-year-old Denver Post newspaper, which serves an area of 700-thousand people in Colorado.

It’s not unique.  But the staff response to it is.  On Sunday, April 8th, the paper’s editorial director published a series of op-ed pieces about the takeover of the paper by the New York based venture capital company, Alden Global Capital.

The headline: “As Vultures Circle.”

The Post is to fire more people today.

This kind of rebellion is growing at other papers, large and small, as big corporations take them over and gut them.

But lately it shows signs of pandemia.

Yes, it’s a tough business. Yes, the internet has forced readership away from print. Yes, advertising revenue has shriveled everywhere from the mighty New York Times to the puny Centre Daily Times of State College PA.  

Yes, many in the news business consider it a calling rather than a job and maybe it isn’t.

Here’s one thing for sure:  You don’t want to be Chuck Plunkett this morning.


Plunkett is the editorial page editor. And he is the mastermind of this.  As of this writing, he’s a hero in the newsroom. Monday, the vulture capitalists 1800 air miles due east will have picked his carcass.

In some ways, this rebellion carries the vibe of students rebelling against the food in a middle school cafeteria.  In other ways it has the vibe of when a priest visits prison to walk the death row inmate to the gurney.

The rebels can’t win.  They couldn’t win at Aviation Trades High School Cafeteria, where the food still is worse than what the kids will get when they’re adults and working for an airline. The priest can’t crimp the tubes running into the arm of the inmate.  And the staff of the Denver Post can’t win against the moneybags and MBAs at the vulture capital firm because to them, a newspaper is like a news stand or a widget wholesaler only bigger and less portable.

Big important papers sometimes find sugar daddies.  The Boston Globe, the Washington Post, and to go back to ancient times, the New York Herald Tribune are examples.

So, to the rebels: Polish your resumes.  And your job jargon.  Learn these phrases: “You want fries with that?” “Welcome to Wal-mart.” “Shine, Mister?” “Thank you for choosing Uber.” “High, I’m Marty and I’ll be your server.”  “Hey, baby, want a date?”

--To what do we owe this stunner?  Nancy Grace is back on TV, with a live audience that applauds as she and Dan Abrams evaluate and debate “big” cases.  A&E has also put another failed prosecutor on, but Marcia Clark is at least tolerable and doesn’t cause the TV to vibrate like it wants to jump off the wall-mount.

For further reading on Ms. Grace, click Here for earlier thoughts on Gracenoxious from July 2016.

“The most alienated among us load up on weapons and express their soul-sickness in blood. Finland, Norway and Denmark are not without problems, but researchers say what sets the happier nations apart is the premium their cultures place on the time spent in nature and in harmonious, intimate contact with friends and family.”  --Editor-in-chief William Falk of The Week magazine on growing alienation Americans feel.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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Friday, April 06, 2018

1928 Sinclair Broadcasting Viewed From the Ground

Marty Radovanic retired a few months ago.  Marty worked for a local TV news department in the Altoona-Johnstown area of central Pennsylvania for 43 years. His station had been purchased by Sinclair Broadcasting about five years ago.

As you no doubt know, Sinclair is the largest owner of local television channels in the country.  Just shy of 180 of them. And they’re working on acquiring the 43 more -- now owned by the Chicago Tribune.

As you no doubt also know, Sinclair’s been in the news lately for forcing right wing propaganda stories produced at headquarters on its local outlets. And for putting what amount to partial truths into the mouths of its anchors and reporters… partial truths about “fair” and “real” coverage what would have had George Orwell and Sigmund Freud’s heads spinning.

Ah, yes. It’s only business, as Don Corleone would say.

But what does all this have to do with Marty? Good question.  Marty was the posterboy for Trusted Local Newsguy.  A little rumpled.  A little out of fashion.  But you knew him.  You watched him. You believed him.

You waved to him from across the street. He had no idea who you were but he’d wave back.

He reported on the relatively big stuff -- a Johnstown flood in the 1970s.  And little stuff -- like his own cancer diagnosis.  The Martys of the TV news world get to be family.

Did his retirement have something to do with age… or with the diagnosis… or Sinclair’s ham-handed handling of its acquisitions?

Open questions. No real answers. But none of the answers would surprise anyone. They’d all be legit.  The Martys of the world take their jobs seriously.  Sometimes, they get bigger than their stations.  And stations (and networks) don’t know how to handle that. But they know they don’t like it.

CBS couldn’t handle Rather or Cronkite or Murrow.  NBC couldn’t handle Huntley or Brinkley or Brokaw.  ABC couldn’t handle Jennings. And the day is not too distant when Fox can’t handle Shepard Smith.

So though he’d likely deny it, Sinclair couldn’t handle Marty.  Unhandleable newscasters? The only way to quash them is to make them disappear.  That they can do. Is that what happened here?  Maybe.

Marty ain’t Lester Holt (NBC) or Anthony “Captain Dull” Mason (CBS) or even the infantile motormouth David Muir (ABC.) And Altoona isn’t exactly big time. It’s the 107th largest TV market in the country.  But in context, it’s big stuff.

Yes because they’re force feeding America fairytales. But let’s fact check the happy ending.

--Have you noticed the recent proliferation of headlines that ask you something instead of telling you something?  It’s not just the little papers in flyover country. It’s some of the biggest papers in the country.

--The New York Times, the Associated Press and they’re starting to creep onto the front page of the Washington Post.  Click bait.  And easy to write, which is a good thing since most papers and wire services no longer have specialists to do the heads.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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Wednesday, April 04, 2018

1927 A Private Bureaucracy

Bureaucracy is the secret weapon of the productive. Oh, yes, it can be misused. But it also can be a valuable weapon in the arsenal of getting stuff done. Just not too fast.

Take Klopnick from the paving contractor. He's in charge of buying raw materials and getting them to the job site.

It's pretty cut and dried stuff. You buy tar or concrete or whatever, according to the job specs. Then you get it loaded on your truck and send it to where the work is being done. Sounds simple enough. But you don't know Amalgamated Builders, where Klopnick has worked for the last 30 or 35 years.

Used to be he'd read the specs, call the supplier and supervise the receiving. No more. Now, they have an order department, a receiving department and a distribution office. And Kloppy. as they call him, reports to the Supervisor of Orders, the Supervisor of Receiving and the Supervisor of Distribution, three guys who don't get along. Well, it's not that they don't get along. They don't even talk to each other.

The whole plant stops for lunch each morning at 11:45. The three supervisors all eat in the company cafeteria. Each always picks a table that's at the greatest possible distance from the other two. Bonus points if all three backs are facing each other -- so no one even has to look.

Kloppy never can get a straight answer about anything from any of the supervisors because there's always what the shrinks call a "sub text."

When Kloppy goes to the Supervisor of Receiving, for example, and asks a simple question like "can you get in 40 metric tons of 'crete into the house if it arrives after 3PM tomorrow?" The supervisor doesn't hear that question. What he hears is "I've been ordered by the Supervisor of Orders to buy 40 metric tons of concrete and he expects delivery at 3 tomorrow afternoon. How can we screw him up? Close early? Get short-handed? What?"

Klopnick knows this, so he doesn't bother with the Supervisor of Receiving. He gets the order from the Engineer in Charge, fills it, and has it delivered. The Supervisor of Orders gets post-facto notice. The Supervisor of Receiving gets a receiving bay full of trucks, but no notice, and the Supervisor of distribution has to go question the other two supervisors about where the stuff is supposed to be distributed. He has to do this through an emissary because, as you know, he doesn't talk with the other two guys.

Eventually, one by one, they'll sidle up to Kloppy's desk and ask how the stuff got bought, came in or went out. Kloppy will smile and say he's only a clerk, that they'd better ask the other two supervisors because all he does is follow orders. And, of course, this they won't do.

The head guy at Amalgamated knows this is going on. And he knows two things about it. Thing one: Kloppy won't live forever, so these guys have to have at least some knowledge of how this all works and thing two: the job will get done, despite the supervisors of ordering, receiving and distribution.

If Kloppy had to work through the bureaucracy, no job would get done.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.®
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1933 Everyone Needs a Fixer

Mike “Tom Hagen” Cohen may be trump and Hannity’s fixer.  But he’s certainly not the first and he won’t be the last. Not exactly...