Monday, June 30, 2014

1351 Listener Fees

We’ve been hearing a lot about politicians and their speaking fees.  Ridiculous amounts of money paid to office holders and former office holders for bending the ear of this, that or the other trade association.

And when we attend a speech, we’re forced to listen, periodically nodding off until jolted fully awake from the thunderous applause, a show of gratitude that at last the talk ended.

Let’s get even.

Let’s charge a listener fee.

Say you’re a member of the Moote Pointe Auto Technicians Association.  The annual dinner is coming.  You pay for reservations. Congressman Lowbungle (R-Seaford) is going to talk to you about, say, wheat prices in Calcutta.  What wheat prices or Calcutta have to do with defective airbags is a mystery.  But you plan to go.

When you send in your check and reservation form you include a modest bill for your time and attention.

The MPATA will, of course, ignore the bill, even though it’s for a fairly modest amount.

You then call the papers and the cable TV news channel to tell them what you’ve done and what the association has done in return.

The paper will send a guy in a t- shirt to your door.  He’ll have a little digital sound recorder and a notepad, probably not a pen, which you will lend him. He’ll sit on your couch and ask you pointed questions about your act of daring.
The TV channel will send a breathless, attractive, excited and exciting woman with a short skirt and a tank top to your door.  Don’t be tempted.  She may be hot.  But look at all the gear she has to carry around with her.  Probably can bench press a loaded minivan and has a left hook that’s the envy of her kickboxing class.

Seeing either story, local lawyer Whiplash Willie, will send you a letter announcing a class action suit against your trade group for failing to pay its vendors. And you are a vendor and were from the moment you put that invitation, check and invoice into the mailbox.

The story grows.  ABC sends 20/20 to your door.  Elizabeth Vargas doesn’t carry her own camera.  But don’t hit on her anyway. Dateline sends Keith Morrison to your door.  Bringing up the rear… Morley Safer of 60 Minutes.

Soon, the whole country knows about the listener fee, and copycats abound.

In Kalamazoo, Michigan, the Kzoo Club decides you are right and starts taking listener fees out of the money it pays Hillary Clinton to talk about maple tree harvesting.

Now look what you’ve done!  You’ve destroyed an entire industry that needs destruction and created a whole new one.

Shrapnel:

--The hack Epaulette or whatever his name is finally had the grace to concede the election, keeping Charlie Rangel in congress for another two years.  This better be it, sir.  You didn’t win, Espiallat lost it because he is aimless and dull.

--Obama didn’t endorse Rangel.  Another of the President’s headless chicken dance moves.  This leads us to ask what do Bill Clinton, Charles Schumer, Kirsten Gillibrand, and every pedestrian on 125th Street know that Obama doesn’t?

I’m Wes Richards.  My opinion is my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com.
© WJR 2014

Friday, June 27, 2014

1350 What's on YOUR Cellphone

Cop pulls you over, asks for your license, registration, insurance card and cellphone.


Cell phone?  Yes.


Why?  Because you might be the head of a drug cartel and surely you keep your spreadsheets in Google Drive, your client list in your contacts file, your medical records in Evernote, half a dozen kiddy porn sites on your browser and the numbers of your bank accounts in the Cayman Islands, Costa Rica and Switzerland in a cloud file marked “shopping list.”


So let’s have that iPhone pal.


Well, not anymore.


The US Supreme Court ruled that cops need a warrant to look at a mobile phone.


Eight of the nine agreed completely.  The ninth, Alito, said “yes-but.”  The but: courts shouldn’t decide this kind of thing, legislatures should, says he.


That’s not an encouraging sign.  Too many rat traps and rats’ nests in state capitals.  This is a national situation and the law must be consistent from Portland east to Portland west and Tallahassee to Juneau.


In the United States Dictatorship of the Corprotariat™ we can’t wait for the boneheads in each state to figure out what privacy within their phony borders means.


Alioops is wrong.  Nothing rare about that. What’s rare is the rest of the bunch agrees on what’s right.


Media are calling the decision unanimous.  More accurately, it’s 8.5-0.5.


It’s the middle of the night and you blow a traffic light in Valdosta, Georgia or Deerlodge, Montana.  Before the cop walks over to ask for your license and such turn off your ringer and put the phone in the glove box.


But, you say, it’s illegal for the cop to look at it.


That doesn’t mean they won’t try.  But if they can’t see it, maybe they won’t think about it.  Especially if your name isn’t Clarence Thomas and the potential charge isn’t driving while black or John Roberts and driving while faint.  


For all you fans of elegant English. Here is the full decision in all its incomprehensible majesty.


It’s truly amazing that these zanies can agree on anything, let alone something really important like every detail about your life. Let alone unanimously.  


Savor it while you can.  This could be a once in a lifetime experience.  And these days, many of us live pretty long.


Shrapnel:


--Not all the rulings were so glorious as the supes continue to erode abortion rights by striking down the 35 foot no- protest zone at a Boston clinic.  Infringes on the rights of the protesters, rules the court (9-0.) What about the rights of the women?


--The President is planning a five billion dollar anti-terrorism operation in the middle east, with half a billion going to what the administration calls “appropriately vetted” Syrian rebels.  Any idea how many units of public housing or how many medical insurance policies could be supplied for that kind of money.  We should apply for foreign aid for ourselves.


Grapeshot:


-This post has the first findable reference to the phrase Dictatorship of the Corprotariat.”


-Because this is Wessay #1350, we salute radio station WWWL, 1350, New Orleans which although mostly syndicated sports does a local cooking show weekdays from noon until 3, which takes guts, not to mention recipes.


I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com

© WJR 2014

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

1349 Less is More. Or Less

Less is more.

That sounds like a chant from a meditation or a chapter from a self-help book.  But it’s also a description of many of the things you buy and use.

The first example goes back to the early days of unleaded gas.

How do they make unleaded gas?  By not adding in tetra-ethyl-lead.  When refiners started producing unleaded gasoline, they charged you more for it than they did for the gasoline WITH lead.

There still are running cars that need leaded fuel and to use one, you have to put the lead in by yourself.  

But that’s okay… you buy an additive and it costs you something.  You know that from the first.

Fast forward to 2014.  The big health fad now is gluten free.  They don’t add gluten.  Same story as the gasoline.  Generally, it costs you more per ounce than what you’re used to buying.

Why?  Well… um… People with Celiac Disease can’t tolerate gluten. Most of the rest of us can.  It’s the latest thing.  Have you ever tasted gluten- free spaghetti?  

No you haven’t.  Even if you’ve eaten it, you haven’t tasted it.  There simply is no taste.  It’s like eating air but with calories.

How about fat free?  They take a major ingredient out of something… say, butter or milk or yogurt.  Do you get a discount because something’s missing?  Of course not.  What you get is a container with less in it, but for the same old price.  That’s called a price increase.

You can say the same about sugar free.  They don’t add sugar, but you pay the same price or more than when they did.

What about hair coloring that doesn’t contain ammonia?

What about lactose free milk?

What about unsalted chips and pretzels and such?  It’s not like there’s a big workforce sitting around the Lay’s factor scraping the salt off each little potato chip.

Or even bread in which they no longer have to over- refine the flour?

Or dozens of so-called all natural everythings.  

“Hey, we don’t put in any of those nasty artificial colors or preservatives.  Aren’t WE the health conscious ones?”

Yes.  Only now you save a bundle on those tons of yellow dye #5 and calcium propionate you used to ship into the food factory every month but do we get a break?

I’m thinking of reducing the size of these rants by 25%.  You might like it better.  But it won’t be any cheaper.

Grapeshot:

-At this point it looks like Charlie Rangel has won his primary election but the results don’t include absentee votes which stand a small chance of altering the result.

-Coming your way soon: inflatable seatbelts, another technomonster that sounds like a million car recall in waiting.

-For those of you who thought Eli Wallach was dead, you’re right… but just barely.

-The Union Square Cafe on 16th between Fifth and Broadway that helped revitalize the once crummy neighborhood… now finds itself a victim of its own success and will close because of a giant escalation of its rent.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com
© WJR 2014


Monday, June 23, 2014

1348 Top Ten Corrupt States

We all know the Fortune 500, right?  The magazine puts out a list each year of what it considers the 500 biggest corporations in America.

But have you heard about the Fortune Ten list, published in a recent issue?  It’s a list of the ten most corrupt states in America.

This is based on a study by Hong Kong Indiana University researchers. It takes into account the number of convictions of public officials between 1976 and 2008.

The school is Indiana University’s Hong Kong branch, part of the Indiana State University system.

And don’t blame Fortune.  It’s just reporting results.

Number one, Mississippi.  Two is Louisiana, three is Tennessee.  Four is Illinois.  Five is Pennsylvania, six is Alabama, seven is Alaska, eight is South Dakota, nine is Kentucky and ten is Florida.

In seven of the ten states, Republicans control both houses of the state legislature and Democrats one.  Only Kentucky has a legislature divided, Democratic in the lower house, Republican in the upper.  Seven of the ten states have Republican governors.

They haven’t released figures.  But the top ten lists is a huge chunk of your tax dollars in some politicians’ pockets… and the pockets of their friends in corporations.

Imagine. All but four of the states are in the south.

So… some trends.  Spending levels are higher in the top ten. So is money spent on police, prisons, and the big one, construction.

Spending on education and social services trends lower than the rest of the country.

And in nine of the ten states, government spending is higher per capita than in the lower ranking states.

So what you have is a collection of essentially small government advocates lying about how they spend and on what.

Sweetheart deals, nepotism, no show jobs, pork and extensive publicity costs are a fact of life.  But distorting the economy, self-enrichment and screwing the public shouldn’t be.

What’s surprising is that places like New Jersey, New York, Texas and Wisconsin didn’t make the cut.

Let’s defend the loathsome.  The survey methodology combines a bunch of factors into an index.  Who’s to say that’s set in stone?  

We can say without fear of challenge that Philadelphia raises the ante for the rest of Pennsylvania and Chicago for Illinois. Maybe the index should be weighted to account for that.

What we can say is even if the criteria are iffy, even if the survey takers plain don’t like those states… this should be looked into … and not by the people who are most likely to have something to hide.

Shrapnel:

--Does Dick Cheney really expect anyone to believe the lies he’s telling about how Iraq was Obama’s problem and he blew it?  The answer: yes, probably, he does.  Check your mouth at the door, cowboy or we’re going to think that you think we are idiots.

--Like Nixon, George W. Bush has performed one and only one great act of domestic policy.  He has pretty much kept his mouth shut. Nixon’s was to not challenge the results of the 1960 election, even though he had the right to.

I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please send comments including nasty notes about Bush and Cheney to wesrichards@gmail.com
© WJR 2014



Friday, June 20, 2014

1347 Trust Me, I'm a Doctor

That publicity sponging medical televangelist Mehmet Oz was in the hot seat the other day and the heat didn’t come from brewing green coffee beans he’s been hawking as a weight loss miracle.

Green coffee extract and some of the other potions of promotion have -- to be kind -- limited effect on your fat.  But here’s the peppy preppy know it all prancing around the stage oozing charm and giving us the lowdown on this 21st century snake oil.

They had him in front of the Senate Subcommittee on Slippery Science and consumer con jobs and he admitted that the science behind the claims is weak.

What isn’t weak? His TV ratings.  Millions of (mostly) women tune in each day to listen to and see the pearls of wisdom fall out of this guy’s … um … mouth.  And much of it is said to be worthwhile by people who have no idea whether it is.

But wait a minute here.  If his stuff about weight loss is wrong, or at least unconfirmed, what else that he preaches is wrong or at least unconfirmed.  

Here’s a fine quote from his testimony:

"My job, I feel, on the show is to be a cheerleader for the audience, and when they don't think they have hope, when they don't think they can make it happen, I want to look, and I do look everywhere, including in alternative healing traditions, for any evidence that might be supportive to them,"

Rah, rah, Dr. Cheerleader.

For the most part, we look up to and trust people with MD or DO after their names.  After all, to get through all that training with your sanity intact is no small feat.  Gotta have brains. Determination. Stamina. Ability to hire rude incompetents for your office staff and coddle your patients for far less money than you were led to believe you were going to earn when you applied for med school.

It’s not that his millions of followers are suckers or dopes.  It’s not that he’s holding out completely false hope to sufferers.  But we trust him. He’s a doctor. His words and endorsement have power.

Using that trust helps many a patient.  Misusing that trust should be a crime.

If this were just some defrocked doc quacking about miracle pills, it would be bad enough.  But he’s not defrocked.  In fact, he operates on hearts a few days a week between guest shots and magazine articles and that annoying daily televised camp meeting.

If he were taking payoffs from the Homeopathic lobby, it would be almost understandable. But there isn’t a hint of bad money changing in this story. And in fact he reports he’s never paid for an endorsement and he never lets his image appear in an ad, let alone become graven.

Would you buy a transplant or a valve job from this man? How about a handful of green coffee beans?

Grapeshot:

-This ain’t the first time Ozzy’s been in trouble.  For an older story via CNN, click here.

Shrapnel:

--Time for the Washington Redcoats of the NFL to change its name to something that doesn’t disparage the British.  That teacup logo has to go.  And the nerve of them using Her Majesty’s image on their helmets. After all, the war’s been over for more than 200 years.

I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com or to my malpractice insurer flo@progressive.
© WJR 2014

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

1346 Invading ourselves

(Note to readers: Portions of this blog were originally heard as part of my commentary series on WBLF Radio in central Pennsylvania and an abbreviated version appeared on Facebook earlier this week.)


This happened a few days ago in State College, Pennsylvania. Federal, state and local troops invaded a bunch of Asian Restaurants.  Big black SUVs, command posts, cop cars.  They picked up boxes of… what?  Evidence? Of What?  


Turns out, belatedly, that all this was to catch a few illegals who had been kicked out of the country previously and then returned.  The Homeland Security mouthpiece said Tuesday they were from China, Mexico, Guatemala, Thailand and Indonesia.


That was the first peep out of the feds since the raids began. Five days.


They had hauled workers into interrogation rooms.  


Homeland Security took the lead.  Immigration was along for the ride.


At the time of the raids, all the law enforcement came down with a case of communal lockjaw.  Not a word about what was going on.


What was going on was a showcase for your tax dollars at work.  It’s like they were saying “see what we can do, and we don’t have to tell you thing one.”


There’s too much secrecy.  Were we talking about plans by 20-somethings from China to overthrow the government?  Terrorists? Spies? Human trafficking? Illegal immigration?  What!


Turns out it was about some cooks and waitresses who shouldn’t have been here in this not-a-border state.


Slap the label Homeland Security on anything and then haul out the cliches:  “We can’t comment on an ongoing investigation.”  Some of those investigations are “ongoing” for quite awhile.


The State College invasion was surprising but not unique. It’s happened at the Gibson guitar factory in Tennessee, a private house in rural New York, Flea Markets in Massachusetts, Apartment complexes in Brooklyn… on and on.


Who is targeted?  Ordinary workers.  Reporters, gun collectors, accountants. Accountants?


How many actual prosecutions result from all this action?  Often none.  How long does it take to decide not to prosecute?  Often, years.


Attention constitutional scholars: remember that part about speedy trials?


Earth to homeland security, immigration and all your co-horts:  This is State College, not Colombia or the Soviet Union or the bad old days of J. Edgar Hoover, the mob and the untouchables.


Of course it’s necessary to protect the country in these days of terrorism.  And, yes, there are immigration laws and some of them ought to be enforced some of the time.  The “some” being when there’s a law broken, for example.


But to swoop down on take-out joints like they were Osama bin Laden’s secret hideout?  And then to fall silent when everyone from ordinary people to those locked up in those interrogation rooms ask for reasons?


Local officials were out of the loop entirely.  Except the police.  And you try to get a word from them on anything without filing -- or even WITH filing --  a Freedom of Information Act request.


How American is THAT becoming.  Anything to ease our insecurity, I guess.


The reaction from outside the area was fast in coming.  My friend and colleague Dan Thomas wrote on Facebook:  


In 2010 Feds didn’t catch on to the fact that Times Square illegal parker Faisal Shazad traveled to Peshawar for several months, and in 2013 they didn’t find anything odd about the Tsarnaev brothers of Massachusetts even though Russia had warned U.S. officials … BUT … the Administration’s investigators were really on the ball in small town Pennsylvania rounding up illegal rice cooks. I’m glad my friend Wes Richards brought this to our attention … it’s comforting to know Uncle Sam is keeping us safe from waiters sending money back home.


Dan later added in a note that he hoped there was “something” behind all this.  Well, there was. Sort of.


Like you need an army and to spend how much on something this small when such big things are happening elsewhere.


Oh… anyone know how many “s”s in Stasi?


I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com
© WJR 2014

Monday, June 16, 2014

1345 Iraq War III

What were we thinking?  The US goes into a manufactured Iraq war, destabilizes the country, throws out a former friend-turned-foe and then goes home.

What do you think is going to happen? In Iraq’s case the tribal wars that have been raging forever come out in the open… and re-destabilize.

And that’s where we are now.

Iraq War One:  George HW Bush guards American oil supply in Kuwait by creating a fake international alliance and preventing the invention of Provence 19.  But in the end, Saddam Hussein is still standing.

Iraq War Two:  Dubya decides to show Poppy how to do it and does it. Another ruse of course.  Weapons of mass destruction, chemical weapons, atomic weapons. No weapons.  

But we somehow trip over Saddam Hussein’s residential coffin in the desert, pull him up and execute him.

Then a few years later, to the shock and awe of everyone, the intra-Muslim war that’s been burbling along since Muhammad was a boy boils to the surface.  Quick, which group is the bad guys?

Okay.  We figure that out right quick.

Now what do we do?  We still need the oil and we still have American men and women in harm’s way?

Easy answer:  send troops. Oh, but wait.  We’re all tied up in Afghanistan and maybe Pakistan and we’re all waiting for Iran to drop the other sandal.

These little land wars tend not to take turns.  They don’t stand on line for the chance to be our enemy of the moment.

What’s Obama do?  He does what he ALWAYS does:  he makes a pretty speech.  No more troops.  But we’re going to protect our interests in Iraq.  With our allies, the famous Bush coalition.

What does that mean?

Iraq War III.

These guys may not wait their turn to commence firing.  But they do TALK to each other.

The first thing you learn in Military Science class is don’t fight a war on two fronts.  Pick one.  Outnumber the other side three to one minimum. Presto, no more war.  Well, maybe not “presto.” But at least it’s a fighting chance.

Good thing some world leaders figure they’re above Science.  Hitler, for example.  Fighting in western Europe and on the Russian front at the same time?  How’d that work out for you, Adolf?

In our favor:  the supply lines are all in place and well broken in.  The troops are available without a lot of moving and shaking, though not enough for that three-to-one ratio.

It’ll take time for this to boil over.  Long enough so that you can pick a random 15 year old and tell him “In case you don’t come back, thank you for your service.”

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com

© WR 2014

Friday, June 13, 2014

1334 Friday the 13th

Go ahead, do it.  Walk under a ladder. On Friday the 13th, walking under a ladder is a double negative and therefore self-cancelling.

Maybe it’ll even bring you good luck.  Fear of 13 is an old story.  Many tall buildings don’t have a 13th floor.  They go directly from 12 to 14.

Actually, if you think about it, ANY Friday can mean bad luck in the corporate world.  That’s the day they usually fire you if that’s what they’re going to do.

If you have a fish allergy, there’s no main course for Friday dinner.

Friday often is the end of the work or school week, which means the honey-do list appears with the express purpose of ruining your weekend.

On Friday, you’re that much closer to Monday.

And then if you subscribe to the Friday the 13th superstition, why isn’t a Friday the 26th twice as unlucky?

The next Friday the 26th this year takes place in September.  And there’s another one in December.  So get out the worry beads and make sure you have a double strand.

You’d really worry if there was a month with a Friday the 39th.  Fortunately, there’s no such thing. Triple strands of worry beads are pretty awkward.

Maybe you could carry a horseshoe or a rabbit’s foot.

There are, however, no more Fridays the 13th in this year.  But to make this one special, there’s a full moon tonight.

But not to worry about  lack of bad luck. There’s always a ladder you can walk under.  Or you can do three on a match with two other smokers.  Or if a black cat crosses your path, you can try to ward off evil by keeping your fingers crossed.

About those cats… no one has ever studied whether a mostly black cat with white trim counts. Or if it does, the percentage of white or other color to black has to influence the amount of bad luck radiation.  Or if a gray cat means moderately bad luck if it crosses your path.

No rabbits, horses or cats were hurt researching this little rant.

Shrapnel:

--Homeland Security, the police, the state attorney general and the immigration Service have swooped down on Asian restaurants in State College, Pennsylvania, with at least 13 people taken into custody.  Bottom line: we can breathe easier now that these hardworking Chinese, Thai and Korean workers have been ferreted out and probably will be removed from our star-spangled presence.  Now if they can only find some local white guys to make fake versions of our favorite Chinese, Thai and Korean Foods.

--From here, it seems they’re picking on Asians. Homeland security on the job?  What do they think they’re going to find, nasty plots to do bad things?  C’mon, guys, these people are making an honest living and possibly working to pay off outrageous smugglers.


I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments and accusations of racism to wesrichards@gmail.com
© WJR 2014

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

1343 Condition Lockdown At GM

Automakers the world over live in a closed little bubble of their own, protected by private bureaucracies that rival anything Washington has to offer.


Maybe that’s changing.  But don’t hold your breath.  


General Motors CEO Mary Barra Mia Culpa-ed her way through a report on how things went wrong over the course of a decade with flimsy but death-dealing ignition switches that ended with a parade of lawsuits and firings and admissions of incompetence and maybe too much cost control.


Those switches cost about one dollar each to make. It’s the installation that makes this fix expensive.


But as friend and former colleague Doron Levin points out in Fortune Magazine, the easy part -- admitting guilt -- is done with and the hard part is yet to come, changing a culture that rewards the kind of behavior that led to decades of mismanagement.


It started with arrogance. Then it became habit. Then it became the rules of the game.  But the game has changed and so must the rules.


You can’t sit on a fatal flaw and hope it goes away.  Or someone else takes care of it.


GM, of course, is not alone.  Even the most reputable manufacturers are guilty to some degree.  Look at Toyota and Audi and their accelerators with minds of their own.  


Or Ford’s famously exploding Pinto.  Or anything Chrysler made after selling itself and its soul first to Daimler, then to Cerberus and most recently to Fiat.  Yes, they’re improving.  But for decades they were in denial.


There needs to be a production standard.  Here it is: When the buyer takes delivery of the car, it will start and run.  When he or she steps on the gas, it will accelerate. When the brake pedal is pressed, the car will stop.  Suddenly, if necessary, and in a reasonable time and distance.


Nothing under the hood will leak.  The lights will work.  So will the horn, the door locks, the air conditioner, the heater, the transmission, air bags, seat belts, suspension, mirrors and radio.


And no part will be defective, least of all any part the failure of which would likely cause injury or death.


You don’t need massive engineering re-vamps for this.  You don’t need lawyers who would rather pay damage claims for a few than swap out a one-dollar part for every customer.


And you need to acknowledge your screwups.


Is that too complicated?


Now, it’s change or die.  For all of them.


Shrapnel:


--The no good congressman, Eric Cantor of Virginia has been defeated in the Republican primary by a worse person, the appropriately named Dave Brat. Cantor is the party’s house majority leader and favors immigration reform.  For many Republicans, immigration reform means electrified fences.


--In Troutdale, Oregon, near Portland, a high school kid shot another kid dead, wounded a teacher and then -- apparently -- killed himself, doing us all a favor.  These things are happening so often these days it’s getting hard to keep track of them.  Just keep in mind that guns don’t kill people, just deer and ducks.


I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address hate mail to wesrichards@gmail.com
© WJR 2014