Wednesday, October 31, 2018

2014 Global Cooling

Daily emotional heartburn is not something you can cure with Tums or Zantac.  So maybe it’s time for a general assessment of what’s going on in this country.  It just can’t be as bad as it seems, can it?


Bombings, shootings, people who elect people to the House and Senate who want to kill health care, such as we have of it and Social Security, and at the same time boost military spending and further cut taxes for people who don't need tax cuts.

We have hypocrites who spent eight years screaming about the deficit and now boost it like they could print money.  We have an ugly troll in the white house -- someone who technically lost the election but won the office.  He pushes away and disgraces our allies while embracing our enemies. And let’s not forget those immigrants of non-white skin who are pouring over our border to rape, murder, steal jobs and come here just to pop out babies to go on welfare as American citizens.

Oh, and the big welcome he got in Pittsburgh.

The climate change thing is painted as junk science or a complete hoax by people who preface their remarks by saying "I'm not a scientist, but ..."  

We have people who insist on teaching "creationism" in public school science class. We have colleges and universities who pump out graduates incapable of holding a decent job or hoping for a decent promotion.  Which, to add context, is probably okay because we don’t have business people who care about anything but their yachts -- land or sea -- and consider workers disposable.

We have people who have inflated the stock market without adding the necessary increase in the value of shares.  We have deregulators and other so-called watchdogs who promote competition as good for consumers but condone and approve mega-mergers.

Phone companies buy major “content providers,” cementing their growing oligopoly in the news business.  We’re down to a handful of airlines and not one of them can withstand comparison to those they either gobbled up or ran out of business.

We have laughingly underperforming social programs.  Here’s a fine example:  Say you qualify for “subsidized” housing.  You get a raise (yes, it does happen,) so the government cancels your Medicaid and raises the subway fare.  Net result of the raise?  A salary cut.  But “you’re getting somewhere.  Don’t diss that.” 

Ever deal with “Children’s’ Services?”  Exactly what services do these departments perform other than failing to show up and notice that some time since the last visit 2 years ago, mommy and daddy killed each other and six-year-old junior ran out of dog food last week.

This is the world the politicians have built. It is a world where grandstanding and running for the next term have replaced public service as the prime directive.  It is a world where money is made by shuffling paper, just don’t try to dip into that till even legally, because the drawer is really empty.

And which moralistic garden slug got up on TV the other day and told the people of the Pittsburgh Jewish Community they should be praying.  Um… exactly what were they doing when so many were shot.  Same for those in the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston South Carolina three years ago.  

We don’t have a climate of hate here.  Hate is only a side effect.  What we have is a climate of cold stupidity.  It’s time for a climate change.

--Someone beat Boston businessman Whitey Bulger to death soon after his arrival inside the federal prison at Bruceton Mills, West Virginia… about 30 miles east of Morgantown.  Bulger was 89 and was bounced around from federal lockup to federal lockup since he was sentenced to two life terms for eleven murders.  In prison, with guys like Whitey, this is considered natural causes.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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Monday, October 29, 2018

2013 An Invitation

If you believe facts don’t matter, you are cordially invited to walk in front of an oncoming bus. You can prove that facts don’t matter if you’re not dead or injured after it hits you.

Of course, few buses achieve any ground speed if they’re on a normal street.  If they’re on a highway where the can speed, they’re harder to reach on foot.  And we wouldn’t want you to go out of your way to prove your point.

You can practice with, say, a Smart For Two Car.  If one hits you, (a) it’s a miracle it’s moving at all and (b) you’ll probably hurt it more than it’ll hurt you.  Graduate to the bigger moving objects as you go along.

Seriously, we seem to be living in a world of fantasy where facts don’t matter.

Fact: If you demolish social security, people will be hurt.  Subfact: you don’t need the tax cut that might eventually result from the end of Social Security.

Fact: Pipe bombers and synagogue shooters are usually mentally ill. Subfact: you can’t stop them by knowing in advance they’re nuts, you have to wait until they’ve acted. Sub-subfact: you may be able to mitigate the damage by limiting access to the tools of their trade.

Fact: The climate is changing. Subfact: There may be nothing we can do about it, but it’s worth a try anyway.

Fact: The climate of hate in America and elsewhere has a life of its own. Subfact: It had to start somewhere. Sub-subfact: you help perpetuate the situation when you go along for the ride.

(You’re supposed to walk out in front of the bus, not get on it. But who can resist a free ride?)

Fact: One woman’s abortion is another’s murder. Subfact: You don’t have the right to interfere with one no matter your personal belief.

Fact: 2+2 = 4.

Fact: E=MC²

Fact: If you STILL don’t believe in facts, you don’t believe in reality. Subfact: Bridge for Sale… one owner, used only locally, 0% financing available for qualified buyers.

Fact: You can’t roller skate in a buffalo herd. Subfact: not even if you’re headed in the same direction as the buffalo.

--Are you tired of hearing that the Pittsburgh synagogue shootings were in Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood even though they were?  That’s writers being “clever.” And like most “being clever,” it distracts from the meaning of the crimes.

--trump tossed out a couple of scripted one-liners about the shooting, calling for national unity and with the next breath trying to divide.  The anti- cop chorus is saying if the accused had been black, he’d have been shot dead. The police and others did their job the right way and now the weasel-lawyers will do theirs.

-Does anyone really believe Jeff Sessions will remain Attorney General for long after the midterm elections?

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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Friday, October 26, 2018

2012 Megyn and Maxine and CNN and the Big Stroll

What’s wrong with this picture of the original Amos ‘n’ Andy?

When Megyn Kelly jumped from cable and landed at NBC, this space forecast internal trouble there. It looks now like that has come to pass and metastasized.

NBC is finally-- FINALLY-- preparing to send Megyn Kelly to her next job, pitching makeup on a shopping channel or making infomercials for Lee Press-on Nails.  The former foxy Fox lady said something about the Halloween "Costume Police" on her show and added she saw nothing wrong with white people dressing up in blackface "as long as they're playing a character."

The boss, Andy Lack, held a staff meeting and condemned the remark.  And Nightly News, Today and MSNBC had a hard time containing their glee behind "sincere face" masks in reporting the story.  They would not have done that without sanction from the front office.  Especially in light of her terrible ratings.  "Live with Kathy and Ryan" the innocuous talk show beat her regularly with simple fun stuff.  

Congresswoman Maxine Waters, whose face is naturally black, was multi-targeted by the mad bomber.  That's pretty important in the greater scheme of schemes.  Presidential and ex-presidential mail is inspected before it is delivered. So those care packages didn't reach the Obama or Clinton households.  The CNN one was delivered by mistake, but it is the kind of mistake no trumpian bomber would regret.
Waters has become the object of right-wing hate.  She has all the requirements:  She’s an outspoken liberal with congressional clout, she is black, and (horror of horrors,) she’s a “she.”
The perfect target.

Whoever sent those glass shard filled bombs to Waters, George Soros, the Obamas, the Clintons, Joe Biden, Andrew Cuomo. Robert de Niro and who knows who-all else was a rank amateur. You want to send bombs?  Study the masters: George Metesky, Ted Kaczynski, Timothy McVey and Osama bin Laden.

It was kind of fun watching Governor Andrew Cuomo and his brother, CNN correspondent Chris Cuomo chatting with each other on live television while mayor de Blastoff and his faithful sidekick Jimmy O'Neill the police commissioner preaching peace on earth and good will toward the FBI, the ATF and any other alphabet agency they could think of.
No territorial disputes today, says the commissioner. Lighten up says the mayor.
 For us news types, a big story of the day is how CNN managed to keep being CNN with its building empty and locked down. And they didn't miss a beat.

While all this bomb stuff was going on, few were saying anything much new about the people fleeing north.  Except for the president.
The ground did not open up and swallow 7,000 people strolling and stumbling through Central America in hopes of political asylum in Mexico, if not the United States.  Political asylum in Mexico?  Think about what that means.
As for using the armed forces as border cops, can the Pentagon say "no" to the commander-in-chief?  Is that a question of law? A moral question? What? 
Defense Secretary Mattis says “how high” to trump’s order to jump.
Can anyone find any of those middle east terrorist types among the strollers and stumblers?  No one has yet, except the imaginary border patrol guys trump calls in the middle of the night on the iPhone Putin lent him in between tweets and rallies.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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Wednesday, October 24, 2018

2011 The Lifeguard at CBS

2011 The Lifeguard at CBS

When Dick Parsons walks into a room, people feel the urge to stand up.  And he walks into lots of rooms. Many of them have big conference tables you measure in acres. And usually, he sits at the head.

The most recent of these rooms was at CBS where he was picked as chairman to haul the embattled broadcaster out of the drink and squeeze the water out of its lungs.  If there was anyone who could resuscitate, this was the guy.

But Richard Parsons has a strange form of blood cancer and at 70 his doctors told him to climb down from the lifeguard stand and he did.

He cuts a wide path, walking into the room. But unlike many of today’s show-boatier CEOs, he doesn’t make his resume into a thing.  

After honing his law and financial chops (Working for Nelson and then other Rockefellers is a good knife sharpener) he was named to a big job at the Dime Savings Bank, which he helped weather a horrible time for banks and bankers.

Later, he led AOL Time Warner.  No small feat saving that monstrosity from the ocean waters into which the company went over its head.  And later, he was a high ranking official of Citibank.

Oh… and there was the part where he righted another drowning swimmer, the NBA Los Angeles Clippers.

Some resume, right?  For sure.  All at the same time he was busy supporting jazz music and musicians and a hundred other causes.

He helped reshuffle the board at CBS and was named top-guy replacing the brilliant but flawed Les Moonves.  Then, his illness loomed and that’s where he is today. 

You don’t find guys like this -- trustworthy and able -- in a lot of big companies these days.  And not many Republicans, for that matter.  We are suffering from a famine of straight shooters and an overload of seedy, greedy game players.  Dick Parsons was one of our leading lifeguards. 

And we wish him a long, easy and lucrative retirement.


--Then, there’s Sandra Day O’Connor, who’s been pretty active since retiring as the first woman to sit on the US Supreme Court and who is “withdrawing from public life” because doctors say she has some form of dementia.  She was nominated to the bench by Reagan.  As Chief Justice Roberts said she may be pulling away from public commitments but she remains an inspiration to the rest of us.

--Where are the tapes, Erdogan?  The Turkish president was to disclose “the naked” truth about the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul. What he disclosed was nothing new and not even a strong criticism of the Saudi heir to the throne.

--The Gibson guitar company is scheduled to emerge from bankruptcy on November first and its new majority owner is a private equity firm.  Let’s hope they don’t do what those outfits usually do, fire a lot of people and sell off unprofitable divisions, often EVERY division.  Let’s also hope they make good on their wish to untangle the pile of spaghetti the previous owner made of a company that’s important to American Music.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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Monday, October 22, 2018

2010 Jamal and the Night Visitors

Alleged mob boss Joe Columbo was kind of high profile for people with his job description.  He started something called the “Italian American Civil Rights League.”  He wanted to end wrongful discrimination from the lives of Italian-Americans. To this end, he held rallies -- demonstrations.

Joe died of heart failure.  His heart failed from bullets fired during one of those big enthusiastic gatherings in Brooklyn.  There was a message sent.  The message was “don’t be so public about what you do for a living.” 

Joe died in the Spring of 1978 in Blooming Grove, New York -- near Newburgh on the Hudson River, a bucolic town of about 20-thousand.  Members of what the press called the “Columbo Crime Family” were pretty quiet thereafter.

Jamal Khashoggi died in Istanbul, Turkey, inside the embassy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, his native land, though he lived in metro-Washington DC and was a columnist for that city’s last remaining print newspaper, the Washington Post.

The most recent version of the story of his death: He died during a fist fight in the Saudi embassy.


Who would have been involved in this fight, and what would it have been about?  Well, Khashoggi, 59, had written extensively about how facts were hard to come by in the Saudi media. And that, he wrote, was because the government is a family business. Oh, and there were strange laws and stranger police forces to enforce them.

Who was in the “fight?”  There’s Khashoggi, who’d gone to his country’s embassy to do some paperwork for his upcoming wedding on one side. On the other, a 15-man hit squad flown in from Riyadh.

One was a forensic scientist with a bone saw. Another was a guy carrying a box of Glad Bags.  A third was someone with a knife. And all were “in no way connected with Saudi prince-in-chief Mohammad bin Salman.”

We all know about princes.  They are special people. Like Charles over in England who shows his special-ness by tolerating the dreadful Camilla, his charming spouse. Or the prince who kisses Snow White awake without permission.  Then there’s Lorenzo de Medici who learned princing at the hand of fear monger Niccolò Machiavelli. MBS is pretty special, too. 

He’s the kind of prince who arrests his relatives and jails them in luxury hotels.  He’s the kind of prince who okay’s kidnaping the president of Lebanon. He’s the kind of prince who starts unnecessary mini wars with smaller countries in his region.  He’s the kind of prince who will try to drag America into a war with Iran.

And he’s the kind of prince who controls a lot of oil and its price, earns respect from cowardly wannabe dictators a hemisphere away and who hosts economic conferences where no one shows up except to make sure the oil and money spigots keep working smoothly.

Oh. And MBS, Mister Bone Saw, has rounded up a bunch of scapegoats to take the rap for offing Khashoggi. Probably, they won’t get the luxury hotel lockup treatment.

Khashoggi was tortured before he was killed.  He was dismembered.  They cut off his fingers. That “fist fight gone wrong,” which is a tough line to swallow about a guy with no fingers and therefore no fists.

This is really about more than a chubby, friendly looking guy wearing nerd glasses murdered because he had a big megaphone which he used to expose what goes on in his country.  It is about the use and abuse of power and the need for secrecy.

Joe Columbo would understand.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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Friday, October 19, 2018

2009 The Emperor's New Phone Book

The telephone directory used to be one of the most important reference tools.  Haul it out, look up the name and address of a resident or business and there it was.

Phone books still exist. But they are mostly useless.  But wait! There’s always the internet, right?  Wrong.  Or more accurately, half wrong.  

The books used to come free from the phone company.  Internet searches on Whitepages and other directors also had at least some free phone numbers.  But now, you have to pay.

Your friend Herman Glotz just moved to a new town. You have his phone number.  But you want to send him a gift, so you need his address.

He’s too new to Bungleborough to have a listing. But there’s always the internet. RIght?  Hmmm.

Of course, he’s right there on You get his name, his town, and blacked out versions of any other information.  So you try the reverse directory.  You put in his number and … and… there it is again, the blacked out address.  But now you have a new piece of information.  You learn it’s a “standard land line operated by Bungleborough Communications DBA Verizon.”  Always good to know how our friends connect with everyone else.  Not helpful about getting the address.

But wait!  Premium subscribers can get a full profile of Mr. Glotz.  It includes his name, address, telephone number, criminal record, traffic infractions credit score, the latitude and longitude of his home, the weather in his town, medications for which he has prescriptions, the names and addresses of eight “possible relatives,” the magazines he subscribes to, his social media accounts, and pictures of a canoe he sold 20 years ago.

Going to bite at that?  It’s going to cost you. But they won’t tell you how much until they’ve done the “research.”  You hit “go,” and the information starts to load.  It loads.  And loads. And loads.

Finally, “your report is ready.”  All you have to do to obtain it is enter your credit card information and subscribe to “our seven day unlimited use service” for $25, which will, after six days and 23 hours renew at the standard rate of $75.00 per month billed to your credit card.  You may cancel at any time.  Just click on the “cancel” button listed under “My Account.”

Right.  Experienced suckers report that that doesn’t exactly cancel your account. It starts a barrage of emails inviting you to a “special rate for existing subscribers.”  The new rate is a mere $55 dollars a month and you can cancel at any time, simply by…

If you still cancel, you might as well expect to receive a bill for $75.00 for the next four weeks.

But at least you have Glotz’s address.

A less costly way to get the address is by calling the number you have for him and ask for it. But that would spoil the housewarming surprise.

Plus you’d never know that Glotz was tagged for going 50 mph on the Northern State Parkway when the speed limit was 45.  That happened in 1957.

Oh, for a phone book that had numbers and addresses.  The newer ones have no clothes.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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Wednesday, October 17, 2018

2008 Sears: A Murder in Suburban Chicago

It was just around midnight when Eddie Lampert pulled the plug and sent up the white flag.  Lampert is the hedge fund billionaire who bought Sears, combined it with K-Mart and after years of alleged attempts to make the thing work, declared chapter eleven reorganization, AKA bankruptcy.

The business itself is 125 years old.  Think about a skin and bones man or woman, marching zombie-like down the street and you see the stores themselves. Empty shelves, merchandise in messy piles, leaking ceilings, empty checkout stands. Millions of square feet of no customers.

Yes, we all feel nostalgia about the Sears of our youth and the youths of our parents and grandparents.  But that Sears hasn’t existed for a generation or longer.

Blame Amazon?  Blame Wal-mart? Or bad stuff at bad prices? Or no customers?

No. Blame Eddie.

Long before all this started, long before many had heard of Eddie, one retail analyst told Bloomberg Radio “When Eddie Lampert buys a retailer, the competition cheers.”

Well, they cheered. But after not much time, they stopped because Sears had become irrelevant.

Lampert is brilliant at one thing and one thing only.  Wall Street calls it “Financial Engineering.” But what that really means is shuffling paper around to buy time and/or borrow money, money there was no chance of repaying.  And who did he buy from? Mostly ESL Investments. What does ESL stand for?  Edward Scott Lampert.

What Eddie bought was his own brilliant idea: Sell all that real estate. Make big bucks.  It might have worked but right about the time the lightbulb in his head lit, the market for commercial real estate tanked.  So he tried to make a go of the stores.  Problem: He didn’t know Thing One about mass market retailing.  This is a guy who wandered around the stores looking for ways to cut costs when he should have been wandering around the stores with a paintbrush.  And a broom.  And some real lightbulbs.

He ended up closing stores and selling property at wholesale prices.  

Okay, a moment of kindness: Sears was already in trouble when he bought in.  For a while, he hired people who supposedly knew retail.  Turns out they didn’t, so Eddie took over personally.

He doesn’t know any better than his choices.  And so, he has stepped down as CEO, but not as chairman. The job he left is filled by a committee.  This is a typically bad management choice.  Committees don’t make great stores.  Merchants do.

So, what can they do to remain above water and should they even try?  Probably the answer to the second question is “yes,” because otherwise the suckers who bought stock will be completely screwed.

They still have a few things going for them.  Among them, some of the best appliances available today, Kenmore. And while they sold Craftsman tools to a competitor, they evidently want to continue selling them.

NB: they don’t actually manufacture the appliances, they farm them out to companies that know better. But the brand has moxie. They also have a fabulously complete repair service for those appliances. So there are two areas in which a reduced footprint Sears can do well.

If they’re going to be big in major appliances -- “whitegoods” to those in the industry, they probably can do OK with small appliances, too: Toasters and toaster ovens, coffee makers, blenders and mixers, vacuum cleaners and such.

They do okay with baby supplies, bicycles, exercise machines, bedding, etc.  Sales of all of the above require expertise.  To survive in those areas, they’d need experts on the sales floor, not minimum wage clerks.

To go with that, the only clothing they should sell are work boots and work clothes. Will they do that? Probably not.  Not unless Eddie hires some real merchants and keeps his hands off the advertising and staffing.

Is there anything else they do well?  Not really.

Richard Sears and Alvah Roebuck were purveyors of 19th and early 20th century merchandise. The world has changed.  They can’t face down Wal-mart but they can out-service the big box stores. If they hire the right people and put them in the right locations.

For now, Eddie & company have committed murder.  But maybe -- just maybe -- they can come out winners. And if they do, so will we.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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Monday, October 15, 2018

2007 Self Driving Cars Beware


Here at the Wessays (™) Secret Mountain Laboratory, we are developing a robot designed to carjack self-driving vehicles.  Eat your heart out, thugs.

No one gets hurt.  And our fleet of robots gets some spiffy new cars.  The technology is there, but there are some glitches to work out.  For example, driverless cars are not on the road empty, at least not most of the time.

Current work is on a machine to detect a living being in the vehicle.  In other words, we don’t want to bother with people at all, just the machinery.  There’s a growing market for this kind of tin overseas.

We have the chop shop thing down pat.  No people there either.

You may ask why would a self-driving car be driving itself without passengers? That’s another little problem to be solved. But it’s bound to happen.  You never know when one of these machines will decide to take a trip empty.

We’ve been hunting for good advice on this project. Elon doesn’t take our calls.  We can’t find Bob Lutz.  Lee Iacocca is 93 years old and he spends most of his free time fixing his K-car.  Preston Tucker and Mad Man Muntz are long gone. Carlos Ghosn has too much on his plate already, what with heading two doddering makers halfway around the world from each other.  And we found out Chubby Checker has nothing to do with Checker Cabs. Still, the work continues apace.

One thing we unexpectedly got done: Our robots can retrieve unoccupied self driving cars involved in accidents.  They’re kind of like giant robot vacuum cleaners combined with drones and hot air balloons.

The current plan is a crowdfunding for grant money we’d award to promising college students.  We tried to buy a mailing list of kids underwater on student loans, but the only ones we can find are of former students old enough for Medicare and still paying off that Acme Auto Schools tuition.

And we checked the couch.  Nothing.

-I am the only person I know who has owned both a Renault and a Fiat and loved them both despite their flaws, the list of which is endless.

--Only in Ireland!  With Brexit looming, no one can quite figure out where the border with Northern Ireland is.  The north is British, the south isn’t and will remain in the EU.

--That fluid border would drive the US anti-immigrant crowd nuts. It once was heavily fortified as the two countries warred.  But now people from each side wander freely to the other.

--Is this going to renew the troubles? If they put up customs stations, traditional targets, they’ll have to call the cops to protect them and then the army to protect the cops. And then they’ll fly drones, which will become targets.

Ireland-Northern Ireland border.  You figure it out

Preview: Our thoughts on Sears Wednesday 10/17. But you already know there are no members of the Eddie Lampert fan club in this corner.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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4745 An Ounce of Cure

  Forget the ounce of prevention and the pound of cure.  With everything getting odder, let’s make it a Troy Ounce of prevention.   While “n...