Friday, December 14, 2018

Hey, what are you so mad about? We only gave you a little bit of cancer.

Human lungs destroyed by mesothelioma. Photo from the Pathology Education
Informational Resources Digital Library public access image database.
If you want or need yet another example of why the Trump administration’s urge to deregulate consumer protections are so horrifying, take a look at Johnson & Johnson. Or should they be called Murder & Murder?

A shocking piece of investigative reporting by Lisa Girion at Reuters indicates that, “Facing thousands of lawsuits alleging that its talc caused cancer, J&J insists on the safety and purity of its iconic product. But internal documents examined by Reuters show that the company’s powder was sometimes tainted with carcinogenic asbestos and that J&J kept that information from regulators and the public.”

Well, this is going to cost Johnson&Johnson some money in court. Probably. It has already cost its stockholders plenty. Last time I looked today, J&J stock was down more than nine and a half percent. 

In the end, my guess is J&J will settle some lawsuits and cheerfully continue doing business. My other guess is that government regulatory agencies will do nothing, or at least nothing significant, to make an example of J&J.

I’m not talking about damages and fines, even costly punitive fines. Big business has come to regard those as simply the cost of doing business. I’m talking about charges of negligent homicide, and stiff prison terms for J&J executives, from the very top down, who knew their product was carcinogenic and hushed up the news to protect sales and profits.

Since the discovery and subsequent lying about asbestos in their talc goes back to at least 1972, it’s possible that some of the guilty parties are already dead and others are retired. Fine, haul the still-living criminal old farts out of their retirement homes, perp walk ‘em into court, and put their evil butts on trial, same as we used to do for war criminals.

Justice demands it. The corpses of God-knows-how many people who died of mesothelioma and ovarian cancer caused by J&J products demand it. The deaths, still to come, of others, coughing and gasping for breath, demand it.

I know, I know. It ain’t gonna happen. Yet. 

Unless enough people make enough noise, long enough.

Consider this a shout. I hope it’s an early one that will eventually join others and become a roar so loud, it will be impossible for politicians and prosecutors to cover their ears any longer.

Monday, December 10, 2018

A completely private note to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: Jewish smooish, bubbeleh. As long as you’re a progressive Democrat, you’ll mostly give me naches.

That's funny, you don't look Jewish.
So listen, bubbeleh, because I’m trying to help here. 

These days there seems to be a surprise a minute in the New York Times. Most of those surprises aren’t all that surprising in this era of Trump, because with Trump in the White House, a day that goes by that he doesn’t say something that’s outrageously surprising is the only surprise that actually surprises people any more. [Yes, that does so make sense. Read it again, slowly.]

But what’s really surprising is when somebody you didn’t expect to be surprising surprises you. 

Am I talking to you, Congresswoman-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez? Does a fried latke have living relatives in a potato field?

This past weekend, you addressed the crowd in a Queens, NY synagogue, letting on that you’re Jewish. Well okay, a Catholic who’s got Jewish ancestors. As The New York Times explained:
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the self-described Puerto Rican “girl from the Bronx” who is set to become the youngest congresswoman in American history next month, added another layer to a complex personal story: She has Jewish heritage. 
Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, a New York Democrat, made the reveal on Sunday evening at a Jackson Heights synagogue in Queens, telling the crowd that “a very, very long time ago, generations and generations ago, my family consisted of Sephardic Jews.” 
She dated her ancestry to those who had to flee Europe during the Spanish Inquisition more than 500 years ago, and sought refuge in the New World. “Some of those people landed in Puerto Rico,” she explained.
You went on to say that “As is the story of Puerto Rico, we are a people that are an amalgamation. We are no one thing. We are black, we are indigenous, we are Spanish, we are European.” And in the spirit, I suspect, of kinehora — a ritual for warding off the evil eye, pupupu — you threw in the disclaimer, “Before everyone jumps on me — yes, culture isn’t DNA.”

So okay, I get what you’re saying — and I should drop dead before I’d argue with a word of it. And I also know that Sephardic isn’t Ashkenazic, and that — before the nitpickers and Jewish history wonks hak mir a chainik on this —the language of your Jewish ancestors was Ladino, not Yiddish. 

All the same, if you’ll permit this ufgeregt his ufgeregtig thoughts, I have a thing or few to say.

Shoyte! What, you didn’t see what Trump did to Elizabeth Warren when she said she had a little bit of native American ancestry? If he called her Pocahontas, what’s he going to call you the first time you oppose one of his pet projects, like shtupping cages full of crying and terrified children and shipping their parents off to another country?

He’s probably sitting on the edge of his bed right now, scratching his pupik and trying to make up sarcastic names to call you when he launches a Twitter attack against you. Fortunately, he doesn’t speak Yiddish. Unfortunately, he can call in his Jewish daughter and….oh wait, I forgot. 

Well anyway, he can call in his really Jewish son-in-law, who happens to be a shonda to the rest of us if you ask me — and maybe they’ll cook something up.

But my guess is they’ll settle for calling you Yentl! Donald Trump may have heard that name before.



I.B. Singer, my favorite Yiddish author, who wrote the book on which they based the Yentl movie is another story. I suspect the last time Donald Trump opened a book, the title was “This Is Dick And Jane,” and that he lost interest after it became clear there weren’t going to be any pictures of Jane taking her clothes off. 

But I digress. Anyway, whatever you do, don't get a DNA test.

Another thing I need to bring up — can we talk, Alexandria? — is this whole Israel-Palestine thing. Now I know the old saying that, on any matter at all, if you have two Jews you’ll get three opinions. That is, if you’re lucky and don’t get 37 opinions and 52 commentaries from kibitzers. But this business of blasting Israel over territorial disputes and who’s occupying what has to be seriously reconsidered. And then rephrased.

I mean, I can see you’re beginning to get a sense of things when the Times of Israel runs a headline that says: 

Ocasio-Cortez criticizes ‘occupation of Palestine,’ but admits she’s no expert

Oi, Alexandria! That’s like me saying, "Donald Trump is a shediker, nudnik and a ganse goniff — but what do I know?"

How about clearly and firmly taking a position that would enable Israel to survive as the one place in the world where it’s safe to be Jewish, while still providing Palestinians with separate autonomy? I’m talking about a two-state solution, borders and other details to be negotiated — okay then, negotiated yet another time — across a conference table.

This would prevent the likes of Netanyahu — his teeth should rot in his head — from creating an apartheid state, which would not only justifiably raise the world's hackles but also rapidly become a Jewish-minority state, given the relative birthrates of Israelis and Palestinians. 

The two-state solution would give Israel a future, while getting some of the Israel-haters off everybody’s back.

But as my grandmother said, what do I know?

Friday, December 07, 2018

Either Crain's New York Business and Ad Age are suffering from a mutual typo, or Lyft is about to rip off Brooklynites big time — and Crain's missed it. Also big time.

6 munths ago we cudint even spel editur
and today we are wun!

Hey, Ann-Christine Diaz of Advertising Age, Crain's New York Business, and other Crain's publications: I suspect you've messed up, big time.

It all has to do with an oh-so-adorable story that appeared in various Crain's trade publications like this one today, Friday, December 7th. Pearl Harbor Day if you will.

It’s about an alleged sympathy gesture that Lyft is making to the inhabitants of two Brooklyn, NY neighborhoods, Williamsburg and Bushwick, where the high priests of the Metropolitan Transit Authority are about to halt L-train subway service for over a year (betcha it turns out to be even more than that) while they catch up on, oh, roughly a century's worth of deferred maintenance.

Y'see, Lyft recently bought the Citi Bike franchise that enables New Yorkers to rent a bicycle from automated stands at various points around the city for commutes of 45 minutes or less. And then to leave them off at other stands. Now Lyft wants to offer the subway-deprived Brooklynites a deal. Oh, what a deal! Or so you might be led to believe.

Ann-Christine Diaz wrote:
Ride sharing platform Lyft is showing its support for the soon-to-be trainless city-dwellers with an outdoor campaign running [in] Williamsburg and Bushwick that cheekily drops all the l’s from its logo and copy, featuring lines like “Stay ca m. We wi  get through this together,” “ ove where you ive,” and “ ong ive Brook yn.”
The campaign, created in-house, is titled "Something's Missing.”
So far, so cheeky. But then Ms. Diaz’s piece went on to tell us that the campaign…
…directs Brooklyn residents to a dedicated site, yftpan.com, where Lyft has outlined the various solutions it’s put together to help prepare them for the future service disruptions. 
Among them are Lyft’s partnership with New York City to triple the size of Citi Bike, which the company recently acquired; an all-access plan that allows New Yorkers to pay $169 for 30 rides over 30 days…

Umm, there’s one small problem. At least as of 6:30 p.m. this evening when I last checked the Citi Bike website, you could get a whole year’s worth of unlimited bike rentals for $169, or $14.99 a month. So, if Ann-Christine Diaz has her facts right, Lyft is about to charge for 30 days what they used to charge for a whole year.

In other words, what’s really cheeky, assuming this isn’t a typo or reporting error of major proportions, spread over multiple Crain’s publications, is that Lyft is about to gouge the living beejesus out of hapless Brooklynites, who really have precious few options for getting to work for the next 15 months or longer while the L-train is out of service. It's an epic ripoff that the Visigoths might have envied even while they were sacking Rome.

I figured that before I wrote anything about this, I’d get in touch with Ms. Diaz and tip her off that she either has committed an error of massive proportions, or if not, she ought to recognize a major scandal when it bites her on the ass.

Alas, neither the Ad Age website nor the Crain’s New York Business website had e-mail or telephone contact information for Ann-Christine Diaz that I could find. I mean, God forbid that a journal should publish a way that  people with potentially useful information about an epic scandal on its beat can clue in the people who write and edit for them.  

I went to Linked-In, where I could send Ms. Diaz a message if I pretended to be interested in linking to her. But before I could explain the problem with any clarity, Linked-In cut me off for using too many words.

I suppose I could get on the phone Monday, start calling around to the various Crain’s offices, and blow half or day or more in the hope that Ann-Marie would be there and take my call. But charity for pathetic journalism has its limits.

So screw it. And somebody bring that lady a strong cup of black coffee. I suspect she’s doing her job with her eyes shut.

Oh yes, one more thing. If the Crain’s article is correct as far as it went, Lyft should be elevated to the pantheon of price-gougers who rip off the needy — along with Martin Shkreli and other conscience-less profiteers about whom I’ve written in this space in the recent past.

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

A short witches brew of petty observations, cranky comments, and snarky snorts — to help you add warmth to this nasty holiday season

A 15th Century drawing of a witch feeding her familiars. The hungry little buggers!
Fillet of a fenny snake
In the cauldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
Adder's fork, and blind-worm's sting,
Lizard's leg, and howlet's wing,--
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble."

We’re going to need to quadruple the capacity of America's suicide hotlines if my fellow liberals, progressives, democratic socialists and other subdivisions of the lefty blogosphere get their wish and The Trumpster gets impeached.

Never mind that with so many jellyfish and other invertebrates in the Senate on the majority Republican side of the aisle, that’s about as likely to occur as an updated Satan leaping out of the pages of Milton’s Paradise Lost and sliding down a rainbow to smite Mitch McConnell on the Senate floor. Never even mind that, should such a spectacular miracle come to pass, it’s out of the frying pan and into the hellfire of Mike Pence.

No, ignore all of that. Just suppose it actually happens. I mean, play along with me, merely for the sake of argument. Know what’s going to happen nine seconds after Trump gets impeached?

Every comedian in the United States is going to commit suicide, that’s what. 

From the struggling standup schnooks who “Will Work 4 Laffs,” to the likes of guys who are probably making millions at it, like Stephen Colbert, the comedians are going to be suddenly bereft of jokes. The geyser of free and effortless material that Donald Trump has beneficently been providing them since he announced his candidacy for President will instantly go dry.

I mean, can you blame any comedian for suicide if the Trumpster calls it a day?

Trump is the joke that not only keeps on giving, but keeps on rewriting itself so that it’s fresh material seven nights a week. My  advice to anybody who lives in New York: if they announce the Trumpster’s impeachment, stay indoors and under no circumstances walk under any windows until all the comedians have finished jumping.

Is sex really better with her if she’s 14 years old, Mr. Secretary? The New York Times may be the newspaper of record, and the Washington Post the newspaper of editorial bravery (sometimes). All the same, in my next life, if I can’t come back as an irresistibly handsome quadri-multi-super-guhzillionaire, I went to come back as a reporter for the Miami Herald.

I dunno what it is about Miami. Something in the water, I suspect. At any rate, the tabloids I worked for and competed against from 1960 to 1962 had nothing on the contemporary Miami Herald's content. Speak of gifts that keep on giving!

I started reading the paper for the simple pleasures of digesting Carl Hiaasen once a week. But then, I discovered the news columns. And now I'm as hooked on the Miami Herald as any crackhead ever was after his umpteenth pipeful of the stuff.

A case in point: a series of stories that ran in the Herald — the first one headlined, “How a future Trump Cabinet member gave a serial sex abuser the deal of a lifetime.”

The cabinet member is Alexander Acosta, currently The Trumpster’s Secretary of Labor. The Miami Herald is telling us that earlier in his career, when he was “a rising Republican star” he arranged for a sleazeoid multi-millionaire hedge fund type named Jeffrey Epstein to avoid a potential sentence of life in the slammer for the statutory rape of numerous adolescent girls, some as young as 14, pressuring them to recruit other girls for his personal pleasure, and also pimping them out to a list of international celebrities you’re not gonna believe unless you read the articles.

Instead, and most suspiciously, Epstein was permitted to plead guilty to just two relatively petty charges of prostitution in a state court, for which, instead of life, he got 13 months in the county jail. 

But wait, there’s more!

According to the Herald, part of the deal, despite a federal law that prohibits such an arrangement, was to seal the court records so that the victims wouldn’t know how justice wasn’t served. 

But there’s still more! 

The deal included immunity for Epstein and to  “any potential co-conspirators” from Federal charges. 

Co-conspirators? Ya mean like...?

While there’s no evidence that Donald Trump was a co-conspirator in any underage sex activities, says the Herald, "Trump is Epstein’s neighbor in Palm Beach and former friend who also flew on Epstein’s plane.”

And of course, Donald Trump would have no interest whatsoever in sex with a pretty young girl.

Speaking of The Trumpster, Trump repeatedly said he’s responsible for the state of the stock market. That’s what he told us, ad nauseum — when the market was up. I’m writing this after a day when he market took a hair-raising slide. The Dow was down over 799 points today — yet another reason not to stand under any open windows, especially on Wall Street.

Any comment, Mr. Trump?

Friday, November 23, 2018

American Citizens Decapitated at Ohio Fair by Saudi Hit Squad. “Can’t Sanction Saudis, Their Business is Too Valuable,” Says Trump.

A 1607-lb. pumpkin, winner of the Biggest Pumpkin award
at the 2018 Circleville (Ohio) Pumpkin Show
CIRCLEVILLE, OHIO: Declaring that pumpkins and jack o’lanterns are forms of sorcery, witchcraft, and blasphemy, all of which are punishable by death in Saudi Arabia, a ruthless hit squad descended on the Circleville Pumpkin Show in Circleville, Ohio, last month and randomly decapitated at least 17 men, women and children in front of a terrified and screaming crowd. 
The exact number of dead is unknown, and the incident was hushed up at the time. Federal authorities moved in on orders of President Trump, confiscated police records, and declared all information about the event to be top secret, according to several sources, who spoke anonymously. 
However, rumors of the slaughter leaked out despite strenuous efforts to hide them. One woman, who spoke on conditions of anonymity, because she fears Federal agents will hand her over to the Saudis if her identity is known, said that between each decapitation, the Saudis lectured the crowd on the evils of jack o'lanterns. 
The literally captive audience was told that pumpkins in any form have no utility except as infidel symbols, and that celebrating a pumpkin crop, as the citizens of Circleville have done for decades, is not only sorcery and witchcraft, but also blasphemy. 
Asked if The United States would sanction the Saudis for this latest act, President Trump replied, “We’ll see.” 
Trump added, “You have to remember that we have billions of dollars of military contracts with the Saudis, and that means jobs, jobs, jobs. 
“What’s more important, the American economy, or a few dozen heads?” the President asked. “I know one of the victims was a beauty contestant in the Miss Pumpkin Show contest, but let’s be honest. She wasn’t a ten anyway. If you want to know the truth she was barely an eight. I’ve thrown better looking than that out of my own bed. And I know women. I’ve had all the best women.”
The headline and story above are, of course, completely fictional. 

At least they're completely fictional so far. 

But with Trump giving Prince Mohammed Bin Salman a pass on sanctions for the murder of Jamal Kashoggi, it’s only a matter of time before something like the murder of American citizens, on American soil, by Saudi agents becomes an unpunished matter of fact.

After all, why not? The President has already stated the principle behind his refusal to sanction the prince or the Saudis — that American depends on Saudi oil and largess —  despite more than ample evidence to the contrary.

Of course, this is not true of every nation. Even little Denmark has effectively told MBS that murder is unacceptable. They’re not afraid of the oil prices that Trump pretends to be worried about. 
Ultimately, one has to wonder if what worries Trump about sanctions is not the cost to the United States economy, but the cost to the Trump family economy. CBS Money Watch reports:
The president's links to Saudi billionaires and princes go back years and appear to have only deepened.
In 1991, as Mr. Trump was teetering on personal bankruptcy and scrambling to raise cash, he sold his 282-foot yacht "Princess" to Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin-Talal for $20 million, a third less than what he reportedly paid for it.
Four years later, the prince came to his rescue again, joining other investors in a $325 million deal for Mr. Trump's money-losing Plaza Hotel.
In 2001, Mr. Trump sold the entire 45th floor of the Trump World Tower across from the U.N. in New York for $12 million, the biggest purchase in that building to that point, according to the brokerage site Streeteasy. The buyer: The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Shortly after he announced his run for president, Mr. Trump began laying the groundwork for possible new business in the kingdom. He registered eight companies with names tied to the country, such as "THC Jeddah Hotel Advisor LLC" and "DT Jeddah Technical Services," according to a 2016 financial disclosure report to the federal government. Jeddah is a major city in the country.
"Saudi Arabia, I get along with all of them. They buy apartments from me. They spend $40 million, $50 million," Trump told a crowd at an Alabama rally on Aug. 21, 2015, the same day he created four of the entities. "Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much."
Is it simply greed? Or is Trump in to the Saudis so deep that he's subject to blackmail by them — a terrified puppet on a Saudi string?

Let us hope more about this comes out when the product of Mr. Mueller’s investigation is finally revealed.


Thursday, November 15, 2018

Mohammed bin Salman, Jamal Khashoggi, Saud el-Qahtani, Turki al-Sheikh, Donald Trump, Anthony Scaramucci, Matthew Whitaker, and The Crank’s Rule of Rolling Heads

So you think loyalty to the top guy is your guarantee of safety and prosperity? Hang on to your head.

Atypical of the stuff I do, there is no illustration for this post. For a good reason.

A photograph of a public beheading in Saudi Arabia would be appropriate. I went on the Internet looking for one. I found, instead, a whole video of a recent public beheading of a woman there. It’s too horrible for me to reproduce. Or even to link to. In fact, it’s so disturbing that I’m sorry that even I looked at it. I may have trouble sleeping tonight.

Decapitation and
other Saudi delights

As of the first quarter of this year, Saudi Arabia had decapitated 48 people, half of them on non-violent charges, according to a story from the BBC. Unfortunately, that is germane to the farcical horror story that is the new, so-called “reformist” regime of Saudi Arabia. But hey, they now permit women to drive — when they’re not cutting the heads off women for the crime of political activism for acts such as, umm, demanding the right to drive.

But this piece is not about the perils of advocating while female in the desert kingdom. No, not at all. Instead, it’s about the price of loyalty to despots who are incapable of either doing the right thing or of telling the truth, even when the right thing, and the truth, would be easier than skulduggery and lies.

A case in point relates to the death of Jamal Khashoggi, the columnist for the Washington Post who was murdered and dismembered — not necessarily in that precise order — in the Saudi Arabia recently.

The story that just
can’t stop changing

The official Saudi story of what happened changes faster than a cheetah can run. We commented on it after a few versions were out here. And then a few days later, the story had changed again — so we commented again. And then guess what? Well, let’s let the New York Times do a few guest paragraphs:

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor said on Thursday that he was requesting the death penalty for five people suspected of involvement in the killing of the Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi at the country’s consulate in Istanbul. 
Speaking to reporters in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, a spokesman for the public prosecutor said that the 15-man team sent to confront Mr. Khashoggi had orders to return him to the kingdom, but after he resisted they decided on the spot to kill and dismember him. 
The Saudi prosecutor’s account on Thursday appeared to contradict previous statements from both the Saudi government and senior White House officials about Saudi conclusions regarding the killing on Oct. 2 of Mr. Khashoggi.

“Appeared to contradict?” 
Ya think?

You mean the stories that Khashoggi left the Saudi embassy in Istanbul under his own steam and might still be wandering the streets there...and that, well maybe he did get killed, but only because he started a fight and therefore was asking for it...and that he got killed, but only by some rogue people who have nothing to do with Prince MBS and who mysteriously showed up at the Saudi embassy...and that the team of 15 Saudi thugs and a bone saw appearing in Istanbul at the same time were a mere coincidence... and that various other twists, turns, permutations, variations, and enhanced versions of the Saudi tangled yarn were just confections — sort of like a vanilla ice cream with banana chips, chocolate sprinkles, and whipped cream, served on a bed of sun-ripened camel poop?

Evidently so. 

The latest story out of Riyadh is that two of Prince Mohammed The Liar’s best buds, a poet-propagandist named Saud el-Qahtani; and Turki al-Sheikh, a security guy-sports promoter are the dudes who done it. (Loopy grammar intentional.)
“They are the closest people to the crown prince,” said Kristin Smith Diwan, senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington. “They are his political enforcers and the face of the brash new ‘Saudi first’ posture at home and abroad, and those opposed to the hypernationalist, thuggish direction in Saudi foreign policy would be happy to see them cut down to size.”
The new, new, new
official story

Now the official story, turning partway back on itself,  goes like this, according to the Times:
While acknowledging that the killers had quickly cut up the body, the Saudi prosecutor sought to portray the dismemberment as a spur-of-the-moment decision after an unintended killing.
Yeah, right. Spur-of-the-moment. That’s why they brought along a forensic pathologist armed with a bone saw.

Net net: the Prince is calling for the death penalty for five members of the team. And while Prince MBS's former best pals, Saud and Turki, are not on the arrest list yet, I wouldn't underwrite any life insurance for them if I were you.

The truth is that like any despot, MBS is perfectly capable of turning on those most loyal to him, and brutally chopping off their heads if he deludes himself into thinking that’ll get him off the hook. That’s The Crank’s Rule of Rolling Heads. 

Which brings me, finally, to another well-known despot who appears incapable of telling the truth. Yeah, that one.

Under the bus with you,
dear loyal retainer

It’s no secret that no matter how loyal you are to Donald Trump, he’ll throw you under the bus if he sees any benefit for himself in doing it. That's what happened to Anthony Scaramucci, who was Trump’s loyal White House Communications Director for about 12 seconds before Trump found it convenient to lop his head off.  To this day, “The Mooch,” as he was called, still sings the praises of the boss who rolled his head.

And I can almost guarantee you that the same will happen to his new acting Attorney General, Matthew Whitaker, who before very long is going to be known as Headless Matty. 

Whitaker may try to get rid of Robert Muller. He may even succeed. But there’s already far too much evidence out there. There are prosecutors in various state attorney general’s offices who can go after Trump. There’s a Democratic Congress that can join the chase. Whitaker himself has a record worthy of prosecution rather than celebration. He will not be able to protect Trump.

And before very long, perhaps using Whitaker's shady past, Whitaker’s head, too, will roll.

I mean that metaphorically, of course, Matthew. All the same, if you sense that Trump is losing interest in your career, you just might want to throw yourself under a bus before he does it to  you.