Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Ad biz: “We’re too big, rich and powerful to pay attention to no stinking U.S. Government

Back in the days of the “Madmen” era, a very sane Brit named David Ogilvy set up a Madison Avenue advertising agency. His original working capital was $6,000, the now-deceased Ogilvy recalled in his book, “Confessions of an Advertising Man.”

For  at least for the first 35 years or so, his agency was dedicated to – and actually hewed to – values never before or since seen or heard from on Madison Avenue. Complete civility. Genuine care for the welfare of its employees as well as its clients. Literate advertising. And respect for consumers. “The consumer is not a moron,” Ogilvy thundered at his colleagues and anyone else who would listen. “She is your wife.”

Today's greedy vermin

These days? Forget it. The industry is infested with a new kind of greedy vermin, intent not only in getting as wealthy as a hedge fund manager masturbating with an image of Croesus in his head, but also in ignoring U.S. government agency rules and regulations, and roaring full speed ahead toward an anarchy it thinks it can dominate.

Case in point, a recent headline from the industry leading American trade publication, Advertising Age, having to do with a Federal Trade Commission proposal that private industry should not track what people look at, or where they go, or whom they call, or what they look up on the Internet – unless they agree to this invasion of their privacy.

Here’s the headline: 

“Ad Industry Proposal:’Do Not Track Should Let Us Track Anyway.”

Or to put it in the vernacular of the common man whose private business the advertising industry wants  to snoop on, “Screw your proposal and your laws and your government. We’ll do what we want.”

I commend you to the industry’s explanation here, filled with verbosity, techno-jargon and self-serving reasoning – perhaps made deliberately dull so you’ll nod off in a stupor instead of exploding with rage.

Remember, these folks are from an industry that’s all about – or at least used to be all about – “communicating” with you, me, and other consumers. If what they write puts you to sleep, it’s because they don’t want you to wake up before they’ve rolled over your privacy and plopped every last mosel of information about you into their databases, ranging from what you read and watch on TV, to where you ate lunch yesterday, probably all the way to when you last picked your nose and which finger you used.

They can afford to be such bastards because advertising agency management has grown – from a few clever people at each of many dozens of agencies, each with a few grand in their pockets and the intention to delight and inform consumers, to a bare handful of conglomerates with more than a few billion bucks in their own jeans, intent on grabbing more and more money.


Latest case in point, the merger of Omnicom, one advertising mega-conglomerate, with Publicis, another advertising mega-conglomerate. They are now a combined $35 billion mega-mega-supermega-conglomerate with which no startup Brit with six thousand bucks in his wallet could ever compete.

And the industry as a whole is so big that if they don’t like what the government is doing, they simply tell the government to screw off. And if that doesn’t work, they’ll buy every Congressman and Senator in Washington and come after those who protest with a tank division.

Because if “Do not track,” can mean “track,” then “do not bribe” can mean “bribe” and “Thou shalt not kill” simply means, “Slaughter them, they’re only citizens.”

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Anthony & Huma & Elliot & Silda

A handful of years back, after he resigned from the governorship of New York State following the disclosure that he was patronizing high-priced hookers, I found myself sitting in a restaurant, a yard or two from Elliott Spitzer.

It was a neighborhood kind of thing. He lived on Fifth Avenue, a few blocks to the west of the restaurant, Quatroze, on East 79th Street. At the time, I lived in the same general vicinity.

The disgraced governor and his wife, Silda, looked relaxed. He was dressed in Chinos, an open-necked dress shirt, and a blue blazer, nothing like either the suited television commentator he was at the time, or like the controversial governor he had been before that. His wife Silda also looked relaxed and was smiling. There was laughter at the table. They were with another couple, having a good time.

Real life, real pretty

What I remember most from that very New York-ish accidental celebrity sighting, if you can call it that, was that Silda in real life was much younger, much prettier, and much happier-looking than she had appeared on TV and in news photographs when, frowning and clearly unhappy, she stood next to Spitzer at a press conference and watched him field the shrapnel exploding from his self-inflicted scandal.

Presumably he had learned his lesson, if only the lesson that the principle difference between a $3,000 hooker and a $300 hooker is $2,700, and that ultimately paid sex is a tawdry and emotionally unsatisfying experience, a clear demonstration that there’s no place like home.

“Good!” I thought to myself. “Spitzer has a new career, and he and his wife have patched things up, and may they live happily ever after.”

Boy, was I wrong!

Yes, dammit! Again!

Reports have it that Spitzer and his wife are now living in separate domiciles. His television career failed. And – oh crap, not again! – he’s back in politics, running for the low-key office of City Comptroller.

All this comes to mind because of another philandering (sort of) political dropout, who couldn’t stay dropped out for long. I’m talking, of course, about Anthony Weiner, who has what one might say is an abnormal fondness for sending racy electronic notes and photographs of himself to strange women, culminating, some have said, in telephone conversations and phone sex.

Evidently, there’s no evidence that Weiner has ever met any of these women and had real live sex with them. This of course raises a question. What’s up with that – aside from Weiner’s hardon?

When Spitzer did his extracurricular thing, at least it culminated in sex. That was his reward for the huge risk he was taking. And it was huge, politically (as things turned out) but also in terms of sexually transmitted diseases, robbery, blackmail, all the pitfalls of paying to have sex with a strange woman.

The old adrenalin rush

But Weiner? As “Carlos Danger,” a nom de guerre that the columnist Gail Collins has already pleasured her readers with, Weiner was all risk and no reward. Or at least no reward except for the adrenalin rush of risk that he might have equally achieved by standing on one foot atop a high ledge on the Empire State Building and holding up a large sail.

That’s why he strikes so many as “weird” and “creepy.” Or to put it another way, while both Spitzer and Weiner have ­– shall we call them “impulse control issues? – Spitzer is a serial philanderer, but Weiner is a serial pervert, preferring some symbolic expression of dangerous sex to the real thing.

There’s been lots of speculation in the press about why Weiner’s attractive wife, Huma Abedin, puts up with it. One reason simply might be that they have a toddler at home, and staying together might be better for the child than divorce. Another more insidious theory making the rounds is that Houma is modeling herself after her mentor, Hillary Clinton, and has political ambitious of her own that Weiner might somehow aid and abet.

Well, to tell you the truth, I don’t shudder at that theory. From the little I’ve read about her she’s bright, competent and experienced. She’d certainly make a better mayor than her husband.

I suspect an Anthony Weiner mayoral administration would be saddled with scandal after scandal, turning the mayor’s attention away from the beehive of problems and conflicting needs that is New York City. Weiner was a Congressman, not an administrator. He’s talking a good line about what he wants to do for the city – minus, so far, any detailed specifics about how he'll do it. But there’s no indication that he can manage any of it, and plenty of indication that he can’t even manage himself.

High profile, high powered
dead-end job

Besides, where does Weiner think his career will go after he becomes mayor? No mayor in the last century has ever gone on to a more exalted office. The closest to that was the late Bill O’Dwyer, who resigned his mayoralty and then got appointed Ambassador to Mexico in the wake of a political scandal.

As for Spitzer, if he’s elected as Comptroller, he’ll be in charge of bonds and pension fund investments. He did an admirable job as New York Attorney General, devoting much of his AG efforts to breaking the fingers of any Wall Street master of the universe he could catch trying to snatch something from the cookie jar – or even thinking about it.

Consequently, much of Wall Street hates Spitzer’s guts. Maybe that means he’d be able to scare the best deals out of them when administering city money. But maybe that means they’d be out to take him down from the get-go, tripping him up with tricky deals. Or even paying a hooker to lure him into a bed bugged not with insects, but with electronics.

Congenital screwup?

Undoing a Comptroller Spietzer would have to be easy.. Any fool who holds public office and pays for the illegal services of a prostitute with a credit card must be congenitally prone to screwing up.

Admittedly, most of the New York City electorate doesn’t seem to care. On the contrary, Weiner’s and Spitzer’s elevated name recognition has made them front runners, at least for now. But there’s a difference between an accidental philanderer and a habitual – well, whatever those two guys habitually have been, if they aren’t still. And eventually, in office or merely in the public eye, it will bring them down.

I wish them both the best of luck and the most of success. But in private careers, please. Frankly, I’ve had it with political sex scandals.

Post Script: After I posted this piece, I discovered that a just-released Marist Poll has Weiner already losing his lead, thanks to the latest revelations. Well, I've never seen any prediction I've made come true so quickly.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Here's more evidence that America desperately needs an excess wealth tax – unless we want to see a return of this contraption

I’ve ridden this hobby horse before, most notably here, and also here among other places, but this nation desperately needs to tax not only more of the incomes of the superrich, but also their accumulated wealth.

I give you as my latest case-in-point, the situation of the homeless in New York, and by contrast, the prices that the insufficiently-taxed superrich seem to be gladly paying for a place to call home.

According to a letter I’ve received from somebody at the Stribling real estate brokerage firm in New York concerning the city’s apartment market: 
· The $4 million and above luxury market in the first half of this year was the strongest
since at least 2007, with 759 contracts signed, compared to 807 such contracts for all
2012; 1/3 of the contracts were for new condos that won’t be completed for at least
· In the $10 million and above market, 142 contracts totaling $2.08 billion were signed in the first half of this year, compared to 160 contracts totaling $2.9 billion for all of last year; 44% of this year’s contracts were for new developments and were sold off of floorplans.
 Hey, $10 million “and above”  apartments (some of those “aboves” have paid above $50 million) can happen simply because millionaires and billionaires have the money to throw away for them. They’re largely a horde of little Anthony Weiners, waving around pictures of their apartments instead of their penises, boasting implicitly, “Look how big mine is.”

All that’s fine, up to a point. The point is where you see the statistics for homelessness in New York. The following is from the city’s Coalition for the Homeless:
•Each night more than 55,000 people -- including more than 21,000 children -- experience homelessness. 
• Currently 50,700 homeless men, women, and children bed down each night in the NYC municipal shelter system.   
• Additionally, more than 5,000 homeless adults and children sleep each night in other public and private shelters, and thousands more sleep rough on the streets or in other public spaces.
• During the course of each year, more than 105,000 different homeless New Yorkers, including nearly 40,000 children, sleep at least one night in the municipal shelter system. 
• The number of homeless New Yorkers in shelters has risen by more than 60 percent over the past decade.
Hey, $2.8 billion could rent a lot of modest one- and two-bedroom apartments for families that are currently sleeping in the streets. There’s not enough money available to do that, you complain, Mayor Bloomberg? There would be if the people were taxed differently if they can shell out $10, $20, $50 million for one out of what is likely to be two or more residences .

In fact, one of The Crank’s Laws states that if you pay, say, $45 million for an apartment and $10 million for a house in the Hamptons that’s so difficult to commute to, you have to charter a helicopter to get you there, you have far too much money for the good of society.

The problem isn’t only a New York City problem. It’s national. All but a handful of us are getting poorer, while the rich get richer and richer, living off the wealth our productivity has  produced and they have bled from us. Consider this:
Economics columnist Jon Talton recently did a rundown of the facts about today’s American economy. Among his findings: 
• Worker productivity has increased nearly 23 percent since 2000, but hourly wages rose a pitiful 0.5 percent in that period. 
• Taking a longer view back to 1973, productivity is up by 80 percent between now and then, but pay is only up by 11 percent. 
• People at the bottom of the wage scale are earning less now than similar workers in 1979. 
• Employees in the middle of the wage scale are getting 6 percent more than in 1979, but all that increase happened in the 1990s. 
• High earners, meanwhile, are making 37 percent more than back in the 1970s and the much-talked-about folks in the top 1 percent have enjoyed a 131 percent increase in earnings.

From another column by Jon Talton, I found this:
• People who became unemployed between 2007 and 2009 but found new, full-time jobs took an average wage cut of 10.5 percent. 
• In 2011, wages for males with college degrees were 5 percent greater than in 1979. For men with only high-school degrees, entry-level wages were 25 percent lower than in 1979. 
• College-educated women saw gains of 15 percent over the same period for their first job, but the wage was still 9 percent below what a college-educated man made in 1979. Women with only high-school education worked for wages 10 percent below the poverty threshold and 14 percent worse than the wages of women with comparable education in 1979. 
• In 1979, more than 63 percent of high-school graduates landed entry-level jobs with employer-provided insurance. In 2010, the number had dropped to 22.8 percent.
 If the superrich think they’re “winning” by choking off income from the vast majority of the nation, I have some old news for them. It’s called the French Revolution of 1789. You know, the one where they set up a guillotine in what is now the Place de la Concorde, and mercilessly rolled heads.

If this nation doesn’t restore some equity to incomes, it can and probably will happen here, in some modern form. Maybe the form relates to the ease of getting a gun. If the gates of Versailles couldn’t hold against a crowd of enraged peasants with pitchforks, I doubt that gated communities and doorman apartment buildings will hold against underpaid American workers armed with their Wal-Mart AK47s.

I hope that the income inequity situation will be corrected, or that I won’t live long enough to the consequences. But if I do, I plan to take a front row seat next to Mme. Defarge, this time no doubt texting with her I-Phone instead of clicking her knitting needles, and see how high a billion dollar head will bounce.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013


Note from The New York Crank: I've been in awe of Ben Kremen's reportorial skills since our college days. In 1957,  he came back from vacation to the  campus we both shared and he told me, "I've just been in Cuba. There's a revolution brewing there. I was up in the hills in a place called Oriente Province and this guy, Fidel Castro, he has tanks, he has guns, he has troops. He's getting ready to overthrow Batista." (Batista was then the dictator of Cuba.) I laughed and told Kremen, "You're full of crap. You're nuts! You're out of your mind. You've been smoking too much weed." But less than two years later, Castro rolled into Havana and Batista was finished. Now Kremen offers a piece on what's happening to the American labor movement and why it matters. I urge you to read it – and shudder.
—   The New York Crank

By Bennett Kremen | The Labor Educator | July 10, 2013

A contract's being violated brutally, in fact many serious, profound ones are, which will, if unchecked, deeply threaten the well-being of all working people — indeed, of almost all people. Basically, what's being violated here is called "The Social Contract". This concept isn't really a hard one to understand. For centuries philosophers and political thinkers have been describing it as the very basis for justice and law and social harmony. And what they're talking about are the many "unwritten" agreements among all of us to respect and defend the rights of others so that our rights too are defended and respected.

Without these unstated understandings, no law alone or police force or army could forever control the chaos that would inevitably stalk our streets because, in effect, only my desire and yours not to attack or rob or rape anyone as we walk along coupled with everyone else's desire to live and let live creates the everyday peace we all need and must have. This for sure is a silent Social Contract.

Of course, though there are many written contracts in labor-management relations, totally necessary ones, there are also many significant social contracts, which if they didn't exist could only make labor-capital negotiations, never easy, grim indeed. But in recent years to our dismay, these quiet social agreements are, yes, being violated and with severe and growing boldness by the most aggressive corporations and their hired political henchmen infiltrating our government at every level. And the most painful example, glaring example, of their contempt for a vital, time-honored social understanding that has created economic justice and kept the peace for more than seventy years is their vicious attack, every day, on Social Security.

For decades this program, as we all know, was not to be messed with! And despite there being no law preventing it from being challenged, almost without exception both Republicans and Democrats understood that threatening Social Security was like committing political suicide and indeed was called, "the third rail of American politics". Today, that indispensable, unwritten contract protecting Social Security and the feeblest among us is being spat upon by many in both parties without a flicker of shame and with largely disappointing opposition. Shouldn't we be hearing a fearsome roar and fire-breathing rearing up in the AFL-CIO and every union against this cold-blooded assault on our aging, working folks, who have little else to defend them? But, uh uh, I'm sorry to say, it's not our brave heart, crusading labor leaders who are keeping grandpa out of the poor house. Only a seventy plus percent disgust rate among the public at such a thought is doing the job.

If this isn't enough to demand sweeping and dramatic changes in the thinking and leadership of the labor movement, let's describe a few more disasters inexorably descending on our brothers and sisters in factories and warehouses, in schools and offices — in short, everywhere. How about our wages flat lining while the unearned income — the stocks, bonds, real estate and hustles of the wealthy — have grown so dizzily, it can give you a nose bleed.

Sadly, the labor movement once thought they'd corrected this type of income imbalance forever during the economic battles of the 1930s. And actually, wages and benefits for more than half a century were pegged often to corporate profits, which was a Social Contract that worked pretty damn well. Now there's only arrogant disregard by the powerful for this basic American concept of equality. And surely those who should be fighting tooth and nail for this fundamental fairness, our very, very well paid labor leaders, simply keep bungling and sputtering on and on in embarrassing impotence while this situation gets worse and worse.

For they were blind-sided when Wisconsin's governor Walker tore up with a sneer the long-standing Social Contract guarding collective bargaining itself. And tell me please, why's there a near deadly silence from the movers and shakers of the AFL-CIO while virulent Right To Work laws quarantined mostly in Dixie and the red states of the West have started aggressively metastasizing northeastward into Indiana and Michigan's industrial heartland and who knows where else it goes next. And, oh yes, the lockout! No greater insult to organized labor exists. And once through those quiet understandings, it was rarely used. Today, they're smacking us with it everywhere, sticking it in our eye like bullies in a school yard, which I saw recently in a lockout in New York at Sotheby's Auction House, the world's playground for billionaires, where a tiny Teamster local of diligently working art handlers were mercilessly harassed into giving up some of their hard-won health benefits while the company made five hundred million dollars in profits that year.

So what's wrong here? What is it fellas? I've always seen labor leaders as strong people, who don't take crap. But what's happening now, it hurts me to say, appears more often than not to be just the opposite. For over and over I keep watching actions and maneuvers by the labor movement that lack even a hint of courage or daring while much of the urgent energy needed to battle what's going on flounders in blatant, self-serving bureaucracies and petty, intra-union politics, where originality all gets slaughtered, leaving only a frightening lack of imagination that's truly worrying me. And seeing labor's mostly passive acceptance day after day of these non-stop violations of the Social Contract fills me with dark thoughts of what will happen if we allow this to go on much longer. No, we can't. And we won't!

Bennett Kremen has written about labor issues for The New York Times, The Nation and other publications and his latest book, "Savage Days Haunted Nights", is available at Amazon.com and Kindle. Email: BennettKre@aol.com

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

In praise of summer crankiness. And not just my own.

July 4th is coming. Or maybe by the time you're reading this, it’ll have been here and gone. Whatever.

Here in the New York area, they’re calling for temperatures in the high 80s, on the Fourth, with high humidity. Your typical July day.

It’s the kind of weather where you get extremely irritated if somebody asks you to do something you don’t want to do. Or just brushes against you in the street. It’s the kind of day where you don’t want to breathe without air conditioning. It’s the kind of day where your whole body wants to tell people, “Hey, wait just a damn second! I don’t want to stand over a hot gas barbecue pit. Go burn your own damn frankfurters.”

Added to the oppressive seasonal heat and humidity, the last 30 days or so have been unbearably rainy. Roads are flooding too easily because the land doesn't have a chance absorb one downpour before the next one comes along. Cellars are leaking. Worms are drowning. Mildew is growing.  Every pair of pants I’ve taken off the hanger in the past couple of weeks has gone to the dry cleaners the next day. They’re not dirty. They’re just limp, and wrinkled from the rain.

To remind me about wet weather, New York Mayor Bloomberg’s little worker bees have sent me a brochure with an unintelligible map. Or at least it’s unintelligible to red-green-brown colorblind people like me. In reds and greens and browns, in just itty-bitty millimeters of space, it shows me what I think is my neighborhood on a map of Manhattan and tells me that if they declare a hurricane alert, I’ll have to get out. There are six levels of alert, each coded with a different green or brown, and when they call the color I can’t see, I’m supposed to pack a bag and move in with grumpy relatives, or go live in a shelter.

In a pig’s eye! They had to mail the brochure to me anyway. So they have my address. Why didn’t they just say, “When we declare your address is a Stage 6,” you gotta go.”

Because they’re the same kind of idiots who developed color-coded threat alerts (remember those?) for the Department of Homeland Security. Look, when those idiots became useless to Washington they had to go somewhere. So they went to City Hall in New york.

Besides, I live on the 10th floor. I admit it was miserable last year when a hurricane knocked out the power, causing my  building to lose water, lights, refrigeration, the elevators, and TV for a five days. But I was 80 feet above ground level, which in my neighborhood is another 10 feet above water level, so why doesn't Bloomberg cut the crap and figure out how to get homes for the homeless, who are the people truly in danger of drowning in the streets?
Meanwhile, I feel like I have jungle rot. I fully expect to take off my socks and find a crop of toadstools growing between my toes. My shoes are cracking. Damn it all, I’m cracking.

So I’m not surprised that the 13 Colonies declared their independence from England on July 4th. Thomas Jefferson’s observations of the weather on July 4th 1776 only put temperatures in the high 70s, but hell, that was Philadelphia. Seventy degrees in Philly is like three weeks in a New York heatwave. Or nine weeks in hell. And Jefferson didn’t note down the humidity. And furthermore, the founding fathers weren’t exactly walking around in Bermua shorts and T-shirts.

Besides, even minus global warming, July on the East Coast of the United States has always stuck people with the kind of weather that gets tempers flaring and rage exploding. “Write another pleading letter to King George to end the stamp tax? Screw that, Martha. I’ll show that fat-assed king! Where’s my blunderbuss? ”

When you get right down to it, the American Revolution was road rage without the roads or the automobiles. People were getting hot and sticky and pissed off and England ignored us. Poof! There went the colonies.

If we had air conditioning back in 1776, we’d all probably still be British. 

You owe your freedom –whatever’s left of it after the Internet sends your phone and electronic mailing records to the Defense Intelligence Agency – anyway, you owe your freedom to crankiness. And that’s all I have to say, mainly because I don’t feel like writing any more. You want to make something of it?