Wednesday, July 31, 2019

There’s nothing the least bit radical about one of the “radical” ideas of Sanders and Warren. If anything, it’s a bit old-fashioned.

Probable Trump voters. (Just sayin'.) Photo swiped from This has nothing to do with the
comments below. I just needed a picture of something.
Below, a three-paragraphs-long list of some high-achieving Americans, both living and deceased. Glance at all the names and then — quickly — figure out what they all had in common: 

General and former Secretary of State Colin Powell. Inventor of the polio vaccine Jonas Salk. Actor Tony Curtis. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Composer Yip Harburg. Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter. Composer Ira Gershwin. Author Henry Miller. Photographer Alfred Stieglitz. Keep reading, because there’s more: 
Composer Frank Loesser. Theoretical physicist Julian Schwinger. Author Upton Sinclair, Jr. Millionaire investor Bernard Baruch. Actor Jud Hirsch. Congress of Racial Equality Chairman Roy Innis. Internet Protocol inventor Robert E. Kahn. Trade unionist A. Philip Randolph. Author Lewis Mumford. Keep going, because there’s still more.
 Pulitzer prizewinning playwright Wendy Wasserstein. Artist Ben Shahn. United States Senator Robert F. Wagner. Psychiatrist Albert Ellis. Newscaster and reporter Daniel Schorr. Author of The Godfather Mario Puzo. Semiconductor entrepreneur Andrew Gove. Actor Zero Mostel. Nobel Prize-winning physicist and astronomer Arno Allan Penzias.
Figured it out yet?
Before I give you the answer, let me mention that this is just a partial list of famous high achievers who had this thing in common. But okay, I’ve probably kept at least a few of my readers in suspense long enough.

They were all graduates of the City College of New York — CCNY as it’s called locally — when it was free. You can find a fuller list here.

And remember, CCNY was only one of the free city colleges. There was also Brooklyn College (Frank McCourt, David Geffen, Dominic Chianese, Barbara Boxer, Alan Dershowitz, Bernie Sanders, and many others.) 

And Queens College (Jerry Seinfeld, Paul Simon, Joy Behar, Gary Ackerman, Carole King, Marvin Hamlisch, Robert Moog. And many others.)

Free education is 
cost-effective education

Before the squeeze-‘em’-till-they-bleed Conservatives began to choke off the funding, CCNY alone was known as “the poor man’s Harvard.” And judging from all their distinguished alumni, they produced contributors to America’s prosperity, leadership, and scientific advancement far more cost-effectively than Harvard, Princeton or Yale.

Each time the city’s colleges turned out another alumnus, they helped to improve the economy, and scientific advancement of the United States.

These days, their funding strangled directly and indirectly by ever-increasing tax cuts for the obscenely rich, these institutions are forced to charge tuition. It’s still modest tuition by the standard of most private colleges, but the cost nevertheless prevents an unknown number of future potential contributors to America's greatness from getting a college education .

Nor was the concept of free or cheap college limited to New York City. The great land grant colleges and universities — places like Texas A&M, Cornell, Ohio State, Purdue, and Iowa State, among many others — were founded on pretty much the same idea. When Americans yearn for the time when America was “great” they are yearning, in fact, for a time when a college education for most could be free, or at least so dirt cheap that nobody had to go into debt for it.

But will rich people
get a "free ride?"

Some, I suppose. However, I don’t hear either Warren or Sanders promising to send your kid on a free four year excursion through the Ivy League. They’re talking about the public and land grant colleges and universities. So if, say, some future Trump kid can’t make it into Harvard or even Haverford, I suppose they can make a stab at Podunk State, and sail through tuition free if any Trump has the brains to survive. But so what?

We’ve had free elementary and secondary education in America for two or more centuries now. So far I haven’t heard anybody complain that Chauncey (“Chip”) Chizzlewit the Third went to public school free, from kindergarten through high school, and didn’t pay a nickel of tuition. It’ll be largely the taxes the rich will pay that will finance free public education anyway, so if they want to take advantage of it, fine. 

Come to think of it, maybe mixing with the likes of thee and me will teach the spoiled rich a thing or two about tolerance. And perhaps they’ll all figure out that they’re not all Very Special Stable Geniuses after all.

The point is, free college education isn’t a radical idea. Preventing free college education is what’s really radical. Harmfully radical, reducing America's competitiveness in the world.

And the so-called middle-of-the-road Democrats who oppose free higher education are so far off to the right, they’re helping the Republicans run this country into a ditch.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

“But Hitler wasn’t all bad. He built the autobahns.” Plus: How to know if you too are a very stable genius.

Back in the day, Ogilvy turned out
classy ads like these for classy 
clients. Today, alas, not so much.
Keep reading for the Hitler part.
If you follow the advertising trade press — or pass your time reading Buzzfeed — you may already be aware of the brouhaha that’s been kicked up at the advertising agency, Ogilvy.

The agency was founded in 1947 by the late, utterly charming, and brilliant advertising great, David Ogilvy. One of its founding principles was flat out integrity. “The consumer is not a moron, she is your wife,” Ogilvy thundered. 

Another of the agency’s principles had to do with quality and class. Perhaps the only thing David Ogilvy ever stole was his agency’s motto. And Ogilvy, with disarming honesty, admitted outright that he stole it. He lifted it from, of all people, the banker J.P. Morgan. “Only first class business, and that in a first class way.”

Alas, the definitions of what is first class, what is business, and even what advertising is all about, have changed since then. There are many forces at work, from the merciless advance of technology, to the greedy consolidation of ad agencies back in the 1990s that switched the focus at most ad agencies from doing great work for great clients, to making damn sure management hits its financial targets, no matter what else you have to do to get there.

The commotion
about Ogilvy

Which brings us to the sort of semi-scandal brewing around Ogilvy today. Long gone are Rolls Royce, Hathaway Shirts, Schweppes, and some of the other accounts that made the agency famous. In its place are clients like — God! I hate even to write the name — U.S. Customs and Border Protection. You know. Immigrants fleeing persecution getting busted and handcuffed  Kids ripped from their parents' arms and stuffed into cages. Adults in lockups squeezed so closely together they can’t sit down or lie down. Cool stuff like that.

Some of the folks who actually do the work, in Ogilvy’s Eleventh Avenue boiler room in a repurposed Manhattan chocolate factory, and around the world, balked. Buzzfeed got hold of the story and initially did some fairly egregious misreporting, ranging from the age of the agency (It was founded in 1947, not 1850), to the notion that Ogilvy was handling the PR for the border guards. They’re not. Ogilvy’s assignment is to do ads recruiting more people to the border patrol's ranks. For some reason — I can’t imagine what it might be — Trump’s government seems to be having a problem doing this.

Nevertheless, the report kicked up such a hullaballoo that on July 9th, Ogilvy’s CEO, John Seifert, decided to calm the roiling waters by holding a company meeting in New York, with people in remote offices plugged into the conversation.

Early on in the meeting, Seifert pleaded for “confidentiality” and asked that no one record the conference. So of course, somebody made sure to do just that , and then turned the recording over to Buzzfeed, which printed a transcript of it. If you have some time to read it all, it’s worth a perusal. But for me, two points stand out.

First, well into the lengthy meeting, Seifert in effect said that if you don’t like the way things are, leave.
Seifert: Let me give you a separate view. If your line is no company, whether it's product defect, whether it's breakdown of operational safety, whether it's a formulation that didn't serve a particular constituency, if your line is we should not work for clients at that risk level, then you shouldn't be here. Because the fact is we cannot hold that line of expectation and assume that we'll work for anybody.
Which isn’t all that different, when you think about it, from Donald Trump telling the Congressional squad of women of color to leave and fix the countries “they came from” if they don't like it here. Never mind that three of the four come from the United States.

Second, there was a vague echo from a line in the old movie Judgment at Nuremberg, about the post WWII Nazi war crimes trials. An old German woman tells an American judge, played by Spencer Tracy  “I won’t say that Hitler was all bad. He built the autobahns.”

Here’s Seifert:
Seifert: What I'm saying is that as an employee of the company, you can look at this all on a spectrum. Right now, we as a company have made the choice to work with a variety of government agencies, that we believe, in the main, they have the intention, a mission, a commitment to do the right thing. You have one aspect of this particular agency that is absolutely overwhelmed and failing to deliver on what most of us would agree, they should be, a standard they should be trying to live up to.
See, they’re not all bad. I mean, sure, they have this little thing about busting up families and turning little kids into virtual orphans, and imprisoning people in crowded, filthy spaces, and chattering about it approvingly on social media. But I won't say they're all bad. They have a commitment to do the right thing.

Listen, without going into details, I’ve met Seifert. He comes across as a nice guy. In most respects not pertaining to this matter, he is a nice guy. And given that his own survival and that of many of his employees, in part depends on his turning over to his parent conglomerate, WPP, the income that Ogilvy makes from the border cops, he’s got a real problem. Whether inadvertently or not, he got his dick stuck in a wringer. And now he can’t seem to get it out.

David Ogilvy's not-so-secret
secret confession

 David Ogilvy must be turning in his grave. Late in his life, in 1994, he gave an "off the-record talk" to his company's board of directors at Touffou, the medieval castle in France that he bought with some of the proceeds from taking his company public. Like just about every secret off-the-record talk, the record has leaked out. I happen to have a copy of it. 

Ogilvy was nearing the end of his life, almost certainly knew it, and felt the need to do some confessing. Here's one of his confessions: 

"I made a terrible mistake in going public." (Underlining his own.)

It was from that mistake that all other tragedies at the ad agency sprung — from the hostile takeover of his company by WPP, to the necessity of bedding down with clients controlled by the Trumpistas.

Were he still living, Ogilvy might abandon his First Class Business motto for another:

Lie down with dogs, wake up with fleas.

But I won’t leave you
on that grim note.
So instead, Donald Trump.

No doubt many people who’ve listened to and watched Donald Trump have wondered how they, too, could become very stable geniuses.

Like everything else Donald Trump does, it’s easy. Take real estate transactions, for example.

As the shopworn maxim about real estate goes, they’re not making any more of it. So most of the time, if you buy a piece of real estate, and just hold on to it, you’re almost certain to make money when you sell. Ask nearly any American who’s bought and some years later sold a house or a condo.

What's more, if the real estate in question is an iconic landmark that also happens to be a hotel where people will pay top dollar to stay, who knows how many millions of dollars you could make?

Thursday, July 18, 2019

The Great New York City Blackout of 2019. Was there more to it that didn’t meet the eye?

Con Edison already sticks its cost of doing business to its customers. 
What else have they stuck to you?
This is about bills, and corporate greed, and the July 13th blackout that demonstrated just how dependent New Yorkers are on a company that, like nearly all corporate enterprises these days, puts profits first. And it may be about possible ulterior motives. But let’s start with the bills.

My June bill from New York City’s utility company, Con Edison, charged me $8.94 for the electricity I had used.  

No, that wasn’t the amount of  my monthly bill. That was just for the electricity I actually consumed. The bill itself came to $41.48 because it included charges I would have had to pay even if I hadn’t consumed a single watt of power.

Amont the items Con Edison tacked on to my bill, there was a “merchant function charge.” 


According to the bill that’s a “Charge associated with procuring electricity, credit and collection related activities and uncollectible accounts.” In other words, unlike your neighborhood cheese merchant, if Con Ed gets stiffed, they simply stick the loss caused by the deadbeat to their other customers.

It's all very weird —
and vaguely crooked

Suppose your next door neighbor stiffs the plumber. Can the plumber demand the unpaid $300 from you?

My bill also included a $12.33 charges for “maintaining the system through which Con Edison delivers electricity to you.” Right, and why shouldn’t the beer company charge me not only for the case of beer, but also for the broken axel it had to repair on the beer truck after hitting that pothole on Main Street, which is part of the system through which they bring me my beer? Not to mention the price of washing the truck.

There was also a “Basic service charge.” That, says the utility, was for “basic system infrastructure and customer-related services, including customer accounting and metering services."

Sure I’ll tell you what you owe me.
But there’s a charge for that.

So they charge me to read the meter so they can tell me how much money they want from me! I’m not sure what a “customer accounting” service is because they also charge me for depositing the check I send them every month.  Specifically, “A billing and payment charge of $1.20 which may be avoided by switching to an energy services company (ESCO), is also included.” 

How nice of them not to charge me for paying bills I’ve incurred with another company!

The list goes on with several other items. Not least infuriating is the charge for taxes that Con Ed gets charged on their gross receipts. So — if you can follow this — if they charge their customers more, they'll also charge us for charging  more, since their gross receipts will increase.

Now I know that similar charges are hidden in everything from the price of my corn flakes to what the doctor charges me for thumping my chest, before he goes off to pay his malpractice insurance. But at least just about every other business in the world has the decency to charge proportionately to what I consume. Keeping beer trucks up to snuff may be included in the cost of my beer, but if I drink less beer, I pay less for maintaining the trucks. If I visit the doctor only once, I pay less of his malpractice insurance. than if I visit him twice Not so with Con Ed.

Guess what, blackout victims:
You're screwed again.

During the blackout, the thousands and thousands of Con Ed customers who sweltered without air conditioning, stumbled around in the dangerous dark, and found the milk in their unrefrigerated refrigerators going bad, consumed less electricity. 

So yes, they’ll be charged for a piffling few less kilowatt hours. But remember, that’s often a very small part of their bills. They’ll still pay Con Ed’s charge for other people being deadbeats in full. As well as the billing and accounting charges. As well as all the other outrageous charges that most companies consider to be the cost of doing business.

The infrastructure charge is particularly galling, since it was the inadequate or badly maintained infrastructure that caused the blackout in the first place. Imagine if I didn’t deliver the case of beer you ordered because my truck broke down, and then billed you the price of a new truck.

Meanwhile, Con Edison is seeking a rate increase that would put an additional $1.6 billion a year into its own coffers. According to AARP, which is attempting to marshal opposition to the increase, “Next year alone, that would mean a 9% increase in the average customer electric delivery bill, and a 15% increase for gas delivery.”

Was the blackout an accident?

All this makes me wonder if that blackout on July 13th was nothing more than a little accidental-on-purpose demonstration of what’s going to happen to you if Con Edison doesn’t get the $1.6 billion it’s demanding.

The AARP recommends that New Yorkers protest Con Ed reaching deeper into your pockets by calling 1-844-354-6881 toll free. That’ll give you an opportunity to leave a message for the Public Service Commission.The AARP proposes you follow this script:
“Hello, my name is [name]. I’m calling to urge you to reject Con Edison electric and gas utility hikes, cases 19-E-0065 and 19-G-0066. Con Edison’s plan would send rates sky high, as well as increase my already excessive customer service charge. Please give ratepayers a break.”

Come to think of it, pick up the phone and do that right now. It’ll only take you a few minutes. It might save you hundreds of dollars over the long run, if the Public Service Commission actually listens. And better you get get a break than those greedy goons at Con Ed, right?

Saturday, July 06, 2019

This blog is away on a short vacation. See you mid-to-late July.

A bicycle parking lot in downtown Amsterdam roughly this time last year. But
I'm not going there this year. It's simply that I thought this would be a good
opportunity to wonder aloud how the hell you find your bike again after you
park it there. Or how you dislodge it. (Photo by The New York Crank.)
I'm outta here for a few days. I'm heading for a place where the grass is green, the air is fresh, the sky is visible from the ground, and I misspent part of my youth.

More about that place — maybe — when I get back. Look for another post here about the 16th or the 17th of the month. 

Meanwhile, I won't be moderating any comments during my vacation. Which means that if you try to post your thoughts here, they'll remain in unposted limbo until I get home and unpack.

Hey, it's not the end of the world. If the urge to comment on something is really buzzing furiously in your bonnet, you'll find a list of other fine blogs on the right side of your screen. Most of them permit posting. 

Actually, there are very fine blogs on both sides. Not of the page. I'm talking about the political spectrum. And if it seems to you that I'm babbling, that's why I need a vacation.

'Bye for a little while.

Thursday, July 04, 2019

Justice in America, July 4th edition

A woman who was seen (and photographed) removing the tops of ice cream containers in a Texas Walmart and then licking the ice cream and replacing the tops faces up to 20 years in prison for her crime.

Police were working overtime through the July 4th holiday to track her down.

Elsewhere in Texas, Border Patrol agents had scores of women locked in an overcrowded cell with no sink. The women were forced to drink from the toilet bowl. While this went on, the officers sat back and laughed

Those women who managed to sleep were also awakened at odd hours for no particular reason. And they were called whores by the officers, who now face praise from the Trump Administration and a generous pension after putting in their 20 years of giggles.

Is this a great country, or what?

The founding fathers must be rolling over in their graves.