Showtime. What’s happening in entertainment? On the front page of the LAT California section last week was the headline: “The Greatest Show in Politics.” Steve Lopez summarizes the parade of presidential wannabes this way: A Jewish socialist the age of Moses has locked up the youth vote. The only remaining female candidate has trouble getting support from women. An African American doctor believes that the pyramids were actually grain elevators. The whitest male candidate speaks better Spanish than the two Latino candidates (one of whom cooks bacon on the barrel of an AR-15). Low income evangelicals in rural Iowa are in love with a billionaire Manhattan playboy in the casino business. No wonder there is a media feeding frenzy. Our own meeting on March 8 will attempt to provide some clarification when we compare the views of the only two sane candidates.
Orange County and maybe the country are tilting to the Left. Martin Wisckol, our PSOC speaker last month, had a new piece in the Orange County Register reporting that in Irvine (like most other large cities in Orange County), Democrats now outnumber Republicans. Orange County Democratic chairman Henry Vandermeir speculates that this might have more to do with the poor performance of the current crop of Republican candidates rather than with anything the Democrats have done. This is a reflection on what is happening to politics nationwide: winning elections is no longer about getting opponents to switch sides or even about appealing to independents. It is about how many in your own base you can turn out. If the debates are any indicator, there may be a lot of Republicans that sit out this election.
Is the entire country tilting to the Left? Mitt Romney’s former chief campaign strategist argues that this is going on right now.
Orange County Register on the auction block. Speaking of the OCR, bids are now being received to get the OCR out of bankruptcy. The most likely bidder is Tribune Publishing which owns the LATimes and San Diego U-T. That could be interesting if they consolidate the major newspapers in Southern California, especially if they took the radical step of changing the right wing libertarian slant of the OCR.
Greed of the month. Morgan Stanley ($800 billion in assets and $38 billion annual revenue) recently agreed to pay a settlement of $3.2 billion for its illegal activities. So what else is new? In recent history, Morgan Stanley has been fined every year since 2003 (except 2013) for illegal activity. But the current settlement is small compared to the settlement reached with Bank of America ($16.6 billion). Now we await the settlement with Goldman Sachs which should be about $ 20 billion. Just business as usual, part of the cost of doing business and no one goes to jail. Meanwhile, airlines enjoyed windfall bonanza profits last year but what did passengers get? Four airlines raised their prices three times in the past year but two of them brought back free snacks! Hence the NYT headline: Record Profits for Airlines and Passengers Get Peanuts. But now and then there is justice in the world. The Warner Music Group has been extracting money for years with the claim that they own rights to “Happy Birthday to You,” a tune written by a Kentucky kindergarten teacher in 1893. District Court Judge George King overruled. He ordered Warner to pay back $14 million. So now you can feel free to sing Happy Birthday without fear of being sued.
Finally, a few days ago a shareholder advocacy group issued a report called “The Top 100 Most Overpaid CEOs.” Let’s see, Discovery Communications pays David Zaslav $156 million, Oracle pays Safra Catz $75 million, CBS pays Leslie Moonves $57 million, Chipotle Mexican Grill pays Steve Elis $57 million. Check out the other 96.
How to dodge taxes. In recent years, three dozen American companies have used tax loopholes to change their nationalities, a process known as “inverting.” They merged with a small company abroad and slashed hundreds of millions of dollars off their U.S. tax bill. But they remain American with their headquarters in the U.S. and their executives remain in the U.S. The recent examples are Pfizer and Johnson Controls, a big auto parts supplier. The American taxpayers paid $80 billion in the auto industry bailout and Johnson Controls got $149 million in tax breaks from Michigan alone. Now it will pass itself off as Irish and cut its U.S. taxes by $150 million. Republicans in Congress know about this and are blocking corporate tax reform to close such loopholes.
Another big tax dodger is none other than Karl Rove. He bamboozled the IRS to classify his dark-money machine Crossroads GPS as a “tax exempt social welfare organization.” That means he can continue to keep secret the names of his rich campaign donors.
Your replaceable brain. Computer scientists at the Univ. of Washington have developed software which can pass an SAT test as well as 11th graders. Robots can perform brain surgery on a fruit fly better than graduate students. Computer voices can now be programmed for personality. There is even speculation that computer robots might replace lawyers.
Colleges and Universities in the News. The University of Texas Austin recently adopted policies that favor animals over people. President Gregory Fenves announced that students can now carry concealed handguns in dormitories, dining halls, and lounges but they may not carry them in laboratories housing animals. Florida State University was thoroughly disgraced back in 2012 when its star quarterback Jameis Winston was charged with raping a coed. The university covered up the incident, refused to investigate it thoroughly, and waited two years before even approaching the victim. It gets worse. Now, four years later, the university agreed to a settlement with the student and even grudgingly agreed to take steps to prevent sexual abuse on campus. But university president John Thrasher (former chairman of the Florida Republican Party) refused to apologize, lashed out at her lawyers, and claimed that the real victim was the university, not the student who was raped. Jameis Winston also has a record of shoplifting, violating campus gun laws, and publically yelling vulgar remarks about the rape victim. He was never prosecuted for the rape and now plays for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
On the progressive side, Amherst College, founded in 1821 in the town of Amherst, Massachusetts, announced that they have banned all references to the traditional campus mascot, the “Lord Jeffs.” Turns out the colonial era military commander Lord Jeffrey Amherst is better known as a champion of white oppression. In 1763 he wrote, “You will do well to try to inoculate the Indians by means of blankets, as well as to try every other method that can serve to extirpate this execrable race.” It took almost 200 years but they finally got it right (welcome news to me because I used to teach at Amherst College). Now if we could only get rid of the holiday named after that rascal Christopher Columbus who chopped off the hands of Indians 600 years ago if they didn’t give him enough silver.
How do you feel about being part Neanderthal? If you are of Asian or European descent, 2% of your genome is Neanderthal.
The 199 people and places insulted by Donald Trump. Speaking of Neanderthals, who did Trump call “dumb as a rock,” “a crude dope,” “low-level degenerate,” or “a total embarrassment to himself and his family?” See if you made the list!
Change coming to China. We know that the Chinese are becoming big fans of French wine, but the latest big fad in China is ice hockey. Unfortunately they don’t know anything about it so they are sending droves of students to top U.S. prep schools like Phillips Andover and Exeter to learn the sport. Meanwhile, China is becoming so westernized that the thriving business of Rent-A-Foreigner is slowing down. Foreigners used to charge about $200/hour to be dressed up and put in a commercial or sit at a conference.
The Minister of Happiness. The UAE recently came up with the novel idea of forming a Ministry of Happiness with the mission of creating social good and satisfaction. There will also be a Minister of Tolerance. The UAE now ranks 20th on the World Happiness scale above Britain but below Belgium. USA #1 is not number 1: that title goes to Switzerland. The USA ranks 15th on the Happiness Scale. One more thing the Republicans can use to blame Obama.