Monday, October 20, 2014

Week of 10/20/2014

McDonalds: If You Need To Make It Harder, Then Why Bother?
So, as of this column, McDonald’s is in the middle of their annual Monopoly contest.
This is a contest that has been going on since 1987, and I remember when it first started.
Oh, I remember those days quite well!  Every opportunity I got when I was in college, we went to McDonald’s just to get game pieces.  We never really won anything serious.  We always got a handful of those common spaces, but never a complete set of them.  Every so often we’d win a free small fries or a burger.  But we’d still try, and we’d still come back to get more game pieces.  And then, when the contest was over, we’d eat a little better someplace else.
Of course there was a lot about going to McDonald’s back then that really doesn’t exist today.  The food portions used to be larger, the hot apple pies used to be hotter, and the contests used to last longer than just a month.
Yes, this year’s “Mickey-Dee’s” Monopoly contest is a little over a month long.  Get the pieces while you can because it will be over before you know it!
And while you’re at it, make sure you get the right food stuff to get the game pieces.  Once upon a time pretty much anything you ordered at McDonald’s would have game pieces on them.  Now they don’t.  Now you have to find out which items have game pieces on them, and some of them have double the pieces.  So if you want to get the maximum number of game pieces, you have to order a specific combination of sandwiches, sides, and drinks.  You can’t just order the “meal” package either.  That would make it too easy.
You would think that the individual restaurants would have the menu items listed that would have game pieces on them so you would know in advance what to get, but, no, they don’t.  You have to ask the cashier which ones have game pieces, and sometimes even they don’t know and have to check with their manager.  That really screws up their turnover time.  And that’s for walk-in customers; imagine having to do that in the drive thru!
All of which makes me wonder… why even bother having a contest at all?
Let’s get brutally honest here… if you’re having to intentionally make a contest complex and complicated for people to take part in, then you really have no business having one at all.
I understand why McDonald’s would want to limit the game pieces to only a certain number of menu items.  They want people to buy those items more than they currently do.  Why else order a Fillet-O-Fish sandwich, large fries, and medium drink?  But it would only work if people knew in advance before they place their orders.  And – news flash – not everyone has a web-capable cellphone; so you can’t simply tell them to check with the website while they’re waiting!
So if you’re not going to give all the menu items at least one game piece, you should at least make it very clear to customers which menu items have game pieces.  And I don’t mean “very clear” if they ask.  They should not have to ask.  You want them to take part in the contest, right?  Then you, McDonald’s, you have to actually take the steps needed to help them take part, such as putting signs up in the restaurants and the drive-thru that point out which menu items have game pieces.  You need them, McDonald’s execs, not the other way around.
And it would also help if you once again made the contest last longer than just one month.  This is supposed to be the corporate chain’s biggest and best time of the year.  You wouldn’t have kept it going this long even after the whole fraud scandal if it wasn’t profitable.  So don’t treat it like this is a burden, and certainly don’t let your franchise restaurants treat it as such either.
The whole reason why a big corporate restaurant chain like McDonald’s would have a contest in the first place is to get people into their restaurants and buying their meals.  That reason gets forgotten when the contest gets complex and complicated.  I understand that big corporate mentalities tend to lose track of little pesky things like that, but they’re the ones that ultimately lose out when those little pesky things cause their customers to not bother with the contest.  Because if big corporate McD’s fails, there’s always Burger King or Hardees or Chick-Fil-A or any number of other places ready and willing to pick up the slack.  And they don’t need a contest to win over those customers.  They just need to deliver what the customers want.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Week of 10/13/2014

Checkbook Justice: Eric Holder’s True Legacy
You probably missed the big announcement amidst all the fear-mongering concerning ISIL and Ebola…
Attorney General Eric Holder is on the way out the door!
Yes, the first African-American top prosecutor announced his resignation this past September.  He’ll stay on until his replacement can be selected, which will probably be soon seeing how the Democrats are panicking before the November elections.  I’m sure his boss doesn’t want to have that “ideal” successor be shot down by the black-shirt GOP.
Oops!  I’m sorry, I meant Holder’s other boss.  His “official” boss, otherwise known as the President of the United States, probably doesn’t give a care right now because he’s only got two years left in his tenure.  Yeah, it would be nice for Barack Obama if he didn’t have to worry about the Senate screwing over his choices, but I get the feeling that he’s not really caring too much at this point about it.
But I’ll get back to that “other boss” thing in a minute.
I’m supposed to be “overjoyed” by the news of Holder’s departure.  After all, I’ve been calling for his resignation since March of last year!  I’ve repeatedly mentioned that Holder needs to go.  That he’s the albatross around Obama’s neck.  So now he’s actually leaving, and I’m supposed to be “happy” about it.
But I’m not happy about it.  Not in the least.
Because Eric Holder is leaving on his own terms.  He’s not being forced to resign.  He’s not leaving under a cloud of scandal and shame.  And because of that, the Washington script has already been cobbled together to paint him as being this great “civil rights” saint.  A modern-day Thurgood Marshall, minus the judicial robes.  But the script-writers also see that as being next on Holder’s schedule.
Yes, the cons and neo-cons are even getting ready to start screaming bloody murder and to throw their usual “Screaming Brat in Wal-Mart” hysterics over the possibility that Saint Holder could become the next Supreme Court Justice.  Even though they already held him in Contempt of Congress… which in and of itself is hypocrisy at its worst because Congress has shown contempt for the rest of the nation for quite some time now… they never really did anything more than that about him.  Nobody there called for him to resign like this commentator has been doing.  Nobody there called for an independent prosecutor to go after Holder for the various things they accused him of doing.  It’s all been staged and orchestrated.  It’s like Gene Wilder’s title character in “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” when he says in a deadpan voice “Help, police, murder”.
So if the script follows through to that conclusion and Holder is being groomed to become a future Supreme Court Justice, the GOP in Congress really have nobody but themselves to blame for it.  And they damn well know it!
There’s a lot that should have been done about Holder.  He’s far from being the “civil rights champion” that the goddamned script paints him to be.  Sure he refused to defend “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”, but that didn’t stop the freedom-hating bible-thumpers from continuing on their own to defend their especially-crafted policy.  Sure he didn’t go after some of the states that are in the process of legalizing marijuana, but that didn’t mean he ended some of the other raids in states like California that allowed medicinal use.  And it doesn’t stop his successor from resuming those raids.
Let’s not forget Holder’s continued expansion of the police-state in the name of “national security”.  Edward Snowden did America a monumental favor by opening up this can of unconstitutional worms, and what did we do to thank him?  Fox News brands him a traitor and Holder chases Snowden all the way into the loving arms of Russia.  Here we have a whole District of Columbia full of career politicians who took an oath – proudly sworn on their own bibles – to “protect and defend the Constitution of the United States”, which they hold up on their own political pulpits as being almost as sacred as the Ten Commandments, and yet they desecrate that very document while Holder violates the Fourth Amendment right in front of them and they have done nothing to stop it.
Oh, yes, we tortured people.  Holder admitted to it, and then refused to hold the criminals to account for it.  “Sovereign Immunity”, of course!  He jailed reporters by invoking a 100-year-old law and earned the ire of the very liberal bastions that previously supported Holder’s boss.
And yet the script still canonizes him as he prepares to leave the Department of (In)-Justice.
But the worst and most destructive part of Eric Holder’s true legacy is his allegiance to his “other” boss.  The very boss that he worked for before he became the top prosecutor.
I’m talking, of course, about “Too Big To Fail”.
Yes, Eric Holder used to defend “Too Big To Fail” before he became the top prosecutor, and he never really stopped defending them afterward.  Not one banking executive was ever held to account for their criminal activities.  Not one.
We took down Charles Keating and exposed the corruption of the U.S. Senators in the 1980’s with the Savings and Loan failures.  We went after the executives of Enron and WorldCom and even jailed Martha Stewart in the 2000’s.  But, to this day, Eric Holder refuses to hold one single bank executive to task for their out-and-out criminal actions which led to the illegal theft of millions of homes during the Great Recession!
Instead of criminal charges, Holder let the banks get away with their criminal actions by simply paying a fine as part of a “civil action”.  Millions of Americans forced out of their homes.  Trillions – yes, trillions – of retirement monies vanish.  Taxpayers forced to subsidize “Too Big To Fail” with bailouts, which they then use to screw over Americans even more while giving themselves huge bonuses.  And Holder lets them get away with paying a modest fine and a mealy-mouthed promise of “doing better”.
Let’s get brutally honest here… this corrupt idea of checkbook justice is Eric Holder’s true legacy!  The idea that the rich, the one-percent of the world, can get away with out-and-out criminal activity by simply paying a pittance of a fine is the very definition of a kleptocratic government.
This is no different than if you were charged with a causing a serious accident that clogs up a major highway for hours and causes injuries and you tell the judge “Tell you what, I really don’t have time for jail, so, how about I just give you a few bucks that I was going to spend at Starbucks and promise that I’ll try not to do it again.  That work for y’all?”  And the judge and the prosecutor actually agreeing to it!
Because that is precisely what Eric Holder has allowed the banking executives – his “other” boss – to do! 
And he’s been allowed to get away with this checkbook justice because of the size of the “pocket change” involved.  $13 billion may seem a lot of money to you and I, but JPMorgan Chase – the ones paying that amount to get away with their criminal activities - budgeted $23 billion long before the deal was even struck.  And they got paid $30 billion from the taxpayers through the 2008 bailout.  You do the math.  Either way, it’s all just pocket change to them.
In addition to aiding and abetting the criminal activities behind the Great Recession, A.G. Holder has, through his actions, reversed his own department’s policies concerning going after corporations.  The very policies which justified going after the executives at Enron and WorldCom and for throwing Martha Stewart in prison are now meaningless because of Holder’s actions.  The next Bear Sterns or the next JPMorgan Chase or the next Bank of America know that all they have to do is flash some money and make some meaningless promises to “do better” and they can literally buy their way out of trouble.
This is your real legacy, Eric Holder.  You have demonstrated that the Department of Justice is for sale, albeit with a price tag that only the 1% can pay.  You should be very proud of yourself for that.
This is why I am not happy that Holder is leaving.  Because it is on his own terms.  He’s not leaving under a cloud of shame.  He’s not being hounded out in fear of his freedom for his actions.  He gets a cushy retirement plan thanks to the taxpayers while he decides what he wants to do next; knowing full well that he can literally write his next job.
Worse, because he is leaving on his own terms, he knows that the next group of people that fills his chair will make sure that none of his precedence-setting trends are reversed.  Because the one thing that you do not do in Washington is reverse the policies of your predecessor if they left in good standing.
William Black, the man that exposed the Keating Five and the abuses of the worst of the Savings and Loan failures in the 1980’s, recently told Bill Moyers that Washington has created the incentives for an even larger disaster in the future.  This commentator firmly believes that it is just a matter of time before this becomes reality.  And when it does, we can thank Eric Holder’s system of checkbook justice for making it happen.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Week of 10/06/2014

“Walk of Shame” and Other Quick Thoughts
Following my “Selected Thoughts” and the “Two-For-One Ignorance” articles, I thought it was time to go over a few other quick thoughts on certain subjects that have been on my mind and just haven’t had the time go really go over them until now.
And, of course, the reason behind that is simple… because I have nothing else on my mind that I really could do a normal rant on this week.  Shame on you, world!  You’re supposed to be giving me subject matter to rant and rave about!
Well, anyway… Let’s get brutally honest here…
“The Walk of Shame” – You know, when it comes to phrases such as the “Walk of Shame”, I really think people should fully comprehend what that is supposed to cover.  I recently saw an episode of “Royal Pains” where the lead character was coming back from an evening with his girlfriend and his brother joking referred to it as him “doing the Walk of Shame”.
And I was thinking… where’s the “shame”?
Listen, if you’re in a happy relationship with someone and you’re all consenting adults and it was a mutually-pleasurable evening with no regrets, then you really have nothing to be ashamed about!  There’s no shame in being in that kind of relationship and engaging in that kind of activity as long as you’re both consenting adults!
Now I could understand if you’re getting completely wasted at night and having no idea who you spent the evening with or what you did all that time.  If you feel you might have done something you might regret later on, then I can see where you might partake in that “Walk of Shame”.
But if you’re coming home from spending the night with someone you really care about and the two of you did something that you both liked doing, then there is no shame.  Period.
So let’s put an end to this whole “Walk of Shame” BS… at least when it involves things that have no shame to begin with.
Role Model BS – In a related note, there’s a certain song that has been on the airwaves from a certain pop superstar that I’ve really had a chance to listen to over and over and over again, and I have to seriously question the idea that this same pop superstar could be considered a “role model” for young women when she comes up with songs like this.
“This Is How We Do” by Katy Perry sounds cute and perky and simple enough for people to remember, but if you listen to the lyrics, she’s talking about some pretty reckless people.  The kind that actually validate the “Walk of Shame” phrase.  Going to bed with a 10 and waking up with a 2?  That qualifies.  Giving “Ruh-Spect” (her words, not mine) for people that use their rent money to buy champagne?  I’m guessing you haven’t recently had to panic over trying to pay the bills.  Not having to worry about how you’re going to pay the rent is either a deadbeat tale or one that is reserved for those “adult entertainment” websites.
I mean, seriously, who is her singing audience?
This is the same woman that recently did a song about giving someone sex that would be so special that he would think it was his birthday.  And another song that included some no-name rap artist ranting about how much of a psycho she was and how he could somehow “tame” her.
And I wouldn’t mind any of this at all… except that I then hear people talk about how she is a “role model” for young women.
A role model?  Excuse me?  Have you actually heard her songs?
Again, I have no qualms about her music or what she talks about.  I have a serious problem with the PR spin that says that a pop superstar has to also double as role models for young children.  If you want to run with that self-appointed PR title, then that means you have to pay more attention to what you churn out to them.  If you can’t do that, or you don’t want to do that anymore, then, fine.  Don’t make the claim. And get rid of your PR people if they continue to claim that you are a role model.
By the way, do you know who I have more respect for?  Meghan Trainor, for doing a video that actually goes against body-shaming and does so in a way that is perky and memorable.  But I will say that she says something that I will talk about in a bit concerning “those magazines”.
“I wouldn’t wish that…” – You know when you hear something horrific happening to someone and you say “I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy”?  Yes you would!  Stop lying to yourself about it!
Seriously.  You get caught on the highway behind some idiot demonstrating why they have no business driving a vehicle in the first place and they’re making your commute an absolute misery, and you’re going to wish the worst on that person as long as it happens after you’ve distanced yourself from them.  You spend two hours on hold with customer no-service only to be told you’re screwed and that customer no-service will live up to their no-service title, and you will wish the worst on them.  You hear about Too-Big-To-Fail banking criminals getting way with their criminal activities while sending you some notice about a change in your bank account that gives them more of your money, and you will wish the worst on them!
You will do that.  I don’t care how much you lie to yourself and get on your soapbox and pretend that you won’t.  You will.  It is instinctive.  It is automatic.  It is human nature.  So stop deny it and own up to it.  Accept it.
I’m not saying that you should dish out that horrific happening or ensure that it should happen.  I’m saying that you should stop lying to yourself and to other people that you wouldn’t wish it, even if it is only for a moment and you later feel embarrassed about it.  It is called being human.
It’s Not News… - I have a serious bone to pick with radio stations that claim to be “news radio” stations.  I happen to think that if you’re running a “news radio” station that listeners should be able to tune in at any time of the day or night and actually hear… news!
So if I’m tuning in at 9am and I hear some overpaid commentator talking about the news, and I tune in at 2pm and I hear another overpaid commentator making fun of the news, and I tune in at 5pm and I hear a baseball game, and I tune in on a weekend and I hear lawn and finance tips, then I really do not think that station should be allowed to call themselves a “news radio” station; because they’re not actually giving the listeners what they call themselves as!   They’re not airing the news!  They’re doing everything but that!
What a concept, huh?  Actually hearing news on a “news radio” station!
Soda Scam – You may have heard about how the big soda companies have all come to an “agreement” to cut calories, right?  The media script said that the company execs supposedly “saw the writing on the wall” and saw how sugar causes obesity and they’re supposedly being “responsible corporate citizens” now.
What a load of Congressional-grade BS!
Do you really know how they plan on “cutting calories”?  By shrinking the sizes!  So instead of getting 12-ounce cans of soda, you’re eventually going to get 10 or even 8-ounce cans.  And most likely at the same price that you’re paying for the 12-ounce cans now!  Smaller sizes means fewer calories.
Except that it won’t help you any.  Because smaller sizes only means that you’ll have to drink more soda, which means you’ll have to buy more soda, which actually means you consuming more calories, not less, and it means that the corporations get even more money.  It’s not about being “responsible corporate citizens”.  It’s about making more money for the company.
Seriously, the PR people in this country are despicable piles of Angus cow dung, seconded only by you the unwashed masses for not challenging their script!
I have one more for now…
You’re Never Going To Kill Photoshop – This one goes out to Ms. Trainor, whom I complemented on earlier for her music video challenging the body-shaming script.  I know that you’re trying to make a point about the cover models that young women compare themselves to and how a lot of it is creative editing… but you can forget about trying to end the whole practice.
And this also goes out to the other people who are quick to whine about “airbrushed” pictures and how a lot of the images are “Photoshopped”. 
Listen, you’re never going to kill Photoshop… either as an overpriced image editing software or as a reference to the practice of editing images to make something look more appealing.
As the owner and talent of Get Brutal Productions, I’ve designed comic book covers, business publications, and the covers of video boxes.  I’ve been on both sides of the camera, so I know how important image editing is, and I know that you’re never going to get rid of that.  Ever.
There are people who get paid quite well – I wish I was one of them – that get a bunch of images and they have to make them look as ideal as they can.  And if that means removing blemishes and pimples, or nudging the sides of a model’s abdomen, or even slightly changing their skin tone a bit to make the overall image ideally attractive, then so be it.  That’s why they get paid quite well. 
And they don’t answer to whiny social groups on Facebook or well-meaning pop stars.  They answer to editors and publishers, who cut their checks and give the final say-so about what looks ideal.  And it doesn’t matter if they’re paid to make a model look attractive for a magazine cover, or a bedroom suite inside the magazine, or a cheeseburger for a buy-one-get-one coupon that is inserted in the magazine.  It’s all the same to them.
And that’s the real message that women should comprehend when it comes to the models in the magazines.  It’s not about the women at all.  It is about the product.  The models are just props for the product.  There’s your real objectivation!
No, that “you-know-what” ain’t real, Ms. Trainor.  And that’s the point.  It’s no more real than a pop superstar that talks about wasting money partying being called a “role model” for young women, or pretending that shrinking the serving size of a soft drink is somehow “cutting calories”.  It’s all about selling “a product”. 
And, you know, I would wish that “horrible thing” on the people that try to sell us that script.  I’m not ashamed to admit it.