Friday, March 27, 2015

1464 Jaws

Jaws!  Not the movie, the loan sharks.  

You’re short a few bucks?  Bad credit? No credit?  No problem. Just amble down to the Moote Pointe Social Club and have a sit down with Bennie.

Before you know it, you’ll be rollin’ in dough.  And debt.  That thousand dollar loan will balloon faster than you can set tap water on fire in a fracking zone.

Oh. Wait.  Loan sharking is illegal. Maybe there’s a better way to get a few bucks to cover the light bill or pay your bookie. Sure.  Payday loans.  

These are short term low figure borrowings.  You see ads for them on TV all the time (if Rent-a-Matic hasn’t repossessed yours because you missed last week’s payment.)

A pretty sort of-Native American girl or a failed television star tells you in soothing terms you can get the money deposited in your checking account in 24 minutes or 24 hours.
You go for it.  The money is deposited.  And the fees pile up.  So what do you do?  You get a second loan to cover the first.  And a third to cover the second and before you know it you $300 debt turns into ten grand, Jaws is trying to take the money out of your checking account which is empty.  Your bank charges you for bounced checks and takes you to court and you lose again.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has proposed new regs preventing some of these practices.  Eventually, most of them will be approved.

That’s not going to help people already in the system.  But at least it will curb the practice.

Maybe your state has already banned the storefront loan parlors.  But it can’t ban TV or stop you from answering digital ads (If Rent-a-Matic hasn’t repossessed the 1989 Tandy 1000 running MSDOS they sold you last year.)

The new rules -- if they’re approved intact -- will require short term lenders to assess the ability for borrowers to repay.  That didn’t exactly work out when banks were bundling bad loans and selling the bundles as good.  But maybe the pay-dayers have learned something from the misfortunes of their supposedly legitimate brothers.

According to the proposed rules, the agency found that contrary to the lender statements:

--Most can’t pay back on time.
--Most borrowers use the money to cover ordinary expenses not emergencies.

The new rules would lower the interest level to a maximum of 28%.  A final bill equivalent to 400% is not now uncommon.

You have to feel sorry for the lenders.  After all, they’re just simple business people making a living… doing well by doing good.  Far better than Bennie down at the social club.

And no kneecaps are hurt as they pick the rest of the carcass dry.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com
© WJR 2015

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

1463 A Penney Postcard

The JC Penney store around the corner has closed.  And they’ve sent us a postcard.  A Penney Post card.  For those of you too young to remember, a post card from the USPS used to cost one cent.

For those of you too young to remember, James Cash Penney was one of America’s leading merchants.  The name means something.  

Until the store closed, his picture hung near the office.

Ninety five when he died.  And almost immediately, the store started sliding downhill.  Happens a lot when a big outfit turns on one personality.

If you think otherwise, take a look at Apple between Jobs-1 and Jobs-2 and again now.  Lost its polish, though not its value. Be patient.

Look at Microsoft post-Gates.

So, here comes the postcard.  “We’re sorry your store has closed.”  Our store?  Not quite. Were it, it would still be running.  It doesn’t take a genius to run a department store.  All it takes is someone who doesn’t set out to wreck it.

The recession hurt most every large retailer.  What did Penney’s do?  Went begging for cash to a private equity guy.  Almost always the kiss of death when the answer is “yes.”  

The private equity guy brought in a CEO who had absolutely zero understanding of general merchandise.  Oh, he had success in running the Apple stores.  But techno geeks don’t shop like middle income middle aged women and the occasional middle income middle aged man.

The new guy changed pricing. Instead of dollars and cents, everything price ended in “.00.”  You may think that makes sense.  After all, there’s no real difference between $14.99 and $15.00.  But there is. We’re all acculturated to prices that end in 99, 95, 89, 79, etc.

Then he tried to be “stylish.”  Penney customers are not, for the most part, runway models.  So there goes the core customer.  But the runway models that are shopping at Macy’s or Nordstrom didn’t rush in to fill the void.

Christmas week at Penney’s you could bowl in the aisles without endangering another customer.

Well, they got rid of the CEO; the private equity guy sold out and bailed out.  

The new CEO is someone who was a big wheel at The Home Depot.  Fine. Big chain. Big job.  But with a fashion sense centered around orange aprons, as one critic put it.

Now remember, we’re not talking about high style here.  But we’re not talking about no style, either.

So they’ve closed or will close about 40 stores leaving them with about 1,000 remaining.  And that will end about 2,500 jobs.  

What happens to a company stock when they announce mass firings?  Why, it rises of course.  And that’s what happened.

The question that remains: can they make a buck and serve a need in their present condition.

And another question: if the whole shebang vaporized tomorrow, would you miss it?  Probably not.

Shrapnel:

--Remember you heard it here first...  or maybe 31st. JCP will hobble along for awhile and then die. Sears/Kmart is next.

I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com

© WJR 2015

Monday, March 23, 2015

1462 Mississippi Hanging

Wait a minute. They found WHAT?  Yeah, a dead black man hanging from the branch of a tree in Mississippi.  Now. In 2015. A branch 12 feet off the ground.  No ladder in sight.  No stool. A suicide?  It’s possible to assume so, but improbable.

Otis Byrd, missing since March 2 from his home in postcard-like Port Gibson, near Vicksburg and right on the river.  Served 26 years in prison for killing a woman in a $100 robbery.  By all accounts, rehabilitated.  Working. Going to church.

And going to the casinos, of which there are three in Vicksburg, population 49,000.

In 1980, already on probation, Byrd robbed a grocery clerk of about $100.  Shot and killed her.  The money, says the sheriff, was to pay fees owed to his probation officer.

So, how did Byrd get up in that tree and kill himself if there was no sign of a ladder?  His hands were unbound. He was free of injuries would likely have received in a struggle against a lynching.

A guy in his 50s climbing 12 feet up a tree?  Not impossible. But it would give him plenty of time to re-think a planned suicide.

How about Klan activity in the area?  None that he knows of says sheriff Marvin Lucas, who is black and a past president of the local NAACP. Let’s not jump to conclusions, he says.  And Claiborne County doesn’t have much of a track record for racial violence.

State investigators are working on the case and so is the FBI, which says it won’t do much until the autopsy results are in.  

No bullet wounds.  No stab wounds.  If he overdosed on something, chances are he would not have gotten up a tree, at least not by himself.

Suspecting a lynching is not out of the question.  There have been 4,743 of them in this country between 1882 and 1968.  Of those, 3,446 of the victims were black.  Mississippi has the record: 581.

So while the sheriff and the staties and the FBI are all advising caution, the TV trucks are rolling in and soon will be followed by the people they always magnetize.

And those of us without law enforcement or CSI credentials are getting our conspiracy theory and coverup allegation tinfoil hats ready. Too bad so many Radio Shack stores are closing.  Anyone know where else can you find a proper antenna?

Shrapnel:

--Speaking of tinfoil hats, welcome to the games,  Sen. Cruz (R-Canada.) It’s nice to see yet another failure in the making from someone who can’t read the constitution’s “natural born” clause. It’s vague enough for you to give it a shot.


--Cruz knows he can’t win the presidency.  So we ask the same thing we asked about Jesse Jackson back in the day:  What does Ted really want?  The answer to both is to become a king maker.

--In this country, Ted, king makers habitually fall on their butts.  And the kings they made tend to succeed. And then they ignore the people who put them where they are.


I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com
Photo: CBS News
© WJR 2015

Friday, March 20, 2015

1461 Cable News Acne

Mostly, acne hits hormonal teens.  They usually find it embarrassing.  They use all kinds of creams and lotions to get rid of it.  Usually, it goes away eventually. But even when it doesn’t, it’s more annoyance than harm.

And that’s the present state of cable news, which has chronologically outgrown its adolescence, but still acts as if it’s dealing with an outbreak of pimples.

Ted Turner had a pretty good idea back in the day when he decided to put a reader on a TV set to tell us news 24 hours a day.  Things got better as cable news began to walk.  But just look at it now!

The so-called big three -- CNN/HLN, Fox and MSNBC have become parodies of themselves.

CNN has all these talk shows.  Originally, they had only one, the ditz Larry King. Okay, a break in the late night schedule. But now, half the day is taken up with shows ranging of an attempt to topple Today and more talk hours than anyone needs.  And little news when most people need it.

HLN, its sister network (why are they always “sisters,” and not brothers or cousins?) can’t make up its mind about what it is. Imitation “Today” in the morning, an endless program on what’s trending on Facebook and Twitter, interspersed with viewer-created content that belongs on either Funniest Home Videos or World’s Dumbest Pratfalls.

This is followed by Nancy Grace, the most obnoxious person on the planet and Dr. Drew who has an actual medical degree but does a program that’s kind of like Dr. Phil only less southern though no less pontifical.  And then come hours and hours of “Forensic Files” reruns.

Fox?  Aw, c’mon.  Right wing scream-fest from an alternative universe and altered state of reality.

But the worst of them is MSNBC, with the most ferocious acne breakout of them all.  It’s a left wing scream-fest with one -- count her, one -- worthy anchor, Rachel Maddow.

MSNBC knows it needs work.  It needs to get rid of pretty much everyone, but especially Sharpton, the second most obnoxious human being on the planet.  It needs to put on the fine reporters NBC still has despite all the Comcast Chaos.

Hey, all you cable guys here’s an idea:  Put on the news.  It was good enough for Turner and it’s good enough for you.

Shrapnel:

--Remember the good old days when Netanyahu said “let’s make two countries,” then the bad new days when in order to win re-election he said “a two state solution is not possible…?”  Well, now that he’s won the election, sort of, he’s gone back to his first position.  Since the Hebrew alphabet moves right to left, maybe Israeli baseball runs clockwise.

--On a Saturday morning in January, 2014 David Bird went for a walk in the woods near his home in Long Hills, New Jersey and never returned.  His body was found in a nearby river earlier this week and positively identified yesterday but authorities don’t yet know who or what killed him… or when.  Bird was 55 and a veteran reporter and energy expert for the Wall Street Journal.
I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com

© WJR 2015

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

1460 Legalized Payola

In the bad old days of radio, there was payola. A record promoter would offer cash and prizes to disc jockeys who would return the favor by pushing -- maybe over-playing -- whatever song the promoter was promoting.

This is illegal.  And there was a crackdown.  Major air personalities of the day were taken down.  And afterward, every broadcast disc jockey was required to sign a form swearing an oath they hadn’t taken gifts.

Seemed a little silly to those of us working at stations that played classical or what we then called “semi classical” records.  No one can imagine some sleazy character sidling up to us and saying “hey, bud, there’s an ounce of cocaine and a night with Lilly LaTour at the Hotel Elysee for you if you give extra airplay to “Love Makes the World Go Round” by the 101 Xylophones.

But like everyone else, we signed the oaths.

Then, the rules changed a bit.  Stations were allowed to take money for airing stuff if they said so on the air.  That rule still stands.

But now the mega owners of radio stations are pushing for another change.  They want the sponsorship announced not on the air but on line.  “Makes it easier for the listener” they say.  “Ends that pesky and disruptive disclaimer,” they say.

Can you imagine going to the website of, say, KLOD-FM in Roadkill, Wyoming and searching for something that says “Cattlecall Broadcasting was compensated for playing the song ‘Dancing with Sheep’ by M.C. Delirious on Rural Rap Records last week?”

Much easier than telling it to the listeners just before or just after playing it. Right?  All you have to do is click on the website and enter “payola” in the search block.  People would flock to the website. They’d catch up for all the ads they missed for things like covered wagon insurance, prostate cures, debt relief and fly by night peddlers of oil wells and gold mutual funds.

Much easier?  Yeah, right.

Shrapnel:  

--The White House is giving the Kremlin a run for its money in the censorship department. A new report says the Obama administration denied or delayed approval of Freedom of Information Act requests.  Second consecutive number for the folks who promised more transparent government.

--The most Americanized leader of a foreign government, Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu apparently will continue in office after his Likud Party sort of won this week’s election.  And it took a most Americanized campaign to do so.  Flip flopping, phony promises and a lousy economy bound to get lousier.


Clarification: a quote within a quote in Wessay #1459 was misattributed to Sarah Palin. She never said “I can see Russia from my house,” as Billy from Sligo was quoted as saying.  ABC News had asked her what it’s like living in Alaska so close to Russia.  What she said was “They’re our next door neighbors. And you can actually see Russia from land in Alaska.  From an Island in Alaska.”

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com

© WJR 2015

Monday, March 16, 2015

1459 Billy from Sligo

(NEW YORK) -- “It’s not a lie.  It’s just a little knot in the truth,” says Billy from Sligo. In his 30s.  A hint of Ireland in the way he uses the language but not even a hint of a brogue.

“It’s like that Palin girl from Alaska.  Says she can see Russia from her house.  Me, I stand in my mother’s yard, I really can see the North of Ireland.”

But Billy, you were born on 12th Street and your mother’s yard is right off Queens Boulevard.

“Okay, my grandmother’s yard.”

Have you ever actually stood in your grandmother’s yard?  Have you ever even BEEN to Sligo?

“I thought we were going to talk about the border.”

Yes, but you’ve changed the subject.

“No, it’s you who did the changing.”

Point taken.  But how can one ask someone about what living near the border is like when you’ve never even BEEN to the border?

“It’s merely a pesky detail.”

Okay, pesky detail, why do you call the next country over “the North of Ireland” when it has its own name, which is “Northern Ireland?”

“No such country.  It’s only the people who live there and in London that think there is.  It’s just the north of Ireland.”

Relax, Billy. Have a glass of orange juice.

“You’re beginning to get my Irish up.”

A stereotype and cliche that’s beneath you.

Billy is an investment adviser.  He helps people from the US with ties to Sligo and south thereof to find tax relief, sometimes here and occasionally offshore.  But never in … ahem… The North of Ireland.

There are no known  knots in the truth about his investments.  And in the 21st century, no one much cares about the knots in the truth about his middle name, “from,” or his last, “Sligo.”  

So what are you doing for St. Patrick’s Day tomorrow, Billy?

“The office is closed.”

The office is not closed.  Just Billy.  He’ll do what he always does, make his pilgrimage to Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Mulberry St., possibly the world’s only (former) cathedral which is closed on Sundays.  Oh, yes, there’s mass.  But visiting as Billy would say “not encouraged.”

Old St. Patrick’s has been around far longer than the North of Ireland was declared a separate country.  It was around when Mulberry St. was referred to as “uptown.”

Billy loves the history.  So that’s where he goes on St. Pat’s day.  

He was, of after all, born on 12th Street, not on the shores of the River Garavogue or Sligo Bay and his mom still lives in Woodside.

Shrapnel:

--This is going to start like a bad joke, but it isn’t. A squat and frowning bulldog wandered into the garage the other night and so fierce was his face that he was frightening, even though on the small side.  But that dog worked the room like a rockstar and now has a house full of new friends.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com
© WJR 2015

Friday, March 13, 2015

1458 Let's Hear it for Utah

It’s so rare that a state legislature does sensible things that it’s worth noting when it happens.  In Utah, it’s happened twice in a short time.

First, they reinstated the firing squad in death penalty cases. Second, they’re preparing a registry of white collar felons similar to those that every state has for sex offenders.

First things first -- the firing squad.  Before you start railing about the death penalty, get real.  We have it. And as long as we have it -- whether right or wrong -- the right minded among us are likely to want the most expeditious and effective means.

And that’s a bullet.  The gas chamber is slow. The electric chair is slow and painful. We really have no idea about the effects of lethal injections even though we say we do.  No one who’s gone through one is talking.

Plus the Europeans who are trying to control our domestic operations policy like congress is trying to control the President’s foreign policy are in no hurry to supply the US with the necessary drugs.

Hanging?  Guillotine? The rack? Stabbing? Antifreeze?

All of these are cruel and because we don’t use them, they would be unusual if we did.  

Plus what’s more American than ending an argument with a bullet?  It may be cruel. But it’s certainly not unusual.

So, fellas, fire when ready!

Now for the really juicy one, the white collar crime registry.

Lawmakers have gathered the latest batch of those who’ve done their time and put their pictures and vital stats on posters.  Before you know it, one of those “Find Anyone” internet services will put the data base on line.

Maybe other states will follow through.  The folks in Salt Lake City say their state is a hotbed of fraudsters and tricksters and that white collar crime is epidemic.

So is this preventive medicine or locking the barn when the horse is stolen?

It’s the former. Why, if people have paid their debt to society?  Two reasons: first, like sex offenders, they’re likely to be repeaters. Second, it makes people aware of the issue as well as the men (it’s usually men who do this.)

When someone comes to you with a too-good-to-be-true scheme, remembering the registry will help you pause and think before you turn over your life savings.

It’s not likely to excite people in the way “the sex offender next door” might.  But excitement is the enemy of reason and those posters will make you think.

While the names and faces won’t mean much to most of us, the idea should.  Utah may be the home base for many a scam, but it’s not the home base for ALL of them.

“The ponzi schemer next door!”  It has a nice ring to it.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gail.com
© WJR 2015