The Great Bagel Conspiracy

bagelI have uncovered a sinister, global conspiracy – one to corner the market for bagels!

It started a week ago when I noticed a new slogan on the wall of Bruegger’s Bagels:  “Life Is Short.  Stay Awake For It.”  Later that same day, I saw a large, Caribou Coffee panel van in the parking lot of my local supermarket.  On the front of it was the exact same slogan! [sinister music playing in the background]

A couple days later, I talked to a clerk at Bruegger’s.  She said that Bruegger’s was now owned by Caribou Coffee.  It got worse.  There is actually a holding company, JAB Holding Company, that owns or has a majority stake in Bruegger’s and Caribou and other bagel companies.  Here is a list of all the bagel companies under JAB’s umbrella.  I don’t know if the list is complete; there could well be more.

  • Bruegger’s Bagels
  • Einstein Brothers’ Bagels
  • Panera Bread
  • Manhattan Bagel
  • Noah’s  Bagels
  • Kettleman Bagels & Bakery
  • Chesapeake Bagel Bakery
  • I. & J. Bagel Inc

This is truly frightening.  The worst part is that Caribou will not allow Bruegger’s to use crunchy peanut butter.  (I swear this is true!)  Creamy only.  Sacrilege.  I’ve been forced to switch to honey-walnut cream cheese.  What would the world be like if there was only creamy peanut butter?  I shudder to think about it.

I think I’ll go take a nap.

Playing On Our Heart Strings


FedEx.pngTelevision advertising seems to be increasingly trying to sell by associating their products with good emotions.  Using positive emotions has probably always been integral to advertising, but lately, it seems to me that advertisers are saying nothing about the quality or price of their goods or services.  A good example is the recent Fedex campaign.  The gist of the campaign is that FedEx delivers comfort, or love, hope, encouragement, support and so on.  The campaign says nothing about FedEx delivering on time, at a competitive price, and without damage to the delivered item.

One could just as well say that FedEx delivers:

  • death and destruction in the form of a Unabomber package
  • disease via an anthrax-laced envelope
  • despair in a dunning-letter from a debt collector
  • depression caused by a Dear John letter

It is also probably true that both UPS and the good, old U.S.Post Office deliver just as much comfort, love, hope, encouragement, and support as FedEx.

Just Do It.pngThis trend in its modern manifestation may have started with the Nike slogan Just Do It.  The strong implication was that one could just do it better if one were wearing Nike shoes; and one could do it much, much better in an expensive pair of Air Jordans.

Automobile advertising uses the same approach.  If you buy a particular make and model of car, you can be just like Matthew McConaughey, sitting on a beach drinking whiskey and looking cool, or thinking profound thoughts on a road trip through a scenic desert.

Don’t get sucked in!

References To MLK – The Good and The Ugly

The Good

Lyrics from the MLK Song:

Well it really doesn’t matter most of the deeds I’ve done
It really doesn’t matter the prizes I may have won
I’d like for somebody to say I tried to love someone
When I have to meet my day

In the crawl for justice
I helped somebody run
In the walk for the hungry
I fed someone
And in the march for peace
Tell them I played the drum

Mavis Staples gives the lyrics much greater emotional impact.

Buddy Guy takes the lead on “Skin Deep“, a song in similar vein produced by Playing For Change.  He’s joined by more than 50 other musicians spread across the U.S. in this song that tells us that “Underneath We Are All the Same.”  The video starts with a quote from Martin Luther King.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness.

Only light can do that.

The Ugly

This is very, very ugly.  Dodge Ram Trucks using an inspirational, Martin Luther King speech to sell trucks in a Super Bowl commercial.  What’s next, using the Sermon on the Mount to sell mini-vans?

Listen to it here and try to ignore the commercial bits.  The speech is uplifting:  Dodge Ram Superbowl Commercial



Eighteen Percent

Frightful Five

Amazon just sent me, “a valued member of Amazon Prime”, an e-mail telling me they are raising the price for Prime from $10.99 to $12.99.  Two dollars a month doesn’t seem like much, but it’s an 18% increase.  How does Amazon justify an 18% increase when inflation has been negligible for years and Amazon has been raking in the profits?  Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, is now the richest person in the world.  Money Magazine estimates his net worth at a paltry $90.6 billion.

Amazon is one of the so-called Frightful Five along with Facebook, Apple, Google, and Microsoft.  Farhad Manjoo writes about

. . . the core of the Frightful Five’s indomitability. They have each built several enormous technologies that are central to just about everything we do with computers. In tech jargon, they own many of the world’s most valuable “platforms” — the basic building blocks on which every other business, even would-be competitors, depend.

These platforms are inescapable; you may opt out of one or two of them, but together, they form a gilded mesh blanketing the entire economy.

So why is [many expletives deleted] Amazon demanding from me, just an old schmuck on a fixed income, an extra two dollars a month?

Should I cancel or just roll over in a submissive posture and accept the increase?

Any reasonably coherent answers will be appreciated.

Turning a Bad Health Care Plan Into a Total Wreck

I stole the title of this post from Kevin Drum who posted today [not today; I forgot to publish this on the day of Drum’s post] about theEssential Health Benefits (EHB) that the Republican health plan (ill-health plan would be a more apt term) would have taken away.  Here is what he says about EHBs:

Essential Health Benefits. These are things which every health care plan is required to cover, and Obamacare spells out ten of them:

  1. Doctor visits
  2. Emergency room visits
  3. Hospital visits
  4. Prescription drugs
  5. Pediatric care
  6. Lab services
  7. Preventive care
  8. Maternity care
  9. Mental health care
  10. Rehabilitation services

The Republican health care bill is still having trouble getting enough votes to pass, so Paul Ryan is thinking about placating conservatives by repealing all of these EHBs. This means that a health insurer could literally sell you a policy that didn’t cover doctor visits, hospital visits, ER visits, your children’s health care, or prescription drugs—and still be perfectly legal.

What it means to me is that conservatives and Republicans do not want you to have any health care at all if you can’t afford it on your own.  You can just die or go into bankruptcy.  Who cares?  You got cancer because you’re a bad person.

Harry Truman

Check out Kevin’s blog.  He is posting a storm about the farce that the Republicans are trying to foist upon us all.  Hopefully, they will fail miserably [they did!!!], thus preserving the status quo that is far, far better than anything the Republicans have been able to come up with even though they’ve had at least eight years.  More like 70 years if you go back to Harry Truman’s attempt to implement health care that was, of course, foiled by the Republicans.


Too Big Too Fail, Jail, Or Bail

The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth GapMost of us have heard of the idea that there are large corporations (Wall Street banks, General Motors . . .) that are too big to fail because their failure would seriously disrupt the world’s economy.  Matt Taibbi in The Divide:  American Injustice In the Age Of the Wealth Gap writes that the executives of such firms are too big to jail.  From his introduction:

. . . at the end of a long evolutionary process, in which the rule of law has been replaced by giant idiosyncratic bureaucracies that are designed to criminalize failure, poverty, and weakness on the one hand, and to immunize strength, wealth, and success on the other.

We still have real jury trials, honest judges, and free elections, all the superficial characteristics of a functional, free democracy.  But underneath that surface is a florid and malevolent bureaucracy that mostly (not absolutely, but mostly) keeps the rich and the poor separate through thousands of tiny, scarcely visible inequities.

If you grew up well off, you probably don’t know how easy it is for poor people to end up in jail, often for the same dumb things you yourself did as a kid.

And if you’re broke and have limited experience in the world, you probably have no idea of the sheer scale of the awesome criminal capers that the powerful and politically connected  can get away with, right under the  noses of the rich-people police.

Massive frauds and swindles by Wall Street executives that “cry out for jail terms” if investigated at all end up with “no-jail financial settlements in which the money doesn’t come out of any individual’s pockets”.  On the other hand, in neighborhoods of the poor and disadvantaged “failure to follow a police order, no matter how stupid or unreasonable, is cause for arrest or a summon [does this remind you of the goings on in Ferguson, Missouri?],  prosecutors can turn any misdemeanor case against almost anyone into a de facto  conviction simply by filing charges and following through long enough with  pre-trail pressure to wrest pleas out of the accused.”  In these neighborhoods, police use methods that rely “upon thousands of arrests for trivial offenses, real and imagined.”

The Bankers' New Clothes: What's Wrong with Banking and What to Do about ItWhat about too big to bail?  Anat Admati and Martin Hellwig in The Bankers’ New Clothes:  What’s Wrong With Banking and What To Do About It write that

The traumatic Lehman experience has scared most governments into believing that large global banks must not be allowed to fail.  Should any of these large banks get into serious difficulties, however, we may discover that they are not only too big to fail but also too big too save.  There will be no good options.

So, what is to be done? The  wisest course might be to break up the large banks, but I don’t think – given current politics – that will happen.  Tougher regulation?  Also politically unlikely.  Are we stuck with the risky status quo?  Afraid so!


The Market’s Rigged Continued

A few days ago I wrote about The Market’s Rigged by Michael Lewis.  Lewis describes how high-speed traders have rigged the market in their favor. The Justice Department seems to agree.The St. Paul Pioneer Press today printed an article from the New York Times that stated that “federal regulators are scrutinizing Goldman Sachs’ high-frequency trading operations, the latest crackdown on what the government sees as potential market manipulation by some of Wall Street’s biggest banks.”  Justice is investigating Goldman Sachs’  “to determine whether it [high-frequency trading] violates insider trading laws.”  The following is also from the New York Times.

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