Monthly Archives: June 2016

Remember When Tax Evasion Wasn’t So Trendy?

The firm’s managing partner was not having a good spring. Every day there was another story about Mossack Fonseca and the Panama Papers, and generally making bad press for lawyers who earn their daily bread with offshore accounts. Just today there was a story about multibillionaire who was building a vacation home on the Moon but had not paid any tax since 1991.

An associate knocked at the half-open door and walked in.

“Sir, you wanted to see me?”

“Yes, yes,” said the partner. “Come in. Can you believe these stories? The way they write these things, you’d think that hiding assets to pay less tax was wrong. Don’t they know that tax evasion is what made this country great?”

“They should study their history, sir.”

“We need to come up with a response to this. This firm has been in this business two hundred years. Our first clients hired us to avoid taxes under the Stamp Act. We can’t very well just give up on our core business. But we can’t lead our clients into potential prison-situations, either. What we need is a creative solution, a way to hide assets that will not be noticed by the IRS or those nosey journalists.”

So began the great transition from hiding the clients’ assets in offshore accounts, to hiding the assets underneath beds.  The firm built a giant warehouse in the middle of nowhere, and filled it with beds, and stored the clients’ money under the beds.  The clients had no idea where the money was, thinking that names like “Queen Size with Headboard, LLC” were for holding companies.

To deflect any suspicion that might be raised by so many beds being shipped to a remote location, the firm established a bed ‘n’ breakfast on the grounds of the warehouse, and invited real, paying guests to sleep on the beds that, unbeknownst to the guests, hid the assets of the firm’s clients.

The guests however became very uncomfortable. They began to complain about the beds. “My bed felt like there was a large lump in it. I would like to be moved.” So the firm had to move these people to beds that did not have as much money hidden under them. This would be fine, unless the firm’s real client needed to stash assets in the middle of the night.

This happened more often than one would have believed. The firm would have to move the bed ‘n’ breakfast guest to another room while the additional funds were stored underneath the guest’s bed. The guest would usually be irate. “What do you mean you need the bed? I’m a paying guest! I was very cozy in there. I had the pillows set up just the way I like and now I have to leave so you can put someone else in there. Nice hotel you’ve got here – pulling a paying guest out of bed because you have someone more important who needs to sleep.”

Although the firm would give the guest its sincerest apologies and would even take a large percentage off the final bill, apologies and discounts go only so far in the hospitality business, and gradually the guest complaints for being moved in the middle of the night grew to such a large number that the government launched an investigation, believing that this was a case of discrimination against less-important guests.

It did not take long for the Internet outrage to arise. Hashtags like #SecondClassSleeper and #NoBedNBreakfast abounded and every day there were more and more calls from around the nation and the world for the President of the hotel to step down and for the hotel’s Board of Directors to adopt an “all guests are created equal” policy and be subjected to periodic audits and sensitivity training.

Of course there was no hotel president or board of directors because there was no hotel at all. It was just the law firm operating the hotel as a front for its asset hiding business on behalf of wealthy clients. The law firm’s management committee realized it had no choice but to admit that it wasn’t really a hotel. Perhaps they would all go to jail for tax fraud, but anything was better than sensitivity training.

When they did admit the truth, though, no one seemed as excited anymore. Once they realized this was just a boring tax evasion issue they tuned out. Even the government officials leading the investigation became bored and looked for someone else to bother.

But the law firm’s victory was short lived. Although the threat of government prosecution was past, the firm’s clients were disappointed in the business model. They had imagined their money in Swiss bank accounts and Cayman Island corporations that existed not even on paper, but on pieces of onion skin. Once they knew that their money was just sitting under beds with strange people sleeping atop them, they withdrew their money and spent it all on greeting cards. The experts were all predicting a bear market that year anyway.

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Remember When Greeting Cards Were Affordable?

“And when I’m elected President of the United States,” the candidate said to the adoring crowd, pounding the podium with every word, “I’m going to take on those greedy greeting card companies, and make them offer cards at a price that people can actually afford!”

The cheers were so loud that no one could hear the rest of the candidate’s speech. No one would have believed that the exorbitant price of greeting cards would become the biggest issue of 2016. But the candidate was the first to grasp the importance of affordable greeting cards to working families, and rode the resulting public response right into the White House.

In the weeks between the election and inauguration, the President’s transition team drafted legislation that certain member of Congress would be introducing on the first day of the new administration and new Congress. This particular representative owed his re-election to the President’s endorsement during the campaign season, which was made at great political risk to the President since the representative had been implicated in a “dollars-to-doughnuts” gambling ring.

With the legislation introduced, the first hundred days was marked by an intense effort to get enough votes in the House and in the Senate to guarantee the passage of the greeting card bill, which had been quickly nicknamed “Hall-Markdown.” Conservatives quickly formed a cabal against the bill and would not even allow the bill to be brought to a vote. Any time someone tried to call the bill to a vote, these obstructionists would sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” very loudly, so that no one could hear what was going on.

Finally one of the bill’s co-sponsors – a Congressman who as a child had been forced to make his own cards out of McDonald’s place mats because his parents worked for minimum wage and had to choose between food on the table and store-bought greeting cards – thought of hosting a combination pancake breakfast and gun show several miles away, and while the opposing representatives were stuffing their faces, the bill passed easily with only one “Nay” from a Congressman who did not eat gluten.

The bill was stymied in the Senate as well. One Senator who had accepted campaign contributions from several greeting card companies tried to filibuster the bill, but the President’s supporters broke the filibuster by telling the filibustering Senator that it was snowing outside, and then seizing the floor when the excited Senator ran to the window.

Even on the President’s desk the bill had trouble.  It passed the Senate just before 5 p.m. and was placed on the President’s desk late that night for signature, long after the President had retired to binge watch Season 3 of “Game of Thrones.”  The President met with foreign policy advisers early the next morning, and placed a thick confidential memo titled “More Middle East Stuff” on top of the greeting card bill and did not see the bill until just before it was set to expire along with all the President’s reward points.

At the eleventh hour the bill was signed into law where it was officially codified as the “Affordable Card Act” and ushered in new era of fairness and level playing fields.  No longer were people charged $5 or $6 or $7 for a birthday or Mother’s Day or Father’s Day card.  The Act created a new class of cards that cost only $0.99 apiece, the price proudly emblazoned on the back of each card next to a tiny picture of the President and the words, “You can thank me at the polls!”

I should know. I received one of these Hall-Mark-Down cards the other day.  And I don’t know quite how to say this, but the card just didn’t have the panache of the expensive ones.

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Filed under Commerce and Marketing, Government

Remember When Genes Could Not Be Driven?

Gene driving, or “Operation Mosquito” as it was originally known by insiders, is the changing or elimination of a species by changing its genes. When this technology was first announced, the scientist leading the project used the elimination of mosquitoes as an example of what gene driving could do. This scientist later issued a public apology for the insensitive remark, but mosquitoes said the apology did not go far enough and called for the scientist’s resignation.

I remember when the the New York Times first reported on gene drive technology and that people were worried about the “unintended consequences” of introducing a gene drive into plants or animals.  Unintended consequences?  It’s cute out overcautious we were in those days.  The problem was that the professional worry-warts were just thinking about how introducing gene drives into animals and plants would effect humans.  The moment they started focusing on introducing gene drives in humans directly, people saw the positives of the technology.

The first gene drive introduced into human beings eliminated the habit of sniffling all day instead of blowing the nose. This was revolutionary.  Remember being forced to sit on a bus or plane next to someone who sniffled constantly? That was far worse than mosquitoes.  If you were seated next to a mosquito on a plane, at worst you’d lose a drop of blood and have to share an armrest.

Then scientists genetically eliminated the use of certain annoying phrases like “fair enough” or “at the end of the day” or “it is what it is.”  Communication became much more precise, although there were a number of people who once robbed of their vacuous phrasing had nothing to say.

Politicians, columnists, and writers of science fiction were always broadcasting their deepest fears about using genetics to produce perfect humans. Why did they always focus on the negative? Who was talking about perfect humans? The key was to use gene drive technology to make people a little bit better, like eliminating the desire to talk on your cell phone in public, or to chat with the register clerk at the supermarket when there is a line of people behind you, or the habit of breathing in while taking a bite of hot pizza, so that it sounded like you were slurping the pizza.

And the gene driving of humans did not always need to be negative. The scientists also added positive traits, like making sure that all newborn humans would be genetically driven to respond to Facebook direct messages within 24 hours and call their mothers at least once a week.

The issue was not too much gene driving, but too little. There were so many changes that could be made – so much room for improvement – and still leave us far, far away from the race of unloving super humans that Hollywood had fraudulently led us to believe would result. Like eliminating the habit of dance party disc jockeys who played “Livin’ on a Prayer” and then at the refrain turning the music off so that instead of Bon Jovi singing we hear just the other drunken guests. Or making sure that everyone has the gene of taking the shopping cart back to the the little shopping cart island shelter instead of just leaving it there in the parking lot next to the space your car just occupied.  Did Hollywood ever make a movie about a race of super humans who return shopping carts?  No – they would not waste studio time on the truth.

Recently, though, someone has suggested that they introduce a gene drive that eliminates the motivation to publish on the internet one’s own half-baked opinions of the world.  That clearly is going too far. We must learn to respect our own limitations. There are certain powers that humans simply should not have.

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Remember When You Could Have a Private Email Server?

I am going to make a confession right now. When I was a cashier at 7-11 one summer years ago, I had a private email server. There, I said it. My actions were wrong and I am sorry.

When I commenced employment in that position, I had been provided with an email account on the store’s server installed right behind the Slurpee machine. But I hardly ever used that account. At work I had to stand up and sell people coffee, cigarettes, lottery tickets, and, of course, Slurpees. It was usually so busy that I had not any time to check email, and at the end of my shift at 10 p.m., I had to quickly bring that day’s leftover doughnuts to my friends who were starving and had money only for beer.

So it was a matter of circumstance that I hired a consultant to set up an email server at my home. Do not think that it was easy. I was still living with my parents and in the same bedroom I’d had since childhood, with the Disney character wallpaper, Superman sheets on the bed, and Thundercats light switch cover that I’d obtained as a favor in a Happy Meal. There was not a lot of space in the closet and I had to relocate my comic books and Boy Scout uniform at considerable inconvenience both to myself and my staff.

After a long day at the cash register I would return home to conduct my business. As you will see from the more than 40,000 emails that have been turned over to the State Department, I never discussed anything classified or that would compromise national security. The Saudis were interested only in some Power Bars, and the photos of potential drone strike targets were in fact from a particularly tense game of Battleship that to this day I swear I played with integrity.

Much has been made of Protocol 32, which mandates, in pertinent part, that all 7-11 business must be conducted on 7-11 servers. I do not deny the text of the rule, and since that time my staff and I have worked tirelessly to come up with a decent excuse. The reason I did not strictly follow the rule is that I did not read it. The package of materials that I received during orientation was shoved under my bed, and in the midst of all my duties and feeding my drunk friends free stale doughnuts I forgot about the rules, until my mother last year served me with a demand to take all my “junk” out of my old room or else I would face environmental clean up costs.

Nevertheless, my conducting of 7-11 business on a private email server was a violation of the rules, and for that I am sincerely sorry. But I assure you that at no point was the nation put at risk. I never told anyone how long the hot dogs are left on those rotating cylinders or who was really responsible for the irritating music that was always playing over the loud speaker. You can all sleep easy, and I hope that we can now all move past this, into a brighter future where my campaign for register clerk at Pita Pan will not be dogged by distractions that have nothing to do with the real issues.

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Meliboeus


Meliboeus
Tityre, tu patulae recubans sub tegmine fagi
silvestrem tenui musam meditaris avena:
nos patriae finis et dulcia linquimus arva;
nos patriam fugimus: tu, Tityre, lentus in umbra
formosam resonare doces Amaryllida silvas.

(Virgilius, Eclogae I)

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