An Urgent Call for Action to Save Net Neutrality

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On Wednesday, November 22, 2017, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai released his draft order to eliminate net neutrality. In short, this order will eradicate net neutrality rules and abandon the court-approved Title II legal framework serving the basis for the successful 2015 Open Internet Order. These regulations prevented internet service providers (ISPs) from blocking or slowing down access to websites or services as well as bans them from offering so-called fast lanes to companies willing to pay extra to reach consumers more quickly than competitors. The proposal’s most significant change is to strip the FCC’s authority to regulate broadband as a utility and shift that responsibility to the Federal Trade Commission, which can’t create the hard and fast rules ISPs must follow. But the FCC will simply require ISPs to be transparent about any blocking, throttling, or pay prioritization which they would evaluate based on whether or not the activity is anti-competitive. However, the proposal will also ban state and local governments from imposing their own net neutrality rules to replace federal regulations or lack thereof. A vote on this measure is scheduled on December 14 and it’s expected to be passed and implemented on a party line 3-2 vote. Ironically called, “The Restoring Internet Freedom Act,” is basically everything that ISPs could want. But it is a policy that will take away every safeguard we need to protect the open internet we’ve always had. Since it will give ISPs the power to kill off their competition, choke innovation, charge more for various content, suppress political dissent, and marginalize voices of racial justice advocates and others organizing for change. Essentially, Pai’s proposal is thin on substance and reasoning, cruel, willfully naïve, as well as not grounded in reality. Yet, should the FCC has its way, Pai’s plan will change how Americans experience the internet and for the worse.

Under the existing regulations the FCC passed in 2015, there are clear hardline rules forbidding telecom companies from unethical business practices. These rules are reinforced with strong but flexible safeguards that the 2015 order built in for other schemes ISPs might use now or invent in the near future to interfere with internet traffic. With the exception of scant transparency rules, Pai plans to “eliminate the conduct rules adopted in the Title II Order — including the general conduct rule and the prohibitions on paid prioritization, blocking and throttling.” This leaves internet users entirely without protections and relying on ISPs to behave and avoid exploiting their internet gatekeeper status. It’s clear in the “The Restoring Internet Freedom Act” that Pai and his fellow Republican colleagues at the FCC want to allow telecom companies to legally block and discriminate internet content. In other words, “restoring internet freedom” means restoring the ISPs’ own freedom to offer “curated services” rather than their broadband customers’ rights. Thus, Donald Trump’s FCC wants to let the most-hated and worst-rated companies in America block and edit online speech.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Pai wants to end net neutrality to enrich his buddies at Verizon where he worked as an attorney. But he’s often used flimsy arguments that even without oversight and prohibitions against blocking and discrimination by claiming, “transparency substantially reduces the possibility that ISPs will engage in harmful practices, and it incentivizes quick corrective measures by providers if problematic conduct is identified.” After all, he states that these large telecom companies have, “publicly committed not to block or throttle the content that consumers choose.” Except that public commitments don’t mean a damn thing to them. Besides we all know these telecom companies want to end net neutrality so they control whatever their customers say or do online. Discriminating against the content consumers to is the whole damn point. Telecom companies have the technology to scrutinize over every piece of information we send or receive online like websites, email, videos, internet phone calls, or data from games or social networks. They can program computers routing information to interfere with the data flow by slowing down or blocking traffic and communication they don’t like while speeding up traffic they do that pays them extra for the privilege. And as far as Tim Wu is concerned, “transparency” is basically a euphemism for “doing nothing.” But the FCC factsheet states that “Internet service providers didn’t block websites before the Obama Administration’s heavy-handed 2015 internet regulations and won’t after they are repealed.” However, before the 2015 order put firm rules on solid legal footing in place, ISPs blocked content, throttled websites, and used their power to rig the market in their favor. These cable and phone companies have taken every chance they could get around net neutrality laws and have already shown us exactly what they’ll do if we let them. Numerous incidents of abuse include:

  • AT&T pressuring Apple into blocking the Skype app on all iPhones, complaining that Skype was being unfair by “not operating on a level playing field,” or in other words, having a better product that AT&T couldn’t compete with. So they just blocked people from using it. And they weren’t the only ones to do so either since ISPs from around the world followed suit and most didn’t just stop at Skype either. In fact, they blocked every program you could use to make online phone calls altogether.
  • Madison River Communications blocking voice-over-internet protocol (VOIP) Vonage which filed a complaint to the FCC after hearing a slew of customer grievances. The FCC stepped in to sanction Madison River and prevent further blocking. But it lacks the authority to stop this kind of abuse today.
  • Comcast, Verizon, and Metro PCS slowing down Netflix. In 2011, Metro PCS sent out an ad boasting that anyone who signed up for their cheapest plan would receive “YouTube access.” Though it might seem good on paper, it actually meant that if you weren’t willing to pay for the expensive plan, the company will block every other video streaming site on the internet. Because they advertised users could “preview trial video content” but not actually watch it for $10 more. And if users paid $20 more, they could access 18 different video streaming websites. Verizon has also been caught slowing down Netflix users. Sure they didn’t make it impossible to watch a movie, but they made it slow enough so no one could waste bandwidth by watching a video in HD. Comcast has done it, too, which is particularly troubling since they own TV networks and have some clear reasons wanting to keep Netflix from succeeding. And they refused to slow down until Netflix paid money. So basically Comcast just blackmailed their competition by sabotaging them and refusing to stop until they paid them. And by the way, this was before net neutrality and thus perfectly legal.
  • Canadian ISP Telus blocking its customers from seeing their workers’ union website called “Voices for Change” which listed their complaints and demands during a 2005 strike. Oh, and they blocked 766 other websites hosted on the same server. In other words, Telus censored an entire section of the Internet because they didn’t like what people were saying. And since there was no net neutrality at the time, the Canadian company suffered zero consequences other than a media tongue lashing.
  • British ISP Plusnet telling charging their customers extra for playing online games. The company set up a tier of different data plans asking their customers to decide if they wanted to be able to surf the internet, stream videos, play video games, or do all 3. And if they weren’t willing to pay for the premium package, they’d be charged extra. And Plusnet didn’t just block video games in the cheaper plans either. They also blocked VPNs, forcing employees who remotely connect to their offices to pay more. And unless you were willing to pay for the most expensive plan, they slowed down peer-to-peer programs like Bit Torrent so badly they hardly worked at all.
  • AT&T censoring words from Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder when he sang “George Bush, leave this world alone” and “George Bush find yourself another home,” on account of preventing youth visiting the website from being exposed to “excessive profanity.” Though the song contained none. Of course, they later blamed it on an external website contractor hired to screen the performance.
  • Verizon cutting off the pro-choice group NARAL text-messaging program since they didn’t want to service programs from any group “that seeks to promote an agenda or distribute content that, in its discretion, may be seen as controversial or unsavory to any of our users.”
  • Comcast and Cox Communications blocking VPN. In 2001, these companies updated their terms of services declaring from now on that their customers had to agree not to use a VPN unless they were willing to pay for it. Since VPN lets you connect to another network, which for a lot of people means it’s a way to connect to their office from home, this resulted in a lot of people working from home being suddenly blocked off from how they made their livelihood. And when people called and complained, they didn’t receive much sympathy. Comcast basically said that anyone working from home was going to have to upgrade to their “@Home Pro Package” which started at $95 a month. Essentially, if you worked from home, you had 2 options: either start paying for the most expensive plan Comcast had or get a new job.
  • Verizon blocking Google Wallet. In 2011, Verizon developed its own digital wallet which was going to change the way people made purchases by letting people make purchases with a simple wave of their phone. And they were pretty sure they’d make a fortune, too. Except for two things. First, their product’s name was “Isis” which was about to become less marketable for reasons I need not discuss. Second, Google had already released an identical product called Google Wallet which basically doomed Verizon’s Isis from the start. So when Verizon realized they couldn’t beat Google fairly, they blocked Google Wallet on all Verizon phones, essentially making it impossible for their customers to pick their competition over them. Unsurprisingly, Verizon was accused of breaking net neutrality laws. But since they technically blocked Google’s hardware instead of its software, they got away with it. So there’s every reason to believe if Verizon could block an app that’s competing with one of their own, they’d take it.
  • Comcast deliberately blocking BitTorrent. In 2007, Comcast was caught blocking peer-to-peer programs like BitTorrent, eDonkey, and Gnutella through deep packet inspection to block file transfers from customers using these networks. As a result, any Comcast customer trying to share files from one computer to another would find that their internet connection inexplicably kept dropping. At first, Comcast denied it. However, national tests conducted by the Associated Press confirmed the company’s actions as unrelated to network congestion since blocking took place at times when there wasn’t any. Not to mention, enough people had spread proof online, Comcast couldn’t keep up the lie. Though the company wasn’t apologetic either since they claimed that blocking these peer-to-peer programs like BitTorrent was “necessary.” In their defense, Comcast blocked applications often used to trade videos like pirated content, despite that most of what they blocked on these networks was legitimate. And Comcast has strongly hinted that they’ll do it again. After all, they have promised to that they “will not block, throttle, or discriminate against lawful content” once net neutrality is repealed. But as far as they’re concerned, peer-to-peer programs like BitTorrent fall under “unlawful content.” So once net neutrality is out of the way, Comcast is shutting these programs down.
  • Verizon shutting down Wi-Fi hot spots. When the technology to turn your phone into a Wi-Fi hot spot came out, Verizon Wireless started offering it as an add-on. For an extra $20 a month, their customers could use their phone’s data plan through another device like computer. Only problem was that there wasn’t any reason to give Verizon that $20. There were already all kinds of apps available letting people turn their phones into Wi-Fi hot spots for free. So since Verizon couldn’t really compete with these apps, they just shut them down. And they put pressure on Google to remove every Wi-Fi hot spot app from the marketplace. Thus, in other words, Verizon literally shut down 11 smaller businesses because they couldn’t compete with them.
  • Windstream and Paxfire redirecting Google Searches. In 2005, Windstream Communications tried to get their own search engine on the market and compete against Google and Yahoo. However, their search engine was so awful that there was absolutely no reason anyone would really want to use it. So they set up a redirect. That way, any Windstream customer who typed something into Google would just be forcibly redirected to the Windstream search engine instead of getting Google results. And Windstream wasn’t the only company to do this. Paxfire started accepting bribes from companies to redirect Google searches. So for instance, if any Paxfire customer googled “apple,” they’d be just forcibly sent to apple.com. Didn’t matter if they were looking for information growing apples or apple pie recipes. Their users would be looking at iPhones and they couldn’t do anything about it.
  • AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and others running zero-rating schemes that advantage their own content. These are sponsored data programs to third party content providers to pay ISPs to exempt their data from customers’ data caps and at less favorable terms than they offer their affiliates.
  • Verizon admitting plans on censoring the internet. While most companies trying to end net neutrality try to hide what they’re up to, Verizon has directly and unambiguously said that they want to end net neutrality so they can censor free speech. In fact, a Verizon attorney told the FCC that they believe as broadband providers, they “transmit the speech of others” and deserve the right to what they call “editorial discretion.” Because the attorney claimed, “Just as a newspaper is entitled to decide which content to publish and where, broadband providers may feature some content over others.” In other words, Verizon doesn’t give a shit that everyone has a right to express themselves on the internet. In fact, they want to decide what goes online and what gets censored. Even when the FCC pushed them and asked if they planned on blocking websites, the Verizon attorney still didn’t deny that his company planned on censoring the internet, claiming, “But for these rules, we would be exploring those types of arrangements.” And that’s what will happen if net neutrality goes away. This isn’t a paranoid fear or a worst-case scenario, it’s straight out of their mouths.

If Pai’s FCC really wanted to guarantee that ISPs can’t charge tolls to access content, prioritize certain websites and services, create fast and slow lanes, and censor political speech, then it wouldn’t repeal net neutrality. In fact, Pai’s plan to end net neutrality doesn’t even conceal this. When it comes to letting ISPs dividing the internet into fast lanes for the few who can pay an extra toll and slow lanes for everyone else, his order actually celebrates the idea. As Pai writes, “We anticipate that lifting the ban on paid prioritization will increase network innovation [because] the ban on paid prioritization agreements has had … a chilling effect on network innovation.” Only the FCC and the ISP boardrooms would call slowing down websites and apps “innovation.” As far as they’re concerned, “restoring internet freedom,” will lead to “better, faster, and cheaper broadband for consumers and give startups that need priority access (such as telehealth applications) the chance to offer new services to consumers.” Except that creating fast and slow lanes will do absolutely no such thing. Yet, this is exactly the “trust the cable company” future Pai envisions for the internet which puts a ridiculous amount of faith in ISP promises.

Since the internet was available to the American people, there have always been a need for laws protecting people’s rights on the internet. Laws protecting these rights are in what’s called Title II of the Communications Act. These were updated on an overwhelming bipartisan basis in both houses of Congress in 1996 to establish the legal definition and duties that still do and still must apply to broadband service. Broadband internet access is what the law refers as a “common-carrier transmission service.” This lets internet users transmit what information they choose to and from the points of their selection and that the ISP must transmit the content without unreasonable discrimination. This is how broadband customers see the service ISPs offer and sell them. That’s the service we all need to have any chance of connecting and communicating with each other and accessing all the internet has to offer. The Obama FCC followed the law and fulfilled its congressionally mandated duties by returning to Title II and to the proper understanding of broadband internet access as a telecom service. A Federal appeals court reviewing the agency’s reason upheld that decision twice. Pai’s draft order fails to assess the proper history as well as the FCC’s steps and missteps past which explain Congress’s true intent and meaning of the law. But the best Pai can think of are ahistorical references to Clinton-era interpretations of an internet ecosystem long since gone, along with a smattering of ISP talking points and legal arguments courts just shot down last year. Talking about how the FCC treated AOL’s dial-up internet service in 1998 and pretending that this reasoning should apply to ISPs like Comcast and AT&T that control the physical networks we use to get online today just doesn’t cut it. Nor does the ridiculous claim that just because ISPs transmit internet speech and information, the broadband access line itself must be an information service, too. Pai’s justifications are simply attempts to ignore the reality of modern broadband internet services that people depend on today. And we still need rules guarding against the ISPs’ incentive and ability to discriminate. By abandoning the Communications Act and possibly punting federal oversight of net neutrality to the FTC, Pai turns back on the FCC’s sound legal framework for preventing discrimination online as well as abdicates its responsibilities and using the worst legal arguments it can find to justify his actions.

Another major argument the Pai order offers for all this upheaval is the supposed harm that a Title II framework has hurt broadband investment, thus slowing the expansion of nationwide internet access. It’s likely that Pai just made it up that’s only backed by a handful of lobbyists and corporate shills willing to lie or concoct supposed evidence for this alleged economic downturn. However, broadband investment doesn’t run on regulation alone. It doesn’t decline because the FCC restores the same kinds of protections against discrimination that have been kept in in place continuously for a wide range of Title II voice and broadband services for the past several decades. If you take the broader view, broadband investment has already been declining before net neutrality was in place. Besides, the stories ISPs tell their investors are very different from what they tell the FCC. In fact, Securities and Exchange Commission filings reveal an increase in internet investment since 2015 according to Free Press. Even so, whether industry investment should be the dominant measure of success in internet policy is kind of irrelevant considering the larger issues at hand.

Fortunately, there has been strong opposition to Pai’s terrible plan. During the FCC comment period, 98.5% of individual comments support keeping net neutrality rules. #Net Neutrality has trended globally on Twitter and was the top trending hashtag in the United States. Redditors representing a dizzying range of political philosophies and subcultures spoke out. In fact, the most popular post in the Reddit NASCAR group’s entire history is about the need to save net neutrality. Since last Tuesday, Americans have made over 500,000 calls to Congress urging their lawmakers to condemn Pai’s plan. Now Capitol staffers feel so besieged that a few reached out and asked pro-neutrality groups to make the calls stop. And on Saturday after Thanksgiving, Maine’s Senator Susan Collins became the first GOP senator to publicly oppose Pai’s proposal, joining scores of Democratic leaders who’ve spoken up in the last few months. As of today, there are 600 protests in the works in all 50 states in cities including Atlanta, Boston, Denver, Des Moines, Miami, New York City, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, and Wichita. And since Pai once worked for Verizon (officially), people are organizing outside corporate-owned Verizon stores all across the country. On Cyber Monday, hundreds of businesses and organizations sent a letter calling on the FCC chairman to reverse course and scrap his plans to repeal net neutrality rules. They wrote, “Without these rules, internet service providers will be able to favor certain websites and e-businesses, or the platforms they use to garner new customers, over others by putting the ones that can pay in fast lanes and slowing down or even blocking others. Businesses may have to pay a toll just to reach customers. This would put small and medium-sized businesses at a disadvantage and prevent innovative new ones from even getting off the ground. An internet without net neutrality protections would be the opposite of the open market, with a few powerful cable and phone companies picking winners and losers instead of consumers. The current rules provide the protections necessary to protect net neutrality and ensure the internet remains a free and open marketplace that encourages innovation and supports robust competition.”

Yet, even if the FCC votes to kill net neutrality, a federal court challenge is inevitable given overwhelming support for a free and open internet. Even if that suit remains in the US Court of Appeals, the outcome could very well drag on for another year and a half or more. And there will certainly be numerous lawsuits filed in reaction to the “Restoring Internet Freedom” Order. While the telecom industry will undoubtedly have an army of lawyers, they don’t have a strong case. For one, allowing ISPs to practice internet censorship akin to the Chinese state by blocking its critics and promoting its own agenda is anathema to the internet’s and America’s founding spirit. In fact, you can argue such censorship is unconstitutional under the First Amendment since it violates freedom of speech. Second, the Pai’s proposal is such a drastic reversal of net neutrality policy and is based on weak evidence to support the change. Government agencies aren’t free to abruptly reverse longstanding rules which many have relied on without good reason like a change in factual circumstances. A mere shift in FCC ideology isn’t enough. Because according to the Supreme Court, a federal agency must, “examine the relevant data and articulate a satisfactory explanation for its action.” Since the 2015 net neutrality rules are a huge success by most measures, the case for killing them would need to be very strong. Except that it isn’t. It’s very clear that Pai’s rationale for eliminating the net neutrality rules is that telecom companies need to earn even more money than they do despite enjoying generous profits for years. Third, because Pai’s FCC is killing net neutrality outright, the chairman will have to explain to a court not just the shift from 2005, but also his reasoning for destroying basic bans for blocking and throttling which have been in effect since 2005 which the entire internet ecosystem has relied on. This will be a very difficult task since there is a long history of (often concealed) anticompetitive throttling and blocking that the FCC has had to stop to preserve the internet economy’s health. Pai needs to explain why we no longer have to worry about this threat and he can’t just say, “you can trust your cable company” either. Fourth, the FCC is acting contrary to public sentiment which may embolden the judiciary to oppose Pai’s plan. While telecommunications policy doesn’t always attract public attention, net neutrality does. And since 76% of Americans support it, the FCC is on the wrong side of the democratic majority. In our times, the judiciary has increasingly become a majoritarian force which can prevent narrow, self-interested factions from getting the government to serve shameful ends.

Nevertheless, net neutrality assures Americans a free and open internet which has become crucial in our everyday lives. It has overwhelming support among the American public. For the FCC to repeal net neutrality rules goes against the will of the people. Pai wants to eliminate the Title II classification of ISPs as common carriers and leave these telecom companies to run the internet as they please. Repealing net neutrality will only give ISPs power to control what users experience online such as deciding who gets heard, which sites we can visit, what connections we can make, and what communities we can create. And they can throttle access, stall opportunity, and censor content that they don’t like. Most Americans believe you should go where you want on the internet without interference from your ISP, which net neutrality guarantees. Repealing net neutrality will only benefit a few giant corporate executives and lobbyists standing to profit from it. And such action will only stand to harm internet users, consumers, and businesses who depend on internet service for their day-to-day lives. No giant telecom corporation should have the power to control what you access online. American voters deserve a free, open, and neutral internet supporting democracy and economic growth. If you depend the internet for your livelihood, you need net neutrality. If you enjoy streaming video, social media, or playing online games, thank net neutrality. If you enjoy shopping on Amazon and want businesses to have a level playing field, net neutrality is for you. If you want to freely surf the web with the same rights and privileges as everyone else, then the assault on net neutrality must be stopped once and for all. The internet is for everyone and is the most important resource in the world with our exchange of information exalted over any physical and social barrier. We must stand together and fight for it.

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NSFW Elf on the Shelf (a. k. a. the Post I Ruin a Stupid Christmas Tradition) (Fourth Edition)

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As we head into the Christmas season, children everywhere will be under Santa’s North Pole surveillance program by sending a little visitor to make sure they’re good enough for Christmas presents. The fact this cherubic elf is incredibly creepy is indisputable. However, what you may not know is that these elves on the shelves have a rather dark side. When you’re not looking, these terrifying elves can do rather unspeakable acts. After all, the elves can only “move” whenever the family is asleep or away from home. So you never know what your elf on the shelf might be up to during those unsupervised hours. Therefore, since so many elves on the shelves don’t conform to behavioral standards behind closed doors, I suggest that parents keep a good eye on their resident Elf on the Shelf and report any shenanigans to Santa at 1-800-555-BAD-ELF1. In the meantime, take some time to look at another assortment of Elves on the Shelves who belong on Santa’s “naughty list.” By the way, most of these pictures aren’t for kids or are safe for work.

  1. Looks like Ken and Blinky have something special for Barbie this year.

Guess this is based on “Dick in a Box.” Yeah, we know what’s in those gifts.

2. What the hell is Crinkle doing with that dog?

Seems like he has a pair of pliers. Okay, maybe I really don’t want to know here.

3. Once in awhile, Dangles likes to blow off steam.

He’s quite the sharpshooter. He could take down a bunch of birds all by himself.

4. “Say your prayers, Elmo.”

And we know Rinkly means business. So Elmo better give him what he wants or he’s history.

5. The Lego minifigs had enough with Buddy.

Though could you really blame them? We all know Buddy is a menace.

6. Nothing to see here but Bronco Billy and Plinko in a tent.

Bet this is a take off on Brokeback Mountain. Though whatever happens on the trail doesn’t always stay there.

7. Flicker just has to get a huff from the Elmer’s.

Yes, Flicker just needs whiff of the old school glue. Shame that Frosty hasn’t staged an intervention.

8. Flingle wants you to see his Budweiser sleigh.

Well, at least it’s quite Christmasy if you think about it. Still, this isn’t a family friendly Christmas display. Unless you’re a redneck of course. Though this might be an exception than the rule.

9. Seems like toys like to have their own fun once in awhile.

No, Glinkle! Can’t you see Barbie’s wasted? That date rape territory! Jesus!

1o. You might want to watch what’s in your kitchen.

He’s in the spatula jar isn’t he? I have a really bad feeling about this guy.

11. Dinkle Does was just doing some doodles.

Though I’m sure that doesn’t seem to reflect well on the kid. Yet, the kid seems quite young. Still, let’s just call it plain vandalism.

12. Apparently, Ken just went to far pissing off Vinkly.

So Vinkly chopped his head and put it in the tub. Though the whole scene was a mess. Yes, Vinkly is a sick bastard.

13. Once you go with Elf on the Shelf, you may never get rid of him.

And let’s just say, Ollie means business. Seriously, you better let him in before he kills you and your family.

14. Seems like Baxter has really made a mess on Sleigh Bell.

Okay, is that what I think it is? All right, kids, nothing to see here. You’ll know what’s going on here when you’re older.

15. Wonder why Tinklo’s wearing the bow on his, oh, never mind.

Is this a sex thing? Because if it is, I really don’t want to know. Still, I’m sure Elves on the Shelves must have their own “needs.”

16. Let’s hope that gun’s not loaded.

Otherwise, Tillo will cause some sort of “accident.” Let’s hope nobody’s home if that happens.

17. “Any last words, Woody?”

Oh, no, Gringlo’s got Woody tied up and is dragging him blindfold. Jesus Christ!

18. Sometimes Hank just wants to sit back and relax to a magazine.

I’m sure he only reads Playboy for the articles. Okay, maybe not.

19. Dinkle always goes for a Cold 45.

I guess this is a takeoff of the Billy Dee Williams Colt 45 ads. And yes, Dinkle is dressed as a pimp.

20. Behold, the Elvish Centipede.

Yes, this is horrifying. Well, it’s kind of supposed to be. After all, it’s a takeoff on The Human Centipede.

21. Inky just wants to make a late night visit.

Though the fact he left a rose at the windowsill might mean he’s creeping around. Sorry, but I don’t think she’s interested.

22. You don’t want to see Gumble when he’s drunk on gin.

He has an exactor knife in one hand and a gun in the other. And yes, he intends to use both.

23. Even Chuckie is scared of Elf on the Shelf.

Yes, Chuckie, we all know the Elf on the Shelf is a creepy as hell. But it’s remarkable for you since you’re straight out of a horror movie.

24. Bumble always likes to film dolls in the shower.

Sure she might be in towels. But Bumble is a very patient elf. Unless the doll shoos him out of the bathroom.

25. Best not to let Wilco in the kids’ rooms during the night.

Looks like he painted a little girl’s face. And I be he’ll blame that on her siblings if she has any.

26. “Perhaps you might want to try this.”

That’s a pregnancy test. Also, can toys really get pregnant? And is that elf the father?

27. Apparently, Paulie messed with the wrong swordfighter.

And there he lies in a chalk outline on a tiled floor. Though to be fair, the sword seemed kind of on the heavy side for him.

28. Oh, no! Snowball’s tied up Barbie on the train tracks!

Apparently, Barbie must’ve pissed him off somehow. But will someone come the rescue? Or will Barbie come to a horrendous death on the rails?

29. Apparently, Barbie and Clinker decided to tie the knot.

Though Clinker seems to take marriage as a ball and chain. I don’t see this lasting more than 5 years.

30. “Draw me like one of your French girls.”

Sure it’s a spoof off of a key scene in Titanic. But unlike Leonardo DiCaprio, Tinkler looks more like a creep.

31. Seems like Blinkle has written us a song.

Okay, maybe I don’t want to know what the song’s about. Since it doesn’t end well.

32. Once in awhile, Kringle pays a visit to Santa.

Well, that’s very disturbing. No, please don’t sit on Santa that way. Please.

33. “Quick put him in while he’s still tied up.”

Because since Jingler has been such a creep, Beetlejuice and Pee Wee Herman put him in the wood stove. I’m sure he won’t escape once the metal door shuts.

34. Looks like Ginger has gotten herself in a serious accident.

I’m sure she was warned about skiing down the high rise. But she didn’t listen.

35. Vincent Price isn’t pleased with Nibbler.

So he put that good for nothing elf in a pumpkin bin. Serves Nibbler right.

36. Apparently, Santa doesn’t pay his elves well at the North Pole.

So Quigley decided to turn to prostitution. Sure he may not be gay, but $20 is $20.

37. No, Jingles, you don’t draw on the baby.

But Jingles don’t care. Because like the honey badger, he don’t give a shit. Also, who’s Jordan?

38. “Now they will never find the body here.”

I’m sure they’ll find who Sparky killed in the cat’s litter box. Only takes a matter of time.

39. “Tonight’s special is Rudolph on the rotisserie.”

Poor Rudolph. I’m sure he never deserved to be reduced to venison. Tingler is a sick bastard.

40. Ingler can’t resist the sugar.

Yeah, he knows he has a substance abuse problem. But sometimes he has to satisfy his fix.

41. In this week’s TIME issue: Are You Elf Enough?

This is a parody of that one TIME cover with a woman who breastfed her son for far too long. But yes, it’s just as unsettling.

42. Even the hotdogs don’t like seeing Jimble on a bun.

Okay, that’s kind of weird. But the hotdog people is nevertheless a creative touch.

43. “The Parnells won’t know what got them.”

And with that, Wingler injected poison into the turkey. All the Parnells ended up in the hospital that very night.

44. “I’m just doing drug research, seriously.”

So why Flingle lives is a box is beyond me. By the way, I doubt if he’d use the cocaine for “research.” He has a problem.

45. Riggle has something to say for Christmas.

I’m sure such sentiment will put that elf on the naughty list. Because being evil is bad.

46. Oh, no, Pinky’s caused a train wreck.

And there we have Thomas the Tank Engine in flames. I’m sure Pinky’s maliciously cackling by now.

47. Charlie doesn’t care what you think about him.

This is supposed to be an Elf on the Shelf version of Charlie Sheen. And let’s just say he’s got a self-destructive side.

48. Seems like Ralphie’s taking this 50 Shades of Grey thing too far.

And apparently, he’s doing a few tricks to Barbie. Barbie, get the hell out of there! He’s abusing you!

49. Sometimes Linker likes to sit back and go fishing.

Uh, Linker, I think pet fish are off limits. Seriously, you don’t want to upset the kids.

50. Looks like Quizler’s gone online.

I see he’s looking at porn, right? I’m sure Susie’s parents won’t be happy about this.

51. Elker needs to satisfy his dark passenger.

I know this is another Dexter Elf on the Shelf. But this one has plenty of Christmas imagery. Besides, Elker needs Ken to pay.

52. “Wanna light?”

I don’t think you’re allowed to smoke here. Besides, secondhand smoke kills people, too.

53. Sometimes when you have to go, you gotta go.

And it seems he’s taking to bottles. Still, how much does he drink. He’s peeing like a storm here.

54. Oh, look, Hinky’s playing Scrabble with the cat.

And I see things have gotten scatological. Also, how can a cat learn to play Scrabble?

55. Best we not disturb Yodler here.

Don’t be ashamed. Everyone goes to the bathroom. Maybe best to shut the door.

56. Rex has had it with Pringles.

Okay, I can’t really blame Rex here. After all, the whole Elf on the Shelf thing is just creepy.

57. Looks like Wyatt really likes to doodle.

Yet, it seems like he’s put his own spin on the parents’ wedding picture. Boy, he sure doesn’t care for them.

58. “Sorry, Chuckles, but this place isn’t big enough for the both of us.”

Though I’m not sure if Zlinky has done a service or not. After all, clowns are pretty scary in the moonlight.

59. Oh, no, what has Clingo done to Fluffy?

I guess Fluffy’s in the microwave. Oh, my God, please let me be wrong.

60. Minky has a message for Santa.

And it seems like he wrote all that graffiti on the bathroom wall. Let’s hope he didn’t do it with a Sharpie.

61. Dazzler must’ve received a special award that’s just arrived.

That’s the legendary leg lamp from Christmas Story. I know it’s in poor taste, but that lamp has become a popular Christmas decoration since.

62. Elser loves to make it rain.

And he appears to wipe the Micklesons out at the bank. Bet they’re dreading their credit card bills.

63. Reggie sometimes likes to soak in the hot tub.

And here he’s with a couple of Barbies. Yes, you have a lot of perverted elves out there.

64. If you think these elves were bad in your house, just look what they do to each other.

Yes, these elves are all tied to a ceiling fan. And yes, it looks straight out of a horror movie.

65. Hinkler has developed an interest in pottery.

Okay, this makes the famous Ghost scene more terrifying. Don’t like how Hinkler’s looking over the Barbie’s shoulder.

66. Looks like Ike’s gone all Norman Bates.

Yes, he’s quite the Psycho all right. You can see the blood everywhere on this bathroom.

67. Seems like Flister wants something.

Oh, I see. Well, I guess these elves have “needs.” But still, I hope he doesn’t ring for it.

68. “Prepare to die, Kenny Boy.”

Yes, I have another Dexter one. But still, you can’t really get enough of these.

69. What does Glinger have with him?

Is that Santa’s head? Oh, Jesus Christ! And I thought Elves were supposed to be Santa’s trusted lieutenants.

70. What the hell has happened to Quincy?

Is he supposed to be a kidnap victim? Then again, it’s not like I’d pay the ransom on him.

71. Dashy knows his way around a car.

He says he fixed the brakes. But he’s wielding a pair of pliers. That can’t be good. So best not use your car until you talk to your mechanic.

72. The Lego minifigs have made their stand clear.

And they Spinkler tied up where they want him. Still, I can’t blame these guys for doing so.

73. Okay, what did Dinkybins do to the Furby?

Oh, he removed the batteries because he wouldn’t shut up. Wonder why.

74. “Open Gangelf Style.”

It’s a take off of “Gangnam Style.” Let’s just say it’s a Korean music video that went viral worldwide and leave it at that.

75. Oh, no, what’s Quinkler doing to Frosty the Snowman?

He’s putting Frosty into the combine! Please, somebody make him stop! I can’t watch.

76. No, Derek, you weren’t supposed to see that.

Apparently, the elf caught the parents having sex. Yes, it’s as horrifying as it sounds.

77. Seems like Flisher needs to find where this minifig needs to go.

That’s supposed to be Alan from The Hangover. You know the guy who basically screws everything up in those movies.

78. At least Batman and Superman can agree on something.

They may disagree with each other. But both Batman and Superman believe that Silco must go for the good of the Sirica house.

79. Daniel Day Elf is sure in an emancipatory mood.

Of course, we all know what happened to Lincoln. Nevertheless, this is pretty funny.

80. What’s Vinky doing with the scissors?

Don’t tell me he’s cutting off the mattress tag. They always instruct owners not to remove them for a reason.

 

Ho, Ho, Ho, Holy Shit Vintage Christmas Advertising of Yesterday (Fourth Edition)

vintage-christmas-ad-13.jpg

Now that Thanksgiving is over, it’s onto the Christmas season. And since it starts on Black Friday, I begin my holiday blog roll with my 4th annual Christmas ad post. Of course, I featured one depicting Santa Claus advertising Coca Cola. Yes, I know he’s not setting a good example since he’s promoting a soft drink that’s responsible for obesity and diabetes. But his association with Coca Cola is so well known that it’s iconic. Though as we’ve all seen, Coca Cola hasn’t been the only company to use Santa Claus to sell their product. In fact, far from it. Nor has Coca Cola been the first company to do so. Nevertheless, you’ll find plenty of ads plastered all over the place for Black Friday sales despite that you’re better off shopping for Christmas gifts in December. So if you have anything better to do, perhaps you might want to look into another installment of these vintage ads. Of course, you might think they’re filled with rosy imagery meant to tingle at your nostalgia. But I usually go for the ones that haven’t aged so well and contain disturbing implications. Whether it’s accidental innuendos, creepy kids, bad health advice, and what not. So for your reading pleasure, I give you another treasure trove of crazy vintage Christmas ads.

  1. Want your Christmas happiness to last year round? Get a View Master.

And somehow Santa looks like he’s creepily enjoying your vacation photos. Face seems to suggest, “Guess little Johnny’s getting clothes for Christmas this year.”

2. Camel and Prince Albert always say “Merry Christmas with every puff.”

Because there’s nothing endearing on Christmas like the gift of lung cancer. Nevertheless, Santa sets a horrible example for children.

3. Always be choosey on Christmas with a new phone.

Though if you give someone a regular phone nowadays, they’d be like “You got to be kidding me.” Because most of us use cell phone now.

4. Nothing beats Christmas like a new Smith Corona typewriter.

And yes, girls go really crazy about this typewriter. Though seeing the girl’s face in the front might freak you out.

5. Reynolds aluminum wrapping paper is pure Christmas magic.

The wife’s all over how the gifts shine and sparkle under the Christmas tree. And the husband’s like, “Looks like I’m getting laid tonight.”

6. This year, make your Christmas an Avon Christmas.

Yet, the girl doesn’t really seem very enthusiastic about the make up display. In some way, she kind of illustrates how many women feel when receiving stuff like this.

7. With a Singer, you give a woman the gift of sewing.

Well, a gift in which she can sew your pants with. Still, not a fan of promoting female domesticity which seems to seep in these ads.

8. “Jackie Gleason Originals made by Manhattan make dan-dan-dandy gifts.”

Now I see why Jackie Gleason didn’t appear on his own Christmas album. Still, that fancy shirt is utterly tacky.

9. Play safe with Thermo anti-freeze.

Though why use a snowman to advertise a product to keep cars from freezing is beyond me. I mean we all know what anti-freeze is.

10. Spring Maid fabrics are always durable on ice.

But it seems like Amy should’ve worn snow pants since she suffered a major wardrobe malfunction while skating. Though the two guys on the bench certainly didn’t mind.

11. Nothing makes a boy happy on Christmas like his own Texaco truck.

However, leave him alone and he will use it to make you fall on your head. So you might want to avoid him like the plague.

12. L&M give a lot for your man on Christmas.

Yet, he likes his smokes as he plays with his toy trains. Meanwhile his wife smiles upon him just before she has to scramble into the kitchen to make a dish for Christmas dinner at his parents. But don’t worry, tobacco kills 1/3 of its users anyway.

13. Buy boxes of Spearmint for Santa to take round.

Though there’s something unsettling about this cartoon Santa. The mustache seems unusually shifty.

14. Need gift ideas for the holidays? How about a pair of inter-woven socks?

Didn’t think Santa could appear frightening in the moonlight. Also, not a lot of people want socks for Christmas.

15. Kuppenheimer always has good clothes for you and your family for Christmas.

Yet, I’m not sure who’s scarier in this one: Santa or the guy with the gifts who looks like the neighborhood psychokiller. Then again, Santa might want to watch his back.

16. Your son would adore his own Filmo camera on Christmas.

“Gee, now I can make my own pornos like Daddy. Man, you guys are the best.”

17. For this holiday season, Coca Cola is a taste that refreshes.

Though I’d rather stay clear of his North Pole workshop. Cause those elves certainly induce nightmares.

18. This Christmas, give him a hat.

Unfortunately, in later years fedoras went from distinguished menswear to undignified hipster attire. Kind of sad if you think about it.

19. “Playing Santa this year? Let your fingers do the walking.”

Now that has to be one of the most terrifying hand puppets I’ve ever seen. Then again, it was probably Thing’s turn to play Santa this year for the Addams’ family.

20. Please your woman this year by giving her a Sheaffer Stylist set.

A pen set? Seriously, that’s what you get a co-worker for Secret Santa. I mean it’s a gift that says, “I didn’t know what to give you for Christmas this year. And I’m too much of an idiot to ask.”

21. Kewpie dolls always make the perfect Christmas gift.

For the love, keep that thing away. I mean it looks like a deranged Casper in a Santa hat. And it doesn’t look friendly.

22. Coca Cola is a gift of good taste.

To be fair, the last house Santa visited had a bottle of Jack Daniels out for him. So don’t be surprise if he crashes into a skyscraper once he reaches Chicago.

23. Four Roses brings a thought for “tomorrow” that’s 2 months away.

Though October is way too early to decorate your Christmas tree. Then again, it’s an outdoor tree but still. Nevertheless, having Christmas ads before Halloween is ridiculous enough.

24. “It wouldn’t be Christmas without Whitman’s.”

Because if you’re both under the mistletoe, a box of chocolates is all you need for the bedroom. I mean we all know what mistletoe means in Christmas ads.

25. “Make your Christmas gift a Tomahawk.”

For there’s nothing like a great Christmas gift like a bladed axe. Other great gift ideas for lumberjacks include, butter scones, flower presses, high heels, suspenders, and a bra.

26. “It’ll be a merrier Christmas with the new Wonder Holiday Tree.”

I guess this is supposed to be a Charlie Brown tree with bells on it. Kind of looks sad if you ask me.

27. Please your loved one this Christmas with decorated Pyrex ware.

Though these casserole dishes seem appropriate for winter. If you want to give a decorated casserole, buy one with motifs good for all year round.

28. Even Santa wants you to buy bonds.

Because if you don’t, then you will not like what Santa will give you for Christmas this year. So buy war bonds as a patriotic duty. Also, why only 2 reindeer?

29. Put your child in the driver’s seat with this Hertz toy car.

Yet, once little Bobby’s in there, he’s sure to run over the cat with it with relish. So you might want to keep an eye on this budding psycho.

30. Santa always gives American toys for American girls and boys.

Don’t look now. But I’m not sure if I like how star-spangled Santa is holding these kids on his lap. Seems fairly sketchy for me.

31. Arthur Godfrey gives his Christmas best with Chesterfields.

Arthur Godfrey was a popular radio and TV personality during the 1950s who was known for his folksy warmth but was volatile and controlling behind the scenes. An on-air incident would later lead to his career decline. Ironically he’d later become an anti-smoking advocate.

32. For Christmas 1972, give yourselves a set of mannequins in your likenesses.

On second thought, don’t. Because that’s just creepy. Seriously, who’d want to have mannequins of themselves?

33. Give her the gift of beauty with Holeproof fine stockings.

And they just had to show her in a transparent robe, lingerie, stockings, and high heels. Definitely not something I’d wear on Christmas morning.

34. Give your son a Red Ryder Saddle Carbine this Christmas.

As you probably know, you’ll shoot your eye out with this BB gun. What? I saw A Christmas Story.

35.  Entertain for hours during the holidays with a Revere projector and camera.

“And this when I chopped up Norman in the woodchipper. Because he was such a pain in the ass who had it coming. Soon as his dog crapped in my yard, I shot that son of a bitch dead.”

36. Keep your clothes clean during the holiday season with Breck detergent.

Still, that doll is guaranteed to kill Brooke Shields in her sleep. How she survived this shoot, I’ll never know.

37. “Can’t beat a Tupperware party for Christmas shopping.”

Though why have Santa in street clothes is beyond me. Also, Tupperware doesn’t exactly make a great gift.

38. When Santa takes a break, he always smokes Murad.

Because let’s just say giving gifts for all those kiddies really gets a lot out of you. Still, Santa isn’t really setting a good example here. More an example for kids to get lung cancer.

39. Frosty the Snowman wants you to give a real conversation for Christmas.

Other than the outdated rotary phones, Frosty seems absolutely terrifying. So you might want to buy one from him or else he’ll make sure you freeze to death.

40. White Owl Cigarettes are the quickest way to a man’s heart.

I don’t know about that. But I know it’s a quick way for a man to get cancer. Still, I don’t think Mrs. Claus will like seeing her husband sharing a smoke with a sexy blonde.

41. No Christmas baked goods should go without Carnation milk.

But poor Susie is such a procrastinator that she had to pull an all nighter to make her brownies. Let’s just say you don’t want to bother her at the office Christmas party.

42. Women always dig men who smoke their pipes with Prince Albert.

So, fellas, I hope all the lifelong heart and respiratory problems is worth it. Because we all know tobacco use doesn’t make you a hit with the ladies once the lung cancer sets in.

43. With Armour Star, you can make delectable appetizers.

On second thought, this looks really disgusting. So thanks but no thanks.

44. This Christmas, you can give her some Pyrex wares for $4.90.

Well, Pyrex does make great glass kitchen ware. But as a gift for her, not so much. Besides, Santa, what about the men who’d want Pyrex stuff?

45. Not sure what she wants for Christmas? Give her some Community spoons.

No, I don’t think women fantasize about spoons for Christmas. In fact, we ladies really don’t think much about them.

46. Ladies, use this little model to let your husband know you want this large store vac for Christmas.

Then again, at least he’ll get a hit. Still, what gets me is, why the hell would anyone want a vacuum for Christmas?

47. Give your wife a Eureka vacuum for Christmas. She’ll certainly love it.

But give me one of these, I will most likely scream. Seriously, I hate these things.

48. Joan Crawford always gives her friends a carton of Lucky Strikes.

And you thought she was terrible to her kids. Now you her giving the gift of lung cancer. Too bad many of her Hollywood friends died from tobacco related ailments.

49. Give your little girl this Cheerful Tearful doll for Christmas this year.

Though this doll is more of a Fearful Tearful doll than anything else. Mostly because she scares the living shit out of me.

50. Without Murad cigarettes what would Christmas be?

I don’t know, healthier? Because cigarettes inflict lifelong health problems and early death.

51. Nothing makes a family Christmas like a new Plymouth.

Yet, that boy seems like he’s utterly insane. Hope he doesn’t try to torture the family dog.

52. Coca Cola is always a refreshing surprise for Santa.

So little Sally just had to walk in when Santa was raiding the fridge. Hope St. Nick gives her what she wants or she’ll call the police for breaking and entering.

53. This Christmas, Santa Claus gives out Old Gold from his sleigh.

Santa, how dare you toss out cartons of cigarettes to all the girls and boys. Have you no shame? Aren’t you worried about the kiddies getting lung cancer?

54. For last minute gifts, you can always go with Four Roses.

For nothing makes the holidays merry like stocking up with booze. Available at your neighborhood liquor store.

55. Listen to your favorite Christmas music with a Telecron Timers clock radio.

Go ahead, listen to these disembodied heads with Santa hats this holiday season. Though if you work in retail, you might as well smash this clock radio with a sledge hammer.

56. Everyone’s eager for Seager’s at the office Christmas party.

Wait a minute? This is a family Christmas party. Well, in that case, the adults will be getting totally wasted. Too bad Aunt Bertha can’t join the fun since she’s the designated driver.

57. Fuel your holiday ride with Ethyl.

This is the oil company that had gasoline that contained tetralead as an “antiknock fluid.” Naturally, that additive resulted in widespread lead pollution along with life-threatening health problems.

58. Czechoslovakia celebrates Christmas with Walker’s Gin.

Sorry, but 1940s Czechoslovakia wasn’t a happy place thanks to WWII and the Iron Curtain Communist takeover. Then again, they’re probably really drunk right now.

59. There’s no better Christmas gift than something from HC Jewelers.

Let’s hope whoever gave this woman this necklace isn’t the old guy. Or if it is, let’s hope he’s her dad.

60. Clear heads choose Calvert Happy Blends for the holidays.

Didn’t know Arctic woodland creatures boozed up during the holidays. Hope those polar bears aren’t drunk on the sleigh.

61. Electric tree lights are always clean, simple, and safe.

Though that kind of electric lighting doesn’t look very safe to me. Still, I guess it’s in the context of the times. Also, that girl looks kind of freaky.

62. Pepsi always refreshes this woman’s slender figure without filling.

Sorry, but she won’t retain her slender figure with a Pepsi. Because soft drinks are notorious for causing diabetes and obesity.

63. This Christmas, give a Browning rifle.

I understand the need to make money. But save the occasional Daisy BB gun, real guns don’t make good Christmas gifts for obvious reasons. They’re not toys. They kill people for God’s sake.

64. Carnation Milk wish you “Peace on Earth” this holiday season.

Because we all know that kids could make lots of noise, am I right? Oh, and here’s a recipe for pudding as the little brats drive you up a wall.

65. Looks like Santa had a shaving mishap at the barber’s shop.

Yeah, seeing Santa without his beard is quite disturbing. Doesn’t look right at all.

66. “Here, kids, enjoy your new puppy I gave you.”

Sorry, but Christmas puppies are never a good idea at all (unless you or your family really want one and chose the dog well in advance). And no, Santa shouldn’t even bring them one for obvious reasons.

67. Santa always enjoys a good smoke with Murad cigarettes.

Yes, kiddies, Santa smokes. Get used to it. And yes, he’s being a terrible role model and doesn’t car if he gets lung cancer.

68. This Christmas, Santa recommends Dewar’s White Label as a Christmas Jubilee Spirit.

Apparently, even Santa likes to stock up on booze for the holidays. Hope he’s not wasted while he’s on his sled. Maybe that explains why he gives some children terrible Christmas presents.

69. This Christmas, put a Ford Pinto under your tree.

Doesn’t the Pinto have a reputation for exploding. So maybe a Pinto under your tree isn’t a good idea.

70.  Santa loves to drink a Falstaff on his Christmas Eve rounds.

No wonder why Santa looks drunk sometimes. Somebody put him on a Twelve Step Program.

The Great American Tax Swindle

Last week, the United States House of Representatives passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act which seeks to dramatically cut corporate taxes and consolidate benefits for individuals. In addition, the legislation eliminates the alternative minimum tax and estate tax as well as pare back certain individual deduction. This bill would also offer a new tax rate for owners of “pass through” businesses like LLCs and partnerships whose income from their businesses is taxed as personal income. It’s very clear that the House Republican tax bill will disproportionately benefit wealthy Americans, who’d more likely profit from corporate tax cuts more than non-wealthy Americans and likely exploit the pass-through rate by setting up dummy corporations. According to the Tax Policy Center, the absolute richest Americans such as the top 0.1% earning at least $5 million a year, would receive an average income tax cut of 3% which can translate into $320,640. The middle fifth of taxpayers earning between $54,700 to $93,200 a year would get a 0.5% income boost which will only consist of $360. Nearly half the cut will go to the 1%. Though 61.4% of Americans would receive a tax cut by 2027, 24.2% will see their taxes rise by an average of $2,080. Nevertheless, this bill will almost certainly not become law in its current form since the current version will certainly increase the budget deficit by trillions over 10 years and beyond. But it nevertheless, reflects the Republican Party’s values and priorities which don’t translate into the kind of tax reform America needs as well as disproportionately punishes hardworking Americans and the poor for no reason. Because this isn’t a tax reform bill with ordinary Americans in mind, but major Republican donors and corporations.

Who Wins:

Corporations– Since they’re the main focus on most of the tax cuts. According to the Joint Committee on Taxation, cutting the corporate tax rate from 35% to 20% (like this bill does), costs nearly $1.5 trillion over 10 years. They also gain new, more favorable treatment of income earned abroad, which either isn’t taxed or taxed at an even lower rate than 20%.

The Wealthy, Particularly the Ultrarich– Because they tend to earn a disproportionate share of their income from capital (like stock sales and dividends) and thus benefit from cuts to the corporate tax, which is largely a tax on capital. Should the corporate tax also reduce wages (as some conservative economists allege), corporate tax cuts still disproportionately help the wealthy as huge wage shares go to high earners, not low or median-wage earners. In addition, the pass-through cut could lead some wealthy people who either own pass-throughs or create new ones to shelter some of their income from high rates. Both Tax Policy Center analysis and the Joint Committee on Taxation confirm that the richest Americans will receive the biggest cuts as a percentage of their income.

People Making Mid-to High Six-Figure Incomes– They should arguably count as wealthy or rich, too. By raising the threshold for the 39.6% rate on individual income to $1 million for couples, up from $470,000 today, those with incomes in the $600,000 to $700,000 range will receive a sizeable reduction alongside to the low-end tax cut they get because the new 12% bracket will apply to income now taxed between 15% or 25%. The Tax Policy Center finds that once you reach the 95th percentile like earning $304,600 a year or more, over 70% of them get tax cuts in 2027, with the average change amounting to 1.4-3% of their income.

Pass-Through Companies– Companies like the Trump Organization get a new very low rate. Though the bill includes some provisions meant to prevent rich individuals from using this tax break to shelter income, it only limits the benefit in many cases. Overwhelmingly rich owners of these pass-throughs will still come out ahead. We know this because Kansas entirely eliminated state taxes on pass-through companies which mainly resulted in people to simply reclassify their income to dodge taxes while not actually starting any new businesses.

Heirs and Heiresses– Because this bill first reduces the estate tax (through increasing exemption and applying it to even smaller sliver of the ultrarich) and then eliminates it entirely. Keep in mind this is on those who earn at least $5 million anyway.

Who Loses:

Blue State Residents– Since they will pay higher taxes since this legislation eliminates state and local income/sales tax deductions while somewhat curtails those for property taxes. Wealthy people benefitting from these deductions will likely see this tax hike offset by the other tax cuts in the package. Though this may leave a silver lining when you realize that many blue states are home to Wall Street, Silicon Valley, major media organizations, Hollywood, many large corporations, and high earning Americans like Donald Trump.

The Housing Sector– Since it faces a new limit on mortgage interest deduction. Though the rate cuts largely make up for this in regards to some individual taxpayers, it reduces the incentive to build and buy homes, which could affect lenders, construction workers, real estate firms, etc.

Poor Families– Though they were rumored to receive a tax cut due to change in the refundability formula for the child tax credit, that measure didn’t make it in the bill. Because that credit only goes to families with $3,000 in earnings or more and phases in slowly. Though some in Congress did push to lower the threshold to $0, they didn’t succeed. Instead, the bill includes a provision denying the child tax credit to American citizen children whose parents are undocumented immigrants. Because Republicans don’t want undocumented immigrants having anchor babies to take advantage of that tax credit. Despite that fear of deportation keeps more undocumented immigrants from seeking benefits their citizen children could desperately use. Furthermore, fees extracted by tax preparers standing between the low-income and earned income tax credit aren’t deductible under this plan.

Higher Education– The House bill eliminates student loan tax exemptions and treats graduate tuition reimbursements as income. The Senate bill contains an excise tax on earnings of big university endowments. This will increase the cost of college for many students, result in more borrowers struggling to pay their loans, grad and doctoral students in terrible financial situations, as well as hit colleges and universities hard. Not to mention, such measures will dramatically hurt the economy in the long run by undermining human capital developments and creating a less educated workforce. In addition, it might even cost lives by impeding biomedical research.

Workers– The Republican tax plan treats union dues as taxable income. Poor and middle class people will also see their taxes increase across the board, especially if they earn between $40,000 and $75,000 a year. In addition, it taxes contributions to 401 (k) plans.

Healthcare– The House bill proposes eliminating medical deduction exemptions which will devastate many middle-class families with an illness. Republican Senators are proposing to repeal Obamacare’s individual mandate which will result in 13 million people uninsured, hurt enrollment in Medicaid and Obamacare exchanges, increase premiums on those who purchase insurance, and increase preventable deaths by 15,600 people per year. Not to mention, the Senate bill cuts alcohol taxes which are effective at reducing drink driving, violent crime, and liver cirrhosis while increasing them saves thousands of lives per year. Add to that cuts to Medicaid by $18 billion by 2021 and Obamacare subsidies. All this will only make the healthcare markets worse, not better.

The Deficit– As the Joint Committee on Taxation has reportedly determined that the House Republican tax bill will cost $1.51 trillion over 10 years, which is what the House/Senate allocated for the bill. But it’s still a sizeable increase in public debt.

As you can see, this Republican tax reform effort reflects the conservative allergic reaction to progressive taxation and goes beyond undoing the most progressive gains achieved during the Obama and Clinton administrations. 3 changes stand out in this legislation. First, these taxes are far more focused on owners than workers, even by Republican standards. Second, they take advantage of the ambiguity on what counts as income. Third, it weaponizes that vagueness to help their friends and hurt their enemies. Though to be fair, I’m not sure who counts as which in this scheme. After years of pushing for a safety net that works through the tax code and keep more social democratic forms at bay, Republicans now seem willing to even demolish even those modest protections, some of which benefit many of their voters. And they make it clear that a welfare state based on tax credits and refunds, rather than universal commitments, is all too vulnerable.

The House “reform” bill illustrates that Republicans understand how the economic game’s rules are shifting toward capital and away from labor (even from the rich’s labor). Since 2000, income growth among the 1% has accrued people making their money from owning money, stock, and other financial instruments, rather than to people making money via skills and labor. As a result, corporate profits have skyrocketed since then and increased faster during the Great Recession. However, such growth hasn’t trickled down to ordinary Americans. Wages have been flat since 2000 and recession recovery featured the weakest business investment of the postwar period. This marks a genuine shift in the economy’s organization which economists still struggle to understand. But the Republican tax plan supercharges these changes which are about benefiting not just the well-off, but those well-off because they own capital.

But why? Because the Republican tax plans mainly focus on corporate income tax reductions which will largely benefit concentrated owners of stock, passive owners of pass-through businesses who don’t actively work for the firm, and those inheriting their money. We should also understand that foreigners hold about a third of US-based stock, meaning there will be a significant amount of benefits not going to US citizens. In fact, the Institute of Tax and Economic Policy estimates that foreign investors would receive benefits roughly equal to those going to the bottom 3/5 of Americans.

Much of the Republican tax plan involves changing the definition of “income” in various ways. Now most people usually think of income as whatever their salary is. But it’s more complicated than that. And Republicans are redefining different kinds of income to benefit their friends as well as harming their enemies. Under the plan, Passive owners of pass-through entities get their income redefined in a way that minimizes taxation. Those inheriting money get their inheritance redefined to hide it from taxation. And those wanting to stuff money away to send their kiddies to private school, get that savings defined as non-income, too. All these are payouts to key Republican constituencies.

But Republicans are also defining income in other ways to punish their opponents. State and local tax deductions Republicans want to repeal primarily benefits those in blue states where those taxes are higher. They also want to treat graduate education tuition reimbursements as income, hitting higher education (which is home to climate scientists and the “politically correct” anti-right) hard. Union dues would suddenly become taxable income. And fees extracted by tax preparers who stand between low-income people and the earned income tax credit aren’t deductible under their plan.

Yet, it’s not just their opponents they want to punish either. House Republicans also propose eliminating all of the medical deduction exemption which would be devastating for middle class households with an illness. And the latest Senate tax bill calls for eliminating the individual mandate which could result in 13 million uninsured. In short, not only are Republicans are using the tax code to swipe at the Affordable Care Act, they also want to do away with their own tools for making medical expenses more bearable. In the past conservatives have explicitly stated that they hoped the growing use of tax-deferred 401(k) savings plans would weaken support and possibly replace Social Security. But today’s GOP almost reduced the cap for 401(k) contributions. What about the Adoption Tax Credit that was part of the 1994 Republican Contract with America? Well, the House tax plan got rid of that, too. And what about students investing in their own educations through student loans? The bill also puts student loan tax exemptions on the chopping block. Tax exemptions, deductions, and benefits are usually considered regressive, poorly targeted, and too reliant on the market. But they do form a coherent social insurance system for middle-class and upper-middle class families. Many of them number among Republican voters. Yet, it’s this very safety net via tax code that Republicans have declared war on in their new tax bill. They could’ve crafted these various deductions into a more coherent system, they’re axing them to cut taxes on the rich. Republicans are so indebted to capital owners that they’d destroy their system in order to appease them. Even if it means proposing a tax plan whose benefit are permanent for owners yet expire for everyone else. They’ve taken the worst trends in the American economy and hit the accelerator.

Let’s not kid ourselves. Trickle down economics has been implemented in US tax policy time and time again since the 1980s and has been shown not to work. When you cut taxes for the rich, you don’t create jobs nor raise wages. If anything, the rich just become richer while corporations make higher profits. Meanwhile, wages remain stagnant while ordinary Americans increasingly find themselves less able to adequately support themselves thank to inflation and rising costs of living. But according to free market purists, market competition should ensure low prices. Except that it doesn’t, especially if it results in large corporations expanding that they either become monopolies or conglomerates. Corporate increases in profits and size don’t translate into higher wages, more jobs, or lower prices. Nor will it benefit the economy or solve any of its problems. The Republican tax plan’s regressive nature is reason enough to oppose it. Should the United States run a deficit, then it shouldn’t be to reduce taxes paid by those at the top. Given recent economic developments, it’s especially irresponsible. Corporations are flush with cash thanks to large profits and aggressively low interest rates. But they’re not investing. Thus, these large tax cuts for corporations will have very little effect on the economy and only amplify the deleterious trends we’re still trying to comprehend.

I don’t doubt that the United States needs to reform its tax code. Wealthy Americans and corporations shouldn’t be the main beneficiaries in tax legislation. If anything, the rich should be made to pay more taxes as well as be held accountable for tax evasion and other financial shenanigans like everyone else. Should we need to eliminate deductions or benefits, let it be rich stuff like any measures pertaining to private jets. After all, if you could afford a private jet, you don’t need subsidies or tax breaks. In addition, we need to tax capital gains from which the wealthy primarily earn their money. The American people deserve better than an egregious tax scam that only benefits the few at the expense of the rest.

The Cosmetic World of Beauty Products

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I may not use many beauty products on a regular basis. But even I am aware how far women go to look beautiful. Or at least conform to the standards of beauty of any given time when people expect us to. After all, applying makeup has become a daily ritual for millions of women in western civilization. Every day, we’re all exposed to constant advertising for cosmetics, hygiene products, skin care stuff, hair care items, and anything to enhance on beauty. Because there’s anything advertisers know about women, it’s preying on their insecurities, particularly on personal appearance. Because if you want to get by in life, you have to look pretty, ladies. Or at least try to maintain your physical appearance. Though I usually try to get by with walking a few miles a few days a week along with a shower every other day. Because let’s just say during my high school and college years, I have very little time to paint my face and would rather have my morning routine be as brief as possible. Save on certain occasions like appearing on TV or weddings. Besides, makeup clogs pores, costs money, and doesn’t have the kind of oversight it should under the FDA. However, I do have a certain fascination of crazy products which I like to put in my blog. And beauty products tend to fall in that category. Do a search and you’ll find all kinds of stuff that’s said to enhance your physical appearance. Though I would take that with a grain of salt. So for your reading pleasure, I give you a treasure trove of ridiculous beauty products that you can actually buy. Despite that you actually have to be nuts to do so.

  1. Skin troubles? Try some Besolbo Salmon Egg Return Cream Sleeping Renewal Pack.

According to a description: “With salmon egg being its key component, this cream is rich in vitamins and minerals beneficial to the skin. It regulates the skin’s moisture and nutrition production to be able to enhance its color, texture and overall condition. It is great for hypersensitive skin, aging/sagging skin and dull skin as it has nourishing properties that can help eliminate skin imperfections.” Not sure if I buy it.

2. Worried about wrinkles? Try some anti-aging serum with this non-surgical syringe.

Because why waste so much money on facelifts and Botox, when you can use this? Also, great for freaking out people who are afraid of needles.

3. Enhance your eyebrows with the Billion Dollar Brow Buddy Kit.

I think you have to put the pink oversized tweezers on your face. If you want to see how stupid it looks, there are plenty of pictures of women using it on the Internet.

4. For better skin, try Chia Seed no shine hydrating cream.

Didn’t know the seeds you use on Chia pets and heads had skin moisturizing properties. Said to be for particularly oily skin.

5. Let out your wild side with these animal print eye shadow tattoos.

Sorry, but animal prints are tacky. But luckily these are temporary.

6. Want to enhance your breasts without expensive plastic surgery? Try these.

Just put these 2 silicon falsies in your bra and no one will notice. Though you can also stuff socks in your bra which might be cheaper.

7. Want a nice shapely rear end? Then we have Booty Pop Panties for you.

Think of it as a push up bra for your ass. Bet this product was made possible by Kim Kardashian.

8. If that’s not for you, enhance your ass with Love My Bubbles Butt Pads.

Because it’s not just football players who need extra butt padding. Though they have more of a reason to use these.

9. Got some stray hairs on your face? Use this handy hair removal tool.

I know it looks like 2 bows you use to shoot at flies with tiny arrows. But if you have a stray hair, this will help you pull it out without much fuss. Also, a pair tweezers you probably already have.

10. If you have dry skin on your feet, try some Etud Bebe foot mask.

Because nothing feels better than to rid your drying skin through molting. Okay, that’s kind of disgusting.

11. Got dry, damaged hair? Treat it with Haeyo Mayo Hair Nutrition Pack.

Wow! Didn’t know that mayonaise was a hair enhancement. Yet, unlike the real Helman’s, it smells like vanilla. But don’t use it on your sandwich.

12. Want to ask how Miss Piggy has such fine skin? Now you can know her secret with this Pig-Collagen mask.

From Drama Fever: “Oink oink! Rich in nutritious elements, this pig collagen gel mask is made with 10,000 ppm collagen from pig skin. Why pig collagen you ask? Pig collagen, much like human collagen, helps to keep your skin hydrated skin and enhance it’s elasticity. This mask can help diminish fine lines, increase your skin’s luminosity, and promote supple, baby soft skin.” Uh, no thanks.

13. With JeNu Ultrasonic Infuser, your skin care products can go deeper into your skin.

For one, I have no idea how skin moisturizers work. Second, I have a strong suspicion this is a scam product for some reason.

14. Now put some false eyelashes on with the power of magnetism.

I can see the appeal of these since putting on false lashes must be a real pain in the ass. But since people aren’t made of metal, how are lashes supposed to stay up there?

15. With these lipsticks, your lips can match the color of your favorite vintage.

Yes, they resemble small wine bottles. And if you own a vineyard and want to earn a few extra bucks, perhaps consider selling these.

16. Clean your pores with this silisponge.

It’s supposed to save you from wasting makeup. Yeah, I don’t see the point of this either.

17. Keep your lips moist with some flower balm.

From Odyssey Online: “This balm stain applies on clear then reacts with your skin’s pH levels, uniquely creating the perfect shade of pink lips just for you. Each Flower Balm contains a real chrysanthemum in the color of your choice.”

18. Line your eyes with Inked Cushion Liner.

Said to be the #1 eyeliner at Hogwarts. Then again, they probably use some magic concoction from Diagon Alley.

19. Use every last bit with your very own beauty spatula.

Well, that seems rather handy. Except that the bottle seems rather large.

20. Dress your eyelashes with Besame Cosmetics mascara cake.

If you don’t like getting mascara from the tube, this is for you at $49. Also available in a rectangular box, too.

21. With these brushes, you can make applying makeup a magical time.

Each of these brushes has a unicorn horn handle and rainbow bristles. Please stop the unjust slaughter of these beautiful creatures.

22. Have your lips shine with Big Daddy lipstick.

These would be perfect for any sex dungeon, gay bar, or bachelorette party. Available at Spencer’s in all locations.

23. Customize your lips with Pony’s DIY lip palette.

Because why go with traditional lip shades when you have other colors to choose from? Available at your local rave party or clown store.

24. Treat your skin with some snail mucus cream.

From SPY: “While medical research on the connection between snail secretions and improved skin is still inconclusive, there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest this stuff actually works. Snail slime is secreted to protect their exposed bodies from harm (i.e. bacteria and UV rays), and thus the mollusks secrete a “slime” that is packed with elastin, antibacterials, proteins and glycolic acid. These “ingredients” are all commonly used in skincare to treat acne, aging skin and sagging. Countless reviewers swear by this stuff too, claiming it helped erase fine lines and helps to keep breakouts at bay.” I’ll pass.

25. Rose brushes keep all your makeup needs in one place.

Though all of them seem to be of similar size and thickness. Besides, those flowers don’t resemble roses.

26. Cleanse your skin with Grain Ferment Cleansing Sherbet.

Sounds like something you’d eat instead of what you put on your skin. Said to have all natural ingredients. Not sure what that’s supposed to mean.

27. Get luscious lips with a PMD “kiss” lip pumping device.

Said to plump your lips in a flash. Contains a super-potent lip serum according to SPY. Probably pass on this one.

28. Slim out your face with a Geranium Kogao Sauna Face Mask.

Oh, Japan, you never cease to amaze me. Though using a sauna bet to sweat out body fat is one, this is a whole other level.

29. Keep your face rejuvenated with this Donkey Milk Holic Sleeping Mask.

So before you go to bed, don’t forget to put some ass’s milk in your face. Said to provide vitamins and minerals, apparently.

30. Clear your acne woes with this Neutrogena Acne Clearing Mask.

From PopSugar: “Though you might look a bit like the newest member of Daft Punk while sporting this futuristic face mask, the benefits it claims to provide — clearer, healthier skin — are totally worth it.” Also doubles as a Halloween costume.

31. Look like a beauty queen with an Alterna Caviar Clinical Starter Kit.

Because nothing says, “I’m either very rich or have bad spending habits,” then $122 of fish egg based beauty products. Probably not worth it.

32. Get rid of those wrinkles with Placenta anti-wrinkle cream.

I suppose this is made with sheep placenta. Then again, it being from New Zealand shouldn’t surprise us. Though if we want to know the best anti-aging product from New Zealand, your best bet is the Ring of Power. Okay, it might work for awhile before turning you evil and insane. But that’s beside the point.

33. Every princess deserves the finest such as Azature Black Diamond Nail Polish.

Still, $250,000 is a bit much to spend for a bottle of nail polish. Seriously, you can buy a house with that kind of money.

34. Moisturize your lips with these gel face masks.

Supposed to hydrate and plump lips. Though wear it in public and people will think something’s up with you.

35. Make your skin shine with Broccoli Radiance Power Cream.

For nothing makes your face glow like using a cream containing a vegetable you were forced to eat as a child. Though perhaps eating broccoli might achieve the same results and more.

36. This smile trainer will help you put on a happy face.

Though from how I see the woman wearing it, I don’t think it actually works. But it works for me since it just looks totally ridiculous.

37. Get the lips you want with this plumper.

Seems like she’s sticking her swollen tongue out. Like she experienced some allergic reaction and now needs rushed to the hospital.

38. Keep your eyes perky with this eyelid trainer.

Also makes a great torture device. That one scene in A Clockwork Orange would’ve looked a lot differently with these to keep the main character’s eyes open.

39. Banish that double chin with this anti-double chin bandage.

One commentator on Bored Panda remarked, “Side affect of chin hammock: compression of the remaining facial features, resulting in Resting Bitch Face.” Doesn’t look very comfortable to wear either.

40. This nose straightener will keep your schnozz in check.

Said to come in handy if you’ve eaten beans. Or if the farm next to you has just spread manure.

41. For an elegant profile, go with this nose shaper.

Though it only works best when you’re snorting. Otherwise, not so much.

42. Enhance your beauty with this quality nose shaper.

Let’s just say if Adrien Brody doesn’t feel like he needs these nasal enhancements, neither do you. Unless he works at a pig farm.

43. Do you eyebrows right with this stencil.

Yet, I’m sure this will make you a darling at the Star Trek convention. Don’t be surprised if Captain Kirk wants to add you to your collection.

44. Getting your facial tattoo? Might want to rely on this for some measurements.

Now if you plan on getting a facial tattoo, I have just one question: Why? Seriously, getting a tattoo on your face is just incredibly dumb in itself.

45. Put less strain on your face with is face massager.

Hmmm…might actually work. Also does well as a cat toy.

46. Give your skin the golden touch with a face mask of gold leaf.

Though that treatment didn’t work for a blonde woman from Goldfinger. Then again, she didn’t willingly use a gold treatment either.

47. A silicone face mask is perfect for your beauty needs.

Anyone bet this is used to keep the night creams on your face. Still, looks like a badly done clown makeup job.

48. Enhance your beauty with this facelift bandage with spikes inside.

As someone on Bored Panda wrote: “She looks like she could do with a nice glass of chianti and some Fava beans.” Also, the spikes inside can’t be comfortable.

49. Tone your face with this anti-wrinkle face mask.

Also works well in holdups, killing teenagers, and Halloween. Guaranteed to freak out the neighbors.

50. Speaking of anti-wrinkle masks, this one banishes the lines on your face guaranteed.

A must-have for the latest dominatrix couture for all your BDSM sex dungeon. Available at all kinky sex shops nationwide.

51. Get smooth feet with an Amope Pedi Perfect.

It’s a power sander for your feet which you can use for sandal season. So you won’t have to wear socks under them and look like an idiot.

52. Enhance your face with this anti-wrinkle half face slimming cheek mask.

From Allure: “A neoprene mask that looks like it’s from Hannibal Lecter’s Hello Kitty phase, the device supposedly contours your face while you go along with your day. You can do dishes, read a book, watch some TV, all while wearing a face-only Power Rangers costume.”

53. Get rid of excess cellulite with this Bliss Lean Machine.

From Allure: “No, that’s not a waterproof beach boom box or a chic humidifier for your daughter to take away to college. It’s Bliss’s cellulite-disguising vacuum that sucks and rolls your skin to look less lumpy in three minutes a day.”

54. Make applying mascara easier with E.l.f. mascara and shadow shield.

From Allure: “At first sight, it seems to be a photo-booth prop (we’ll hold the white mustache!), but it’s really a handy tool for a mess-free eye-makeup application. Hold it under your eyes so mascara and eye shadow don’t flake or fall on to your undereye concealer. Makeup artists use Kleenex as guards, but the handle makes this easier to finagle.”

55. Get smooth skin with a Rodan + Fields Redefine Amp MD System.

Yes, it may resemble a medieval torture device that you’d give to a baby boy. Still, what’s even more criminal is that it’s a plastic thing costing $200.

56. Get the Kim Basinger radiant hair with the T3 Source Shower Filter Showerhead.

They say it’s supposed to be a Britta for your showerhead. As if you really need that, especially at $130.

57. Get rid of stray facial hairs Tweezerman Smooth Finish Facial Hair Remover.

Because why thread or wax, when you can roll a coil over facial hair and pull it out by the roots? You know what also works? Tweezers.

58. Make your lips sensational with these Violent Lips Lip Tattoos.

Because if you want lips like Lady Gaga, David Bowie, and Elton John, you have to go beyond the traditional shade. Each tattoo lasts 4-8 hours.

59. Create easy curls with your very own 3D Bomb Brush.

Sure it resembles a medieval weapon you’d give to a budding noble lady. Still, not sure if I want to use it.

60. Keep your skin smooth with a Berrisom Animal facial mask.

From The Gloss: “Last but certainly not least is a sheet mask that I will never, ever put on my face no matter what but if putting placenta on your skin is something your into, by all means, have a blast. Though, it is tempting because the mask will make you look like an adorable, slimy raccoon.”

61. Rev up your lymphatic system with a Cle de Peau Synactif Crème.

From Ranker: “The Methyl Aminomethylcyclohexane Carboxamide (MACC-PD) in this creme apparently revs up the lymphatic system. Yeah, we know that’s a lot of science all at once. Basically, it’s supposed to get rid of all the waste that causes wrinkles.” Costs about $1,000. And I bought my new laptop for less than half of that.

62. With Conair’s Infiniti Pro Curl Secret, nothing will stop you from curly locks.

From Style Caster: “Now, your curling wand can magically do the work for you. Conair’s Infiniti Pro Curl Secret is a curling device that has a rotating bit that sucks in a section of hair to coil it around its heated ceramic center to make a perfectly proportioned curl before you wind your hair back out. Sounds scary? This thing has two heat settling and timer settings so you don’t over-fry your hair. Listen for the beep to know when your curl is ‘done.'”

63. Get rid of dead skin with these silk worm cocoons.

Yes, you kind of wished these were cotton balls. And you have to put them on your fingers. Though I’d rather boil these and turn them into a silk scarf.

64. Keep your face radiant with a Lace Hydrogel Mask Sheet.

Now you can either dress up as Hannibal Lector or the Phantom of the Opera. Okay, the Phantom only wears half a mask, but still I don’t care.

65. Shine your pearly whites with some charcoal teeth whitener.

So how do you whiten your teeth with charcoal? Because its powdery blackness doesn’t really convince me.

66. Dry your nails with this contraption.

Just put your hand under the tubes and pump air on it. Not sure if this works like a charm.

67. Make dreams come true with some cheese cream.

Now I love cream cheese which I’d put on basket crackers. But this is utterly ridiculous on so many levels.

68. Instead of lining your eyebrows, how about stamp them?

Well, sure seems like a real time saver. Though I don’t really feel like stamping my brows anyway.

69. Have to shave? Try this new trimmer.

You use it to trim excess body hair. And you can charge it on your computer.

70. Get yourself clean with a Salux Japanese Beauty Bath Washcloth/Towel.

Is it a towel or washcloth? Who cares? If you need a cleanse, this cloth is for you. Comes in 3 different colors.

71. Keep your eyes rejuvenated with Bird’s Nest Aqua Eyepatch.

It’s made of bird’s saliva, by the way. Yes, I know that’s completely disgusting.

72. Got puffy eyes? Try this heated, vibrating wand for size.

Yes, I know what it looks like. But it’s for the eyes, not the other part you’re thinking about.

73. Everyone should have something to massage their face.

Yes, this one is from Japan. And yes, they never cease to come up with crazy stuff to do to your face.

74. There’s something fishy about these brushes.

Well, these have rainbow mermaid fish tails. So if you have a sea themed vanity, these are for you.

75. Make your skin clean with ocean riches thanks to Givenchy Le Soin Noir with Black Algae Sap.

Actually you might want to go to the beach for the black algae treatment. It will cost less than $390.

76. Smooth these fine lines and wrinkles with Guerlain Orchidee Imperiale Treatment.

From Ranker: “All you need is 28 days and a small fortune to smooth those fine lines and wrinkles.” Well, a small fortune of $1,550 which is more than 3 times the amount I paid for a new laptop.

77. Remove excess hair with this home threading tool.

Yes, you remove hair with this. Still, I think it would be easier to do it with tweezers. Works for me.

78. Get your hair in model shape with hair Velcro.

From Stylecaster: “You know how you always seen backstage beauty shots of models getting ready for the runway with metal clamps around tissue paper holding their hair back? Hair velcro is the same concept, sans clamps and doesn’t leave any kinks or marks as you keep your bangs and baby hairs pulled back while you do your makeup, wash your face, or just want your hair out of your face. They release easily without pulling too since the velcro is shallow.”

79. Get your hair dry with this Harry Josh Pro Tools Pro Dryer 2000.

For $300, this hair dryer should also give you a back massage. Because $300 is a ridiculous price for a hair dryer.

80. Got gray hair? Take these Gray Hair Rescind Capsules.

From Refinery 29: “Why spend a ton of money on regular hair dyes when you can pop a pill to banish those dreaded gray hairs? And, if you like these, perhaps we can interest you in this bottled fairy dust we have over here. “

81. Trinity Facial Toner gives you a face lift at home.

From Refinery 29: “The Nu Face claims to give you a mini face-lift at home with the help of electric micro-currents. We’ve seen it in action, and we can tell you firsthand that it definitely works, but that didn’t stop us from being seriously weirded out that we were repetitively zapping our face with electricity. Also, is it just us, or does this look like something you’d take to bed with you instead of something you’d rub on your face?”

82. Shave your legs and attract your lover with Crazy Girls Wanna Be Naked shaving cream.

From Refinery29: “The Nu Face claims to give you a mini face-lift at home with the help of electric micro-currents. We’ve seen it in action, and we can tell you firsthand that it definitely works, but that didn’t stop us from being seriously weirded out that we were repetitively zapping our face with electricity. Also, is it just us, or does this look like something you’d take to bed with you instead of something you’d rub on your face?”

83. Get smooth feet with the Baby Foot Easy Pack.

From Refinery29: We all want smooth feet, right? Sure — but Baby Foot takes that a step further. You apply the pads, and then a few days later, the skin on your feet peels off in one sheet. Your feet molt. Do a Google search of this product and see the results — we dare you.”

84. To ward off the smell of a silent but deadly, a Flat-D Flatulence Deodorizer is for you.

From Refinery29: “Not only is it a pad that absorbs the smell of your farts, but it’s also reusable. Excuse us while we gag.”

85. Apply your makeup with a Beauty Blender Bling Ring Kit.

From Refinery29: “We swear by the BeautyBlender, but do we really need to worship it on an elaborate, bejeweled throne? You decide.”

86. Do your nails with this Ring Pop nail polish holder.

From Refinery29: “This Ring Pop- shaped contraption holds your polish for you while you paint your nails — in case you are painting your nails in space, for example.” Kind of makes sense.

87. Get the right eye look with these Beth Bender Beauty eyeliner stencils.

From Refinery29: “We have trouble with getting our cat eyes even, sure. But is a protractor really necessary?”

88. Get your hair done with this Robocut Bumblebee Tool.

From Refinery29: “Well, at least this product is innovative. But do you really want a haircut from your vacuum?” No, definitely not.

89. Sure holding your hairdryer is a pain. That’s why there’s Blo & Go portable hair dryer holder.

From Refinery29: “A hands-free hair dryer — what could possibly go wrong?” Recommended best of Hindu gods, apparently.

90. Get your hair conditioned with a Hask Henna ‘n’ Placenta Dual-Action Conditioning Hair Treatment.

From Refinery29: “Placenta hair masks definitely fall under the far, far “beyond” of Bed, Bath, & Beyond.” No, just no. Henna’s fine but placenta? No.

91. Get rid of split ends with this Split-Ender Pro kit.

From Refinery29: “You could spend $250 on a device that supposedly re-seals your split ends. Or, you know, just set aside $45 for a trim. Up to you.” I’ll take $45 for a trim, thank you very much.

92. Keep your lashes tidy with this Upper Lower Lash Applicator Guide Eyelash Comb.

Refinery29: “We’re a little wary using this terrifying, Jaws-like contraption near our eyes, TBH.” Yes, it looks quite menacing.

93. Smell sweet with some Jean Patou Joy Baccarat Pure Parfum.

By the way, only 50 bottles of this stuff are made every year. And they cost $1,800 each. Not worth it.

94. Kre-at Beauty 24 Karat Gold Lashes will give your eyes a golden touch.

From Ranker: ” Beauty
What’s that? You’ve got some 24K gold dust in your eye? Well, the price is definitely something to cry about. ” Costs $236. Also, Lenny Kravitz wore gold eyelashes in The Hunger Games.

95. Let people know how you feel with some mood changing lipstick.

Not sure how this works. But it can possibly go with mood rings and other mood shit.

96. Protect your nails with these nail polish clips on your fingers.

Sure it might seem that you have pincers on your fingers. I know it looks pretty ridiculous.

97. Get that orange glow with some Cheetos bronzer.

From PopSugar: “Whether you’re in need of a novelty gift for your favorite cheese-loving friend or want an instant way to make your face great again, this limited-edition Cheetos bronzer is something you may want to start hunting down online.” Still, why anyone would want a complexion of Donald Trump or an Oompah Loompah is beyond me.

98. This Orogold Cosmetics 24K Nano Night Recovery gives you a golden facial mask.

From Ranker: “Yup, that 24K means gold. Real gold, people! For your face!” Though $1,000 is way too much for a facial treatment.

99. Get resplendent locks with Philip B Russian Amber Imperial Shampoo.

From Ranker: “Photo: Amazon
All you need is just one wash! At least that’s what the website says…” Though $140 is a steep price for a shampoo.

100. For serious dirt removal, try on this Blackhead Removal Peel Off Mask.

Though you might find it at any drugstore, it’s probably best you don’t undergo this treatment in front of your black friends. Because a black facial carries a host of deeply racist implications.

The Vultures of Wall Street

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For the United States in 2017, the economy is growing, unemployment is low, and consumer confidence is at a decade-long high. Though this would normally create a retail boom, more chains are filing for bankruptcy and rated distressed than at the height of the Great Recession. Cities across the country are facing 6,800 store closings which has become known as the retail apocalypse. This year 19 retail companies have declared bankruptcy including Radio Shack, The Limited, Payless, and Toys “R” Us. Naturally people like to point at Amazon but e-commerce sales in the second quarter only hit 8.9% of sales. So it’s not like these stores are necessarily hurting for business despite declining sales. Besides, most of the retailers already have online stores.

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Here’s a chart on the stores closing due to the retail apocalypse. Though we often blame Amazon for this and declining sales, the real cause for this is far more insidious than you can even imagine.

However, the real reason why so many companies are sick has little to do with technological disruption. Rather with debt and a predatory financial scheme. Over the past decade, private equity firms bought numerous chain stores and loaded them up with unsustainable debt payments as part of their business strategy. Billions of dollars of this debt comes due within the next few years. As Bloomberg wrote in a recent article, “If today is considered a retail apocalypse, then what’s coming next could truly be scary.” The retail sector has already lost hundred thousand jobs from October 2016 to April 2017. In the following June, 1,000 stores closed within a week. And it will only get worse. This year only $100 million in retail debt came due this year. But there will be $1.9 billion next year and $5 billion on average due between 2019-2025. This threatens retail sales and cashiers who make up 6% of the entire US workforce and a total of 8 million jobs. And since these workers aren’t confined to any one region, the entire country will share their pain. In the Pittsburgh area where I live, 26.8% of retail loans are delinquent. States like Michigan, Illinois, West Virginia, and Ohio are among the hardest hit where retail employment has declined over the last decade and those will likely spread. Meanwhile, any states like Florida, Arkansas, and Nevada have overly relied on retail for job growth and will feel more pain as the fallout deepens. States like Alabama, Louisiana, New Hampshire, Mississippi, and South Carolina have the highest concentration of cashiers. As the debt comes due, expect more displaced low-income workers, shrinking local tax bases, and investor losses on stocks, bonds, and real estate.

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The tragedy of Sears is a major example of how private equity can be so insidious. Once a retail bastion, it’s now facing bankruptcy thanks to overbearing debt and mismanagement by hedge fund manager Eddie Lampert.

The most famous example of this is Sears which is now closing hundreds of stores and facing bankruptcy. Once a bastion in America’s consumer-based economy, it has been run to the ground by none other than hedge-fund king Eddie Lampert. A former Yale roommate of Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, arranged the Sears-Kmart merger and immediately started shifting revenue to shareholders. In addition, he spent $6 billion on stock buybacks to reward investors and raise the share price. More importantly, Lampert personally lent billions to Sears Kmart which increased its corporate debt. As its in-store sales lagged, Sears sold off major assets like its Craftsman brand tools and Land’s End outdoor equipment to pay for the loans. He also split ownership of 266 Sears and Kmart buildings into a real estate investment firm called Seritage. Last year, Sears and Kmart stores paid $200 million in rent on these properties they once owned which ate up its operating revenue. Even as Sears’ very existence is in question, Lampert will likely come out ahead. He’s enjoyed fees from all the lending to Sears and he’ll recoup more money in any restructuring even if Sears has to sell off inventory to do it. As Seritage’s shareholder, Lambert’s hedge funds can profit from higher rents charged to new retail outlets moving into shuttered Sears and Kmart locations. In fact just this year, a Kmart near where I lived and used to shop closed down and I knew some people who worked there.

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This is a Kmart store in Rostraver Township, Pennsylvania that’s near where I live. On June 7, 2017, it was announced this store was closing. I’ve shopped at this place on many occasions and knew some of the people who worked there. Kind of a shame. I’ve also heard that the Kmart in Mount Pleasant Township closed earlier this year as well. Kind of a shame.

Sears’s mismanagement reflects an ongoing pattern of private equity takeover artists benefitting from crippling the companies they purchase. Golden Gate Capital and Blum Capital, the 2 firms behind Payless, paid them $700 million in dividends in 2012 and 2013 on the company’s back. Payless filed for bankruptcy this year and closed 400 stores. Toys “R” Us filed for bankruptcy in September unable to sustain between $400-$500 million in annual interest payments on $5.2 billion long-term debt. Private equity firms, including Bain Capital and longtime firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, stripped out nearly $2 billion in cash as debt levels rose. And Toy “R” Us’s profitability was increasing when it filed for Chapter 11 since sales in the toy sector had been rising annually by 5% over the past 5 years.

Toys R US To Close 87 Stores

Toys “R” Us wasn’t among the worst casualties in the retail apocalypse. But its filing for bankruptcy in September came as a shock because its profitability had increased and its business was mostly stable. However, the real reason was that the toy store chain was overburdened with debt to private equity firms that bought it out in 2005.

What you see is a robbery in progress. Private equity firms borrow massively to buy companies and use corporate cash reserves to pay themselves back. Workers contributing the value to the business see nothing but the possible job cut since companies usually cut staff to service the debt. When the company collapses under the borrowing weight, all workers lose their jobs even when sales are up. Though troubled retailers have billions of borrowings on their balanced sheets like Sears, sustaining that load will only become more difficult even for healthy chains like Toys “R” Us. Private equity firms defend that their business model returns companies to fiscal health thanks to superior management. But this isn’t what we see in the retail apocalypse. Retail firms typically roll over debt to buy time and avoid bankruptcy. However, interest rates have increased since the last set of buyouts several years ago, making that prospect more expensive. Now these overleveraged companies are finding it difficult for anyone to agree to refinance. As a result, delinquent payments on shopping centers and other commercial real estate have spiked as high as one quarter of all loans in some parts of the country.

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This is a map from Bloomberg showing the concentration of retail jobs all over the country from 2016. Due to private equity overleveraging, the retail apocalypse will only get worse as debts come due. This could mean millions of Americans losing their jobs.

Yet, private equity firms don’t receive a lot of attention which is why I devised this handy FAQ for you to look at. If there is a reason we should care about private equity firms, is that they play a huge role in our economy. Though not all PE firms aren’t predatory finance schemes, many are. And the fact they’re less regulated than banks only exacerbates matters when these vulture capitalists put a company under. Predatory financial schemes hurt everyone. They kill jobs and businesses as well as ruin communities and whole economies. As of 2012, private equity firms own companies employing about 1 out of 10 Americans. This makes them hugely important since they’re basically America’s biggest employers. If you work for a PE-owned company, you might stand a chance of losing your job within the next few years. Now I’m not a fan of corporate America and have the criticized the retail industry for mistreating their workers on shit wages, unpredictable schedules, and anti-union activities. But I understand the retail industry does play a key role in the US economy. Even a shit job like cashier is a job nonetheless. And people rely on these jobs to support their families. Thus, I believe we need to understand what these private equity firms do and how many of them can be a business’s best friend or its worst nightmare. So here is a handy FAQ for reference. Besides, since millions of Americans will lose their jobs over private equity activities, they should know the truth as to why.

What is a private equity firm?

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This is a diagram of a private equity firm business model. Though I suppose more of an advertisement since it seems to create a positive image.

A private equity firm is an investment management company that provides financial backing and makes investments in the private equity of startup or operating companies through an array of loosely affiliated investment strategies. Usually described as a financial sponsor, each firm takes a bunch of money for a private equity fund and buys up these companies. They do this by usually matching rich people and institutions with more money than they know what to do with to middle market companies who need access to a steady flow of cash. First, the equity firm buys the company through an auction. Second, the firm then increases the company’s value whether through upgrading its accounting system, a procurement process and information technology, or laying off workers and closing unprofitable operations. In return, the private equity firm will receive a periodic management fee and a 20% share in the profits earned. With their investors, private equity firms will acquire a controlling or substantial minority position in a company and then look to maximize that investment’s value. And they generally receive a return on their investment through one or more of the following (if they’re lucky):

Initial Public Offering (IPO)- company’s shares are offered to the public, typically providing a partial immediate realization to the financial sponsor and public market into which it can later sell additional shares. Through his process, a privately held company transforms into a public one. IPOs are usually used by companies to raise the expansion of capital, possibly to monetize investments of early private investors, and become publicly traded enterprises. Companies selling shares are never required to repay its capital to public investors who pass money between each other afterwards. Although an IPO offers many advantages, there also significant disadvantages such as the costs usually associated with the process and the requirement to disclose information that could provide helpful information to competitors. Details of the proposed offering are disclosed to potential purchasers in the form of a lengthy document known as a prospectus. Most companies undertake an IPO with assistance from an investment firm acting in the capacity of an underwriter. Since underwriters provide several services like help with correctly assessing share value and establishing a public market for shares.

Merger and Acquisition (M&A)- one company is sold for either cash or shares in another. As an aspect of strategic management, M&A can allow enterprises to grow, shrink, and change the nature of their business or competitive position. From a legal perspective, a merger is a legal consolidation of 2 entities into one. Whereas, an acquisition occurs when one entity takes ownership of another entity’s stock, equity interests, or assets. From a commercial and economic point of view, both types of transactions generally result in consolidation of assets and liabilities under one entity and the distinction is less clear. A transaction legally structured as an acquisition may lead to placing one party’s business under the other party’s shareholders’ indirect ownership. At the same time, a transaction legally structured as a merger may give each party’s shareholders partial ownership and control of the combined enterprise. This deal may be euphemistically called a “merger of equals” if both CEOs agree that joining together is in the best interest of both of their companies. Meanwhile, when the deal is unfriendly (like when a target company’s management opposes the deal), it might simply be seen as an “acquisition.”

Recapitalization- cash is distributed to the shareholders (in this case the financial sponsor) and its private equity funds from a company’s cash flow or raising debt or other securities to fund the transaction. As a type of corporate reorganization involving substantial change in a company’s capital structure which may be motivated for a number of reasons. Usually, the large part of equity is replaced with debt. In more complicated transactions, mezzanine financing and other hybrid securities are involved.

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As you can see from this infographic, private equity is widespread. As you can see, they’re a major presence in the US economy. Of course, the industries they invest most into are consumer and information technology, which should surprise anyone.

But we should understand that often the effort to fix up the company fails and bankruptcy is the outcome. So while the rewards are great so are the risks. Back in 2012, The Wall Street Journal did an analysis of the 77 businesses Bain Capital invested during former Governor Mitt Romney’s tenure. It found that 22% either filed for bankruptcy or shut down within 8 years of Bain’s investment. Even several companies that initially provided Bain with huge profits later ran into trouble. Of the 10 deals producing more than 70% of Bain’s gains, 4 eventually filed for bankruptcy. But the companies that succeeded were hugely profitable as the Journal concluded that Bain turned $1.1 billion into $2.5 billion in gains in the 77 deals.

So they’re like hedge funds?
Not exactly. Private equity firms characteristically make longer-hold investments in target industry sectors or specific investment areas where they know a lot about. They also take on operational roles to manage risk and achieve growth through long-term investments. Private equity firms and investment funds shouldn’t be mistaken for hedge fund firms which typically make shorter-term investments in securities and other more liquid assets within an industry sector but with less direct influence and control over a specific company’s operations. And hedge fund firms usually bet on both the up and down sides of a business or an industry sector’s financial health.

What is a private equity fund?

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This is a diagram of a generic private equity fund. The private equity firm acts as the general partner while the limited partner investors usually supply the cash for the investments.

Private equity funds usually have a general partner (GP) raising capital from cash-rich institutional investors like pension plans, universities, insurance companies, foundations, endowments, and high-net-worth individuals investing as limited partners (LPs) in the fund. Before buying the company, the GP (who makes all the fund’s decisions), devises a plan for how much debt to use, how the company’s cash flow will be used to service the debt, and how the PE firm will exit at a profit. The private equity firm typically has very little of its own money at risk, only investing 2% or less in the fund while the LPs put up 98% of the equity. But it claims 20% of any gains from these companies’ subsequent sale. Among the terms set forth in the limited partnership are the following:

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Though I’ve already shown a private equity fund’s basic structure, here’s a more detailed chart. You can see the kinds of partners who invest as well as the strategies used.

Term of the Partnership- usually a fixed-life investment vehicle that’s 10 years plus some number of extensions.

Management Fees- annual payments made by investors in the fund to its manager to pay for the private equity firm’s investment operations (usually 1% or 2% of the committed capital to the fund).

Distribution Waterfall- the process in which the returned capital will be distributed to the investor and allocated between the Limited and General Partner. This waterfall includes the preferred return, which is the minimum rate of return (e.g. 8%) which must be achieved before the GP can receive any carried interest, which is the profit share paid to the GP above the preferred return (e.g. 20%).

Transfer of an Interest in the Fund- Private equity funds aren’t intended to be transferred or traded. Though they can be transferred to another investor but such transfer must receive the fund manager’s consent and is at the GP’s discretion.

Restrictions on the General Partner- the fund’s manager has significant discretion to make investments and control the fund’s affairs. However, the LPA does have certain restrictions and controls and is often limited in the type, size, or geographic focus of investments permitted, and how long the GP can make new ones.

Can you describe each private equity firm investment strategy?
Certainly. Here are some in depth descriptions of some major strategies. Though they’re not the only kind of ways private equity firms invests.

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The main investment strategy private equity firms uses is the leverage buyout. This involves buying a company with a combination of equity and debt and using its cash flow as collateral. In fact, it’s usually on the company to pay back the debts. This practice has been prone to plenty of overleveraging and abuse like in the case with Sears.

Leverage Buyout (LBO)- a financial transaction in which a company is purchased with a combination of equity and debt so its cash flow is the collateral used to secure and repay the borrowed money. Since the debt costs less than capital and equity, it serves to reduce the acquisition’s overall financing costs. After all debt costs less than capital and equity because interest payments reduce corporate income tax liability while dividend payments don’t. So the reduced financing costs allows greater gains to accrue to the equity, and as a result, the debt acts as a lever to increase the equity’s returns. Though usually employed when a financial sponsor acquires a company, many corporate transactions are usually funded by bank debt which can also represent an LBO. It could take many forms like management buyout (MBO), management buy-in (MBI), along with secondary and tertiary buyout among others. It can occur in growth situations, restructuring situations, and insolvencies. Though LBOs mostly occur in private companies, they can be employed with public companies, too (in a so-called PtP transaction-Public to Private). As financial sponsors increase their returns by employing a very high leverage (like a high ratio of debt to equity), they’re incentivized to employ as much debt as possible to finance an acquisition. In many cases, this can lead to “over-leveraging” in companies in which they don’t generate enough cash to pay their debt, leading to insolvency or to debt-to-equity swaps in which the equity owners lose control over their business to the lenders. This is the main strategy most private equity firms use and typically finance a buyout of a company with 30% equity and 70% debt. Private equity funds use the acquired company’s assets as collateral and put the burden of repayment on the company itself.

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This is a diagram illustrating how start-up companies are typically financed. First, the new firm seeks out “seed capital” and funding from “angel investors” and accelerators. Then if it can survive the “valley of death” (when the start up’s trying to develop on a “shoestring” budget), the firm can seek venture capital financing.

Venture Capital (VC)- a form if financing provided by firms or funds to small, early-stage, emerging funds either seen as highly profitable or potentially so. VCs invest in these early-stage companies in exchange for a return or an ownership stake in those they invest in. They take on the risk of financing risky startups in hopes that some of the firms they support will eventually succeed. The typical VC investment occurs after an initial “seed funding” round also called the Series A Round. A VC will provide this financing in the interest of generating a return through an eventual “exit” event such as the company selling shares to the public for the first time in an IPO or through its merger or acquisition (a.k.a. “trade sale”). In addition to angel investing, equity crowdfunding, and other seed funding options, VC is attractive for new companies with limited operating histories that are too small to raise capital in the public markets and haven’t reached the point where they could secure a bank loan or complete a debt offering. In exchange for the high risk that VCs assume by investing in smaller and early stage companies, they usually get significant control over their decisions along with a portion of their ownership (and consequently value). They also often provide strategic advice to the firm’s executives on its business model and marketing strategies. Additionally, VC is also a way in which the private and public sectors can build an institution that systematically creates business networks for the new firms and industries so they could progress and develop. The VC institution helps identify promising new firms and provide them with finance, technical, expertise, mentoring, marketing “know how,” and business models. Once integrated into the business network, these firms are more likely to succeed as they become “nodes” in the search networks for designing and building products in their domain. However, VC decisions are often biased as well as exhibit an instance of overconfidence and illusion of control like entrepreneurial decisions in general.

Growth Capital- a private equity investment (usually minority investment), in relatively mature companies that are looking for capital to expand or restructure operations, enter new markets, or finance a significant acquisition without a change or control of the business. Companies seeking growth capital will often do so to finance a transformational event in their lifecycle. Unlike VC-funded companies, growth capital companies usually able to make a profit but can’t generate sufficient cash to fund major expansions, acquisitions, or other investments. Because of this lack of scale, these companies generally can find few alternative conduits to secure capital for growth. Thus, access to growth equity can be critical to pursuing necessary facility expansion, sales and marketing initiatives, equipment purchases, and new product development. Growth capital can also be used to affect a restructuring of a company’s balance sheet, particularly to reduce the amount of leverage (or debt). Growth capital is often structured as the preferred equity, though certain investors use various hybrid securities including a contractual return (like interest payments) in addition to an ownership interest in the company. Often, companies seeking that growth capital investments aren’t good candidates to borrow additional debt, either because of the stability of the company’s earnings or existing debt levels.

Mezzanine Financing- any subordinated debt or preferred equity instrument representing a claim on the company’s assets that’s senior only to that of common shares. It can be structured as either debt (usually an unsecured or subordinate note) or preferred stock. It’s often a more expensive financing source for a company than secured or senior debt. The higher cost of capital associated with mezzanine financing is due to it being unsecured, subordinated (or junior) obligation in a company’s capital structure. Should that company default or go bankrupt, mezzanine financing is only paid after all senior obligations are satisfied. Additionally, since it’s usually a private placement, mezzanine financing is often used by smaller companies and may involve greater leverage levels than issues in the high-yield market which involve additional risk. But in compensation for the increased risk, a mezzanine debt holder requires a higher return for their investment than a more senior debt holder.

Distressed Securities- securities over companies or government entities experiencing financial or operational distress, default, or are under bankruptcy. As far as debt securities, this is called distressed debt. Purchasing or holding distressed debt creates significant risk due to the possibility that bankruptcy may render such securities worthless (zero recovery). Deliberate investment in distressed securities as a strategy while potentially lucrative is significantly risky as the security may become worthless. Doing so requires significant levels of resources and expertise to analyze each instrument and assess its position in an insurer’s capital structure along with the likelihood of ultimate recovery. Distressed securities tend to trade at a substantial discounts to their intrinsic or par value and are considered below investment grade. This usually limits the number of potential investors to large institutional investors like hedge funds, private equity firms, and investment banks.

Why would anyone invest in a private equity fund?

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Though private equity has earned a reputation as corporate saboteurs outside Wall Street, this kind of investment is quite popular among investors. As you can tell from these stats, the notion of private equity won’t go away soon.

Private equity funds are illiquid and managed by active investors. Those familiar with common index funds such as those of ordinary investors might hold in their investment portfolios might lead you to believe a private equity fund investment is foolish. But private equity funds do have a number of good advantages.

1. Taking companies private is incredibly profitable- When a private equity firm takes a company private from the public market, it has 100% of the ownership and thus can claim all its profits and control all capital allocation. Thus private equity firms have unlimited control over what goes on in the company unlike public equity investors. So they could claim all cash flows in the company.

2. Equity returns in short time frames- It wouldn’t be wise to invest in a portfolio of 100% stock if you’ll need the money within the next 5-7 years. Yet, since private equity firms take companies private, they reap the full ownership benefits (profits) and then resell the companies within 5-7 years in the future. During this time period, private equity investors receive equity-like returns in a time period that would only be safe for fixed-income investments.

3. Leverage- Private equity funds take money from investors and then leverage it with bank loans and bond issues from their newly acquired companies to boost returns for their investors. If a private equity firm takes a company private at 10x earnings of 10% per year, it can do very well for its limited partners by leveraging those earnings with cheap debt. It’s kind of like buying real estate, which when leveraged with bank loans, can be an excellent one.

4. Exits- Private equity funds are designed to exist only for a period of spanning less than a decade. When the fund reaches the end of its designed life, it “exits” its holding by selling them. A common exit is to sell a private equity position to a competing firm or to list private companies on the public markets through an IPO.

Why would a company seek private equity financing?

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Here’s a cycle of private equity financing from a firm’s site. Though this seems more catered to investors and has a rather positive spin on it.

Private equity financing provides several advantages to companies such as the following.

1. Active involvement- Unlike other funding options, private equity firms are much more hands on and will help a company reevaluate every aspect of their business to see how it can maximize its value. Having experienced professionals in a business can also result in major improvements.

2. Incentives- Private equity firms need a business to succeed since they borrow a lot of money to make their investments and have to pay that back and generate a return for their investors. Individual partners in private equity firms often have their own money invested as well and make additional money from performance fees if they make a profit. So they have strong incentive to increase a company’s value.

3. Large amounts of funding- Private equity can provide larger amounts of money than other options since deals are usually measured in hundreds of millions of dollars. This kind of money can have a massive impact on a company.

4. High Returns- Combinations of major funding, expertise, and incentives can be very powerful on companies. According to a 2012 study by the Boston Consulting Group, more than 2/3 of private equity deals resulted in the company’s annual profits grow by at least 20% while nearly half of the deals generated a profit growth of over 50% a year or more.

5. Patient Investors- Since private equity firms invest in a company to make it more valuable within a number of years before selling to a buyer appreciating the lasting value created, their investors are less concerned with short-term performance targets though they do have their eyes on the prize. Sometimes such firms are also known to offer private equity back office services to other firms or companies needing them for investments.

What are the disadvantages of private equity financing?
At the same time, private equity financing come with an array of disadvantages such as the following.

1. Dilution/Loss of Ownership Stake- Other funding options let the owner still stay in control of the company despite the investment’s costs. A company may receive much more money with private equity, but the owner has to give up a large share of the business. Private equity firms often demand a majority stake and sometimes leave the owner with little or nothing in ownership. It’s a bigger trade and one many business owners balk at.

2. Loss of Management Control- Beyond money, a business owner can lose direct control of their company. The private equity firm would want to be actively involved which can be a good thing. But it can mean losing control of basic elements in the business like setting strategy, hiring and firing employees, and choosing the management team. Since the private equity firm’s stake is usually higher, the loss of control is much greater. This is especially true when it comes to the private equity firm’s “exit strategy” which might involve selling the business outright or other options that don’t form part of the owner’s plans. Then there’s the fact that private equity decision-making has been shown to suffer from cognitive bias such as illusion of control and overconfidence.

3. Different Definitions of Value- Private equity firms exist to invest in companies, make them more valuable, and sell their stakes in large profits. Mostly this can be good for the companies involved since any business owner would want to create more value. But a private equity firm’s definition of value is very specific and limited since it’s focused on a business’s financial value on a particular date about 5 years after the initial investment when the firm sells its stake and books a profit. Business owners, by contrast have a much broader definition of value with a longer-term outlook and more concern for relationships with employees and customers as well as reputation. Such difference can lead to clashes.

4. Eligibility- Private equity firms look for particular types of companies to invest in which have to be large enough to support those major investments and offer potential for large profits in a relatively short time frame. This means that a company must have very strong growth potential or it’s in financial difficulties and is currently undervalued. A business that can’t offer investors a lucrative investment within 5 years will struggle to attract interest from private equity firms.

5. Debt Accumulation- Private equity firms use significant amounts of debt to perform deals in financial markets. This can significantly damage not only the company who has to pay for the debt but also to investors and financial markets as well. Not to mention, they charge their companies a bunch of hidden fees. They also make the companies sell their real estate and pay a higher rent to remain on the property, too.

6. Lack of Transparency- Though oversight on private equity firms has increased since 2008, they’re still less regulated than more traditional forms of financing. Private equity also adheres to some practices that alarm politicians. One tactic is a fee-waiver conversion which intentionally directs a greater amount of an investor’s capital away from higher-taxed fees and into a more favorably taxed category.
So what’s with the vulture capitalist reputation?

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Though not all private equity firms are vulture capitalists, there are plenty of large firms that have acquired such reputation. One of these was Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital as you can see on this cartoon chart.

Private equity firms are notorious for making money for their investors without regard to stakeholders in the business. In most cases, private equity firms acquire the kinds of companies that are already in poor financial health, lack a competitive environment, or have poor managers. They want to acquire companies cheap and that means buying companies they believe have more value than Wall Street is willing to realize. Sometimes this means buying companies everyone knows will go out of business. Sometimes a private equity fund performs as advertised using reasonable amounts of debt and providing access to management and expertise and financial resources. This usually involved smaller companies with few assets that can be mortgaged but many opportunities for operational improvements.

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This is Joshua Kosman. In 2009, he wrote a book called The Buyout of America arguing that private equity firms are terrible and will cause the next credit crisis. In his intro he writes, “I believe the record shows that PE firms hurt their businesses competitively, limit their growth, cut jobs without reinvesting the savings, do not even generate good returns for their investors, and are about to cause the Next Great Credit Crisis. Leadership is needed to rally opposition to close the tax loopholes that make this very damaging activity possible.” So far this year’s retail apocalypse is proving him right.

However, the reality is that private equity firms almost always buy larger and profitable companies that already have modern management systems in place as well as substantial assets that can be mortgaged. Here, private equity firms use debt and financial engineering strategies to extract resources from healthy companies. This earns them a reputation for using strategies that critics say play out more as “vulture capitalism”- a phrase that some people use to describe the process where investors make enormous profits while needlessly laying off workers. Private equity investors may increase their investment in companies they own by replacing senior management, reducing the workforce, selling off assets, and essentially gutting the company for profit. A private equity firm could buy a sizeable company, load it up with debt, and then take the money out. After improving their short-term earnings through cuts, it can borrow money and pay itself a dividend. In good times, it can collect a disproportionate share of the investment returns. But this can set up that company for failure and financial vulnerability. If the debt can’t be repaid, the company, its workers, and its creditors bear the costs. Yet, even when a company fails, a private equity firm still makes money. For instance, from 1987-1995, 22% of the money Bain Capital invested in funds raised went to companies that eventually went bankrupt. But Bain made $578 million, comprising of the bulk of these companies’ profits. Under Mitt Romney, 4 of Bain’s 10 biggest investments ended up bankrupt yet the firm still made a killing. Today, it’s no surprise that private equity activity’s often said to focus on short-term profits over a company’s long term health.

But do they improve businesses? According to author Josh Kosman, that may not be so. Out of the 25 biggest buyouts in the 1990s, 52% of those companies ended up bankrupt. Among the 10 biggest, private equity improved only one of the businesses. In 3 cases, the results were mixed while the other 6 companies would’ve been better off had the private equity firm not acquired them. A report from Moody’s back in 2012 showed that in the 40 biggest leveraged buyouts that took place from 2005-2008, these companies saw a revenue increase by 4% while their strategic peers saw profits rise by 14%.

Another criticism is that studying private equity returns is relatively difficult since private equity funds don’t disclose performance data. As these firms invest in private companies, it’s difficult to examine the underlying investments. Comparing private equity to public equity performance is challenging because private equity fund investments are drawn and returned over time as investments are made and subsequently realized. Commentators have argued that a standard methodology is needed to present an accurate picture of performance, to make individual private equity funds comparable and so the asset class as a whole can be matched against public markets and other types of investment. There’s also a claim that private equity firms manipulate data to present themselves as strong performers, making it even more essential to standardize the industry. It’s even worse that private equity firms aren’t as regulated as banks.

Can you describe some shady private equity firm financial engineering practices?

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Here’s a chart on the rates in which private equity firms have stripped assets on retailers. Much of this took place in the mid-2010s. Through junk bonds and leveraged loans to fund special dividends to PE owners, retail stores have lost billions in their assets. What a shame.

Certainly. After a buyout, private equity firms often engage in financial engineering that further compromise their portfolio companies. They might have companies take out loans at junk bond rates and use the proceeds to pay themselves and their investors a dividend. They might split a real estate rich company into an operating company and a property company. They then sell off the real estate and repay investors while the operating company must lease back the property and pay the (often inflated) rent. As you can see, this is what Eddie Lampert did to Sears. They may require their companies to pay monitoring fees to the PE firm for unspecified services. Paying these fees reduces the companies’ liquidity cushion and puts them at risk.

What happens to portfolio companies and workers?

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Here is a list of companies private equity firm KKR owns. Some of the these brands you might recognized, especially Toys “R” Us which filed for bankruptcy.

In these situations, financial engineering results are predictable. In bad economic times, these companies’ high debt levels (especially in cyclical industries) make them seriously vulnerable to default and bankruptcy. According to one economic study, roughly a quarter of highly leveraged companies defaulted on their debts during the last recession. Though the financial crisis officially ended in 2009, bankruptcies among PE-owned companies continued through 2015. In 2007, a PE consortium acquired Energy Future Holdings which defaulted with $35.8 million in debt in 2014. In 2006, a PE acquired the Las Vegas-based Caesar Entertainment whose long-term debt more than doubled by mid-2007. In 2015, it declared bankruptcy putting over 30,000 union workers at risk. Rigorous econometric studies back these job loss cases. One study found that through 2005, PE-owned establishments had significantly lower employment and wages post buyout than comparable publicly-traded companies. Though PE-owned establishments experienced higher wages and employment growth than their counterparts in their buyout year. But employment rates at PE-owned companies were 3-6.7% lower after 2 years and 6% lower after 5 years.

What happens to the Limited Partner investors?

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Here’s another chart detailing which companies private equity owns. Many of these will surprise you. But some of them won’t.

Private equity fund performance depends importantly on how investment returns are measured. Private equity firms use the “internal rate of return” (IRR). Finance economists use the “public market equivalent” which compares returns in PE investments from comparable stock market ones. Recent academic studies find that buyout funds don’t deliver outsized returns to investors. Despite industry claims, private equity funds haven’t beaten the stock market since 2006. A recent study indicates a downward trend in PE performance finding that the median PE fund outperformed the S&P 500 by 1.75% in the 1990s and by 1.5% in the 2000s. Private equity returns also need adjustment for PE investments’ greater riskiness. Industry analysts and most investors assume that private equity fund returns should exceed stock market returns by 3%. More than half of US PE funds have failed to meet that standard over the past 25 years. Average PE returns are upwardly skewed by top quartile funds’ outperformance. But recent research shows it’s no longer possible to predicts which funds will outperform the stock market. GPs with top quartile funds have about a 25-cent chance that their next fund will do the same. Same goes for GPs with bottom quartile funds.

What should the US do about private equity firms?
We must hold our politicians responsible for the looming retail apocalypse. After all, our tax code privileges debt by making corporate interest payments tax-deductible. Private equity firms that gut companies and walk away receive tax subsidies to pull it off. This incentivizes them to borrow even more to run the game again. Even more importantly, we need to look at these asset-stripping schemes with more skepticism. The Securities and Exchange Commission can and should police these designed-to-fail corporate bonds resulting from these leveraged buyouts. The SEC should also go after banks underwriting these deals and earning fees off of companies’ misery.

The House Republican tax bill proposed a cap on deductibility on interest payments over 30% of a company’s earnings. The Senate bill defines earnings in such a way to reduce that cap even further. This should discourage some debt-fueled buyouts which private equity firms don’t like. However, the GOP tax plan exempts real estate companies which leaves a gaping loophole. This could help private equity firms that split their business’s operating side from the property side like Sears did. And enable them to put all the borrowing onto the property side and keep deducting the interest. Not to mention, most of the Republican tax bill is a piece of shit that punishes most Americans who don’t own a yacht. So I wouldn’t advocate the Republican tax plan to crack down on private equity anytime soon.

Nevertheless, don’t expect that Donald Trump will do anything about and we shouldn’t be surprised. The Trump administration will likely continue aiding wealthy financiers through regulatory neglect since those people are their donors. Recently, Comptroller of Currency Keith Noreika broke with a years-long crackdown on high-risk corporate lending, signaling that these private equity firms should issue more debt. It’s a shame we don’t have regulators willing to protect workers, investors, and the economy. Because private equity is accelerating a decline that will affect millions in every major city. To do nothing is to let it continue.

Have You No Sense of Decency?

On Thursday, November 9, 2017, the Washington Post revealed that Alabama Republican Senate frontrunner Roy Moore had allegedly made sexual advances on or engaged in sexual activity with a number of teen girls as young as 14 while in his 30s during the late 1970s. The next day, another woman came forward alleging that Moore sexually assaulted her at 16 and showed his signature on her high school yearbook as proof. For any politician, allegations of pedophilia would’ve resulted in nothing less than widespread condemnation and an end to their political careers. In an interview with Sean Hannity, Moore has called the Washington Post story, “completely false and misleading,” he said he “didn’t dispute” that he “dated a lot of young ladies.” He noted that he “recognized the names” of at least two of the women named in the Post investigation. On CNN, former prosecutor Tessa Jones stated, “it was common knowledge that Roy dated high school girls,” and that “everyone we knew thought it was weird.” She then added, “We wondered why someone his age would hang out at high school football games and the mall.” A dozen people in Gadsen, Alabama remarked on how Moore used to frequent the mall and was reportedly banned for trying to pick up teenage girls.

Not surprisingly, politicians from both parties are calling for Roy Moore to step down from the Senate race against Democrat Doug Jones. The Republican establishment has severed all ties to Moore. But Moore still has a chance to win while many of his supporters have remained noticeably silent. Those who did speak out dismissed the allegations as a Democratic plot or smear campaign and questioned the report’s timing weeks ahead of the December special election. His brother even compared the guy to Jesus. Others implied that Moore’s acts aren’t that bad because, according to Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler, “Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter.” He then added, “There’s just nothing immoral or illegal here. Maybe just a little bit unusual.” Really? A little unusual? When Brietbart Milo Yiannopoulos earlier was caught speaking light on pedophilia, nobody remarked how it wasn’t illegal or immoral. In fact, he lost his book deal with Simon and Schuster, lost his spot at CPAC, lost speaking gigs, and had to resign from Brietbart. In short his career was ruined. But here we have Moore who’s reputed to date teenage girls and people rise to his defense.

To invoke Mary and Joseph to excuse pedophilia is absolutely disgusting on so many levels. First of all, it implies that Roy Moore’s desire and behavior toward these teenage girls was normal (even if the Alabama age of consent is 16). Except that a 30-some-year-old man’s conduct toward teen girls is not. In fact, an adult dating teenage girls is immoral and in some states illegal, especially if the girl is 14. If a grown man pursues teenage girls, it’s about control. Second, using religion to excuse such egregious behavior is nothing short of abhorrent whether it involves Mary and Joseph or not. People have used religion to justify so many horrid things like terrorism, slavery, oppression, as well as all-out war and genocide. Third, to use Mary and Joseph to explain child molestation accusations is a textbook example of blasphemy, especially among Catholics. Regardless of what you believe about these two, most Christians believe they didn’t have premarital sex. Mary was a virgin when she became pregnant with Jesus. Even if she was a teenage girl and he was an adult man, Joseph’s willingness to stay with the pregnant Mary wasn’t an endorsement of underage sex. Furthermore, Ziegler’s defensive statement totally ignores the cultural context of Mary and Joseph’s relationship.

Even without the sexual assault allegations, Roy Moore is a terrible candidate who shouldn’t have won the Republican Alabama Senate nomination in the first place. A former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, he’s best known for his history of fringe views, religious extremism, and refusal to obey federal court orders. He gained national spotlight by installing a large monument of the Ten Commandments in the state’s Supreme Court building and refused to remove it despite federal court orders, which resulted in his removal from office in 2003. But he ran for his old job in 2012 and won it back. But then in 2015, he refused enforce the US Supreme Court’s decision legalizing gay marriage which resulted in his suspension from the bench again and later his resignation. And while he once called being gay as “detestable,” his extremist views don’t just denigrate the LGBT community, He’s also stated that Muslims shouldn’t be allowed to serve in Congress and that some American communities in the Midwest lived under Sharia law. He’s even a birther while his foundation has held events for Neo-Confederates that “promoted a history of the Civil War sympathetic to the Confederate cause, in which the conflict is presented as one fought over the federal government violating the South’s sovereignty as opposed to one fought chiefly over the preservation of slavery.” In 2007, he proclaimed that state involvement in early childhood education was characteristic of totalitarianism. Then there’s a campaign speech over racial divisions in which he said, “Now we have blacks and whites fighting, reds and yellows fighting, Democrats and Republicans fighting, men and women fighting. What’s going to unite us? What’s going to bring us back together? A president? A Congress? No. It’s going to be God.” Stuff like that alone should make any candidate unelectable. But since Alabama is a deeply conservative state, it’s entirely possible that conservative Alabama voters will back Roy Moore despite everything. In fact, a recent poll showed that 29% of the state’s voters say the allegations make them more likely to vote for Moore because of the sexual allegations. Whatever that means, it’s not an encouraging sign.

Still, the fact Republicans stand by Roy Moore despite the recent sexual misconduct allegations is extremely troubling. Of course, Alabama Republicans are defending him because they don’t want that Senate seat to go to a Democrat, let alone a former US Attorney who successfully prosecuted the 2 remaining KKK perpetrators of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing which killed 4 black girls. Because that would mean weaker control of the US Senate. Since Donald Trump ran for president, the Republican Party seems to think that the ends justify the means, especially among his white evangelical supporters. During the 2016 campaign, a Public Religion Institute poll found that the percentage of white evangelicals who thought immoral personal acts should disqualify a candidate from office fell from 64% in 2011 to 49% in 2016. By this time, the culture wars have become so toxic that many evangelicals saw getting “their guy” in power is more important than ensuring that “their guy” lives up to evangelical Christian standards of sexual morality. Now this isn’t just apparent among conservative evangelicals, but these facts indicate where the Republican Party is going. Sure they may call themselves good holy Christians and indeed they may be. But their support for Moore seems like they’ve sold their souls to the Devil. You have to wonder if they have any sense of decency to dump this guy. Or are they just too keen about holding power to care.

Whether their candidates fail to denounce white supremacists, sexually assault women, steal from employees, beat up reporters, have no qualifications, run fake charities, commit rampant fraud, enlist foreign power to meddle in election campaigns, or sexually prey on teenage girls, Republican voters tend to excuse, defend, and/or vote for them. No matter how reprehensible a candidate, they’ll support that person if they believe the right things, are in their party, and give these voters what they want. Even if their candidate wasn’t the person they wanted, they’ll support them anyway since anyone is better than a Democrat. However, voting for a thoroughly despicable candidate who shouldn’t be in office will only make you seem like you’re abandoning your principles for your own selfish interests and don’t care about the consequences. Supporting a candidate like Roy Moore or Donald Trump in any capacity will only make other people think less of you, especially if they win and turn out to be as bad as people said they are or worse (like in Trump’s case). In fact, I already think less of the people I know who voted for Trump which include friends, relatives, neighbors, and others in my community because supporting that unrespectable man in any capacity is completely indefensible. Personal morality might not be everything. But if a candidate’s personal behavior pertains to neglecting responsibility or inflicting terrible harm on others, then they shouldn’t be elected to public office. And from how I see it, it would be better for the Republican Party if conservative voters in Alabama dump Roy Moore and let the Democrat win. It might not be politically expedient to do so, but at least it shows they have a shred of character that many of his vocal supporters seem to lack.