Dumb & Dumber Part Doh!: From Wienies to Wienermobiles
Earlier this week I ran through several quick hits for Dumb & Dumber highlighting boorish behavior that we should all avoid.
But let’s be honest. Rep. Lauren Boebert and Sen. Bob Menendez are low-hanging fruit.
Thanks for reading Wells $treet! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
So, as promised, here’s September’s official D&D list of poor choices that could (or did) result in financial consequences.
DUMB — Wienie Marketing for the Wienermobile
Google changed its name to Alphabet eight years ago.
I still call it Google.
Chrysler thinks we’ll eventually catch on to “Stellantis.” Nope.
X will always be Twitter to me.
Oscar Mayer, on the other hand, realized within months that it bombed bigly when it rebranded the Wienermobile.
Last May, the company gave its famous hot dog wagon a new name, “Frankmobile.” The new moniker was supposed to highlight a new recipe for Oscar Mayer’s 100% beef franks. I wonder if the real reason is that Millennial snowflakes in the marketing department found “Wienermobile” too aggressively male.
However, “Frankmobile” sounds about as festive as a German panzer tank. Frankly, it didn’t cut the mustard. (I’ve got a million of ‘em!)
Oscar Mayer fixed the mistake faster than you can say “New Coke.” The Wienermobile is once again the Wienermobile, and all is right in the world of highly processed food.
DUMBER — When Stars Collide
Lots of apologies among the glitterati in September.
Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis are apologizing for writing letters of support for convicted rapist Danny Masterson, saying their castmate from “That ‘70s Show” was great to them and they never saw him rape anyone.
Jann Wenner is also apologizing for being old and addled and finally revealing what he’s always thought. Wenner’s new book on the “masters” of rock n’ roll reveals that they’re all white guys. Why no women? “None of them were as articulate enough [as the men] on this intellectual level,” he told the New York Times. “Go have a deep conversation with Grace Slick or Janis Joplin. Please, be my guest.”
Well, I’d love to, but I hear Janis isn’t available.
How come he didn’t include rock legends who aren’t white? “Maybe Marvin Gaye, or Curtis Mayfield?” Wenner asked himself. But then, no. “I mean, they just didn’t articulate at that level.”
Wenner mansplain’d/whitesplain’d that all of rock’s greatest minds coincidentally “articulate” just like he does. And just like that, he’s off to the dinosaur graveyard.
But for pure dumbness, here’s my top pick for September.
The writers strike is over (shouldn’t it be “writers’ strike,” with an apostrophe?), but it’ll be very uncomfortable on the set of “The Drew Barrymore Show.”
Three weeks ago the actress declared that she was going back to work on her talk show during the strike, without writers, because “this is bigger than me.” It should be “bigger than I am,” but that’s what happens when you don’t have writers.
Drew planned to adlib without a script segments like “Best Tips for Repotting Plants,” because knowing how to repot plants is bigger than any one person.
We learned, however, that even a Barrymore in Hollywood can deliver a bad performance. The blowback was fierce. Drew soon changed her mind and apologized.
It’s gonna be awkward around the craft services table.
DUMBERER — Air Sickness
Travel horror stories ascended to new heights in September. The UK Sun reports that passengers planning to board a British Airways flight from Johannesburg to London had their flight cancelled when a flight attendant received texts from the first officer detailing a boozy, sex-filled overnight in Joburg that included snorting coke off a woman’s chest. Did I mention he put this in a text?
The cancellation reportedly cost BA about $100,000, but it’s gonna cost the pilot a lot more. He was put on leave and flown home, where he immediately popped positive on a drug test. Something tells me this wasn’t the first time he partied on the road. Now the married pilot is out of a job, and his wife would like a word.
Over on this side of the pond, a plane made a U-turn two hours into a transatlantic flight because a passenger’s diarrhea was declared a biohazard. (We’re all just one bad burrito away from being that guy.) Then there was an episode where a pilot ordered two passengers off an aircraft because they were dismayed to find their seats were smeared with vomit.
Flying is fun.
The major airlines reported boffo revenues last quarter, and you can see why. We’re so desperate to get out of the house after Covid that we’ll put up with just about anything.
On the wings of financial success, Delta Airlines decided its SkyMiles program has become too popular — everyone’s crowding into the Sky Lounge — so it’s time to restrict benefits.
Starting next year, SkyMiles Medallion status will be based on dollars spent, not miles flown. Access to the airport lounge will also be limited.
The news created a lot of turbulence. CEO Ed Bastian told the Atlanta Rotary Club (which no doubt boasts several Diamond Medallion members) that the airline is probably going to backtrack some of the changes. “No question, we probably went too far,” he said.
Ed, we fly on planes with diarrhea and vomit and coked up co-pilots to earn free upgrades on more planes with diarrhea and vomit and coked up co-pilots. Don’t take that away from us.
DUMBERERER — Antiproductive Antiracism
Ibram X. Kendi is a writer, academic and activist who raised a whopping $43 million to establish the Center for Antiracist Research (CAR) at Boston University after the beating death of George Floyd. Kendi launched the center at a time when pretty much anyone who promised to work for racial justice could get a fistful of dollars. Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey reportedly gave CAR $10 million. Other donations came from TJMaxx, Peloton, and Stop & Shop.
CAR never produced all of the research it promised, most of the staff is now gone, and a lot of the money appears missing. The university is investigating.
This should not have come as a surprise to BU. The school newspaper reports that in 2021, a former employee and associate professor raised a red flag and was ignored. The professor filed a complaint about CAR that “detailed multiple high-level employees leaving suddenly and allegations of a workplace culture that included fear of retaliation and discrimination.” #Ironic
Eboo Patel rightly puts a lot of the blame on donors. Patel runs Interfaith America, a nonprofit which promotes America’s religious diversity. He writes in The Chronicle of Philanthropy that those who gave millions to CAR need to ask themselves hard questions.
“Did they have confidence in the leadership team to execute the programs? Were there benchmarks in place to check progress?” Patel writes. He fears that the normal due diligence was truncated “because too many professionals were swept up in a cultural moment, blinded by ideological fervor, and mesmerized by celebrities.”
The result is that money went to CAR that might’ve gone to other efforts run by people who know what they’re doing.
DUMBERERERER — Rich People Problems
Sometimes I think it’s not even worth it to be really wealthy. The richer you are, the harder you fall. Unless, of course, you’re the senior Wells Fargo executive charged in the bank’s notorious fake fee scandal who pleaded guilty to obstruction and got probation instead of prison, because (inhale) the higher-ups never go to prison.
But who wants to be a billionaire anymore? They’re all so sad.
Elon Musk says the spate of smash-and-grab robberies is giving him “late-stage civilization vibes.” So true. Also true: Elon gives me late-stage civilization vibes.
Over in South Dakota, the state’s richest man can’t give it away. T. Denny Sanford has been shunned by the Giving Pledge, an organization created to encourage the wealthiest among us to donate their fortunes.
Sanford signed the Pledge, but now the organization has removed him from its website. This happened after documents in a kiddie porn case were unsealed, revealing that investigators found dozens of photos of nude children in an email account “they believed to be linked to Sanford.” His attorneys say his accounts were hacked, and prosecutors dropped the case, but now the banking billionaire is stuck with $2.1 billion he has to charitably dispose of some other way. Call me.
Meantime, two legendary billionaire hedge fund managers are busy paying lawyers to protect their reputations, because no one is more thin-skinned than a guy with “tres comas” (aka “three commas,” as in $1,000,000,000).
Ray Dalio of Bridgewater Associates is reportedly freaking out about an upcoming book called “The Fund” which is critical of his leadership style. Apparently he doesn’t come off as nice. The New York Post says Dalio has hired not one but three big guns to threaten the author, former New York Times reporter Rob Copeland. He didn’t merely engage the services of senior partners at these law firms, Dalio hired guys whose names are on the letterhead: Tom Clare of Clare Locke, John Quinn of Quinn Emanuel, and Orin Snyder of Gibson Dunn (the original Gibson and Dunn are busy defending themselves in the afterlife).
Fellow “tres comas” member Ken Griffin of Citadel Capital, who’s worth an estimated $35 billion, unleashed more lawyers from Clare Locke and Quinn Emanuel to threaten producers of the new film, “Dumb Money,” which revisits the meme stock craze involving GameStop shares. Griffin was reportedly concerned about how actor Nick Offerman portrays him in certain scenes, but the billionaire’s fears were based on an old script. The scenes never ended up in the film.
Hiring lawyers and making threats over something that doesn’t exist is the very definition of dumb money.
That said, if you’re an attorney at Clare Locke or Quinn Emanuel working these cases, my hat’s off to you. You’re getting a helluva bonus this year.
DUMBERERERERER — Medicare Madness
Not only are rich people miserable. Miserable people want to be rich.
A nurse practitioner in Miami has been convicted of $200 million in fraudulent Medicare billings.
Not $2 million. Not even $20 million. Elizabeth Hernandez probably could’ve gotten away with that.
But $200 million? That’s just asking for it.
According to the Justice Department, Hernandez “signed thousands of orders for medically unnecessary orthotic braces and genetic tests” for Medicare recipients who decided they needed those things after being conned by a telemarketing scam. (Grandma, stop answering the phone.)
Hernandez would sign orders for tests and products, pretending she’d examined the patients, when she never actually met them. Records indicate she billed for so many office visits that sometimes they added up to more than 24 hours in a day.
“In 2020, Hernandez ordered more cancer genetic tests for Medicare beneficiaries than any other provider in the nation, including oncologists and geneticists,” prosecutors say. Of the $200 million in billings, Hernandez received $1.6 million, and she may soon share a cellblock with her telemarketing co-conspirators who are already in prison.
Friends, the lesson here is if you plan to rip off the government — which is very easy to do — don’t get greedy.
DUMBEST — The Smartest Guy in the Room
I wish I was as smart as Paul Krugman.
Krugman is an economist who won the Nobel Prize and writes for the New York Times. He’s sometimes criticized for his liberal political views, so he’s used to pushback.
Still, he seemed caught off guard this month after tweeting, er, X-ing, that inflation “has been largely defeated.”
The outrage was immediate.
How did he come to this conclusion?? (she angrily types as gas prices in parts of California hit $7 a gallon…)
Krugman looked at inflation without counting the cost of food and energy. The government does this also, stripping out those numbers in its “core inflation” figure, believing that food and energy prices fluctuate too much to provide a stable number. I think that’s silly, but I’m not an economist. Krugman went further, though. He also stripped out the costs of shelter (rent) and used cars.
In other words, if you don’t look at your grocery bill, your gasoline and heating bills, your rent, or the price of the old Toyota you bought, everything’s great!
“Inflation for fasting non-drivers living in tents is finally defeated!!” replied my very funny friend Bryan Suits.
Krugman felt the need to follow up with a column explaining why he said what he said. Rents and used car prices in the inflation report lag behind reality on the ground, in his opinion. So… take ‘em out.
But when you take all of these things out of the Consumer Price Index, you’re not left with much, just the prices of new vehicles, apparel, and medical costs.
I think what Krugman fails to grasp, if I may be so bold, is that while price increases are slowing, the cost of most things is still going up, on top of last year’s huge jump. Yes, energy prices are down, but not for long. Oil is over $90 a barrel.
As for choosing to ignore the cost of shelter, Krugman writes that the government looks at both actual rents and estimated rents. “But most renters have fairly long-term leases,” he says, “so the average rent people are paying can lag far behind what new tenants pay, which is a better indicator for policy.”
Most renters have fairly long-term leases? The most common lease is 12 months, which means that every month, one out of 12 renters is renewing a lease, potentially at a higher rent. And the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 32% of renters pay month-to-month, meaning their rent could go up much more quickly.
Krugman admits that stripping out all the things most of us consider important may not leave us with anything noteworthy. “[O]ne problem with excluding significant components of inflation is that what’s left may be driven by prices that we know are measured badly, like the cost of health insurance.”
Gosh, he’s a genius. So should we strip out medical costs as well? This is turning into the PAC-12. Soon we’ll be left with only the cost of clothing and new cars — the Oregon State and Washington State of the economy — to determine inflation.
DUMB… but Wonderful
Well, I’ve dumped a lot of negativity on you, and I apologize. It’s my cross to bear.
I always like to end on a high note, and I think I’ve found a nugget worthy of this finance-focused newsletter.
I absolutely love the Taylor Swift-Travis Kelce romance. I DON’T CARE WHAT YOU SAY.
It’s not because I’m emotionally invested, though I hope everyone finds their special person. In fact, I don’t even think this relationship (or whatever it is) will last. I’d love to be proven wrong.
So here’s why I think “Tayvis” is wonderful news. The collision of Swifties and football is the biggest win-win of 2023.
Kansas City is playing the Jets this weekend on Sunday Night Football, and Taylor is expected to attend the game, turning a snoozer into must-see TV. Imagine the ratings! NBC must be beside itself, thinking, “Who needs striking actors? We’ve got pop-star football!”
The Hollywood Reporter says “the Jets have sold more tickets for their game against the Chiefs in a single day since the season started — by more than double.” (That evil cackling you hear is NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who’s never been able to convince Taylor to do the Super Bowl halftime show.)
As for Taylor and Travis, they’ll be fine when it ends. She’ll write another hit song about the break-up, and he’ll cash in on all the Swifties from Saigon to São Paulo who bought his merch.
I may not be a hopeless romantic, but I’m definitely a hopeless capitalist.
Thanks for reading Wells $treet! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.