Numlock News: March 28, 2019
By Walt Hickey
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In a landmark decision that affirms the fundamental rights we all share, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 9-0 that an Alaskan man could, in fact, use a blower-powered amphibious hovercraft on the Nation River in a nature preserve while trying to hunt moose, despite the protestations of the National Park Service. This righteous victory for aspiring moose-slayer John Sturgeon affirms the last 66 percent of the rights of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” and also limits the NPS’s authority over state-owned rivers in Alaska. “Sturgeon can again rev up his hovercraft in search of moose,” Supreme Court Associate Justice Elena Kagan wrote in the opinion.
McDonald’s is waving the white flag on the minimum wage, announcing it will no longer use its resources — mainly lobbyists and government relations staff — to oppose minimum wage increases at the federal, state or local level. McDonald’s employs over 800,000 people in the U.S. One part of this is that McDonald’s starting pay — over $10 per hour — is still on average better than the federal minimum wage, which has been stubbornly stuck at $7.25 per hour since 2009. This announcement is easily the most spellbinding political moment for McDonald’s since the sordid 1985 scandal that led Mayor McCheese to resign in disgrace.
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If you felt an imperceptible moment of national bonhomie earlier this week, it might have been because the Federal Trade Commission extracted devastating settlements from four operations that were purportedly responsible for billions of robocalls. The total amount of judgments assessed against the variety of alleged perpetrators is $21,461,000. One scheme, according to the FTC’s allegations, deceived small business owners by pretending to be Google and then shaking them down, another reportedly made millions of robocalls pretending to represent veterans' charities and compelling the donation of vehicles, a third apparently shilled debt relief services and another basically operated the technical infrastructure behind billions of illegal robocalls, according to the FTC.
Fan Bingbing was the biggest movie star in China until the government made an example out of her business dealings and placed her under house arrest for a period of time. The entire Chinese movie production business got caught up in the crackdown — like many film-making enterprises, the accounting was innovative to the point of being arguably fraudulent vis-a-vis taxation and how much of that they owed — but it’s becoming clear that Bingbing may be back on the upswing after appearing appropriately penitential. The reality is that China needs stars like her. A film released in America opens on fewer than 2,500 screens, while a release in China can open on over 20,000. The country is estimated to need 500,000 scripts to fill all those screens and airtime over the next five years alone, a figure that makes Netflix look damn near discerning when it comes to what gets made.
Michelle Obama’s memoir Becoming sold almost 10 million copies and is responsible for Penguin Random House’s best sales year since 2007. Last year, Bertelsmann SE — which owns 75 percent of the publishing house — posted total sales of $20 billion. This is a solid win for the publisher, which reportedly paid $65 million to publish separate books from Barack and Michelle Obama. Book sales are hard to track globally, but Becoming is the second-highest adult biography by printed copies since 2004, following only the anniversary edition of Eat, Pray, Love.
Now I don’t know if anyone was really following this, but some former FBI director named Robert Mueller was recently working on a secret project that made a lot of people very animated about what might or might not come up. It was a whole big thing, but honestly not a lot of numbers were involved so it never once came up here in Numlock. Anyway, there’s this whole cottage industry that crops up to sell swag with this cop’s name on it to make a quick buck from the credulous. As of Monday, there were 2,374 Robert Mueller-related items on Etsy that came up in a search, presumably targeted at people who never watched a single episode of Law & Order, and thus greatly overestimated the ability of a prosecutor to seal a deal. Now I get the feeling those 2,374 prosecutor-branded items are worth about as much as Rams LIII Super Bowl winner shirts, or the entire back half of Robert De Niro’s career. The world would be a demonstrably better place if it was about 20 percent harder to print a t-shirt.
A survey of 2,600 full-time U.S. workers conducted by MetLife found that the most treasured emerging work perk of all is not working. A full 72 percent of respondents wanted unlimited paid time off, compared to 69 percent who desired incentives or rewards for healthy behaviors, 66 percent who wanted paid sabbaticals and 54 percent who wanted a shot at working abroad. Setting aside the fact that “unlimited time off” is another way of pronouncing “unused vacation days are not paid out at the end of employment,” generally these perks were fairly standard: yeah, people like more opportunities to get paid while not at work, alert the press. Interestingly, 33 percent of respondents wanted subsidized egg freezing, showing that while employees want time off, they’re also willing to put some things off.
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