Sunday, January 17, 2016

Springsteen Review, 1-16-16, Pittsburgh

I've seen some sold-out concerts at Consol Energy Center.  Paul McCartney and Billy Joel come to mind.  But I don't think I've ever seen the place as jam-packed as it was last night.  Gave new meaning to the word rafter.  Hey, what better a city to open The River tour than Pixburgh?

You often hear the term "sold-out."  It's popular lingo for the scalpers.  Helps fetch that extra, much heralded zero off some Sewickley high school ginger kid.  Even when there are still tickets for sale at the box office.  Just say that magic word and every ounce of discretion and common sense goes flying out the window.  Not that it matters.  Most people don't care.  After all, it's only money.  Right?

Last night was one of those nights.  Me and G headed into the fray around 6pm.  Our libations for the evening --- 19 Crimes and Fetzer (both Cabs).  Just for the record, we're big fans of 19 Crimes.  If you see it, snag it.  Much like the refrain outside the arena.  If you see something, say something.  What a great motto!  Hey, I say something all the time, but nobody LISTENS.

Possibly the finest wine of the prestigious sub-$10 genre.  We also like Rex Goliath Free Range Red.  Just replace that delicate wine glass with an Aquafina water bottle.  I call it "de-cork, pour-in, un-screw, drink-up."   

Gigi scored a freebie immediately off some dude.  A little over an hour passed and we just couldn't snag another ticket.  Some woman emerged from the nearby church and handed a panhandler 2 print-outs.  I asked him where the tickets were located.  He had no idea.  He whipped out his lighter and took a closer look.  Section 119.  $142 plus service charge.  Not bad.  A retail value of just over $300.  I hope he got a good deal.  I imagine it was more profitable than his spare change routine.  At least I would hope.

On the cusp of showtime, I asked a curbside woman who emerged from an uber-car.  She had one extra.  The scalpers began to lurch in.  Sensing that my time-sensitive, freebie routine might be annoying and probably get rejected, I offered her $20.  She shrugged with semi-indifference and we made the exchange.  Aside from the free parking, it was likely my smartest move of the night.

Now you're probably thinking, "Wait one cotton pickin' minute!  Saf, I thought you NEVER pay.  Isn't it a matter of some warped sense of pride?  Wouldn't it bring shame to your children... and their children... and future generations.  Newsflash: we don't have kids.  3 cats and a temporary weekend visit from Abigail a/k/a the lil' doggie consisting of half dog, quarter gremlin, quarter hamster, smidgeon of genetic rodent.

But no kids.  Hence, the ethical code of conduct does not apply to "Scalping Jew" (the title of a book I intend to write in 2017, possibly sooner).

Anyway, we hit up the Captain Morgan Club over-hang and then got "upgraded" to the end seats in the loge section.  Plenty of room with our own waitress to boot.  FYI: the same seats belong to Franco Harris.  Ironic, as he surely went to Denver for the divisional round game.  Even greater irony, he's on the cover of my latest book "The Immaculate Rejection."

And even further irony.  The book has nothing to do with him or his famous/infamous catch.  And just to set the record straight, HE CAUGHT THE DAMN BALL.  Case closed.  Don't be fooled by the cover.  Words can be deceiving.  Or in this case... deadly.

Anyway, Springsteen and company literally stormed the stage with the full house lights on.  So cool.  More bands should consider doing this.  Then again, most couldn't pull it off.

I was telling Gigi that if they had scheduled the Steelers playoff game for the same day (the two events coincided), I bet he would have considered an old school "matinee" performance.  Wouldn't that have been crazy?  A 1pm Springsteen concert tour opener.  Fortunately, the NFL schedulers knew better.  Goodell and company got one right.  Who woulda thunk it?

Killer opener song.  Here's the version from Saturday Night Live a couple weeks ago.  It's strong but doesn't do justice compared to the version from last night.

For me, the highlights from "The River" portion of the set were Hungry Heart, Two Hearts (always loved this song) and Out in the Street.  Energy level was off the charts.  Typical fare for your average 3 hour+ Springsteen concert.

Towards the end of the set, they played a pretty cool Wrecking Ball.  Not a huge fan of the song, but I thoroughly enjoyed it... probably because I wasn't expecting it.  

They opened the encores with a poignant tribute to David Bowie.  Bruce went with "Rebel Rebel" which was a relatively cool choice.  Not sure which gem I would've chosen.  Just too many out there.  I think "Fashion" would have worked in a funny kinda way for obvious reasons (because he usually wears jeans and a white t-shirt).

Great versions of Bobby Jean, a triumphant Born to Run and an amusing Dancing in the Dark in which he pulled a woman from the audience who towered over everybody.  Seriously, she must have been 6'4".  Maybe played for the WNBA.  She should have danced with Little Steven instead.

One of my least favorite Springsteen tunes is Rosalita.  And I don't care for the obligatory Shout closer either.  Rest assured, I was in the minority.  Always gotta close on a down-note.


Meet Me in the City
The Ties That Bind
Sherry Darling
Jackson Cage
Two Hearts
Independence Day
Hungry Heart
Out In The Street
Crush On You
You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)
I Wanna Marry You
The River
Point Blank
Cadillac Ranch
I'm A Rocker
Fade Away
Stolen Car
The Price You Pay
Drive All Night
Wreck On The Highway
Wrecking Ball
Because the Night
The Rising
Thunder Road


Rebel Rebel
Bobby Jean
Dancing in the Dark
Born to Run
Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)

Me and G have now seen The Boss 3 times, technically 4 (we went to a 2012 Obama "FORWARD re-election rally" at Soldiers and Sailors Hall in Oakland --- a prelude acoustic afternoon show before that evening's Consol Energy Center concert.  And there was his other concert w/ Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine's guitarist subbed in for Silvio Dante).  Of the three, the 2012 show from that night was my favorite.  But last night was hard to beat.  

If we see him again, I'm going to legally change my name for one day.  That is correct.  Safsteen.  Just like former mayor Luke Ravenstahl changed his name to Steelerstahl.  And speaking of the Steelers... good luck today.  They're going to need it.  Last night we took our terrible towels.  If you were there, I have a hunch you may have seen us.  

On a final note, here's a free idea for the Springsteen marketing crew.  Next time he comes to Pittsburgh, make 5,000 limited edition "Springsteen terrible towels."  Not only could you double the customary price from $5.00 to $10.00, you could probably quadruple it to $20.  People are suckers.  And you'll get that whole arena whipped into a frenzy.  As if it would even be necessary.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Shorting the NFL

Gigi and I went to see The Big Short last weekend.  I highly recommend it.

It was our inaugural trip to the AMC Loews Waterfront Cinemas.  The venue itself is spectacular.  Kind of a monster movie mega-plex.  Located in Homestead, you can almost imagine Godzilla emerging outta the Mon and making his way to the Southside.  Stomping on drunken college kids and devouring the disc-lobed, tatted freaks.

Big Short, featuring our mutual hero Steve Carrell, basically documents the sub-prime mortgage bundling debacle of 2008 which precipitated an extreme market crash and the public bailout of the big banks.  The entire financial sector got pummeled.  Trillions in market cap vanished.  Pensions were annihilated.  People lost their homes, life savings, etc.  And the entire country spiraled into an economic depression.  No big deal really.

Afterward, we had some sushi at Yokoso, a mid-scale Japanese steakhouse, and talked about the two major human emotions that fundamentally guide the markets.  They are, drum roll please...  fear and greed.  If you ever need a quickie definition for capitalism, that's a pretty good one.  The balance struck between fear and greed.

Back to the movie.  Nobody in government or on Wall Street could fathom the implosion of the entire housing industry.  Why?  Because everyone was sucking at the proverbial mortgage teat.  After all, the multi-trillion dollar housing market is the backbone of the American economy.  To hedge your bets against it would be like wagering on Fidel Castro during the Cuban Missile Crisis. 

But like all monetary bubbles, it eventually burst.  It all came crashing down.  Everyone had over-extended themselves on worthless piles of paper shit.  My father's basement poker group comes to mind.  When a player was dealt a bad hand, they'd often lash out, "You deal like a man with a paper asshole!

I've witnessed a few market sector bubbles in my time.  Biotech and internet start-ups come to mind.  Like I said, they're all grounded in greed.  Hell, why be fearful when the money's pouring in and everybody's celebrating like their team just made the playoffs and is marching towards the Super Bowl?

Throughout the entire movie, I kept getting this sense of deja-vu.  Like I was experiencing their trials and tribulations vicariously.  Guess what?  It's true.  No, I'm not some billionaire hedge fund manager.  But I do spearhead an organization that pits me in direct opposition to the NFL, NCAA, MLB, NASCAR, NHL and the NBA.  What the hell, I'll even throw in Major League Soccer.  And oh yeah, I'm also trying to ignite a confrontation with the federal government (legislative, executive, judicial branches and all the applicable agencies DHS, FBI, FCC, etc.). 

I typically provide an explanation.  For now... all you get is the link.  Let's just say that NOBODY has the guts to take me on.  Artificially Generated Stampede Awareness Foundation

People have a fundamental right to know...

that if they're in a large, confined crowd and receive an evacuation order 
and/or panic-inducing information from their cell phone or mobile device...

it's almost certainly a malicious hoax designed to create an artificially generated stampede.

As I see it, here are the 3 major similarities applicable to the AGSAF mission statement and the bank/insurance/brokerage meltdown of 2008.

1.  Lack of trading instruments

When the key characters in the movie wanted to short the housing market, they quickly realized it was impossible.  There weren't any readily available "instruments" to carry out the margin strategy because the concept was "unheard of."  This brand of credit default swaps wasn't available.  They basically had to create them.  Largely, because such an action had never been executed in the past.  Hey, if every segment of the industry always gets an "A" rating... if the full weight of the federal government always has their back... if the entire business model has always been considered "safe, sound and secure"... who would be foolish enough to bet against it?

If you want to invest against the NFL, there's really no way to do it.  I suppose you could dance around the edges.  Since they have a considerable stake in the all-inclusive game day package, you might consider a margin play with DirecTV.  But how effective could that possibly be?  You might be able to bet against a single franchise, like say, if you knew the city of Detroit was going into mega-default, super-bankruptcy, as opposed to just being bankrupt.  But the Lions ownership, despite their perpetual losing record and shoddy management, still rake in generous profits. And there's just no way to invest against stadium construction.  You can protest and picket I suppose, but if things really get out of hand, the NFL and major city governments will squash you like a bug.

Roger Goodell is publicly on record stating that he expects the NFL to increase its revenue from 10 billion to 25 billion by 2027.  Not too shabby!  The NFL might experience some minor setbacks from time to time (isolated scandals, teams relocating, attendance drop-offs, various lawsuits, etc.).  But all in all, it's somehow immune to the private sector laws of supply and demand.  I guess the fundamental laws of Economics 101 don't apply so much.  Does this make sense?


In the movie, all these powerful CEOs (Goldman Sachs, Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, etc.) never saw the crash coming.  Why?  Because they fell prey to their own hubris.  All of them were surrounded by sychophants as the money kept pouring in.  The tiered mortgage structure went out the window.  Every loan became doable.  No money down?  No problem.  We'll just make it a variable interest rate instead of a fixed.  Temporarily unemployed?  No W-2?  Don't sweat it.  We'll just label you as self-employed.  Can't do 20% down?  No problem, we'll let you put down 5%.  Income verification?  Who gives a shit.  Not a legal citizen?  We'll get your dog Fido to cosign.

My point --- nobody got turned down.

Now if you ever needed a definition of hubris, look no further than the NFL.  Every owner is a billionaire.  30 of them are multi-billionites.  With a net worth of 18 billion, Paul Allen (Seahawks owner, co-Microsoft founder) makes them all look like paupers.  Go Hawks.  Other than anonymous internet bloggers, do you think anybody has the audacity to challenge this select group of people.  Uhh, no.

The NFL is the ultimate adult playground.  The bullies that run the show don't like being told what to do.  And money ALWAYS takes precedence.  Just look at Stan (the 2nd wealthiest owner) Kroenke's move to Los Angeles and the new stadium in Inglewood, CA (2019).  The city of St. Louis never stood a chance.


Leading up to the financial devastation, Wall Street and the federal government didn't want to challenge the status quo.  They had nothing to gain and everything to lose --- a very dangerous combination.  Just ask Mr. Miyagi of Karate Kid fame.  Must have balance.

Nobody currently has a vested interest in solving the NFL's problem (outdated emergency stadium evacuation protocol).  Why?  Because it's counter-intuitive to all the money rolling in.  It's a voluntary admission that a venue COULD be unsafe.  This further manifests itself through issues of plausible deniability and hypothetical litigation.  In a word... MONEY. 

The theory that nobody will ever test this dynamic is absurd.  Eventually, someone will execute the modern, technological equivalent of shouting FIRE in a crowded theater.  Whether or not they're successful is NOT the issue.  You need to acknowledge the problem and devise a contingency plan.  In this case, it's simple.  JUST TELL PEOPLE THE TRUTH.  It doesn't cost anything.  In a word... FREE.

Because if this actor knows what they're doing (wireless carrier hack, opt-in notification abuse, spam, spoofed emails, bulk texting, reverse 911 manipulation, social media saturation, targeting of local news, Stingray technology, viral blitzkrieg a/k/a infobomb, Miniature Hero, Badger, or any combination thereof)... it could very well be a "lights out" scenario... also known as a DOMINIPEDE.

Everyday, I spam the NFL and various presidential candidates.  Although most of the feedback is negative, I consider it time well spent.  Here's the message I use for every NFL team's facebook page.  We'll use the heroic Rams owner for an example...

STAN KROENKE --- Our troops protect and defend your lavish, multi-billion dollar lifestyle. If you have the moral courage to publicly acknowledge my concerns, I'll make a $2,500 donation to the Wounded Warrior Project (on your behalf). You don't even have to attempt an answer. Just raise the issue.

Every NFL stadium has 50,000 - 100,000 active wireless devices capable of receiving real-time, false information. Shouldn't the NFL explicitly warn its fans that official emergency evacuation orders would NEVER be delivered via their personal cell phones?

Reason being, if something like this were to happen... it's almost certainly a malicious hoax designed to create an "artificially generated stampede." Hint: Legit evac orders come from the public address system in tandem with the video monitors. NOT CELL PHONES.

The federal government and private industry won't go anywhere near this cyber-security threat... unless there's a tragedy first. Just some common sense, public safety info that nobody's allowed to talk about.

The following teams have blocked me for posting this question (Steelers, Bengals, Raiders, Seahawks, Panthers, Eagles, Texans, Saints, Titans).  What team will be next? 

If you support freedom of speech, hit the LIKE button. (Artificially Generated Stampede Awareness Foundation)

Surprisingly, the Rams haven't blocked me... yet.  Though, I did notice something peculiar.

Every NFL team usually makes about 4-5 social media posts per day.  On game day, that number of posts usually doubles.

On January 11, 2015, right before the NFL owners meeting in Houston on the 12th, the Rams suspended their use of facebook.  They haven't posted anything.  And now it's the 15th.  How long will this self-imposed social media blackout last?  I'm guessing about a week.

So what happened during the meeting?  Answer: the Rams officially abandoned Missouri.

The question is WHY?  So why did the Rams social media department cease posting?  Well, obviously they anticipated a backlash of immeasurable proportions.  They knew everyone would go to the team's facebook page and blast the living fuck out of ownership and management.  Rather than absorb a dose of their own medicine, they made a calculated decision to purposely limit their exposure.

My point to all of this.  It's exactly how the NFL operates.  It's business as usual.  The St. Louis Rams are the perfect microcosm for the entire league.  If there's bad news to be had, then just use this time honored formula --- conceal, distract, disguise, obscure and avoid.  Remember that Concussion movie?  Is any of this starting to make sense?

Now here's the problem.  And it's a big one.  When dealing with a black swan, asymmetric cyber-security threat, the NFL won't be afforded a dress rehearsal.  You don't get a second chance.  There ain't no preseason.

It's just like the financial sector in 2008 all over again.

And don't even get me started on the 9/11 parallels.

Monday, January 11, 2016

How Trump Could Win in 2016

First off, a disclaimer:  I deplore Donald Trump.  He makes me physically sick to my scalp... and to a lesser extent, my stomach.

So here's how he can win it all.

For the primary, I'd stick with his general game plan.  Dominate the news cycle at any cost.  Keep hurling insults at all the mainstream candidates and hope they fear the damaging stigma from dropping out.  It's a smart tactic.  Most of these candidates (Rubio, Christie, Cruz, Bush) are relatively young.  They got a long way to go.  Don't wish to be perceived as having caved to the bullying and the pressure.  Plus, they're all victims to their own hubris.

Now for the general election, let's assume it's Hillary vs. Trump.  But let's throw in a wildcard.  MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, former multi-billionaire mayor of New York City.  If, and I know it's a big if.  IF Bloomberg runs, he'll do so as an independent.  This throws a monkey wrench into the entire electorate.

Bloomberg would run as a left-leaning, independent.  Money would not be an issue.  I think he's worth 40 billion or so.  Trump looks like a pauper in comparison.  And to add insult to injury, Bloomberg steals the Hollywood Jew and the Greenspanish banking vote from both sides.

Anyway, Bloomberg would run as some kind of pragmatic, billionaire populist and really pulverize Hillary's margins from the left.  It's the exact same dynamic that killed Bush Sr. in 1992.  Ross Perot ran as an outsider, fiscal conservative.  But everything happened from the right.  And Bill Clinton nailed the plurality.  You like that?

I really can't throw in Bernie yet.  Even if he wins Iowa AND New Hampshire, it won't be by much.  Hillary can say they're neck and neck and it's a long way to the finish line.  Then her money machine and special interests will go to work.  You won't be able to #feelthebern, because her PACs will #destroythebern.  Regardless of his "momentum," she'll dispose of him on Super Tuesday.

So here's my prediction.  Assuming all things remain generally stagnant for 2016 (no 9/11s), I think it will be Hillary vs. Trump.  If it's just those two, I think Hillary takes it in an absolute landslide.  I think she wins the entire electoral college.  All 50 states.  Not joking.  Unprecedented.

However, if Bloomberg were to run (and I think he will because he sees himself as an activist, risk-taker), I guarantee that Trump wins the presidency.  It would be tight... but in the end, it's merely a numbers game.  The presidential market share and societal percentages have zero emotion.  Trump would squeak through.  Unless of course... he winds up dead (a distinct possibility).

And that's how an obnoxious blowhard, arrogant douchebag, foreign policy ignoramus, pseudo-racist, carnival barking assholic asshole becomes the next president of the United States.