Virtual Property Tours Get Staged: The Use of Virtual Enhancements

You look at what computers can do, and the property looks fabulous. A wall is removed. The color of the trim around doors is changed. The kitchen cabinets are a different color. And, of course, the furniture is much better looking than what the owners modestly put in there. And digitally, the photos have all the household clutter removed. Instant model home, and all without a stitch of work by Chip and Joanna.

However, it is not real. The Wall Street Journal reports that those virtual listing photos may be misleading. May be? The photos show a contrast between what is an empty home and one loaded with furniture. One that is a haven for clutter to a slick, smooth, clean kitchen without so much as a coffee maker on the cupboard.

A word to the wise: See the property in person before committing. Virtual reality is a tad different from the house being listed. You need to see the virtual and the real.

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Prison Sentences in the Adidas – Basketball Scheme

Former Adidas executive, Jim Gatto, was sentenced to 9 months in prison, following his convictions on wire fraud and conspiracy. Sentenced to six months for their role in the basketball scheme to sign players to schools that Adidas sponsored were Merl Code (former Adidas consultant) and Christian Dawkins (an aspiring sports agent).

The scheme that the three concocted was to funnel cash from Adidas to the parents of talented basketball players in order to get them to choose Adidas-sponsored schools. The father of one of the players testified in the case about the tens of thousands he was promised if his son signed at the University of Louisville. The father also testified that his son knew nothing about the payments. Nonetheless, his son was banned from MCAA sports, the NBA did not want to go anywhere near the scandal, and his son now plays overseas. Somehow the adults did not act in the best interests of the young people.

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Richard III and Lessons on Truth

Shakespeare viewed Richard III as a “poisonous hunchback’s toad.” A disfigured sociopath. However, in 2012, researchers uncovered a skeleton in an unmarked grave under a parking lot. The mitochondrial DNA was matched with the DNA of Richard’s maternal relatives.

What the researchers then learned from the skeleton revealed a king who had scoliosis, but not to a degree that a “bespoke suit of medieval armor” couldn’t straighten around. The foam hunchback worn by so many actors in playing Shakespeare’s view was probably overdone. The rumors of Richard’s deformity were probably the result of the Tudors seeking to place Henry VII on the throne. Power grabs then and power grabs now do spawn their share of untruths.

The skeleton, as described in Brian Switek’s book, Skeleton Keys did, however, show the brutal fashion in which Richard was killed in the Battle of Bosworth Field. A group of well armed Welshmen, who surrounded a marooned Richard stuck in the mud on his horse, used all manner of daggers, halberds, and swords in all the thinkable and unthinkable places in Richard’s body. Mr. Switek summed up Richard’s death as follows, “We are a cruel species, and the marks of our depravity are etched into Richard’s bones.” However, there was a long list of Richard’s victims whose skeletons reveal equal cruelty.

It make have taken 529 years, but DNA hatched the truth about Richard’s deformity. We also see both sides now. Richard was a sociopath, but the other side had its share of brutal murderers. By these behavioral standards, today’s British royalty fussing over Meghan Markle’s views, arguments, staff issues, and demands seem charming.

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[Truth]”is something that can’t be thought about in a linear, binary true-false-facts-non-facts–you can’t do that anymore. It’s just not the way it works.”

Jacob Wohl, a 21-year-old hatcher of online rumors, tales, etc. such as Ruth Bader Ginsberg being secretly held in a vegetative state. Except that Justice Ginsberg was just seen walking through Reagan National Airport. There is truth, and it is absolute. That we start an unverified rumor does not mean the concept of truth has changed. It just means that some information posted on the Internet is not verified as truth before it goes around the world 7 times. Posting falsehoods on the Internet does not make them true. Rapid transit of falsehoods does not make them true. The failure to withdraw a falsehood following incontrovertible
proof that it is a falsehood does not make it true. At age 21, confusion is possible, but ancient logic and reasoning trump new theories about truth. The truth may take a non-linear path to emerge, but there remains just one truth. And that is actually the way it works.

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Former Enron CEO, Jeffrey Skilling, Released From Prison After 12 Years

The bankruptcy of Enron (2001) was nearly two decades ago. Jeffrey Skilling, the McKinsey-alum-Harvard-MBA- former CFO, was released from prison after 12 long years. He was convicted of fraud, conspiracy, and insider trading. The last one means that he was selling off his stock even as he knew of the company’s imminent collapse.

One of the ironies of it all, as reported in today’s Wall Street Journal, is that many of the hard assets of Enron that were sold off as part of its liquidation have really produced, literally and figuratively. Enron’s drilling and exploration company was a pioneer in the technology for fracking — the use of those assets spawned EOG Resources. One of the officers who wisely got out of Enron before the fraud started, Richard Kinder, founded Kinder Morgan,now a company with a network of pipelines across most of the West. GE bought Enron’s wind-power assets and this strategic buy appears to one of the few things GE touched that did not fail.

All of this success of Enron’s lost talent and sold assets highlights a root cause of Enron’s collapse. If the company had stuck to what it and its founder, Ken Lay (now deceased), knew best, it would have been an energy giant today. It was the foray into derivatives and off-the-book entities and just generally mumbo-jumbo finance wizardry that brought about the company’s collapse. Unnecessary risk, wheeling and dealing, investments in and sales of barges, and a host of other highfalutin financial tricks of the trade were self-destructive. Enron execs were shooting for the status of #1 in the world. They should have stuck with the more modest and achievable and sustainable goal of #1 in energy. Of all the words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these, “It might have been.” Here’s to a wiser and prudent life to Mr. Skilling now that he has paid his debt to society.

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“The monsters are the men [who frequent the massage spas in Florida].”

Sheriff William D. Snyder, in charge of the joint FBI/Martin County, Florida task force investigating massage spas in Florida for human trafficking. The investigation became public when New England Patriots owner and billionaire, Robert Kraft, and former Citigroup president, John Havens, were caught in a sting operation and arrested for illegal activity in the Orchids of Asia spa on Jupiter Island.

The investigation revealed that the women working there (mostly from China) had been brought to the United States by traffickers under the guise of employment and were working off their debt or working in exchange for protecting family members being threatened at home. These young women are moved from spa to spa throughout four Florida counties so that building cases for prosecution becomes difficult. Some of the young women are runaways and some are foster children. They sleep on massage tables and prepare their meals on hot plates. Their passports have been confiscated so that they have nowhere to go or even identification to get them anything or anywhere.

The tales are far more lurid, but Sheriff Snyder is right — if there were no market for their services. . .

Messrs. Kraft and Havens have proclaimed their innocence. Well, they have said that they did nothing illegal. Ah, but the ethical questions remain. The ethical mind determines the effect of one’s actions on others before acting. Look what frequent flyers have wrought on these women. The ethical mind also answers this question: What would the world look like if everyone behaved as I do? The world would apparently look like four counties in Florida, with a massage spa in every strip mall from Miami to West Palm Beach. That is one scenic landscape.

Just these two simple questions could have helped these titans of business find other “hobbies,” or perhaps just more meaningful use of their time. There comes a time, and it should have been reached long before ages 77 and 62, respectively for Kraft and Havens, when the frat house hormones are brought in check. Once we get the seniors under control, we can proceed to the newsrooms, the television shows, Virginia, and Congress if the age restrictions have not cast a wide enough net in reining in bizarre escapades at the expense of others.

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Deutsche Bank Hid $1.6 Billion Loss From 2008 Until, Well, Now

For over a decade, Deutsche Bank hid a $1.6 billion loss it racked up in 2008 on some municipal bonds it purchased in the wild markets that led to the 2008 market collapse. The loss was first reported on February 20, 2018.

Even more stunning than the lost decade was that the bank was able to convince the bank’s auditors that the value at which is was carrying the bonds was market value. It gradually acknowledged losses incrementally until its full position was finally liquidated after 9 years. The bonds were shuttled off to what the bank called its “noncore operations unit.” Internally, the process for this operation was “Project Marla.” Here’s a safety tip: If you have to refer to what you are doing as a project with a goofy name, you may have crossed a few ethical lines. See FBI efforts to investigate a presidential candidate and then a president as “Crossfire Hurricane.” Regardless of political views, the FBI seeking to remove a president through wiretaps and tries smacks of something a little above their pay grades.

All during this period, the bank was raising capital without disclosure of the valuation issues. Upon liquidation, the bank, its audit committee, and auditors debated whether it should restate its financials for those 9 years. Somehow they all agreed,”Let’s just move along without doing all of that.” They labeled it all “inline with accounting standards.”

Think of how many people at the bank were aware of this activity, and yet, for over 9 years, no one said a word. Now that’s a culture problem.

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McKinsey Settles Its Failure to Disclose Bankruptcy Positions for $15 Million

As the Barometer noted some months ago, McKinsey & Company, the management consulting firm, was under fire for its failure to disclose conflicts of interest in bankruptcy cases. The issue was McKinsey providing counsel and advice on distinction of estates and payment of creditors even as its retirement fund for its employees held positions in the debtors. Bankruptcy rules require disclosure of conflicts of interest, but McKinsey did not make the disclosures in the bankruptcies of Alpha Natural Resources, Westmoreland Coal, and SunEdison. McKinsey had maintained that it did not have conflicts because it was a different entity from its retirement fund.

The Justice Department’s United States Trustee Program, which oversees the U.S.Bankruptcy Court System, begged to differ and did so through a mediation process. The outcome is that McKinsey has agreed to pay $15 million distributed as follows: $5 million each to Alpha, Westmoreland, and SunEdison to be distributed to their creditors. Interestingly, the settlement also had to provide that McKinsey could not accept any repayments from the $15 million as creditors. In other words, the conflict prohibited McKinsey from accepting its own settlement money. There may be other cases that could result in settlements.

McKinsey admitted nothing but is grateful for the “clarification” it received during the process. And, as usual, it will “move forward and focus on serving its clients.” Translations: “Minimize, deflect, and tout goodness.” And this simple rule: You have to disclose conflicts between your role in bankruptcy reorgs and liquidations that involve, directly or indirectly, your company in any way, even your retirement plan.

There was an interesting characterization of the case by the Justice Department as “one of the highest repayments made by a bankruptcy professional for alleged noncompliance with disclosure rules.” There was also a warning from the Justice Department, “If this conduct is repeated in future cases, we will seek even more far-reaching remedies.”

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Millennials and Trust: Misguided or Misinformed Views

A Deseret News study finds that millennials have the greatest trust in the military and colleges and universities. Those are the only two categories that garner a majority of millennials in trust. Oddly, their third highest level of trust is in professional sports and their fourth in organized labor.

Their lowest trust level? Corporate America. One wonders if they understand that professional sports are corporate America. The next lowest trust levels are in governors, news media, the federal government, and organized religion. Banks, the criminal justice system, Silicon Valley, and mayors (?) do not get to even 30% trust levels.

If we just did a gate tally on the categories of post on this blog, the shaker-and-mover generation might realize that their trust metrics may be a little off. That they trust mistakenly may be a function of perception based on incomplete information.

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However, We Would Do Anything For Love, All Due Credit to Meat Loaf

They are only 1.5% of the total number of scams reported to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), but the amount lost is $143 million. “They, all 21,000 in 2018 alone,” are the reports that come in to the government agency that handles consumer fraud from the poor souls who have been scammed via an online dating relationship.

The plot is the same — the fraudsters build a relationship online with their targets. They do take their time, building up trust along the way. Then, they spring. There is a medical emergency, the loss of a job, something tragic that hits the con man/woman hard. Next thing you know, they are on the receiving end of cash from their online lovers. The money gets deposited into an account set up with fake ID. The things we do for love.

The FTC has some simple suggestions: Never give money or property to anyone you have not met in person. No wiring money. Try to verify information that they give to you online, including searching to see if the photo they use shows up in other places online.

Oh, the chutzpah of those who tug on the heart strings of the lonely. Love is blind, knows no caution, dismisses logic and reason, and those volatile combinations allow fraud to thrive on the Internet.

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Staying on Welfare by Applying For Jobs Well Over Your Pay Grade

Senator JimCarlin, after receiving three reports from Iowa Workforce Development, is targeting what he calls the “habitually unemployed.” These folks, in order to stay on unemployment, fulfill their requirement for seeking employment by applying only for jobs for which they are not qualified. They can prove their applications and their rejections and continue to receive unemployment. What pushed the senator over the edge was when he was trying to hire a paralegal and received applications from pizza-delivery folks who had zero experience.

He has resistance because one example touted was an applicant who applied for a job as a computer technician after losing his restaurant job. He said that he had no experience but he was willing to learn. The young man testified of a chilling effect on people in his position who want to work.

The senator says that he is willing to tweak the bill, but he wants to keep going to penalize those who are not really trying to find a job in a market that is looking for workers.

Further proof that we need to be careful what we incentivize. People will find a way to get the money — in this case, a way to get the money for not working.

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56% of affluent consumers want financial security; 44% want “head over heels” love

O tempora! O mores!

Does that mean 44% do not want financial security? Or does it mean that 56% don’t need “head over heels” love? Or does it mean that they are fine with “run of the mill” love?

SOURCE: Merrill Edge Report, based on a survey of 1.034 adults earning between $50,000 and $250,000 annually

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“I would consider it cheating.”

The words of a parent of a child seeking admission to one of New York City’s hoity-toity high schools upon having an admissions exam tutor offer a copy of the high school’s admission exam. The parent said that he/she did not look at the exam or allow his/her son to do so because he/she considered it cheating. Who would conclude that it was not cheating?

The tutor explained that he had obtained the exam by sending “spies” in to take the exam. New York City needs to do something about its admission process for its high schools. Over the years the number of cheating stories, with limitless creativity, have appeared in the New York Times. The kids cheat, the parents get the kids tutors who cheat, and it seems that no one gets caught or is sanctioned.

The ethical dilemma the parent presented was whether to send the test back to the school anonymously or with identity disclosed and whether to report the tutor. The response of Times‘ Ethicist was that it was unlikely that the high school would make the students retake the exam. Why would that be? That remedy is the teaching moment: If one student cheats, everyone is affected. Indeed, that is the very definition of the ethical mind — the ability to understand what would happen if everyone behaved in the same way. If everyone has a copy of the admissions exam, there really is not an admission process. There is no longer a system of merit, but one of corruption. Whoever can get the best tutor wins the admission lottery. Then whoever can pay the tutor the most gets the exam..Funny, they call this graft and corruption in foreign countries. We can take some small comfort in knowing that New York is teaching this system of banana republic corruption to children early and often and all through the public schools.

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Jeff Bezos: Amazon CEO, the National Enquirer, Lewd Photos, and Extortion

The richest man in the United States blogged that he has a problem. The National Enquirer threatened him with publishing photos that were obtained somehow from his private e-mail. The photos were of Mr. Bezos were described as follows: “A full-length body selfie of Mr. Bezos wearing just a pair of tight black boxer-briefs or trunks, with his phone in his left hand — while wearing his wedding ring.” The photos were sent to Lauren Sanchez, with whom he was having an affair, an affair that resulted in the announcement of the Bezos divorce.

The soap-operaish magazine offered to not publish the photos if Mr. Bezos would acknowledge that the Enquirer’s coverage of him was not politically motivated. Mr. Bezos wrote that he would not “capitulate to extortion and blackmail.” The coverage of the story has praised Mr. Bezos for his brilliant strategy to thwart the efforts of the Enquirer. One commentator noted that Mr. Bezos has greater stature because we now know he is “like one of us.”

Could we pause for a minute? Those of us who reach 55 years of age, as Mr. Bezos has, (or older) have learned learned a thing or two and grown up a bit or three. Here is a list of some of the lessons we who will never be billionaires have learned:

1. What you send in e-mail is not private. Hackers, who are also wearing only underwear, sit int their basements day and night, some in Pakistan and some in Duluth, finding ways to hack into others’ information. They prefer credit card and bank info, but if they can entertain themselves with photos of scantily clad entrepreneurs (old guys) trying to charm younger women, well, they are all in.
2. Selfies of oneself in briefs is really not at the heart of true romance.
3. Grow up, stay grown up, and find something better to do, such as setting an example for your three children.
4. There is no correlation between wealth and intelligence. Hollywood is a lab of Petri dishes for that hypothesis.There are also various political labs around the country testing the same theory (see the Commonwealth of Virginia). Sometimes the intelligence was never there, sometimes the intelligence loses in a coup d’stat of the brain by ego, money, or hormones. but disappear it does. Like all powerful leaders, Mr. Bezos needs a few non-sycophantic folks around him, at the ready with the phrase, “Not a good idea.” He has the funds for a nixer, a sort of substitute for arrested intelligence and/or good judgment. Ah, the blessing of self-made discretion that modest means offer.

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