TIME Business

Knees Need a Defender: There’s No Excuse for Leaning Back on an Airplane

Passenger With His Knees Against a Sleeping Businessman's Chair on an Aeroplane
Digital Vision/Getty Images

'If you try to move that seat back again I’m going over the top of your chair and strangling you'

Nobody over six feet tall is surprised that a couple of passengers got into a fight on a United flight from Newark to Denver over the use of a gadget called Knee Defender — two small, wedge-like devices that prevent the seat in front of you from reclining. The passenger using the device, a guy seated in a middle row, refused to remove it when the woman seated in front of him tried to recline. Words were exchanged; then a cup of water was hurled aft. The flight was diverted to Chicago, and the two were removed.

Me, I’m with Knee Defender guy.

I don’t travel with a Knee Defender, but I do travel with knees. Just being an airline passengers makes everyone cranky to begin with. Being 6 ft. 2 in. and long of leg, I’m in a near rage by the time I wedge myself into a coach seat. And now you want to jam your chair back into my knees for four hours? Go fly a kite. It’s an airline seat, not a lounge chair. You want comfort, buy a business class seat. What’s surprising is that there haven’t been more fights over Knee Defender. Or perhaps these incidents haven’t been reported. I’ve gotten into it a few times with people in front of me who insist that the space over my knees is theirs, as if they have some kind of air rights. And I’m sure I will again.

United says it has a no Knee Defender policy, although the device is allowable on other carriers. My own knee defense is this: As soon as the seatbelt sign goes off and people are free to annoy me, I wedge my knees against the seat in front of me. Any attempted move back is met with resistance. (Very good exercise, too.) At first, the person in front thinks there’s something wrong with his chair and tries again, meeting like resistance. Then there’s that backward glance, and the dirty look. I smile and say: “Sorry, those are my knees. And I’m not moving them.” Secretly I am saying, “If you try to move that seat back again I’m going over the top of your chair and strangling you.” Did I mention that flying is infuriating?

This has led to some very unfriendly exchanges on the friendly skies of United and elsewhere. And should my adversary, during an unguarded moment, manage to intrude into my space, there’s always the opportunity to resort to 8-year-old mode, accidentally kicking the chair every once in a while. If I’m not going to be comfortable, you’re not.

Yes, it’s not the most civil behavior, but United and other airlines brought this about by treating us like cargo. Consider the situation on Flight 1462. United runs 737s, among the smallest in the Boeing fleet, out of Newark to distant places. It’s four hours to Denver from Newark. The coach seats are 17.3 inches wide. The pitch is 31 inches in Economy and 34 inches in the so-called Economy Plus, where the dueling pair was sitting. Economy Plus used to be called by another name, Economy, until the carriers started adding rows and squeezing the space. This fight started because the guy was trying to work on his laptop. You can’t use a laptop when the seat in front of you is in your lap. And it’s only getting worse when you realize that the proportion of flights longer than two hours that now use commuter jets is growing.

Personally, my policy is to not recline, even if the seat does. I’m trying to respect the space of the passenger behind me. So please respect mine, or be prepared for a bumpy ride.

TIME

How the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Could Change Fundraising Forever

The perks—and pitfalls—of using gimmicks to raise awareness

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Never mind the ice bath; you could have just written the check.

Americans give more than $300 billion annually to charities. We’re a generous lot. Then again, there are a lot of hands out. More than a million charitable organizations are asking for those dollars, and a lot of these organizations are inefficient, or unsuccessful or both, even if they are well-meaning.

That’s what made the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge all the more eye-opening. The ALS Association was able to raise nearly $16 million from July 29 through August 18—an incredible figure, given that for all of 2012, the organization pulled in about $19 million. And it has to compete with fundraising walks, rides, swims and marathons for causes ranging from any number of diseases to fighting poverty to protecting the environment. The Ice Bucket Challenge became a virtual, and virtually frictionless, cost-free way to raise funds. Keep in mind that many charities can spend 50% of their incomes on fundraising.

The ALS Assoc. didn’t originate the Ice Bucket Challenge; it’s been used to raise funds for any number of charities. But the ability of the ALS group to take ownership is what happens when an incurable disease meets an irresistible force. That would be Peter Frates. From the moment he was diagnosed with ALS in 2012, say those who know him, he was determined to “make a difference.” When his friend and fellow ALS-sufferer Pat Quinn, a New Yorker, told him about the idea, Frates became a force to turbocharge it in Boston.

Frates might be described a one-man network. He grew up in suburban Boston, and went to school locally at St. Johns Prep and Boston College, where he played baseball. With a wide circle of friends, sporting and otherwise, he organized Team FrateTrain and starting making connections. A hockey fan, Frates was able to link up with players on the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers, where his friends and fellow BC grads Brian Boyle and Kris Kreider play. The sports celebrities led to other celebrities. As Time.com reported earlier, Frates posted his own video on Facebook on July 31, using both the hashtags #StrikeOutALS and #Quinnforthewin—and a global movement was under way.

People looking at the ice bucket challenge phenomenon are trying to extract the applicable lessons—and every charity in America is wondering how it can capitalize. “Nobody knows what the formula is. From our vantage point, we think about these issues all of the time,” says Margaret Anderson executive director of FasterCures, a think tank focused on finding treatments for the thousands of diseases, like ALS, that still lack cures. “Why are we able to dump ice on our head and potentially write a check now, but not consistently otherwise?”

Certainly, what helps to make the ice bucket challenge succeed is that it is inherently mindless. We can handle that. It’s simple enough, even fun, for kids and celebrities to take on; it’s visual so the act can be shared with the greater community; it’s achievable, in that nobody fails unlike say, a marathon or climbing Mt. McKinley. And it is endlessly, if mind numbingly, repeatable.

That’s not exactly a template, but other seemingly silly ideas, such as Movember, in which men pledge to grow a mustache to raise funds for men’s health issues such as prostate cancer, have succeeded rapidly. Founded by a small group of men in Australia, it has since grown worldwide and been augmented by MoSisters.

The bigger question is: will gimmick-driven fundraising be successful in raising our awareness about, and curing, diseases such as ALS? Frates and his wife Julie are expecting their first child soon. He is unlikely to live to see his baby grow up. But organizations such as the ALS Therapy Development Institute, which does the translational research that big pharmaceutical companies haven’t invested in because the potential market for ALS is small, will be in a stronger position to fund potential cures.

There are hundreds more such diseases that lack cures, says Anderson: “How many dollars does it take to move the needle? That is the huge question that looms for all medical research.” In the case of ALS, the benefit of the Ice Bucket Challenge is that it might give us a chance to find out.

TIME cities

Trump Isn’t the Only Loser in Atlantic City

Revel Closing
People walk past the Revel Casino Hotel in Atlantic City, N.J. on July 23, 2014. Mel Evans—AP

Four casinos are expected to close this year in the New Jersey gambling destination

How big a loser is Atlantic City? So big that Donald Trump sued to have his name removed from two casinos he no longer controls. He may have to amend the suit, since one of them, Trump Plaza plans to shut down next month. And it will have company. The two-year old, twice-bankrupt, $2.4 billion Revel casino will also close after its owners failed to find a buyer, company officials announced Tuesday. As the saying goes, you don’t throw good money after bad.

Revel’s shutdown brings A.C.’s losing streak to four properties that announced a closing this year. The Atlantic Club was taken out earlier this year and Showboat, owned by Caesars Entertainment, locks down at the end of the month. Through June, revenues at the casinos are down 6.3%, continuing a long-term trend. The city’s casinos brought in $2.86 billion last year compared with $5.2 billion in 2006.

Atlantic City is a victim of the saturated mid-Atlantic casino market, and nearly 8,000 workers are slated to lose their jobs as the price to pay. There will be more closings, and not just in the mid-Atlantic states. In Tunica, Miss., Harrah’s (also part of Caesars) is closing a casino, citing declining gaming revenues due to higher competition.

In Atlantic City, some of those displaced workers will be able to catch on at the city’s remaining seven casinos—who will no doubt see an uptick in business—but the losses and closures are indications that the runaway growth days of gaming are over. Any new casino built in the region—indeed, just about anywhere– will have to take business away from somebody else.

And that’s exactly what’s been happening to Atlantic City– a municipality that never blossomed into the revived seaside resort envisioned when New Jersey opened its first legalized casino in 1978. It has remained mostly a weekend gambling jaunt for many punters, and they have since found other places to play. Oddly enough, north of Atlantic City, from Asbury Park to Long Branch, Jersey’s casino-less shore towns have revitalized and grown, despite taking a hit from Hurricane Sandy.

What’s grown around Atlantic City is competition. Just to the south in Delaware, three casinos are now operating. But one of them, Dover Downs, showed a 10% drop in revenues its first quarter. In Pennsylvania, there are 12 casinos in Philadelphia, Bethlehem, in the Poconos and near Pittsburgh. And revenues in that state have begun to slide in part because of competition from Ohio. The Buckeye state is about to open its 11th gambling den with the debut of the Hollywood Gaming at Mahoning Valley Race Course.

Americans threw down nearly $39 billion in gaming halls last year, according to the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, but that amount is flat with 2012. Meanwhile, the number of gambling locations continues to rise. As a result, says UNLV, 10 out of the 22 states with gaming in 2007 have seen declines since then. That would include Connecticut. Revenues from Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun peaked at $1.7 billion in 2006; they dropped to $1.17 billion last year according to UNLV. Pieces of the pie will only get smaller now that Massachusetts is planning to join the game.

It’s still possible that someone could buy the closed Revel and reopen it as a casino. “We hope that Revel can be a successful and vital component of Atlantic City under a proper ownership and reorganized expense structure,” the company said in a statement. But that doesn’t make much economic sense. Neither does building another casino anywhere in the region, but don’t bet against it. Plans are being hatched for a betting fortress in Jersey City, where the population density might favor the house a little more. And across the border in New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is planning to add four casino destinations in the upstate region to the nine racinos and five casinos already operating. The promise is jobs and more tax revenue, but New York may eventually discover what New Jersey did: that it had four more casinos than it actually needs.

MONEY Autos

WATCH: Behind the Wheel of the New Chrysler 200

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TIME Companies

Companies Should Think Twice Before Making Blatant Tax Dodges

Call it inversion reversion. Or, don’t bite the hand that feeds you. After considering a tax-avoidance strategy by which it would buy a United Kingdom based company and move there to lower its tax bill, Walgreens is staying put in Chicago. But America’s biggest drug store chain is still going ahead and exercising an option to buy the 55% of the U.K.’s Alliance Boots that it doesn’t already own for $15 billion.

The combined company will be called Walgreens Alliance Boots and have 11,000 stores in 10 countries, plus a pharmaceutical wholesale and distribution network.

In remaining true to its Midwestern roots, Walgreens is eschewing the latest trend in corporate tax avoidance, known as inversion. Earlier this year companies including AbbVie and Mylan, have announced mergers with European based companies and intend redomicile there—that is, more their legal residence while pretty much staying put— because the tax rates are lower than the 35% corporate statutory rate in the U.S. Although the effective tax rate that most U.S. companies actually pay is much lower, the opportunity to replant a corporate flag in, say, Ireland, where the economy sucks but the corporate tax rate is 12.5%, has been too much to resist.

The corporate migration to foreign shores has been gaining momentum, led by pharmaceutical and medical companies. In addition to AbbVie and Mylan, Salix, Horizon Pharma and Medtronic have acquired firms in the UK, the Netherlands, and Ireland. Pfizer tried to buy the U.K.’s AstraZenica but was rebuffed. For the American multinational RX firms in particular, the lure of not repatriating foreign earnings, which would be taxed at U.S. rates, is powerful. By moving to Ireland, say, companies pay a territorial tax rate—that is, they are taxed only on domestic profits. The U.S. taxes corporations on their worldwide profits, which is one reason why many American multinational hold substantial profits overseas. According to the Congressional Research Service, a Pfizer inversion would have cost the U.S. $1.4 billion in lost tax revenues annually.

Walgreens said that it had given the inversion strategy careful consideration, as some of its stockholders had demanded. But in a statement, CEO Greg Wasson said the company concluded “it was not in the best long-term interest of our shareholders to attempt to re-domicile outside the U.S.” (Translation: the lawyers said no.) But Walgreens also acknowledged that as a U.S. company that derives almost all of its sales from U.S. consumers—not to mention from reimbursement from Medicaid and other government programs—it felt a patriotic tug, too.

U.S. Treasury Department Secretary Jacob J. Lew has been howling about corporations’ lack of “economic patriotism” and talking up retroactive legislation that can effectively undo some of the deals that have already taken place. Earlier this year, Treasury suggested changing the rules that govern such transactions. Currently, a company can take advantage of the tax benefits of an inversion deal only if the original U.S. stockholders own less than 80% of the new overseas company. Treasury wants to lower that threshold to 50% to make the deals less attractive. It also proposed denying tax benefits if the new entity is “primarily managed and controlled in the United States” regardless of the new shareholding distribution.

This is the second time in the last two decades that Treasury has led the charge to stem inversion schemes. In the 1990s and 2000s, companies such as Ingersoll-Rand, Tyco, the PXRE Group, Foster Wheeler, Nabors Industries, and Coopers Industries blew town to replant themselves in other nations, some in those great manufacturing centers known as Bermuda or the Cayman Islands. Congress put a halt to that naked tax dodging with the American Jobs Creation Act of 2004.

There is no disagreement among Democrats and Republicans that the corporate tax code needs to be overhauled to make it less complex and to impose tax rates that are competitive with other countries. “We want our tax code to have incentives for investing in the United States and disincentives for taking business out of the United States,” Lew said at a CNBC conference this week. That, however, will take another act of Congress, a body more inclined to do nothing. That would not describe America’s dealmakers and tax lawyers who continue to demonstrate that they have no aversion to inversion whatever.

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