Archive for the 'Money' Category

01
Mar
15

education and equality

An interesting article about a school system (Finland’s) that seems to be much more effective than the American one.

Knock three times if this description sounds familiar:

“Instead, the public school system’s teachers are trained to assess children in classrooms using independent tests they create themselves. All children receive a report card at the end of each semester, but these reports are based on individualized grading by each teacher. Periodically, the Ministry of Education tracks national progress by testing a few sample groups across a range of different schools.”

And we decided this wasn’t working because. . .  ??? (Seemed to work pretty well for me. And I’m not THAT old.)

Probably can’t make that fly here, though, because, despite everyone’s recognition that money gives other people’s children advantages we can’t necessarily give our own, we must preserve that right, just in case someday we’re one of the people with money.

(Apologies for the circular argument.)

Alas.

 

05
Oct
14

We Should Be Protesting, Too | BillMoyers.com

Can this “In 2012, 132 Americans gave 60 percent of the super PAC money spent”. . .

be true?

Sheesh.

We Should Be Protesting, Too | BillMoyers.com.

 

31
Aug
14

What the 1% don’t want the rest of us to know

And it’s not just that they make a wholehelluvalot more money than we do.

It’s not too early to start our own Progressive movement.

Firstly, we all need to stop protecting the rights of the 1% just in case that clever gadget we thought of and are going to get around to getting a patent for as soon as we have time ends up becoming the Thneed That Everyone Needs and earns us a bajillion dollars that we want to make sure we can hand down to Junior, even though by then he’ll be spoiled and entitled and lazy.

Secondly, we need to realize that there are worse things than a social safety net. Actually, we need to realize that the benefits of the social safety net make society better for everyone — whether we “need” it or not (we do), it helps us.

I wish people would talk more specifically about the literal costs to us caused by our relatively low tax rates — pay to “play” (sports, drama, music, chemistry class),  constantly deteriorating roads and the resulting depreciation of our vehicles; medical costs despite having what would be considered by many to be enviable health care ($1,100+ for each of Only Daughter’s 2 CAT scans this summer; $385 for Second Son’s cavities filled — and this is WITH dental insurance), college tuition — $7,605 per year, average public university in US in 2010; $4,524 in Canada; in France you can expect to pay an average of €452 per year — yeah, that’s right, €452 (that’s around $585) for MEDICAL SCHOOL.

(I actually love it when people compare us to France, making France sound like such an awful alternative. Yeah, there are all those vacation days and maternity leaves and universal health care; I TOTALLY see what the problem is. And that’s not even taking into account the wine and cheese.)

Anyway, these two will say it way better than I do.

 

05
Oct
13

humility is strength; arrogance is just arrogance

Frank Bruni, writing in the New York Times about the relief and hope that Pope Francis’ humble words and attitudes inspire in him.

Since I’m chronically busy, and am reading this section of NYTimes two weeks after it was written, this stood out:

FOR a textbook case of humility gone missing, consider right-wing Republicans’ efforts to derail Obamacare by whatever crude and disruptive means necessary. The health care law has its flaws, some of them profound, but it was legitimately passed, in accordance with the rules, and to stray outside them in order to make it go away is to believe that they don’t apply to you, that your viewpoint trumps the process itself. It’s the summit of arrogance.

This is part of what I can’t figure out.

This law has passed. The budget has been approved. The bills need to be paid.

How is it possible that democracy is constructed in such a way that a Congress can refuse to meet the financial obligations THEY HAVE ALREADY AGREED TO MEET by holding hostage a law that they ALREADY PASSED?

Maybe I really do need a polisci lesson.

05
Mar
13

Customer Service, local banking style

Received a letter from my bank recently, outlining my complimentary enrollment in the bank’s “Overdraft Privilege” program. The key points of this privileged status are outlined as such:

  • Should an overdraft occur, your account will be assessed the standard NSF fee of $32 for handling each item even if paid by the discretionary Overdraft Privilege services.
  • If multiple items are presented against your account on the same day, each item will be assessed the appropriate NSF fee or returned item fee of $32, up to a limit of five (5) fees per day.
  • ___________Bank has the discretion, but is not agreeing and does not have an obligation to pay your overdrafts and we may withdraw or reduce the amount of this privilege at any time.

Umm, thanks?

Guess the “Privilege” part is the part where you agree not to accidentally, manipulate the circumstances so as to charge me more than $160 a day?

They wasted paper and a stamp to tell me this? Seems like they could have just given me the finger and spat on my shoes or something.

Right up there with the bank that charges me an overdraft for not having the money in my checking account to make a house payment that’s already been paid.

I’m beginning to think I’m really in the wrong business.

11
Oct
12

I’ll get right on that

19
Jul
12

disingenuous 101

a.k.a. Here’s hoping you’re not paying that much attention.

20120719-115708.jpg

20120719-115718.jpg

Bad enough that they’ve decided we even want to tip 20% for bad service (20 minutes to get a drink; 30 for a glass of water) and mediocre food. I wonder who gets the “extra” if we don’t notice and tip twice. I doubt it’s the waitstaff.

Anyway. . .

14
May
12

a new way to determine if you’re smart enough for college

In yesterday’s New York Times, Kelsey Griffith, a recent graduate from Ohio Northern University, is one of those featured regarding the cost of a college education and the lasting effects of student loans.

Ms. Griffith, 23, wouldn’t seem a perfect financial fit for a college that costs nearly $50,000 a year. . .But when she visited Ohio Northern, she was won over by faculty and admissions staff members who urge students to pursue their dreams rather than obsess on the sticker price.

Yeah, I bet they do.

“As an 18-year old, it sounded like a good fit to me, and the school really sold it. . .I knew a private school would cost a lot of money. But when I graduate, I’m going to owe like $900 a month. No one told me that.”

Yes, college is too expensive. Yes, some financial aid statements paint a rosy picture on the bottom line, but it doesn’t take a genius to notice that they’re doing so by requiring parents to take out loans, nor to recognize the difference between “grant” and “loan.”  And ultimately, it comes down to this: If you’re not smart enough to be able to figure out that borrowing $120,000 for college is going to result in a high student loan payment, maybe you shouldn’t be going to college in the first place.

Maybe, instead of having high school juniors taking ACTs and SATs we should just ask this question: You’re going to borrow $100,000 for your college education. The terms of the loan require that the balance is paid off in 10 years. Your monthly payments will most closely equal:

a) the price of a Happy Meal

b) the price of a new pair of jeans at Target

c) your parent’s mortgage payment

23
Mar
12

one of the darker sides of technology

In a report on this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland from the March 5 New Yorker:

There’s a software firm by the name of Tibco, based in Silicon Valley, which has generated data-sorting software for companies such as Amazon, FedEx, Goldman Sachs, eBay airlines, and the Department of Homeland Security. They have also designed a program for Harrah’s, the well-known casino, which “can figure out when a gambler is about to encounter a loss of such magnitude that it will cause him to leave the casino and perhaps never come back. The casino’s Luck Ambassadors [I’m not making this up] will then offer the gambler a free meal or a ticket to a show. . .and distract the gambler long enough to entice him to return later, to continue losing money in palatable increments.”

Well, at least it’s palatable.

 

14
Mar
12

surprise, surprise, surprise

So, apparently, the world is aghast at news that Goldman-Sachs has been primarily concerned with its own profits, rather than those of their clients.

Am I the only one who is saying, well, duh?

The main thing that has kept me from investing in the stock market (besides our state’s educators college-savings fund and an old 401K from Former Husband’s employer,) is my complete lack of trust that any of these people are looking out for anyone but themselves.

Call me cynical, just don’t call me late for dinner.

13
Mar
12

sounds about right

07
Mar
12

allllllllllll gone

Just withdrew the last penny from First Son’s college savings account, and spent a bit of my afternoon at the bank depositing most of the last of his savings bonds, all in preparation for his final tuition payment.

What’s the sound of an empty penny jar?

I’m feeling a little wistful (all those years of saving!), and, happy for him because it means he’s almost done, almost a college graduate, but Gulp! as we hope he gets a job in this market. Especially considering he will graduate with maybe a few hundred dollars to his name, many thousands in student loans, no vehicle, no apartment, etc. etc. College seems like such a big step from high school, but this really seems like the first step into the Great Unknown.

When Only Daughter was 3 years old, VERY 3 (which has always seemed to be a harder age than 2 to me), First Son was 14 and suffering from puberty-induced testosterone poisoning. I remember watching them each struggle with an overwhelming need for independence paired with an astute awareness that they just weren’t ready for it yet, and puzzling over how much the same they were.

Now Only Daughter is trying to conquer her fear of the Back Handspring while I make sympathetic and encouraging noises: you’ve done them before, you can do them again; you’ll stop being afraid when you’re not afraid anymore; you’ll do it when you’re ready; if you decide to do it at the beginning of the tumbling run try not to change your mind in the middle. At the same time, I know for a fact that there is absolutely no flipping way (ha!) I could ever do one.

Friends of my parents had a pool when I was a child. I was a really good diver. The friend decided he was going to teach me how to dive backwards off of the diving board, and I would be all game for it until I went up and stood there, facing THE WRONG WAY. I never could do it. Too much about jumping into the unknown.

Gulp.

There have been a few times in my life where I closed my eyes and lept. In each of those cases I ended up in a much better place. No reason to believe, I guess, that it won’t work out that way for them, and wonder why, even knowing this, that it’s still so hard for me to take the next one, whatever it may be.

18
Feb
12

a better use for our money?

It’s said that, all told, $6 billion will be spent on the 2012 presidential election.

I can’t help but wonder how many children that would feed, or educate, or pay health care costs for. How many factories or schools could be kept open. How many college scholarships could be provided. How many roads and bridges repaired.

Maybe if we gave money to the thing that we feel most strongly about, or that actually needs our support, rather than to the person we think will help get us that thing we’d all be better off.

Or maybe that’s just me.

 

 

05
Feb
12

Sunday “funnies,” and the day’s soup

Reading the instructions that came with the washing machine, trying to determine if I can wash our queen-size down comforter in it without ruining it. Found this on the “troubleshooting” page:

Problem: Washer will not start.

Possible Cause: Washer door not closed completely.

Solution: Close washer door.

Wow. Thanks.

***********

What could happen when your sports event accepts corporate sponsorship:

Seriously?

You don’t suppose they mean?

Maybe more like something like this:

There’s even a water hazard.

(Actually, this isn’t really funny. If you click on the picture above it will take you to a National Geographic webpage that shows some of the horrific things we are doing to this planet. Please do what you can to stop it, including avoiding plastic bags whenever possible, recycling EVERYTHING, and using a refillable water bottle instead of buying water bottles at the store.)

**************

Heard on Prairie Home Companion:

This year’s Republican primaries have come down to the Mormon and the Polygamist.

Ha!

*************

Today’s soup: Beef Chili

In a large pot, sauté one large coarsely chopped onion and 4 cloves minced garlic.

Add 1 lb of stew meat, with the chunks sliced into thin strips. Brown.

Add 1 diced red pepper, 3 dried cayenne and/or chili’s snipped, 1 T. chili powder, 1 T. cumin, and/or 1 T. Southwest Seasoning. Stir until spices release their fragrance.

Add 2. large cans petite diced tomatoes, and 1 can each canned kidney and black beans.

Cover, lower heat, and simmer for however long you want.

About 15 minutes before you want to serve, add 1-2 c. frozen corn.

Serve with grated cheese, sour cream or yogurt, and taco chips on the side.

31
Jan
12

and so I find myself filled with rage

“Dear M&T Bank Customer Service:  I’ve spent an hour in a voicemail loop and/or on hold through your customer service number. M&T paid our Winter Taxes from our escrow on December 1. We refinanced later in the month, and the new mortgager also paid our real estate taxes. We have been told that the first payment has been refunded to M&T via a Tax Payment Servicing Company. We would like to know when we can expect to get this refund back to us. p.s. Your voicemail system doesn’t work — when I follow all of the prompts to the point where I indicate that I have a tax information question I end up back at the beginning. I’m very frustrated.”

*************

“Dear Customer,
Thank you for your email.
Please be advised, we would be happy to assist you with your inquiry, however, we are unable to locate an account number for you. Please provide your mortgage account number so we may further assist you.
If you have any further questions or concerns, please feel free to contact our Customer Service department at 1-800-724-2224.
Thank you for the opportunity to serve your banking needs.

Colleen Little
Mortgage Customer Support
Retail Servicing”

***************

Well that sounds promising — Colleen would relish an “opportunity” to serve my “banking needs.”

Said mortgage account numbers were provided. . . .

Time passes. . . .

Lots and lots of time. . .

Feels like Days . .

Finally, I receive word from my new friend Heather:

“Dear Customer,

Thank you for your inquiry.
Please be advised you will need to follow up directly with our Tax Department at 1-866-406-0949.
I apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused.
If you have any further questions or concerns regarding your mortgage account, please feel free to respond via email or contact our Customer Service Department directly at 1-800-724-2224.

Heather Mitchell-Carter
Mortgage Customer Support
Retail Servicing”

******************

Meh.

Customer Support my a%$. Apparently Colleen didn’t pass on to Heather the part of the message where I pointed out my excursion in voice mail purgatory. I begin to suspect that “Heather” is not actually a person, but an electronically-generated minion, an avatar of sorts, whose job is to parse the combinations of nouns and vowels in my email message and generate what seems to be a suitable response. I decide this is cynical, and will give Heather, or should I say, “Heather,” another chance:

“I tried yesterday to talk to someone at this Tax Department phone number. I went on an almost-an-hour-long voicemail loop which repeatedly returned me to the starting place. I don’t have time to do this again. Is it possible for someone from there to call me instead?”

*************************

More time passes. . .

Lots and lots of time. . .

Frustration builds. . .

Finally, Heather builds me up with false hope by actually replying to my message. Until I read it:

“Dear Customer,

Thank you for your inquiry.

Please be advised you will need to call the Tax Department directly at 1-866-406-0949 or you can contact our Customer Service Department at 1-800-724-2224 and request that a representative transfer you directly to a Tax Department Agent.
If you have any further questions or concerns regarding your mortgage account, please feel free to respond via email or contact our Customer Service Department directly at 1-800-724-2224.

Heather Mitchell-Carter
Mortgage Customer Support
Retail Servicing”


OMG — it’s just like their voice mail!

Just as I suspected. Heather is, in fact, “Heather,” and M&T doesn’t give a flying f@#$ in a rolling doughnut about customer “support.” They just want me to go away. Soon.

The fact that the bank (ahem, Fifth Third) that refinanced our mortgage and the title company (ahem, Midstate Title) that prepared the endless legal documents for us to sign and initial, and initial, and initial. . .    apparently dropped the ball by not noticing that our taxes had been paid TWO FULL WEEKS BEFORE CLOSING, and can’t seem to be bothered to interrupt their whatever-it-is-that-bankers-do-in-the-winter-since-they’re-clearly-not-playing-golf to fix this for me doesn’t help.

Plus it’s Tuesday, and I work way too many hours on Wednesday so I’m preemptively crabby.

That doesn’t help.

My newly henna’d hair, does, though, kick ass, so there is that at least.

Sigh.

Why do other people not doing their jobs have to make so much more work for me? I have enough to do (you can tell, right?). Why am I waiting 6 weeks to get my money back? Why am I paying interest over the next 15 years for money I didn’t need to borrow? Why is the world so goddamn frustrating?

22
Dec
11

for those who will buy anything if you call it a “deal”

Like the ads that show .99 each, 2 for $2, and people decide they better buy two.

What kind of urgency does it create, knowing one can save $1.01?

 

12
Dec
11

where’s the line between service and harassment?

Husband and I have decided to take advantage of the not-to-be-believed low mortgage interest rates, and are refinancing our home. We’re basically taking 15 years off the mortgage at an increase in our monthly payment of about $45. That must be a good deal.

We are going with a local bank/banker that was recommended by one of my piano student’s parents, who works in finance, so we figured he would know a good bank/banker to work with. Unfortunately this is a bank with which I have previous experience; the type of experience which caused me to close all of my accounts with them ~ 15 years ago and never look back.

But they are offering the best rate at the lowest closing costs, so what can you do?

Part of the deal, though, is that we have to open an account with their bank to have our payments automatically deducted. As we have other bills that are automatically paid from our current accounts, I speculated, (correctly, as we found out later), that this was so that we would decide having accounts at two banks was too much of a hassle and we would just move all of our accounts to their bank. As the bank officer told us, we only need to have that account open for 12 months, because they figure, if we haven’t switched our accounts by then, we won’t. Strangely, he did not reply to my inquiry as to whether it would make any difference at all if I just told them that now.

I call this coercion.

But, they are offering the best rate at the lowest closing costs, so what can you do?

To make the whole thing even more fun, we have been getting repeated phone calls from their customer service department(s) asking us to rate our banking experience. Including a call after I went into one of their branch offices to deposit the $100 required to open the account. I think I was in the building for 3 minutes. I walked up to the counter, handed the probably-overqualified-and-underpaid teller my check and deposit slip, received my receipt, selected a cherry lollipop out of the festively decorated red pail, and made my departure. At 9:00 p.m. that night some poor probably-overqualified-and-underpaid schmuck calls to ask about our banking experience.

I call this harassment.

I am, already, supremely annoyed, and we haven’t even closed yet.

But, they are offering the best rate at the lowest closing costs.

What’s a person to do?

23
Nov
11

Black Tuesday

This is getting ridiculous.

Black Friday is now Black Thursday evening, and my husband saw people camped out in tents, on concrete LAST night outside a Best Buy.

Seriously?

Maybe it’s some kind of a joke.

Apparently this started like 12 days ago.

Didn’t the whole “Black Friday” thing originate as something to do on a long holiday weekend when you just couldn’t force yourself to eat yet another turkey sandwich or have another raving argument conversation with your über-conservative brother-in-law? What about Thanksgiving? You know, friends, family, dry white meat, dressing that the kids will complain about (is that celery?), cooking a meal for 6 hours that takes everyone 10 minutes to eat, nobody wanting to do the dishes?

Brad Tuttle, writing for Time, suggests that perhaps Best Buy is paying them.

I guess that makes sense.

I think it all just makes us look that much more greedy and materialistic.

We refused on principle by buying our new TV yesterday.*  That’ll show ’em.

* (the 2nd Olevia died a couple months ago — anybody know how I can get a piece of some class action lawsuit against this terrible company?)

And for your enjoyment, in honor of this family-based holiday: Ze Frank on Scrabble

21
Nov
11

the view from the 99

Maybe we’re all tiring of hearing about the 99, percent that is, but I hope not. I hope this is not one of those cases where our pathologically short attention spans do us in (what’s going on with the Fukushima Daiichi power plant? is there still oil in the gulf? who killed Jon Benet?).

P.J. O’Rourke was on NPR the other night, being his usual pithy and witty self, and, shockingly, I found myself agreeing with him; mainly, that life isn’t fair, and that our children need to learn this in order not to make themselves absolutely crazy. But one of my children asked me once, after I reminded them that life wasn’t fair, whether maybe we shouldn’t at least try to make it so, at least in our little corner of the world?

Good point.

And then there was O’Rourke’s basic premise: that wealth isn’t a pie, that there is always more money to be made if we just figure out what to make/do/sell and then convince everyone else they can’t do without (a Thneed comes to mind, but I think Dr. Seuss already covered that one). And that taking away some of the money that the 1% is making wouldn’t necessarily mean that the 99% would make more.

He seems, to me, to be missing the point. Now I haven’t had a math class since the early 80s, so there might be some kind of flaw in my thinking, but let me just run this theory by you all for your consideration:  If, as postulated by the AFL-CIO, the average CEO is being paid 343 times the salary of the average worker, and someone decided something radical, oh, I don’t know, maybe let’s just pay him 50 times the salary of the average worker, does it not compute that some of that surplus could be well, maybe, oh, I don’t know, paid to the average worker?

So here’s my attempt at math:

Average worker making $45,000/year.

At 343 times the salary, CEO making $15,435,000/year.

Let’s assume the company has 1,000 employees.

At 50 times the average salary, the CEO would make $2,250,000 — still seems like an awful lot of money.

We redistribute the remaining $13,185,000 dollars among the other 1000 employees, and we now have the “average” worker earning $58,185.

Would you look at that.

It IS a pie!!! More for you means less for me.

Is that really that hard to figure out?

*****************

In a related story, the faculty at my college are “forbidden” from taking a personal day on the day before or after a school holiday, so I am sitting right now in an empty classroom because no one has come except me.

But the president of the college left over the previous weekend to spend a week traveling hither and yon visiting family and friends; a fact we have been informed of through his “Have a Wonderful Thanksgiving with Friends and Family” email, where he reminds us of how important this time is and hopes that we enjoy and treasure it.  Just not too soon.

08
Nov
11

feminist financing

I bought my house in July of 2007. Came back from my summer camp job for one night (stayed at a friend’s), signed the papers the next day, collected my keys, and drove back to camp without even going to the house (I didn’t have time). When I did come “home,” 3 weeks later, it appeared that a tree had fallen across the road and some mysterious fallen-tree-removing elves had come and cleaned it up. I waited for months for the bill.

Anyway. This was a big deal for me. I had separated from Former Husband about 8 months earlier, a man I married while in graduate school, and this was probably the first actual adult thing I had done by myself.

Of course this was right before the mortgage crisis really hit. If the bank had looked past my stellar credit rating (I was told it was in the top .1 of the top 99 percentile) at my laughably meager income they wouldn’t have loaned me quarters for the parking meter. But they did. And here I, and Husband, live happily with Only Daughter, Sophie the cat, Bear the snake, and (someone should really name the fish) the goldfish (I don’t name them because I usually kill them. Accidentally of course. This one, interestingly, has lived for a year and a half, and is still nameless). Oh, and maybe-to-be-named-Dexter the puppy who comes home a week from today. (So much for the rule of never having more pets than you have children.)

When I bought the house, I was granted the wonderful interest rate of 6.5% Seemed like a good deal at the time.

Now it’s 3.5%, so we’re refinancing.

And putting Husband’s name on the mortgage too.

These are both good things.

But I feel kind of strange about it.

I “found” the bank guy, but my schedule’s crazy plus I have to keep all this time free to write on my blog, so Husband is doing the follow-up.

He’s been asked for pay stubs and W2s, but it isn’t clear if mine are needed, too, so right now he’s sending his.

I know that this doesn’t really mean anything. He makes enough money to qualify for the tiny little mortgage on this tiny little house, and we will make sure that both of our names are on the mortgage, but a part of me feels irrelevant, marginalized. Not because of anything anyone is doing or saying, mind you, just because.

For the past three years I’ve been trying to convince Husband that this is His House Too, even if his name wasn’t on the mortgage, but I don’t think he ever really felt that way. And now I kind of understand. Because there’s this tiny little voice that’s saying to me, “But it’s your house.” And I can’t figure out where that voice is coming from.

Maybe because it is, really, the only thing of value that I own. My retirement fund is laughable. I do own a Baldwin grand piano that’s 111 years old. And a Prius. But that’s it.

Maybe that’s all it is.

I joke that Husband actually married me for my money, and this is all just of his diabolical scheme to get his grubby paws on my dough.

Ha!

But I think it’s more “feminist” than that. He makes more money than I do, he has a lot more saved for retirement than I do; maybe subconsciously my ownership of the house helps level the inequality a little. I guess I could ask to have my name put on his retirement account (guess I just did), but I don’t think that can be done, and that’s not something I’m worrying about anyway.

Is this a reaction to something that is purely symbolic? Or does it represent something more significant, more important?

In a related story he, laughingly (I found out later; I thought he was serious) suggested we roll in enough to put a hot tub on the deck. I’m angling for a heated driveway so I can get my little Toyota up the hill and into the garage all winter. Shall I open it up for discussion?

28
Oct
11

today in politics

Today’s headlines re: the Republican candidates.

Just what this country needs; someone who can’t manage their own campaign.

But we all know what we really need, more jobs. Maybe Rick Perry has the answer. (If you click on each ad banner it will take you to the whole article.)

But then there’s this:

Meh. Details, details.

And then, last but not least, the stalwart long-suffering “front runner,” Romney.

Oops. That wasn’t the one I meant.

That’s funny, I didn’t even do that on purpose.

Here.

This all just makes me tired.

I actually got an email from People or the American Way a few days ago, with this in the subject line:

“Is it time you ran for office?”

I snorted and thought, as if! What sane person wants to run for office. And then it occurred to me.

Exactly!!!

In a related story, I re-posted this on facebook today, from a post that I can now attribute to Axis Mundi:

When Egypt’s people protested, we supported them. When Libya’s people protested, we supported them even more than we supported Egypt. When our people protest, we ignore them, shoot them, gas them, beat them, arrest them, and make fun of them on TV, the radio, and the internet.

As an American, how do you justify this?

And a friend replied:

we cheered and supported them in their fight over tyranny, and for a chance at maybe democracy, although that remains to be seen. I think our protests are seen as something altogether different and can’t be compared as apples to apples. If we are to avoid bankruptcy, drastic measures must be taken, and unfortunately, that means tougher times.. And yes, we will always have the rich, as we will always have the poor. Some things won’t change..Sorry..I think that’s why so many look at our protesters as a bunch of sob asses
I fear he’s missing the point.
Maybe some of these protestors are “putting on airs” by comparing the plight of the American middle class with the plight of Arabian people oppressed by brutal dictators — this is unfortunate, and regrettable; but at the same time, I believe it was Goethe that said that none are so hopelessly enslaved as those who falsely believe they are free. Our “democracy” is a fallacy, with our government being sold off to the highest bidder, and his statement that “we will always have the rich, as we will always have the poor” made me first wonder if he was actually quoting Jesus. (Knowing him as I do, I doubt it.) But when 1% of the population controls 40% of the wealth of the country, and the government is for sale, we’re all in trouble. A nation can only thrive with a thriving middle class. And while I count myself lucky that I’ve so far managed to keep my head above water, my children fed and housed and educated, I am exactly that. Lucky. The fact that I’ve earned a Doctorate and have 20 years of professional experience in my field, and the best I can hope for is piecework as an adjunct with no salary, no benefits, and no security is only one piece of the pie chart that shows the trouble this country is in.
Basta. It’s past my bedtime.
25
Oct
11

sugarsugar followup

Decided, in the interests of research and my obligation to provide as complete of a story as my schedule will allow, and to follow up on my last post. I just went to the sugarsugar.com website.

I find some of the publicity particularly interesting/thought provoking.

Let’s start here:

SugarSugar.com is for generous men looking to spoil, and dynamic women looking for financial support with bills, or who just need some excitement in life! Started by a real sugar baby, SugarSugar.com only accepts true, proven sugar daddies and sugar babies, and provides a staff of sugar dating experts to help you find the perfect mutually beneficial arrangement.

Okay, so obviously this hasn’t been written by an English major (big surprise). “. . .generous men looking to spoil. . .” like old fruit left in the back of the fridge?

“. . . and dynamic women looking for financial support. . .”

And this isn’t prostitution because?

And I wonder what criteria are used to qualify as a “proven” sugar daddy or sugar baby. Maybe I don’t want to know.

Then there’s:

Men: join the only dating site where women outnumber you by 8-to-1.

One has to wonder why a man would require that kind of odds. Call me cynical, just don’t call me late for dinner

And then the icing on the cake:

Also, I’ve got room for another Sugar Baby around Scottsdale, AZ, who’d be interested in accompanying me on big nights out on the town. If you’re interested, you can email me personally at paul@sugarsugar.com, or, of course, find me on the site.

My first question is what kind of self-respecting woman signs up to be “another,” the local attraction, so-to-speak, like people who have several houses and have to keep a wardrobe of clothes in each closet. But maybe I’m asking the wrong question by including “self-respecting” in it in the first place.

I can think of a lot of accomplishments that might bring me satisfaction and pride: writing a novel, winning the Nobel Prize, having emotionally strong and personally successful children, beating my husband at Scrabble or tennis. Being a “Sugar Baby” is certainly not one of them.

Now I imagine a lot of these “Sugar Babies” are fun, energetic, cheerful, attractive women, (I sincerely doubt they make the “cut” if they’re not), maybe without a lot of prospects in terms of intelligence, education, professional opportunities, (I speculate, of course; my apologies if I’m stereotyping or offending anyone), who have decided that their best route to financial security is to find a wealthy man to marry. Kind of a Pretty Woman for the internet age. (Absolutely dreadful movie, btw, DREADFUL. Julia Roberts should be ashamed and/or embarrassed. As should Richard Gere, for that matter. Sheesh.)

Here is a clip of some of the SugarBabies for sale who are available.


I guess if it doesn’t work out, they could get a job at Hooters.

Reminds me of a story my husband tells.

A friend of his is at a Blood Drive to donate blood. As you may know, this generous act requires the potential donor to fill out a questionnaire about his health, and a survey inquiring as to whether he has participated in any questionable behaviors which might lead to blood-borne diseases.

Interviewer: “Have you ever paid for sex?”

Friend: “Does jewelry count?”

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha

But seriously.

Have we really come to this?

So again, in the interests of research, I decided to investigate who they might suggest for me.

The first page included 9 “SugarDaddy” prospects. Three of them declared their worth at less than $50000, occupations included prep cook, student, wood finisher, and party DJ.

According to “Angelena,” becoming a SugarBaby can bring you an allowance of $3,000-$5,000 per month. I’m guessing that figure varies.

I’d ask where the SugarMommies are, but that seems, on many levels, to be a stupid question.

Never mind.

24
Oct
11

seriously?

I can honestly say I had no idea.

Husband says: “Didn’t think of that, did you?”

I snort.

As if.

23
Oct
11

a sign of what we all should fear

Art Pope, who inherited from his father of a chain of discount shops known as Variety Wholesalers (basically a smaller but still incredibly profitable version of WalMart), is systematically purchasing legislative seats in North Carolina. (Click on the picture for a link to the whole article.)

He claims this is all done out of completely altruistic motives — rampant capitalism and the creation of wealth as the system that will save the world. His explanation of the existence of poverty and low incomes is that these are merely a factor of youth and poor education, but “usually, as people get older. . .they [will] save and retain wealth, and [eventually] work their way up.” He also claims that most poverty exists as a result of “self-destructive behavior.” Tell that to the nearly 33% of the minority children living in his state who are living in poverty. What were their self-destructive acts, one might ask? Being born to the wrong parents?

Meanwhile, he funds  battles (even more easily than he did before, thanks to helpful decisions like Citizens United) that put people who think like him into state government and on school boards and as trustees of major universities where budgets are cut and one of the best integration systems in the country is decimated, seeming completely to miss the point that he has made earlier — that a lack of education is one of the things that keep people from prospering.

And never mind the fact that he was born into wealth, status, and privilege, and that the “work ethic” that produced most of his wealth comes from the parents he was born to, the writing of the will that passed it on to him, and the people who work for his company at minimum wage.

He claims to be both a “traditional conservative” and a “classical liberal” (whatever that means), and that his philosophy is based in his belief in the “marketplace of ideas.” Meanwhile, he machinates the drastic cutting of university budgets, followed by a benevolent offer to donate millions of dollars to fund programs that would turn liberal-arts educations into “personal creation of wealth” trade schools.

So many voters have been beguiled by the (family foundation-run) Civitas-sponsored robo-calls and misleading-to-the-point-of-racist-sexist-and/or-libelous postcards deposited into their mailboxes that Republicans have gained a majority in the North Carolina legislature for the first time in a hundred years.

Pope reassures us, though, that there’s plenty we can do about it. If his opponents disagree, they’re welcome to “fund their own side.”

Because all those people working minimum-wage jobs and/or struggling to put their children through colleges that are getting more and more difficult to afford have the resources to do so.

We’re selling our country, and the running of it, to the highest bidder. When will we stop being sheep? When will we stop believing every ridiculous lie told to us by the people with money we all secretly wish we had? When will we hang up on the robo-calls and throw the postcards into the trash where they belong and actually bother to research the people for whom we are being asked to vote? And where are the true liberals — those who believe in both economic opportunity and social responsibility, those who recognize both the benefits of a free market and its perils, those who can frame our arguments in compelling and actionable terms, those who not only believe that we have a moral responsibility to make this world the best we possibly can for everyone but who can help us recognize that what is best for each of us is what is good for everyone?

I thought it would be Obama. I’m not sure anymore, especially because he seems to be so busy being conciliatory and careful he never really seems to stand up for what I’m sure he still believes in. But I am sure that it isn’t any of the current Republican candidates either, and I am constantly perplexed by the centrists who voted for Obama, are disappointed in what has or hasn’t happened since his election, and think that Rick Perry or Mitt Romney might be a viable alternative.

Meanwhile I’m too busy trying to scrape together a living from my three part-time jobs to participate in marches on any street, and am tiring of the flooding of my inbox by petitions that need to be signed and worthwhile causes that need donations. Where is all that wealth I’ve been educated for (doctoral degree) and work for and still can’t seem to accumulate while I pay down my $120,000 mortgage and try to put three kids through college?

Or maybe having three children without a multi-millionaire father and business to inherit qualifies as “self-destructive.”

05
Oct
11

do you hear that giant sucking sound?

The latest reports show that Rick Perry raised $10 million in the last 3 months. Mitt Romney, $18 million, Obama $86 million in the 3 months before that.

I can’t help but think what a tremendous waste of resources this is. You might as well just flush it down the toilet. It’s money spent on “public service” ads: ads that don’t really say anything about people who change what they think or mean or say they’ll do depending on which way the wind is blowing.

Meanwhile, 12,000 Michigan families will lose their jobless benefits in 2 weeks, more than half of our state police posts are closing, and Europe’s about to implode under the combined weight of Greece, Italy, and Ireland.

Wonder how many people $114 million would feed.

This system makes me sick. Nobody’s listening to the voices of the people, nobody’s looking out for the country or the world or any of us. They’re spending money so they can win, so they can protect the interests of the people who helped them get elected.

I jut heard that Steve Jobs died today.

Now I’m too sad to think.

“Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.”

Sigh.

13
Sep
11

where’s my class?

The middle class is shrinking.

I’m not even sure I’m still in it.

We all know this: While corporations aiming for high- and low-end consumers at the expense of middle-class earners appears to be a new development, the income gap has been growing in America for at least three decades. While wages and productivity rose in tandem during the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, they become decoupled in about 1980, as productivity continued to climb while wages slumped and then recovered only modestly. And the gap between rich and poor grew more pronounced during the late-2000s recession, according to Timothy Noah at Slate, due to a jump in the poverty rate that was the highest in over a decade.

But did you know that the “Gini” coefficient — a measure of a country’s income inequality — was at 0.468 in 2009, nearly halfway up the Gini scale that ranges from zero (most equal) to one (least equal)? A high Gini coefficient is often associated with political instability and a poor standard of living, and most first-world countries rank lower on the Gini scale than the U.S. Some other nations that have had Gini coefficients similar to the United States’ include the Philippines, Ecuador and Rwanda.

I’m not making this up.

The Philippines, Ecuador, and Rwanda.

That’s just terrific.

 

 

09
Sep
11

Hmmm, now I’m beginning to wonder

If I turn down the offer of credit-card/identity theft protection at the low-low rate of $12.95/month, does that mean that my credit card company is not going to take preventive steps to protect my information? Isn’t that kind of what we’re expecting them to do anyway?

Seems like a conflict of interest. Am I paranoid if I feel like I’m being asked to “buy”  protection, like from the Mafia so they don’t come burn my house down?

 

10
Aug
11

please sir, can I have another?

Just submitted the payment for the first installment of Second Son’s first semester at University.

Included in the bill was $1,684 for a semester in a dorm room, and $2,393 for a semester on the “silver” meal plan. (Don’t get excited: the “silver” meal plan is the cheapest one available. Those in charge of naming the meal plans are apparently not up to speed on the relative value of the nation’s precious minerals — I’m thinking zinc.) All students living in the dorm must purchase a meal plan, and all freshman must live in the dorm. It’s a beautiful system, really, if you think about it.

In other words, we are being extorted, and we have only ourselves to blame. And this is a state school, you know, one of the land grant universities whose mission is to provide educational opportunities for all and sundry.

First objection: we are paying $7.12 per meal for a child who lives on cereal. Even HE can’t eat this much cereal, and God knows he’s tried.

Secondly, we are paying $421/month for “room.” This equals $1263/month for a 12′ x 14′ room to be lived in by three 18-year-old boys (the thought of the “aroma” alone makes one shudder), which is more than I am paying for house payment, taxes, and insurance for 1300 sq. ft. + finished basement on 2 acres of wooded land in a perfectly lovely city with excellent schools.

And yet, universities are in trouble.

Husband speculates that the areas of the sciences cause the most trouble, as schools want their programs to be taught by the best and the brightest, and the best and the brightest in medicine, engineering, physics, etc., can expect to make six figures many times over in the private sector and for universities to compete they must pay accordingly.

Would it be “fair” to suggest that medicine and engineering tuitions be higher to cover those differences? I think the argument could be made. The people graduating with degrees in those areas can expect to make more money throughout their careers: wouldn’t a cost/benefit analysis and the “laws” of fairness dictate that their education also cost more? And some consideration of the Canadian system, where a certain number of schools are “allowed” to teach certain programs and others are not, might not be out of order. This system allows individual colleges to prioritize and focus, and the situation of every school competing for every student is avoided, and more efficiency gained. I imagine that the average American would protest, as part of the American mindset is the right to have whatever you want wherever you want it, and if you don’t “qualify” through your grades and industry you should at least have the right to pay whatever premium necessary to get it anyway.

In any case, at this point in every child’s development, perhaps the most compelling motivation to the average American parent is the tradeoff between becoming a voluntary extortionee, and having the 18-year old move out of the house.

*

If you’re reading this, Second Son, I love you dearly. Now off you go.

*This is NOT a picture of Second Son’s room. This one was downloaded from the internet, the source which can be viewed if you click on the picture, chosen for its dramatic impact. I regret any misapprehensions. p.s.  He has more guitars, two amps, and less crap on the floor. However, the dust bunnies under the bed were beginning to form their own government, until they were vacuumed up in preparation for visitors, that is.

20
Jun
11

my own personal “core” club

An invitation to my newly opened “core” club

No “initiation” fees, no membership fee. You’re welcome to bring your gadgets, but please don’t “talk” on them while talking to me. I’ll feed you, make you coffee, share our latest under-$7.99/bottle wine discovery, and even do the dishes afterwards. You can dry, but only if you want to. I might commiserate over facial blemishes, but only if they are actually visible under natural light. If you are taking your family to any exotic country via your own private Gulfstream, I will NOT commiserate about the difficulties of modern travel. Your difficulties are not mine. I just flew coach, had someone’s chair back resting on my forehead all the way over the Atlantic, and was asked please not to use the bathroom in the middle of the plane anymore.

I can’t help but wonder if you or your spouse or your parents or whoever has earned all this money you apparently have, if any of you have actually done anything worthwhile for society. Some kind of contribution — cured cancer, invented a clean alternative energy source, taught first graders how to read. Somehow I doubt it.

I guess I shouldn’t be so hasty to judge. Some of the more exclusive clubs do go to great lengths to make sure you don’t have to stoop so low as to pop your own pimple. They will apparently even run out and buy your favorite beer at the corner store if one of their bartenders is a victim of his own bad judgment and they run out (I wonder what the price differential for that turns out to be; anybody want to guess? And I guess, once you earn a certain amount of money, it’s unreasonable to GO TO THE STORE YOURSELF).

But really, those luxuries are really just your rights once you are earning, on average, $13 million a year. Not really that much more than the rest of us. Last year, for example, I made how much you make in, just a minute, I have to get out my calculator. . . .hmmm, like a day and a half or something. Not really that far at all.

Whatever. We won’t run out for your favorite beer, but in the summer we usually have a few Coronas in the fridge, and a couple kinds we made ourselves in the basement — right now I think there are Viennese lager and a stout, but I might be wrong. There is a cat. She sheds, and is a little evil, but she’s very cuddly, and most people aren’t allergic.

There’s also a snake (in a tank in my daughter’s room), and, well, full disclosure requires that I point out that there are also a couple children. And a fish. But I have two tomato plants that the deer haven’t eaten yet, and the basil looks like it might do something this year, and the light, about 45 minutes before sunset, when it slants through the trees behind the house, is quite lovely.

I might ask if I can try on your Manolo Blahniks, since I really like shoes, and could never spend that much on a pair. Plus I have wide feet, and a bad back, so I probably won’t steal them or anything. But you’re probably privileged, and entitled, and snooty, and I’m generally intolerant of all of those things, so maybe it’s better if you just go to your club and I’ll just stay home.

Never mind. Sorry to bother you.

*****

Oh, and NYTimes, what’s up with the “precious” writing? “. . .honeyed streaks conjured by some magician at Frédéric Fekkai”?  “It was the handbag that told the story, of course, as a handbag often does”? Seriously?  I can’t tell if I’m reading an article, or ad copy. I expect better from you. Please try harder.

15
Jun
11

if I had a million dollars. . .or 17.9

So I’m enjoying a quiet day at home, after a couple weeks of extreme busy-ness and yesterday’s Great Strawberry Project, (which involved picking and processing more than 30 lbs of strawberries,) leafing through the Sunday New York Times Magazine reading about the imminent demise of the lightbulb and looking for the crossword puzzle, when I encounter page 59, “Luxury Property Showcase.”

First offer is “The Bellingrath on Peachtree” —

Located in Atlanta’s epicenter, eight stunning 7,000+sf four-story residences, including private garden courtyards & terraces, 12′ ceilings, dramatic atrium stairwells, highest quality appliances and state-of-the-art security, starting at a reasonable $1,800,000. According to the “lots available/sold” graphic on the website, there are still some available, so remember the adage that he who hesitates is lost. If only it weren’t one of eight; it’s quite unreasonable to be expected to spend that kind of money to live in a house that looks just like seven others; kind of like wearing the same dress as someone else to the Oscars.

Next we have Old-World luxury meeting modern lifestyle made manifest in an Italian Cabinet Masters custom-built 6500 sf home, with European elegance demonstrated by its marble floors and custom mahogany “appointments,” (as in doctor’s? dentist? psychiatrist?) and including spectacular views of the Great South Bay (in Bay Shore/Islip, wherever that is). As if that isn’t enough to set your real-estate salivary glands adrool, it’s also a “nautical dream,” with 540′ of bulkhead, boat slips, jet ski lifts AND a heated pool and spa. All this can be yours for a mere $2,400,000.

What the ad doesn’t mention, but is included on the website, is the fact that there is also an indoor waterfall. Almost enough to make you overlook the fact that the house appears to be three separate houses which have, perhaps as a result of global warming, melted together.

I’ll skip over the details of the listings for East Islip/The Moorings (the South Shore’s “most exclusive gated community” [got to keep out the riff-raff, you know — like those people who pay less than a million five for their homes], and “closer than the Hamptons,” which allows you to be “on year-long holiday,” $3,400,000) and Newport, Rhode Island’s “Fairholme” (4+ acres, carriage house, Horace Trumbauer ballroom and staff wing [the indoor version of the gated community; wouldn’t want them using your toilet or anything], $17,900,000) to get to. . .

A “Classic Estate” adjacent to the Arizona Biltmore Hotel — 6-bedroom, French Country manor with guest house, 14,000 sf, stunning wine cellar, indoor and outdoor fireplaces, outdoor kitchen, swimming pool and 4-car garage. Was $14,000,000, recently reduced to $10,000,000. Details can be viewed at http://www.mansions4less.com. I’m not making this up.

Barenaked Ladies: If I Had $1000000

05
May
11

Graduation Open House, a.k.a. subtle extortion

I received, in the mail today, an invitation to an Open House for a very-distant friend of my son’s — meaning he knows her name, and that they were in a play together — whom I’ve never met. Nor have I met her parents.

Why don’t they just send a self-addressed, stamped envelope in it with one of those little forms where I x off the amount of my donation?

Am I doing a disservice to Second Son that I’m limiting the guest list to his Open House to people we actually know? I guess we could treat it like the people at Direct TV, or at any of the myriad credit card companies, that is, as a fishing expedition. With that approach we might find enough people with nothing else to do on a Saturday afternoon but come and eat beanie weanies for the price of a $20 bill tucked into a congratulations card to help fund the furnishings of his dorm and the requisite laptop.

Sheesh.

17
Apr
11

tax day

My husband is the “Taxpayer.”
I am the “Spouse.”
Does this mean I don’t have to pay taxes?
Or are we waiting for women to be paid the same amount for the same work, and then both categories will be “Taxpayer”?
Maybe I’m overthinking it.

Oh, and it took 40 minutes and two consultations of the directions online to fill out the 1040 “EZ” for my 17-year-old. I made 3 mistakes that I had to white out, and I’m a reasonably intelligent person. It shouldn’t be that difficult to fill out a form for someone who made $3,600 last year and can’t itemize lunches at Noodles & Co. or purchases from Game Stop.

Can any tax reform enacted include a rule that one shouldn’t need to hire a CPA and pay $20/form to complete even the simplest tax forms? Does anybody really know what terms such as “Amortization” or “Domestic Production Activities Deduction” actually mean?

Do I earn any karma points for being perfectly willing to pay my fair share even if GE doesn’t? And what about my paying my taxes for potholed roads and closing police departments and schools that “my” governor can take over with one of his non-elected Emergency Financial Managers? Guess this crosses over into questions about whether democracy is alive and well in the good ol’ U. S. of A., and maybe that’s a topic for another day.

Gotta go write that check and send it off to Uncle Sam. Or should I have my husband write it, since I’m just the Spouse?

20
Jan
11

fund raising? or extortion?

Got this message from my daughter’s elementary-school “Webzine” today:

Friday, January 21 is $1 Crazy Hair Day at T____________!

Our Media Center needs some good old fashioned TLC and kids love “Fun Friday’s” at T_________.  Break out the gel, hair spray, wigs, wires and any other creative ideas to make some wacky hair-do’s.  We ask that each student donate $1 to participate and all collected funds will go into the Media Center Make-over bank to help purchase new decorations for the most-used room at T__________ – the Media Center!

Are they actually saying that I can’t send my daughter to school tomorrow with “Crazy Hair” unless she pays a dollar?

Seriously?

How poor ARE our schools, anyway? And do we even NEED new decorations for the Media Center? Can’t we just have books?

This is the 2nd year this has happened. Last year I actually wrote to the publicity person and asked the same question. Then I sent my daughter looking like this:

and didn’t pay the dollar.

I’d give them $5 happily if I weren’t being extorted for it.

Sheesh.

16
Jan
11

“customer service” iii

I think of myself overall as a pretty accepting person. I’m not saying that I never get angry, but I try to choose my battles carefully, and only to rage when I’ve been pushed beyond reason. Of course, this happens fairly frequently when driving, as most people behind the wheel are morons, probably have difficulty walking and chewing gum at the same time, and are too busy talking on their cell phones to pay attention to the task at hand.

I can also “lose it” when dealing with Second Son and his habit of leaving whatever dishes he’s used to accumulate at “his” end of the dining table for us to stare at grimly over our eggs and coffee in the morning, or when my dear lovely daughter waits until the last minute for the 457th time before collecting her belongings to head out the door for school or gymnastics or to go to her dad’s on Fridays.

But nothing pushes me over the edge like trying to deal with customer service people by phone.

So here’s the story.

I bought Second Son a videocamera for Christmas at Target. It cost $300, quite a bit more than I usually spend on Christmas presents, but I had helped buy First Son a computer, and Second Son is planning on going to college to study film next year, so I thought it would be appropriate and fair and I’ll just buy him less for his next 3 birthdays or something. I had a feeling he would maybe rather have an iPod touch, but thought I would encourage what I thought might be something more “useful” to him (as if!), and this way, if he had it in his hand, he might at least consider it. Therefore, I included a note with the gift that said “If you would rather have an iPod touch, do NOT open this package, and you can exchange after Christmas.” I purchased the camera with my Target redcard, to take advantage of the 5% discount.

You can all imagine what happened. He wanted the iPod touch, so badly in fact that he wanted to know if he could go to Target on Christmas Eve to exchange it. He goes to Target the day after Christmas (he actually sets his alarm so he can be there by 7 a.m. to beat the crowds; this is the boy we never see before noon on weekends). He takes the videocamera, the receipt, and my Target card. They accept the camera, but rather than credit the redcard and then put the iPod back on the redcard, obviously applying the same 5% discount they had applied to the videocamera, they credit it via a “giftcard” and then use the giftcard to purchase the iPod. Of course, they tell him, since they aren’t using the redcard for the iPod purchase, they “can’t” give him the 5% discount. Right. They “can’t” use the redcard to credit the original purchase, but they “can” use the redcard to charge the difference, resulting in the loss of the discount. Funny how that works, isn’t it?

He’s 17; he’s been taught to respect authority, plus he has a new shiny iPodtouchwithretinadisplay, so he says ok.

Well, not ok. I’ve been ripped off, and I’m not happy about it.

So today I finally decide it’s time to do something about it. As I review the original receipt before calling, I notice that I was also charged twice for the purchase of one movie. (Has anyone ever noticed how those mistakes almost always go in the store’s favor? Anyway. . .)

I get the phone number off the internet. I dial it. It’s 1:03 p.m. I weave my way through a tangled web of automated instructions, including entering the last 4 digits of my redcard and the last 4 digits of my social security number. (Has anyone noticed that these automated systems always ask for this information, but when you finally get an actual person they ask you for it again? Is this just a way to keep you busy so you don’t realize that you’re actually on hold for 20 minutes? Sometimes they ask so many questions I’m surprised they don’t ask what color socks I’m wearing or I have Prince Albert in a can.) Because of “high call volume,” there will be “an unusually long wait time.” I wait. At 1:14 I get a helpful young woman who agrees to put the 2nd movie, the one I didn’t buy, “in dispute,” assuring me that until it is resolved I do not have to pay that part of my credit card bill. Well that’s a relief.  I explain the rest of the problem (for full effect, go back and read the 2 paragraphs above which explain the predicament). Unfortunately, she is “not qualified to help,” but can forward me to “someone who can.” She helpfully gives me the direct number, in case the call is lost, and forwards me onward. I then weave my way through yet another tangled web of automated instructions, instructions which sound an awful lot like the automated instructions I followed at 1:03 p.m., and after another long wait, because of high call volume, I get Neil. I repeat my tale of woe (go back and read those 2 paragraphs again). He informs me that I have apparently followed the wrong series of prompts, and have reached someone who is unable to solve my problem. He forwards me on to “someone who can.” I find myself looped back to exactly where I started, so I hang up and dial the number Customer Service Representative #1 gave me earlier; remember? in case the call is lost? It is now 1:27. I’m not very happy right now, and I’m afraid it’s going to start being apparent in the tone of my voice. The last time I was this angry at Customer Service I pissed the lady at Comcast off so badly she twisted my internet service into so many knots it took 3 managers and 36 hours to fix it. So I take a few deep breaths, redial the number, follow the tangled web yet again, wait an “unusually long time” and end up with René. After repeating my tale of woe a 3rd time (go ahead, read it again; I dare ya’!) he apologizes that he can’t help me, and offers to forward me to “someone who can.” At this point I interrupt, tell him that I have spent the past half hour following instructions and prompts and waiting and being forwarded to people who are purported to be able to help me but can’t, and that I have no interest in being sent on yet again. He then apologizes for the inconvenience, and says to me, and I’M NOT MAKING THIS UP: “The reason you keep getting looped around is because that department is closed.” He then recommends that I call again tomorrow.

Do they do this on purpose? It’s $15; do they figure that if they jerk you around for long enough you’ll just give up? Is this Day 3 of their job training?

I’m calling back tomorrow. And maybe, in the process, I should offer to send them a bill for the time I’ve spent trying to remedy their self-serving fraud.

Grrrrr. . .

11
Jan
11

capitalism, foreclosures, and greed

A real-estate “agent for investors” was apparently a little disgruntled at a recent foreclosed-housing auction at the fact that prices are creeping up, making his clients’ buy-’em-cheap-and-sell-’em-for-more venture a little less profitable.

I think this is shameful.

Never mind the fact that he’s/they’re in the business of throwing people out of their homes; never mind that some banks would rather sell houses at fire-sale prices and lose more money than they would if they helped borrowers restructure their mortgages; never mind that regulations (a term we should all use loosely at this point) relaxed to the point that people who probably could barely pay their car payments were given mortgages for homes way beyond their means, and then allowed to refinance, repeatedly, based on the imaginary increased value of their already-overvalued homes; never mind that the tanking housing market brought the rest of the economy down with it, and one of the things that might turn this economy around once and for all is if people aren’t losing everything they have.

No, we’re supposed to feel sympathy that this man, and the people he represents, who make their living not really doing anything productive for society, just moving “money” around, aren’t able to make as quick or as easy or as big a buck as they did last month.

And what is this: “agent for investors” anyway? I hate to sound like dear-ol’-dad and hearken back to the “good ol’ days,” but weren’t mortgages created to help hard-working people own homes while they still had need for them? I’m reminded of Mr. Potter (the banker, not the wizard) in It’s a Wonderful Life grumbling about how people, (referring to a particular demographic, I believe he called them “garlic eaters”), shouldn’t be allowed to own a home unless they could pay cash for it. The idea that you could invest your money in your home, and have some value out of that investment at the end of your life was a good and noble one; a little appreciation couldn’t hurt either, and it sure beat throwing your your money down the proverbial drain paying rent. But maybe we’ve gone a little too far from the original intent of the home mortgage when people think it’s a good idea to package them up and trade them like baseball cards. It’s MY house, my appreciation, not yours, and I really hate the idea that the interest I’m paying isn’t actually reflecting the cost of the loan, but merely a means of lining other people’s pockets.

As I think about this further, I begin to wonder how many of the difficulties our country faces are, if not created, at least impacted by the fact that most people seem to confuse capitalism with democracy. Obama tries to make sure that we all have the right to one of the fundamental needs of our society, decent, affordable health care, and people hiss “Socialist,” which number one, it’s not, and number two, is it necessarily such a bad thing? Isn’t the Christian moral ethic (you know, the one that so many people seem to be shouting from the rooftops, ramming down people’s throats, and/or using as justification to villify anyone and everyone who doesn’t agree with them), built around the idea that we take care of each other? The widow, the orphan, the poor, the disadvantaged. . .  And what about the statement on the statue of liberty: Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses, yearning to breath free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore, Send these, the homeless, tempest tossed, I lift my lamp beside the golden door. We presume “she” doesn’t mean give them to me so I can ignore their basic needs and discriminate based on their income.

People also tend to confuse Socialism — a system of economics that acknowledges that all have a duty and responsibility to themselves, their families, and their society, to do their best, and that everyone’s contribution is not only important, but necessary, while at the same time providing basic needs like health care, education, and support for the disadvantaged or the needy; with Communism — a system of economics that believes that people are not capable of the above beliefs and behaviors and therefore such must be regimented and controlled by the government. (It’s ironic, in a way, that early organized religion probably came about for much the same reason. People won’t behave honorably if left to themselves, so let’s create a system of fear, judgment, retribution and reward to control encourage them. Too bad so many atrocious acts are committed in the name of religion, from the genocide of the Old Testament, to the Crusades, the killing of doctors who perform abortions, and the people who feel they have a right to picket funerals declaring that God is happy about their deaths as He punishes this country for its tolerance of homosexuality.)

Hmmmm. I seem to have gone off on a tangent. What was I saying?

Ah, yes, the role of capitalism in society.

Capitalism can be a wonderful thing, especially when it’s a part of society which respects the rights and needs of others and includes recognition that we ARE all family; that what we do, or don’t do, impacts everyone; that what’s best for everyone might not seem, at any particular moment, to be best for one particular person, but ultimately probably is. Until that’s the case (my own personal version of Utopia), regulations are important, as are prudence, fairness, justice, equality of opportunity, and the awareness that the tyranny, pursuit, ethic of the mighty dollar might not be the one on which we want to build humanity.

I’d like to propose that we find a way to get money out of politics, but that’s probably a topic for another day. . .

15
Oct
10

politics and the “media”

I am still kind of in shock that the Supreme Court has ruled that companies can give money freely to political candidates in the name of free speech. At least now I know that I am not the only one who thinks that the money polluting our political system is the biggest obstacle to true democracy. And any illusion of Fox News being “fair and balanced” has to be put to rest — unless they want to hire 4 of the top 5 Democratic candidates and give them equal air time. What are the chances of that do you suppose?  We’re being bought and sold, lied to and manipulated, all in the name of capitalism and (irony alert) free speech. That is, if you call millions of dollars in ads, salaries, consulting fees and donations “free.”

What are we going to do about it?

Op-Ed Columnist

Paul Krugman

Fear and Favor

A note to Tea Party activists: This is not the movie you think it is. You probably imagine that you’re starring in “The Birth of a Nation,” but you’re actually just extras in a remake of “Citizen Kane.”

 

Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

True, there have been some changes in the plot. In the original, Kane tried to buy high political office for himself. In the new version, he just puts politicians on his payroll.

I mean that literally. As Politico recently pointed out, every major contender for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination who isn’t currently holding office and isn’t named Mitt Romney is now a paid contributor to Fox News. Now, media moguls have often promoted the careers and campaigns of politicians they believe will serve their interests. But directly cutting checks to political favorites takes it to a whole new level of blatancy.

Arguably, this shouldn’t be surprising. Modern American conservatism is, in large part, a movement shaped by billionaires and their bank accounts, and assured paychecks for the ideologically loyal are an important part of the system. Scientists willing to deny the existence of man-made climate change, economists willing to declare that tax cuts for the rich are essential to growth, strategic thinkers willing to provide rationales for wars of choice, lawyers willing to provide defenses of torture, all can count on support from a network of organizations that may seem independent on the surface but are largely financed by a handful of ultrawealthy families.

And these organizations have long provided havens for conservative political figures not currently in office. Thus when Senator Rick Santorum was defeated in 2006, he got a new job as head of the America’s Enemies program at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a think tank that has received funding from the usual sources: the Koch brothers, the Coors family, and so on.

Now Mr. Santorum is one of those paid Fox contributors contemplating a presidential run. What’s the difference?

Well, for one thing, Fox News seems to have decided that it no longer needs to maintain even the pretense of being nonpartisan.

Nobody who was paying attention has ever doubted that Fox is, in reality, a part of the Republican political machine; but the network — with its Orwellian slogan, “fair and balanced” — has always denied the obvious. Officially, it still does. But by hiring those G.O.P. candidates, while at the same time making million-dollar contributions to the Republican Governors Association and the rabidly anti-Obama United States Chamber of Commerce, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, which owns Fox, is signaling that it no longer feels the need to make any effort to keep up appearances.

Something else has changed, too: increasingly, Fox News has gone from merely supporting Republican candidates to anointing them. Christine O’Donnell, the upset winner of the G.O.P. Senate primary in Delaware, is often described as the Tea Party candidate, but given the publicity the network gave her, she could equally well be described as the Fox News candidate. Anyway, there’s not much difference: the Tea Party movement owes much of its rise to enthusiastic Fox coverage.

As the Republican political analyst David Frum put it, “Republicans originally thought that Fox worked for us, and now we are discovering we work for Fox” — literally, in the case of all those non-Mitt-Romney presidential hopefuls. It was days later, by the way, that Mr. Frum was fired by the American Enterprise Institute. Conservatives criticize Fox at their peril.

So the Ministry of Propaganda has, in effect, seized control of the Politburo. What are the implications?

Perhaps the most important thing to realize is that when billionaires put their might behind “grass roots” right-wing action, it’s not just about ideology: it’s also about business. What the Koch brothers have bought with their huge political outlays is, above all, freedom to pollute. What Mr. Murdoch is acquiring with his expanded political role is the kind of influence that lets his media empire make its own rules.

Thus in Britain, a reporter at one of Mr. Murdoch’s papers, News of the World, was caught hacking into the voice mail of prominent citizens, including members of the royal family. But Scotland Yard showed little interest in getting to the bottom of the story. Now the editor who ran the paper when the hacking was taking place is chief of communications for the Conservative government — and that government is talking about slashing the budget of the BBC, which competes with the News Corporation.

So think of those paychecks to Sarah Palin and others as smart investments. After all, if you’re a media mogul, it’s always good to have friends in high places. And the most reliable friends are the ones who know they owe it all to you.

30
May
10

The Freeloaders

This article in the Atlantic describes today’s reality: the tendency of this generation to get as much of their media — music, movies, games, books — for free.

I ask my students, and my children, to pay for that which they use. They scoff, and consider me old-fashioned. But what will become of all of us when the people making the music, and the movies, and the games, and writing the books, can no longer make a living at it?

“Sharing” should not equal stealing. Buy your own stuff.

Hmmm. . .I just downloaded a picture, as I always do, from Google images to headline my blog post. It is my understanding that if I post the link to the source, it’s okay. Any input?

24
May
10

Conflict of Interest? or Business as Usual?

Perhaps you’d like to sit down before you read this:  It has recently come to the attention of journalists at the NY Times that there may be conflicts of interest inherent in our political system.

I know this may come as a shock to anyone who has spent the past 100 years at the bottom of a mineshaft. But to the rest of us, well, Duh?

As long as our system of campaigning persists, where a massive amount of money is spent for political advertising over extended periods, what hope do we have? Politicians need to make money, lobbyists and powerful corporations want to have their voices heard, and nothing speaks louder than a check for a large sum. Rather than merely paying lip service to the idea of, and assuming we really want a government of, equal representation, (not just on a state level but on an individual one), this part of the process needs to change.

I propose we adopt a Canadian system, which limits the amount of money that can be spent, and which therefore encourages substance, frugality, and efficiency throughout.

20
Mar
10

College Scam

The theme of the day seems to be that I’m being ripped off, in various and sundry ways, and I don’t like it.

Just paid my son’s college tuition for this semester.

Included in the charges was $5,790 for a semester of room and board. This means we paid $11,580 for 8 months for him to live in a 6′ x 9′ room and eat dorm food. Now granted, this is the dorm food of the 21st century, which is, from what I hear, decidedly better than the dorm food we ate in the 1980s, but still; at $10.50 a meal, I think we might have overpaid.

Is this the new model, how colleges can afford to stay in business? I was wondering (briefly) how they could charge this with a straight face, but then I realized that in today’s electronic age, it’s probably not all that difficult. (You all know how easy it is to say something to someone in an email that one would never be able to say to someone in person. Something that bears some consideration when writing that vehement response to your boss, underling, colleague.) Maybe this is what the advent of technology brings us — extortion. And we all willingly sit down at our computers, log in to our online banking accounts, and participate.

Tomorrow: health insurance.

13
Mar
10

Blogomania

Just read an article about blogging and how it’s taking off among stay-at-home moms as a work-from-home option.

You mean people make money from this?

08
Mar
10

Banking Schmanking

Why is that when I use my debit card to buy laundry soap and gum at Target, the charge is off my account by the time I get home (and I don’t live that far), but when I deposit $2000 in my business account on Friday it’s not “actually” there until maybe Tuesday?

I guess the bank is more certain of my purchase made at a remote location than they are of the checks that I handed to them and they verified twice with their little computer/calculator before printing up my little receipt.

That makes sense.

19
Feb
10

Stop Sending Me Crap!

It’s true. I’m cursed with great credit. I was an “old woman” at 17, lived my life uber-responsibly, (anybody know how to have blogspot give me an umlaut?) and had to live out my teenage rebellion in my early 40s; but the effects of that gross strategic error are felt every day when I open my mail. I must be one of the 7 people in the country that the credit card companies still feel are worthy of their harassment. Yes, I have the same Master Card I’ve had since 1991. Yes, I usually pay my bill in full every month. [Yes, my former husband’s name is still on the account with mine because, despite the fact that the card is in MY name, I can’t just take him off, I have to close the account, lose all of the accumulated airline miles, and open a new one. As if.]

BUT

I keep getting these little packets of checks I can use to help stimulate the economy and try to assuage that persistent feeling that I’m not really happy, but I would be if I just had those boots or that coat or this glorified iPod named after a sanitary napkin. (okay, maybe the boots would help) LOW MONTHLY INTEREST! NO PAYMENT FOR 6 MONTHS! NO EFFECT ON YOUR AVAILABLE CREDIT BALANCE! NO! I don’t want these checks, they keep sending me these checks, and I can’t just throw these checks in the garbage for the underpaid, under-appreciated garbage collection workers to fish out of my dumpster from amidst the old chicken bones, shrimp skins and bags of used cat litter and use to buy groceries. As if I don’t have enough papers to deal with with 2 school-age children in the house and a college teaching job, I have to open each and every one of these envelopes, and extract the checks from the handy little “Convenience” pad they come bound in and shred them. (I have a whimpy shredder; what can I say, I’m cheap; and there are those boots I’m saving up for . . .)

Maybe I should just send them back from whence they came. If they used them, would THEY owe ME interest? Hmmm. . .




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