Greg Roach's Berkshires Blog
Saturday, November 29, 2008
  A Little Wonkish
If you slept through your 200 level econ classes in college, don't bother clicking on this link. However, if, like me, you have always thought that the premature declaration that the theories of Milton Friedman triumphed over those of Keynes was just another attempt by the "conservative movement" to try and create a false sense of political and social permanency, definitely click.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
  Citibank can kiss my ...........
The Citibank bailout is a done deal and for the sake of the stability of the financial services sector I guess I can see why it was necessary. That said, let me tell you two little anecdotes that explain why I hate Citibank and, in a bought of wishful thinking, why I hope that certain members of their management lose their jobs if not their fortunes. Both have to do with Citibank's credit card biz:

1) A few years back, Citibank bought the Sears credit card division from Sears Roebuck. I had had a Sears card since I was 18 or 19 years old. It was one of my first lines of credit. The first thing Citibank did was to convert all the cards to MasterCards and hike the rate to 19%. Needless to say, I stopped using the card.

My final payment to the card was made via the internet on a Friday. A few weeks later I received a statement in the mail saying that my payment had posted on the following Tuesday. This resulted in a finance charge and late fee of $15. I called and complained and the customer service rep waived the fee. I then asked to cancel the card. hahahahahahhaha!

Needless to say, the card was not canceled and two more late fees (on zero purchases) accumulated, reaching a balance of approximate $50 with interest. I called and called and finally reached the person who said that she was the highest ranking person that I would ever speak to. She told me to go to hell buzz off.

I asked if she worked for the company whose name was on the card - Sears. She said "No."

I then said I was calling Sears. The Citibank rep got very defensive and said that I shouldn't do that because it would do no good.

With a couple of phone calls I ended up speaking to a VP at Sears who dealt with their contract with Citibank. She assured me that the problem would be taken care of and apologized profusely. To her credit, this person from Sears got Citibank to drop the fees and cancel the card. (Was that so hard?)

2) When we applied for the mortgage on our lovely home in 2003, we were taken by surprise by a "default" and "charge off" on a Citibank credit card in the late 90s. To the best of my and my wife's and my knowledge, neither of us had a Citibank card during that period and this problem had not surfaced during our two prior mortgages in 1998 and 2001. Nobody seemed to know what this mysterious default was about.

After several hours of phoning various Citibank information lines, the mystery was solved. In the early '90s I had canceled an Amoco credit card. In the process of mailing the final check and the account actually closing, a service charge of $1.50 had accumulated. Amoco simply let it go.

But a few years later, Amoco was bought by BP and the credit division was purchased by, guess who.... Citibank.

Deep in the computer records of Amoco credit this 1992(?) $1.50 charge resurfaced as a 1999 Citibank "default." Nobody had bothered to send a note, let alone a bill.

So, in 2003, the closing on a 6 figure mortgage was almost scuttled because of a buck-fifty from 11 years prior combined with Citibank's incompetence and greed.

In 2008, Citibank will now get a $XX,000,000,000 infusion of taxpayer money. I've got to say that my emotions are quite mixed. I'd feel better if somebody ran a credit check on them.
Saturday, November 22, 2008
  Healthcare or Oblivion?
With GM's survival in the balance, I'd like to revisit something I wrote over a year ago. It's more relevant now than ever:
I am not the first and I won't be the last to say it, but why are the major automakers not calling a for national health care plan?

In 2003 Billy Ford, then CEO of Ford (and a former schoolmate of my brother), suggested that the Big 3 should start pushing for a non-employer based health care system simply because it was a major factor in making American automakers uncompetitive on the wage/labor front. Since 2003? [crickets chirping]

Alan Mullally is now CEO at Ford and based upon my brief time as the Chef at the Boeing's commercial airline group with Mullally a few floors above me entertaining dignitaries over my lunches, I can say that I have never met a more workers-are-cattle kind of guy. I do not expect him to repeat Billy's call. Alan will not admit that Ayn Rand was wrong. He might get kicked out of the club.

Currently GM is trying to cram a union-wide variation of the Heritage Foundation's plan of individual health savings accounts down the UAW's throat so that GM can break it promises to its retirees with a little less bad PR.

But what else can you expect when Hillary Clinton puts forward a health care plan (a lousy one) that is very similar to the one that Mitt Romney signed here in Massachusetts (fatally flawed, IMHO), yet Romney jumps on his soapbox and declares Clinton's plan to be "socialist." The ironies abound.

In the world of Harvard MBA's, Republicans and Dittoheads, health care is not about people or medicine. No, to them healthcare is a symbolic battle that is fought for different but related reasons. Ultimately for these folks to acknowledge that other countries do it better would be to admit that their basic paradigms of self-sufficiency and free-markets are rife with inherent shortcomings. This issue must remain black-and-white for the opponents of national health care. There can be no compromise because the second they crack the door they know that mobs of those supposedly less deserving types will demand real change.

As long as Rick Wagoner, Billy Ford, Alan Mullally and all their kindred souls don't have to worry about affordable access to medical care, then it seems unlikely that they will do anything about the average American's plight. And therein lies the quandary. If corporate America could acknowledge that the simple precept of healthcare for all would benefit share prices, then it would take less than a year to make it happen. Yet jumping that mental hurdle is something they simply cannot do.

This is a rare opportunity for big business and social justice types to see eye to eye on a major issue that will impact every single American. Can they do it? Does any major CEO have the courage to be the first? Could the now Executive Chairman of the Board at Ford, Billy Ford, resurrect his call for national health care and take his place beside his great-grandfather's $5 day?

I have my doubts.
And now matters have come to a head - with the survival of their companies at stake and their own livliehoods, fortunes and reputations cratering, Wagoner, Mullaly and now Bob Nardelli, might be ready to say that Healthcare for All is, indeed, good for business.
  I Hope Citigroup Doesn't Own any Corporate Jets
Robert Reich gets it exactly right:
So Citigroup is not much different from General Motors. It's a company that once made lots of money but, through a series of management blunders, is now losing money big time. Citi's shareholders and creditors are taking a beating, just like the shareholders and creditors of GM.

So why save Citi and not GM? It's not at all clear. In fact, there may be more reason to do the reverse. GM has a far greater impact on jobs and communities. Add parts suppliers and their employees, and the number of middle-class and blue-collar jobs dependent on GM is many multiples that of Citi. And the potential social costs of GM's demise, or even major shrinkage, is much larger than Citi's -- including everything from unemployment insurance to lost tax revenues to families suddenly without health insurance to entire communities whose infrastructure and housing may become nearly worthless. I'm not arguing that GM should be bailed out; as I've noted elsewhere, GM's creditors, shareholders, executives, and workers should have to make substantial sacrifices before taxpayers should be expected to sacrifice as well.

Nonetheless, Citi is about to be bailed out while GM is allowed to languish. That's because Wall Street's self-serving view of the unique role of financial institutions is mirrored in the two agencies that run the American economy -- the Treasury and the Fed. Their job, as they see it, is to keep the financial economy "sound," by which they mean keeping Wall Street's own investors and creditors reasonably happy.
Friday, November 21, 2008
  Worker Owned
I've seen this idea floated around a few different places - Let the UAW buy and run General Motors. At this point, what could it hurt? Put those who actually have a vested interest in making and selling cars, rather than the MBAs who have target stock prices for their own options, in charge.

It's no more ridiculous than the idea of installing Mitt Romney, so why the heck not?
  Proud Alumni Moment
My high school theater group, where I acted and student-directed for my four years, along with the church that I grew up and sang in from the ages of 7 to 23, have taken a stand against the dark side:
A radical Kansas church's planned protest this weekend at a Grosse Pointe South High School play has expanded to also include Christ Church in Grosse Pointe Farms and both the Canadian and Mexican consulates in Detroit.

The Westboro Baptist Church plans to send six female protesters to the school's production of "The Laramie Project," a play about the torture and beating death of a gay college student who was killed in Laramie, Wyo., in 1998.
I guess this makes up for the absolute bwitch in the same neighborhood who made headlines on Halloween.

And if you don't know Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church, click here. You've surely seen their pickets outside military and mine disaster funerals.
Monday, November 17, 2008
  What Are the Public Obligations of a Charter School?
I've got to be careful what I write here because I don't want to breach any confidences, but what exactly are the obligations of a charter school to the general population of students that it claims to serve? Can a charter school in Massachusetts pick and choose its students rather than be open to the general population? Can a charter school "wash-out" those students who it finds undesirable or difficult to educate?

Is it ethical for a school that bills itself as a "public school" to suspend and expel students who violate homework policy? Is it ethical for a school that is funded by tax dollars to declare that it is a "college prep" school and toss kids with behavioral and emotional issues "under the bus?"

You might have guessed that I have reasons for asking these questions, and, no, they have nothing to do with my own child (or the poor little schmuck who is in that priceless photo. Heh!) However, as a taxpayer and as a parent in general, there are stories floating around out there about kids who need help rather than the back of the hand that bother the crap out of me.

Are the scenarios I painted above legal? Ethical? Do I fail to grasp the requirements of public education? Do charter schools have a completely different obligation to their students, parents and community than the neighborhood public school?

I like the concept of charter schools (I hate the punitive local funding mechanism), but if Massachusetts law allows charter schools to act like the exclusive private schools and kick kids to the curb for relatively minor issues that your typical public school has to deal with, I think that my endorsement has been misplaced.

UPDATE: Ok, after several days and a few insightful comments I will acknowledge that the language of the above post is far too inflammatory. My intention was to ask blunt questions rather than make subversive accusations. Unfortunately, with a more sober re-reading, my off-the-cuff commentary appears to do both, which diminishes its efficacy. I regret using phrases such as "kicked to the curb" and "under the bus." They create a tone in this post that make it combative rather than intellectually provocative and have understandably ticked-off some readers instead of spurring reasoned discussion.
Saturday, November 15, 2008
We are currently under a Tornado Watch until 9 pm tonight.

Monday, November 10, 2008
  Proud Spouse Moment
Washington Post:
Robin Meyer, associate director of the Office of Career Counseling at Williams College, says.....
Thursday, November 06, 2008
  Strange, Disturbing and Charming, all at once....
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
  He's a little nicer than I would be

Krugman says what I've been thinking for the past several years:
What I mean by that is that for the past 14 years America’s political life has been largely dominated by, well, monsters. Monsters like Tom DeLay, who suggested that the shootings at Columbine happened because schools teach students the theory of evolution. Monsters like Karl Rove, who declared that liberals wanted to offer “therapy and understanding” to terrorists. Monsters like Dick Cheney, who saw 9/11 as an opportunity to start torturing people.

And in our national discourse, we pretended that these monsters were reasonable, respectable people. To point out that the monsters were, in fact, monsters, was “shrill.”

Four years ago it seemed as if the monsters would dominate American politics for a long time to come. But for now, at least, they’ve been banished to the wilderness.
The Gollum wing of the GOP is not dead. As of this moment they are just going through a purge. The lesson of the Monster Years is to never treat the unreasonable reasonably. When the particular breed of unreasonable, hard-right wingers come back from their hiatus to search for their "precious" they should be greeted with the scorn that they deserve.
  Capitalism and the Law
Considering that starbucks and Krispy Kreme both have lobbyists who push for various trade and wage policies, I don't consider this unreasonable.
Starbucks promised a free coffee and Krispy Kreme offered a free donut to anyone who showed up with an "I voted" sticker, but their giveaways could prove to be costly endeavors, for a reason other than the one you would expect. An article in today's Atlanta Journal Constitution, titled "Trouble brews for voter freebies." warned about the possible legal consequences for sugar-seeking voters....

In Washington State, Election officials told the CBS affiliate, KIRO 7 that rewarding voters with free coffee is illegal.Nick Handy, director of elections,said there is a federal statue that prohibits any reward for voting....
Tuesday, November 04, 2008
  I Lied
I am actually sober enough to be very very happy!!

Socialists Terrorists People of America, REJOICE!!

(The reactions of the right wing fringe)
By 10 O'clock tonight I will have had far too much beer to care who wins.

But tomorrow morning I predict will be happy. Hungover.... but happy.
Sunday, November 02, 2008
  Duty Update - Annoying Bureaucracy Alert
As of this post, I have only been getting an official court recorded "all circuits are busy" notice on the Federal Jury Duty phone number that is supposed to tell me if I should report to the Federal Courthouse in Springfield tomorrow. Because the mailed notice I received says very bluntly that a juror will not be paid nor reimbursed if they show up on a day that they are not called, I don't think I'll be making the 150 mile round trip to Springfield while missing a day of work.

As civic-minded as I claim to be, I cannot afford the gas nor the lost wages if the whole exercise is for naught. Hopefully the recorded message on the phone will change by the time I go to bed tonight.
Saturday, November 01, 2008
  My Hometown -
While most of the people I knew growing up in Grosse Pointe were not assholes, it seemed that the place had more than its fair share. Shirley Nagel is a perfect example.

I knew a couple kids named Nagel back in the day. I wonder if they are related to this witch.
  Why Wal-Mart Sucks #248

Today's example of really lousy customer service, that rises to the level of stupidity, is WalMart's "No Return" policy on Halloween merchandise. As with all no-exception style policies, it ultimately costs the store money.

I understand why a store selling decorations and such would not want people who purchase glowing pumpkins and costumes to bring them back for a refund the next day, but what if the merchandise is truly defective and unable to be used on Halloween?

About two or three weeks ago, we purchased a silly little "Fog Machine" on a whim. Last night we plugged it in, let it warm up according to the directions and..... well.... nothing. It puffed a tiny bit of smoke for 5 or 6 seconds and then it stopped. It emitted nothing but the smell of evaporating glycol which has the lovely smell of an overheated radiator on a car.

So, today, without a second thought, we attempted to take it back, if for nothing else but store credit.

BZZZTTT!!! Wrong!

Wal Mart refused, citing their little sign above the returns desk stating that Halloween merchandise cannot be returned after 10/31.

So now, I will package the crappy little machine up, and I will send it on my own dime to H. Lee Scott, the President of WalMart, and tell him that I hope his kids enjoy it as much my mine did, along with a mention that his store's counterproductive policy will make WalMart my store of last resort for the indefinite future.
A blog of random thoughts and reactions emanating from the bank of a mountain stream in the farthest reaches of the bluest of blue states.

May 2006 / June 2006 / August 2006 / September 2006 / October 2006 / November 2006 / December 2006 / January 2007 / February 2007 / March 2007 / April 2007 / May 2007 / June 2007 / July 2007 / August 2007 / September 2007 / October 2007 / November 2007 / December 2007 / January 2008 / February 2008 / March 2008 / April 2008 / May 2008 / June 2008 / July 2008 / August 2008 / September 2008 / October 2008 / November 2008 / December 2008 / January 2009 / February 2009 / March 2009 / April 2009 / May 2009 / June 2009 / July 2009 / August 2009 / September 2009 / October 2009 / November 2009 / December 2009 / January 2010 / February 2010 / March 2010 / April 2010 / May 2010 / January 2011 / May 2011 / June 2011 / July 2011 / October 2011 /

greg at gregoryroach dot com

"Livability, not just affordability." - Dick Alcombright

My ongoing campaign for North Adams City Council

iBerkshires' Online Event Calendar

Because a Chart is Worth 1000 Words

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