Archive for the ‘Business’ Category

h1

The Estate Tax — Why I Support It

07.31.10

President Obama has extended unemployment benefits despite months of Republicans blocking such legislation under the guise that they’re actually saving us from ourselves.

They’ll have you believe that while people’s plight of being unemployed for over a year with no end in sight; not being able to make their mortgage payments; being forced to go on other government social programs to help pay for their kids’ lunches; losing their homes to foreclosures; and, moving in with other family members in cramped quarters to try to make ends meet is, yes, very tough to get through, to be sure (not that they have any idea since they’re giving themselves the entire month of August off), but it’s nothing compared to the trials and tribulations that will befall our children and grandchildren if we don’t suffer through poverty and unemployment without government assistance all in order to lower the national debt that was accrued during their party’s time in power.

And while they did this for the sake of being mindful of our deficit, they also suspended the estate tax for a year.  Now in doing so they not only helped the one group of people that need the least amount of government assistance: the rich; they also denied the government the crucial revenue that we need when the economy is struggling.  The revenue that could pay for the unemployment benefits, perhaps, or go toward stimulating the economy.

This strikes me as less about fiscal conservatism and much more like pandering to the 90 percent of Americans who earn only 50 percent of the nation’s income and scaring them into thinking that their children will be even worse off than we are now, all the while protecting the top 1% of Americans, who account for 24% of the nation’s after-tax income.  As if these families can really afford to worry about their unborn grandchildren while they’re busy trying to keep a roof over their children’s heads.

I agree with extending unemployment benefits; and I support an estate tax.

And here’s why: without it, the rich end up becoming the de facto royal family of America; the head of an unofficial caste system, in which you’re not necessarily unable to move up so much as a small, powerful group of extremely wealthy families maintain their grip on the nation’s income, and with that wield great political power and control; whose scions will never feel the fear of dropping down the social ladder, always held up by the ever-expanding wealth created by their ancestors regardless of how hard they work or their level of intellect and ambition despite their less-fortunate counterparts needing high amounts of all three to even have a chance at overcoming their financial handicaps; because it rewards luck instead of ingenuity, hard work, perseverance, intelligence, and the drive toward excellence, all of which were traits that this country was founded on and still claims to reward today.

Enrique at 411media.org opposes the estate tax.  In a blog of his from last week, he wrote:

I don’t mean to be obvious, but taking by force nearly half of a person’s legitimately accumulated wealth when they die is the kind of action that justifies a violent coup. It’s a fundamentally amoral policy, and an unjust constriction of individual freedom, rivaled only by the war on drugs in its sheer totalitarian manifestation.

He brings up some interesting points:

  1. First, being the crude oversimplification of how taxes work as having your money taken “by force.” Perhaps it only feels like it’s being taken by force when it’s nearly half of your money; although, at what point is it reasonable? If you base it on the GOP right now, 35% for families making over $375,000 is reasonable, but 39.6% isn’t.
  2. The notion that taxing someone’s estate after their death constricts upon one’s individual freedom makes little sense.  How can anything occurring after one dies infringe upon that person’s anything?  At that point, it’s merely a case of law and contracts.  The deceased doesn’t have to worry about worldly things such as freedom anymore.  So while those of us living might argue that it’s unfair — namely those beneficiaries hoping to get a bigger slice of the family pie — it’s not unfair to the one who has passed.
  3. This is the sort of thing that justifies a violent coup? This? Really? Not lying to the public to start an ill-funded war that has nearly bankrupted the country and caused thousands of Americans and countless more others their lives?  No — it’s that rich dead people can only keep 55% of their riches.  Must be nice being rich and so divorced from the reality of the other 99% of Americans that an estate tax would warrant you picking up your arms and overthrowing the government.
  4. I’d be curious to know what fundamental moral code this tax code breaks.

Although, I think the big objection I have is to Enrique’s argument that the government is forcibly taking money away from someone simply because they die.  The person dying has no use for money anymore, so the government isn’t taking money from that person.  That person earned their money (however legitimately depends I’m sure on each individual case as I can’t assume to know what line of business the deceased was in, nor I’m sure could Enrique) and had that money in their possession until they left this world.  It’s now going elsewhere.  To someone else or someones else.  And, unless you count being born into wealth, those people didn’t legitimately accumulate any of that money.

Without an estate tax, that money becomes a reward to the extremely fortune simply for being born. That’s it.  You were lucky enough to have been conceived by rich parents so here is your prize.  And it’s not like those benefactors won’t still be receiving a healthy amount of funds.  Being born into a wealthy family should be prize enough with all of the benefits that entails.  You’ve already gotten your head start, what you do from here should determine how much money you make through your actions, not through the action of birth.

h1

Why the Bush-era Tax Cuts Should Expire for the Richest Americans

07.25.10

The Bush Tax Cuts are set to expire at the end of this year.  The Republicans want to continue them; the Democrats want to let them end.

NY Times:

Democratic leaders, including Mr. Obama, say they are intent on letting the tax cuts for the wealthy expire as scheduled at the end of this year. But they have pledged to continue the lower tax rates for individuals earning less than $200,000 and families earning less than $250,000 — what Democrats call the middle class.

To put this in perspective, this means that the Democrats — the party typically in favor of higher taxes to pay for their penchant for more government programs — aim to keep the tax cuts for nearly 98% of Americans, while letting the unfunded, deficit-increasing Bush tax cuts lapse for the richest of earners.

This seems like the best course of action for a number of reasons:

  1. The one group of people that don’t need financial help right now are the top 2%, the richest Americans who despite the economic recession that has left millions jobless — and even threatened with being denied continued unemployment benefits — the rich, while having lost wealth, have already rebounded.  In fact, the “millionaire class held a larger percentage of the country’s wealth [in 2009] than it did in 2007,” meaning that the rich are richer now than before the recession, at which time the top 1% of raked in 24% of the nation’s income.
  2. I don’t find higher taxes on the wealthy to be a form of punishment regardless of the economic climate.  It’s like Warren Buffet said: “If you’re in the luckiest 1 percent of humanity, you owe it to the rest of humanity to think about the other 99 percent.”  No one gets to the top alone.  And no one at the top should ever forget about everyone else in the middle and at the bottom.
  3. The overwhelming majority of Americans, those making under $200,000 per year, the supposed middle-class and below, the group most affected by the sub-10% unemployment rate (but by some accounts could be upwards of 20%), can’t handle having their taxes raised.  They simply can’t afford it.  (Now, one could argue that $200,000 per year earners could afford it, but arguing about where the middle class to upper class cut-off lies is a different blog post.)
  4. It’s estimated that the tax cuts on the top 1% could cost upwards of $40 billion.  Since this action now falls under the Pay-As-You-Go rules, the cuts can’t simply be paid for by adding to the deficit.  For those who want to continue the tax cuts, I find it appalling that resources would be found to spend that kind of money on millionaires, meanwhile millions of people still can’t find work.  There has to be countless better ways to spend $40 billion during a time of record national debt than handing it over to the richest people in the country.

This is a society.  We work together.  We need each other. We don’t live in a vacuum, where we are only affected by our own choices.  Individual responsibility is extremely important, but we are a collective, as well.   And right now, the rich don’t need the help; everyone else does.

h1

Unemployed for Over a Year: A Light at the End of the Tunnel?

07.06.10

My mom has been unemployed for over a year.

In that span, she has applied to hundreds of jobs — some she’s possibly qualified for; most others that she was beyond qualified for even a decade ago.  From those countless applications and resumes sent out to all those different hiring managers, she has only had six interviews.  And of those six, only three weren’t total jokes — what 50-something can afford to live on 12 bucks an hour?

She’s run the gamut of emotions.  Originally, she felt shame.  She avoided the topic when it came up in conversation with friends, offered up other excuses, anything she could to dull the humiliation of having to say that she didn’t have a job, that she couldn’t find a job, that she couldn’t even get an interview.  She felt unemployable.

Then the realization hit that she wasn’t the only one.  Many others were in the same boat as her.  While that helped ease the shame, it didn’t help the feelings anger or frustration, or helplessness.  The worst coming last winter when she was contacted by a recruiter for a coveted position in metro Detroit that promised a high salary, benefits, and other perks.

The preparation was intense.  It started off with regional phone calls and hours of studying for interviews, which she aced.  And then it was on to the big round, down in Detroit, where dozens of others were all going to try to win the precious few regional positions they had available in the state.  She spent hours studying material, doing mock interviews to prepare for anything that the hiring manager would throw at her.  She knew exact dates and times for all of her major accomplishments as well as her struggles and what she had done to overcome them throughout the past ten years of her job, and she was ready with specific work-related events and projects that she had done that would answer any and all of the possible questions they could throw at her.

By the time she drove the two hours down a few weeks later, she was ready.

And then came the interview.  She got stuck with one of the last interviews of the day, which didn’t bode well — after eight hours of interviewing, even the most seasoned interviewer would be tired and drained.  But she wasn’t deterred.  She sat down in front of the unsmiling man, ready for anything.  She had done her part, and expected him to do his.

“Okay, how about you walk me through your resume, starting with high school,” he said.

That just wasn’t what she had had in mind.  For all of her preparation, all her hard work, the manager simply wanted her to walk him through her resume, which he had no doubt had in his possession for weeks prior.  She abided, hoping that it would give way to some juicy interaction, but nothing ever did.  That was it.  They brought her in to just read through her resume, a well-prepared guide to be sure, but only meant as the Cliff’s Notes of her professional career to entice someone to bring you in for an interview to get to know the human being behind the collection of jobs on a piece of thick paper.

It was over before it even began.  They had no intention of ever hiring her, yet put her through the ringer as if she had a chance.  And it was months before she got another interview anywhere.

After that came the feeling of acceptance.  It wasn’t a lack of skills or experience.  It was just the state of everything right now.  Being in Michigan with its highest unemployment rate in the nation sure didn’t help things.  Neither did being over 50 years old battling with all of the recent graduates just entering the job market and asking for much lower wages than she.  Deciding that she might as well enjoy the time off – all the while continuing to search and send out resume after resume after resume – she picked up yoga, read more books for pleasure (which she rarely had had time for in the recent past), and finally found some relief for her excruciating and debilitating migraines that only got worse from the stress — being unemployed allowed her to check into an in-patient headache facility where they were able to get her pain under control and much more manageable, making her even more primed for getting back into the workforce.

Perhaps all of this contributed to the events of this week.  After having barely more interviews in one year than fingers on your hand, she’s now had nearly as many scheduled in the month of July.  She’s excited – for one in particular – but she’s trying to keep her expectations tempered.  It’s an optimistic trend, though, no matter how you look at it.  To go 12 months with nary an acknowledgment of applying for a job to actually getting called in for a face-to-face is quite the step in the right direction.

I’m feeling optimistic for her: based on what she’s told me, these job opportunities have legs.  They’re not piddly $25,000 a year jobs that don’t even bother utilizing her strengths and expertise.  They’re well-paying, solid positions for companies with room to grow.  After over a year of looking and hoping, and now with the unemployment extension being blocked in Congress, this turn of events couldn’t have come a moment too soon.

And I hope that this also bodes well for the American economy in general.  Too much of the news I hear and read is about deficits, balancing the budget, unemployment benefits, the way the stock market reacts to the European markets.  While all of those are important, they divert us to the big picture, the intangible, the ethereal.  Most of us can’t comprehend what owing trillions of dollars really means for anyone, let alone the federal government.  When money is simply a promissory note with a stamp of approval from the federal government declaring that this piece of paper is, in fact, money, how do the rules even apply to the entity that itself decides what is and is not money?

We’ve been going into debt for ten years, paying for these two wars on credit, and now it’s a huge problem that needs fixing immediately, without regard for those who are currently unemployed, scraping by, trying to make ends meet.  Now it’s vital to fix at this very instant.  Now it’s a matter of our grandchildren dealing with… what we’re dealing with now?  I don’t even know.  And whose grandchildren?  Mine?  I’m 28.  I don’t even have kids yet, but assuming that I did, I won’t have grandchildren who will even know how to pronounce the words “budget” or “economy” for another 30-plus years, at least.  Who knows what will be going on then?  Who knows what wars we will or won’t be fighting?  Who knows what the Euro will be doing or how strong the Zone will be at that point?

The news talks about falling unemployment rates, but says that’s actually a bad thing because that means that people are just giving up.  It’s not that they’ve actually found work, they’re just no longer collecting benefits from the state anymore; they’ve lost hope that they’ll find a job anytime soon.  They’ve stopped looking for work because there’s no work to be found.

Others who have jobs aren’t in much better positions: they’re finding that the only way they can keep their jobs is to take a 40 percent drop in salary and loss of all benefits just to stay employed.  But that’s not really working, is it?  You can’t buy a house on $12 an hour, not even here in Michigan.  You can’t build a savings.  You can’t invest.  You can’t pay for your children’s or grandchildren’s college tuition.

Some industries will never recover from this recession.  And what that really means is that the skills and training that many people have spent their whole lives honing may never again be profitable or marketable.  And that’s the real casualty of this entire mess, for which there’s no real remedy.

But, while the news is understandably bleak, there are pockets of hope if you skip over the broad strokes that make the airwaves and delve into the lives of those who are experiencing it right now.  I hope my mom gets one of these jobs.  I know she’ll flourish and succeed out of the gate.  She’s resilient and courageous.  And when she does finally join the workforce again, I hope that means that many others are also joining the ranks of the employed.  I hope it’s a sign.

Things have to get better eventually.  Might as well be now.

Photo by Ryan Mason.  Midland, MI, 2010.

h1

Sarah Palin Deconstructed: Facebook Note on BP and Obama

06.10.10

I found it interesting when I examined Sarah Palin’s last Facebook note that I thought I would take a look at her latest: “Less Talkin’, More Kickin’.”

As before, my goal is to take a look at her arguments and claims and see what stands up to critical thought and is not just impassioned non-truths that merely espouse an ideology.  Given her track record, this may prove to be a futile effort, but since she is poised to be the next GOP candidate for the highest public office in the country, I think it’s worth the time.

And off we go:

50 days in, and we’ve just learned another shocking revelation concerning the Obama administration’s response to the Gulf oil spill. In an interview aired this morning, President Obama admitted that he hasn’t met with or spoken directly to BP’s CEO Tony Hayward. His reasoning: “Because my experience is, when you talk to a guy like a BP CEO, he’s gonna say all the right things to me. I’m not interested in words. I’m interested in actions.”

So far, she’s got her facts straight.  After clicking the sourced link, she has properly quoted the President.

First, to the “informed and enlightened” mainstream media: in all the discussions you’ve had with the White House about the spill, did it not occur to you before today to ask how the CEO-to-CEO level discussions were progressing to remedy this tragedy?

Sigh.  More infuriating quotation mark usage.  I’ll save my breath on this one because I’ve already slammed this arguing technique before and it’s still no more potent today than it was then.  As per her question to the MSM: I’m not sure what she’s getting at.  I assume that she is likening Obama’s job to being the CEO of the country.  It seems that the more pertinent questions would be asking what exactly is being done to stop the spill, rather than if Obama had met with Hayword in person.

You never cease to amaze. (Kind of reminds us of the months on end when you never bothered to ask if the President was meeting with General McChrystal to talk about our strategy in Afghanistan.)

So, this blast of contempt is aimed at the mainstream media, yet the link she provides regarding Obama’s meeting with McChrystal directs over to a Fox News article — her current employer.  It seems that her dig here is actually at Obama regarding the way he came to a decision on what to do in Afghanistan last fall.  Rather unfocused and quite off topic from the oil disaster.

Second, to fellow baffled Americans: this revelation is further proof that it bodes well to have some sort of executive experience before occupying the Oval Office (as if the painfully slow response to the oil spill, confusion of duties, finger-pointing, lack of preparedness, and inability to grant local government simple requests weren’t proof enough).

To recap: the original issue at hand was Obama having not sat down face-to-face with BP CEO Tony Hayward regarding the oil spill.  Then it became about the mainstream media’s ineptitude at not looking into this matter until 50 days into the disaster.  And now it’s about how Obama doesn’t have the experience to run the country — her evidence: because he hasn’t actually spoken to BP Tony Hayward.

This seems to be a rather weak argument. Interestingly though, Palin goes into the reasons that one might be able to make a solid argument in favor of Obama’s potential ineptitude in her parenthetical aside.  Perhaps she expounds on these…

The current administration may be unaware that it’s the President’s duty, meeting on a CEO-to-CEO level with Hayward, to verify what BP reports.

False. This duty is no found listed under the president’s duties in the Constitution.

In an interview a few weeks ago with Greta Van Susteren, I noted that based on my experience working with oil execs as an oil regulator and then as a Governor, you must verify what the oil companies claim – because their perception of circumstances and situations dealing with public resources and public trust is not necessarily shared by those who own America’s public resources and trust.

The difference here is that this isn’t a matter of he-said-she-said: there is an actual event occurring before our very eyes and measures being taken to remedy the situation.  So far none have worked; even the current collection mechanism is missing a large amount of the oil.  Not sure what claims weren’t verified through Obama’s and Hayward’s people that could’ve been done so face-to-face or how that would’ve affected the situation.  It seems to be speculation at this point.  What didn’t Obama verify that he should’ve?

I was about run out of town in Alaska for what critics decried at the time as my “playing hardball with Big Oil,” and those same adversaries (both shortsighted Repubs and Dems) continue to this day to try to discredit my administration’s efforts in holding Big Oil accountable to operate ethically and responsibly.

No links to what she’s talking about here, but her record on her Big Oil stance is far from consistent. Regardless, she’s completely off topic now as she defends her own integrity in her own original post that started off attacking the mainstream media, then Obama’s ineptitude on a number of levels, and to non-truths about the president’s duties.  Let’s see if she gets back on track…

Mr. President: with all due respect, you have to get involved, sir. The priorities and timeline of an oil company are not the same as the public’s. You cannot outsource the cleanup and the responsibility and the trust to BP and expect that the legitimate interests of Americans adversely affected by this spill will somehow be met.

This is a sentiment from both sides of the political divide. Let’s see if she offers ways on how she would have him get involved…

White House: have you read this morning’s Washington Post? Not to pile it on BP, but there’s an extensive report chronicling the company’s troubling history:

“BP has had more high-profile accidents than any other company in recent years. And now, with the disaster in the gulf, independent experts say the pervasiveness of the company’s problems, in multiple locales and different types of facilities, is striking.

‘They are a recurring environmental criminal and they do not follow U.S. health safety and environmental policy,’ said Jeanne Pascal, a former EPA lawyer who led its BP investigations.”

And yet just 10 days prior to the explosion, the Obama administration’s regulators gave the oil rig a pass, and last year the Obama administration granted BP a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) exemption for its drilling operation.

Here’s the real inaction. Here’s the story and the argument. The whole not-sitting-down-with-Hayward-to-order-him-to-clean-up-the-mess-in-person was just a way to get into this.  And here she has some solid ammo for an argument.

These decisions and the resulting spill have shaken the public’s confidence in the ability to safely drill. Unless government appropriately regulates oil developments and holds oil executives accountable, the public will not trust them to drill, baby, drill.

True.  Even Rasmussen reports that support is falling.

And we must! Or we will be even more beholden to, and controlled by, dangerous foreign regimes that supply much of our energy.

Her plan then, as I read it, is to increase regulation on oil drilling, but continue to drill so that we can reduce our dependence on foreign oil.  Seems like this is actually on par with Obama’s stance — at least until this disaster made him halt new oil drilling.

This has been a constant refrain from me. As Governor of Alaska, I did everything in my power to hold oil companies accountable in order to prove to the federal government and to the nation that Alaska could be trusted to further develop energy rich land like ANWR and NPR-A. I hired conscientious Democrats and Republicans (because this sure shouldn’t be a partisan issue) to provide me with the best advice on how we could deal with what was a corrupt system of some lawmakers and administrators who were hesitant to play hardball with some in the oil field business. (Remember the Alaska lawmakers, public decision-makers, and business executives who ended up going to jail as a result of the FBI’s investigations of oily corruption.)

More Palin 2012 presidential campaign material.  Doesn’t really do much to support her argument.

As the aforementioned article notes, BP’s operation in Alaska would hurt our state and waste public resources if allowed to continue. That’s why my administration created the Petroleum Systems Integrity Office (PSIO) when we saw proof of improper maintenance of oil infrastructure in our state. We had to verify. And that’s why we instituted new oversight and held BP and other oil companies financially accountable for poor maintenance practices. We knew we could partner with them to develop resources without pussyfooting around with them. As a CEO, it was my job to look out for the interests of Alaskans with the same intensity and action as the oil company CEOs looked out for the interests of their shareholders.

Okay, here’s where it all comes back together.  But, in doing so, she actually negates her own argument.  Palin claims that in order to verify that BP would be held accountable, she had a new government oversight office created.  Yet, she states that the Obama administration also had regulators of its own, which means that Palin did the exact same thing that Obama did to verify that BP was being honest.  She didn’t meet with Hayward face-to-face, either.  Whether or not the regulators did their job isn’t what she originally argued – which would’ve been much stronger – so this support doesn’t help her case; in fact, it destroys it.

I learned firsthand the way these companies operate when I served as chair of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (AOGCC). I ended up resigning in protest because my bosses (the Governor and his chief of staff at the time) wouldn’t support efforts to clean up the corruption involving improper conflicts of interest with energy companies that the state was supposed to be watching. (I wrote about this valuable learning experience in my book, “Going Rogue”.) I felt guilty taking home a big paycheck while being reduced to sitting on my thumbs – essentially rendered ineffective as a supervisor of a regulatory agency in charge of nearly 20% of the U.S. domestic supply of energy.

Back to shameless plugs and Palin 2012 campaign material.  It seems that if one could glean anything from this section, it’d be that in order to stand up for what was right, Palin quit.

My experience (though, granted, I got the message loud and clear during the campaign that my executive experience managing the fastest growing community in the state, and then running the largest state in the union, was nothing compared to the experiences of a community organizer) showed me how government officials and oil execs could scratch each others’ backs to the detriment of the public, and it made me ill. I ran for Governor to fight such practices. So, as a former chief executive, I humbly offer this advice to the President: you must verify. That means you must meet with Hayward. Demand answers.

More Palin 2012.  She’s fueling the anti-establishment angle of her future campaign and one that many Tea Party candidates have been running in primaries across the nation.  She’s merely selling herself here and if the whole argument of this post is regarding Obama’s necessity to verify, she already swung and missed with her own anecdote of doing nothing much different from what Obama has done — or not done, as is her argument.

That said, her demand for answers is worthwhile.  Everyone wants answers for this debacle.

In the interview today, the President said: “I don’t sit around just talking to experts because this is a college seminar. We talk to these folks because they potentially have the best answers, so I know whose ass to kick.”

Please, sir, for the sake of the Gulf residents, reach out to experts who have experience holding oil companies accountable. I suggested a few weeks ago that you start with Alaska’s Department of Natural Resources, led by Commissioner Tom Irwin. Having worked with Tom and his DNR and AGIA team led by Marty Rutherford, I can vouch for their integrity and expertise in dealing with Big Oil and overseeing its developments. We’ve all lived and worked through the Exxon-Valdez spill. They can help you. Give them a call. Or, what the heck, give me a call.

This is more about her own ability and experience in these matters than the credibility of Obama’s advisers.  She doesn’t claim that Obama’s experts can’t help, only that her experts for sure can.  And that she, herself, can be of help.  Though, she doesn’t state how she could be of service.

And, finally, Mr. President, please do not punish the American public with any new energy tax in response to this tragedy. Just because BP and federal regulators screwed up that doesn’t mean the rest of us should get punished with higher taxes at the pump and attached to everything petroleum products touch.

No new taxes. Just a pointless dig that doesn’t have to do with her original argument.

All in all, a failed argument.  She does bring up some valid points and concerns that seem to be universal right now — mainly that everyone feels helpless and is acting out because of it.  We want to be able to blame someone.  We want to be able to just demand that the oil spill gets plugged.  We want to believe that it’s simply a matter of not trying hard enough to plug the hole rather than the more likely reality that this disaster has no quick fix, no simple response, regardless of how much we yell, blame, point fingers, demand, cry, scream, and whine.

h1

4 Tips for Improving Time Warner Cable’s Awful Website

04.22.10

I blame this guy.

Thanks, Time Warner Cable.  You have quite possibly the worst online bill pay system I’ve ever had the displeasure of using.

C’mon! You’re a media company! Get with the times.

Password must start with a letter and cannot have any characters other than letters and numbers and must be 8-16 characters long and cannot repeat the same character four times in a row.  Really?  Thanks, because none of my usual passwords – which are far more secure than anything I could create on your site – will work on your site so I have to create something brand new which I know that I’m going to forget and have to use the “Forget Your Password?” feature every single time I need to sign into your site, which leads to another total disaster.

Speaking of signing into your site, why do I need TWO SEPARATE LOGINS? One to get onto your site to make any changes to my account and yet another to pay my bill?  What a waste of time and energy.

Hey, Time: the idea of allowing people to pay their bills online is to make it quicker and easier than calling on the phone or mailing it in.  You want people to be able to pay with as little resistance as possible.  This is how you make money.  Why would you make this more of an inconvenience than taking my 40 bucks for mediocre Internet access already is?

Here are my tips to improve your site:

  1. One login for everything. This is a no-brainer, TWC.  If you’re going to use some outside company to handle your bill-pay, you should be the one dealing with making the logins one and the same.  Don’t make the customers have to navigate two logins and remember two ridiculous passwords just because it’s cheaper for you to outsource your billing to Asia.
  2. Fewer password regulations. You make me sound like a fiscal conservative, which makes me even more pissed off than I already do for calling for deregulation.  Go for a normal level of security and let us make up our own passwords.  If I want to use “123abc” as my password, let me use “123abc” as my password.
  3. Improved password recovery process. Don’t make me enter my account number every time I forget my password. Also – make sure that this feature actually works.  I ended up having to create a whole new account on your bill pay section because every time I punched in my information to retrieve my impossible-to-remember-but-easy-to-hack password, it asked me to enter my account number again but didn’t specify where. Do like everyone else does and include a security question that I can answer and just have my password emailed to me.  How hard is this to fix?  Also, this would be a lot smaller of an issue if you just dealt with #1 and #2.
  4. Store my payment info. I signed up for automatic bill pay but since it can take up to two months weeks to take effect (why!?), I had to make a payment today to make sure that I didn’t incur any late fees.  Well, naturally, when I went to make the one-time-payment, I had to re-enter all of my payment info that I had just entered not two minutes before.  This info had to have been saved in your system!  It’s in there.  I know it is.  Make that account available on the drop-down menu as an option.  You’ve already made me enter my 16-digit account number one too many times and now my 16-digit credit card number twice, as well?  Enough, Warner.  Enough.

Welcome to 2010, TWC.  You’re about 10 years late.

Thanks to The Consumerist for the original image.
h1

California Blue Cross Hikes Premiums by 39%

02.10.10

Anthem Blue Cross – California’s largest for-profit health insurance company – just sent notice to some 800,000 customers who purchase individual health plans that their premiums will be increasing by as much as 39% on March 1st.  That’s over 15 times the inflation rate.  They also told subscribers that they will be adjusting rates more frequently, perhaps many times a year.

Insurers are free to cherry-pick the healthiest customers in the lightly regulated individual market. They can raise rates at any time as long as they notify the state Department of Insurance and prove that they are spending at least 70% of premiums on medical care.

The reason for these drastic hikes?  According to the company:

“Unfortunately, the individual market premiums are merely the symptoms of a larger underlying problem in California’s individual market — rising healthcare costs.”

The company just blames that amorphous entity: healthcare costs.  I would like to see just how much those costs are to the company, actually.  I highly doubt that they have risen anywhere even remotely close to the 39% hike that premiums will take.  Did doctors just start charging 39% more per office visit?  Did X-ray technology all of a sudden cost hundreds more per scan?  Are nurses making as much as their doctor counterparts now?  That sure would be news, wouldn’t it?  I feel like I would’ve read about that if it had happened.

Adding insult to injury, it was reported that Anthem Blue Cross’s parent company, WellPoint Inc.,  earned 2.7 billion dollars in the last quarter of 2009 alone, its CEO took home $10 million just in salary, and the company “spent nearly $9.5 million on lobbying against health reforms in 2009.”

I just don’t understand why people are so adamant about keeping health insurance a for-profit industry.  Their job is not to insure us and provide us care when we get sick or injured; their job is to make money.  And they don’t make money when they spend money on cancer treatments, insulin shots for diabetics, or pain medication for people with migraines.  Their stockholders don’t profit when the company dolls out money for your health care.  They are in the business of not providing care.

How many people were denied coverage so that Anthem CEO (and soon-to-be WellPoint chairperson and member of the board of directors) Angela Braly could earn her $10 million payday?

Why is it so un-American to not want people profiting off my health problems?

h1

Emanuel Not Forgiven for Using the “R”-Word

02.05.10

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel apologized to the Special Olympics after it came to light that called the plan of a group of liberals looking to run an ad against Democrats “fucking retarded” during a closed-door strategy session back in August.

Special Olympics chairperson Tim Shriver wouldn’t accept at first.  Sarah Palin called for his termination, who likened his slur to that of the N-word. Rush Limbaugh countered Emanuel’s snafu by calling all liberals “retards.”

Classic Washington drama ensued.

Now, I think everyone can agree that there is a scale of intensity and vulgar associated with certain slurs.  Here in America, I think it’s safe to say that there are a few words that truly pack the most disdain, the most hideousness: nigger, faggot, and cunt.  You call someone those names and you’ve turned a corner from which there is no return.  Other than edgy comedy or for the purposes of transparency as in this blog, using those words is always offensive and inflammatory.  (And even in the comic sense, the comedy is derived from the words offensive and inflammatory nature.) For the use of those slurs, it would immediately peg the offender as a racist, a bigot, or a misogynist, and would require more than a simply “I apologize” to clear the air.

I just don’t see the same in the case of Emanuel’s use of “retarded.”  While it sure was inappropriate, childish, and counter-productive, I hardly believe it warrants his firing.  Granted, I don’t think many people are on the same bandwagon as Palin (who vocally opposed Limbaugh’s use of the term, as well, but came short of calling for his termination) but it does bring up the issue of political correctness.  It seems that our culture goes through phases where certain taboo words lose their stigma.  Growing up, you never heard the words shit, douchebag, or dick on regular television or even standard cable.  I distinctly remember the one episode of The Simpsons where one character calls their beloved dog, Santa’s Little Helper, a bitch – which technically was correct since she is a female dog – but my mother promptly turned off the set and forbade us kids from watching that show anymore.  Now?  You can hear just about everything on network TV, for better or worse.

(I digress – this isn’t about the vulgarity heard on television.  That’s for another day.)

Emanuel’s management and leadership style is notably abrasive.  This is nothing new; it’s essentially his well-known modus operandi.  I don’t personally know enough about how he handles other co-workers and staff but I imagine this whole “retarded” business wasn’t an isolated incident.  And based on the comments sections of many political blogs, I don’t see his words being all that egregious in this line of work.  Not that it excuses his behavior.  My first instinct was to dismiss his transgression as being not worthy of even mentioning, but then I thought about how I would feel if my boss were to use that term to describe an idea from a group of us employees and there’s no way that would fly with me.  I’d be very insulted.  He would lose some of my respect.  You expect someone, especially one in the highest levels of management, to adhere to a certain level of professionalism at all times.

It’s one thing to need a thick skin to handle criticism and the demands of a high-stress, high-profile job. It’s quite another to just call people and their ideas derogatory names.