Archive for July 12th, 2009

Fixing health care under the table

| July 12, 2009 | 2 Replies
Fixing health care under the table

At Common Dreams, Bill Moyers and Michael Winslip explain that you won’t see the way the health care debate is being resolved if you only spent time on Capitol Hill. No, it’s much slimier than that:

Katharine Weymouth, the publisher of The Washington Post — one of the most powerful people in DC — invited top officials from the White House, the Cabinet and Congress to her home for an intimate, off-the-record dinner to discuss health care reform with some of her reporters and editors covering the story.

But CEO’s and lobbyists from the health care industry were invited, too, provided they forked over $25,000 a head — or up to a quarter of a million if they want to sponsor a whole series of these cozy get-togethers. And what is the inducement offered? Nothing less, the invitation read, than “an exclusive opportunity to participate in the health-care reform debate among the select few who will get it done.”

If you are not one of the highly-monied invitees or the “select few,” forget about the debate because, politically speaking, you amount to nothing at all. That’s the process. Go tell that to all the grade school students who are being taught lies in their civics classes. They are being taught that this is a democracy, and that our government is ultimately responsible to all of those people who were not invited to that fancy dinner. As the authors, explain, this particular dinner was canceled only after a copy of the invite was leaked to the web site Politico.com. It was, after all, a big misunderstanding.

This peak at how important bills are passed is not an isolated case. It reminds you that when Congress passed the Helping Families Save Their Homes Act, “the select few made sure it no longer contained the cramdown provision that would have allowed judges to readjust mortgages.”

Here’s another example:

Everyone knows the credit ratings agencies were co-conspirators with Wall Street in the shameful wilding that brought on the financial meltdown. But when the Obama administration came up with new reforms to prevent another crisis, the credit ratings agencies were given a pass. They’d been excused by “the select few who actually get it done.”

Shame on us. Shame on our leaders for following big business instead of leading.

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The danger of Cheap and Plentiful

| July 12, 2009 | 4 Replies
The danger of Cheap and Plentiful

At Salon.com, Stephanie Zacharek explains that cheap and plentiful goods are not a good idea. Her article is a review of a new book, “Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture,” by Ellen Ruppel Shell.

Here’s how Zacharek’s bottom line regarding Shell’s book:

The wealth of cheap goods available to us doesn’t make our lives better; instead, it fosters an environment that endangers not just the jobs of American workers but the idea of human labor, period.

It turns out that Shell is not only picking on Wal-Mart. She’s talking about those mass-farmed shrimp, as well as trendy stores like IKEA. “We no longer expect craftsmanship in everyday objects; maybe we don’t feel we even deserve it.”

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Ripped off? Go get an attorney! But wait . . . you won’t find one.

| July 12, 2009 | 6 Replies
Ripped off? Go get an attorney!  But wait . . . you won’t find one.

Think of all the times that merchants have ripped people off. Sometimes it’s a line-item that jacked up your bill. You called and complained, but you eventually gave up and ate the $3.50 after making four phone calls without satisfaction.

Sometimes, you bought an appliance and after getting home discovered that it wasn’t as it was promised, but the merchant refused to take it back.

Or it might be a $1,000 piece of electronics. Only after the warranty expired, it became clear that it didn’t function as promised.

Maybe it’s a used car that you bought for $2,500 and right after driving it off the lot you discovered that it literally wouldn’t go, certainly not at highway speeds, and that the dealer knew of the problem but refused to refund your money.

Consider the many complicated financial transactions you’ve signed, credit cards, car loans, or payday loans. What do you do if you notice you’ve been ripped off, but the amount of damages you’ve suffered is relatively small, less than $3,000?

You go get an attorney, right? Wrong. You won’t find an attorney to handle cases in this range unless an attorney decides to help you as a favor or “pro bono.” Why not? Because it is a time-consuming task to open a case, file it, prepare for trial and represent a consumer in a trial. It can take dozens of hours to get a decision in the trial court, and then the defendant, who is often represented by a high-priced attorney, can appeal the case, delaying the result for another year.

The net result is that consumers who have been ripped off for less than $3,000 (and, actually, much greater amounts too) will have only one real option to litigate their claim: at the small claims court where they will represent themselves.

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