Category: Culture

| July 9, 2014 | Reply

How pervasive are binding pre-dispute arbitration clauses imposed by for-profit businesses upon consumers? Herman Scwartz of The Nation reports:

Two reports issued at the end of last year show how effective the Court’s arbitration rulings have been. Last December, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) issued a preliminary report, which found that contract clauses mandating pre-dispute arbitration are a “common feature of consumer financial contracts”; a final report is due by year’s end. The agency found such clauses in over 50 percent of credit card loans, 81 percent of prepaid charge cards and in checking accounts covering 44 percent of all insured deposits.

The CFPB found further that about 90 percent of such contracts, including almost all credit card loans, insured deposits and prepaid cards, also prohibit participation in current or future class or other joint actions in both judicial and arbitration proceedings. This usually forces consumers who have been injured in small amounts to drop the matter entirely, even though the defendant may have harmed many others the same way, for too little is at stake for each individual to justify the time, trouble and expense of individual arbitration. . . .

These two clauses are not just in consumer financial contracts, but are standard in cellphone and nursing home contracts, individual employment contracts, shipping agreements, passenger tickets and in many other areas. They have also been imported into the exploding commercial traffic on Internet websites. When consumers click their assent to the conditions imposed by a seller online, few if any realize they are often acceding to these limitations on their rights to a judicial resolution and a class action. Some merchants have gone so far as to claim that just opening a box for a computer, for example, is enough to constitute the necessary assent to such conditions in an “agreement” placed in the box.

What is the bottom line?

The Supreme Court has given financial institutions, businessmen, unscrupulous employers and others a license to do wrong. As the California Supreme Court put it, they have been given an “exemption from responsibility for [their] own fraud.”

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My bad: It turns out that burning coal is a GREAT idea

| May 15, 2014 | 3 Replies

I didn’t know that burning coal was such a great idea until I saw this billboard in St. Louis. Orwell is probably already dizzy from spinning in his grave, but here we go again.

Coal Billboard

Here’s a link to the work of the corporate spinmeisters.

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Personal qualities not measured by tests

| May 4, 2014 | Reply

Here is a well constructed list that those who do well on SAT tests should carefully review.

CREATIVITY
CRITICAL THINKING
RESILIENCE
MOTIVATION
PERSISTENCE
CURIOSITY
QUESTION ASKING
HUMOR
ENDURANCE
RELIABILITY
ENTHUSIASUM
CIVIC-MINDEDNESS
SELF-AWARENESS
SELF-DISCIPLINE
EMPATHY
LEADERSHIP
COMPASSION
COURAGE
SENSE OF BEAUTY
SENSE OF WONDER
RESOURCEFULNESS
SPONTANEITY
HUMILITY

Paul Tough, who wrote How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, would add “grit.”

Personal qualities not measured by tests - list

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Tax revenue lost because of overseas tax havens

| April 17, 2014 | Reply

According to Bloomberg, Americans and American companies are hiding their money overseas and this is costing us immense amount of money.

U.S. taxpayers would need to pay an average of $1,259 more a year to make up the federal and state taxes lost to corporations and individuals sheltering money in overseas tax havens, according to a report.

“Tax haven abusers benefit from America’s markets, public infrastructure, educated workforce, security and rule of law -– all supported in one way or another by tax dollars -– but they avoid paying for these benefits,” U.S. Public Interest Research Group said in the report released today, the deadline for filing 2013 taxes.

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America’s Dead Malls

| April 5, 2014 | Reply

Check out this collection of many of America’s dead malls.  

I’m not making the assumption that “healthy” malls automatically equate to a high quality of American life.  That would be a mistake.     Yet there is a surreal sadness to these photos.

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La Crosse, Wisconsin: the town that is willing to talk about death

| March 27, 2014 | Reply

Excellent story by NPR. It’s a long way from the Republican scare stories about “death panels”:

People in La Crosse, Wisconsin are used to talking about death. In fact, 96 percent of people who die in this small, Midwestern city have specific directions laid out for when they pass. That number is astounding. Nationwide, it’s more like 50 percent.

In today’s episode, we’ll take you to a place where dying has become acceptable dinner conversation for teenagers and senior citizens alike. A place that also happens to have the lowest healthcare spending of any region in the country.

This piece reminds me that one of the main problems with the United States is that we cannot have meaningful conversations. This is refreshingly different. And important: One-quarter of health care spending occurs in the last year of life.

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Fake Payday Loan Reform

| March 14, 2014 | Reply

Missouri and Utah are among the states in which legislators are proposing fake payday loan reform, per “States’ Attempts To Reform Payday Lending Are Often Just Smoke & Mirrors.”

Here’s an excerpt:

Sen. Mike Cunningham, who sponsored the Missouri bill . . . says it will protect consumers from some of the practices payday lenders have utilized for so long. Missouri’s proposed reform comes less than two years after a group called Missourians for Equal Credit Opportunity helped put an end to a ballot initiative that would have allowed Missouri residents to vote for or against capping the state’s interest rate at 36%. The current proposed bill does not feature any kind of rate cap, meaning interest for a typical two-week payday loan can balloon to more than 1,000%.

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Telephone scam – Man claimed he is from Microsoft and needs to fix my computer

| March 11, 2014 | 4 Replies

Five minutes ago, I received a phone call from a man who claims to be “David Johnson” who said he’s working from Microsoft. He had an accent that I was unable to identify, but I assumed he was from India. His phone number showed up on my cell phone as “212-414-155″ (that’s right – — it’s missing a digit). He told me that MY computer has been throwing out error messages that are being received by the Microsoft Server, and that we need to fix the problem. I led him on a bit. He said to hit the control key plus r, and that this is the beginning of the fix.

I asked for his phone number. He wouldn’t give it. He repeatedly said that he’s working with Microsoft, not FOR Microsoft. He wouldn’t give me his supervisor’s name. I repeatedly asked for his PHONE NUMBER so I could call him back (I wanted it to report him to Microsoft). He wouldn’t give it. I offered to add Microsoft to the call, and he got evasive.

My assumption is that he was trying to have me give him access to my computer by installing monitoring software. I eventually called him a “criminal,” and told him he was despicable, then ended the call. I recorded most of the conversation. Beware . . . . I’m including a link from Microsoft regarding phone scams.

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The importance of picking one’s partner carefully

| March 2, 2014 | Reply

Huffpo quantifies the meaning of a romantic relationship:

When you choose a life partner, you’re choosing a lot of things, including your parenting partner and someone who will deeply influence your children, your eating companion for about 20,000 meals, your travel companion for about 100 vacations, your primary leisure time and retirement friend, your career therapist, and someone whose day you’ll hear about 18,000 times.

Intense shit.

So given that this is by far the most important thing in life to get right, how is it possible that so many good, smart, otherwise-logical people end up choosing a life partnership that leaves them dissatisfied and unhappy?

Instead of doing serious research, most of us do our search haphazardly, falling prey to the availability heuristic:

In a study on what governs our dating choices more, our preferences or our current opportunities, opportunities wins hands down — our dating choices are “98 percent a response… to market conditions and just 2 percent immutable desires. Proposals to date tall, short, fat, thin, professional, clerical, educated, uneducated people are all more than nine-tenths governed by what’s on offer that night.”

In other words, people end up picking from whatever pool of options they have, no matter how poorly matched they might to be to those candidates. The obvious conclusion to draw here is that outside of serious socialites, everyone looking for a life partner should be doing a lot of online dating, speed dating, and other systems created to broaden the candidate pool in an intelligent way.

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