Problems with gov’t employees? Have ya’ read Dilbert?

Ever read Dilbert? Have ya’ noticed Dilbert doesn’t work for the government?

There’s been a lot of talk lately—I’ve seen it and heard it and read about it in a number of sources—denigrating the public employee; the government worker. Everyone has at least one anecdote about an ill-tempered, inefficient, ineffectual, lazy, disinterested leech, sucking down a taxpayer-provided paycheck they perceived owed to them, without any regard to producing any actual work for said paycheck. But whenever I hear someone proclaim that such a “worker” is endemic to people who are paid with tax dollars, I wonder, has this person ever worked with more than a dozen people, anywhere?

First, let’s get one thing straight, the “government employee” covers not only clerks at the DMV and IRS, but your local firefighters and teachers. (And don’t try to sidetrack my discussion with stories about ineffectual teachers, who only retain their position because of tenure–yeah, I have those stories, too. But for every one of those, I have more about teachers who did what they did for love of what they did, whose mission it was to impart some amount of knowledge onto those unwilling to learn it–some of whom made a real difference in the way I see the world, for the better. No, do not denigrate teachers around me.) And as I write this, I do realize there are those who believe even the fire department a waste of tax money, who feel it should be all volunteer, funded by generous donations from the wealthy (who would be able to if only they didn’t have to pay taxes), and if no one showed up to put out the fire in your house then it should be your problem. No, I will not point out where that attitude is likely to find them. To those people, well, I would tell them to get the fuck off my blog, but they’re incapable of reason.

Has anyone here ever worked for a large corporation? How about a company with more than two-dozen employees? In more than one location? Ever had to deal with someone who was, shall we say, less than efficient? Did you ever have a coworker who was only in their current position because it was the only place that would tolerate their personality? Or enjoyed their job because, no matter how trivial, how menial, it afforded them some small amount of authority over others?

And yes, the stereotype of the “government employee” exists for a reason. I have family who’ve worked within the government, and they’re full of stories of employees they couldn’t coerce to actually do any work. But I feel that reason is because so many of us come into contact with them, more than the employees of any other company. We’ve all been to the DMV and the Post Office.

But think about the other, private, for-profit companies we’ve all had to deal with. The cable company. The phone company. Certainly those are models of efficiency, aren’t they, since profit is their only incentive?

The one thing the government agency doesn’t have is sales people. When you call the cable company to inquire about service, you can hear them smiling over the phone while bending over backwards to get you to sign up. “We’ll even send over a masseuse, to rub your shoulders and ease away any stress caused by the install.” You want to share anecdotes? Tell me about all the times you called this private, profit-making company asking for satisfaction.

How about the phone company? “Would you like a decaf soy latte while you wait for me to transfer all the numbers from your old phone to your new one? Shouldn’t be but a moment. Sorry for the delay.” Tell me about what happens when you call back to that company whose stock is traded publicly on the market. Surely they’ve managed to cut through bureaucracy and red tape, right?

And I haven’t even gotten to the real irony. Those pedagogues railing against “government waste and inefficiencies?” Do I need to point out that many of them are government employees? Politicians whose very job it is to be in charge of those bloated systems, who continue to proclaim, year after year, no matter who is in charge, that they could fix everything, if only everyone else would let them—they are the ones touting “smaller government,” and (gads) “privatization,” attempting to perpetuate the myth (yes, that’s right, myth) that a privately run corporation, with only profit as its motive, is somehow more efficient than government.

Because private corporations, like Enron, aren’t prone to the corruption we see in government. You see, opening the field up to private companies, like Comcast and Cablevision, fosters real competition, and with increased competition, among companies like AT&T and Verizon, prices will come down. And with reduced government interference through regulations, international conglomerates like British Petroleum would be able to better address the needs of their customers, who are free to go elsewhere if they’re dissatisfied.

Oh, no, let’s not have Big Brother further their socialist takeover and monitor the water we drink and food we eat. Let’s take some personal responsibility for the contaminants we ingest. If we’re not happy with our private water supply, or electric company, we’re free to employ someone else. Let’s make sure our money doesn’t go to anyone undeserving—and if they need it, that only shows how much they don’t deserve it—and pay for schools for other people’s kids. I mean, the only reason someone would become a cop in New York City is for the government pension, am I right?

Let’s all agree to call bullshit when we see it. No, I am not asking you to excuse the woman at the Social Security administration who got angry with you for filling out a form wrong, nor the person in the unemployment office who spent 20 minutes reading to you out of someone else’s file—after you pointed it out. No, I’m not suggesting it’s excusable because you can’t get Verizon to take off a download fee you swear you never incurred, or a bank to reverse the insufficient funds fee they charged you when you withdrew too much money from their own ATM. I’m asking you to remember that these are people. People who are being told what to do by other people. And those people don’t always have interests that are in line with yours.

Published in: on August 30, 2010 at 7:52 pm  Leave a Comment  

Walmart’s raping of the disadvantaged continues

For those of you who haven’t seen the TV ads yet (which curiously show a nebulously interracial couple), Walmart is getting into the check cashing business.

Don’t have check cashing establishments around your home? You probably live in an area that’s doing OK. They’re a staple of neighborhoods that aren’t doing so well, financially, along with stores that sell liquor, menthol cigarettes and cheap comestibles barely deserving the term “food.”

If you have a check that’s made out to you, say, your paycheck, they’ll cash it–for a fee. Seems reasonable enough. Walmart offers a “discount” service of “only” $3 for a check up to $1000; $6 for checks up to $5000.

But why would you need to cash it? Why couldn’t you just deposit it into your bank account? Banks cash checks for free–assuming you’ve got cash in your account to cover it. Assuming you’ve got a bank account.

It’s yet another instance of being charged a fee for not having enough money.

Most banks expect a minimum deposit–they charge fees if you fall below the minimum. If those fees are higher than the $3/check, or up to $12/month (or more) Walmart is charging, then saving money means, well, not saving your money.

Not that saving your money is Walmart’s aim–the ad shows you all the things you can buy, like mp3 players and computers, presumingly from them, with the “up to $200 per year” you could “save.”

And who are these people, the ones who cannot afford to stockpile even one paycheck in a bank? I was one of them. Not for financial reasons, though–I didn’t have any ID–I couldn’t prove, to the satisfaction of a bank, who I was. Curiously, the rules at the check cashing stores were different. Mediocre, even questionable identification was sufficient to turn a check into cash, but insufficient for saving it in your own name.

These are also Walmart’s own employees, most of whom are part-time, at their management’s preference.

Assuming a biweekly paycheck at double minimum wage, full-time, after taxes you’re still likely to come in under the $1,000 check to meet the $3 price. To restate that, after two weeks of full-time work, you’re taking home less than $1000, which is a crime in itself. After 26 paychecks, throw in your tax refund check and you’re paying $85. If you work for Walmart, that’s paying your money back to your employer for the privilege of them paying you.

That’s assuming you don’t get an employee discount.

Published in: on February 15, 2010 at 3:24 pm  Leave a Comment  
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You bailed out my mistake, I deserve a bonus for that

we (you, I, us, the taxpayers) gave the “too big to fail” banks our money so they wouldn’t collapse, collapse under their own weight from their own mistakes created by their own greed, and now that they’re solvent again, they’re rewarding themselves for the fuck up, instead of paying us back
clipped from open.salon.com
2009 closed with the stock market rebounding 61 percent from its March lows, and “Wall Street is ready to pat itself on the back for its huge gains with big bonuses,” potentially surpassing the record payouts of 2007.
Wall Street’s 2009 bonus pool could total $200 billion
the return to big bonuses will also allow Wall Street banks to claim billions in tax breaks:
Many American banks already pay minuscule federal income taxes,
the payout-related breaks will reduce their tax bills further
Altogether, the top three Wall Street banks — Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley — will gain nearly $20 billion in tax breaks based on their employee compensation this year.
Compensation related tax deductions will total about $80 billion across Wall Street,
In 2008, Goldman Sachs paid an effective tax rate of just 1 percent
NOT ONE OF THE BANKSTERS WHO COMMITTED THE FRAUD THAT CREATED THE MORTGAGE CRISIS HAS GONE TO JAIL.
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Published in: on January 4, 2010 at 4:28 pm  Comments (1)  
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All holidays! All the time!

I’m going caroling at the pool, dressing up and going trick-or-treating for Labor Day and baking pumpkin pie in April. From the people who bring you Back to School sales in June – this is worse.
clipped from online.wsj.com

‘Twas 147 Shopping Days Before Christmas …

Rocked by Slump, Retailers Get Jump on Santa; ‘Let’s Get Past Halloween,’ a Shopper Laments

It’s the time of year when Dad’s mowing the lawn, Mom’s packing up a picnic, and the kids are splashing in the pool. Yep, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

Toys “R” Us Inc. decided to market its summertime Christmas discounts with an image of Santa lounging on the beach in sunglasses. Sears.com and Kmart.com used a vintage, snowy street scene accompanied by offers of free shipping.

One person who is a little nonplused by the explosion in July Christmas sales is Mr. Barnes, the Texas songwriter with a band called Brave Combo who wrote “Christmas in July.”

“I wrote it to say that when people are focused on making money, nothing is sacred,” he says. “Of course, it was mainly intended to be amusing.”

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Published in: on July 31, 2009 at 12:35 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Insert tab A into slot B

Well, I guess it’s time for what’s getting to be my monthly posting about trips to Wisconsin – or as I like to call it, Chez Cheese. I know, I know, I haven’t posted in two months. I actually wrote this one last month, but I never got around to finishing it. I didn’t have anything to say about the month before because, frankly, it was uneventful (well, from a travel standpoint, anyway).

I did have the multiple gate-change, 4-hour layover fiasco in Chicago’s O’Hare. (I was going to call the post, “O’Harried” or “O’Harrowing.” Perhaps fortunately the post never happened.) While I was walking to my gate at one end of the terminal – the end of the terminal – they changed my gate to one in a completely different terminal. Let me say it again – changed while I was walking there. I lugged my 40 lb. shoulder bag (because who needs wheels?) and my backpack with laptop and accouterments (is that were luggage comes from, or is it the other way?) around the football stadium that is O’Hare for 4 hours. I had time to kill, and what was I supposed to do, buy a book and sit and read it?

They changed my gate 3 more times while I waited. Others told me that it was par for “No’Fare.” So, while arduous, I didn’t feel it particularly interesting enough to write about. Except that, well, I just did.

I knew what my topic was going to be last month, however, very soon after I landed. There is the unsung villain, perhaps villainous sidekick, rather, to air travel – car rental.

First off, there is the possibly illegal, though certainly unethical practice of tricking you into an upgrade. You reserve a small to midsize car, and when you show up to collect your reservation they say, “I have a monster SUV, or a fancy, high-end sport sedan available…?” Oh, they have plenty of smaller cars, too. But they’re making you say, “OK” to the bigger car by presenting them, and only them, as options, usually without telling you they’ll cost more.

Last month I switched to Avis from Enterprise, because I didn’t like the later’s practice of being a mere $10 cheaper, but offering a car so stripped down I was lucky to have automatic windows. (Does anyone have manual, roll-down windows anymore? But then what motion do you use when you want to talk to the person in the car next to you?) They (Enterprise) told me that for a “modest upgrade” I could get things like a stereo radio, cruise control (essential to keeping to the speed limit in a foreign state) and a key fob, so I don’t have to fumble with gloves on in the snow and rain to get a key in and unlock one door then reach over and manually unlock the others to let in my passengers who’re still standing outside. You know, the stuff we never had when we were kids. I know the corporate bean counters back home would balk at the word “upgrade” on my receipt, so I opted for the one who gave you all that stuff in the base rate.

If only they would give you the base rate. Booking the car through my corporate travel site, there’s a price quoted for a midsize sedan of $48/day. Last month, when I got to the counter, the helpful woman at the counter said, “I have a Saturn Vue…?” Knowing as much about cars as I do economic foreign policy, I say, “m’OK,” and am surprised to see a sporty little SUV waiting for me. And here I am thinking, wow, how nice of Avis to have such nice cars – worth the extra $10. There was some monster snow that weekend, so it turned out to be fortuitous.

So this time at the counter I’m told, “I have a [some brand I forget], which is a midsize SUV.” Then, as I pause for a moment to consider what could be “midsize” for a monster truck that’s far too huge for most people to get around in, and how it still qualifies as one, “it’s $89 on your corporate rate.” It’s late at night and I’m tired, so my mental gears aren’t completely greased.

“No,” I say, “I certainly don’t need anything that big,” remembering the seats-6-with-all-their-luggage-and-a-kiddie-pool Vue.

“I have a Dodge Magnum…?”

“m’OK,” I relent. She could have said, “I have Gursis Baba Friggle Bibby…?” and I would have said the same thing, because the only thing I can picture with the word “magnum” is condoms.


I’m not sure how I would classify the Dodge Magnum. It’s got the look of a car for people who like to collect speeding tickets, but it’s got a cargo area in the back. It’s too short to be a van, but can you really call it a hatch-back? My van technically has a hatch on the back, but “hatch-back” brings other cars to mind. The Ford Pinto is a hatch-back. So is the AMC Gremlin. Back in my day, the name we used for cars that had a cargo area connected to the cab instead of a trunk was “Station Wagon.” So, yeah, the Magnum is a fancy, sporty station wagon, albeit one in which you might actually be able to pick up a date.

Now the gears in my mind catch. Is this car, also $89 “on my corporate rate?” They didn’t quote me a price, but is that what I paid last time? It’s still bigger than I need, certainly not “blah,” and I don’t recall explicitly saying, “no, I want something cheaper.” “No, not that big,” should mean, to most people, “don’t try to upsale me, just give me what I asked for.”

This is decidedly dishonest for their use of the words, “on your corporate rate.” They know I made the reservation trough a corporate travel agency. “Your corporate rate” is meant to imply that your company has agreed to the price. They haven’t. That’s the price Avis is offering to charge your company, and not necessarily discounted.

They handed me the barely discernible, used-up ink ribboned, dot matrix printout with, “initial here, here, here and here and sign here,” but I didn’t notice anything about a rate. It certainly wasn’t told to me. I assumed, perhaps naively, that when my travel preferences explicitly state, “small to midsize” and quote a specific price when I make a reservation, that’s what I’ll get. No one at the airport asks me, “I have a first class seat available…?” when I get my boarding pass.

Yes, yes, caveat emptor, and I should check what I’m paying before I sign, but I already agreed to one price, so unless someone specifically says, “this is more,” then that’s all I should pay. They did say (this time) a particular car was more, but to that option I said, no. Without being told, upfront, before I say, OK, what the price of the other option is, I have to assume it’s what I agreed to.

Not that I’m paying for it. I’m expensing the car. I just don’t want the people whose corporate pockets the cost is coming out of coming by my office, jabbing their finger at my credit card statement, going, “explain this!” I’m sure I can manage a good, “b’wah…?” and reiterate the above. They’ve been letting me slide on my two beers with dinner (expensing alcohol is verboten) so I’m hoping they’ll let this go, too.

Now we come to the little exercise I like to call, “Insert tab A into slot B.” When was the last time you got into a car that came with instructions? OK, technically they all come with instructions, but when have you ever felt it necessary to read them? These are the keys that were in the car (broken ring hole, tape and all):

First, why do car rental agencies feel it necessary to give you two keys, then insist on bolting them together? What am I supposed to do with the second key? Use it when some distempered valet snaps the other one off in the lock?

Turns out, I don’t know what to do with either key. They slide into the ignition, but that appears to be all they do. They slide so far into the ignition, with the head of the key so small, that I can just barely get my fingers in there to try to turn them. I don’t try to twist too hard for fear of snapping them off or lacerating my fingers on the edges.

To that point, I’ve seen keys like this before – small, hideaway ones that slide into the remote fob. I’ve assumed they were there in case the remote battery died, so you could still open the door. These slide into the ignition, but so far that you can’t turn them, so now I’m looking all over the interior for a start button, something other than the familiar turning key that’s so much a given they’re on my son’s baby toys.

I shine a light into the ignition socket, and then I take another look at the key fob. That’s when I remember that the point of most technological “innovation” is to be capricious and unnecessary. (Technology for its own sake, adding complication to simplicity because it’s kewl.) And it dawns on me – the plug-shaped fob is the key. I jam it into the socket and twist and voilá, it starts up.

If two keys is mockingly unnecessary, then two keys that don’t work, bolted onto something that doesn’t look like a key but is, is just fucking with me.

For this I paid extra.

Published in: on March 25, 2009 at 8:52 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Fed helps those who help themselves (to your money)

Why can we so readily approve giving away public funds (at a deficit, with no tax base to recover them) to banks and brokerage firms, but we have a hard time allocating money for regular Americans with genuine need?

I don’t wish to debate the wisdom of helping the most wealthy out of a situation their own greed created, because they’re “too big to fail.” I believe business runs on access to available credit, and credit markets need to be relieved.

But if we all agree that the economy thrives when money changes hands, does it make better sense to bail out a corporation so they can cut their losses, bolster their profit, so stockholders have value in their holdings (emphasis on “holding”), or to give the money to people who will actually spend it?

I don’t mean the stereotypically irresponsible things like flatscreens and Nintendo Wii’s (I believe the huge corporate retail chains like Walmart will endure). But if instead of giving insurer AIG some $80 billion to keep them afloat, we floated some of those funds to people who’ve been most impacted by the economy, they could afford things – things like health insurance – and give companies that provide goods and services their much needed capital.

Now I’m going to speculate. (You may want to get your tinfoil hat.) Why can’t we do this? You’re still going to buy that flatscreen and latest-model iPod, aren’t you? (if you’re a good American, and do what you’re told, you’re going to go out and shop to help the economy.) But without available cash, you’re going to buy them on credit. And for that, the banks make money, in the form of interest.

On the other hand, it’s been shown that many people, with large consumer debt, given the funds would choose to lower their debit position. (e.g. pay off some of their credit cards.) This is good for consumers – it lowers their unsecured debt, lowers their interest payments, and gives them more funds to save, if only for that new iPod.

It is, however, bad news for a bank. It lowers their interest income and reduces their assets. Yes, the money you owe them is an asset. It is only “unsecured” to you, in that you don’t have an asset (e.g. a house) to offset the debt. Recent changes in bankruptcy laws mean the bank will get its money, somehow. There is no risk that the poor, defenseless bank, who was only trying to help everyone it could by extending them all ridiculous amounts of credit, even to those evil cheats who lied about the stability of their employment, would get left twisting in the wind.

And if you don’t get your own, personal infusion of bailout cash – if you can no longer pay your bills – even better for the bank. They now get to charge usury… I mean, the default interest rate, meaning it’s going to cost you more money to not have any.

(You can take your hat off now. If the above made sense, then it was working.)

[the following text is stolen from TrueMajority.org]
The U.S. faces the most serious economic crisis since the Great Depression. Just how deep we go and how long the recession lasts depends upon how quickly we take steps to counter it.

The economy is hemorrhaging jobs at a frightful rate. For all of 2008, the economy lost a net total of 2.6 million jobs. That was the most since 1945, when nearly 2.8 million jobs were lost.

More than 300 of the country’s leading economists have called for immediate passage of a significant and broad-based jobs and economic recovery package.

A package must include investments in alternative energy technology to create millions of new jobs and generate billions in public revenue and tackle the issue of climate change and reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

We must also provide grants to state and local governments so that they will not be forced to raise taxes, layoff workers and cut services in the middle of a downturn.

Finally, we need investments in public infrastructure that will provide a crucial shot in the arm for the economy and create hundreds of thousands of good paying jobs to strengthen our middle class.

Published in: on January 15, 2009 at 2:15 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Silly sod – growing roots temporarily

If you’ve ever watched Project Runway, you’ve no doubt heard of Bryant Park. It’s normally a quiet little refuge from the push and shove that is New York City, directly behind the Public Library (yes, the one with the lions), about a block from Times Square. In addition to a carousel, a fountain, and dozens of people playing chess, it has a large, wide open lawn. It’s a wonderful place to get away from the office and eat lunch. It’s also, apparently, a nice place to host fancy, posh events like Fashion Week.

They don’t hold it on grass, of course. It is in a tent, but heavens forbid some fashionista got her Manolos muddy, so they set up platforms to put the tent on, covering the entire lawn. This, naturally, kills the lawn.

Witness the devastation wrought by hordes of teenage girls (and their moms) in the aftermath of a free, Good Morning America, Jonas Brothers concert. What you’re seeing is mounds of paper cups, soda cans, croissan’wich wrappers and other detritus that was carried in, but, though relieved of their contents, somehow became too heavy to carry out, being raked into piles for collection. Though perhaps it’s not their fault – all those lovelorn teens had discarded their hand-lettered cardboard “we love you [Jonas Brothers band member’s name]!!!” signs, having failed to attract any of their attentions, and had filled all the garbage cans – both of them.


It’s also an ideal spot for a skating rink. Citi, who apparently has enough money left over from buying my account from Wachovia, sponsors the construction of “The Pond.” As most of us understand “pond” to be a body of water with, typically, more than 4 inches of water in it, and since there are no permanent structures, man-made or otherwise, for containing water in Bryant Park (besides the fountain), they build a hockey rink on top of the lawn and have the hubris to call it a “pond.” This, and all of the support platforms around it, also do not do nice things to the lawn.

Still, it’s nice to have a little, virtual winter wonderland, with all the little push cart shops that get set up lining every square foot of the mall. They make it look very pretty for the Christmas season – which, we all know, starts during Fashion Week.

Well, not concurrently, of course. After all the Ugly Betties in their LBD’s (that’s little black dress, if you’re a guy) and the pencil thin queens who think merely being gay conveys an innate fashion sense (I’ve lived with gay men – it doesn’t) have packed up their swag bags and gone home, they take down the [climate controlled] tent, dismantle the platforms, then restore the park to its former [non-barricaded, non-power-cable-entwined] glory.

For about a month.

And we come to the purpose of this post (you knew there had to be one): Between Fashion Week, which runs until Sept. 12, and the opening of the “Pond” on Oct. 24, they take a few days to get a whole team of landscapers out and re-sod the entire freakin’ lawn, almost a city block in size – before tearing it all up again. Oh, they even post little signs around the [now roped-off] perimeter that say, “please keep off the grass while the lawn establishes a new root system” …for at least two weeks, after which we’re destroying it for a skating rink and café.

It’s a public park, but it’s privately managed by a company that’s privately funded, so I can’t really complain whole-heartedly about the wastefulness. Still, I think there’s better things that can be done with that kind of money.

Published in: on October 15, 2008 at 8:44 pm  Leave a Comment  
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