Who Hijacked Our Country
Saturday, June 30, 2007
Friday, June 29, 2007
Penalty Fee for Terminating Your Cell Phone Contract Early
This seems to be getting more common, people being charged a fine for terminating their cell phone contract. And now some telecom companies are sticking it to their internet subscribers too.
I have no idea whether these fees are collectible or enforceable. After all, if you’ve ended your dealings with a telecom company, what are they gonna do, disconnect you? And what kind of “free enterprise” is this anyway, penalizing a customer for patronizing a competitor? What's next, Safeway fining their customers if they catch them shopping at Albertsons?
There's a reason I’m interested in this. About 2-½ years ago we terminated our 2-year contract with a cell phone company — after two months. We had just moved and we wanted to have cell phones at least until we could get a conventional land line set up. Neither of us had ever had a cell phone before.
We went to a kiosk at Wal-Mart and told the sales rep that we needed cell phone service for just a month or two while we were getting settled in. He said “sure, I can get you started.” The whole thing took just a few minutes and I signed the forms and we got our phones.
I didn’t realize I had signed a 2-year contract that called for a $300 fine if I ended the contract early. Yes, I should have taken a few minutes to pore over all the fine print, even though we were in a hurry and there were people waiting in line behind us. Yes, I should've been more careful and not allowed us to get suckered.
After two months we were disgusted by the shitty phone service, and the fees turned out to be much higher than the slick salesman at Wal-Mart had told us. So we called them up to cancel. That’s when we were told about the $300 cancellation fee ($150 for each phone). And that’s when we decided not to pay this ridiculous extortion fee. What are those fuckheads gonna do about it?
And we still haven’t paid it. We've gotten lots of threatening letters — first from the cell phone carrier and then from various collection agencies. This would go in our credit report, etc. (So far it hasn’t.)
I recently did a web search on “cell phone contract termination.” Lots of websites; lots of forums on this exact subject. There were lots of suggestions on how to try wiggling out of your contract and how to persuade the cell phone carrier to terminate the contract. But I never saw anyone just say "don't pay it." Have I started something? I’m baaad!
Has anything like this happened to you?
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
A Possible Solution to Global Warming
As Thomas Friedman keeps pointing out again and again, energy independence is our most important issue. Global warming, the economy and our national security are all tied up in this one issue. But unlike Friedman, this article by Jonathan Alter isn't calling for a gas tax. As he says about the gas tax: “The idea of adding a dollar-a-gallon tax at the pump is deader than Phil Leotardo in the final episode of ‘The Sopranos.’”
Instead he's proposing a “Sky Trust” (aka “clean air trust” or “carbon revenue recycling”). The closest comparison is the annual dividend check that all Alaska residents have been getting since 1976 as a share of the state’s oil revenues.
The theory behind a Sky Trust is the idea that the atmosphere belongs to all of us. Anyone who pollutes the atmosphere has to pay compensation to the owners (that’s us). After all, if you dumped your garbage on your neighbor’s property you'd have to pay him/her, right? This idea that the sky is a Public Commons is already well established. The “cap and trade” system of pollution permits and credits is based on this.
Millions of people would scream bloody murder at the notion of a huge gas tax on top of the $4 a gallon (and climbing) they're already paying. They don’t want to spend the additional money and they don’t trust the government to spend that money wisely (ya think?). But the Sky Trust would be a fee, an assessment. And instead of government spending, it would be a dividend check for YOU. For all of us.
Peter Barnes, author of “Capitalism 3.0,” is one of the enthusiasts of a Sky Trust. He says: “U.S. consumers will ultimately pay for carbon scarcity through higher prices, which will depress their purchasing power significantly. Dividends are a way to replenish consumer purchasing power and keep the economy from tanking.”
According to Barnes’ rough calculations, every American would get about $1,000 a year ($300 billion in revenues divided by 300 million Americans). Another calculation has a family of four getting $4,900 per year. Everyone would be paid the same amount, same as Alaska does with its oil dividends.
As Alter says: “A sky trust is win-win-win for the economy, the taxpayer and the environment. It uses market principles to put more money in people’s pockets and reduce pollution simultaneously.”
Whatever you think of a Sky Trust, the energy crisis is our most burning issue and we've done nothing about it since it reared its head in the 1970s. We need to start brainstorming and coming up with ideas, and this is one of them. What do you think?
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
Lose the SUV
No matter how high gasoline prices go, millions of Americans continue to lumber down the highway in their multi-ton dinosaurs that get 2.3 miles to the gallon. The biggest single reason for wanting one of these behemoths is probably the illusion of safety. If your big badass truck crashes into a smaller car, the other guy dies and you and your family will be safe and snug inside your land yacht. Right?
Wrong! Small cars are now much safer than they used to be. This is partially because of all the high-tech safety features that are so common — front and side air bags, anti-lock breaks, electronic stability control, etc. They're also made with higher-strength steel than their older counterparts.
Today’s compacts are larger and heavier; most of them weigh just under 3,000 pounds. This is the ideal weight for crash safety, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. It's the point of diminishing returns; additional weight adds less crash protection.
Several modern compacts have gotten the highest score available from the IIHS in front and side crash tests. So if safety is the reason you're continuing to drive a huge gas-guzzler, trade in your Brontosaurus for a compact. You'll be just as safe and you'll save lots of gas money. Who knows, you might even get fewer dirty looks and one-finger salutes.
Sunday, June 24, 2007
Suddenly All Of Our Enemies in Iraq Are “Al Qaeda”
With Bush plummeting further and further in the polls and Iraqmire being more disastrous than ever, our “leaders” have come up with a new spin. Since the public is still rightfully concerned about al Qaeda — Presto! Every enemy combatant that we've killed or captured in Iraq is now a high-ranking member of al Qaeda.
Isn't that great? We’re winning! Freedom is on the march! At this rate we'll be capturing Osama bin Laden any day now.
Without any changes in military strategy or any new intelligence information, yesterday’s “insurgents” have suddenly become today’s al Qaeda members. If you can't win, the next best option is to redefine all the terms.
It’s bad enough that the Pentagon is putting on this charade. Even worse — the “media” is marching right along in lockstep, dutifully re-christening all “insurgents” and “enemy combatants” as “al Qaeda.” The New York Times recently used the term “al Qaeda” nineteen times in an article describing American battles in Iraq.
These are desperate times. Bush and Cheney have constantly fallen back on generic terms like “terrorists” whenever they wanted to arouse mass paranoia. If some pesky reporter asks why we invaded Iraq — “the war on terror,” “fighting them over there so we don’t have to fight them over here,” etc.
But referring specifically to al Qaeda just to push the right emotional buttons — this was always a level that even Bush wouldn’t stoop to. Until now.
Here is another example of a “news” story “reporting” on our war against "al Qaeda" in Iraq. We've all noticed the gradual change in the “media” as they’ve deteriorated from Watchdog to Lapdog. The mutation is now complete.
And here is another article on Bush’s desperate attempts to create the illusion of victory in Iraq by renaming and redefining everything.
For a larger view of the Bush Administration's history of lying, spinning and redefining, take this quiz. Had enough?
Friday, June 22, 2007
Democrats: A Solution to Iraqmire
This article seems like a no-brainer — something from the cover of DUUUHHH!!! Magazine. It’s supposed to be a way for Democrats to take a firm stand on Iraq without looking like wimps or isolationists. The author — Jonathan Alter — thinks they need a new slogan: “Pull and Strike.”
ZING!! Doesn’t that get the adrenaline pumping. OK, so it’s a lame slogan. But the idea behind it makes perfect sense. It’s so basic a 5-year-old could’ve thought of it. “Pull” means pulling our troops out of Iraq. “Strike” means striking at Islamic terrorist groups wherever we find them.
Isn't this what we should've done right after 9/11?? Anybody??? Nobody ever thought our new president was the brightest porchlight on the block. But we never imagined that his solution to the 9/11 terrorist attacks would be to invade a country which had nothing to do with 9/11 and get us embroiled in a 4-½ year quagmire there, and end up squandering tens of thousands of lives and trillions of dollars.
According to Alter, a lot of Islamic terrorist groups are hiding in countries that don’t want them there, and these governments would welcome American airstrikes that zero in on the terrorists’ hiding places. The U.S. will have to strengthen its intelligence agencies for this method to work, and the intelligence will have to be accurate. No more cherry-picking, “fixed” intelligence or useless gossip (“the British government has learned…”).
Again, isn't this what we all thought Bush would be doing right after 9/11/01? What happened?
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
YOU can get Internet Service for Only $10 a Month!
This is for real. This isn't a phony come-on or one of those bait-and-switch tactics. This offer is completely valid. What's really weird is that the company who's offering this deal — AT&T — isn't advertising it. Not a word. It’s Their Little Secret.
It’s part of a settlement agreement between AT&T and the FCC. In return for allowing the merger of two 800-pound gorillas — BellSouth and AT&T — AT&T is required to offer this $10-per-month deal for 2 ½ years. After 30 months and one day, how much do you think that monthly rate will go up to? Let’s have a pool.
Needless to say, AT&T isn't screaming from the rooftops about their $10-per-month Internet service. The offer is valid in the 22 states serviced by AT&T. The AT&T website doesn’t mention the offer, but supposedly if you click on a link for “Term Contract Plans” you can find it.
Monday, June 18, 2007
A Solution to those Payday Loansharks
San Francisco has come up with a way to help low-income people who’ve been preyed on by payday loansharks. Bank On San Francisco is a group effort by the mayor, the city treasurer and the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.
Whether it’s a bad credit history or the sky-high minimum balance required by most banks, about 50,000 San Francisco households don’t have a bank account. This leaves them at the mercy of sleazy check-cashing services and payday lenders (or worse). A $30 check-cashing fee is a lot of money for somebody on a fixed income. If this money can be spent on groceries and other necessities, it stimulates the local economy as well as helping the individual.
Under this program, fifteen local banks and credit unions are offering free or low-cost checking and savings accounts. They're specifically targeting low-income neighborhoods where the residents are the most likely to be preyed on by sleazebags. They're also accepting alternate forms of identification (e.g. consular identification cards) so that (legal) immigrants are able to open accounts.
So far San Francisco is the only American city with a program like this for getting low-income paycheck-to-paycheck people into the financial mainstream. A few other cities — Seattle, Boston, Atlanta and Los Angeles — have made noises about creating similar programs. Let’s hope they do. When thousands of low-income people are able to open bank accounts and start saving, everybody wins.
Labels: Bank on San Francisco
Sunday, June 17, 2007
Fred Thompson Hates America
Sorry Righties, your knight in shining armor has let you down. You've been had. The Right Wing has been so infatuated with Fred Thompson, he's become a walking talking Rorschach test. Millions of swooning wingnuts have just assumed that he shares their belief that human life is sacred from the point of conception to the moment of birth.
Thompson has always been personally opposed to abortion, but he believes this is a moral issue and not a legal matter. He stated this clearly several times in the mid-1990s. OUCH! And that’s not all. Thompson not only voted in favor of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill — he helped to write it. Take that, Wingers — your hero wants a bunch of big bloated government bureaucrats meddling in the free marketplace of ideas, REGULATING political speech.
Now, of course, Thompson is trying to backpedal and “restate” and “clarify” everything. He’ll use his Hollywood persona and Southern demeanor to smooth those ruffled feathers. But the truth is out. That swashbuckling hero was just an illusion. Rightwads — back to the drawing board.
Friday, June 15, 2007
Send Scooter Libby to Guantanamo — or Shut It Down
That’s the title of an e-mail I got yesterday. And it makes sense. In the name of “National Security” we've been putting terrorist suspects in Guantanamo Bay so that the Constitution and Geneva Convention won’t apply.
Well, if outing a CIA agent isn't a breach of national security, what is? Remember, Bush 41 once said that people who reveal the names of covert operatives are “the most insidious of traitors.” If the Constitution and Geneva Convention are “quaint” and “outdated” — as Abu Gonzales says they are — then why should Scooter Libby get any special privileges? Off to Gitmo with him!!
I personally would rather have the Guantanamo Bay prison shut down. I think the Constitution and Geneva Convention should apply to all war criminals, including Scooter Libby. If you think the same standard — whatever that standard is — should apply to everyone convicted or suspected of war crimes, click here.
Thursday, June 14, 2007
Why Bush is Jumping Into the Immigration Battle
With Bush already being more unpopular than ever, you have to wonder why he's diving headfirst into the Third Rail of immigration reform. Immigration is probably the most dangerous wedge issue out there, for both parties. It cuts across party lines more than any other issue.
I personally have no opinion on illegal immigration. I’m usually pretty opinionated (no!) but this issue is just too complex with too many underlying issues. Whenever somebody says “those illegal aliens are stealing American jobs and draining our resources” I think “yeah, that’s right.” When somebody else says “these people are doing the jobs Americans won't do; America was founded by immigrants” I think “hmmm, good point.”
Here's one take on why Bush is so gung ho about the doomed immigration reform bill. Bush sees himself as a Hacendado — an estate owner in Old Mexico. He needs to get the maximum amount of work from “his” people, but he also needs to protect them. He thinks the shrewdest thing he could do is grant citizenship to “his” people. As Howard Fineman puts it, “he wants employers to have access to all of that cheap labor, but wants to make the system more orderly.”
Whether this theory is correct or not, it’s as good an explanation as any. Bush’s furious devotion to this immigration reform bill seems more like a suicide mission. Fineman says: “Here he is, an unpopular leader fighting an unpopular war. His two-term presidency is clattering to a conclusion, besieged on all sides, taking hits on everything from his attorney general to his general incompetence. And so he decides to do what? Climb into the ring for an ultimate fighting bout with the base of the very Republicans who got him to the White House.”
Monday, June 11, 2007
Tanzania: A Way of Life Comes to an End
One of the world’s last tribes of hunter-gatherers is about to vanish. They’ll soon go the way of the Dodo and the Brontosaurus.
The Hadzabe tribe of Tanzania is already down to fewer than 1,500 people. During their 50,000 year history they’ve survived the beginning of agriculture, guns, diseases, missionaries, poachers, anthropologists, conflicts with other tribes and gawking tourists. But it looks like they’ve finally met their match.
The Tanzanian government has leased the Hadzabe tribal lands — about 2,500 square miles near the Serengeti Plain — to the Royal Family from the United Arab Emirates. The sheiks and VIPs were looking for a new personal playground to replace their current playground: a nearby hunting area which has become “too crowded” and “inconvenient.” After taking a helicopter tour of the area, the Royal Family has chosen the Hadzabe tribal territory as their new personal fiefdom.
A Tanzanian government official described the Hadzabe as “backward” and said they'd be better off with the new roads and schools and other projects that the UAE will be “compensating” them with. Tribal leaders say they want to modernize, but at their own pace, combining modernization with their traditional way of life, instead of having the rug pulled out from under them by their own government.
One of their leaders said “If they are going to come here, we definitely will all perish. Our history will die, and the Hadzabe will be swept off the face of the world. We are very much afraid.”
The UAE Royal Family has a degree of wealth and splendor that most people couldn’t even comprehend. They make most American millionaires look poor. And now one of the last remaining hunter-gatherer tribes has to get out of the way so that one of the world’s wealthiest families can use their land for their own personal playground.
This is beyond sick. When you combine that story with this — something’s wrong.
Friday, June 08, 2007
Back From Canada
No, I didn’t die or fall off the edge of the Earth or anything. We just got back from a 17-day motor trip across the U.S. and Canada. Mind-boggling. I’ll probably spend months Googling some of the places we've been to. And 17 days with no news — you can't get any more therapeutic than that.
We took Interstate 90 from Seattle to the Eastern part of South Dakota. Mount Rushmore (in the Western part of the state) is well worth seeing. All the pictures you’ve seen (and those chase scenes from North By Northwest) don’t do it justice. And the countryside around there — the Black Hills — is beautiful.
From Route 90 we headed North to catch Route 2 across the Northern parts of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. That has to be the most beautiful 600-mile stretch I’ve ever seen. More lakes and forests than anyone could imagine. You can only absorb so much scenery. Ho hum, another clear blue lake surrounded by a pristine forest.
We crossed into Canada at Sault Saint Marie, Michigan/Ontario. My family used to have a summer cottage in central Ontario and I haven’t been there in decades, so we spent a few days there. Then we headed West across the Trans-Canada Highway system. Too much incredible scenery and too many fascinating cities and towns to even grasp.
I’ll probably be ready for more Bush-bashing and muckraking in another day or two, but for now I’m still awe-struck over how many great places are out there. Hope this blog hasn’t fallen off everybody’s radar…