Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Credit Crunch

And the crunching sound will be coming from where they set there teeth into your backside.

Crooks and Liars:

I have to laugh at this transparent ploy: Let us keep our usurious interest rates, Senator, or your American Express card is gonna get it! Apparently the fine folks of the credit card industry seem to believe they have an inherent right to obscene profits. Uh, ixnay, fellas. Usury is not only a sin, it's bad economic practice. Legislators have a right to control your out-of-control industry because credit has become something akin to a necessary public utility - especially when people can't even get a job due to a poor credit rating.

Seems to me it's time these companies learned to trim their expectations to fit current reality. I wonder if credit card executives have been asked to take off one day a week to save their company a day's pay?

Credit cards have long been a very good deal for people who pay their bills on time and in full. Even as card companies imposed punitive fees and penalties on those late with their payments, the best customers racked up cash-back rewards, frequent-flier miles and other perks in recent years.

Now Congress is moving to limit the penalties on riskier borrowers, who have become a prime source of billions of dollars in fee revenue for the industry. And to make up for lost income, the card companies are going after those people with sterling credit.

Banks are expected to look at reviving annual fees, curtailing cash-back and other rewards programs and charging interest immediately on a purchase instead of allowing a grace period of weeks, according to bank officials and trade groups.

[...] As they thin their ranks of risky cardholders to deal with an economic downturn, major banks including American Express, Citigroup, Bank of America and a long list of others have already begun to raise interest rates, and some have set their sights on consumers who pay their bills on time. The legislation scheduled for a Senate vote on Tuesday does not cap interest rates, so banks can continue to lift them, albeit at a slower pace and with greater disclosure.

“There will be one-size-fits-all pricing, and as a result, you’ll see the industry will be more egalitarian in terms of its revenue base,” said David Robertson, publisher of the Nilson Report, which tracks the credit card business.

I love how they go quickly into egalitarianism. We want to quietly screw over people honestly paying their bills, but it is because we want to be fair...and screw them like we screw the rest of our customers.

It is a business. But trickery isn't. These companies have already started shifting payment dates without notice, and also made other changes knowing customers will be caught unaware. Is that the way to treat customers?

We are addicted, as a country, to credit, and often abusing it. Will this get people to seriously push back?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Going after Elizabeth Warren?

I have to admit I was not clear on who Warren was. Part of my mind was thinking Rev. Warren which made me suspicious, yet I wasn't thinking if the Warren's of the Amityville Horror...what a relief. Still, I caught Real Time this weekend and Bill Mahr was interviewing her. So I got to know here a bit. Seems like a nice and forthright persons. A good person to have in government today.

So I have a little better understanding of the story Crooks and Liars ran about the media's distaste for her.
I listened to this Planet Money interview yesterday and it wasn't even close. Elizabeth Warren, a class act in every sense, totally destroyed the host's argument that concerning herself with the economic health of the American family was somehow her liberal "pet cause" and outside her bailiwick as TARP oversight chair. Not that it made any difference in his evident scorn!

NPR may have some nice little essays, but the only time their hosts show anything resembling teeth is when they attack... people who attack corporate interests! From the Columbia Journalism Review's "So That's Why The Press Won't Cover Elizabeth Warren!" by Ryan Chittum:
A couple of times in the last few months I’ve taken the press to task for ignoring the Congressional Oversight Panel and its report on the TARP. I’ve talked to reporters in the biz since and got the impression that many of them don’t really take it seriously because its chairwoman Elizabeth Warren is a liberal who, they say, pushes her agenda.

So it’s worth listening to this entire Planet Money podcast from NPR, where Adam Davidson badgers Warren for more than an hour to justify her existence, so to speak.

If you want a peek inside business-press mentality, and why certain stories get reported and others don’t, you can do worse than start here. It sees Warren as an outlier whose views, based on decades of research, are suspicious. It would never, ever have badgered a former bank exec, say, like this if one had been chairman of the panel. Davidson, like the reporters I referenced above, has been talking to too many bankers and insiders who sneer at someone not inside their bubble. Perhaps he’s trying to prove his objective journalist bona fides at “liberal” NPR by taking it to a liberal.

Warren isn’t legitimate in the eyes of the press, so it just pretty much ignores her—even though she and her co-panelists were selected by Congress to oversee whether the Treasury is spending the $700 billion we gave it in a way that’s best for the economy.

This interview is really cringeworthy stuff from Davidson, who comes out looking pretty bad (which makes it all the more admirable that NPR runs the entire tape). Warren takes this fight going away.

In the movies, is it just business?

Hathor Legacy has a good article on the double standards in movie making.

O.W. at Poplicks recently found my post, Why film schools teach screenwriters not to pass the Bechdel test the Hathor Legacy and had the following to say about it:

To use her example, if Hollywood has traditionally catered its products to white male moviegoers, it builds an expectation amongst audiences - and executives - that the only successful movies are those that cater to…white male moviegoers. Thus, there is no financial incentive to break the cycle and the very bias that exists helps to perpetuate that bias into the future.

In class, I talk about the relationship between ideology and structure and how ideological bias - the idea that women are inferior, for example - influences structural inequalities - say occupational segregation - that then can be used as “evidence” to support the very ideological bias that helped produce the structural inequality!
I’m quoting and sharing this because I think it states the case better than I stated it myself. The problem is not the demographic numbers; the problem is how the people in charge selectively interpret them, and the circular rationalizations they employ to support the existing ideas. ...
As I have seen pointed out numbers are thrown out about female leads in films, then when the conversation turns to males, it is different. Why use Jack Nicholson in a film, for example? Why make a vehicle for him? Well he is good for box office. Really, look at his returns over the past decade or more and say that. Down the line, it is less a ready excuse to just run with guy flicks, and dump on the chick flick, as it were. Even when you have success for women it is a fluke, it is not a trend. Ignore it.

Thursday, May 14, 2009


In going online, we all get very relaxed with how are service works. Crooks and Liars has a good story noting the trouble. Like downloading? Like watching online videos? Are you rich? Bandwidth, how much?


When they announced yesterday that the Department of Justice was beefing up the antitrust division, the first likely target I thought of was cable TV. How about it, guys? We can't take much more of these monopolies' skyrocketing prices:

Last month, the nation's No.2 cable company Time Warner Cable announced plans to test a new billing system known as "metering" that charges Internet customers depending on how much they download. Customers who exceed their limit--say, by viewing online videos--would face steep penalties on top of their subscription rate.

Time Warner Cable's usage penalty would take the unlimited service we enjoy today (albeit slow compared to other nations), and make Internet more like cell phones, where you get overcharged by companies making record profits. It is the latest version of the Net Neutrality debate: should the companies that deliver Internet be allowed to block it, slow it down, or in this case, overcharge for it?

Here's why this issue threatens the Internet as you know it: Cable companies Time Warner and Comcast, and phone giants AT&T and Verizon sell the vast majority of high-speed Internet service in the United States. Phone and cable companies like these have no other competition in 97% of US markets, thanks to corrupt policies passed by the Bush Administration at the companies' behest.

These duopolies are betting on the future of their "triple-play" phone-Internet-TV service, so that you'll pay them more than $100 per month and they can keep earning record profits. They know that if you start downloading video from online innovators like and, eventually you won't need their expensive, advertising-ridden television service. If you decide to use online phone providers like Skype, you won't need their expensive phone service. The answer? Jack up the cost of Internet, and once again eliminate the competition. This is exhibit A for when we need government to establish and enforce consumer protections; the same brand of policies we needed to prevent the financial meltdown and protect New Orleans.

Fortunately, Time Warner Cable's pricing scam was met by fierce opposition from consumers, public interest groups and members of Congress. Rep. Eric Massa (D-NY) and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) spoke out against the scheme, and Time Warner Cable scuttled the plan in four of the five test cities. Beaumont, Texas, was the city left as the lone petri dish, and Congressman Massa has promised legislation to curb the price-gouging. Yesterday, Rep. Massa told the Philadelphia Inquirer he is looking for a Republican co-sponsor for the bill: "This is bigger than a college kid surfing the Internet. Anything that limits access to the basic Internet is a threat to the economy."

Time Warner Cable is regrouping, and says it is planning a "customer education process" to teach the public that high prices and Internet caps are good for us. And while the company tries to get its messaging right, other phone and cable companies are dipping a toe in the metering pool. AT&T is already testing a billing scheme that caps Internet use, and other Internet service providers are preparing to do the same.


... Time Warner's pricing plans would put the Internet even further out of reach for tens of millions of Americans.

Time Warner Cable and other Internet providers say they need to penalize users to slow down an impending "Internet brownout"--a day when we run out of bandwidth. That bandwidth doomsday, however, isn't about to happen anytime soon. Even one of Time Warner Cable's own executives offers evidence that bandwidth scarcity is a ruse: "Cable is like the Federal Reserve of bandwidth...we can practically print the stuff!" said Mike LaJoie, the company's chief technology officer. LaJoie has also said that supplying consumers with more bandwidth is "basically free" for his company.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Ending the Tesla dream.

Not the car, the man, Nikola Tesla.

The massive lab and tower he built at the turn of the century to try and invent wireless electricity and radio seems doomed to be cleared away.


...Tesla sparked the tower up only one time in 1903, shooting enormous bolts of electricity into the air. Then he sold it off along with its environs, called Wardenclyffe, to pay his debts.

Eventually parts of the tower were demolished and used for scrap, but a hulking chunk of it remains, along with the lab and possible tunnels beneath. Some of Tesla's massive, bizarre equipment is still in the buildings, and the purpose of some unimaginably huge batteries there remains a mystery.

Unfortunately, as the New York Times reports this week, the Wardenclyffe property is up for sale by its current owner Agfa. The company spent millions cleaning up toxins on the site, and with the economic downturn can no longer afford to keep it. They promise potential buyers that they'll deliver the property "cleared," meaning they'll destroy what's left of Tesla's research facility. There will be no chance for anyone to study its remains, to see if the man really had invented wireless electricity a century ago.

This would be a tremendous loss for science history. Luckily several groups are lobbying to turn the area into a museum for Tesla. You can find out about their efforts in the NYT article here. Let's hope the push for a museum succeeds.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Giving a dummy a show.

No it isn't Howdie Doodie Time. But it is damn close.

No Jenny McCarthy goes to TV, again. Now she is going to host...Really...Great.

Sure she spouts bad science on Larry King, she makes unproven claims on Oprah, but now she's like Dr. Phil...Really.

But, she, really, is a smarty. Orac looked at her twittering.


Now, when I first saw it, I thought it had to be a spoof, someone pretending to be Jenny. No one could be as inane as to Tweet things like:

Im inside a hyperbaric chamber. This thing makes me feel amazing.

About to fly to jersey. Security stole my sugar free jelly out of my purse. Boo hoo. I miss evan.

Now Im on the plane. they asked me if I wanted a cinnabun. Im so sad. The chubby guy sitting next to me is slobbering all over his. boo hoo.

Apparently I was wrong.


Marcotte looked at the trouble McCarthy is bringing science, medicine, and child care.

This is a complete disaster. For reasons I can’t quite understand, Jenny McCarthy is dedicated to fighting medical science on multiple fronts on the theory that she, as a celebrity who has given birth, understands way more about disease and biology than mere doctors and scientists, with their facts and their evidence. I know that there was some hope expressed that now that Dr. Andrew Wakefield, who published the study that supposedly showed a link between autism and vaccines, has been exposed as a fraud, the anti-vaccination movement would wither away and die. Unfortunately, I’ve been watching the anti-choice and creationist movements for a long time, so I know that cranks not only don’t care about the facts, scientific evidence against them just redoubles their enthusiasm for the cause, because now they can feel like they’re fighting reality itself. Overcoming a foe like that is a feather in your cap indeed. And McCarthy’s acquisition of a TV show demonstrates that I was right---if they can’t win on the facts, they’ll dominate the media discourse.

The first three blog posts at McCarthy’s blog are the sort of thing that give people who promote healthy eating a bad name. It’s not that she’s wrong to suggest that eating a bunch of sugar isn’t good for you. But this is coming from McCarthy, who actually claims to have cured her son of autism through obsessively monitoring his diet.


Oprah has a lot to answer for for bringing so much of this woo to the forefront, giving it all so much legitimacy. She has gotten rich and famous spouting and promoting, UFO's, crystals, ghosts, mediums, psychics, anti science, pop religion, the Secret, etc. Larry King does much the same. But he doesn't get people there own shows, to begin exponential spreading of this fertilizer. You can only hope Oprah comes to realize how much trouble she has wrought an tries to make things right.

Orac looked further at Oprah's complicity.

And Oprah is about to catapult her to the next level.

Still, when celebrity gossip rags start ragging on you for supporting antivaccine lunacy, you know you have a problem. Oprah has a problem. Not that Oprah cares. She's rich, and she's Oprah. Why on earth should she care if more kids become ill from vaccine-preventable diseases and if some of them even die because she gave a platform to an anti-vaccine loon like Jenny McCarthy to spread her poison about vaccines and frighten parents with pseudoscience, misinformation, and lies? There's money to be made! And if there's one thing Oprah is very, very good at, it's making money.

If the price is a few more dead kids, well what are a few more--or even many more--dead kids to her? She's Oprah, after all.