Mike Pence’s Fugue State

Indiana Governor Mike Pence appears to have been walking around in a fugue state for the last week. Somewhere between my empathy and my thirst for comeuppance lies a certain curiosity about what it must be like to be in his shoes these days. His world – or at least his political world – has turned upside down and back again in record time.

Continue reading…

Tampa, the GOP, and the Subprime Mess

Tampa, the GOP, and the Subprime Mess

There’s a stunning irony in the choice of venues for the GOP convention that is likely lost on most Republicans.  Tampa, Florida, was home to an entire division of Countrywide — the mortgage lender that played an enormous part in the nation’s economic downturn by saturating the market with subprime mortgages and then bundling them together into securities that could be sold by equally unscrupulous bankers on the open market to unsuspecting purchasers.

At the peak of subprime frenzy, Countrywide built out an entire facility in Tampa devoted to the sales and servicing of subprime mortgages.  The company could barely hire people fast enough to keep up with the demand that they themselves had generated by making loans available — on the worst terms possible for the borrower — to tens of thousands of borrowers who simply were not qualified to carry those loans.

At one point, Countrywide boasted of a record of $28 billion of mortgages written in a single month of lending, with many of those loans underwritten using the shoddiest of underwriting standards.

Consider these unemployment numbers for Florida:

Click on the chart for a larger interactive version

Note that in 2005-2006, unemployment bottomed out at 3.3%, right when all that subprime lending was going on.  With the subsequent tanking of the economy, due in large part to the collapse of the subprime market because of the fraudulent lending practices of Countrywide and others, unemployment in Florida skyrocketed to 11.4% in mid-2009, and remains to this day at or above 9%.

Florida also boasts one of the highest foreclosure rates in the nation, particularly on condominiums which were built (or overbuilt) in response to the new demand that all that subprime lending had created.  When the bubble burst, construction on half-finished developments came to a halt. Buyers who had bought into these developments were stuck with properties that were worth pennies on the dollar compared to what they now owed.  These early owners also took on the obligations of the condominium associations, the expense of which was to have been spread across dozens or hundreds of owners and now consequently was legally required to be borne by those unlucky few.

So, when the GOP opted to hold its convention in Tampa, organizers apparently were completely unaware of the optics of this choice.  Add to the bad optics of this backdrop the fact that the presumptive GOP candidate is touting a return to (or a doubling down on) the same economic policies that created this financial disaster, and it becomes hard to think that there won’t be some pretty significant negative repercussions for the Republicans.

The Democrats would be fools not to make hay out of this hypocrisy.  My guess is that the haymaking is already underway.

Mitt’s Snow Job on Jobs

 

There’s been an awful lot of oxygen used on the campaign trail, during the debates, and in heated discussions by pundits, about Mitt Romney’s record as a so-called job creator.  The discussion has centered around the various conflicting claims that Mitt has made over the years about how many jobs he created while at Bain Capital — ranging from 10,000 to 120,000.

Continue reading…

No Thanks, BofA

Last week Bank of America announced it would be charging customers a monthly fee to use its debit cards to use their own money to make purchases.  Today, Citibank announced it would be increasing its fees for its checking accounts. The news media are buzzing and the public seems to be bristling at these developments.  This should come as no surprise.

By way of background, let’s take a trip down big-bank memory lane. Continue reading…

Thanks, Keith

There were some rumors floating around that Keith Olbermann had been stifled and his outspoken political diatribes would be silenced because he had just signed a lucrative contract with NBC, whose parent company is GE. (Contrary to what you might believe based on their warm and fuzzy image ads, GE doesn’t just make lightbulbs and energy-efficient dishwashers. They’re also one of the largest defense contractors in the world, and they profit greatly from American involvement in warfare.)

Any suspicions will be assuaged when you view one of his recent commentaries:

Thanks, Keith.

Tilting at (Corporate) Windmills, Pt. 2

Telecom giant SBC has a product that they’re hawking called “SBC Unified Communications.” In theory, it sounds like a convenient technology — all your voice mail from all your phones in a single account, which you can play back from any phone (residential land line or Cingular cell phone) or from a browser based mailbox. Plus you can receive faxes in the mailbox, too, and print them out. Sounds great, right?

Well, don’t get too excited, because it sucks. SBC proves unmistakably that theory and practice are two entirely different things by taking a good idea and implementing it in such a shabby fashion that it makes it seem like a bad idea. Not only is the product drastically misrepresented in their marketing hype, but also almost no one in SBC’s customer service (and certainly no one in Cingular’s customer service) has ever heard of it.

Here are the pitfalls I found in less than 24 hours of starting and then cancelling this utterly useless service:

  • SBC advertises that the web service is available from any PC in the world. What they don’t tell you is that you have to install a bunch of ActiveX and Java plugins to get it to work. So if you’re on a corporate PC that has restrictions on software and plugin installations (as most well-secured systems do these days), you can’t access it.
  • If you have a SBC Yahoo Email account, they can’t integrate the two. You have to have a whole separate Email account, and it’s limited to 50MB. Are you starting to see how the concept breaks down?
  • If you have a Cingular cell phone, the marketing hype makes it sound like they’ve already got things completely integrated. It couldn’t be further from the truth. The only thing they have integrated is the legal arrangements between the two subcorporations of the uber-corporation; the technology doesn’t even come in a close second. For example, they haven’t figured out a way to flip the “Message Indicator” switch on your Cingular phone. Instead, when you get a voice mail message, the system sends a text message (for which you are charged a separate fee); then, when you retrieve the voice mail message, it sends another text message (for which you are charged another separate fee). Their customer service tells me that they’re working on coming up with a way to remove the second text message and it “might be done by the end of the first quarter.”

The most insulting aspect of all of this is the utter contempt that SBC shows for its customers. First, they think it’s o.k. to send a product to market that clearly isn’t remotely ready for human consumption. Second, they don’t bother to train their own personnel sufficiently in how to use it. Oh, I spoke with a number of people who claimed they had had training, but with only one exception, no one had any idea how this thing actually worked. None of them had actually used the product, and all (including the man who knew a little about the product) were working from a script and not from first-hand knowledge. Damn! (Then the excuse they use for not knowing anything about it is that it’s a new product. One guy told me “We’ve only had it available for about a year and a half.”)

For SBC, it’s o.k. to ask customers to spend more money for products that don’t work as well as the ones they are paying less for. For SBC, your time is worth nothing. Just once I’d like to hear the following phone hell outgoing message:

Thank you for calling BigScaryCorp. Your call is important to us, but not so important that we’d actually have someone here to answer it. Instead, we’re going to use some of your unpaid time and some of the unpaid time of everyone else who calls so that we don’t have to spend money on staffing and we can increase our returns to our stockholders. Your approximate wait time is 2 hours and fifteen minutes.

To date, my investment in time for this foolish venture in misplaced trust is as follows: (a) approximately 2 hours of phone hell trying to get specific questions answered about the product prior to ordering; (b) a half hour placing the order; (c) another three hours of phone time determining that the product did not perform the way either the marketing materials claimed or the way the people who answered the initial questions claimed; (d) another hour or so cancelling the order with SBC; (e) another half-hour getting SBC to give me back my original voice mail; and (f) another half-hour getting Cingular to give me back my original voice mail. There was also two weeks of waiting between the time that the order was placed and they actually initiated the service.

Oh, I just remembered. There’s one more investment of my time — the time it took to compose this rant. But at least that part was worth it.