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Tag Archives: corporations

My Cat Is Suffering Because Of Your Shitty Design

My poor cat, Rump, has been struggling for a while ever since I bought her a new feeder.  Her last feeder was pretty much wrecked and a new one was needed.  She’s a pretty big girl, so I always get the largest feeders available.

The previous feeder that I had was a Le Bistro model.  This seems to be made by both PetMate and Aspen Pet.  Over the years, it was redesigned and it was redesigned in a very shitty way.  See the difference between the old design on the left and the new one on the right.

Old  New

Do you see the major difference?  The bowl on the new model on the right is a goddamn waterer bowl.  The only difference between this and their waterer is the hopper.  The waterer hopper is sealed, but the feeder has a removable lid.

Obviously this was the company saying, “Why do we have two bases for these two products?  We can save a shitton of money here.  It’s the same thing.”  You assholes, it’s not the same thing, and I’ll tell you why.

The first problem is that the food doesn’t come out.  You see the slide on the old model?  You see how the opening of the chute is higher than the lip of the bowl?  That lets the food come out.  Food doesn’t act like water, in case you didn’t know.  On the new model, there is no appreciable slide and you will also notice the new model’s chute opening is half the width of the bowl and the hopper’s neck is more narrow.  That would all be sufficient for water, not so with food.

My poor cat gets noticeably anxious when she sees the hopper empty.  There can be food in the bowl, but she understands what the reserve supply looks like and when it is not there, she starts crying.  Now, she has to deal with the fact that the bowl is empty, because the food doesn’t fall, but there is a visible reserve.  That’s damn cruel.

The second problem with this design is that stupid lip.  Again, for water, yes, you need a lip that is uniformly high all around the bowl.  For food, my cat has to to jam her head down into (I want to stress, into) the bowl to get food.  And when the hopper doesn’t flow the food, she has to stick her head even further in back to get food.  I said, she’s a big girl and she has a big head.  It’s not a good situation.  The bowl needs to be lower in front, especially because the hopper supplies so little food.  One other shitty design aspect is that the old lip rolled to the outside and smoothly transitioned into the bowl wall on the inside.  The new design has a lip that overhangs the interior of the bowl wall.  Why would you ever have that on a pet bowl anyway?  Animals push food against the wall to get to it, they don’t want their face bumping into a protruding lip.

So I’m off in search of a new feeder, but everywhere I look, it’s the same crap as this.  Great job on cornering the market with your shitty new design.


The Haves And The Have-Nots

There’s something I want to bitch about.  It’s nothing new or profound or even really interesting.  It’s the issue with income inequality in America.

The people in charge of America recently made a change to the taxes applied to corporations.  They lowered the top tier from 35% to 21%.  This was promised intended to save a lot of money for businesses and help save jobs and keep business strong and profitable.  Then, recent news says that the corporation Kimberly-Clark is going to eliminate 5k jobs.  And even more recent news say that they are using the money saved from taxes to pay for the costs of downsizing their business, including the layoffs.  That doesn’t sound like the expected result that was sold to us.

For all the bitching that could be done on that specific case, what I want to focus on is the fact that when KC announced they were cutting jobs, their stock price went up.  This is a double-insult to the working class.  I am fortunate to have a 401k plan, but I am acutely aware that many do not.  And those people are not reaping any – ANY – of the growth that has been going on in the last decade.  And that really pisses me off.

Some people, who are oblivious to the pains of the working class, would ignorantly say, “All you have to do is put some money in the stock market and you’ll get the benefits.”  Sure, it doesn’t matter whether it’s a 401k, Roth IRA, or simple mutual fund.  They are correct.  But the part they ignore is “What money?!”

Wages aren’t going up for the working class.  Expenses are going up, though.  Think about that for a minute.  If there was some available money, that money could be growing.  But because there is none, there is no growth.  It has to be the most painful thing ever to see someone making only slightly more than you pull away in net worth because they have that small bit of extra income.  You either have money to invest or you do not.  And there is a world of difference between the two.

That’s my biggest sticking point is that corporations are holding back prosperity from their employees.  They are making changes that only enrich the already-established instead of considering how to enrich everyone. 

Somehow, we need to increase access for everyone to be able to take advantage of growth opportunities.  Increasing pay is the easiest, most direct way for that.  “But, the company will suffer because it’s an additional cost!  The stock price will drop!  My monies!”  But, with more people being able to put money into investments, the stock price will rise from the additional demand.  There is a common aphorism for this: “A rising tide lifts all boats.”

It’s not difficult.  All it takes is is a little less greed.

How To Close

It’s in the news that Walmart has closed a bunch of Sam’s Club locations.  Just for the record, I despise Walmart for many reasons, so don’t be surprised at the stance I’m taking with this most recent news.

A while ago, a regional Walmart closed down unexpectedly for “plumbing maintenance”.  It was part of a series of closures as well.  At the time, there was a massive conspiracy swirling around that the store was shut down to quell a union organizing.  And, on schedule, the store reopened, with an all-new crew and no union considerations among them.  Who’s to say what the real reason was?  Maybe it was plumbing?

In both that case and this new case with Sam’s Club, the closures were done with no warning for either employees or customers.  This is the part that really bothers me.  It reminds me of a time when I was working for a pizza chain and there was a coordinated closing of a bunch of neighboring stores.  The manager would show up in the morning and the district manager was already there to inform him the store was closing immediately.  The other employees would find out eventually, whenever or however.  It’s a shitty way to do business.

That Walmart is operating this way says a lot.  However, I’m not sure if they are making a commentary on their customers, their employees, or both.  In all cases, including my own near-closing experience, it’s all about a lack of trust.  It’s a disdain for people and an assumption of the worst in people.  The owners believe that if a closing date was scheduled, their assets would be at risk for theft or damage.  So, to mitigate that possibility, they surprise everyone with the closure.

I say that this really bothers me, but I really do understand it.  I can easily see an employee pocketing some merchandise, because, “Why not?  I’m only here another week anyway.  What will they do, fire me?”  I can see an employee turning a blind eye to shoplifters, because “Why should I care?”  Hell, I can see this happening at Walmarts that aren’t even closing.  And that’s what makes me think differently.

Walmart has built an entire culture on worthlessness.  All their products are cheap and disposable.  They’ve created a culture of customers that think this same way.  The customers have no pride for shopping there.  The employees clearly aren’t trained to actually care about their store and take pride in their jobs.  How can they when the chain has the reputation it does and the customers reinforce that belief every day?

Is it possible to create a culture where employees will be loyal to the end?  Maybe if given a fair severance?  Maybe if treated well during their entire career?  Maybe if the corporation was respected?  Maybe if the employees and customers took a little pride in their store.

Here’s a little factoid about me.  Sometimes when I’m shopping somewhere, I’ll clean the place up.  I’ll rehang a shirt from the floor or straighten a display.  I’ll organize things (especially CDs) as best I can.  I leave the place better than I found it.  But, sometimes, I don’t.  And in the cases I don’t, it’s a gut feeling that it’s of no use, that it would never be appreciated.  And, in the extremely rare instance I’m in a Walmart, my only desire is to leave, not to try and make things better.

Because, when I’m in a store I enjoy, I want to be comfortable there.  I want it to look nice.  I want other customers to enjoy it as much as I do.  Yes, that’s a role for the employees to fulfill, but there’s no reason there can’t be a family-type feeling in the place.  And if I remove one source of disarray and the result makes another customer more cheerful at how non-disheveled the place is, then the store will succeed and I’ll get to keep coming there.

And I would hope, that on the day my favorite stores have to close, there is a nice structured ending.  Kind of a farewell parade – a little bit sad, but dignified.  And nothing like the shotgun finalities of any of Walmart’s closures.

Innocent Villains

It’s in the news today that Toys R Us executives are going to be granted bonuses, despite the company entering bankruptcy.  It was a little over a year ago that the same thing happened with Sports Authority.  In the case of Sports Authority, there were going to be bonuses, then a judge said no, then another judge said yes.  There was lots of public outrage.  Why should executives get bonuses for a failed company, especially when all the floor workers just lost their jobs?

I’m going to take an unpopular position and say that the bonuses should be awarded.  I can’t address the loss of employment for the rank and file workers.  I am also very sensitive to income inequality and I would hope that somehow we can curb outrageous executive pay in the future.  The only thing I am focused on is putting the blame where it belongs.  And that blame is actually not on the executives.  The fault is higher up than them.

Both Toys R Us and Sports Authority are victims of leveraged buyouts.  You can expect that Guitar Center will soon be joining them, because Guitar Center has the exact same situation stemming from its own leveraged buyout.  This article has a very succinct description of how the bought-out company is doomed after a leveraged buyout.

Private equity firms like Bain take mid-sized companies and pump them full of debt with the express intent of making them industry-dominating competitors, selling them to the stock market as a candidate for massive growth, and cashing in. To make this possible, private equity’s stake in the company is usually represented by “payment in kind” (PIK) notes, a type of bond that pays crushing interest – in this case 14.09% – but requires no cash outlay until the bond’s maturity. So that 14.09% is accruing, but it isn’t due for years, ideally after the company has been sold to what is often charmingly referred to as “the dumb money,” the retail investors who buy a stock without knowing the company’s true financial position. Before any of the company’s real problems are revealed, the private equity firm receives its payback in the form of stock, since PIK notes can be paid back in any medium of exchange. If all goes to plan, the stock price shoots up after the IPO and the PE firm makes a tidy profit – all in about three to five years.

The end result is that the company has enough money to pay the daily bills, but has no reserve cash to pay off this growing obligation.  It’s a lot like interest-only mortgages back before the last housing crisis.

But back to the executives.  These guys didn’t write up the buyout.  They weren’t able to stop it from happening.  When the buyout did go through, they kept the machine running.  They kept the company viable, if not spectacularly profitable.

So, how much at fault are they?  They did their job and fulfilled the duties in their job description to receive their full compensation package, which would include defined bonuses.  You can very easily protest, “They didn’t earn it!  The company went bankrupt!”  The company didn’t go bankrupt through their actions.  That card was cast long ago by people much higher than them.  These executive’s only fault was hitching their wagon to a falling star.

My point in taking this controversial stand is that the blame needs to go where it deserves.  It’s not with the executives, it’s with the companies that are executing leveraged buyouts and destroying perfectly valid corporations for their own gain.

Not Getting Value for Dollar

This was a draft from 2015 when Florida’s online unemployment system was revamped and launched to much disaster.  It sort of became a rabbit hole and I stopped diving deeper, although there was so much more to add.  Because I’m lacking in ideas for posts, I’m going to throw this out, but it’s as complete as I really want to make it.  Being two years out of date, you can imagine the shitshow is forever ongoing.

Spurred by significant problems experienced by someone close to me, I did some investigative work just for fun.  The subject: Florida’s new online unemployment system called CONNECT.

It started simply enough, I went to the web site and looked at it.  It’s written in ASP.NET,  The HTML markup is seriously ancient.  This really scares me.  A brand new system shouldn’t be coded like it’s from 1999.  Of course the other warning signs are there: built to work with IE 8/9 (2009-2011), Safari 4/5 (2008/2010) Firefox 16/17 (2012), and worst, resolution: 1024×768.

I started filling out a fake application.  It used ASP.NET postbacks heavily, which is bad.  After submitting some totally wrong information, I was told that the SSN I entered was already in use and I should log in using it.  An invalid SSN… in use?

In the source code, the logo used an ALT tag that said “QUEST”.  That’s odd, because the site is called CONNECT.  Easy online searches show that Massachusetts’ unemployment system is called QUEST.  Really.  So Florida bought software that was developed for someone else?  Yes, and it’s worse than that.

QUEST was built by Deloitte Consulting for Massachusetts sometime around July, 2013.  They paid $46 million for the site.  Again, they paid $46,000,000 for this website.  But Deloitte was smart.  They double-dipped.  They got Florida to pay $63 million for theirs.  Ahem, $63,000,000.  For writing one severely flawed application that has proved to be a failure in both installations, they collected $107,000,000.  Sure they got fined for their fuckups to the order of about $6 million, but that’s pennychange.  The track record of this company is absolutely amazing.

That’s really what this is about.  You would not believe how much this company fucks up and continues to remain in business and get new work contracts for millions of dollars.  Boston journalists have done a pretty good job of exposing this company’s garbage, but you can find out their failure is well-documented in searchable online news stories.  In spite of that, the company is heavily embedded in the governments, with former employees now running state departments – a conflict of interest that is conveniently ignored.

Pennsylvania: Deloitte launched the worker’s comp system in 2013 and complaints abound. They built the Dept. of Welfare site in 2012 and it’s reported to be full of errors and malfunctions.  They created the COMPASS system back in 2002 and there’s no reports of issues with it.  Either Deloitte did good work back then, or Internet news reports weren’t as prevalent.  The company gets so much money from the Pennsylvania government that PA had to reconsider its bidding system.  Despite this, a company contact says that they win bids because they consistently receive good reviews.  In 2006-2007, they won nearly half of the contracts they bid on, so clearly they can’t be getting favoritism.

Massachusetts: Deloitte’s failures in this state are incredibly well-documented.  They were fired from a project after getting $54 million out of a $114 million contract for a system to process tax returns.  They almost got fired for the unemployment system mentioned previously.  Yet, they landed a contract for the DMV.  Time will tell on this one.

California: Another incredible disaster, where Deloitte got sued over charges of incompetency and corruption.  They got fired from a project to track services for the disabled.  They implemented the worker’s comp system at twice the original budget.  They were fired from the project to link the court systems, after getting hundreds of millions in payment and costing the state billions.  Also, they created the unemployment system, also error-prone.

Florida:  Deloitte was fired by Miami for incompetence not on IT, but on legal council on employment.  The unemployment system needs no additional discussion, other than FL is talking to another contractor to fix the problems.

Virginia: Deloitte has been contracted to improve systems for $100 million.  Stay tuned.

Oregon: Deloitte just won an $18M contract to oversee an integration project for state-federal health exchange. 

Rhode Island: $105M to create the infrastructure to manage the healthcare insurance integration.

Minnesota: $10M to take over the healthcare exchange built poorly by a different consulting company.  They were the original first choice, but lost because of cost projections.

Connecticut: An awesome quote by the CEO of the CT Health Insurance Exchange: “We looked at every operations area that we did and we said where can we outsource. … We have outsourced all of our third-party operations — why should we be doing something that someone else can do better, faster, cheaper?”

They did Kentucky’s system, called KEWES in 2001.  It cost them $20 million initially and $6 million/year in operation costs.  I’m not sure if that’s all consulting hours.

This company also was chosen for Ohio’s unemployment portal in 2000.  It’s written in JSP and has the developer changelog right in the HTML source.  Wonderful.

Class Action Math

A while ago, I had heard tell of a class action lawsuit where you could get up to $900 if you were a “victim” of the abuse.  What’s the alleged abuse?  Phone calls.  Telemarketing phone calls.  Well, let’s learn a little more about this.  After all, $900 isn’t exactly chump change.

Apparently, some marketing company called a bunch of people representing something about cruise lines and blah blah blah.  They didn’t do something right and now they are getting sued.  So, for each call the company made to you, you could get up to $300, maxed out at $900 for three calls.  Well, this abuse happened years ago, so how would I even know?

Conveniently, the lawyers set up a website where you could search for your phone number and it would tell you if you had been called.  It’s great the marketing company kept call logs because I sure don’t keep track of all the spam calls I get.  Upon visiting the site and utilizing the search, I found out two of my numbers were in the list.  Jackpot!

But, I hate class action lawsuits.  I hate them so much, I’ve actually written a “piss off” letter to one in response.  Let me explain why class action lawsuits suck so much.  I submitted two claims on this one just to gather the information to bitch about this.

I submitted two claims, back to back.  In each case, I got a claim number for my submission.  Safely assuming the claim numbers increased sequentially, I calculated that the number of claims being submitted was 20/minute.  That’s 1200 claims every hour.  My claims were made in August and the cutoff for claims ends in November.  How many claims would get filed?  Too many.  Even taking into consideration that it’s not going to increase 1200 claims every hour (like at 3 in the morning), the point is still valid.

Just like any sweepstakes or lottery, you have to read the rules to determine your chances of winning.  So, let’s look at the pertinent numbers involved in this case.  How much is the payout?  Between $7M and $12.5M.  That will cover 23k to 41k $300 claims.  But wait, there’s fine print.  The lawyers get paid first.  THE LAWYERS GET PAID FIRST.  How much? $4.1M plus expenses plus an extra $500k.  How much are expenses?  No one knows, but it will be five years of expenses by a law firm – you make a guess.  Anyway, now we’re at a maximum of about $2.8M to $8.4M with the numbers we do know.  That will cover 10k to 28k $300 claims.

The number of claims at the time I submitted was growing by 1200/hour.  The money to pay those claims will be exhausted in under 24 hours.  Do you get it?  Four months available to file a claim and the funds will run out in a day.  So what happens then?  Well, everybody gets less money, except the lawyers. EXCEPT THE LAWYERS.

An update was recently posted on the claim site and all claimants were sent an email with the update.  As of October, with a month left to file a claim, over 2M claims have been submitted.  Do I have to do the math?  With a payout fund of $2.8M to $8.4M, that equates to $1.40 to $4.20 per call.  Not $300; less than $5.  And there’s still a month left for more claims.

So, the law firm is getting $4,100,000, plus expenses for five years of effort in this lawsuit and each person wronged gets a few bucks.  I think I’ve made my case.

Farewell / Dream On

Yesterday, I learned is closing.  I had one day of notice, essentially.  I had just purchased two things the previous day.  How did I not know this beforehand?

Today, I’m searching for news stories about the closure.  There aren’t any stories of significance.  Maybe 2 or 3 in second-tier tech news sites.  Then there’s a few stories about 6 months ago when the announcement was first made.  Included in those stories is a posting about someone who only found news of the closing in the help section of, and no contacts at half or eBay would confirm the closing.  How weird.  Supposedly, the sellers were notified of the closing, but for whatever reason, the users and buyers were not.

So, the expected plan is for everyone to move their listings to eBay.  But as far as I can tell, eBay is not designed for the sale of media.  The whole design of was that you searched for media, then you see who is selling it.  On Ebay, you would search for media and you get a bunch of listings selling that media.  Every listing would be created by each person, so there would be little to no consistency between them.  Amazon is better suited for sales of that nature, since they have a product, then they have sellers of that product.  It’s the same way that Amazon is not well suited to sell things that eBay excels at, like collectables and one-off unique items.

At some point in the future (not near or far future, somewhere in-between), I was planning on opening an online presence to sell my excess CDs. was the frontrunner.  Now I have to choose between eBay and Amazon.  Or maybe Discogs, but I think the buyers would be more discerning there, which would require more effort.

Well, in the meantime, I have plenty enough going on to not worry so much about it, but it is sad to see one of the few physical media marketplaces close down.  You know what would be cool?  What if… Barnes and Noble, who isn’t doing all that well themselves, resurrected the Borders brand (which they bought in bankruptcy court) and re-launched it as a used media outlet. (I hate the word outlet in this instance, but juggernaut is a word that has to be earned).  I’m going to call this idea “Boarders” to prevent any confusion or lawsuits.

So here’s how I would see it operating.  We have to recognize that used media, whether it be books, CDs, DVDs, VHS, or cassette, has a low value – except to collectors.  So, understanding this, margins will be low across the board, no one is going to make a real killing at this.

So you’d start with an online store, structured mostly like  That’s the cheapest way to get things started.  People make their listings, sell their products and life goes on.  Admittedly, getting the momentum started so it looks like you have lots of items will be difficult.  To help in this, the tools to create listings will have to be top-notch.  Something like having a pre-populated database of UPC codes with product descriptions and stock photos.  Maybe have automated imports of structured files to batch add items.

That’s all well and good, but it’s just another vanilla ecommerce platform.  How’s that going to be an Amazon?  So let’s go to phase two.  Amazon is already at phase two, so nothing earth-shattering here.  Phase two is having Boarders warehouse the inventory.  The sellers use the site’s control panel to create a shipment of product to the Boarders warehouse.  This submision includes the item and the price at which they want to sell the product.  Then they box everything up with a printed submission sheet and send it.

When the shipment arrives, the warehouse worker scans the code on the submission sheet, then begins scanning barcodes on the incoming products.  The items get added to the sellers listings immediately.  I’m no logistics expert, but I’d assume the warehouse manages the inventory in the most efficient way.  The warehouse also gets notified when items sell and would ship them out efficiently as well.

I’m not going to downplay the expense of shipping and processing hundreds of books or CDs or DVDs for both the seller and Boarders.  That’s something that would need to be overcome by the beancounters.

Since we’re still having fun with this, let’s move on to phase three.  Phase three is physical storefront.  These could be built into existing B&N stores or could be standalone.  Stuff that was sent to the warehouses is bundled up and sent to various locations.  Why would the seller care where the product actually is?  All brick and mortar stores become warehouses.

Since these are low-margin sales, you need low-margin maintenance.  You also need to know your potential customers.  So for CDs and DVDs, what is needed is a clamshell container that holds the CD/DVD case and the disc separate, so they can both be inspected for condition without needing an associate to assist.  I would have to think about how books would be handled because buyers would want to see inside the book.  But anyway, back to disc-based media.  You also don’t want to have cashiers deal with opening clamshells and ringing customers up, so you would have a self-checkout machine that accepts the clamshell in a slot, scans the barcode, completes the sale, then releases the unlocked clamshells for the customer to remove and bag up their purchases.  The money goes off to the original seller and life goes on.

It’s just kind of a pipe dream.  Realistically, there isn’t enough potential profit to engineer a checkout machine like that, plus manufacture tens of thousands of cases to hold media that is selling for $1.00 or so.  Not to mention the cost of processing other people’s inventory and shipping it to storefronts.

Or maybe there is, somewhere.  Or maybe, there can exists a company that makes enough money to survive, and doesn’t have to make its owner a multi-billionaire.

New Frontiers

As an old customer of Verizon FIOS, I was transferred with many others to Frontier.  I never had any significant issue with the transition.  Yeah, their web portal sucked for a while, but my service was uninterrupted and my rates didn’t change.  I had renewed my contract just a couple of months before the changeover.

A lesson I’ve learned, but will probably never be able to apply again is, don’t make any changes to your grandfathered account.  Recently, I decided to change my home phone number.  I never used it, but my ex-wife used it everywhere and all the phone line did was fill up the voicemail with her collection agency calls.  So I wanted a fresh start.  I called Frontier and over a couple of calls, I had a new number.

The next month, I got a bill in the mail from Frontier.  That was odd, because I didn’t think I had any real service done.  The bill was my monthly statement.  That is odd, because I had paperless billing activated.  Further the bill was not for my usual amount of $106, but for $165.  That’s no good.  As I was scanning the papers, I noticed my new phone number was now my account number.  I was suddenly a new customer to them, one with no promo pricing.  That’s no good at all.

I logged in to the web portal and saw that all my past bills were inaccessible (since they were under an old account number) and my autopay was deactivated.  So I got on the phone with billing support.  The guy was pretty confused about the whole situation and eventually gave up, saying the department that needed to handle problems like that was gone for the night.  They would call me the next day.  Unsurprisingly, they didn’t.

I called back during normal business hours and got someone more experienced.  She understood that all that was needed was to restore the discounts on my account.  So after a bit of work she said she couldn’t get it back the way it was.  The reason is that my cable package was migrated from Verizon and there was no Frontier equal.  My bill would go up by about $10/mo.  I kept my mouth shut and the rep said she would transfer me to “retentions”, who would have more power to change the billing.  Ok, then.

The retentions rep also understood the problem and worked to put the discounts back in.  Unfortunately, she still didn’t have any access to restore my cable package.  However, she explained that my cable package was going to change from about 20 channels to 75 channels.  And that’s not so bad.  I rarely watch TV, but the one time I checked it all out, the online channel guide was useless because I couldn’t filter it to only my subscribed channels.  So I always got “this channel is unavailable”.

So, for the privilege of changing my phone number, I had to upgrade to their lowest cable package, which was more than my existing package.  To be fair, that change was inevitable.  I would have to bite that bullet when my renewal came about.  In the end, I got a $25 credit, 75 channels, and the ability to stream cable through my Roku devices.  All for an extra $120/yr.  Oh, and a new phone number, which is really all I wanted.

May The Odds Be Forever In Your Favor

I ran across a letter recently that was addressed to the participants of a company’s retirement plan.  From what I gathered, it seemed like a pension plan.  You know, those old-fashioned things where you work X number of years and they will pay you Y dollars for the rest of your life?  Well, if you haven’t paid attention to that, (and if you haven’t, that’s excusable, because pensions are pretty rare anymore) you would find that companies are doing anything they can to avoid having to pay out those Y dollars.

I read a book a while ago that explained the multiple schemes that were being performed to avoid any sort of pension plan funding.  That book is Retirement Heist.  It’s a good book and you should read it.  This letter to pensioners was just an illustration of those exact cons, and the letter was selling it like it was the greatest thing ever.

Here’s the gist of the letter.  Because of two laws, and I need to write these laws out because they are totally insane, the Moving Ahead For Progress In The 21st Century Act and the Highway And Transportation Funding Act of 2014 (blahhhh), pension plans are allowed to calculate their numbers differently.  Differently in that they can make the badness go away.

So, in this example, before the laws, in 2016, the pension plan was short $8.3M dollars to cover the costs of the members’ retirement.  After the laws?  $0.  Percent funded before the law?  86%  After the law? 104%  The law completely fixed the problem of not having enough money!  Amazing!!!

How was this done?  The projection of how much money would be needed was based on interest rates for the last two years.  Why are they looking at interest rates?  Because that’s how the fund stays solvent while money is being withdrawn, through investments with interest.  If the plan doesn’t make enough money in interest, the corporation has to pitch in extra money to keep it going.  Hmmmmmm.

If you have a savings account in the last couple of years, you know that you’re not making any money off of it.  And a pension fund wouldn’t be making any money either.  So because the fund is not sustaining itself from its investments, that means the corporation would have to supplement it with additional money.  Corporations everywhere collectively said, “Fuck that” and instead spent the money on lobbyists to change the laws. 

They succeeded.  Now, instead of considering that interest rates in the future will be the average of two years, now it’s going to be the average of 25 years.  25 fucking years.  Fortunately that range includes the late 90’s and early 00’s, where interest rates were around 5%, instead of 0.1%

So, do you get it?  They refuse to accommodate current market conditions and instead want to pretend the future is going to be as great as the past.  But here’s the thing, if these corporations would just fucking suck it up and pay into their pension funds now, like they are supposed to, when things get awesome in the future like they CHANGED THE LAW to reflect, they wouldn’t have to pay anything then, because the funds would be fully funded or even overfunded.

Now the infuriating part.  This letter says all of this.  It doesn’t hide anything.  They can tell the truth because a) lots of people won’t understand what just happened, and b) it’s the law; it’s all perfectly legal now.

Much Fun With Finance Institutions

A Libertarian view of the world is that government interferes with life too much.  Also, that government regulation costs businesses so much money to remain legal that the business can’t make any money. On one hand, I agree.  On the other hand, I say, you made this bed, now look at the fucking mess it is.

Here’s the thing.  New laws and new regulations don’t just appear out of thin air.  They are created in response to a case of abuse to prevent the abuse from happening in the future.  That’s it.  You look at every law and regulation and tell yourself, “That law exists to prevent someone from doing it.”

So now I’m in the process of refinancing my mortgage.  The last time I dealt with a mortgage was when I bought my home, 11 years ago.  You have heard the stories from that era, where you only needed a pulse to qualify for a mortgage.  That’s not the case any more.  So here’s what I have experienced with the new, modern, regulated mortgage industry. 

I initially spoke to a “mortgage consultant” who took my information, ran my credit and locked me in on a mortgage term and interest rate.  Then, I was handed off to a “mortgage processor”.  This person was unable to do the tasks of the consultant, and isn’t actually involved with the mortgage approval process.  They collect the documentation for the “mortgage underwriter”.  One of the documents is the house appraisal.  But the processor can’t call an appraiser directly.  They place an order with a company who will dispatch an appraiser.  After the documents are collected, they are submitted to someone in “pre-underwriting review” before they are submitted to the underwriter.  The pre-underwriting team can request additional documents for the processor to collect.

So, after you get through the mortgage consultant stage, you are charged a pretty significant application fee, which also includes the appraisal fee.  Then you have to fight your way through three boss levels to succeed in your goal of a mortgage.  And each one is going to be pickier than the rest.  I thought I was being proactive in providing a scan of the cleared check proving that I bought out my ex’s share of the property.  Nope.  That just raised red flags.  “Where did you get that money from?”  Are you fucking serious?  That’s pretty much none of your business.

But you know what?  It is their business.  And you know why?  Scammers.  God damn scammers.  Why would they ask that?  Well, what if I cashed out equity in another property to cut that check?  What if I cashed out my 401k for that money?  To you and me, that doesn’t matter.  It’s my money and I’ll use it however I want.  It doesn’t matter if that money came from equity (it’s my money), a 401k (it’s my money), or from saving from my paycheck (it’s my goddamn money).  But to them, the source of the money can be a liability.  And actually, the money is nothing more than a reduction in my net worth, which is something that is very important to them.  No bank wants an over-extended client struggling to pay his mortgage.

How did this come about?  Because scammers.  Because people scammed the system and got away with it.  And now everyone has to suffer and prove that they are not a scammer, too.  Because their actions resulted in a lot of regulation forcing a separation of concerns.  There is absolutely no way for collusion in this structure.  No one talks to the underwriter.  No one talks to the appraiser.  It’s like offering sacrifices to some pagan god and hoping for acceptance.