Grumbles


Dear Senator or Representative,

I understand that you’ve been considering opposing the proposed “public option” for insurance as part of the comprehensive health care reform bill. I’ve composed an exhaustive list of possible justifications for voting against the public health care option to help you make this difficult decision. If you don’t fit into one of the catagories below, then rest assured: there is no conceivable reason for you to vote no.

  1. Agents of the American Medical Association have kidnapped a member of your immediate family and, instead of ransom, are demanding a “no” vote.
  2. Marty McFly burst into your office in a Delorean shouting about impending doom if uninsured children gain access to coverage.
  3. You confuse the “no” button on your desk with the button that stops the world from ending on Lost, or you think the “yes” button means “yes, fire all our nuclear weapons at China.
  4. You don’t want to let poor people go to the doctor because you’re trying to spark a socialist revolution by exacerbating class disparity.
  5. The Psychiatrists’ lobby convinces you it’s opposite day.
  6. You hate poor people.*
  7. The bill gives you a severe paper cut and extreme blood loss makes you feel dizzy, causing you to stumble and fall onto the “no” button.
  8. You hate your job, but unlike some people, you’re not willing to resign. Instead, you just vote against your constituent’s best interests in that hope that you’ll get fired.
  9. You think that the free market will provide a solution and that the government should just stay out of the way.**

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Concerned Citizen Sled Dog

*Not an actual justification, just makes you an asshole.

**Not an actual justification, just makes you an ignorant moron.

Dear Starbucks,

You may have noticed that your company is in serious trouble. Your labor force is acting up, McDonald’s is gobbling up your market share, you’ve cut almost 20,000 jobs in just over a year, and in the middle of recession your customers just aren’t willing to spend $4.50 on a mediocre latte. Given all these problems, it might be time to stop sticking your thumb in customers’ eyes by charging them for Internet access.

I’m typing this from a small, local coffee shop less than a block from two of your locations. To be honest, I’d rather be sitting sitting in one of those comfy recliners in your stores than this wobbly hardwood table. You cafes are quieter and more comfortable than this place, and the coffee is just as good at pretty much the same price. But you want me to pay to use the Internet, so I’m spending my money over here instead.

Look, this is the 21st century. Everyone and their dog has a laptop or tablet, and virtually every other coffee shop I’ve seen in major urban areas offers free internet access. That’s why the cafe I’m sitting in now is filled with people (ranging from poor college students to business people to some guy who looks like a trucker) typing away. Yeah, there’s a recession and maybe the apple pie and cherry cheesecake sales are suffering, but at least people are here. Your locations are completely empty.

Starbucks, for a few years there you looked like the poster child for the vitality of American commerce. Now you’re crumbling. It’s not that you flew too close to the sun–it’s that you’re trying to squeeze every last penny out of your customers and we just don’t care for it. In the words of Stringer Bell, “ya’ll actin like you got an inelastic product when you don’t!” Email me if you ever get your act together. Until then, I’ll be over here.

Sincerely,

Sled Dog

Citigroup is using manipulative tactics to trick unsuspecting college students into opposing President Obama’s plan to overhaul the student loan system. The company, which received $45 billion in federal bailout money, sent an email to its student loan customers (myself included) encouraging them to write their representatives in opposition to the proposed reform.

The current system allows private banks to lend students money for college without any risk, because the loans are insured by the government. Banks make bank with this system, since without any risk the interest is pure profit. Obama sensible reform proposal is to cut out the middle man and have the federal government lend directly to students. Naturually, companies like Citigroup oppose the measure because it would take money out of their pockets and give it back to students.

It’s bad enough that Citigroup is using taxpayer money to foster opposition to banking reform program; the company is also doing it disingenuously. The email is formatted to look like a financial statement email–it’s sent from an email address at the same domain name, it has the same logo, and it has the same footer inviting me to check my statement. The only reason I opened the email was to check my accountable balance. Plus, the arguments in the email are straight up wrong:

May 7, 2009

Dear NICHOLAS ROBINSON,

Thank you for the opportunity to help you obtain the education of your choice. As a student loan provider for the past 50 years, Citi has provided financial aid assistance to millions of students and parents nationwide.

Given the challenging economy and continued increases in the cost of higher education, it is critical that the U.S. student lending system serves the best interests of students and their families. If you believe that competition and choice among student loan providers is valuable, you have an opportunity to make your voice heard.

Why Get Involved?
The government budget outline proposes offering federal student loans solely through the federal government’s Direct Lending Program starting July of next year. While this proposal will not impact a borrower’s ability to obtain a federal student loan, it will eliminate your ability to choose a student loan provider. It will also substantially increase the national debt since each and every federally-insured student loan will be funded by the Federal Treasury through the issuance of treasury securities. This proposal impacts you as a citizen – both as a taxpayer and as a borrower.

Why Does Competition And Choice Matter?
Without private lender involvement through the Federal Family Education Loan Program, students and their families will not enjoy the benefits that competition has made possible for more than 40 years. This competition has provided not only a choice of lenders, but also innovative products and services, such as:

  • a variety of borrower benefits that lower your cost of borrowing
  • financial literacy programs that educate you on how to borrow responsibly
  • web-based tools and resources to advise you about your financing options
  • default prevention services to help you pay back your loans

Competition also has driven increased customer satisfaction as a result of the responsiveness, personal attention and on-campus support that student loan lenders have provided to borrowers and schools nationwide.

Make Your Voice Heard
If you value the ability to shop for, evaluate and choose your student loan provider, make your voice heard by contacting your Members of Congress and by signing one of the online petitions that support borrower choice and competition in federal student lending.

Sincerely,

The Student Loan Corporation

Citi highlights four benefits to allowing the private market to suck away student loan customer’s money. The first, that competition produces “borrower benefits” that lower costs, is just a lie. Private banks lend money to make more money; the federal goverment isn’t interested in turning a profit on loans. Who do you think will charge you more for a loan?

Second, Citi says competition encourages companies to offer “financial literacy” programs. The only financial literature I’ve ever received from Citigroup are invitations to sign up for credit cards. Perhaps financial education should be left to institutions that don’t have a financial stake in brainwashing customers…

Third, Citi says they offer convenient web-based tools. The government doesn’t know how to use the internet?

Finally, Citi says they offer default prevention services. I fail to see how the government could possibly offer less help to student borrowers than a giant, multinational conglomerate. Citi should focus less on twisting the truth for political gain and more on managing their company. If they did, we might not be in this mess.

The advent of lightweight notebooks with decent battery life will be the downfall of higher education. Here are a few things I’ve done during various classes this semester:

  • Played Civilization IV, including starting a nuclear war with a country being discussed in class.
  • Wrote an email to the professor of the class I skipped early that morning, explaining that I was sick.
  • Created an Excel spreadsheet estimating the budget for my new job, assuming I managed to graduate.
  • Wrote a blog post.
  • Played Majong Titans and Solitaire–SIMULTANEOUSLY.
  • Illegally downloaded music.
  • Chatted with several people on facebook.
  • Updated my facebook status to alert friend as to how boring my class was.

I’ve also had several laptop-related awkward moments in class, like the time I failed to mute the computer before pressing play on a hilarious youtube video. Or the time I looked up from my furious typing to discover–already unjustifiable since no one ever took notes in the class–to realize the entire room was silent and the professor was looking at me.

I’ve heard it said that a single class period at my school costs about $55. I figure I’ve taken my computer to about 1/3 of my classes over the last year. It’s fair to say that I’ve derived at least 75% less educational value from each of those classes, so I’d guess that my laptop has cost me roughly $5,000. Multiply that by every other student with a computer in class, multiplied by students at universities accross the country…I think we could pretty much pay off the national debt by banning laptops.

I’m not alone. A survey of Georgetown Law Students showed 80% of them were more engaged without laptops in the class, and 95% said they had used laptops “for purposes other than taking notes.” I am Jack’s complete lack of surprise. Of course, if lectures weren’t so often just regurgitations of reading material students like me would probably be (a little) less inclined to ignore them. Some guy at Princeton has some helpful tips.

Slate is tragically right about Cokie Roberts. Morning Edition hasn’t been the same since they canned Bob Edwards. I’m sure he’s happier collected three times the salary on satellite radio.

Also, who is Jack Schafer and how can I get a job eviscerating media figures?

The final days of college are dwindling away and the panic is palpable among the seniors. Except for a small group with tickets to grad school already bought and paid for, everyone is scrambling to find a job in an economy with 12% unemployment. Every couple days a friend tells me, sheepishly, that they’ll be accepting an entry level position in a field only tangential related to their long term goals. I wonder how many of us will end up as unhappy cubicle dwellers.

Reality bites. I remember mapping out my life in high school–landing on a career path after college was supposed to be pretty easy. You were supposed to be able to just sign up, like registering for classes. Moving up the ladder might take some effort, but find it? Peice of cake! If these last few weeks before graduation were cut into a montage, the score would be Death Cab for Cutie’ s “Sound of Settling.”

I’m on the lucky side. I’ve been fortunate enough to land a couple offers, largely through debate connections. But I definitely don’t have any offers that meet my lifelong criteria for work happiness: ridiculously high pay, short hours (never in the morning), and lots of fun. I guess I’ll have to wait on all that.

A middle school principle should not ever, ever, EVER be allowed to strip search a 13-year-old girl without the consent of her parents. Not ever. You’d think that would go without saying. But for the 70-year-old men on the Supreme Court, it’s no biggie. The court heard oral argument this week on the case of Savana Redding, a girl who was strip searched after some one told the principal she was passing out ibuprofen.

Justice Breyer, who’s supposed to be one of the good guys, can’t see why forcing a young teenage girl to disrobe on command from her teachers might be a problem. “In my experience when I was 8 or 10 or 12 years old, you know, we did take our clothes off once a day, we changed for gym, OK? And in my experience, too, people did sometimes stick things in my underwear.”

What? And that was Breyer. By Dahlia Lithwick’s account, Scalia and Thomas were gleefully chortling at the ridiculousness of the ACLU’s claim that you should think twice before demanding a teen strip. Slate intern Lindsey Hough was strip searched when she was in middle school, and captures my outrage perfectly:

They made me take the shirt off, and obliterated any sense of autonomy I thought I had. I got the sense the counselor knew she was doing something fishy but covered by “bringing in the nurse who has to check it out.” Forced to sit shirtless in front of these two women, I felt exposed and humiliated, embarrassed and angry. I felt they weren’t just judging my actions but my body. We talk a lot on the XX Factor about young women and their changing ideas about privacy. But no matter who you are, being forced to take your clothes off against your will is an act of humiliation, embarrassment, and violation. It stings to know that 8 years after my own strip search, those feelings still don’t matter.

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