Evil Profits


I’m a big fan of Amazon but this Black Wednesday in July sucks.    I just tried to buy Amazon gift cards for the $10 promo and got a message that the deal is no longer available.  Really?   You ran out of gift cards already at 8:30 a.m?   The day has barely started and Amazon doesn’t have any more gift cards!

Almost all the other items I am interested in are sold out.  What a huge let down.   Oh well at least I got some baby wipes that I really don’t need….

amazon sucks, sold out!

amazon sucks, sold out!

 

How would you handle a 25% increase in monthly health insurance premiums?  That was the topic at lunch today when one of my co-workers (contractor) stated that his family health insurance policy was rising from $750 per month to $940 per month.   I pointed out the obvious, “How do you expect 40 million uninsured people to suddenly get insurance without someone somewhere paying for it?”

Somewhere out there is an insurance company raking in $12,000 per year out of my co-worker.  That’s $12,000 that won’t get spent on iPads, iPhones, televisions, furniture, new carpet, new kitchen, or anything else that will drive the economy.   The $12,000 will be spent on $200 aspirin, $4000 X-Rays, and a bunch of mis-priced, mis-allocated capital investments and operational expenses at a hospital somewhere that wants a cut of the action or into the hands of insurance companies.

I think most people were thinking the “government” was going to pick up the tab for Obamacare and then people realized that the “government” is nothing more than “we the people” so the working people are now subsidizing and providing “free” health insurance to the non-working or working poor.

I’m really curious to see what the next few election cycles are going to bring and I think the economy will head for a disastrous Obamacare driven financial collapse  in 2014 when we start seeing the full effect of this policy and premiums continue to go out of control.

I’m almost done with my first MBA degree and will finish the second MBA shortly after and while I’m not technically finished, I think I’ve completed about 90% of the program to make an informed assessment that I can share with readers.   Before I give you my assessment we’re going to need an analogy here and I’ve decided to select fast food as the analogy.

If you recall the big fiasco over Taco Bell’s beef filler then you’ll have an understanding of where I’m going with this but first some background.    In early 2011, there was a big uproar over what Taco Bell was doing to their tacos which supposedly contained “100% all” beef.   We came to find out that “all beef” seemed to include things like “beef, water, isolated oat product, salt, chili pepper, onion powder, tomato powder, oats (wheat), soy lecithin, sugar, spices, maltodextrin (a polysaccharide that is absorbed as glucose), soybean oil (anti-dusting agent), garlic powder, autolyzed yeast extract, citric acid, caramel color, cocoa powder, silicon dioxide (anti-caking agent), natural flavors, yeast, modified corn starch, natural smoke flavor, salt, sodium phosphate, less than 2% of beef broth, potassium phosphate, and potassium lactate.”

I don’t know about you but I don’t think cows produce most of these fillers naturally therefore they must be added to the blend.   But fret not, Taco Bell tacos do have some nutrition in them as they often come with lettuce, tomatoes and so on.  If you wanted to think about the nutritional value of any junk food you may place the ratio at 20% “good” and 80% “bad” given that the little vegetables and other nutrients are in low quantities usually and the “junk” factor makes up for the other 80% or so.

So now how does this compare to the MBA program?  Well it’s exactly the same thing, I kept trying to figure out why it was taking so long to finish this degree program since many of the classes kept repeating the same material and  content over and over again.  Most MBA courses have an infatuation with Porter’s Value Chain and while it may have been great in 1985 before modern globalization, I think the world and most businesses have moved to a ring-fenced globalized model and  yet nearly every management and marketing class seemed to obsess over Porter’s Value Chain.      Moving on to finance, the courses kept repeating over and over again items related to the inner working of the Federal Reserve, interest rates, and so on.   Don’t get me wrong, there are some good nuggets of information and knowledge here but literally they are “nuggets” and nothing more.    Each MBA course, in my opinion, has 20% “nutritional value” and 80% garbage filler nonsense.

So what does this all mean?  With the cost of college costs soaring because everyone thinks it has value, I fear we’re all chasing fast foodesque education at fine dining prices.       Unfortunately students are asked to support an entire academic ecosystem devoid of real nutrition more interested in paying bloated salaries, pensions for staff, building costs, union workers (e.g. janitors making 80k/yr) and so on.

What should be done?  I don’t know.   The academic system is becoming as broken as the U.S. health care system with crazy subsidies and crazy partnerships whereby students are forced to pay ridiculous prices for textbooks because of deals schools strike with college book cartels.   To give you an example, every professor is now claiming that the “international textbook will not be accepted for this course” with no reason given whatsoever.  It’s very timely since there is a huge lawsuit heading to the supreme court this year regarding the fact that international textbooks which contain 99.9% same content as domestic textbooks but cost 60% less than the US version.   Are professors getting kick backs?  Publishing deals?  Who knows and who cares, where’s the free market in all of this?   It is quite ironic since it’s an MBA curriculum which speaks about the benefits of globalization and lower costs yet it doesn’t seem to apply to the university.

In the long term, just like health care, the college academic system is simply not sustainable and it will come crashing down probably right after the health care system crashes.

 

I have three stories about my AT&T uverse cancellation adventure.

First, it took four hours on the phone with over half a dozen people to cancel my account. I was on hold for 10 to 30 minutes at a time when I got disconnected or transferred to a dead phone. When I finally got to the disconnect queue, I couldn’t remember my security code or that stupid security question “who is your favorite actor?” How am I suppose to rembrandt that question for years ago? I am sure a few people get frustrated and end up staying subscribers just a little longer or there is a huge avalanche of tv defectors.

I finally managed to get it all sorted out and cancel my service but that’s when I learned I would have to go to the UPS store to drop off the equipment and have the UPS people pack it for me.

Secondly, I went to the UPS store and the lady knew exactly what I was there for because three other people had gone in to cancel their AT&T services the same day. She said she does that all day every day! I had packed the remotes, power cables and receivers but she insisted on only packing the receivers. I told her the form I was sent explicitly stated that the remotes, power cable and receivers needed to go but she insisted it was just the receivers. She gave me a receipt for the items so I will fight any charges AT&T tries to saddle me with on the remotes. Interestingly, she told me AT&T has a habit of charging customers for the equipment even though it’s been shipped back. She told me to make sure I keep a copy of the receipt because it was likely AT&T would charge for the equipment and that she gets customers coming in asking for a reprint of the receipt but they only keep backup for a few days not a month or two.

My last story about AT&T is that I now know of at least a half dozen people canceling a variety of services and buying Roku boxes and signing up for Netflix, HuluPlus and Amazon and with a potential upcoming Apple TV it may be the best platform for television. Ain’t progress grand?

So I’m stuck in a city because of bad weather and the next flight won’t be available until the next day.   I end up in a fleabag hotel for the night and am so hungry (without access to a car) that I decide to order a pizza.

I call up Pappa John’s and ask for the cheapest special.   Note:  It is late, I’m hungry but won’t likely eat more than a couple of slices of pizza.

Pappa John’s “Jennifer” suggests I order the $11.99 special which is an Extra-Large Pizza with four toppings for $11.99.   I tell her that I want that special but to make the pizza a MEDIUM instead of extra large since I won’t eat but more than one or two slices anyway.

“I can’t do that sir” she says.

“What do you mean?” I ask.

“I can’t make your pizza a medium for $11.99”  she says.

“You mean you can’t make a medium pizza with four toppings for $11.99?” I ask bewildered.

“No, you need to get the extra large pizza!” she retorts.

“So even though I’m only going to eat only two slices at most and subsequently throw away 80% of the pizza, you can’t make it a medium?” I ask again.

“No, you have to get the extra large” she laments.

So I ordered the extra large pizza, end up eating 3 slices and, you guessed it, threw away the rest.

I offered to SAVE this pizza joint money but taking a smaller pizza with subsequently less toppings but Pappa John’s would have none of it.   What a strange world where the incentive is to throw away food instead of preserving it.    This is just one of the many ways I know humanity is headed for self-destruction as no other creature on earth is as wasteful as humans.

So I went to the dentist again to get my teeth cleaned and I got a big bill which made me wonder.  Before I get into the big bill, let me give you a little bit of background.   Growing up as a kid I rarely went to the dentist and the only time I recall visiting a dentist was around 18 or 19 years of age when I had a really bad tooth ache at the back of my mouth.   The dentist checked out all my teeth and said he was surprised I didn’t have any cavities but determined that my tooth ache was a wisdom tooth coming out and impacting one of my other teeth.  He said I would eventually need to get them (wisdom teeth) removed but if I could tolerate the pain for a while it could go away.    The dentist said to me that there were two kinds of people (referring to teeth), those that get cavities, fillings and root canals but get to keep their teeth till they die and those that don’t get cavities but eventually lose their teeth to gum disease.

Flash forward 8 years and I began making regular dental visits with the first appointment being to remove four wisdom teeth.   Ever since that time I have been visiting the same dentist and dental hygienist for all those years and I’ve lately become suspicious of some of their business practices.   As insurance companies have negotiated and tightened down rates for regular treatments, my dentists seems to have migrated to more “ancillary” services to make up revenue (I presume).

For the past few years, the dentist tried to get me to buy invisiline braces.   I have only ONE tooth that is slightly misaligned and the dentist thought it would be a good idea to spend $3,000 to get it fixed.  I politely declined and let it go.  Evidently the business profit for braces must have plateaued because now he’s moved on to some periodontal trays which supposedly “clean and kill” bacteria off my teeth.   Guess how much the treatment costs?  Yeah, about $3,000.

It seems every ancillary service at the dentist runs about 3k and I find that a remarkable coincidence.   The dentist and hygienist did a great job in convincing me that I needed to have the trays to kill all that bacteria that was supposedly hurting my gums.   I nearly signed up for the process when the dentist’s office manager gave me a disclaimer form.  The form had statements like, “dentist is not a periodontist surgeon or expert”   and “treatment success varies from patient to patient” and “no guarantee or results from treatment” so I immediately told the dentist that I would speak to my insurance company to find out how much they would cover before I signed up for the treatment.

In addition, the dental hygienist suggested that I needed to have scaling done (again) which coincidentally matched the time frame the health insurance covered (every three years).   So I’m beginning to think I may be undergoing unnecessary procedures to keep this guy in business and that’s the problem.  The dentist is running a business complete with receptionists, accounts payable, accounts receivable, etc and I don’t fault him for it except that it is now looking more and more like a scam and I’m losing trust.

I won’t be surprised to see a new product line in two to three years and I’ll be sure to write about that when it happens.

Well here’s an interesting story… I received my property tax appraisal document in the mail this week and thought it was interesting that my home value has been assessed 20k lower than last year.    I certainly don’t mind the lower valuation as it means I’ll be paying less in property taxes but while I received a lower valuation, I also received notice from the city that water & sewer rates would rise over 15 percent.

Worse than the 15% hike is the fact that the city has continuously cut back on picking up garbage.   At the rate the city is cutting services, we’ll have to soon resort to burning garbage in old drums like I remember people doing in my childhood neighborhood over 30 years ago!

Along those lines, I received a letter this week from Chase stating that one of my credit cards would be “upgraded” to the new Slate Chase card provided that I met their new credit worthy standards.   Sorry Chase but I have my own new “Ethical Worthy Standards” and you don’t make the cut.   I closed another Chase account this week and I am now down to one checking account and two credit cards – those will all be gone by June or July if I am able to meet my transfers and schedule for complete severing ties with all big banks.

Many people were talking about the consumer credit dropping in February and I’m not surprised:

U.S. consumer credit unexpectedly tumbled in February, reversing the prior month’s surprise increase, as households refrained from taking on new debt in favor of deleveraging.

February’s total consumer credit outstanding dropped $11.51 billion or at a 5.62 percent annual rate to $2.45 trillion, the Federal Reserve said on Wednesday.

I’m not surprised because banks are still cutting credit lines or imposing new standards on consumers so accounts will continue to drop off.  Additionally, some people (like me) continue to be disgusted with big banks and are purposely closing accounts.   By the time I’m done moving my money and closing accounts, I will have shut down over $100,000 worth of credit lines with big banks.   I am currently 40% of the way there and I’m replacing those credit lines with credit union credit lines and other debt instruments.   Someone has to take a stand and I’m doing my part…

I had originally entitled this post, “Facebook, The World’s Most Dangerous Application” but I decided throwing in Hitler would be better to make a point.  I admit, I was peer pressured into creating a Facebook account.    Many of my family and friends were on Facebook and kept sending me links or notes to it and I finally relented.   Initially I didn’t have a problem with Facebook until I started digging deeper into their privacy policy and there ever changing stance on what was considered private and what was not.  Worse yet, Facebook took it upon themselves to automatically change privacy settings much to my chagrin allowing more people access than before but here’s a list of things that broke the camel’s back.

First, Facebook seems to love to gather and horde information on you.   Almost daily, I get reminders to define my relatives in Facebook.  Why?   Why does Facebook care who my relatives are and why do they want this information?

Second, Facebook seems to know a bunch of people in my life that aren’t friends or family.  Actually vague acquaintances show up in Facebook under the Suggestions section on who to add to my Facebook.    I don’t know how Facebook is getting this information or why it is in there but it’s rather disturbing to think that data mining is in full force with Facebook.

Third, Facebook desperately wants me to add a picture to my profile.  Why?   A little window kept popping up from “tagged” photos wanting me desperately to link my photo to my profile.

From a security standpoint, I’ve read stories of Facebook members writing posts like, “I’m headed on vacation to the Caribbean”  only to return to find their home has been burglarized during their vacation.  Well that makes perfect sense, why not place a flashing neon sign on your home that reads, “This House Is Full of Stuff and Empty! – Owner on Vacation.”

Of course the most dangerous thing is what happens to this data in the wrong hands?   Imagine if Facebook gets bought by Annoying-Debt-Collectors-R-Us and now ADCRU has full access to all your friends and family!  Yippee!  Imagine the possibilities!

But if history is ANY indication of what will happen someday soon it is the history of evil fascist dictators throughout the past few decades slaughtering and abusing MILLIONS of people.   Imagine if Adolf Hitler’s Germany had access to Facebook, rounding up Jews would be matter of a few clicks.    Mao didn’t like capitalists so imagine him searching for bourgeoisie type people and their friends.    You can use your own imagination and determine who the next Adolf will be coming for via Facebook.   There is really too much complacency by Facebook and the public on these types of data collecting systems but anyone who doesn’t study history is bound to repeat it.

I have deactivated my account and I know wish to permanently delete it but I can’t seem to find a way to do it so perhaps it’s too late.  All I can hope for now is for this company to go bankrupt.   Let the fad end!

If you recall last year, there was a stampede at a Wal-mart during the big “Black Friday” event in which a person was tragically stampeded to death for the sake of shoppers buying cheap plastic crap from China.    I still can’t figure out the whole marketing genius of keeping/holding all of your sales potential for one damn day.  Often it isn’t even a whole damn day, it’s only a few hours of teaser items which no one is ever able to get unless you show up at 4:00 a.m. and wait for a few hours to be the first one in the store.

Personally, I don’t have any plans on fighting for parking spaces, fighting with crowds, fighting with cashiers or other customer service people to get attention if I need something.   I’d rather just order my stuff on Amazon or online and if I need to go to a store I’ll head over to Costco where the crowd is a bit more subdued.   According to FatWallet, it looks like Wal-mart is finally implementing some sensible rules to keep tragedy from reoccurring this year.

As far as I know, most Ph.D scholars around the world make nowhere near the kind of money that Wall Street Fraudsters make so why is everyone “worried” about a brain drain on Wall Street if pay limits are imposed?   This is the stupidest argument I’ve seen in a long while for almost anything.    The entire concept that people will leave because they won’t get paid hundred million dollar bonuses is ridiculous.  Don’t let the door hit your ass on your way out buddy!

“These people are considered the brains of the machine. They are who can pull you through the tough times,” said Steven Hall, who runs an executive compensation firm that bears his name. “This will give them reason to leave.”

NewsFlash:  There are millions of hungry Chinese and Indian college graduates ten times smarter than any of the idiots on Wall Street that will work for $50k a year.    Most of these guys do all the back end programming for financial systems anyway so who’s kidding who here?

What a load of crap!

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