Archive for May, 2007

Mark Kleiman: Fred Thompson and Scooter Libby: Ooops!

Thursday, May 31st, 2007

Mark Kleiman: Fred Thompson and Scooter Libby: Ooops! | The Huffington Post

excerpt:

Ol’ Fred may yet regret allowing his name to be used as a member of the Advisory Board of the Scooter Libby Legal Defense Trust. I’m not sure, but to ordinary folks that may look like “Arthur Branch” is just a mite too cozy inside the Beltway.

These Ads Kept Mitt Romney Out Of The Senate

Wednesday, May 30th, 2007

These Ads Kept Mitt Romney Out Of The Senate | The Huffington Post

Our Karl Rove: Dems “Utterly Failed” to Explain Funding Bill

Monday, May 28th, 2007

Our Karl Rove
Democrats,

I know you know you really screwed up on the recent Iraq funding bill. And I know you think it’s not entirely fair that you are being excoriated — after all, it’s only funding the war until September. By providing temporary funding, you’re buying yourselves the time and political climate you think you need to line up a veto-proof majority against the Bush administration.

I get it. In fact, most of us who follow political discourse get it. But a critical aspect of your job is to ensure that all Americans get what you did, how you did it, and why you did it.

Unfortunately, you utterly failed at managing the media message (and that’s putting it lightly). “Democrats backed down” is the prevailing meme. Nice job — you just took a huge chunk out of the Democratic brand.

Anthony Kaufman: I Dare Rush Limbaugh to See Sicko And Not Shed A Tear

Monday, May 28th, 2007

excerpt:

I dare Rush Limbaugh to see Sicko and not shed a tear. He might call Michael Moore a communist, but to call him a traitor this time around doesn’t apply. Say what you will about Michael Moore, and many have, but with Sicko he’s tapped into a source of pain and frustration that transcends political beliefs. There will be lots to criticize and pick apart, facts will be challenged (rightly), and the movie will engender lots of debate, hopefully. But the central point rings true: the U.S. healthcare system does not serve the American people, and with baby boomers retiring in 2008, it’s only going to get far worse.

Anthony Kaufman: I Dare Rush Limbaugh to See Sicko And Not Shed A Tear | The Huffington Post

Kansas City Bookstore owner burns books in protest

Monday, May 28th, 2007

Bookstore owner burns books in protest - CNN.com

KANSAS CITY, Missouri (AP) — Tom Wayne has amassed thousands of books in a warehouse during the 10 years he has run his used book store, Prospero’s Books.

His collection ranges from best sellers, such as Tom Clancy’s “The Hunt for Red October” and Tom Wolfe’s “Bonfire of the Vanities,” to obscure titles, like a bound report from the Fourth Pan-American Conference held in Buenos Aires in 1910. But when he wanted to thin out the collection, he found he couldn’t even give away books to libraries or thrift shops; they said they were full.

So on Sunday, Wayne began burning his books in protest of what he sees as society’s diminishing support for the printed word.

“This is the funeral pyre for thought in America today,” Wayne told spectators outside his bookstore as he lit the first batch of books.

The fire blazed for about 50 minutes before the Kansas City Fire Department put it out because Wayne didn’t have a permit for burning.

Wayne said next time he will get a permit. He said he envisions monthly bonfires until his supply — estimated at 20,000 books — is exhausted.

“After slogging through the tens of thousands of books we’ve slogged through, and to accumulate that many and to have people turn you away when you take them somewhere, it’s just kind of a knee-jerk reaction,” he said. “And it’s a good excuse for fun.”

Wayne said he has seen fewer customers in recent years as people more often get their information from television or the Internet. He pointed to a 2002 study by the National Endowment for the Arts, that found that less than half of adult respondents reported reading for pleasure, down from almost 57 percent in 1982.

Kansas City has seen the number of used bookstores decline in recent years, and there are few independent bookstores left in town, said Will Leathem, a co-owner of Prospero’s Books.

“There are segments of this city where you go to an estate sale and find five TVs and three books,” Leathem said.

The idea of burning the books horrified Marcia Trayford, who paid $20 Sunday to carry away an armload of tomes on art, education and music.

“I’ve been trying to adopt as many books as I could,” she said.

Dozens of other people took advantage of the book-burning, searching through the books waiting to go into the flames for last-minute bargains.

Mike Bechtel paid $10 for a stack of books, including an antique collection of children’s literature, which he said he’d save for his 4-year-old son.

“I think, given the fact it is a protest of people not reading books, it’s the best way to do it,” Bechtel said. “(Wayne has) made the point that not reading a book is as good as burning it.”

X-Files’ ‘Jose Chung’ Charles Nelson Reilly dead at 76

Monday, May 28th, 2007

Besides his Tony-winning work and game show appearances, Reilly was nominated for an Emmy for his portrayal of ‘Jose Chung’ in two of the best episodes of The X-Files and Millennium. He was excellent in that role.
Charles Nelson Reilly dead at 76 - CNN.com
Charles Nelson Reilly, the Tony Award winner who later became known for his ribald appearances on the “Tonight Show” and various game shows, has died. He was 76. Reilly died Sunday in Los Angeles of complications from pneumonia, his partner, Patrick Hughes, told the New York Times.

GIs in Iraq are no longer true believers

Sunday, May 27th, 2007

Bring them home. 

With allies in enemy ranks, GIs in Iraq are no longer true believers - International Herald Tribune
excerpt:

“In 2003, 2004, 100 percent of the soldiers wanted to be here, to fight this war,” said Sergeant First Class David Moore, a self-described “conservative Texas Republican” and platoon sergeant who strongly advocates an American withdrawal. “Now, 95 percent of my platoon agrees with me.”

It is not a question of loyalty, the soldiers insist. Safstrom, for example, comes from a thoroughly military family. His mother and father have served in the armed forces, as have his three sisters, one brother and several uncles. One week after the Sept. 11 attacks, he walked into a recruiter’s office and joined the army.

Fired Wal-Mart marketing exec hits back at company

Sunday, May 27th, 2007

Fired Wal-Mart marketing exec hits back at company - May. 25, 2007

The High Cost of Low Price, indeed… 
excerpt:

Julie Roehm, the former Wal-Mart marketing executive fired for traveling with a co-worker at the company’s expense, hit back Friday at her ex-employer - and especially its CEO - with a slew of accusations contained in a federal court document.

Roehm accused executives at the No. 1 retailer of ignoring company ethics policy, accepting trips and gifts from clients, and benefiting from preferential prices on jewelry and yachts.

Study: JFK lone-gunman evidence ‘not a slam dunk’

Friday, May 25th, 2007

Study: JFK lone-gunman evidence ‘not a slam dunk’ - CNN.com
New testing on the type of ammunition used in the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy raises questions about whether Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, according to a study by researchers at Texas A&M University.

Lead researcher Cliff Spiegelman stressed, however, that the research doesn’t necessarily support conspiracy theorists who for decades have doubted Oswald was the lone gunman.

“We’re not saying there was a conspiracy. All we’re saying is the evidence that was presented as a slam dunk for a single shooter is not a slam dunk,” said Spiegelman, a Texas A&M statistics professor and an expert in bullet-lead analysis.

The Warren Commission concluded in 1964 that Oswald fired three shots at Kennedy’s motorcade from the Texas School Book Depository in Dallas. The U.S. House Select Committee on Assassinations agreed in 1979 and found that the two bullets that hit Kennedy came from Oswald’s rifle.

The committee’s findings were based in part on the testimony of the late forensic chemist Vincent Guinn, who said recovered fragments came from only two bullets. Guinn testified that the bullets Oswald used, Western-Winchester Cartridge Co. Mannlicher-Carcano bullets, were unique and that it would be possible to distinguish one from another even if they both came from the same box.

But Spiegelman and his fellow researchers, who tested 30 of the same type of bullets, found that fragments were not nearly so rare and that bullets within the same box could match one another. One of the test bullets also matched one or more of the assassination fragments.

“This finding means that the bullet fragments from the assassination that match could have come from three or more separate bullets,” the researchers wrote in a paper detailing their study, set to be published later this year by the journal “Annals of Applied Statistics.”

The study is available on the journal’s Web site. (Read the study - PDFexternal link)

“If the assassination fragments are derived from three or more separate bullets, then a second assassin is likely, as the additional bullet would not be attributable to the main suspect, Mr. Oswald,” they wrote.

Bush Crapped On, to the Envy of Millions Who Wish to Do Same

Thursday, May 24th, 2007

Oh, to be a bird in flight…full of crap. 

Political Radar

As President Bush took a question Thursday in the White House Rose Garden about scandals involving his Attorney General, he remarked, “I’ve got confidence in Al Gonzales doin’ the job.”

Simultaneously, a sparrow flew overhead and left a splash on the President’s sleeve, which Bush tried several times to wipe off.

The Capital One Saga…a Cautionary Tale

Thursday, May 24th, 2007

From a regular SoonerThought contributor (who prefers anonymity) comes this cautionary tale of the dangers of the consumer lending industry… 

UPDATE 5/24/07:

Within a couple of weeks of posting the article (original post date April 10) below, where I basically gave up on ever getting any justice from Capital One, I started getting calls from a guy named Ray. Ray apparently got wind of this post (as well as the numerous comments from readers) and thought he should get in touch. Ray is a higher-up in the company, and after reviewing my article and the notes in my file at Capital One, he said that I had acted in good faith and was in the right and Capital One was indeed in the wrong.

Well, after I picked myself up off the floor, Ray and I started to discuss what could be done to make things right. Long story short, after a few weeks of back and forth on the phone, I was granted the lower interest rate I wanted in the first place, they refunded the $5 bank charge I got from their bounced check and most importantly I got what I believe to be a sincere apology.

Look, I have no illusions about this. Ray did the right thing because of two things:

1.) I raised hell, did not give up, and I used the power of the Internet (my friends at SoonerThought) to make my case. Squeaky wheel gets the grease, you know?

2.) Ray knows B.S. when he sees it and knew that this situation was bad for Capital One, bad for his customer, and really bad P.R. for the company and the credit industry in general.

This does not change my belief that Capital One–through either indifference or incompetence– has a very bad first level customer service operation that needs work. I work in public relations and am intimately aware of the perils of bad customer service. It should not have taken a higher up like Ray to make this right. And it should not have taken two months.

However, I want to commend Capital One for getting a guy like Ray on the case. I also want to offer a mea culpa for my juvenile use of the slam “Crapital One.” That was unprofessional of me, I will not do so again.

Take my advice: if you feel like you are getting screwed around by a company, and you can prove that you are without fault and deserve compensation, make some noise. No company wants internet-wide nasty P.R. I would also recommend you do everything in your power to avoid high interest loans, credit cards or car financing.

Good companies–or at least business savvy companies–know that it is in their best interests to get a guy like Ray on the case. At least in this case, Capital One did that. Thanks Ray, for making it right.

– May 24, 2007

Capital One: Get Them Out of Your Wallet

Listen my friends to this cautionary tale about the lender known as Capital One. My odyssey with this company, whose ads ask the rhetorically sloppy question of “what’s in your wallet?” began in 2005 with a Capital One Auto Finance Loan. (If you’re looking for horror stories about their credit cards, check out this link.)

Why Capital One? Well, to be honest, I had some minor credit problems due to a bad divorce, unemployment and thousands of dollars worth of unpaid medical bills dropped in my lap by a crooked “self insured” employer (that’s another story). When it was time to get a car because the lease was up (and I hated the karmic damage) on my SUV, I went looking around.
/archives/date/2007/05/capone.gif

By that time, I had a great job and was getting back on my feet financially. I had enough cash for a solid down payment on a small, inexpensive car with decent gas mileage. The dealer quickly realized I needed “special financing” because of my rocky period. No problem—I knew I would have to deal with a lender that specialized in buyers with less than perfect credit. Who did I get? The marauding pillagers of Capital One—at an extortionate interest rate–but beggars can’t be choosers.

I knew I would have to suck it up, make my payments on time for a year or so, then try and do the re-fi. Fast forward to a couple of months ago, when my financial planner met with my new wife and me and suggested that as a CostCo member, I should do their “blank check” refinancing program.

I did—it was easy! Within a few days of applying online, I got approved for a refinance deal that shaved 4.5% off my loan. My jubilation was short-lived, though. A few days later when Capital One called—“Um, we do not allow refinancing of our own loans with this program. You will have to revert to your previous interest rate.”

Oh, okay. Bummer. I missed the small print on your website that says: “Capital One Auto Finance only refinances loans from other financial institutions, not including Capital One subsidiaries.” My bad. No harm, no foul. I told them to “Just tear up the paperwork and I’ll go back to my usurious interest rate,” (and bite me. I’ll refi later with someone else, or hell, maybe the wife and I will cash in some bonds and pay the damn thing off).

Imagine my surprise the next week, when I got a refund check for “overpayment” of my loan—which had been paid off by…dum dum dum: Capital One refinancing.

Let’s recap: the idiots told me that the refi was not honored, so I went ahead and paid my normal monthly (over)payment electronically as usual. However, I soon found that they had recredited my bank account and sent me a small check for the previous loan overpayment because….my refinance was approved! (UPDATE: Capital One’s crack customer service staff had told me to go ahead and cash the check. So, I cashed the check. Today, April 17, the check was returned. It bounced!!! Typical!) I also received the title for the vehicle (with instructions to send it to “my new lender!?!)!

Ummmmm. This is a snafu, obviously. So, I called customer service and explained the whole thing. The rep was very nice and said that he would need to have some other rep talk to me to straighten all this out….but they were “not answering their phone and they would have to call me back in a day or two.”

Okay, fine. A little bizarre for such a large company, to have such a vital department “away from their desks.” Whatever.

So, I gave the rep my number (and incidentally my correct address, which after six months of correcting on bills an in phone calls they STILL had not changed) and said I would look forward to their call.

A week went by. No call. No call, that is, except for several in the early morning, mid-afternoon and late evening wanting to know WHEN WAS I GOING TO MAKE MY CAR PAYMENT?

So, through no fault of my own, I, a customer who had a spotless record of on-time and over-the-minimum payments, was suddenly a deadbeat. I explained to at least two of these people that if they would only look at my record they would see the situation.

“Oh,” they would invariably answer upon reviewing my file. “Sorry! You should talk to our so-and-so department about this.”

Well, I would, if they would return my calls.

So, I called yet again and talked to a timid guy with the initials J.E.R. who sympathized with how screwed up the situation was, and thanked me for not yelling at him because “if that happened to me I would be yelling and cursing.”

I told J.E.R. that I wanted a fax from Capital One stating that I was not at fault, that I had acted in good faith and that no penalties would be instituted, nor would my credit be besmirched. Then I would make my next payment and send the title back. He said that was perfectly reasonable, and he would send the request to his supervisor, who would fax me the letter.

I waited a week. Guess.

So, I called again, got a supervisor named Nina who, though very nice, said they had no way to write me such a letter and no fax would be coming and that I would just “have to trust them” when she said no penalties would be charged and my credit would not be dinged.

I was defeated. Crapital One was not going to admit—in writing—that they had screwed up. And if for some reason my credit gets dinged or I get a late fee—do you really think I will have any recourse?

Resigned, I told the lovely Nina that I would make the payment electronically (which I did) and mail the title (ditto) and trust her word that I wouldn’t get screwed further.

All was well for a few hours until the next morning on the way to work, when one of their clueless customer “service” reps called my cell and told me I “better make my payment immediately.”

Well, friends, at that point, I lost it.

I told her what I thought of that shabby company she works for, what a joke their customer service is and how they will get their damn money as soon as the bank transferred it.

She then had the nerve to ask me if I would be making my NEXT payment on time.

I snidely answered: “Well, you’ll just have to wait and see, won’t you?”

She replied that I was rude and was noting that on my account. Quick, call Alberto Gonzales—we have a rude one on the line!

Anyway, my wife and I paid off about a third of the loan this past week, and will knock out the rest by the end of summer. Crapital One just lost themselves a ton in interest, and–gentle reader, if you link to this story and pass it around—they’ve bought a hell of lot of bad PR.

So, what we have here is more than a portrait of rotten customer service. No, Crapital One Auto Finance is a lousy outfit. And God knows how badly they screw people with their credit cards.

More About the Creepy Credit Card Industry

Recently on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross, Harvard Law Professor Elizabeth Warren, an expert (and fellow Sooner!) on bankruptcy and an outspoken critic of consumer lenders was the guest. Recently she appeared before the Senate Banking Committee to discuss the abusive lending practices by credit card companies. She considers the interest charges and late fees imposed by credit card companies to a “hidden tax” on cardholders. Click on the link to hear about the crappy things companies like Crapital One do to consumers—and it all verges on legalized theft. Check it out by clicking here.

More about Crapital One here.

And here.

So pass it on… Caveat emptor: Capital One stinks.

Weak As Water: The Democrats Cave to Bush

Thursday, May 24th, 2007

Weak as water. The Democrats in Congress wimped out. I am disgusted. I am angry. Meanwhile, our soldiers are stuck in the sandy quagmire indefinitely. I am contacting my Congressman. You should too. 

Kevin Zeese: The Democrats Cave to Bush

excerpt:

In reaction to President Bush’s veto the Democrats are reportedly caving in to give him a Iraq War funding without any obligation to end the war. They are making Bush “the decider” once again. It seems that rather than having a lame duck president we have a lame Congress. The only thing that will end the war is constant, organized and focused pressure from Americans who oppose the war.

The last few months have shown that we can move Congress toward the view that the war must end. When the Democrats came to power they said “we will not use the power of the purse to end the war.” Now, they have moved from that position to passing a bill that opposes Bush enough for him to veto it. They did not include ending the war on their first 100 hours agenda–now it is an issue they cannot avoid.