Posts Tagged ‘scams’

Move on? Resist? What’s the Plan? 2017

February 24, 2017
Me (Robyn) at Vic Falls

Me (Robyn) at Vic Falls

When I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Malawi, in 1992,  the country was  undergoing a big shift. There had been a president, who had named himself  life president, and had served, at that time, 26 years:  Hastings ‘Kamuzu’ Banda.  He was s dictator:   he terrorized the country.  He was supported by the Europeans & the USA because he was NOT a communist, and  he  supported apartheid in South Africa. About the only good thing he did for the Malawians was build a  decent road infrastructure.  The school and health care systems were virtually nonexistent.  It was a country run by elites. who went for medical care out of the country.  Malawi was socially stratified:  if you had a decent job and were literate, most likely you employed an illiterate servant to clean your house & probably cook for you. There was no way to improve your lot unless you were (or are) particularly ingenious.

Of course, I worked with elites.  They  two I worked with were honest, and had integrity.  Things were the way they were.  Pick your battles. but I explained to them that  democracy did not bring good government, but representational government.

And here we are, over 30 years later, and our  representational electorate has elected  a guy who lied, who had no plan, who  disrespects women, minorities, the handicapped…. people who are not white Europeans.  It will be interesting to see how  his Orthodox Jewish son-in-law works with the white supremacist  Bannon, who is a close advisor.  Really interesting….but I think they are sell-outs. I have some friends who I really lost respect for.  It’s one thing to think your friends are  uninformed—but to see they voted for the white guy because they believed ‘fake news’ (what we used to call lies….as ‘toxic assets’ were liabilities) and just didn’t like  or trust Hillary.   Was it because she was a woman?  Doesn’t matter—she actually got the popular vote. She won!  But due to the political mumbo jumbo of the electoral college, these former friends who voted for Trump think—really, that HE won!  It’s like saying 5-3=10!  So this is the new reality.

I fear for the environment.  Even the Clean Air & Clean Water acts were signed by Nixon—a Republican.  It is proven that when you offer free birth control and family planning information—the unplanned birth rate goers down, and the community prospers….but our rulers  really have a mindset that women should be punished for having sex—the punishment being raising  children, and this will lead to a surplus in labor.  Our economy can no longer absorb uneducated people—as it can’t absorb the educated ones! What other explanation can you  come up with for  defunding  Planned Parenthood or making abortion illegal?  It’s not like the people who make these laws are fostering or adopting orphans or kids in the child care system.

I also think  the Democratic Congress made the banking industry more accountable. Trump thinks it is too much regulation.  Education would  fix this, as kids would understand more, but with DeVos, they have demonstrated that  making sure kids learn math & science is not a priority.  it’s up to us…in the states…to work this out.

So, as a result of all this, I am much more in touch with my elected officials.  I let them know how I feel about everything.

But  are there  citizen movements emerging to develop strategies to  change it all back….or…?

While   I have big issues with the Affordable Care Act, the problem is with insurance companies, and it is time for Single Payer.  If Trump wasn’t flitting off to Florida every week, there’d be plenty  of money  for  people of all ages to buy into Medicare. You wouldn’t have to—you could still pay for private insurance if you really believe you’d get a better deal….but, having had to  deal with  health insurance a lot recently (Bursitis, and I was bitten by a dog), I can tell you, the government couldn’t make a bigger mess out of what things should cost & how hospitals get paid than the insurance companies have!

If we are going to ‘resist’ and make things better, we must educate ourselves, so we have talking points.  I want everyone who wants to make a difference get  4 books and read them.

  1.  The First is, “Lies My Teacher Told me, ” by James Loewen  You really have to understand American History, first, or you will be ‘condemned to repeat it.  It’s outrageous, what we learned in school and  what we think is real;

2. “Charlie Wilson’s War,”  by  George Crile.  Aaron Sorkin made a pretty funny movie by manipulating facts.  All of what Charlie did, and why,  is sort of ‘funny’ in an ironic way.  It’s important to understands what he did and who influenced him, as he changed history.  You will learn  that he actually armed what became the Taliban, ISIS, and all the others who hate  freedom;

3.  You ought to read a book on economic history.  “The Big Short,” by Michael Lewis, again, was a funny movie.  Not so funny  is that is our history, and he documents it and writes about it in a way you can understand.  Bottom line:  because we are  an innumerate nation, and so few of our schools teach  people real math and budgeting, our neighbors trusted the banks—even thought the numbers were right in front of them. We all lost, big time.

If this seems too convoluted, get a copy of Robert Reich’s book, “Aftershock.”  We could have saved ourselves, but Hillary didn’t make it engaging enough (that, and the Russians and FBI director Comey put the final nails in her coffin);

4.  Finally, how do we actually  get the hearts & minds?  You have to read Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “The Tipping Point.”  We’re not going anywhere in a hurry unless we know the dynamics of social change.  In simple language,  this book tells us how it’s done.

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It’s Not Obamacare…it’s the Entire Health Care Industry.

November 11, 2016

This may seem amusing to those who have health insurance that somebody else pays for…but it’s not so funny.

This started in April 2016.

I was having  pain in my hip that I thought might be arthritis (it turned out to be sciatica), and also …a rash—like heat rash, that I could not get rid of.  I also had ‘trigger finger.’

I made an appointment with a doctor in my health plan…but not only did it turn out that she was no longer at the clinic, they called me two days before to cancel the appointment because my insurance would not cover it.  Never mind that I planned to pay for it out of my Health Savings Account.

So, I called the insurance company, and thy told me I was entitled to a Women’s Wellness Exam. This would cover  a PAP smear, a full body skin cancer check, and a scheduling  for a mammogram. The insurance would pay. So, I made another appointment with a  clinic picked  gynecologist.

She was an hour late, so she didn’t do the skin cancer check (so would not look at the rash), and could not address the pain in my hip, but she did take a PAP smear & scheduled me for the mammogram. I specifically asked her if I needed any paperwork.  She told me, “No, just go to Mount Sinai Hospital. You are in the system.”

This turned out to not  be true. I was in the system, but they still wanted paperwork, Thankfully, I had the clinic card in my wallet , and called them to FAX the paperwork.

Now, although I was in the system scheduled for the mammogram, I then had to go to Mount Sinai intake and have my contact info entered  again. Even though the  clerk had all my info in front of her, she managed to spell both my first & last names WRONG:  Robin Micheals—but I did not  see this until I was actually in the x-ray room.

It took over a month to get the mammogram, so I had to schedule a different visit at a different clinic with a general practitioner to look at my rash &  address the pain in my hip….and my finger.  I don’t doubt the doctor is a decent doctor, but the pills he prescribed  for the sciatica did not help at all, and the ointment he prescribed (yes—at $26 a tube) me  did not work, either.  He did tell me that if the problems did not go away in 2 weeks, to call him.  He referred me to another doctor  for the ‘trigger finger’, who gave me a shot, and told me it would only last 3—6 months.

Well, due to his being on vacation and  my taking a different job, a month went by.  I decided to see a chiropractor who was highly recommended by  neighbors who had had sciatica treated.  She really is good….but her treatments didn’t hold.

I did called the general practitioner about the rash, but could not talk to him directly. The clinic insisted I make an appointment to see him to get a referral to a dermatologist.  I haven’t been billed yet, but I went in, and he told me to wait and left the room.  About 1/2 hour later, he came back & told me that the clinic had to find a doctor who would accept my insurance plan.  I laughed.  I said, “This is ridiculous.  I have a $6000 deductible, I’ll pay for it out of  my Health Savings Account.”  He rolled his eyes and wrote down the name of a dermatologist.  A few days later, I got a letter with the name of a dermatologist in my plan.  I called, and could not get an appointment for 8 weeks!  Not until after….Thanksgiving!

I mentioned this to a friend, and she said, “I had that—just get some Desitin.” Which I did. It took about two weeks to work.  I will cancel the dermatology appointment.

Meanwhile…I got a letter from Mount Sinai.  My mammogram was inconclusive. They tell me to call my doctor and have her reschedule another mammogram.  You see, I can’t do this myself, for some reason. So, I call that clinic…& they want me to schedule an appointment (and pay for it—or charge health insurance) just for her to make another appointment!

But wait—there’s more!  So the chiropractor suggests I  get an MRI to find out why the adjustments she’s making are not holding.  She tells me  that the cash rate will be $350—400.  That is no problem…but when I call  and ask if I can submit it  to insurance—they may pay (and—how can you reach your deductible if you don’t submit)…ah, no.  Because…they may charge the insurance company $1500, and if THEY DON’T PAY, I have to. That is the difference.

Now, why would an insurance company be charged  double or triple?  Well, that’s how it works.  When you add a step, you add ‘overhead’—and people on a payroll pushing papers, and filing, and a guy at the top who makes $28,000,000 a year.  This is how we create jobs.  They all have a vested interest, which is why they continue to pay our politicians to not have single payer, and allow this  waste.

As I write this, Trump has won the presidency.  He may replace the Affordable Care Act, but the health insurance industry has too much invested in Congress to  allow any changes. We are not going to get anything like single payer  for at least  four years.

I was telling a colleague about this, and she said, “It doesn’t seem like this should be legal.”  Well, anything that is not specifically illegal is legal.  It’s what makes America great.

Book Review: Charlie Wilson’s War, by George Crile.

June 3, 2016

The movie (created by people I would call the ‘dream team’:   director Mike Nichols and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, starring Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts), came out in 2007… about 9 years ago.  This is the Wikipedia link to the review:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlie_Wilson%27s_War

I came across the book (which I didn’t know existed) while traveling.  Crile was an amazing writer.  This is an absurd, almost unbelievable story. It’s actually a story about how ‘democracy’ works.

Do you remember where you were in the late 1980s?  I was in undergraduate school, working part-time grooming dogs,  and modeling for artists.  I had had a roommate who had volunteered with the Sandinistas in Nicaragua.  Related to that, I had an FBI file.  That’s another story, which I blogged about previously: https://disparateinterests.wordpress.com/2009/11/20/how-i-got-my-fbi-file/ .

The reason  my roommate volunteered to work for the Sandinistas was because of our ‘covert’ was in Nicaragua.  President Reagan wanted to  help the ‘contras’—a really ragtag group of’ anti-communists’ with no real strategy to govern the country, fight communism.  Unfortunately for them, in spite of  Reagan and the CIA pouring money into training and paying soldiers, they  really weren’t getting support of the Nicaraguans.   They did not exist at all, but were a contrivance.  Apparently, not only were there  several other political parties besides the  Sandinistas, the Nicaraguans did not fear communism or socialism the way we Americans had been led to.

This only matters because the war was not ‘covert’:  the news media knew of it, as did many Americans, who  pressured Congress to cut off funding.  We all knew Reagan was not a deep thinker, and he allowed key players  in the Republican Party to set policy.  What this has to do with the story of Charlie Wilson, and the war in Afghanistan (also covert—and a secret to us), is that, at one point,  Oliver North/the Reagan Administration asked the CIA and the Appropriations committee to hide money for the Contras in funds earmarked for the mujahedeen in Afghanistan.  :”Wait!” you  shout.  “The mujahedeen?  Aren’t they the people  waging  jihad against us now?  Haven’t they been since…?”  Yep, You got it.

The movie  was written  as a comedy.  Charlie Wilson was a playboy congressman from Texas, whose constituents didn’t ask much from him.  Having served in the navy, and grown up during the cold war, he was  strongly anti-communist.  On the advice of a vivacious socialite, Joanne Herring, who had met the  president of Pakistan ( Zia ul-Haq…who had his predecessor assassinate…), Charlie, who sat on the Appropriations Committee in  the House of Representatives,  got money  appropriated for arms for people in  Afghanistan fighting Russians/Soviets.  The Russians were in Afghanistan to prop up a  socialist government.  As we believed at the time—and it could have possibly been true—according to the domino theory:  if the USSR got a foothold in  south Asia, they could dominate the world.  The reality was—and is—that Afghanistan —as a country—is a contrivance.  It is a geographic parcel of land within a border.  It will probably never be a country with a viable economy.  It is a failed state without ever really being a state.

Who writes our history?  Is it what we get in primary school history books?  Is it journalists who write news  reports and turn them into books?  No matter. At the time the CIA was  buying and providing arms for the Afghan rebels, I was a student working part time.  What I DO remember is that very suddenly, the Soviet Union fell into chaos, and the Berlin wall came down.  I don’t think many Americans understood why this happened.  All we really knew of the Soviet Union was that it was a dictatorship with no press freedom, and only of consequence to us insofar as their influence on other countries.  Crile  gives us a better understanding  of what really happened.

We have to  understand what we  did in the rest of the world.  While the do-gooders took to the Afghanis, who were not united in any way, and have proven to not be unitable, what the do-gooders did—with out tax money, was ignore their human rights record, ignore how they treated  each other—let alone women, and gave them the power to  terrorize us after they finished with the Russians.  As I write this, in early 2016, we have Syrian refugees fleeing the middle East, and a bunch of right-wing politicians calling them all terrorists…meanwhile ignoring the fact that  they supported the cause of all this.

Worse, the front-runner, Hillary Clinton,  the former Secretary of State, continued to allow the Pakistanis to hold us hostage, along with President Obama, so we could kill off Osama bin Ladin and temporarily slow down jihad leaders.  We are not going to stop how foreign aid is doled out unless we  organize for a radical shift in leadership (which is another reason I support Bernie Sanders). The   countries receiving it hire lobbyists, and the  companies manufacturing weapons also have a huge stake in  continuing the status quo.

A Corporation Comes Calling

March 25, 2016
You'd be lucky to find a pet groomer who can still do a classic Poodle trim.

You’d be lucky to find a pet groomer who can still do a classic Poodle trim.

I wanted  to blog about something else this week, but I got contacted by  a recruiter who had seen my resume on an internet site.  Now, he thinks he needs another dog groomer at the business he manages (for the corporation), but when I asked him how far ahead his groomers were  booked….he wouldn’t give me a straight answer.

I told him—straight out—that his corporation had fired me for doing what his manager told me to do, and I doubted his corporation would allow him to hire me even part-time.  It was though he was not listening to what I was saying.  I also told him that if I worked part-time, I knew I would not make commission, and he ignored that, too.  He out and out told me I had to work weekends to make commission, and I told him I  was showing my dogs in  performance. Then, the conversation switched to  the fact that he also needed to hire a dog trainer, and blah blah blah…long story short, once I built up my classes, i would make $20 an hour.

I told him  that I wanted to go to classes myself, so that would not work. Then he told me about another location, close to where I live, that needed a grooming manager, as they had no groomer at all.

I know these guys answer to corporate. Corporate sets the prices you can charge.  That’s only  part of it.  There  is nothing to prevent them from hiring more people than needed so nobody makes commission, and their base pay is $12 an hour. Even some Walmarts are now paying that for non-skilled workers, so how can anyone think that’s fair?  Because you don’t need a college degree?  What is it that causes so many of them to re-arrange their policies and still disrespect the people making them money?

But I’ve also gotten religion in these past several years,  having worked at pet shops selling animals.  I  want to ask, between the time you order  guinea pigs, gerbils, mice and bunnies (never mind the herps and birds) and the time they get to the  shop floor, how many die of stress  or injuries, and what happens to the unsold animals?  Are they children of a lesser God?  Deserving less concern?  Do I want to  work for a corporation that exists on the premise that they are selling  love, but don’t really care if pet animals are mistreated?

I was in Viet Nam a few years ago. Communist country, right?  We’ve told ourselves so many lies about Viet Nam, but what I witnesses was that so many people were entrepreneurs.  So many. I am sure there are factories in Viet Nam, but in so many cities, what I saw were  so many vendors.  They sold cloth, and notions, and clothing,  dishes, cookware, electronics, had little tearooms,  restaurants, herbal stores,beauty salons…. whatever.  I’m sure  very few of them were making any real money, but they had cell phones, and TVs…and their time was their own.  That’s so important.  They didn’t have bosses telling them to do crazy stuff, belittling them, and lying about it.  This is why groomers have said, “Take this job and shove it.”  They make less on their own, but their time is their own.

Until the corporations start treating their groomers and dog trainers at least as good as they treat all the people making rules for them…and paying them justly, they are going to continue to beg for groomers, and keep training people who don’t have a clue, don’t have an aesthetic eye,  or don’t have any interest in animal behavior.  What a business model!

A Trip to Africa Changed my Life: a continuation of the blogs on Malawi/Zambia 2016

March 11, 2016

busstation LuWhat does being a  developed country mean?  Why are some counties so poor, and others, which started on the road to development at the same time, doing so well?

These were  the questions I had when I traveled to Africa (Tanzania) for the first time, in 1985.  At the time, Tanzania had a 90+% literacy rate. So, why were there no roads, and if there was nothing to buy, why was inflation so  bad?
Being so inspired to learn the answer,  having seen people working incredibly hard with nothing to show for it, I returned to America, took College Level Examination Program Exams( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/College_Level_Examination_Program ),  enrolled in college, and started studying Africa area studies and international development.

The indicators of ‘development’ are : a literate populace,  access to health care and communication, infrastructure to aid economic vitality, a low infant mortality rate, and an ability  for adults to return to their communities the economic investment made in them.  So, how is it that Malaysia and Thailand seem to be doing much better than, say …Greece?  Or so many countries in Africa?

central malawi2The short answer is political will.  The answer gets more complicated  because of  western (oh, hell, American and the European)aid, which  keeps  people engaged in corruption and malfeasance in power.  These are sovereign states.  We have an embarrassing track record of intervening—in fact, in assassinating, elected leaders whom  WE (face it—our tax dollars at work) felt were governing not in OUR interests.    Yet, for all the meddling we’ve done, and the billions USAID has given, we don’t have  much to show for it. We don’t have to go back forever, but just to after the end of World War II.

But this is not what this blog is about. What I learned as a Peace Corps Volunteer is that  direct aid to communities, which you can  hold accountable, spurs more development than anything USAID or ODA have ever done.

I had been donating to several groups, and I wanted to see, with my own eyes, how they were doing.  Actually,  I wanted to see what they were doing with my donations.

Zambian Children's Fund Chishawasha School outside Lusaka

Zambian Children’s Fund Chishawasha School outside Lusaka

The first  place I visited was the Chishawasha primary school  in Chishawasha, just north of Lusaka.  Kathe Padilla had seen the poverty in the region, and  also knew how AIDS had devastated families. So, she worked with a local chief to get land set aside for  housing for orphans,  and a school.  Somewhat resembling the SOS Children’s Village model, where a house mother stays with a cohort,  with the assistance of the Glassco Foundation of Canada (http://glasscofoundation.org/ZambiaMainframe.php?page=OrphanageProject.htm),  Kathe had a compound, and a primary school built.  I have been sending books, art supplies, and other miscellaneous items to Kathe, who is in Tempe, Arizona, and she sends a container about once a year.  There are supporters in other parts of the ISA and Canada.  The school is a good size, and they even have a computer lab.  Kathe is also working with the extended families of the orphans on other income generating projects.  I am lucky enough to live in Chicago, and get just about everything I send  for free.  It  costs me about $100 a cubic meter to send the boxes to Kathe and the Zambian Children’s Fund by UPS.  I actually used to send  books to Malawi via M bag, but that program no longer exists.  In any case, I was

Buildings on the Chishawasha campus

Buildings on the Chishawasha campus

delighted to see that housing in such great shape and so modern, and the compound so  beautiful.  http://www.zambianchildrensfund.org/  Also, they have so many  helpful projects to help the community with economic development.

Reception at Lilongwe SPCA

Reception at Lilongwe SPCA

I then went to Malawi, and I had planned to  volunteer with the Lilongwe SPCA (http://www.lilongwespca.org/ ). However, they had just moved, and  they were still a ‘work in progress’.  One way they support themselves is by running a veterinary clinic. Thy were quite busy the day I was there.  The number of pets they have for adoption at any one time varies.  They’ve had a litter of pups for  a couple of months, and they all seem to be well socialized. The kittens they had really needed more human interaction.  I had learned about  them via  http://www.Animal-Kind.org and was able to make several donations to them via Animal-Kind. They’ve unfortunately, had a communication breakdown, but they do get a lot of local support, particularly from expats, but also, from many local Malawians.  At their new  grounds, they will be able to have many more activities, including dog training classes, and they do educational workshops all over the country.  I felt my donations were well used.  Their   new compound is so large, they will be able to house volunteers who might come from outside the country.

mcv1Finally, I went to Malawi Children’s Village in Mangochi (http://malawichildrensvillage.org/about/).  I had been supporting MCV since  inception, with cash donations and  sending books M-bag.  I was a bit disappointed to learn that the books were packed up because they were in the process of moving the library from  one  room to another, but Vincent, the assistant manager, took  us (I arrived as  a few other people were there) on  a tour  of  the grounds.  They now have a secondary school, and  vocational training in bricklaying, carpentry, vehicle repair, and  a sewing/fashion workshop.  They produce a lot of nice items there, and I was able to purchase trousers and several small bags.  They also have made uniforms for local school children.  Attached to the compound is the Open Arms orphanage, which serves infants to age 2—until they are healthy enough to

Open Arms Orphanage at Mangochi

Open Arms Orphanage at Mangochi

return to their extended families.  Many of the babies have AIDS.  In fact, as I served in Peace Corps, there was a 20—90% incidence of HIV, depending on how close you lived to the road.  What kind of difference would this make?  During times of drought and starvation, girls will prostitute themselves for food, and truckers  take advantage of being away from home.  One must keep in mind that this is a somewhat polygamous society, so there  never really was a stigma regarding multiple partners (in spite of the influence of Christianity…and for the most part, both Zambia and Malawi are  very Christian nations:  you pick and choose what works for you…and of course, Jesus forgives your sins…). Malawi Children’s Village is very well-known now, at least in central Malawi, and I found it very gratifying to see how effective the programs are.

Lilongwe bus station

Lilongwe bus station

Partly due to culture, partly due to religious faith, and partly due to access, Malawi is a very poor country.  It is difficult for me to say that  Zambians  are better off, but being closer to Zimbabwe, which  is closer to South Africa, and being a larger country, there are more of the trappings of development  (at least in terms of infrastructure) in  Zambia than there are in Malawi.  I noticed more water pumps closer to the roads in Malawi than there were 20 years ago, and there is a much greater middle class population—-at least in both Blantyre and Lilongwe.  More people are wearing shoes, everyone has a cell phone, and all the women either are relaxing their hair, having extensions put on, or are wearing wigs.  Yet,  literacy has barely improved, there is still very little access to health care, and  rally, people ar  very cynical about their governments.  This is true of both countries.

Hippo in the Zambezi River

Hippo in the Zambezi River

There is  too much cronyism and corruption in both countries. When beneficial laws are passed, they are not enforced.  Except for  the hippos I saw in the Zambesi River, and the monkeys in the park, I saw no other wildlife.  This is a tragedy.  Wildlife tourism is a major foreign exchange earner for both countries.  People who come to see wildlife  support a lot of jobs in the hospitality industry.  If word gets out that there is no wildlife to be seen,  people with money will stop coming to  these countries, and there is virtually no other industries that can  be competitively developed to  support all these people.  We —in America—think we have a refugee problem now?  If we don’t do  something to cause the non-profits now supporting wildlife and environmental conservation to  develop more effective strategies for  educating Africans about the importance of their wildlife heritage, and influencing politicians, we are going to be facing another crisis.

 

 

 

The Big Short and Understanding Finance

December 25, 2015
My 2 flat in Rogers Park, Chicago's 49th ward.

My 2 flat in Rogers Park, Chicago’s 49th ward.

It’s Christmas Eve, 2015, and I went  to see “The Big Short.”  Although the movie was not well reviewed (Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune said that  financial markets were too complicated for the average person to understand. Hence, this movie was boring), I found it well scripted, edited, and acted.

Perhaps  it is because I, also, could see how over heated the real estate market was…and I will tell you  how.

In the mid 1980s, seeing that I would never get rich by grooming dogs, no matter how well I  managed my budget, I decided to learn about the mortgage market and selling commercial paper.  That’s right.  I learned that not just banks, but private investors bought mortgages and you really didn’t need years of college education to sell mortgages.  You just had to know the concepts of present value of future cash flow, loan to value—and the formula to  figure out what a cash flow was worth.  That was it.  Simple as that.  Yes, you need a special calculator to  figure this stuff out, but you can easily learn the formula in a few minutes.

I  learned, via audio tapes, that  brokers sliced up payment streams, and sold portions of mortgages.  You didn’t have to buy 240 payments (a 20 year mortgage), but could by payment 12, 18, 32…whatever.  How would you manage to get paid if the mortgage was sold or the mortgagee defaulted?  Ah, there was the rub.

I wondered how this could be legal.  Well, it was legal because it was not ILLEGAL, and frankly, most people who buy bundles don’t look that closely at what they are buying.  I mean, they don’t look at the value of the property the mortgage is on, trusting appraisers.  They don’t look at the credit histories of the borrowers.  The assumption was that someone was  checking out this stuff…but in reality, nobody was. It just seemed to risky for me.  The only way you could  make money was if you were  a lawyer, and even then, it was an iffy investment.

My niece learned the  mortgage business (and was a lawyer), and I called her about a mortgage because I wanted to lower my payments.  She got me a ‘no document’ mortgage, meaning I didn’t have to prove income.  At the time, I was earning under $30,000 a year, but my credit was good, and my  ‘loan to value’ on the house was very good, so it wasn’t a problem.  After a few years, I thought I could do better, and wanted to retire a line of credit which was never very transparent, and I could never get a statement  on how much principle I owed, so I , again, refinanced with a broker who got me  a mortgage based on the LIBOR (London Interbank Offered Rate—a rather bogus index used in the USA), which was  at 3%, but adjustable. The broker told me  the rate was very stable, and rarely fluctuated more than .25, but that turned out  not to be so, and within  six months the rate climbed from 3% to 5%, and I again refinanced.

I just love HGTV, and I loved the shows about house flipping and people house hunting.  What I was seeing, on those shows, was people were being approved for  mortgages with no or hardly any (2%?) money down, based on their incomes, not expenses, and clearly people were buying much more  home than they could afford.  But it was legal.

I was seeing this with some friends as well. I thought that this could not possibly go on.  People were trusting banks, were carrying too much debt on credit cards, and all that needed to happen was for energy prices to go up or people losing jobs for whatever reason, or becoming over extended (a good one was  investors buying a bunch of property, not keeping the property up, getting rent payments but not paying the mortgages on time because  that’s how  some people manage their finances).

This movie shows that—all of that—really well…and virtually all the practices that led up to this are still legal.   Our Chicago area schools are not really teaching finance, or compound interest, or budgeting…especially not in low-income areas…and we still have people thinking this is  just not an interesting subject.  These are the same people who don’t bother to  check out the political candidates positions online (easy enough to do, but they go for the bloviators), and don’t vote, anyways.  Then, they complain.

I had read excerpts of Michael Lewis’ book, and learned about Michael Burry (excellently portrayed by  Christian Bale).  This movie should be shown  to every highs school student.

Lies Dog Breeders Tell

November 27, 2015

I’ve worked in the  pet industry over 40 years, and the reason I am a hobbyist/fancier is that  for the most part, there is integrity in the sport of people showing dogs. The fact is that many breeders are proud that their dogs can do what they were originally bred to do, as well as being physically beautiful.  They are proud that their dogs don’t carry genetic structural defects…or if they do,  want you to know what they are doing to eliminate them, and will ask you to participate.

However, not everyone breeding dogs is honest or ethical.  Unfortunately, ‘due to the economy’,more and more  breeders are breeding to sell a product, not to improve their line or for the betterment of the breed.  Actually,  dog breeders, as I’ve described them, are becoming pretty rare.

The reason is…in the USA, our economy is pretty much based on speculation on land.  We like to  convince ourselves that  it’s high wages that make everything expensive, but no, it’s the cost we pay to live where we live.  I know some people who live in less urban areas don’t believe this, but people who live in high rise condos pay $100–400 extra a month for a parking space.

This is a Maltese I groomed in a puppy trim. They do not grow like this .naturally. they need haircuts.

This is a Maltese I groomed in a puppy trim. They do not grow like this .naturally. they need haircuts.

When I was growing up, in the 1950s and ’60s, land was not yet wildly speculated on, and a good portion of the population (black and Latino people, as well as women) were bared from certain educational opportunities, jobs, and  even owning a home in  many locations.    A certain per centage of people could keep  five or six breeding bitches (and possibly a male) and afford to go to dog shows and pay for veterinary care, and have a litter every so often.

Real estate started to heat up in the early 1970s.  In fact, I convinced my then husband that we should marry (easier for ME to get a mortgage that way) so we wouldn’t be forced out of th neighborhood we lived in.  This was at the end of the Nixon era, when inflation was starting to get out of control…and then OPEC  decided the price of energy for us.  Also, many white people might not remember this, but anti-discrimination laws were passed.  Still, we had a vibrant middle class, and anyone not  paying off student loans or medical bills was ok…but we were all starting to slide if we didn’t have rich parents.

When it comes to purebred dogs, the American Kennel Club sure hasn’t helped by talking out of both sides of its collective mouth. The old white male field trial guys who control th AKC want everyone to know that AKC  guarantees ‘purebred’…though they  whisper to buy from a breeder as though all breeders are the same.  On the AKC registration  certificate you get, it says that  a ‘third party transfer’ (that would be a pet shop or broker selling you a dog someone else bred) is illegal, but that is never enforced, and the AKC delegates—the inspectors that make sure dogs shows are fair, who also inspect puppy mills, tell us that the AKC doesn’t  do business with anyone purposely mixing breeds, but we know the same people breeding English Bulldogs are breeding LabraDoodles and Cavashons

So…now we have a  group of people—‘backyard breeders’— who may or may not know each other, taking advantage of this confusion. They are breeding dogs, and claiming they are not breeders. They own the mommy dogs, and whelp the litters, but they will try to convince you they are not breeders.  It might be because  the humane activists will try to convince you that all breeders are evil and adding to pet  over population, and by these people declaring they are not breeders, they are not responsible for pet over population.   Following me?  Because it is these very people who  are the exact people  adding to the problem.  They do not take any responsibility for the dogs they breed.  Once the sale is made…you are on your own.

What else do they say?  If you  ask about genetic defects, they will tell you the parent dogs are healthy, and even give you a health certificate that  states the health of the pup is guaranteed for  30 days.  This begs the question, because  many blind, deaf, and/or crippled dogs are otherwise ‘healthy’, and these types of handicaps often don’t show up until the dog is at least a year old.

Another one:  These dogs come from champion bloodlines.  Unless you  know pedigrees, and  all the dogs for at least  three generations on that pedigree have the same word in their names, there is no bloodline.   Also, we now know that many people who established a bloodline in their breed had their hearts broken when  the type of testing for genetic defects became available, and they found that many of their breeding dogs were afflicted.  But more—you can’t have it both ways and say you ‘just want a pet’ but be  impressed by champion bloodlines.  My first Afghan Hound had the most impressive pedigree anyone would want to see, but I don’t think his parents were show quality, and he certainly wasn’t.  Even show dogs   produce dogs that  won’t become champions due to structural issues.  When it comes to designer dogs—dogs that don’t breed true, all the champion bs means NOTHING.  You want to see OFA (hips, knees, elbows), CERF (eyes), and BAER tests for  both parent dogs.

Another one:  You can’t see either parent dog….often, the sire of the litter is off being shown. The dam (the mommy) is probably  a wreck, but be very cautious .  Often times, mommy is not friendly with strangers…which also means the pups may not be.

So, here’s the deal.  If the person  who offers puppies doesn’t start asking you a bunch of questions about how you were referred to her, where you live, if you own  or rent, who all you live with, if you’ve had any experience with her breed, and how you plan to take car of and train this pup if you work outside your home all day…this means they are breeding and/or selling pets like livestock. They  can’t be trusted to say anything remotely truthful.  And, yeah, it’s harder and harder to find an ethical hobby breeder of any breed, but you can ask groomers and trainers for referrals, contact a (breed) club of America, and be a little skeptical using the internet.  You want a companion who will be with you for 12 years or more.  Don’t fall for the marketing.  use some sense.

 

3 movies: Rosenwald, Our Brand is Crisis, & Trumbo

November 13, 2015

I am reviewing these  three movies together because they are all based on true history  that we might not be exposed to otherwise.

I saw Rosenwald a couple of months ago.  It’s a documentary about Julius Rosenwald, who was an entrepreneur and  owner of Sears, Roebuck.  He was Jewish, and strongly believed in giving back to the community.While most  philanthropists at the time gave to noncontroversial causes, Rosenwald believed in supporting education.  He funded the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago (I come from a generation who remembers people calling it the Rosenwald Museum), but he also funded Rosenwald schools, mostly in the southern US, for ‘underserved’  (black) communities.  If a community could find space and the people to build the school, Rosenwald provided the plans and materials.  Many  now  well-known civil rights leaders attended Rosenwald schools.  If you are interested in American history, civil rights, or philanthropy, this is a film worth renting, It is very well  written, edited, and produced.


The 2nd film is Our Brand is Crisis.  It’s a political movie,  produced by George Clooney, and stars Sandra Bullock and Billy Bob Thorton, and it is based on a documentary (about an election  in Bolivia) of the same name. That combination had me right there.  However, I did not enjoy the movie.  If you want to know how the sausage is made, you  might enjoy it, but all the political consultants are creeps.   It’s a satire, but hardly funny.  They help (with our State Department paying the bill) a discredited  leader make a political comeback.  It looks like a lost cause…and the wrong guy wins.  Sandra Bullock’s character gets a conscious in the end.  It is well written, directed, acted, and produced, but  pretty aggravating.  Mostly because it is true.

The 3rd movie is Trumbo.   It is based on the life of screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (who wrote Johnny Got His Gun,  and the screenplays for Roman Holiday and Spartacus).  Very relevant considering Bernie Sanders,  the only democratic socialist in Congress, is running for president.  For those who don’t know (because  hardly anything about that era  is taught in U.S. schools), after World War II—after we were allies with the Soviets against the Nazis, suddenly the mindset  of political leaders shifted to find a Communist threat.    In fact, during  the 1930s  Depression and through the war, many Americans were  Communists.  There was no  civil rights movement at that time, but it was brewing, and a significant number of  Black Americans were  Communist party members.  Significantly, so were many people in Hollywood, where  a congressional committee chose to focus.   Was this because so many in Hollywood were also Jews?  Or  able to  tell stories that would influence  people through entertainment?  In any case, Trumbo was  sent to prison for being in contempt of Congress, and  could no longer get work.  This  film is about how he and many other coped.  It could happen again, but  you  learn from how the story is told about how to get around it.  This is a very well done film.  I encourage  people interested in American history and Hollywood to see it.

Dog Grooming Terminology…and the State of the Industry

July 17, 2015
This is a Maltese I groomed in a puppy trim. They do not  grow like this .naturally. they need haircuts.

This is a Maltese I groomed in a puppy trim. They do not grow like this .naturally. they need haircuts.

Should dog groomers be licensed?  If so—who makes the rules?

In case you didn’t know from reading past blog posts, I  generally work as an independent contractor.  Often, taxes are taken out of my paycheck (& I feel this is a good thing, as I pay less per cent FICA—or Social Security), but my hours are not regular, and often I don’t know what I am doing day-to-day.  Doe a very long time, grooming terminology was pretty standard.  If I made a mistake—it was leaving a dog’s hair too long—and it could always be cut shorter.

Often I’ve had employers/contractors lie to me about how booked they are and how much work I can expect (and how much income I can expect to make).  This has been happening much more often in the past 10 years as  the hobbyists/fanciers who originally owned dog businesses retire, and the  ‘slack’ is taken up by people  who just want to own a pet business (who are not groomers), or  people being taught at dog grooming schools—who think they really know how to groom.

Some DO know how to groom—at least they can  scissor evenly. But do they know the nuances of the breeds?  Or,  that if you clip a double coated dog you might cause clipper alopecia? How about that it’s not how much suds you get —but the agitation of active ingredients of shampoo against the dog’s hair?  Do they know that neither hair—nor water—in the dogs ears cause ear infections, but it  is  a synergy of  bacteria, yeast, and stress that  are the cause of most ear infections?  Ah, no.  Nor do these newbies know anything about animal behavior. They are not fanciers from way back who  took delight in communicating with their pet dogs. Many I have met decided to groom  because they didn’t know what else to do with their lives and they ‘loved dogs’, or (more recently) a dog groomer  injured their dog, so they decided they’d do it better….yet…

These newer groomers (who’ve been taught  in the past 10 or so years), who  claim they  run  their businesses so they are safe, or are better at  styling, or do a better job brushing dogs—-do they really offer a better outcome in terms of safety  for dogs or quality of work?

I recently worked for a very skilled groomer who  graduated from a grooming school and never worked for anyone but herself.  That was a red flag to me, because we learn so much from each other.   Upon graduating grooming school, she immediately bought a mobile  grooming van, and was successful.  I’ve had several mobile groomers tell me their clients are not so concerned about styling.  They are  concerned about convenience only. It so happened that this particular groomer I was working for  was very conscientious.  However, she thought that everyone who ever learned to groom learned the same terminology, the same methods, the same styling  practices, but worse, now that she was in a shop (rather than in the van), it was safe to allow all the dogs to run loose in the shop.  It was not safe, for  individual dogs, and  this was for many reasons.  In any case, she thought we should be licensed as it would be safer for  dogs. Really?

Her dog was  killed when it hung itself  jumping out of the tub…and although she has signs that say: DO NOT LEAVE DOGS IN TUB UNATTENDED, her bather regularly does this.   The owner is too busy to notice.   So, she allows  two practices  that are not safe for  pet dogs.

This business owner complained about how much shampoo her groomers were using.  It could be very irritating  to a dog’s skin to use concentrated shampoo…but she was not making sure the shampoo was being diluted to the ration the manufacturer suggested.  I  guess that as long as the groomers made the dogs look good, it was not enough of an issue to  solve.

When I  was taught to groom dog…every dog was a poodle.  Maybe  one out of 50 dogs a miniature Schnauzer or a Cocker Spaniel.  We never saw Maltese or Yorkies, and there were no Shih Tzu or Bichons because they were not yet recognized breeds by the AKC.  So how did we learn these  other breeds?  By either apprenticing with hobby breeders or professional AKC handlers, or going to grooming seminars which the kennel clubs held.

There were no ‘bath & tidy’ groomings, but what started happening was that dog groomers offered the service of a bath which included the ‘tidy’: which was—for every shop I ever worked in…besides the bath—the ears and nails, the sanitary trim (including hair in pads of feet), and scissoring up to  first joint:  the hock or pastern!  Now, they are calling any  ‘off’ breed  grooming—which—in the past—you would never use a clipper blade on the body (unless the owner specifically asked)—-a bath & tidy.  For us old timers—this was a full  Golden Retriever (or Collie, or Pekingese) grooming.  I was rudely told  that I didn’t know how to groom because of how I interpreted instructions!

So, how are we going to legislate this?  If the shop owner discounts how unsafe it is to allow a pack of dogs—a new mix  of dogs —including intact dogs—every day—that doesn’t know each other, to socialize, but they are not licensed as a dog daycare center—-so nobody is actively watching  dogs to make sure nobody is bullying another dog,  or checking to make sure  the dogs socializing are inoculated against kennel cough (or don’t  have  giardia or other type of parasite ), is YOUR PET any safer than if the  shop and groomers are  licensed?  As an aside—best practice in dog daycare is :  no intact dogs, and  one ‘handler’ for every 12 dogs. In Illinois,  15 dogs per handler  are allowed…but the law is not enforced.

Who should set the guidelines to license groomers?  The veterinarians,  who’ve mandated that dogs should get a rabies shot every year (when their immunity is probably good for  at least  five, if not 10 years)? The veterinarians who suggest putting a harness on a dog so he doesn’t suffer a collapsed trachea rather than telling the owner to teach the dog not to pull on the  leash?  Groomers who are politically connected, but may not be able to tell a Lhasa Apso from a Shih Tzu, or a Welsh Terrier from a Lakeland?

I worry about all this.  I was told I was not a good groomer  because I didn’t know a ‘bath & tidy’ on a Golden Retriever was actually really a full groom.   I was accused  of not  cleaning a Portuguese Water Dog’s ears out (after a breeder told me to NOT pull all the hair out as it night irritate the ears more than leaving some hair in), and for not  deshedding a nervous dog who clearly was flight shedding…because the instructions did NOT include a deshedding treatment.  I can’t tell you how many groomers have laughed at me about this (not believing that it happens frequently)!

I worked  briefly for a groomer who tethered all dogs to grooming tables, which resulted in  a lot of  anxiety, pooping, and  leash chewing. She discounted that dogs  are stressed when tethered, and she just didn’t want to buy more crates. In addition, she sold  harnesses, so  dogs could pull their owners around.  No collars, only harnesses (not realizing that after this cute fluffy dog dies the owner will have had enough of a dog being in charge of them, but thinking there is no alternative, and not getting another dog.

Maybe I shouldn’t worry.   One groomer whom I respect  said that designer dogs are a fad (but will ethical hobby breeders…breeding for the betterment of their breeds, be able to maintain a gene pool?).  That as dogs get injured in poorly run shops, those shops will go out of business.  I wish I could be so optimistic.

So…it Boils Down to This: Who is a pet

January 15, 2015

 

Bred by backyard breeder. This is a  Shih Tzu---Pit Bull cross. Why should the rest of us have to pay to euthanize unwanted dogs?

Bred by backyard breeder. This is a
Shih Tzu—Pit Bull cross. Why should the rest of us have to pay to euthanize unwanted dogs?

I have been active in my semi retirement on  trying to address  pet over population and  the view of what is humane,  and one of the things I do is flag animal sales on Craigslist. Bottom line is, the people selling puppies  on CL don’t think they are breeders.   But  it’s not just a Craigslist thing.  The ‘conventional wisdom is that   the backyard breeders don’t think of themselves as ‘breeders’ contributing to pet over population.

In addition,  irresponsible  stories like the feature National Public Radio recently ran on the ‘shortage’ in some area of adoptable dogs, is just appalling.  Granted,  in some  enclaves,  pet owners are more responsible and fewer dogs are dumped, but if you regard the country as a whole,  we will have too many areas where  people are uneducated,and have a totally different mindset about being socially responsible.  Hell, when a well educated (she had a Ph. D.) woman can cart around an unlocked  gun in her purse, and go shopping with a toddler, and think that is perfectly OK…and her community  regards this  accidental shooting by the toddler as  an unavoidable tragedy, we are not on the same page about anything.

This is a sample of a Craigslist post :

“I’m looking to rehome my puppy to a loving family. Jax is a 12 week old Chihuahua/Shih Tzu mix. He loves to snuggle and play and is as cute as can be. He will come with his carrier, jacket, puppy food, food/water bowl, training pads, new harness, leash, and collar. It’s heartbreaking to see him go but I just don’t have time in my schedule to care for this sweet little pup. Asking 370 OBO. Please only contact me if you are very interested as he needs to find a loving home soon. Thank you!”

 

So here we are—a puppy just into the teething stage.  My guess is she went to a pet shop/puppy mill outlet, and bought the pup and all the  junk (harness!  Ugh!!!), and  now is bored with the dog.  & why would this pup need a jacket?  So all the crap alone is probably over $300.  Or did she get the dog for free, had the stuff (or got it  deeply discounted), and is actually a puppy broker?  No matter.  There is way too much of   these idiots  buying and attempting to flip puppies  on Craigslist, as well as the backyard breeders.

Using Malcolm Gladwell’s ideas he  discussed in his book, The Tipping Point, we need respected change agents to address that this behavior is unacceptable. The people these idiots respect are veterinarians.

I have stated that all the activists who are currently railing against breeders—and they include the ethical hobby breeders who DO screen puppy buyers, do refuse to sell, and do take back dogs they sell, are not the problem.  Since the idiots are  dealing with  livestock breeders and brokers that they believe love animals, it is up to us to get to the next professional they will see—the veterinarian—and demand they address genetic issues, breed problems, not  spew out the hybrid vigor bs  regarding the designer dogs,and  promote spay/neuter at a mature age, and  being responsible for the pet.

While I am horrified that so many pet dogs become incontinent  due to  sloppy spay/neuters (which is why  they should really be done by shelter veterinarians who have lots of experience), I am more horrified by the many ‘accidental’ breeders who make excuses &  have convinced themselves they should not be responsible.

How would I address this? Several ways:

1.  pass a state law that mandates that anyone posting puppies, kittens, or rabbits for sale in Illinois (my state) have to  have their  litters individually microchipped before offering them for sale… if they did end up in a shelter, we’d know who to fine (yes—the breeders should have to pay—but pet owners  could have the chip changed to their contact information );

2. This would be enforced by  humane societies being licensed to train  volunteer investigators to contact people posting ads in newspapers and on Craigslist—and informing every licensed veterinarian in the state to make sure their clients  know the law;

3.People would also have to  ‘register’ every litter they bred with the state department of agriculture—pay a $50 fee. this is not a lot of money in relation to what hobby breeders spend on doing genetic testing, and paying for  showing their animals.

I believe that within  two years of such a law being enacted, we cut the number of dumped pets significantly.  I feel this way because most backyard breeders would either do a better job of screening  buyers, or they’d just  say the hell with it and stop breeding.

We would need all the humane societies and rescues on board, and we’d probably have to convince the  hobby breeders who breed for the betterment of their breed, but I don’t think this would be difficult.