Category Archives: Wall Street

Imagine a world where you had a remedy for bad cell and cable speeds

Anyone with cell phone or cable service knows that the transfer rates they advertise to get you to sign up (up to 100 Mbps download!) almost never match what you get in the real world. That is why they use those magic words “up to” since it allows them to say to you that they never promised you would get those actual speeds, even if they charge you extra for them.

As this article I ran across today notes, the UK is taking steps to give its citizens some recourse if the speeds they advertised to sign you up for that contract fail to materialize:

Internet users are to be granted more rights on connection speeds as [the UK] imposes tougher rules on how ISPs advertise broadband services.

The proposals give consumers the right to exit contracts penalty-free if speeds fall below a guaranteed minimum.

[British government regulator] Ofcom says there is a mismatch between what is advertised, and the speeds customers receive.

But experts say speeds are affected by different factors, and are not strictly a measure of connection to a device.

A public consultation is currently being conducted until 10 November.

Gillian Guy, chief executive of [the consumer advocacy group] Citizens Advice, said: “Many people seek our help each year because their slow and intermittent broadband service falls short of what their contract promised.

“For most people, a reliable broadband connection is a necessity, so when they don’t get what they’ve paid for they should always have a quick and easy way out of their contract.”

She said: “These changes are an important step in giving consumers more power to hold their broadband provider to account for poor service.” Ofcom’s existing broadband code of practice requires ISPs to provide consumers with an estimate of the internet speed they can expect from their service.

If the proposed rules pass consultation, broadband providers will need to be much more specific about the speeds customers will receive and will have to set a guaranteed minimum speed for each package.

This could mean current estimates of “up to 17Mbps” become “a minimum of 10Mbps”.

If the speed falls below the guaranteed minimum, under the new rules, the ISP will have one month to fix the problem, and if it cannot be fixed, the customer can terminate the contract without penalty.

With that simple change — changing the words “up to” to “a minimum of” the ISPs would be forced to account for the actual speeds you get on your service.

So what are the chances of these types of rules being forced on similar companies in America?

Don’t hold your breath. As you can see from the screen cap graphics from OpenSecrets.org accompanying this article, the telecom industry gave just under $26 million in political contributions to candidates for federal office in 2016 alone, almost evenly split between Democrats and Republicans.

In Washington money talks, and the telecoms are in the drivers’ seats on Capitol Hill until we consumers get our act together and decide to hold both parties accountable for the ways they allow cable and cellular companies in this country to saddle Americans with some of the most expensive service in the world for the least amount of reliable bandwidth. 

Signing your rights away over Equifax data breach?

People are insisting that enrolling in Equifax monitoring if you are affected by the company data breach takes away your right to sue. The truth is more nuanced.

As did many Americans, I went to equifaxsecurity2017.com to see if my personal information was compromised in the company’s massive data breach that exposed millions of Americans’ credit information to cyberhackers

The web site told me it does not appear my information was part of the breach.

Sigh of relief. Millions will not be so lucky.

If my information had been part of the stolen data,  I can sign up for free credit monitoring through Equifax’s TrustedID, a service that usually costs you a hefty fee. 

But soon a story began circulating that, should you choose to sign up for TrustedID, you were also signing away your legal rights to sue the company over the data breach and would instead have to avail yourself of forced arbitration with the company.

The clause in the terms you agree to when you sign up for TrustedID at any time as a paying or free customer says this:

This arbitration will be conducted as an individual arbitration. Neither You nor We consent or agree to any arbitration on a class or representative basis, and the arbitrator shall have no authority to proceed with arbitration on a class or representative basis. No arbitration will be consolidated with any other arbitration proceeding without the consent of all parties. This class action waiver provision applies to and includes any Claims made and remedies sought as part of any class action, private attorney general action, or other representative action. By consenting to submit Your Claims to arbitration, You will be forfeiting Your right to bring or participate in any class action (whether as a named plaintiff or a class member) or to share in any class action awards, including class claims where a class has not yet been certified, even if the facts and circumstances upon which the Claims are based already occurred or existed.

That seems to me as if it might force you into arbitration over any potential damage done to you by the data breach, instead of you retaining the legal right to insert yourself into any single or class-action lawsuit which might arise over the incident.

The language also seemed fuzzy enough for New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to get involved in discussions with company officials over the clause.

After those talks, Equifax added this to their web site:

The arbitration clause and class action wavier included in the TrustedID Premier Terms of Use applies to the free credit file monitoring and identity theft protection products, and not the cybersecurity incident.

So the forced arbitration clause does apply to anyone who signs up for TrustedID at any time, and it does indeed require you to choose forced arbitration over lawsuits against that service EXCEPT for the data breach incident in this week’s headlines

This incident speaks to one important issue: Absent any meaningful leadership on the national level on these consumer financial issues in a Congress (Democrats and Republicans) that is mostly in the pockets of Wall Street, certain state attorneys general continue to be the watchdogs that protect millions of us from the worst abuses of industry.

If you want to know more about the issues of arbitration (which can be a good thing) and forced arbitration clauses (which can be bad things) read this excellent information from the National Association of Consumer Advocates.

Agency protecting everyone from banks still on chopping block

Dear Precious Angry Collegiate Snowflakes Who Voted Anyone-But-Clinton:

Congratulations. The only thing standing between you and the big banks owning your student loan ass for most of your adult lives — the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) — is likely going away under the Trump administration, as this article in today’s Chicago Tribune makes clear:

Trump’s transition advisers already are evaluating ways to legally fire CFPB Director Richard Cordray, according to people familiar with the matter. If they move forward with such a plan, many Republicans want Trump to replace him with someone committed to dismantling the agency. In Congress, another aggressive tactic being considered is forcing through an overhaul of CFPB funding so lawmakers can starve it of money.

The many, many ways that the Trump administration is going to make sure the banksters have high-interest rate, rapacious access to your money — including the high-rate credit cards you will take out to make ends meet — are only just beginning to be made clear.

If there were any election where the perfect was the enemy of the good, this one was it.

Clinton made loads of money off speeches she made in front of Wall Street movers and shakers. But she would have not only kept the CFPB, she very likely would have strengthened it. 

Because that is what Democrats do, and it is one of the major ways they make a key difference for the better in the lives of average Americans, despite their having to play many distasteful political games to have access to campaign cash in the system which Republicans largely created.

I’m not excusing some of the issues on which Democrats have not been able to keep their campaign promises on the national level. But it should be pointed out that they failed on most of them because the GOP effectively blocked them at every turn.

And now the Republicans are in charge of the Congress, the White House and likely will change the all-important third branch — the judiciary — for a generation or two.

This is why I have a hard time getting too angry at many conservative voters. At least many of them voted their values.

The Left? Well, much of the Left — Jill Stein voters, BernieBots — are getting the government they deserve.

Too bad for the rest of us. And too bad for the nation.

I understand voting your convictions. But your convictions ought to include the possibility that not getting everything you want is better than your worst nightmares coming true. 

Despite all of this, I still feel sorry for college students who protest voted against Clinton or simply stayed home. That one decision may affect many of them for the rest of their lives. A tough lesson to learn.

About those tax breaks Donald Trump promised to Carrier

roseanne-owns-state-rep

As this clip from Roseanne shows, it’s as if Americans learned nothing from all those years of watching that very popular show with its blue collar viewers. A show that championed working people. Many of whom just voted for a billionaire with zero record of showing he cares about them.

Somebody has to pay for roads and schools and emergency services. Just not the companies who get tax breaks. All of which pack up and move those jobs overseas anyway once the tax breaks expire.

Meanwhile we have not enough money to fix most of our substandard bridges, and schools hold fundraisers to buy school supplies.

Gee, I wonder why?

Scalia’s son argues for Wall Street; case could end up at Supreme Court

usdepartmentoflabor

The U.S. Labor Dept. proposes a fiduciary rule for those selling retirement products to prevent them from fleecing grandma and grandpa with products not in their best interest — sort of like what all these companies did in the housing industry before the financial crisis of 2008.

The insurance and securities industries file suit saying that the new rule restricts their 1st Amendment rights to be crooks

It doesn’t actually say that, but it might as well:

Regulators and consumer advocates have argued that the rule is important and necessary. Financial firms have countered that it is overly burdensome and expensive.

Other lawsuits have largely relied on the notion that the Labor Department overreached in creating the rule. The Dallas plaintiffs also use those arguments, but are the only ones to mention First Amendment obstacles.

Labor Department lawyers argued the fiduciary rule only governs conduct, not speech. Even if it did regulate speech, they said, it only covers misleading and conflicted statements, which are not protected by the First Amendment.

U.S. District Judge Barbara Lynn pressed the government on its position, saying the fiduciary rule appears to regulate more than just misleading speech.

“They can recommend any products they like, as long as they’re not recommending products that aren’t in the investor’s best interest,” Labor Department defense attorney Emily Newton responded.

The agency estimates bad advice will cost investors $95 billion over the next 10 years if the fiduciary rule is not implemented.

Among the lawyers representing the industry is Eugene Scalia, who has successfully argued for corporations and trade groups in other high-profile cases. Earlier this year he convinced a federal judge to strike down MetLife Inc’s designation as a financial company that is “systemically important,” which would subject it to tougher regulation.

His father was the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a conservative who often sided with big business in landmark cases that protected or created corporate rights.

So the case will likely end up at the Supreme Court, and is being partially argued by the son of the now-dead justice who would have been most likely to support it. Not that the son can’t do that. It’s just what one would expect in this great country of ours where Wall Street is in control.

Truth truly is stranger than fiction.

And with Trump in the Oval Office, we all know how this will end up.

Watch your parents’ (and your own) savings closely. Because these massive industries are coming for it and don’t want any restrictions on the shitty products they can offer to take that life savings.

This case is the perfect representation of how average people screwed themselves by electing Donald Trump. Wall Street wins. We lose. Wall Street is happy.

America!

 

Well Fargo leader raked over coals during U.S. Senate hearing

Wells Fargo CEO JOhn Stumpf being school on how to be a bad ass by Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf being schooled on how to be a bad ass by Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

In which U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) take a chunk from the hide of the oily leader of massive and crooked Wells Fargo during a hearing on the bank’s widespread practice of cheating its customers.

Warren tells him to his face he should resign and he should be prosecuted. And that’s just a small part of it.

Go Senator Liz! I’d really like to see that huge loser Curt Schilling run against her.

Warren and Menendez are shown in CNBC video clips. 

In Silicon Valley, disruption can also mean a massive con job

BEFORE THE FALL: Theranos Chairman, CEO and Founder Elizabeth Holmes (L) and TechCrunch Writer and Moderator Jonathan Shieber speak onstage at TechCrunch Disrupt at Pier 48 on September 8, 2014 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Steve Jennings for TechCrunch)
BEFORE THE FALL: Theranos Chairman, CEO and Founder Elizabeth Holmes (L) and TechCrunch Writer and Moderator Jonathan Shieber speak onstage at TechCrunch Disrupt at Pier 48 on September 8, 2014 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Steve Jennings for TechCrunch)

The stock market is soaring once again, thanks in the large part to the same kinds of companies that caused the last tech stock meltdown — companies with great press and lots of venture capital (and sometimes initially stunning but financially questionable IPOs). Many seem to be built on hype and not much else in terms of profitability.

Enter biotech startup Theranos and its precocious and secretive CEO Elizabeth Holmes. She started as a 19-year-old Stanford dropout and took the company to soaring heights and a valuation of $9 billion. The press loved her, especially the tech press with its legion of underpaid and gullible young reporters eager to report on the Next Big Thing.

Yet, as an article in the current issue of Vanity Fair makes clear, something was amiss, including Holmes’s weirdly unscientific answers to questions about the basic science of the company’s much heralded breakthrough medical testing technology which promised to test efficiently for many diseases without painful blood draws.

It was as if the legendary tricorders carried by medical personnel during Star Trek — capable of diagnosing diseases with just a point of a handheld device at any individual — were one giant step closer to reality.

And all it took to uncover this Silicon Valley grift was one Wall Street Journal reporter with the knowledge to question the stenographic reporting of the rest of the press — and his ability to look critically at Holmes herself and wonder if perhaps her weird managerial tics as CEO, seen by much of the fawning press as proof of her genius, were signs something was off about this rags-to-riches story:

In a technology sector populated by innumerable food­ delivery apps, [Holmes’s] quixotic ambition was applauded. Holmes adorned the covers of Fortune, Forbes, and Inc., among other publications. She was profiled in The New Yorker and featured on a segment of Charlie Rose. In the process, she amassed a net worth of around $4 billion. 
 
One of the only journalists who seemed unimpressed by this narrative was John Carreyrou, a recalcitrant health ­care reporter from The Wall Street Journal. Carreyrou came away from The New Yorker story surprised by Theranos’s secrecy—such behavior was to be expected at a tech company but not a medical operation. Moreover, he was also struck by Holmes’s limited ability to explain how it all worked. 
 
When a New Yorker reporter asked about Theranos’s technology, she responded, somewhat cryptically, “a chemistry is performed so that a chemical reaction occurs and generates a signal from the chemical interaction with the sample, which is translated into a result, which is then reviewed by certified laboratory personnel.” 
Theranos blood-­testing machines.
 
Shortly after reading the article, Carreyrou started investigating Theranos’s medical practices. As it turned out, there was an underside to Theranos’s story that had not been told—one that involved questionable lab procedures and results, among other things. 
 
Soon after Carreyrou began his reporting, David Boies, the superstar lawyer—and Theranos board member—who had taken on Bill Gates in the 1990s and represented Al Gore during the 2000 Florida recount case, visited the Journal newsroom for a five­ hour meeting. Boies subsequently returned to the Journal to meet with the paper’s editor in chief, Gerard Baker. 
 
Eventually, on October 16, 2015, the Journal published the article: HOT STARTUP THERANOS HAS STRUGGLED WITH ITS BLOOD­-TEST TECHNOLOGY. 
 

That article started a domino effect that essentially erased the company’s patina of biotech invincibility and stardom. (That did not stop the venerable Harvard Medical School from still offering the fallen star a seat on its Board of Fellows. One had to wonder how much that perk cost her since Harvard is never wrong, especially when it comes to taking money.)

The Vanity Fair article is a great read, even if you do not invest in the stock market. Because the markets are again flying high and much of it is based on nothing more than hype.

Many government entities in this country, including the largest pension funds, invest in stocks and mutual funds. When the stock market goes bust, it’s not just the companies and stockholders who lose money. State and local governments (and taxpayers) are also left holding the bag.

The great financial meltdown of 2008, from which many low-to-middle income Americans have yet to recover even as the financial sector once again earns billions of dollars, had many villains who directly preyed on financially inastute or willfully blind consumers and government officials.

But the rest of us paid dearly. And the only people who made money were the very people who caused the bubble in the first place. 

Note that a few months ago Forbes Magazine, which had hyped Holmes on its cover, revised the company’s net worth down from $9 billion to $800 million.

Last July the company sent out of press release noting that the federal government had put severe sanctions on the company. There are also active criminal and civil investigations.

The company is appealing the sanctions and Holmes is still in charge.

thernosbigbadneedlesign

 

Another way Walmart costs this country money

Walmart

As if it’s not bad enough that Walmart gets most of its cheap products outside the country, then somehow ends up paying relatively little in corporate income taxes, and pays wages so low most of its employees end up on food stamps and other forms of public assistance.

Now it turns out that the company’s stores in many locations are overburdening local police departments even as the chain slashes costs by eliminating jobs like greeters, floor walkers and security personnel who would lessen the burden on law enforcement.

All this is still happening more than a year into a corporate campaign to bring down crime—a campaign Walmart says is succeeding. Chief Executive Officer Doug McMillon, who took charge of the giant retailer in February 2014, has made reducing crime a top priority. The company’s new strategy primarily involves shifting employees within stores—moving them from the storeroom and aisles to store exits, where some of them spot-check receipts. It’s also stationing people at self-checkout areas, installing eye-level security cameras in high-theft areas (particularly electronics and cosmetics departments), and using data analytics to detect when people try to get credit for things they didn’t buy (thieves love to find discarded receipts in the parking lot, then go into the store, gather up items on the list, and “return” them for cash). To cut down on calls to police, Walmart has been rolling out a program where first-time offenders caught stealing merchandise below a certain value can avoid arrest if they agree to go through a theft-prevention program. At some higher-crime stores, the company is also hiring off-duty police and private security officers. According to Walmart Stores executives, it’s all starting to work.

Police chiefs and their officers on the ground say that’s just not so. Ross likes to joke that the concentration of crime at Walmart makes his job easier. “I’ve got all my bad guys in one place,” he says, flashing a bright smile. His squad’s sergeant, Robert Rohloff, a 34-year police veteran who has to worry about staffing, budgets, and patrolling the busiest commercial district in Tulsa, says there’s nothing funny about Walmart’s impact on public safety. He can’t believe, he says, that a multibillion-dollar corporation isn’t doing more to stop crime. Instead, he says, it offloads the job to the police at taxpayers’ expense. “It’s ridiculous—we are talking about the biggest retailer in the world,” says Rohloff. “I may have half my squad there for hours.”

An employee in the Beech Grove, Ind., parking lot.
Photographer: Johnathon Kelso

Walmart knows police departments are frustrated. “We absolutely understand how important this is. It is important for our associates, it is important for our customers and across the communities we serve,” says Judith McKenna, Walmart’s chief operating officer for the U.S. “We can do better.”

But when? That’s what law enforcement around the country wants to know. “The constant calls from Walmart are just draining,” says Bill Ferguson, a police captain in Port Richey, Fla. “They recognize the problem and refuse to do anything about it.”

Yeah, when will that happen?

The descendents of Walmart’s founder all rank as some of the richest people in America. This company continues to make a very small subset of the population rich, while the rest of us pay and pay and pay to subsidize the profits of one of the biggest corporations in the world.

Stephen Hawking on income inequality

Professor Stephen Hawking's answer to a question about "technological unemployment" that was asked on Reddit AMA in October 2015.
Professor Stephen Hawking’s answer to a question about “technological unemployment” which was asked on Reddit AMA in October 2015.

Tiny number of families vying to control election

New York Times election money jefferly.com
While there are a few wealthy progressives supporting the Democratic side, the vast majority of money given by the super wealthy is going to the GOP.

There is an article in this morning’s New York Times which shows what anyone who is tired of a world that is, in Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s words, “rigged against the little guys,” is up against in this election:

They are overwhelmingly white, rich, older and male, in a nation that is being remade by the young, by women, and by black and brown voters.

Across a sprawling country, they reside in an archipelago of wealth, exclusive neighborhoods dotting a handful of cities and towns.

And in an economy that has minted billionaires in a dizzying array of industries, most made their fortunes in just two: finance and energy.

Now they are deploying their vast wealth in the political arena, providing almost half of all the seed money raised to support Democratic and Republican presidential candidates.

Just 158 families, along with companies they own or control, contributed $176 million in the first phase of the campaign, a New York Times investigation found. Not since before Watergate have so few people and businesses provided so much early money in a campaign, most of it through channels legalized by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision five years ago. These donors’ fortunes reflect the shifting composition of the country’s economic elite.

Relatively few work in the traditional ranks of corporate America, or hail from dynasties of inherited wealth. Most built their own businesses, parlaying talent and an appetite for risk into huge wealth: They founded hedge funds in New York, bought up undervalued oil leases in Texas, made blockbusters in Hollywood. More than a dozen of the elite donors were born outside the United States, immigrating from countries like Cuba, the old Soviet Union, Pakistan, India and Israel. But regardless of industry, the families investing the most in presidential politics overwhelmingly lean right, contributing tens of millions of dollars to support Republican candidates who have pledged to pare regulations; cut taxes on income, capital gains and inheritances; and shrink entitlement programs.

While such measures would help protect their own wealth, the donors describe their embrace of them more broadly, as the surest means of promoting economic growth.

Of course that is how they — including the notorious Koch brothers — frame their efforts. If they came out and admitted what they do is meant to benefit only them and people like them, they would lose every election. Instead they build astroturf front groups with high-minded names to fool the electorate.

Which begs the question: if what they are doing is so good for America as a whole, why do they have to hide it so much?

New York Times election money jefferly.com
Graphic: New York Times