Friday, May 29, 2009

Robo Calls

aren't just for selling extended warranties and reducing your credit card interest rate any more. Now there's a new scam. The robo caller asks for someone you've never heard of. It then asks you to press 2 if you aren't that person. You press 2. Then the robo caller asks you to press 3 if they have the wrong number. You press 3. The robo caller then asks you to STAY ON THE LINE so that they can update their information. Muzak plays. I hung up.

What leads me to believe that this is some kind of scam is that I'd received collection calls at our old phone number periodically for years. They were looking for the person who had our phone number before we did. (In fact, the first call was the second phone call I received at that number.) It go to be a joke--I'd say to J, "TW got a call today." Every time the account was sold, we'd get another call. Most of the callers were reasonably polite when I explained that our sole relationship to TW was that we'd acquired his phone number when we moved, although one particularly aggressive fellow demanded that I prove that I did not know TW. (By that time we'd had our phone number for eight years!) I hung up.

Since I'd never received a call from a real person asking for this new person, I suspect that someone is trying to part me from personal information. (I suppose there are people out there who can be cajoled out of their social security numbers and credit card information, but I'm not one of them.) And I wonder, if it is a scam, how long it will take the government to shut it down, given that it took years to shut down the car warranty scam.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Plants Are Being Eaten

And I don't know what bugs have decided that my butterfly bush is a delicious meal. But the leaves have holes chewed in them. Since I don't use poisons, I've learned to live with bugs which, more than systemic problems like fungus, tend to disappear after awhile if the plant survives. But I'll devote some time tonight to the possible pests that find my butterfly bush so delightfully tasty.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Summer Cometh

I have blogged before on what I think of summer in Sacramento. It's still "spring," in that temperatures have not reached the triple-digits, but temps in the high 80s indicate that summer will soon reach out and give us all a good smack. I will no longer be able to force J to wear long pants when we go out to dinner. I will not look longingly at my garden chair. I will not think that spending a few hours feeding plants is a pleasant occupation. I will want to be indoors with the air-conditioning on, and will look upon time spent outdoors as an unpleasant interlude between the various temperature-controlled spaces I will inhabit.

Monday, May 4, 2009

I'd Be Disappointed

were it not for the fact that I never expected anything different. President Obama's interview with David Leonhardt of the New York Times tells us that he doesn't seem to understand what caused our current economic crisis, and only plans to fiddle 'round the edges in reining in the financial elite. He's all for education (but then who is against education), which is very nice, but doesn't seem to understand that just because we have an educated population doesn't mean that we suddenly create the jobs that use that education, or jobs that pay wages commensurate with advanced educational levels. We could just have a lot of Wal Mart greeters who could discuss, oh, the nature of justice or quantum mechanics. There's nothing wrong with a society where Wal Mart greeters can discuss these topics, but ain't no way Wal Mart is going to pay for that education.

And while I agree with him that much of the manufacturing sector is gone forever, what that means is that we have to live with industries that are much less profitable than manufacturing. And this means that either we continue on our present path, where vast swathes of the economy depend on debt and bubbles, or the corporate sector earns substantially less in profit. And this would mean, for instance, that we would have to reorganize our retirement system, as it's presently constructed on investments in the stock market. (That should have frightened people 25 years ago, but whatever.)

Finally, he entirely misunderstands what's wrong with our health care system. We're paying way too much for hospitals, doctors, drugs and insurance companies. Other advanced capitalist countries provide better service to their entire populations by controlling these costs (and often by eliminating insurance providers altogether). Sure the drug companies and the hospitals and the doctors will whine and complain, as they do in other countries, but somehow they always manage to provide the service for what the government decides to pay.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Tenants and the Legislature

There are not one, but two pieces of tenant legislation worthy of your attention. The first, AB 603, would extend the moratorium on tenant evictions passed in Los Angeles to all tenant-occupied properties in the state. This would mean that tenants whose landlords were foreclosed would be able to stay in the property for up to a year after foreclosure. This makes sense, as many lenders just empty the building after a foreclosure and then leave it to deteriorate until they--some day--get around to selling it. Tenants would be protected from eviction so long as they paid the rent, didn't breach the lease and didn't trash the place. The only other "just cause" for eviction would be eviction so that a new owner could occupy the premises. The Consumer Federation of California has an excellent piece on the legislation, which you can read here.

The second bill is SB 120, which would do two things: it would make clear to lenders that they cannot "encourage" tenants to move by changing the locks or cutting off the landlord-provided utilities to the property, and it would make clear that lenders are responsible for returning security deposits to tenants who move or are evicted as a result of foreclosure. You can read more on this legislation here.

And having read about the legislation, you should now let your State Senator and Assembly Member know that these bills are important to you and that you want to see them passed. (SB 120 has already passed the Senate.) Amazingly, the mortgage brokers have huge influence with the State Legislature, even though all but the dumbest of our representatives must know that mortgage brokers bear major responsibility for our current crisis. But the mortgage brokers have lots of money and they spread it around liberally.

It is particularly important for those of us who live in communities without rent control and just cause eviction to let our legislators know of the importance of protecting tenants. Tenants in the regions where tenants are treated as second-class citizens have largely been ignored by local legislators and many of our representatives may have conveniently forgotten that we exist. If you need to find out who your State Legislators are, go here.

I guess, though, that we should be happy that we're not in Missouri. There legislation gives tenants a whole 10 days notice.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Is This A Cable Plot?

No one who owns a television can have missed the constant, constant reminders that televisions that can't receive digital signals and don't have cable or satellite service will require a converter box to enable those televisions to receive anything. Now it turns out that even having a converter box will not insure that televisions will receive all, or any, of the channels they used to receive. Unlike analog signals, digital signals can be blocked by buildings and hills, and have a much more limited range than analog signals. And because digital signals don't just fade out, as analog signals do, the snowy analog signal will become no signal at all with the digital conversion.

People who remember the making of the decision to change from analog to digital transmission will also remember that the change wasn't supposed to be made until 95% of the households with television had DTV-compatible sets. But Americans didn't go out and buy new televisions as quickly as planned--not everyone needs a 42-inch screen--so it was decided to impose conversion on us early. And we were offered converter boxes to get around the little problem that resulted from the failure of Americans to buy new televisions when the old one worked just fine.

The problem would have been even worse were it not for the fact that a lot of people have what's called "limited basic" cable--regular broadcast channels plus the community access stations--because even the analog reception wasn't very good. (We couldn't get the local NBC channel.) But the fact that people had cable or satellite service wasn't supposed to count as part of the 95%, and this means that people who have this service can't decide to get rid of it without getting a new television or a converter box.

And now that the date for conversion approaches, it turns out that there are other problems--big ones. First, digital transmission, in addition to the topographical limitations I mentioned above, doesn't have the range of analog signals. This means that if you're beyond the range of the signal, you're out of luck, even if you have a converter box or DTV. To get the same channels, you might have to purchase cable or satellite service. Second, many of the antennas will get some channels but not others. So the victims of this will either have to choose among their channels or move the antenna and then rescan the stations to get stations broadcasting from a different direction.

I cannot help thinking that this is a plot by cable providers to force us all to sign up for their overpriced service. (At least once a month I lose my service entirely for a few hours; I notice it because I get my Internet service from the cable company.)