Friday, July 18, 2014

"Required" reading

At the risk of sounding like the late Andy Rooney, I have a complaint.

In the mail last week I received this official-looking notice in the mail bearing the image of an eagle with olive branches in one talon and spears in the other. (Read: Oh, oh, it’s from the Feds! The bureaucracy alert!)

Next to said eagle are the letters EMS, which got me thinking “Emergency Management Service” or some such sink hole back in Washington (the letter actually said “Northbrook, Illinois” but stranger things have happened).

Sprinkled across the top next to the bird and the acronym were several official looking numbers of many digits and the word “Notice Date” followed by 06/30/14.

I received the notice on July 12, nearly two weeks after the date…but never mind. Timeliness is not a hallmark of government.

What really got my attention were the words (all caps and in bold type):


Just in case I missed the point, the very same words were repeated along with the date and the same 10-digit code.

NOTICE DATE: 06/30/14

I don’t know what the word “required” means to you, but to me it implies “or else….” As in "or else fines, incarceration, the rack, or the sacrifice of one’s first born."

I was not amused, but I DID read on.

The next words were ATTENTION followed by my name. That seemed redundant. The “required” bit was already a slap across the face.

With the next line of this ominous-sounding epistle, my Kafkaesque fear boiled to moral outrage.

“Our records indicate that you have not contacted us to have your vehicle service contract updated. Please call 1-866-424-3336. You are receiving this notice because your factory warranty will expire or may have already expired based on the mileage and age of your 2007 Toyota Prius.”

Warranty? What warranty?

I bought my trusty Prius used with no warranty.

How can a warranty you don’t have, expire? And what’s all this “required” business. “Required” by whom? Just where does this EMS warranty-conjuring outfit get off “requiring” me to do anything.

I tried to be calm but dunning letters of this sort do test my blood pressure. The frail and unsuspecting might even die of fright.

This letter in trembling, infirm hands could be fatal.

I tried to relax before calling the number. I really did. It was the weekend and I got a recorded message.

With no actual human being to deal with, I took it upon myself to “require” the answering machine to hear me complain, well, RANT actually. “How dare you” etc. As I got into it, I used words like “outrageous,” “immoral,” "scam," “snake oil” etc.

I left my phone number insisting that someone call me to hear me explode in person.

Then I went on-line and searched this EMS outfit. Some folks had actually bought auto warranties and many were not pleased with the service they had received.

Are we surprised?

The Better Business Bureau had reported that, hey, no problem, we’ve looked into this.

Thanks a lot. I don’t know about the BBB, but I have a problem with letters masquerading as government documents and “requiring” me to buy a worthless insurance.

Next stop, the Federal Trade Commission, but I don’t hold out much hope. I’ll keep you informed.

A couple of notes:

Could this be a backhanded way of getting me to support Elizabeth Warren in 2016?

EMS never returned my call, which is probably just as well. I don’t think I could have taken it…nor could they.

As Rooney might say: “There ought to be a warranty against this sort of thing. Required!”

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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Money for Mass Transit from Bombers and Billionaires

On my mind this morning is the future prospect of Light Rail in Southwest Portland, Hillsdale (my neighborhood) and what is called the Southwest Corridor, which stretches from downtown to the towns of Tualatin and Tigard.

Our regional government is leading the effort to bring “High Capacity Transit” to the area. If all goes well, the new transit line would open sometime late in the next decade.

But the whole planning process is going off the tracks.

Yesterday the Southwest Corridor Steering Committee met and decided to slow down the decision-making process and key decisions until the fall.

The committee consists of elected officials from all the areas affected as well as transportation officials from the state and the region. They have to decide on routes (of which there are many options) and mode of transit (Light Rail or big, articulated buses on dedicated lanes).

Here in Hillsdale, we are lobbying the steering committee to put our commercial area on the chosen route. We prefer to be on a tunnel line that connects us with the Oregon Health Sciences University and Downtown.
The sticking point is cost. The tunnel is estimated to cost $2 billion (that’s a “B”).

Before federal gas tax revenues started to drop, the Feds picked up 90 percent of the costs of Portland’s Light Rail projects (we now have five). But the revenue drop as led the Feds to scale their share back to 50 percent.

At the steering committee yesterday one of the members jokingly asked a representative from OHSU whether the big medical complex was
in touch with Phil Knight, the deep pocket-billionaire of NIKE fame.

The “joke” was emblematic of how this society is privately rich for the very few and publicly destitute for the many.

I wish this weren’t a joke. Why do we have to go hat-in-hand to billionaires to serve the public good? When will we as a society realize that justice, fairness, and, the general good, can not harbor billionaires?

Then there is the disconnect between projects like mass transit and our government’s willingness to throw money at non-productive and/or destructive, murderous weaponry.
The cost of a B-2 stealth bomber was put at $2.1 billion back in 1997. One can only guess what one of these killing machines costs today but the dated cost of just one is more than that of our desired transit tunnel. The tunnel would serve thousands every day. The planes are being “used” (if that’s the right word) in Afghanistan today. Whom are they serving?

When, if ever, will this country get it right?

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