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April 15, 2011

nga: liberty tax services

I have a new piece up for The Awl, which is hopefully the most fun thing you'll read about storefront tax preparation services franchisors that you'll read today.

It's part of a series examining what we're calling "The New Gilded Age" which will hopefully be appearing with some regularity.

And just to address raised by the always (mostly) sage commenters: First, I did not intend the focus on Liberty Tax Services to imply that its competitors were not somehow guilty of the same thing as LTS; H&R Block and Jackson Hewitt are also borderline-predating on the poor.

And second, to the general issue of LTS being an alternative for people with no access to the Internet: sure, but there are always paper returns, which are mailed to you every year and all you need to fill it out is a pencil and a calculator.  And some time.

But yeah, hey yo, there it is, thank you very much.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:02 AM

April 14, 2011

durbin on the banks

Here's a bit of wonkery that cheered me today — a letter from Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) to Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase.  Dimon has been vocal about (among other things) "debit interchange reform", which is a specific regulation, authored by Sen. Durbin, tamping down the fees that The Banks (through Visa/MC) charge retailers to accept your debit card.  It is awesome.
Clearly, debit interchange reform has displeased many in the financial services industry. Your industry is used to getting its way with many members of Congress and with your regulators, and my amendment and the Federal Reserve’s draft regulations were not written the way you wanted. But that does not mean they were written poorly or that the process that created them was flawed. To the contrary, interchange reform will carefully but firmly rein in the fee collusion that your bank and thousands of other banks currently engage in through Visa and MasterCard. The wisdom of this reform is confirmed by the irrationality of the arguments that your industry raises against it – arguments that are based upon misrepresentations and threats rather than evidence or logic.

It's a point-by-point refutation of the entirety of the fake grassroots "Government wants to take away your debit card!" campaign (which we've discussed previously) led by The Banks.  Sen. Durbin explains why the current rates are unfair, why The Banks are up in arms, and the naked threat to consumers The Banks are making in a conflict that is putatively between The Banks and retailers:

There is no need for you to threaten your customers with higher fees when you and your bank are already making money hand-over-fist. And there is no need to make such threats in response to reform that simply tries to spare consumers from bearing the cost of interchange fees that are anticompetitive and unreasonably high.

If you read it will come away understanding the history of the practices of debit cards and their issuers, and that's a whole lot more than I expect from an elected official.

(Via Griz.)

Posted by mrbrent at 12:25 PM

obama eats paul ryan's lunch

If you want to read in depth on the president's speech yesterday, you know where to go find it.  But here are some brief and uninformed thoughts:

First thought is, that was awesome.  I tend to see budgets as ideological lines drawn in the ground rather than actual manifestations of policy, since the actual sausage-making is incomprehensible to most everyone, including members of the House and Senate.  And that was a very muscular line drawn in the sand, one that actually tacked to the LEFT of the House and Senate Democrats.  Could it have been more progressive?  Of course, but he's not the president of just me, he's the president of everyone, and just to give lip service to income inequality (see the line about having seniors pay more for healthcare to fund a tax benefit for people of Obama's tax bracket, and the inclusion of the phrase "tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires".  After six months of back-and-forth whining about the president's capitulation/weakness/etc., it's nice to be surprised.

Second and most fun thought, is that Rep. Paul Ryan was irked!  And he should be, because the president did not just shoot across his bow, he hit him right in the nose three times and then called him a dumbass while smirking.  The Ryan budget is a fraud, based on imaginary numbers (which sadly only Krugman is saying much about) and relies on the myth that continued aggregation of wealth by the wealthy will somehow increase employment, and the president said so, out loud, to Ryan's face.  Remember, President Obama was also once America's sweetheart, and he is not particular intimidated by the phenomena, or by Rep. Ryan's use of Ayn Rand as an intellectual crutch.  Pretty boy got his hair messed up, he did, and I'd like to see him or anyone else answer the questions raised by Obama's speech.  And I'll add another one for free: how in hell's half-acre is the Ryan budget a jobs budget?  Do words still mean anything?

And since I brought up Ayn ("Ann") Rand, you would do well to go read Maria Bustillos' very rational evisceration of Objectivism for The Awl — learn why Objectivists hate to be called dingbats!

Posted by mrbrent at 10:00 AM

April 12, 2011

first time/last time: donald trump

Let's just talk about Donald Trump real quick so that we never have to again.

The only people that are taking a presidential candidacy by Trump seriously are the "men in the street" that are interviewed for the inevitable articles and TV news stories.  Of course, this is now, so if you can get two oafs to go on record/camera with, "Trump ROOLZ!" then it's a legit story, right?  Even though everyone, his brother and the Donald himself know that this is something that Trump has done before (1988, 2000) and that his motives are pretty transparent, considering that he's been a publicity whore for over twenty-five years.

But the big issue is that Trump, with his defensive endorsement of Birtherism, is clearly courting the Tea Party wing of the GOP, for whom the "I want to run America like a business" could have some appeal.  Remember, though, that Trump is not a businessman.  He is a real estate magnate.  And the way one become a real estate magnate is that one develops enormous reserves of credit so that one never buys property with one's own money.  Trump does not fund a billion dollar project out his own pocket; he arranges for financing for the the billion dollar project.

And "arranging for financing" would be expressly antithetical to the "small government" voters who might agree with the purely racial dogwhistle that is Birtherism.

So then Trump is not just a publicity whore, but he is exactly the wrong candidate but for his celebrity.

OK, going back to not talking about Donald Trump.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:25 AM

mystery dog part iv

And we're back.

Mystery Dog now has a provisional name, Angel, given to him by Earth Angel, a rescue with an impeccable record on placing dogs.  And Buddy/Boobs/Angel is the sweetest dog and will have no problem charming the pants off some millionaire family, so that he will have a backyard and a butler and a yacht.

There are literally too many people to thank.  But there are two other dudes, let's call them "Justin" and "Mat", that really dropped everything to find a place for the guy.  So I'm a little bit humbled by how many people, friends, strangers, actually cared.

I'm a little bit wrecked over the whole thing, but I'm looking forward to word of the happy ending.

Until then, it's time to get back to work.

Posted by mrbrent at 7:44 AM

April 10, 2011

please help mystery dog

There is much I have to say about all the craziness of the past couple days, but I don't have time because Posted by mrbrent at 8:34 AM