« April 8, 2012 - April 14, 2012 | Main | April 22, 2012 - April 28, 2012 »

April 21, 2012

the dirtbag rent-to-own industry, and veterans

This one looks like a good story, but it should make you lose your immediately-previous meal.  It starts innocently enough:
, are now pledging to hire veterans returning from duty.

Aw, isn't that nice?  Once predatory, now they're helping!  They're helpy.

But wait.  You and I both know that rent-to-own businesses are the leading light of those industries that exist only to take advantage of the poor.  They are basically glossy reverse pawn shops, offering low low weekly installments that, when is said and done, makes the $600 flatscreen end up costing twice that, or more.  About the only industry I can think of that's worse is the payday loan industry, which is nothing but the legitimizing of loan sharking.  Tax prep is close, of course, but not quite as bad.

But it turns out that while predating on the poor, the rent-to-own industry also found an extra-special way to exploit returning servicemen:

Ultimately, the Defense Department did not include rent-to-own stores in its 2007 ruling regulating the terms of credit products extended to service members. And because a rent-to-own agreement is not technically defined as a credit loan under the Truth in Lending Act, a 1968 consumer protection law, legislators have a difficult time setting rules for the rent-to-own industry in the same way they have for other lenders.

Hence the grief from the Department of Defense, and hence the act of contrition.

But if you think about it, while the hiring of veterans is a cute little gesture, what the Rent-a-Centers and Aarons get is a workforce of salesmen specially equipped to predate further on returning veterans.  That's not a patriotic act; that's slimy.

So if you have any bile to spare, I suggest aiming it at the dirtbag rent-to-own industry.

Posted by mrbrent at 1:10 PM

April 20, 2012

yakkin' about nationalizing

And this is another thing that's making me scratch my head: If you are a close reader of the news or have an interest in international affairs or, I dunno, are an Argentine, you will have noticed that President Cristina Fernandez intends to nationalize a majority of the biggest gas company in Argentina, YPF, specifically the majority owned by Spanish company Repsol.

Now, if you scan what you would consider the more judicious of our news sources (and what others would call the "Lamestream Media" - har!), you will see a shared tone in the coverage — disapproval, if not alarm.  To paraphrase, "Dangerous dingbat threatens to go all Chavez over everything."

Standard disclaimer: I'm by no means on South American affairs, but I do know enough to know that South America is as riven between right/left as the U.S. is, except that in South America this conflict is sometimes expressed in coups and other civil violence.

But the thing is: it's a binary conflict.  President Fernandez did not shoot her way into office.  Some majority of people must've voted for her, which makes whatever ideological goal she's pursuing putatively the mandate of the people, but definitely internal affairs.  And the tut-tutting of the daily coverage — nationalizing a private company largely foreign-held? how dare they?) implies a bit of a moral judgment that has no place in that specific corner of journalism.  (And this might set the hair of the IMF on fire, but isn't sometimes keeping resources in country a concern for a nation-state that might sometimes trump "welcoming foreign investment"?)

You know, if the WSJ wants to get its boxer-briefs in a twist, well, that's to be expected.  But let's not overload on the Friedman acolytes for comment, and maybe find a Keynesian to put point-counterpoint this thing.

(Aw, what the hell: I'm looking at you, New York Times.)

Posted by mrbrent at 10:14 AM

April 19, 2012

zaitchik on the nra

This right here is a very nice piece from Alexander Zaitchik concerning the National Rifle Association.  They are a little bit more in the news these days thanks to the Motor City Madman, Ted Nugent, who today will be meeting with the Secret Service today because, at the NRA annual meeting covered by Zaitchik, Nugent pretty much said that if Obama was reelected Nugent would kill him or die trying.  Not that Nugent is the only one making assassination jokes — pretty much par for the course at the event, which is odd considering that the president hasn't lifted a single finger when it comes to gun control.

But anyhow: there's an excellent examination of that in the piece, along with nice bits of reportage, including this roundup of reaction to Mitt Romney's appearance there:

Back in the media room, writers for the gun press were withering in their assessment. "We should title our pieces 'The content of Mitt Romney's NRA Speech,' and then just have a giant blank space underneath," sneered a feature writer for leading handgun magazines. "Lackluster," said Roy Kubicek, the pro-gun blogger behind Days of Our Trailers. "I wasn't impressed. He said as little as he could that could be used against him in the general. Because of his actions as governor, I have little faith in him. He's a politician to the core, he'll blow whichever way the wind is blowing."

Dudes, there's a gun press.  See? Already we're learning something.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:23 AM

April 18, 2012

women writers for the awl

It's time for the obligatory "I wrote something for The Awl" post.  This time around, it's a very long piece on women writers coming to NYC to make it big, and how much it cost back then, and would cost now.  And it's chock-full of some of your faves, like Dorothy Parker.  Who doesn't like Dorothy Parker?  In fact, I can think of at least four people (I've never met) who use a picture of Dottie as their avatar.  So if you've the time (according to Longreads, 22 minutes), give it a shot.  You don't have to be a young woman in publishing to enjoy it, really (but it helps!).

And as for the value added, here is what I remember of expenses incurred moving to NYC to "make it" (ha!).  In 1994 I split a floor-thru on Humboldt Street in Williamsburg for $600 (total), I worked at the then newly-opened (and not long after closed) Barnes & Noble on Astor Place for a starting rate of $9.50 an hour, and (I may be hazy on this) the pad thai from the Thai Cafe (the original one, on Manhattan and Kent in Greenpoint, was $4.50.  Adjusted for inflation, that works out to current rent of $434.36 (my share), $14.70 an hour, and $6.97 for the pad thai.  One of those seems really low, doesn't it?

Posted by mrbrent at 9:40 AM

April 17, 2012

david brooks and his esoteric boogy-man

I accidentally read this morning's David Brooks column.  I really gotta stop doing that.

It's his latest effort in his single-issue advocacy of the Looming Debt Crisis, which to David Brooks is the single metric by which an economy is judged.  Fine!  But the column is just a long straw-man look at the policies of the White House, and how they are just not David Brooks enough to be taken seriously (unlike those of Rep. Paul Ryan, who is somehow the very picture of centrism.  There, now you don't have to read it!

Here's the bit that I don't get when it comes to folk like Brooks and Ryan that see budgetary deficits as the greatest threat to liberty since Darth Vader: it's utterly intangible.  Foreign invasion/nuclear war anxiety?  That made sense, contextually, back in the day.  Concerns about unemployment and inflation, I also get those, as being unemployed/paying beaucoup cash for formerly cheap things affect the everyday.  But some impending fiscal crisis (that is always down the road, BTW, and never happens), that cannot be felt or touched — how's that supposed to work?

I mean, I'm assuming that a large portion of the fiscal conservatives espouse this so because it is convenient cover to slash both taxes and social services, as they are inherently greedy and callous, but what about the rank and file centrists represented by people like Brooks (and to a lesser extent, Bill Keller)?  Is it only a stated concern because endless media blather has pounded it into their heads?

It's just a bit too much of an esoteric boogy-man to make sense.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:03 AM

April 16, 2012

the way and how to stay out of it

I don't remember if I've actually been writing a rewriting a piece like Hamilton Nolan's on Gawker today, or if I've been writing and deleting this piece, or if I've just been intending to write it and then changed my mind, but I'm lockstep down with this:
When you're walking, in the walkway, don't stop walking. Don't slow down considerably. Don't get caught up in conversation to the point that you forget that your primary goal is making forward progress. Don't let your head fly off into the clouds. Focus. Move those feet. Keep moving. Always moving ahead. Don't come to a standstill. No standing here. This is a no standing zone. Whatever you do, however you feel, no matter what sort of day you're having or what might be on your mind or what your companion is telling you, do not, under any circumstances, stop walking while you're in the walkway.

If this is going to be a movement (heh), a) I'm volunteering, and b) I suggest we call it The Way And How To Stay Out Of It.

Posted by mrbrent at 12:49 PM