Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Miami-Jacobs Career College -- Just What Is It That They Are Trying To Hide?

This ain’t grandma’s typing school anymore, folks. Miami-Jacobs Career College, located in downtown Dayton, Ohio, stands cloaked in the respectability of a college that has been operating since 1860. When you enter the hallowed halls of the building that they have currently been occupying since 2002, you will see several giant pictures on the wall of students in class in the early days of the last century. After learning some secretarial skills, they went off to have successful careers at such notable places as NCR, Frigidaire, General Motors and others. There is a distinct possibility that grandma, grandpa or Great Aunt Edna -- someone that you know -- successfully attended The Miami- Jacobs Business College of that era.

This history is played up using the pictures, a written version of their history on their website and trotted out by Darlene Waite, current Miami-Jacobs president since December 2000, to the newspapers whenever necessary to give credence to their claims of a long and continued existence. However, according to an article from the Dayton Daily Newspaper, dated December 17, 2003, this particular school was sold to a private for-profit company on December 2 of that year. “Other schools in the chain have grown significantly. . .” Waite was quoted as saying at the time, while declining to identify the buyer.

The Miami-Jacobs Business College Company has remained undisturbed as a corporation, according to public records, since the first filing shown for the company on November 2, 1904. On the school’s website, there is no mention in the history of the school about being sold to another corporation, unlike a similar for-profit school that has been around Dayton since the 1950’s -- RETS Tech Center -- who also lists the name of the company that bought them in 2005. At the Miami-Jacobs website, there is no list of executives, board of directors or trustees. There is only Darlene Waite, president.

In fact, they’ve gone so far to remain anonymous, that the same Charles Campbell whose family had owned The Miami-Jacobs Business College Company for nearly 100 years at that time, continued on as the Domestic Agent designee for corporate filings with the Ohio Secretary of State’s office until January 4, 2008, over five years later. When Darlene Waite became the designated agent, her appointment, as required by law, was signed by authorized representative Kevin A. Smith, CFO, but doesn’t say what he is the CFO of.

What are they trying to hide? I asked Marcia Byrd, Financial Aid Director of Miami-Jacobs, how many locations the school has. She said she didn‘t know. When I questioned how she could not know, she then informed me that, in addition to the 5 other Miami- Jacob locations, they have “sister associations.” She could not tell me how many. It is clear that even the employees know little about the operation -- or they are not telling. I asked her for an organizational chart for both companies but never received them. I had to find out that information for myself.

I don’t have access to property records going back as far as 1860, but I can tell you that Miami-Jacobs is leasing their current location. In other words, even though they are a 149 year old institution in this town, they are not investing in it.

Why does all this matter to us? We are pouring our state and federal tax dollars into a private for-profit company that has taken great steps to remain anonymous, or at the very least, Miami-Jacobs has taken great steps to hide them. Why? And why should we care?

Whether you are a concerned parent or frustrated taxpayer, according to data obtained from ed.gov, the official Department of Education website, 100% of Miami-Jacobs students receive federal student loans, 91% receive federal grants and 81% receive state grants. The tuition for the 2008-2009 academic year is $11,590. Per Student.

Ed.gov reports 811 students attending the main campus of Miami-Jacobs. According to press releases, the Troy and Springboro locations have a student capacity of 400 each, and there are 3 more locations: Cincinnati, Columbus and Akron.

With specialized training, very few, if any credits transfer to other schools, even other trade schools with the same program. For example, Rets Tech Center reports that a maximum of 16 credits may be transferred to their school, and strict criteria must be met. A “retention rate” is calculated by how many enrolling freshman come back the following year to continue their education. Miami-Jacobs retention rate is currently 57%.

Still, 100 % of Miami-Jacobs students at the main campus receive federal loans that do have to be paid back. If the students do not come back and get their degrees for whatever reason, even though the credits go away, I can assure you the loans do not. According to ed.gov, the average loan for a student at Miami-Jacobs for the school year 2006-2007 is $4,008.

With only a 33% graduation rate at Miami-Jacobs and a loan default rate that at 21.9% is well over 3 times the national average of 6.9%, according to the school’s statistics at the Ed.gov website. We are not getting much for our investment and neither are the students.

Consider this, early last year Miami-Jacobs was in the news due to two different programs that it offers. The nursing program was in trouble after a review in September 2007 by the Ohio Board of Nursing ended with the program placed on a conditional approval due to inadequate “clinicals” in the proper range of health care settings. The program was also accused of “consistently” lacking to provide a qualified administrator for the program. That program has been fixed, according to later articles from the Dayton Daily News and a new administrator was put in place. A new review was supposed to take place in March of 2009, but the web site is still showing a conditional approval as the date of this post.

Additionally, 7 former students from the surgical technology program sued the school last year alleging that the program wasn’t properly accredited. Due to the enrollment agreement that contains an arbitration clause, they were forced to take the case to arbitration instead of the court system. According to Jane Peach, attorney for the students, that case is still pending a year later. Unfortunately for the students, the low level publicity that most arbitration cases receive has kept that case out of the news. The last newspaper coverage was a letter to the editor of the Dayton Daily News from Darlene Waite on June 12, 2008 defending the school and, again, trotting out its sterling 148 year history.

None the less, in light of Miami-Jacobs heavy reliance on government aid for its students and their poor record of educating them, it is time for the school to quit hiding behind its past and look to the future of its students. This is not a 149 year old school; it is a 5 year old school. It is not still owned by a century’s worth of Harbottles and Campbells.

It is, in fact, owned by a company called Delta Career Education Corporation that is owned by a $700 million dollar private equity company called Gryphon Investors, who bought it from the original purchaser, Huron Capital Partners LLC. Getting dizzy yet? To be fair, it is true that Huron Capital put out a press release when they bought Miami-Jacobs, as did Gryphon Investors, but I don’t think we got the memo.

According to Gryphon Investors website, Delta Career Education Corporation is “one of the leading privately held education providers in the U.S.” All of the schools are similar to Miami-Jacobs in that they all offer vocational education and provide certificates, diplomas and degrees to their students -- and offer federal financial aid to their students. With Miami-Jacobs and its 5 other locations, they have 30 campuses in 12 different states and 12,000 students to go along with them. They operate under “strong regional brand names, some with over 100+ years of history,” according to Gryphon's website.

These schools include Miller-Mott Technical School, founded in 1916 by Judge Leon Mott in Wilmington, North Carolina. They now have 9 locations. Lamson College was founded in 1889 by Colonel Edwin M. Lamson in a house in Phoenix, Arizona and is the oldest private college in the state. They now have 2 locations. The McCann School of Business was founded in Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania in 1897, 112 years ago. Some of the schools admit to being owned by Delta, but none say that they are being held (up?) by a $700 million dollar private equity firm.

No, I wasn’t kidding about the big bucks those federal loans and grants bring in. When Huron Capital sold Delta Educational Systems to Gryphon Investors, it was sold for 11.1 times what Huron had originally paid for it all: $120 million -- just 2 short years after bringing Miami Jacobs into the fold. These companies have been very aggressive in expanding Miami-Jacobs since they bought it. Miami-Jacobs has added 5 new locations in as many years.

I am not against capitalism nor am I against specialized training. In fact, I am a big proponent of vocational education. Many students thrive in a hands-on learning environment who fail in a traditional class room setting. What I am against is making that money on the backs of our young people while leaving many of them without an education, but with a boatload of debt in the form of student loans. To be fair, not all the schools under the Delta umbrella have the same sorry graduation rates. McCann’s in Pottsville, Pennsylvania has an 87% rate. The Miller-Mott campus in Wilmington, North Carolina has a 49% graduation rate.

But where is the government oversight? Can it possibly be legal for a school like Miami-Jacobs who receives so much government money in the form of student financial aid, both state and federal, to “decline to name their buyer?” In any case, I don’t understand why that article on the sale didn’t raise a red flag for a reader, or possibly even the newspaper itself, to do a bit more investigating.

For instance, Huron Capital Partners LLC, Miami-Jacob’s original buyer, hasn’t gotten out of the education business. Huron still owns Ross Education LLC, a postsecondary career school company that has 14 locations, including 2 in Ohio. Joseph Kennedy, the current CEO of Delta, who owns Miami-Jacobs, is a member of the Board of Directors for Ross Education LLC. He is also listed as an “Executive Partner” of Huron Capital, even though his company is now owned by Gryphon Investors. Huron Capital also lists as a “Select Limited Partner” National City Bank, among other financial institutions, who is a purveyor of federal student loans for the government. As the old saying goes, it sounds like they are all in bed together. Shouldn’t we all have a right to know that?

Due to a federal loan default by my daughter because of false information received by the financial aid office at Miami-Jacobs, we turned to Congressman Michael Turner’s office for help. During a phone conversation with an employee of his local office who deals with constituent education problems, I mentioned the ownership of Miami-Jacobs. I asked this very question: Why don’t we have government oversight of these private companies that own these for-profit colleges and receive all these government dollars? Her answer? “Don’t you think that we have government oversight?” Well, frankly, no . . . . no, I don’t. At least, not nearly enough, if an institution like Miami-Jacobs can mislead the public for so many years about who they are.

There seems to be something intrinsically wrong when our tax dollars, in the form of federal and state financial aid, goes unchecked into the bank accounts of the super rich. This is happening on the backs of some of our most vulnerable citizens: students fresh out of high school. Many of these students are poor and Miami-Jacobs represents a way out. Many, if not most, of these students begin Miami-Jacobs with little or no credit history, not a bad credit history. Thousands of dollars later, they leave, but do they leave armed with an education? Not many of them. Remember, the school only has a 33% graduation rate.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Whose Money Is It Anyway?

“I’ll let Warren County go broke before I take any of Obama’s filthy money.”

What? Who said that? That statement sounds like one of the rants you see on an internet comment page after an article from a reader probably named something like: “KiLlaLltHedEmOcrAtBasTarDleFtwingnUtcASeS. In other words, it sounds like a real nutcase. Some of those posts can be quite scary. They can also make you feel like true political discourse and non-partisanship at any level is unattainable. It leaves one thinking, “Hope you don’t own an AK47 . . . . “

Unfortunately, that statement was not made by some internet ranter; it was made by a top official in the Warren County, Ohio government, Commissioner C. Mike Kilburn. This is in regards to a $343,000 stimulus package that the federal government is giving to the states, via the Department of Transportation. According to Scott Vaner from ODOT, this money is targeted for rural areas to improve transportation services for the elderly and handicapped, in the form of buses and vans.

Apparently, Warren County does not have any need for additional services for their elderly and handicapped. Either that, or Commissioner Kilburn is just plain ignorant. First of all, Obama’s “filthy money” is actually taxpayer money that belongs to our government, not to Obama. Some, if not all, of that money, we presume, came from taxpayers in Warren County. It is about time that they got some back, instead of pouring it all into the infrastructure of Iraq.

As Kilburn explained, “. . . . government is not the answer, it is the problem.” I certainly have to agree with that, as Mr. Kilburn is part of the government. Like a king presiding over the peasants -- or have nots, he says, “I am tired of paying for people who don’t have.” This is a serious statement coming from an elected official in charge of the lives of both people who have and “people who don’t have.”

Unfortunately, both the haves and some of the have- nots in Warren County are paying his salary, through their tax dollars. What about the locals who work for minimum wage? There isn’t much left in those paychecks after payroll taxes. What about the elderly and handicapped of Warren County, who live on Social Security and scant retirement benefits, yet have to pay his salary through ever increasing property taxes?

Not everyone is fortunate enough to bring home close to $80,000 a year, plus benefits, courtesy of the taxpayers. I wonder . . . . Is he giving any of that filthy money back? Has he turned down any of those benefits? After all, Mr. Kilburn already owns a funeral home. He could afford to give back his salary to the good citizens of Warren County. For me, I am tired of paying for those who have. I am sure that some unfortunate citizen who has recently been laid off in Warren County could do a better job as Commissioner.

This attitude in a government official is not only distasteful, it is downright sickening. Obviously, Mr. Kilburn’s attitude either springs from the fact that he is a Republican (since Obama is a Democrat) or it is a very racist remark (as he is white and Obama is half black). Either one of those scenarios is quite disturbing in one of our elected officials. Once in office, that elected official is supposed to look to the common good of all the people he governs. I am sure that there are plenty of Democrats and minorities in his jurisdiction.

After all, where is the dividing line between the haves and the have nots? Is it workers and welfare recipients? Is it workers who make over $70,000 as opposed to those who make $30,000 or $20,000? Is it the workers with excellent benefits as opposed to those who toil daily with none? Is it the hale and hearty against the elderly and infirm? Is it current workers against those who have recently lost their jobs due to no fault of their own? The people of Warren County, Ohio deserve to know this answer, Mr. Commissioner.

Since I don’t live in Warren County, I looked back through the archives of the Dayton Daily News. This isn’t the first time he’s shown this nasty attitude. Back in 2000, he led a profanity laced public meeting with the other two commissioners and the head of the local drug task force present. In that meeting, he said that drugs should be legalized or the drug dealers put to death, when asked for additional funds for the task force. According to Chris Celek, the author of the piece, Mr. Kilburn said that he could talk like that because no reporters or voters were at that meeting.

“We’ve got a state that’s broke and we keep doing fatherhood programs and I could just puke,” Mr. Kilburn ranted at another meeting in January of 2003. This was in response to being asked to sign a funding request that was already agreed upon previously. This program called Help Me Grow provided medical and other help to families who have children with disabilities. According to the article, he said that social services are “ridiculous” and that he’s “been against this stuff forever.” The money for the funding was provided by the state and federal government.

If we don’t live in Warren County, Ohio, why does this matter to us? This is the very attitude that we need to correct, America. This type of elitist view is present in government officials all over this country, at all levels. How can we expect our country to get back on track with this type of government official running our very lives? Mr. Kilburn is a poster boy for term limits. He has been a commissioner for approximately 27 years in Warren County. After all that time, is it no wonder that he thinks the money is his personally to do with what he wants?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Where's A Legislator When You Need One?

With all the foreclosures going on in this country, can they all be from sub-prime or predatory lending? Contrary to popular opinion, they are not. There are many people who can afford to pay for their homes, but yet still walk away. Why would anyone do that? Many of the millions of Americans who bought homes during the real estate “boom” now have homes that are valued much less than what their mortgages are. Guess what? Walking away -- even if you can afford the mortgage -- is perfectly legal!

Case in point: A Detroit City Councilman, Kwame Kenyatta, left his home for that very reason and admitted it. This man, a government official, plans to run for mayor of Detroit. His home was purchased for $225,000 and it is now worth $100,000. His monthly payment is $2,600 a month and supposedly was scheduled to go up by another $1,000 “soon.” Councilman Kenyatta wasn't even behind on his payments at all when he decided to just walk away.

Through the Michigan property tax estimator, I estimated his taxes at an astonishing $9,000 dollars per year. Most of us will admit that is a ridiculous amount of taxes to pay on a home worth $225,000, much less on a home worth $100,000. Still, these outrageous property taxes were known at the time of purchase. In Michigan, the taxable value can never go down while you own the property, no matter what happens to property values. That is something the Michigan legislature might want to rethink in light of these types of foreclosures.

Basically, a house payment with principal and interest of the full $225,000 at 7% is only $1,500. With approximately $700 added on for property taxes, that leaves over $400 a month for homeowners insurance and PMI. Private mortgage insurance (PMI) is an insurance policy which protects the lender in case of default by a buyer who puts down less than 20%, which it appears is the case here (making it easier to walk away).

That sounds like the lender in all these deals of less than 20% down are protected, in which case, the PMI companies would be the ones in trouble. However, in many cases, the same lender loaned the balance, at closing, from the down payment to make up the 20% in a second mortgage on the home. This eliminated the need for PMI insurance. In these cases, the lender was left unprotected. Even if another lender was involved, the main, or first, mortgage company has to approve the deal before it can close. It is a distinct possibility that Kenyatta then had a first and second mortgage on his home instead of PMI. Which one is worse? Deliberately burning a private mortgage insurance company or a bank?

Since his current payment of $2,600 a month covers a full purchase price mortgage, where can the additional $1,000 a month future payment be coming from? Since that is one of his excuses for walking away, that is a question that should be asked of-- and answered by -- Councilman Kenyatta.

Don't let the large mortgage payment fool anyone into sympathizing with the councilman. His reported $81,000 salary is 288% higher than the current median household income in Detroit of $28,097, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. After he pays his mortgage, he has another $4,150 in his pocket. That doesn't even include any possible income from his wife.

While it is a terrible hit to Kenyatta and millions of people all around this country, it is a chance you take when you make an investment in real property. When you buy a car for $20,000 and drive it off the lot, it might only be worth $12,000. Are you then allowed to just walk away from it just because it isn't worth what you paid for it? Of course not!

Why does this matter to us? Voluntary foreclosure contributes to neighborhood blight, drives property values down even further due to more inventory, affects local and state governments in the form of lost property tax revenue and adds additional strain on our nation's banks. If real estate had continued to boom, these same people would have taken advantage of the new equity that results from booming prices.

I can understand Americans who, for various reasons like unemployment or other changes in finances, can’t pay their mortgages and have to walk away. However, the many people who can afford these payments, yet choose to walk away are undermining our country, not only financially, but also morally. In other words, they are committing legal bank robbery.

Why haven’t our legislators stepped up to the plate on this issue? Is it because some of them are doing the same thing? Surely it has come to their attention by now. The IRS addresses losses on investments, but there is no current law on primary home loss of value. If we had a law in place giving incentives to stay, it might help eliminate some of this legal bank robbery that we are seeing.

Why isn't there a law preventing people who can afford their mortgages from walking away from them? At the very least, there should be some repercussions, other than the same mark on their credit history as the unfortunate unemployed or victims of predatory lenders. Where is a legislator when you need one?

What is the incentive, other than moral character, for homeowners to stay put when they can go down the street and buy a similar house for thousands (and thousands) less than they currently owe? Many lenders are ultimately going to have to take the current foreclosures -- and poor credit history due to it -- into account when offering new loans. Otherwise, millions of people are not ever going to be able to purchase a home again. We are going to be a nation of renters where the super wealthy owns all the property. That is not what America stands for, folks. Let us insist that our legislators do something about it -- and pronto.

Mr. Kenyatta has shown his true colors before entering the mayor’s office, unlike many candidates. Let us not reward a man of low character with an even higher office than he currently holds. The good people of Detroit should be shouting for impeachment of his councilman position. Let us hope that the voters of Detroit show their moral outrage and keep this bank robber out of the mayor's office.

Monday, April 20, 2009

April 15 Tax Day or the New April Fools Day?

Did you attend a “tea party” on April 15, an event in cities across the country to protest big government and high taxes? These events were billed as non-partisan, grass-roots efforts to show the government that we, the people, are sick of the way the government has spent our tax dollars carelessly and still want more. However, the origins of the tea parties were far from a grassroots movement; the intentions were not non-partisan at all. When this event, for the most part, showed that Democrats and Republicans can come together peacefully for the common good, why does it matter?

Grassroots is defined as coming from ordinary people, not of the leadership. This “grassroots” movement was the brainchild of former Republican Congressman, Dick Armey and his Freedom Works political group, of which he is founder. Mr. Armey is a lobbyist with DLA Piper, a mega Washington D.C. law firm employing over 4,000 lawyers in over 20 countries. One of DLA Piper’s clients is American International Group (AIG), who was recently in the news over the giant taxpayer bailout, which is supposedly one reason for the tea parties. Are we starting to get the drift here? Other clients include the Dubai Group, BP Oil, Lehman Brothers and more. Their lobbying fingers are in the pies of finance, oil, and securities, among others.

Along with Armey is board member and fellow Republican James Burnley, former Department of Transportation Secretary under George H.W. Bush. He was active in the campaigns of such notable Republicans as George W. Bush, Elizabeth Dole, Bob Dole and John McCain. Currently he is a partner in the law firm of Venable LLP. In 2007, Venable was ranked as one of the top 25 lobbying firms by Rollcall, a newspaper in Washington thats been around since 1955. He also sits on the board of directors of Infrasoft, Inc. Infrasoft Inc. is a company that specializes in software for outsourcing (our American jobs!). Infrasoft’s vision is “to be one of the leading and preferred IT service and solutions provider in the Philippines.” We wish him and Infrasoft great success, Not!

Do any of the local organizers of these tea parties understand what this movement is really about? Government services, which cost tax dollars, is one of the issues that many tea party organizers have been rallying against. Okay, I can see the point when it comes to Octo-mom who has 8 babies, along with the bunch she already has, just because she knows the government is going to prop her up. However, many of the people currently using those government services are hard working Americans who have paid plenty into the government coffers. Unfortunately, due to the corporate trend of out-sourcing jobs, both manufacturing and service, to overseas companies, they have to rely on government services in the form of unemployment compensation, food stamps and welfare to help them through. Just how can Mr. Burnley justify being on the board of directors of a company dedicated to providing outsourcing products and a group who supposedly is for lower taxes? Those two goals are contradictory, to my mind.

Matt Kibbe, whose resume, peculiarly, is not listed along with the other board members, was the previous president of Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE). Though it was promoted as a consumer group, according to SourceWatch.org, the Washington Post reported that 85% of its funding in 1998 came from major corporations such as Amoco and Citibank. CSE merged with Freedom Works in 2004.

Another organization taking credit for the grassroots tea parties is Americans for Prosperity. David Koch, a billionaire co-owner of Koch Industries, heads that group, which is an offshoot of CSE. His company had a 97 charge federal indictment and possible fines of over $350 million for environmental crimes in September of 2000. They were charged with hiding the fact that 91 metric tons of benzene was released by the company oil refinery in Corpus Christi, Texas. Benzene is a known carcinogen. After George W. Bush was elected, 88 of those charges were dropped by John Ashcroft, and after a plea bargain, there was no jail time for the 4 executives charged and the fines were a fraction of what they should have been.

Still another player in the tea party movement is Newt Gringrich’s American Solutions for Winning the Future organization. There is current buzz that Newt may be gearing up for a 2012 presidential run. Newt Gringrich, along with Dick Armey, was the architect for the “Contract with America” that the American people bought and so brought the Republicans back into power in 1994. Mr. Gingrich was a Congressman for 20 years and was elected to Speaker of the House. Why didn’t he do all this when he was in a position of power? According to his website, after he was elected Speaker, he “disrupted the status quo by moving power out of Washington and back to the American people. Wait a minute . . . . Where was I? I do not quite remember that power shift. I would also like to know who stole it back!

Has anyone ever heard the phrase “herd mentality?” Herd mentality is a state where people, instead of thinking for themselves, are swept up in new ideas, trends, fashions, etc., because other people are doing it. I believe that is the basis for the tea parties and really, it is a brilliant move on the part of known and proven strategists like Newt Gingrich and Dick Armey. That also makes them(and all the rest of them) dangerous.

Before anyone gets upset, thinking I called him or her a cow for participating, that is not quite true. However, if you are a Democrat or an Independent voter who bought into the non-partisan ideal of a grassroots movement, you should feel a bit used. You helped to make that effort a great success on behalf of the national organizers, all of which are Republican. I am sure not all of the people who attended these tea parties were unaware of the facts, and of the movers and shakers behind them. I am also sure that many did not. That is where the herd mentality comes from.

For all of you who want to change the government, I am right there with you. I, too, am upset with many aspects of our government, both past and current. However, before I make a move, I check my facts. I do my research. I know what I am talking about. I do not allow trends or movements to affect my decisions. My decisions are made only after I gather the facts. Even then, with the advent of new facts, I can change my opinion. That is the only way to leave the herd and move to the front of the line. Knowledge is power.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Outsource? We don't think so!

As you may know, Albert Lord, CEO of Sallie Mae Corporation, a major player in the student lending industry, recently announced that he was bringing back 2,000 call center jobs from out-sourced offices overseas. For whatever reason that Mr. Lord had to make this decision, we have to hope that other companies will follow behind him.

In fact, as Americans, we need to stand together on this issue. Instead of waiting for other CEO’s to make this decision, we need to make it for them. Together, we have the means to make that happen. Why does this matter to us?

Many people mistakenly think that the only problem with call center outsourcing is American jobs. With record unemployment in some areas of the US, that is one aspect to be sure. With our citizens out of work, they are no longer taxpayers; they are “consumers.” Consumers -- as opposed to shoppers -- are people who use our resources, in other words, our tax dollars, in the form of unemployment compensation, food stamps, free medical care and other government services. With the loss of income taxes, plus the need for services, that creates a double whammy on our system.

Another very compelling reason is finances and identity theft. I am -- and you should be too -- very uncomfortable with sharing my personal and financial information with foreign service people. Remember, the reason these jobs were out-sourced to begin with is because the labor is so much less expensive in these countries, meaning that this pool of workers might come from places where it is difficult to make a living wage.

The rep could hate all Americans, like we all know some foreigners do. Though I am sure that many workers in these countries are just happy to have the opportunity to make a living wage, just as many might resent our way of life. I am also sure that there might be many who are as honest and trustworthy as Americans, and that there are many Americans that aren’t honest and trustworthy at all.

Here in the US, we have vigorous hiring policies at most financial institutions. Most prospective employees have a credit history check, criminal background check, prior employment check, drug testing, and whatever else they can come up with. Do all overseas countries issue social security numbers? Do all countries, especially poor countries, have an Experian or Trans Union to keep track of its citizens financial habits? Is it easier to lie on an employment application and get away with it? We don’t know the answers to all of these questions. Certainly, we hope the company who is outsourcing does. What about computer hacking? Are their internet systems and laws as stringent as ours (which leave something to be desired)?

I called Capital One after receiving a legitimate email “fraud alert.” I had not used my account for a while and charged several large car repair bills. As I have another repair bill that I plan to charge there as well, I immediately called them up. I would give the name of the rep, but I could not understand what she said. I did understand that she was in the Caribbean. I asked to be transferred to the US.

I was transferred to Jolene, who spoke perfect English. Don’t be fooled by American names and perfect English speaking reps. Jolene was in the Philippines. I’ve found that the Philippine call centers have workers who do speak English quite well. To be fair, I have also found, in my dealings with Sallie Mae, that those workers were better trained, more polite and easier to deal with than their American counterparts.

However, I still do not want to give my financial information to foreign workers. I asked again to be transferred to the US and got a rep on the phone in Colorado. The problem was that she was not in the Capital One fraud department, so I could not really accomplish what I set out to do. It seems that the whole fraud department is out-sourced overseas.

I asked her, “Do you see the irony in the whole fraud department being in foreign countries where we have no regulations or control of them?”

“Don’t you think we have control of them?” she answered with her own question.

Well, no, frankly I don’t. Sure, Capital One has control of the employee in that they can fire them if they have a detected problem. However, what is to prevent that out-sourced employee from going home and sharing my information with her brother, husband or lover? That could also happen in the US, but at least we have the FBI and current laws in place to help protect us. Overseas, we have no real recourse whatsoever. Look how much trouble we have getting one of our own citizens extradited back to American soil from some of these countries. Are they going to send their own? That is highly doubtful.

I do not want my identity stolen to fund some anti-American hate or terrorist group. I don’t want it stolen at all, but it could happen. By the time you give your account number, birth date, social security number, address, checking account and routing number for billing, phone number and the name of your first grade teacher and your dog, they have enough information to do some serious damage.

This is not only a problem with financial institutions. They are now outsourcing medical billing, giving foreigners access to such privileged information that we have very strict laws about it. Though the job aspect is troubling, computer techs who work for places like Hewlett-Packard in places like India is nothing compared to financial institutions, medical information and other confidential data. What can we do to combat this trend to out-source our very lives to minimally regulated foreign countries?

First of all, we can refuse to input our account numbers by phone as they usually ask us to do. Why we have to do that, I have no idea, as they always ask for your account number when they finally get on the line. No matter what they say or ask you, you do not answer until you ask them where they are. If they are in a foreign location, ask to be transferred to a US rep. Refuse to do business with a company’s foreign out-sourced locations.

Secondly, write to the company. It does no good to complain to anyone low on the totem pole, even to the American worker or supervisor. The Capital One supervisor in Colorado told me bluntly that she had no access to upper management through meetings or in any other way.
When you write to the company, write to the CEO. If it is marked “personal and confidential,” that should at least get it to the CEO’s secretary’s assistant’s assistant.

Most Google searches will yield the name of the CEO and the company headquarters. Tell them you are not comfortable with giving out financial information to foreign workers, outsourced or not. Tell them that in the future, you will only deal with American workers. If enough of those letters happen and you do refuse to talk with foreign workers, they will listen. They won’t have a choice.

Obviously, we can not really boycott their services. Most of us owe them too much money. However, when you are getting a card in the future, you can call to ask them what their business practices are. All of this will go a long way in bringing back our jobs to America.

Monday, April 13, 2009

It Doesn't Take A Village, It Takes A Nation

Face it, our country is in trouble. We are in a major recession. We are having near record unemployment. Global warming? I am not a scientist. Therefore, since like me, most of us have to rely on others for our information, I will just ask: Can we afford not to believe it, just in case? I have 3 grandchildren. Since we've already messed up their finances, until we have a definitive answer, I will err on the side of caution. So many of these areas need our attention. Still, as ordinary Americans with limited resources and no political connections, we feel powerless to do any thing about it.

America, we have been challenged. In President Obama’s inaugural speech, he told us all that the fate of America rests as much in our hands as it does in the government’s. No matter what your party affiliation, you have to know that is right. It does not take a village, it takes a nation -- it takes the people.

There is legislation which has come about because one person, for whatever reason, decided to take a stand. That person challenged the status quo. That person said “I don’t want this to happen any more.”

For some, the route has been multi-million dollar lawsuits or class action suits. There are other ways that ordinary citizens have set out to make change. These include citizen petitions that lead to legislation or constitutional amendments, public awareness, and establishment of associations and foundations, to name just a few.

I am pursuing my issues in the public arena, in what I like to call the court of public opinion. If enough people hear you, many times so do your elected officials. I am hoping that is the case with the state of higher education. We need awareness of the issues that matter to us all and learn what we can do, as one person, to change our world for the better.

My long term issues of note include outrageous executive compensation in public corporations and injustice in the judicial and legislative system. Currently my focus is on the policies and regulations of higher education. I want to educate students and parents about the pitfalls while attaining that higher education. However, my real goal is to help raise awareness and affect change in areas of policies and procedures of private for-profit schools, federal student lending programs and the corporations who really profit from it.

Many of my personal issues concern us all. Take for instance, my stance on executive compensation: Albert Lord, past chairman and current CEO of the Sallie Mae Corporation has made almost a quarter of a billion dollars during his years at the helm -- and he is not finished yet. Still, if we don’t own stock in the Sallie Mae Corporation, or any corporation for that matter (which I do not), why does it matter to us?

Obviously we can not pay our government executives the kind of money that Albert Lord is getting. I remember the debate by the city council of Largo, Florida, around 1997 or so, to raise the salary of our city manager, Steve Stanton to more closely match that of the raised salary of the city manager in Clearwater, Florida. The council was also concerned about being able to retain a man of his talent and experience in light of competition from the increasingly large executive salaries in the private sector.

The result of debate is that in the next 10 years, his salary went up by 55% to over $140,000 while the median family income of the rest of the county rose by just over 12.5% to approximately $44,000. Never mind that the 2007 council forgot all about his talent and expertise in running the city --which I thought was highly debatable in 1997-- when he decided to go from being Steve to Cindy by way of a sex change operation. Cindy, you’re fired!

Money insulates the wealthy against the problems that ordinary people face. Can the wealthy really know what is best for us? Those tax dollars belong to us. Do they feel the same pinch when those tax dollars are not enough and ask us for more? Those dollars are for such trivial items as infrastructure, government services such as police and fire protection, and upkeep of our resources, among others.

Hopefully, now you can see why Albert Lord’s multi-million dollar paychecks matter to us all. Just in case, I will raise one more point: His paychecks are primarily funded by same source that Steve Stanton’s were. Sallie Mae makes most of its dollars from originating and servicing federal student loans, courtesy of our tax dollars.

We need to raise our voices loud enough to be heard. We need to let our legislature know that we are not going to stand by and watch our tax dollars spent frivolously any longer. I know there is a lot of controversy on the bail-outs. I believe that the bankruptcy of large financial institutions might possibly bankrupt us all. We also have to admit that both administrations have now have used it as a solution, thereby taking the partisanship out of it.

Whether you agreed with the bail-outs or not, you have to agree on this: as it was our taxpaying dollars used for that bailout, we have earned the right to step up to the plate with our demands. Can we agree that it is past time to have policies and systems in place so that these insolvencies become a thing of the past?

We can do that by checking executive salaries, bonuses and other forms of compensation. We can do that by not allowing these companies to grow so large and diverse. Insurance companies need to sell insurance and banks need to manage finances. Neither has any business in the other business. The Gram-Leach Bliley Act in 1999 ended a long time separation of banking and insurance activities. Again, neither needed to take on the additional services of securities, but they did. In 2004, the large national banks wanted in the real estate business of brokering and sales. Since they already are in the business with loans and title services, I should think that was enough. How much worse would our bank insolvency be if they had been in real estate too?

Part of the problem was that national banks do not have to conform to state legislation, leading to a lack of licensure for those banks if real estate sales were allowed. Let's see: Bank of America provides the loan, sells us title insurance and title services for the sale, homeowners insurance, mortgage insurance and then offers us a mutual fund to go along with it. They want to sell it too?

There was a reason why insurance and banking were separate entities. Most of our eggs ended up in one basket and it is time to review those dangerous liaisons. We did not allow all that, our government officials did. Most of us didn't even know about it until the markets started collapsing.

We can no longer afford a government that is insulated from its people. Our people have to speak out on the issues that affect us most. We have to demand accountability for our tax dollars and adherence to our basic rights as outlined in the constitution. At our voting booths, constitutional amendments should be written in easy to understand language so we know what we are voting on, as should all of our laws.

It should be illegal to put a bill up for vote in the House or the Senate that has add on items and pork that have no relationship to the bill. Pork should be handled like the ordinary citizen is expected to handle his own finances: after the bills are paid, if there is money left over, pork away. In the meantime, pork off!

It should also be illegal for Senators and Congressman to be absent from work so often. We allow them the same freedom to come and go at will as if they actually owned the government. It is no wonder some of them start to think they do. Where is the accountability?

It should be illegal for these same legislators to spend an obscene amount of “company” time and lobbyist money campaigning for the next term or higher office on our dime. It should also be illegal for them to spend such obscene amounts to do so, effectively knocking out, perhaps more qualified, candidates who do not have the same political strings to pull. It should also be illegal to work for the good of the party and not the good of the people once in office.

Out of all these things, is there even one thing that you could take a stand on? Could it be global warming, medical research, tax funded “artwork,” gay marriage or just the sorry state of education in general? Surely there is something you can do to make a difference, even if it is just writing to your representative.

America, this is your call to arms. Step up and serve your country. Please answer the call in whatever way suits you best, but answer it. The future of our country is in your hands.

Friday, April 10, 2009

One Person Can Make A Difference

To all the retirees of America who thought that through hard work, investments, and promises that they had a secure future, but whose very security has been dashed by greed and corruption, you have been chosen once again to make the ultimate sacrifice.

To the millions of tax paying Americans who currently work every day to provide a living for their families and have security in retirement, many of you have sacrificed your life savings and future retirement to that same corruption.

To the many unemployed Americans, whose homes, families and way of life are threatened by that unemployment, you have sacrificed your confidence and your peace of mind.

To the many of our young Americans who have gone, or are going on, to a higher education, so that you may live the same American dream that your parents and grandparents did before you, you have sacrificed your innocence, but let us not make that your future as well.

To all of you, collectively, you have a right to feel bitter and used. You already knew that many executives were getting indecently wealthy off the backs of American workers and taxpayers. You already knew, by media reports and, for some, by your own experiences, that there were cases of corruption and greed in America. What we didn’t know was the depth and scope of that corruption, in our government and on Wall Street, and the lack of regulations that made it possible.

Can you possibly see some good that came out of the latest round of greed and corruption? If you are one of the millions of ordinary Americans who have no claim to fame or fortune, but yet saw your future security lost on Wall Street or in the housing crash, you probably can not. Since your financial security was built on a pile of sand, isn’t it good to know it now rather than later?

The loss of our personal financial stability and that of our government’s -- that even affects far flung places around the globe -- has hastened the urgency of reform in the government and on Wall Street. I have long been disgusted by corporate raiding to make a quick profit at the expense of the workers. I am appalled at the obscene salaries, bonuses, stock options and exit compensation of corporate executives, even as they are outsourcing our jobs to foreign countries to cut costs.

No matter your political affiliation, most Americans have, at one time or another, felt strongly about the issue when one of these cases comes to light. We didn’t like it, but felt powerless to do something about it. In the history of our country, there have always been cases of corruption. Let us work to eliminate that in the future.

In the past, our only real voice was the Congressman and the Senators who we sent to our state capitals and to Washington. However, they only gave voice to the people who voted for them. The ones that disagreed with their platform really still had no voice. Though these elected officials, once in office, are supposed to suspend party affiliations and work for the common good, we all know that doesn’t often happen. Too many important pieces of legislation have been voted along party lines.

I have lost faith in my representatives in Washington to do our bidding. Though they may go there initially to do just that, soon most of them are caught up in the interests of campaign contributors, lobbyists and other special interest groups. It is time for us all to make a difference. It is time to let our government know that we are taking back our voice, that we, the people, are the special interest group.

Today, we do have a voice. Thanks to the invention of the internet, public forums and blogs, we all have a chance to be heard. It is past time for the ordinary American to stand up and be heard. No matter what your passionate issue is, it is time to take a stand. It is time for one person to make a difference, because one person can make a difference.

Throughout history, there are many cases of ordinary people of ordinary means who did make a difference. In the case of Rosa Parks, she later said that she didn’t set out to start the Civil Rights Movement. After a long hard day of work, she was just too tired to give up her seat to a white passenger. Rosa Parks, a seamstress, made such a difference that there is a man of color in the White House today, something many never thought possible.

Richard and Maureen Kanka, whose daughter Megan was abducted and murdered by a known sexual predator made a difference. They started a petition to change the way that police departments deal with child abduction. In only 89 days, with over 400,000 signatures on the petition, Megan's Law was passed by the New Jersey Legislature. The ultimate result of that was the federal Megan's Law. Megan'sDue to their efforts and some others who also played a significant role, all Americans now have the right to be informed if a sexual predator moves into their neighborhood.

Though they may be somewhat famous now, those were just ordinary people before circumstances made them speak out. They saw an injustice and did something about it. There are many, many more that have walked in those same shoes. Ordinary people can and do make a difference.

That is the name and theme of this blog: One Person: The One Person Movement. I want my voice to be heard. I want to make a difference. I want you to want to make a difference too. Each of us, as one person who cares can, alone and collectively, make a difference on the issues that affect us all. One person can make a difference.