Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Service of Congestion Pricing that is Giving Yellow Taxis the Flu

Thursday, February 7th, 2019

Photo: amny.com

I tucked this horrible decision on the part of New York Governor Cuomo into an early December post, “Service of I Love New York… But Don’t Push It.”

It’s too important a move–a giant $2.50 surcharge on every ride in yellow taxis in Midtown Manhattan–big enough to fell an essential NYC industry.

A judge postponed the measure from January 1, which was the deadline when I originally wrote about the debilitating tax. It started last weekend. I’m appalled. As a result, I forecast the end of an industry that served me, my parents and grandparents so well. According to Google, it was the first Yellow Cabs that in mid-1880 knocked “less predictable” competitors out of the ring in the big apple.

Yellow cab owners have invested so much in their businesses, and NYC’s citizens whose cabs touch a toe below 96th Street and are slapped with the surcharge, don’t deserve this. Tossing a tax on the vulnerable to solve your financial difficulties in an allied but otherwise unrelated sector isn’t the way to go.

I’d written on December 6, 2018:

Photo: fineartamerica.com

The January 1, 2019 $2.50 congestion pricing fee will help destroy the already limping yellow cab industry and hurt citizens of modest or microscopic means who rely on traditional cabs. Many can’t manage busses or subways, can’t afford limos or don’t have smartphones to hire car services like Uber or Lyft. The fee impacts “any yellow cab, e-hail or other for-hire vehicle trips that start, pass through or end in a designated ‘congestion zone’ below 96th Street in Manhattan,” Vincent Barone wrote in amny.com.

What’s the destination of the some $400 million the tax man anticipates collecting? According to Barone, it will help the Metropolitan Transit Authority [MTA]  which is “financially strapped.”

Services like Lyft and Uber are charged a $2.75 fee but because they can fiddle with their basic price which yellow taxis can’t, they could make rides cheaper than traditional cabs—another stab to the financial heart of their competitor.

Barone reported: “‘The fact that it will cost $5.80 to step into a taxi cab now is going to be devastating for the taxi industry,’ TLC Commissioner Meera Joshi said after a City Council oversight hearing on the surcharges, referencing the existing fees on taxi trips. ‘The other sectors … have more flexibility. They have to add $2.75 on but they’re not bound to a metered fare, so they can reduce the price of the trip so that the passenger doesn’t feel the effect of the $2.75.’”

I took [too] many yellow cabs last weekend between my current and future apartment filled with TJ Maxx bags holding my plants, food and other items movers don’t carry. My suitcase was embarrassingly heavy. Each driver was helpful, grateful and cheerful. Only one pointed out that drivers don’t benefit from a penny of the surcharge yet their volume will be impacted. “People don’t take us for short trips like they did before–look at the meter: $9 for a few blocks.”

Do you think that there is a chance for a rollback to a more reasonable surcharge such as 50 cents instead of $2.50? What impactful action might we take to put the brakes on this poorly conceived method of paying for the city’s subway system? Why does this city care more about bicyclists than about pedestrians or taxi drivers?

Photo: amny.com

Service of What To Do About Identity Theft

Thursday, November 2nd, 2017

Photo: Teachprivacy.com

The more I read about data breaches especially of companies, like Equifax, that are supposed to guard our personal information and countless subsequent almost daily articles about what to do about it, the more anxious I get. After a scampered through Tara Siegel Bernard’s excellent piece in The New York Times, I wasn’t one bit relieved. In “Is It Time to Consider an Identity Protection Service?” in addition to “not necessarily,” I kept thinking “fox in the henhouse!” In 2014, the most recent year for which there are statistics, she said that 17.6 million were victims of identity theft where perpetrators tried to enter bank or credit card accounts.

And just as I thought I was up to date and that it was time to write about this I read Michael Rapoport and AnnaMaria Andriotis’ article in Monday’s Wall Street Journal, “States Quiz Equifax on Disclosure,” which reports that “Attorneys general in at least five states are looking into why credit-reporting firm Equifax Inc. didn’t tell the public for nearly six weeks about the massive data breach that potentially compromised the personal information of 148.5 million Americans.”

Photo: itsecuritygury.org

Back to Bernard. She wrote about services such as LifeLock and MyIDCare, so-called protection services, and the news wasn’t reassuring. A security analyst who works for a tech research firm Avivah Litan, told Bernard that she felt these services were a waste of money.

Bernard continued: “But these services vary greatly, both in reputation and in offerings, according to fraud and privacy experts. Signing up also requires consumers to entrust yet another corporate entity with their most sensitive data — many of the same details stolen in the Equifax breach — while entering into legal agreements filled with fine print that leads consumers to give up many rights.”

More distressing: “Some of the more prominent services also have questionable histories. The Government Accountability Office counts at least 16 federal enforcement actions taken against providers of identity theft protection—financial services among them.” Bernard reported that Lifelock didn’t secure client’s “most sensitive data,” and promoted false advertising, resulting in a $100 million fine paid the FTC. That was in 2015. This year Equifax and Transunion settled “a regulator’s allegations that they tricked consumers into paying for credit scores of questionable value.” Together they paid $23 million.

Bernard explained what the protection services do. They hire the big services, [such as Equifax, TransUnion and Experian], to look for any changes in activity such as new credit cards, a big increase in what you owe or a late payment so you hear about it after the damage is done. They also claim to scan and monitor a whole list of things such as misuse of medical ID and Social Security numbers, but “they aren’t necessarily going to prevent a crime.”

Photo: feex.com

Bernard added: “But consumers need to be able to trust that the companies will protect the information they are scanning for. Identity Guard asks consumers to provide 26 pieces of personal data, though Mr. [Johan] Roets says that data remains on its operational servers and never touches the internet.”

Photo: pixelmaids.com

The companies that specialize in helping once the dastardly deed is done, some with private investigators with limited power of attorney, don’t come cheap. IDShield charges $899 at first and a monthly rate of either $9.95 or $19.95 reported Bernard.

A credit freeze costs nothing and Bernard said will foil some fraud as it prevents anyone opening credit cards or loans in your name but does nothing to avoid “takeover of financial accounts and cellphones,” where plenty of activity occurs, nor does it thwart fraud relating to tax refunds and social security payments. I know three people who were told they’d already submitted their taxes. Scofflaws submitted early requesting substantial refunds. Someone had stolen their identity and submitted tax information early.

I just read on artforum.com “Hauser & Wirth, London-based dealers Simon Lee, Thomas Dane, Rosenfeld Porcini, and Laura Bartlett, and Tony Karman, the president of Expo Chicago, have all been targeted by hackers or had money stolen from them in the midst of transactions over artworks, according to a report in the Art Newspaper. The most common form of fraud so far consists of criminals hacking into an art dealer’s e-mail account and monitoring incoming and outgoing correspondence.” Eventually the hackers slip in to the email conversation pretending to be the art dealer and instruct the recipient to trash the first invoice and wire payment to their account. They disappear once the money arrives.

Bernard lists 10 steps to safeguard yourself from fraud. They range from opening a “My Social Security Account” with the Social Security Administration to prevent a thief from redirecting your benefits to dedicating one computer for all financial activity.

What have you done to protect your identity? Are you concerned or do you think it’s much ado about nothing? Do you know anyone who has had their identity breached? Do you feel that the guardians of your credit information that have potentially let it loose in the land are culpable and should be held responsible to protect you for free?

Photo: grahamsl.com

Service of Generosity: Americans are Unstinting in Giving Help

Monday, October 30th, 2017

 

Photo: bbc.com

Americans are so generous—I’m bowled over after every disaster to read totals they donate to help strangers in need. Only recently they contributed $31+ million to help hurricane victims when five living Presidents asked them for assistance and $14+ million when Hollywood stars such as Justin Bieber, Barbara Streisand, Al Pacino and others entertained for the cause.

Photo: process.st

I’m concerned about some requests for help I’ve seen on an online crowdfunding platform. Someone recently promoted one on Facebook with good intentions: It was placed by family members of a Las Vegas shooting victim he knew, asking for $100,000. Read the whole request and you see they wanted money for more than funeral and related expenses. [I thought $100,000 would pay for an awfully fancy funeral.] Some of the funds were for a college fund for the dead woman’s nieces and nephews. Cynical me figured her sibling[s] were making the request. I bet most people didn’t even notice this detour because they were so upset at this horrendous ending to a life. Early in the game $60,000 had already been pledged. I felt that the additional cause, amounting to a bequest, was a stretch and should have had its own post.

There are tax advantages to giving yet I can’t help but conjecture that citizens donating to the hurricane funds dug into shallow pockets, in many cases, without a thought of tax deductions. Similarly, people rushing to help families of murder victims have altruistic thoughts first. Do you agree? Are you careful when sending money to requests via Kickstarter and similar online vehicles for attracting money where you underwrite projects and other causes? Have you been moved to give an impulse donation?

Photo: cokesburycommons.com

Service of Networking: Is That All There Is?

Thursday, September 7th, 2017

Photo: successinhr.com

 Adam Grant, a New York Times opinion writer, author and Wharton School professor doesn’t think networking is all that it’s cracked up to be. Think of the numerous networking events–or how to network workshops–you may have forced yourself to attend. A cornerstone offering of industry associations to which I belong, his article “Networking is Overrated” caught my eye.

Photo: LinkedIn.com

Grant wrote that when he read research about how people in one study felt about networking—dirty—it made him want to take a shower. Clearly he would rather not network at cocktail parties. This could very well be one of the reasons LinkedIn is so popular. It’s painless networking while you sleep.

I selected a few paragraphs that support his position. Grant wrote: 

Photo 123rf.com

“Not long ago, I watched a colleague try to climb the ladder of success solely through networking. For a few years, he managed to meet increasingly influential people and introduce them to one another. Eventually it fell apart when they realized he didn’t have a meaningful connection with any of them. Networking alone leads to empty transactions, not rich relationships.”

So what to do in place of networking? Become skilled at something Grant suggests.

Photo: geocaching.com

“Of course, accomplishments can build your network only if other people are aware of them. You have to put your work out there. It shouldn’t be about promoting yourself, but about promoting your ideas. Evidence shows that tooting your own horn doesn’t help you get a job offer or a board seat, and when employees bend over backward to highlight their skills and accomplishments, they actually get paid less and promoted less. People find self-promotion so distasteful that they like you more when you’re praised by someone else–even if they know you’ve hired an agent to promote you.” [What a perfect example of the importance of third party endorsement, a cornerstone of the value of PR!]

Grant sagely pointed out that the “right people” will help you depending on what you have to offer. “Building a powerful network doesn’t require you to be an expert at networking. It just requires you to be an expert at something.”

“The best networking happens when people gather for a purpose other than networking, to learn from one another or help one another.” [That’s my kind of networking.]

Do you like to network? Do you agree with Adam Grant? Have you made worthwhile connections doing so? Were you surprised by Grant’s conclusion that tooting your own horn has a negative impact on job searches and promotions?

Photo: greatfxprinting.com

 

Service of Summer Reading

Thursday, June 22nd, 2017

Photo: fineartamerica.com

When you were a kid, did you leave school for summer vacation with a reading list? I did. Some of the books ended up in my camp trunk nevertheless there usually was a scramble to finish what was due just before school started.

I thought of those days when I saw Ellen Gamerman’s Wall Street Journal article, “If You Could Read Only One.” In it she asked influential “literary professionals” to identify their choice of fiction published this spring or due out this summer. The pundits chose a psychological thriller; two science fiction/fantasy novels, one set in South Africa, the other in the world after civilization has collapsed; a police detective story set in Israel; an essay collection written by a blogger; a fictional 1950s Hollywood starlet’s biography and a literary fantasy taking place in NYC.

Photo: giveitlove.com

Of the seven in the article, the one that struck my fancy was “A Separation” by Katie Kitamura [Riverhead Books, February 2017]. Gamerman wrote that Lynn Lobash, who reads a book a week, thought this would be one of the year’s 10 best. The manager of reader services at the New York Public Library called the book a “character-driven psychological thriller.” Much of it takes place in southern Greece. Lobash, who is also on the American Library Association’s notable books committee, told Gamerman, “It’s relatable in that way that everybody loves to read a good psychological book—because it’s really about them.” [Check out the other titles and mini reviews by clicking on the link.]

Photo: pinterest

Some of my friends rarely read fiction so for this post, I’m expanding the reach to nonfiction and also, so that I can suggest a book. It’s “Prince Charles: the passions and paradoxes of an improbable life,” by Sally Bedell Smith, [Penguin Random House, April 2017]. I’d previously read “Reflected Glory: the life of Pamela Churchill Harriman,” so I knew I’d be in for a treat.

Bedell Smith writes well–you resent putting down her books–and they are filled with chunks of information that paint vivid pictures. Turns out that Princess Di wasn’t the angel the media made her out to be; Prince Charles was a warm and playful father that media chose to ignore and that pop—Prince Phillip—insisted on school choices that were inappropriate for Charles’ temperament. I also learned that Charles can’t tolerate anyone who disagrees with him. Once that happens, the person is cut out of his life.

Can you share a title or two that we should consider reading? It doesn’t matter if the book—fiction or nonfiction–is new. Do you read different kinds of books in summer or while on vacation than at other times of year?

 

Service of Birthdays and the 2016 Ohio Primary

Monday, March 14th, 2016

birthday cake 18

The Ohio judge’s ruling last week–that teens who turn 18 before the November 2016 presidential election can vote in the March 15 primary–struck a cord because the date of my birth mattered when I was a teen.

I arrived at summer camp to discover I’d been placed in a summer campcabin with kids a year below me in school. Why? My birthday fell a few days after the camp’s arbitrary August 31 deadline for 15/16 year olds. Being with one’s peers is crucial at that age but there was a far more critical situation at play. The kids who were 16 before the cutoff were considered for junior counselor, a much promoted honor. [Some honor: Parents paid the hefty camp fee minus a few dollars and their kids worked like dogs.] I was out of the running and I was crushed. I later learned that my parents put up a fight but a rule was a rule and life’s not fair. I soon adjusted to my cabin mates and had a good time but that was the last year I attended this or any other summer camp.

judges rulingAccording to Ann Sanner in “17-Year-Olds Can Vote in Ohio’s Presidential Primary Tuesday,” her Associated Press article, “The judge’s decision reversed instructions from the swing state’s election chief just days before Tuesday’s primary and amid early voting. Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted initially vowed to appeal the ruling, then opted not to fight it after a state appeals court set a hearing for Monday.”

We read that many kids are no longer chomping at the bit, as in years of yore, to get their driver’s licenses, but some still do. Should the age states permit kids testing for their license slide around according to circumstances—say a family is moving abroad for a parent’s three year assignment–or should the age restriction stay firm? What about drinking laws if grandpa is springing for a giant party for his grandchild’s 21st and the catering hall is only free a week before?

Back to Ohio: If you must be 18 to vote in a primary, should that rule stick? Has the date of your birth impacted your immediate future? Are there other examples where rules have been bent or reinterpreted–or should have been?

primary election

Service of Working at a Snail’s Pace

Thursday, March 3rd, 2016

Snail

As I read John Barbanel’s Wall Street Journal article, “Landmark Label for 65 Properties rejected by City,” I kept thinking, “Why has it taken so long for a commission to come to no decision about 95 NYC properties?” Some of the properties in The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission backlog date back to its launch 50 years ago, according to Matt A.V. Chaban in The New York Times.

The Commission was created by Mayor Robert F. Wagner in 1965, a year after Pennsylvania Station was destroyed, I read in Wikipedia. Its chairwoman Meenakshi Srinivasan—who has been working on the current review since November 2014–wanted to toss out all 95 in the backlog to start with a clean slate. It is still considering 30 on this list.

To be cavalier about destroying the chances of 95 potential landmarks, some of which enrich the look of the city, I can only guess that Srinivasan has never been to downtown Des Moines. I haven’t been in years, but a striking memory was the measly one square block of handsome period buildings with enchanting architectural elements which housed thriving businesses that had remodeled the interiors beautifully. There must have been more such buildings though when I was there I passed countless empty lots. I have nothing against modern buildings but I love the old ones too. They make walks in London and Paris [photo below left] and countless other towns and cities memorable.

Bergdorf GoodmanEvan Bindelglass in Newyorkyimby.com reported that in 2015, the Commission designated six landmarks and four historic districts. By dragging its feet the Commission leaves in the lurch owners who may want to erase a building from the city’s skyline altogether. With a landmark designation, they couldn’t anyway.

Saved for the moment are the Pepsi-Cola sign that’s been on the Long Island City waterfront since about 1936 and the Fifth Avenue Bergdorf Goodman building [photo right]. They’d been considering the latter since 1970! Also slated for landmark designation are a YMCA in Harlem, Loew’s Theater on west 175th Street and St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, Parish House and rectory on West 99th Street [photo below, center].

Some of the losers, not to be considered, are the home of President Chester A. Arthur and Union Square, both in Manhattan, and the Cunard Mansion on Staten Island. Some others excised from consideration: a whole bunch of 42nd Street theatres such as Empire, Liberty, Lyric, Times Square and New Apollo, and the original James McCreery & Co. store.Barbanel noted that “The City Council can reject or modify a landmark designation, and often defers to local council members. But some commissioners were troubled by the deference.” There are 11 of them. And in theory, he wrote, any of the 65 currently on the cutting room floor could be reconsidered.

walk in ParisWikipedia set my mind at rest that the Commission hasn’t always been asleep. Between 1965 and 1990 it “designated 856 buildings, 79 interiors and 9 parks or other outdoor places as landmarks while declaring 52 neighborhoods with more than 15,000 buildings as historic districts.”  Wikipedia continued “As of April 16, 2014, there are more than 31,000 landmark properties in New York City…. The total number of protected sites includes 1,332 individual landmarks, 115 interior landmarks and 10 scenic landmarks.”

What are some of your favorite buildings or interiors either in NYC or elsewhere that you are grateful are preserved? What is it about some of the 95 properties that have caused the Commission to drag its feet?

St. Michael's Episcopal Church

Service of Work and Calendars

Monday, February 29th, 2016

 

Calendar with holidaysIf people would just consult a calendar before arranging for any event they’d save a lot of time and angst. But the New York City school system person in charge of scheduling parent teacher meetings didn’t bother and chose March 17. He/she must be fresh from elsewhere as most New Yorkers know that’s St. Patrick’s Day [or maybe this was the only day her boss was free].

One teacher, according to Noel Baker with the Irishexaminer.com, “lodged the legal challenge with the New York City Human Rights Commission after he claimed the timing of the meeting would mean he would miss the city’s parade.” According to Baker the teacher, Frank J Schorn, is also vice-president of the Emerald Isle Immigration Centre where his lawyer is chair.

St. Patrick's DayWrote Baker, the lawyer said “The scheduling of the conferences on the most sacred day for Irish Americans not only interferes with the religious observance of the many Irish-American school teachers and administrators employed by the Department of Education, it similarly interferes with the rights of the parents of children enrolled in the New York City school system and that they also must make a choice between discussing their child’s scholastic progress or observing a religious feast day.”

Irishlegal.com notes that Schorn’s lawyers “have requested an injunction preventing the conference and future conferences from going ahead on St Patrick’s Day” and quotes  Schorn as saying “The insensitive scheduling of parent-teacher meetings on March 17th has put me in an untenable position of choosing between my ethnic and religious heritage and my duty to help my students. I foresee being prevented from attending any Irish cultural events on March 17th.”

Isn’t Easter the most sacred day for Catholics Irish American or otherwise? Is a parade and meeting to celebrate with friends and family religious? Should a teacher take off from work to watch a parade? Haven’t most working grownups had to miss holiday events due to work schedules or deadlines? Do you think that the New York City school system should cave and change the date for parent/teacher meetings?

Injunction

Service of Trends

Monday, January 11th, 2016

Trends 1

Manufacturers and inventors keep an eye out for trends to determine what they’ll introduce, in what colors and materials, to address which needs, real or fabricated.

In The Wall Street Journal, Geoffrey A. Fowler and Joanna Stern shared highlights of the latest gadgets at the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. In “The Wondrous and Wacky Year Ahead in Gadgets,” they chose to call out a laptop slimmer than a MacBook; a smartwatch focused on fitness; the Digitsole Smartshoe, a “highly connected sneaker”; a pod-based mixed drink maker [you’ve seen/used similar systems that make coffee]; a smart bed that “responds to your fitness tracker;” an alarm clock that awakes you with scents such as croissant or the sea and “Lego robots that teach science and coding.”

Trends 2It’s fun to conjecture what trends the creators tapped to determine the need for/timing of their gadget intros. For example:

  • Do they think we’ll have cause to drink as many cocktails as cups of coffee this year?
  • Fitness is on the tips of tongues of millions but how many exercycles and yoga mats can a health-driven person own? Enter some of these year’s intros: Will we become more vigorous and healthy as we compete with our records tracked by the latest gauges or will these gadgets soon pack landfills like exercise systems of yore?
  • Will our laptop choices reflect our fitness goals so we’ll toss out our “fat” ones in favor of a skinnier version?

Trends 3In another world dependent on trends, David A. Keeps, also in the Journal, interviewed five interior designers recently for their opinions of what was in and out of style. IN are: Black metals, rounded furniture, ornamentation such as tassels, Mexican midcentury modern and Scandinavian flat weave flooring. OUT are: Sisal and jute floor covering, “oppressive midcentury modern” and industrial looks, facets [on armoires or objets d’art] and rosy metallics.

Do you think that people toss their rugs and furniture if they learn that pundits consider them “Out”? How often would you change your upholstery, floor covering and window coverings if the expense was immaterial?

Do trends influence any of your purchases for yourself or others whether in technology, food or fashion?

 

Trends 4

Service of Reading the Small Print III

Thursday, December 17th, 2015

Redeem now

I love receiving gift cards. If you’re in the market to buy some this season, take heed. I had a run-in with two issued by a company with an otherwise stellar reputation: American Express. If you give or receive this kind of card, my experience should be helpful.

First, if you use the card to pay for certain types of services, your bill will be subject to a 20 percent surcharge to cover the tip. It will automatically be added to the total whether or not this is the amount you had in mind or whether you prefer giving tips in cash.

small printThe small print that comes with the card is fuzzier about this than the person who called me from AmEx was. She called because I was enraged enough at what happened to us when I tried to use the card in a restaurant that I wrote two men: the corporation’s executive VP corporate affairs and communications and the president of consumer products and services—but I’m jumping ahead.

gift card 3According to the enclosure that came with the cards in teensy, tiny print [the capital letters are theirs], “Restaurants, hair salons and some other types of Merchants may obtain an authorization on the Card for an amount of up to 20% more than the total service bill to cover any gratuity that may be added.” The person the suits asked to call me said I would be charged 20 percent as did the customer service person I spoke with from the restaurant where I tried, unsuccessfully, to use the card.

So what happened? It was embarrassing. I was treating my husband to dinner and presented my gift cards. After a long time, the waiter returned to the table to say the cards didn’t work so he couldn’t redeem the money. Before we met there, I’d called AmEx to confirm that I didn’t need authorization to use the cards, that in fact there was money in each [I’d been given an empty card once before!] and checked that the restaurant accepted the cards: All clear.

paying with gift cardAfter a frustrating amount of time on the phone to an AmEx customer service person who hardly spoke English and who took eight to 10 minutes to figure out what 20 percent of our total bill would be–I hung up and my husband paid for dinner with his credit card.

The executive office staffer who called to calm me after her bosses got my letter said someone from AmEx would contact the restaurant to train staff to redeem such cards. I didn’t ask why redeeming money from a gift card is so difficult that it required training.

I was reluctant to use the cards but $70 is $70 and why should American Express keep the money? So after a few months I gave the gift card another try selecting a place that didn’t involve service charges. I checked with the customer service dept at the grocery store I visit weekly and was told to present the cards to the cashier. I did. Neither worked. So on the next business day I called the executive office staffer who confirmed that the cards were good and suggested I buy something for less than the value on the card. I’m game. She’s nice. We have a friendly relationship. We laugh. Her phone number is in my mobile. I promised to report if the card works or not.

What did I learn about this gift card? 1) It’s best not to purchase a service with it where tips are standard if you want the freedom to give what you think is right and 2) Make certain that your purchases come in under the amount of the gift card and expect to forfeit some of the money. Why the latter? What are the chances that you will owe precisely $50 and $20 for anything you buy?

Do you think that the money left on millions of gift cards is enough to make this complicated, convoluted situation worthwhile to a major corporation? Am I the only one to run into such snags? Have you confronted similar hurdles with gift cards or in attempts to redeem anything else? Have you given or received a gift that turned out to be more of a pain than a treat?

$50 gift card$20 gift card

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