Archive for October, 2019

Service of a NJ School District Punishing Kids for Unpaid Lunch Bills

Thursday, October 31st, 2019

Photo: columbustelegram.com

What is it about school systems and children’s lunches that brings out the worst in some? In May, 2017 I wrote “Service of Humiliating, Harmful Strategies to Get Paid: Lunch Shaming,” exposing administrators in Canonsburg, Pa. who humiliated children whose parents hadn’t paid their lunch fees, not letting the kids eat. Earlier, in a different post, I suggested the NYC school system pay for breakfast and lunch for kids who couldn’t afford it and lower their spending on laptops from the Rolls Royce version they had in mind to a serviceable but cheaper model.

Photo: northersey.com

Recently Ella Torres wrote about a Cherry Hill “New Jersey school district [that] is banning students with school lunch debt from attending extracurricular activities, including prom and field trips” or from buying a yearbook. The ABC news journalist reported “Middle school students who owe $75 or more in school lunch fees will face the same punishment, while elementary school students will be barred from participating in after-school events and attending class trips.”

Torres quoted a grandparent who said: “It is an elitist assumption on the part of this school board that parents are not paying a bill because they don’t want to.”

A senior asked the board ” ‘What are colleges gonna think?’ noting how important extracurricular activities are on applications.”

According to Torres, NJ.com reported that meal debt in the district was over $14,000, counting students of all ages owing $10 or more.

At least the district still feeds kids who owe lunch money.

Photo: impactteachers.com

The school superintendent, Dr. Joseph Meloche, said: “Money is certainly something that we have to deal with. That’s our world, but that’s not the most important thing that we’re addressing in terms of the policy and the work that’s being done. It’s about supporting children and supporting families … sometimes the right thing is not the easy thing to do.”

I haven’t changed my mind: Depriving or punishing kids over issues of food is atrocious. Do you agree? Prom, the yearbook, extracurricular activities and school trips are big deals for kids. Will deprivation cover the debt? Is this an appropriate way to teach kids a lesson–making them pressure their parents to pay up when it’s the school that should be doing so?  Are there jobs kids–especially the young ones–can do to pay off some of the debt? How do other districts handle it–taxes or fundraisers?

Photo: tes.com

Service of Insurance: What it Pays For, Making Coverage Easier and When a Company Should Consider Ducking Coverage

Monday, October 28th, 2019

Photo: aiche.org

If I had back all the premiums I’ve paid for everything from renter’s and owner’s to car, life and health–even Social Security–insurance I’d be a wealthy woman as many would be. I admit that when I’ve needed it, I was grateful for the coverage.

For humanitarian reasons I question how insurance companies can get away with not covering a sick person for lifesaving medication and related legitimate health expenses. Drugs that aren’t on approved lists aren’t covered nor is unlimited home health care which is cheaper and in most cases far better than carting off a person to a nursing home. In this post I write about a pharmaceutical company that’s addressing how to help insurance companies pay for a pricey drug.

I also question whether an insurance company should have to pay an organization’s settlement and legal expenses in cases of abuse. The exception would be legal expenses. They should pay them if the accusations prove false.

Medical

Here’s a creative way that pharmaceutical company Novartis is helping insurance companies pay for Zolgensma, the most expensive drug in the world. I first read about it this summer in a Wall Street Journal [WSJ] article by Denise Roland, “Insurers Limit Access to $2 Million Drug.” One dose of the innovative gene therapy helps prevent a rare condition in young children from getting worse.

They are born without a gene that controls the muscles that allow them to sit up and later, stand on their own. When this article was written, insurance companies were reluctant to spring for the money to pay for the one injection because they weren’t sure it would work. It is meant to halt the progression of the disease, it doesn’t reverse or cure it. It is most effective when given in infancy, before symptoms appear.

Photo: zolbensma.com

Things have changed since summer. Recently Novartis made concessions to help patients acquire the drug. Denise Roland and  Carlo Martuscelli explained the company’s compromises in the WSJ article “Novartis Lauds Launch of World’s Most Expensive Drug.”

Novartis agreed to refund some of the cost to the insurance company if the drug didn’t work. It also offered to divide the cost evenly over five years [though few insurers have opted for this choice]. Sales of $160,000 in the first three months have exceeded analyst expectations. CEO Vas Narasimhan “said on a call with reporters that 99 percent of patients who were eligible for Zolgensma were receiving it, although some must go through an appeal process to do so.” Regardless, Narasimhan said patients “on average” received the drug within 30 days of requesting it.

Insuring Abuse

On the other hand I wonder how some insurance customers think that they should collect and why a company should pay them.

The title of a recent WSJ article by Nicole Friedman and Ian Lovett was: “Insurers Face Wave of Costly Child Sex-Abuse Claims–As 22 states move to ease victims’ pursuit of damages against alleged abusers, disputes over decades-old policies loom.” In New York, the Child Victims Act gives victims a year to report abuse with no time limits.

Photo: correllfirm.com

The reporters wrote: “Most of these institutions, such as churches or schools, are expected to try to use liability insurance to cover some of the cost of defending against these lawsuits and paying potential damages.” They continued ” The legal disputes underscore the complexity of litigating decades-old claims and the uncertainty about how much money will ultimately be available to compensate victims.” It could be $billions they estimated.

According to them insurance companies have already paid 20 to 80 percent of settlements for victims against churches. [The New York Archdiocese has been compensated in one or another way since 1954.]

Photo: businessinsurance.com

As the statute of limitations kicked in, insurers calculated what their exposure would be. Now that it has been lifted for a year, those calculations are out the window and exposure to compensation has increased, but not without complications. “Many institutions and insurers don’t hold on to decades-old policy documents, and it can be difficult to track down details. Sometimes ‘insurance archaeologists’ are hired to hunt down evidence of old policies,” Friedman and Lovett reported.

They identified additional reasons to derail compensation: Did the policyholder know about the alleged abuse? “Liability insurance policies typically cover negligent acts but not intentional ones.” And should a claim cover one alleged abuser or each of his victims?

Do you agree that health insurers/Rx plans should cover costs for medicine, generic if necessary–even expensive experimental drugs?

What about an institution with a sexual predator among its employees?  Should court or settlement costs be eligible for insurance coverage if the person is proved guilty? Wouldn’t this be like my buying insurance to cover my legal and bond costs were I to be accused of robbing a bank?

Photo: witc.edu

Service of Pride in Work

Thursday, October 24th, 2019

Photo: youtube

Hair-raising

I have been going to the same hair stylist and salon for years. Support staff in the establishment changes frequently. Most recently this neighborhood business hired a hair washer who, when he’s finished rinsing, adds a spectacular head massage for minutes–no extra charge [though my appreciation appears in his tip]. Heaven. When not washing hair he never sits still, sweeping away every hair practically as soon as it hits the bright white floor. Who knows if he loves what he does but his pleasant nature and fervor insure that he’ll always get work. He’s at the salon a few days a week and is a bartender at night.

Hauntingly Charming

I forgot I’d dashed off a note to the manager of my apartment building. I admired the fall decorations that appeared in the entrance early in the month and the abundant flowers planted outside. When I passed him in the lobby weeks later he beamed and thanked me for my note. I’ve written before about him and the 510 apartments he oversees. He runs the 38 story building as though it was his private home.

Brick by Brick

In the 30s, east of Second Avenue in Manhattan, there are sterile streets spanning two blocks–no stores, no doors to apartments or offices–just road and narrow sidewalks on either side, which is unusual. The passages permit vehicles quick access to the Midtown Tunnel that runs under the East River connecting this borough and Queens.

I walk through one almost daily on my way to and from work [photo left and below]. It was out of commission and closed to pedestrian and vehicle traffic for a few days to lay down new sidewalks and brick walls. This particular morning a crew was adding some finishing touches. As I sauntered past I said to the crew chief “looking good” and he stopped me to point out particulars of his men’s handiwork. He was so pleased someone noticed the brickwork and sidewalks and joyfully shared some finer points.

It is a pleasure to be around people who act as though they like what they do, who do their work well and with pride. Can you share examples?

Service of a Potentially Hidden Hurdle to Sell a House

Monday, October 21st, 2019

photo: homestratosphere.com

I prefer old to new homes and am distressed to learn when a historic home hits the dust.

But a twist unearthed by Wall Street Journal reporter Kris Frieswick in “When a Home Is Suddenly Called ‘Historic’” gives me pause about buying one with history. Her subhead tells it all: “Historic designations are becoming controversial as third parties seek landmark status on a home, often against the homeowner’s wishes, as a way to block demolition or development of a property.”

askbelmontcitizens.wordpress.com

She wrote about one couple who was on the cusp of selling their St. Petersburg, Fla. home and had made an offer on another when out of the blue they received a certified letter that put the brakes on their sale. They needed a last piece–a demolition permit–to close the deal to the purchaser, a developer planning to tear it down.

The next door neighbor had alerted the local Community Planning and Preservation Commission and filled out an application to give their home a historic property designation which froze the sale until the City Council approved it or rejected the demolition block put on it.

Photo: dcurbanmom.com

“Potential buyers of property in an established historic district can learn before a purchase what changes are subject to oversight by a historic commission. But with third-party application, when anyone in a community can request a historic designation on a property at any time, homeowners wishing to demolish or significantly renovate the exterior of their home could be stopped by restrictions they never bargained for.”

I’ve seen once beautiful neighborhoods destroyed by people with little taste and fat wallets who demolish charming, vintage smaller homes tucked into stunning landscaping grown over years only to fill almost the entire lot with a monstrosity [photos top, right and left]. The originals were not historic homes but replacing them with giant eyesores bereft of mature perennials, trees and bushes is nonetheless visually criminal in my opinion.

Do you support the concept of a third-party application to a preservation commission about a neighbor’s home that can delay or stop a sale? I empathize with neighbors who fight to maintain the charm of where they live. At the same time I sympathize with someone anxious to sell.

Should a homeowner refuse to sell to a developer or individual planning to tear down a place with significance to a community? Shouldn’t people avoid buying such a home in the first place if they want the flexibility to sell to any and everyone?

 

 

Photo: appuntiturisimo.it

 

Service of Calling a Spade a Spade

Thursday, October 17th, 2019

Photo: Steamit.com

I can’t sell a ring with glass in the setting and call it a diamond; I can’t call a synthetic textile cashmere, linen or silk no matter what it looks or feels like.

So why is it OK for the substitute milk producers to call their oat, almond or coconut alternatives milk?  And what about the food fiddlers who use the meat word to ID their plant-based alternatives?

Photo: Nexgrill.com

In “Dairy, Beef Products Fight for Shelf Space with Plant-based Alternatives,” Wall Street Journal reporters Heather Haddon and Jacob Bunge write about what cattle ranchers and dairy farmers are doing about it.

They wrote: “Now, cattle ranchers and dairy farmers are starting to push back. Trade groups representing meat and milk producers said Monday they are ramping up marketing to underscore the difference between their cattle-made products and new rivals made from soy, almonds and peas. Plant-based replacements make up just 1% of the U.S. meat market by volume, Nielsen said.” [Nielsen the polling company.]

Photo: timesunion.com

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association “also want legal limits on the ability of plant-based producers to call their products milk or meat. This year 45 bills have been introduced in 27 states that seek to police the labeling of plant-based products and cell-cultured meats, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration held a hearing last month on how to update dozens of labeling standards governing food products, including plant-based meats.”

The FDA is currently reviewing 13,000 comments that chime in on whether meat and milk can appear on packaging. One of the advocates for plant-based substitutes for meat thinks it’s unfair to bring the government into the discussion.

I think it’s simple: if it’s not meat or cow [or goat’s] milk the manufacturer shouldn’t use the words meat or milk in labeling and marketing. Your thoughts?

Photo: youtube

Service of Mixed Messages: Where A Spot Of Bother May Be a Catastrophe

Monday, October 14th, 2019

Mixed Messages. Photo: likoma.com

A recent article in The Wall Street Journal reminded me of a song my father introduced me to when I was a kid: “Tout Va Très Bien Madame La Marquise,” by Ray Ventura which in English is “Everything’s very fine my lady.”

That’s the refrain too–which we’d sing at the top of our lungs along with Les Compagnons de la Chanson, a mid 20th century French vocal group.

In fact, in this song’s story, nothing is fine.

Les Compagnons de la Chanson Photo: compagnonsdelachanson.eklablog.com

The song begins when Madame M calls her employee, James, to ask what she’ll find on her return home. James tells her that a little something happened, a bit of bother, and he admits that her gray mare is dead.

The chorus returns with all’s well and she learns next that the mare died when the stables burned down. Again the chorus with assurances and “a little nothing” after she asks how that happened and we learn in subsequent verses that the stable caught fire after the chateau collapsed in flames started when the Marquis committed suicide and in doing so he knocked over the candelabra that started the fire. The song ends: “Mais, à part ça, [but apart from that] Madame la Marquise, Tout va très bien, tout va très bien.”

Back to Sarah Nassauer’s article, “Retailer Group Predicts Robust Holidays, but Sounds Warning.”

That’s putting it lightly. What else would you expect the National Retail Federation [that reps stores such as Macy’s and Wal-Mart] to predict? And what might these potential flies in the ointment be?

Photo: nrf.com

Nassaueur wrote “global political and economic uncertainty could erode consumer confidence and spending.” Under normal circumstances we might shrug and move on. Trouble is nothing is normal. From one to another day the administration threatens or causes a war somewhere and sprinkles trade tariffs around like spots on a Dalmatian.

The retail federation’s president Matthew Shay ID’d consumer confidence, rising wages and low unemployment on the plus side for holiday sales and on the minus: economy growing slower than in 2018 and “considerable uncertainty around issues including trade, interest rates, global risk factors and political rhetoric.” A potential spot of bother, right?

A financial advisory firm’s research report also anticipates higher holiday retail sales and at the same time admits “the buzz of an oncoming recession is getting louder.”

Nassauer reported “The Trump administration has imposed tariffs on the majority of goods imported from China, with some to take effect later in the holiday season on consumer goods including toys and apparel.” The administration expects to impose tariffs on food and “other goods” from the European Union.

Altogether now: What do people give or buy most during the holidays? Toys, apparel and food.

“‘None of these retailers want to pass on cost to consumers if they can avoid it,’ said the retail federation’s Mr. Shay. But if cost increases because of tariffs spread to more categories of goods in the coming weeks and months, he said, ‘tariffs certainly could make an impact.’ ”

Do you see the similarity to the approach to these predictions and the Tout Va Très Bien song?  Nassauer bent over backwards to present a balanced article but the warnings are too many and too loud and I wouldn’t count any holiday retail dollar chickens just yet–would you?

Photo: observerbd.com

Service of Swindlers You Invite Into Your Life

Thursday, October 10th, 2019

Photo: finncialtribune.com

I’ve frequently covered scams that bombard us all. Just called DHL to report an email scam. Customer service confirmed that it was and that the company never sends attachments in emails. Good to know.

I keep getting an email supposedly from USAA in collaboration with the credit reporting service Experian telling me to click for a report. The USAA logo was out of register–a tip. Friends have turned off their phones they are so tired of robo calls that are up to no good. Fake Con Edison and Nielson have a crush on my home phone.

More chilling are the scams we reach out to. I’m so paranoid that I’m hesitant to download an online calendar. Once viruses galore infected my computer when I downloaded a faux AVG program–ironic as the real AVG attacks viruses!

Yuka Hayashi wrote “Scammers Find More Opportunities on Internet Marketplaces–Craigslist, eBay and social-media platforms are more lucrative than robocalls for fraudsters, study finds.”

Photo: bbb.org

According to Hayashi: “The study, conducted jointly by the consumer-education arms of Better Business Bureau and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority along with the Stanford Center on Longevity, was based on interviews of 1,408 consumers in 2018 who filed a fraud tip or report to the BBB between 2015 and 2018.” She reported: “Consumers filed 372,000 fraud complaints to the Federal Trade Commission reporting a total loss of $1.5 billion in 2018, with the number of complaints up 34% from 2017, according to tallies by the report’s authors.”

In addition, “On social media, 91% of the respondents said they initially failed to recognize fraudulent advertisements as scams and proceeded to engage, and 53% eventually lost money. On websites, 81% of respondents engaged and 50% lost money.”

Most are “online purchase” scams, Hayashi reported from Craigslist or eBay. Sellers get fake checks and then the scammer asks for a refund of an overpayment or the con either never sends goods or produces products of poor quality.

“Nearly half, or 47%, of the people who reported encountering online purchase scams lost money, compared with other prevalent types of schemes like “tech support” scams, where 32% reported losing money, and sweepstakes/lottery scams, where 15% became victims.”

Tahoe 2150 Deck Boat. Photo: pinterest.com

One woman in the article lost $16,400 for a Tahoe deck boat that never came. She should have been suspicious, she told Hayashi, because she ignored the signs. While the consignment website she found through Craigslist was sophisticated, “a wire transfer that initially failed to go through and the lack of listing on yelp” were clear warnings. The website no longer exists.

We knew it wouldn’t be long before crooks invaded these businesses. The sites become so big policing them is impossible. Ebay claims it does. Craigslist didn’t respond to Hayashi.

When you identify a swindle, do you report it to the company or to the Better Business Bureau? Have you fallen for one you reached out to or clicked on? Have you thought twice recently before buying anything on sites such as Craigslist and eBay? Do you think it will eventually impact this way of doing business to benefit traditional retail and offline sales vehicles?

Photo: iconfinder.com

 

 

Service of When Should an Organization Give Back Tainted Money?

Monday, October 7th, 2019

Photo: moneymastery.com

By now most have heard about the wealthy parents who in all spent $25 million to ensure their offspring were accepted to US colleges. Some faked athletic expertise and others had someone fiddle with their kids’ SAT and ACT scores. William “Rick” Singer was the mastermind/broker who hid behind his Key Worldwide Foundation.

Coaches who played ball gave some of the money to their athletic departments according to Louise Radnofsky in her Wall Street Journal article, “Many Colleges That Got Money Tainted by Admissions Scandal Still Have It –Unlike political campaigns which routinely return controversial donations, colleges are holding funds.”

Photo: web.stanford.edu

According to Radnofsky there are no rules that cover colleges under these circumstances. A former education policy aide to the Democratic party said while he’d wished that low-income students had been given the money, he thought that the decision of what to do was up to prosecutors and courts–not the schools. Most–not all–of Radnofsky’s examples show that schools made that decision.

“Stanford University, the University of Southern California, the University of Texas at Austin and Wake Forest University were directly identified by federal prosecutors as recipients of payments made by Mr. Singer or his clients, sometimes through his charity in connection with specific admissions,” she wrote.

Wake Forest University. Photo: wfu.edu

Radnofsky added that Stanford is in touch with the California attorney general to pass on the approximately $770,000 that Singer directed to the sailing program. The sailing coach pleaded guilty to accepting the money.

“USC said that ‘because of the ongoing U.S. Department of Justice’s investigation, we are unable to discuss details related to it.'” The university may have received as much as $1.3 million, and its water-polo program was enriched with $250,000 more.

University of Texas received money in 2015 which it used to renovate its tennis facilities.

Wake Forest redirected $50,000 to its Magnolia Scholars program for first-generation college students. Its volleyball program was the original recipient of most.

Chapman University [$400,000] is waiting on the California attorney general to approve its donation to organizations “focused on helping at-risk youth and low-income students gain access to higher education.”

DePaul University, where Singer’s son graduated, is not returning its $150,000.

Two colleges– Georgetown and the University of Miami–identified as involved from public tax records said they found no link to Singer for any donations. NYU’s athletics law firm is still reviewing the circumstances around $338,379 donations. “Representatives for Baruch College, listed as a recipient of $50,000 in 2015, didn’t respond to emails and telephone inquiries about the money.”

Should colleges donate their ill gotten gains to student-focused charities? Should they keep the money?

Photo: depaulbluedemons.com

Service of Logos that Give the Wrong Message: They Don’t Communicate

Thursday, October 3rd, 2019

Photo: Deirdre Wyeth

You can’t read some logos and others give the wrong message. One awning featured a spelling error. You’d think folks would take better care of these crucial and basic marketing tools.

 

Deirdre Wyeth posted on Facebook the logo above that advertised a nail and spa salon in her neighborhood. Its name remains a mystery as it’s impossible to decipher the script.

I followed a friend to a restaurant bar on Manhattan’s west side to hear jazz and as I entered, I couldn’t decode its name on the awning in the time it took to slip inside. The orange card–photo right–with its disturbing italic font provides a clearer clue [but is it Sugar or Suggr?].

I felt sorry for the bistro on the upper east side that the windows indicate didn’t make it. I snapped a shot of the awning [photo left] from the bus. The logo for “Le Paris” was OK but the owner of the supposedly French restaurant didn’t know how to spell bistro. Maybe the chef didn’t know how to make French bistro fare any better than the owner knew how to spell a standard French word.

The captions were as funny on the “Bad logos” post on firstwedesigner.com as the logos are faulty. For the dentist’s logo [above right] the author wrote: “That looks like a lot more going on than your regular cleaning if you ask me.” And another logo, for The Detail Doctor, stood out from the many on the website[below]. The caption: “Based on the sketch of this car, seems like this doctor needs a better understanding of the word detail.”

Do you think that poor logos happen when a business owner hires his/her kid, friend or in-law to save money?  Have you seen memorably bad ones?

 

 

 

 

 

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