Tuesday, April 26, 2011

What is the cost of your time?

To your boss you are worth at least $8 an hour. If you have an advanced degree, are not a teacher and in an executive position you are worth at least $100 an hour.

A lawyer can be worth up to $500 an hour and a doctor about the same.

I have never been paid by a boss or paid myself as a business owner a lot of money an hour. Now, being semi-retired, it's even less, but I value my time these days for what I get to choose doing with that time.

Last Friday I went to my doctor for an 8:15 a.m. appointment. When I was rushing around getting ready unlike most mornings, I question my sanity. Usually I hold out for the last appointment of the day, knowing no matter how behind the office is running, I'll get seen quickly as no one wants to work past closing time. Regardless, I got to the office at 8 a.m. and remarkably the entire staff was there. Although I had not stopped in my rush to be on time to make or buy coffee I could smell coffee brewing somewhere in the back. The thought of asking for a cup of coffee vanished when I read again the bold lettered sign taped to the glass door: No Food or Drink.

So I go in and sign the sheet that requires me to give my name, address, phone number, insurance company and doctor's name. This is a piece of paper that I've fill in several times a year for twenty years.

I sit down, get my glasses, get my book and begin reading. Before 8:15 a.m. ten more people come in the door and do as I did. At 8:20 a.m. I'm called back to have my blood pressure, pulse and weight documented. I am in a small room sitting in a chair beside an exam table covered with white paper imprinted with the logo of the latest "hard dick" drug. When the nurse leaves the room and closes the door, I remain there reading my book. Doors open and close along the hall and voices migrate; sometimes so that I can understand them and sometimes as mumbles.

At 9:42 a.m. the doctor enters the room with a ten inch thick file; my file. He spends ten minutes with me asking me questions that I could have answered online. I do appreciate the personal one on one meeting with my doctor because if I walked in and was suddenly blue, I'd like a medical doctor to see that.

Later when making my appointment for June I asked the scheduler about shortening the time between when I present myself and when the doctor presents himself. She had no solution to the problem.  As with other inefficient business practices the solution is a well designed process of documenting and serving the patient.

My friend Lenny says he's solved the problem of wasting time in the doctor's office. He sees an endocrinologist too and years ago told him if he was not seen by the doctor within fifteen minutes he would not only not pay the bill he would send the doctor a bill for his time. Lenny's hourly rate is $190. He says he never has to wait though I have never gone with him to verify this.

I figure my time has been proven to be worth minus $20. That is my co-pay.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Ed is Gone

A friend of mine died this past week. He was a few years older.

I met him in a local chat room in the early 90's. In fact, he was well known amongst the women who frequented the room for being the fellow who attended group lunches, and if you were the lucky girl that day sitting next to him, he'd have his hand on your knee. I called and told a friend about seeing the obituary and she reminded me of this habit of his. I recalled it was true!

This was that brief time when AOL was the a friendly internet service, before Google or Facebook. People had profiles that could be searched for age and location. Local chat rooms were popular. The way you check into Facebook now, you once checked in with your local chat room and your habits became known by your other chat buddies so much that if you did not check in people worried about your health!

When I became widowed and when I finally disentangled myself from the train wreck that was Roger, I met and made all my friends through the local AOL chat. Ed was a fixture there.

The obituary mentioned a loving wife and a herd of children with an even bigger herd of grandchildren. He had been a good provider and retired from a good job at a plant that went out of business a decade ago. These facts about his "real' life were news to me, proving that it is possible to live a virtual life completely removed from your real one.

I know both parts were real, come on!

We AOL buddies won't attend the visitation nor the funeral. We have the memory of Ed and that's quite enough.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Criminals, Thieves, and Accounting Time.

The first half of April always brings for me another birthday and tax filing. I can't be the only one who always pays taxes and always waits until close to the deadline to do so.

This year I have a new tax guy and unlike the old tax guy the forms are complete and I'm going to have them in on time. I think the new guy is good evidenced by having done Reggie's taxes for a long time without problem. He's a bit more expensive but after loosing sleep worrying about late taxes, it's worth it!

On the front page of the New York Times this morning was an article that analyzed how Wall Street, mortgage and bank executives ran the businesses they were hired to run for personal profit cheating their investors and now are getting away with it.  In Financial Crisis, No Prosecutions of Top Figures by Gretchen Morgenson and Louise Story it's all laid out before us.

Looking at the article you will be tempted not to read it. It's a big one, and takes about 20 minutes to read. But if you are one of the people who has or had investments or deposits in a bank, stocks traded on the exchanges, treasury bills or other financial instruments and have been confused about where all that money you lost went, it's worth your time. I'm talking about people like you and me, who got what education they could get, went to work and worked in whatever job we could get or chose, have always dealt fairly with employers, employees, local and national governments, and paid our bills, saved our money and expected to and did play by the rules.

As one of those people I want an accounting.

In the late 1980's after the savings and loan crisis over 1100 cases of fraud and wrong doing were referred to prosecutors and more than 800 bank officials went to jail. Today more than two years after the beginning of the recession and a financial mess huge in comparison, very few people are being held accountable.

The S.E.C. extracted a $550 million settlement from Goldman Sachs for a mortgage security the bank built, though the S.E.C. did not name executives in that case. The security was known by the top people to be slimy and their traders were told to push it at the same time with the company's money they bet against it.

Another exception is a civil lawsuit filed last month against top executives of Washington Mutual, the failed bank now owned by JPMorgan Chase. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation sued Kerry K. Killinger, the company’s former chief executive, and two other officials, accusing them of piling on risky loans to grow faster and increase their compensation. The outcome is not known as the suit is in its early stages.

I ask, how are all these thieves getting away with their crimes?

Unlike in the time of the S&L crisis, budgets for regulators to investigate and prosecute are small. The lessons of financial crises in the past were ignored again and in the aftermath no one is being held accountable. To me it seems those charged with regulation and prosecution are set up to fail by people we trust to represent us in Congress. The influence cultivated by big money firms has resulted in those in power being unwilling to proceed. Why have any rule or regulation to hold Wall Street and the Financial Markets accountable at all if regulators do not have the ability to actually do the job. That's a rhetorical question, obviously.

Red flags were flying high and straight prior to the crash. Efforts to investigate Countrywide, the nation's largest mortgage originator were stopped before any action could be taken.

"After the crisis had subsided, another opportunity to investigate Countrywide and its executives yielded little. The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, created by Congress to investigate the origins of the disaster, decided not to make an in-depth examination of the company — though some staff members felt strongly that it should. It was canceled because Republican members of the commission did not want any more hearings."

Sub-prime mortgages as well as fiscally inept ones being bundled and sold as securities, was without a doubt the reason for the eventual collapse of markets.

I suspect one thing the heads of these companies did learn is how to create marketable instruments so complicated no one knew what they were investing in. They further covered their tracks and in buying influence with Congress, manipulated what was investigated and what was not. This hid their crimes and made the fight to prosecute so expensive it was impossible to practically do.

In this halcyon time of early spring with the awakening of flowers and allergies we are again filling out tax returns. I do not hate paying taxes as I must make money to do so. I do hate having seen my meager savings become decimated in the past decade because of crooks who use their skills and access to cheat their investors, make huge personal income and get away with it.

It's a time for an accounting.