Open Letter to My Credit Union

I’ve been doing all my banking through credit unions since I was an undergrad at Caltech.  I’ve liked using them because they don’t, on balance, spend as much time and effort trying to trick their members into doing stupid things with their money as banks do.  Their fine print isn’t as small, or as prevalent.  Their credit cards have a reasonable rate, clearly stated.  Their checking accounts don’t have hidden fees.  They aren’t out to screw you, which most commercial banks are, as far as I can tell (certainly the ones involved in the liar-loan industry deserve that reputation anyway).

So I’m bothered that I just received several “convenience” checks from the Elevations Credit Union, linked to my Visa card, with a low introductory APR of only 3.99%.  I’m bothered because they’re trying to lure members into spending money on credit, at a time when US households are on average further in debt than ever before. I’m bothered because they’ve sent me something in the mail that could easily have fallen into the wrong hands and created a credit headache for me.  I’m also bothered that they spontaneously increased my credit limit from $1,000 to $2,500 without asking me if that’s what I wanted.  Previously, I had specifically requested they lower my credit limit to $1,000, because that’s about how much money I take home each month, and getting into more than one month’s worth of revolving debt seems like a bad idea (since the grace period is one month long).

Elevations recently re-organized as a state credit union instead of a federal credit union.  I don’t know if that has anything to do with their apparent change in character.  But I hope it doesn’t go much further than this.  Finding a new credit union would be a hassle.

Financial Negativeland

Today I joined the erstwhile Masters of the Universe, and entered the red.  My investments are now worth fewer dollars than I put into them.  Am I freaking out?  No.  Not yet anyway.  Another 25% down and we’ll see.  I thank Bill Bernstein, Jack Bogle, and Burton Malkiel for this calm.  Am I even surprised?  No, and the thanks for that has to go to neo-Popperian Nicholas Nassim Taleb.

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Is Contraception the New Abortion?

I ran across this article at Science Progress, about efforts to aggressively enforce the Weldon (or “church”) amendments, which make it illegal to compel a health care worker to provide a service they find morally objectionable.  The author focuses on the possibility that the new rules would change the definition of conception from the time of embryo implantation, to the time of conception – but really, what they do (if you read the PDF) is give broad freedom to all medical personnel to decide for themselves what exactly they do and don’t find conscionable.  Which sounds fine of course, from a libertarian point of view.  But it also sucks if you happen to have accidentally gotten pregnant in Montgomery, AL, or some rural town in North Dakota.  It seems like the rules are so broad as to allow a doctor to refuse to prescribe birth control to an unmarried woman.  Additionally annoying is that this is just another example of the Feds bullying the states with money they took from the state’s citizens – the rule only applies to institutions that take federal money… like just about every public hospital (if there are any left that is…), and it will have the effect of shifting federal funding to conservative institutions, insofar as liberal ones are willing to refuse the federal funding in order to be able to require their personnel to perform all legal and medically advisable procedures.

Luther Burbank’s Children

On the way out to Bodega Bay yesterday we stopped in Sebastopol at the Luther Burbank Experimental Farm, or what’s left of it anyway – all but three acres of an original 18 have been sold off. It is disheveled, and there are no guided tours, just a few acres of numbered plants, mostly fruit and nut trees, that you can look up on a brochure and map in a box by the barn. That didn’t matter at all. It’s a wonderful place.
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Who do I hate?

I hate the phone companies, but I need a new phone. I hate having to pay the same rate that someone getting a subsidized phone pays, even if I buy an unlocked phone. I hate that there are locked phones. I hate the obligatory contracts. I hate the ignorant, conniving, pushy salespeople in the phone stores. I hate calling customer support. My phone hasn’t worked for weeks. I haven’t gotten a new one because I hate AT&T. I wish they would go bankrupt, or be regulated out of existence in any meaningful way. I wish we had an open, competitive mobile communications marketplace, with low barriers to entry for new carriers, and an open platform encouraging new hardware manufacturers to make innovative handsets, and encouraging writers of software to create innovative mobile applications. But we don’t. Mobile phones suck. The industry sucks. The FCC sucks. Mobile computing sucks. It’s horribly broken, and they all want to keep it that way.
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