Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Life's Little Injustices (Take VII): We Got A Robo-Scam Call (And Lived To Tell The Tale)

From the moment that the Squawker nudged me awake, right around 9 a.m., I sensed that something was up.  However, the emergency didn't register right away, since I'd pulled a brain-melting all-nighter.  "Right, what's the problem, then?" I asked

"We just got a phone call saying, 'You're being sued by the IRS. We've tried to reach you, but this is just to let you know'...'"

Now I snapped awake. "Really?" I asked.

The Squawker frowned in my general direction. "I'm so tired of this, it's always an emergency  around here, every minute..."

"Wait a minute." Now it was my turn to crease a brow or two. "What else did they say, exactly?"

"I didn't get a live human being," Squawker replied. "It was a robo-call."

"Ah, now I think we're getting somewhere!" I grabbed the portable phone and squinted at the number. "It's got a 202 area code, which is Washington, D.C. But would Uncle Sam pay for a long-distance phone threat, when they've got toll free numbers for this stuff?"

"Yeah, fair point," Squawker agreed. "Every time they threaten us, we usually get in writing first."

"We've been paying them every month, like clockwork, while we wait for them to rule on our Offer In Compromise." I gestured at Squawker's laptop. "So I don't think we've actually done anything to get sued over. But why don't we do a reverse lookup on that phone number?"

And so, Squawker duly punched in the offending digits (202-BLA-BLAH). "Looks like some kind of online scam," Squawker reported. "Basically, people are getting these calls, saying there's warrants out for your arrest if you don't pay up right away."

"I suspected as much." I sank back down under my covers. "But next time we get such a call, don't waste your time listening to it...we'll just check it out together." (For further reference, see the Stack Exchange link below, which has some good tips and info.)

Note to scammers and bureaucrats: one thing doesn't change, whether it's a robo-call, or a real life robot is quacking away at the other end of it...you're not monarchs, as much as you'd like to think of yourselves that way. Your attempts to run roughshod over us are running thin -- and, while I'm not a betting man, I suspect the next such attempt will bring forth a torrent of harsh words (some printable in polite company, some not). Put it this way: there's a reason why we dumped all that tea in the harbor 200-odd years ago.

STOP PRESSES (UPDATE): Just when you think that dealings with public agencies can't get anymore surreal, they do....toward the end of the week, we got another phone call....but this time, the robot was live, and it had some news, which thankfully didn't sound like something out of Lost In Space ("Warning! Warning! Danger! Danger!"). Apparently, our settlement offer has been approved, and some official communique to that effect will wend its way soon here to Ramen Noodle Nation HQ.

Having lived with this monkey on our back for just over half the decade (see "Talking With The Taxman" link below for the full scoop), this development is obviously welcome, but the Squawker and I have elected to hold our breaths until we actually see the paperwork (as in: one swallow doesn't make a summer...we've learned not to praise the day until the twilight comes...and so on, and so forth). When that happens, I'll post some kind of update...till then, the devil's in the details. --The Reckoner

Links To Go (Read 'Em Before All Your
Interest & Penalties Skyrocket Again)

Ramen Noodle Nation:
Stack Exchange:
Robocall Claiming To Be IRS
Saying They Are About To Sue: Is It Legit?:

Talking With The Taxman About Poetry (Take II):
(Send Out For The Advocate):
http://ramennoodlenation.blogspot.com/2015/04/talking-with-taxman-about-poetry-take.html  (For some reason, this one's not firing up -- just cut 'n' paste the bloody thing into your browser, as I'm too tired to think of a cleverer way around the tech issue!)

The New York Times:
Tactics For Getting The IRS On The Phone:

Sunday, February 7, 2016

"People Have The Power": So Where Does Bernie Sanders Go From Here, Exactly?

"And my senses newly opened 
I awakened to the cry 
That the people / have the power 
To redeem / the work of fools"
--Patti Smith, "People Have The Power"

By any standard, Bernie Sanders enjoyed a terrific night in Monday's Iowa caucus. Fighting the presumed front-runner Hillary Clinton's money machine to a statistical dead heat is no small achievement, especially since -- as Sanders noted in his speech -- he had no money and no name recognition when he started campaigning nine months ago. His movement is real, and it's not going away. What's even more amazing is that Sanders has pulled it off as the king of small donations (which average $27, as CNN's pundit team reminded us all night).

As I wrote Sunday night, I'm finding myself among those "feeling the Bern" -- so to speak -- because the plodding, often fruitless realpolitik that the Democratic Party has practiced over the last 25-odd years or so hasn't benefited many people, including yours truly. As a close friend reminded me on Sunday, he recalled a waitress saying during the Clinton Era: "Yeah, he brags about creating 15 million new jobs. I have three of them."

I relate to that comment, as someone holding down four or five ongoing editorial gigs myself. If nothing else, Monday's result shows that Sanders has made his point, which is glaringly apparent from CNN's exit polling. For example, on who's more honest and trustworthy, the margin came out 83-10% in Sanders's favor. On who cares more about voters' problems, the margin was 76-24%. With those numbers, how does Clinton, if she does get nominated, reach the finish line in November? And that's before the FBI shoe drops on the email scandal that she and her supporters currently pooh-pooh away as no big deal. (Shades of that "third-rate burglary" that brought down Tricky Dick, right?)

In fact, it's probably fair to say that without Polk County -- Iowa's largest, most populated jurisdiction -- Clinton might not have gotten the life preserver she needed to eke out her wafer-thin victory. As President Obama;s former top adviser, David Axelrod, pointed out, Clinton's "I've got a great resume" stance is problematic -- because, as he pointed out, "it's all about her. When Barack Obama ran in 2008, he didn't say, 'Yes, I Can," it was, 'Yes, We Can.'" 

I couldn't have said it better myself. However Sanders fares, it was exhilarating to see the response that he drew -- for a moment, it's possible to envision something better, instead of the crap that the donor classes keep shoveling down our collective gullet. I'm tired of the litany of lowered expectations we've heard for so long; if activity breeds activity, then excuses also breed excuses.

"The power to dream / to rule 
To wrestle the world from fools 
It's decreed the people rule
It's decreed the people rule"

Now that the dust has settled from all of the caucusing and coin-tossing, a bigger question looms: where does Bernie Sanders go from here? Well, that depends how he presents his message. A cynical PR type might shrug, "It's all in the packaging." Look at the GOP''s right-wing firebrand, Ted Cruz. He's an Ivy leaguer (Harvard), and his wife works for Goldman Sachs, who bankrolled his first Senate campaign (see the link for how that little transaction played out).

The way Cruz talks, you'd think he's some fire-breathing populist, too -- but he's not, as you might surmise from his proposal to end corporate and payroll taxes, as everyone coughs up 10 percent of their income to Uncle Sam. In other words, this is a guy who doesn't think there's enough inequality in America. That Cruz voters ignore such contradictions without protest speaks volumes in itself, yet underscores one of last week's big lessons: in politics, perception paces reality (just like everything else).

However, if there's another takeaway from last week, it's that "kitchen table" issues still matter quite a bit. As Sanders heads into contests like South Carolina (February 27), I'd suggest that he stick with the kitchen table stuff -- but use it as a hammer to confront the demon of electibility, which is one issue that causes ripples of skittishness among core Democratic voters.

Put another way, as my friend noted in our conversation, manufacturing and textiles all over the South took a pounding after the ink dried on the infamous North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). I don't think it hurts Sanders to remind folks who shoehorned that deal through (uh, this little inequity is brought to you by the letter C), and connect the does to his core argument: if you want "same old, same old," I have a sneaking suspicion where you'll go. if you wanna make history...well, let's have a little chat first before you pull the trigger.

"I believe everything we dream 
Can come to pass through our union
We can turn the world around
We can turn the earth's revolution

We have the power
People have the power...."

The reactions to Sanders's candidacy and Iowa showing also remind me of a saying by the French philosopher Voltaire: "To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize." How else to explain the comments made by Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, in calling Sanders's challenge a "dangerous moment": "“It has the potential to personalize it, it has the potential to be a dangerous moment. Not just for Wall Street, not just for the people who are particularly targeted, but for anybody who is a little bit out of line."

In other words: "How dare you criticize the almighty Goldman Sachs CEO, the man who knows what's best for the economy that doesn't work for anybody, except folks like him?" Surely, an unimpeachable source on kitchen table issues if ever there was one, right?

Of course, the potential to rack up more baggage didn't prevent Clinton from giving three closed-door speeches to the Goldman Sachs crowd, which she's "thinking" about making public -- we'll see how that one pans out -- for $675,000. Baggage or not, the lure of the dollar is a pretty powerful one (especially for the Clintons). Still, as Clinton told Anderson Cooper during last week's Democratic Party Town Hall, she had no problem with taking the money. Why? "That's what they offered." 

Where I come from, they have a phrase for statements like those: "The gift that keeps on giving."

A more appropriate quote -- beyond the song that I've chosen to soundtrack this post -- is the one that Ohio Democrat Marcy Kaptur offered last week to the Boston Globe, in explaining the force of Sanders's appeal: "The issue that has been the most cutting for the American people has been their economic welfare. Over the last quarter century, they have been dealt such heavy blows. I have always regarded Senator Sanders as one of the most pristine voices on their behalf, whether it was auto workers in Ohio or farm workers from New Mexico."

There you have it: Exhibits A, B and C about "how we got there from here." One speaker nailed it, while the other two wound up dropping the hammer on their foot. But that's no surprise, given the dismal record that the "adults" in the room have racked up -- Iraq Wat, Afghan War, 2008 bailout, lack of economic mobility -- and continue to rack up. So it's no surprise that a fire brigade is coming to put out the Bern....because they'll never get it right, not if they live for another 100 years.  --The Reckoner

UPDATE:  Add former Secretary of State Madeline Albright and feminist icon Gloria Steinem to the adults who don't get it: the former, for suggesting that electing Clinton is the "real" revolution, and the latter, for implying that Sanders' young female supporters are just flocking him "because that's where the boys are," as she claimed to Bill Maher.

Both comments take the cake for chutzpah, though it's harder to tell who's more tone deaf. Albright, apparently, is deploying the "loyalty" argument that Team Clinton is rolling out to sandbag Sanders' embryonic revolution, especially when she states: "There's a special -place in hell for women who don't help each other!" To which the only sane retort may be: "There's a special place in hell for people who keep pulling the trigger in the voting booth for the same people, and getting the same result."

Steinem's comment, on the other hand, is the kind of flip really that established figures like herself use to dismiss or minimize what doesn't make sense. Either way, though, it carries an all too familiar ring to the bottom 99%: Grow up, get on with the program, and get out of the way, 'cause we know better than you do.

My response goes like this: "Nothin' doin'!"  And, from what I'm seeing play out across the land, I'm not only the one. Thank God. Where it goes out from here will be interesting to watch.

"Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don't criticize
What you can't understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Rapidly agin'.
Please get out of the new one
If you can't lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin'."
--Bob Dylan, "The Times (They Are A-Changin')"

Links To Go (The Dark Money Crowd Is Aroused):
NPR: The Ted Cruz Goldman Sachs Loan, Explained:

New York Magazine: Jimmy Carter Lends A Hand To Ted Cruz:
Goldman Sachs Does The Same For Bernie Sanders:

New York Times:
Gloria Steinem And Madeline Albright
Scold Young Women Backing Bernie Sanders:

Salon.com: American Capitalism Has Failed Us...:

The Washington Post: The Daily 202:
Hillary Clinton Makes Her Wall Street Problem Worse: