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Monthly Archives: March 2014

tl;dr: JP Morgan Chase refused to do business with a company that markets condoms to women because it’s policy of not serving “adult” businesses. The mother/daughter team who founded the company out of concern for women’s health, have put up a petition at Change.org asking Chase to reconsider their position.

Some people have a problem with the phrase “War on Women.” Mostly, people object to the hyperbole, that it is not, in fact, a “war.” However, I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that there are individuals in the U.S.A. who are waging a war on non-procreative sex. This isn’t just a war against women, although people with uteruses, most of whom are women, bear the brunt of these laws. Make no mistake about it, gents; these laws are meant for you, too.

I came across an article today, via Little Green Footballs (ht/FemNaziBitch), with the title “Chase Refuses to Process Payments for Condoms.” This sounded so over the top, my outrage was immediately put on hold by the thought, “Maybe this is the Onion.” After all, I don’t want to be one of those fools that goes all ballistic over what is to everyone else obvious satire. Right? I mean, with that Hobby Lobby case, and everything, the idea of a corporation suddenly having morals is a pretty obvious joke, right? Right? RIGHT? The link led to a site that I’ve only seen once or twice before, so I decided to type “Lovability” and “Chase” into Google’s search box to see if I could find some independent confirmation.

A little detail that you probably didn’t know about fojap, she used to be a regular reader of The American Banker, a fine, reputable periodical covering news of interest to the banking industry. They’re a sober trade paper, at least they were when I used to read it a couple of decades ago. It doesn’t look like much has changed. So, I feel that I can trust them when I see “JP Morgan, Condoms and the Problem of Reputational Risk” by .

Reputational risk is just was it sounds like, the possibility of a company’s reputation being negative in public opinion. Companies take measures to insure that the public has a good opinion of them. In the case of banks, there’s an added issue that is not simply the public’s perception of a company’s reputation, but the regulators’ perception of the public’s perception. Skowronski and Hochstein point out that “regulators have become increasingly preoccupied with who banks are doing business with.” They describe a Justice Department effort called “Operation Choke Point.” The original intent of the effort was to crack down on banks who processed payments from online scammers. According to The American Banker, other agencies joined in:

In August, New York Financial Services Superintendent Benjamin Lawsky instructed 117 banks, including the nation’s four largest, to develop safeguards aimed at preventing unlicensed online lenders from accessing the payments system. Lawsky also filed suit against online lenders that he said were violating New York’s interest-rate cap. “We’re really trying to take a shock-and-awe strategy,” Lawsky said. “We want to make payday lending into New York, over the Internet, as unappetizing as possible.”

Meanwhile, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. also stepped its reviews of banks’ relationships with online lenders and other businesses that might pose heightened risk for banks.

This eventually expanded to include online lenders who were operating legally.

In another article which appeared in The American Banker last July, Peter Weinstock wrote:

So, what is happening here? Is it that the banking regulators are protecting the public from bankers that are colluding with others by providing access to the banking system to enable such third parties to take advantage of consumers? Or, are some of the bank regulators seeking to preclude certain businesses because regulators believe such enterprises provide services that are inherently harmful to consumers? In short, are the regulators seeking to ban certain products? (emphasis mine)

Weinstock cites a speech given by Sarah Bloom Raskin, a former member of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System at the 2013 Banking Outlook Conference at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. Raskin suggests that regulators have a responsibility to consider anything that affects the stability of a bank. Since reputational risk can influence a bank’s profitability, it is appropriate for it to be regulated.

Consider that in today’s financial institution sector, a substantial portion of a bank’s enterprise value comes from intangible assets such as brand recognition and customer loyalty that may not appear on the balance sheet but are nevertheless critical to the bank’s success.

It is clear from her speech that she is mainly concerned with how the bank treats its customers, not who its customers are.

If bank profitability is going to improve in a context of low interest rates and higher compliance costs, lending income may remain low. Profits will need to come from elsewhere. One source of profits would be products that are not interest-rate dependent, but fee-dependent.

…. The pressure to generate enhanced profits through high fees is palpable, and banks may choose to move aggressively down these paths. But when a bank already suffers from a poor reputation…, it likely will face difficulties in introducing new fee-generating products or activities without inviting further criticism and damage to its reputation. So an evaluation of the effects of the new product or activity on the bank’s reputation prior to launch is arguably necessary.

However, it seems that this logic has been conscripted to serve the purpose of forcing commercial banks to refuse to do business with payday lenders. Furthermore, that effort has then been expanded to push banks to refuse to do business with a variety of other companies.

Skowronski and Hochstein note that the FDIC issued a letter “urging financial institution to do a better job managing the risk associated with their third-party processor relationships. That sounds fine, except some of the merchant categories listed as “high risk” are obvious choices. “Debt consolidation scams” and “Ponzi schemes,” for instance, should be unbankable, while others seem to be there simply because they’re icky (tobacco sales?).”

The FDIC’s list of merchants associated with high-risk activity is as follows:

  • Ammunition Sales
  • Cable Box De-scramblers
  • Coin Dealers
  • Credit Card Schemes
  • Credit Repair Services
  • Dating Services
  • Debt Consolidation Scams
  • Drug Paraphernalia
  • Escort Services
  • Firearms Sales
  • Fireworks Sales
  • Get Rich Products
  • Government Grants
  • Home-Based Charities
  • Life-Time Guarantees
  • Life-Time Memberships
  • Lottery Sales
  • Mailing Lists/Personal Info
  • Money Transfer Networks
  • On-line Gambling
  • PayDay Loans
  • Pharmaceutical Sales
  • Ponzi Schemes
  • Pornography
  • Pyramid-Type Sales
  • Racist Materials
  • Surveillance Equipment
  • Telemarketing
  • Tobacco Sales
  • Travel Clubs

From Skowronski and Hockstein:

This type of scrutiny should have everyone – banks, businesses and consumers – concerned. It’s one thing to ask banks not to do business with Iranian terrorists. It’s even conceivable why a bank would want to avoid doing business with porn sites, given they are a high-chargeback business that large swaths of the public frown upon. And, yes, payday lenders aren’t exactly going to win any popularity contests. But cutting off a company that makes contraceptive or prophylactic products puts us in murkier waters.

Which brings us back to the incident that originally prompted this post. According to the website The New Civil Rights Movement:

Chase Paymentech, the payment processing service offered by JPMorgan Chase, has refused to process payments for Lovability, a condom company, because they consider the action a “reputational risk”.

Loveability Inc., which Facebook classifies as a “health and beauty” company, was founded by mother-daughter team Pam and Tiffany Gaines “to empower women to take responsibility for their sexual health.”

….
Daily Kos reports that Pam and Tiffany were notified this week that Chase considered them an “adult oriented product” and would not process customer payments, lest their reputation suffer from the association. It seems not to have occurred to Chase Paymentech that condoms save lives, prevent unwanted pregnancies that lead to abortions, chronic poverty and child abuse. Condoms also stop the spread of STDs.

What part of any of that is a “reputational risk” to Chase bank?

Well, when I first read that post, I thought that my own would be a fairly quick one. I wasn’t quite sure why JP Morgan Chase would consider an association with this company, Lovability a risk. Now that I have looked into it further, it has turned out to be a more complicated story. In our contemporary society where few transactions do not involve the banking system, and I’m including business to business transactions as well, keeping a business out of the banking system is tantamount to banning it.

In the meantime, I would suggest that you consider signing the Gaines’ Change.org petition asking Chase Paymentech to remove condoms from its list of prohibited items.

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If you haven’t been spending tons of time reading atheist blogs, you may be unaware that the topic of abortion has been raging like wildfire. There are so many aspects to this argument, that I’m only going to discuss one paragraph I’ve read. It was “A Response to a Pro-Life Atheist and the Friendly Atheist,” by Avicenna.

I know this is a hard lesson to swallow because these things look like us and indeed all of us were once foetuses. When we think of abortion we think of what would happen had WE been aborted. About all the experiences lost and all the life unlived. We never think that we would probably not care if we had been aborted or not since we would in effect have been just cells.

This idea is not abstract for me because my biological mother was fourteen when I was born. She was never taught about her own biology and did not know she was pregnant. Her period had not yet become regular and she didn’t think much of it when she missed it a few times. Finally, it was only when she began to show in the fifth month that her aunt told her she was pregnant. Even still, she was unsure how it could have happened since she thought you had to be married in order to get pregnant. If they had found out earlier, I would have most certainly been aborted. Even though it wasn’t legal at the time, her female relatives are confident that they would have been able to find a back alley abortionist.

When I say I should have been an abortion, I’m not expressing some bizarre sense of self-hate. I’m saying that what my biological mother should have done, had she had a clue that she was pregnant earlier than she did, was to have an abortion. No one would hesitate to say that I shouldn’t have been conceived. Some people may think she should have used a condom. Others may think that she should have not had sexual intercourse. However, everyone agrees that I should have not been conceived.

My biological mother had wanted to be an engineer. This wasn’t a particular crazy thought. There are engineers in her family. Her brother is today a software engineer. Instead, she dropped out of high school and worked for a number of years as a maid. She eventually went back to school and doesn’t have a bad life at all now. Of course, a few years later, in her early twenties, she found herself pregnant again and had an abortion. Since then she got married. She got her GED, the general equivalency diploma, and she went on to take courses at a community college that enabled her to get a job that paid well. It’s hard to predict the future, but many of those things might not have happened if she had been forced to bear a second child.

She never did become an engineer and sometimes I feel a little guilty about that. If I hadn’t come along, she may very well have become one. Let’s not forget, that everyone agrees that I shouldn’t have been conceived.

On our drive yesterday, we passed by a small yellow building. My sister said that it looked like a church. I said it looked like a one room school house. Indeed, it had been both, but it had mainly been a school house. It had been erected by the local African American community after the Civil War. First built in the nearby town of Church Creek in 1865, it was moved to its current location in 1867. For much of its history it went under the name of Rock Elementary School and was later called the Stanley Institute after the first president of its board, Ezekriel Stanley. It was an elementary school until 1962 and continued to be used until 1966.

The first teacher was a young woman of mixed race from New Bedford, Massachusetts, Emma Piper.

A one room school house.

More photos that I took can be found here.

There was some excitement for us today. We went to the Blackwater Wildlife Refuge and saw some American White Pelicans. They are not common in this area, so I’m glad my sister was there or I would have thought I was terribly mistaken. The volunteer at the visitor’s center confirmed that the Pelicans have been seen there in recent years. He said a few days ago several people reported seeing a flock of thirty to forty, which seems to be exactly what we saw today.

A flock of pelicans.

Another first for me was a muskrat. I’ve seen their lodges before, but this is the first I’ve seen one the animals.

muskrat

Finally, Blackwater has a lot of Great Blue Herons. We saw several on both visits, but they’re so beautiful, I thought I’d post a picture anyway.

heron

We didn’t see as many different types of birds as we saw last time, although we heard many we didn’t see. Also, we still haven’t seen one of the rare squirrels.

Have you ever read a post and you’re looking for the “sarcasm” or “humor” tag and you can’t find it? Sometimes, there’s an entire blog that is satirical. Usually, I’m pretty good at distinguishing the parody from the thing it’s parodying.  Right now, though, I’m scratching my head. If this isn’t a parody…. I think I’ve now heard it all.

I’ve never had a problem with drinking or drugs and, sometimes, when someone is providing a testimony to how they were saved by Jesus and the story the begins with lying in the gutter, I jokingly think to myself, “Ah, that’s why I haven’t met Jesus. I have been bad enough for him to take an interest in me.” Now, before someone tells me that I’ve misinterpreted these stories, I realize that. It’s just a little humorous thought that flits through my head and I usually keep to myself.

Now, I’ve just read a post in which a woman claims to see evidence for God in the fact that her socks disappear in the washing machine. Folks, I do not have this problem. I believe that I have in my entire life I’ve lost only two or three socks. I have never looked into a pile of mismatched socks and seen the face of god because I have no such pile.

Please help me, is this satire? Am I losing my sense of humor?

Proof that... I'm a slob. Dang, I've really got to do my laundry. Lucky for all of you that she didn't see the face of God in a pile of underwear, or you'd be looking at my dirty drawers right now.

Proof that… I’m a slob. Dang, I’ve really got to do my laundry. Lucky for all of you that she didn’t see the face of God in a pile of underwear, or you’d be looking at my dirty drawers right now.

I was looking for a phone in an isolated area. The campus had about as many acres as students, but there were only a handful of public telephones. There were several near the cafeteria and that was where I would go to call my parents about once a week or so. That, however, was one of the most public places. There were two dormitories about two miles away from the center of campus. I had rarely ever even been in one of them, but I had a vague recollection of having seen a pay phone there, so I walked over.

The walk down the narrow curving road with woods looming on either side reminded me of a recurring dream I’d been having for about a year. In it, I was riding a bicycle on a road very much like that one, perhaps slightly curvier. Slowly, I would lose my eyesight until couldn’t see the road anymore. I would try to stop, but instead I’d be speeding up. Through partial vision, I could barely see the road well enough to follow it. Finally, I wouldn’t be able to see anything at all and I would crash. An anxiety dream, it was almost ridiculously easy to analyze.

A precocious student, I had graduated from high school early and received a nice, big, fat helping of scholarship money to attend this private liberal arts college. My first year, I loaded up on courses and was taking more than the suggested number of credits. My grades were excellent. Then my social life began to fall apart and, with it, my grades. I changed majors. Then I changed majors again. A year earlier, I went through a phase during which I didn’t bathe, didn’t get out of bed for days at a time and ate nothing but peanut butter. I received grades of incomplete in all the classes I had taken that semester. I had a year to make them up. The previous semester, the fall semester of my junior year, I finally settled on literature as a major for no better reason than I liked to read and it seemed to come easily to me. Read a few books. Mull them over for a day or so. Churn out twenty pages. I could do that even as I was falling apart. In fact, I felt as if I was finally beginning to put myself back together.

That’s where the anxiety dream came in. Unlike when I was younger, I no longer had a plan. I couldn’t see where I was going, I was just trying to navigate each curve as it came up on me. My grades were finally back up. I was attempting to make a few friends who were not part of a New Age cult. Did I really want to study literature? That certainly hadn’t ever been part of my plan, but now my plan was just to get the hell out of this fucking hell hole of a school with a bachelor of arts degree and my brain intact. What would I do after that? I barely had a clue.

And I had been so alone throughout all of this. When you’re young, and pretty, and talented, and bright everyone wants to be your friend. When you’re lost and confused, no one knows who you are. With help from no one, I was getting back to being someone people actually wanted to know.

Now, there was this.

The dormitory was a converted mansion. It was an odd building. Heavy and dark, it looked as if someone had tried to build a set for a production of Wuthering Heights without ever having so much as seen a picture of England. The first floor was a series of rooms, a kitchen and several other rooms with seemingly no purpose. It was the middle of the day while classes were in session and the dormitory was almost empty, as I had hoped. I walked into one of the purposeless rooms that had an array of institutional furniture that seemed nearly random. An indestructible club chair. A table. A couple of dining chairs. In the corner, as I had recalled, was a pay phone.

I dialed the phone number of the man I had met on New Year’s Eve. It was a long shot that he would even pick up the phone at that moment in the middle of the day, but he did. Without any introduction, I blurted out that I was pregnant, that I would probably have an abortion but male friends of mine had convinced me that it wasn’t fair that women make this decision on their own, so that if he wanted me to continue with the pregnancy we could talk about that. I had planned to add that he’d have to want sole custody, but I can’t recall if I got that far.

How did I know it was his?

Because he was the only man I’d fucked recently.

He didn’t believe me.

Fine, I was planning on having an abortion anyway. I was just trying to be fair to him.

Then this man about whom I knew next to nothing except that he loved Kant and had a larger than average penis, launched into one of the more shocking speeches I had heard at that point in my life. He accused me of trying to trap him into marriage. His family were aristocrats. They would never accept this. I was just a common slut and I was trying to trap him into marriage. He was outraged.

I never spoke to him again.

I’ve been writing down my experiences as a way of understanding why I believe some of the things I believe and why I hold some of the political positions I do. This conversation resulted in me feeling somewhat skeptical of men’s rights advocates when they complain that it is not fair that they have no say in abortion decisions. It’s not that I feel that they are disingenuous about their own position, but that they don’t actually represent men in general. Most men, I suspect, don’t really want the responsibility that this decision entails. Women have abortions, men don’t. Women have to bear the responsibility and the stigma. Many men, perhaps most, would prefer to keep it this way. However, I think I did the ethical thing in approaching this man, and it was obvious that he would have preferred that I hadn’t. I don’t know his position on abortion, but he was a practicing Catholic. One word and I wouldn’t have had an abortion. I don’t think he wanted that responsibility.

A while back, Dan Savage expressed the opinion that women should inform a man if they are going to have an abortion. I agree with everything he says, even the part that many feminists objected to, that the man’s desires should be taken into consideration. However, I think he is underestimating humans’ potential for denial and self-deception when he writes:

Guys need to know when they’ve dodged a bullet, CL. Being made aware that he came this close to 18 years’ worth of child support payments can lead a guy to be more cautious with his spunk—and, in some cases, more likely to support choice.

There’s an interesting assumption that Savage makes here, that what they are dodging are child support payments and not custody of a child, because the only way I would have considered carrying that pregnancy to term is if the man had agreed to take full custody. I can’t be sure, but I strongly suspect that the man in question barely remembers this incident. He probably doesn’t acknowledge having dodged anything at all. It would be all to easy for him to rationalize it away. The incident changed the course of my life and I suspect it didn’t register for him at all.

It was also my introduction to notions about social class. Growing up in suburbia in the United States in an environment in which people ranged from the upper end of stable working class families to the lower end of the professional upper middle class, I was only faintly aware of class differences that weren’t simply linked to income. I’ve had a hatred for social class ever since.

While trying to write something, I noticed the setting sun lighting up some nuts sitting on my desk. Despite the banality of the subject, the light itself seemed beautiful. Realizing that I was unlikely to finish in time to post today, I grabbed my camera.

peanut-shell

pistachio

Weddings have always offended my sensibilities. They are like a masquerade where no one has any fun, yet everyone must pretend to have fun. The woman comes down the aisle wearing a hideous dress that she would normally never be caught dead in, with hair piled high on her head in a manner she would never wear and make-up that is worse than a Halloween mask. As if it wasn’t bad enough that the dress is frequently either ugly or boring, it is usually the most expensive dress a woman will ever wear. What a waste of a good opportunity. The one time in your life that no one will look down on you for buying the most expensive outfit you can possibly afford and we are condemned to strip ourselves of all individuality and buy the same stupid white dress.

And eat bad food.

And dance badly to bad music.

And the men appear just as ridiculous and even more uncomfortable.

About a year before my sister got married, I was initiated into the expense of weddings by the unfortunate occurrence of being asked to be a bridesmaid. I’m convinced this woman hated me. I have no idea what I had done to her to deserve such punishment. Would you ever ask a friend to do such a terrible thing. Apparently, being a bridesmaid entails helping to plan this monstrosity known as a wedding. She, another college friend and sacrificial victim, and I schlepped out to some place in Queens. Don’t ask me where, but the bride-to-be in question insisted that this place was well-known as having the world’s biggest selections of gargantuan white dresses. I still have nightmares of being attacked by headless dresses. A woman asks you what you want and brings out a series of gowns. Personally, I thought the entire process was geared to getting you to spend too much money. At one point the sales woman coerced the bride into a thing that resembled the costume worn by a ballerina doll I had as a child. The sales clerk turned her to face the mirror. “You look like a china doll!” she exclaimed.

“I’m fucking Malaysian, and I don’t want to look like a goddamn doll!” She may have been born in Malaysia, but she was raised in Brooklyn and proceeded to display the vocabulary to prove it. She ripped the dress off and threw her street clothes back on. On the subway back she said, “And did you see the damned prices on that crap?”

Ah, the prices indeed.

So a year later, when my sister announced her revenge for all the mean things I did to her as a child by making me her maid of horror, we decided to forgo the whole wedding dress boondoggle from the get go. I said to her, “When was the last time you bought a dress without even considering the price?”

She said, “Never.”

I suggested that she go to her favorite store buy a white dress not marketed as a wedding dress. “Don’t even bother looking at the price. Just buy one you think is pretty. It’s almost guaranteed to be less expensive than what you would buy if we went shopping for a wedding dress.”

She said to me, “Can you do it for me?”

A few days later I phoned and said to her, “I saw a pretty dress in a store the other day. I think it would look good on you. Do you want me to take a photo or something.”

“Nah,” she said, “Just buy it in a size eight and stick it in an envelope.”

So I did.

She looked great, but the was one little problem with the dress. We couldn’t find any underpants that weren’t visible. It was the strangest effect. Without underpants, nothing was visible, but no matter what we tried, even the thinnest littlest thong, we could still see them. Finally, we all decided that my sister had to get married sans panties. All day long my grandmother kept jabbing her with her finger, laughing, saying, “You’re the bottomless bride!”

Better a bottomless bride than a bridezilla.

I put up some photos I took today on my other blog, but this week I decided to make them mostly black and white. However, there were a couple of pictures I took specifically because of the colors.

paint-spattered-brick

a view through into an abandoned building through and empty window.