Enough already! Random modern annoyances.

Enough already!

Killing me softly with kindness

I get it that businesses want to keep their customers happy. But do they need to follow up every interaction with emails cluttering up my inbox asking me if I liked their service and urging me to rate them?


Usually the rating offered is a 1-5 star scale, but sometimes it’s a lengthy questionnaire that would take an entire lunch hour to complete.

Today I received not only a ranking quiz, but a full-on e-newsletter from my optometrist. I was, of course, thrilled to learn from an almost 300 word bio on a new optometrist that “…in his free time, you can find him with his wife, two young daughters, and large dog adventuring outdoors, dreaming up new house and yard projects, and honing his culinary and barista skills.”

Isn’t that special?

Please, just leave me alone.


The last straw

Banning plastic straws in the U.S. is more about virtue signaling than preventing plastic pollution.

The fact is, five Asian countries – China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand – account for up to 60 percent of the plastic waste leaking into the ocean, according the Ocean Conservancy and the McKinsey Center for Business and Environment.

More than 8 million tons of plastic waste ends up in the ocean every year. Most of it is washed into the ocean by rivers, with 93% of it coming from just 10 of rivers, according to the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research in Germany. The Yangtze is the main culprit, pouring more plastic into the sea than the other nine rivers combined.


The infamous 10 rivers

I’ve spent some wonderful time in the Philippines, one of the major plastic polluters, but you can’t miss the streams and coastal areas inundated with waste.


A waterway in Manila, the Philippines

The waste got so bad on on Boracay, a stunningly beautiful small island I’ve visited in the center of the Philippine archipelago, that the government shut down tourism for six months in 2017 so a massive clean-up could take place.

So let’s get off the pointless plastic straw bans. As Angela Logomasini, a researcher at the Competitive Enterprise Institute said, while plastic buildup in waterways and oceans is a problem, it’s not one that will be affected by straw bans (emphasis in original).

“The problem is a disposal problem,” she said. “Most of it is in Asia and Africa because they have open dumps and they pour tons of trash into the ocean. They don’t have the proper disposal methods. If you dispose of something properly, it’s not a problem.


Here’s a tip

Gone into a shop lately and found yourself confronting a tablet screen or phone-like device with various generous tip options? One option is “No tip”, but that requires a purposeful action the cashier and other customers in line behind you can see. So out of guilt, you hit one of the % options instead. The practice is particularly egregious at businesses where you didn’t used to tip at all, but now feel pressured to do so.

It’s plain and simple coercion.


And it gets worse. If you buy a $2.85 espresso and the screen offers 15%, 20% and 25% tip options, you are likely to hit 15%, generating a tip of 43 cents. If a business wants to jack that up, it can give you $1, $2, or $3 options on purchases below $10, instead of a percentage. If you pick $1, you have paid a 35% tip. Devious, but effective.

It might make some sense at businesses like restaurants where the waiters and waitresses are getting state-approved hourly pay less than the minimum wage, with the expectation they will make up the difference in tips. But everywhere?

Give me a break!



The store clerk ambushed me, asking if I wanted to round up my bill to the nearest dollar and contribute the difference to a non-profit of the store’s choice. Another case of checkout charity., which also includes direct requests for non-profit donations at the cash register.


More than $486 million was raised in the United States in 2018 by a group of 79 point-of-sale fundraising campaigns that each garnered in excess of $1 million in contributions, according to Engage for Good, a cause marketing organization. That was up from the $441.63 million raised by 73 checkout campaigns in 2016.

Even online shoppers are being hit up.

eBay for Charity has held the top spot on the online checkout charity list since its inception in 2012, Engage for Good reports.  In 2018, the program raised $69 million in the United States and $101.6 million globally by allowing sellers to contribute a portion of their sales to charity and inviting buyers to make a voluntary donation to one of more than 66,000 charities.

My question – why should I contribute to an obvious effort by the company to burnish its corporate social responsibility (CSR) credentials? If the company cares, let it donate its own money.

Moreover, why should I donate to a cause with limited transparency, with no information in front of me on where all the money’s going, the past performance of the charity or its impact?

And what about transparency? The Better Business Bureau has asked:  What role does the store play in supporting the charity besides your donation? Does the store receive a match for any of the donations? Does the store get a tax write off? Does the store charge the charity administrative fees? What percentage is donated directly to the charity?

Sure, my donation isn’t likely to be much, but it may well end up being part of a multi-million dollar campaign. Checkout charitable giving also tends to be done without thoughtful consideration, similar to often derided impulse buying.

My thinking? Better to skip the checkout donation appeals. Instead, sit down once a year, decide what you care about, research what non-profits do a good job of addressing your concerns, then give to them. That’ll do it right.
















Hijacking Oregon Justice


Kate Brown

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown

Former Portland City Commissioner Steve Novick was hired by  Gov. Kate Brown’s Oregon Department of Justice in June 2018 as a Special Assistant Attorney General (SAAG).

Sounds simple and straightforward. It’s not.

It’s just plan wrong and Brown and her Attorney General, Ellen Rosenblum, shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it.

Oregon’s Cascade Policy Institute is pointing out that Novick’s entire salary is being paid by an out-of-state private source, New York University’s State Energy & Environmental Impact Center, which is backed by Bloomberg Philanthropies. The Center is covering Novick’s legal fellowship with the aim of strengthening state attorney general offices in their crusade against the Trump administration’s environmental policies.

The unprecedented practice of providing external funding to state attorneys general to push a policy agenda ought to raise ethical concerns, the Cascade Policy Institute asserts, and justifiably so. As attorney Andrew Grossman put it: “What you’re talking about is law enforcement for hire….Really, what’s being done is circumventing our normal mode of government.”

In August 2018, Competitive Enterprise Institute published a report by Christopher Horner which details the roots and function of the SAAG program. Law Enforcement for Rent: How Special Interests Fund Climate Policy through State Attorneys General describes the genesis of the SAAG program as an informal coalition between states, spearheaded by former New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

According to Justus Armstrong, a Research Associate at Cascade Policy Institute, a letter included in the report’s appendix from Schneiderman and Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell to Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum shows she was invited to a March 2016 meeting of this coalition. The letter describes the program as “an important part of the national effort to ensure the adoption of stronger federal climate and energy policies.” Correspondence between members of the coalition (also compiled by Horner) expresses a desire to collaborate on targeting companies in the energy industry with regulatory and enforcement tools.

This same environmental policy agenda drives NYU’s Center, as expressed in its communication with state attorneys general. Emails state that the “opportunity to potentially hire an NYU Fellow is open to all state attorneys general who demonstrate a need and commitment to defending environmental values and advancing progressive clean energy, climate change, and environmental legal positions.” NYU’s website directs interested attorneys general to demonstrate a need for outside funding to pursue these legal positions.

If this sounds questionable, imagine a similar practice being used to serve other political agendas. If a nonprofit backed by Charles and David Koch offered to fund a position in a state to provide legal assistance on regulatory matters, would it be considered a conflict of interest? If the National Rifle Association were bankrolling state employees to serve as a “resource” on gun law enforcement, would it raise red flags? This isn’t simply about protecting the environment versus not. It’s a question of impropriety and corruption. NYU states in its agreements that fellows owe their loyalty solely to the state attorney general once they’re assigned there, but SAAGs like Novick are still being paid by an outside source while working on behalf of the state.

According to the Associated Press, Oregon deputy legislative counsel Marisa James said in a Sept. 11, 2018 legal analysis that the fellowship program violates state law because special assistant attorney general Steve Novick is paid by an entity other than the state and reports to the center and the attorney general.

“We conclude that some aspects of Mr. Novick’s appointment conflict with the Attorney General’s authority to appoint assistants under ORS 180.140,” Ms. Jacobs said in a letter obtained by The Washington Free Beacon.

Oregon Deputy Attorney General Frederick Boss disagreed, arguing in a Sept. 24, 2018 letter that the arrangement is “consistent with many longstanding SAAG appointments in areas like tobacco enforcement, bond issuance, and complex health care transactions.”

It appears that Rosenblum was anxious about the ethical gray areas of this arrangement from the start. Emails from within the DOJ show that Rosenblum instructed the DOJ not to use the word “volunteer” to describe Novick’s position in his hiring paperwork. The obfuscating language of the hiring process is notable: In reality, Novick isn’t working as a “volunteer” or a “research fellow,” but as an environmental lawyer, as he has been for years. Rosenblum also showed apprehension about the potential media attention the unprecedented arrangement could draw, as one email states:

“We need to be sure we are prepared to explain his position to the media, who, no doubt, will be interested. (Because he is being paid by an outside entity—which is quite unusual I think)….”

As Armstrong notes, Novick’s position is quite unusual indeed, and Oregonians deserve an explanation. Regardless of one’s views on Novick, Rosenblum, or Bloomberg’s environmental policy agenda, embedding privately funded legal counsel in our justice department is a conflict of interest. The Attorney General’s office should be loyal to Oregon citizens, not out-of-state donors, and should uphold the law rather than push a legislative agenda.