December 1, 2023

Producer Prices Fell in December

Opinion »

What the Polls Can’t Tell Us

Room for Debate asks: By November, can we expect big swings in public opinion? What issues could upend the race?

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I.M.F. Seeks Additional $500 Billion

Opinion »

What the Polls Can’t Tell Us

Room for Debate asks: By November, can we expect big swings in public opinion? What issues could upend the race?

Article source:

Bucks: PeopleClaim: Taking Complaints Public Via the Web

A Web site called PeopleClaim assists consumers in filing complaints, for a fee.A Web site called PeopleClaim assists consumers in filing complaints, for a fee.

Consumers are increasingly using the Web to take their gripes to the court of public opinion. A site called PeopleClaim aspires to go beyond mere venting, to assist customers in filing a complaint with the service provider in question.

For a fee, the dispute-resolution site files complaints against retailers, banks, health insurers, airlines and smaller businesses like landlords, lawyers and plumbers. If the offending company doesn’t respond within a predetermined time limit (the claimant sets the deadline, which can’t be in less than two weeks), the consumer has the option of publicly posting the complaint on PeopleClaim’s Web site. The target also has the option to reject the claim and post a response.

PeopleClaim charges $7.95 to file a claim by e-mail, which it refunds if the complaint isn’t resolved in 90 days. For extra fees, the site will send a complaint by mail and notify any relevant regulatory agencies.

PeopleClaim aims to provide an alternative to the legal system for consumers with beefs who may not have the time or money to go even to small claims court, says its founder, Mark Deuitch. In light of a recent Supreme Court ruling that limits consumers’ ability to file group arbitration claims, informal avenues like PeopleClaim may provide another option. “PeopleClaim’s goal is to transcend the existing legal system,” says Mr. Deuitch.

The site, operating in beta mode, has processed about 2,000 claims, of which roughly 25 to 30 percent were resolved, Mr. Deuitch says. It’s not always possible to know if claims are resolved, though, because some claims are settled without notification to PeopleClaim, he says. Plus, some claims aren’t resolvable by the Web site — like one recent claim that demanded that the United States “get out of Libya.”

Despite such political grandstanding, PeopleClaims’s Web site says its vulnerability to frivolous or anonymous claims is limited, because users must register and give a credit card number.

The site maintains a searchable database of unresolved claims, which can be helpful to consumers looking to vet a potential service provider. A quick perusal turns up smaller claims — mostly under $100 — with favorite targets including major wireless carriers, and cable and satellite television companies. When multiple consumers post claims against the same company, Mr. Deuitch says, that may be red flag: “If you have 30 to 100 claims, and your competitor has three, you probably have a problem in the way you’re doing business.”

Some businesses are not pleased to have complaints posted publicly, but most appreciate the chance to respond in kind. One post, for instance, outlined complaints against a lawyer; the wife of one of his clients, a man convicted of drug dealing, posted a complaint against the lawyer, who then called PeopleClaim, livid. When the lawyer realized that he could post a response, however, he did so immediately. “We don’t take sides,” says Mr. Deuitch. “Both parties have their say.”

PeopleClaim expects to upgrade its Web site in June, adding features such as a live-scrolling stream of complaints as they are posted.

Have you had trouble resolving a consumer complaint? Would you be willing to pay a fee to have a site like PeopleClaim pursue it for you?

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DealBook: In Berkshire Resignation, Perception Matters

David L. SokolNati Harnik/Associated PressDavid L. Sokol

Perception is more important than reality.

After watching David L. Sokol on Thursday morning on CNBC as he tried to explain some potentially questionable trades he made in Lubrizol before Berkshire Hathaway bought the company, I was struck by what appeared to be a remarkable lack of appreciation for the way the public would perceive his actions.

Mr. Sokol clearly appeared to believe he had not done anything wrong or broken any rules when he bought shares of Lubrizol on Dec. 14, just a day after he instructed Citigroup to set up a meeting on behalf of Berkshire Hathaway to potentially orchestrate an acquisition of the company.

I have met Mr. Sokol before, found him to be an honest man and take his word that he thought he had acted completely appropriately.

But the facts paint an unattractive picture that creates a public perception problem — even if the reality of the situation is more innocent (I don’t know if it is or isn’t).

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At the time Mr. Sokol personally bought shares of Lubrizol, he had already begun trying to set in motion the gears of an acquisition by instructing Citigroup to put together a meeting with Lubrizol’s chief executive. Mr. Sokol, of course, had no way to know whether Lubrizol would engage in talks or whether Warren E. Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway’s board would be interested in acquiring the company.

But in the court of public opinion that doesn’t matter. His intent was to recommend the deal to Mr. Buffett. And even though he had no control over Mr. Buffett’s ultimate decision, he was one of a select few who were in a position to influence such a transaction.

Perhaps most striking, Mr. Sokol said on Thursday morning that if he could do it again, he would have bought shares of Lubrizol but not subsequently suggested that Mr. Buffett buy the company.

Putting aside the legality of the trade — and several lawyers I have spoken with believe the S.E.C. will scrutinize this matter seriously — the transactions demonstrate poor judgment.

Mr. Buffett once said: “Contemplating any business act, an employee should ask himself whether he would be willing to see it immediately described by an informed and critical reporter on the front page of his local paper, there to be read by his spouse, children and friends.”

That is a good rule to live by.

11:27 a.m. | Updated
After publishing my column, I received an e-mail asserting that Mr. Sokol “broke the spirit of the law,” and wondering how I could accept his defense. Let me clarify my point.

Do I believe that Mr. Sokol thought he hadn’t done anything wrong? Absolutely. Do I also believe that Mr. Sokol is naïve if he doesn’t understand how his trading could be problematic? Absolutely.

These two points are not mutually exclusive. If anything, the interview demonstrated that he did seem to understand the spirit of the rules.

Perhaps the most troubling part is that Mr. Sokol was out for himself, rather than for Berkshire. If he could have done it again, Mr. Sokol said he would have still bought shares in Lubrizol, but not recommended it as an acquisition target to Mr. Buffett — for which he said Berkshire would have been the loser.

Andrew Ross Sorkin is the editor of DealBook.

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