Monthly Archives: October 2011

DBDB – B.O.A.

I think I have a great idea for Michael Moore’s next documentary.  It’s quite simple, it might even be genius!  He should go to the headquarters at Bank of America and stand outside with a bunch of protestors and continually yell “Don’t Be a Douche-Bag”!  And every time one of these corporate jabronis (great word) come outside, I literally want everyone to yell this phrase over and over.  Seeing as their douchey behavior has been relentless for a long period of time even though they have crippled the entire country while they all get insanely rich, I doubt our protest will do much to change anything.  But it sure as hell would be a ton of fun!  At least for a little while.

You see, Bank of America has done something dirty.  Actually, they have done two dirty things.  One they have been doing for the better part of ten years and the other they are trying to do now since they got caught doing that other dirty thing.  Now your probably thinking to yourself, no duh, this is old news.  We already know all about their corporate greed, the buying and selling of sub-prime loans, gambling on derivatives and insurance, and ingesting lots of cocaine.  But this isn’t about that, so before you decide not to read any further, I’m going to tell you a story…

A few months ago I received a postcard in the mail informing me that I was in fact part of a class of people involved in a lawsuit.  In other words, a class action lawsuit.  We have all seen those commercials on TV  with the over-zealous lawyers urging you to call right away so you can spend six hours filling out forms and when the suit is settled you get a check for twelve bucks.  I thought this postcard odd because it was unexpected.  I have never been involved in anything which would warrant a lawsuit.  I have never taken any strange, experimental medication, been involved in any weird studies, or been to jail and been illegally strip searched (some of the more common class action lawsuits).  Since my time is slightly more valuable to me than twelve dollars for six hours, I immediately decided that I wasn’t interested.  But when I flipped over the postcard it said in big bold letters Bank of America – Overdraft Fee Settlement.  And further, that if I wanted to be included, I simply had to not do anything.  So, I did nothing.  And now I am going to be involved in my first ever class action lawsuit!

A few weeks later I stumbled upon the postcard again and upon closer inspection I found a website that explained exactly what the lawsuit was about, this is what I found out… Basically Bank of America was involved in a scheme where they would fraudulently charge its customers overdraft fees by adjusting when certain transactions would post to your account.  In a normal banking system, a reasonable person would assume that items and transactions would be posted chronologically.  What Bank of America and many other banks were doing was posting transactions into accounts based on the size of the amounts largest to smallest.  This would have little effect on the richer members of society who would never have to deal with low account balances but for many Americans who live paycheck to paycheck, this wreaked havoc on their bank accounts, and here is how it works.  If you had a relatively low account balance and say four transactions about to post to your account and you don’t have enough in your account to cover all of them, Bank of America would post the largest transaction first ensuring that they overdraft your account and can charge you multiple fees.  Let me give you an example.

You have $600 dollars in your account on Tuesday so you go to Target (not Walmart) and spend $56 on necessities.  Then on Wednesday you decide to take your family out to a dinner and a movie and spend $100.  On your way to work on Thursday you stop and get coffee for the office and spend $11.  You completely forgot that your rent comes out on Thursday which is $550.  You come home from work on Thursday to deposit your paycheck and find that your account is overdrawn and you have been charged 3 overdraft fees totaling over $100 dollars.  It doesn’t matter that you go to the bank with paycheck in hand to deposit more money, they already got you.  In a normal banking system you would expect it to work like this:

Normal

Tuesday                        $600

Target                            -$56

Balance                        $544

Dinner and Movie    -$100

Balance                        $444

Coffee                          -$11

Balance                      $433

Rent                         -$550 (overdraft fee)

Balance                    -$117 – $35 = -$152

In this scenario the transactions are processed chronologically.  This incurs 1 overdraft fee and in actuality, most banks wouldn’t even post this transaction at all and would return it unpaid.  The way Bank of America was posting their customers transactions looked like this…

Fee Scam

Tuesday                       $600

Rent                            -$550

Balance                         $50

Dinner and Movie    -$100 (overdraft fee)

Balance                      -$50

Target                         -$56 (overdraft fee)

Balance                      -$106

Coffee                         -$11 (overdraft fee)

Balance                     -$117 -$105 = -$222

This scenario incurs 3 overdraft fees (for the exact same purchases) at $35 dollars a piece when they were really entitled to only 1 or possibly even none.  But you can imagine a million scenarios like this where the bank only got one extra fee or others where they got five and six overdraft fees when they were only entitled to one.  With over 50 Million customers, imagine, conservatively of course, that they did this to each customer only once.  That’s a pretty good chunk of change.  It’s not enough that these guys were in the middle of destroying our country on Wall Street but in this case they were literally taking money directly out of people’s pockets $50 and $100 dollars at a time.

So, I am pledging my $12 dollars to the judge hearing the case (and I think I can get other people to go this too) if the judge will begin and end his judicial opinion with the words, “Don’t Be a Douche-Bag” Bank of America.

The other dirty thing which has gotten Bank of America some publicity over the recent weeks is the introduction of…wait for it…a new FEE!!  Since they had their overdraft fees cut down because they got caught defrauding people and the government put a cap on how much they can charge merchants to process debit cards, they have implemented debit card fees.  Earlier this year the government reduced from 44 cents to 21 cents per transaction how much the banks can charge merchants to process debit cards.  Bank of America says that they are going to lose billions of dollars as a result of this and the debit card fees are going to off-set some of that cost.  They are planning to charge $5 a month or $60 dollars a year to any account that uses a debit card for purposes other than withdrawing money from their ATM.  That’s $60 a year on top of the account maintenance fees, check fees, overdraft fees, NSF fees, and any other fee you might incur throughout the year.  A spokesman for Bank of America came out and rationalized them by claiming that they need these fees because they “need to be able to turn a profit”.  If I can quote George Carlin here, “What are these cretons talking about!?!”.  For anyone who doesn’t know, Bank of America is the 2nd largest company in the U.S. behind on the more cretonous Walmart.  Trust me, they aren’t hurting for money.  They post income in excess of $2 Billion and have assets of over $2 Trillion.  And they acquired most of their money on the backs of the lower and middle class.

Banks in general make a very large percentage of their money on fees.  Late fees, check fees, overdraft fees, account maintenance fees, not-sufficient funds fees, and ATM fees!  How much money do we give to banks every year in the form of ATM fees?  And of course, the newly created debit card fees.  The largest of these fees are the overdraft and not-sufficient funds fees which average around 30-35 dollars.  Who exactly do you think incurs overdraft fees?  Certainly not the wealthy, it’s the lower and lower middle class who are living paycheck to paycheck.  The people who are already poor are giving large portions of their money right back to the bank simply because of the fact that they are poor.

Now, you say, what does the new debit card fee have to do with the overdraft fee or even this overdraft fee lawsuit.  The answer is, everything.  These people just want to make as much money as possible and they don’t care if their methods are illegal or immoral.  The fact is this is not the first time Bank of America has been sued.  In 2009 they paid $150 million to the SEC over non-disclosed bonuses paid to Merrill Lynch employees at acquisition, in 2010 the had to pay $140 million over “illegal activity involving municipal bonds”, and this year they are about to pay $410 million as a result of the overdraft scheme.  That money will most certainly not come out of Bank of America’s pocket.  It’s going to come out of customers pockets.  How do they get it from the customers?  They introduce new fees!

The recent lawsuit involving overdraft fees caused the banks to be hit with stronger regulations on overdraft fees.  As a result banks have began using not-sufficient funds fees to replace overdraft fees so they can still get their money.  Now they have these new debit card fees and I surmise that it is only a matter of time before Bank of America finds a way use these illegally.  And why wouldn’t they?  In the duration of the latest scheme they made at least a billion dollars a year in revenue each year for ten to twelve years and in the end they settled a lawsuit for $410 million.

The fact is, Bank of  America isn’t the only bank behaving this way, Chase and Wells Fargo among the other large banks have been caught in similar immoral acts like the overdraft fee scam and many other banks are also considering debit card fees.  I guess the moral of the story is to be mindful of where you are putting your money.  Even if you aren’t among the many people in the United States who live paycheck to paycheck or a victim of this overdraft fraud, you can’t deny its treachery.  You should put your money into companies and banks which are responsible and operate with good business ethics.  Many local community banks have vowed to never charge a debit card fee and haven’t been brought up in million dollar lawsuits for defrauding customers or shareholders.  Maybe it’s just me, but there is something to being able to walk into the bank and talk to the owner/manager who has an interest in your community’s well-being as apposed to calling a customer service line and having to…(listen carefully because our menu options have changed).

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“The Curse of the…Terry Francona?”

It wasn’t long ago, 7 years  actually since the sports world really sympathized with and enjoyed the Boston Red Sox.  After 86 years with no World Series they had become one of baseball’s “loveable losers”.  Though they came close a few times over the years they hadn’t won the coveted prize since 1918.  Most fans in Boston both seriously and sarcastically pointed to “The Curse of the Bambino” as the reason for their team’s losing.  You see, in 1920 the owner of the Boston Red Sox actually sold Herman “The Babe” Ruth to the New York Yankees.  From the date of that sale in 1920 to 2004, the Red Sox didn’t win one World Series while the Yankees went on to win 26.  By the time 2004 rolled around, most people were able to sympathize with the Red Sox and their inability to come through.  The Yankees had spent most of the 90’s and early 2000’s buying every free-agent on their way to 4 World Series in 5 years drawing the ire of most sports fan not located in the 5 boroughs.  And while the rest of the sports world spent that time hating the New York Yankees, the Boston Red Sox spent that time losing to the Yankees.  For that reason I think most people would always side with the Red Sox and hoped they were the team who could upend the Yankees and make us all happy.  No doubt they drew our highest praise in 2004 when they erased a 3-0 deficit in the ALCS and went on to win the World Series and once and for all reversed the curse!

But something else happened that October in 2004, the Red Sox changed.  They were no longer the loveable losers from Boston, they had become something else.  It wasn’t apparent back then but sitting here in 2011 these last 7 years have shown us their true colors.  They aren’t the loveable losers anymore, they are something else, dare I say – annoying?  Just more than a week ago the Sox parted ways with manager Terry Francona.  Given the catastrophic meltdown of the team at the end of this season it was hard for anyone to wonder why he was fired.  Francona himself admitted in his farewell press conference that it was perhaps time to go because he felt that the players were not responding to him anymore.  With his firing, the Red Sox could put this season behind them and start anew in 2012.  But, as it turns out, his firing was only the beginning of the drama and chaos in Boston.  In the last two weeks we have seen the media and “team sources” going back and forth with allegations about the team, Francona, the players, and the general manager.  The team is saying Francona didn’t want to come back, he is saying they didn’t offer to pick up his option for 2012.  Many media outlets are reporting that the starting pitchers would drink beer, eat chicken, and play video games in the club house during their off days while the team was on the field.  Then you have “Big Papi” basically saying he wants out of Boston because he is tired of the drama.  Theo Epstein is on the first plane out of town to Chicago.  Jon Lester is calling all the local papers and stations to defend his team and his credibility.  In the midst of all this, the Red Sox, through these mysterious “team sources”  threw Terry Francona under the bus.  Only to have owner John Henry come out the next day and vehemently deny releasing the information.  Now ordinarily I couldn’t care less what is going on up in Boston, the way I see it, the more drama they have the better.  But, I took exception to what the Red Sox did to Francona and here is why;

The “team sources”, who apparently don’t include owner John Henry, or soon to be former GM Theo Epstein told various media outlets that Francona was fired because they felt his divorce  from his wife of 30 years was affecting his ability to manage the team and further, that they felt he was addicted to painkillers.  These two allegations, even if they were true, are a total violation on behalf of the Red Sox and are only further compacted by their cowardice to not even come out and say it openly but to release it through team sources.  The only thing I can say to John Henry and the rest of the Red Sox brass it next time, don’t be a douche-bag.

When Francona was questioned about the allegations he expressly denied that his divorce affected his ability to manage the team.  He said that he did move out of his home and into a hotel but that he spent more time at the ballpark with the team this year than he did in any of his eight years in Boston.  And I believe Francona on this one, it seems fairly obvious, no wife to go home to, hence, more time to spend at the ballpark doing what you love.  Without the old ball and chain calling you home every five minutes, you can actually get some work done at the ballpark.  As for the allegations of addiction to painkillers, Francona addressed that as well.  He has had over 20 surgeries on his knees, including one over this past off-season.  He had fluid drained from his knee at least 5 times during the course of this past season.  He says that he used painkillers to relieve discomfort when he would have fluid drained.  Francona even consulted a team doctor about said pain killers earlier this year, if there was really an issue I think we would have had heard about it before. 

The fact is, the Red Sox were wrong to throw him under the bus in the media whether it be true or false.  When a man is separating from his wife of 30 years, you don’t use that against him.  To me that seems untouchable.  I am not going to claim that his divorce or his supposed addiction to painkillers didn’t affect his ability to manage a baseball team.  In my opinion, both of these points are moot when it comes to the Boston Red Sox.  This is the manager that led your team from 86 years of losing and then three years later helped you to another World Series.  Quite honestly, I don’t care if Francona spent the entire year in the dugout crying his eyes out pining for his wife or if he started a freakin’ meth lab out back of Fenway Park, you owed him more loyalty and respect than that.  This is the sort of thing I expect from the Yankees who notoriously left Joe Torre off the video tribute to Yankee Stadium or the Philadelphia Eagles who sent the heart and soul of their football team packing to Denver.  This is not the sort of thing we expected from the Red Sox, we thought they were run by better men than that.

Something happened to the Boston Red Sox in 2004.  Maybe they forgot who they were or maybe we thought they were something they weren’t.  The winning went to their heads I guess.  Sitting here in 2011 we have seen their true colors and looking back on it maybe they were kind of annoying all along but we just didn’t see it.  Think about it, the whole “Red Sox Nation” thing, taking over other teams ballparks (kind of annoying), ESPN’s exaggerated coverage of Curt Schilling’s bloody sock (kind of gross), “Manny being Manny” (really stupid), Josh Beckett and Jon Paplebon (are just dicks),  “Big Papi” (well, Big Papi is actually pretty cool except for the whole steroid allegation thing) but I digress.  The point is, Terry Francona is a stand-up character who led this team from the abyss.  The Red Sox should have treated him much better.  And because they didn’t, I hope they don’t win another World Series for 86 more years!  And in the year 2093 I hope they are still talking about the day they fired Tito and how they are doomed by “the Curse of the Terry Francona”!

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“Winning”

Winning.  What is it about winning?  Why does everyone want to win so badly?  Is it just about getting what you want?  Is it really that intrinsically self-centered?  Why is winning synonymous with being happy and losing synonymous with being unhappy?  I sit here on Saturday October 8th, 2011 questioning all these things.  After last night when the Phillies lost a game, and a series that many people expected them to win, I sat there completely annoyed, angry, hurt, disappointed, worried, and basically just sad.  And I wondered to myself, why the hell am I so sad right now?  The obvious answer was of course that the Phillies didn’t win!  But my immediate and subconscious arrival at this answer kind of scared me for a minute.  How is it that 25 guys whom I have never met could have such a profound impact on how I am feeling?  My inquiry here is not to establish why they didn’t win, how they can do more winning, when they will win again, or even whether this team should have won.  I simply am looking to know why am I and every other sports fan so obsessed with the win.

Coming from someone who will readily admit to being the sorest loser in the history of competition, this is not an easy question to answer.  Being a Philadelphia sports fan one would think that I should be quite used to not winning.  Before 2008 our town went 25 years without a championship in any of the 4 major sports.  Technically that’s 100 seasons of losing!  Regardless of that, you can bet your bottom dollar that I was somewhere sulking and probably crying every time one of our teams lost.  Like in ’93 when Carter hit that home run, I was only six but I may or may not have sent Mitch Williams death threats.  Or in 1997 when the Flyers got swept in the Stanley Cup Finals, I literally cried my eyes out.  In 2000 when the Flyers squandered a 3-1 series lead to the Devils with two of the last three games on home ice.  In 2001 when the Sixers beat the Lakers in game 1 of the Finals and conned us into thinking they had a chance in that series.  In 2004, the year we were sure the curse of William Pen would be lifted (T.O.T.O.T.O.) but we still watched Tom Brady and his beautiful hair take another championship up to bean town.  How about in 2009 when we watched the hated Yankees celebrate yet another World Series.  Or even 2010 when that stupid runt Patrick Kane and his cursed mullet celebrated on our home ice!  I remember them all!

So, what is so bad about 2nd place?  Sure as hell beats 3rd or 4th.  It definitely beats not making the playoffs at all (cough cough Mets and Braves).  But seriously, what is it that is so bad about losing that it caused hundreds of Vancouver Canucks fans to literally try to destroy their beautiful city after a game 7 loss.  Or in Chicago where the blame an entire NLCS loss on a dude in a green turtle neck and headphones (it’s ok Steve you can come out of hiding now).  How about in almost every major city worldwide that has a soccer, excuse me, football team that take to the streets in riots every time their team loses.  Or here in Philadelphia where people actually sent Mitch Williams death threats after the 1993 World Series.

Is it expectations?  Is it worse when our team is expected to win the World Series and they end up losing in the first round?  Sitting here watching the Cardinals celebrate on our home field I am tempted to say yes.  But only until I look back to 2010 when the Flyers lost in the Stanley Cup Finals.  The Flyers were not favored to win the Stanley Cup that year but their magical run through the playoffs made us hope that they could pull off the seemingly impossible.  But what about hope?  Whenever we are watching the game we always have hope that our team can pull through and find a way to win until that final horn sounds or the final out is recorded.  I am willing to bet that 99% of all the Phillies fans (and I mean the real fans, not you posers who jumped on board after 2008) still had hope in the bottom of the 9th on Friday with Chase Utley, Hunter Pence, and Ryan Howard coming to the plate.  And when they didn’t produce all that hope had to go somewhere and for most of us it turned to frustration and despair. And as sad as we all are right now, next October we’ll still be here ready to cheer on our Fightins once again.

Maybe there is some sort of strange genius behind the phrase “There’s always next year”.  Maybe I’ll never quite get the answer to my question about why we want to win so badly.  I don’t know why I love winning, I just do.  Winning is more than bragging rights and glory.  It’s more than the final score and the trophy.  I surely hope it’s more than what Charlie Sheen has.  Winning has a way of making us forget all the bad times and just be – happy.  It’s the only thing that allowed the Red Sox fans to forgive Bill Buckner after twenty years.  It’s the only thing that allowed Phillies fans to forgive Mitch Williams after 15 years.  It’s the thing that makes Cubs fans hate Steve Bartman, black cats, and …goats?  It’s the only thing that can make me forget about all the losing seasons, the blown series, Mitch Williams, Joe Jurevius, Patrick Kane, Brian Wilson, Kobe Bryant, Patrick Kane’s mullet, Joe Carter, and the Detroit Red Wings.  That one October night in 2008 when we stood outside Citizen’s Bank Park in the freezing cold huddled under a tent, that night I had been waiting for – for 21 years to arrive.  That night that I would wait another 21 years just to experience again.  And Bud Selig told us to go home because it was raining too hard.  So we came back two nights later and all of our hopes and dreams and faithfulness were rewarded.  There is only one thing that could make a bunch of crazy fools stand outside in the freezing rain watching baseball on a 30 inch television — Winning.

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