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The Most Expensive Steak I Ever Ate…

The Most Expensive Steak I Ever Ate…

WALMART.  Those seven letters come together to form the name of one of the worlds largest and most successful companies.  Many people see this company as the gleaming pride of American capitalism; the feel good story of a nobody businessman from Arkansas who opened a store and through hard work and determination, created an unfathomable wealth for many people. 

What most people don’t realize is the manner in which Walmart has amassed their powerhouse empire and global fortune.  A few weeks ago I watched a documentary entitled, “The High Cost of Low Prices”.  The theme of the documentary was to highlight many of the ways big business like this is simply bad for many Americans.  It discussed their effect on small local businesses, their lack of environmental consciousness, anti-union ways, and general lack of care for their employees via discrimination, health care, and many other issues. 

Now, I am not writing to give everyone a summary of the documentary or to highlight all of Walmart’s unsavory and at times illegal business practices, if you want that you can just watch the documentary or do a little independent research. 

Today I am writing about my own personal experience.  For a short period of time, when I was a younger man, I in fact worked for the Walmart Corporation.  I worked at Sam’s Club.  I still feel dirty. 

One of Walmart’s biggest tools is their employment force.  More than almost any other company Walmart has developed and refined a system to find, train, and ultimately indoctrinate an employee into their way in order to get that employee to not only work, but work very hard and efficiently for the company, usually for fairly low pay. They are the masters of social and group dynamics.  If they weren’t such creeps I would probably congratulate them for it.

When I worked at Sam’s Club, there were many different tools used by management to encourage the group mentality of the workers in order to get them to buy into the agenda of the store.  Like most other places of employment there were group meetings in the morning and at the start of each shift, there were incentive programs for employee of the week or month, they also had negative reinforcement programs like mandatory extra meetings for people who didn’t sell enough memberships. This was all in an effort to refine employee productiveness and evoke the sense that we were all a team and somehow “in this together”. 

Aside from the usual employee incentive programs, Walmart and Sam’s Club have implemented programs concerning employee accidents on the job.  Obviously big corporations want to reduce accidents and injuries by their employees because of course they care about their employees, but also for a much larger fiscal reason.  When there are fewer accidents, their insurance costs go down dramatically, plus they don’t have to deal with pesky lawsuits, nor do they have to waste time training someone new to replace the guy who can’t work anymore; fuck that, that’s labor and fiscally intensive.  Their plan is to dramatically decrease the number of workplace injuries.  A noble goal of course, as long as it’s done properly with employee training on safety and security procedures and providing safe equipment and supervision of the employees.  Now, I am sure Walmart implements some of these practices in various forms, but to a large extent these are also cost incurring, so Walmart found a “better” way.

You know what they did?  They implemented a program where each store keeps track of the number of accidents that occur and the stores compete against each other to see who can compile the longest streak with no accidents.  When I started at Sam’s Club, the store I worked at had one of the longest streaks in the whole country; they had amassed a streak of over two years and counting without an accident.  At my store, every fiscal quarter the “team” went without an accident one of the managers would cook the whole store steaks out back and we would have a barbeque.  By the time I started there, the streak was so long that people took great pride in the streak, it got to the point where people cared more about the streak, and the possibility of a free Walmart steak than they did about their own health or the health of their “team members”. 

The end game for a program like this isn’t that people aren’t getting injured; it’s that they don’t report their injuries, in the end it doesn’t matter because the money is saved either way.  For the first few months there were rumors that this person cut themselves slicing meat or that person dropped a box on their foot and wouldn’t fill out an incident report.  With this program, Walmart attacked one of the basic needs of human beings, the need to belong, and exploited it for financial gain.  No one wanted to be the person who had an accident and ended the streak, so people didn’t report their injuries.  I didn’t realize the real effects of this program until I saw it for myself.

In an effort to reduce shrinkage, Sam’s Club mandated that all cashiers move every item from the cart that the customer brings to the register into a separate empty cart.  This meant much heavy lifting at times since Sam’s Club was a bulk retailer.  One day a fellow cashier was moving a deceptively heavy item from one cart to the next and had hurt her back.  She was apprehensive about reporting her injury to the manager because of the aforementioned group ideals, but I convinced her that health was more important and even went as far as to bring the manager over to see her.  Once the employee explained that she had hurt herself the manager pulled her to the side and had her sit down and got her a drink, as if she was just not feeling well.  Then when the employee explained that she would like to fill out an incident report, the manager gave her an evasive laugh and told her that there was no injury and walked away. 

I didn’t work for that company for too much longer after that.  Looking back on it, it irritates me to no end what some people will do just to make a few extra bucks.  Walmart already was the largest company in the country and making billions and billions of dollars. Would it really hurt Walmart to treat their employees with dignity and respect?  Walmart probably saved a billion dollars in insurance costs and litigation by reducing the reported accidents in their stores. For Walmart and Sam’s Club the steaks probably cost a couple hundred dollars each time they had a barbeque.  For the employees, those steaks probably cost a whole lot more in future pain and suffering, greater health issues, and lost chances for financial justice in a courtroom, the extent of which we will probably never know. 

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9 Cool Album Covers

I was sitting at home a few days ago listening to some vinyl when I came across the Beatles “Revolver”.  Musically it is one of the greatest albums of all time.  But while I was listening I was looking at the album cover and its pretty bad-ass.  So, I decided to go through a few other records and pulled out Queen, The Who, and Pink Floyd, bands that had some of the most iconic albums and album covers of all time.  I decided to write about nine records that I think have awesome covers. Everyone else does lists that are the top ten and I want to be different so my list includes nine.  I am not giving a list of what I think are the top nine nor am I implying that these nine are the coolest.  In fact, I could probably write a list of fifty albums that I think are badass but nine seems like a good number so here I go…

 

Elvis Presley (1956) Elvis’ debut album!

 

This is the one that started it all.  For people who love rock n’ roll as I do, this cover should be the Holy Grail.  It’s simple, it’s profound, and it’s alive.  When I look at this cover I am drawn in, this guy is singing about something awesome and I wanna know what the hell it is!

Catch a Fire – Bob Marley (1973)

 

Okay, I am going to try and be as simplistic as possible here. This album cover art is a freakin lighter.  On the original production you could flip open the top portion to reveal the fire inside…the record “Catch a Fire”.  Most rock n’ roll from the 60’s and 70’s is characterized by smoking weed and Bob Marley and the Wailers were no exception.  Probably the stonerist of all stoner bands…I just think this is damn cool.  And to top it off, this was Marley’s major label debut.

 

 

Beastie Boys – License to Ill (1986)

 

Another debut album here.  You see the album cover from the front with the Beastie Boys logo centered on the tail of a large plane, the Def Jam logo slightly left which is positioned next to the alpha numerical “3MTA3” which reads EATME when viewed backwards. Then you open up the album sleeve and view the full picture only to see that the plane has crashed into a wall. The plane in the full picture looks similar to a joint or cigarette being extinguished.  It’s chaotic, slightly brutish, and unruly.  The perfect depiction of what awaits the listener of the album. It’s epic!

 

 

Born to Run – Bruce Springsteen (1975)

 

First of all, for those of you who don’t know me, I am sort of a Bruce fanatic but that is not why this album ended up here.  Typically I am more of a fan of album art that doesn’t include the band or artist who recorded the album but this one is just too cool to not include.  Being Bruce’s third album, he still hadn’t quite been introduced to the world yet.  This album and cover did that and more.  At the front we see Bruce looking like he is about to crack up about something then you open to view the full picture and see him leaning on his saxophonist Clarence Clemmons with whom he is presumably sharing this laugh. The cover tells you all you need to know about Bruce and how he felt about his band.

 

 

 

 

Rage – RAGE (1992)

 

Another debut album by a controversial band Rage Against the Machine.  The album cover is a picture of Thích Quảng Đức who was a Buddhist monk who literally set himself on fire to protest persecution of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese government.  His martyrdom was fruitful in that it caused many Buddhists to rally around the cause and put pressure on other governments (specifically the U.S.) to withdraw their support of the dictatorial government.  The original photograph was so compelling and highly regarded that it won a Pulitzer Price and a World Press Photo of the Year Award.

London Calling – The Clash (1979)

 

I feel like I am over using this phrase but the album cover tells you all you need to know about the band.  It has elements of aggression and rebellion, along with the simplicity of the way the bands’ name is written in just white lettering across the top.  The album title is written in a parody of another cover on this list.  I find the parody interesting because of the choice of who they parodied.  In the late 50’s Elvis was enacting his own sort of rebellion and was breaking barriers in forging rock n’ roll.  Twenty years later, The Clash are on the scene and wreaking havoc.

 

Sgt. Peppers – The Beatles (1967)

 

The greatest album from the greatest band of all time; the concept for this cover was that the Beatles would be pictured with famous and otherwise inspiring people of their lives.  It was an interesting and expensive concept, but they’re the Beatles so they can do what they want.  The story goes that John Lennon wanted to have Jesus and Adolf Hitler included as well but was rejected; Hitler for obvious reasons and Jesus because of the backlash the band received after Lennon’s comments concerning the band’s popularity and Jesus’.

Nevermind – Nirvana (1991)

 

The symbolism on this album cover is palpable. It characterizes everything you need to know about Kurt Cobain and his band.  They are the ever incorruptible band who frequently voiced displeasure over a corporate society, especially in the music industry.  Nothing else to really write about this one except that it’s funny, it’s funny cause it’s true; and it’s sad, it’s sad because it’s true.

Wish You Were Here – Pink Floyd (1975)

I love this album cover, I find it interesting, compelling, and full of symbolism, symbolism I probably don’t even fully understand.  The guys in Pink Floyd were the ultimate artists.  The truth is, they probably have 4 or 5 album covers that are worthy of greatness, but this is my favorite.

 

 

                                                                                                                    

To conclude, I give you my 9 cool albums covers.  Truth be told I left a lot of great ones out, I didn’t include any by Queen or Iron Maiden who both had classic album covers.  I left out the Rolling Stones and the Who and didn’t include any really contemporary bands.  I also could have made a list with just Beatles or Pink Floyd but I only included one from each.  The fact is, there are so many cool album covers to choose from.  And it’s just one of the many reasons that I love rock n’ roll!!!

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How to imrpove Christmas.

With Christmas now in our rear views and everyone’s sights set on getting out to the mall to return all the junk we got yesterday, I would like to take this moment to reflect.  Reflect upon the day that was.  Actually for many folks yesterday was the culmination of months worth of stress and agony over buying the right presents, decorating the house, preparing holiday meals, finances, facing the in-laws, and making sure everything is “just right”; and it will be followed by months of stress and agony over paying off all the crap you didn’t need to buy, followed by the sad realization that none of this is worth it.  By the time we finally pay off our financial and psychological debts next September, we’ll be just in time to do it all over again.  The only salvation will come if the world actually does end on 12/21/2012.

Now this sounds familiar because many people understand how outrageous and outlandish of a farce we have turned Christmas into.  Most people will read this and agree with almost every word I say.  So much so, that they will probably think that this is old news that need not be talked about.  But that is exactly what I am curious about.  If everyone knows and agrees that Christmas is overhyped, overspent and overdone, then why does it continue to be this way.  It would seem to me that if everyone sees this and thinks it’s a bad thing that we would alter it to make it better.  But that hasn’t happened and probably never will.  As I ponder the “numbskullness” of this I recount a line from the movie ‘Men In Black’ where Will Smith’s character questions why humans cannot know that there is extraterrestrial creatures living on Earth and Tommy Lee Jones’ character says, “the person is smart, but people are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals”.  So each individual person knows that the commercial Christmas is bad but when we get together in society we forget it all and revert back to the craziness and hoopla of the season.

Don’t get me wrong there are things about Christmastime that are amazing, things that I love and look forward to every year.  Not the least of which includes the Christmas cookie!  But there are some things that occur during the holiday season that are truly irritating to me and the large sampling of people that I encountered this Christmas which includes about twelve family members.  As I talked to these people over the last few weeks I found that many of us have the same issues with Christmas.  So I decided to write down a list of ways that we can collectively as a society make Christmas better.

  1. Christmas music starts too early – Let me preface this by stating that I love Christmas music.  The classic holiday favorites like; Jingle Bells, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, and White Christmas etc. are awesome and I will sing them eight days a week during Christmas.  BUT, But, I will not do this in October.  There is absolutely no need to sing Christmas songs before you finish eating all of your Halloween candy, save it until well after Thanksgiving please.
  2. Christmas music in advertising- There is absolutely nothing more annoying than hearing the first few bars of a great Christmas song only to spend the next thirty seconds listening about “Mazda-days” or how Santa does his shopping at Target.  Advertisers, you have done enough damage convincing us that we really need a brand new car or a blu-ray player for Christmas.  Leave the Christmas songs alone.
  3. Christmas songs sung by dumb people- As I have stated, I love Christmas songs just as much as the next guy.  I don’t need every celebrity, personality, and band doing their own rendition of a Christmas song.  Unless you are going to do an iconic version of the song like Michael Jackson and Springsteen did “Santa Claus is comin to town” or Will Nelson who did “Grandma got run over by a reindeer”, leave it alone.  I don’t need to hear some dumb ass punk bands version of “O come all ye faithful”, or Rascal Flatts singing “Jingle Bell Rock”, it’s dumb, stop it.
  4. Facebook – I propose that everyone should de-activate their facebooks during the holiday season.  I have a few reasons for this.  First, no one cares that it’s ten o clock on Thanksgiving night and you’re in line at Walmart.  Go home and eat some pumpkin pie or something.  Second, people write dumb stuff on facebook.  “You’ll shoot your eye out kid!”  We get it, you are watching “A Christmas Story”, we know that’s a famous line from the movie, it’s not original, it’s annoying.  Third, writing what you got for Christmas.  I thought this was the season for giving, why are you celebrating what you got.  All you’re doing is making me violate the 10th commandment, dick.  Fourth, people posting pictures of their children opening presents.  They are your children not mine, I don’t care.
  5. People feign religiousness- The last thing I need is for some guy who hasn’t been to church since Easter telling me about how we need to keep Christ in Christmas.
  6. People who say, “Keep Christ in Christmas”- Usually you hear this from two types of people, the kind I already mentioned and the people who do go to church every Sunday who think they have a claim to Christmas.  First of all, Jesus was a Jewish guy.  Second, he wasn’t really born in December, chill.  I understand that symbolically we celebrate Christmas as the day of Jesus’ birth; there are other religious and non-religious holidays this time of year so if someone wants to says Happy Holidays, who cares.
  7. Christmas is in December, not October, enough said.
  8. Cut back on all the extravagant gift giving- I mean hasn’t anyone seen ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas’?  The season is about spending time together and being happy, not about Xbox games and I pads. If you’re Oprah Winfrey and you can afford to buy everyone in your life a new car or an Xbox then go right ahead.  But, for the average person, why are we stressing ourselves out trying to figure out which credit card to use to purchase outrageous gifts for people?  You shouldn’t be putting mortgage payments in jeopardy just to buy your kids Christmas presents while some fat guy in a red suit takes all the credit.
  9. Enough with the blowup Christmas decorations.  This is a suburban soccer mom thing.  I am all about decorating your house for Christmas but not if you are going to be lazy about it.  I mean really, you went to Walmart and grabbed a hideous looking giant elf.  All you gotta do is plug it in and call it a day.  If you aren’t climbing on your roof risking life and limb then you aren’t doing it right.
  10. Don’t act like an asshole at the mall.  Don’t start fights with people over a PlayStation 3 or a place in line.  Don’t yell at the store clerk because it’s December 24th and they are out of what you are looking for.  Don’t shoot somebody over a pair of basketball shoes.
  11. Do give some change to the Salvation Army bell ringer.  Do spend time with loved ones.  Do go Christmas caroling after too much eggnog.  Do kiss somebody under the mistletoe.  Do watch ‘A Christmas Story’ (just don’t write about it on facebook). And do buy a gift for someone special, but only because you want to give them something special, not because some advertiser has convinced you that you need to.

Think about it.  Think of how much more we could actually enjoy Christmas if it didn’t start in October.  If advertisers didn’t shove Christmas down our throats.  If we could buy presents for the joy and spontaneity of it rather than because its such a great sale that we will regret not buying it.  If we could all get along and celebrate being alive and well in 2011 rather than arguing about which holiday to celebrate.  Every holiday is special to someone, so why not share their joy with them instead of trying to take it away.  If we could genuinely walk up to someone, speak whichever holiday greeting (Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy Hanukkah etc.) we choose, and give them a hug.  (Anyone who reads this gets free hug!) So, here’s to 2012 and enjoying the new and improved Christmas season.  Now let’s just hope the Mayans were wrong about December 2012.

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Ranting and Raving: The Mark Twain Prize

Recently the Kennedy Center bestowed the Mark Twain Prize upon Will Ferrell.  I like Will Ferrell.  I think he is pretty darn funny.  Anchorman, Talladega Nights, Old School, Step Brothers, Buddy the Elf, all hilarious movies.  His SNL skits were some of the funniest ever.  That being said, I think his selection for the Mark Twain Prize was premature, if he deserves it at all.  And while we’re at it I would like to sound the trumpet of my even greater disapproval over Tina Fey receiving the award last year.  I mean Tina Fey is ok, she is kind of funny.  I know you 30 Rock people aren’t going to like this but when I look at her I don’t think of comedic greatness that should be honored.  At this point in her career she has had some success but not nearly enough to be honored by the Kennedy Center.  It’s not that I don’t like these two; I think they are both very funny, I just don’t think they deserved an award like this, at least not yet.

Maybe I just don’t understand exactly what the point of the award is.  Is it a lifetime achievement award to commemorate an entire career in the field of comedy?  The title says, “Honoring someone who makes a substantial contribution to comedy”.  It would seem to me that there are others in the world of comedy who could be more worthy of the award than Tina Fey and Will Ferrell.  John Belushi, Eddie Murphy, Robin Williams, Jim Carrey, Jon Stewart, Lenny Bruce, Rodney Dangerfield (to name  few) all seem to have made substantial contributions to comedy and have been around longer than both Tina Fey and Will Ferrell and have not received this honor.  Further, when you compare the two most recent recipients to some of the people who have already received this honor; George Carlin, Bill Cosby, Richard Pryor, Billy Crystal, and Steve Martin, do they really compare?  I mean for crying out loud, George Carlin was in show business for fifty freakin years before he was given this prize.

Now with that being said, I am going to try to make my point here as concisely as possible without sounding like too much of a hater.  If the “Prize” is a quasi-lifetime achievement award then I think we can certainly make better cases for other individuals besides Fey and Ferrell.  True they both have had some success in the last ten years.  Tina Fey was even head writer at SNL for a number of years prior to gaining the heavy acclaim with which she is now bestowed.  And though Will Ferrell has probably had slightly more success than Tina Fey, he still in my opinion has fallen short of receiving a lifetime achievement award.  I don’t know what the criteria are for the Kennedy Center when they choose a winner.  But I have come to the conclusion that the selection process is flawed at best and at worst it has rendered this prize pointless.  Just like the Grammys and many of the other industry awards that are given out, it becomes a popularity contest and loses its purity.  Once it has lost its purity it loses its meaning.  This is a sad thing to say about an award given out by the Kennedy Center.

Even sadder still is the fact that there are candidates out there that probably are qualified.  Many of which I have already named but I will point to one whom I think is more than qualified, who has been in the business of comedy for quite some time, who has opened the doors for other comedians, and who is very popular.  Naturally I speak of Jon Stewart.  If the Kennedy Center wants to save some face and add some prestige back to their award they will give it to Jon Stewart next year.  He has been around going on twenty years, his stuff is absolutely hilarious, and he has helped launch the careers of many others in the world of comedy including, Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell, and Ed Helms who have gone on to do big things; as well as the guys on his current staff like Wyatt Cenac, Aasif Mandvi, and John Oliver.  I think most people would be hard pressed to find a better candidate than that.

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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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