damn that’s eerie

Does anyone else get the eerie feeling that many of the things we once considered objects (spatulas, staplers, small tools, barbecues, kitchen appliances) are now just facsimiles of objects? I noticed this a lot during the holiday shopping season. Stores were filled with aisles, displays and shelves of things that weren’t so much actual gifts as the ideas of gifts. While a cutlery set from Walmart may satisfy the requirements of usual and customary holiday proceedings, it doesn’t benefit the receiver in any real way. They can’t say “I now have a cutlery set.” The only thing they can say is, “Someone wanted to get me a cutlery set and gave me something that resembled one.”

I'm not a real blender, I just play one on television!

This idea certainly doesn’t apply only to things that are given as gifts. It applies to more and more of the “objects” I see for sale these days. I feel every time I need something, I am faced with more choices than ever before, but each of them is only a composition of plastic, metal and circuitry that temporarily alleviates my perceived need for said item and NOTHING MORE. Like a prop.

My boyfriend recently purchased a smoker (the kind that smokes meat, not a real live smoking person. Unfortunately, he has no need for a human smoker because he is already his own.) It had all the requisite elements that would lead one to believe the object was genuine: it was sold in a store for money, it came in a box, its various parts assembled into the appropriate and promised shape of a smoker. Upon use, the jig was up. The thing immediately proved itself to be an imposter, nothing more than a conglomeration of parts and fittings. You see, the sides were too thin to retain the necessary heat, the legs failed to maintain a relationship with the body…actually, that’s where my knowledge of smokers and their parts ends. But that should be enough to illustrate my point:  this item was not what it claimed to be. Holding things upright is the non-negotiable responsibility of a leg! Retaining heat is a core function of a wall! We returned the thing immediately and blamed ourselves for buying the cheap one. But on closer inspection, it turned out that even the not-cheap ones suffered the same setbacks. I believe the prices of these items- and a host of others ranging from home furnishings to clothing- are purely psychological.

So does anyone know where I can buy real things? (That is not an attempt at a witty closure, I really do want to know.)

I voted Republican and all I got was was this lousy Pence Amendment

Where are the jobs we were promised during the elections? Where is the discussion for jobs? The Repubs capitalized on our fear of never finding a job again. They promised they’d focus the economy and give up the moral values war that’s been falling ever lower on the priority lists of average Americans for years.  And yet now we have the Pence Amendment.

Nevermind that Planned Parenthood already did NOT use federal funds for abortions. They were already prohibited from doing so. This amendment stripped Planned Parenthood of the funding it used to provide contraceptives, STD treatment and screening, and education….with contraception and education being the only ways it is even possible to reduce abortion.

But either way, this is not what people signed up for.

Chase Lawsuit

I have been contacted by a New York law firm about the possibility of being the NAMED PLAINTIFF in the consumer class action suit against Chase for overdraft fees! In the last post, I mentioned visiting bank-overdraft.com and signing up. Well that shit paid off.

We’re in early stages of intake and investigation right now. I’ve sent some bank statements and signed a retainer, and I don’t know if my examples will be good enough. In March of 2009, I was hit with SEVEN overdraft fees in ONE motherfucking day. So that’s a great example. I hope my account history proves I’m a good candidate for lead plaintiff. If I was lead plaintiff, it would by my name v. JP Morgan Chase on all court documents. I’d also attend some hearings and most likely be deposed. This would be the vindication I’ve so desperately wanted. And for all the other people I hope are signing up for this suit.

If you want to become angrier than you’ve been in quite some time…

…read the amended complaint filed against JP Morgan Chase. It’s a whopper…216 pages. I’m only on page 23 and I am livid. Here’s why.

At the end of 2009, it became widely known that banks regularly engage in shady accounting as a way of triggering excessive overdraft fees. Consumer outrage and pending legislation has forced some of the larger banks to change their ways. But another consequence is several class-action lawsuits. These suits allege what I was sort of aware of all along, namely that they do not give consumers any information about opting out of so-called overdraft “protection” (what a bullshit term, as overdraft protection implies just that- protection from an overdraft, not facilitating it), they purposefully rearrange transactions to generate more fees, and they do not accurately report current balance information to customers.

The poorest 10% of bank customers incur 90% of the fees. In the 10 or so years I’ve been a customer of Washington Mutual (now Chase). I’ve spent a fair amount of that time being employed part-time or unemployed altogether. In other words, I was poor. Poor people run chronically low balances in their bank accounts (duh). Reordering transactions or delaying a deposit will wreak havoc on those with double-digit balances. It matters.

Around 2005 or so the fees started accumulating in batches, and I would regularly end up over $100 in the hole for three to five small transactions. I would log onto my account and despair over the trail into insolvency. Most of the transactions would be under $10, each with a $20-something fee attached. Did that cup of coffee taste like it was sugared with gold flakes? Because it cost as much. I did notice that transactions were routinely posted in an order that only vaguely resembled the order in which I incurred them. This got me many times. “If only the phone bill had gone through AFTER the pack of cigarettes, soda, coffee, and pack of gum!” In a chronological world, I might have still overdrawn, but only once, not five times.

Sometimes I would plead with WaMu to reverse the fees, and many times I got the “Well that’s why we encourage you to balance your checkbook” speech. (First I ask, who even has a checkbook? Debit card use is widely touted as THE way to pay for things, with Visa check card advertisements going so far as to mock people who use cash.) Second, what good is it to balance your checkbook when the transactions are not even applied in the order you would’ve recorded them? Maybe I did balance my checkbook into ONE overdraft (oops!). Makes no difference when you log on the next day and find that the transactional order has taken on a life of it’s own and triggered an avalanche of fees.

I had asked several times, “Well why can’t the bank just decline the transactions I don’t have money for?” Nobody ever gave me a good answer, ranging from vague “We don’t do that” to “Just balance your checkbook.” I was never informed of opting-out. I didn’t know it was possible to do so, and while I don’t remember asking directly, it is clear to me that I was a customer not happy with the optional “service” of overdraft protection, and I should have been told about my right to discontinue it.

Now what about using the ATM or checking accounts online to monitor your balance? Not as accurate as one would hope. Check out Item D in the Factual Allegations section of the complaint, it’s a catchy little ditty entitled “Chase’s Cloaking of Accurate Balance Information.” All that time spent checking my balance and believing it to be accurate! Silly me. The problem is, when you are a person who regularly operates in the scary realm of Less Than $10 Till Payday, accurate balance information is kind of life or death, vitally important. I wouldn’t have bought a cup of coffee and a pack of cigarettes with my last $9 if I had known it was actually my last ten cents.

I don’t know how much in overdraft fees I’ve paid in the last 5 years. I do know that in 2009, the year of unemployment, it was over $1,000. The worst was last July, when I went to deposit the checks my roommates had written me for rent. I deposited them in person and asked for a cashier’s check to give to the landlord. The lady behind the counter told me my funds were on hold. Why? Because of my “account history.” I just about lost it. I asked, “You meant the account history where I have incurred and subsequently paid hundreds of dollars in fees? I should have a plaque on the wall, actually.” I know it wasn’t her fault, it just was a new Chase policy to make the lives of chronic fee payers even more miserable, but still. And what ended up happening? I couldn’t tell the landlord to wait 3 business days or whatever while my funds cleared. I had to write a check for rent that day. So I wrote a personal check, knowing the money was sitting in my account. And he cashed it before Chase let the funds go. I got an insufficient funds fee.

If you or anyone you know has dealt with this, check out bank-overdraft.com. I signed up to be a part of the national class action against Chase. They haven’t contacted me yet (I got an automated email telling me it could take awhile) but it definitely made me feel better. When I think of the last five years and how much financial difficulty I’ve dealt with, which was regularly made much worse by WaMu/Chase, I get so mad. This is one of the reasons I decided to become a paralegal. Besides the desire to get out of the realm of double-digit account balances, my passion for consumer advocacy has grown out of situations like these.

Armstrong’s bike recovered

Damnit. This just in from the Sacramento Bee:

Sacramento police announced this afternoon that Lance Armstrong’s stolen time-trial bicycle valued at $10,000 has been recovered — and Armstrong thanked the police department for its help minutes after finishing the Clovis leg of the Amgen Tour of California.

A local resident brought the bike into Sacramento Police headquarters on Freeport Boulevard at about 10:35 a.m. Wednesday, police said in a news release.

I guess that means a local did it after all? No. I refuse to believe that. I think this person heroically wrestled it out of the tights of one of the visting Europeans. He has been recovering quietly at home since then. It wasn’t until today he had the strength to get that bike back. Ohhhhh man. Big frownie face here. Thanks Sacramento. For the first time probably ever, I was rooting for you.

oh, pleasanton!

From Mercury News:

“Senator Joe Simitian: Your cell phone law sucks.”

That’s the blunt message on a large billboard off Highway 101 south of the IKEA store in East Palo Alto. It was paid for by Grant Paulson of Pleasanton, who despises California’s hands-free cell phone law, authored by Simitian and in place since last summer.

… Paulson, 47, said Tuesday he doesn’t like the cell phone law because he finds it hard to hear calls on hands-free devices and he considers the rule an attack on personal freedoms.

“All I want is to have a choice,” said Paulson, president of GP Fire Protection, a company that installs fire sprinklers.

…”I’m just tired of having my personal freedoms taken away,” he wrote in the reader comments on a story on NBC Bay Area’s Web site. “Used to (be) able to ride a motorcycle without a helmet, ride in the back of a pickup, not wear a seat belt, ride a bike when a kid without a helmet, etc. Where does it stop and what’s next? Helmet laws to ride in a convertible because that would be safer?”

Good gravy. I love how his idea of freedom is being able to engage in an activity that puts everyone else around him at risk. Let them eat cake!

I also like how he is el presidente of a company that installs fire sprinklers. Does anyone else find that a bit ironic? How many people who have been forced to hire his company to install those things have grumbled about it? And all he cares about is how it’s hard to hear. Oh, Pleasanton. The rolling, gentle green hillsides of upper-middle class privilege tend to make the natives a bit stir crazy.

Lance Armstrong’s bike

From CBS13:

Residents are mortified after Lance Armstrong’s time trial bike was stolen in Sacramento, and the famous cyclist is turning to the internet to track down his one-of-a-kind cycle, reports CBS station KOVR-TV in Sacramento.

“I’m a Sacramentan, and it’s very embarrassing and very disappointing,” said Katie Newell.

The Sacramento Police Department has been fielding calls ever since news of the theft made international headlines. “We got calls from as far away as France and the UK,” said Sacramento Police spokesman Konrad Von Shoech.

So it was stolen in Sacramento. But am I the only person who thinks this crime might have been committed by a non-local? Do you know how many obvious out-of-towners were here on Saturday? The SJ Mercury news did a piece on people traveling from all over the country to see Lancey Pants in the flesh. I can and will also personally verify this: there were more European guys in tights in downtown Sac than I have ever seen in one place. While a bike is much harder to conceal, these men are known grape smugglers, a fact I don’t think should be ignored. Leave no stone unturned! I will investigate them myself!

Not only that, but getting your hands on Lance Armstrong’s bike is probably something of a coup de grace, a feat not to be taken likely. Sacramento bike thieves are more garden variety, crackheads-with-garden-shears type. The whole freaking world knew where Lance Armstrong’s bike was that day.