Wednesday, April 27, 2011

THE GREAT BLOODSUCKIN' BANK CHASE


April 27, 2011

Dear Bloodsuckers,
No you don’t. No thanks. No way. Get lost and stop Chasing me! That’s my message for a certain New York bank and its $20-million-a-year president James Dimon, who’s also chairman and CEO.
Picked up the mail last week and Monroe Postmistress Vicki Gangi handed me several days’ worth: some bills, some boxes and three invitations from the Chase Manhattan Bank to accept their credit card. That’s three more, bringing the total over the last few months to 31.
Me? They want me? The way these dogs are hounding me it’s as though I owe them money. I don’t. They’re just trying to get me to owe them money. And I won’t.
Thirty-one times this bank pokes me in the ribs and dangles before my eyes offers ranging from zero to the latest: “Start with $200 cash back”.
They’re going to give me $200 just to take their card? It was $150 only a week ago and $100 in January. I’m obviously a wanted man. But for Mr Dimon and his gang to be so persistent means it has to be to their great advantage... and not at all to mine.
To accept, just use the card one time. Flutter into the web they spun for you. You’ll also pay nothing above the prime rate. Nothing? Wow! Um... for the first year, that is, because the moment you use that card they’ve got you by the short-and-curlies.
Once that year’s up it’s a whopping 11.99 (why don’t they just say twelve?) percent on top of prime, which, at present, stands at 3.25 percent. Your interest is now 15.24 percent and, depending on the market, it can go even higher. Which they say may happen and you can be sure will. I see nothing in there about rates dropping below that.
Oh, I forgot the Chase “calendar” which gives you “bonus points” for shopping in different types of stores for each quarter of the year.
Y’know what? I’m not going to play this imbecilic Chase Me game of smoke, mirrors and bonus marks. Nor the “rewards” nonsense some of these other banks play where your money can get you greenie points toward a toaster or a waffle maker. That’s precisely what it is: waffle.
I’d prefer for them all to introduce a really novel idea. It’s called Just Stop Charging Me So Much. This is merely my small voice tellin’ the banks: I ain’t payin’ your protection-era fees, so git yore sticky, graspy hands outta my wallet!
Chase loves foreclosing on folks and does so to the tune of $20 billion, including the cash-strapped families of our military, and bilking 4,000 of them while the breadwinners are away fighting for our country. How American, eh? Hail to the cheats!
This bank joined with JP Morgan, ditched the “Manhattan” and moved its credit card operation to Wilmington, Delaware, a state that allows leeches like them to demand whatever interest they fancy. Bank Of New York and Citibank are among those who did likewise. As did the outfit called Cardmember Services that appears to be the object of a myriad consumer complaints. Chase is consistently named the worst bank on earth, as is evidenced on the Internet.
The Morgan part is the largest hedge fund operation in the United States. Hedge funds are unregulated and probably the easiest way for investors to be scammed: there have been complaints about this bank’s hedge fund operation and a $6.4 million lawsuit has been lodged. Documents just unsealed accuse Chase’s officers of complicity “at the very center” of the greatest fraud of all time, the one perpetrated by embezzler Bernie Madoff.
Without my knowledge or permission, JP More-gain has already been at the very center of my own modest affairs. The sneaky, fleshy hand on this company’s international arm has been picking my pocket every time I earn a few bucks from overseas.
The banks’ latest little dodge is the reverse mortgage idea, targeting older folk who may be suffering in the current economic climate but own a house and likely have good credit. It may not be a full-blown scambola but it stinks.
Here’s a certain Leonard Hill: “Call me to learn more about this important financial option from MetLife Bank.” Is he legit? Probably. But the FBI warns about the reverse mortgage trap MetLife, Chase and many others are pushing, saying folks who grew up in the 1930s to 1950s were raised to be polite and trusting. Oh what a wicked world we live in today.
Old folk fall victim to scurrilous gypsy workmen like the travelers, but you’d expect a bank to be above that sort of thing. Another “financial option” that’s rife with deception, though, is the debt consolidation game that banks and financial institutions offer. Tempting to think that your worries are over once you sign, but often it’s the key to a nightmare
It’s come to that again, where we are forced to take a hard look at our bank’s trustworthiness. Will we soon be back to the 1930s where robbin’ hoods like John Dillinger and Bonnie and Clyde were cheered on by the common folk?
With the Mafia at least you know in advance you’ll be shaken down: paradoxically, there’s a certain honesty about that. Well, with JP Morgan Chase you now know it too, because this outfit announced it wants to raise to $5 its ATM withdrawal charge for folks who don’t hold actual bank accounts there.
So theirs is an offer I can refuse. And I have another message for Mr Dimon and all those greedy New York/Delaware goons who like to toss my neighbors out onto the street while trying to sucker me in: Go Chase yourselves!

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© 2011 Fred Wehner is a journalist formerly with the Daily Mail in London, who then founded and ran the New York News Agency before settling in Monroe 21 years ago.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

ON THE OUTSIDE LOOKING SOMEPLACE ELSE


April 24, 2011

William’s marrying Kate, forsooth, and the entire world is enchanted except me. I’m bored silly with the royals – the Brits, the Danes, that Monaco mob, the lot of them. Swaziland’s King Mswati III and his 14 wives included.
They’re all just people aren’t they? People who comb their hair and wear fancy clothes festooned with gold braid and shiny designer buttons and sparkly headgear. Out-of-work people but unlike us in that they have too much money and nothing to occupy their time except be royal.
Being royal is something I expect quite a few of us common folk could easily get used to. Swanning around at these toffy receptions attending countless dinner parties, graciously accepting expensive gifts galore with red carpet treatment at every turn...
Yes, I think I could manage that. As long as I didn’t have to become a hoity-toity chinless wonder with a plummy accent and a nose-in-the-air attitude.
But watching two people I don’t know get hitched does nothing for me, especially as their bash is something that’s way out of my league. It’s like admiring someone else’s Lamborghini or oceangoing yacht. I won’t ever be able to afford a luxury item like that so why waste my time coveting it.
And on that note I never could understand the popularity of Robin Leach’s TV show ‘Lifestyles Of The Rich And Famous’. It was part of the 1980s if-you’ve-got-it-flaunt-it era where wallowing in wealth was so fashionable. But on the outside looking in? Why would we want to press our noses up against these people’s windows? I’ve got better things to do.
I cannot fault some fathers who lash out $100,000 or more to have their little girl wed in style. It’s the one time in her life where she is the absolute sole focus: she’s Princess Kate for a day. Yet half of those who join in marriage become un-joined a few years later; in America there’s a divorce about every 26 seconds. Now imagine that expensive marriage souring due to arguments over cash - money that could have saved the union instead of being spent on one sweet day of joy.
My wedding – to the love of my life – was a low key affair attended by one of my oldest and closest friends, who happened to be visiting at the time, and by our dog Teddy. Judge John Michael Coleman thundered over from Athens on his motorcycle and declared us man and wife in a dimly-lit room we’d only half built at the time. It was romantic.
The whole thing, cheap champagne and all, cost less than $300. Thirteen years later my daughter was married without hoopla in the exact same spot by Monroe judge Donna Parker. Her daddy found another $300 for that one.
On the other hand, a friend’s daughter had one of those daisy-chain weddings to the same groom, first one in England, next Georgia then on to the Caribbean. If she divorces will it be a three-stop round-the-world affair also? In reverse order.
These destination weddings, where the party is flown to some exotic spot, are said to save money, the advantage being that the guest list is far smaller. But still...
Another young filly got married in a field of flowers, therefore her divorce, if it happens, must logically take place in a field of weeds.
Those opulent celebrity weddings come unstuck and I shake my head. Not even six months into Chelsea Clinton’s $5 million thrash there were serious rumblings that it was going from wedlock to unlock; now it seems a split is imminent. Was all that money wasted? We’ll find out soon... if we care.
We already know the $2.5 million Elizabeth Taylor – Larry Fortensky coupling fizzled after five years, while Christina Aguilera’s $2 million hitch was just as short. Tom Cruise’s cost the same and there are ominous murmurings about that one, too.
I always found Celine Dion’s extravaganza in Las Vegas obscene. At half a million dollars, her 1994 Canadian wedding had been a real cheapie by comparison; the glittering Vegas reaffirmation cost a reported $6 million. There she was, glowing amidst the camels and imported birds, berber servants and litterbearers, jugglers, dancers – one with lighted candelabra on her head – and her Arab husband...
If any of these “VIPs” had chosen the $300 version instead, those millions could have gone to feed the hungry. Not just in Africa or whatever: how about here in the United States.
But celebs and royals never think that way. Prince Charles has a servant to squeeze the toothpaste onto his brush and I wouldn’t be surprised if another flunkey helps him blow his nose.
Britain will spend a bunch on the April 29 wedding, although quite a bit less than the $50 million that was splashed on the Charles and Diana betrothal back in 1981.
I got up really early for that one. Wedzilla? Ho hum. I only did it because Costello’s Bar in New York put on a special for the foreign journalists that included gallons of free booze. But who feels that thirsty at 6am?
For this month’s yawn-o-rama I wouldn’t get out of bed. And if Wifey wants to go all teary-eyed in front of the TV I’ll be looking elsewhere, maybe reading once more with relish about French royalty going to the guillotine.
William and Kate are two people I don’t know and never will. But they’ll generate an estimated $1 billion toward Britain’s economy, so maybe I should rejoice. It’s just that I keep thinking of folks in this country as well as over there to whom one billionth of that amount would mean a welcome bowl of gruel.

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© 2011 Fred Wehner is a journalist formerly with the Daily Mail in London, who then founded and ran the New York News Agency before settling in Monroe 21 years ago.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

THE YEAR OF THE ROTTEN LYING CHOCOLATE RABBIT


April 13, 2011

Here you go, sugarpie, a nice chocolate bunny. Isn’t he just precious the way his roguish cartoon smile stretches halfway across the silver wrapping. He was the most adorable tyke on the shelf, so I got him for you. You like him?
Ooh, and I see you already received some other, different, ones. They’re cute too.
Just one thing, sweetie: I know I just gave you a whole Easter rabbit but he’s not all yours. I want you to go out now and find three friends to share him with. You see, if you eat that bunny all by yourself it’s 720 calories, half from fat, and that’s far too much for a little girl like you.
Reester Bunny from Reese’s, the Pieces people, might look like one complete rabbit, but the nice folks who make him say he’s really four parts, each with only 180 calories. That way we’re led to believe he’s not the bad boy he really is.
I paid $3 for him, he weighs 5oz and he’s only five inches tall. You can eat 1¼ inches, angel - the ears if you like, or the feet, but you must leave the rest.
Let’s go talk to these others; start with those petite eye-rolling triplets over there: Hippy, Happy and Hoppy. A dollar each and Hey! Why do you all keep hopping away? All I want to see is your... darn it... your ingredients list. Grab them, sweetiepie, turn them around and... you frauds!
On your boxes you say you’re milk chocolate, and then in much smaller letters ‘flavored’. Same with your baby sister Little Beauty. And now we see why, don’t we. It’s because there’s virtually no chocolate in you. You little girls are all sugar, no spice, no things nice. Instead you’re that horrid heart-clogging palm oil, partially hydrogenated trans fats and whey. Vile stuff. What disgusting, lying rabbits. We want nothing to do with them, do we, honeybunch?
The Palmer company that makes these “proudly in America” should change its name to The Palmoil Company because this is the awful additive they’re palming off onto our children. Especially the poor. What chance at a healthy life do poor kids have with heartless people poisoning them for profit?
Dude and Diva bunnies, $7 each, are also out of Palmer’s chemical warren, 12 inches tall and 14 ounces that include gobs of partially hydrogenated palm oil. They’re ten servings, so if you ate a whole one you’d have 2,100 calories of nastiness in you, more than half from fat. Best to find nine people to share this junk – nine you didn’t like.
Here’s Speedy. Hey, wait a minute, you’re the same size, weight and price as Reester Bunny, same calorie count. Oh, and I notice you’re a Hershey product, same as that Reester fellow. Figures, doesn’t it.
You’re another one pulling that “serving size” trick where you say you’re four 180-calorie portions. Speedy, that doesn’t make you much more truthful than the mendacious Palmer bunch.
Why are all these lop-ears being so dishonest? I always liked rabbits. The Watership Down gang were all wonderfully gentle and true. Now this. It’s like every single one of them is Bugs Bunny’s evil twin.
What’s up, doc? You’re saying I’ve got clogged arteries, heart disease, diabetes and I’m morbidly obese and it’s all because of these cottontail con artists and the despicable people who make them?
Cadbury’s. Now there’s a name you can trust. Except you can’t, not any more. Plump for their Creme Eggs and you fall prey to another villain of the food industry: the high fructose corn syrup that nutritionists say causes a whole bunch of illnesses. Eat their Caramel Eggs and once more your body’s being assaulted not just by that fructose goo but also the evil palm oil
Hershey’s have been making Cadbury’s in this country. Shame on them. Why DEA agents haven’t raided their Pennsylvania factory is a mystery to me. And it’s not due to that outfit’s bad ingredients or cringeworthy “serving size” shell game. It’s because that’s where they make the highly addictive Cadbury’s Mini Eggs, those insidious little artery-chokers in the oh-so-cute pastel colored sugar shell.
They’re the narcotic of Eastertime. Eat one and you’re hooked. Next, you’ve attached loops to the pack to hang it over your ears like a horse’s feed bag and pretty soon after that you’ve devoured the lot. Ten ounces and 1,330 calories. Say hello to a life in elastic waistbands.
True, these products aren’t as disgusting as, say, the 5-oz Russell Stover peanut butter coney of not one but two servings of partially hydrogenated garbage. Or Hershey’s yuckily hydrogenated Whopper Robin Eggs. And, for the same $2.68, a huge 18-oz bag of Peter’s Sweet Shop “goodies” from those Palmer laboratories. Just four of Peter’s tiny pieces will give you over 200 calories and a mouthful of bad chemicals. Many people complain about the strange non-chocolate taste of Palmer’s chocolate like the 440-calorie $1 Double Crisp Bunny, a five-inch supersweet 3-ounce lollipop that they say is two servings.
Hop Bunny is the same weight, a $5 confection from Frankford Candy, who also divide this little critter’s 460 calories, 240 from fat, into two. It’s made in China.
2011 is the Chinese Year Of The Rabbit, and this year Easter’s “edible” menagerie is out in force – straight out of the laboratory warren. Why do these test-tube candymakers want to fatten and sicken our children like this and how can we avoid them?
Well, if you’ve got $165 to spend on an Easter confection you can’t go wrong with Conrad’s Big Bunny where the manufacturers say that for eating you’ll need to smash off a piece with a hammer and be sure to wear eye protection. It’s 26 inches tall and pure, as are their rabbit-head lollipops, coconut eggs and all. No beastly chemical additives...
Um... not in the “chawclat” they themselves make insisted Ed, spokesman for the New Jersey firm. But then he admitted, as cautiously as a hare, that the trimmings they use do indeed contain that awful palm kernel oil. Is there no escaping this crap?
.
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© 2011 Fred Wehner is a journalist formerly with the Daily Mail in London, who then founded and ran the New York News Agency before settling in Monroe 21 years ago.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

AN IMP’S FOUR MERRY JAPES


April 6, 2011

Well, how many side-splitting practical jokes did you pull on Friday? My April Fool’s total this year was none. But in bygone times I have come up with four deliciously wicked naughties which I’ll list here in case someone wants to try out something similar at a later date.
1. Dracula’s Little Helper.
My wife’s screams can be heard at the other end of the house. I rush in to the bedroom and she’s taking comfort under the comforter, hiding, she says, from a bat that’s been dive-bombing her. A bat in the bedroom? Indeed there is; it must have come in through that hole in the eaves we’d noticed weeks earlier. So I usher the good lady out, close the bedroom door and open all the windows, then wave a towel in an attempt to shoo the little fellow out. But every time it gets close to leaving the house it banks sharply and stays in the room. Plan B: throw the towel over it, so I do, with success, then release the beast to the great outside and shut the windows. There. The reward will likely be a kiss on the cheek for Her Hero and I’ll tell her that’s another good reason to keep me around.
But all that’s too boring. Instead I opt for the fun part. With a red felt tip pen I mark two small dots on the side of my neck, then, hand rubbing throat, pained look on my face, I seek out Wifey to ask if she can see anything. She screams: “Oh my God!” Rushes back and forth to the medicine cabinet. Suggests carrying me to the hospital immediately. When I can’t see through my free-flowing tears of laughter I don’t notice her hand heading towards my head for a hefty clout. Not funny, she says. I thought it was.
2. The Cowboy’s Fruit Hat.
I’m in a department store with one of my very best friends, Dave. Because it‘s in New Orleans the building is older and there are not many mirrors, especially not in the departments dealing with clothing. Which is wonderful because Dave, an Englishman, is looking for a cowboy hat he can show off back home; he keeps trying on various items and asking me how they look.
Luckily – for me, that is, but not for him – the ladies hat department is conjoined with the men’s, making it easy for me to select some suitable headgear. Unsuitable for him, of course. It’s a very fetching hat, one of those brimmed 1940s revival jobs with plastic fruit and petals on top, and a feather. From behind, I set it on his head so that he’s unaware of its identity, then I make approving sounds, tell him this is “the one” and all his pals back home will be immensely jealous. There’s no way for him to check; he thinks he has a macho stetson on his head.
However, all the while we’re shopping around in other areas he’s wearing this outrageous feminine creation and folks throughout the store are smiling at him, some of them knowingly. He says people in New Orleans are so friendly...
3. Uncle Freddy’s Nephew.
Another department store, this time in upstate New York. My friend Mike is a slight man – small but perfectly formed. He’s looking for shoes, I want to buy socks, so we agree to meet at the pay desk. But now I’ve been standing at our rendezvous for nearly ten minutes and no sign on the guy , so I hit on an idea.
Walk over to the candy counter and ask the folks for an announcement, which comes over the loudspeaker system less than a minute later.
“Will Little Mikey Miller please come to the candy counter where his uncle is waiting.”
A minute later, a small man in his forties comes stomping round the aisle. Was he red-faced? His entire bald head is crimson with embarrassment. Little Mikey was not amused. The rest of us, customers and store personnel alike, all are in hysterics.
4. This last one could be the best jape of the lot: making the girlfriend jealous. We’re in the department store again and my previous squeeze, Annie, wants to try on some new outfits. Lots of new outfits. She’s in the dressing room and I’m out of patience when I espy this very pretty dummy. Not a female ignoramus but a store display statue clad in the trendiest new look in fashions.
So I wander over to it, swing it over gently and wait until I see Annie coming out of the booth with her most recent tryout dress. And at that point I lean over and give this dummy an enormous, passionate make-believe kiss of the kind you saw in the Fred Astaire brand of romantic musicals. It’s leaning backwards, I’m all over it.
Annie goes nuts. Rushes down the aisle, screaming at me. Who is that girl and how dare I. Of course, this is where I calmly place the dummy back up on its stand and the entire store collapses in laughter. More so when Annie gives me a resounding thwack upside my head.
Painful, but definitely worth it.
Merry japes. Life’s too short to be serious all the time. If you’re an imp like me, there’s no need to wait another year to pull a stunt like one of these. Remember, as Bobby Slayton, the pit bull of comedy, put it: If you can’t laugh at yourself – make fun of other people!

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© 2011 Fred Wehner is a journalist formerly with the Daily Mail in London, who then founded and ran the New York News Agency before settling in Monroe 21 years ago.