Monday, October 31, 2011

Tricks, But No Treats: Beware Of This Scam While Shopping Online

By Manifesto Joe

Have you ever been charged for something that you have not asked for -- or even worse, been charged for something that you specifically turned down?

I've seen both these scenarios many times before. It's not that such practices didn't already exist before the Internet. But shopping online has given greedy, unscrupulous capitalists (I sincerely hope I'm not being redundant there) lots of new opportunities to gouge consumers.

A few days ago I went online to reorder bank checks. I ordered four boxes at a discount price, chose a secure, tracked UPS method of shipping, for a fee, and then was presented with an option of buying a form of identity protection insurance for a fee of $9.80.

I had already chosen a good UPS shipping method with theft in mind, and I already have the means of identity protection if the problem arises. So, I have a very clear memory of moving my computer mouse to the "no" circle, clicking it, and seeing the little dot appear inside the circle that was to reject the coverage.

I kept moving to the "view shopping cart" page, and saw a final charge of $69.52. Without thinking much about it at first, I hit "place order."

Big mistake. I should have noticed that the $69.52 was too much. When I checked the itemized list on the shopping cart, they had sneaked that $9.80 insurance premium in on me.

I immediately called the toll-free number given on the order page, and after a few minutes of automated bullshit I finally got to speak to a live representative. Explaining what happened, I was told that my bank's checking account would be debited $69.52, but then get a credit of $9.80. I threw in a comment that I'd seen this sort of thing before -- I truly have -- and that I think it's an unfortunately common method of gouging the customer. That day, my rep had little to say in response.

By the next day, I had gotten an e-mail notification about my order being received, and that the total charge was $69.52. Nowhere was the refund of $9.80 mentioned, so I thought I'd better call them again.

I got a different phone rep this time. After I asked why the $9.80 credit wasn't on the e-mail notice, she said she had a record of a different rep talking to me the day before, and that this rep had filled out a requisition for the credit to be made. It wouldn't show up on bank records until the next week, I was told.

OK, but why isn't it on the e-mail notice, I asked. I told her that I'd encountered this sort of thing before while shopping online, and regard it as something very intentional and insincere.

I got a speech about how "accounts receivable" charges for the insurance as a separate item, and how they have to process the requisition separately. I was also told that I had the opportunity to view the shopping cart before final approval, at which time I could have rejected the insurance fee.

I have a very, very clear memory of rejecting the fee once, when first presented with it, and I told her this. Telling me that I should have checked over the shopping cart later, I said, is telling me that in order to reject the fee, I would have to have rejected it TWICE.

As if well-rehearsed -- and I suspect that she was -- she started the "accounts receivable" speech all over again. I let this go on for two or three sentences, replied, "I don't buy it," and hung up.

I've kept all the pertinent paperwork, and plan to check with my bank this week about that credit. If I don't get it soon, I plan to take that $9.80 out in phone rep time (at typical wages, perhaps an hour's worth) if they don't give it to me. $9.80 isn't much to some of these corporate types. But to someone like me, it's a good home-cooked meal for three people.

I was born, but it damn sure wasn't yesterday. I know exactly what these people are up to, and why this is common on the Internet. They may eventually have to refund me this money. But think of all the senior citizens out there, and all the younger people who are just bad at math to begin with, who wouldn't notice anything wrong. If they already rejected the fee once, they would think they were done with it and just pay the total without giving the matter any thought.

That's exactly what our corporate lackeys are counting on. There will be enough people of those descriptions who will be unknowingly gouged.

Beware of this trick, and don't give such bastards any treats. That's my advice on Halloween. I wish I'd taken it all earlier, myself, because now I'll have to fight for my money. Maybe you won't have to fight for yours.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Cain Not Just A Koch Brothers Puppet, He's An Ignoramus

By Manifesto Joe

I should preface by saying that Herman Cain isn't stupid at all, at least certainly not in the classic sense of the word. Truly stupid people don't get master's degrees in computer science from Purdue University. But there's a big difference between intelligence and wisdom, and Cain exhibits little of the latter.

In the world according to Herman Cain, those of you out there who aren't rich, and have no job, "blame yourself." (Translation: Blame the victim.) Here's a link to a story on this.

Encouragement of self-hatred is nothing new in the Republican Party. It's one way they've stayed either in power or on the fringes of it for well over a century -- by isolating, dividing and fragmenting society's losers. It's never been corrupt institutions, it's always YOU. It's never hard-luck incidents like recessions, stock-market crashes, layoffs or catastrophic illnesses in families. Anything to keep the losers from banding together and doing something collectively about corrupt institutions.

This has always been a Republican subtext, and perhaps Cain should get some credit for having the chutzpah to say it right out loud. But that doesn't make this notion any less foolish.

A society is, at the very least, the sum of the individuals who are part of it. Certainly there are lazy, wasteful and moronic people out there (including many who inherited wealth and live in gated communities). There are also plenty of hardworking, thrifty, shrewd folks who have been laid off at work, have seen their life savings fractured because of reckless speculation by the high rollers, and/or have had the misfortune of getting sick or seeing a spouse or child come down with a catastrophic illness.

There are many other considerations in the "race," which as the Bible eloquently says, doesn't always go to the swiftest. (Since he is an associate Baptist minister, I assume that Mr. Cain knows his Bible.)

Luck is a factor that is often crucial. Just being the right stiff, in the right place, at the right time with the right line -- pure dumb luck -- is a biggie. Mark Cuban comes to mind. I suspect that there are many out there as hardworking, shrewd and thrifty as Cuban who are now desperately looking for work and fighting off foreclosure. But, with Americans and their mass media being the dollar-worshipping types that they are, one hears plenty about Cuban, and little if anything about the struggling, faceless masses out there.

Ruthlessness is another key factor. Anyone who's spent much time in the corporate world knows that this can't be underestimated. A ruthless person is apt to be willing to do things that a more ethical and dignified person is unwilling to do. Consequently, ruthless people often end up in managerial roles, and then tend to reward and promote ruthless toadies just like themselves.

In short, someone who has had their eyes and mind open in America, or any other place, for a few decades should know that material success and failure are unpredictable and capricious things. And, the winners tend to just keep on winning, and the losers ... they tend to spend their lives struggling just to get out of that hole.

According to his Wikipedia biography, Mr. Cain grew up relatively poor:

Herman Cain was born in Memphis, Tennessee, to Lenora Caine (née Davis), a cleaning woman and domestic worker, and Luther Cain, Jr., who was raised on a farm and worked as a barber and janitor, as well as a chauffeur for Coca-Cola president Robert Woodruff. Cain has said that as he was growing up, his family was "poor" but "happy". Cain related that his mother taught him about her belief that "success was not a function of what you start out with materially, but what you start out with spiritually". His father worked three jobs to own his own home — something he achieved during Cain's childhood — and to see his two sons graduate.

It's certainly an inspiring success story. But Mr. Cain should be reminded of his roots, and also of the fact that in the Great Recession some Americans, a great many, have had difficulty finding just one job, let alone three.

Very few lives out there have been the stuff of Horatio Alger novels. It's nice that Mr. Cain's life has gone like that. For most of us who grew up poor and became a little upwardly mobile, it was a struggle just to make it into the middle class, against odds. Saying "blame yourself" is a platitude from a smug, self-satisfied ignoramus.

Now for the Cain campaign ad on the Web

People are trying hard to figure this one out. Were they serious?

This 56-second Internet campaign ad looks as though Herman was trying to win over the votes of cigarette fiends.

Then there are the numerous gaffes

TV journalist David Gregory was a bit nonplussed when Cain admitted not really knowing what the "neoconservative" movement is or was. It's merely been discussed ever since Il Doofus (Bush 43) took office. How could a person seeking the White House in 2012 have missed out on something political that has been so extensively covered since 2001?

There was also his illegal-alien-killing electric fence for the Mexican border (oh yeah, just a joke), and the one about Jesus being the "perfect conservative" who was killed by a liberal court. Wow.

Again, perhaps Cain should get a little credit for admitting when he doesn't know something, as in the case of "neoconservative." He didn't just go on talking and making a bigger fool of himself, a la Sarah Palin or Michele Bachmann.

But a person this foolish, and so ill-informed on the issues, shouldn't even be running for Congress, let alone the Republican presidential nomination.

Experience has taught me not to "misunderestimate" the foolishness of Republicans. I suppose it's still possible for Cain to get the nomination. But the powerful Wall Street branch of the party wants a November winner, not an October buffoon. Even Rick Perry, poor as his debate performances have been, is looking like someone the kingmakers will prefer to an amateur like Cain. (At this point, I'd bet on Romney, though he'll have to name an extreme right-wing running mate to placate the Tea Party.)

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Herman Cain Is A Trojan Horse For The Koch Brothers

By Manifesto Joe

It's been odd and interesting seeing Herman Cain's surge in the polls as a Republican presidential contender. He's never held public office. He was little-known until recent debates. And, in a political party not known for its progressive ideas on racial issues, he's black.

But for the time being, the GOP presidential contest seems to have come down to a three-way fight between former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, and Cain. He's definitely a player in this thing now, if the polls are to be believed.

Now that he's been under the microscope for a while, we can see why. He's the apparent candidate of the billionaire Koch brothers.

The Kochs are the worst kind of corporate pond scum on the planet. According to the Credo Mobile phone company:

Koch Industries' units have stolen oil from federal lands, rigged prices with competitors, paid bribes to win contracts in six countries, sold oil equipment to Iran despite a U.S. ban, been charged with releasing tons of cancer-causing benzene into the atmosphere, and have had five criminal convictions in the U.S. and Canada.

Credo's source is Bloomberg News. Here's a link to the story.

They are also the most notable bankrollers of the Tea Party "astroturf" movement, and hence have a vast amount of clout in today's Republican Party.

Cain, the former CEO of Godfather's Pizza, has longstanding ties to the Koch empire and their extreme-right-wing group, Americans for Prosperity. He and close associates have been carrying water for the Koch brothers for a very long time, as The Associated Press reported yesterday. Here's a link to that story.

Cain's "9-9-9" tax proposal is something that could have come right out of the Koch brothers' boardrooms or far-right "think" tanks. Sounds catchy for the rubes -- but in case you hadn't heard, any sales tax is very regressive in effect, hitting those who spend proportionately more of their income on consumer items the hardest. He would, under his proposal, institute a 9% sales tax at the federal level, and this on many people who are already paying 8% or more at the state level, where the tax structure is usually more regressive anyway.

There was one analysis of how, for example, multibillionaire Warren Buffett would fare with Cain's stupid "9-9-9" plan. Buffett estimates that he paid about 17% of his income in federal taxes last year. With Cain's plan, he would pay far, far less -- and of course, the poor would pay far, far more.

Cain is a Trojan horse for some very sinister things going on in American politics right now. I doubt that even the Koch brothers believe that he will emerge as the Republican nominee. But good performances by Cain will pull the party toward the right and strengthen the hand of the Tea Party, even if Romney is the probable nominee.

Speaking of lying demagogues, then there's Paul Ryan

In a recent appearance on Meet the Press, Ryan, a high-ranking Republican U.S. House member from Wisconsin, said that the U.S. has, at 35%, a higher corporate income tax than other countries have, "And we're losing as a result of it."

What this lying demagogue failed to mention is how few U.S. corporations actually pay anything close to that. Numerous recent studies have found that two-thirds of American corporations actually pay no federal income tax at all. ExxonMobil not only paid no federal income tax for 2009, but actually got a credit of $156 million, for a year in which their reported profit was well over $19 billion.

(To be fair, ExxonMobil spokesmen told PolitiFact that the company’s "U.S. income tax expense" for 2009 was approximately $500 million. The company declined to provide documentation for that number.)

Here's a link to the Ryan story.

One thing it seems that Republicans can always be counted on to do is give you part of the story -- just the part that could help more rich people get by paying little or no tax.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

I'll Sign The Papers, Just Please Don't Make Me Listen To Rush Limbaugh

By Manifesto Joe

In 2002, as I was about to undergo cataract surgery, I had the misfortune of being in a room in which the surgical nurses were playing Rush Limbaugh's radio show. I was hearing Rush while I briefly underwent sedation, and when I woke up, Rush was still on. That made me think, just for a moment, that I had died and my soul had entered a place of eternal damnation.

Perhaps I should have sued for malpractice, but unfortunately I think I waited until the time after the statute of limitations had passed.

Now, I understand that a Harris County woman who was briefly in custody of the Houston police in 2010 is suing because she was forced to listen to Lardbaugh while she was in the squad car. She claims that Lardbaugh was making derogatory remarks about black people (not a big stretch, that one) and that the police officer was laughing at them (not a big stretch, either).

Following is a link to the story, courtesy of Yahoo! News.

(Sorry this isn't in the usual link form, but Blogger isn't letting me do this the usual way.)

Police torture?

They might consider using this method at Guantanamo Bay. It might work even better than waterboarding.

According to the story:

Bridgett Nicholson Boyd filed a lawsuit against the city of Houston for being forced to listen to Limbaugh's radio show. In 2010, Boyd was ticketed for driving on the shoulder of a road (even though she said her car was breaking down). The police officer also arrested her and drove her to the local jail. During the ride, Boyd said, she was forced to listen to Limbaugh make "derogatory comments about black people" (which the officer was laughing at). Though the charges against Boyd were immediately dropped, she's now claiming defamation, false imprisonment, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. On his radio show, Limbaugh weighed in on the case. "We don't make derogatory comments about black people," he said. "We make derogatory comments about liberals."

Boyd was apparently a completely innocent person, but even if she were a convicted felon, might this not constitute cruel and unusual punishment?

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Friday, October 7, 2011

'Occupy Wall Street' Protesters In Danger Of Becoming Dupes For The Republican Party

By Manifesto Joe

This isn't going to be a popular post among many on the "left," or what's left of it. Politics, for those who have studied the subject for a while, clearly emerges as the art of compromise. It's certainly necessary to have the activists outside on the streets, but perhaps even more important to have those nasty insiders who actually make the "sausage" laws that we have to live with for generations.

I'm happy in one sense to see lots of people on the streets in the "Occupy Wall Street" protest movement. It's high time that a lot of Americans understood that the system has long been rigged against them. Not that this is anything new -- it's just gotten worse over the past 30 or so years.

A sad thing that I'm seeing in this movement is the Mainstream Media spin on it, and how many people in the rank and file of it are playing into its hands. It's being depicted as a protest against "bad economic conditions" rather than against the fundamentals of a capitalist system that has reverted to its primitive and brutal roots, with few mitigating forces to shield ordinary people from its ill effects.

One laid-off worker in New York was interviewed by the MSM, and he said that he saw no real difference between Bush and Obama. The middle class in America, he "reasoned," is actually worse off after nearly 3 years of Obama than it was after 8 years of Il Doofus.

I would have to say to such a person that he was missing the salient point. If a Bush surrogate had been elected president instead of Obama, such people would INDEED be able to see the difference, quite starkly. Obama clearly hasn't been everything that the remaining progressives in America might have wanted. But they fail to see that the Il Doofus "kleptocracy" was given an almost totally free hand for nearly seven years before the meltdown got fully under way, and that Obama's policies, while not all we wanted, have served to keep things from getting much worse than they might have been.

I'm one person who was very unhappy and railing against the "kleptocracy" that we were seeing all through the '80s during the Reagan years, but I didn't notice many people raising any cain back then. It was, in fact, hard to get anyone to even listen to the alternative viewpoint. Now, we have political neophytes taking to the streets and railing against things that have been happening for decades, not just for a few years. Come to the party, folks. Some of us were telling you all this shit back in the days when you were dutifully casting your first votes for Republicans.

Again, Obama hasn't been all I would have liked, but in the current climate, it's unlikely that anyone electable could have been. He was forced to work with a Congress that wouldn't give him what he wanted. In November 2008, we elected a president, not a dictator. As an example, the public option narrowly passed in a heavily Democratic House of Representatives. In the Senate, it had a majority, but fell short of the 60-vote "supermajority" that our system requires to enact damn near anything. DINOs like Ben Nelson and "independents" like Joe Lieberman wouldn't put it over. For politically savvy people, this wasn't a surprise. Our system is awash in corporate money, and people like that know that they can't stay in office without that largess.

So, the public option fell short. And then, what was the reaction of the voters? Over 30% of the people who voted for Obama in 2008 didn't show up at the polls in 2010. The Republicans, fueled by the faux populism of the Tea Party and Koch brothers' money, won the House back in a near landslide. People like me told you what was going to happen after that. And you were surprised?

Get real, folks. Some of us out here were fighting this battle even before some of you were born. And it's been damned thankless.

Don't let the MSM distort this into something else. Even Newt Gingrich is trying to make this out into some faux right-wing populist BS. Don't let it happen!

Obama isn't what I wanted, and probably even less what you wanted. Would you prefer Rick Perry, who calls Social Security a Ponzi scheme? Or Mitt Romney, who wants to increase the military budget and add 100,000 troops to our fighting force, and yet still presumes to balance the federal budget?

Well, it's looking more and more like you're going to get one of those right-wing demagogues. Then perhaps you will see, the hard way, what the difference is between a hard-right-wing fool and a centrist compromiser. I'll take the latter, thank you.

Compromise is hard. Dealing with moronic ideologues is harder. You're about to find that out.

I'm reminded of lines from The Second Coming, a poem by William Butler Yeats.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Don't let it happen, protesters. Another presidency like that of Il Doofus could really, really do this country in.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.