This is a rant of a lot of related thoughts I’ve been kicking around lately. It’s a rant and came out just in one flow of consciousness. I feel better now. You may not, after reading this. This is personal to me and some of you might find these thoughts offensive. If personal opinion and political views are not your thing you should probably skip this entry.
I’m just wholly fed up with the business practices of big business here in the US of (Corporate) America. It’s been gradually getting worse and worse, but there’s not a shred of respect from my end left for any large corporation.
It seems to me that big business is no longer playing by any sort of moral or ethical rule. The rule has basically become to screw your customers with the details and bait and switch advertising – which BTW seems is no longer considered an illegal tactic.
Where to start. I got my Credit Card Bill today. I’ve been traveling a lot recently and otherwise pretty busy so last month I missed my payment to pay off the bill. Ok, so I got stuck with a hefty finance charge, and a $39.00 late charge. Double take. $39.00? Are you fucking kidding me?
Yeah sure it says so in the fine print somewhere – not in the document I signed originally but in one of the 20 addendums the company has sent since the bank – Chase, has gone through 3 ownership transitions and ‘consolidations’. I understand banks have to make money too, but this one forgotten bill cost me well over $100. Call me crazy, but think about it: $39.00 is an outrageous amount of money for missing a payment fee. That’s not counting the finance charge. It wasn’t too long ago that I was thinking $15 was a big deal to get dinged if you made a payment too late. That’s some inflation in 3 years. The finance charge is also pretty outrageous. Standard – sure, but think about: If you put money into your bank (or Chase for that matter), you get what .8% interest right now, right? The same bank will loan you money at 7 or 8% if you’re lucky for a small business or personal loan. For a credit card the percentage is more like 12% or as high as 25% for some cards I’ve seen. Some margin - How’s that for raping customers? Accept a card at your own risk, right?
I was traveling last month in Canada for the DevTeach conference I was speaking at. While I was traveling I had my phone with me and used it very lightly. I had called before I left to find out what it would cost to use the phone which was something like $.25 on top of minutes used on my plan. I also needed to use MMode (AT&T) for my SmartPhone session to acces the internet. I used this to demo a sample application, on a real phone to various people. I ended up with a $25 bill for a total of like 3 minutes of online time. Incidentally the operator I called couldn’t conveniently give me exact rate information when I called before I left… now I can see why.
The whole telephone business is hell. All those companies nickel and dime you death with service charges that are nothing but fluff. Of course you can’t get rid of ‘network access’ even if you have a phone that isn’t ever dialing out. The rates go up by incredible percentages each year. I wrote about this a while back and got out of landlines and switched to Voice IP and Vonage. I have this queasy feeling that this won’t last – the big phone companies like AT&T putting the squeeze on getting VOIP companies regulated, while at the same time lobbying for less regulation on their own practices.
Cell phone companies are even worse though. Nobody can make sense of the plans these companies put together. Try switching your service and take your phone with you. It should be pretty easy – phones can be flashed in a few minutes. But no, you HAVE TO buy a new phone to switch unless you want to take a chance with an ‘unlocked’ phone. Unlocked right – the phone companies are the ones locking the phone in the first place just to lock you into their service.
So we all end up with plans that are either too much service where we way overpay for what we actually use or we have a plan that’s too little and we get screwed on the ridiculous overage charges. All the while these guys advertise their nice and low rates. Oh yeah, that rate works only if you call down the block – you want to call across the country, oh that’ll be THIS much. Right – Bait and switch.
Yesterday I got a notice from my insurance company. They raised my rates by $50 without notifying me. There was a change in policy that was automatically applied by Pogressive. A few weeks later I got this notice that my account is overdue and the policy is about to get cancelled. So I call up to see what’s going on. I have a funky insurance arrangement because I have two cars, one in Hawaii and one here in Oregon and I keep them both active because it ends up being cheaper than killing the insurance and ‘restarting’ it. That right there’s a joke. I loose my existing customer insurance rating by not insuring the car in the state, that I’m not driving in for a few months - SCAM. Anyway, so I call and try to find out why my rate went up spontaneously without anything changing or my approval. It turns out there was a problem with Oregon requiring uninsured motorist coverage. Ha, I wonder who was paid off in the Oregon legislature by the Insurance companies to make a it a requirement that I have uninsured motorist coverage. I don’t have comprehensive coverage on my beat up cars, but I have to pay $100 (for the year) of uninsured motorist coverage? It’s nearly a quarter of the full premium. The real clincher is that Progressive just changed this and sent out a bill. No call, not explanation. The letter has no info on what’s changed. Just pay. And you know what, most people probably don’t take another look at the bill. These fuckers are counting on you to just pay.
So Progressive added the charge without notification, but not only did they add the charge, but they charged the maximum possible amount for both cars when only one of them was required to have the extra insurance. Again, they are squeezing maximum advantage out of this ‘opportunity’. Call me weird, but this is unethical and very, very scary…
The alternative is almost worse. I’ve been on the phone for hours trying to get through to Customer Service. They faxed something to sign, I fax it back. They promised to call back to make arrangements. Of course nobody calls back. I call back and end up on hold for another 20 minutes. If I were a new customer and called to sign up for new coverage you know I wouldn’t be waiting for 2 minutes to be put through to an operator.
And so the list goes on and on. This is trivial shit mostly, but it happens over and over again. Phone company. Dell for my computer. The cable company. Often I feel like just letting it go. It’s not worth getting worked up over this, but it just eats at me. Not for actually paying a fine, but the fact that these companies are betting on you being too lazy to deal with their fuck-ups or your oversight or their outright scamming. And by letting it go you are actually encouraging to keep doing this. By calling back it’s costing them the cost to undo the change plus the time you’re holding up the operator plus the 800 call… but of course all that means is your rates (and everybody else’s) will be going up.
These big companies are out to basically screw you and me. Any way they can make a buck. They know you have nowhere else to go, because the competition is no better. You can switch to the competitor (or wholly owned subsidiary) but you’re still screwed.
The real sad part is that these companies also think they have no choice. To stay competitive they have to rape and pillage with the rest of them or be left behind. A precedent has been set.
And alternatives are going away. Everything is being gobbled up by big chains, franchises. On main street we can look forward to more of Walmart syndrome come to smaller and smaller business, where the big guys squeeze everybody for the coporate bottom line while customers get screwed, employees laid off in masses leaving only those willing to work for 10 cents over minimum wage, while corporate CEOs are getting multi million dollar salaries while running their companies into the ground, loosing value from the common investor, and the companies are getting a corporate handouts in tax breaks and permission to offshore money to avoid paying taxed altogether. That’s fair play alright…
And meanwhile the SEC and the government looks the other way when there are corporate offenses in tax accounting practices. If a company gets caught misrepresenting its accounting information to avoid paying taxes and boost their bottom line, they get a slap on the wrist fine that’s just a ‘cost of business’ by now. It’s cheaper to get caught than actually playing by the rules that you and me have to live by. Cheating on your taxes likely means a hefty fine or even jail… either way it’ll hurt. Corporate cheating (‘creative accounting’) is so commonplace it’s unlikely any large company would get off clean from a real IRS audit.
While corporate is taking over Smalltown USA, the Mom and Pop shops are gone – most of the character of business is gone and you’re stuck with people in plastic vests being fake-polite to you. We live in pre-fab towns, ringed by strip malls every two blocks where you can get all the same shit made in China, Malaysia and Vietnam by slave labor and that breaks down after a few years – built in obsolescence.
All this stuff is not made here – look around your home and honestly count the things that are made in the USA. How about your car? If you’re like most very little is. I really would like to know where Americans of the future are going to work when everything has been offshored for profit and tax shelters, and everbody has been squeezed out into minimum wage jobs? You have two kinds of jobs and workers then. The service sector working for minimum wage, and the mythical ‘information worker’ is what – a paper pusher?
A lot of us are software develpoers, what are we really doing? We’re supporting all the paper pushers. Who in turn push around other people who also push paper around. Is the end result of all this paper pushing actually something real???
There’s so little that is still made or produced in this country. What is it exactly that America is good any longer? It used to be America was a leader in all sorts of areas. Nowadays where are we a leader? Technology? Barely, and even then most of the manufacturing is not done here. Engineering – still some of that, but we’re loosing out here as well. Let's see we make good bombs and fighter airplanes I hear and we can blow up the whole fucking world. Woo hoo. Oh and Hollywood still makes shitty, predictable movies that unfortunately are popular…
Yes, yes I know it’s not all that bleak – there are still many small companies out there, creating quality products, showing innovation and running their businesses ethically as much as possible. It actually happens. Small companies often have to have a conscience because they can’t spread the risk like huge companies, don’t have the political pull to drop a few million on the right senator to swing a vote in Congress or the local governement. But in big business my generalization is more true than not.
I’ve lived in this country for over 20 years now, and it’s gotten depressing in the last 5 years (maybe longer). The standard of living is falling, most people except the most morose and a few brilliant people, don’t have a rosy outlook for the future. Long gone is the assumed prospect that kids will do better than their parents. With an economy that has nowhere to grow, a stalemate is about as good as most can expect, and even that may be overly optimistic.
As a country this nation has squandered its resources, sold off its competitive advantage to companies who rather fire everybody to outsource their operations at pennies on the dollar and end up saving little to nothing in the process because it’s so costly to clean up the mess it causes. You have unsatisfied customers, high expenses and money flowing out of the country. Yet even the patriotic conservatives have no problem with tactics like this – after all money is the most important thing, even more important that ideology. Never mind that this is the worst kind of un-patriotic that I can think of.
In the meantime any thought to the future is thrown out the window. Nothing’s done to improve declining education standards, churning out morons from schools and colleges and calling the disaster ‘grading on a curve’ or ‘average’. Instead schools are turned into businesses that sell sports and overcrowded classrooms that can’t effectively teach anybody anything but how to be average. Oh you can get an education – if you’re lucky and you ‘work the system’, or you have golden spoon and mommy and daddy are well enough off to sent the kids to private school at costs that make the mind reel.
A whopping 13% of this country’s population lives under or very near the poverty line. Think about that for a minute. That’s roughly 1 in 7 people. And that’s with a poverty guideline value that’s been adjusted downward – as of 2004 the poverty line was $9,310 (single person) so the numbers don’t look as bad as they would with a realistic number that’s more like twice that in most areas of the country. Can you even imagine living on $775 a month WITHOUT taxes applied? In the various places I live you can’t even get the shittiest of apartment’s rent paid for that. 1 in 7 lives that way, day to day, one step away from living on the street. Ah, but they’re all slackers anyway…
I’m not in favor of big government either, but this country has very little social fabric left. There’s practically no social safety net whatsoever. It’ll be really interesting to see what happens when Social Security finally does run out and you have a large chunk of the population with absolutely nothing after having paid into the fund for all of their working lives…
It’s all very depressing. Speaking of corporate corruption, I’ve been reading Pigs at the Trough – which is a truly depressing view of how corporate America is fleecing the public and even their own stockholders with excess and crooked business practices. This sort of unscrupulous behavior, is something that seems to reflect not only in business, but government and even in society and people’s attitudes at large. This isn’t to say that everything and everybody is bad, but I think there’s been a serious shift in public tolerance (or maybe it’s just public ignorance) that lets this sort of shit go on without major public outcry and as a result we're all affected in our daily life.
I’m sure this article will offend some true-blue Americans, as un-American and blasphemous. That’s Ok, call me what you want. I’ve lived in this country for 23 years now and this country has been good to me. I’ve paid my dues, put my tax money in and have been supportive for most of the time I have been here. Even though I’m not an American citizen I consider this country my home. I would like to see nothing more than for sanity to return in this country, which has obviously gone wayward of its own ideals.
As a side note, this situation has had me so disgusted I have seriously considered leaving. So much so that when I had applied for citizenship about 3 years ago, and that when I finally got the opportunity for my interview 2 years later, I declined it. After being screwed around by the INS for more than 2 years because of 9/11 related issues (nothing related to me – just the system practically died and citizenship applications went from 3 month periods to apparently 2+ years) and the continuing shift to irresponsible politics I decided I can’t in good conscience go to an interview and basically lie.
It’s funny, because I never thought about national pride before having always been a traveling soul who doesn’t have deep roots anywhere. I certainly don’t consider myself any more German than American or vice versa. National pride is nothing but silliness anyway. But it was still a tough decision to make. To be truthful, I would not want to live anywhere else. But at this time it just doesn’t feel right for me to accept American Citizenship when I feel mostly antagonism against the system.
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