Magical Realism, Writing, Fiction, Politics, Haiku, Books

lunes, noviembre 30, 2009

Bank of America: Give Me My Money. Now.

Maybe the Internet is the only way to get the ear of a banking corporation so deaf and so greedy that it cannot hear my screaming and thinks it can do whatever it wants with my money. Maybe even this diary won't work to open their ears and pierce their conscience and cause them to release the money. Maybe Bank of America pwns all of us. I hope it doesn't, but I suspect it does.

This diary is about my interaction today with B of A. And it's about why my son cannot get my hands on $4,019 of his own money until after 5 pm on December 7. This diary is being written because, guess what, he needs the $$ before then. It's his, isn't it? Well, maybe not. Not until after 5 pm on 12/7.

Join me in the drive through.

The story is extremely simple.

I sold some stock on which I am the trustee for my son so he could make a trip to Asia. As a result of the sale (which by the way took more than 5 business days to end up in a bank check) I received a check in the mail for $4,119. The check written to me and him was a bank check written on a New York bank and the check represents the sale of stock we owned. Put another way, the check is good unless I'm a forger (I'm not) or the issuing bank fails before the week is over. Nobody expects the latter.

I took the check to my local BofA, in Chatham, New York, to deposit it in a checking account belonging to my son. I got there before 3 pm. I made the deposit. Funny thing. I got a note with the receipt that said in substance that I was a complete sucker: only $100 of the check was available now, the rest, $4,019 would be available after 5 pm on December 7, 2009. December 7? That's a full week away and then some.

Folks, they are holding the money for a week for no legitimate reason at all. The check is good. They could confirm it with a simple phone call. I did not forge the check. But my son cannot have his money for a full week.

This might seem to be a small, even a trivial insult. If it were only I and my son who had the problem. But when you spread this practice over thousands and thousands of deposits, deposits that are good, deposits that get money to the bank long before they release the funds to the depositor, you're talking a profitable practice for the bank and a loss for the consumer. How big a profit? How big a loss? I have no real idea. All I know is that the check is good and we're not allowed to have money that belongs to us.

I told my son about this mess. He called BofA. Many levels of customer service, supervisors, bosses, bosses of bosses. No luck. They are not going to release his money. It's their Policy. Why? Evidently because we cannot make them release it. They don't have to, they say, and guess what, they won't release it. Period.

After his illuminating call with "Customer Service," and panicking that he could not make his trip without the dough, he went to a branch in NYC near where he lives. Said the "customer service" person to whom he spoke, pardon the paraphrase, "That's a backroom problem. I can only deal with front room issues." This could be the segue to a joke, but alas, it isn't. No help from "customer service."

When they've got you, they think they've got you. You're powerless to do anything to get them to take their paws off your money and turn it over to you. It's your money, right? Well...

I realize that this problem will be concluded on 12/7 at 5 pm with the release of the funds. I can get him some money so he can make his trip and then get the rest of the cash to him. That's not the real problem.

The real problem is that we, he and I, and you as well as consumers are continuously being victimized by BofA and many of its global competitors.

When they scream that they need to be bailed out, that they need tax money to keep them afloat, that they're too big to fail, that they're illiquid, that they have issues, we taxpayers grovel and write the check. A mighty big check. We save their butt every time. We keep them from failing.

And in their gratitude for our keeping them afloat, what do they do? They continue policies designed solely to gouge us and to garner profits to which they are simply not entitled, profits they will keep and not share with us, profits they make in many ways and in particular by holding our funds and preventing us from having them.

We have to be gigantic suckers to put up with loaning giving these folks our tax money and not exacting any returns from them. And we have to be idiots to let them continue to gouge us.

I could tell you to complain about this abuse and the rest of it by calling them, but if you don't want to be on hold for half an hour, I don't recommend it.

If I could, I'd write a song about how much they suck, but I'm not that talented.

The best I can do, and I concede it is very, very little, is let the smoke curl out of my ears and write this diary.

Etiquetas: , , ,

domingo, noviembre 29, 2009

Honduras: Same As It Ever Was

Today there are presidential elections in Honduras. The US says that it doesn't matter that the golpista government of Roberto Micheletti is still in control despite international condemnation, that Manual Zelaya, the democratically elected president, is still stuck in asylum in the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa, and that Brazil and Venezuela have announced that they will not recognize today's election results. Nor does it matter that the US originally denounced the coup, cut off non-military aid, and demanded the immediate reinstatement of Zelaya. All of that, amigos, is stuff you're supposed to forget about. Just forget it. Yeah, after today, democracy will be magically restored in Honduras via an election. And we're back to the same old same old. The power of El Norte continues, the maquiladoras make Fruit of the Loom for export, the bananas are back on the shelves, and the military puts its boot on the throat of anyone in Honduras who complains about the lack of democracy. It's 1910 all over again.

The AP reports:

A new Honduran president chosen Sunday faces the challenge of defending his legitimacy to the world and to his own people, who are bitterly divided by Central America's first coup in more than 20 years.

Porfirio Lobo and Elvin Santos, two prosperous businessmen from the political old guard [both of whom support the golpistas], are the front-runners. But their campaigns have been overshadowed by the debate over whether Hondurans should cast ballots at all in a vote largely shunned by international monitors.

Manuel Zelaya, the left-leaning president ousted in a June 28 coup, is urging a boycott, hoping overwhelming abstention will discredit the election. As polls opened Sunday, he vowed the United States would regret its decision to support the vote.

"Abstention will defeat the dictatorship," Zelaya told Radio Globo from the Brazilian Embassy, where he took refuge after sneaking back into the country from his forced exile Sept. 21. "The elections will be a failure. the United States will have to rectify its ambiguous position about the coup."

The US's "ambiguous position about the coup" isn't all that ambiguous. Especially in historical context. The US has said explicitly it will support the government elected in this election. Period. It just doesn't matter to the US government that is imposing democracy in Iraq, Afghanistan, and who knows where else, that there be actual democracy in its own hemisphere. That would require the restoration of Manual Zelaya and an election supervised internationally. Instead, we have an election supervised by the golpistas and their military. One can only wonder why US warships have not arrived off shore to preserve order and democracy.

The word from the streets isn't ambiguous at all:

"The best thing for this country is not to vote, to show the world, the United States, which stabbed us in the back and betrayed us," said Edwin Espinal, whose 24-year-old wife, Wendy, died of from asthma complications a day after soldiers hurled tear gas to disperse protesters demanding Zelaya's return.

There is, of course, the expected golpistas' repression. Narconews reports:

The free speech necessary to guarantee free elections is not the message being transmitted to the resistance front. Intimidation, torture, illegal detentions and in extreme cases assassinations are being carried out to prevent mass mobilizations on Election Day. The National Front Against the Coup D’état has encouraged all week a ‘popular curfew’ on Election Day to prevent clashes with the opposition. The Center for the Investigation and Promotion of Human Rights in Honduras (CIPRODEH), has documented aggression directly from the police and the military towards nearly all human rights groups working in Honduras.

And now, hypnotically, the promise that the US under Obama would have a new relationship with Latin America, one in which democracy would be fostered and coups would be discouraged, one in which the oligarchies would not be permitted to exploit and repress poor people, one in which popular leaders could be elected even if they disagreed with El Norte and not be the immediate objects of golpes de estado, those promises will be forgotten. They will be erased from your memories. And life as we knew it in 1910 will resume.

Etiquetas: , , , , ,

martes, noviembre 24, 2009

On Gratitude

A ritual and a practice (and a Dream Antilles annual feature).

At our house, when we have Thanksgiving dinner, we like to stop eating and talking to go around the table clockwise so that each person present can say what s/he is thankful for. When we first decided to do this, some of our guests felt this was awkward, perhaps embarrassing. But we don't start with the guests, so they can get an impression of what expressing gratitude and hearing others express it feels like. Those in our immediate family understood this and were comfortable enough with it. After all, at birthdays, we like to go around the table to tell the person celebrating the birthday our many appreciations of him/her. So on Thanksgiving, it's a natural enough question, "What are you thankful for this year?" The answers aren't always surprising. We're thankful for being here another year, for our health however it might then be, for family and friends, for the lives of those now departed, for whatever abundance we may have received, for creativity, for our pets, for our relationships, for our businesses, for our politics, for our dreams and aspirations and hopes, and so on. We're thankful for all kinds of things. You get it, you can probably feel it even reading about doing this. It's a Thanksgiving ritual we love. Feel free to try it out.

I always loved Thanksgiving because, however it was intended or begun, it seemed to be about gratitude. For years I've had a practice I've done. Sometimes I do it every day. Sometimes I do it once a month. Sometimes I don't do it for a long time. It depends. What do I do? I make a list of the things I am thankful for. I number them as I write them down, and I feel my gratitude for each item as I write it before going on to the next. So, I write, "1. my good health, 2. the life of Dr. King, 3. compassion for my seeming enemies, 4. the novels of Cesar Aira." And so on. Until I reach 50. I do this, writing and feeling, until I have a list of 50 items or more that I have enjoyed and felt my thanks for. When I am feeling pinched, stressed, exhausted, depressed, or any other "negative" emotion, it seems to take me a very long time to find items, to write them down and really to feel them. When I am feeling expansive, relaxed, rested, optimistic, or any other "positive" emotion, it takes me virtually no time to write and enjoy the list. Why do this exercise? Because it's almost magical. And it lights me up. Feel free to try it out.

Was it Meister Eckhart who wrote, "If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, 'thank you,' that would suffice?" I agree.

May all of you have a happy Thanksgiving.

sábado, noviembre 21, 2009

Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Go Back In The Water

A Lionfish

Some bad news from underwater in the Caribbean. Indo-Pacific Lionfish have apparently been spotted on the Mayan Riviera, the stretch of coast from Cancun in the north to Tulum in the south, of Quintana Roo, Mexico, and throughout much of the rest of the Caribbean. These fish don't belong there. It's not their natural habitat, and they're predators to most other reef species. They are voracious. And to top it off, their spines are also toxic to humans.
A Lionfish is any of several species of venomous marine fish in the genera Pterois, Parapterois, Brachypterois, Ebosia or Dendrochirus, of the family Scorpaenidae. The lionfish is also known as the Turkey Fish, Dragon Fish, Scorpion or Fire Fish. They are notable for their extremely long and separated spines, and have a generally striped appearance, red, green, navy green, brown, orange, yellow, black, maroon, or white. Wiki.

Where do these fish come from?

The lionfish is not native to the tropical region of the world, but various species can be found worldwide.... the lionfish has been spotted in the warmer coral regions of the eastern Atlantic Ocean around the Azores and extending into the Mediterranean Sea, and also in the Caribbean Sea. It has been speculated that this introduction may well have been caused when Hurricane Andrew destroyed an aquarium in southern Florida. DNA from captured lionfish in this region shows that they all originated from the same six or seven fish
NPR traces the spread of lionfish from Florida throughout the Bahamas:

In 1992, Hurricane Andrew smashed an aquarium tank in Florida. About a half-dozen spiny, venomous lionfish washed into the Atlantic Ocean, spawning an invasion that could kill off local industry along with the native fish....

"In 2005, the first lionfish showed up [in the Bahamas], and we didn't pay much attention to it," says Oregon State University zoology professor Mark Hixon, who has studied reef fish here for almost two decades. "The next year, we saw a few more. Then in 2007 there was a population explosion. There were so many lionfish around that they were eating the fish we were studying, and we had to start studying the lionfish. There was nothing else to do."

... The Bahamas have been hit the hardest.

Last year, Hixon co-authored a study with Mark Albins that showed a lionfish can kill three-quarters of a reef's fish population in just five weeks.

"This year we're going to see if that's gotten worse — because the number of lionfish has definitely increased in the intervening year," Hixon says.

These fish are voracious predators. That means that other, native reef fish are their prey. And that an increase in the lionfish population of reefs will lead inexorably to a decrease in the numbers of other species. This is apparently well underway in the Bahamas. And may be beginning on the coast of Mexico.

Meanwhile, NOAA has issued a warning to divers:

NOAA encourages everyone (divers and fishers) to be extremely cautious and avoid contact with the venomous spikes of the lionfish. Usually, lionfish are not aggressive toward humans and will almost always keep their distance when given the opportunity, so they pose a relatively low risk. In addition, their stings are not deadly, but they are very painful.

Is there a solution to this invasion? So far, no. CBS in August reported a contest in the Bahamas to capture and remove the fish from the reef. And that's the tactic that is best for small bays in the Mayan Riviera, especially those with a lot of snorkeling or diving. The fish need to be captured and removed. Of course, that's not practical throughout the Caribbean, but intensive capture and removal are the only way to preserve reef fish until a better solution arises.

The only good news: apparently lionfish are tasty. Maybe humans can overfish them the way they've overfished other species.