Who Hijacked Our Country

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Court Rules Against Gouging by Cell Phone Carriers

A judge has ruled that Ford Motor Company can no longer penalize you for trading in your Ford and buying a Chevy instead. And Safeway can’t make you pay a fine if you go across the street and shop at Albertsons.

Of course those two things never happened. But this is what cell phone companies have been doing for years. And a California judge has finally ruled against this legalized extortion. Sprint Nextel has to refund $18 million to its ex-customers who paid early termination fees. Sprint was also ordered NOT to try collecting $55 million worth of fines from their other ex-customers who refused to bend over and pay the termination fee.

A small step for common sense. Finally. The ruling came from Alameda County Superior Court Judge Bonnie Sabraw. Now that the first domino has fallen, other states will hopefully issue similar decisions.

These early termination fees are just a small part of what Bob Sullivan calls Gotcha Capitalism. Hidden fees and surcharges, booby traps hidden in the fine print on page 87 of a contract — what kind of cesspool have we sunk into? Capitalism used to be about merchants competing with each other to see who could sell the best product at the best price. Now it’s all about who can be the sleaziest douchebag of them all.

If these slippery practices are “capitalism,” then it’s also capitalism when a mechanic doesn’t do any work on your car, but tells you “OK, I rebuilt the carburetor, put in a new U-Joint and replaced all the fluids. That’ll be $1200.”

Sprint and other carriers are trying to get the FCC to come up with a federal mandate. An FCC ruling would override all state laws and invalidate all state court decisions. How convenient.

That’s funny, “States’ Rights!” used to be the conservatives’ favorite slogan. What happened?

cross-posted at Bring It On!

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Blogger Lew Scannon said...

All businesses have started tacking on fees. I went to buy movie tickets online a couple of weekends ago to see The Dark Knight, and the theater wanted to charge $1.25 service fee per ticket for the privilege of using my own computer!! It was actually cheaper to buy a ticket from a person! ATM fees have gone up, everywhere you turn some body has got their hands in your pocket because they know there's a dime in there and they want it for themselves.

July 30, 2008 at 5:37 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Lew: Yup, these fees are getting more common. Companies are saving money with ATMs and online sales, and yet they charge us for the privilege. Bunch of sleazebags.

July 30, 2008 at 7:14 PM  
Blogger Snave said...

Mrs. Snave bought a couple of gift cards for a niece and a nephew, and found out at purchase that the damned things had a $4.95 surcharge each apparently just for the privilege of buying the company's card! Scheise. The gift cards were from American Express... For our recent vacation, we decided to use a pre-loaded VISA card instead of travelers' cheques. There were all kinds of hidden fees we found out about... later.

What a bunch of crap.

July 30, 2008 at 10:58 PM  
Anonymous S.W. Anderson said...

Interesting hearings on this matter awhile back on C-SPAN. I got the impression Congress was working toward legislating an end to early cancellation fees and other such ripoffs. Maybe the judge's ruling will make that unnecessary, which is good because it would only be veto bait as long as Bush is president.

"Capitalism used to be about merchants competing with each other to see who could sell the best product at the best price."

That's as overly idealistic as it is overly simplistic, unfortunately. Capitalism is about making as much profit as possible for as little investment and risk as possible — any which way it can, usually. Hence all those antitrust, labor, health and safety laws.

Part of the problem our country and its economy are in is stems from how biz types talk big about the benefits of competition, but usually do all they can to minimize or, better yet, avoid it altogether.

As for Republicans being big on states' rights, from the late 1960s on that was mostly a function of the southern strategy. Since the South is largely considered in their pocket by the GOP, I'm sure they figure there's no sense in getting on the wrong side of the corporate/financial wing of the party.

July 30, 2008 at 11:19 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Snave: Yup, that's exactly what they're doing. Every time you turn around there's another fee tacked on. Travelers' cheques aren't exempt either. I haven't used them in a long time, but if I remember right, you have to purchase them, and then sometimes there's a fee to cash them. They've got you coming and going.

SW: I didn't know Congress had any hearings on this. I didn't think they'd touch this with a ten foot pole. Bankruptcy "reform," hidden surcharges and cancellation penalties -- these industries have paid huge bribes to have all of those practices legalized. I'm sure they'll demand their moneys' worth.

Big business doesn't want competition; they just give lip service to the idea. They like it best when 2 or 3 companies (probably colluding with each other) are controlling the entire market.

July 30, 2008 at 11:48 PM  
Blogger Randal Graves said...

"States rights are only for outlawin' the killin' of Christian babies and hangin' Negroes!"

"Quiet, Cletus!"

And those fees are labeled 'convenience.' Everything is fucking Orwellian these days.

We're pretty close to that 2-3 company threshold. It's what, five, that run essentially every major media outlet in America these days?

July 31, 2008 at 8:25 AM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Randal: Even Orwell couldn't have dreamed up these Orwellian descriptions that corporations are using. These sleazy corporate maneuvers are always "for the convenience of our customers," "to improve our service to you."

Uh huh.

July 31, 2008 at 10:57 AM  
Anonymous S.W. Anderson said...

Or, like McD's put it, "We're doing it all for you."

As in a buck and a half for a cup of coffee that wasn't even hot enough the other day? Please, don't do me any more favors.

Permit me a brief but relevant nostalgia interlude.

One of the bittersweet benefits of getting a few years behind you is being able to recall things like 10-cent coffee and Cokes. While not always as good as McD's, I'll admit, the dime coffee was always good and hot, and the dime Cokes were always good and cold, plus they had flavor beyond just sweet.)

July 31, 2008 at 9:02 PM  
Anonymous JollyRoger said...

In this predatory era, Government and corporations have teamed up to give it to us good and hard, and the broom handle they're using has no lubrication and is splintered.

A Government that preys on its own citizens has no right to exist. I may get sent to a camp for publicly saying so, but it's been said before. Guys with names like Paine, Jefferson, Adams, said the same thing a long time ago.

July 31, 2008 at 10:24 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

SW: Yup, I remember ten cent coffee and coke. My favorite coffee memory is the original Peet's coffee outlet in Berkeley. In the mid 1970s it was 25 cents for one of those 6-ounce styrofoam cups. That coffee had so much flavor it was almost unimaginable. Refills were a dime, in case somebody actually needed a second cup with all the caffeine their coffee had. Now most places charge $1.50 or more for dishwater that hardly has any caffeine in it.

But I try to remember -- this enables them to provide better service.

JR: A splintered broom handle with no lubrication -- yup, that's how they're doing it to us. "A Government that preys on its own citizens" -- sad but true, that's what we've become.

July 31, 2008 at 10:51 PM  
Anonymous S.W. Anderson said...

A timely and welcome development on the credit card front here.

July 31, 2008 at 10:53 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

SW: Great news. Thanks for the update. Love the Orwellian response from the banking industry: "The result will be higher costs for consumers, reduced access to credit for those with an imperfect or limited credit history, and less access to low credit options."

Aw shucks, it was so nice of them to care.

July 31, 2008 at 10:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

America was damned the day greed became it's official religion.

August 1, 2008 at 7:47 AM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Ron: And that fateful day was quite awhile ago. They disguised greed as "Christianity" and millions of people fell for it.

August 1, 2008 at 10:19 AM  
Blogger American Hill BIlly said...

I have to wonder about the judgement? Does that include pain, suffering, and the continued demise/value of the Greenback.

What about the years of interest earned??

We The People always seemed to get screwed!!

Peace and Freedom

August 1, 2008 at 12:42 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

AHB: Yeah, it would serve them right if they had to pay interest on the millions they've extorted from the public. No such luck.

August 1, 2008 at 1:38 PM  
Blogger Ricardo said...

As a Sprint customer this puts me well at ease. The trick is will this ruling stick and go national as you expressed here. It's only fair. But the telecos have deep pockets and a stong lobby. I hope this is not a flash in the pan. You know who else they need to go after? The cable companies.

The hidden fee game has grown stale. Why action hasn't been taken sooner on this is a surprise but this is a solid start.

August 1, 2008 at 2:07 PM  
Blogger Carlos said...

I bought my daughter concert tickets from Ticketmaster online and paid a "convenience fee." I guess the savings of not having as many ticket clerks wasn't enough. The fucks.

Knowing the ass wipe FCC chairman, there'll be a federal mandate in no time!

Here's to smaller, less invasive government!

Of course, you know lock-step conservative zombies will write this off somehow - that it isn't bigger government, but rather governance for our own good.

August 1, 2008 at 4:41 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Ricardo: It’s hard to tell whether this ruling will be duplicated by other state courts, or whether it’ll be upheld by the federal government. Like you said, the telecom companies have deep pockets and a stranglehold over our legislators.

Carlos: These “convenience” fees are an insult to everybody’s intelligence. They ought to just have the balls to come out and say how much their product costs — period. Online sales, ATMs, automated kiosks — companies have eliminated millions of jobs and saved themselves billions of dollars, and then they’re charging us extra for the “convenience.” Assholes.

August 1, 2008 at 7:11 PM  
Anonymous S.W. Anderson said...

Obviously, Ticketmaster finds making some extra money more convenient than not making some extra money.

Regarding Ticketmaster's business, I wish I could find some way to insert myself between consumers who have the hots for the latest BMW, Rolex or Leica, and the respective dealers.

Convenience? Reminds me of some years back when there was a squawk about a department store that announced it would start charging for use of its restrooms — even its own employees, as best I can recall.

The bad PR and resultant stink (sorry, I couldn't resist) caused the department store to drop that idea a few days later, before anyone had been charged.

August 1, 2008 at 8:29 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

SW: Those were the days, when bad PR was actually a deterrent to shitty behavior. By now, these conglomerates have such a stranglehold over consumers and the government, they don't give a fuck what anybody thinks.

August 1, 2008 at 8:38 PM  

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