Friday, August 08, 2008

Gas Prices & Oil Companies - Not Evil at All...Just Misunderstood

Maybe someone can explain this to me: According the the little sticker on the side of every pump at your local gas station, the poor helpless oil companies are limited to a measly 2% profit on every litre they sell. At $1.30 a litre that works out to be about $0.026 or 3 cents a litre. Now interestingly enough, you'll also notice that 90%, if not more, of the gas stations in your neighborhood offer some sort of discount, ranging from 2.5 cents to 7.5 cents per liter, with some as high as 12.5 cents if you use the company's credit card. So I am trying to figure out, how the profits of the oil companies increase to records levels year after year, quarter after quarter. Not only are they discounting their entire profit (God love 'em, they just want to help) they are actually helping the pay some of the taxes we owe to the government. It just goes to show that what oil companies, their management and their shareholders are actually all that stands between between us and a hydrochloric enema at the pumps. Bravo, Petro-Canada, Exxon, BP, how could we survive without you....

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Great-West Life Part II - The Sweet Smell of Success

On April 18th I recieved a wonderful letter in the mail from the customer liason officer at The Great-West Life Assurance Company. Although a full six months after my intial claim, the letter carefully and thoughtfully laid out how sorry the company was, first, for the delay in responding to my inquiries and second, for the frustration I experienced. I have been assured that this practice will not continue and changes throughout the company will be implemented to ensure that no valued customer of Great-West is troubled in this way again. In other words "God, quit your complaining, here's your stupid money; now get lost."


Okay, I will give them the benefit of the doubt. As has been pointed out many times in books, websites and other materials, in order to have a complaint resolved you must immediately speak to a higher official. This usually starts with "Let me speak to your supervisor" and now-a-days, because employees at high-complaint industries (e.g. cable, telephone, insurance, banks, etc) have been trained in this, that phrase must be followed by either "or else" (which will likely involve a visit from the police) or "Let me speak to the General Manager". As an employee at various retail operations during my lengthy blue-collar existence, this used to drive me up the wall. An organization puts policies in place and then caves for the first person to say "Let me speak to the GM". The thing that drove me out of my mind is when the complainer would get abusive and angry and some 19 year-old "supervisor" would come along and placate the asshole like the French serving tea to Hitler. Alas, this is proof once again that talking to the regular schmo (which I have been and still am) is a complete and total waste of your time. I attempted to go through the regular channels, certain that someone would realize the mistake they made and hesitant about making the above-noted "Get your manager or else" demand because I hate thinking I am going to make someone else realize they are nothing but a jober, answering phones for the "man". But I guess that is reality.

Anyway, Great-West immediately sent out cheques for the full amount of the claim (no interest, maybe I should have pushed for that too?). In total, this adventure cost us around $520 to get back $370, including my time, postage, interest lost and various other intangibles. Luckily, I only had to fork over postage.

The most frustrating thing about all of this is that it took 6 months to get paid on a $370 claim. Imagine if the claim had been for several thousands. Think about the time it has taken from the lives of a half dozen people involved in this already for this ASSHOLE corporation to finally back-up its own policy. You want to make money for your sharholders, you pitiful, mindless, deviant frauds? How about not spending money fighting valid claims? It boggles my mind how anyone, who does not have the advantages provided by a $100,000 education and the resources of a large corporation, could ever deal with an insurance company like Great-West. A word of advice to the board of directors and executive officers of Great-West: stop being pricks; it will be far more expensive in the end (i.e. Enron, Worldcom, Nortel, Tyco, Bear-Sterns).

What have I concluded from all of this? How can Mildred the 84 year-old, retiree, get her claim dealt with in a fast and efficient manner? Four words, Mildred my dear...

"GET YOUR MANAGER....asshole"

Until next time, when once again I must face the forces of darkness with nothing but pen and paper.....

Monday, March 10, 2008

Great-West Life Assurance Company - World's Largest Assholes

Well, once again my belief that the most corrupt corporate organizations in the world are not oil companies or arms dealers, but none other than your friendly neighborhood insurance companies was completely verified. The depth of my hatred for these assholes knows no limits and burns with the firey passion of 1000 red-hot suns.

Great-West Life Assurance Company (herein referred to as "The Assholes")

I hate you. I hate you so bloody much it makes my blood boil. I once believed that only tele-communications companies could sink to the charm level of hemmoroid infested assholes, but you morons take the cake. Here is the story.

My significant other was covered under a very expensive health-care plan by The Assholes. Coverage ceased on November 9, 2007. She purchased a new set of glasses on November 4, 2007, paid with her credit card and was billed on November 4, 2007. We returned the following week to pick up the new spectacles, and we were simply handed the glasses and sent on our way. As you may be aware, when you receive new glasses they always give you several receipts, because they too have to deal with The Assholes, and are aware of The Assholes complete and total incompetance (and fraudulent shiftiness). We sent our claim in during the middle of December, with the original receipts. It was of course lost. Now, try to imagine how much profits These Assholes make by ensuring inadequacies in their mail collection and delivery. "Oops, sorry Mr. X, we lost your claim, but all you have to do is go around collecting new original receipts, and by the way make sure you get them in before your 90 day grace period runs out, or we won't pay you squat." And what a surprise Mr. X, has four kids and run down '92 Corolla and doesn't have time to drive all over town picking up receipts. A company whose entire customer service business is based on the correct and timely delivery of mail seems to lose about two out of every five things sent to it. This year alone, with two seperate insurers, I have had to send duplicate claims in two or more times, because The Assholes are so corrupt, that they have acutally calculated how much profit they can make, by "losing" every 100th or 200th claim. But that's not where the fun stops for These Assholes, who apparently run the business in the same manner as the Gambino's. No, you see, after the lost the first claim, we sent another. They sent it back, apparently, the were unable to read the date on the brand new orignal receipt which indicated the precise date the glasses had been paid for. Luckily, I also had the credit card receipt, which I immediately sent back. Okay, so imagine now this is the third letter I sent them and it is now February, a full three months after actually receiving the glasses. Ah, but they aren't done yet. Just last week, March of 2008, we receive a final receipt of our claim, indicating that since we picked up the glasses on November 11 or her coverage ended on November 9, coverage. Just so we're mean to tell me that even though I paid for them on the 4th and our coverage ended on the 9th, you won't cover the claim because, let me get this straight, you consider them purchased, when we pick them up? Are you friggin' kidding me? When we pick them up? What kind of Assholes are you? So, when I am in a car accident and have the vehicle repaired, I don't need to report to you until the car is fixed and back in my driveway, 'casue the accident didn't happen until I picked up the car fromt he mechanic? Did you freakin' moron, wak job, nerd number crunchers sit in a room with your pocket protectors and graphing calculators and figure out that people are likely to use their vision care credits within a week of their coverage ending, and you Assholes figured how much money you can save but making a slight adjustment to generally accepted accounting principles? Unbelieveable. And of course when you phone you end up talking to Ogla, the Russian, who doesn't speak English, except the few words needed to tell you to go F#$% yourself. Thank's Olga, you uncaring whore....

So, what am I to do. Well, the first thing I will do is spend some time looking for an insurance industry ombudsman on the internet. I have a feeling no such position exists and if it does, it is probably some overweight Asshole, with a cell number and a bottle of vicodin on his desk. Then what is next? It depends how long I stay pissed off, but right now, I plan on making this a very, very big deal.

Great-West Life Assurance Company - "we pay your claims, once you're healed"


Friday, February 22, 2008

An Obituary for MuchMusic

If you are over the age of 25, you probably haven't had MuchMusic on your radar for some time. If you bothered to flip by the channel while searching for a repeat of Seinfeld or The Family Guy, you would have noticed something very disturbing about a so called music channel: there is no longer music played on MuchMusic. In fact, even its sister station, MuchMoreMusic has given up on the music. No, now-a-days all you can see on these formally relevant television stations is endless reruns of various semi-celebrities attempting to market themselves as hip and cool. If you managed to make it through the "Jessica/Nick" years without wasting too much of your time watching the idiot box, I can only tell you that as an art form, TV is dead. From Scott Biao (who?) to Gene Simmons, our airwaves are clogged with arrogant, self-righteous so-called artists, pushing their idea of reality on us like corporate salesman, spinning their web of crapulence and over bearing Americanosity. I know that all one has to do is change the channel, and frequent readers (okay, I know its just you and me mom) of this blog will note the hypocrisy of me complaining about something I don't care about, but it is a further indication of the coming collapse of our cultural identity. Watching celebrities fumbling their way through sad, cold and filmed existences is somewhere between watching the execution of a puppy by lethal injection and one of those videos on of a guy getting whacked in the groin by an errantly thrown baseball.

MuchMusic began life, in my opinion, as a brash, charismatic and often controversial purveyor of culturally relevant pop, rock and sub-culture music, proliferating the belief that music alone, could change the very times we lived in. In its early days Much focused not only on mainstream, media friendly pop music (Madonna, U2, etc.), but had invested itself with a conscience that guaranteed its youthful vigour through three decades of change. Much showed us early in the 80's the power of hip-hop music to move mountains in terms of social awareness; in the 90's it was at the forefront of the grunge movement and even into the early years of this century it attempted to maintain some visage of relevancy with such forward looking segments as "The New Music" and "The Wedge". These things slowly died off as teenagers, taught to idolize celebrity heroes and believe that gossip was news, turned their focus from music to religious devotion to Britney and her ilk. I am not so stupid as to believe that MuchMusic, even at its best, was not a purely commercial enterprise, bent on selling cassette tapes and CD's, but I can't help but feeling that we lost something, somewhere on its winding road. Gone now is the pushy capitalistic tendencies of Moses Znaimer, City TV's founder and visionary; all that is left is hour after hour of some rich pre-teens rolling around swimming pools making Survivor look like the artful brushstrokes of Michelangelo.

But the larger question is why? Why has a once vast audience strayed from its desire to tune into music videos as a form of entertainment and instead, prefer the voyeuristic "peeping tom" existence of reality TV? The simple answer is of course the proliferation of alternative forms of media: UTube, Ipod, downloading and the like. But does the obvious significance of those forms of mass commercialism really explain the hedonistic cult-like following by our society of celebrities, most of whom are very poor role-models and many of whom are probably not even literate and more to the point, is the cult of celebrity the cause or result of something much more sinister. So what happened?

First, If you ask your average 20 year-old (or any female for that matter), why they follow celebrities with such interest, you'll probably get an answer like "I love to watch them screw-up and die". Sad, but frankly true. Watching idols fall has been a past time since the dawn of humanity and don't expect anything to change anytime soon. We have all witnessed the fall of someone we really felt deserved it, and somewhere deep inside, smiled. Who couldn't but laugh when the New Kids starting dropping like flies. But there is more at stake here than meets the eye. The problem is one of distraction: while we observe the rise and fall of some, irrelevant, washed-up 1970's celebrity, we are actually avoiding dealing with real issues and confronting real problems. Frankly, the way the media is now controlled by a few multi-nats, puking out corporate hand-jobs like its news, its hard to pay attention to anything that actually matters. So what happened is we now have 24 hour a day coverage of the rich and powerful, appearing to rise and fall with their own idiocy. I say "appearing" because as a sceptic, I am of the belief that the whole kit-and-caboodle is scripted for your entertainment. "Don't believe anything" is a good motto for interpreting print and television media. Media, thy name is Con-Job. Second, culturally active media, such as MuchMusic once was, creates two problems for their corporate owners: 1) You can't control someone whose job it is to be controversial; and 2) Controversy doesn't sell products, it sells dissent, and no CEO wants that.

Third, and inescapably, kids have lost interest in music, because it just doesn't provide the drama they are used to and kids are the biggest consumers of the products advertised on Much and MuchMore. Its undeniable, and probably a sad state of affairs at Much to be sure. Kids don't want music videos anymore, they seem to want, primped and preened, semi-nude, untrained, musically retarded, half-wits, performing for laughs. Don't get me wrong, listening to an interview with most bands now-a-days is hilarious indictment of the world's view of education, and full of giggles. But again, we sacrifice a more important value, in this case talent, for performance or laugh-value. Not a good trade in my books. One only needs to look at the never-ending series of high profile B.S. television shows imitating the 'American Idol' idea. People don't want talent, they want drama. Nobody is bothered by the fact that 99% of the these people can't write music, can't play instruments and in the case of at least one contestant, think Europe is a country.

So, what is the solution? Well, its hard to say because of the depths which music, and thus MuchMusic have fallen, but all we can hope for is another Kurt Cobain, another Axl Rose or another Lemy to save us from the continuous stream of under-talented, over-paid corporate spit-wads that stream through our computers and MP3 players. Aside from that, there is not much hope. Music has a way of exploding when things get bad, and given the economic and social problems that we are watching evolve around us, it won't be long before someone gets right pissed off enough to start singing about it. I laugh when I think of Gene Simmons announcing on the Henry Rollins show that downloading is stealing and will be the death of the music industry. I imagine the only person left (other than music industry executives themselves) sad to see the industry fold into the very bowels of hell, would be Gene Simmons, a consummate con artist and 24 hour commercial pitch-man. Gene, for Gods Sake, have some integrity, stand for something other than your own gratification, after taking so much from so many, don't you think you owe the world that much? Since when did the proliferation of an art form bring about its downfall? I am not sure what historical or philosophical point you are trying to make, but let's face it, for you, its all about the money. The music executive is dead. Nobody cares about coked-out losers, with high school educations and bad haircuts anymore. Its over, turn out the lights.

So, as Much and Muchmore slowly fade into that good night, I am forced to reminisce on some the great music moments in my life: the first time I heard Tool; listening to real blues music in a ATCO trailer in Massachusetts; seeing the Tragically Hip perform in a venue the size of my bathroom. Lost possibilities and lost dreams. Goodbye Much, you were a loyal friend to me once and it was a nice ride. You will be missed....but don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Friday, February 08, 2008

The Smartest Guy in the Room

I watched "The Smartest Guys in Room" last night. It is an enthralling look at the rise of fall of Enron at the start of this century. What was fascinating to me was that the fraud perpetrated on investors, employees and consumers was richly and readily eaten up by the Big Banks: Citibank, CS First Boston, JP Morgan and others. They all clammered on board to take advantage of financial schemes designed to rape investors and consumers of power, schemes that were eventually uncovered by a journalist and an accountant. Enron, you see, had devised a way, with the help of its lawyers, accountants and bankers to book revenues for deals it made regardless of whether they acutally made money, whether the deals caused losses or whether they closed at all. I know this sounds crazy, but all they did was "fudge" the numbers. That's it, that's all. And nobody asked questions, 'cause they were all getting filthy rich. Interestingly, the so-called financial geniuses (Skilling, Lay and Fastow) at Enron who navigated the company's stock from a buck to $150 and then back to $0, were able to make themselves rich at the same time, although for the most part they will probably spend the next few years of their lives in prison. All except Ken Lay, who died awaiting trial.

At the heart of the conspriacy (and admittedly some would argue that the principles of these companies never intended to defraud anyone) was the complacency and in most cases, the eager particiaption by the biggest financial insituations in the world. In hearings before the US congress on the demise of Enron, the presidents of these Big Banks all shrugged their shoulders, batted their eyelashes and said "opps, they fooled us too". That may be all well and good, but the difference from my perspective is that all these major players walked away with millions of dollars in investments, pensions and bonuses. Employees of Enron, some 30,000 of them, lost in the neighborhood of $1.2 billion dollars of their retirment funds. Retirees, that is those already retired and enjoying the good life after contributing to the economy for half a century, lost in the neighborhood of $2 billion collectively. Imagine what that must have been like: happily retired, living a nice middle class life and then the next day collecting old age security and wondering what the gruel would be in the cafeteria that day in some old folks home recently featured on 60 Minutes. I know some of you out there who despise my rants will argue that I often say "tough luck" to these sad stories, but in this case the fact that those that participated in the fraud walked away relatively scott-free, irks me just a little.

But here is the point I want to make. The big banks have all begun releasing reports of huge losses due to exposure to the sub-prime credit crunch. Less then six years after being "tricked" by the geniuses at Enron, the Big Banks have now been tricked by twenty-something mortgage brokers. Again they cry "We didn't know!" and "Nobody told us!" rings out across the financial world. Doesn't anybody at the banks actually check any of these things? A fifth grader can tell you that if the deal sounds to good it probably is. Alas, the mortgages were bundled, packaged and shipped like so many plastic nik-nacs from Taiwan. Be the time the mortgagors started defaulting, nobody was quite sure who owned the properties to begin with and now, row upon row of newly minted colonial bungalow sit empty and vacant as lawyers fight over the rights for properties nobody wants. Caught twice looking the other way in less than a decade and all the Big Banks can say is "oops". I just don't get it. Warren Buffet calls it "poetic justice" but I think its more than that: Its criminal. As the great George W. once said: Fool me once...uh, you can't fool us again...

So here we are again, teetering on the verge of North American economic collapse because those at the top, who all remain wealthy no doubt, screwed the little guy. I guess they were all too busy, as they were in the days of Enron, slapping themselves on the back and smoking $90 cigars. And of course, in another five years, the banks will have turned a blind new to the newest investment fad, which will result in yet another collapse of the market. Greed, my friends, abuts all and stands as humanities greatest villian. So, keep your money under your mattress, and don't trust anyone with it except yourself. Building wealth takes time and experience and nothing of value comes easy. Be warned, as public attention drifts from this year's scandals, somewhere a business school graduate is figuring out a way to screw you right good. You can't count on the banks and you certaintly can't count on the government to protect your interests, so do it yourself.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Coffee Drinkers of the World! Get a life!

Nothing pisses me off more than walking by one of the 2000 thousand Tim Hortons, Second Cups or Starbuck's here in the Combat Zone and seeing lineups that make the ques at your local sports stadium at intermission look like a movie theatre just after the release of the latest Tom Cruise/Some Brunette Chick movie. What the hell is wrong with you idiots? There is free coffee in just about every office on this planet! Coffee that gets continually poured down the drains of every city on this continent. Drink some water, drink some tea, but for Godsakes having to smell your disturbing breath and horrible urine smell everytime I walk into the bathroon because you can't make it through the day without 1000 mg of caffiene in your systems is driving me crazy. Go drink your double cappa venti marde grande latte half fat double-decaffienatd half caf in HELL! Get a freakin' life!

Do you have any idea the suffering that goes on in third world and developing countries so that you can drink your drug? Here is a real neat solution to your "case of the monday's" GET OFF YOUR FAT ASSES AND GET SOME EXERCISE! God, people are working 365 days a year, earning about 3 cents a day so that you can roll your tubby ass down the elevator to pick up a seven dollar coffee to make a bunch of US millionaires even richer. And lining up to pay 7 bucks for a drink made from a damned bean? Are you insane? Go to your pharmacy and buy some caffiene pills and tell everyone you're a humanitarian and you won't support the international "drug" cartels supplying you and your large assed friends with a powerful stimulant that you scarf down with the ferocity of a rabid chipmunk. Try to get a handle on the consequences of your actions for Gods sake. I cannot even imagine the lost productivty to a bean. Oh well, at least those Columbians are working 18 hours a day to make up for your laziness. My God, what have we come too....

Friday, January 18, 2008

Again? Oscar, please die...

So once again I will devote a smidgen of my space to trash the Oscar's. This column last year, elicited the most back-hate (my term for people that I piss off), only slightly ahead of the ramblings of the Bow-Flex Grandma. My hatred for all things celeb increases each day I live and breath. Can someone please tell me what biological advantage is served by sycophantical obsession with asshole actors and people with more money then us? I guess the only consolation is that if there is no biological advantage we can all rest assured that these retards will soon die off like those pesky dinosaurs. I couldn't believe it this morning: CTV Newsnet had sandwiched five minutes of discussions with some newspaper columnists on a slow work day regarding who will be nominated for an Academy Award between less then 15 seconds about the economy and the middle east. Okay, first of all, I understand that there are some real lonely, sad people out there who have let their lives get so out of balance that the must seek happiness vicariously. We have all been through times in our lives where we would rather watch cartoons then read a book, but come on....nominations? Are we that far down the road of apathy about the state of our world? Its called distraction people and don't forget it. Magic tricks work like this: distract the audience from what is really happening by making the distraction seem more important then the trick itself (e.g. abracadabra). The bigger the distraction the bigger the trick. When so-called news networks start running details about some idiot, coked out actor's kid's fight with his second grade lab partner as if it was a headline, you know the trick is either really big (and some would say obvious) or the powers-that-be have finally realized they don't even have to try to distract us anymore - beyond figuring out how to get us to turn on the television that is. The funniest thing of all of this is that people who really are into the Oscar's can get as upset about criticism of the yearly ass-grab, as a Taliban warlord at a bra factory. Is it religion? I guess, come to think of it, of all the stupid, inane, ridiculous religions out there, professing to save our immortal souls, asshole worship is probably the most harmless. Maybe I'll look into it next time I'm at the grocery store check-out. You'll have to excuse me while I jam a fork into my eyeball....

Friday, January 11, 2008

The Last Straw

They say there is only two sure things in life: Death and Taxes. I would like to add a third: retard investment bankers and arrogant financial mathematicians will figure out a way to make themselves rich while screwing up the lives of everyone else.

Why this rant spewing venom on the uber-rich investment bankers you might ask? Simple I say. One of the biggest problems facing our society right now, that will effect each of our lives within the next 18 months, was nothing more than a scheme concocted by a bunch of 21-year-old financial a-holes based upon the following premise: uneducated people can be conned into borrowing money they can't afford if you sell it properly. The "sub-prime" woes, as they are now being called, will shortly be followed by the credit-card slump and car-loan fiasco. All of which is going to mess up each of our comfortable little lives a whole lot.

Bankers, brokers and everyday finance professionals have been, for some four years now, dining on $25,000 deserts, and $10,000 bottles of wine because they were able to develop the most revolutionary financial product of our time: the loan to people who can't afford it. Shrewdly developed and sold by the largest banks in the world (complicity is a very dirty word), these financial products were slimy from the start. Basically, individuals who otherwise wouldn't qualify for a buy-one-get-one promotion at McDonald's were able to apply for and receive loans in amounts they could never pay back. It was not intended that they would ever pay them back either. In fact, the bankers were counting on it. First you give a loan to someone who can't afford it. The loan is sold to them based on extremely low interest rates and several months up front with no payments. You include small print that adds various fees, penalties and charges for failing to make payments on time. The interest rates and fees increase dramatically over time and hey, if they don't end up paying, you simply foreclose on the property and sell it to someone else. Being that most people want to pay their bills, for a few years these borrowers will scrape and work and live for no other purpose then to continue to pay their ever increasing home, car, credit payments (slavery anyone?) until they are overcome and driven into a pit of poverty and hopelessness. Hopefully, by that time, you have made your extremely large bonus and can comfortably retire at age 28. For the last several years, lots of people made lots of money all over the world, based on the spending habits of the average uneducated American family. Everybody wanted onboard: Germans, Brits, and of course Canadians. And don't get me wrong, I am definitely not saying it was the fault of the borrowers. I have no doubt they were lied to, conned and cajoled into buying these products on the basis that they too could have some bling-bling. The funny part was that everyone knew that crap was going to hit the fan, but they kept on selling the products because it felt so good to give away money to people you knew you were going to bend-over in a couple of years. Isn't that good for a laugh or a few Stella's with your buddies? The middle and lower classes, working their asses off to fund the cocaine and hookers of a few twenty somethings and their twice-divorced single parents. The game was called "human nature and how to screw your fellow man" and now we will all pay the price. The only hope I have left is that the prey of these unscrupulous financiers will simply drive the shiny new vehicles into trees, turn the houses into brothels (not really necessary since most of the properties are in areas the bankers won't even drive through) and use their credit cards to purchase large military style weaponry to exact a blunt form of revenge.

So what are we left with? Nothing but questions and a whole lot of extremely pissed off middle class Americans with easy access to hand guns. Why did the big banks participate in selling financial products based on the screwing poor people? Why did they not see what every first grader knows: don't lend your undershorts to the guy who is always scratching his butt? The answer is always the same: The almighty peso....

I have a great idea for a new financial product that I will be peddling to the major banks. It goes like this: you find two people and get them to give you $200 each, then they find two people....

I know this isn't my best work, but I need to get myself all pissed off has acutally been quite nice (thanks Lisa!).