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R E C E N T L Y

Money talks
By Heather Chaplin
If you want to know if a woman is wealthy, check her pores, not her pearls
(12/18/98)

God rest ye merry, shoppers
By Fiona Morgan
Author Bill McKibben preaches a "Hundred Dollar Holiday"
(12/11/98)

Exxon-Mobil: Bigger than Monica?
By Heather Chaplin
While the media and Congress blather about the Clinton sex scandal, these former competitors just created the biggest corporation in the world
(12/04/98)

The last hurrah for West Coast finance
By Kevin Kelleher
The departure of the last of the titans from San Francisco's biggest investment bank was marked by a disastrous frat party that time forgot
(11/25/98)

My guilty secret
By Heather Chaplin
Some people buy porn; I like to buy make-up -- in private
(11/20/98)

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[ T H E_.R E L U C T A N T_.C A P I T A L I S T ]________

Consumer retorts

THE MOTTO OF THE CONSUMER WARRIOR MUST
BE: NEVER SURRENDER, NEVER APOLOGIZE
AND NEVER FORGET THERE IS NO RATIONAL
JUSTIFICATION FOR $28 BANK CHARGES.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
BY HEATHER CHAPLIN

Last week, I got off the phone with Ed Mierzwinski, very, very irritated. It was not Ed himself who put me in this agitated state. In fact, he was quite nice. Rather it was something he said in passing that got under my craw and has been buzzing about angrily ever since.

Mierzwinski is program director for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, and he mentioned in passing that bounced checks cost banks about $1.50 to handle, according to a 1992 law suit filed in California. Having recently returned to civilian life after a bloody three-week battle with my new bank over two $28 "insufficient funds" charges, I found this particularly disturbing. (While there's no need to bore everyone with details, suffice to say the charges involved a five-day holding period for out-of-state checks and the added insult that five working days is actually six working days in bank-land, because the day you deposit the check doesn't count -- a policy I finally pieced together after numerous phone calls with customer service reps.)

My bank felt justified in charging me $56 during my first month as a client, and I, in turn, felt justified in expressing my outrage to several indifferent and then annoyed Bank of New York employees and threatening to withdraw my business and bad-mouth the bank all over town. Finally, I received both a refund and an apology. After talking to Mierzwinski, I wish I had asked for the bank manager's firstborn.

You see, I am going through a metamorphosis. And like Kafka's Gregor Samsa waking one morning to find himself no longer a person but instead a big bug, or, in an analogy I actually prefer, like the caterpillar trading the confinement of its cocoon for the fluttering wings of a butterfly, I have become something entirely different in the last year. I have become one of those screaming, threatening, cajoling, letter-writing, scene-making people who can be found embarrassing their family members wherever long lines, bad service and rip-offs are found. I have lost the ability to handle with any sort of aplomb the indignities of consumerhood.

According to Mierzwinski, there are a lot of new butterflies -- or giant bugs out there -- depending on how you look at it. With a "government that's abdicated responsibility," people are increasingly frustrated with the lack of recourse available to them, he said. Although better than the Reagan-Bush years -- when peddling consumer legislation must have been as much fun as selling Castro T-shirts at a Cuban expatriate club in Miami -- the Clinton administration has hardly been the champion of the consumer. Its most notable act on this front was shutting down the Office of Consumer Affairs in 1997.

N E X T+P A G E | Consumer complaints are way up

 













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