How Does That Happen? I was watching the news the other day and, as is customary, became really frustrated with much of what I was hearing. So, this is what I get from the bail-out situation ... perhaps I don’t have it down entirely, but it seems, well, sort of stupid. Now I understand that failing banks and U.S auto manufacturers are a serious problem. I also get that maybe we had no choice but to bail them out ... what with the far-reaching repercussions to all of us. But what is the quid pro quo? What will we get in exchange? Where are the strings? The executives responsible for the downfall of their companies were not fired for a job ill done. They still get their millions, from us. Somehow this reward courtesy of John Q. Taxpayer for those who mismanaged, misled and misinformed their way to catastrophe seems, well, I’ll say it again, stupid. Peter Kraus, who worked for Merrill Lynch for three months, got $25 million out of the deal. It was his bonus. Billions in bonuses have been doled out on Wall Street as reward for 2008 successes. Hmmm... The bailed-out banks weren’t told that they had to refinance mortgages to help stop the snowballing foreclosure crisis. No one was assigned to replace or even oversee the fumbling CEOs of any of the companies rescued. It’s like giving $100,000 in cash to your 17-year-old who has just dropped out of school and admitted she has a drug problem. She is in big legal trouble now, and needs you to bail her out. So, you hand over the money. “Hear you go ... I trust you’ve learned your lesson. If you make good use of this, there may be more where that came from.” Well, maybe that’s not what you would say, but nevertheless, it’s been said on your behalf. WaMu went under, but not before raising my credit card interest rate to the default level. I saw this and panicked. Checked all my statements. Checked my bank account to be sure the last payment had cleared, and when. Stumped, I called the nice man from somewhere in the Middle East where their customer service had apparently been outsourced. I’m not sure why they ask for your language preference. Pressing “1” for English doesn’t get you that much closer to a language you can understand. Eventually, with no shortage of language-barrier-ridden attempts, he understood what I was asking. “Why was I given the default interest rate when in all the years I’ve had this card, I’ve never been late ... never exceeded my credit limit?” Then, the pièce de résistance. It was there, somewhere in the very fine print in one of those amendments to my terms and conditions. We all read those in their entirety, right? I had done the unthinkable, the unforgivable. I had gotten too close to the limit. My irresponsibility in this act of approaching the limit had resulted in this monetary slap in the face. After all, if it appears I might be struggling for cash, possibly unable to repay the debt, what better solution than to dramatically increase the payment amount? Sure, that makes perfect sense. That’s great business savvy if ever I have witnessed any. That’ll teach me. So, if this punishment of perceived irresponsibility is perfectly acceptable, why not some strings for the bailed-out banks? Penalizing those who make bad decisions is OK with them. Poor financial decisions demand justice. The perpetrators of financial blunders are supposed to be punished. I’m certain it’s there in the fine print. I don’t mind the bailing, it’s the carte blanche that disturbs me. I guess I can’t change things, but I can make myself feel better. One of my resolutions for the new year is to change the way I approach calls to customer service departments. From now on, when I eventually get to the real, live person, wherever on the planet he or she may be, I will start with: “Would you like me to speak English? I do know some colorful German phrases that might come in handy. And, just so you know, this call may be recorded for future complaining purposes.”

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