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Permalink 03:52:26 pm, by Paul ROBINSON, 752 words   English (US)
Categories: Announcements [A]

American Express Busted over Merchant Practices

I got this in the mail today as my company has a merchant account with American Express:

American Express Services Company, Inc.
World Financial Center
200 Vesey Street
New York’ NY 10285-4908

October 7, 2015

Dear Business Owner or Manager,

We value your business as an American Express merchant and want to ensure that you are aware of important modifications to your Card acceptance contract resulting from recent developments in a federal court case. The modifications were effective as of July 20, 2015, and only apply to your locations in the United States and United States territories and possessions. The changes relate to the treatment of American Express Cards.

A federal court has ruled that American Express violated the law by prohibiting merchants from influencing the payment form that their customers use. As a result of that ruling, you may now favor any credit card brand that you wish, by, for example, communicating to customers which credit card brand you would prefer that they use, telling customers which credit card brands are the most or least expensive for you, or offering discounts or incentives to customers to use the credit card brand you prefer. Consistent with the federal court's ruling, you may not, however, disparage or mischaracterize the American Express brand or impose a surcharge (as opposed to a discount) on customers who use an American Express credit card.

To influence the credit card that a customer uses, you may employ any of the practices listed in Section IILA of the court's order,including:
* Offering a discount or rebate, including an immediate discount or rebate at the point of sale;
* Offering a free or discounted product;
* Offering a free or discounted or enhanced sen/ice;
* Offering an incentive, encouragement, or benefit;
* Expressing a preference for a particular brand or type of card;
* Promoting a particular brand or type of card through posted information, through the size, prominence, or sequencing of payment choices, or through other communications to a customer;
* Communicating to a customer the reasonably estimated or actual costs incurred by you when a customer uses a particular card, or the relative costs of using different brands or types of cards; or
* Engaging in any other practices substantially equivalent to these.

To review all applicable terms and conditions, please refer to the court's order, a copy of which may be found at: .

The court's order also allows American Express to maintain merchant rules providing that you cannot make untrue statements about your cost of accepting American Express Cards or the relative cost of accepting American Express Cards as compared to other credit and charge cards. Similarly, if you choose to compare your cost of accepting American Express Cards to your cost of accepting other credit or charge cards, you must exclude the costs of accepting debit cards from your calculation.

If you choose to attempt to influence a customer's choice of credit or charge card, you must reasonably indicate that you accept American Express Cards by posting signage, either at the point of sale (including online or on mobile sen/ices) or at the store entry, or by communicating orally that you accept the American Express Card prior to the request for authorization of the transaction. For example, you may satisfy this requirement by displaying a sticker at the point of sale or at the store entrance indicating all brands you accept that includes the American Express logo.

Accordingly, American Express has made modifications to its U.S. Merchant Regulations, the U.S. Merchant Reference Guide, and the U.S. Merchant Operating Guide to reflect the federal court's ruling. Please read the revised documents relevant to your Card acceptance contract carefully, as they explain in detail the new policies and procedures governing your treatment of American Express Cards.You can find these -revised documents and a full copy of the federal court's ruling at

To the extent your Card acceptance contract, or other agreement that governs your acceptance of American Express Cards, contains provisions that are inconsistent with the federal court's ruling, American Express will not enforce those provisions.

American Express is presently appealing the federal court's ruling. If the federal court's ruling is reversed or modified as a result of the appeal, American Express resen/es all rights to cancel or revise these modifications. We will apprise you of any such updates in the future.

If you have questions or would like more information about these modifications, please visit for more details.

Thank you for accepting American Express Cards. We appreciate and value your business.
Anré Williams
President, Global Merchant Services


Permalink 01:18:27 pm, by Paul ROBINSON, 160 words   English (US)
Categories: Announcements [A]

Probably not a good idea

I happened to catch a streaming video of a 1975 TV movie "The Last Survivors," where a cruise ship sinks due to a sudden typhoon, there are 18 people ending up in a lifeboat which can technically only support 8 people. The second purser is appointed in charge of the lifeboat by the captain who is dying, and the acting captain has to force emergency conditions, such as making passengers in the boat switch places with those in the water on two hour shifts, ration food and water, and in some cases jettison passengers who are either overloading the boat during a storm, or denying food to a passenger that he believes is not going to make it. He even has to shoot one of the crew who is pushing people off the boat to save himself.

Attached to the end of the movie was a retro commercial probably from when the movie was broadcast. It was a commercial for a cruise line.


Permalink 12:51:52 am, by Paul ROBINSON, 898 words   English (US)
Categories: Announcements [A], News

About the recent (30+ year old) accusations against Bill Cosby

I'm not trying to enter "blame the victim" mode here, but why didn't anyone say something about these allegations against Bill Cosby before? Why does it take 30 years or more to finally bring up events that (may have) happened that far back, and might even have had major details lost or forgotten? I'm thinking of the William Kennedy Smith trial, and the evidence and summations made it sound like basically, he was probably lousy in bed, treated her like shit or just a piece of ass, and she decides to 'retroactively" claim rape. Now, again, I'm not saying this is the case here. It is entirely possible Cosby did do all of the really bad things that it is claimed he did. It is possible some are true and some are exaggerated or fabricated, and it is possible all of them are created out of whole cloth. But the problem that remains what that anyone who could have said something - and if true, potentially prevented other incidents - did nothing and remained silent. For decades.

Now, I can understand some wannabe actress afraid to say something immediately, possibly fearing she might be blacklisted (as happened to Cliff Robertson in 1978 after he publicly accused Columbia studio head David Begelman of stealing from him, an accusation later shown to be true, and Robertson wasn't the only person used by Begelman to embezzle from Columbia Pictures). But, after a few years, you would think someone would have said something. Perhaps, back in the 1970s and earlier women weren't taken that seriously over domestic (boyfriend-girlfriend and husband-wife) assault and acquaintance rape, but the same is not true during the 1980s, and especially coming into the 1990s and 2000s.

Let's look back to 1984 and 1985, Were societal mores so inadequately protective of women that accusations of abuse and sexual assault, even against a famous and well-loved actor and comedian like Cosby would be ignored or treated cavalierly by the police? While I might be wrong, I do not think so.

There is a concept in law called "laches" which in layman's terms means, "you snooze, you lose," in which if you wait too long to sue over an incident the courts dismiss your claim as untimely. This helps prevent the courts with being clogged with old, stale cases where evidence which might allow the defendant to raise a defense could be lost, destroyed, or memories faded. This is expressed in statutes of limitations requirements where, in most states a criminal case for anything less than murder must be filed within 3 to 7 years, and civil cases asking for money or other damages generally must be filed within about the same period of time.

Which brings us to noted (self admitted) feminist attorney Gloria Allred, who is representing at least one of Cosby's female accusers, realizes that as it stands Cosby could never be prosecuted nor sued for anything even if he did do what he is accused of (the statute of limitations on prosecuting such crimes in California is 3 years, and for a civil suit for damages it's 3 years after the incident or 3 years after the person turns 18 if they were under 18 at the time of the incident, whichever is later), came out to say that Cosby should waive the statute of limitations and allow a trial on the merits to take place.

The simple question I have is "why?" Who on earth would choose to go on trial over something - whether or not they are liable for it - when they are essentially immune from process? What exactly does allowing a suit against him to go forward buy Cosby except grief and potential financial loss? I mean, the guy isn't doing any TV or movie projects, does not have, as far as I know, any endorsement deals or advertising campaign, isn't doing stand-up, and is, for all intents and purposes retired or semi-retired. He's probably a multimillionaire, so it doesn't matter what some women say about him - even if it's true - because no amount of public opinion is going to affect his probably extremely comfortable lifestyle.

Allred shows no possible reason Cosby should want to waive the statute of limitations and essentially the only argument she can come up with is it allows her client potentially to get money out of him through a judgment if the accusation were proven true, and thus Allred would get the typical 30% cut of the money, so to some extent her comments are essentially self-serving.

Allred here is clearly acting the part of a zealous attorney who has failed to realize you have nothing to offer and nothing to threaten. In legal circles, this is exemplified by the saying, "During a trial, if the law is on your side, pound on (emphasize the importance of) the law; if the facts are on your side, pound on the facts; if neither is on your side, pound on the table."

It is one thing for a young person with their career ahead of them who has a cloud overhanging them to want to see such matters resolved and gotten out of the way so they can be able to make a living, but it would represent rank insanity for someone like Cosby to consider this, especially if he was committing the things he has been accused of. And if he wasn't, there's probably not much upside to raise a response over this.


Permalink 12:14:16 pm, by Paul ROBINSON, 1077 words   English (US)
Categories: Announcements [A], News

The Stockholm Syndrome of shopping

Gail Wallens: Author of "Hostage Terrorist, Terrorist Hostage: A Study in Duality." Dr. Hasseldorf, what can we expect in the next few hours?
Dr. Hasseldorf: Well, Gail, by this time the hostages should be going through the early stages of the Helsinki Syndrome.
Harvey Johnson: As in Helsinki, Sweden.
Dr. Hasseldorf: Finland.
- Die Hard

To quote John McLane, "It's the Stockholm Syndrome, asshole!" in which kidnap victims sympathize with their captors.

Which brings me to the latest form of torture imported from Sweden, the IKEA chain of department stores. (Well. maybe not latest, IKEA has been in business since 1943 and has had stores in the U.S. since 1985.) The huge layout and the way they are arranged with a serpentine single path to go through both floors, bring new meaning to "combat fatigue" as the average customer dragging themselves through the store hasn't been on a shopping trip. Traveling through an IKEA is more reminiscent of the Bataan Death March.

IKEA has learned one of the most important rules in merchandising: the longer you can keep the customer in the store, the more things you can sell them and the more money you can extract from them.

There is a scene from one of the Popeye's cartoons that you could practically place in an IKEA store given its "big box" format and non-grid layout (there are almost no cross aisles, it's essentially a single meandering path on each of its floors), where this old man is trying to get out of a large store. He finds Popeye, and asks him, "Young man, can you direct me to the nearest exit? I've been trying to find it for 17 years."

Taking a page out of the military, the first thing you encounter at IKEA is the mess hall cafeteria, with quite reasonable prices on a good selection of MREs tasty items, allowing you to load up on provisions food before traversing the jungles overgrown shop floor overflowing with merchandise, as you slog through the badlands, machete yellow IKEA store bag in hand, so that you can forage for supplies. (They also have regular shopping wagons, and for people picking up assemble-it-yourself furniture, flatbed carts.)

Many of IKEAs products are excellent value. I bought a standard 8" circular white color wall clock at Family Dollar, which I thought was a pretty good deal when I bought it for $6 or $7 a couple of years ago. Almost identical (outer frame is translucent instead of opaque) wall clock I bought last week, same size with sweep second hand at IKEA: $1.99. I have two of them in my room plus my original clock, so that no matter where I'm facing there's a clock in front of me. Set of 10 IKEA yellow AA alkaline batteries were an additional $1.99, comparable to about $6 for Energizer or Duracell at Target or just about any store.

They also have fairly tasty chocolate bars for 99c, comparable in quality and flavor to the ones that are about $1.99 at Trader Joes. I've also found other things of excellent value I've bought there: wooden picture frames in different colors, multi-outlet power cords, 6-way power adapters (turns a standard 2-socket grounded wall outlet into a 6 outlet one.) And while I haven't needed to but one lately, they have lots of lamps, I've even seen full size floor lamps at IKEA for under $20.

There is one thing I wish I could pick up at IKEA. They had a computer desk for the unbelievable price of $17. It was so unbelievable that I gather that they could not keep it in stock, it was always sold out when I went over there, and now I guess IKEA either can't get it any more or they're not making any money on it, because it's no longer available from their website either. The next best price one is a glass top computer table for about $40. (At the low price I'd have bought one even though I already have a table; I could use it either on the other side of the room or I'd buy two to replace a larger table with a couple of smaller ones.)

Not everything at IKEA is inexpensive, they also carry other furniture like couches and other items where they have more features and are commensurately more expensive. But they do seem to provide reasonably good things at very competitive to better prices than many of their competitors.

When you get to the register, you have to turn in the yellow plastic bag, and (I presume) you can get regular bags or (what I do) you can buy a reusable bag. Now these are not like those $1 "reusable" cloth bags most retailers (Dollar General, Home Depot, Target, and grocery stores) push on you, or a nice plastic one you can get at Trader Joes. First, IKEA's reusable bag is 59c, second, calling it a shopping bag the same way you'd refer to other place's "reusable" bags or even ordinary thin plastic "shopping bags" is an understatement. It's like when Mick "Crocodile" Dundee (in the movie of the same name) is accosted by a punk with a switch blade who says if he doesn't give him his money he'll stab him with his knife. Mick looks at him thoughtfully, then says, "That's not a knife," then whips out a giant Bowie knife about as large as a scimitar, and says, "now that's a knife."

An IKEA reusable shopping bag, first is made of strong plastic reminiscent of a tarpaulin (similar to Trader Joe's reusable bags), and second, it's large enough to carry home a microwave oven. I am not kidding.

Going through an IKEA from Second Floor Cafeteria all the way to the elevator or escallator, then down and through the first floor to the miles of shelves of assemble-it-yourself furniture, to the cash registers and finally to your car (or the bus if you didn't drive), can be an overwhelming experience. But, like dying, it's probably one of those things everyone should try at least once.

Yeah, IKEA gives you a really painful and long dragged out experience, then causes you to like them for it. Just like the Stockholm Syndrome does to captives, IKEA does the same thing to shoppers. Maybe it's because IKEA is also a Swedish import.

Oh, which reminds me, I think I'll try visiting an IKEA again soon. I still haven't had the opportunity to try the Swedish meatballs at the cafeteria yet. But the baby back ribs are outstanding.


Permalink 06:31:47 am, by Paul ROBINSON, 515 words   English (US)
Categories: Announcements [A]

Wells Fargo doesn't issue Master Card ATM cards

I have a corporate ATM card for my corporate checking and savings accounts at Wells Fargo. It's a VISA branded debit card, which is rather interesting because of some history.

Back in 1969, seeing how successful the roughly ten-year old Diners' Club card had been for professionals, someone at Bank of America got the idea of creating a credit card. Diners Club was - and still is - a charge card, like American Express Gold, you get the bill at the end of the month and you are required to pay it off in full. With a credit card, you can carry the balance over from month to month, and of course, pay interest at rates that would make a loan shark blush for being too greedy.

So Bank of America creates the Bank Americard, and does so by sending out thousands of unsolicited cards out to prospective customers, a large number of whom use the card, run up large bills and never pay. But enough did that the experiment was successful, and eventually Bank of America would spin off its credit card to a new organization called Visa International, and the card would be renamed Visa. (Bank of America still brands their Visa cards as Bank Americard.)

Well, after seeing how successful Bank of America was with their credit card, United California Bank (which was not chartered in California, my understanding is that it was chartered in Panama) decided to create their own competing card, which they could also make money by licensing to other banks, which Bank of America would later do, which is why London's Barclays bank issued a Bank Americard in the blue, white and gold color scheme, under the name Barclay Card. The card that United California Bank created was called Master Charge (with the nickname "The Interbank Card").

United California Bank (UCB as they were called on their buildings) also spun off Master Charge into a separate organization, which like Visa International is owned by the banks (and other organizations) that are licensed to issue its cards. The organization is MasterCard International, and - like Bank Americard - the card's brand was changed to Master Card.

UCB would later rebrand itself as First Interstate Bank. Later, First Interstate - except for a small part which is still operating in the Pacific Northwest and some western states - would be sold to Wells Fargo, which renamed it, (as it did when it ate Wachovia Bank), to Wells Fargo.

So Wells Fargo, while it is the successor to the company that invented what became Master Card, does not issue ATM cards with the Master Card logo, it issues the usual VISA branded ATM cards. Citibank, on the other hand, which is now the owner of the Diners Club charge card, does issue its ATM cards under the Master Card logo. I believe you can ask for a VISA branded one; I didn't, because I wanted to differentiate between my cards, and besides that, it gives me a card with the Master Card logo on it, which (in the form of a credit card) I do not currently have.

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