Tuesday, February 22, 2011

You can have any flavor you want - as long at it's grape

I drink a small glass of orange juice each morning while making my coffee.  Other than that, it's rare that I buy fruit juice.  I tend to think of it as "nature's soda pop," and I doubt my body needs the extra sugar.

This morning, however, was one of those times that I was in the mood to buy some juice to keep at work.  Having read about the health benefits of pomegranates and cranberries, I liked the idea of a blend of those two.  Unfortunately, while many labels prominently featured those two fruits, a closer look at the ingredients revealed a disturbing trend in the juice aisle - you can't get what you want.

If you want pure apple or grape juice, you're in luck.  There's plenty of that.  Everything else, however is either a "juice cocktail," which may contain some concentrated form of the fruit you seek, but the first two ingredients will be water and sugar, or it's 100% juice - but mostly grape or apple, and only a little of the fruit you want.

The next time you're in the supermarket, pay a quick trip to the juice aisle (yes, there's a whole aisle devoted to juice), and look at the choices.  In addition to pomegranates and cranberries, there's raspberries, blueberries, grapefruit, pear, apple, and of course grape.  But look more closely.  If the bottle doesn't say it's "100% juice," it's not.  It's going to be a "juice drink" or "juice cocktail," and the primary ingredients are water and sugar (if you're lucky, that is, and they're not using high-fructose corn syrup).  If the label does boast that it's "pure juice" or "100% juice," turn the bottle around and see what type.  I'll bet that the first two ingredients listed are not the one or two featured on the front of the bottle.  The fruit in the big colorful pictures?  They're in there, but in much smaller quantities than the manufacturer would have you believe.

Now, I know there are a few companies out there making "designer juices" or the pure products that I would like to consume.  But they charge an arm and a leg for it.  We complain about paying $3 per gallon for gasoline.  How about $5 per quart for pure juice?  Who are you kidding?  I like my body, but before I spend that much on juice, there had better be gold flakes in it.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Philadelphia homeowner 'forecloses' on Wells Fargo

From Philly.com:

It's not clear how this story will turn out, but right now Patrick Rodgers is living a pay-back fantasy probably shared by millions of struggling U.S. homeowners.
Frustrated by a dispute with Wells Fargo Home Mortgage and by his inability to get answers to questions, the West Philadelphia homeowner took the mortgage company to court last fall.
When Wells Fargo still didn't respond, Rodgers got a $1,000 default judgment against it for failing to answer his formal questions, as required by a federal law called the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act.
And when the mortgage company didn't pay - does something sound familiar? - Rodgers turned to Philadelphia's sheriff.
The result: At least for the moment, the contents of Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, 1341 N. Delaware Ave., are scheduled for sheriff's sale on March 4 to satisfy the judgment and pay about $200 for court and sheriff's costs.
Rodgers has even written his own headline: "Philadelphia homeowner 'forecloses' on Wells Fargo."
Has he really? Not quite. But Rodgers, who lives in the city's Wynnefield Heights section, won at least a momentary upper hand in a fight with Wells Fargo that began nearly two years ago.
Before you leap to conclusions, let's get a few things straight.
Rodgers isn't unemployed, or a deadbeat. He's a music promoter who owns Dancing Ferret Concerts - if industrial, electronic, or goth is your sound, maybe you've been to one of his gigs. He says he's paid all he owes under the terms of his seven-year-old mortgage.
And there's no reason to think that Rodgers' house is "underwater" - worth less than he owes, in banker jargon that has sadly entered Americans' everyday lexicon.
Actually, it was the value of Rodgers' home that apparently sparked the dispute - not what he paid, or what it would fetch if he wanted to move, but what it would cost to fully restore the house if, say, it was struck by a meteorite and burned to the ground.
Rodgers owns a three-story, six-bedroom Tudor on a beautiful street not far from City Avenue. He paid about $180,000 for it in 2002, and for years handled his mortgage without dispute.
But in mid-2009, his insurer delivered troubling news: His homeowners premium would more than double, because Wells Fargo was insisting that he insure the home's full replacement value - about $1 million worth of coverage, the insurer told him.
Rodgers loves his home, neighborhood, and adopted city - he moved here about 17 years ago, after growing up as a child of American parents in the Bahamas.
But he knew that he paid a fraction of what his home would command elsewhere, such as across City Avenue in Bala Cynwyd. That's one advantage of living, as he says, "a short clip away from the wrong side of the tracks."
In such situations, most lenders require a homeowner to insure for a total approximating a home's market value - a good thing for large swaths of Philadelphia, where a home's market value may have little relation to what it would cost to rebuild stone by stone or feature by feature.
Wells Fargo takes a different tack.
"Generally, we require hazard insurance that is equal to full replacement value of the property and structure," Wells Fargo spokesman Jason Menke told me.
Menke insists that the requirement "is primarily there to provide benefit to the customer." Without full-replacement coverage, he says, a total loss "would have a significant impact on a homeowner's ability to rebuild or replace the property."
Some consumer advocates beg to differ, noting that a homeowner might be willing to move elsewhere rather than to reconstruct a home to century-old standards.
"It's a completely unreasonable demand," says Irv Ackelsberg, a mortgage expert at the Philadelphia law firm Langer, Grogan & Diver. "Their interest is in protecting their mortgage, not ensuring that the house is rebuilt."
Rodgers' next step put him at some risk, he concedes now. He refused to renew the higher-cost policy. Instead, Wells Fargo bought him so-called forced-placement insurance - a policy that typically costs much more than ordinary coverage and only protects the mortgage-holder's interests.
But he fought back with his suit under the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA). Last month, Wells Fargo sent him more than $1,000, and Menke says it intended to fully satisfy the judgment. "We had considered this matter closed," he says.
What about Rodgers' four-page letter demanding answers about how much Wells is trying to charge him - charges that have added $500 a month to his statement?
Menke says Wells Fargo sent a written response "within the last month." As of Monday, Rodgers hadn't seen it.
But he did have his sheriff's levy. Even if it's just a trophy, it may be enough to make him a national hero.

The Consumerist's 2011 Valentine's Day Garden Of Discontent

From one of my favorite sources, The Consumerist:

On Valentine's Day, we are expected to show loved ones how much they mean to us by giving them dead plants. For extra style points, we pay strangers to bring these dead plants to the recipient for us. However, florists are unfathomably busy on Valentine's Day. So busy that we almost feel bad criticizing when things go wrong. Almost.
The Consumerist's annual Valentine's Day Garden of Discontent is a collection of flower or gift deliveries that aren't what the recipient had in mind—and sometimes aren't even close.

David picked out an adorable and incredibly thoughtful monkey-themed gift package from 1800Flowers for his wife, who loves Curious George. The local florist who put together the order made a very pretty flower arrangement that has absolutely nothing to do with the package that David ordered. He writes:
“My wife likes all things related to Curious George. So for Valentine's Day, I ordered her the "Crazy for You" package from 1800Flowers. I've attached an image of the package since it's no longer listed on their website. It comes with a plush monkey holding chocolates and a red rose, two red heart helium balloons, two helium balloons with "Crazy for You!" written on them, and a giant mylar balloon shaped like a monkey. I really wanted my wife to feel special, and I was picturing her walking through her office with all the balloons as she brought the gift back to her desk.
Well, she called me at 4:30 on Valentine's Day to thank me for sending her flowers. She said they were lovely - some tulips, a daisy, and some roses. I paused and asked her what she got. She told me she received a small red vase with about 7-8 flowers in it. That's it. No monkeys, no balloons, no candy. I called 1800Flowers to ask what happened. They told me that the florist asked if he could "substitute an equivalent product" to ensure delivery. Equivalent? See the attached photo of what I actually got, and tell me if that seems to be equivalent to you.
What I Ordered.jpgWhat I Got.jpg
Upon viewing the photos, a friend of mine commented, "It's lovely ... but there is a distinct lack of monkey."
To their credit, they didn't even argue. I got a full refund plus a $20 credit on my next order.
Yeah ... somehow I don't think I'll be using that credit any time soon.”
Brian was rather disappointed in his Proflowers order The red tulips in the arrangement arrived looking a little limp.
"I paid almost $40 to ship $39 worth of flowers w/ guaranteed valentine's day delivery," he wrote. "Glad they showed up looking like this!"
ProFlowers has promised replacement flowers for tomorrow that Brian hopes will be a little perkier.
R. paid FTD $80 for a big, beautiful arrangement for his mother.

“What would you do in this situation? I went onto FTD.com to order flowers for my mother for Valentine's Day. I was supposed to get the flowers in Photo 1, but the bouquet arrived and she got the flowers in photo 2. I'm not the "asking for a refund" kind of guy, but I think this is a little ridiculous, right?
Oh, by the way, the flowers were $70.”
That's not even close. On behalf of moms everywhere, please contact FTD and ask for either a refund or a replacement flower arrangement that's as nice as what you actually paid for.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The original reason the Aspen Skiing Company will never see another penny of revenue from me

When I moved to Colorado in 2001, I was advised to purchase a "Classic Pass" from the Aspen Skiing Company.  At that time, their four-day pass cost $99.  This season, they offer the Classic Pass only in a five-day version for a price of $259.

If that seems like a big price increase, it is.  The average per-day rate jumped from $24.75 to $51.80 - and increase of 109%

During that same time period, the Consumer Price Index (CPI), or inflation rate, increased by 23%.

Why is the Aspen Skiing Company raising prices at nearly five times the rate of inflation?

When they jack up prices so high that the choice is between a day of skiing and buying a week's worth of groceries, I'm opting for the groceries. 

Yet another reason the Aspen Skiing Company will never see another penny of revenue from me

From The Aspen Daily News

Ousted ski instructor banned 
from all SkiCo properties

Lee Mulcahy, a former Aspen Skiing Co. instructor who was fired on Monday, also has been banned from the company’s four ski areas and its privately-owned properties.

SkiCo spokesman Jeff Hanle confirmed Wednesday that Mulcahy has been banned from the ski areas and all company-owned property since Dec. 30, when he distributed fliers to guests in the SkiCo-owned Little Nell and in the Silver Queen Gondola Plaza criticizing the ski school’s pay policies.

Mulcahy slid the fliers under hotel room doors and distributed them in the Little Nell’s dining room during one of the busiest days of the season. The fliers criticized SkiCo’s owners, the Crown of family of Chicago, for allegedly not paying a living wage to beginning instructors while the company reaps profits from expensive lessons.

The move was the straw that broke the camel’s back for SkiCo officials, who say they’ve had performance issues and behavioral problems with Mulcahy since 2006. As a result, he was terminated.

“Lee is currently banned from all Aspen Skiing Co. mountains and property, until we make a decision otherwise, for his inappropriate behavior and harassing our guests,” Hanle said, adding the ban is indefinite — “until he proves that he is not going to harass our guests or employees.”

Hanle added that Mulcahy hasn’t proven that he can hold civil discourse when it comes to his issues with SkiCo.

Mulcahy was suspended with pay for a week and then three weeks without pay for passing out the pamphlets on company property, which also advertised his group “People 4 a Living Wage,” which is in favor of unionizing ski school and other mountain employees. Currently, only the ski patrol is unionized among SkiCo divisions.

Mulcahy, an instructor since 1996, said Wednesday he found the ban on him “fascinating.”

The ban doesn’t allow him to buy a lift ticket, hike up the mountains, eat in any of the restaurants or step foot on anything owned by the SkiCo; all the base areas of the four mountains are private property.

If he does enter SkiCo property, Mulcahy will be arrested for trespassing, Hanle said.

Hanle said because the SkiCo leases land with the U.S. Forest Service, the public land is under SkiCo’s purview. He added that people have been banned from SkiCo property in the past.

Mulcahy last year ramped up his effort pressuring SkiCo to increase the starting wage of $69 a day for beginning instructors, since the company charges $625 for a full private lesson, even if taught by a rookie.

In recent weeks, his campaign has become a bitter and public dispute between him and his bosses, as well as the community at large, through the opinion pages of local newspapers.

Mulcahy this past fall filed two charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in Denver, claiming the company violated federal labor law.

One charge claims that SkiCo “unlawfully” restructured its ski school in 1993. In the second charge, Mulcahy says he was taken off the “Diamond Pro” team “in retaliation” for his discussions about unionizing.

The complaints are currently under investigation by the NLRB.

SkiCo maintains it has acted within the law.

Mulcahy, who has hired an attorney, said his performance and past behavior as an employee is not the issue, and that he is being unfairly targeted for speaking out. He added that for many years, he was the top revenue producing instructor at SkiCo.

“I don’t have anything to lose,” he said. “Everything I did, I stand behind it.”

Here are just two of the many letters-to-the-editor supporting Mr. Mulcahy:

(This letter was originally addressed to Auden Schendler, vice president of sustainability for Aspen Skiing Co.)

I was gonna wait until we could have lunch to visit but...

I will choose my words carefully because of our long friendship and our positions in the Valley community.

Lee  Mulcahy has been my ski instructor for about 10 years. We would go out three or four times a year except this year because of my back surgery. He is singularly responsible for giving me the confidence to go into the double black areas and back country that before I found totally intimidating. I would never have attempted this without his expertise and the confidence, which he instilled in me. I would bet that I was not the only one he affected this way.

He was in no way anything other than a totally professional instructor. I never heard him say anything derogatory about SkiCo. He always checked on anyone who had fallen, knew everyone on the mountain and was extremely polite to any and all we encountered. I think he has a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Texas and we talked a good bit about the struggle his Dad had with cancer and our respective families, especially my wife and daughter. I find it very disappointing that SkiCo could find no other way to resolve this situation but by his termination. In my estimation this does not speak well of SkiCo — which leads me to the second bone I have to pick with SkiCo.

That would be the insistence of having outside live music events at Elk Camp until midnight or after in the summer? This was despite a request from Department of Wildlife (DOW) to limit them to 10 p.m.

After I read about this in the paper I spoke with several DOW people and others about the health of the elk herd nearby the cow/calf ratios, the other wildlife etc. You and I even exchanged e-mails about this. I was especially disturbed when one person who I have a great deal of respect for, told me “SkiCo doesn’t give a damn about wildlife.” Somehow it seems to me that SkiCo may be getting a little out of touch with the community that it serves, and that also serves it. A strain in the symbiotic relationship if you will. Say it ain’t so Mr. Kaplan. 

Auden, please do not feel obligated to respond to my concerns but I would appreciate you forwarding this to the powers that be so they can hear from a down valley local who heretofore mostly skied Snowmass and whose teenage daughter was at the X-Games for three days. I still look forward to that lunch at Woody Creek we have been planning. SkiCo’s turn to buy.

Frosty Merriott


SkiCo’s response to a diamond level instructor trying to help his less experienced co-workers receive a higher percentage of the lesson fee is reprehensible. Paying employees approximately 10 percent of the lesson fee is absurd and I, as a patron of the mountains operated by SkiCo, am outraged. SkiCo receives not only lift ticket revenue but also 90 percent of the lesson fee? SkiCo may not like instructors trying to support each other, but isn’t that exactly the type of employee you would want helping you — both on the mountain and off?

Dale Keats Lipnick
Washington, D.C