Just Stop It

This post turned out to be factually incorrect as to the contents of the “bill of rights;” please see this new post for clarifications.

Anyway, apparently Congress is right on the edge of passing a “Credit Card Holder’s Bill of Rights.”

From what I’ve heard, it sounds much like COBRA and health insurance: this Bill of Rights seems to address only a few peripheral issues surrounding credit cards while doing nothing to correct the actual problem.  Likely outcome: the credit card companies will use any new restrictions as another excuse to demand more taxpayer money — much like the health insurance companies pretty much priced COBRA out of reach because it cut into their profit margins too much. 

Bullies are, after all, quite predictable.

One feature of the legislation is that it protects “young borrowers.”  I imagine that would be mostly 18-year-olds in their first year away from home in a college dorm (see edit), suddenly finding themselves getting bombarded with credit card offers.  Of course these kids, in spite of the fact that they are allegedly smart enough to get into college, are pretty dumb when it comes to practical matters.  And so they get themselves credit cards, and quickly get into deep trouble.  (EDIT: upon further reading, I found out that this part of the legislation is even more useless than I thought: the bill merely prohibits offering credit cards to anyone under 18 years of age.)

Or rather, they were doing this until recently.  You see, the thing is that this problem has likely already stopped with the crash of the credit market last fall.  There is no need to legislate it out of being.  It already stopped being.

The reason it stopped being is that the fantasy money that was funding it stopped flowing from money trees at the same time that mortgages for people without proof of income (or proof of much of anything) stopped being written. 

And this part of the legislation does nothing to help those who likely are having the worst problems — and those people are not teenagers, but adults who for one reason or another have dug themselves into Credit Card Hell.  If you are having a wingnut knee-jerk and shouting “losers!” deal with this: it’s not always just because they wanted to buy every member of their family a wall-mounted flat screen TV for the holidays (although you may remember, asshole, that this kind of spending was what was propping up your precious Free Market Economy).  Many people I know have been using credit to pay for medical bills and other serious expenses where the price has become otherwise unaffordable without giving up eating for several months.  See COBRA for details, and if you can’t stop drooling even then, go off and have another fucking tea party and see what good that does you.

For those of us who can comprehend actual problems, what all this means is that this is a meaningless bit of feel-good legislation that tackles no real problem.

Another example of this is yet another aspect of this legislation that doesn’t help anything.   There is to be a 45-day time period during which consumers have to be warned of impending interest hikes.  So?  There’s not actually much difference between being warned of a financial hurricane 45 days in advance and not being warned at all, because these days, you can’t run to another creditor to help you correct it.  As in, there is no one out there who will bail anyone out but the banks who are causing the problem to begin with.  So you’re going to get hit by a hurricane, anyway — the only difference will be that you’ll know about it 45 days in advance.

And so, from the looks of it, we have another COBRA on our hands.  The credit card companies will quickly slither through the canyon-sized cracks even while they hiss for more federal bailout money because of this terrible thing that’s been done to them, and we’ll shortly have a system as poisonous as any we have seen.  Likely nothing will be done about it for at least another decade, if then.

In the meantime, however, we all have one weapon with credit cards that we do not have with health insurance: to whatever extent possible, stop using them.  The banks have forgotten that we can do this.  Let’s remind them.

Looks like the Fat Man, Sounds like the Fat Man…

Must be the Fat Man!

http://www.motherjones.com/media/2009/04/newly-frugal-guy

Now can anyone help me figure out why people listen to the Fat Man?

And while we’re at it, here a catchy ditty about a closely-related subject:

The First Stupid of the Day Award goes to…

I’ll be awarding Stupid of the Day when there are too many examples of “stupid” in one day for me to write about just one subject.  Another indicator that the point of no return has been reached is that when this happens, I generally categorize my posts under every category on this blog except for Uncategorized.  This is one such day. 

And so, since there are more examples of Stupid today than I have time to write about, and as many categories of Stupid as this blog has categories, here are the nominees for the very first Stupid of the Day Award:

1.  Since I wrote my comment on swine flu the other day, the U.S. government has issued a travel warning about Mexico.  Some whack at WHO is saying that travel restrictions do not help much.  Good shot, Sherlock, but they don’t hurt much, either, unless one is more concerned about money than about human beings.  Nominee:  WHO.

2.  The next nominee is the Texas Legislature, which is looking at a bill that would allow students to carry concealed firearms on college campuses.  Why stop there, Hoss?  Why not mandate that each student carry a bowie knife and a bottle of whiskey?  Wild West on Campus!  Wooo HOOOOOO!!!!  Thanks, we all feel much safer now.

3.  Perennial ‘stupid’ nominees Bank of America and Citigroup are now hinting they need more taxpayer dollars.  They’re only lucky that I’ve run out of words to describe how stupid they are, although I do have an analogy for How Arrogant They Are:

How about flying a 747 very low over Manhattan for a “photo shoot?”

4.  Ah, yes.  Just when we thought Bush-era arrogance was safely in our rear-view mirrors, the Obama administration (or the Pentagon; it’s unclear which) pulls something that Bush would have been belligerently proud of while in office, but is now probably snickering up his sleeve about.  Remember 9/11/01?  Who doesn’t?  Well, apparently some asshole in the Pentagon or in the Obama administration thought…no, rather didn’t think.  And so the result was that they flew Air Force One very low over Manhattan, apparently trying to get a shot of it alongside the Statue of Liberty.  And you’d think there weren’t computer programs that could do exactly that without scaring the shit out of everyone.

The only difference between this outburst of arrogance and the regularly scheduled ones of the Bush administration is that Obama hasn’t offered public support for it.  As far as he knows, no one is doing a “heck of a job.”  There has been no back-slapping, faux good ol’ boy “atta-boy!” bravura.  This is comforting, but only somewhat.  After all, the fact that this even happened just goes to show the rest of us how entirely out of touch Washington D.C. has become with the rest of the country, and that this apparently has reached the point where even a fresh new administration can’t help it.  Kinda scary.

And so the Stupid of the Day Award goes to whoever it was in Washington D.C. who came up with the daffy idea of flying a 747 very low over Manhattan!  Take a bow, Stupid!

Ummmm…why no reaction?

Okay, it seems like we’re faced with the first potential flu pandemic since the 1960’s.  There has probably been at least one since then, but I don’t remember the year, although I do remember the Swine Flu Scare that Never Happened some years back.

In a way, the lack of any real reaction from our own government has been reassuring.  Imagine if this had happened during the Bush Administration?  They’d have had us all quarantined and afraid to come out from under our beds, yet at the same time they would have done nothing outside of declare that there was insufficient Tamiflu to go around, and what they did have would be reserved for use on special individuals, such as themselves.

The only thing that’s scaring me, actually, is the same thing: the lack of reaction from our own government.  As of right now there are no travel restrictions between the U.S. and Mexico in spite of the large outbreak in Mexico.  None. 

Of course swine flu is already here, and because of large scale tourism (as well as immigration of various types) to and from Mexico, it’s probably here in a big way.   We should probably be thankful for the Mexican drug wars that have come to the light of the news in the last few months, although they had already been going on for years.  These drug wars have kept even more people from visiting Mexico.

But…no travel restrictions?  Heck, you can’t even go out without a mask in Mexico City, from what I hear.

Is it because it’s Mexico and our government is afraid to make U.S.-based Mexicans angry?  If you’ve read this blog, you already know my reaction to that one.

In my own case, it may already be too late.  I work with the public and have had a virus for the past several days.  I don’t know that it is swine flu — and it probably isn’t.  But I can say that something is out there, and it’s catching like mad.  Any day now, Canada will restrict travel to and from the U.S.

But Mexico is the country with the biggest problem, and the U.S. is the biggest receptacle of Mexican health problems.  And the U.S. is doing nothing, apparently for fear of offending someone.

Kinda tells you where we all stand, doesn’t it.

Money Vampires

Big news today is that Obama is calling the credit card companies to task, and the Republicans are against it.

Well, maybe the only news is in the first part of that sentence.  After all, we already know that whatever it is, the Republicans are against it — that is, unless it doesn’t make sense and is a continuation of the policies of the past 8 years, which also didn’t make sense and continue not to make sense. 

But this one hits the vast majority of people in the U.S. straight in the wallet — not the millionaires and billionaires paying the Republicans to maintain the status quo.  So it may be rather hard for the Republicans to be against it this time unless they are going to follow the tortured logic they have used on the subject of torture.

Of course, the tea parties of April 15 featured maybe 100,000 poor saps who were lured to them by the fact that vital pieces of information were withheld.  One such piece of information is that the taxes they were protesting didn’t apply to the vast majority of them.

So maybe that’s how you do it if you’re a Republican: just fail to mention certain facts so Pavlov’s dog will drool for you whenever you ring the bell.  Problem is that for too many Americans, the credit card bell has rung right in their faces for several years now, even before the Republicans started gearing up to try to invent reasons why present practices are okay.  That means the bell has gotten so annoying that even while you’re drooling, it’s a little hard to miss that something is very wrong.

When I was young I ran up some hefty credit card balances.  I paid them all off a number of years ago — but that was only after I began to notice that the more I paid on the balances every month, the higher my debt seemed to get, even though I was no longer using the cards.  (Before I continue, I have to mention that it wasn’t like this when I first started using credit cards.  Back then, you used the card and got charged a minimum payment.  You either paid the balance off or you paid the minimum payment, plus, hopefully, a bit more.  That was the end of it: either your balance disappeared, or it went down.)

Imagine my surprise when I paid those balances off and got socked with hefty fees the next month.  When I called and demanded explanations, all of the companies backed off and canceled the fees.  All of them. 

They did so with a conspicuous lack of argument, although one giddy gal did try to chirp that “unlike other credit card companies, we charge ‘pure interest.'”  Still don’t know what the hell that meant, except that whatever this “pure interest” was, it apparently was applied starting the instant the bill went out the door of the credit card company.  In my case it amounted to about 10% per day, every day, no matter what the balance was — or even if there was a balance (because if there wasn’t, the credit card company could and would charge interest on the average balance over the past few years).

Yes, as things currently stand, credit card companies can charge you interest on nothing.  Don’t believe it?  Run up a balance, and then try to pay it off.  It’s almost impossible.  They’ll charge interest because you’re paying off your balance.  They’ll charge interest because they’re afraid you won’t pay off your balance.  They’ll charge interest because you only made the minimum payment.  They’ll charge interest because you may have been a day late with a payment on another credit card balance.  They’ll lower your limit below your current balance and then charge you over-limit fees, and interest on the fees (I am eternally grateful that I bailed out of my personal credit card mess before this scheme was dreamed up).  They’ll charge interest on interest.  They’ll even charge interest on passing unicorns.

To top it off, they’ve convinced themselves that all this is okay.  That is, until you call them out on it.  Then all of a sudden they’re eager to make it disappear.

If I hadn’t hollered I would have paid the fees that month and indefinitely thereafter because there was no way to catch up.  The credit card companies had placed themselves on my payroll; they were on the clock from the moment they mailed their bills, even if I hadn’t yet received the bills.  In one case it turned out that the billing cycle had begun even before the bill was mailed. 

Thank goodness I realized I could fire them.  That’s the one remaining difference between a credit card company and a mobster.  I wonder how many people haven’t realized that, and how much it has cost these folks.  I do know some people who are afraid to pay off their credit cards because in this twisted world, doing so seems to damage one’s credit rating.  But carrying a balance does so, too.

What the credit card companies were doing to me, and to everyone who uses credit cards, is called loan sharking.  There used to be laws against that.  The sad part is, despite the dizzy logic that excuses these practices, they are unnecessary for the health of the credit card industry.  It got along fine for many, many years without them.

So it’s going to be interesting to see how the Republicans object to any change enforced on the credit card industry.  It’s also going to be interesting to note the extent of those changes, and if they will indeed make any difference.  I keep thinking of COBRA, which was originally intended as “health insurance reform.”  Instead it became part of the problem, a perfect example of government intervention gone awry.  The insurance companies don’t like COBRA, so they charge wildly inflated premiums for it.  Most of the jobless can’t afford the premiums, and so they do without health insurance just like they did prior to COBRA.  This is what I am afraid of when it comes to the subject of reforming the credit card industry.

Unlike health insurance, though, credit cards aren’t totally necessary.  And it could be that at this point, that industry has become so corrupt that it’s in most people’s best interest not to use credit cards, ever.  If so, that’s not very good for business, is it?

So Mr. Credit Card Mogul, are you still gonna hang onto those corrupt practices as if they were a lifeline?  We’ll know by listening to the Republicans.  And if I’m in the mood to laugh, I’ll have a dandy time listening the excuses you pay them to invent.  I can’t wait to hear “If consumers have a reasonable chance of paying off credit card debt, the economy will collapse!”  or some variation on that.  And I have no doubt we’ll hear it.

As for the economy collapsing — too late.  It already did.  It did so well prior to Obama taking office, and  it did because we maintained what had become the status quo.  There is no use continuing to argue to maintain it.  It doesn’t work, and it doesn’t make sense.

The current gang of Republicans on Capitol Hill may be a discredit to true conservatism, but they do have their uses nonetheless.  In this case, I want a list of the companies that are feeding the Republicans, ensuring that they will continue to spew this nonsense.  Then we’ll all know who the vampires really are.

Well, yes. She IS that dumb.

I guess some pretty, glued-together bleach blonde made a big blunder in answering a stupid question at a beauty contest the other night.  And I guess the question had to do with gay marriage.  And I guess she was dumb enough to say, in front of an openly gay judge, that she believes that marriage only occurs between males and females.

I’ll leave aside any argument about gay marriage, except to say that as far as I’m concerned, marriage is a legal institution and not a sacred one.  At least, it usually operates that way in practice.

What I’m concerned with here is stupidity on top of stupidity.  Okay, so the pretty blonde made a stupid blunder by speaking whatever passes for her mind.  At least her opinion was genuine, and in the plastic world of beauty pageants, I support that because it is so rare.

It’s the reaction of the judge that irritates the shit out of me.

I have seen this idiot before, I think.  Isn’t he the one gushing about dresses and the celebrities wearing them while standing before a camera on the red carpet at some awards ceremony or another?  Ah yes.  The guy one wishes would get a life.

Even if he isn’t that particular guy, he’s definitely in that line of work.

Well, this judge turned around and blasted the blonde as a “bitch” on his blog.  Why?  Because she said something about gay marriage that was not nice, and this judge is gay.  He then said that she lost the title because she said what she said.

To which I say, wait a minute, asshole. 

You’ve just given the right-wingnuts ammunition in their current projection campaign.  You know, the one where they try to shout real loud every time their feelings get hurt in the hope that we will forget that not long ago, they were the ones hurting everyone’s feelings without apology — and often by doing the same things they now claim are being done to them.

Plus, a judge at a beauty pageant probably isn’t supposed to be judging what the contestant said, but how she said it.  I believe the judges are supposed to pick the least unintentionally hilarious response as the best.

Plus, it was a beauty pageant, not a summit conference.  The line may seem blurry to someone who makes a living gushing about dresses at awards ceremonies, but it is real nonetheless.

I’ll grant you that the pretty blonde could possibly be on the Republican ticket as the Vice-Presidential hopeful in about 20 years.  Maybe this subject can be brought up again then, along with pictures of her parading down the runway in the swimsuit competition.  Maybe some of this will matter then.

But in the meantime, what she said does not matter.  And neither, dear judge, do you.

Got News?

Somebody gets charged with killing somebody he contacted on Craigslist.  His fiancee tells reporters that he’s a nice guy.  (What Do You Expect, Part I.)

Somebody allegedly kills a child who was the playmate of her own daughter.  Her relatives tell reporters that she’s a nice gal.  (What Do You Expect, Part II.)

Somebody’s spouse disappears.  It turns out that another spouse of said person has died.  Yet another ex-spouse of said person tells the media that said person is not a nice person.  (What Do You Expect, Part III.)

A  politician accused of corruption leaves a courtroom.  500 reporters shout questions.  The politician says nothing.  (What Do You Expect, Part IV.)

Reporters camp outside of someone’s house for some reason, then report that the person is “in seclusion.”  (What Do You Expect, Part V, with a note: Uh, yeah.  When a bunch of strangers with cameras and microphones are parked outside your house for whatever reason, you usually don’t answer the door — if for no other reason than your neighbors are probably really pissed off about the whole thing and you don’t want one of them coming to the door too.)

Somebody wins a sporting event.  100 reporters shove microphones and cameras in the athlete’s face.  (Most challenging question: “how do you feel?” Most likely answer: “Good.”  Result: What Do You Expect, Part VI.)

Anyone see anything wrong here?  How about this: are reporters wasting time on trivia when they should be looking for actual news stories?

Just wondering.