Monday, November 02, 2009
Help In Battling the Big Boys
Life's not easy when it is spent jousting with the Internal Revenue Service, Bank of America, and Anthem/Blue Cross.
As it is for many of you, it is thus for the highway scribe. The American struggle is a lonely one. It is a gauntlet run without the assistance of potent unions, affordable legal help, merciful tax rules, or simple health insurance policies.
For decades, policy has exalted the myth of our rugged individualism to the point where we have been left alone to tilt at behemoths against which we are no match.
Today, via the wonder of Web banking, Bank of America helped itself to $8.95 of the highway scribe's money for services that can only be guessed at. And that's because any time the scribe actually needs something from the bank, he gets nailed with a fee.
The relationship is simple wherein the bank serves as a brief holder and dispenser of the scribe's money while checks are deposited and quickly gobbled up by expenses associated with his humble existence. It's a pretty clean collaboration, which is why the free price originally offered for the account made sense.
One day, without any notice, the price went up to $5.95. highwayscribery called to find out what was up with that and got the stock response that such increases were included in the long, illegible text of a document he signed agreeing to a free checking account.
Which is not news to any of you.
Then, sometime after the Obama administration came into power, banks found themselves in the extremely rare position of having customer gripes funneled back at them through the White House.
In "Change New World," we expressed our initial shock at having the government do our bidding.
In "Credit Card Crookery" and "Credit Card Redux," this unique pleasure was extended, in particular, to the financial industry, which had it coming.
Of course, these companies didn't get richer than the rest of us by being stupider. Soon came their response to new rules reining in the parasitical abuses.
These involved arbitrary increases to most everyone's interest rates and general account fees. The companies also kept their promise on sticking it to credit cardholders who were on the up and up all these years.
That's around the time the aforementioned bump to $8.95 on the scribe's free checking account occurred. Bank of America stretched the terms of our original agreement by $107.40 per annum with nary a "howdy-do!"
Of course, on a sliding scale, a $107 heist is relatively small when compared with what happens when a bank does one the favor of paying a series of five $6 debit charges and then hits you for $35 on each.
Which is to say, the scribe absorbed it figuring nothing in life is truly free. Mired in a 1099 hourly wage reality, the effort in going over to the bank and getting the monthly fee reduced wasn't worth the time... financially speaking.
So it was with great pleasure that highwayscribery, in its ritual perusal of the "New York Times," on Tuesday, Oct. 2, ran into a charming slice of life on page B9 wherein Sen. Chris Dodd (D) of Connecticut was calling for an "interim freeze" on further fee increases of the type just detailed for your reading pleasure.
The author of the piece, Andrew Martin, by the way, does an excellent job on the myriad ways banks and credit card companies screw people. His pieces provide the consolation that you are not alone, and that someone with a decent megaphone is pointing out the abuses of usury to which we numbly submit.
But we digress with much territory to cover.
The article explains that Congress is only too aware of the run-up in fees and rates as banks interpret the interim between when the new law goes into effect, and now, as a window in which it’s okay to loot as many customers as possible.
A bill was recently reported out of the House Financial Services Committee that would close the window more quickly, on Dec. 1, instead of February 22 of next year.
Said Dodd: "At a time when families are struggling to make ends meet, jacked-up rates can quickly create crushing debt. People need to be responsible with their money, but they shouldn't be taken to the cleaners by outrageous fees."
What the Connecticut Yankee wants, in reality, is an old-time, 1970s-style price control. highwayscribery and others of his ilk love a good price control. They had fallen very much out of favor during the free market rage, but since that worked out about as well as it did in 1929, the price control may be making a comeback.
A fellow named Talbot from something called the Financial Service Roundtable said Dodd's desire is fired by the false notion that fees and interest rates are going up because of the new law to hold them down (if you follow).
Talbot added that the increases are because the economy is so bad and people are having such a tough time paying their credit card bills.
But that's why taxpayers gave the big banks and brokerage houses those big bucks bailouts, so it won't wash. And thank heavens the Democrats are in power because we'd never have gotten this kind of love from the Tea Party Party.
Not to suggest the Dems are somehow holy and sacrosanct when it comes to protecting the naked consumer. They sat around for years bending to the will of marketeers and cultivated a lot of our current-day problems during the disappointing days of President Bill Clinton.
And that's because they're not as good as Republicans when it comes to loving their base.
GOPers can rush into a hotly contested New York congressional race and back the Conservative Party candidate (against their own!) without fear of...well, fear of anything.
National Democratic leaders jumping into a local race to back a socialist candidate, on principal, would result in their being sent straight to hell, or jail or worse. So they tend to take their left-wingers for granted because they have nowhere else to go.
Then they sit around waiting for independents and Olympia Snow (R-Maine) to give them cover.
Even as they have benefited from the change in our political landscape, Democrats have been slow to truly internalize it, which is why the public option was dead a month ago and now it’s not.
We've had 11 months of the Obama administration, but are into about the third year of the Obama era during which conventional wisepersons have seen their predictions upended again and again.
And so it goes with the public option. In his most recent column, David Broder wrote that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) finally decided upon the public option to satisfy the "labor-left" of his party. That's the highway scribe, who will avail himself of the benefit as soon as it becomes available.
But it's also a lot of other people, not necessarily for unions or anything else "left," but affordable health care.
Broder, like many in his field, think the Obama election happened in some weird vacuum that represented no shift in Americans' political thinking.
Reid thought that, too, and so did a lot of other people in Congress until the President did some decent explaining, the debate groaned on, and the public option concept grew clearer to the electorate.
The numbers don't lie. Reid can interpret them and feels safe in putting the idea forward.
But he needs some help, because oft-times, the peoples' will is thwarted.
Here's a petition asking Democratic leaders to strip any Senator supporting Republican filibuster efforts of their chairmanship.
highwayscribery calls it the "Lieberman Petition."
Here's Reid's petition asking you to help him out on the public option.
Here's former Secretary of Labor under Bill Clinton, Robert Reich asking you, via video, to call your representatives on behalf of the public option.
Now, don't you feel better?
The "Times" ran an article on "Senate naysayer," John Cornyn (R-Okla.) who is hell bent on stopping health care reform, because of the "financial ruin" it represents.
The article says he has a big "No," sign behind his desk in the Hart Senate Building of which he is very proud. The reason why is a secret of Cornyn's own keeping, but highwayscribery is willing to bet his tightwad ways don't extend to arms purchases and war packages.
And we're betting a yahoo like Cornyn, effective as he may be in gumming up the legislative works, won't be able to stop this thing coming down the pike.
Once achieved, health care reform is going to make life with or without Anthem/BlueCross a lot easier for a lot of people.
All of which, dare we way, represents something of a pending victory for President Obama whose Paul Krugman noted, "The seemingly impossible dream of fundamental health care reform is just a few steps away from becoming reality, and each player has to decide whether he or she is going to help it across the finish line or stand in its way."
Which brings us to that final phantom, the IRS.
If you follow American politics very closely, you might come away with an impression that President Obama is not faring well. That people like him, but not his policies. That Republicans are poised for a comeback. You might have been caught off guard by news that he'd won the Nobel Peace Prize and swayed by those who say he has accomplished naught to deserve it.
In an Op-ed piece penned by U2's Bono in the "New York Times" a short while back, the singer attempted to explain why Obama is beloved in Europe, where they lack an entire network dedicated to the daily trashing of his reputation.
Among these virtues are Obama’s commitment to the Millennium Development Goals of halving world poverty by 2015. Obama, Bono notes, was not around when the goals were set, “but he’s there now. Indeed he’s gone further -- all the way, in fact. Halve it, he says, then end it.”
Such policies, wrote Bono, “are why I believe Mr. Obama could well be a force for peace and prosperity, if the words signal action.”
This does not mean the specter of the Internal Revenue Service and the crushing penalties it has visited upon the scribe's family will suddenly evaporate. Even Obama can't do that.
But, we hope, it means that WHAT we give to the government will be spent less on institutionalized violence and more on the promotion of peace, human harmony, and the vision of our better angels abroad.
And that's change you can bank on.