Monday, November 22, 2004

16 Tons, What do you get?...

Fascinating, yet all-too-often-heard story in the New York Times: The Plastic Trap: Soaring Interest Compounds Credit Card Pain for Millions. Perhaps one of the most interesting tidbits:
In the 1990's, Mr. Strachan traveled frequently from his home on the West Coast to Amsterdam and other foreign cities to meet with suppliers of tulips and exotic flower varieties that he distributed to domestic florists and wholesalers. He obtained a WorldPerks Visa card that rewarded him with seat upgrades through Northwest Airline's frequent-flier program.

"I used that card whenever I possibly could because of the travel benefits," he recalled, sitting in his living room before stacks of credit card bills, change-of-terms notices and other correspondence between him and several lenders. "Never paid a penny of interest."

He was such a valued customer then, he said, that US Bank, which issued the card, had extended him a high credit limit of $54,000 even though the card rate was just one percentage point above the prime rate. When the economy wilted after the collapse of the stock market in early 2000, so did Mr. Strachan's business. He began using his credit lines on that Visa card and a few others to stay afloat, paying smaller portions of his growing balances.

Then, in May of last year, US Bank sent Mr. Strachan a letter telling him that it planned to raise the card's rate to 20.21 percent, nearly quadrupling the existing rate of 5.25 percent.

"I wasn't late, and I didn't go over the credit limit, and I didn't write bad checks," Mr. Strachan said. A representative of US Bank told him he was using too much of his available credit, he said.

A US Bank spokesman declined to comment on Mr. Strachan's account.

The monthly interest charge on his $50,000 balance jumped from $209 in June to $756 in July and $808 in August. He eventually persuaded the bank to restore the original rate, but the bank closed the account, shutting off a key source of credit.

By then, Bank One, another creditor, had compounded Mr. Strachan's woes. He was carrying a balance of about $70,000 on one account when the bank started raising his rates, first to 19.99 percent in April 2003, then to 22.99 percent the next month, then to 24.99 percent in June. By October of last year, he was incurring a monthly finance charge of about $1,500 on a $77,000 balance.

"It was like they almost all had a little meeting in the back room and said, 'Let's get Strachan,' " he said of his creditors. "How does it serve them to treat people like that? Are they trying to force them into bankruptcy?"

Lawyers he consulted advised Mr. Strachan to take the easy - and increasingly popular - way out by filing for bankruptcy protection, but he refused. He is struggling to make good on his debts "because I have principles and ethics."

But the battle to dig out of a deepening hole has taken a toll. Mr. Strachan said he had lost 30 pounds and described himself as a "broken man."

Lately, he said, Bank One has periodically reduced his credit limit to a level just above his remaining balance, leaving him little margin for error. Some months, he said, if he were to pay only the minimum due, the ensuing finance charge would put his balance over the limit, triggering a penalty fee.

By doing that, he said, "They create their own little monster."

He was using too much of his credit? You gave him the credit! Why would you possibly give someone more of something than you wanted him to use?


This article compliments an episode of "Frontline" that's supposed to air this week about the same subject.

Don't get me wrong, I don't encourage people to take on debt this way, and I do think that there has to be some sort of consequence for people who thought that they could get free money with no strings attached. The credit card companies are exploitative, but that's their nature, and people should expect to get burned in some fashion if they aren't careful. It's like Las Vegas: The house always wins.

But that's not to say that there aren't people like the gentleman in the story above, who played by what they thought were the rules and got a raw deal.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Desire for Consistency is SO Petty

Ah, yes. It's time for "Blame the Red Staters!" They're a bunch of ignorant fuckers who don't know what they really need. It's not because, say, the Democrats had no way of appealing to the Red States, other than "You're unemployed, and the unemployed always vote for the Democrats, so let's keep that going, shall we?" Kerry had a plan for family farms, but never once discussed it during the debates. If you don't talk to these people, why would you expect them to vote for you?

* * *

Fuck the Red States? Fuck the Blue States. Fuck you, Jane Smiley, and Janet Sullivan, and Bill Maher who completely overreacted to some criticism by a man who knew what he was talking about, and to the bloggers and commentators who have never once lived in a Red State, have maybe flown over a couple, but suddenly knew just what these people think and believe, and it's all Jesus, all the time. This is not how we win. You're just wasting our time.

I have to admit, the notion of Jessa Crispin of Bookslut being upset by the arrogance of anyone is a situation so rich with irony that I don't dare to contemplate it for a prolonged period of time.

For someone who started out in Kansas (Red State), moved to Texas (Red State), and has ended up in Illinois (Blue State), I find it hard to get her point. If Red States aren't bad, then why did she leave? Hell, her posts about Texas in the days before she headed north make it sound like she couldn't get out of there fast enough. Her blog entry review of Thomas Frank's "What's the Matter with Kansas?" includes the line, "We would just like to make a statement. 'We're not all that bad.'" She then goes on to say that Kansas is full of enlightened people, like the doctor who runs the abortion clinic that was firebombed who, despite being shot at in an assassination attempt, still showed up for work the next day.

OK, Jessa, let me explain what it is about that that horrifies those of us born and raised and currently residing in Blue States: HE WAS SHOT AT! Sure, people get shot at in Blue States, but usually not for participating in legal activities.

Lead by example. Move back and show us how its done. Otherwise shut up and accept that it was bad enough to make you want to leave.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Thursday, November 04, 2004

2008...And Beyond

Maureen Dowd hints at the overreaching that has already begun in the Bush administration, mark two.

The thing to keep in mind when contemplating the kind of thoughtful influence that we blue-staters think that the Congress will exert on the executive branch is that Cheney says he isn't running in 2008. I don't believe him, but it means that there are going to be a lot of people jockeying for the chance to run, giving the current administration the chance to be the kingmakers. They'll hint at the idea of promising to bless the run of every Republican member of both houses, if only to see who'll work hardest at putting through a crazy-ass agenda so that the Bushies don't have to.

And if there's anything Bush knows, its about not working hard when you don't have to.

Vive La Resistance!

So yesterday, Leander Kahney at Cult of Mac posted his not-so-happy thoughts concerning the outcome of the election. Today, he posts some of the replies he received. I only skimmed through them, since I knew what was coming. Lots of support, quite a few saying 'Stick to writing about Apple/Macs"*, and the inevitable disagreements. This one caught my eye and then got under my skin:
"Peter Jennings described the core of the problem well: there is a cultural rift between the Liberal and Conservative states much like that between India and Pakistan. Neither side understands the other, and there are few in the middle. California and New York are out of touch with America. "

No, numb nuts, California and New York ARE America, just as much as any red state. More so, even, if you move away from that damned red-state/blue-state map. Let's put it this way: Wyoming looks huge, but only has 3 electoral votes. Know why? Because not a lot of people live in Wyoming! So while it looks like these little tiny enclaves of blue states are out of touch with these wide swaths of red that cut through the continent, those blue states make up 48% of the population. America is the people that make it, not the dirt on which it resides. You don't like it? Then YOU move. Meanwhile, we're going to try and drag your medieval ass into the 21st century.

And is it any wonder that those red states are clustered in the center of the country, cut off from the coasts, insulated from any influx of new people and ideas, locked in a little echo chamber and devoid of any of the vitality that makes this country great? You know, the kinds of places where it seems like a good idea to marry your first-cousin?

Look, even FOX News operates out of New York. For all their goings on and on about simple heartland values (which exist mainly in the form of pork-barrel projects that take tax revenue from the more affluent and prosperous blue-states and redistribute it to the red-states; free-market my ass), most of them wouldn't be caught dead in a red-state if they weren't paid to do it. And even then, only for a couple of days. Go ahead, write to Roger Ailes and tell him to relocate to Omaha. I'm sure he'll get right on it, you dumb bastard.

* - Why is it that the same people who keep imploring left-leaning individuals stop talking/writing politics and get back to whatever it is that they're supposed to do (as though we aren't all supposed to be politically informed and involved citizens) never quite feel the need to restrain themselves from political discussion?

Oh, right. Because they're all a bunch of hypocritical fucktards. Tough shit for them.