I wanna chew on your coat about something. It's not the usual strangelands ranting and raving, but there's some creepy stuff going on in this country that's taken me from a slight chapped ass to a full on case of sphincter leprosy, so stick with me.
I'm talking about government of the people for the people becoming government of the lobbyists for big business and it's our fault for not paying attention. To do my part, I thought I'd go ahead and throw a few tidbits of info your way.
Quick aside. If you have trouble visiting any of the links included in this article, go to bug me not and enter the website address for a username and password.
There's a legal term, Imminent Domain. Basically it means that if the government needs your property to custruct a public project that will benefit society as a whole, they can seize it for the public good. Creepy, I know, but it's kept our interstate highway system from looking like a plate of spagetti. It's been abused upon occasion. As a New Yorker the name Robert Moses comes to mind, but that's a story for a different day. For the most part it means that some things the government needs to do might inconvienence people, but, to paraphrase First Officer Spock as radiation was melting his face, "Sometimes the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few." I can live with that. That said, I wasn't a Native American being kicked from one desert wasteland to another back in the 1800's for the public good. Of course, we killed most of them so from a legal standpoint, that's a non-problem.
Well, today, the supreme court of our United States decided that it's okay for the government to force you to sell your house if some faceless corporation says they need the land. Now, instead of, "Look buddy, we need a hunk of your farm so we don't have to run our highway 100 miles south to Kalamazoo, you gotta leave" we get, "Look buddy, you've got some nice property here. A strip mall sure would make us a lot of money, don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out."
Now I'm a capitalist. I've got no illusions. I vote with my feet and my dollars. A corporation wants to tear down some widow's house to put in another "Big Pete's Pie and Pimples", if they can offer her enough money to sell, so be it. But that's not what's going on here. Some suit wearing greed monkey can now go to the mayor of Lipshitz Texas, drop a hunk of cash in his election fund and tell him they really need to get rid of Aunt May and her 5 orphans because she's got a great location for a Starbucks. Sure, they have to pay her whatever the local appraiser says her place is worth, but as a true capitalist, to me fair market value is whatever she'll sell it for. I guess that's just too much trouble for your friendly neighborhood Multinational Corporation.
Credit card companies. We all know they are the lowest of the low. Blood sucking leeches trying to suck the last drop of blood from your body. That's capitalism folks, get used to it cause we're stuck with em. A person can't live in this country without a credit card. I know. I tried. I graduated from college, never had a credit card. Didn't need one, didn't want one, and I'd seen how much trouble they can cause. Before I moved to NYC I tried to buy a condo in Dallas. I was making plenty of money, and the real estate guy wanted to sell it to me, but I didn't have any credit history. They wanted to know if I was a good credit risk. I said, "Sure, I've never been a cent in debt in my life, I have a good job, and I have a stack of cash in the bank." No deal. Wasn't good enough for em. So be it. I moved to NYC and got a credit card.
There used to be an upper limit on what credit card companies could charge for interest. Somewhere around the amount your local Mafia Retailer would charge you before he broke your knee caps. That law was overturned back in the 80's. Delaware in particular. Ahhhh... now you know why all your credit card bills come from Wilmington. There is no limit anymore. They can charge whatever they want. What's that? You signed an agreement with them? Too bad. 15 days notice is all they have to give before changing that deal. But wait, you paid a bill late? No not a credit card bill, any bill, gas bill, electric bill, trash bill. Well guess what, your credit card agreement is now null and void. No fifteen days notice, no nice letter in the mail, just a big fat 35% interest rate on your next statement.
But that's not what I'm here to talk with you about. I'm here to talk to you about late fees. Have you ever noticed that your credit card bill seems to always be due on the weekend? That it seems to be due on different days of the month? That it seems to be due sooner each year? Well, here's a couple of little factoids for you.
The first nugget.
In 1998 the government removed all restrictions on how much credit card companies can charge for late fees. Oh, so that's why late fees have skyrocketed from 10 bucks a pop to 35 and up.
The second nugget.
It's a little known secret that credit card companies are no longer in the business of loaning money, they are in the business of late fees. For the first time ever last year, many major credit card companies made more on penalties than they did on interest charges (sorry couldn't find a link, saw it on a PBS special). Basically, those ultralow interest rates are just there so you'll sign up and pay your bill late. They don't care about the interest rate. Banks are the same way. They make more money off of free checking accounts than pay checking accounts. Check the overdraft charges. It's all there in black and white.
A couple of horror stories for you.
I pay my credit cards online. It's easy. You go to the site, click the button, and it's done. I pay my fleet bill online. It's due on the 14th, I pay it on the 12th. BOOM. They hammer me with a late fee and up my interest rate from 9.99% to 24.99%. Say what?? I call them up, they tell me that in the fine print it says I have to perform the transaction online at least 3 days in advance. I was flabbergasted. I checked the site, and sure enough, there on some lonely page buried deep in the darkest depths it mentioned that little policy. I asked what would happen if I'd mailed them a check on the due date (two days later). Apparently I would have been ok. I told the lady, fine, I'll pay it off now, and once that clears I'll cancel the card. On my next statement they'd reversed the late fee, and dropped my interest rate down to 10.99. I haven't used the card again.
A close friend of mine had a checking account. She likes to keep her money in a savings account so she can earn interest. Smart girl. Well, she paid for overdraft protection, meaning that if her checking account went negative, money would automatically get transfered from her savings so she wouldn't get charged. Well, she went overdrawn by about 1.50. She knew it, but she didn't worry about it. Overdraft protection right? No sweat. Well, her check was returned. 35 dollar returned check fee. Her account was labeled overdrawn. 35 dollar overdraft charge. She freaked out, went up to the bank and asked them, "What the Hell." They said, and no bullshit, that she wasn't overdrawn enough for the overdraft protection to kick in. Had to be at least 25 bucks overdrawn or something before they'd transfer money from her savings. I mean GOOD LORD MAN, that's just evil. She closed the account.
At least the government is watching out for that sort of behaviour. Oh, wait, my mistake, the government legalized it.
And that brings me to the third little piece of legislation that you might have missed.
Recently, credit card lobbies succeded in getting the U.S. bankruptcy laws changed. See it used to work like this. Credit card companies had a room full of statisticians crunching numbers to see how much money they could loan somebody before default rates would sink them. If they screwed up and loaned too much money to a dead beat, the dead beat declared bankruptcy and the credit card companies didn't get their money back. Sure, the whole job of a credit card company used to be weighing risks vs rewards for themselves, but that just became too much trouble. They didn't like risking any of their cash, so instead of hiring more people to help them make good investments they dropped a few million into a stack of politicians re-election funds and had the laws changed. You know that bankruptcy thing? That last resort you could turn to when you got fucked? Gone. No more. If you make any kind of money you can no longer get out from under. The credit card companies own your ass. You pay them until the day you die, no oops, no second chances, just bills till the grave. So are all those credit card offers you're getting in the mail starting to make sense? Are all those incredibly low interest rates seeming less like pennies from heaven and more like a chance to wreck your life beyond all repair? Well, they oughta be.
As I said, I'm a capitalist. I have no illusions about business. The job of a corporation is to exploit you, suck you till your dry. That's fine. It's evil, but it works better than anything else. Capitalism has made this country the wealthiest on earth (don't believe what you hear about The Netherlands). I like it that way. I like knowing that I can go out there and through grit, determination, and fast talking, make myself a rich S.O.B., but I have a serious problem when our government becomes another bought and paid for employee of big business. Credit card companies are in the business of making loans. Real estate developers are in the business of buying and selling real estate. Our government should be there to make sure they play fair.
You can't blame XYZ Corp for wanting to buy politicians and fatten their already fat wallets. It's in their genes. It's what they're supposed to do. But politicians aren't supposed to get bought. They are supposed to protect us. They're supposed to by government of the people for the people. They aren't supposed to take away peoples homes for strip malls and they aren't supposed to make us indentured servants of huge credit card companies too lazy to do their math.
But that's just my two cents.
If you made it this far, thanks for sticking with me and I hope you learned something.