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Nation Topics - Economy

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A massive natural disaster reminds us why people worldwide have been engaged by the issue of debt relief.

Ajit Singh

Ajit Singh, who graduated from Punjab University and obtained his PhD at the University of California, Berkeley, is professor of economics at Cambridge University.

Pakistan today is a complete mess, a sad example of what can happen when a once-favored "frontline state" is reduced to the status of a cold war orphan.

If only George W. Bush were content to merely market nights in the
Lincoln Bedroom or issue some questionable pardons, the public would be
much better off. But no, the new President has taken the art of selling
White House access to an unprecedented level, with disastrous
consequences for millions of Americans.

While the media remain obsessed with trying to prove that the Clinton
Administration was on the take from corrupt fat cats, the Republicans
have unashamedly turned over the federal government to the very
corporations that purchased the dubious Bush electoral victory.

MBNA, the world's biggest credit card dispenser, which hooks your kids
with teaser rates that can quickly balloon to usurious proportions, is
about to get the bill ending bankruptcy protection for little people that
it had in mind when it led the Bush campaign contributor list.

The big corporate givers are all lined up with wish lists in hand.
"There is no longer any countervailing power in Washington; business is
in complete control of the machinery of government," former Labor
Secretary Robert Reich concluded recently.

In less than two months, the Administration has reversed workplace
protection for repetitive stress injury, betrayed Bush's campaign promise
to curtail industry carbon dioxide emissions that cause global warming
and revved up plans for Arctic drilling. For all of his belief in a free
market, the President used the club of the state to force mechanics at
Northwest Airlines back to work.

Not that congressional Democrats are without blame. As the bipartisan
support for the bankruptcy bill demonstrated, corporate contributions are
as compelling as they are pervasive.

Bush has indicated he's eager to sign this atrocious bill--an
identical measure was vetoed by President Clinton--which strips away a
century of protection for small debtors. No longer will holders of
unsecured debt, who average $22,000 a year in income, be given a fresh
start. Under this bill, such debtors who file for bankruptcy will not
have their debt eliminated under the easy-to-use Chapter 7 protection of
the Bankruptcy Code but will be forced to file a repayment plan under the
more rigorous Chapter 13. That places this unsecured debt on the same
level as all other claims requiring payment, such as child support and
alimony, leaving divorced spouses and their children competing with banks
for a claimant's paycheck.

At the same time, Congressional Republicans refused to accept any
amendments restraining the marketing of credit cards or the regulating of
usurious interests rates charged. These largely unscrupulous banking
practices that prey upon the young and gullible, with billions of mailed
solicitations a year, is what often leads people into bankruptcy.

What in God's name is going on? The Bible warns against these money
handler who charge usurious rates: "Let the exacting of usury stop" is
commanded in Nehemiah, where the word "usury" is applied to loans among
Israelites bearing a mere 1 percent interest. On a more secular note, the
California Constitution had placed a 10 percent limit on interest, but that has
been watered down by court decisions.

By those historical standards, the current average charge of 18 percent on
credit cards, often rising more than 24 percent, certainly qualifies as
"exorbitant," to use Webster's definition of usury. Indeed, the common
practice of the banks would seem to fall under the category of criminal
loan-sharking, but just try to find a prosecutor with the guts to
classify a leading bank as organized crime.

The analogy with loan-sharking is valid, given that both credit card
companies and gangsters loan money to people who have no means of
repayment. The gangsters compel repayment with the threat of physical
force, and banks will now have the legal intimidation of the courts.

Because Clinton vetoed this legislation, the banking industry weighed
in heavily for Bush in the last election. MBNA employees accounted for
$240,000 in donations to Bush, compared to $1,500 to Al Gore. The bank's
chairman hosted a $1,000-a-plate dinner for Bush, and the bank
contributed a nifty $100,000 to the Bush inaugural festivities.

Financial institutions, which gave Republicans $26 million in the last
election, have been rewarded with quick passage of the bankruptcy bill
that Clinton rejected. The big difference this time around is that Bush
has already stated that he will sign the bill, so there is no pressure on
Congress to build in even the most minor consumer protections.

This year alone, a million Americans, many of them young people
suckered into financing their education by maxing out their credit cards,
will attempt to use the bankruptcy court as a second chance, only to find
the door closed. They should thank Bush the next time an election rolls
around.

During the past two decades, as random financial crises visited various fast-growing economies, we have become familiar, after the fact, with the profile of a developing country that's headed for

Remember those great scenes in Blues Brothers 2000 that evoked the urban grit and soul of southside Chicago and Joliet? Well, sorry.

With this issue, we resume our 'What Works' series, which explores effective projects and strategies for improving people's lives through progressive social change.
      --The Editors

Seattle changed many things, and one of them is American labor. Nothing lifts the spirit or one's vision like winning.

8,5000 Years of LEAD...
79 Years of LEADED Gasoline

BC:

I first heard about Powers Hapgood while working at the United Mine Workers, an organization he had tried to change fifty years earlier.

Blogs

Progressives worry that Obama is being "coy" about the authority he has handed the consumer champion. They're right to worry, and to keep the pressure on.

September 17, 2010

The massive job losses between 2008 and 2009 were surely the biggest factor in the record poverty numbers the Census just reported. But those harrowing months were neither the beginning nor the end of the problem.

September 17, 2010

Fifteen million Americans are unemployed. Poverty is up. One in four homes is under water. It's time for a serious debate on the nation's economic direction.

September 16, 2010

In different ways, both the neocons and the unions are demanding that the Obama administration take strong action to punish, isolate and sanction China.

September 15, 2010

While no one said that reforming Wall Street would be easy for President Obama, the big-money backlash against his proposals has been surprisingly swift and screechy.

September 9, 2010

Solid progressive Senators like Russ Feingold, the sole Senate vote against the Patriot Act, are feeling the lash this election cycle because of misplaced anger from the Tea Partyers and Republicans decrying "big government" while enjoying cash from big business.

September 8, 2010

Unions are in trouble. But if only we'd listened to them more often in the past, America wouldn't be in the predicament it's in now.

September 1, 2010