Sunday, November 21, 2004

Sunday Reading

  • Credit cards are the financial equivalent of narcotics – easy to use and impossible to kick. And now the peddlers are making it tougher for even their best customers.

    When Ed Schwebel was whittling down his mound of credit card debt at an interest rate of 9.2 percent, the MBNA Corporation had a happy and profitable customer. But this summer, when MBNA suddenly doubled the rate on his account, Mr. Schwebel joined the growing ranks of irate cardholders stunned by lenders’ harsh tactics.

    Mr. Schwebel, 58, a semiretired software engineer in Gilbert, Ariz., was not pleased that his minimum monthly payment jumped from $502 in June to $895 in July. But what really made him angry, he said, was the sense that he was being punished despite having held up his end of the bargain with MBNA.

    “I paid the bills the minute the envelope hit the desk,” said Mr. Schwebel, who had accumulated $69,000 in debt over five years before the rate increase. “All of a sudden in July, they swapped it to 18 percent. No warning. No reason. It was like I was blindsided.”

    Mr. Schwebel had stumbled into the new era of consumer credit, in which thousands of Americans are paying millions of dollars each month in fees that they did not expect and that strike them as unreasonable. Invoking clauses tucked into the fine print of their contract agreements, lenders are doubling or tripling interest rates with little warning or explanation. [New York Times]

    I had an account with MBNA for a few years – they financed my first computer. I wouldn’t go so far to say they were unscrupulous, but I can tell you that the experience was unpleasant; they changed the rules every six months, they shortened the grace period, and their customer service people were terse and rude on the phone. Besides, I discovered after the fact that the company was a huge contributor to the RNC. I know large corporations do that; in fact I’m sure my current credit card carrier does too – oh, the horror! – but MBNA just pissed me off, so I was happy to pay them off and to write GET BENT in the memo line of my last check to them.

  • Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo has been all over two stories this week. First is the DeLay Rule; the change in the Republicans’ House rule that allows their leadership (guess who) to keep his post if he is indicted. Josh has been keeping a running tally of which representatives voted for the rule change and who did not. There’s also a blog called The Daily DeLay that keeps track of The Hammer’s doings. Josh has also been keeping up with the Istook Amendment which was slipped into the budget bill in the dark of night and promptly exploded in the face of the Republicans. This provision allowed for certain members of Congress to look at anyone’s tax return and do whatever they liked with the information. Here, via TPM, is the actual text:

    Hereinafter, notwithstanding any other provision of law governing the disclosure of income tax returns or return information, upon written request of the Chairman of the House or Senate Committee on Appropriations, the Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service shall allow agents designated by such Chairman access to Internal Revenue Service facilities and any tax returns or return information contained therein.

    When the Democrats found that little nugget of Nixonian spyware, they beat the crap out of the Republicans on the floor of Senate with it.

  • Intelligence reform is dead, thanks to the right wing. Even last-minute pleas from Bush and Cheney couldn’t budge them. Enjoy the ride on that tiger, boys. Meanwhile, Bahgdad is in turmoil and now the Bush administration is rattling their sabre against Iran and North Korea and their nuclear programs. It’s not even Thanksgiving, folks. We’re not even three weeks past the election, and I feel like Indiana Jones in the mine car.
  • So let’s lighten up a little. Michael Frayn is back on Broadway with a new play, directed by Michael Blakemore. Frayn, the author of many plays but most notably Noises Off and Copenhagen, has written Democracy. The collaboration between a director and a playwright has always been of particular interest to me – I wrote my doctoral dissertation on the subject – and this article on the two Michaels is a fascinating insight to the creative process.
  • Football picks: Seattle over Miami; Minnesota over Detroit.

    The puzzle awaits.