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February 14, 2008

Credit Obama For This One

With the mortgage crisis vacuuming up the attention reserved for economic issues, it’s something of a relief to hear Obama addressing the credit issue that, I has an even greater impact on the lives of poor and middle-class Americans—credit card lending practices. (Of course, as far as the msm is concerned, there really is no crisis with credit cards since the issuing banks can apparently squeeze as much as they need to out of consumers to maintain healthy profits; this is to say that, a credit “crisis” is defined as lenders getting in trouble, not just borrowers).

Obama’s credit card bill of rights:

 Ban Unilateral Changes: Currently, credit card companies can unilaterally change the terms of a credit card agreement at any time for any reason with only a 15-day notice to the consumer. Barack Obama will ban these unilateral changes in credit card agreements unless companies have obtained written consent from consumers and have followed the rules and terms of the agreement.  Apply Interest Rate Increases Only to Future Debt: Credit card companies often apply increased interest rates to both new debt incurred by the cardholder, as well as previously incurred debt. Barack Obama will require increased interest rates to apply only to future credit card debt, and not to debt incurred prior to the increase.

 Prohibit Interest on Fees: Credit card companies often charge interest on transaction fees, such as late fees or paying a bill by telephone. Barack Obama will prohibit credit card issuers from charging interest on transaction fees.

 Prohibit “Universal Defaults”: “Universal defaults” are a practice in which a credit card company raises an individual’s interest rate based on failure to pay a different creditor on time. Barack Obama will prohibit this practice.

 Require Prompt and Fair Crediting of Cardholder Payments: Barack Obama will require credit card issuers to apply payments first to the credit card balance with the highest rate of interest and to minimize finance charges.

The entire white paper can be found here.

Posted by stevemack at 05:49 PM | Comments (0)

May 21, 2007

The Paradox of White Trash

In political discourse over the past forty-plus years, the terms “race” and “class” have often been conflated, confused, and distorted. Since at least the twilight of the Civil Rights Movement in the early seventies, social problems more properly understood as class-based have been defined instead as racial. Hence we treat poverty as, say, an African American or Hispanic issue—as though problem of poverty could be solved if only we could undo the impact of decades of racial discrimination.

Clearly there is a connection between race and class, a strong one. But in the end they are not the same. And to persist in thinking so is to short circuit any real attempt to understand deeply rooted systemic poverty—or to find meaningful ways to end it.

A good way to begin, I believe, is by looking an instance in which race and class are not treated as synonyms: “white trash.” The people we call white trash are a political paradox. They undermine the notion that wealth is a function of race. “These people,” we want to say, “have the advantage of skin color—why can’t they make something of themselves?” But of course, whatever advantage color may hold it’s not enough to put money in the bank.

With this in mind, take a look at Matt Wray’s short essay on the history of white trash culture. Here’s the centerpiece of the essay, but he apparently has longer treatments out in book form.

The term white trash dates back not to the 1950s but to the 1820s. It arises not in Mississippi or Alabama, but in and around Baltimore, Maryland. And best guess is that it was invented not by whites, but by African Americans. As a term of abuse, white trash was used by blacks—both free and enslaved—to disparage local poor whites. Some of these poor whites would have been newly arrived Irish immigrants, others semiskilled workers drawn to Baltimore and Washington, D.C. in the postrevolutionary building boom, and others still may have been white servants, waged or indentured, working in the homes and estates of area elites. The term registered contempt and disgust, as it does today, and suggests sharp hostilities between social groups who were essentially competing for the same resources—the same jobs, the same opportunities, and even the same marriage partners.

While white trash is likely to have originated in African American slang, it was middle-class and elite whites who found the term most compelling and useful and they who, ultimately, made it part of popular American speech.

Over the next forty years, the term began to appear more and more frequently in print. In 1854 white trash appeared in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s bestselling Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin—her defense of the abolitionist play that had garnered her international fame. Stowe devoted an entire chapter to “Poor White Trash,” explaining that the slave system produced “not only heathenish, degraded, miserable slaves, but it produces a class of white people who are, by universal admission, more heathenish, degraded, and miserable.” The degradation was due, Stowe argued, in part because plantation slavery locked up productive soil in the hands of a few large planters, leaving ordinary whites to struggle for subsistence. But there were other factors as well: “Without schools or churches, these miserable families grow up heathen on a Christian soil, in idleness, vice, dirt, and discomfort of all sorts. They are the pest of the neighborhood, the scoff and contempt or pity even of the slaves. The expressive phrase, so common in the mouths of the negroes, of ’poor white trash,’ says all for this luckless race of beings that can be said.”

Posted by stevemack at 03:27 PM | Comments (3264) | TrackBack

October 30, 2006

More Inequality

Take a look at Kevin Drrum's post on inequality, and especially the entire New Republic article by Jonathon Chait on the same issue (sorry, no link).

Posted by stevemack at 03:55 PM | Comments (4673) | TrackBack

Global Warming, Economic Freeze

You have to wonder whether the Stern Report out of Britain today, as dire as it is, will have any measurable impact on the American political climate. Sterns analysis is that climate change will have a devastating impact on the world economy (something akin to either of the world wars).

From the WaPo story,

Failing to curb the impact of climate change could damage the global economy on the scale of the Great Depression or either world war, according to a report issued today by the British government. The environmental devastation could cost between 5 and 20 percent of the world's gross domestic product, the report found.

The money quote from Stern, head of Britain’s Government Economic Service:

There is still time to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, if we act now and act internationally. But the task is urgent. Delaying action, even by a decade or two, will take us into dangerous territory. We must not let this window of opportunity close.

You’d think that that would be enough to scare even the most fact-averse neocon ideologue. But just a little deeper in the Post story we have the “equal time” quote from the other side—the visionaries at Cato:

"There's just a very small part of GDP [in industrialized nations] that's affected by weather in a direct or indirect way," said Jerry Taylor, a senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute, which accepts contributions from fossil-fuel companies. "It's very difficult to sketch out this disaster scenario."

One does not have to be either an economist or a scientist to see how tragically stupid such an observation is. He seems to be talking about climate change in the same way one discusses the impact of light showers on a church picnic. Climate change of the sort now predicted by mainstream scientists is obviously much more dramatic, and will likely have a more devastating ripple effect. If the Post wanted to balance their story, they might have done better to follow the Guardian’s example and offer up something from those who worry that Stern is too timid. (In fairness to the Post, we should thank them for pointing out the financial interests of their backers.) The Guardian writes:

It would be wrong to say that there is no scepticism from those blogging about the Stern review, both from those who feel his analysis does not appreciate the full extent of the peril the planet is in, and climate change sceptics.

Derek Deekster, on the Blog of Funk, writes:

"Believing an economist's prediction about the fate of the planet is like believing [Simpsons character] Charles Montgomery Burns has his employees' interests at heart. Stern's view on the state of the planet is far too limited in its scope. He says the global economy could shrink by "as much as 20%". This is ludicrous. He's not looking at the indicators. The global economy won't just shrink, it will totally disappear as we know it; 40% of species wiped out? Possibly more like 99%. Still, at least Sterns knows what REALLY scares people - cash - and it is a good thing that someone is talking the language of commerce from an ecological standpoint."

On this spectrum, it sounds like the “moderate” view is Stern’s.

Posted by stevemack at 03:41 PM | Comments (1348) | TrackBack

"A Whitman for our Time."
- Jerome Loving,
"Stephen John Mack's The Pragmatic Whitman: Reimagining American Democracy, [is] The most thoroughly informed philosophical reading of Whitman to appear in decades. Mack develops the premise . . . That Whitman shares with John Dewey a vision of democracy as a 'civic religion' in America, a profoundly secularist and progressive perspective.

- M. Jimmie Killingsworth, Texas A & M University
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