Thursday, May 14, 2009

Two decisions that affect every one of us came down from on high this week, and by “on high,” of course I mean Washington. First, the Senate is pushing hard for a bill that would more tightly reign in credit card companies, but would not place any limit on interest rates. Second, President Obama reversed himself on his recent decision to release photos depicting harsh treatments of suspected terrorist detainees.

Let’s talk credit cards first. No, better yet, let’s rant about credit cards first. Feeling gouged by your particular credit card company lately? That’s because you are. Right now, the credit card companies have almost full freedom in setting and raising interest rates. So what was 15% last month, can easily show up as 30% this month. The Senate is probably going to pass a bill that will impose some new restrictions on the company, but not in any way cap the interest rates. Here is what the bill will do:
• The bill will ensure that any existing balance you have cannot be subject to a raise in interest rate. However, if you are two months behind in your payments, they will be able to raise the rate. (You might wonder how this makes sense: If you can’t pay what you already owe, how does it help them to collect if they add more on top of it, right?)
• Instead of surprising you with a raise in your interest rate, credit card companies will have to give you 45 days notice.
• If you open a new credit card account, the company will not be allowed to raise your interest rate for at least one year.

Consumer advocates and many credit card customers were hoping for much more stringent new rules. Don’t hold your breath. I see the new bill as a recipe for economic disaster. For example, if a college student must put his or her tuition on a credit card, and the company can still raise the interest rates at random, the student will likely be in serious debt for years, with the debt compounding monthly. If an unemployed homeowner must put his or her insurance and/or taxes on a credit card, simply in order to be able to hold on to the property, they end up in the same boat as the financially beleaguered college student. Where is the concern for the average citizen at a moment in our nation when unemployment is at its highest rate since 1993, and home foreclosures have never been more numerous? The Senate is soft pedaling this issue to keep the banks quiet and calm and to lay the economic downturn squarely at the average citizen’s doorstep. Unacceptable. Write some letters.

The second decision this week has to do with the release of those abuse photos. You know the ones, like those you have already seen from Abu Ghraib. Without rehashing old details, the government reached an agreement with the American Civil Liberties Union some time ago to release photos showing alleged prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib and six other prisons. Last month, President Obama announced his administration would not stand in the way of releasing those photos. This week, the President reversed himself, saying that releasing the photos (which were taken in the early years of the Iraq war) could endanger our troops and possibly turn up the heat on the already existing anti-American sentiment worldwide.

So much for transparency. We are a visual culture. We are now fully accustomed to being privy to information and visual representations of world events. Who is President Obama to now deny us that freedom? And if he indeed plans to block the release of those photos, what about the above-mentioned agreement? Well, it turns out the Justice Department has informed the United States District Court in New York, which had backed the A.C.L.U.’s request, that it would appeal the previous ruling that would have ensured release of the photos. Unfortunately, Obama’s reversal smacks of censorship. And if appearances count, it appears that it is the American citizens who are being denied access to these photos. Why? Because it has already been stated that the photos are not even as incendiary as those that can already be seen all over the Internet of Abu Ghraib. So what is the real point of withholding photos of lesser impact than those we have already seen?

Here is the essential point: If the government can deny you the right to see photos of war time activity that is distinctly against acceptable American behavior, what else can you be denied? Can you be denied documents that have previously been available through the Freedom of Information Act? If that sounds far-fetched, just weeks ago it would have seemed just as unlikely that you would not see photos the President of the United States promised you could see.

Write some letters, people. Do it now.

1 comment:

Joan Eisenstodt said...

First Paul, "on high" does not mean "Washington" -- it means the Federal Government and there is a strong distinction. We DC residents can't even kvetch to anyone who has a vote in Congress about any of this -- and that's wrong. So please - change the perception -- when you mean the Feds, say so but leave us out of this.
Secondly -- people seem to have become so unable to speak out in any way. It astounds me that through the last 8 years, people were silent. And now, ALL this, no one is writing or demonstrating or doing a thing. (Ok.. I don't count the tea-bag protests since that has nothing to do with anything.)
I do write to my non-voting Delegate to the House. I even write to Senators who ARE mine bec. they have a say in all that happens to we DC-ers but they write if at all and say their constituents come first. Oh how confusing.