Trapped by debt

I have been reading for the past several hours stories about people trapped in debt by payday lenders, title loan lenders and aggressive student loan collectors. The worst case of student loan collection was in New Jersey where a mother received a notice after her son had been killed that she was liable for his student loans.

The state aggressively pursues people offering little information about loan forgiveness and instead sends collection agencies to turn your life upside down. There was also no limit on the amount that a family could borrow, way beyond their ability to pay. As a last gasp some people declared bankruptcy, which could not eliminate the debts, but it greatly reduced their payments.

The stories of payday loans were equally as horrific. I noted that some unscrupulous lenders affiliated themselves with Native American tribes to escape state regulations. And some of them began to mutate as soon as one loan product was outlawed another sprang up. Like the installment loans which offer longer payment plans but interest just as high as their predatory cousins, allowing the crooked lenders to squeeze even more money out of workers.

I consider payday lenders a kind of guinea worm sucking up workers’ blood. And being trapped by payday loans, title loans and high student loan interest could lead a person to desperation. I am going to start following the good guys in this battle and seeing what ordinary citizens can do. The guinea worms have set up fake grassroots organizations to comment on proposed federal regulations and they spread money around to democrats and republicans in campaign contributions. Remember, always follow the money. When crooked politicians say there’s already too much regulation, find out where their cash is coming from. Stand up.

The horror

I am reading a long article in Mother Jones magazine by Shane Bauer an investigative journalist who took a $9 per hour job as a corrections officer in a prison operated by Corrections Corporation of America. Bauer details under-staffing motivated by profit, neglect of inmates, neglecting inmates mental and physical health and conditions that would shock any caring person. Bauer looks into the company’s history arising from the swamp like a primordial beast. The opportunity for profit created by mass incarceration needs to be eliminated permanently.

I remember how republican lawmakers howled when President Obama began allowing prisoners access to federal Pell grants to help further their education.The idea was elegant in its simplicity: educated prisoners will be more likely to obtain jobs, and benefit society. There are other proposals aimed at eliminating some of the draconian 3 strikes and your out laws that helped fill prisons. But one of the first places to look for reform is by shuttering the private prison industry and driving it out of business. We cannot continue to abuse our fellow citizens this way.

I urge people to read the article by Bauer and other stories and join groups like the ACLU that are helping to defend prisoners.

My thoughts about the state of the union

color painted child hand

I liked most of what I heard President Obama tell us last night in his State of the Union address. Let me go through a brief checklist:

  1. Taxing the rich: check and double-check. The rich have made out like bandits and basically own the Congress due to a horrendous Supreme Court decision in Citizens United. I could tell by the sour expression on the face of Mr Orange, John Boner, that the President had struck a nerve.
  2. Middle Class tax cuts: again check and double-check. we need a much fairer system that rewards work. It was an excellent set up having a solid example of a woman and her family who are working hard and playing by the rules but need a hand up to help pay for things like child care.
  3. Diplomacy first and war only as a last resort.Checked  The negotiations underway with Iran over their nuclear program were cited as a prime example. Some members of Congress have proposed imposing further sanctions on the Iranian economy at a time when the chances for a diplomatic solution are at a critical juncture. The President promised to veto anything that Congress approved tightening the screws on Iran instead of continuing to talk.
  4. Marriage equality: the President has thorough embraced equal rights for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people at that is a first. The fact he did so openly in front of the Supreme Court justices seated there in front of him was not lost on anyone. Check and mate
  5. Free community college for 2 years to help low-income workers improve their skills and get better jobs. Paid for by the taxes on wealthy Americans, this common sense approach to investing in people helps sharpen the contract between Republicans who focus on increasing tax breaks for their wealthy donors and Democrats who work to aid the middle class. This proposal harkens back to the post World War II era GI Bill of Rights that helped send a generation to college and buy homes.
  6. I was very glad to hear President Obama take credit for the vast reduction in the number of American troops still in Iraq and Afghanistan. he inherited those wars from George W. Bush who conducted them without any thought about how to end them, whether we were prepared to fight and what a successful outcome would be. . This all results from American meddling. George W. Bush who conducted them without any thought about how to end them, whether we were prepared to fight and what a successful outcome would be. Iraq remains unstable and a miserable group of extremists called ISIL has taken over a large portion of Iraq and Syria. President Obama developed a strategy to mobilize and train soldiers from Syria and Iraq backed by American air support to help repel the invaders. He remains steadfast in his commitment not to be dragged into another long and drawn out occupation and he called for Congress to authorize the use of force, in other words, declaring war against ISIL. Whatever happens, he wants Congress to help own it. We are log past the debate over whether the initial invasion was a good idea; we are now talking about how to help repel a bunch of people from the 13th century.
  7. Related to the issue of military occupation is our obligation to help the veterans who sacrificed for their country get back on their feet. Dr. Jill Biden and Michelle Obama have been the public faces of the campaign to help employ veterans. How wonderful to have two such capable women as spouses for the Vice President and the President. This is part of a larger effort that includes reforming the Veterans Administration, modernizing the veterans health care system and ending homelessness among veterans.
  8. President Obama continues to push for infrastructure projects including roads, bridge, improved mass transit and other items. he has been doing this throughout his presidency including the passage of the stimulus package. We continue to hear about crumbling bridges and repairing and replacing them ought to be a bi-partisan issue including raising the gasoline tax enough to help cover the cost. However, the unfortunate thing about many of these Republican members of Congress is that they view any federal proposal as socialistic and don’t understand the concept of investing for the future.

There is much to admire in this list and so many other things that the president has proposed as being the right thing for America. I would have added the idea of completely legalizing marijuana and treating it like alcohol. We can save billions by moving away from the failed war on drugs which costs lives while imprisoning far too many people. The president’s policy on Cuba sounds like a solid idea, and he asked the Congress to pass legislation towards that end. However I would take it even further by returning the Guantanamo Bay to Cuba and removing that relic of gunboat diplomacy. Cuba should truly belong to the Cubans.

The other thing that must be said is that President Obama said he has no more campaigns to run because he won both of his presidential campaigns. Having said that, he has laid out a progressive vision that progressive candidates can use in future campaigns. i would say yes to a candidate similar to what President Obama articulated. Why not? i would have said much the same damned thing.

Sometimes, work can make things a lot worse

What I am writing will seem like so much common sense you will wonder why you never considered it. Working for a bad boss can make you sick. On my Facebook page, I recently sad that consumers should never tell their bosses about their mental health status. The reason is that I have seen too many ways in which it can backfire. I see it as one more thing that can be used against you when they decide for whatever reason that you have done something wrong.

I have worked for a lot of terrible bosses. This includes black and white people. One company I worked with in Waukesha was filled with racists who wanted nothing to do with African-Americans. These were people who did everything possible to change the rules to be able show you weren’t living up to their standards. People who talked about not wanting to have you around.

I worked for the of Milwaukee which had a bunch of racist white librarians. Who knows, some of them may still be there. They made it clear they didn’t want me around and ignored or minimized anything positive I had accomplished. In the Waukesha and Milwaukee jobs, I felt miserable. What makes a miserable situation even worse is when the company finally puts the knife in your back because they will twist the terms of your firing to make it seem as though you were the worst employee they ever had. After firing you, they may put you on the work schedule without your knowledge and then claim that because you did not come in, you were a no call, no show.

A former employer did that to me in a shabby attempt to deny me unemployment. Unemployment can be a lifeline for people while they seek out new jobs but increasingly companies claim that their former employees had somehow broken the work rules. One company used two shills to claim I had sworn at work, which was so unprofessional I needed to be terminated. At another agency, two seemingly sweet women business owners fired me for not changing the water bottle and then made up a ridiculous story. Of course, I was awarded my benefits.

I heard of a case in which someone was given an unsigned disciplinary note only to learn from unemployment that the company accused the employee of insubordination that had nothing to do  with what the person had been told. All of this to be able to fuck the former employee out of unemployment.

When you are mistreated, and told people can’t stand you, it hurts your self-esteem. It makes you wonder what you were doing there. It gnaws away at you. When you worry whether unemployment benefits will be there for you, it creates anxiety. It can worsen your mental health.

Be especially wary about the honeymoon period during which you seem to be praised to the sky. No one is really that good but also no one deserves to be walked on or lied to regarding their performance. It’s demeaning and anyone who would act that way should be unemployed to be able to get a taste of their own medicine. Consumers, beware.

The week I paid off my credit card and my revolving loan

I have long struggled with credit due to the fact I often worked for low wages. I had trouble holding onto the good jobs that I was able to secure. As a result I was looking for credit in all the wrong places. I got secured credit cards or other high interest cards. When I bought cars, I paid ridiculous amounts of interest. It was terribly stressful.

But I am happy to report that those days are over. Last year I was able to refinance my car down to a much more affordable rate. I also got a credit card and a revolving loan so that I would not need to go to my family or friends for small loans. It has been a slow and steady process making those payments but I finally did it. As of today I have no balance on either one. So I can breathe a little easier. I also paid off the balance I had been working on with my energy bill. Paying off old and new bills offers so many psychic rewards. Many of the people I assist have been in these same cycles of debt and never gotten out. These companies with their payday loans, unaffordable cars, too expensive furniture and calls to constantly hound you for money are there for one thing: to make as much money as possible off the blood and sweat of poor people as humanly possible.

If you work hard you can celebrate a week when pay off your revolving loan and your credit card. Remember what it takes to get to zero balance and remember to live within your means.


Buying nothing today

Workers' Memorial Day poster Pray for the dead...
Workers’ Memorial Day poster Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living. – Mary Harris “Mother” Jones (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


The so-called news will be filled with stories about eager shoppers buying whatever junk is in the big box retailers. I am not buying any of it. The only thing I really need is gas and perhaps a check up on the tires before I go out of town on Sunday. But I can do that tomorrow. I have been horrified reading about the way labor has been completely marginalized in stores. Software and just in time scheduling have allowed management to control workers’ lives to the point where people can’t earn decent wages or work second jobs because they’re always expected to be available. Like prostitutes, except for less money.  I remember considering applying for a job to pick up some extra cash and finding that I couldn’t limit my hours to one specific shift, for example nights. So I did not complete the application.


Right across the street from me is a house with a poster in solidarity with Wisconsin public workers, who were stripped of most of their collective bargaining rights by our infamous governor. However that law has been declared unconstitutional and workers are bargaining once more. The governor is infamous for his remarks about divide and conquer referring to the way he would turn private workers against public workers and then go ahead and screw private workers.


The workers in the stores may not know up to the last minute whether they are supposed to work. But who would devise a system like that? Certainly not anyone with an ounce of humanity. Not someone who deals with child care or other family issues. But someone who sees workers as widgets to be moved from here to there I need three widgets for 5 .3 hours in that department for this afternoon. I have noticed how few workers there are in the stores, too. All the while the stores report record profits. The stores open more and more locations for ever expanding profits not for us but some nameless investors.


The same prognosticators who were completely wrong about our just completed elections are already speculating about 2016. We don’t get a few days or weeks of actual governing. It’s like we’re being treated like rats on a treadmill. So if you control our economic and political lives, aren’t there ways in which we can resist, stop cooperating, not remain slaves? Yes, indeed, there are. Exercising those brains, such wonderful items. Think for a moment. What on earth could be so important that you need to trample over your neighbors at 2AM? Reporter, is it really news and shouldn’t you be home with your families instead of at the mall encouraging commercialism? For once, I’d like to see someone say, look, we’ve done that story too often, I’m not doing it any more.Today is enjoy time with friends and family not wasting it on junk day.Give the workers a break.




Workers should not be treated like we’re disposable


The thing that made the National Football League treatment of its officials so outrageous was that it continued the idea that workers don’t matter. You can just swap in somebody who has no experience in what you’re doing and get the same results. As the NFL learned, experience matters. When we work, we gain knowledge of how things should be. That’s the beauty of having a job. We help to make rules and then we correct rules that need fixing. We know stuff and we need to be treated like we do.

It doesn’t matter that the referees are highly paid professionals. What they do makes it possible for the even better paid professionals around them to enjoy their livelihoods. The other thing about this is that we have noticed in recent years basketball players stuck together during their protracted negotiations with the National Basketball Association. The referees did the same. There were no interviews with the regular refs asking to go back and take whatever conditions the NFL offered. What does this say about the power of unions? You may have to sacrifice in the short term for a long term benefit.

I heard the same narrative in the Chicago teachers strike. And it was exciting to see that after the infamous Act 10 was struck down by a Wisconsin judge, a school district quickly negotiated a deal with its workers. Workers matter, pass the word.