At Issue

“There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”  ― Isaac Asimov

Confessions of a Payday Lender

Payday Loans

FEDERAL REGULATORS EARLIER this month unveiled new rules aimed at reining in payday lenders and the exorbitant fees they charge. Now expect to hear a lot of what one payday lender named Phil Locke calls “the lies we would tell whenever we were under attack.”

The new rules announced by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau are relatively straightforward, if not also a disappointment to some consumer advocates. A payday loan is typically a two-week advance against a borrower’s next paycheck (or monthly social security allotment, for that matter); lenders commonly charge $15 on every $100 borrowed, which works out to an annual interest rate of almost 400 percent (600% in Virginia). Under the CFPB’s proposal, lenders would have a choice. One option would require them to perform the underwriting necessary to ensure that a borrower, based on his or her income and expenses, can afford a loan. Another option requires them to limit the customer to no more than six of these loans per year (and no more than three in a row).

The state-by-state interest rates customers are charged on payday loans. The rates are calculated based on a typical $300, two-week loan. Source: Center for Responsible Lending

The state-by-state interest rates customers are charged on payday loans. The rates are calculated based on a typical $300, two-week loan. Source: Center for Responsible Lending

Read more at THE INTERCEPT

Need help? Contact the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

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America’s Water Crisis Extends Far Beyond Flint

Crisis: Clean water is a basic human right. Why are we charging so much for it?

Clean water is a basic human right. Why are we charging so much for it?

America’s water crisis: as with all environmental injustices, this one falls especially hard on non-whites.

Aging infrastructure + warming climate = rising prices. That’s the basic conclusion of a new report showing that clean water is getting more expensive in cities across the country — in some cases, far more expensive than what poor residents can reasonably afford for what should be a basic human right.

Rates vary hugely across the country — water will cost you five times as much in Seattle as in Salt Lake City, for example — but on average, the cost of clean water and wastewater services has risen 41 percent over the last five years, according to an examination of national data by the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, a human rights advocacy organization.

The new report blames rising water costs on a variety of factors, including:

  • Pollution from industry, agriculture, and fossil fuel production, requiring more communities to clean and treat their drinking water. Climate change, by increasing salinity and algal blooms, makes the problem worse.
  • Population growth and drought in the arid Southwest and elsewhere (the new normal due to climate change), which means water is traveling farther to reach consumers, increasing costs accordingly. Drought surcharges can bring a family’s bill above $300 per month in some places.
  • Increased rainfall from climate change in the East and Midwest, which causes flooding and fills water systems with pollution. Detroit struggles with overflowing sewers during heavy rainfalls, while New York City has to discharge sewage into its harbor after a storm. These situations can require costly upgrades to wastewater treatment facilities.

As with all environmental injustices, this one falls especially hard on non-whites. “Today, one in every two African-American Michiganers live in cities that violate their human rights to water and sanitation,” the service committee reports. Detroit and Flint, whose water problems have made national news over the past year, have majority black populations, as does Lowndes County, Ala., which has no functioning sewer system.

From an article at GRIST

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Fully Loaded

Inside the Shadowy World of America’s 10 Biggest Gunmakers

Gunmakers_Beretta_630[1]They are all white, all middle-aged, and all men. A few live openly lavish lifestyles, but the majority fly under the radar. Rarely is there news about them in the mainstream media or even the trade press. Their obscurity would seem unremarkable if we were talking about the biggest manufacturers of auto accessories or heating systems. But these are America’s top gunmakers—leaders of the nation’s most controversial industry. They have kept their heads down and their fingerprints off regulations designed to protect their businesses—foremost a law that shields gun companies from liability for crimes committed with their products.

With this investigation, Mother Jones set out to break through the opacity surrounding the $8 billion firearms industry and the men who control it.

Many of these companies’ top executives have donned the jacket bestowed to members of the Golden Ring of Freedom, an exclusive club for $1 million-plus donors to the National Rifle Association. Several have been the focus of criminal investigations and lawsuits over everything from arms trafficking and fraud to armed robbery and racketeering.

As the debate over gun laws has grown louder, sales have soared. In the year following the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, the three largest gunmakers—Sturm Ruger, Remington Outdoor, and Smith & Wesson—netted more than $390 million in profits on record sales. Shares in publicly traded Sturm Ruger and Smith & Wesson jumped more than 70 percent that year, benefiting institutional investors such as Vanguard, Blackrock, and Fidelity. The hedge fund that owns Remington Outdoor—maker of the assault rifle used in Newtown—saw the annual return on its investment grow tenfold.

Read more at MOTHER JONES

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You bet your ass I’m biased

Ripped Donald Trump signs lay on the floor at a rally in Radford, Va., Feb. 29, 2016.

Ripped Donald Trump signs lay on the floor at a rally in Radford, Va., Feb. 29, 2016.

“We don’t run cigarette ads because they are hazardous to our health, and we won’t accept Trump ads for the exact same reason.” So said Buzzfeed CEO Jonah Peretti in announcing his company’s decision to dump its ad deal with the Republican National Committee because of Donald Trump’s comments about Muslims, Latinos, women, and the free press. Even though this is a business and not an editorial decision, the move will undoubtedly raise the issue of bias in journalism and increase the political vitriol aimed at the media. But here’s the thing; while journalists are expected to be unbiased in the delivery of facts, they should and must be biased against hate and prejudice. Historically, Americans have depended on that bias. Unbiased reporting doesn’t mean checking your frontal lobe at the door. I am biased in every link I share and every word I write. I won’t keep pertinent news from you and I save my most politically-motivated writing for other platforms. But the issues raised by Buzzfeed go way beyond normal political discourse. Americans can disagree on the best ways to deal with terrorism or improve the economy, but when the discourse clearly sinks into hate speech against our fellow citizens, it’s time to draw a line in the sand, not stick our heads in it. No one is going to build a wall between me and my ethics. If that means I lose some subscribers, so be it.

via NEXTDRAFT

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Democratic Leadership Is Missing In Action on Mass Incarceration

The Republicans are set to vote on an RNC resolution to reduce mass incarceration. The measure asks for “reforms for nonviolent offenders at the state and federal level” and urges “state legislators and Congress to…provide substance abuse treatment to addicts, emphasize work and education, and implement policies that cut costs while obtaining better outcomes.”

Finally, Democrats may say, Republicans have woken up to mass incarceration as a 21st-century civil-rights struggle, joining what has for years been a progressive fight. Not so fast. If the Republican Party makes criminal justice reform a priority, they’ll be the first major party to do so, ever. Democrats need to catch up. Adding ending mass incarceration to their own platform would mark a significant step, boldly breaking with their past politics.

Criminal justice reform should be a simple step for a party that believes in progress, equality, and inclusion. It was the Democrats who fought for civil rights in the last century. If the Democrats do not raise their voice, history will record that it was the Republicans who led the civil-rights struggle in this one.

Recent Democratic platforms haven’t merely been silent; they have actually called for policies creating more imprisonment, and then applauded the result. Mentions of progressive alternatives are hard to find.

Learn more at the BRENNAN CENTER FOR JUSTICE

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