Thursday, June 10, 2004

TODAY'S TOP FIVE: Belligerent Ghouls Run Manchester Schools.

Saudi Arabia Hates Grandma A horrible side effect of the skyrocketing price of gas, according to this Christian Science Monitor article, is that it's beginning to force volunteer drivers with Meals on Wheels to quit. The program supplies meals to more than 1 million homebound elderly people every day, and now because gas prices are shooting past $2 a gallon, volunteers who deliver the food (and, just as importantly, the only daily human contact some of these folks get) are dropping out because they can't afford to pay the price of gas. Once again, I note the astonishing incompetence of the Bush administration: Surely, if any administration in US history could successfully manage oil issues, it should be one composed almost entirely of oil company executives.

Don't Break Out the Top Hat and Cigars Just Yet, Capitalists! Conservative commentators have been snickering lately at John Kerry's insistence that the economy is in bad shape, largely because for the previous two months, jobless claims have fallen. However, last week they "unexpectedly" surged, leading to the highest level in months. Unnamed economists, though, assure us that the economy is still healthy. That makes me feel a whole better. Really.

Memo to Troops: Exterminate the Brutes Sigh. Another day, another embarassing memo from the administration that urges US forces to ignore international law when it comes to questioning prisoners of war. This time it's a memo from Donald Rumsfeld urging American soldiers to "take off the gloves" when interrogating American Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh. Things have gotten so bad that Attorney General John "Boob-fearer" Ashcroft was actually moved to reiterate that the administration opposes torture. "I don't think it's productive," he said. "Let alone justified." Let alone.

Making Loan Sharks Look Like St. Ambrose Already today we've seen how the Bush administration has fucked over housebound senior citizens and jobless workers. Now let's look at how they fuck over poor people with bank accounts: The sinister, quasi-public Federal Reserve has ruled that banks are allowed to continue charging hidden "bounce protection" fees on small depositors who overdraft their accounts. What happens is that when you take out more money from your bank account than you have, the bank automatically covers the transaction but then imposes high fees - incidentally, the bank does this without telling you. The fees amount to super-high interest loans - in fact, the interest rate at some banks is 520 percent, which not even the evilest loan shark would even think of charging. A consultant to banks who do this urges an interesting strategy: open branches "in supermarkets, particularly supermarkets with a middle to down market and a family target market." Poor people, you see, are a good source to hit with these fees, because they often have expenses that run over their account balance. This is part of a general trend toward encouraging irresponsible habits: in the past, banks used to refuse to honor overdrafts to encourage people to use their checking accounts responsibly. Now, high interest loans in the name of "credit extension" are a source of profit, and so banks are urging people to go into debt.

Farewell to the Gipper, Thursday Edition: We're Taking Your Land, Yokel Yesterday I discussed Reagan's compassionate policy of forcing the mentally ill to leave hospitals, which greatly increased the visibility of the homeless in the 1980s. Another jump in homelessness came during what's known as the Farm Crisis. Basically what happened is that Reagan's free market ideology demanded that he repeal 50 years of successful agricultural policy by slashing subsidies to farmers and erasing tariffs. Since small family farms basically depended on the subsidies to exist, this meant one thing: the end of family farming in America. At the height of the crisis, 180 family farms a day were shutting down, with farms being foreclosed on by banks or the federal Farm Credit System, which sold off 2 million acres of seized land, mostly to big commercial farms. In the states where farming was a way of life, the rates of murder, suicide, alcoholism, drug use, child abuse, and homelessness shot upwards. The bad press from this, coupled with a burgeoning farmers' movement in the midwest and plains states, forced Reagan to change course: after years of cutting subsidies, in 1984 Reagan began adding billions in farm subsidies, virtually in an effort to turn farming into a public utility. Here's the problem, though: Nearly 70 percent of all the subsidies went to large commercial farms, which didn't need the money. So, in the course of two terms, Reagan managed to essentially bring an end to the American family farm in the name of the free market and at the same time betray the free market in the name of political expediency (you'll note that the author of this article is a conservative, and he considers the farm policy of the Reagan administration a disastrous failure).

-Consider Arms