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October 24, 2014

ebola fever: catch it!

Hi, I'm in the middle of three or four longer-type posts that I'm really looking forward to!  You may have noticed that 2014 has not exactly been the year of the byline, so I'm trying to scrape and crawl my way into practice, which means a bit of treating this site like I used to back before I was lucky enough to get published.  So I'm shooting for a bit of a higher frequency, and a little more depth.

But in the meantime, let me tell you all (especially you family members who are no doubt fielding calls from the great aunts in WV), yes, there is a case of Ebola in New York City.  The hospital in which the patient is under care is pretty much right on the opposite side of Manhattan from my office.  The trains he rode on Tuesday night, the A line and the L line, are trains that I take too!  Williamsburg, where he went Tuesday, is a place I go too, but Gutter, the bowling alley he went to, is one I haven't been too.  And the High Line, which he apparently visited thinking he was a German tourist, is about a hundred yards from where I sit now.

But, knowing that, you should all know this too: I'm going to be fine, and the city is going to be fine.  There were no surgical masks on the train this morning, and the High Line was as clotted with people as it usually is.

NYC is bad at a lot of things (and it's especially sad knowing that half the friends I make eventually leave, as this place can chew people up and spit them out), but dealing with shit like this is one of the things we're good at.

We got this and we'll be fine.  I mean, we're not Dallas, for Christ's sake.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:08 AM

October 22, 2014

what we call capitalism now

Happy/sad to see this story on the front page of the NYT — well, sad to see it but happy to see it noticeably displayed.  Here, have the lede:
Over the last two years, lawmakers in at least eight states have voted to increase the fees or the interest rates that lenders can charge on certain personal loans used by millions of borrowers with subpar credit.

The overhaul of the state lending laws comes after a lobbying push by the consumer loan industry and a wave of campaign donations to state lawmakers.

Aww, quid pro quo in action yet again.  I guess it's the kind of thing that we're inured to, yet another story of the Banks predations being tacitly supported by the legislative recipients of the lobbying money of the Banks.  But the facts of it are pretty galling.  Take for example, this, the stated logic from one of the lobbyists:

In pushing for the changes, the North Carolina Financial Services Association, which represented OneMain and Springleaf, as well as lobbyists for dozens of smaller, locally based lenders, argued that lending caps had not been updated in years. "Rents are higher, electricity costs more, gasoline costs more," the group's lobbyist, Richard H. Carlton, said in an interview. "But the rates hadn't kept pace."

I guess it is the job of the lobbyist to hide the actual reason behind the request — "Please let us take more money from poor people who have no other recourse" — but the argument that the interest rate on a loan should somehow be tied to inflation is insulting on the face of it.

To be honest the story in this is not that state houses are capitulating to legalized loan sharks.  The story is that these companies exist in the first place.  What's the going rate for one of these subpar-credit loans?

OneMain, which has 1.3 million customer accounts, offers its borrowers unsecured, installment loans with interest rates of up to 36 percent. Borrowers pay both interest and principal in monthly installments until the loan is paid off, usually within a few years. But many of its borrowers refinance their outstanding balance.

About 60 percent of OneMain's loans are so-called renewals -- a trend one analyst called "default masking" because borrowers may be able to refinance before they run into trouble paying back their current balance.

Yeah so basically the Banks have found that if you tailor services to the disadvantaged, it only takes a couple bucks to buy state legislatures to pass laws making it perfect legal to screw them over.  And it's the perfect crime, because this is America, and Americans think of poverty as some sort of moral failing, so there will be no rush to protect or stand up for the poor.  Comparing companies like OneMain to loan sharks may be unfair to loan sharks.

If this is at all acceptable in free-market capitalism or whatever you want to call this system we live under, then we are monsters.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:21 AM