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Wednesday
Sep202006

Top Ten Ways We Got JACKED by This "Conservative" Government

Top Ten Ways We Got JACKED by This “Conservative” Government

1) The Bush administration has created the biggest budget deficit, debt, and trade imbalance EVER while cutting funding for domestic needs like education, Medicare, and Medicaid.

2) The administration’s tax cuts favor the rich, no matter HOW you look at it. About 87 percent of tax benefits go to the 14 percent of households with incomes above $100,000. Households with incomes below $75,000—three-quarters of ALL households—get just 5 percent of those benefits.

3) Bush signed the largest corporate tax break package in two decades, $136 billion. After World War II, corporations paid half the cost of running the federal government. Today, they pay 7%.

4) The price of gas doubled under Bush. The top oil companies earned $25 billion during the quarter that Hurricane Katrina struck compared to $50 billion for all of 2004. Former Exxon-Mobil, CEO, Lee Raymond got a $400 million exit package.

5) The Republican Congress has voted against every minimum wage increase, except the one linked to getting rid of the estate tax for the rich. The real income of the average American household has fallen five years in a row.

6) House Republicans chopped education programs by $14.3 billion – the highest cuts EVER. College tuition has increased 34 percent since Bush took office.

7) Since 2001, average monthly health care premiums have risen from $342 to $603. Annual deductibles have DOUBLED. Today 46 million Americans (including 8.4 million children) have no health insurance, an increase of 6 million since Bush took office.

8) The Senate approved the BIGGEST bankruptcy law in a quarter of a century. Republicans voted AGAINST protecting senior citizens, the seriously ill, military members, veterans, and employees.

9) In 1983, the Greenspan Commission put Social Security measures in place that created a $1.7 trillion surplus in the system. This administration borrowed against and cut that to $153 billion while blaming citizens for not dying young enough.

10) In 2005, Americans paid $4.3 billion in withdrawal fees at ATM’s and $16 billion to credit card companies in late fees alone. Republicans have suggested no remedies.

STOP GETTING JACKED. Vote your wallet on November 7, 2006!

Friday
Sep152006

Defending Ourselves from the Fee-Snatchers

This post also appears at the Drum Major Institute blog site.
A lot of us don’t spend much time looking through our bank or credit card statements. I’m guilty of this oversight myself. But, it’s amazing how many fees and finance charges creep in there if we don’t. It’s kind of like moths in your closet – you may think that if you scrape one off your wool sweater, you’re done. Truth is, there’s never just one.

So, yesterday, I got some mail from my bank, Chase. It looked like my regular bank statement. Since I don’t really focus on which day of the month they send it to me, it didn’t occur to me at first that it wasn’t my statement, even though, it was decidedly thinner. When I opened the envelope, I discovered it was a notice. Because my balance had fallen below some constantly moving level, they were going to charge me an additional $32 dollar that month. Or, they wanted more money to service less money. That’s like paying more at a restaurant to get an appetizer instead of a main course.

This reminded me of a conversation I had with my old bank, Citibank, a couple weeks before. I received a notice from them saying that I owed $18.81. Fine. But, it was on an account that I had closed two months earlier. I call. I get bounced around. I speak to someone and ask why I’m receiving a charge on a closed account. First answer was, maybe it’s a charge from before you closed the account. (Note: I closed the account originally, because it had less than a $1000 balance and they were charging me $9.90 a month for me to let them keep my money there.) Second answer. Oh, you did close the account two months ago. We’ll take care of it.

The point is: we pay more in fees if we have less money in a bank. We pay more in interest on credit cards if we are individuals instead of corporations. In fewer other worlds, do we pay more to have less serviced. The bank’s logic goes: clients with more money deserve not to have to pay for our services. Clients with less money should pay for the fewer services that lower amount will require.

With credit cards, many of us have been slapped with $39 late fees, for being late a day, and possibly had our interest rates jacked up from 10% or 20% to 29.99% for the same reason. This is completely arbitrary on the credit company’s part. And unregulated on the part of the government.

One of the women in JACKED, Margaret Bustell, is a Connecticut mother of three whose rates were hiked because she neglected to make one payment on time (for the first time in her life), having just undergone a Cesarean to deliver her third child. She said, “I would like to know, when they’re already charging interest and hiking up my rate – just exactly this whole situation costs them an additional $39 a month.”

Fact is: it doesn’t cost them. That’s why the credit card industry nabbed $16 billion in 2005 in consumer late fees. I don’t yet know the total profit the banking industry makes on additional charges to people with lower balances, but I’m working on it. Meanwhile, check your statements and bug these institutions when things don’t make sense. It’ll save you money. (Second Note: Margaret wanted me to mention that since then, she switched card providers and paid off her balance. Her new son, Henry, is doing very well.)

Wednesday
Sep132006

Let's Change Health Care before it Kills Us

I posted this today on the DMI blog site:

It's happened to everyone lucky enough to have health insurance. You walk into your regular doctor's offices for the millionth time. Someone at the front desk smiles and says,

"Any changes to your address? Phone number? Same insurance?"

You answer, "No. No. Yes."

A pause. Then the dreaded response, "I'm sorry, but the doctor doesn't except that insurance company anymore."

You feel two things. One: guilt, because you're supposed to have a real insurance company he or she will accept. Two: panic, because you immediately ask yourself, "How am I supposed to pay for this visit, let alone the lab fees that will ll be mailed in two weeks? And, why does it cost $600 dollars a pop to test a Petri dish anyway?"

Worse, you get that sick feeling in your gut. It has a voice that starts to wonder, "Hey, what if there is something REALLY wrong with me?" And, in that split second, you're in the same situation as the 46 million people in this country who don't have insurance.

I used to work at companies that offered me insurance plans. Then, I became a freelance writer and joined those 46 million Americans that don't have health insurance (15% in the past 5 years). I called around for individual plans and got some very confused agents on the other line (when I could get to a human). I joined the National Writers Union, for the same reason many people join unions, to get health care. Even that process was fraught with waiting time and regularly changing plans.

As I traveled the country, talking to people about their wallets and lives, on this issue there was almost complete agreement. Our health care system is screwed up. It's not just a matter of rich vs. poor. No matter who you are, you worry. As do the people in the health care chapter in JACKED: a mother with two autistic children whose mental needs aren't covered, a Hollywood producer with a stellar plan who still wants to retire to Canada, a struggling actor with SAG coverage when he can find jobs -and when he can't - it's no job topped by no insurance, and a NY based woman who went from middle class to destitute because of medical problems for which lack of coverage nearly killed her.

It's wrong. We need to stop settling for mounting premiums and diminished coverage. We need to scream about cuts to Medicare and Medicaid to balance a budget boated with corporate tax cuts that make this okay in the eyes of Congress. We need a plan that cuts the insurance middleman or regulates their breadth of coverage, so no one has to choose death over treatment. Not in a country as rich as ours.

We need to stop settling for mounting premiums and diminished coverage. We need to scream about cuts to Medicare and Medicaid to balance a budget boated with corporate tax cuts that make this okay in the eyes of Congress. We need a plan that cuts the insurance middleman or regulates their breadth of coverage, so no one has to choose death over treatment. Not in a country as rich as ours.