Tuesday, April 18, 2006

We`ll Be Forced To Use Our Wings

A series of events caught my surprised attention because I didn't expect to, you know, remember a series of events. There were other minor things here and there. Here is a list compiled by a person both small, and covered with fur.

The amusingly misnamed Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005.

Katrina survivors are left high and dry.

The Senate upped our debt ceiling.

Rising gas prices.

The capper:

Oprah put the Oprah People on "America's Debt Diet."

The first four items suggest Andrew Carnegie's spirit has repented in the afterlife of his repentance on earth. Woo hoo! Congress has turned our democracy into a strictly feudal society and we can report to our new corporate owners for ID chips and stylish burlap sacks. I don't know much about economics but none of this can be good for ordinary, tax-paying American people.

The fifth suggests that Oprah has observed the same events and added a healthy dose of consternation over families and individuals bankrupting themselves to give the appearance of prosperity. When Oprah announced that Americans were drowning in debt and she was laying down rules and a challenge, I took notice. It meant there was blood in the water. The credit card companies' secret was out, and what's left of the middle class had one more chance to save itself.

In my office, there is a woman who's worked for the university for 43 years, and by rights she should be able to retire. She can't. Some years ago, Helen took in her granddaughter and paid for the upbringing of the girl while Helen's daughter re-married and had more children. Helen took out loans for her granddaughter's college education and was left with them when the girl dropped out. In fact, Helen buys groceries for the families of all three of her grown children and is paying for a substantial portion of her granddaughter's wedding. The more I hear about $400 veils and tiaras, the angrier I get about the happy couple that goes on vacations and saves not a penny. Helen is in poor health in her seventies. If something happens to Helen, her whole family will go down the crapper. This kind of dependency takes decades to foster, and though Helen's exploitation angers me, it's the life she's chosen. And it's not my life to fix.

But there are wrongs I can right, if I pay attention. About six weeks ago, I was going to write a post about how switching to the New Jersey Clean Energy program seemed to cost next to nothing when careful examination of my energy bill cast some doubt about who was supplying what to whom. I called PSE&G. They said I wasn't signed up. So I did. New Jersey Clean Energy is very friendly. Today I received an invitation to an Earth Day picnic in Egg Harbor on the 23rd. I...haven't got a thing to wear. Driving four hours by my lonesome to and from an energy conservation party seems a trifle outre.

So, for empirical evidence of what NJCE does to a gas and electric bill, Poor Impulsives will have to wait until I actually get one. The management apologizes for any inconvenience.

This afternoon, I received a bill from Kohl's, where I have a credit card for the sole purpose of improving my credit rating. The APR was 21%, so I called them up to see if they could do better. Last month, I forgot what day it was and magically incurred a late fee on an already paid bill but that's my fault and not the issue.

Tata: I have no need of a credit card with a rate of 21%.
Customer Service Rep: Everyone's got the same rate on the East Coast. That's what they're getting.
Tata: That's like saying you're only a little bit on fire, so why complain?
CSR: That's the standard but it doesn't matter because that's an annual rate and you pay off your card every time you use it.
Tata: It's the principle of the thing. Can you reduce the rate or no?
CSR: We can't but it doesn't matter to you.
Tata: It does matter how a person lets herself br used. I'll pay that late fee, and in a couple of days I'll call back and close the account.
CSR: Why would you do that?
Tata: Because we can do business on my terms or Kohl's makes no money from me whatever.
CSR: That's...different.
Tata: I sincerely hope this call has been recorded for quality assurance. You've been very helpful, thank you.

I sincerely hope you will do the same - not just because it feels good to get out of debt and feels great to not need your creditors. You don't need them! Pay 'em off and kiss 'em goodbye. At this point, the thing Oprah doesn't say but Congress clearly has is this: the only way to survive the current economic shakedown is to completely gut your current life, pare down your expenses and pay off your creditors. I'm doing it too. Not because Oprah said so but because when Oprah's talking about money, maybe it wouldn't hurt me to listen.


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