Three to Get Ready

Through Changing Times, Occupy
Wall Street Remains on Message

While the third anniversary celebration of the Occupy Wall Street movement was a subdued affair last Wednesday at Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan, it’s fitting that Strike Debt, one its offshoots, was scoring a major win on its efforts to buy and cancel debt.
As a couple of hundred activists were back at the place where the protest was launched, on Sept. 17, 2011, the group’s Rolling Jubilee fund announced that it’d cancelled some $3.9 million in private student debt it’d acquired.
Raised by donations, the amount covered unpaid tuitions owed to one of for-profit Corinthian Colleges‘ schools, and so far, represents the only effort being made nationwide to alleviate an estimated $1.3 trillion owed in student debt by some 40 million Americans, no thanks to Congress or the federal government.
Not bad for a movement that has refused to abide by a national political agenda, has no recognized leadership, and despite declarations to the contrary, remains one of the sole voices still seeking justice for millions of Americans penalized by the Wall Street excesses that brought the world financial system to its knees in 2008.
While the movement as a whole is not exempted of criticism for its at times fractionary strategies, and internal divisions, it’s managed to remain on its progressive message Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

The Dignity Collectors, Colltales

If you’re an American resident, you may live in a household that owes $15K in credit card debt. If there’s a mortgage, its outstanding debt may be $150K. And if there’s one or more college students sharing your last name, then there’s another $33K each to be added to the bill.
Thus, without counting living expenses, just the fact that you live in the world’s richest country means that you’re also one of its most indebted human beings. No wonder that, amid a troubled economy, there’s a seemingly unbeatable business, reaping profits: debt collection agencies.
Now, the data above may be gathered via Internet under the grand total of 5 minutes or less. No need to add insult, reminding those who owe money how hard it is to even make it, either. There’s a crucial, invisible, component to this dire calculation, however, that most are unaware of.
And what average Americans don’t know about their own debt can actually ruin them, and it’s actually already doing it, stealthily. That is because, pinch your nose and hold your breath, no matter the amount that they owe, it has already being sold over for pennies on the dollar.
This devious aspect of consumer debt is the hidden side behind the moralistic rhetoric of Dickensian concepts such as ‘living within one’s means’ and ‘personal responsibility.’ For these are all sound and truthful only and for as long as those who owe money remain indebted.
The financial system, and in fact the entire economy, rest on the notion that debt is as much a factor of their liquidity as earned income and capital invested. But while for a government, the amount of debt is often an indication that it’s being used to build and provide infrastructure so to support the functioning of society, for an individual, such amount is indicative of his or her ability to receive more or less credit.
Contrary to concerns of the ultra-rich, it’s not a government’s highest priority to be debt-free, as long as it’s under a well-determined balance of spending and output. But for individuals, such condition is often the key to opportunities for material improvement and security. As it happens, unlike governments, one can’t issue debt to cover bills, so if you owe money, you need to pay it up, and fast.
Unfortunately, while a different set of rules applies to the wealthy, for the rest of us, falling into debt is often a condition that leads to even more indebtedness, and even social ruin. So we may struggle and skip meals to pay that bill on time, and not having to be burdened by higher rates.
That’s when that utterly non-productive but highly profitable industry comes into play: the collection business. Most people think that its job is to contact debtors on behalf of creditors, work some kind of plan, collect a commission for their service, and be on their way. Since there are plenty of people behind on their bill payment schedules, one would think that’s enough of a business. They’d be wrong, of course.
A debt collection agency’s main purpose is to purchase people’s debts, and they do so, legally, by pennies on the dollar. (To find out exactly how much less than the principal they’d pay for your debt is one of those Internet searches that will take way more than five minutes to know.)
But the moment they purchase your debt, you have, in practice, two creditors coming after you: that agency, and your original credit card company, or mortgage holder, or online gaming provider, or retailer of specialty bras, whoever you owe money to. While the agency may offer you a deal, your original creditor will most likely not, adding instead, a stiff rate and penalties for your non payment.
Now, at this point, while you scramble to sell stuff on eBay, or contact that distant relative/friend who owe you money, in order to come up with some to quench the monster, you debt is already on its way to change hands yet again. The agency that’s still sending you letters proposing you to settle, is also negotiating to sell that debt, again at a discount, to yet another agency, which may, you guessed it, come after you too.
You’d ask, how can this be possible, that one bill’s default has potentially generated two others, and you’re being charged the original amount even as third-parties are buying it at a discount? Well, it’s a loophole or it’s a way for the system to feed itself, even as it pressures you to stop feeding yourself, so to speak. Also, by now, you may be wisen up to the scheme and thinking, why can’t I buy my own debt for pennies too?
You can’t, as a matter of fact. Or you could, if you become, yourself, a licensed debt broker. We don’t know how are the job prospects on that market, so it’s up to you. Continue reading

Vive Le Crap

Happy Century, Woody Guthrie.
Happy 223rd Anniversary, France.

This land is your land This land is my land
From California to the New York island;
From the red wood forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and Me.

A Bastille Day to make flag-wavers and phone-in idealists proud.
A time to sing La Marseillaise with the fervor of V.I.P. donors and Monday morning quarterbacks.
Go ahead, have the Riccard, the Champagne, the Bordeaux.
Soon enough, we’ll be back to the Budweisers of our discontent.
For now, though, even Fox News will mention
the Dust Bowl Troubadour and that son of a Kenyan,
in the same sentence with the socialism they’re supposed to embody.
After all, if there’s a revolution apace, it’s for the right to party.
This land may be yours, but the ground is for fracking.
The Gulf Stream is still there, but loaded with oil rigs.
Corporations are now people, my friend,
and may text you to ask for your Voter ID.
But let’s give Woody the final word of the day.
For while only a few are bound for glory,
we’ll be all better off once someone does give a damn.

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway.
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.

Places to Go

A Killer Garden, the Voodoo
Market & New Noodle Museum

Here are three places to go this weekend, after you stop by at the Zuccotti Park to support the Occupy Wall Street movement: stroll through a garden, go to the market, and visit a museum.
There are few occupations in life that can lead you straight back to your roots other than to be a gardener. For some, there’s nothing like sowing seeds to the earth and building a palette of colors and fragrances with exotic flora.
It’s also one of the reasons why backs are hardly straight these days, and chiropractors and orthopedic specialists are constantly on demand.
Something else entirely happens at Alnwick Poison Gardens in England. As its name leaves little doubt about it, you bend down and smell the flowers at your own risk.
Hand-picked by a certainly glove-clad English duchess, Continue reading

Thanks, France

Statue of Liberty,
125 Years Old Today

Dedicated on October 28th, 1886, this gift from the people of France became New York’s biggest symbol and helped singed the U.S.’s global brand of tolerance and benevolence to citizens of the world.
How much that still holds true is the subject of a sometimes passionate but often sad debate over our nation’s diminished role as a champion for global peace and freedom for all.
Still, it’s as good a moment as any to meditate on what’s happening to our character and moral compass, our destiny and what we really want to be our legacy to future generations.
When our best qualities, our longing for social justice and prosperity for Continue reading

Useless Two Cents

The Man Who Mistook an Apple
for His Personal Gift to the World

Steve Jobs was so immense that his wake will be forever littered with happenstance and irony, and glittered with flashes of the genius he was generous enough to share during his life.
To begin with, his sense of timing was impeccable. After all, the biological son of a Syrian died in the year that will be known for its Arab Spring, an event widely documented by gadgets he devised.
In fact, much of Jobs’s legacy will last for generations solely on the underground footage that registered mass movements for freedom around the world, and probably helped to change it too.
Even the current mushrooming protest against Wall Street’s greed and lack of accountability has greatly benefited Continue reading