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

Used Books

City Fined for Destroying
Occupy Wall Street Library

It was an act of truculence from the NYPD, just as the many arrests and illegal surveillance of members of the Occupy Wall Street movement, which even at its peak, remained an example of restrain as far as protest rallies go. An act that, even after two years, has no defenders.
A mistake, it’s now agreed, that will cost New York City, or rather, its taxpayers, $230,000, which includes reparations for the destruction of the volunteer-maintained People’s Library, plus the small windfall that lawyers, hired by the movement to litigate the case, have earned.
OWS has gone through many phases since that spring, summer and fall, still the only consistent act of rebellion against the widespread multi-billion malfeasance, perpetrated by Wall Street bankers, that brought most of the world’s finances to an almost standstill. Not quite, though, as it turned out.
Neither the U.S. government has managed to punish a single character in that tragic operetta, which bankrupted entire nations across the world, along with millions of working families. On the contrary, as far as anyone know, those same bosses have since thrived and are, in fact, wealthier than ever nowadays.
That’s why the raid of Zuccotti Park, in Lower Manhattan, was so out of proportion then, and utterly absurd now even as it recedes in time. While the city was wasting its highly trained law enforcement agents, their very own pensions were too being raided by the same chiefs who’d called them to clear the park in the first place. Not even Machiavelli could’ve envisioned such a mascarade.
The movement has found other venues to remain relevant since that fateful year. Whether it’s found its true calling by purchasing and forgiving debt of common citizens, as in the Strike Debt initiative (see on your left), or just being instrumental whenever needed, as it did during the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, it’s a discussion for another post.
In this context, beating the city in a lawsuit is not even its greatest achievement. But it sure helps. Thinking about that, here’s what Colltales published about the raid, and the chilling message it sent to some of us, to whom any time libraries and books are destroyed, burned, or dumped, the hair in the back of our neck stands up. Enjoy it.
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Booking the Future

When Libraries Are Destroyed,
Bad Memories Drive the Protest

When the New York Police Department raided the Occupy Wall Street encampment in Zuccotti Park, Lower Manhattan, last Tuesday, destroying its free makeshift library, it unwittingly joined a sad and brutal roll call of fanatics that stretches back many centuries.
The NYPD became just the newest member of an infamous club that includes the Taliban, German Nazis, the Khmer Rouge, Imperial Japanese forces, The British Empire, the Catholic Church, and an assortment of despots and bloody occupation armies across time, religions, cultures and ideologies.
All at one time or another, have been singled out by history for being responsible of the destruction of millions of books. The volumes will never be recovered or even identified, and those who did away with them exist now mainly under the general banner of scourge. But what has been lost to mankind certainly goes way beyond their horrific deeds.
Even before Gutenberg officially invented the modern print, books were perceived as a threat to power. Thus, the way the police confiscated the 5,000-odd volumes covering a wide array of subjects that had been donated to the OWS movement, was but a small, albeit not new, Continue reading

Rolling Jubilee

Occupy Wall Street Moves
On To Erase Consumer Debt

Among much of what was left unsaid during the U.S. presidential campaign is about rampant consumer debt. In fact, credit card bills and student loans are two of the major components weighting down household budgets throughout the land. And Washington is just not in the same page about this.
Now a group within the Occupy Wall Street movement took the issue at heart and came up with the Strike Debt initiative, the ‘people’s bailout,’ which aims at purchasing large amounts of consumer debt for pennies on the dollar, and simply erasing it, all done according to the law.
As it turns out, the feared collector agencies do exactly that: they buy out debt from banks and credit card companies and then proceed to pressure those who contract it to pay it back by all means necessary, and for top dollar. Strike Debt, however, will pardoned these debts at no charge.
The ballsy and creative movement has already been raising funds by donations (they’ve already close to $200,000, which roughly would equate to $4 million in debt), and is holding a telethon, at Le Poisson Rouge in the New York City Greenwich Village. It’s called Rolling Jubilee, after the biblical expression of forgiving those who owe you.
The event, a variety show with a number of local celebrities and activists, will be streamed live on the Web, and it’ll do much to inform a Continue reading