Credit Card Reform

This is surprising:

In a blow to financial firms, the U.S. Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday signed off on legislation that seeks to ban abusive credit-card practices.

While consumer groups and key Democrats lauded the committee’s move, the 12-to-11 vote in favor of the controversial bill was very narrow. Thus, the committee’s chairman, Sen. Christopher Dodd (D., Conn.), said he would work with lawmakers–both Democratic and Republican–to modify the bill and broaden support before the bill hits the Senate floor.

“My intent is to work things out and move forward. This was going to be difficult–I knew that,” Sen. Dodd told reporters after the vote. “This is the first step in a process.”

The bill seeks to prohibit card issuers from unfairly raising interest rates. It would prohibit applying rate increases retroactively to existing balances and it seeks to boost consumer disclosures. Additionally, it seeks to limit certain over-the-limit fees and interest charges and creates new requirements for card issuers looking to extend credit to youngsters under the age of 21. The amended bill would also make it easier for gift-card recipients to use the cards.

The bill probably doesn’t go far enough to rein in the abuses, so it will be interesting to see what the House does.

Also, “youngsters?”








Sometimes you get a bad king

You all know the joke (repeated in “Annie Hall”) about the two old ladies at the diner, where one says “The food here is terrible, I can barely eat it” and the other says “I agree, and the portions are so small!” That’s exactly how I feel about the New York Times. The paper can be unbearably pretentious, it employs MoDo and Frank Bruni, it botched its WMD reporting terribly, it created the whole Whitewater story out of whole cloth…and it makes me want to cry to think it might disappear!

There have been a couple of really good articles about the head of the Times, Arthur Sulzberger Jr. (“Pinch”), over the past few years, both titled “The Inheritance”, one in the New Yorker and one in Vanity Fair. Both quote Gay Talese saying of Pinch that “Sometimes you get a bad king.”

As you probably know, there is no record of serious papers in the United States being publicly owned. The Washington Post, New York Times, and, until recently, the Wall Street Journal are or were owned by the Graham, Sulzberger, and Bancroft families respectively. Pinch essentially inherited the paper from his father. And for all the hand-wringing about the inevitable death of newspapers, his poor business decisions are certainly a large part of why the paper is on death’s door. Michael Calderone summarizes the Vanity Fair piece pretty well:

Bowden makes his case by talking to those who know Sulzberger and running through a laundry list of past mistakes: buying back $1.8 billion worth of stock (that’s now junk); not diversifying enough (unlike the Washington Post buying Kaplan); passing up on investing in Google and Amazon; the $1.1 billion purchase of the New England papers (including the Boston Globe).

Make no mistake: if the newspaper industry were still doing well, some of these decisions would have been good ones. But it seems colossally stupid not to have hedged by investing in other areas rather than doubling down on the newspaper business. I wonder, though, if his doubling down on the newspaper business was really so different from the Big Three doubling down on SUVs or banks doubling down on CDOs and mortgage-backed securities. It’s tempting to think that the serious newspapers were doomed because they could exist only as long as the dynasties that ruled them kept producing effective monarchs. But maybe these hereditary monarchs aren’t really so different from the monarchs produced by our supposedly more meritocratic executive system.

That said, this quiz (from Arianna) comparing Pinch Sulzberger to George W. Bush is a classic.

You decide: is it W or is it Pinch? [Answers below]

1. Which of these men had a father who was considered stupid but is now thought to be a genius compared to his son?

2. Which of these men is currently on the defensive about his support for an incompetent woman in his office?

3. Which of these men may have to ask for the resignation of a subordinate because of a mounting scandal?

4. Which of these men appointed as his top deputy a loyal member of his father’s regime?

5. Which of these two men’s favorite TV series was “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” and even owned a watch with the inscription “Live Long and Prosper”?

Read more








Defining normal

I don’t find this especially offensive, but it is interesting to hear Michael Barone define normal (via WM):

This is similar but not identical to a point I’ve often made: that the Republican Party is the party of people who are considered, by themselves and by others, as normal Americans—Northern white Protestants in the 19th century, married white Christians more recently—while the Democratic Party is the party of the out groups who are in some sense seen, by themselves and by others, as not normal—white Southerners and Catholic immigrants in the 19th century, blacks and white seculars more recently. Thus it’s natural for the Democrats to be more fissiparous.

The notion that Republicans are good, upstanding God-fearing Amurkins while Democrats are left-wing, communist, Jewish, homosexual pornographers plays an important role in America’s official political discourse. It’s there when candidates are criticized for not wearing socks and for vacationing in Hawaii. It’s there when other, more patriotic candidates invite reporters to barbecues at one of their many houses.

Also, feel free to make up your own jokes about public bathrooms, adult diapers, dildos, and wet-suits here.








Random historical note

Some of my best friends are from the small West Indian nation of Guyana (although Guyana is on the South American continent, its history and culture are much closer to that of Trinidad than of, say, Brazil) and they emailed me the obituary of Janet Jagan, a woman from Chicago who became president of Guyana and who died a few days ago at the age of 88. It’s an interesting story:

Born Janet Rosenberg in 1920, she was a student nurse at Cook County Hospital in Chicago when she met Cheddi Jagan, a dentistry student at Northwestern University and the eldest of 11 children of an Indo-Guyanese family of sugar cane workers. His grandparents had arrived in British Guiana from India as indentured laborers.

They married, despite the fierce opposition of her parents, who were Jewish, and in 1943 they moved to British Guiana, where he established a dental practice and they both became involved in radical politics. In 1950, they founded the People’s Progressive Party, and in 1953, in elections under a new Constitution providing greater home rule, Dr. Jagan became chief minister. But the Jagans’ Marxist ideas aroused the suspicions of Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who sent warships and troops to topple the new government. The Jagans were jailed.

[….]

Dr. Jagan returned to power in 1957, and Mrs. Jagan became labor minister.

Again, their politics, along with their admiration for Fidel Castro’s revolution in Cuba, caused alarm in a foreign capital — this time, Washington. According to long-classified documents, President John F. Kennedy ordered the Central Intelligence Agency in 1961 to destabilize the Jagan government. The C.I.A. covertly financed a campaign of labor unrest, false information and sabotage that led to race riots and, eventually, the ascension of Forbes Burnham, a black, London-educated lawyer and a leader of the People’s Progressive Party who had become a rival of the Jagans. He became president and prime minister in 1966.

[….]

After her husband died in 1997, she ran for president and won. At campaign rallies, her followers respectfully called her “bhowji,” a Hindi term meaning “elder brother’s wife.” But her government was plagued by street protests and tension with the opposition People’s National Congress.

It’s a typical story, in a way, for a poor country in the Western hemisphere buffeted by failed Marxist ideas and murderous Euro-American interventions.

On a lighter note, how can it be that no Merchant-Ivory style movie has been made about Janet Jagan yet? This has Oscar written all over it.


Update
. From the comments, there is this PBS documentary about that Jagans.








That Is Depressing

In an odd turn of events, a David Brooks column that I almost completely agree with:

There are many experts who think that the whole restructuring strategy is misbegotten. These experts think that costs are not the real problem. The real problem is the product. The cars are not good enough. The management is insular. The reputation is fatally damaged.

But if you are in the restructuring business, you can’t let these stray thoughts get in the way of your restructuring. After all, restructuring is your life. Restructuring is forever. Restructuring is like what dieting is for many of us: You think about it every day. You believe it’s about to work. Nothing really changes.

When the economy cratered last fall, the professionals at G.M. went into Super-Duper Restructuring Overdrive. In October, they warned the Bush administration of a possible bankruptcy filing and started restructuring. In December, they came back asking for a loan while they … (wait for it) … restructured.

One thing I do take issue with is that American cars are all bad. I just don’t agree with that premise. I had a 1983 Chevy Celebrity that I bought from my grandmother’s estate while I was an undergrad, and that car drove every day, reliably, for 24 years. Beyond changing the oil every couple of thousand miles, some new tires and a battery here and there, that car was a gem. It had a great engine, got decent (for the time) gas mileage, started no matter how cold it was, and never once broke down. I loved that car and would own another one in a heartbeat. Sadly, they don’t make it anymore.

I’m sure there are people who have had miserable experiences with American cars, and I have no doubt that there was a time period where American cars were inferior. I know my father will go to prison before purchasing another Chrysler ever after an experience with a Chrysler wagon in the 80’s, but I think American cars have gotten a bad rap the past decade or so.

Having said that, my mother, sister, and I all drive Subaru wagons, my brother has a Toyota Corolla, and my father drives a Honda Pilot. I guess we just hate America, although my brother-in-law does own a Harley.

One other thing I think about regarding what I believe is the imminent demise of GM. years ago, it was not uncommon in certain regions of WV for there to be only one car dealership, and everyone in the area drove either a Ford pick-up truck or a Chevy pick-up truck, and part of the regional identity was whether or not it was a Ford or Chevy area. You would see hats that said “Ford- Fix or Repair Daily” in Chevy areas, and vice versa. I don’t know how much that has changed the past couple of years, but I wonder if it still holds true. Certainly WV can not be the only place that was like this.








Earth hour

I don’t have much of an opinion about Earth Hour, but I have to say that the Big Hollywood reaction to it puts the Red State reaction to shame:

One Billion Turn Out Lights to Highlight Threat from Climate Change. When Lights Return, One Million Infidels Found Killed by Terrorists

OK, so if you were mujahedeen, after Saturday night’s display of defiance and retaliation by the Free World against global warming/cooling/something, wouldn’t you totally be like:

“Hey, Infidel — Look! Does one cloud look darker to you than the other?”

“Ohmygod — where?!” (Infidel looks up.)

Sound of throat slashing.

“Works every time! Works every time!” the mujahed laughs to himself as he moves on to the next vigilant infidel.

Ever notice how as the threat of global terrorism reaches a crescendo, so apparently does the threat of global climate change?

Am I silly not to have noticed this link between the threat of global terrorism and the threat of global climate change?



Dayana does Gitmo

Miss Universe, Dayana Mendoza, visited Gitmo last week and here’s what she reported:

We arrived in Gitmo on Friday and stared going around the town, everybody knew Crystle and I were coming so the first thing we did was attend a big lunch and then we visited one of the bars they have in the base. We talked about Gitmo and what is was like living there. The next days we had a wonderful time, this truly was a memorable trip! We hung out with the guys from the East Coast and they showed us the boat inside and out, how they work and what they do, we took a ride around the land and it was a loooot of fun!

We also met the Military dogs, and they did a very nice demonstration of their skills. All the guys from the Army were amazing with us.

We visited the Detainees camps and we saw the jails, where they shower, how the recreate themselves with movies, classes of art, books. It was very interesting.

[…..]

I didn’t want to leave, it was such a relaxing place, so calm and beautiful.

That’s probably just the honey-and-ginger chicken talking.