Smart people saying smart things

Ta-Nehisi Coates: “A Flawed America in Context”

When you study racism, with all its attendent woes, there is something comforting about those kind of numbers. It tells you that whatever you are struggling with here is not a deviation from the human experience, but an expression of it. There is very little that “white people” have done to “black people” that I can’t imagine them doing to each other. America’s particular failings are remarkable because America is remarkable, but they are not particularly deviant or outstanding on the misery index. This is just sort of what we do. The question hanging over us though is this: Is this what we what we will always do?

Kathleen Geier: “Internet payday loans and the major banks that enable them: a growing scourge”

So what do the major banks get from participating in payday loans? It’s simple: it’s all about the overdraft fees. The automatic withdrawals frequently result in overdrafts, and that can add up to big bucks in overdraft charges for the banks. The Times article relates one particularly nightmarish story of a woman who visited her local Chase branch and closed her account — or at least, she thought she closed it. But it remained open, and Chase ended up charging her $1,523 in overdraft fees. Overdraft fees running into hundreds or even thousands of dollars a year are not uncommon. The payday lenders are by no means the only bloodsuckers here.

Rosemary Radford Ruether: “Can Men Be Ordained?”

A synod of bishops from the four corners of the earth, and a full panoply of Mother Superiors, recently converged on the Holy City of Rome to consider the vexed question of the ordination of men. The Holy See had received many tearful appeals from the cruder sex claiming to have a call to the priesthood directly from God Herself. But Her Holiness had firmly replied to these appeals that the call must have been a wrong number. Our Holy Mother in Heaven would never call to the ministry those so obviouslv disqualified by reason of gender. But the men had refused to take no for an answer. Throwing down their picks and shovels, they had declared that they would do no more maintenance work for the Church until there was equality of rites. They sent petitions to the Holy See, filled with arguments for the ordination of men, both theological and practical. Although, of course, they could cite no example from Jesus himself, the incarnation of Holy Wisdom, since he most evidently had ordained no men to the priesthood (or women either).

John McKay: “Mini-Snopes: Congressional pay edition: again”

I’m all for economic populism, but let’s focus on the right things. How much pay Congress makes is not important. How much pay you make is. How much Social Security and Medicare your parents, grandparents or you collect is. How much food, rent, and medical support other vulnerable Americans get is. If you’ve fallen into the the trap of hating the poor, then do it for the veterans. Many of them are poor, old, hungry, and sick. Everyone loves the veterans, in theory. It’s too bad they don’t care as much for the civilians that the veterans were protecting.

Will Bunch: “If This Is the Deal, Philadelphia Schoolteachers Should Strike”

Strike? I know what some of you are saying: What about the kids? Spare me. Aside from the basic — and fairly obvious — fact that the long-term education of Philadelphia’s children would die the death of 1,000 cuts here, there’s something bigger at play. What I would like Philadelphia’s — no, America’s — kids to witness first-hand, more than anything else, is that they can grow up to be adults who will fight for their rights, for their families — and for their human dignity.

And win.

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  • Carstonio

    I loved Ruether’s great satire of gender essentialism. “The cruder sex,” as if we’re all spitting, belching, farting, and grabbing our crotches, like the scene in “All of Me” where Lily Tomlin’s spirit tries to imitate Steve Martin.

    My answer to Coates’ question “Is this what we what we will always do?” is that we shouldn’t measure ourselves as a nation against other nations, or as a species against our history, but against what we hope and aspire to become.

  • taserian

    I don’t see a way to contact the author directly, so I’ll leave a link to a wonderful video on the case of McCollum v. Board of Education, which decided the separation of church and state in schools. I’d love to see Fred’s commentary on it:

  • MaryKaye

    My credit union offered  a piece of advice for those closing accounts with the major banks (all of whom, as far as I know, are major offenders):  Close the account at branch A.  Then visit (or call, if you can get a local number; don’t call national HQ) a *different* branch and say “Did Branch A close this correctly?”  Apparently B has little or no incentive to lie to you, and you can catch incorrectly-closed accounts right away.

    I am now happily no longer a customer of Bank of America.  When I closed the account the agent said, “Would you be willing to tell me why?” and I told him why:  local branches treated me well but we had repeated trouble with HQ, particularly the “money into or out of closed accounts” scam–we had to close accounts due to theft three times and it happened *every time*.  He said, “Is there anything I could say to persuade you to reconsider?” and I said No.  But I found it very interesting that he did NOT try to defend the company or claim that things had improved.

    (This time they apparently really closed the accounts.  Amazing.  But I’m keeping a careful eye out just in case.)

  • On banks and payday loans: every time I look at this subject, I find new horrible twists and turns. Right now, everyone’s attention is on the relationship between the payday lenders and big banks as it relates to the collection side of the loan. But I genuinely hope no one has forgotten that there is another profitable relationship between payday lenders and big banks: the origination side of the loan.

    Someone is underwriting the payday lenders. Someone who can afford to lend them a lot of money. Who do you suppose that is? Mysterious millionaires? Foreign interests? Or maybe, just maybe, the very same big banks that are collecting these overdraft fees on the other side…

  • My experience with an independent payday lender is that the man got startup capital, but then was able to run the business off the fees clients paid when they paid back the loan(s). It was typically about $20 on $200, as I recall.

    So not all payday lenders are directly symbiotic with the banks, to be sure.

  • fredgiblet

    As someone who has worked retention I can tell you that I was taught that if I didn’t think there was a decent chance of “saving” the customer I was to cancel them and get them off the line rather than argue with them.  If someone comes up with a legitimate grievance then it’s best to cut your losses and get your Average Handle Time down.

    Also chances are good the agent has heard that many times, know it’s true and really don’t feel like lying to protect a company they really don’t care about.

  • stardreamer42

    Keep watching for a long, long time. BofA will cheerfully reopen an account that’s been closed for years if something provides them the opportunity to do so.

  • stardreamer42

    That symbiosis has been pretty well documented, if one knows where to look. I’ve been saying for years that there should be a Federal disclosure law requiring banks to post the list of payday lenders with which they are affiliated on the wall in every branch lobby, and every payday lender to post the banking corporation that funds it similarly. Make it really, really obvious that when Bank X turns you down for an account and you have to go to Loanshark Y, your money is going to the same place.

  • stardreamer42

    The question hanging over us though is this: Is this what we what we will always do?

    That question fairly neatly encapsulates the difference between conservatives and progressives. Conservatives tend to say, “This is the way we’ve always been, so there’s no point in trying to change.” Progressives tend to say, “This may be the way we’ve always been, but we can do better than that.”

    WRT banks, I had my money in a regional bank for over a decade and was very happy with them. Then they got eaten by a different regional bank, and suddenly there were fees for every little thing — every time I went to balance my account, it seemed like there was some fee that I hadn’t seen before. Then they got into active fraud — they allowed 2 debit-card transactions that should have declined to go thru so as to hit me with exorbitant overdraft fees — and I moved my money to a local credit union. No more fees, and (to my surprise) increased ATM access — I can get money at any Target, CostCo, Walgreen’s, or CVS without incurring any charges.

    I view automatic payments with an extremely jaundiced eye; the ability to make payments online is one of the good things about living in the future, but *I* want to be in control of when money goes into or out of my account. The more so because I keep hearing stories about people not being able to stop an automatic payment; what never starts doesn’t have to be stopped.

  • DorothyD

    Thenthey got into active fraud — they allowed 2 debit-card transactions that should have declined to go thru so as to hit me with exorbitant overdraft fees — and I moved my money to a local credit union. No more fees, and (to my surprise)increased ATM access — I can get money at any Target, CostCo, Walgreen’s, or CVS without incurring any charges.

    Which makes me wonder why more people don’t use credit unions. Is it a matter of lack of availability or more lack of awareness? Some CUs still restrict membership, but quite a few are open to anyone who wants to join.  

  • Alix

    (longtime lurker, rare poster…)

    I had to get out of my credit union because it began pulling the exact same overdraft shenanigans I’d left my old bank over. They’d hold deposits while telling me they’d gone through so that a charge or two would send me over, and then they’d charge me overdraft on the overdraft. I could get the overdrafts forgiven, but only if I showed up in person with the dated transaction receipts, and at the time I actually had a full-time job and they were, surprise surprise, only open during business hours.

    When my CU hit me for overdrafts on an account I had closed, that was the last straw. I’m back to a big bank, mostly out of necessity, but so far it’s been better than the old bank or that CU.

  • DorothyD

    Jeez, there’s no excuse for that. CU’s are by definition not-for-profit; any profits have to be returned to the members in some fashion. There’s no incentive to cheat. 

  • The more so because I keep hearing stories about people not being able to stop an automatic payment; what never starts doesn’t have to be stopped.

    This x 100.

    I always get offers for “pre-authorized payments” and regaled with “how convenient it will be”, et cetera, ad nauseam.

    I always refuse.

    If I’m gonna pay a bill online I’ll damn well click my own mouse button.

  • What’s the name of the CU? A little public shaming of institutions ostensibly better-than-the-banks wouldn’t go amiss.

  • I love Rosemary Radford Ruether. Her Sexism and God-Talk, along with Gene Outka’s Agape: An Ethical Analysis, was a major influence on my development in college.

  • reynard61

    “America’s particular failings are remarkable because America is remarkable, but they are not particularly deviant or outstanding on the misery index. This is just sort of what we do. The question hanging over us though is this: Is this what we what we will always do?”

    It is as long as we have a large enough subset of us that embrace an anti-science, anti-environment…well, hell; anti-*EVERYTHING*, “Takers vs. Makers”, “I’ve got mine and I want *YOURS* too!” ideology that worships Death and Punishment (in the guise of being “pro-Life”/pro-birth), Chaos and Anarchy (in the guise of championing “Liberty” “Patriotism” and “rugged individualism”), and Greed. (In no disguise at all!) Until we decide that those things are what’s holding us back from our true potential, the term “American Exceptionalism” will be nothing more than, at best, a meaningless pair of words — and, at worst, a sick joke — and the American Dream will remain just that.

  • Payday lenders aren’t the problem. lousy economy is the problem. aim for the puppeteer not the puppet

    There was a good article here a few months ago about church based lending for the poor.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

     You’re not familiar with the saying “You’ve got to start somewhere”, I take it? 

    Right now, the big banks seem to have made themselves untouchable by the government by playing on fears of them tanking the economy again.  Payday lenders have considerably less MAD potential.

  • Pepperjackcandy

    Except that the dividends are given out in proportion according to how much you have in.  I could see the primary shareholder charging everyone, say, $10 a year so that he or she could make a tidy little profit on what he or she considers to be a $10 a year investment. The fact that no one else would make his or her $10 back probably wouldn’t even figure into it.

  • DavidCheatham

    You want a simple change in the law stopping blatant abuses talked about here, here’s one:

    Allow customers to actually _close_ accounts. No charges can actually come through after they are closed.

    Now, because of how the system works, this would have to be on a delay. So the customer tells them to close new activity, but for the next month or so they keep accepting checks written before that, along with a few days for offline CC transactions for thee days. (Or you can tell them you have no outstanding checks and to skip the month wait. It should, in theory, be possible to skip the three day wait, but that’s too complicated.)

    And the minute you walk out: New, real-time CC transactions? Declined. Debit card transactions? Declined. Automatic withdrawal? Declined. Automatic payments set up by the bank? Stopped.

    Any sort of outgoing transaction that _can_ be declined in real time is declined, period. If the bank honors it, the _bank_ has to pay for it. (And any sort of incoming transaction, the bank accepts, but is allowed to charge a fee on. Fair is fair, you shouldn’t be sending money into a closed account.)

    After a certain point, _all_ transactions are stopped, and your account is actually closed and the bank is no longer allowed to charge any more fees on it, or move any money into or out of it in any manner except writing you a cashier’s check for the whole amount when you come in.

    And if you have outstanding checks when it’s closed, well, tough, you just bounced a check.

    This idea that you can close an account and still have stuff happening in it is insane. It is your damn account, and if _you_ tell them to stop giving out _your_ money, THEY MUST BE REQUIRED BY LAW TO STOP.

  • consumer- go after the big banks if that’s what you want to do. Don’t scapegoat people who are providing a voluntary service

  • EllieMurasaki

    Define ‘voluntary service’. If you’re talking about payday loans, nobody voluntarily goes to a payday lender. It’s always the last place they go, after they’ve been turned down at all the other places, and not having the money to cover whatever major expense just turned up is just not an option.

  • AnonymousSam

    My grandfather’s credit union seized his truck as collateral for a loan he stopped repaying. The reason he stopped making his payments was because he died. They are somewhat less than sympathetic for his plight and refuse to allow my grandmother to pay them with his life insurance. Apparently they just really want his truck.

  • Ellie- that’s unfortunate but still voluntary. no one actually forced them at gun point to go get a high interest short term loan. 

  • AnonymousSam

    What’s that? You’re dying and need this surgery that costs how much? Well, our rates are very negotiable, in that you can negotiate between giving us your kidneys or go home and die. Your choice.

  • OMFG dude seriously.

    Have you ever been given a dunning notice saying your electricity’s gonna get cut off in the middle of winter, your phone’s running two months over and you need to feed your kids and yourself all on $2.13 an hour plus tips in the ass end of, let’s say, South Dakota*?

    No shit you’d go to a payday lender instead of risking fucking freezing.

    You are so unbelievably fucking naive about some shit, Chris.


  • EllieMurasaki

    no one actually forced them at gun point to go get a high interest short term loan.

    No. Not gunpoint. Threat of collection agencies after the payment for the emergency room treatment, often, but not gunpoint.

  • Geoffk

    What a shock!  Ta-Nehisi Coates is writing about racism.  In this piece, he at least has the decency to acknowledge that bad things happen to white people too.  But he still views everything through the narrow prism of racial indignation.  The irony that he himself has parlayed racial outrage into a lucrative career never seems to occur to him.  For Ta-Nahesi (seriously, what do his friends call him?) it’s still 1964, and the Bull Connor mentality is still the norm in America,  That we have a black President–mostly elected by whites, black movie stars, super models, CEOs and rock stars all count for nothing.

    This is actually quite timely, as the Supreme Court is currently considering whether Alabama still has the same mentality as in 1964 and, hence, needs to be specially watched in perpituity.  Honestly, few people would say that the Alabama of today is the same as it was 50 years ago.

    You can choose equality or victimhood.  But you can’t maintain both indefinitely.  The constant cries of “racism” by black commentators are starting to sound more and more like calls of “Wolf!”.

  • EllieMurasaki

    White boy spouts ignorant nonsense, news at eleven.

  • Geoffk

    “You are white, therefore you are not entitled to make any observations on racism, including the obvious facts before your eyes.”

    And people wonder why white indifference to “racism”  is growing.  Pigheaded attitudes like this are a big reason.

  • ellie/  neutrino – so what do you want to do ban payday loans? that’s great news for the mafia. 

    1. there’s a large risk of default and 

    2. the loans are short term. long term loans also cost a lot but it’s spread out more. 

    it’s a logical system just unfortunate so many people have a need for it. 

    Also, Ta Nehisi Coates kicked me off the Atlantic forums for saying the words “Pat Buchanan”. I think that’s what it was anyway. 

    At least I didn’t say “lame”!

  • EllieMurasaki

    I am white and may make any observations about racism I damn well please, included but not limited to calling your white ass on your racist bullshit. (You see, I listen when people of color talk.)

  • EllieMurasaki

    Evidence for the assertion that banning predatory lending will drive people to illegal predatory lenders rather than to legal longer-term loans without exorbitant interest rates.

  • Geoffk

    Please elaborate on what in my original post was “racist bullshit”.  Or maybe you think that racial attitudes in the US really haven’t changed in the last 50 years?  In which case, you’re just plain wrong.

    Why don’t you ask racial rabblerousers like Al Sharpton or Coates to put up or shut up and provide some real evidence of discrimination?  That would actually convice me.  All of the evidence that I see, in corporate hiring, college admissions, etc, is that equally qualified blacks do just fine.

  • if they could get  longer term loans without the high interest rates instead of payday loans they’d be getting them now.  They don’t qualify for them.  

  • EllieMurasaki

    Yeah, that totally explains why virtually identical resumes sent to the same set of employers, the only significant change being the name attached (some with white associations such as ‘Gregory’, some with black associations such as ‘Jamal’), get a lot more callbacks for the white names than the black names. And why no one batted an eye when the Hunger Games movie cast a white girl to play Katniss, who’s a shade of brown in the books, but had a collective temper tantrum over casting people of color to play Rue, who’s dark in the books, and Cinna, whose skin tone in the books is unspecified. Let’s just gloss entirely over the use of racial slurs against the First Family.

    Racial attitudes have changed in the US in the last fifty years. That does not mean racism in the US is no longer a problem.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Define ‘don’t qualify’. Explain how it is possible to qualify for a loan designed for no other purpose than to suck money from the poor to the well-off, but not for a loan that benefits all parties.

  • P J Evans

     I understand that the big banks are part owners of the larger payday lenders.

  • P J Evans

     Not only that, but there are agencies who will try to collect from anyone who has a connection, even if it’s just having the same phone number ten years later.

    (One of my aunts got a bill after my uncle died, from a doctor he’d never seen.)

  • AnonymousSam

    Or how, when Ursula K. Le Guin demanded actors of a variety of races and colors for the cast of Earthsea, the director stopped answering her calls and continued with a cast of all white folk.

    One of the big points of the books, she points out, is that she deliberately wrote them with a wide variety of races in mind — even some fantasy races, i.e., green skin, blue skin, etc. The majority of her protagonists are black or red-brown.

    Nope. The only non-white person in the entire movie was the aged mentor figure and that choice was intentional because “the TV audience doesn’t really care about the books.”

  • P J Evans

     At least one bank has admitted to routing people of color into higher-interest-rate subprime loans even when they qualified for regular loans.

  • Geoffk

    I’m familiar with the resume study.  But it happened in 2001.  Maybe things are the same now, maybe not.  We certainly hadn’t elected a black president a decade ago.  In any case, the study also found that “black” names in good neighborhoods got more callbacks than ones in poor neighborhoods.  So employers may have had expectations based on previous similar candidates that they had seen.  For example, it was recently announced that 80% of NYC high school graduates effectively cannot read.  So employers would naturally have some practical concerns based on previous experiences.

    Your other examples are trivial.  “Hunger Games” may have been whitened, but some other films have been changed to feature black stars (I Robot, I am Legend, Wild Wild West).  And Bush received plenty of “monkey-boy” slurs from the left.  Moreover, some “racial” slurs against Obama like “skinny” or “articulate” are more in the minds of the easily insulted than slurs in themselves.

    The issue is not whether there is some residual racism in America.   The issues are 1. Is it the defining issue for Blacks in their daily life or 2. Is it of sufficient magnitude to be considered a serious issue in general?  The Black establishment says “Yes” to both, but the evidence for either proposition is increasingly dubious.

  • EllieMurasaki
  • For clarity: on your view, was racism in America ever of sufficient magnitude to be considered a serious issue in general, and when did that stop being true?

  • EllieMurasaki

    To expand on the point of representation in media: how many US-produced TV shows can you name where the primary protagonist is a person of color? How many can you name where the primary protagonist is white?

    For the first list, I’ve got the Cosby Show, Nikita, and That’s So Raven. I want to include the sequel to That’s So Raven, the one where her dad goes to be the White House chef, but I forget what it’s called. For the second, Gossip Girl, 90210, Cult, Arrow, Supernatural, Vampire Diaries, and I ain’t even got off the fricking CW–and don’t get me started on the treatment of racial minorities in Supernatural and Vampire Diaries. And I note that if Nikita’s title character hadn’t been racebent (in La Femme Nikita, Nikita was white, not East Asian), the ratio would be even more skewed.

  • Geoffk

    Dave, that’s a silly question.  prior to 1964, race clearly defined black people’s lives and opportunities.  And for years thereafter, it continued to be a serious issue, especially in the South.  But racisim is now universally condemned by both right and left, and you will have a hard time finding a true Archie Bunker bigot anywhere.  I can’t say “racism stopped in year XXX”.  But I can say that it has diminished and become reviled to the point where it is no longer deserving of the importance that people like Coates attach to it.

  • EllieMurasaki

    racisim is now universally condemned by both right and left

    Did you even SEE the ‘Obama the African witch doctor’ graphic?

  • Geoffk

    I read the essay that you linked to.  And I can summarize it very briefly:  “If I’m white, my race is never an issue.”  First off, that’s not always true, as your very first comment to me proved.  Secondly, for blacks, race probably doesn’t *need* to be an issue most of the time.  If it’s an issue nowadays, it’s partly because the ongoing cries of “racism” keep it in the forefront. 

  • Ever had to worry about being “talked to” by a cop who reckons you just stole the fancy TV set you’re carrying down the block?

  • EllieMurasaki

    Let me summarize it more accurately: “If I’m white, my race is never an issue negatively affecting my quality of life.” As yours clearly never has been.