Saturday, November 7, 2009

Credit Card Company Usury

The behavior of credit card companies in recent months has been unbelievable.

Hysterical that new federal rules are to take effect dealing with their operations, the credit card companies have, among other things, been raising interest rates to levels otherwise only charged by Mafia loan sharks—to 30 and 40 percent.

A definition of usury: “An interest rate that greatly exceeds the bounds of reason or moderation, one that is exorbitant.” Like 30 and 40 percent.

The new rules—provisions of the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009—include:

· Not allowing an interest rate increase to be applied to an existing balance unless a cardholder is delinquent.
· Notifying cardholders of an interest rate jump 45 days in advance.
· Stopping young people with no income from getting hooked on credit cards; under-21-year-olds would need a co-signer or a job.

Some of the rules are to take effect in February, some in August.

But importantly, there’s no cap in the new rules on interest rates—a gargantuan hole considering the recent behavior, indeed the history of credit card companies.

Did you ever wonder why you mail your payments to credit card companies in states like South Dakota, Utah Delaware? It’s because these states have no or very loose usury laws.

Vermont’s independent Senator Bernie Sanders tried to get a cap set on credit card interest rates of 15 percent in the new rules. With rates of 30 and 40 percent, the credit card companies, he said, weren’t “making credit available. They’re engaging in loan-sharking.”

His effort failed—only 33 senators supported it. The banking lobby is plenty powerful in Washington.

Because of the recent credit card company machinations, there’s a second bill now before Congress, the Expedited Card Reform for Consumers Act of 2009—to make them comply with the new rules starting next month.

Incidentally, folks with solid finances who pay off their credit card bills every month are also being victimized-- with big hikes in fees.

New York’s U.S. Senator Charles Schumer says the “sneaky fees and tricks” of the credit card companies “are ripping off consumers across the country and it’s time to stop them dead in their tracks.”

He’s right, but just expediting the new rules won’t do it. Necessary are tougher rules—including a cap on credit card interest to end credit card company usury.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

No Family History

No Family History: The Environmental Links to Breast Cancer is the title of a just-published book by Sabrina McCormick, who has also produced and directed and accompanying video documentary.

The book and video lay out the case that what must be done about the epidemic of breast cancer is dealing with the toxins in the environment that largely cause it.

Dr. McCormick chose where I’m from–Long Island—as the geographical centerpiece of the book and video because of Long Island’s high rates of breast cancer ranging up to 200 percent over the national average. She is the Robert Wood Johnson Health and Society Scholar at the University of Pennsylvania and an assistant professor of environmental science and sociology at Michigan State University,

The key figure in the video and book is Robin Caslenova, a 44-year-old woman from West Islip, Long Island who was diagnosed with breast cancer without a family history of the disease.
Her ordeal in followed over several years—including the operation she must undergo, chemotherapy and breast reconstruction.

The video is graphic. Indeed, the announcement for the recent New York premiere of it, issued by the Suffolk County Cancer Awareness Task Force and the Huntington, Long Island-based initiative, Prevention is the Cure, noted: “This documentary contains adult material, scenes during and after a real-life surgery and its aftermath, and medical situations and discussions which may not be suitable for children or those with weak stomachs.” No matter how queasy your stomach might get, this is a video and book that are essential viewing and reading. The truth about cancer, its causes and the ordeal it puts people through, must be faced squarely.

In the book, published by Rowman & Littlefield, Dr. McCormick speaks of a “political economy of disease—a vast, powerful group of corporations protected by weak governmental practices that have shaped what we are exposed to every day…It affects everyday lives and deaths.” This “political economy...has caused us to focus on treatment, detection, and cure while missing a more difficult and political piece of the puzzle—how to prevent breast cancer.” These “institutions often prioritize major corporate interests instead of the public’s health and well-being.”

In the book and video, Dr. McCormick details how cancer-causing chemicals “permeate the planet.” Meanwhile, in 1964 one in 20 women was afflicted with breast cancer and by 2006 it “reached one in eight.” Few have a family history. Breast cancer has become “the most common killer of middle-aged women in the United States, Canada and northern Europe.”

“We exercise. We get mammograms. We also walk, shop, and race for a cure. We know what pink stands for. It means breast cancer. It means raising money. It means finding a cure. The fact is that we are missing the boat,” she writes.

She is especially critical of corporations that promote treatment and donate to cancer research while manufacturing cancer-causing toxins. For more information on her documentary and book, visit

Mrs. Caslenova, with her supportive husband and their three children, were at the premiere of the video, at which Mrs. Caslenova also spoke. Buoyant despite her travails, she told of having “a great family that lifted me up" and she declared that “prevention is so minimal” in how cancer is being challenged.

This must change as a matter of life and death.