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Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Bernie, George Orwell, and the Wall Street Rapscallions

I don’t own a TV, but am regularly bombarded with political ads every time I turn on the radio, which is often. Lately the phrase that has stuck in my head is “the worst economic downturn since the 1930s,” from Bernie Sanders’s rant against Wall Street.

Starting in 2009, it was a phrase I used repeatedly when writing to my landlord, the phone company, the gas and electric companies, trying to explain why my monthly payments were often late.

I also used it with the credit card companies I owed balances on, asking—begging—that my interest rate be lowered. And to my congressional representative when one of those companies—Discover Financial Services, may they rot in hell forever—refused to do so.

The wording I used was slightly different from Bernie’s; I called it “the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression,” and in quotes, as this phrase was used by the media to describe the economic turn as it was going down.

And I actually prefer “Great Depression” to “the 1930s.” I’m not sure that many of the people I wrote to at Discover and Chase would even know what “the 1930s” signified, likely wouldn’t connect their 21st century skullduggery to the cataclysmic Great Depression, though some dim memory of reading The Grapes of Wrath in high school might occasionally surface.

But I digress.

Now before sending letters to my creditors, I’d first call and chat up their representatives, often requesting some higher-up who could actually do something to help me. And again I wasn’t asking to be excused from my debt; I borrowed it with the full intention of paying it all back. And I would, no matter how long it took.

I was simply requesting a lower APR. Or as I wrote for the third or fourth time to Discover Financial Services, may they rot in hell forever,  “will you please lower my interest rate to a humane level…one where it no longer equals one-third of my monthly minimum.”

In these letters I’d throw in a couple of bio-factoids to bolster my plea: 65 years old; writer and writing coach; two-thirds of monthly income dependent on consumer spending; divorced; no material assets to speak of; self-employed so no access to bailout money, stimulus packages or unemployment compensation.

Now, not surprisingly, as the letters flew and the phones buzzed, I was inspired to write about a particular experience, one with Chase. I resurrect an excerpt here in honor of Bernie, who, like me, will never forget nor likely forgive those white collar bandits who gave us the “worst economic downturn” etc. etc., and then cannibalized their honest borrowers to cover their bungling arses: slashing credit limits and raising interest rates, and often to usurious levels and without warning.

Here ‘tis, from a July 2009 blog post:

As a writer, I believe that the ultimate proof of their baseness is in the language these companies use to cloak their misdeeds—something George Orwell understood in 1946 when he wrote Politics and the English Language:  “The great enemy of clear language,” he said—clearly—“is insincerity.”

My Orwellian moment arrived last week. I got yet another letter from one of my credit cards, which I now know is never good tidings.  This time it’s from Chase, telling me that they are raising my monthly minimum payment.  What’s this??  Turns out, they’ve been unable to thwart me any other way, especially as my debt is on a fixed low rate. So now they’re going to triple my payment to over $900 a month. 

Ha, ha, ha.

When I stop laughing and call the evil doers at Chase, they tell me that they are doing this—tripling my monthly payment—for my sake, for my well-being, so that I can pay off the balance faster. 

Two different Chase representatives tell me this, presumably with straight faces, as I sit there unbelieving, amazed at what one person—or, in this case, two—will try to make another person believe. 

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