This doesn't actually have anything to do with postal banking. It's just awesome. (Flickr/grilled cheese)
It's often said that being poor is really expensive, and one of the most painful ways is what millions of Americans have to pay in order to make sure their bills are accounted for. If you're poor, time and money and intertwined in ways that people who aren't poor don't have to worry about. When your income and your expenses are right around the same amount, you have to worry about timing constantly. I'm not getting paid for a week, but this utility bill is due in three days, and I have to set aside enough for food and gas—how should I handle that? If I write my rent check on the same day as I get my paycheck, will the former clear before the latter? For many, the only choice to avoid catastrophes like getting evicted or having your power cut off going to one of the payday lenders and check-cashing operations you can find in every poor neighborhood. And since those payday lenders know their customers have no other options, they make them pay through the nose. As an analysis by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau showed, "Fees at storefront payday lenders generally range from $10 to $20 per $100, though loans with higher fees are possible...A fee of $15 per $100 is quite common for a storefront payday loan, and would yield an APR of 391% on a typical 14-day loan." The median interest rate for the loans they examined was an incredible 322 percent.
If we wanted to do something about this appalling exploitation of the poor, what are our options? One solution is tighter regulation of payday lenders, limiting their usurious interest rates and requiring them to offer reasonable terms to their customers. Colorado passed requirements like that a few years ago, and they've succeeded in reducing the amount of misery payday lenders can pour upon the state's most vulnerable citizens (there are details here). But there's another option. There's an organization that has thousands of locations around the country, already performs some financial transactions (selling money orders), and is eager for new sources of revenue. It's called the Postal Service. If they began offering some limited banking services, it would seem like a win for everyone—poor Americans would get access to banking without crippling interest rates, and the USPS would make money. Who could possibly object?
Before yesterday's Super Bowl, President Obama sat for a ten-minute interview with Fox News' Bill O'Reilly. The interview was about what you'd expect: a grab-bag of conservative grievances, discredited conspiracy theories, and attempts at gotcha questions. Why didn't you call Benghazi terrorism! Why haven't you fired Kathleen Sebelius! Why did the head of the IRS visit the White House! And my personal favorite, when O'Reilly read a letter from a viewer asking, "Mr. President, why do you feel it's necessary to fundamentally transform the nation that has afforded you so much opportunity and success?" Ah yes, the "transform America" outrage, as though that 2008 statement must have been a coded message meaning Obama wanted to destroy America, combined with the old Why aren't you people more grateful?
The question is, though, why on earth would a Democratic president bother to grant an interview to an antagonistic conservative talk show host? The New York Timesdescribed the interview as "an unpleasant duty that was more or less unavoidable," but in truth it was nothing of the sort. A solo interview with the president is a relatively rare privilege given to only a few journalists. I don't remember George W. Bush inviting Keith Olbermann to interview him in the White House. So what gives?
Last week, congressional Republicans got together at a Chesapeake Bay resort to contemplate their political fortunes. In one presentation, House Minority Leader Eric Cantor delivered a bit of shocking news to his colleagues: Most people are not, in fact, business owners. It would be a good idea, he suggested, if they could find a way to appeal to the overwhelming majority of Americans who work for somebody else. Their aspirations don't necessarily include opening up their own store or coming up with an amazing new product, so the prospect of lowering the corporate tax rate or slashing environmental regulations may not make their pulses quicken with excitement. They're more concerned with the availability of jobs, the security of health care, and the affordability of education.
Nobody can tell who this guy is. Also, it's a dog. (Flickr/Davharuk)
As you know, our society is rapidly moving toward a dystopian future of mass surveillance, where every step you take and purchase you make and everywhere you drive and everyone you call and everything you eat and breathe and think is logged, categorized, and stored. Or at least it sometimes feels that way. But is it possible to take some of this control back? Here's one attempt as Technology Review tells us:
Yesterday, congressional Republicans released a set of principles on immigration reform which are supposed to guide the writing of an actual plan. This has led some optimistic people to say that perhaps some kind of compromise between the two parties might be worked out, and reform could actually pass. I'm sorry to say that they're going to be disappointed.
I might be proved wrong in the end. But I doubt it, because the fundamental incentives and the dynamics of the issue haven't changed. You still have a national party that would like very much to pass reform, and individual members of that party in the House of Representatives who have nothing to gain, and much to lose, by signing on to any reform that would be acceptable to Democrats and thus have a chance of passing the Senate and being signed by the President. So it isn't going to happen.