Thursday, November 27, 2014

Post-Ferguson Dog 'N' Pony Show: The County Prosecutor Cometh (And Findeth Nothing Amiss)



As we previously suggested, the fallout of Ferguson's grand jury investigation played out in all its grimy, depressing ticktock regularity. The government -- in this case, St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch -- investigated its own police department, and found no grounds to indict Officer Darren Wilson in 18-year-old Michael Brown's shooting death.

The establishment's local, state and federal paladins fell into their assigned roles of playing a tinhorn Greek chorus for "calm," "reason," and "restraint" -- when it seemed all too obvious that McCulloch's handling of the grand jury process would ensure the opposite outcome, in a community whose members are treated like walking dollar signs (at best) or subjects of an occupying army (at worst). Anyone expecting cool detachment in such a climate had to be kidding themselves.

The rioters fell into their own preassigned roles, as well. Burning and looting local mom 'n' pop businesses that people spent a lifetime building up won't bring Michael Brown back -- and, in the short run, may well prompt the town's power structure to ramp up its police department's militarized approach, making it even more difficult to change the entrenched apparatus already in place.


"Everyone's heading for the top
But tell me, how far is it from the bottom?
Nobody knows it, but everyone's fighting for the top
How far is it from the bottom?

"I don't want no peace
I want equal rights and justice
I need equal rights and justice..."
(Peter Tosh: "Equal Rights")


So, given the dynamic that played out on the streets of Ferguson, could anything have been done to avert it?  (Put it this way -- when the process raises the eyebrows of someone like Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia...who's never been known for showing warm 'n' fuzzy feelings for criminal suspects, alive or dead...you know something funny's going on. See the link below for the story.)

At least one alternative that apparently never crossed the St. Louis County power structure's mind, let alone the state's -- appointing a special prosecutor to provide an independent pair of eyes. As talking head after talking head on CNN pointed out, McCulloch's status as county prosecutor calls his objectivity into question...and that's before we get into his family history. (His father was a St. Louis cop killed in the line of duty by a black man.)

Even without that history, though, it's reasonable to assume that McCulloch would show little or no inclination to press charges against the police officers whom he views as his natural allies. He does business with them on a daily basis -- from issuing warrants, to reviewing reports, and resolving issues that often pop up during investigations -- so it's hard to see how he could be truly unbiased. He's never been on the receiving end of the power he wields over ordinary peoples' lives, so why should it upset him when a few cops break character?

Bluntly put, many county prosecutors are also political animals -- that's why so many of them run for district or county judgeships that boost their power and effectively entrench them from life, since they usually run unopposed. That's because most local attorneys won't take on an established face without major financial muscle behind them, evidence of serious discontent, or both. Who wants to represent a client in a victorious political opponent's courtroom?

However, people don't have to accept conflicts of interest as the natural order of things. I recall one local prosecutor on Michigan's southeast side who responded quite differently in two cases of alleged local police brutality. Instead of asserting his authority to undercut or sidetrack the investigation, this particular prosecutor immediately called on a neighboring county's colleague to oversee both cases as a special prosecutor.

In both instances, the jury acquitted the cops -- one being a police chief who was accused of backhanding a teenager in the mouth during a drug search. While that verdict upset people, at least nobody could accuse the government of investigating its own...unlike, ahem, in Ferguson. (The chief ended up resigning under fire and leaving the community, so at least some justice -- however delayed -- got done there.)


"Everyone's talking about crime
But tell me, who are the criminals?
Everyone's talking about crime
Tell me, who are the criminals? I really don't see it...

"I don't want no peace
I want equal rights and justice
I need equal rights and justice..."
(Peter Tosh: "Equal Rights")

One other aspect of the script hasn't finished playing out yet, which is the "where do we go from here" conversation. Missouri Governor Jay Nixon claims to have the answer by calling for a special commission to ilook into Ferguson's social and economic conditions. However, he's tipped his hand by saying that police brutality shouldn't be on the table, which is like Adolf Hitler telling his inspector general not to pursue an in-depth review of his henchmens' murderous actions.

The anger in Ferguson simply reflects the violence inflicted them every day, whether it's being stopped and harassed, or swept into a net of whopping civil ticket fines. I may be testing these waters myself as the proud recipient of a civil suit that I'll be soon forced to defend at great aggravation and cost to myself. I'll fight as hard as I can, though I'm not looking forward to the experience (as all-white jury convictions of minorities are still common in my neck of the woods).

Nevertheless, it's safe to say that the anger isn't likely to die down, at least until someone makes a show of addressing the concerns that have been boiling over for so long. All too often, though, it's only a dog 'n' pony show. For another textbook example, look at the 2003 riots that shook Benton Harbor. Then-Governor Jennifer Granholm responded by naming her own special task force that made roughly a dozen recommendations for improving its own highly-charged climate.

Sadly, most of those recommendations have either been ignored, sidestepped or watered down to serve the dominant power structure's interests. As in Ferguson, local police officers were cleared of all wrongdoing. As in Ferguson, the poor are treated as nothing more than perennial cash cows to pimp and abuse. Unlike in Ferguson, however, Benton Harbor got an emergency management regime whose operatives remain in place to this day.

If that's your idea of social progress, then it's time to look out the window...whip out your binoculars...and check the sky for flying pigs. I'll be waiting. --The Reckoner


Links To Go (Good Old Boys Never Die...
...They Just Cling To Power Like Barnacles)

MSNBC: Missouri Governor Jay Nixon 
Unveils Plan For Ferguson's Future:
http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/missouri-gov-jay-nixon-has-plan-make-ferguson-fairer

Newsweek: Ferguson Prosecutor Robert P. McCulloch's
Long History Of Siding With Police:
http://www.newsweek.com/ferguson-prosecutor-robert-p-mccullochs-long-history-siding-police-267357

Think Progress: Justice Scalia Explains 
What Was Wrong With The Ferguson Grand Jury:
http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2014/11/26/3597322/justice-scalia-explains-what-was-wrong-with-the-ferguson-grand-jury/

World Socialist Website
An American City: Benton Harbor And The Social Crisis In The United States:
http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:931osPvpYQoJ:www.wsws.org/en/articles/2003/08/bent-a14.html+&cd=8&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Cash Cows A Go Go: How Municipalities Milk The Poor


Cash Cow. 
Noun: A business venture that generates 
a steady return of profits that far exceed the
 outlay of cash required to acquire or start it.

Whatever emerges from the grand jury's probing of 18-year-old Michael Brown's fatal shooting in Ferguson, MO, one reality seems clear enough. The result is unlikely to satisfy residents demanding a legal day of reckoning for Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot Brown -- nor those on the other side who defend his actions. 

Resident Jimmie Matthews expressed his feelings succinctly enough for Yahoo News: "Whatever outcome they have, we're going to be protesting.  Either way, the issues are the same. We feel that we are not protected by anyone in the system."  Although recent protests have passed without incident, one suspects that Governor Jay Nixon's call-out of the National Guard won't exactly ease Mr. Matthews's mood.

One aspect of the tragedy has drawn little attention, however.  Like many municipalities nationwide, Ferguson has cranked up its power to levy -- and collect -- citations, fines and penalties make life hellish for the low-income residents stuck paying them. Faced with shrinking state and federal revenues, cities large and small nationwide have embraced stiffer fines to avoid budget shortfalls. Better yet, citizens don't get to vote in such matters (unlike a millage proposal, for example, that may not pass muster at the ballot box).


As NBC's analysis suggests, Ferguson's newfound fining and ticketing fever has played out with predictably skewed results. You can read the entire story in its entirety below, but some figures are worth noting in greater detail. 

In fiscal year 2013, for example, Ferguson filed 11,400 traffic cases. According to NBC, that's nearly the same number issued in Chesterfield, a largely white city that's also twice the size of Ferguson's 21,000 residents. What's more, Ferguson filed more non-ordinance cases (12,300) -- which includes non-traffic violations like trespassing, loitering, and so on -- than any other city in St. Louis County.

As a result, Ferguson expected to rake in more than $2.6 million in fines and public safety revenues for the 2013 fiscal year, or 40 percent more than it did in 2010, NBC's reports. It's a fitting outcome in a city whose residents are 67 percent black, yet whites make up 50 of its 53-member police force, and five of its six city council members (including the mayor). Do we need to hire a rocket scientist to show where such polarization leads? 

Given the weight of all these statistics, it's hardly surprising that Thomas Harvey, executive director of a law firm representing low-income clients, tells NBC: "It's not just Ferguson, it's this whole region. My clients say that the police officer and the judge and the prosecutor are not on their side, and they are just viewed as a source of revenue."



Of course, Ferguson is hardly unique in imposing such policies. Reason magazine reports that the city of Los Angeles is rolling out a citation enforcement program that imposes fines of $100 to $1,000 for various petty offenses -- ranging from harboring an unlicensed dog, for example, to tampering with refuse. Again, it doesn't take a nuclear physicist to see how the latter example will instantly criminalize a street person caught rummaging in a dumpster for pop cans and other pieces of scrap metal to convert into instant cash.


According to Reason, the initiative is expected to generate $2.5 million in annual revenues for the City of Angels, which pioneered a unique brand of "Gotcha!" enforcement in 2006 -- when it implemented "countdown" lights downtown to catch people jaywalking. If you can't cross the intersection before that light goes off, it's worth $197 for the city's coffers.

As the old saying holds..."it's nice work, if you can get it." Of course, the consequences get more drastic if you don't pay those fines immediately. Suddenly, you're looking at late fees and penalties that mushroom into arrest warrants for failure to pay them, jeopardizing your ability (economically speaking) to make those problems go away. 

What's worse, many of these statutes are framed in opaque language that officers interpret as they see fit...which breeds a culture of intimidation and harassment on the street. Left unchecked, this phenomenon erodes community support for the police department, whose officers respond by adopting a battle-ready "us against them" mentality... which only raises the odds of further tragedies waiting to happen.

Backers of this "broken windows" approach -- which holds that a well-ordered environment is necessary to preserve public safety -- brush aside concerns about its potential abuses by treating them as the rants of disgruntled street misfits: "Why worry when you haven't done anything wrong?" 

Real life rarely plays out so simply, however. I found myself reminded of this principle after watching a show on PBS this week that examined New York City's controversial "stop and frisk" policy at length. What sticks with me is the bitterness -- raw, searing and visceral -- of residents who'd found themselves on the receiving end of such policies, often with little or no warning. They scarcely felt protected, let alone served.

Where abuse of power becomes its own reward, the moral fallout is all too evident. You can only subject people so long to an endless, perverse quest of how much pain and suffering they can stand. Sooner or later, the unwilling subjects will push back, often in ways that the local power structure might not endorse. In this tragic tapestry, Ferguson is the only latest unhappy snapshot. --The Reckoner


Links To Go (Man, Don't Ever Get Yourself Busted For Jaywalking...) 
NBC News: Black St. Louis Suburbs Hit With Ticket Blitz:
http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/michael-brown-shooting/black-st-louis-suburbs-hit-ticket-blitz-n185061


Reason Magazine: Los Angeles Can't Fix Its Sidewalks
But Wants To Fine Its Citizens For Not Keeping Them Clean:
http://reason.com/blog/2014/08/26/los-angeles-cant-fix-its-sidewalks-but-w

Reason Magazine: Petty Law Enforcement Vs. The Poor:
http://reason.com/archives/2014/01/08/petty-law-enforcement-vs-the-poor

The New York Times: Author Of "Broken Windows" Policing Defends His Theory:
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/11/nyregion/author-of-broken-windows-policing-defends-his-theory.html?_r=0

Life's Little Injustices (Take IV): Doin' That Phone Payment Plan Fandango


No, that's not a candid shot of John Gacy answering his latest fan's call...even if the actor's face here bears an eerie resemblance to the late serial killet's three-ringed alter ego, Pogo The Clown. How'd this one slip past the ad department, anyway? Even so, if you grew up in the '70s, you'll remember these AT&T ads well, not to mention the warm and fuzzy jingle that will probably dog you on your deathbed: "Reach out...reach out and touch someone..." 

A couple weeks ago, AT&T did reach out to me, but not in a warm and fuzzy manner. I was innocently skimming my emails, until I stumbled on one that gave me pause: somebody was trying to reach me...but the line seemed out of order. 

I promptly checked our three phones. Two were silent, while the third bleated a strange piping tone that definitely signaled something rotten in Denmark -- hell, it's just a technical glitch, I thought.  They can fix that in a heartbeat, right?

No problem-o, I figured: I needed to send a bill in the mail, so the Squawker and I could just schlep out to the truck stop, and hit up AT&T on the way.

After a couple attempts, we reached a customer service rep in Arizona whose computer knew nothing of a $64 payment that I'd made the day before -- which marked the second in a three-part agreement that I'd struck with them...or so I thought.

"Look here," I protested, "I didn't imagine this!  Why the hell would I recall agreeing to pay $64 apiece, on 'X, Y and Z Days', at So-and-So-Supermarket, after talking to somebody in Pasadena?"

No dice, Arizona Man responded: cough up the remaining $128, plus the appropriate restoration fees, or...get used to the sound of silence for a few more days. Nothing warm and fuzzy about that situation, right?

Totally exasperated, I demanded -- or should I say, "requested" -- to speak with a manager. For the next 10 minutes or so, I stood listening to some sort of bouncy, one-chord ambient piece of sonic wallpaper...if I'm shipped off to Hell, I told myself, this is how it'll sound. When no manager surfaced, I hung up.

The Squawker and I exchanged anxious glances.  "What the hell..." I sighed. "Let's try one more time before we call it an afternoon with these nitwits."

This time, we got the Detroit area office, whose rep sounded no readier to budge than the first one.  "Look," I tersely explained.  "When I say, 'I have a receipt for $64 at So-and-So-Supermarket, isn't that a clue for somebody?"

"Well, you could try the Accounting Department..." I heard the crackle of dead air that often precedes an uncomfortable pause (as in, Oh, crap, sounds like somebody f#cked up over there...glad it wasn't me!).  "It's only three o'clock now, so you should get right through."

"Fair enough, then," I growled. Sure enough, another woman came right on the line -- and I recited my woeful tale for a third time, not expecting too much.

Lo and behold, though, the account rep confirmed my payment. Another uncomfortable pause hung in the air.  "You're right. I'm so sorry about that -- you should have it back on before you get home."

"So why did I go through all this, anyway?" 

"Well..." I could have started making a sandwich during this particular uncomfortable pause. "The agent probably didn't note your details correctly. Also, our system is basically set up for  two-payment plans, not three...but I'm not sure which factor kicked in here."

"OK, fine, well...glad we got it straightened out." Click! I hung up for the last time.

The Squawker and I got in our van, relieved to have (finally) found somebody who didn't treat us "as guilty till proven innocent."  Of course, when you deal with a certified corporate megalith like AT&T, that's exactly how your situation plays out -- but it doesn't spook you any less.

How spooked? Well, I paid the third $64 installment a day early, and called to double-check when the boilerplate disconnect notice plunked itself down in our mailbox.

Once again, I heard an uncomfortable pause, followed by an equally awkward apology ("Oh, we're so sorry about sending that! out"), but that didn't bother me. I was taking no chances.

If you've ever suffered through that one-chord ambient schlock, you have a fair idea of what Hell sounds like. And I don't want to hear it ringing through my ears on my deathbed, either...anymore than "Reach out...reach out and touch someone." --The Reckoner

Links To Go (Hey, Dude, Why's The Air So Full Of Static?):
Angie's List: Why Cable, Internet TV And Customer Service Sucks So Much
:
http://www.angieslist.com/articles/why-cable-internet-and-tv-customer-service-sucks.htm


Youtube: Reach Out And Touch Someone Ad, 4/79
(This Time, It's Bozo On The Line):

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

2014 Midterm Aftermath: A Few Reality Checks



Let's get the obvious stuff out of the way first, shall we?  For Democrats, the bruising outcome of Tuesday's midterm elections reflects the "six-year itch" that plagues most two-term presidents in their twilight years, as the party searches for its next standard-bearer -- and voters start yearning for a new face at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Only once since World War II has a sitting president bucked the trend, according to the National Journal. That moment came in 1998, when Democrats and Republicans essentially fought each other to a five-seat stalemate in the U.S. House and Senate, following popular backlash against Clinton's impeachment. As the old wisecrack goes, there's a reason why second-term presidents suddenly start talking up their foreign policy initiatives.

What's more, most of Tuesday's Republican victories came in solid red states that aren't Democrat-friendly, anyway. As one MSNBC commentator observed of Kay Hagan's defeat in North Carolina, no Democratic Senator has won re-election there since 1968...a reality that all her hard campaigning apparently couldn't change. Similar stories abound in states like Arkansas, where fellow one-termer Mark Pryor was the last Democrat left standing in his congressional delegation.

And it's also worth remembering that, for most voters, midterm elections are more about punishing the party in power than holding some kind of polite teatime debate. As a political science professor of mine once bluntly informed our class: "I hated Richard Nixon, and voted against him every chance I ever got." President Obama undoubtedly serves a similar purpose for his critics.

GOP stalwarts might well to ponder their prospects for 2016, when the remorseless Senate electoral math flips the opposite way, with 23 Republicans and 10 Democrats up for re-election. As GOP strategists Glenn Bolger and Neil Newhouse observe, those races include "The Big Blue Wall" of 18 states (and Washington, D.C.) that have swung Democratic for six consecutive presidential elections. And that's before we get to this, um, other elephant in the room...




After reading the above quote, a fair-minded person might well ask, "What year is this again?" Apparently, if Mr. Yelton's wishes prevailed, we'd remain stuck in World War I limbo...when poll taxes were in full effect...women's suffrage remained a dream...and the average American worked six or seven days a week for peanuts...so that the uber-rich could cram even more loot into their already-overstuffed money bins.

The quote cost Mr. Yelton his county precint chairmanship in 2013, but its assumptions --  bigoted and blinkered as they are -- might explain why consultants like Bolger and Newhouse worry about where their beloved GOP brand is headed in the 2016 presidential year...when turnout is higher, but not necessarily among the "Angry Old White Guy" crowd that analysts fingered as the driving force behind Tuesday's midterm results.

As Republican critics suggest, the wave of voting restrictions passed after Obama's victories seemed calculated to batten down the hatches against a younger, more diverse electorate that the party seems little interested in courting.  It's almost as if you're hearing them say: "OK, we know you don't love us.  Guess what?  Let's just make your civic duty harder to do...yeah, that's the ticket. That'll save our bacon."

However, this line of defense doesn't change the big picture, as Bolger and Newhouse's Chicago Tribune op-ed column suggests: "To win 50.1 percent of the popular vote, we estimate, Republicans will need nearly 64 percent of the white vote -- which would be a record for a non-incumbent presidential candidate."


Of course, there's a flipside to the above-mentioned argument, and that's the power of big money -- which surprisingly few contributors addressed on Tuesday night. Outside spending rocketed to new highs during this election cycle, including the $62 million that went into tipping the Iowa Senate race, or the $70 million dedicated to the Colorado Senate contest.

Even Michigan's longtime Republican Congressman, Fred Upton -- long accustomed to romping towards the finish line -- found himself sweating a little bit to victory on Tuesday due to a late-breaking $2 million negative ad blitz unleashed by the Mayday PAC on behalf of Democrat Paul Clements. (Mayday's founders have gotten a fair bit of national press by promising to eventually disband after it elects enough politicians to grease the skids for their demise -- we'll see how well that idea plays out, right?)

And that's the real story behind Tuesday's midterms, because -- in simple terms -- money buys access.  Access equals power and face time...as in backs being scratched, chits getting cashed, and phone calls quickly returned to arrange yet another back room deal that excludes our society's most vulnerable citizens from the equation. That equation won't change in a Washington overrun by influence peddlers and lobbyists of every stripe.

Given the scenarios already being mulled over in Washington, D.C. -- a GOP-led Senate sending nonsense legislation that an unmoved Obama will veto, because he won't ever face the voters again, and the two-thirds majority for an override may or may not not exist -- another bout of gridlock for America's least fortunate might not seem so bad. Hell, it's not like anyone pays attention to their needs now, right?

I've already had progressive and Democratic friends ask, "What the hell just happened?" My response to that question is simple: let's stop wringing our hands, stop playing defense, and stop spending so much time parked at the goal line. The day of reckoning is coming, but until then, there's no plenty of work to do...so let's get moving. -- The Reckoner
Links To Go (Here's Why You're Never On The Dark Money Radar):
MLive.com: Congressman Fred Upton 
Declares Victory Over Democrat Paul Clements:
http://www.mlive.com/news/kalamazoo/index.ssf/2014/11/2014_election_results_fred_upt.html

The Chicago Tribune: Senate Control No Cure For Republican Ills In 2016:
http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/commentary/ct-gop-can-lose-by-winning-perspec-1104-20141103-story.html#page=1


The National Journal: Six-Year Itch Plagues Presidents In Midterms:
http://www.nationaljournal.com/off-to-the-races/six-year-itch-plagues-presidents-in-midterms-20140106

The New York Times: 
Tough Tests Looming In 2016 Raise Stakes For GOP In Midterm Elections:
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/12/us/politics/2016-headwinds-raise-stakes-for-gop-in-this-years-midterms.html

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Life's Little Injustices (Take III): "They Just Cut My Hours..."


It's one thing to read about the stark reality of Part-Time America in a news story, but quite another to confront its results face-to-face. President Obama's critics have hammered long and hard on this point, which isn't our focus here – because, quite frankly, all this” hectoring is lost on men and women who can't get full-time work, or struggle to string together part-time, temp or contract jobs for the privilege of getting by for another week or two.

The Squawker and I went on a grocery run tonight, though we both found the trip diminished by how this particular store is busily eliminating the healthier items we've enjoyed lately (such as a certain high-quality white meat turkey burger that Butterball produces).

Many conventional brand choices have narrowed drastically, as well – for example, when I went to grab a seven-inch Home Run pizza, I found only two choices (plain old cheese, or plain old sausage – look, ma, it's one from Column A, and another one from Column A)!

Of course, the prices have shot up dramatically, as well, which inspired a discussion at the checkout between the Squawker and myself.

“This is the last time that we can shop here,” the Squawker muttered, as the cash register ticked off $110 – beyond where we wanted to go, so we started taking items off the conveyer belt. “This food is getting way too expensive.”

Suddenly, the cashier jumped in: “I know what you mean – I have trouble affording the food here, too.”

“Don't you get a discount?” the Squawker asked.

“Oh, sure, 10 percent – but not on groceries.” The cashier wrinkled her face. “You'd think they'd put it on something that matters. I mean, it's been me and my son for 15 years now – he's 17 – and it's hard.”


We finished sorting out how many items were going back on the floor.  The cashier gestured for me to begin writing my check.

“I imagine it takes a fair amount of footwork to afford it all...” I ventured.

“They just cut my hours at work,” the cashier frowned.

“Well how many were you getting before?” I asked.

“Oh, it was usually between 30 and 37 hours...but last week, they cut us down to 25, so I had to borrow a couple weeks' rent from my dad.” She began running my check through the reader. “I felt bad, because he had to go into his 401(k) to get it...”

“Don't feel bad,” I interjected. “This is how so many people are living now – and yours isn't the first story of this sort that I've heard.”

With a couple customers fidgeting in line behind us, that's where we had to leave the story – which doesn't come attached to a particular party label, or philosophical bias. It's just one of many accounts getting drowned out by the braying of lobbyists, the carnival barking of the political class, the clanking of uber-connected insiders rattling their tin cups at the public trough, their eyes flashing a knowing wink as they grease the proper palms, endlessly grubbing for more...and so, the drain circles round, and round, and round, with no end in sight...and no cavalry coming over the horizon. --The Reckoner



Life's Little Injustices (Take II): I Feel An Overdraft In Here


A funny thing happened to my bank account last week. Late one night, I decided to check my account online, only to find myself staring down a big, ugly, negative number. How'd this happen? I wondered.

Only yesterday, I'd deposited $100 to cover another bill hovering around the corner.  What happened?  I thought I was covered! I quickly found my answer...somebody had cashed a couple checks that I'd written three and four months ago, yielding a black hole in my account.

I did what any rational person does in this type of situation...I narrowly missed doing a limbo dance off the ceiling!  After all, in this economy, most people don't wait that long to cash their checks...because they literally can't afford the luxury (like my hairstylist, who cashed a check of mine within two hours after doing her work).

Anyhow, I popped by the drive-through and made a deposit to erase the deficit, and pleaded my case to the manager that afternoon.  "Surely you can't expect me to anticipate somebody sitting on a check that long..." I contended.  "I assumed those checks were long lost, or long cashed. Either way, I had no reason to question them."

Not quite, the manager responded: most jurisdictions impose a six-month limit for cashing checks, so the bank had to honor them. The overdraft protection policy was crafted to spare the embarrassment of bouncing a check or two.  At $32 a pop, I could afford it, right?

Fortunately, we struck a compromise. The manager lifted one overdraft charge, because I'd never asked for a reversal before, and the situation was a little unusual. By Friday, I closed the gap after transferring $25 from another source, and selling a stack of albums for $35 at my local music shop.

Normally, the shop only pays a dollar apiece on used vinyl, but the owner gave me $2 each, because he liked my selections so much -- including my second copy of The Clash...to my Faces stack (Long Player, First Step, A Nod's As Good As A Wink To A Blind Horse, Ooh-La-La)...to some imd-'80s Lou Reed fare (Legendary Hearts, New Sensations)...and my early XTC collection. Ouch!


Of course, we know why banks charge these types of fees. They're pure gravy, as a June 2013 white paper from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau suggests.  According to the report -- which comes from survey data reported by larger institutions -- overdraft and non-sufficient funds fees accounted for 61 percent of the charges that banks got in 2011.

Based on those figures, the bureau estimates that banks netted about $12.6 billion from consumers in 2011. That same year, the average consumer paid $225 in overdraft charges, and roughly 27 percent of all checking accounts paid at least one overdraft fee. If you felt stung, you've got plenty of company.

You can read the full report below, or skim the New York Times story if you're pressed for time. Suffice to say, more discussion needs to occur, Thankfully for me, good musical taste still pays off when you're struggling, as another vinyl proprietor told me earlier this month: "I still get people saying, 'Why can't you pay three bucks a pop for my Journey albums?'" 

The CFPB report's figures also convince me of something else...if John Dillinger had owned the banks that he robbed...he might have been a hell of a lot better off.  As for those copies of Legendary Hearts, or Ooh-La-La?  I'll just have to replace them later, I suppose. Such is life. --The Reckoner

Links To Go (C'mon, You Know The Drill Already):
ConsumerAffairs.com (Lots of good info here):
Bank Fees Are Hard to Avoid, Especially For Low-Income Customers:
http://www.consumeraffairs.com/bank-overdraft-fees-news-and-analysis

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
CFPB Study Of Overdraft Programs:
http://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/201306_cfpb_whitepaper_overdraft-practices.pdf



The New York Times:
Banks Rake In Overdraft Fees, Report Finds:
http://bucks.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/06/11/banks-rake-in-overdraft-fees-report-finds/?_r=0