Saturday, July 10, 2010

Getting Nasty Out There, Folks

The Federal Trade Commission notes that consumer complaints are on the rise across the board against debt collection agents, and in this economy it's getting worse and worse.
Complaints of harassment by debt collectors surged 50% to 67,550 in 2009, according to the Federal Trade Commission. And they are on track to jump 13% this year, based on the number of FTC complaints filed in the first six months.
The No. 1 complaint is repeated calls, and it is not uncommon for collectors to bombard consumers with back-to-back calls for days, weeks, months and even years.
When debt collectors finally get someone on the other end of the phone, they are more likely to use nastier language. Complaints of debt collectors using obscene or abusive language spiked 35% last year.
A 55-year old New York woman, who asked to remain anonymous, said a collection agent called her home repeatedly, personally attacking her and her husband. When she refused to answer the phone, the collector called her estranged sister, an ex-boyfriend and her husband's ex-wife's mother.
"This guy was out of his mind and he kept calling and calling, telling me 'you better talk to me, you deadbeat,'" she said. "He was very threatening and the whole thing was just really unsettling -- it made you wonder who was going to show up at your door."
She had reason to worry, since complaints of debt collectors threatening -- or actually using -- violence more than doubled last year, to 2,517.
Keary Floyd, an attorney who represents consumers at the Floyd Legal Firm in Atlanta, said that while most of his debt collection cases involve excessive phone calls, one of his recent clients recorded a disturbing phone conversation where a debt collector threatened that he or someone else would come to the client's house to get the money in any way that he could.
"I heard it, and if any phone call was going to worry someone, it would be that one," said Floyd.
Other aggressive tactics that are becoming more common are debt collectors calling before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m., demanding more money than what is owed, revealing a consumer's debt to a third party or threatening "dire consequences" like prosecution, jail time, property seizure or job loss.
These practices are not just inappropriate, but they are illegal under the FTC's Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which has been around since 1977.
A friend of mine did this job for a while, and he's told me stories of how much of an utterly dehumanizing experience it is for both the agent and the debtor.   The agent is paid to get results, not to ask nicely.  The debtor often owes more than just the collection agency too.  It's not a fun, pleasant job for anyone involved, and yeah, tempers and nerves get frayed and bad things can happen.

But frankly, as our consumer economy continues to grind down the spiral ramp to deflationary hell, you're going to see a lot more of this happening.  Creditors want their money now, not years from now...because the creditors owe other creditors money, and they want to collect too.  It's a nasty spiral and eventually somebody's going to default...and if enough of that happens the whole system breaks down.

And much more of this is coming.


Dick Lugar has played his part in opposing almost the entire Obama agenda, but he at least seems to be serious about the START treaty, and he takes the effort to shut Mitt Romney up about attacking it.
Romney penned an op-ed for the Washington Post on Tuesday calling START Obama's "worst foreign policy mistake yet."
The former presidential candidate said the treaty would "impede missile defense" and "gives far more to the Russians than to the United States."

Lugar, ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a proponent of the treaty, issued a lengthy statement today rebutting Romney's arguments.
"Governor Mitt Romney's hyperbolic attack on the New START Treaty in the July 6 edition of The Washington Post repeats discredited objections and appears unaware of arms control history and context," Lugar said.
"In advancing these arguments, he rejects the Treaty's unequivocal endorsement by the Defense Department led by Secretary Robert Gates and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Indiana Republican continued. "He also distances himself from prominent Republican national security leaders, including Jim Schlesinger, Henry Kissinger, James Baker, and Brent Scowcroft, who have backed the Treaty after thoughtful analysis."
Why it almost seems like Lugar is determined to actually vote for something Obama did.  Any Republican Senator not from Maine or not named Lindsey is actually news if they do it.  Of course, it looks more like Lugar is covering his own ass as ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  Romney may have drawn first blood, but Lugar is going to be under a lot of pressure to scuttle this treaty, or at least delay it for as long as possible.

Republicans will not give Obama any more success stories between now and November.  Count on that.

Unleash Joe Biden, Spies Like Us Edition

The comedic stylings of Vice President Joe Biden, ladies and gentlemen.
Vice President Joe Biden had to convince a skeptical Jay Leno on Friday that the United States didn't get a raw deal from Russia in the biggest spy swap since the Cold War.

Leno asked Biden during a taping of "The Tonight Show" why the U.S. was sending 10 accused spies back to Russia while getting only four in return.

"That doesn't seem fair," Leno said.

"We got back four really good ones," Biden reassured Leno. "And the 10, they've been here a long time, but they hadn't done much."

Leno then showed a sultry photo of alleged Russian agent Anna Chapman and asked: "Are our spies this hot?"

Biden's reply, in a mock-serious tone: "Let me be clear. It was not my idea to send her back."

The vice president also said he had one more suggestion for the deal that was ignored.

"I thought they'd take Rush Limbaugh," he said.
Hey, don't knock it.  I think Rush would love the new hyper-oligarchy super-capitalism that modern Russia has devolved into.  He'd fit right in....especially the "expensive divorce" part.

Know Whut I Mean, Wink Wink Nudge Nudge

And speaking of misogyny, South Africa simply assumed the World Cup tourist influx would lead to all kinds of increases in business for sex workers in the country.  Only it turns out if your the kind of person who can travel to South Africa for a World Cup jaunt in this economy, you can afford the actual tourist attractions as well.
The influx of thousands of soccer fans would increase demand on South African sex workers; at least that was the belief of a leading expert prior to the start of the 2010 World Cup.

But it seems fans of the beautiful game that traveled to the Rainbow Nation have created a flop in sex-worker business -- leaving prostitutes out-of-pocket and out of work -- in favor of more high-brow pursuits.

"The World Cup has been devastating. We thought it was going to be a cash cow but it's chased a lot of the business away. It's been the worst month in my company's history," the owner and founder of one of Johannesburg's most exclusive escort companies told CNN.

"No one is interested in sex at the moment. I think we've had three customers who traveled here for the World Cup which has seen my group's business drop by 80 percent. I enjoyed watching the games, but I can't wait for everyone to just go home now!" the madam, who works under the alias of "Tori," added.

The behavior of fans in South Africa has run contrary to what was predicted prior to the start of the tournament after David Bayever told World Cup organizers in March it was feared that up to 40,000 extra prostitutes could converge in the host nation to meet the expected demand.

Bayever, deputy chairperson of South Africa's Central Drug Authority (CDA) that advises on drug abuse but also works with prostitutes, warned: "Forty-thousand new prostitutes. As if we do not have enough people of our own, we have to import them to ensure our visitors are entertained."

But the tournament in 2010, if anything, has seen the modern-day soccer fan attracted to art galleries and museums over brothels.
I could have told you this was coming.  That's simple economics.  If you've got the resources to travel all the way out to South Africa to see a game of "footy" during a massive global recession, then you've got other things on your mind besides prostitutes and you can afford other diversions.

Go figure.

Very Mad Max

Not sure what else needs to be said about Mel Gibson's rant.
Mel Gibson is allegedly heard using a racial epithet and calling his ex-girlfriend a "whore" in a recording released by a celebrity news website Friday.

The two-minute recording posted by includes segments in which a voice sounding distinctively like the Academy Award-winner is heard telling his then-girlfriend, Oksana Grigorieva, that she is dressing too provocatively and that it would be her fault if she were raped. He uses the N-word at one point, and the recording is laced with his profanity. 
I mean you get the double whammy here, racism and misogyny.  Surely an actor of Gibson's caliber could have worked in a shot at religion, too.
Grigorieva recorded the actor-director because she was afraid he might harm her, the website reported. The actor is heard on the recording harshly criticizing Grigorieva for the way she dresses. He accuses her of lying to him about having breast implants.

"They just look stupid," Gibson tells her at one point in the recording. "Keep them if you want to. They look like a Vegas b----, a Vegas w----."

"You look like a (expletive) b---- in heat, and if you get raped by a pack of (N-word), it will be your fault," Gibson is heard telling Grigorieva. "You provoked it. You are provocatively dressed." 
All I have to say is if you don't think people talk like this when they think nobody important is listening, then welcome to "post-racial, post-feminist America".  It's good to be reminded that we've come a long way...but we still have a very, very long way to go.

Giving Business The Business

The NY Times has an interesting story on the Obama administration's method of enforcing work laws on undocumented immigrants: the "silent raid".
The Obama administration has replaced immigration raids at factories and farms with a quieter enforcement strategy: sending federal agents to scour companies’ records for illegal immigrant workers.

While the sweeps of the past commonly led to the deportation of such workers, the “silent raids,” as employers call the audits, usually result in the workers being fired, but in many cases they are not deported.

Over the past year, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has conducted audits of employee files at more than 2,900 companies. The agency has levied a record $3 million in civil fines so far this year on businesses that hired unauthorized immigrants, according to official figures. Thousands of those workers have been fired, immigrant groups estimate.

Employers say the audits reach more companies than the work-site roundups of the administration of President George W. Bush. The audits force businesses to fire every suspected illegal immigrant on the payroll— not just those who happened to be on duty at the time of a raid — and make it much harder to hire other unauthorized workers as replacements. Auditing is “a far more effective enforcement tool,” said Mike Gempler, executive director of the Washington Growers League, which includes many worried fruit growers.

Immigration inspectors who pored over the records of one of those growers, Gebbers Farms, found evidence that more than 500 of its workers, mostly immigrants from Mexico, were in the country illegally. In December, Gebbers Farms, based in this Washington orchard town, fired the workers.

“Instead of hundreds of agents going after one company, now one agent can go after hundreds of companies,” said Mark K. Reed, president of Border Management Strategies, a consulting firm in Tucson that advises companies across the country on immigration law. “And there is no drama, no trauma, no families being torn apart, no handcuffs.” 
Surely the right will complain that Obama is failing here because ICE is not rounding up these fired workers and deporting them en masse like prisoners...and yet this approach is far more effective than Bush's well-publicized workplace raids.  An agent goes in, quietly checks all the employee paperwork, and anyone who doesn't pass gets fired and most importantly, the businesses who hire them are fined significantly.

Word is starting to get out about these silent raids, and it's the fairest example of enforcement I've seen.  I'm not cheering ICE on here, nobody is "winning" here, enforcement is law enforcement.

StupidiNews, Weekend Edition!

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