Adventures in Credit Card Land

Michael Moore has been appearing and speaking in alot of interview programs that I happen to listen or watch over the past week, in connection with his new movie – Capitalism: A Love Story.  Moore certainly doesn’t need any help from me, nor will it come as much of a surprise that I’m a great admirer of his since I was about 17 years old.  But recently during one of these interviews he starting talking about a topic that got me thinking about my own experience. The topic of credit cards.

Speaking about how credit card companies target young people by setting up right on college campuses on day 1, regardless if you have a job or any income at all, they want to sign you up. Moore goes on to talk about the high rates of debt among students, to the point that between credit card debt and college loans, when they graduate they owe more than they will make for many years to come.  You might hear or read these statements (If you went to school in the US) and think to yourself: that didn’t happen to me. Or you’ll remember those credit card companies outside the student center, offering free gadgets and saying hello to you in that irritatingly friendly way.

Now comes the story I’d like to tell about one big difference I experienced when I moved to the Netherlands.

Currently this is the 8th year that I live in Amsterdam, having moved only about a year after graduating from university in New Jersey.  When I got here I was a student, as well a European citizen, so getting a social security number, bank account, and most of the essentials, was a fairly smooth process.  If there was an occasion I needed a credit card, I still had a trusty US credit card to fall back on, never mind the terrible exchange rate. But after two years as a grad student I was finished with zero school or credit card debt (fortunately I’ve never had debt in my life) and I found myself a part time job at the U of Amsterdam and a number of freelance editing, translation, and writing jobs.  Around that same time I kept seeing advertisements at the airport and through my bank for a certain credit card company. Considering the exchange rate and the times where I could have really used it, I finally took one of the forms to fill out.  Though I had heard its much harder in Europe, I also kept thinking back to freshman year at college and how easy it was. Just fill out the form and choose the funny graphic layout for the card.

Two or so weeks after sending in my forms I get a call. “Mr.Bicyclemark, we’re just going over your form and we wanted to confirm some things, it says here you’re self employed?” Indeed at that point I’d started my own company to make getting freelance jobs and handling the expenses and income a little easier. “Yes” I said, “I’m a freelance journalist, editor, and sometimes web consultant.” “OK very good. I’ll just need to know your yearly income..” She’d cut right to my achilles heel, as a freelancer and part time employee, my income was pretty embarrassing by most adult standards, I was and still am, a specialist of living on a shoestring budget. I fumbled through an answer “Well its hard to say as a freelancer, you know, some months its a good amount, some months it is hardly anything…” The credit card lady tries to help me along, “So about 20K per year?” I had this feeling that if I told her the truth, that is was surely less, that I wouldn’t qualify for their minimum, “Yes,” I answered confidently, “about that much.” What the hell, I figured, as long as I don’t have to prove it, I’ll be fine. “.. and we’ll just need some further information so we can confirm this..” – Shit I thought. Plan foiled. I quickly told a lie about having to go but that I would be in touch. She didn’t even fight me on this, wished me a good day and recommended I get back to her when I had a better idea of my income.

It would take me another 2 years to get a credit card, when I sent in another application hoping they wouldn’t remember the first.  I got that call again, only this time I tried harder to lie my way into getting one.  Once again I argued that as a freelancer my income didn’t always fit into one of their boxes, but that I manage a decent living and somehow deserve this credit card.  After alot of convincing, and a much stronger arguement than my first attempt, I got my card which to this day I hardly ever use.

Why the long story? It is amazing the difference between what it took for me to get a credit card in the US compared to getting one in Europe 10 years later. Beyond it being impressive, I wonder if this difference doesn’t reflect on part of why so many problems have arisen with people and credit card debt. Not to mention banks that take advantage of people by inventing surcharges.  Not that Europe is perfect, or that someone can’t eventually get a card who perhaps can’t really afford it, but in my experience, there is a real difference in how less easy it is to fall into this trap.

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ctrp 314 What is Behind the Texas Secession Movement?

None of them were alive the last time Texas was located outside the borders of the US, but they’re demanding to go back to that status. They’re angry at the Obama administration, frustrated with the United States, and lately – they’ve managed to get a bit of national attention.  They are the Texans calling for secession from the United States, and Forrest Wilder of the Texas Observer has been looking into who they are, the issues they’re concerned with, and just how far they might get.

His blog Forrest for the Trees on the Texas Observer site

We mention the Texas National Movement

Forrest’s video of a recent demonstration

*Note: file codes for my program will from now on start with ctrp.

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To Save Itself

Australia’s ABC Radio National (Background Briefing) recently featured one of those speeches that I consider a huge must-listen no matter who you are.  The topic: The US’s place in the world, empire, the occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, education and the interconnectedness of all these concepts.  The speaker, retired US army Colonel Andrew Bacevich, considers himself a conservative and argues against the idea that Afghanistan’s future is so vitally important to the future of the United States.  The same goes, in his opinion, for Iraq which he gets into in order to dispel the idea that the invasion of Iraq can now, in any way, be considered a victory.

Among his great quotes that I think need to be repeated and revisited:
“If the United States today has a saving mission, it is to save itself. Speaking in the midst of another unnecessary war back in 1967, Martin Luther King got it exactly right when he said, ‘Come home, America.’ The prophet of that era who urged his countrymen to take on what he called ‘the triple evils of racism, economic exploitation and militarism’ he remains the prophet today that we ignore at our peril. That Barack Obama should fail to realise this qualifies as not only ironic but also inexplicable.”

“Now for those who despite this, still hanker to have a go at nation-building, why stop with Afghanistan? When not first fix, say, Mexico? In terms of its importance to the United States, our southern neighbour, a major supplier of oil, and drugs among other commodities deemed vital to the American way of life, certainly Mexico outranks Afghanistan by several orders of magnitude. And for those who purport to believe that moral considerations rather than self-interest should inform foreign policy, thereto Mexico qualifies for priority attention. Consider the theft of California. Or consider more recently how the American appetite for illicit drugs and our liberal gun laws, have corroded Mexican institutions and produced an epidemic of violence affecting ordinary Mexicans. We owe these people, big time. Yet any politician or pundit suggesting that the United States ought to commit 60,000 or so US troops backed by a generously funded, multi year effort with expectations of eliminating Mexican drug traffic and political corruption, would be laughed out of Washington. And rightly so.”

Those are only two of many statements that over the last few years it seems much of the public has stopped thinking about. Somewhere along the way the war in Afghanistan became “the good war” that even Obama himself, the king of change, doesn’t want to turn back from.  Also towards the end of the speech he talks about education and how little influence the readings and teaching is school that children receive seems to have on them when compared with the influence of all other sources in the course of their daily lives. The conclusion, like the rest of the speech, is highly recommended reading or listening.

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Will War on Drugs Finally End?

The US government answered back to the Bolivian government’s charge that they have actively encouraged drug trafficing. The answer, as you would expect, was a denial.

It was earlier this week that Evo Morales announced that Bolivia was ending its cooperation with the so-called US war on drugs due to certian US agencies’ activities in the country. He told reporters that his country would handle its own problems and policies when it came to drug trafficing.

Interestingly it was investigative journalist Jeremy Bigwood who uncovered alot of the details on the US government acitivities in Bolivia, specifically evidence about the attempt to buy political and policy influence. There’s a good video of Bigwood’s presentation of this evidence, I recommend you check it out.

Bolivia is certainly not along in its frustration with US agencies and the drug war, and with a new more open-minded administration soon to take power in the US, the question is – will the US finally withdraw from the problem-plagued drug war?

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