Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

Had I But Known

with 6 comments

Yes, yes.

Me blithering about art essays–or even me going crazy over the attempts at mind control that now seem to be part of every enterprise, and especially of public schools–that’s not so interesting.

And there’s probably a point there, so I’ll let it go.

I would like to make one point before I start in with the Ehrenreich, though:  propaganda has always been, by definition, an activity of governments.  Advertising is not propaganda, because–under most circumstances–it has no enforcement arm. 

But let’s get to the Ehrenreich.

First, it doesn’t bother me that she’s throwing out worst case scenarios and acting as if they’re the norm.  Thats what all polemicists do–Mark Steyn as well as Ehrenreich, Paul Johnson as well as Christopher Hitchens.

Second, I think several of the points in this article were spot on, including:

1) We lock too many people up, and increasingly we lock them up for things that would have incurred only a fine 40 years ago, or not even that.

What’s  more, we’ve been engaged for some time in an escalating war of laws and penalties that sometimes seems to me to be designed to get around all those pesky old rules about double jeopardy.

A simple  traffic violation can often result in multiple charges, many of them overlapping–having a signal light on the fritz can get you failure to signal a lane change plus driving without properly maintained equipment plus failure to drive right (not making that last one up).

The idea seems to be that if you throw enough separate charges at the defendant, the jury is likely to come back with something.

I don’t see much difference between this and the bullying programs and “awareness” projects in public schools–both are attempts to micromanage the population, and both are equally ineffective and wrong.

I am certainly in favor of locking up people who continue to drink and drive.  I don’t see the point of locking up people who drive cars that are unregistered, or who fail to use their turn signals, or who are doing 42 in a 35 zone. 

Of course, this is me, so I also don’t see any reason to lock up people who are smoking marijuana in their own living rooms.

But do note–this drive to expand the areas of life for which the government can lock you up comes at a time when it is increasingly impossible to leave such a situation behind you.

The Internet means that the misdemeanor you committed at 18 will follow you for the rest of your life.  It will prevent you from getting a job and can often prevent you from getting an education.  Forever.

And even when records are sealed, as in the case of juveniles, they have consequences.  A juvenile who is arrested and incarcerated will still have his fingerprints (and often DNA) on file in “the system.”

And juveniles can be arrested and incarcerated for things that are not actually crimes, like running away from home.

Is this what we actually want?  Does it actually make sense? 

2) To me, charging prisoners money for their room and board in jail seems just plain wrong, on just about every level.

Anyone who’s been here for a couple of days knows that I am not a fan of expanded government.

Jails and prisons, however, being part of the justice system, are a core function of government, and as such they should be paid for by government, meaning by taxes.

3) The child support question isn’t an either/or.  Both Michael and Lymaree can be right in individual cases, and the situation may be very different in different states.

4) The question of payday and other loans charging–yes, insane–rates of interest is more complicated.

Some of you may remember a discussion on this blog about just those kinds of loans being made by people who claimed to be an Indian tribe, and where the stated rates of interest were all upwards of one percent.

Most payday loans, however, are not that.  They’re $300 loaned Wednesday to be paid back, say, ten days later at $320 or $340.

Is that an awful rate of interest?

Yes, but it’s also $40, not thousands, and it keeps the heat and light on and gas in the car. 

I’m  not sure what government could do to step in and fix this.  The issue is usually a pay schedule that doesn’t fit the payment schedule of things like utilities. 

Government could pay for the utilities, I suppose, but it already does at least some of that, at least in Connecticut. 

What really bugs me, on the subject of loans and interest, is the credit card companies.

Not only do they routinely charge 30% or more, but they have always claimed they do it because they make credit available to a large portion of the population, some of whom do not pay back what they borrow.

And that was fine when credit card debt was unsecured and therefore written off in bankruptcy.

But now the credit card companies have gotten the law changed so that, for many people, such debt is not discharged in bankruptcy.

I think they ought to pick–either the debt is fully dischargable and they charge any interest they want, or the debt is not fully dischargable and they should have their interest rates regulated.

5) I agree that it can be expensive to be poor, especially if you’re too poor to do things like shop in bulk, but I was not entirely sympathetic to Mike’s article when I first read it, and I’m not entirely sympathetic to it now.

Oh, more ack.

Not really.  Or not exactly.  It’s complicated.

The first of the two articles I thought was spot-on, but the second–the one about habits–made me a little nuts.

We went through an incredibly bad period in the two years after Bill died–I think one year I made less than $5000.  And, as far as I know, there was no earned income tax credit.

But the two things I did not do during that period, or just after it, was to spend all the money in significant checks when it came in again, or buy Christmas and birthday gifts out the wazoo to compensate for how awful things had been.

The fact that I didn’t do this may have something to do with the fact that I have spent my life mostly self employed as a writer, and being self employed as a writer essentially also means you get paid twice a year. 

You simply cannot function in this business if you don’t learn how to pace those checks. 

And as for Christmas and birthdays–well, we had one year when Christmas and birthday presents consisted of ONE tub of flavored popcorn for each of us.  And we survived.

I felt guilty, mind you, but we survived.

6) The civil forfeiture thing is definitely a nightmare, but it its effects are not restricted to poor people. 

It’s an active license to steal, and it should come as no surprise that police departments use it to steal. 

That’s human nature.

Written by janeh

May 21st, 2012 at 8:17 am

Posted in Uncategorized

6 Responses to 'Had I But Known'

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  1. So what do we do about these societal ills? Endure them, or moan about them. Is a solution beyond us?

    For the record, I’m ambivalent about the payday loan places, for exactly that reason. They can provide emergency money for a small $ fee – but on the other hand, the fee is large as a percent, and there’s the potential of abuse – either because the borrower can’t handle it or because the lender pushes longer term loans.

    I skimmed the blog posts. I can see the writer feels very strongly. I’ve been poor, well, not living on the street, but there may be some parallels. And I, with much caution and trepidation, re-built my credit, chose a bank that didn’t have extra exorbinant fees, and watched my account down to the pennies. And I tucked little bits away for emergencies. Not much, during really bad times, but it helped – at first, psychologically more than financially, because the amounts were so small. My family has never really been into extravagant gifts, so that’s never been a problem, no matter what my financial state. I almost get the impression that material goods are still of great importance to the blogger. Let’s replace the bedspreads. Are they torn, faded, worn out? No, they’re ugly. One think you can learn from poverty is the difference between wants and needs. There’s nothing wrong with earning a bit of extra money and deciding to pretty up the place. But it’s not a need.

    There are other options than those chosen by the blogger.


    21 May 12 at 9:33 am

  2. Propaganda is a government thing by WHOSE definition? And since when does it require enforcement? I’m quoting my trusty Webster’s New Collegiate, but I didn’t find anyone who differed greatly: “ideas, facts or allegations spread deliberately to further one’s cause or to damage an opposing cause. Also a public action having such an effect.” And yes, of course that would include advertising. And it would include Ehrenreich, most especially when she makes the heroic leap from “these policies hurt poor people” to “these policies are designed to hurt, or get money from, poor people” and the insane conclusion that the situation would be improved by more lawyers and bureaucrats. How does she imagine we got into this mess?

    On her actual description of conditions, she’s sometimes quite right, but each level of analysis is steadily loopier. (It’s not “worst case” by the way: it’s attribution of intent.)

    On the actual evils mentioned–yes, one offense, one charge. You don’t lock them up unless they actually make the outside unsafe, and you pay serious attention to that constitutional requirement for a speedy trial. (How long have we been working on that nutcase who shot up a room on Fort Hood? Still no trial. How long has the Google Settlement been working its way through the courts?) Months for corporate issues, weeks for capital offenses and days for anything else should be the norm–and was, for generations. And when you’re done, you’re done–not that the record should be sealed, but it should only be a factor in hiring when pertinent. (And no, I don’t think the situation would be improved by a government office enforcing this.)

    On interest rates, I too am ambiguous. Obviously, the higher the risk, the higher the interest you OUGHT to pay–and the broker you are, the more likely you are to have to pay preposterous prices for short-term money. (I was never down to payday loans, but I’ve had my broke stretches.)

    But when I say “Joe you aren’t allowed to borrow $50: any sensible firm would charge more interest than I want you to pay” I’ve reduced Joe to a child or idiot, unable to judge his own best interests. I’d work very hard at ensuring competition and full plain-English disclosure, I think: also at institutionalized micro-lending and pawn shops. Pawn shops were started as a service to the poor, and with good reason.

    A little propaganda in school about the virtues of diligence and thrift wouldn’t be a bad move either.


    21 May 12 at 1:47 pm

  3. Jane, you seem to think that because you had a crisis and didn’t have any money, that made you poor. They’re talking about people who GROW UP poor, not you.

    Cathy F


    21 May 12 at 9:13 pm

  4. “But when I say “Joe you aren’t allowed to borrow $50: any sensible firm would charge more interest than I want you to pay” I’ve reduced Joe to a child or idiot, unable to judge his own best interests.”

    But this, of course, is both the intent and the inevitable outcome of government intervention in these matters. As pretty much everyone other than people with buckets of family money, we’ve had our poverty-stricken years. As kids growing up, we never starved but we didn’t get to go to the movies other than as a major treat, and a very rare one by our contemporaries’ standards. In the early years of our married life, kiting cheques in the run up to payday was a risk run by just about everyone we knew.

    But eventually, once the boys were out of school and university, we reached a stage where we had surplus money sufficient to allow us to meet our essential expenditure comfortably and to indulge our reasonable whims. So, one day a few years ago we saw a nice dining-room suite in a department store and decided to replace the table and four chairs that had survived the 35 years or so of our marriage but which were no longer sufficient for our needs, what with grandchildren and all. Turned out the store had this set for sale significantly reduced and on one of those extended no-interest-for-24-months payment deals. We were told that there was no discount for cash as the price was already discounted, so we thought “Why not?” (At that stage there were no monthly “administrative charges”, although these were introduced later but not with retrospective effect on existing contracts, something which made such deals less attractive except for the desperate.)

    But… our then credit limit with the store, although far higher than our regular usage actually needed, fell short by some $1500 or so of the cost, and we needed to get approval for an increased limit. (I can’t remember why we didn’t just pay an increased deposit to cover the difference, but I think that for some reason that was not considered sufficient to overcome the situation that was about to arise, so we didn’t bother.)

    Turned out that the crazy radical left-leaning “government” of this peculiar entity known as the Australian Capital Territory (pop: 360,000 or so) had recently passed legislation allegedly for the “protection” of consumers. That legislation required details of all requests for credit, or for increased credit limits, to be forwarded to some troglodyte deep in the bureaucracy for “approval” before the store (a highly reputable national chain of some 150 years standing) could approve the higher credit limit for people they knew, as account holders of nearly 40 years standing, far better than did the local government. The form required us to list all our existing credit accounts and their limits and so on.

    Needless to say, a request that the store could have processed and approved within minutes, given our credit history, took something like a week. While the delay was no great problem since the order was going to take longer than that to fill in any case, the principle, and the arrogantly patronising politics behind it, was deeply offensive.

    Something that was a mere irritant to us who had no credit problems must be a sore and embarrassing trial for those genuinely skating on the knife edge. Apparently their making ends meet well enough to satisfy the requirements of the actual credit providers is not necessarily good enough to satisfy the whims of a bureaucracy that assumes that they know our needs and abilities to pay better than we do ourselves.

    I despise the attitudes behind these sorts of policies.


    21 May 12 at 9:39 pm

  5. It’s become more and more popular to “overcharge” a defendant in order to over-bail them. In one case I’m very familiar with, the judge established a $100,000 per charge bail, and the prosecutor proceeded to come up with something like 11 charges, including charges based on someone saying the defendant DIDN’T do anything. I’m not kidding.

    It doesn’t really matter after that if you’re guilty or innocent, because you’ve already been stripped of everything you own, trying to make the bail. The defendant was in his 60s and not in great health. His entire family got second mortgages on their houses to make the bail (10% of total, not refundable), and pay for legal counsel, after he was in jail for 4 months. The trial was about 11 months later, and come to find out, bail is RENEWABLE YEARLY, otherwise, back in the slammer. Did not know that.

    And all the prosecutor had to do was file the charges. Instant impoverishment. After two trials and two hung juries, he got to go free, but with nothing. No retirement, no savings, no house. They had to walk away, because they’d mortgaged it at the top of the market, and we all know what happened after that. Bail is not returned if you’re innocent, or not convicted.

    A criminal attorney of our acquaintance defends many people who he knows are guilty. We asked him how he can tolerate knowing that, and he said, “I see my job as making sure that even the guilty defendant is appropriately charged, has appropriate bail set, and gets a fair trial. After that, the verdict is in the jury’s hands.”

    But increasingly, government considers every bit of money that flows through every transaction, THEIRS, from beginning to end. The people who earn it are simply withholding it from the government’s expert determination on how it should be distributed and to whom. Except if you’re rich or a friend of the admininstration or something. Then you’re untouchable. :/


    21 May 12 at 11:09 pm

  6. They’re talking about people who are born poor. Not in that blog, as I remember it. Wasn’t the author made poor as an adult by alcoholism?

    Nevertheless, a lot of people who write about poverty are talking about people who are born poor. I wonder sometimes how many of these they know personally, as schoolmates ro neighbours or friends. Sure, we all know (and have certainly heard about) the multi-generational family that seems mired in poverty and which makes ends sort of meet with social assistance and maybe some crime. But these aren’t the only kind of poor people, and there are others, often even in the same family, who do scrape and struggle and make the most of every opportunity they get.

    I know this sounds like the old deserving/undeserving poor again, but if we’re talking about reducing poverty or dealing with poor people, it matters which group of poor people we are targeting.

    I do get the cynical thought sometimes that we’d get more bang for our buck by helping out the working poor – or at least, not putting barriers in their way – while not wasting efforts on the guy who mocks his brother for working for minimum wage rather than taking social assistance.


    22 May 12 at 6:50 am

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