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Ecumen guest blogger Jim Klobuchar is a journalist, author, and global travel guide. He wrote for the Star Tribune in Minneapolis for three decades and is the father of two daughters, including United States Senator Amy Klobuchar. To read past blog posts, simply use our "search" box and type "Jim Klobuchar."
Basically for re-assurance, I dug out a $5 bill from my pocket this morning. On its well crumpled reverse side I read the inscription, which said “In God We Trust.”
This is good, I told myself. But I had to intrude a well-intended question: What else is left?
Bad news and daily chaos were my natural habitat for 40 years in daily journalism, which I survived with reasonable health and happy vibrations. In that condition I don’t find myself filing for protection from the normal calamaties of the world that are available in the morning newspaper or on the television screen. A lot of the news is bad. But it might have been almost as bad when they were building pyramids and even worse when they lived in trees.
Events of the past few weeks led me to wonder how much further do we have to go in the legally-protected scamming and chiseling of the buying public?
I walked into my favorite office supply store for a stapler and computer paper and, spotting a familiar salesman, said: “That printer I bought here two weeks ago is doing well. But I’ve had it only two weeks and it’s telling me I need to change the ink cartridge because the ink is running dangerously low. I got the impression that if I ran one more sheet of paper through that printer I was going to get blown through the roof. ”
He shrugged, suggesting “Why should you be surprised?”
The salesman broke the news gently. “I thought everybody knew by now,” he said. “The companies sell printers. They keep the prices low (and changing models) so they can make their big money on the cartridges.”
So I was being muscled. “I just checked those prices” I said. “changing cartridges every two weeks would put me in the poor farm. And it wasn’t one color. I’m looking at your shelves here and if I want black ink in this standard printer, which is basically all I need, I have to buy four cartridges-in-one—black, raspberry, a mellow yellow and, would you believe, a magenta!! The only people I know who need magenta make flight maps, and you can’t read the magenta in half them. I want to write letters and files. I’m not decorating a birthday cake.”
The salesman tried to be kind, suggesting “it’s life,” in other words a ripoff but legal.
But it’s not all that different, when you think about it, from the infuriating daylight theft by the credit card bankers and hustlers-- exposed in recent legislation that took effect two weeks ago—but which the card companies already are finding ways to avoid by inventing new language in their indecipheral billing policies.
The old policies gave the most prominent credit card companies doing business today, including companies whose cards you may be carrying, permission to swamp gullible users with penalty fees. Under the old license-to-steal policies some of the card companies were increasing the base payment rates of their customers by up to 25 per cent or more, including those who paid on time. Millions of others who were as little as one day late found their actual billings doubled in penalty fees.
In the time of the country’s deepest economic crises in 70 years, the opportunists and sharks were making up for lost revenue from millions of Americans unable to spend as much on essentials—or to spend at all—by soaking those least able to pay.
What the new legislation does fundamentally is to set new boundaries on leeching practices in the credit card industry.
It doesn’t prevent them from finding new dodges, which already are being seen.
Only a genuine consumer protection agency with powers of enforcement to launch criminal prosecution can do that. In the meantime, you might keep a magnifiying glass at hand. Most of that small print is not going to get much larger.