I don’t watch much TV, but a friend of mine thought I’d enjoy the show Boston Legal which is now in re-runs. He taped a few episodes to whet my whistle. It is soapy and at times ridiculous but incredibly fun. And, in each episode there is a message on some social or political issue that is so remarkably well thought out and well delivered as to give me pause. I have to admit that I’m now addicted to the show and have purchased five years of episodes.
In 2005, there was an episode called Legal Deficits in which attorney, Alan Shore played by James Spader goes head to head with legal council of a bank credit card company. Shore’s secretary found herself in debt to the tune of $50,000, a direct result of her bank raising her rate to 30%. She simply could no longer remain current on her payments. Alan agreed to negotiate a settlement with the credit card company and if unsuccessful, was prepared to bring suit.
It was my intent to post a copy of this show’s transcript here. But I discovered upon re-reading it that it was James Spader’s delivery that brought the words to life. I encourage you all to take advantage of your tax dollars at work and visit your local library that is sure to have all seasons available on DVD. Or buy them. They will give you hours of pleasure, some of it mindless but always with that touch of thought-provoking wisdom artfully mixed in.
This episode originally aired in 2005. It speaks on the issues of zero percent teaser rates, bait and switch tactics, 30% interest rates, the lack of usury laws, universal default, the lack of OCC regulatory enforcement, the power of credit card lobbyists and Congresses bowing to their every whim, the credit card industry’s nickname for credit card customers who pay off their debt (they are called deadbeats because the credit card company doesn’t make any money off them), the targeting of people who they know won’t be able to pay, the ‘too big to sue’ power of the banks and credit card companies, the deceptiveness of the credit card contract, and the analogy of credit card companies and heroin pushers. It speaks to seven million families that filed for bankruptcy in five years and Congress changing the bankruptcy laws to make it almost impossible for people to discharge credit card debt.
This spot, of course, had a happy ending and the secretary’s debt was discharged. Well, it is a TV show and Alan Spader never loses. So I forgive the unreality.
But imagine this. The show aired in 2005 and it was not until 2009 that Congress finally passed credit card reform. And even then, it doesn’t go into effect until 2010. And today the banks are taking mighty advantage of this time lapse and raising every interest rate they can to 25% to 30%. Each day, more and more Americans find themselves unable to pay their credit card bills because of this systematic rise in rates. So it should not be surprising that credit card default rates have risen above the 20% mark for the first time and are expected to go even higher as our economic crisis grips our country and unemployment rises.
Clearly, James Spader, in the role of Alan Shore, is not going to appear before Congress and argue in favor of a national usury law, win and get those rates down. So what can be done? What if we, as a people came together and refused to make ANY credit card payments until the banks either reduced all credit card rates to some reasonable level or Congress enacted a federal usury limit.
Fantasy, you bet! But what a fun thought, eh?