Monday, April 18, 2005

Moral bankruptcy

The Republicans' "decision" (reflex is probably a better word) to crack down on bankruptcy filings (Bracing for the bankruptcy bill) follows on the moral footsteps of the "Class Action Fairness Act" (AKA tort "reform"), and is a harbinger of the coming repeal of the "death tax." The majority cites "fairness" and the ever-popular "individual responsibility" as justification for these, although you might ask: When fairness benefits primarily the wealthy and corporations, and removes safety nets for the already fragile working class, is it still "fair"?

Half the bankruptcies that the bill gets "tuff" on are the result of medical emergencies, while most of the rest are the result of job loss and divorce. Congress chose to reject provisions that would provide protection in the cases of medical emergency, and for seniors trying to keep their homes. Meanwhile, credit card companies (who lobbied heavily for this) continue to earn record profits pandering to the credit-unworthy. This bill helps them lessen their risk and increase their profits. Fair?

Comments on "fairness" from Bankruptcy bill or welfare for usurers?:

Consider this: The Senate rejected a measure to cap credit-card interest rates at 30 percent.

As Travis Plunkett, legislative director of the Consumer Federation of America noted, lenders "have it within their power to control the bankruptcy rates by controlling their practices."

When Washington pushes for more responsibility among debtors, but not loan-shark-like lenders, when its "ownership society" principles don't make big corporations own up to their role in the bankruptcy problem, the GOP is toadying to big business. (Ditto the 18 Democrats and one independent senator who voted for the bill.)

"Tort reform" might be equitable if it had any impact on corporations, which file roughly 75% of all civil lawsuits, consuming publicly-funded court time - but it doesn't. It restricts individuals in class action suits, one of our few remaining checks on corporations' abuses. Fair?

The "death tax" is claimed to possibly maybe bankrupt some farms - although no actual case has been cited (as we've seen from the Republican Noise Machine, facts wilt before repeated cliches). The estate tax affects roughly 19,000 people, and apparently the major moral issue is that if the tax stays intact, wealthy heirs (once again, the wealthy benefit) won't be quite as far ahead of poor heirs as they used to be. Meanwhile, lost taxes will be paid by our children and grandchildren in the form of debt. Fair?

The results of all this fairness are predictable: It's better to be poor in Norway than in the US and Industry Secrets (Scary Debt Stats). This at the same time that the U.S. pays extremely high rates for healthcare yet ranks poorly among other industrialized nations, despite having the best-trained practicioners and best medical infrastructure - adding, of course, to medical bankruptcies. Fair?

It's no wonder W talks about "private accounts" as apparently the only significant part of an "ownership society." We no longer own our government, if we ever did.

More on toughening bankruptcy laws: The Bankruptcy Bill: a Tutorial in Greed and The Debt-Peonage Society and Bankruptcy Bill is Congress' Shame.

More on tort "reform": Tort 'Reform' Triumphs and The Hypocrites Of Tort Reform.

More on the estate tax: True to Ritual, House Votes for Full Repeal of Estate Tax.

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