A prepaid debit card company's lobbying efforts in Washington are paying off. Congressional Republicans are seeking to repeal limits to the amount banks can charge customers in overdraft fees. The company is Total System Services, and it stands to make tens of millions of dollars when the GOP starts letting it charge exorbitant overdraft fees. And Total System Services only had to spend $270,000 to make the GOP do its bidding. What a great investment!
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Last week, Georgia Republican Sen. David Perdue introduced a resolution in Congress, alongside other Republicans including his fellow Georgian Johnny Isakson, to throw out a new package of rules for the prepaid debit card industry.
The rules, finalized by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in October, include limitations on overdraft fees, which have become a significant source of consumer complaints about the financial industry — and an important revenue stream for Georgia-based financial firm Total System Services, whose NetSpend unit is the country’s largest manager of prepaid cards, according to a 2015 financial filing.
The vast majority of prepaid debit cards don’t come with overdraft fees, but NetSpend’s do, and the fees accounted for 10-12% of its overall revenue in 2016, or $80-85 million, the company told investors in October. Its parent has spent big on lobbying and political donations in a bid to kill the rules: in the last three months of 2016 alone, it spent some $270,000 lobbying Congress.
The company’s political action committee has also given its home-state senators Perdue and Isakson $37,500 in campaign contributions since 2010, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics.
New York is one of four states considering legislation that would guarantee your right to get your stuff fixed by independent repair centers, curbing manufacturers' attempts to limit access to technical documentation and parts, meaning you pay less to keep your stuff working, and that means that your gadgets don't become immortal, toxic e-waste.
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Stephen Bassett is the only lobbyist of his kind in Washington DC. He's working to get the government to admit that it has proof of extraterrestrials visiting our planet. “I want to see disclosure by the New Hampshire primary,” says Bassett who has been working the issue for nearly two decades. From the Washington Post:
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...Getting appointments on Capitol Hill wasn’t easy for an advocate who believed that aliens landed at Roswell in 1947 and that the nation’s leaders created a “Truth Embargo” to keep information from getting out.
“Nobody there wanted to touch it,” Bassett said.
In 2013, unable to get anything close to a real congressional hearing, he created a fake one. With a $1 million donation from a Canadian believer, Bassett paid former members of Congress such as Alaskan senator Mike Gravel and Maryland representative Roscoe Bartlett $20,000 to spend a week at the National Press Club listening to testimony about UFOs.
The hours of testimony — from former Air Force officials who believe they saw spacecraft, or accounts of animals found dissected in pastures — led to some lighthearted stories but no movement with any current members of Congress. Then came the tweet heard round the world.
The message came from Podesta, the former top aide in Bill Clinton’s White House, as he stepped down after 11 months as special adviser for President Obama.
“My biggest failure of 2014: Once again not securing the #disclosure of the UFO files. #thetruthisstilloutthere,” he tweeted on Feb. 13.
It was retweeted thousands of times and picked up by mainstream media reporters across the country — most presenting it as a joke.
Worthless pocket clutter that it is—often thrown in the trash!—America should likely do away with the one cent coin. Ah, but that would mean less profits for the zinc trade.
Beside national inertia, the main reason the penny is still with us is that business interests want it that way. President Obama, when he was campaigning in 2008, said he would like to rid the nation of this unnecessary burden. “I need to find out who is lobbying to keep the penny,” he said. The Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks lobbyists, has the answer: it’s Big Zinc sidekicked by the vending industry. Together, they form a powerful penny lobby.
The interesting part is how many cute stories, about smalltown America's fight to save the penny, that the lobbyists get in print.
In few such accounts is it noted that the ACC is run by the main lobbyist representing the zinc industry, which supplies most of the metal used in pennies. The “report” was merely a short statement from the group citing various opinion polls, most of them completed from 12 to 20 years ago. The most recent was conducted in 2006 — by Coinstar CSTR 0.00% , a business that is built largely on the fact that Americans must periodically haul huge, penny-filled cider bottles to vending machines if they want to turn the coins into usable currency. (Coinstar also owns Redbox, the movie-rental outfit). The link provided by the ACC to Coinstar’s survey is broken, and there is no information on the company’s site about the survey, which, according to the ACC, found that two-thirds of Americans want to keep the penny. Read the rest
Last week, after giving myself an initial overview of the scientific research on how gun ownership and gun laws affect violent crime, I told you that it seems like there's not a solid consensus on this issue. At least not in the United States. Different studies, of different laws, in different places seem to produce a wide variety of results.
On the one hand, this is kind of to be expected with social science. People are hard to pin down. Harder, often, than the Higgs Boson particle. And you can't just do a clean, controlled laboratory study of these issues. Instead, you're left trying to compare specific places, laws, and enforcement techniques that may not be easily comparable, in an attempt to draw a broad conclusion. That's hard.
But, it seems, the National Rifle Association has gone out of its way to make this work even more difficult than it would otherwise be. Since the early 1990s, NRA-backed politicians have attacked firearms research they believe is biased against guns. Alex Seitz-Wald at Salon.com wrote a piece on this back in July, after an earlier mass shooting. He describes how a vaguely worded clause has lead researchers to avoid doing firearms studies at all, for fear of losing their funding.
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The Centers for Disease Control funds research into the causes of death in the United States, including firearms — or at least it used to. In 1996, after various studies funded by the agency found that guns can be dangerous, the gun lobby mobilized to punish the agency.