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President Obama 3Looking for something to restore your faith in our government? Then check out the new rules adopted yesterday by the Obama administration to clamp down on predatory lenders who take advantage of American servicemen and women.

The new Department of Defense rules, which were announced Tuesday by the President in a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, update the Military Lending Act—a 2006 law that capped interest rates and add-on fees to members of the military and their families at 36 percent.

Unfortunately, the original 2007 regulations implementing the law capped rates for just a small number of loan types, such as payday loans of 91 days or less and so-called “car title loans” of 181 day or less. Since that time, sharks have evaded the rules by simply extending the terms or restructuring the loans — thus allowing them to continue to target service members (something that often impacts their security clearances and even jeopardizes their careers).

Happily, the new rules take big step toward putting an end to these evasions in that they:

  • Apply market-wide to all high-cost credit products that target service members, including payday, auto title and installment loans designed to evade the 2007 protections;
  • Cap interest and add-on fees at 36 percent for loans issued to service members and their dependents;
  • Prevent lenders from using junk fees such as credit insurance, debt cancellation or debt suspension to circumvent the 36 percent interest and fee cap.
  • Preserve service members’ access to the courts by prohibiting forced arbitration agreements;

Research by the Department of Defense released last year found that as many as one out of every ten enlisted serviceman and woman continued to be targeted by high-cost credit designed to evade the Military Lending Act. DoD estimates that the final rule will reduce involuntary separation caused by financial hardship, resulting in a savings of $14 million a year or more.

The rules come as a particular boon to North Carolina, home to tens of thousands of active military personnel and one of the nation’s largest military populations.

Of course, the obvious next step for federal regulators in the years ahead is to extend the protections now afforded to active military personnel to all individuals affiliated with the military and, eventually, all American consumers period. Let’s get to work.

Commentary

Here are a few more details on the latest outrageous and inaccurate broadside launched by the North Carolina chapter of the Koch brothers-funded group known as Americans for Prosperity. As was explained in this space yesterday, AFP made the absurd claim that North Carolina’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard —  a modest law designed to help North Carolina begin to kick its heroin-like addiction to fossil fuels — “strangles” the “entire NC economy.” As pointed out here yesterday, this is simply untrue:

“Even if one conceded that the REPS somehow raises consumer electric bills in any significant way — something that is simply not true — North Carolina’s electric rates are currently below the national average.  This is true in all categories — residential, commercial industrial, transportation and overall.  Heck, North Carolina residential consumers pay less for electricity than Texans! North Carolina commercial and industrial consumers pay less than West Virginia businesses! Click here to review the latest data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. How could such rates be ‘strangling’ the economy?”

Later in the day yesterday, AFP attempted to defend its outrageous claim by pointing in two tweets to a statement in a March 2015 report written by McCrory administration officials. Here’s the supposedly damning language:

“North Carolina remains the only state in the Southeast to have enacted a REPS. As a result of this geographic isolation, long-term energy prices may adversely impact economic growth and challenge recent improvements in employment in North Carolina.”

To which, all a sane person can say in response is: How in the world can that be interpreted as confirmation of the assertion that REPS “strangles” the economy? Earth to AFP: Check your Merriam-Webster. “May adversely impact” does not mean “strangles.”

Add to this the fact that the “may adversely effect” language represents one sentence in a sometimes misleading 36 page report with myriad observations and conclusions about REPS and energy generally AND that it was written by employees of the McCrory administration’s decimated and thoroughly cowed Department of Environment and Natural Resources AND that the actual facts on the ground show the price of electricity in North Carolina to be well below the national average AND that other analysis shows that REPS is actually saving consumers millions and it becomes evident that the AFP folks are just making stuff up.

The plain and simple fact of the matter is that renewable energy represents North Carolina’s future — both for its economy and its environment. And no amount of fossil fuel industry funded propaganda is going to change this reality.

Commentary

Not that the powers that be in Raleigh appear terribly concerned about what the majority of people living along the North Carolina coast think, but another coastal community has spoken up loudly and clearly against Governor Pat McCrory’s wrongheaded decision to proceed with offshore oil exploration. This is from the lead article in this morning’s Wilmington Star News:

“Thunderous applause followed a Wilmington City Council decision Tuesday to oppose oil drilling off the North Carolina coast.

Attendees against offshore drilling — some waving “Don’t drill N.C.” signs — filled seats, lined the walls and overflowed into an upstairs area at the council chambers Tuesday evening. The crowd was so large that about 100 people had to wait outside the meeting after the room hit capacity.

The resolution approved unanimously by the council, presented by councilman Charlie Rivenbark, opposes both offshore drilling and seismic testing to find oil and natural gas….

According to [the environmental group] Oceana, 15 North Carolina municipalities — including Wrightsville Beach, Carolina Beach and Topsail Beach — have passed resolutions voicing concerns about seismic testing or offshore drilling.”

Meanwhile, the good people at the North Carolina Coastal Federation, who have spoken out loudly and clearly about the huge dangers of offshore drilling will be hosting another forum on the subject in New Bern next Friday. This from the online description:

“What does the North Carolina coast look like today – economically, environmentally and socially? How could this change with the introduction of the oil and gas industry? This forum is intended to delve into the economic truths, environmental implications, and actual effects on coastal communities. Speakers include researchers, regulators, elected officials and coastal residents, from the Gulf of Mexico to Currituck Sound.”

Click here to learn more and register. The deadline is this Friday the 24th.

And if you’d like to get the full scoop on the move to turn the North Carolina coast into a version of Louisiana’s from the comfort of your own computer, click here to watch a presentation from earlier this year by Sierra Weaver of the Southern Environmental Law center at an NC Policy Watch Crucial Conversation luncheon.

Commentary

It’s an admittedly crowded field of competitors, but by any fair assessment, the Koch Brother-funded group, Americans for Prosperity North Carolina may just have posted its most dishonest and ridiculous claim yet about renewable energy. As you can see in the tweet below and by following the link it contains, the group claims that North Carolina’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (a modest law that moves the state in the direction of producing more sustainable energy and that will actually save consumers lots of money over time) “strangles” the “entire North Carolina economy.”

This is, simply put, a blatant and outrageous lie. Even if one conceded that the REPS somehow raises consumer electric bills in any significant way — something that is simply not true — North Carolina’s electric rates are currently below the national average.  This is true in all categories — residential, commercial industrial, transportation and overall.  Heck, North Carolina residential consumers pay less for electricity than Texans! North Carolina commercial and industrial consumers pay less than West Virginia businesses! Click here to review the latest data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. How could such rates be “strangling” the economy?

The bottom line: It’s no surprise that fossil fuel barons like the Kochs would put their paid mouthpieces to work to promote policies that pad their gigantic profits, but when the lies get this big, they really need to be called out. Let’s hope this dishonest effort to undermine renewables continues to fall flat.

Commentary

This is the latest in a series of “Wage Week” posts that we are featuring on The Progressive Pulse to highlight efforts to raise the abysmally low and inadequate federal minimum wage. Follow the discussion on Twitter at #WageWeek

By Vicki Meath, Executive Director of Just Economics

As we approach the sixth anniversary of the last time the federal minimum wage was raised the is Friday, we recognize the need to continue to raise the wage floor. A higher wage floor means more low and middle income workers are participating in sustainable economic activity, keeping money circulating in the local economy. It also means that more full time workers can put a roof over their head and food on their table without outside support. When the wage floor rises to a level where more workers can meet their basic needs, we experience a variety of economic benefits, but also we demonstrate that as a community, we value workers and an economy that works for all.

We are taking time this week to celebrate Wage Week and the hard work of individuals, business leaders, unions, organizations, and elected leaders who contribute to a more just and sustainable economy. While the public narrative often identifies some of these entities as adversaries, we honor the variety of strategies used to stand together on the side of economic justice.

Across the nation we have seen so many recent victories in the effort to raise the wage floor. In Seattle, community advocates worked with elected leaders to pass a bold city wide minimum wage policy. Thanks to the hard work of SEIU, homecare workers in Massachusetts won the fight for a $15/hr wage floor. From brave workers involved in the Fight for 15 to a wealthy venture capitalist, the New York Labor Department’s Wage Board heard testimony last month in support of a higher wage floor for fast food workers and the Board unanimously backed a wage raise proposal.

Here in North Carolina, our state law presents challenges to raising the wage floor at a local level but we continue to find creative strategies to raise wages and build a more sustainable economy. Just Economics, a small nonprofit in Western North Carolina, has the largest Living Wage Certification program in the country and helped develop a replicable model. The Durham Living Wage Project launched a similar program this past spring, identifying businesses voluntarily paying a living wage. The Moral Monday movement initiated by HKonJ and the NC NAACP mobilizes individuals across the state to push for an agenda that includes living wages as major piece of a system that provides equal opportunity for all North Carolinians. Despite the challenges, individuals and organizations across the state are making a difference.

Sometimes the work of justice can seem overwhelming. This week, let us look around, remember the value in this work, recognize our allies, and push forward. We still have a lot of work to do, but we are still winning.