The Hightower Report

Remaking Trade Policy; and Wall Street's Fee Scammers

Remaking Trade Policy

Well now, here's some change you can believe in.

It doesn't come from Barack Obama, who campaigned as the "change" candidate. Instead, it comes from Congress – but it does deliver on Obama's political promise of a new, fair, and effective trade policy.

Dubbed the "TRADE" Act (for Trade Reform, Accountability, Development, and Employment), this bill provides a progressive path to a global commerce policy that works for people – not just for the corporate plunderers who hung NAFTA, the Central American Free Trade Agreement, and the World Trade Organization around our necks.

The TRADE Act (House Resolution 3012) sets standards that must be in all future trade agreements, including standards that advance the interests of our working families, the environment, family farmers, small businesses, public health, and national sovereignty. It also stipulates what cannot be included. For example, WTO, NAFTA, and other pacts directly promote the offshoring of jobs, require governments to open all public services to privatization, ban cities and states from instituting "Buy American" procurement programs, and give anti-consumer protections to big drug corporations. The new trade policy would nix all of these outrages.

In addition, HR 3012 requires the president to renegotiate all existing trade deals, bringing them in line with the new standards. It also eliminates the anti-democratic fast-track process for approving trade agreements, replacing it with a greatly enhanced role for congressional deliberation and oversight.

This bill revamps the rules so we can expand international trade without running roughshod over people and the environment, and with 106 co-sponsors and broad grassroots support, we have a real chance to produce real change. To help create fair trade, connect with local activists in your area through Public Citizen's trade campaign: www.citizen.org/trade.

Wall Street's Fee Scammers

How's this for gratitude?

Wall Street bankers, whom we've propped up with a $12 trillion bailout, are quietly slipping offensive little notes into our monthly credit card bills and bank statements. The message is: "Gotcha again, suckers."

Their gotcha is a rash of rate hikes and fee increases. In June, for example, Bank of America abruptly raised its fee for a basic checking account by 50%, and Citibank jacked up the interest rate on some of its credit cards to an outrageous 29.99%.

My favorite fee hike, however, is for bounced checks. This has been a steadily rising moneymaker for the industry, producing about $32 billion for the banks last year. With the current economic collapse, though, folks are taking special care these days not to overdraw their accounts, because banks hit you with a fee of up to $35 for each overdraft. As a result, bankers are collecting less money from this charge and, to make up for their revenue shortfall, have merrily cranked up their bounced-check fees, which now run as high as $39 – thus socking it to some of their customers who are under the worst financial strain.

Why have the big banks become such fee-grubbers? Because they've failed at the core business of banking, which is to make good loans. So they are inventing new ways to extract money from their existing customers without doing anything to earn it. Astonishingly, the fees they charge you and me now total 53% of the industry's annual income!

The biggest banks charge the most, earning them a new slogan: "Fees R Us." Meanwhile, they are lobbying frantically in Washington to kill legislation that would protect consumers from their unbridled greed. For more information, contact Americans for Financial Reform at www.ourfinancialsecurity.org.

For more information on Jim Hightower's work – and to subscribe to his award-winning monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown – visit www.jimhightower.com. You can hear his radio commentaries on KOOP Radio, 91.7FM, weekdays at 10:58am and 12:58pm.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

TRADE act, bank fees, Wall Street, Bank of America, NAFTA, CAFTA, WTO

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