Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Nickled and Dimed to Death

Everyday Americans are about to be nickled and dimed to death, and no one seems to care.

Would you mind if AT&T over-charged you by $1.75 every month on your cell phone bill?

Or if your cable provider added an unidentified fee of $3.00 to every cable subscriber's bill without telling you?

How about if your employer started secretly deducting $5 bucks out of every Alabama fan's paycheck, just because your boss is an Auburn fan?

Or how about if your mortgage company or credit card issuer adds an extra day of interest to your debt every year?

Guess what? It doesn't matter if you mind or not, because the U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that your best weapon against corporate thievery like that - a class action - can be taken away from you in the fine print of every contract you sign, so long as it hides behind the skirt of an arbitration clause.

In a blindingly revealing opinion released today, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that corporations can ban class actions by simply inserting the ban into the fine print of the arbitration clauses in its contracts with consumers, employees, and homeowners, even if such a ban is against state law. Yes, you read that right. This Supreme Court just ruled that state legislatures have almost no say over basic contract law. Read it for yourself here. It has never been more clear that this Court, and much of the policy-making structure of our nation, is firmly in the grasp of corporate America. Little guy, if you still exist and have enough strength to care, hold on to your wallet, because it is about to get ugly.

Imagine that...a corporation can take away your ability to fight back against small, hidden over-charges, secret fees, tiny pilfering, and leave you with essentially only one remedy: You can ask for your money back. Unless you think you can find a lawyer willing to take your case for a piece of the recovery; say, one-third of your $5 bucks?

Even if it would be far more efficient to allow the victims of such a scam to band together and bring one case, this decision means that corporations can force each victim to fight his/her own battle, one at a time. It doesn't take a genius to figure out what will happen. A few people will ask for refunds, and the vast majority of folks will never know they were robbed, so AT&T, or the cable company, or mortgage company, or even your boss, can keep the extra money they stole from everyone else. The rich get richer, and the poor get the shaft. That used to be a joke.

So, what ever happened to all those principled conservatives on the Supreme Court who believed in states' rights? Well, it seems that when the beloved conservative principle of states' rights comes up against corporate America's thirst for profits, stolen or otherwise, it's time for a corporate smack-down. Every. Single. Time.

You might recall that I discussed the ramifications of this case a few months ago (see my original post here), and warned that a decision in favor of AT&T would take away the biggest weapon consumers have against corporate abuse. Now, after the Court has made its decision, how does it feel to have corporate America holding all the bullets from your only gun? Do you feel safer?

One day, Americans will wake up to the fact that a country run by corporations is not "of the people, by the people, and for the people." Not even close.

I hope it's not too late.

B

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