Super consumer advocate

first_imgThere were pizzas and plenty of curious students at the Harvard Law School (HLS) on Tuesday (March 30) for a luncheon talk sponsored by the School’s American Constitution Society. The only thing missing at first was the speaker.So many people crammed the Austin Hall classroom that late arrivals stood in the doorway or sat on the stairs. The busy scholar arrived shortly. It was understandable that she was running a bit behind schedule. The professor in question was Elizabeth Warren, who these days has massive demands on her time.Warren, Leo Gottlieb Professor of Law at HLS, chairs the Congressional Oversight Panel for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), the  $700 billion rescue program for the country’s finance industry.In her characteristically straightforward style — a recent New York Times article noted Warren’s husband “describes her as a grandmother that can make grown men cry” — she explained her work with the TARP, and delivered a stern warning to the audience about abuses in the financial industry.“If you are carrying a balance on your credit card, you are in danger,” said Warren.Looking out for consumers has long been a priority for the expert on bankruptcy and consumer finance, who also is a driving force behind plans for a new consumer financial protection agency, a proposal supported by the Obama administration and currently before Congress. The House has approved the plan, which is now before the Senate. Many supporters are hopeful that Warren would run the new body.During her comments, Warren offered a historic perspective on the country’s financial troubles.In the past, state usury laws protected consumers from inflated interest rates, she said. But in 1979 a Supreme Court ruling began a chain reaction that led to states repealing their caps on the interest rates that banks could charge when lending.  With that decision, she said, “The game quickly becomes unraveled.”“What starts to happen over time … is that the model shifts for how to make money,” Warren said, noting the explosive expansion of the credit card industry and how lenders began to rely on what she called “the tricks and traps in the back,” including hidden fees, complicated pricing structures, and interest rates that can change without warning.The result, she said, is that when consumers “can’t really price the item and can’t really do comparison shopping  … it’s not a functional market.”Previous attempts to “outlaw bad practices” through congressional regulation, she said, had proven “powerfully ineffective.”Warren’s proposed solution would be an agency much like the Food and Drug Administration or the Environmental Protection Agency, one that could implement basic safety regulations for financial products. Such an agency, she said, could level the playing field for consumers by addressing the root of the problem, eliminating complex financial contracts that leave people “unable to evaluate the cost of the product.”Warren said such an agency could regulate standard credit card contracts, making them no longer than two pages, and “readable by someone with a high school education, in 4 minutes, with 95 percent comprehension.”“Complexity not only hides true cost,” said Warren, “it lets us hide it from ourselves.”last_img read more

Senate approves COR merger resolution

first_imgAfter much debate, Student Senate passed a resolution combining Senate with the Council of Representatives (COR) at its meeting Wednesday. In his State of the Union address prior to the vote, student body president Pat McCormick said the resolution further enables the Student Union to act upon the will of the student body. “The time has come for us to think of ourselves no longer as independent organizations, but as a united student union,” he said. “All the rest of our goals for this year are dependent on this goal.” The resolution dissolves COR and adds six new voting members to Senate — the four class presidents, the Club Coordination Council president and the off-campus president. Originally, the resolution proposed adding the Student Union Board (SUB) manager and Student Union treasurer as voting members as well. However, many senators pointed out that these positions are not voted upon by the student body, as the rest of the positions in Senate are. “I’m against non-elected representatives having voting rights,” Fisher senator Colin Geils said. “I don’t feel they properly represent the student body.” SUB manager Joe Caparros said that while policy changes made in Senate have not affected SUB a great deal in recent years, it is possible they could in the future. “I do represent the interests of the Student Union Board but I also represent the interests of everyone,” he said. “The risk is that if policy does affect SUB more than it has in the past there is a danger for SUB to not have a say in any of that.” Student Union treasurer Eric Biro expressed concern that non-voting members of Senate did not have the “right of agenda,” the ability to bring resolutions before Senate. “I think there’s something to be said for the person who knows the most about the Student Union fiscal policy to lose that right of agenda,” he said. The senators voted to amend the resolution, changing the SUB manager and Student Union treasurer to non-voting members while also granting these members the right of agenda. The most hotly contested issue was the question of whether to add one of the co-chairs of Hall President’s Council (HPC) as a voting member. Pasquerilla East senator Katie Rose said members of her dorm had raised concern over an HPC co-chair being able to vote in Senate. “They already have a lot of power,” she said. “If we’re trying to increase representation of the Student Union, well the residence halls are already represented by us.” HPC co-chair Jay Mathes said he and fellow co-chair Billy Wardlaw would be able to provide the perspective of the halls as an aggregate force, rather than a particular one as the senators do. “We’re not divided by dorm, grade or gender and we’re one of the very few groups here on campus that are looking out for the benefits of all students,” he said. “The perspectives we have and the talks we have with presidents on a day-to-day basis add different conclusions. It’s a perspective we really need to take care of.” McCormick said an HPC co-chair would also offer the benefit of a representative with greater experience in student government. In the past, senators were always seniors. Now, almost all senators are sophomores or juniors, McCormick said. “It creates a body that tends to be younger and has this as their initial or second point of entry into student government,” he said. “You might have this conclusion that the HPC co-chair might exert undue influence on the other senators, but on the other hand, that might not be a bad thing either.” The co-chair would contribute a more seasoned opinion from the hall perspective than a sophomore senator would be able to, McCormick said. Despite these arguments, senators voted to amend the resolution to add an HPC co-chair as a non-voting member of Senate. The resolution also reallocates the previous responsibilities of COR. Oversight Committee chair Ben Noe said the COR Collaboration Fund, which allocates funds to organizations that are working together on an event, will now be managed by the Financial Management Board (FMB). “We felt this fund would best be moved to FMB and chaired by the Student Union treasurer with representatives from every organization,” he said. “Now the fund will be managed by an actual financial body rather than representatives.” A special committee of former COR members will now be chosen to approve the Student Union budget, also previously managed by COR. Further, the resolution changes the names of several groups in order to better reflect their functions: the Executive Policy Board to the Executive Cabinet, committees and committee chairs to departments and directors and Oversight to Internal Affairs. The resolution was the result of months of effort by Noe, his committee and the subcommittee on constitutional reform. “I really think this resolution will help us build a student government that is truly indicative of a student union in that the leaders of all the organizations will come together in one meeting,” Noe said. “And they will all have some say and some vote on what is being said and done in terms of policy.”last_img read more