“Supporting” the Troops Hypocrisy

by Phil Anderson

Photo illustration by Phil Anderson
Photo illustration by Phil Anderson

“White House Takes Aim At Financial Protections For Military,” 
“The Trump administration is taking aim at a law designed to protect military service members from getting cheated by shady lending practices.”  
National Public Radio, August 13, 2018.

“Mulvaney Looks to Weaken Oversight of Military Lending,” 
“The Trump administration is planning to suspend routine examinations of lenders for violations of the Military Lending Act, which was devised to protect military service members and their families from financial fraud, predatory loans and credit card gouging, according to internal agency documents.” New York Times, August 10, 2018.  

“The Trump administration is dismantling financial protections for the military” 
“The federal government’s top consumer watchdog has decided it no longer needs to proactively supervise banks, credit card companies, and other lenders who deal with members of the military and their families to make sure they’re not committing fraud or abuse.” MSN.com. August 15. 2018

A military base full of young men with more testosterone than good sense has always been prime pickings for the “camp followers.” When I was in the Army I was stationed at Ft. Hood, Texas. The strip just off post consisted of miles of used car dealers, high interest loan companies, pawn shops, and fast food chains. The bars, because it was a dry county, required a membership fee to join a “club.” The clubs were nothing more than bars with all the same ambiance, alcohol, and vice of scuzzy dives everywhere. There were plenty of legal and illegal shysters ready to relieve the troops of their money.  

On base, private businesses had permission to offer many kinds of services. These included financial services, credit cards, and insurance companies that specialized in “serving” military personnel. The military had its own liquor stores and bars (officer’s and enlisted clubs). But these businesses were monitored by the military to avoid predatory practices. Sometimes base commanders would go after disreputable off-base businesses by declaring them “off limits” to military personnel. The military recognized that regulation of business was necessary to prevent exploitation. 

I am reminded of all this because of recent news reports about the Trump administration’s  actions to weaken enforcement of the Military Lending Act. The news stories quoted above tell the story. The Trump administration is putting the protection of the financial services industry before the well being of military service members. This shows Republican  hypocrisy concerning military personnel. They talk big about the troops being honored heroes but profits are more important. The troops are only free market cannon fodder. They are the marks – the suckers – to be preyed upon by the shysters. 

This is not the first time the Republicans have protected profits of businesses rather than the well being of military service members. The Military Lending Act passed in 2006 was suppose to safeguard active duty military members and their families from financial fraud, predatory loans, and high interest credit cards. The law caped the annual interest rates at 36% for “payday” style short term loans. But the industry used loopholes in the law to continue charging effective interest rates of 300-400 percent. Additional legislation was later passed to close the loopholes. In 2015, the Republicans tried to delay implementation of these rules with a rider in a military spending bill, but the Democrats were able to kill this rider. 

The profits over people agenda continued with Republican opposition to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). This agency was created in 2010 in reaction to the fraud and economic meltdown of 2007-8. The CFPB includes the Office of Service Member Affairs to provide an independent watchdog specifically for military personnel. Since its creation, this office has handled 90,000 consumer complaints from service members and recovered hundreds of millions of dollars from illegal practices. This is the regulatory office that the Trump administration is weakening. 

Nor is predatory lending the only way Republicans hurt military personnel and veterans. Food Stamps are a regular target for budget cuts by Republicans. About 25% of active duty and reserve military families receive food stamps. In 2015 there were 751,000 food stamp transactions worth $80 million in military commissaries. In any month about one million veterans receive food stamps. 

Cuts to other social programs impact veterans. The Veterans Administration has repeatedly  been targeted for budget cuts by Republicans. The continuing efforts to kill the Affordable Care Act would impact many veterans who qualify for subsidized health care. Cuts to Pell Grants for higher education, unemployment compensation, and federal hiring all mean reducing the well being of veterans. These are just a few examples of the hypocrisy of Republicans and their “support” for the troops.  

I often write about how Republican anti-government, anti-regulation policies are bad for ordinary people. You may think I am a partisan crank. But the above examples make my case. All this is typical of many actions, over many years, on many issues where the Republicans have defended profit over the well being of ordinary citizens.  

The necessary public programs and regulations needed by military personnel, veterans, and their families are no different than the support needed by all of us. Everyone deserves to have clean, safe, decent communities in which to live. We all need affordable healthcare, education, housing, family supporting jobs, clean air, clean water, and quality public schools. Sensible regulation to prevent predatory lending, fraud, and unscrupulous business practices is just one part of the larger picture. 

We should appreciate the sacrifice of veterans (and of ALL our pubic servants). Working to create a better America is a good way to thank veterans for their service. Real thanks must be more than words. Real thanks is doing what is right and needed for veterans and their families. It is working to make our country what it should be for everyone. 

After decades of historical evidence it should be obvious that the well being of people is not the agenda of the Republican party. The only solution is to stop voting for them.