Monthly Archives: July 2012

The Card Game

As credit card companies face rising public anger, new regulation from Washington and staggering new rates of default and bankruptcy, FRONTLINE correspondent Lowell Bergman investigates the future of the massive consumer loan industry and its impact on a fragile national economy.

In The Card Game, a follow-up to the Secret History of the Credit Card and a joint project with The New York Times, Bergman and the Times talk to industry insiders, lobbyists, politicians and consumer advocates as they square off over attempts to reform the way the industry has done business for decades.

“The card issuers could do anything they want,” Robert McKinley, CEO of CardWeb.com, tells FRONTLINE of the industry’s unchecked power over consumers. “They could change your interest rate. They could impose an annual fee. They could close your account.” High interest rates along with more and more penalty fees drove up profits for the industry, Bergman finds, as the banks followed the lead of an aggressive upstart: Providian Bank. In an exclusive interview with FRONTLINE, former Providian CEO Shailesh Mehta tells Bergman how his company successfully targeted vulnerable low-income customers whom Providian called “the unbanked.”

“They’re lower-income people-bad credits, bankrupts, young credits, no credits,” Mehta says. Providian also innovated by offering “free” credit cards that carried heavy hidden fees. “I used to use the word ‘penalty pricing’ or ‘stealth pricing,'” Mehta tells FRONTLINE. “When people make the buying decision, they don’t look at the penalty fees because they never believe they’ll be late. They never believe they’ll be over limit, right? … Our business took off. … We were making a billion dollars a year.”

It took the economic collapse in the fall of 2008 to set the stage for potentially historic change in the consumer credit business. President Obama and his team pushed through a credit card reform bill in May, and they’re now looking to establish a new Consumer Financial Protection Agency. But the banking and financial services industries contribute huge amounts of money to Congress — and the jury is still out on whether the new regulations can pass. “It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s a modest step,” says Harvard law professor Elizabeth Warren. “It’s a set of very discrete new laws. And the credit industry instantly set to work on how they could run around them. By itself, that set of rules won’t change the game.”

“It’s hard for them to get a bill through the U.S. Senate when the industry is pouring money into Washington,” says Martin Eakes of the Center for Responsible Lending of the banks’ political clout. “As Sen. [Dick] Durbin from Chicago recently said, ‘the banks, even as unpopular as they are right now in this crisis, still own this place.”

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Through the Wormhole: Is there Life after Death?

In the premiere episode of the second season of Through the Wormhole, Morgan Freeman dives deep into this provocative question that has mystified humans since the beginning of time.

Modern physics and neuroscience are venturing into this once hallowed ground, and radically changing our ideas of life after death.

Freeman serves as host to this polarized debate, where scientists and spiritualist attempt to define what is consciousness, while cutting edge quantum mechanics could provide the answer to what happens when we die.

It probably wasn’t long after ancient people developed a belief in the afterlife that they began trying to contact those who had crossed over to the other side.

Necromancy, the term for such communication with dead souls, comes from the ancient Greek word nekromanteia, but the practice dates back much further than the Greeks. Egyptian and Chaldean magicians attempted to conjure up the deceased and speak with them, and God specifically barred the ancient Hebrews from engaging in the practice in Deuteronomy 18:10-11.

In the epic poem The Odyssey, Homer describes his hero Odysseus casting spells according to the instructions from the sorceress Circe, in an effort to speak to the prophet Tiresias and gain assistance to return home

Roman neuromancers believed that it was easiest to reach the dead in caverns and near volcanoes, which they believed to be passageways to the underworld.

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Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead

100 pounds overweight, loaded up on steroids and suffering from a debilitating autoimmune disease, Joe Cross is at the end of his rope and the end of his hope. In the mirror he saw a 310lb man whose gut was bigger than a beach ball and a path laid out before him that wouldn’t end well- with one foot already in the grave, the other wasn’t far behind.

FAT, SICK & NEARLY DEAD is an inspiring film that chronicles Joe’s personal mission to regain his health. With doctors and conventional medicines unable to help long-term, Joe turns to the only option left, the body’s ability to heal itself. He trades in the junk food and hits the road with juicer and generator in tow, vowing only to drink fresh fruit and vegetable juice for the next 60 days. Across 3,000 miles Joe has one goal in mind: To get off his pills and achieve a balanced lifestyle.

While talking to more than 500 Americans about food, health and longevity, it’s at a truck stop in Arizona where Joe meets a truck driver who suffers from the same rare condition. Phil Staples is morbidly obese weighing in at 429 lbs; a cheeseburger away from a heart-attack. As Joe is recovering his health, Phil begins his own epic journey to get well. What emerges is nothing short of amazing – an inspiring tale of healing and human connection.

Part road trip, part self-help manifesto, FAT, SICK & NEARLY DEAD defies the traditional documentary format to present an unconventional and uplifting story of two men from different worlds who each realize that the only person who can save them is themselves.

http://vimeo.com/40023282

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We Love Cigarettes

A love of nicotine unites all peoples across the globe, regardless of colour, wealth or creed.

Where religion and politics have failed tobacco has succeeded, but at what cost?

For over 50 years people have been knowingly paying for the pleasure of tobacco with their lives, making man’s fatal tryst with the cigarette one of the strangest love affairs ever.

But as smoking bans in the US and Europe abound, what is happening in poorer nations?

Their love affair is still in its first flush – one third of the world’s cigarettes are smoked in China alone.

And globally the tobacco industry is still worth $430 billion and going strong.

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The Weight of the Nation: Part 1 – Consequences

The first film in ‘The Weight of the Nation’ series examines the scope of the obesity epidemic and explores the serious health consequences of being overweight or obese.

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