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Facing South's newsletter: news and views from around the region

My friends at Durham-based Facing South feature some great tidbits in the latest e-newsletter, published by the Institute for Southern Studies and Southern Exposure magazine. The predatory payday loan business is completely amoral in its profiteering off of people in the most vulnerable financial position in society — the working class and poor. The fact is doubly painful and sickening because families of soldiers are among those caught in the web of debt-cycling with these sharks.

INSTITUTE INDEX — Loan Sharking the Troops

* Typical annual salary of a private first class soldier in the U.S. Army: $16,884
* In a study of 150 counties near military bases in 20 states, number of “payday loan” companies operating: 4,765
* Of 8 North Carolina counties with most payday loan companies, number near military bases: 4
* Of 5 Kentucky counties with the most payday lenders, number near military bases: 4
* Percent of military personnel that have used payday loans: 26%
* Average interest charged on payday loans, according to one study: 474%
* Amount low-income consumers lose from excess charges on payday loans each year: $3.4 billion

DATELINE: THE SOUTH — News and Trends Around the Region

MISSISSIPPI VERDICT MET BY GENERATION GAP: This week’s guilty verdict against Edgar Ray Killen for manslaughter in the 1964 slayings of civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner was praised by survivors and former activists, who called it “just the beginning.” How do younger generations view the verdict and similar trials? (Christian Science Monitor, June 23)

WAR HISTORY REPEATS ITSELF IN NORTH CAROLINA: Conservative Congressman Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) has surprised many with his growing opposition to the Iraq war. But it’s happened before: during the Vietnam war, Army veterans and conservative Senators Sam Ervin and Everett Jordan — after backing the war in 1964 — famously turned against a conflict they believed they were “hoodwinked into supporting.” (Charlotte Observer, June 19)

SOUTHERN BAPTISTS END DISNEY BOYCOTT: After waging a high-profile but futile campaign against what they called Disney World’s “orgy of depravity” for supporting gay rights, the Southern Baptist Convention ended an eight-year boycott of the company this week. Earlier this year, the American Family Association also ended its nine-year boycott of Disney, admitting the effort “had failed to cause Disney to alter its gay-friendly policies.” (Facing South, June 22)

MERCURY RISING IN ALABAMA: As debate rages over the Bush Administration’s plan to increase allowable mercury levels, an in-depth series in the Mobile Register reveals the growing problem of Alabama’s “Chemical Alley.” In 2002, state investigators caught what’s believed to be the most mercury-saturated fish ever found in North America, a bass with mercury levels 28 times higher than EPA’s safe limit. (Facing South, June 20)

PROPOSED AMTRAK CUTS WOULD DERAIL RURAL TRANSIT: Last week, the House Appropriations Committee approved a bill eliminating subsidies to cross-country Amtrak lines going through Mississippi and other hubs. The mayor for Meridian, MS said “The scenario for Mississippi would be identical to that really everywhere in the country – all Amtrak passenger rail would cease.” (Clarion-Ledger, June 16)

HIV HITTING SOUTHERN WOMEN HARDEST: A Center for Disease Control study finds a dramatic rise of HIV infections among Southern women. HIV infection rates are four times higher among Latinas and 18 times higher among African-American women than white women. And one of the fastest-growing groups in the South is girls aged 13-19. (USA Today, June 14)

ETHNIC MEDIA A “GIANT HIDDEN IN PLAIN SIGHT”: A new study finds that 45% of all African-American, Hispanic, Asian American, Native American and Arab American adults prefer ethnic television, radio or newspapers to their mainstream counterparts. Ethnic media reaches 51 million adults, or one fourth of the U.S. population. (Center for American Progress, June 7)

For more great coverage of the region, check out Facing South: http://www.southernstudies.org/facingsouth. You can also support its award-winning investigative reporting, unique progressive analysis, and resources for activism by contributing here.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding