March 04, 2005

A vivid first-person account of the impact of onerous debt and (in this case) the life saving effect of a bankruptcy, here. And an equally telling editorial as to why the Democratic Party is such a woefully inept opposition party, thanks in no small part to the provincialism of the senior Senator from Delaware, here.

UPDATE [3/5/2005]: Bankruptcy "reform" used to be one of my favorite topics (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here), but since a number of much louder voices have started to chime in, stating basically the same thing I used to, I will avail myself of the opportunity to write about other topics near and dear to my heart, and get out of the way once I dispose of the subject one last time.

As a politically-inclined blogger, my take on the measure currently before Congress is one of revulsion. It is a law designed by credit card companies to make life more hellish for people who made the mistake of running up charges on their plastic. Since many of those charges are a result of unforeseen medical expenses, the passage of the bill will transfer wealth from the most vulnerable part of the middle and working class to Kaiser Permanente and VISA. It will do nothing to stop actual abuses of the bankruptcy system, such as the practice in some states of granting unlimited homestead exemptions, or repeat bad faith Chapter 13 filings. Its passage will lead to a flood of bankruptcies, as debtors try to take advantage of the old law before the new one goes into effect, which may in turn lead to a tipping point that sends the economy back into another recession. The fact that such a bill could be seriously proposed in the halls of Congress I can attribute only to a shared predilection for coprophilia by GOP and Delaware Senators.

As a bankruptcy lawyer, though, lets just say I have a different take. Those of you who know me are aware of this character flaw I possess. I'm weak. I crave material things. The temptation of an easy life is overwhelming to me. And if this measure passes, bankruptcy professionals such as myself will make out like bandits.

You see, the "reform act" will do several things for me. It will generate more of an excuse to jack up my rates, since I will be called on to provide more services, such as tax analysis, before I can file a case. Right now, I'm limited by convention and local rules to what I can charge a client in a Chapter 7 to between $1200 and $2000. Above that, I have to get the permission of the court, and I'd better have a good justification. If a repayment plan is mandated by the court, I can use that to charge higher rates through the plan, making myself a priority creditor.

In addition, making the bankruptcy law more cumbersome and more fraught with danger for the debtor cuts out a lot of my competition, which comes from paralegal services that currently can prepare simple bankruptcies for much less than what I charge. Here in Los Angeles, maybe 40% of all Chapter 7 bankruptcies (the most basic bankruptcy, which leads to a straight discharge of debts most of the time) are filed by paralegals, and most Chapter 13's (the bankruptcy most favored by the new law, in which a repayment plan is proposed by the debtor, usually to save a home on the eve of a foreclosure) are done by "law offices" that are mainly fronts for paralegals. The proposed law will cut out the competition for Chapter 7's, while leaving untouched the more egregious abusers of the system to perform Chapter 13's.

And lastly, this legislative gift to legalized loan sharking will create a whole new niche in my profession: credit card attorneys. Right now, the credit industry doesn't get involved in bankruptcy cases unless there is clear fraud on behalf of the debtor (such as what happens when a debtor takes a new credit card with him to Las Vegas, cashes it out at the blackjack table, and returns home to file a bankruptcy the next day). Needless to say, a law that allows credit card companies to receive priority on having its debts paid will encourage more aggressive collection activities from that front, which, of course, means more work for people like me.

So that's it, in a nutshell. If the Bankruptcy Reform Act passes, I will finally have a chance to live out some of my fantasies. A house south of Valley Vista, a muscle car, a country club membership, even sex with women: all of that can be mine, should Congress pass this measure. Sure, it will make the lives of millions of people who have suffered the misfortune of a catastrophic illness or an ill-timed job loss that much worse, but if you look at the big picture, that seems like an acceptable price to pay for my being able to play a couple rounds of golf a week at Riviera. So get off your asses, and write your Congressman. I'm depending on it.

March 03, 2005

One of the Big Feet of the blogosphere receives some friendly criticism by a liberal blogger, then gets all huffy about it. Arrogance ensues.
There is a fine line between righteous denunciations of bigotry, and plain, old-fashioned political correctness, and Abraham Foxman crossed it. There are terrible things the Nazis did besides the Holocaust that people are entitled to remember.

March 02, 2005

Their Great Leader is getting his ass kicked on Social Security, someone in his Administration was enabling a prostitute to enter the White House under the cover of being a "journalist", the opposition, rather than being demoralized after the defeat in November, is more unified than at any time in the past, so what's a wing nut going to do? Why, of course, you revive the tactics (and target) of the discredited "Swift Boat Vets", and go after the defeated candidate from last time, John Kerry.

This time, the rumor you pursue is that he's trying to cover up the fact that he was dishonarably discharged from the military, and somehow got then-President Carter to set it aside. Depending on the reason he received such a discharge, that could prove to be devastating to any future Presidential run (of course, a dishonarable discharge because he later came out against the Vietnam War would probably improve his chances, especially if Tricky Dick's fingerprints were on it).

Is there any basis to the rumor they're trying to float? HELL NO !! A dishonarable discharge would have made it very difficult for him to be approved to practice law by the State Bar of Massachusetts in the mid-70's, but there is nothing in the record to suggest that happened. Since he was a public figure in the 1970's, there would have been people in the military who (a) signed off on the discharge; (b) hated Kerry, then and now; and (c) are still alive to talk about it. But no one has come forward to level such an accusation. In short, if he had been dishonorably discharged, there would be an overwhelming circumstantial case showing that (in much the same way there was an overwhelming circumstantial case that Bush blew off his Guard duty in 1972), and you certainly wouldn't need the former Presidential candidate to sign Form 180 to prove it.

There is also another group that has an interest in smearing Kerry by innuendo: his opponents within the Democratic Party for the 2008 nomination. Because of the tiny margin of defeat last time, Kerry, not HRC, not Edwards or Obama, is the presumptive frontrunner. A comfort level exists with him among Democrats, and if he can come within 2 1/2% of knocking off an incumbent with the country at war and not in a recession, he's a safe pick, a no brainer. To change that dynamic, look for one of Hillary's handpuppets, like Harold Ickes, to begin "raising questions" about his war record (Ickes has already hinted to reporters that Kerry's slow response during the campaign to the "Unfit for Command" cadre showed that he must have had something to hide) as a way to ratchet up the public pressure to drive him out of the race.

March 01, 2005

The L.A. Times, on why the reaction to Chris Rock proved to be divisive in ways AMPAS probably didn't imagine:
So the faces were a little different, but most of the rules remained unchanged. There were stars and then there were big stars and then there was everyone else. The pre-awards parties at the Kodak Theatre were divided into levels — the higher the status, the lower the floor. Same with the seats. Same with the humor.

"Who is Jude Law?" Rock demanded a few minutes into an opening bit that drew roars from the cheap seats high in the back of the theater and raised more than a few hackles in the front rows. "Why is he in every movie I've seen for the past four years? He's in everything! Even movies he's not in, you look at the credits, he made cupcakes or something!" Hollywood likes to be kidded (Robin Williams is beloved, and where was Jack with his famous shades) but only in a kinder, gentler way.

Later, Sean Penn took the stage to tartly remind that Law is "one of our finest actors." Penn spoke for a different constituency, the insiders for whom the Oscars aren't a mere TV show (the way they are, say, for the folks at the Magic Johnson Theatres, whose raves about the movie "White Chicks" were beamed in to varied amusement) but a celebration of a serious art form.

Still later, at the after-parties, the buzz was all about whether Rock, the "outsider" host who had been hired on the promise that he might do something worth watching, such as being offensive, had merely managed to offend the wrong people.

"I thought what he said about Jude Law was unacceptable," muttered one producer after the ceremony, as he awaited his Governors Ball plate of slow-braised Kobe beef short ribs.

"You know what? Lighten the ... up! That little speech Sean Penn came up with, that's the reason people hate liberals," opined another producer, Nelson George, sitting across the room with Sean Combs (né "P. Diddy").
In my view, one of the reasons that ratings for industry shows like the Oscars have dwindled in recent years is that the self-congratulatory bullshit best symbolized by Sean Penn this year is unacceptable to a younger generation. Someone like Jude Law or Kate Beckinsale or Colin Farrell gets hyped to the stratosphere for appearing in big budget movies that no one sees or cares about, the quality of live-action movies is such that it makes absolutely no sense to go to the cineplex anymore when the same experience can be achieved for a quarter of the price on your home entertainment system, and all the really good movies tend either to be quirky independent films with B-level or no-name casts (ie., Sideways, or Lost in Translation), PIXAR cartoons, or movies directed by Clint Eastwood. So when Chris Rock cracks wise about how Jude Law somehow got to play "Alfie" in half of the movies relased last year, while Sean Penn pompously asserts that he's one of "our" greatest actors, guess who the audience at home is going to support?
Another triumph for Bush's "pro-democracy" agenda: Word out of Colorado is that the civil lawsuit against Kobe Bryant has been settled.

February 28, 2005

Perhaps the best shot at a knock-out of a GOP incumbent in the 2006 Senate elections may be in Rhode Island, where Lincoln Chafee faces a tough battle overcoming the overwhelming partisan edge the Democrats have in a state that John Kerry won by over 20% last year. So perhaps I'm being just a little paranoid when I see that the wife of a Republican actor and major campaign donor is rustling up opposition within the Democratic Party to the frontrunner in that race, James Langevin. Nice try, Karl.
Quote of the Day: "I want to thank Warner Brothers for casting me in this piece of s---."
--Halle Berry, in accepting her "Razzie" Award for Catwoman Saturday night.

February 27, 2005

Humorless Twit Watch: There is probably an interesting reason that Sean Penn came to the defense of Jude Law tonight, but not Tobey Maguire or Colin Farrell....
An interesting fact about the likely Best Picture winner (assuming it's The Aviator or Million Dollar Baby) at tonight's Oscar ceremony: it will be the first film set in Los Angeles to earn that award. It's hard to believe that with all the classic films set in the city, from Sunset Blvd. to Chinatown to The Graduate to L.A. Confidential, not once has the Academy recognized a film set in the film capitol for its top honor.
The consistently excellent (and frequent Smythe's World commenter) Prof. David Johnson has finally been getting some long overdue props from the Big Feet in the liberal blogosphere, over his "Cousin Oliver" post, so it might be appropriate to note that other posts of his are worth reading too. His take on the wasteful and morally obtuse spectacle of flyovers at big sporting events has the precision and elegance of a Matt Leinart touchdown pass.