September 30, 2005

For those of you interested in how rising home values, political allegiance, and/or population density correllates with bankruptcy filings in all 50 states, an updated chart comparing appreciation rate of home values and bankruptcy totals, as well as some other odds and ends, can be found here.

September 29, 2005

YBK [Part 22]: Bankruptcy Reform Determined to Strike at U.S.
During the months necessary for economic stabilization, thousands of Gulf Coast residents will be without a paycheck. For some, savings will deplete within a month or two. Others never had any. While incomes plummet, bills pile up: car payments are due regardless of the operability of the vehicle; medical bills, credit card debt, car loans, mortgages and student loans have to be repaid.

One of the consequences of so many Americans living paycheck to paycheck is their extreme vulnerability during crises. About half of families roll over credit card balances every month, and balances average almost $5,000. Last year 1.6 million cardholders declared bankruptcy. To meet their financial obligations, many Americans have refinanced their homes; about 42 percent of new mortgages are refinances, and 77 percent strip equity from homeowners, leaving them with higher monthly payments. Many of the victims fell into that camp even before the hurricane. The federal bankruptcy reform is on a collision course with those left behind.

Evacuees will be eligible for disaster assistance, but such aid will be inadequate to protect them from bankruptcy reform scheduled to strike on October 17. FEMA has promised each evacuee household $2,000, which will hardly cover the expenses of hotel rooms, food and other necessities, let alone mounting loan payments. Some will be eligible for Disaster Unemployment Assistance, but beneficiaries will receive 50 to 70 percent of their weekly salary for only 26 weeks. Private charities, especially the Red Cross, will also assist victims, but such assistance is short-term and often capricious.
--Howard Karger, Alternet
" impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do." My favorite part of Bill Bennett's Final Solution to the crime problem is the nethercutting sentence that followed. I mean, we could compel them to have abortions, but it would be wrong.
Roberts Confirmed: In open defiance of this blogger's advice, Senate Democrats refused to filibuster the nomination, and half of them voted for confirmation. Hard to generate much passion over Roberts; too many of the people who had worked with him over the years, particularly liberals, raved about the guy, and once he became the replacement for Rehnquist, there was no longer the urgency to defeat him. Both sides tried to explain away his pro bono work on the Romer case, but the fact was, Rehnquist wouldn't have involved himself with a case broadening the civil rights of others at the same point in his career. No one gives a rat's ass about legal memos he drafted in his late-20's, and his silence before the Judiciary Committee on the legal issues of the day is pretty typical for any nominee to the high court. Whether he becomes a Souter or a Scalia can not be predicted by anything that he did the last two months.

If the next pick is a wack job, then we go to the mattresses. The Roberts nomination was less a dress rehearsal than a walk-through.
Dallas: The Movie? Seriously, and they're looking to cast Mel Gibson or John Travolta in the role of "JR Ewing". Is nothing sacred?

September 28, 2005

YBK [Part 21]: Although the underlying reasons for bankruptcy usually range from medical disasters to job losses, the canaries in the coalmine are usually defaulted credit cards and lagging home sales. The first event indicates that a person is no longer able to keep current on his borrowing, while the second means that the indebted is finding it harder to use the equity on his home to pay off his debts. So, here's some miscellany to consider as we head into October 17:

1. According to the American Bankers Association, the number of credit card holders that were at least 30 days delinquent on their accounts rose to 4.81% in the quarter ending in June, setting an all-time record.

2. Home sales dropped precipitously in August, falling 9.7% from its record total in July. Consumer confidence also plunged: in the 30-days ending September 20, the consumer confidence index fell nearly 20 points, a drop larger than what resulted from the September 11 attacks.

3. A personal observation. I practice law in the Central District of California, which has been the national pacesetter for bankruptcy filings since the early-90's. In recent years, the number of filings, which peaked around 1997-8, have been declining, even as the numbers have gone up everywhere else, and even the signing of the new law didn't spark as dramatic a rise as we've seen elsewhere.

That is now changing. Lines to file new petitions are snaking through the Federal Building downtown, even though the new law isn't scheduled to go into effect for three weeks. Chapter 7 filings for August were up 30% for the month over the same time last year. Los Angeles has seen its fair share of Katrina survivors, many of whom are too far away to use the courts in their home district, so potential efforts to obtain debt forgiveness may occur in our local bankruptcy court as well. The closer we get to October 14, the more similar those lines are going to be to the lines at the post office on April 15 every year. Yikes.

As a practicing attorney, I file my cases electronically, so I don't wait in line, and usually expect to receive confirmation from the court that a case was filed successfully a few hours after I transmit the package to the court. Thanks to the backlog, it now takes 2-4 days to get confirmation. Since a rejection by the court of any bankruptcy petition might soon be tantamount to legal malpractice if the YBK deadline is missed, that's a very scary prospect for me and other local professionals.
It's worth noting that the California Congressman set to replace the recently-indicted Tom Delay, Representative David Dreier, is gay. Self-hating or not, it is history.

[UPDATE: Or not. CNN is reporting that the GOP caucus elected Missouri Rep. Roy Blunt instead, perhaps due to the gay issue, and perhaps because Dreier was viewed as a placesitter for Delay, when a sharper break was desired]

[UPDATE: Kevin Drum asks, "Is every single liberal blog in the world planning to post a slobbery, wink-wink-nudge-nudge mention that David Dreier is rumored to be gay? Pardon me while I throw up. And spare me the drivel about the "principled" case for outing gay politicians. I'm not buying, and there's nothing principled going on here in any case. It's just childish nonsense that perpetuates the notion that there's something sordid about being gay."

Since when is the truth "childish nonsense"? I believe that a "just-the-facts" post is all that's required on this issue. I am no more judgmental about that than I am about Barney Frank being gay, or Mary Chaney, or Ken Mehlman. The GOP had a chance this afternoon to make a positive statement about civil rights and tolerance, and didn't take it. That's not "childish nonsense".]

September 27, 2005

Los Angeles [A] 4, Oakland 3: SWEET!!! Bring on the Sox?!?
YBK [Part 20]: From today's New York Times-

Right after Hurricane Katrina struck, several lawmakers - mostly Democrats but including some Senate Republicans - suggested that storm victims along the Gulf Coast should get relief from the new law's stricter provisions, which are intended to screen filers by income and make those with higher incomes repay their debts over several years.


But House Republicans, who fought off a proposed amendment that would have made bankruptcy filings easier for victims of natural disasters, said there was no reason to carve out a broad exemption just because of the storm.

Representative F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. of Wisconsin, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, rejected the notion of reopening the legislation, saying it already included provisions that would ensure that people left "down and out" by the storm would still be able to shed most of their debts. Lawmakers who lost the long fight over the law, he said, "ought to get over it," according to The Associated Press.

A White House spokesman, Trent Duffy, said the administration "doesn't see a lot of merit" in calls to delay the law's effective date but was considering making allowances for hurricane victims.

In the meantime, many victims of Hurricane Katrina - and the much smaller group ruined by Hurricane Rita - will face a kind of Catch-22. Those who try to beat the Oct. 17 deadline in hopes of filing under the less-onerous current law may find it impossible to do so, because residence rules generally require that individuals seek protection against creditors in their hometowns. (Assuming people in New Orleans can find their lawyers and records, they can file for bankruptcy protection in their bankruptcy court, which has reopened and is sharing space with another court in Baton Rouge.)

Moreover, most people displaced by the storm will probably not know for months if they even need to file for bankruptcy. By that time, the tougher new law will be in force.

"Ought to get over it"!!! These people really are soulless bastards.
Roger L. Simon has an approving link to an article, here, which argues that the cronyism that has so afflicted this President is nevertheless excusable, because "nepotism" is also endemic in Hollywood and the news media. Needless to say, cronyism and nepotism are not the same thing; Bush, to his credit, has not tried to nominate daughter Jenna to the Supreme Court, or name brother Neil to be his Secretary of the Treasury. Even so, the notion that Kate Hudson being cast in a movie is somehow morally equivalent to putting a campaign advance man in charge of emergency preparation and relief is absurd.

More to the point, the writer seems to confuse nepotism (ie., the appointment of a family member to a position to which he is not qualified) with the phenomenon that exists in most professions: children pursue occupations similar to their parents. It is routine to the point of banality for the children of attorneys to enter into the legal profession, or the children of doctors to become heart surgeons. Men and women who work on the assembly line at GM or Ford may be joined by their offspring a generation later. It is understandable for kids to want to emulate their closest role models, and observing how someone practicing a particular livelihood behaves is a good way to get a step forward on those who are starting from scratch. In fact, I dare say the idea that one may be able to pass on to the next generation a business or craft is part of the American Dream.

And the same has been true with acting since the days of the Barrymores and Booths. Regardless of whether you believe that Gwyneth Paltrow, Nicholas Cage, Mira Sorvino or Sean Penn deserved their Oscars, the fact they get cast in roles today has nothing to do with who their parents are. Their success is based on whether people see their movies, or whether the right sort of people like their movies. And similarly, Kate Hudson's floundering career can only be redeemed by her own efforts at mastering the thespian craft; even Goldie Hawn's power is limited in that regard.

It might have helped those actors at the beginning of their careers to have a parent in the biz, just as it helped athletes like Kobe Bryant, Barry Bonds and Peyton Manning get an extra look from scouts on the basis of their names and pedigrees, but they ultimately had to get the job done. Notwithstanding the fact that Mike Piazza was drafted by the Dodgers almost entirely because Tommy Lasorda was friendly with his dad, he's still going to the Hall of Fame. Piazza, like those other athletes, had to put in the hard work necessary to show he belonged, and he had to display his talent to the fullest extent.

And the same is true in the Business of Show. When Francis Coppola cast his daughter in Godfather III, that was clearly a demonstration of nepotism, and the move backfired. But that has nothing to do, ten years later, with whether Lost in Translation is a great film, or whether Sofia Coppola earned her Best Screenplay Oscar. Whether or not Gwyneth Paltrow gets cast in Proof or Sylvia is determined by her talent, her perceived compatibility for the roles, and her ability to sell enough tickets to make those movies profitable, not by the fact that her mom is Blythe Danner.

The problem with Bush isn't that he has appointed so many pals and stalwarts to important positions, it's the fact that a high percentage of them can't do their jobs competently, and the man at the top won't hold them accountable when they fail. If FEMA had efficiently gotten supplies to Mississippi and Louisiana, would anyone have cared that Michael Brown's expertise was in judging Arabian stallions? I doubt the subject would have even come up, anymore than Harry Truman's occupation as a haberdasher was relevant when he integrated the military or fired Douglas MacArthur (who, it should be pointed out, was himself the son of a general).

Administrations are always filled with people like Michael Brown, people who are honored for their partisan service and friendships, not their qualifications, dating back to George Washington. Sometimes, even an unqualified hack like Brown will rise to the occasion, and evidence talents heretofore unrecognized; that, after all, is the life story of Harry Truman in a nutshell. Good Presidents put them in positions where they can do little harm, and act quickly to replace them when they do. Unforgivably, Bush has put his party above the interests of his country. His passivity in the face of incompetence must be judged as willful.

September 26, 2005

American Hero: This story is almost too painful to read. Think of the sacrifice and love of country a man must have to forsake a high-paying career (and one in which the window to participate is inherently short-lived) to fight what he was led to believe would be a war against terrorists, only to be sent to fight a chimera. Every time I read some warblogger deny they have a responsibility to take up arms in the war they've cheerleading for, I think of Pat Tillman.