January 20, 2006

Over two million people filed bankruptcy in 2005, a 32% jump from the year before, or approximately a half million more filers than in 2004. That's a nice round number, a half million: the number of people who filed the week before YBK last October was just over a half million. Chapter 7 filings were up almost 50% from the year before; about one in 53 households filed for bankruptcy protection in 2005.
At least one Democratic Senator is going to have to face a strong primary challenge this year, but it's not (yet) the one you're thinking of. In Hawaii, Representative Ed Case has tossed his lei into the ring in an effort to unseat the 81-year old incumbent, Daniel Akaka. With a popular GOP incumbent governor, having two octogenarian Senators is increasingly risky for the Democrats, putting at risk any chance the party might have of recapturing (and keeping control of) the U.S. Senate over the next four years.

Case, however, is from the Lieberman "New Democrat" school, with an ambitious streak to boot; after running (and losing) a run for governor in 2002, he won a special election to fill the seat of the late Patsy Mink in 2004, defeating her widower. Having him replace the dependable liberal stalwart Akaka (who himself was appointed to replace a deceased Senator, Spark Matsunaga, in 1990) would be a bitter pill to swallow. Chalk it up to the perils of gerontocracy.
Cuba, si !!! Reversing course, the Bush Administration has o.k.'ed the participation of Cuba in the upcoming World Baseball Championship. Now, the big question is whether Japan will send a real team....

January 19, 2006

Trivial Pursuits? I know it's not as important as, say, the Washington Post ombudsman deciding not to respond to LGF-style spamming from lefty bloggers, but it appears the battle may finally be joined in the Alito nomination:
A procession of Democratic senators, including two who supported the confirmation of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., said yesterday that they will oppose the nomination of Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. to the Supreme Court. They warned that he would not provide a judicial check against the expansion of presidential power or be properly vigilant about protecting the rights of ordinary Americans.

The mounting Democratic opposition underscored the sharp partisan divide that has developed over Alito's nomination, after Roberts was confirmed with 78 votes and solid bipartisan support. But although Democrats appear increasingly united in their opposition to Alito, they remain divided over whether to pursue a filibuster against the nomination.

A filibuster is increasingly less likely, Democratic strategists say, despite pressure from some liberal interest groups for Democrats to keep the option alive. But Democrats are more united in their desire to seek an extended floor debate over Alito -- even as they acknowledge that his confirmation is virtually assured -- because they believe polling shows that the more the American people learn about Alito's record and writings on civil liberties and other subjects, the more they will oppose his addition to the high court.

The newly announced opponents included Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (Mass.); Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.), the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee; Sen. Richard J. Durbin (Ill.), the Democratic whip; and Sen. Ken Salazar (Colo.). Leahy and Salazar had voted in favor of Roberts. On Wednesday, Sen. Max Baucus (Mont.), another Roberts backer, said he will oppose Alito.
Baucus' opposition is a pleasant surprise, indicating that it will be very hard for Strip Search Sammy to reach 60 votes. Regardless of what anyone is saying now, once a filibuster (or, shall I say, "extended floor debate") is started on the Senate floor, all bets are off. No Democrat is going to want to be the one who effectively ends Choice by voting for cloture.

January 18, 2006

Our long national nightmare? It's so over !!! After seven years and $21 million, the inquiry into whether former HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros did something horrible enough to justify spending $21 million, Independent Prosecutor David M. Barrett has finally called it a day:
Mr. Barrett began his investigation with the narrower issue of whether Mr. Cisneros lied to the Federal Bureau of Investigation when he was being considered for the cabinet position. He ended his inquiry accusing the Clinton administration of a possible cover-up.

His report says Justice Department officials refused to grant him the broad jurisdiction he wanted; for example, Attorney General Janet Reno said he could look at only one tax year. And after Internal Revenue Service officials in Washington took a Cisneros investigation out of the hands of district-level officials in Texas, the agency deemed the evidence too weak to merit a criminal inquiry, a conclusion strongly disputed by one Texas investigator.

Former officials of the Justice Department and the I.R.S. dismissed Mr. Barrett's conclusions in appendices attached to the report, saying the findings were the product of an inquiry that was incompetently managed from the start.

After being indicted on 18 felony counts, Mr. Cisneros pleaded guilty in 1999 to a misdemeanor charge of lying to investigators. He was later pardoned by President Bill Clinton.

Mr. Barrett kept his office open more than six years after the law that created the independent counsel system was allowed to die. Lawmakers in both parties had wearied of the many inquiries that had failed to achieve the goal of removing political influence from criminal investigations of administration officials.
BTW, the "lie" Cisneros told to FBI investigators during a background check was not whether he paid off a blackmailing mistress, but the exact amount. Needless to say, it was well under the amount spent to investigate him; the entire debacle arose out of the bitter relationship between President Clinton and then-FBI chief Louis Freeh, whose obsession with the President on this and other matters inevitably hampered his agency's ability to handle somewhat more arcane matters, such as fighting terrorism.

Reading between the lines, it seems Mr. Barrett didn't have the goods on the "tax evasion" charge either, hence the obligatory attack on Clinton, Reno, etc., in his final report. In the words of a Justice Department attorney quoted in the article, it was "a fitting conclusion to one of the most embarrassingly incompetent and wasteful episodes in the history of American law enforcement."

January 17, 2006

So what was the point again? Three months later, we are beginning to see some trends:
Three months after a new bankruptcy law took effect, the overwhelming majority of debtors seen by credit counseling agencies are filing for bankruptcy instead of using repayment plans envisioned by the law's supporters.

The law requires debtors to see credit counselors before they file for bankruptcy protection. It is a prerequisite that banks and credit card issuers hoped would steer consumers away from bankruptcy court and into plans that would allow them to repay debts over a few years.

But so far, that is not happening.

The counseling agencies say most debtors are in such deep financial trouble that they cannot qualify for a debt-management plan.

"Typically, consumers are too far gone when they get to us," said Ivan L. Hand Jr., president and chief executive of Money Management International Inc. (MMI), the nation's largest credit-counseling organization.


The pre-bankruptcy credit-counseling requirement was initiated by Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) during the 10-year battle to enact a new law. He said in a recent interview that it was "disappointing" to learn that so few consumers have signed up for a debt-management plan. He said he intends to monitor the law's progress and was "not prepared to give up on this."
This bears out what I've been seeing as well. I have yet to see the mandated credit counseling do anything more than confirm the debtor's first instinct: that he needs to file bankruptcy pronto. All that's changed was the time and paperwork...and the explosion in filings engendered by the pre-YBK panic in October.
It's one thing to constantly rehash a bad call that costs your team a game, but to act like a whiny-ass bitch over a bad call in a game your team won is pathetic. C'mon, it didn't affect the outcome of the game, unlike the bad call last week in Tampa, where a game-tying fourth quarter Bucs TD was ruled incomplete. The Steelers still won, by the same margin they likely would have won by had the interception stood (assuming the Colts would have picked up a concession touchdown at the end); unless you had some weird teaser action, it didn't mean anything even if you had your house and car wagered on the game. So who the f*** cares?

Yet there has been more complaining, by the winning team and the media, about an unimportant call that ultimately meant nothing than there was by the losing team, last fortnight, over two botched calls in the Rose Bowl that actually decided the national championship (Young's forward lateral whilst on his knee in the second quarter, and a Polamaluesque catch/fumble by Texas early in the fourth), both of which were even worse than the call on Sunday. The first bad call gave Texas a gift touchdown, the second prevented SC from blowing the game wide open, but both plays were forgotten in the afterglow of the memorable comeback win by the Longhorns.

Memo to the Steelers: if you're going to restart the habit of winning big games again, try showing some class in victory.