July 25, 2007

A crossroads: Up until this week, I have been skeptical of calls for the impeachment of the President. I felt that the system had been abused by the GOP during the second term of President Clinton, and still feel that Congress should be loath to overturn the results of a national election. Without substantial bipartisan support, impeachment seemed a frivolous pursuit, a masturbatory gesture without substance.

Impeaching the Vice President has seemed to be the wiser course; Dick Cheney is ever more unpopular than George Bush, has abused his power (which is even more galling, since the Constitution does not grant him any power to abuse), led a shadow government which combined ideological cupidity in pursuit of destructive ends with an unforgivable reliance on an incompetent cabal, and blatantly obstructed justice during the Valerie Plame investigation. Besides, even Republicans in Congress have come to realize what a cancer Cheney is, and the temptation to permit the President to choose his replacement before the 2008 election might swing the necessary members of the minority to make his removal a possibility.

Impeaching George Bush is another thing entirely. Democrats, remembering how badly the 1998 impeachment debacle backfired on the GOP (which included the loss of sufficient seats in the Senate to give the Democrats a majority in 2001), have been understandably reluctant to do anything which might rally the public around an historically unpopular President, so even the most rudimentary steps required to begin an impeachment inquiry have been avoided so far.

That must end. Now.

Congress must go on record and reclaim its historical prerogatives, both as a check on abusive executive branch authority, and as the voice of the people in challenging an aggressive tyrant. It must be the position of the Democratic leadership in the House that an impeachment inquiry commence immediately, against both the President and Vice President. This must not be a partisan endeavor; Republicans in Congress who see this as a "power grab" by the Democrats should appeased, either by having the current Congressional leadership stepping aside from the Presidential succession in favor of the Secretary of State, or by electing a Republican Speaker on the eve of a removal vote in the Senate.

Certainly, it should already be clear to enough members of the GOP that the same powers and the same abuses that this Administration has exercised can also be wielded by Democrats. If nothing is done now, it may be too late to reign in the Presidency two years hence, whether that position is held by Hillary or Mitt, Thompson or Obama. And as anyone who has studied government and public policy can tell you, liberal policies favoring an expanded government tend to be more permanent. The same means used to stonewall inquiry into Cheney's energy taskforce can also be utilized in favor of national health care, or making tax rates more progressive.

Another blogger put it even more plainer today:
Though other events in recent months and years have had graver consequences in themselves, I'm not sure I've seen a more open, casual or brazen display of the attitude that the body of rules which our whole system is built on just don't apply to this White House.

Without going into all the specifics, I think we are now moving into a situation where the White House, on various fronts, is openly ignoring the constitution, acting as though not just the law but the constitution itself, which is the fundamental law from which all the statutes gain their force and legitimacy, doesn't apply to them.

If that is allowed to continue, the defiance will congeal into precedent. And the whole structure of our system of government will be permanently changed.

Whether because of prudence and pragmatism or mere intellectual inertia, I still have the same opinion on the big question: impeachment. But I think we're moving on to dangerous ground right now, more so than some of us realize. And I'm less sure now under these circumstances that operating by rules of 'normal politics' is justifiable or acquits us of our duty to our country.
--Josh Marshall
Say what you will about Roberts and Alito, the fact that Abu Gonzo was on the short list of Supreme Court nominees, but was thwarted only because the Far Right didn't think he was conservative enough is a testament to the notion that God protects fools, drunks, children, and the United States of America.

July 24, 2007

While we're on the issue of bankruptcy, and the ramifications of the 2005 legislation, here's an interesting way to neuter its negative impact: slash the budget for the entity that's supposed to determine whether a bankruptcy was filed in good faith.

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the 2005 Bankruptcy Reform Act (BARF) was a provision that created a presumption that debtors who made over the medium income for a state were filing the case in bad faith if they chose Chapter 7 relief. That presumption could be overcome if the debtor were to show that after taking his monthly expenses into account, he would not have sufficient funds to repay at least ten percent of his unsecured debts over a five year period under a Chapter 13 plan. In reality, the presumption is almost always overcome, in large part because debtors who make just over the medium can show that their reasonable monthly expenses easily exceed their gross income, while many of those who make well over the medium have always filed under Chapters 11 or 13.

But it is, nonetheless, a hassle for debtors, who are charged a higher amount by their attorneys (such as me) for the burden of dealing with the U.S. Trustee's office, which has the mandate under the new law to raise the presumption whenever appropriate. That includes analyzing and preparing the schedules filed with the court, demanding further supporting documentation (in many cases, that entails credit card receipts going back a year), and filing motions to dismiss with the court.

This past week, the House Judiciary Committee sent a shot through the bows of the credit industry by slashing the funds available for the UST to enforce the act, stating
The Committee is concerned that excessive resources are being expended on efforts by the United States Trustee Program to dismiss cases for insignificant filing defects (thereby creating added burdens on the court and debtors associated with refilings); on the unnecessary use of U.S. Trustee personnel to participate in creditors' meetings that are already handled and conducted by private trustees; and on making burdensome requests of debtors to provide documentation that has no material effect on the outcome of bankruptcy cases. Such actions by the U.S. Trustee Program are making the bankruptcy process more costly and therefore less available for those who need it. The Committee directs the U.S. Trustees to immediately examine these problems and report back two months after enactment of this Act on efforts to remedy them as soon as possible.
Without funding, the Trustee will have to drastically reduce its investigation of debtors who are above the statewide median, making the controversial provision in the new law a practical nullity. Although I expect much of the funds to be restored, thanks in no small part to a certain powerful Senate Democrat (Biden, D-Visa), this is the first step towards overturning the noxious law. There is most definitely a new sheriff in town.
Three bits of miscellany, for your review: Countrywide Mortgage, one of the nation's largest prime lenders for homes, saw its profits fall by a third in the last quarter, with one out of twenty-two loans now being in default; in Southern California, a record number of foreclosures occurred in the second quarter of 2007, with 17,408 homes being lost, an 800% increase over last year; and bankruptcy filings have more than doubled in the Central District of California so far in 2007.

Of course, bankruptcy filings in 2006 were at historic lows, in the aftermath of YBK and the passage of the new law, and the current totals are still well off the figures from the pre-BARF era. But in some areas of the country, the collapse of the real estate bubble is sparking a renewed rush to the bankruptcy courthouse. Locally, Riverside and San Bernardino Counties are the new hubs of the debt relief bar, as those two rapidly expanding centers of exurban population growth witness a Perfect Storm: an oversupply of housing combined with an accelerating rate of defaults in mortgages, together with a sharp collapse in the value of homes which makes refinancing impossible. Anyone who refinanced since 2002, and/or has an adjustable rate loan, the only thing to do is pray.
For some reason, the British refer to the type of thing that gets Lindsey Lohen into trouble every couple of months as "drink-driving." I'm assuming it's because the penalties for driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI), and driving while intoxicated (DWI) aren't distinguishable over there, so there's no need to make the assumption that the person behind the wheel was drunk. If that's not the case, then it must be one of those linguistic idiosyncracies, like dropping the definite article when referencing visits "to hospital."

July 22, 2007

Adventures in Babysitting:

Today, of course, it's the sort of thing that got R.Kelly into trouble....