January 19, 2008

Having written an op-ed for the LA Times a few years back at the time the new bankruptcy law went into effect, I thought that a follow-up piece, about the ARM-caused home foreclosure boom would be in order. So I penned an offering, focused on the bill sponsered by Brad Miller and Linda Sanchez to allow bankruptcy courts to modify home loans through Chapter 13, and submitted it to the Powers That Be on Spring Street. Where it was quickly (and correctly) rejected without explanation.

Lo and behold, the Times did decide to publish a piece by another writer on the same subject yesterday, a former politico named Jack Kemp. It's an excellent piece, making the conservative argument for a more liberal bankruptcy law:
I applaud the White House efforts to encourage mortgage servicers to modify existing adjustable-rate loans for a limited number of borrowers who cannot afford interest rate resets. However, depending solely on the goodwill of an industry that bears no small measure of responsibility in this crisis is unlikely to be the full answer.

What is missing is a rational and urgent push to help the estimated 2.2 million families in danger of losing their homes to foreclosure in the near future. Congress is considering a small fix that would have more impact on these families than any other option under consideration: temporarily allowing bankruptcy courts to give the same relief to homeowners on principal-residence mortgages that businesspeople get on real estate investment loans, that farmers get on farm loans and that individuals receive on loans for vacation homes, cars, trucks and boats.

Bankruptcy law is wildly off-kilter in how it treats homeownership. Under current law, courts can lower unreasonably high interest rates on secured loans, reschedule secured loan payments to make them more affordable and adjust the secured portion of loans down to the fair market value of the underlying property -- all secured loans, that is, except those secured by the debtor's home. This gaping loophole threatens the most vulnerable with the loss of their most valuable assets -- their homes -- and leaves untouched their largest liabilities -- their mortgages.

In the absence of modification, many of today's loans will result in foreclosure. When servicers are unwilling or unable to voluntarily modify exploding, unsustainable home mortgage loans, Congress has a duty to consider involuntary modification in bankruptcy court, where the same relief is granted on all other secured loans. The proposed Emergency Home Ownership and Mortgage Equity Protection Act being considered by Congress would do just that. It is targeted at only sub-prime and nontraditional mortgages and will be available for only seven years after it is enacted in order to mitigate against the next wave of exploding interest rate resets.
I have a number of other proposals to reform the bankruptcy law to enable delinquent homeowners to keep their homes while paying down their default, here, here and here.

January 17, 2008

Although it would have been smarter to wait until he had the nomination before comparing himself to Reagan (Memo to Barack: Dutch is not exactly the most popular figure with the base of the party whose nomination you're trying to win), there is something shrewd in a liberal Democrat attempting to coopt the legacy of the 40th President. After all, it's exactly what Reagan did with FDR and JFK in 1980 and 1984, and what FDR did to his Uncle Theodore in 1932: take the most popular political figure in the other party, now safely deceased, and associate your agenda with their accomplishments, thereby marginalizing the current holders of that partisan legacy.

We tend to forget that neither FDR in 1932 nor Reagan in 1980 ran particularly polarizing races. Both men attempted to appeal across party lines, with the advantage of knowing that their races were basically referenda on the incumbents, and it was left to their opponents (Hoover and Carter) to get the country to fill-in-the-blanks as to what they really intended to do. Reagan spent almost the entire period after the 1980 GOP Convention denying he was going to gut Social Security, or rape the environment, and was on the defensive so much of the time that Carter actually had a small lead in some polls going into the one Presidential debate one week before the election. In fact, his famous line, "there you go again," was made in response to an altogether accurate charge by President Carter that he would try to cut Medicare if he was elected.

By presenting a moderate image, masking some of the less popular aspects of his ideology, and by campaigning as the true heir to FDR and the New Deal, Reagan was able to pull away from Carter and win a decisive victory. Although much has been made, by Prof. Krugman and others, of Reagan's clumsy attempt to pander to Southern whites, he won the Presidency not through a "Southern Strategy," since the South was Jimmy Carter's strongest region in that election, but by pursuing votes in every region of the country tired of the perceived ineptitude of the Carter Administration. Similarly, FDR succeeded not by polarizing the electorate in 1932, but by going after anti-Hoover votes everywhere in the country. It was by winning decisively, not by seeking vengeance for past political defeats, that gave them their mandates.

I just wish the junior Senator from Illinois had waited 'til there were actually votes to be had by appealing to the Reagan Legacy. I don't think it's such a fruitful strategy in Democratic primaries to be kissing the ass of the late Ronald Reagan. It also grants an invitation to people like Prof. Krugman to mischaracterize his statements (like he did last month with FDR). There aren't enough open primaries and caucuses left.

[UPDATE (1/18)]: Here's a good piece on Reagan's true legacy, which punctures the myth that Reagan was even a particularly popular President. True, as far as it goes, but it really misses the point about the savvy involved in coopting the GOP's most beloved icon for progressive purposes.

January 16, 2008

Many hissyfits have been thrown in the lefty blogosphere about Senator Obama's stated desire to get past "the fights and arguments of the '90's," but it seems we still haven't gotten past the '60's. Case in point: Barbara Ehrenreich takes Obama's principle opponent, Hillary Clinton, to task for her focus on the role LBJ played in passing civil rights legislation:
At first I took it as another, yawn, white rip-off of black culture and creativity: the Rolling Stones appropriating the Bo Diddley beat, Bo Derek sporting corn rows, and now Hillary giving Lyndon Baines Johnson credit for the voting rights act of 1965. If you had to give this honor to a white guy, LBJ was an odd choice, since he'd spent the 1964 Democratic convention scheming to prevent the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party from taking any Dixiecrat seats. By Clinton's standards, maybe Richard Nixon should be credited with the legalization of abortion in 1972.
There are so many things that are disingenuous about Ms. Ehrenreich's post, but I thought it would be best just to focus on that first paragraph. First, the former First Lady spoke about LBJ's (and JFK's) role in passing the 1964 Civil Rights Act, not the VRA the following year. I know all civil rights bills look alike, but still. There was a huge difference in context between the two bills, but it seems like her rationale for misstating Senator Clinton's quote is that it allows her to bring up the MFDP and the sainted Fannie Lou Hamer, and thus act like Ms. Clinton is not only dissing MLK, but also the martyrs of Mississippi as well. Since Congress passed the 1964 Act well before the Freedom Summer of '64, Ehrenreich is being just a wee bit dishonest here.

The MFDP battle at the '64 Democratic Convention was always considered a turning point for white leftist activists in the '60's, which brings me to my second point: by playing up the importance of what was little more than a floor fight in Atlantic City over credentialing (and one that managed to piss off both sides in the end), Ms. Ehrenreich is playing to one of the more trite cliches of that era, that LBJ was an evil racist cracker who only supported civil rights when it suited his purpose. By giving all the credit for passage of civil rights laws to "the Movement," while disparaging the role played by mainstream politicians of both parties, almost all of whom were white, male and middle-aged, she (and others of her generation) can relive the heady days when liberals were the true enemy, no one over thirty needed to be trusted, and LBJ was synonymous with "genocidal Asian-killing madman."

Lastly, her last sentence about Nixon and abortion is just a piss-poor analogy. The Supreme Court, not Tricky Dick, affirmed the constitutionality of a woman's right to choose. Unlike Johnson, Nixon didn't break arms and horsetrade to get the High Court to legalize abortion.

Her colleague at the Nation, John Nichols, has a much more nuanced notion as to how political movements and politicians can successfully create great change. In discussing the controversy, Nichols points out:
Where both Clinton and Obama are misguided is in their shared attempt to score political points rather than to step back from the abyss of an ugly discourse and to seek the clarity that is so frequently absent from our politics.

Neither Clinton nor Obama is using history well or wisely. Neither is telling those of us who recognize the significance of the King-Johnson collaboration – and, for a brief shining moment it was a collaboration – what we need to hear. Neither is answering the fundamental questions: How, as president, would they relate to social and political movements? Would they invite the Martin Kings and the Frederick Douglasses of the twenty-first century to the White House? Would either of these two candidates, as president, sit down with those demanding fundamental change, craft policies with supposed radicals, and coordinate political strategies with influential outsiders – as did both Lyndon Johnson in the 1960s and Abraham Lincoln in the 1860s?

Frederick Douglass knew, as did King, that it mattered who held the presidency. An imperfect Lincoln was better than a perfect Jefferson or Jackson. As Douglass explained in remembering the president who signed the Emancipation Proclamation,
"We saw him, measured him, and estimated him; not by stray utterances to injudicious and tedious delegations, who often tried his patience; not by isolated facts torn from their connection; not by any partial and imperfect glimpses, caught at inopportune moments; but by a broad survey, in the light of the stern logic of great events, and in view of that divinity which shapes our ends, rough hew them how we will, we came to the conclusion that the hour and the man of our redemption had somehow met in the person of Abraham Lincoln. It mattered little to us what language he might employ on special occasions; it mattered little to us, when we fully knew him, whether he was swift or slow in his movements; it was enough for us that Abraham Lincoln was at the head of a great movement, and was in living and earnest sympathy with that movement, which, in the nature of things, must go on until slavery should be utterly and forever abolished in the United States."
King was similarly clear-eyed about Johnson, a Texas politician who came slowly to the cause of civil rights but was crucial to its advancement. Where the administration of John Kennedy had kept King at arm's length, Johnson reached out to the man who would win the Nobel Peace Prize during the new president's first year in office. King said Johnson helped him understand that "new white elements" in the American South might be motivated by a "love of their land (that) was stronger than the grip of old habits and customs." Johnson, in turn, recognized the necessity of maintaining close ties with King and other civil rights leaders, both because the president valued their insights and because he needed their support.
Ehrenreich is correct to suggest that without mass movements, there are no Great Men of History. But we should also not forget that without Great Men (and Great Women) in the right positions of power, mass movements are just SAFSN.
Protocols of the Elders of Kenya: If this is any indication, Senator Obama can expect to confront a problem that has vexed Jewish politicians from time immemorial: the "dual loyalty" question. As Media Matters points out, almost everything in this editorial has been discredited, but like the allegations of the Swift Boaters in the last election, the Aztlan claims against Latino politicians, and of course, the granddady of them all, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, it often doesn't matter what the truth is. Obama has to take the bull by the horns now, and make anyone who even hints that his upbringing or faith are cause to doubt his patriotism a pariah.

January 15, 2008

I've cancelled that in my area: Tom Cruise, expounding on his own reality, here.

January 14, 2008

Kevin Roderick, the undisputed blog-maestro of all things Los Angeles, notes that the writer of a soon-to-be-released book on former USC running back Reggie Bush has created a website to shill his product, subtly entitled www.TarnishedHeisman.com (that also happens to be the name of the book). I certainly don't begrudge the writer, Don Yaeger, from merchandizing his wares however he sees fit, but I am confused about his argument. How exactly does a college athlete taking money from a third party "tarnish" his athletic accomplishments?

I mean, let's be serious for a moment. The NCAA regulations concerning payment to student-athletes are not what is known as "malum per se," that is, a law that regulates conduct that is, in and of itself, bad. In everyday life, murder, rape, embezzlement, fraud, are actions that society makes illegal because of a consensus that those actions are always wicked, and any transgression must be punished. In sports, a malum per se action would be something along the lines of taking steroids, or paying an opponent to throw a game, or bribing a ref. Such acts distort the credibility of what occurs on the playing field, and are inherently toxic in the context of athletic competition.

However, it is not inherently bad for an athlete to receive financial compensation for his talent, nor is it considered wrong for a college student to earn an income while in school. Leaving aside the many reasons, from racial exploitation to class, why "amateurism" continues to be the focus of college sports, the only good faith argument that can be made as to why young football players are still not permitted to receive payment in the 21st Century is that it's expensive. Over the past fifty years, the guidelines concerning payments to student-athletes have become gradually relaxed, reflecting the same trends that have marked the Olympic movement since the death of Avery Brundage.

Hence, the NCAA's regulations in this field are what is known as "malum prohibitum," or wrong because it's prohibited. In the real world, what Reggie Bush is accused of doing is similar to speeding, or downloading music off the internet without permission. It makes him no less the best player in college football in 2005 than if he had received a D in Spanish 101, just as Jim Thorpe didn't stop being the Greatest Athlete in the World just because he played semi-pro baseball before the 1912 Olympics.

But for some reason, the media doesn't treat it that way. Instead, we have sportswriters and columnists showing more concern about whether Rick Neuheisel once contacted a recruit on his cellphone while parked outside his home, than whether the players he coached at Colorado and Washington graduated. And we have talented investigative journalists spending months tracking whether some All-American athlete was driving a booster's car, as if that was tantamount to the Watergate break-in or the non-existence of WMD's.

To put it bluntly, nothing that a college athlete receives from a third party in the way of compensation can ever "tarnish" his accomplishments on the field. If it can be shown that Reggie Bush never took a single exam at SC, or that he and Matt Leinart injected roids into each other's butts, Bash Brothers style, or that Pete Carroll massaged the "cream" and the "clear" into his star tailbacks' shoulders before every game, or that Steven Sample paid the Oklahoma Sooners to take a dive before the 2005 Orange Bowl, then we can talk about something being "tarnished."

After Jim Thorpe was stripped of his two gold medals, it took seventy years for the IOC to decide, retroactively, that in fact he did finish first in the pentathlon and decathlon, and return his honors. More to the point, it is likely that in twenty years, full professionalism, or something like it, will be the rule in college sports; that has been the unmistakable trend since the end of World War II. If Reggie Bush is stripped of the Heisman for something that will be perfectly acceptable a few years from now, is the Downtown Athletic Club going to approach Vince Young and tell him that they made a mistake, and that he was really, truly the second best player in the country (and he though he got robbed the first time), and that they're going to have to take away the Heisman they awarded in 2009?
Something that's easy to forget in this political season, and in my flirtation with Obamism I have forgotten on occasion, is that the best thing about the Clintons, husband and wife, is the fact that they have always attracted the right sort of enemies. I mean, who wouldn't kill to be on the Enemies List of Christopher Hitchens, especially in light of his cheerleading for the Bushies the past eight years:
It's often said, by people trying to show how grown-up and unshocked they are, that all Clinton did to get himself impeached was lie about sex. That's not really true. What he actually lied about, in the perjury that also got him disbarred, was the women. And what this involved was a steady campaign of defamation, backed up by private dicks (you should excuse the expression) and salaried government employees, against women who I believe were telling the truth. In my opinion, Gennifer Flowers was telling the truth; so was Monica Lewinsky, and so was Kathleen Willey, and so, lest we forget, was Juanita Broaddrick, the woman who says she was raped by Bill Clinton.
Even Ken Starr (and his successor) thought Kathleen Willey was lying, and Juanita Broaddrick's account of her "rape" wouldn't even survive the giggle test in Boulder, Colorado or Durham, North Carolina. And none of the perjury counts listed by the Special Prosecutor as potential criminal charges (or impeachable offenses) dealt with women other than Lewinsky, or lies about subjects other than his relationship with her, a fact which Hitchens had reason to know about, since it's contained in the supporting hyperlink. With a degenerate liar like that as your opponent, are we supposed to hold it against Hillary Clinton that she once thought she had been named for the conqueror of Mt. Everest?

January 13, 2008

These numbers don't look good for the Republicans, at least in the Presidential race. Only McCain puts up a competitive battle against either Hillary or Barack, who pretty much capture the same numbers against any opponent.
Only the Giants remain....
The only living creature who ever loved me by choice, my blind albino cat Picket, died this morning. Yesterday was a day like any other, and she was up and about, crawling on my bed, and climbing onto the back of the same chair at which I now sit, rubbing her body against mine. This morning, I woke up to the sound of her crying outside my door. I thought she was just whining because I wouldn't let her in, but it turns out she had suffered a stroke.

She was lying flat on her side, unable to move or walk. She was barely alive, and when I picked her up, she tried to lick my hand one last time. I placed her on my bed, which was as much hers as mine, and within ten minutes, she had breathed her last. I miss her so.
Did you know a prostitute is more likely to have sex with a police officer than get arrested by one? At least it's true in Chicago....[link via Hit&Run]