Saturday, July 6, 2013

Do Nothing GOP

For the past 6 - 6!! - years, we've been experiencing huge economic problems. The GOP in the House to the rescue!!:
The current U.S. Congress, facing a backlog of unfinished business and sliding approval ratings, is on pace to clear fewer bills than its predecessor -- which had the least number of measures signed into the law since modern record keeping began in the 1940s.
Since the 113th Congress convened in January, the Senate has been in session 80 days and the House 84 days. Lawmakers passed 15 bills that were then signed by the president. That’s eight fewer than in the first six months of the last Congress and 19 fewer than in the same stretch of the 111th Congress.
“The 113th Congress is on track to be even less productive than the historic 112th Congress,” said Thomas Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington. “The problem arises from a Republican House unwilling and unable to engage in the normal process of negotiation and compromise with the president, and their continued willingness to live with a destructive sequester.”
Left undone have been major pieces of legislation including a budget agreement and a farm and food-aid policy bill. Lawmakers missed a July 1 deadline to prevent subsidized Stafford student loans from doubling to 6.8 percent. While the Senate passed a comprehensive immigration overhaul bill and farm legislation, the House hasn’t charted a way forward on either issue.

Just a reminder:  we've had divided governments before, and more was achieved. This bunch of GOP representatives is among the worst in U.S. history.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Ideology At Work

Everyone can agree that there is a presumption in favor of government regulations coming from as local a governing body as possible. So, in general and at first blush, it's better to let states regulate elections than the federal government. But this isn't in the constitution, it's just a truism. And the problem is that we know without doubt that states sometimes do a very bad job at regulating. In that case, the presumption is overruled and there is nothing in the constitution that says the federal government can't regulate voting rights.

Ilya Shapiro has a somewhat longer piece attempting to defend Shelby County v. Holder. Along with Roberts’s majority opinion, it’s as effective an argument against the outcome of the case as any rebuttal could be. Let me start with what Shapiro doesn't mention:
Section 2 of the 15th Amendment
Any constitutional provision the Voting Rights Act violates

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Don't Hate The Player, Change The Game

According to many of its employees, Bank of America repeatedly committed fraud and screwed over its most vulnerable customers. This isn't that much of a surprise. But the proper response is not to simply hate Bank of America. B of A is a corporation and hating it won't change the behavior. Rather, the appropriate thing to do is vote for people who recognize that corporations will break the law if they can get away with it, and so demand better oversight and law enforcement. Minimal regulations are a good thing; it really should be against the law to alter in any way the forms and materials one receives from customers, or to threaten whistleblowers, or provide incentives to break the current law, etc.
These Bank of America employees offer the first glimpse into how they pulled it off. Employees, many of whom allege they were given no basic training on how to even use HAMP, were instructed to tell borrowers that documents were incomplete or missing when they were not, or that the file was “under review” when it hadn’t been accessed in months. Former loan-level representative Simone Gordon says flat-out in her affidavit that “we were told to lie to customers” about the receipt of documents and trial payments. She added that the bank would hold financial documents borrowers submitted for review for at least 30 days. “Once thirty days passed, Bank of America would consider many of these documents to be ‘stale’ and the homeowner would have to re-apply for a modification,” Gordon writes. Theresa Terrelonge, another ex-employee, said that the company would consistently tell homeowners to resubmit information, restarting the clock on the HAMP process.
Worse than this, Bank of America would simply throw out documents on a consistent basis. Former case management supervisor William Wilson alleged that, during bimonthly sessions called the “blitz,” case managers and underwriters would simply deny any file with financial documents that were more than 60 days old. “During a blitz, a single team would decline between 600 and 1,500 modification files at a time,” Wilson wrote. “I personally reviewed hundreds of files in which the computer systems showed that the homeowner had fulfilled a Trial Period Plan and was entitled to a permanent loan modification, but was nevertheless declined for a permanent modification during a blitz.” Employees were then instructed to make up a reason for the denial to submit to the Treasury Department, which monitored the program. Others say that bank employees falsified records in the computer system and removed documents from homeowner files to make it look like the borrower did not qualify for a permanent modification.
Senior managers provided carrots and sticks for employees to lie to customers and push them into foreclosure. Simone Gordon described meetings where managers created quotas for lower-level employees, and a bonus system for reaching those quotas. Employees “who placed ten or more accounts into foreclosure in a given month received a $500 bonus,” Gordon wrote. “Bank of America also gave employees gift cards to retail stores like Target or Bed Bath and Beyond as rewards for placing accounts into foreclosure.” Employees were closely monitored, and those who didn’t meet quotas, or who dared to give borrowers accurate information, were fired, as was anyone who “questioned the ethics … of declining loan modifications for false and fraudulent reasons,” according to William Wilson.
 In fact, if you are a Republican who tends to resist "government regulations," you are well served to strongly enforce clear violations of law. That way you can prevent events like this and make the case more strongly that further regulations aren't needed.

Monday, June 17, 2013

The American Dream

I think it was Thomas Jefferson who said, "We desire a nation where those who are born rich will probably have better lives, even without trying very hard...

So, you are 2.5x more likely to be a rich adult if you were born rich and never bothered to go to college than if you were born poor and, against all odds, went to college and graduated. The disparity in the outcomes of rich and poor kids persists, not only when you control for college attainment, but even when you compare non-degreed rich kids to degreed poor kids!
Therefore, the answer to the question in the title is that you are better off being born rich regardless of whether you go to college than being born poor and getting a college degree.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

College Administrators Get A Lot Of Money And Perks


According to documents unearthed in a month-long search of public records, NYU Law School has created an array of nonprofits to funnel money into lavish perks for its professors. The money has been used by professors to buy multi-million dollar brownstones and condos in Manhattan and Brooklyn with portions of some loans forgiven over time. In some cases, even the interest charged on the loans has been reimbursed . . .
Ten days ago, the Dean of the NYU School of Law, Richard Revesz, who has served in that post since June 1, 2002, stepped down to head up the Marron Institute on Cities and the Urban Environment, a nonprofit made possible by a $40 million gift from Donald Marron, the former Chairman and CEO for two decades of the Wall Street firm, Paine Webber.
Revesz’ mortgage deals with NYU date all the way back to June 24, 1998 when the NYU School of Law Foundation bestowed on he and his partner, Vicki Been (also a law professor at NYU), a 46.5465 percent interest in a brownstone on West 11th Street in the West Village. The home had been purchased by the Foundation on October 16, 1995 at a cost of $1,450,000. With considerable improvements made by the Foundation, the fair value was placed at $2,664,000 on the date Revesz and Been acquired their interests. The Foundation sold the 46.5465 percent interest to the law professors for $1,240,000 and provided their full purchase price in two mortgage notes. On December 19, 2002, a little over six months after Revesz became Dean of the Law School, the Foundation transferred its 53.45 percent interest in the property to Revesz and Been.
According to documents on file with New York City, large amounts of the interest on the Revesz mortgage loans were not being paid but were, instead, allowed to accrue and be added to principal. On March 30, 2012, Revesz and Been entered a mortgage modification directly with NYU, not the Foundation. The document notes that as of March 30, 2012 there was a combined outstanding principal balance in the amount of $2,180,597 (including capitalized interest) and a second outstanding principal balance of $1,197,661. The deal was renegotiated to reduce the amount of interest and extend the maturity date on the larger balance.

According to NYU’s 2010 federal tax filing with the IRS (the most recent one made public), Revesz owed the University at that time a total of $5,683,652
. It is not known what the amount in excess of the mortgage debt represents.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Not Reassured

This NSA/Verizon/PRISM stuff is too creepy. There is an eternal debate, of course, about the trade-off between privacy and security. But, how can Obama ensure that 22,000 NSA employees are only doing their jobs and that there will be no malfeasance whatsoever? And why did it have to be secret?

Seeing What They Want To See

Katrina Trinko summarizes the message of a report on how the GOP is doing with young people is: "talk different." This makes it seem that the policies are fine but that the messaging is bad. She then goes on to give a number of examples where young people don't like the policies. She should perhaps for a minute consider whether the summary isn't "come up with policies that don't cater only to rich old people."

One reason might be the distrust of the GOP policies that led up to the recession. Fifty-one percent of young adults saw “Republican economic policies” as having played the “biggest role” or a “major role” when it came to the recession. Obama frequently blamed Republicans for the recession, an argument Romney never really refuted or even attempted to refute. Ultimately, these numbers should be sobering: Even on jobs and the economy — which was almost all Republicans campaigned on — the party failed to win over Millennials. It wasn’t that Millennials decided to vote on issues other than the economy, but that their disapproval of the GOP extends to what they perceive the party’s economic policy to be.
 Perhaps it's not how the politicians talk only about cutting taxes for rich people that's the problem.