Tag Archives: current affairs

Jobs and Money

Why are jobs important? Well, beyond the obvious there’s the added benefit that it helps keep people out of trouble. From the May, 2015 issue of Rotarian Magazine:

Summer jobs can help prevent violence among disadvantaged students, according to a large-scale trial out of the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Chicago Crime Lab. The study involved 1,634 teenagers from 13 high-crime schools in Chicago, and a local program that places youth in part-time paid summer jobs and pairs them with mentors. The job-assignment intervention reduced violence by 43 percent over 16 months, with nearly four fewer violent-crime arrests per 100 students compared with the control group.

From the same issue of the magazine comes this little tidbit of info:

One percent of the global population owns nearly half the world’s wealth, according to a new report from Oxfam, and that share is expected to exceed 50 percent within two years. The richest 20 percent of the population owns most of the other half of the world’s resources, and the remaining 80 percent of people share just 5.5 percent. The combined wealth of the 80 richest individuals in the world has doubled since 2009, and surpasses the combined wealth of the 3.5 billion people in the bottom half.

The Guilty Mumble and Run

The Greensboro News & Record’s Joe Killian had an interesting interaction in downtown Greensboro last week:

As I was handing it to him and he was thanking me, a guy walked past who was dressed basically as I was — dark, pressed suit; button-down collar; well-shined shoes. He looked at me and at this homeless man and stopped in front of us suddenly.

“You really shouldn’t do that,” he said to me.

“I really shouldn’t do what?” I said.

“You really shouldn’t buy them food,” the guy said, speaking to me as if the homeless man wasn’t there.

“If you give them money, they buy drugs,” he told me. “If you buy them food, then they spend the money they’d spend on food on drugs.”

“OK,” I said. “Thanks for the input. Have a nice day.”

I began to tell the homeless man good luck and to take care when the other guy broke in again.

“No, really,” he said, more insistently now. “You don’t know how they are. Giving them food isn’t your smartest option.”

Finally, I just ran out of patience.

“Your smartest option is to mind your own business and get out of my face,” I said to him.

Apparently surprised that one guy in a suit would speak to another like that over — you know, just this homeless guy — he looked spooked and quickly moved on.

The homeless guy thanked me and went on his way.

This is the kind of story that will strike a cord with everyone, but not in the same way. Most, if not all of us have had to make the decision on whether or not to help a person who is asking for help. Personally it used to be a lot easier for me: if I had money, I gave some and if I was buying a meal I would just add an item for the person who said she was hungry. It never occurred to me that the person asking might not need it and that I might be getting taken for a ride.

As I got older that changed. Partly that was the result of bad experiences, like the multiple times I was asked for money, offered to buy the person food and was told in no uncertain terms that I could keep my f***ing food if I didn’t have any money for him. Then there are the incredible number of times I’ve been approached at a gas station by someone with the same sob story we’ve all heard about needing to borrow a dollar or two to help buy “just enough gas to get home to <fill in the blank city about 100 miles away>.” Some of the change was the result of hearing from multiple sources, including experts who deal with the homeless, that giving them money was a bad idea because it just enabled their addictions. The end result is that I became hesitant and that hesitance has often led me to do what I call the Guilty Mumble and Run.

The Guilty Mumble and Run is exactly what it sounds like in that when I’m asked for help I divert my eyes, say something like, “Sorry, got nothing on me” and then speed up my walk to escape the situation. The guilty part is the following time period where I feel guilty about it, but it’s not for not giving them anything, but for not having the guts to just say I don’t want to or don’t feel I should and instead lying to the person and not giving them the common courtesy to look them in the eyes.

Quite frankly this didn’t use to bother me that much because I let myself believe that my actions were justified, that I didn’t owe these people anything, and that they were actually being rude to me by coming up unbidden and asking me for something. But that changed over the last few years when I started doing things that brought me into contact more often with people who had hit hard some hard times, but who had an incredibly difficult time asking for or accepting help. It made me realize that as hard as it was for me to handle being asked for help it had to be infinitely harder for the person asking for help to find themselves in that position.

So that’s what has sealed the deal for me. Sure there are the folks out there running a scam like the folks at the gas station, and there are those who are on the street who will take whatever I give them and turn it into their next fix, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t at least do the right thing for me. That is to help those I can and look the others in the eye and tell them exactly why I can’t. At least then I can live my life without ever having to do the Guilty Mumble and Run again.

Reasons to Be Kind of Angry and Scared

Today's reading brought several stories that have me shaking my head:

From Bloomberg Business Week comes the revelation that in 2008 then Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson gave hedge fund managers advance warning of the rescue of Fannie:

William Black, associate professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, can't understand why Paulson felt impelled to share the Treasury Department's plan with the fund managers.

“You just never ever do that as a government regulator — transmit nonpublic market information to market participants,” says Black, who's a former general counsel at the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco. “There were no legitimate reasons for those disclosures.”

Janet Tavakoli, founder of Chicago-based financial consulting firm Tavakoli Structured Finance Inc., says the meeting fits a pattern.

“What is this but crony capitalism?” she asks. “Most people have had their fill of it.”

Then there's this story about mortgage servicers getting away with the "perfect crime":

Here’s New Orleans Bankruptcy Judge Elizabeth Magner discussing problems at Lender Processing Services, the company that handles 80 percent of foreclosures on behalf of large banks (emphasis added):

In Jones v. Wells Fargo, this Court discovered that a highly automated software package owned by LPS and identified as MSP administered loans for servicers and note holders but was programed to apply payments contrary to the terms of the notes and mortgages.

The bad behavior is so rampant that banks think nothing of a contractorprogramming fraud into the software. This is shocking behavior and has led to untold numbers of foreclosures, as well as the theft of huge sums of money from mortgage-backed securities investors.

Here’s how the fraud works: Mortgage loan notes are very clear on the schedule of how payments are to be applied. First, the money goes to interest, then principal, then all other fees. That means that investors get paid first and servicers, who collect late fees for themselves, get paid either when they collect the late fee from the debtor or from the liquidation of the foreclosure. And fees are supposed to be capitalized into the overall mortgage amount. If you are late one month, it isn’t supposed to push you into being late on all subsequent months.

The software, however, prioritizes servicer fees above the contractually required interest and principal to investors. This isn’t a one-off; it’s programmed. It’s the very definition of a conspiracy! Who knows how many people paid late and then were pushed into a spiral of fees that led into a foreclosure? It’s the perfect crime, and many of the victims had paid every single mortgage payment.

(h/t to Fec for pointers to those two stories

While those stories are infuriating the next one is downright scary.  Let me say up front that I realize the source for this one is the ACLU blog, but please disregard your personal feelings about the organization and pay attention to the story:

The Senate is going to vote on whether Congress will give this president—and every future president — the power to order the military to pick up and imprison without charge or trial civilians anywhere in the world. Even Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) raised his concerns about the NDAA detention provisions during last night’s Republican debate. The power is so broad that even U.S. citizens could be swept up by the military and the military could be used far from any battlefield, even within the United States itself…

In support of this harmful bill, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) explained that the bill will “basically say in law for the first time that the homeland is part of the battlefield” and people can be imprisoned without charge or trial “American citizen or not.” Another supporter, Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) also declared that the bill is needed because “America is part of the battlefield.”

The solution is the Udall Amendment; a way for the Senate to say no to indefinite detention without charge or trial anywhere in the world where any president decides to use the military. Instead of simply going along with a bill that was drafted in secret and is being jammed through the Senate, the Udall Amendment deletes the provisions and sets up an orderly review of detention power. It tries to take the politics out and put American values back in.

UPDATE: Don’t be confused by anyone claiming that the indefinite detention legislation does not apply to American citizens. It does. There is an exemption for American citizens from the mandatory detention requirement (section 1032 of the bill), but no exemption for American citizens from the authorization to use the military to indefinitely detain people without charge or trial (section 1031 of the bill). So, the result is that, under the bill, the military has the power to indefinitely imprison American citizens, but it does not have to use its power unless ordered to do so.

But you don’t have to believe us. Instead, read what one of the bill’s sponsors,Sen. Lindsey Graham said about it on the Senate floor: “1031, the statement of authority to detain, does apply to American citizens and it designates the world as the battlefield, including the homeland.”

There you have it — indefinite military detention of American citizens without charge or trial. And the Senate is likely to vote on it Monday or Tuesday.

If what the piece asserts can happen even comes close to actually happening then I honestly think it's the one action Congress could take that might cause the NRA and ACLU to get in bed together.  Okay that's just plain creepy, but we do live in strange times my friends.

The Whining 1%

Paul Krugman's piece, Panic of the Plutocrats, highlights one distinction that I think many people have forgotten – there's a difference between business in the "Main Street" sense and business in the "Wall Street" sense:

What’s going on here? The answer, surely, is that Wall Street’s Masters of the Universe realize, deep down, how morally indefensible their position is. They’re not John Galt; they’re not even Steve Jobs. They’re people who got rich by peddling complex financial schemes that, far from delivering clear benefits to the American people, helped push us into a crisis whose aftereffects continue to blight the lives of tens of millions of their fellow citizens.

Yet they have paid no price. Their institutions were bailed out by taxpayers, with few strings attached. They continue to benefit from explicit and implicit federal guarantees — basically, they’re still in a game of heads they win, tails taxpayers lose. And they benefit from tax loopholes that in many cases have people with multimillion-dollar incomes paying lower rates than middle-class families.

Listen, I get it that we need finance. We need people who can provide capital to the Main Street businesses, and I think there are plenty of fine people working in the financial sector, but just like there are crooks and scam artists working on Main Street there are also crooks and scam artists working on Wall Street. Even if we didn't already have plenty of stories showing that the Wall Street scammers filled their personal vaults while barbequing our Golden Goose, I think the incessant screeching like that currently emanating from halls of power would cause us to say, "The lady (aka the Whining 1%) doth protest too much."

It’s America So I’m Allowed to Think You’re an Idiot. And Vice Versa

On Sunday my daughter's soccer team was playing in a tournament in High Point.  While the girls were warming up I was standing on the side of the field near three men I didn't know, who were obviously fathers of players from one of the other teams at the complex.  I wasn't paying any attention to them until one of them raised his voice and said, "You're joking, but it ain't funny.  I'm telling you that if we wanted to build a church in Saudi Arabia near Mecca they wouldn't let us.  That's what I'm saying; it ain't right that they can come here and build a mosque by the place where 3,000 Americans perished, but they wouldn't let us do it there." (The quote may not be exact, but it's very close).

I wanted to turn around and look at him, but I had girls to help coach and I didn't want to waste my time on him.  Still, his statement stuck with me and when I had a chance to think about it I couldn't help thinking about what I would have said if he was talking to me.  To wit:

  • Last I heard it wasn't a mosque, it was a cultural center.  It's not right at Ground Zero, but a couple of blocks away.  You ever been to New York?  Being a couple of blocks away is liking being to canyons over in Utah. Maybe none of that makes a difference to you, but I think it would help your argument if you actually got the details straight.
  • Um, why would we want to be like Saudi Arabia.  I kind of prefer our little ol' nation built on the concept of free speech, separation of church and state, freedom to call our leaders names, etc.  Why would you compare us to Saudi Arabia?  Is Saudi Arabia the entity behind the cultural center?  Oh, and on a somewhat related note, were only Christians killed on 9/11?
  • Another reason I love our country:  I know I disagree with you (if I'm gonna be honest I'll have to say that I think you're a Glenn Beck sycophant who hasn't thought for himself since kindergarten) and I'm pretty sure you'd disagree with me (actually you'd probably think I'm a liberal wuss who would bend over and kiss Osama's behind), but that's OK because we're Americans.  We're supposed to be able to think about each other like that, and truth be told, we could probably have a cold beer and laugh about it later.

Is this a great country or what?