Friday, March 31, 2006
Last night I marveled at the number of people that defend the indefensible.
On the radio, someone was talking about amnesty and registering illegals and all I could think of is gun control. If only the good people registered their guns, all the criminals would still be out there with guns. If all the good illegal (oxymoron?) aliens register, what will we do with all the bad illegal aliens? The marches going on against immigration reform - would anyone else find a march by looters demanding the abolishment of theft laws absurd? Illegal immigrants are proven law breakers. I would like to say that anyone arrested and brought before a judge for breaking a law "with good reason" will still have to pay a penalty but...
A version of Jessica's Law was passed in Ohio over strong opposition. I know the argument - mandatory sentencing takes the justice out of the system. In many places I agree with that, however, as long as judges continue to consider predators of children to have a momentary lapse in judgment, I want to prevent such lapses from happening on the bench.
NAMBLA. Is there any reason this organization exists? Why hasn't the population of this country risen up and lynched every single one of the members? I generally am against vigilatism, but please, someone...anyone?
Here in Madison on April 4th, a measure is on the ballot calling for the immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq. There are signs all over this town calling on voters to say yes. I wanted to buy a dozen cans of yellow spray paint and paint yellow stripes on every sign I could find - two problems, one, someone is going to remember a woman buying a dozen cans of yellow spray paint when the news reports the 'vandalism' and two, it would take more than 100 cans to get all the signs...
Jill Carroll was released and proclaimed that her captors 'treated her well'. Being kidnapped, having your translator killed in front of you, being forced to plead for your life on video and being held for 3 months against your will IS NOT BEING TREATED WELL.
Islam is NOT a civilized religion. Some, maybe a majority, of Moslems are civilized. But any government or religion that seeks to kill someone for changing their religion IS NOT CIVILIZED.
As a mob, and this country is no better than a mob at this time, we have lost the capacity to recognize evil. Even the concept of evil is mocked or dismissed.
Looters are excused because they only wanted food and water.
Illegal immigrants are excused because they only want jobs.
Kidnappers are excused because 'we' invaded their country.
Child rapists are excused because they need treatment.
Murderers are excused because 'we' supported Israel.
Religions are excused because 'we' lack sensitivity.
Countries are excused because they are 'democratic'.
Evil does not start as a full blown country spanning movement, it starts small, day by day eroding our will to address it. I am not religious but if you can not see the evil growing in this country, YOU ARE PART OF THE PROBLEM.
** By the way, if your first thought was of a political party or politician, you are clueless ***
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
Of course, many of you will snort and loudly say "DUH!".
How many times have we heard of some nut case shouting about some piece of legislation that would doom people and thought, get over it. Last year, I was one of those nut cases. Legislation that would impact less than 1/2 of 1% of our population was rammed through Congress on the premise that a significant portion of those affected were criminals and they should not be allowed to get away with it.
My former political party, the Republicans, acted the way the Ted Kennedy's of the world always complain they act - serve the corporate interest and the hell with the citizen. I can not tell you how much it hurt me to claim Ted Kennedy was right. I could not remain a Republican. Everything that they should have stood for was corrupted by that law. In a letter to President Bush and email to Sen Herb Kohl, I renounced my support of the Republicans that supported that law, promised to work actively against their attempts at re-election and would consider myself party-less for the first time in my adult life.
It should be shouted at every opportunity that Congress has abdicated its role as the representatives of THE PEOPLE. It is not just earmarks. Bill after bill, law after law is designed to create a benefit for a select few. And if the consequences can be limited to individuals without sufficient political clout (money) to prevent it, all the better.
I have suggested, here and elsewhere, that the first step in correcting the problem is to vote every single incumbent out of office. All of them. Unfortunately, almost every Congressperson has a sufficient base in their own district that will claim their representative is one of the good guys and should be left in. But I am wrong. Changing the Congress will not change the process. The bureaucracy and the lobbyists create a parasite/host symbiosis - you try and figure which is which because I can't tell - that is only minimally affected by whatever warm body occupies a seat on Capitol Hill.
No one in their right mind would seek political office. All you need to know about the vetting process is that unless you are 1) politically connected and sponsored; 2)without a blemish - figuratively and literally; 3) completely compliant with the monied interests; 4) politically correct for your area, you are going to be smeared like a mouse under an 18-wheeler. We have thousands of people with the experience and skill to represent us in Congress - but who wouldn't touch the idea of running for office with a 10 mile pole.
This past weekend, someone asked me my opinion of Hillary Clinton's position on illegal immigration. I said it didn't matter. She was pandering to whatever group she was talking to at the time. But it is not just Sen Clinton. They ALL do it. Sen Feingold claimed principle was driving his censure resolution but two things suggest he was pandering also. First, there was/is no impact except politically to the President with passage of his resolution. If he really wanted to impress upon the President and others that the President was acting illegally and should be called on it, he would have sponsored a bill of impeachment. Second, despite protests to the contrary, we are in a war and his resolution complained of the prosecution of that war. It is the President as Commander-in-Chief that has the Constitutional authority to wage war, and Congress - at one time - voted to approve that authority. If Sen Feingold feels the President is not acting correctly with regard to the war, he can sponsor legislation WITHDRAWING Congressional approval. But he did neither of those things. So, like others, it was political pandering.
I voted for Feingold in the past, it won't happen again. I voted for Bush, and will not have the chance to vote against him in the future. I will vote against Sen Kohl this time around and I will vote against every single incumbent on the ballot. It is not a perfect solution, or even a relatively good start, but until politicians start to really worry about their 'careers', no one, NOT A SINGLE ONE, will ever get my vote twice.
When your choice is the lesser of two evils, it is time to change how you get your choices.
Thursday, March 16, 2006
Well, in an effort to balance the federal budget, those wonderful congresspeople have corrected the error of their ways. Less than 6 months after the new bankruptcy reform went into effect, the fees for filing bankruptcy are increasing.
Effective April 9th, the filing fee for a Chapter 7 will increase $25 to $299. And the filing fee for a Chapter 13 will go UP TO $274.
Don't cha love it!?
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
1. You have screwed up just about everything you have touched in the last 5.5 years.
2. What you haven't screwed up, you have ignored to our sure-to-be sorrow.
3. You have assumed that being the least of two evils was good enough to get elected.
1. Being the opposition party is not a platform.
2. The war on terror is not a video game that can be reset if we fail.
3. When the President turns to lead the country forward, it is NOT an invitation to stab him in the back.
4. Almost every single problem Bush and the Republicans have screwed up on BEGAN ON DEMOCRATIC WATCHES.
Our own government bureaucrats:
1. The State Department actively opposes the Administration.
2. The CIA intentionally intervenes in American politics.
3. The Immigration Department is corrupt and compromised.
Our own institutions:
1. The Mainstream Press considers national secrets political tools.
2. Colleges and universities are not teaching, they are breeding hatred of American culture and freedoms
3. The culture media (movies and music) work actively to destroy families and to support cultural segregation.
What are the right answers? Here is my problem, and ours:
1. The UN is not a democratic or freedom promoting institution and we should abandon it.
2. Islam is a threat to the freedoms and liberties we value and support.
3. Current common culture is worse than crass, it is vulgar and offensive.
4. Rights have responsibilities and for too long, we have ignored the disconnect that exists now.
5. Respect is EARNED, not bestowed.
6. Diversity is neither a goal, nor a means, it is a characteristic.
Some obvious examples of what is wrong:
1. A newspaper published details of two national secrets, but refused to publish an editorial cartoon because it might offend someone.
2. "The life of a pimp is hard" won an Academy Award.
3. A ban on partial birth abortion may be illegal.
4. A million illegal aliens are crossing our borders every year.
5. The spokesman for the Taliban is attending one of our top universities, gratis.
6. A Senator wants to sanction the President (an action with no other consequences than political gain) for attempting to catch people planning to kill innocents.
7. We had men on the Moon 36 years ago. We have had one shuttle launch in the last 4 years.
8. My daughter's school will be paid $250,000 this year to teach her and her 24 school mates. 90% of them will be unable to compete with the 5th graders in virtually every other industrialized country by the end of the school year.
Any suggestion I make to correct a problem we ALL agree exists, will be proclaimed as an assault on freedom of...., or offensive to...., or interference with...
And there in lies the problem that is at the heart of all our problems, only I can take responsibility for my actions, I can not force YOU to do the same.
Friday, March 10, 2006
Other bloggers have commented on some recent rulings of the Wisconsin Supreme Court (WSC) and the likely impact those rulings will have on the economic future of Wisconsin. I have not engaged nor commented on those rulings as law (for all my actual interest in it) is basically very boring to the average person.
Ok, slap me on the back of the head....it should not be I agree and my own response to the Bankruptcy Reform Act is an indication that I actually do pay attention and call others to do so also.
However, an authoritative voice making an analysis is worth listening to. Former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justise Diane Sykes gave a lecture about the recent WSC rulings and her concern is justified not just from the legal, but from the economic points of view.
Worth the read if you are from Wisconsin or do business here.
BTW: Milestone, this is my 100th post!
Herb Kohl, senior Senator from Wisconsin, while commenting on the Prescription Benefit program complained that the program was just political payback for pharmaceutical industry.
WELL SENATOR KOHL, WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK THE BANKRUPTCY REFORM ACT WAS?
The Prescription Benefit program at least has the APPEARANCE of being pro-consumer. The Bankruptcy Reform Act (BARF to those of us that deal with consumers) has neither the appearance nor the intent to assist consumers at all. The Bankruptcy Reform Act was political payback for the over $100 MILLION paid by lobbyists to Congressmen on behalf of the credit/bank industry over the last 8 years.
Our daughter brought home her school newsletter Wednesday and I finally read it yesterday. A nice letter from Superintendent Art Rainwater on No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Let me excerpt a couple of pieces:
The recognition of the importance in understanding our children's learning needs through good academic assessment has been a major positive change.
Good, he recognizes the value of actually assessing student performance! But like any good reactionary, no positive can be left without a negative..
Unfortunately, NCLB uses this very positive educational advance to create a punitive climate for change. Schools will not succeed because of the NCLB strategy of apply sanctions; schools will succeed when:
* the need for change is understood based on clear and convincing data;
Stop there! "when the need for change is understood"? We have a 50% drop out rate from high school and a large percentage of students can not read by 6th grade and there is some question about the need for change????? Continuing:
* well planned staff development provides teachers with "best practice" skills
Wait..."best practice"? Where and when might these best practices be determined? In universities where they teach our teachers to teach? There are no incentives for good teachers to teach well under the current (non-NCLB) system. I will admit that a big part of the problem is the parents that want their little tyke to have positive self-esteem, ability to read be damned. Continuing:
* progress is monitored for improvement
Is not that one of the major points that Rainwater acknowledges earlier? Assessment is a good thing?
Despite the political rhetoric to this point, Rainwater then states something that is SO stupid that it should be clear to anyone that our schools are in trouble not only because of the problems in the classroom and at home, but in their administration and management from the top:
NCLB takes a punitive approach by identifying schools that are not making adequate yearly progress (AYP) and applying increasing levels of sanctions. There has now been substantial discussion that illustrates the almost mathematical certainty that under the current system of identifying AYP schools, all of our nation's schools will eventually be on the AYP list.
That's right. Discussion illustrates a mathematical certainty that ALL schools will fail to make adequate yearly progress. Mathematical certainty used here is exactly the same tone as "I read somewhere", "they say".
The positive approach of using student date to inform instruction is negated by the certainty of ultimately being unsuccessful. If there is no hope for final success, it is difficult to undertake the journey.
Mr. Rainwater, our daughter is 11. Your JOB is to teach her, now. No one expects a perfect system and we fully expect things to continuously change and IMPROVE as time goes on, but she will not wait for you to get your system right, you have to make it work now. The "system" before NCLB was not working, and years of increasing spending was making it worse, not better. Left to your own (you, your staff and the entire educational system) devices, things were getting much, much worse. If you don't like the idea of sanctions, maybe you should consider a job in the real world, a place our daughter is going to face in about a dozen years. You know, a place where if you fail to meet expectations, you get fired.
Included in the newsletter was a page titled: What is the importance of standards-based curricula in mathematics? Subtitled: Research and Best Practice
An interesting paragraph illustrates my point and Rainwaters lack:
Extensive logitudinal studies show that the mathematics standards in many school districts in this country [note real studies, not discussions] are not as rigorous as those in other countries. In international studies, American students are not achieving world-class mathematics standards. U.S. students rated average by their teachers[note rated, not tested] may actually be performing at the basic level by international standards. Many high school graduates need remedial courses before attempting college-level mathematics; too many do not pass their beginning university courses.
These are students not covered by NCLB. They were failed by the system that supported self esteem over concrete results.
Thursday, March 09, 2006
A review of the agencies reporting results in the study:
There are only 122 CCOs (credit counseling organizations) on the current list maintained by the US Trustee. Of these 122, 69 are approved in more than one district, fifteen of them in 10 or more districts.
The six CCOs listed in the report represent 5 of the CCOs with the largest footprints:
MMI 85 districts covered
Greenpath 77 districts covered
Springboard 84 districts covered
Hummingbird 86 districts covered
Institute for Fin Lit 86 districts covered
ByDesign 4 districts covered
First blush: The report covers 10/17/05 - 2/1/05. 61k consumers served. If all became bankruptcy clients/filers, then we get 250k annual rate of filing from that number...a 85% drop from the 1.6m filings the previous year.
The report says it approached ten CCOs, the 10 that cover the largest footprints are:
Consumer Credit Counseling Services of San Francisco 74
Credit Counseling Centers of America 75
GreenPath, Inc. 77
Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Greater Atlanta Inc. 80
Credit Advisors Foundation 84
Springboard Nonprofit Consumer Credit Management Inc. 84
Garden State Consumer Credit Counseling, Inc. 85
Money Management International Inc. 85
Hummingbird Credit Counseling and Education, Inc. 86
Institute for Financial Literacy, Inc. 86
ByDesign only handles 4 districts...who else did they approach?
Let us start off with some info regarding credit counseling from a story from Bankrate.com on March 3. Approximately 38,000 debtors filed bankruptcy from Oct 17 to the end of the year. Based on the number of people covered by the NACBA study, most (maybe 90% or more) of debtors that filed bankruptcy until Jan 31/Feb 15 were counseled by the CCOs in the study. It appears the study does accurately reflect the majority of consumers filing bankruptcy post 10/17.
So far this year we are seeing between a 70 and 80% decrease in filings over last year same time (reported by attorneys in our discussion group). Our district is 80% down from last year, 81.5% down from the 2003/2004 average. The Bankrate release claims a 75% decrease nationwide.
The study reported that 97% of the debtors could not make any payments on debt, indicating that the average consumer looking to file bankruptcy post 10/17 has less than $125 per month excess income. The report does not note if the credit counselors are using the IRS allowed expenses or not. The report also does not indicate how many of the consumers were below or above the median incomes for their areas.
The percentage of consumers facing financial difficulties as a result of events beyond their control, 79% in the study, is lower than our experience, but still higher than many would believe.
As for the increase in filings pre-reform having a significant impact on the credit card industry...well...a minor bump in the road:
'The pig in the python has been fully digested,' said Darryl Osojnak, Senior Director, Fitch Ratings. 'The outlook for charge offs is positive over the near term and master trusts should benefit from increased levels of excess spread going forward.
Isn't that nice! Do you think anyone is going to see a reduction in their interest rates?
The major banks have all reported profit decreases in the 4th quarter but this caught my eye:
A new bankruptcy law that's been criticized as bad for consumers also turned out to be bad for Bank of America in the final months of 2005.
Bank of America, now Delaware's largest private employer following its buyout of Wilmington-based MBNA Corp., said Monday that fourth-quarter profit fell 2 percent largely because of increased loan write-offs related to the new federal bankruptcy law.
About $20m reduction in profit, not a loss, just a minor glitch in the profit.
As for other banks:
Last week, JPMorgan Chase said earnings at its Wilmington-based credit card unit plunged 41 percent because of higher bankruptcy filings.
But wait a sec, from WebBolt:
And from a PPT from Bank of America with regard to MBNA:
How terrible was the impact? Really?
Do the numbers reflect a significant decrease in consumers in financial trouble? From the same Fitch report:
The Fitch Credit Card index is published during the first week of each month and includes month end data from two months prior, resulting in about a 35 day lag. Fitch's Credit Card Index for charge offs was 7.52% for Nov. 2005, a 144 bps increase over the same period in 2004. February's prime charge offs of 3.29% represent an improvement of 423bps from the peak observed in the November reporting period. Fitch expects charge offs to remain below 6% for the remainder of the first half of 2006 for the majority of the prime issuers.
The acceleration of charge-offs also purged a significant percentage of receivables from the 60+ day delinquency status for many portfolios. The current Fitch Credit Card Index 60+ day delinquency rate was 2.19%, an increase of 10bps from last month, yet down 77bps from the same time last year.
The charge off rate for Nov 2005 was 7.52%, 1.44 above the previous year....meaning about 6.08% If the Feb numbers were only 3.29, then we have a better than 50% reduction in the charge off rate post-BARF. Great. Except they are not expecting it to continue. How much an impact the increased minimum payment requirement is going to have on these numbers was mentioned somewhere in a report lamenting the reduction in profitability of credit card issuers from lost interest revenue.
If the people filing now are the real hard core, those that have no choice about bankruptcy, then the idea that the new law would only impact 5% or so of filers is wrong. 15-25% of filers in the past had no choice but to file and the law has of course made it harder and more expensive. Can they still file? Yes. But at what cost?
The study, along with reporting of the impact on credit card issuers, indicates that 1) the impact of bankruptcy on the bottom line of the credit industry was negligible, 2) consumers are staying away from bankruptcy in droves, 3) consumers most likely to file bankruptcy, are the ones closest to financial bottom, 4) opponents to the bankruptcy law were basing their positions on conditions closer to the truth than were the proponents.
Here is an interesting statistic from our district:
2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005
Chapter 13 604 826 968 1125 1107 1123
Totals 5734 7432 8386 9371 9122 12687
Chapter 13 filings did not change AT ALL! The increase in filings was all Chapter 7.
From 1/1/05-3/1/05, our county had 68 foreclosures filed.
From 1/1/06-3/1/06, our county had 116 foreclosures filed.
Remember, foreclosures are usually filed only after consumers are more than 90 days behind in payments, meaning most of these consumers were in trouble PRIOR to the bankruptcy law changing.
The new law did nothing to stop the erosion of the financial condition of many consumers. For those with no where else to turn, the cost and difficulty of filing bankruptcy has added stress and expense when consumers can least afford them. The significant jump in bankruptcy filings did no more than cause an itch in bank profitability. With the change in credit card minimum payments and higher gas prices (fortunately a mild winter or heating bills would have been much higher), we are seeing more people in trouble and the law change is going to make it much harder for them to recover.
Friday, March 03, 2006
I start with a dictionary definition, from American Heritage, not that anyone needs it because everyone knows what a lady is. It's a kind of natural knowledge. According to American Heritage, a lady is a well-mannered and considerate woman with high standards of proper behavior. You know one, the dictionary suggests, by how she's treated: "a woman, especially when spoken of or to in a polite way." Under usage, American Heritage says, "lady is normally used as a parallel to gentleman to emphasize norms expected in polite society or situations."
I would add that a lady need not be stuffy, scolding, stiff. A lady brings regard for others into the room with her; that regard is part of the dignity she carries and seeks to spread. A lady is a woman who projects the stature of life.
These definitions are incomplete but serviceable--I invite better ones--but keep them in mind as I try to draw a fuller picture of what it was like to be taken aside at an airport last week for what is currently known as further screening and was generally understood 50 years ago to be second-degree sexual assault.
Poor Ms Noonan. Her delicate sensibilities were offended...."No way to treat a lady" playing in the background as her Jar Jar Binks Award is placed on the mantel.
(HT to Soxblog )
Thursday, March 02, 2006
Exactly what threat do you think we represent to you? My partner and I have been together for more than 12 years, we are raising, what by all objection opinion is an intelligent, well adjusted happy 11 year old. We live in our community, participate in it's functions/events. We vote. We attend church weekly, are active in it's community. Our home is well maintained and appreciated by neighbors and visitors.
Apparently we are insufficient citizens. We do not rate similar legal protections as the majority of our neighbors. We are less of a family than other families in our state.
I am tired of hearing the excuses: we are not normal, we are shoving our lifestyle in your face, we corrupt the impressionable, it is against God. I will compare the hysteria concerning gay marriage to radical Islam's hatred of the United States.
Yes, it is the same. I am a NORMAL human being. I CHOOSE to be with another woman. Unlike many gays born to their preferences, I CHOOSE. And as an American, a veteran, I demand the right to the pursuit of happiness. Any attempt to abridge that right better have some serious support, and so far, DOMA and similar attempts are nothing but religious, arcane rants no different than those fanatics in the Middle East.
Grow up. The world changes, and right now, Wisconsin is about to join the likes of foot stomping fanatics screaming "it ain't right, it ain't right".
There has always been a small percentage of humans that have same-sex preferences. It occurs regardless of race, income, education, location. That in and of itself should be sufficient to support the concept that same-sex preferences are a normal variant of humanity.
Somehow my personal relationship is an affront to others. Apparently the United States is an affront to others. For hundreds of years, America has been a deviant. Democracy and capitalism a threat to the established order of the world. The only threat my relationship is to Wisconsin and the United States is that it might expose some for being less willing to accept freedom, liberty and democracy for others than for themselves.
Wednesday, March 01, 2006
It has been hard to read their posts complaining that they are being labeled racist or bigoted because of their position when they clearly state very good reasons to be concerned by Dubai's dubious past.
But after feeling guilty for maybe labeling them inappropriately, I come back to, were they against it before they were against it with good reason? Is prejudice justifiable once cause is found?
A commentor noted that after the Mosque bombing last week, many outlets were saying "see, civil war, warned you it was inevitable" but after a few days, things have begun to settle down and civil war has been averted yet again by Iraqis that truly want peace. The commentor lamented the speed at which some want to paint the Iraqis as incapable of peace and any violence is used to support that PREJUDICE. Are there any companies doing business in the Middle East (of any corporate origin) that do not act in ways that would be unacceptable in the United States but simply must be done there to actually get anything done? How many countries and companies that we (the United States) do business with act in ways that are not in our best interest all or even most of the time, but are good business decisions? How many French or German or Japanese companies have pasts that we ignore, even justify on the basis that they are our ally and that the past is history?
Dubai is not a perfect ally. It has to operate in an area of immense danger to itself and it's citizens. It is NOT always going to act in ways we agree with.
I feel bad that bloggers I generally respect disagree with me about the ports, but how many of them supported their position with real concerns before opposing the deal? Honestly? I am afraid fewer than I hope.