Bits & Pieces (Thursday Night Open Mic)

Captain Kirk Climbs the mountain:

Star Trek: The Next Generation. Is that Dr. Beverly Crusher pimping The National Enquirer? Why, yes it is:
I was looking for a Firesign Theater bit from Eat or Be Eaten called “The National Toilet”, to follow up the National Enquirer commercial. Couldn’t find that, but I found this (part 1 of three) video of Firesign Theater performing Nick Danger at The Improv.

When everybody owns something, nobody owns it, and nobody has a direct interest in maintaining or improving its condition. That is why buildings in the Soviet Union—like public housing in the United States—look decrepit within a year or two of their construction…

Morality and economics

Senator Doctor Coburn has an op-ed at CNN about ending “welfare for the wealthy.” Perhaps some of us have an opinion on the good doctor’s prescription.

Every year, politicians on both sides engage in a process of reverse Robin Hood in which they steal $30 billion from low- and middle-income Americans and provide handouts to the rich and famous.

Millionaires receive tax earmarks and deductions crafted by both parties that allow them to write off billions each year. These write-offs include mortgage interest deductions on second homes and luxury yachts, gambling losses, business expenses, electric vehicle credits and even child care tax credits.

Meanwhile, direct handouts for millionaires have included $74 million in unemployment checks, $316 million in farm subsidies, $89 million for preservation of ranches and estates, $9 billion in retirement checks and $7.5 million to compensate for damages caused by emergencies to property that should have been insured. Millionaires have even borrowed $16 million in government-backed education loans to attend college since 2007.

The goal of highlighting these excesses is not to demonize those who are successful. Instead, by highlighting the sheer stupidity of pampering the wealthy with lavish benefits through our safety net and tax code, I hope to make a moral and economic argument for real entitlement and tax reform.

The most troubling gap in America today is not an income gap. It is an integrity gap — and even intelligence gap — between Washington and the rest of the country.

Families are struggling to make ends meet and are making painful economic choices as politicians in Washington borrow billions to provide welfare to the wealthy. Politicians on both sides refuse to fix big problems and defend stupid policies because changing those policies would involve upending a comfortable political status quo.

End welfare for the wealthy

Florida denies resident college tuition to Americans whose parents are undocs

Sins of the Parents

Linda Greenhouse
Linda Greenhouse on the Supreme Court and the law.
In the current race to the bottom to see which state can provide the most degraded and dehumanizing environment for undocumented immigrants, Arizona and Alabama have grabbed the headlines. But largely unnoticed, it is Florida, home to nearly one million Cuban refugees and their descendants, that has come up with perhaps the most bizarre and pointless anti-immigrant policy of all.
Beginning last year, the state’s higher education authorities have been treating American citizens born in the United States, including graduates of Florida high schools who have spent their entire lives in the state, as non-residents for tuition purposes if they can’t demonstrate that their parents are in the country legally.
Yes, you read that correctly – although when I first came upon a description of the policy a few weeks ago, I was sure that I had misunderstood something. It’s a basic tenet of equal protection law that the government can’t single out citizens for disfavored treatment without a good reason. The Supreme Court is serious about this, even ruling unanimously a decade ago that an Illinois village violated an individual homeowner’s 14th Amendment right to equal protection by demanding from her a bigger easement than it required of her neighbors as the price of connecting her home to the municipal water supply.
A few feet of land more or less may not have made a life-changing difference to the plaintiff in that case. But consider the difference between in-state and non-resident tuition at the University of Florida: $5,700 a year versus $27,936. The disparity is similar at the state’s community colleges, although the price tags are lower. It is the difference between a college education and none.
It seems grossly unfair, as the Supreme Court acknowledged 30 years ago in Plyler v. Doe when it held that Texas could not deprive undocumented children of a free public K-through-12 education, to blame children for the wrongdoing of their parents. Unfair and, as Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. observed in his concurring opinion, socially self-destructive, in creating a permanent underclass of uneducated people. (Alabama has observed the formalities of the Plyler opinionby simply trying to frighten undocumented parents into keeping their children out of school; if the decision were not on the books, that state would undoubtedly have shut the schoolhouse doors by now.)
The Supreme Court has never extended the Plyler opinion to give undocumented children rights to higher education. Alabama bars them entirely from its public universities and colleges, as does South Carolina. Other states permit them to enroll while denying the in-state tuition break, while a dozen states, including – famously—Texas, treat them as residents, entitled to in-state tuition rates.
That policy debate is ongoing, but the Florida situation is something deeper and uglier. Its victims are, after all, American citizens, as fully American as Rick Scott, Florida’s scary governor, who said last month that the state’s universities should focus on practical subjects that create jobs rather than on the study of such subjects as political science, psychology, or anthropology. (“We don’t need them here,” Governor Scott said of anthropologists. University students in Florida are circulating petitions to have the governor’s name kept off their diplomas.)
The students who filed a lawsuit last month challenging the policy are as American as Senator Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican who is leading a campaign to amend the Constitution. He and his allies would repeal, for the children of undocumented immigrants, the 14th Amendment’s grant of “birthright citizenship” (“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside”). The Florida policy – it’s not even a statute, but simply an interpretive rule adopted by the state’s Board of Education and its University System, taking many college administrators and enrolled students by surprise – amounts to repeal of birthright citizenship by regulation.
“Corruption of blood” was a familiar feature of the common law in England. A person found guilty of treason and certain other crimes would be barred from passing his estate on to his children, who would thus inherit nothing but the corrupted blood line. The framers of the United States Constitution considered and forcefully rejected the concept. Article III, the judiciary article, contains this sentence: “The Congress shall have power to declare the punishment of treason, but no attainder of treason shall work corruption of blood, or forfeiture except during the life of the person attained.” As James Madison expressed the thought more directly at the time, the purpose was to prevent Congress “from extending the consequences of guilt beyond the person of its author.”
Nor were the founding fathers content to leave the matter there. Going beyond treason, Congress enacted a law in 1790 to provide that “no conviction or judgment . . .  shall work corruption of blood or any forfeiture of estate.” Although not in so many words, the principle that guilt is not inheritable lay behind the modern Supreme Court’s gradual recognition of rights for children born out of wedlock, deemed by society to be “illegitimate.”
The lawsuit filed last month in Federal District Court in Miami by the Southern Poverty Law Center asks the court to do the obvious: to rule that Florida’s “policy and practice of classifying dependent United States citizen students who reside in Florida as ‘non-residents’ based on their parents’ federal immigration status denies these United States citizens equal protection of the laws in violation of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution.”
The lawsuit, which seeks class-action status on behalf of “all past, present, and future United States citizens” affected by the policy, names five individual plaintiffs. Two were forced for financial reasons to withdraw from Miami Dade College when the policy took effect. Two others can’t afford to take all the credits necessary to complete their degrees on time, and one, who would have received a full scholarship as a resident, couldn’t afford to enroll at all. Four were born in Miami and one in Los Angeles. All are eligible to be president of the United States.
The complaint hasn’t yet been formally served on the state, so it’s not clear what defense Florida will come up with. Bills to overturn the policy were filed within the last few weeks in both houses of the Florida Legislature. If the state is lucky, one will pass and take it off the hook. The State Senate sponsor, Rene Garcia of Hialeah, is a Republican and chairman of the Florida Hispanic Caucus. “When you’re an American citizen, you’re an American citizen,” he said.

Most Worthwhile Pundits

I always enjoy reading “Top 10” type lists even when they piss me off with their choices. This list of top political pundits is no different. I like that it includes Allahpundit and Jim Pethokoukis, but am stupefied by the inclusion of Andrew “Sarah Palin’s uterus is hiding something” Sullivan or Glenn “I’ve never written anything not at least 20 thousand words long including my grocery list” Greenwald. Morning Joe’s also a strange choice.

I also admit to a bit of Schadenboner over Greg Sargent not being included. I guess “AquaBudda” just wasn’t the scoop we thought it would be.

Who got left out or shouldn’t have been included in your opinion?


When knowing your rights means you’re a criminal

I’m really not up on the legal situation involving medicinal marijuana in DC. My interest in the War on Drugs is more from the civil liberties/police abuse standpoint than any desire (none whatsoever) to actually use drugs.

Check out point four in the police affidavit that was covered by DCist in a recent raid on a local hemp shop that was selling Flex Your Rights, a DVD that addresses your rights during encounters with police:

“Affiant notes that while this DVD is informative for any citizen, when introduced into a store that promotes the use of controlled substances, the DVD becomes a tool for deceiving law enforcement to keep from being arrested. The typical citizen would not need to know detailed information as to US Supreme Court case law regarding search and seizure because they are not transporting illegal substances in fear of being caught.”

It’s the “if you’re innocent, you have nothing to hide” defense. So here’s an officer that consider the Bill of Rights to be a device used to deceive law enforcement. How reassuring for the good citizens of DC.

Morning Report

Vital Statistics:

Last Change Percent
S&P Futures 1249.5 3.5 0.28%
Eurostoxx Index 2328 -2.420 -0.10%
Oil (WTI) 100.99 0.630 0.63%
US Dollar Index (DXY) 78.188 -0.200 -0.26%
10 Year Govt Bond Yield 2.13% 0.06%

Markets are pausing after yesterday’s furious rally. There was a sense of unreality to melt-up, and perhaps it wasn’t a coincidence that yesterday happened to be 11/30, the end of the month. Fund managers don’t do window-dressing at the end of the month, do they? Especially at the end of a month as lousy as November 2011. Yesterday’s coordinated action by the central banks provided the perfect cover to play some mark-up games – the S&P 500 rallied 12 handles (1%) in the last hour of trading yesterday.

Euro sovereign debt continues to rally, and both Spain and France sold 8 billion euros worth of bonds today. Initial Jobless Claims came in at 400k, vs. expectations of 390k for the holiday shortened Thanksgiving Day week. While we are seeing signs of life in some of the economic indicators, employment continues to be a drag. Wall Street has had a lousy year, and the big banks continue to let people go. Construction spending increased .8% month on month for October, and Napalm (the National Association of Purchasing Managers) Purchasing Managers Index came in at 52.7 – better than expectations but still lower than earlier this year.

This is the first Thursday of the month, and that means retailers are releasing same-store sales for March. Overall, same store sales look solid, but the Street may have bumped up expectations a little too much. Costco, Limited Brands, Macy’s, Nordstrom reported better than expected SSS. Kohls, Target, JC Penney, The Gap missed. Promotional activity appears to have driven the divergences.

S&P Case-Schiller was released on Tuesday, with the index coming in at 142, a 57bp drop month on month, and a 3.6% drop year on year. The chart of the index is not a picture of strength, to say the least:

Whistle Blowers

I read a piece yesterday that has been rattling around in my brain ever since.  Remember recently the NV AG, Masto, indicted a couple of wheeler dealers on fraud charges for the robo signing scandal in the foreclosure mess?  Well, apparently a large part of her case, and the information she used to investigate the charges, came from one woman at the lower end of the totem pole.  She gave up information in exchange for a reduced sentence in a plea agreement.  She didn’t show up Monday for sentencing and when investigators were sent to her home they found her dead.  Here’s a link to the piece in Naked Capitalism describing some of the events surrounding this interesting and tragic case.

Las Vegas police say it could be weeks before investigators know how 43-year-old Tracy Lawrence died.
Her body was found about 11:30 a.m. Monday at her Las Vegas apartment.
Police Sgt. Matt Sanford says there’s no apparent sign of foul play, and coroner toxicology tests could take up to eight weeks.
Lawrence would have faced up to a year in jail and a $2,000 fine earlier Monday for her guilty plea Nov. 17 to one criminal charge of notarizing the signature of a person not in her presence.
KSNV-TV reports ( that Lawrence admitted notarizing tens of thousands of fraudulent documents as part of a wider foreclosure fraud scheme.

Lawrence had earlier admitted to notarizing “tens of thousands of fraudulent documents” as part of a wider foreclosure fraud scheme involving employees of Lender Processing Services (LPS).  It was Lawrence who turned Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto on to two mid level LPS employees who face up to 30 years in jail each if found guilty. 

Lawrence came forward earlier this month and blew the whistle on the operation, in which title officers Gary Trafford, 49, of Irvine, Calif., and Geraldine Sheppard, 62, of Santa Ana, Calif. — who worked for a Florida processing company used by most major banks to process repossessions — allegedly forged signatures on tens of thousands of default notices from 2005 to 2008.

Trafford and Sheppard were charged two weeks ago with 606 counts of offering false instruments for recording, false certification on certain instruments and notarization of the signature of a person not in the presence of a notary public.

Here’s  another sort of whistle blower speaking with regret and admitting at least a guilty conscience if not fraud.  This guy was a Regional Vice President for Chase Home Financial in Florida.

“If you had some old bag lady walking down the street and she had a decent credit score, she got a loan,” he added.

Theckston says that borrowers made harebrained decisions and exaggerated their resources but that bankers were far more culpable — and that all this was driven by pressure from the top.
“You’ve got somebody making $20,000 buying a $500,000 home, thinking that she’d flip it,” he said. “That was crazy, but the banks put programs together to make those kinds of loans.”

Especially when mortgages were securitized and sold off to investors, he said, senior bankers turned a blind eye to shortcuts.
“The bigwigs of the corporations knew this, but they figured we’re going to make billions out of it, so who cares? The government is going to bail us out. And the problem loans will be out of here, maybe even overseas.”

One memory particularly troubles Theckston. He says that some account executives earned a commission seven times higher from subprime loans, rather than prime mortgages. So they looked for less savvy borrowers — those with less education, without previous mortgage experience, or without fluent English — and nudged them toward subprime loans.

These less savvy borrowers were disproportionately blacks and Latinos, he said, and they ended up paying a higher rate so that they were more likely to lose their homes. Senior executives seemed aware of this racial mismatch, he recalled, and frantically tried to cover it up. 

I think it’s important to remember how and why we got into this financial messObviously, government has over spent and over promised, from entitlements to government pensions, but if we’re going to be discussing fairness here we should also understand that a lot of people continue to suffer from a dose of unfairness in this economic shit storm (excuse my french).  Obviously life’s not always fair.

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