Friday, April 04, 2008

At this point, we're down to three mainstream Presidential candidates, and while most of us have a preference by now, we might still wish for another choice. In that spirit, I give you the prospective head of the Libertarian ticket, Mike Gravel --- a crazy candidate for crazy times:

If I thought his State of the Union addresses would be like this, I might just vote for the guy.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Has the mortgage crisis shaken your confidence in the financial acumen of the folks running the banks? Well, maybe this will restore your faith. They may be hurting, but they haven't panicked. Instead, under pressure, with cool heads and eagle eyes, they've found a way to economize:

In some cities that have low property values, where there are dense concentrations of foreclosures, you see lenders who file foreclosure proceedings but don't actually take control of the properties, because the lenders have to maintain them and pay taxes on them.

Now, there are a few questions that bear asking about this novel economy measure. Like, if the bank hasn't taken title to the house, why do the impecunious former owners have to leave? Well, consider everyone else who's involved. There's a slow economy, and people need jobs:

... a small army of law firms and default servicing companies, who represent mortgage lenders, have been raking in mounting profits. These little-known firms assess legal fees and a host of other charges, calculate what the borrowers owe and draw up the documents required to remove them from their homes. ...

Court documents say that some of the largest firms in the industry have repeatedly submitted erroneous affidavits when moving to seize homes and levied improper fees that make it harder for homeowners to get back on track with payments. Consumer lawyers call these operations “foreclosure mills.”

Consider it part of the stimulus program.

For what it's worth, I have yet to find a better answer to that legal conundrum in this comment thread on the story, from Barry Ritholtz's blog, though more than one person has asked. But you will find all sorts of other amusements. Like a mortgage broker explaining why he's blameless for any bad loans that he issued. The government made him do it!

As someone who has worked in the mortgage industry, I believe that it is patently unfair to say that lenders should be held responsible for foreclosures. Government programs made it possible for large amounts of people previously afford it to buy homes. The government did everything in their power to encourage this type of lending. As a result, many people who were deserving were suddenly able to buy a home. An unfortunate side affect [sic] of this is that many other undeserving people took advantage of the generous terms of the government's offer. I can testify from personal experience that it is impossible to tell if a person will pay or not. You can look at their credit scores or listen to what they say, but in the end all you have is a very fleeting impression of how that person behaves when they are over their head and terrified.I have no doubt that this is not the reason every one of these homes has been foreclosed on. There are many unscrupulous lenders. However there are at least as many legitimate lenders who try their best to make good loans. Holding these peoples defaults against them only reduces the responsibility of the many many people who took advantage of the system. Also most mortgage companies levy penalties on lenders for every mortgage they make that defaults.
It's true. The government made lenders stop redlining. And this guy's not the only one saying that that's why they stopped doing credit checks as well. Mind you, the government wasn't telling them to stop doing credit checks. But there were things they could do, and things they couldn't do anymore and it all got just so confusing.

So confusing that they didn't even wonder: if you know the prospective buyer's likely to wind up "over their head and terrified", maybe the ethical thing is to just tell them the whole thing's a bad idea, and not give them a loan.

Poor fellows.

More: Again via Ritholtz, some banks are doing the sensible thing, and just not foreclosing on properties that they couldn't sell right now anyway. It's the right thing to do, but nevertheless, it does have the consequence that even the current skyrocketing foreclosure rates are understating just how bad housing really is right now...

A number of pro-Clinton bloggers are getting very worked up about Florida and Michigan. Among other things, they profess to be totally mystified why scheduling rules violations in these two states cost them the right to seat delegations, while other (more minor) violations of the same rules in other states caused nowhere near the same penalty.

Well, let me clear that up for them. That's happening because that's what a committee with one of Clinton's top advisors on it voted to do. And he voted in favor of the proposal.

They also say they're very upset about the voters in those states being disenfranchised. Strangely, they don't seem nearly so worked up about the Obama supporters in Michigan who were effectively disenfranchised because he'd honored the Democratic HQ's request to take his name off the ballot, and Hillary didn't.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

From Eric Alterman's New Yorker piece on the sad fate of American newspapers:

Despite the many failures at newspapers, the vast majority of reporters and editors have devoted years, even decades, to understanding the subjects of their stories. It is hard to name any bloggers who can match the professional expertise, and the reporting, of, for example, the Post ’s Barton Gellman and Dana Priest, or the Times’ Dexter Filkins and Alissa Rubin.

Well, gee. Let me try this.


Law and Civil liberties:


Middle East Politics:

Baseball (a nonpartisan list!):

And that's enough to make the point, though I could go on quite a bit longer, in each of these fields and plenty of others (biology, French politics, you name it). On almost any topic, there's a genuine, experienced, even formally credentialed expert blogging about it who has spent large chunks of their life wholly devoted to the field, and who has more, and more interesting, things to say about it than anyone who spent equal chunks of their life hanging around a newsroom.

I'm not trying to say here that the whole journalistic enterprise was without value, but its denizens and partisans, like Alterman, won't help preserve it by maintaining their willful blindness to one of the major reasons that bloggers on the internet are eating their lunch.

Meanwhile, in another world, "Real Housewives of New York" continues to torture its cast for our Seinfeldesque amusement. In this week's episode: Bethenny deals with the fallout from the events of last week's show, in which she'd invited the camera crew along to a quiet tête-à-tête with her boyfriend about his commitment issues.

Regrettably, that didn't go as well as one might have hoped.