housing bubble

I have seen a lot of predictions about the end of the housing bubble, but this one caught my interest, probably because I have recently been doing research on predatory mortgage lending (where banks finance mortgages for very little money down in exchange for very high interest rates). Exerpt:
So, why would banks foolishly loan money to people who can't even scrap together a few thousand dollars for a down payment or who can scarcely meet their "interest-only" obligations?

The reason is simple; because they are not the one's taking the risk. Mortgage loans are acquired by investment banks and chopped up into various securities where they are sold in mutual funds, hedge funds and pension funds etc. To some extent, this takes the lenders off the hook, but it also means that the shock to the system will be much more widespread when the day of reckoning finally arrives. If we encounter a major glitch in the economy the shock-waves will be felt throughout the world. "Investors now hold $4.6 trillion in mortgage backed securities. That's more than the outstanding value of the US Treasuries." (NY Times) Think about it.



Yesterday I drove out to the small town of Forest, MS to visit a 16 year old client in jail for life for helping his half-sister shoot her abusive boyfriend. We think he is innocent, but we have our work cut out for us as he gave a confession. So that's depressing. However, on the way home I picked up a copy of the Scott County Times, a small county newspaper. In the 'Life' section, I read a really sweet article about a bus of Rainbow family members who stopped in town the week before. If you're reading this post close to July 27th, you can see a picture of the group here. As you may know, Rainbow folks are extremely hippified, dreadlocks, dumpster diving and all. Rather than treating them with suspicion, the town shared food and money so they could repair their broken bus and get back on the road. Who'd a thunk?

things that are frustrating

For the past week I have been reading cases non stop, gathering precedents for an innocence project appeal. Reading criminal cases for 12 hours a day can take its toll. While it's bad enough reading about horrible murders and attacks and robberies, it is beyond frustrating to see the court pulling BS like this:
Next, the defendant contends he invoked his right to counsel, but the police did not honor his requests. The defendant made two references to getting an attorney: "I think I might need an attorney," and later, "if I'm going to be arrested, I need an attorney." The defendant made the first statement after the polygraph examiner told him he had failed the test. The phrase joined the auxiliary verb "might" to the verb "need" to express possibility. When introduced by "I think," the meaning indicated a thought in process, but not yet concluded. The speaker was still considering or weighing the decision, was still testing alternatives. The statement was not a clear, unambiguous request for counsel.

The second reference to an attorney was also inconclusive. The statement, "if I'm going to be arrested, I need an attorney," is a conditional sentence. The subordinate clause "if I'm going to be arrested," established a condition upon the main clause. The statement told the police that if they were going to arrest the defendant, he wanted an attorney. Such a conditional statement was not a clear, unambiguous request.

Law enforcement officers must immediately cease questioning a suspect who has clearly asserted his right to have counsel present during custodial interrogation. Edwards v. Arizona, 451 U.S. 477 (1981). However, the defendant must make an unequivocal request. Davis v. United States, 512 U.S. 452, 458-60 (1994). We hold that the defendant never made an unequivocal request for counsel.

Here you see the court resorting to pedantic grammatical parsing in order to find that no request for an attorney was made. I could understand if the court simply said, "The defendant must use the following words: I request a lawyer. While other statements may indicate a desire for a lawyer, this is the phrase we need to see." But to claim that the defendant did not in fact clearly request a lawyer is just low.

[the quotation above is from Pritchett v. Commonwealth, 2000 Va. App. LEXIS 807, 7-8 (Va. Ct. App. Dec. 12, 2000)]

think globally

I am a general news hound, but there are a few things that I am oddly obsessed with, namely hurricanes and bird flu, which toggle with the seasons. Lately I've been poring over satellite images of Dennis and Emily and super Typhoon Haitang. However, today the bird flu wiki caught my eye, and it pointed me to a thorough Foreign Affairs article on the topic. The article discusses many aspects of the possibility of a global pandemic, and particularly focuses on its effects on world trade. There was one paragraph in particular that I found interesting. Having pointed out the degree to which SARS threw the world into a panic, he writes:
The pandemic-related collapse of worldwide trade and its ripple effect throughout industrialized and developing countries would represent the first real test of the resiliency of the modern global delivery system. Given the extent to which modern commerce relies on the precise and readily available international trade of goods and services, a shutdown of the global economic system would dramatically harm the world's ability to meet the surging demand for essential commodities such as food and medicine during a crisis. The business community can no longer afford to play a minor role in planning the response to a pandemic. For the world to have critical goods and services during a pandemic, industry heads must stockpile raw materials for production and preplan distribution and transportation support. Every company's senior managers need to be ready to respond rapidly to changes in the availability, production, distribution, and inventory management of their products. There is no model for how to revive the current global economy were it to be devastated.

I am not an anti-globalist, whatever that really means. However, the trend away from maintaining any local sustainable production and consumption seems to be a recipie for disaster. What happens when something goes wrong? Speaking of which, the price of oil is up on fears that hurricanes will disrupt oil production in the Gulf of Mexico. I have a suspicion that the weather is going to get a lot worse.


I have been trying for ages to articulate the paradox of "rationales" offered by war supporters of why we are in Iraq. A commenter on dailyKos has said it beautifully:
Has anyone else noticed this conflict between two of the supposed current goals of the Bush administration in Iraq?

On one hand, the US is supposedly intent upon creating a new democracy out of the ashes of the regime of Saddam Hussein.

On the other hand, Iraq is our "flypaper" for Islamic terrorists, where we are drawing them to fight in order to prevent them from attacking the US on its own soil.

But doesn't it seem as if there's a problem in setting up a stable nation in a war zone? I have a hard time reconciling those two plans. Unless the pool of potential terrorists in the Islamic world is just about empty (something I have a hard time swallowing) it seems like we're going to need active flypaper for some time to come (making the huge assumption that it actually works) either in Iraq or elsewhere. And that means developing a stable government, turning over true power to that government, and leaving Iraq is a long way off (assuming, of course, that it was ever planned).


who's the activist now?

Great op-ed from the nytimes showing that under a sensible definition "activism", Justice Thomas is the most "activist judge" on the court, as he has voted to strike down more laws of Congress than any other justice on the court. By this measure the more right wing justices are the more activist, as they have voted to strike down a greater percentage of law of Congress than the moderates:

Thomas 65.63 %
Kennedy 64.06 %
Scalia 56.25 %
Rehnquist 46.88 %
O’Connor 46.77 %
Souter 42.19 %
Stevens 39.34 %
Ginsburg 39.06 %
Breyer 28.13 %

via kos.


Here is a harrowing letter from Equador, detailing the prison situation there. Thanks to "no tolerance" drug laws, which have been spectacular in their ineffectiveness, women and their children are tortured in prisons. They are held for months and even years without trial in roach and snake infested cells, disease ridden and water deprived. Human waste flows along the floors. There is no medical treatment. There is functionally no recourse. Lest you imagine that this is not your back yard, remember that the US government funds this horror through policies like Plan Columbia.

midwest crack

The LA times has a great article on Meth in the midwest. I've been hearing about this for a while now, and I'm all kinds of curious as to how middle America can get around this - a cheap, toxic, extremely addictive and destructive drug landing a ton of people in prison and very expensive to combat. I found this to be ironically amusing:
Here in the farm country of eastern Missouri, Cmdr. Gary Higginbotham sometimes longs for the days when a roadside patch of marijuana was considered a major drug threat.

And this number is pretty wild:
About half of those entering the Nebraska state prison have a meth-related conviction.

I wonder at what point people acknowledeg that law enforcement is not going to solve this problem? And once they do that, what next?

desperate straits

Medicade is in serious trouble. Stunning example: "a single mother of three in Missouri is now ineligible if she makes more than $350 a month." That's $4200 a year. I don't really understand that statistic, and I'm hoping that they meant per week, but then again, to support 3 kids on $350 a week is also insane.

got beef?

I thought this article from the nytimes about grilling on july 4th was just hilarious. Choice quotes:
In Lewisville, Tex., customers streamed into Old Town Market recently to stock up on hamburger and brisket for the weekend.

"You trust that things are in place to be protective, just like you do with medicine," said one customer, Irene Carey.

Roland Dickey Jr., vice president of Dickey's Barbecue, which is based in Dallas and has 65 restaurants in six states, said that the company did not see any drop in business after the first case of mad cow and that it did not expect a decrease this time either.

"I think that the American public knows that basically the food supply is completely safe," Mr. Dickey said.

I wonder if Ms. Carey also supports decreased regulation and tax cuts, because industry can take care of itself.

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