Friday, October 30, 2009

Real toxic assets

As if things aren't bad enough in the housing industry, it now looks like hundreds or even thousands of homeowners will lose their homes to foreclosure because of toxic Chinese drywall.

It's pretty simple, and whether you are making your payments has nothing to do with it.

If you have a mortgage then your mortgage carrier requires you to insure your home. But if your home is found to have toxic drywall, as thousands have, then expect your insurance policy to be revoked and to find that no insurance carrier will insure you. Beyond the actual cost of replacement (meaning tearing out every wall in a home), the drywall emits sulfuric acid fumes that corrode pipes and electrical wiring and cause illness in people who are in the home, so it's a cost that no insurer wants to deal with.

Case closed, your home will be foreclosed on for failure to carry insurance coverage.

Thousands of homeowners nationwide who have bought new houses made with defective building materials are finding their hopes dashed and their lives in limbo. Experts warn that cases like the Ivorys', in which insurers drop policies or send notices of nonrenewal because of tainted Chinese drywall, will become rampant as insurance companies work their way through the hundreds of claims currently in the pipeline.

At least three insurers already have canceled or refused to renew policies after homeowners sought help replacing the bad materials. Because mortgage companies require homeowners to insure their properties, they are then at risk of foreclosure, yet no law prevents the cancellations.

So what can the homeowner do? Not much.

The mortgage company is only acting as a front for what is likely a bank that controls a derivative into which each mortgage is bundled, and anyone who invests in a mortage wants their investment protected. So they require insurance, which is sensible enough.

The insurers have not only been denying the claims for toxic drywall, but they've been dropping coverage. This should not surprise anyone either, because they've been doing the same thing for years with health insurance, rescinding coverage when someone actually gets sick and needs it. Why should anyone be surprised if they look at homeowners policies through the same lens? After all, in most cases homeowners insurance and health insurance are offered through different divisions of the same giant companies.

The Chinese companies which produced the drywall made a defective product. But lots of luck trying to get compensation from them.

There is a class action lawsuit going on against builders, manufacturers and suppliers of the defective drywall. But even if these homeowners join it it is likely that any amount they receive (and in these kinds of suits most of the money goes to the lawyers) might, years or decades from now, cover the cost of the drywall but certainly would not cover the cost of a home foreclosure (in which case it is a given that any down payment or equity in the home is gone, to say nothing of the effect of a foreclosure on their credit rating should they try to get another home.)

What about the inspectors who should have but didn't catch the drywall before it was installed? Well, you can't sue the government, even when they don't do their job very well. As I've written before, in many cases our policy involving imported products (especially imported products from China) seems to be one of 'regulation by recall,' in other words very little is inspected and nothing is done until a defective product actually causes harm at which time the product is recalled.

So who bears the cost of this one? That's right, the little guy (as usual,) the people who bought the home. I know, I know. Some right winger will suggest that it is their fault for buying a defective product without doing adequate research. This is a stupid argument too, I mean when you buy a home do you ask for the name of every manufacturer, supplier and subcontractor that was involved in building it, and then research one by one whether there have been any complaints about that supplier? That kind of argument is about as ridiculous as the people who complain that homebuyers being squeezed out by ARMs, balloon payments or other mortgage 'tricks' are at fault because they didn't read paragraph 4 on page 347 of a 500 page contract written in legalese before signing. According to the letter of the law they may even be right, but morally they are not. We have an obligation to if necessary legislate (yes, that's right it means 'regulate') some way to prevent this kind of tomfoolery from happening.

As someone once said in observing someone else's misery and justifying why they should care, "there but for the grace of God go I."

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Governor's races show Democrats are better off being Democrats

Democratic strategist Bob Shrum has a point.

He's not just talking about the upcoming gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey, but he's drawing a critically important contrast.

In Virginia, polls showed Democrat Creigh Deeds in a close race with Republican Bob McDonnell during July and early August, while in New Jersey Republican Chris Christie was as much as fifteen points ahead of incumbent Democratic Governor Jon Corzine at about the same time.

Today the situation is reversed. In Virginia it is Deeds who appears headed for a big loss, while Corzine has now drawn even or possibly even slightly ahead depending on which poll you look at.

Keep in mind of course that these two races have historically gone against the party in power in the White House so in both cases the Democrats are running against history and the cyclical nature of politics.

That said, there is a big difference between the races and even allowing for factors like that Deeds is a poor campaigner and in New Jersey an independent appears to be drawing more votes from Christie than from Corzine, Shrum hits the nail on the head when he points out the biggest difference between the races.

Criegh Deeds has tried to run as a 'Republican light,' alternatively saying he supports some Democratic principles but then distancing himself from them, most recently the idea of a public option on health care-- going so far as to say that if there is an 'opt-out' provision and he is Governor he might exercise it on behalf of his state.

As Shrum points out, this is a poor strategy:

Blue Dog Democrats who abandoned Bill Clinton on health care in 1994 were conspicuous among the casualties of that November's congressional elections. Their flight from Clinton alienated Democrats without placating other voters. Just ask Sen. David McCurdy of Oklahoma or Sen. Jim Cooper of Tennessee.

Oops, they're not senators. Both were favorites who lost their respective races after calculated decisions to turn away from Clintoncare. If they had stayed the course, they might not have won; but in 1994, they and others proved that apostasy is not the path to victory. (McCurdy now runs a trade association. Cooper is back in Congress after eight years in the wilderness.)

The truth is, that conservative voters in Virginia are probably going to vote for McDonnell anyway. Even Deeds' erstwhile supporters on the right turned their back on him when he needed them the most. For example, Deeds supports gun rights. This cost him directly, being cited by former Governor Douglas Wilder as the primary reason he could not endorse Deeds even after a personal appeal from President Obama. What about the NRA, which has supported Deeds in the past, most notably in his primary victory over Terry McAuliffe and Brian Moran earlier this year? Well, the NRA endorsed McDonnell. Now, I'm a Democrat in support of gun rights myself and I don't fault Deeds for taking this stance if he honestly agrees with me, but any Democrat who relies on the NRA for support is a fool because they are clearly 'fair-weather friends' who will abandon said Democrat when he or she gets into a tough race against a pro-gun Republican. Running this year as a conservative Democrat will not win votes from conservatives who will still vote Republican, but it may keep liberals at home.

Deeds paradoxically asked the same President he has not pledged to support on important issues to come and campaign for him. President Obama did, appearing in Newport News and Hampton Roads in southeastern Virginia. In fact, that may be the only part of Virginia where Deeds will get even close to the percentages he would need to win.

In contrast, Corzine has embraced the Obama agenda, especially on health care and has done everything he could to appeal to liberals in his state. Now, granted New Jersey is a much more liberal state than Virginia (though that was true this summer too when Christie was still way up in the polls.) According to the latest Quinnipiac poll, though Corzine's favorability/unfavorability rating is still negative, he has improved it significantly over the past couple of months. In other words, a Democrat campaigning on Democratic themes has come back from way down. Corzine could still lose, of course, but the comeback is nonetheless significant. Unlike Deeds, he's not shied away from the President and has been very openly grateful for the President campaigning for him.

The bottom line is that a Democrat campaigning as an independent and running away from his party's themes has gone from even in the polls to fifteen points down, while a Democrat campaigning as a Democrat has gone from fifteen points down to even.

That should send a strong message to Democrats in Washington about what works and what does not.

Just in time for Halloween-- always low prices!

Just in time for Halloween, Wal-Mart has announced that they will start selling caskets.

I don't know if I'd want to buy one or get buried in it though. Virtually every product sold at Wal-Mart is produced by the cheapest manufacturer they can find (almost always overseas) and there have been a number of product recalls as a result. I keep having this image of being carried down the aisle by pallbearers and all of a sudden the bottom falls out and I fall down right in the middle of them.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

CBO scores house plan with 'robust' public option to cut the deficit

The CBO came out today with projections for a House plan that does include a 'robust' public option.

Their score is that the plan would cost $871 billion up front and when savings are included would actually reduce the deficit.

Notice that this is not so far from what the Baucus bill produced after a two month delay in the Senate Finance Committee would cost and save, only that bill was claimed as some kind of a 'breakthrough' because of cost savings that could allegedly attract GOP support. Which it did, exactly one Republican.

The claims that health care reform with a public option will run up the deficit have been punctured by today's report, in fact deficit hawks should jump on it as a way to cut tens of billions of dollars out of the long term projected deficit. This means then that there is no longer any good reason for opposing health care reform, including a public option. The only real reason anyone would is if they are still putting the interests of the insurance industry ahead of the interests of American patients (which will sooner or later by virtually all of us.) A distressingly large number of members of Congress are indeed going to be doing just that, but this pretty much makes it clear that that is what they are doing in that case.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Out of the mouth of a babe

President Obama held a town hall format meeting today at the University of New Orleans. After entertaining several questions from adults, nine year old Terrance Scott got a chance to ask a question.

Terrance's question: "Why do people hate you?"

I thought the President did a pretty good job of answering the question, explaining that a lot of it is just politics and that there are also some people who are frustrated about the economy, losing their homes, losing their jobs, losing their health insurance, etc.

Of course there are still those who just plain hate the President too, and we all know that. Apparently so does the next generation of America's children.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Fundamentalist church to burn 'perverted' books, including Bibles, books by Billy Graham

A book burning.

In Berlin, 1935?

No, in North Carolina for this upcoming Halloween.

No, folks, I'm not making this up.

What books are they burning anyway?

Bibles. That's right, for starters they are burning Bibles, at least Bibles that are not King James Bibles. They are so fundamentalist that they will not accept a Bible that is not a King James Version or based on a similar translation. According to the Amazing Grace Baptist Church leaders, such a Bible is a 'perversion of God's word' and deserves to be burned.

They aren't limiting what they are burning to non-King James Bibles of course. They are also burning books by 'heretics.' They list a long list of 'heretics' on their website, including Billy Graham, Oral Roberts, James Dobson, the Pope and Mother Theresa.

Also all kinds of music, including contemporary Christian and gospel music.

Now, That's fundamentalist. I'm sure that they'd be happy to burn just about any book I own (I do own a King James Bible, but since it was published in Salt Lake City by the Mormon church, I'm sure it would be an instant decision to burn it if I brought it to their Halloween party.)

Oh, and they are having Barbeque chicken afterward. Probably with a side of Oral Roasted.

The 'world's greatest health care system' and Winslow hospital are failing my daughter

My 13 year old went to Winslow hospital on Monday because she is experiencing flu-like symptoms.

Did they actually bother to test her? No.

They said that the CDC has told them not to bother with the blood work but that people should 'assume' it is the swine flu and drink plenty of fluids. UPDATE: AS OF TODAY (OCT. 15) THE STATE FLU LAB IS REFUSING TO TEST ANY MORE SAMPLES except for people who have already died or who are very very sick. They can't keep up with the demand.

Did they admit her? No.

They said she should just stay home and sent her away.

Did they give her any medicine? No.

What happened to all that Tamiflu that was supposed to be being stockpiled for when people actually need it? I know that Senator Collins cut the pandemic preparedness funding out of the stimulus, but the least they could do would be to give her a prescription that we could shop around for it.

They told her to follow up with her doctor. But the doctor's office is overwhelmed, and they can't get her in until Thursday.

So is what they told her to do working? No.

Despite taking tylenol and ibuprofen, her fever has gone up, last night it was at 103 degrees. This morning she was coughing and having trouble just breathing.

So this is how the World's Best Health Care System is supposed to function (and by the way, we DO have health insurance) ???

According to Ralph Lauren, even unhealthily thin is still 'too fat.'

Twenty-three year old Filippa Hamilton has spoken out about the decision by Ralph Lauren to not renew her contract because she is 'too large.'

NEW YORK - A former Ralph Lauren model whose image in a roundly criticized advertisement was digitally slenderized said Wednesday that the apparel maker did not renew her contract because she was “too large.”

Polo Ralph Lauren Corp. is contending that it dismissed Filippa Hamilton because of a contract dispute and that the photo was mistakenly released.

“They fired me because they said I was overweight and I couldn't fit in their clothes anymore,” 23-year-old Filippa Hamilton, who worked for the company since she was 15, told the Daily News. She said she considered Polo Ralph Lauren her second family.


The photo's emaciated depiction of her, with hips about as narrow as her head, could make young women “think that it's normal to look like that — and it's not,” the 5-foot-10, 120-pound model told NBC's “Today” show.

“I saw my face on this super-extremely skinny girl, which is not me; it's not healthy, it's not right,” she said.

Polo Ralph Lauren claimed she “was too large,” she added, saying that she's a size 4 and that her weight has remained constant during eight years as a model for the iconic American brand, which has dressed U.S. Olympic teams.

Now, looking at tables available from health check systems,

a 5'10" woman with a small frame (let's give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that she is naturally slender) should weigh between 132 and 145 pounds.

This means that Hamilton is already nearly 10% below the minimum weight for her height that would be considered 'healthy,' even in women who are naturally slender.

Except according to Ralph Lauren, even unhealthily skinny is now 'too fat.'

This bothers me because I have a total of seven daughters and granddaughters and I want them to have a healthy and positive self-image without actually trying to starve themselves. It has been said that America is the only country where people starve to death in a house full of food, and thanks to anorexia, bulimia and a whole host of other disorders linked to a media- and fashion-driven desire to 'be thin,' we now have millions of healthy women (and a disturbingly rapidly increasing number of men) literally destroying their bodies so they can look 'thin.'

I'm not a 'burn Barbie' type of extremist about this but I do believe that given the continuing irresponsible behavior of the fashion industry in the face of years of publicity and objections raised about this behavior, it may be time to legislate minimum weights for models, similar to what has been done in Spain.

Friday, October 09, 2009

I have to be honest here, this Nobel is premature.

This year President Obama got the Nobel peace prize. A week after being 'slapped down' by the IOC in Copenhagen a week ago, he got a 'hand up' across the Kattegat in Oslo.

It's almost like a weekly sit com 'the adventures of Barack' and I don't like it. President Obama is an intelligent capable man who was legitimately elected as President of the United States.

And yes, his election was an inspiration to people across the world in that it represents that after centuries of racism a black man could be elected as President of its greatest power, but that in itself is not a reason to give him the Nobel Peace Prize.

To get a prize like that he should do something. Let's even stop and think that his nomination came about two weeks after his inauguration, during which time he'd had time to do little except give a fifteen minute speech, change the 'Mexico City rule' on abortion, get most of his cabinet confirmed, get and sign the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and get Congress to authorize the release of the TARP II bailout funds. Not exactly Nobel Prize winning stuff there.

But even if you consider that the Nobel committee has had several months to watch the President and consider his actions in their decision, I've seen little that is of Nobel caliber achievement.

Let's see: as positives they may consider that he has promised to close GITMO, has begun moving troops out of Iraq, has told CIA interrogators that they must follow the army field manual, effectively ending torture, has accepted the realism that the G-20 rather than the G-8 as an economic policy making body is a more realistic reflection of the world economy, made a nice broadcast to the Iranian people in Farsi and has toned down the rhetoric on Iran, and has worked to improve relations with Russia, most notably by canceling a missile defense shield that was to be located in Poland and the Czech Republic.

As negatives, there is the fact that whatever he may have said, GITMO remains open (and in some ways is being replaced by Baghram AFB in Afganistan,) American troops are still in Iraq and he has been having a public back and forth with his own attorney general about whether to prosecute Bush era officials involved with torture. He has retained the policy of rendition and is escalating the war in Afghanistan. Obama has made it clear, most recently by delaying his meeting with the Dalai Lama until after he goes to China that human rights will take a back seat to economic issues where China is involved (which is exactly the same policy that every American President, even Jimmy Carter, has followed since Richard Nixon first opened relations with Beijing in 1971.)

At best I'd consider this to be a mild overall plus. The committee said as much, describing in non-specific terms that he has changed the tone and rejected unilateralism (which is more of a slap at Bush, but I don't like foreigners using American Presidents to get back at others Presidents, even ones I don't like.)

At best, I can say that I hope that President Obama lives up to this honor. I feel confident that he will do a great deal for peace but that is still to come.

At worst, it is an award which was taken away from Morgan Tsvanagarai, who does deserve it. As you may recall, at the beginning of the year Tsvangarai had apparently won the Zimbabwean election. After several weeks of counting and vote tampering the elections commission released a result that forced him into a run-off with President Robert Mugabe. When Tsvangarai reluctantly accepted the result and the run-off, all hell broke loose in Zimbabwe as Mugabe-backed thugs went nuts and beat and murdered thousands of Tsvangarai's supporters ahead of the runoff. Tsvangarai withdrew from the election recognizing that it would be stolen anyway and that continuing as a candidate would cost the lives of more people. After the election some of his supporters wanted to take up arms and launch a guerilla movement, but Tsvangarai faced them and told them that more violence would not solve anything. He accepted the position of Prime Minister in a Mugabe-run and Mugabe-organized government, with the goal of attempting to reform the system and get the apalling economic conditions in Zimbabwe under control, and has pledged to peacefully push for reform within the system. In the process Tsvangarai has survived being beaten personally along with an automobile accident this year in which he was severely injured and which claimed the life of his wife.

As a supporter of President Obama, all I can say is that I share in the surprise and shock that the White House experienced when the call came this morning. I believe that he has the potential, the capacity and the intellect to someday be worthy of such a high honor. But it was a disservice to have given him the award before he has achieved what he can achieve.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Support a Nataline's law provision in health care legislation

Remember Nataline Sarkisyan? If the name rings a bell, it should. Nataline was a seventeen year old girl who needed a liver transplant. Only when they finally found a donor her parent's insurance company, CIGNA, which provided full coverage through her father's insurance refused to pay. After a lot of bad press they relented nine days later but by the time the procedure was performed, Sarkisyan was literally hours away from death and did not survive.

Her parents went to court to sue CIGNA for damage caused by the company's denial of their daughter's transplant. The court threw out the complaint, not because they hadn't caused her death but because of a 1987 Supreme Court decision that prevents victims from suing over coverage decisions. The decision relates to 1974's Employee Retirement Income Security Act, or ERISA, which governs employee retirement funds and benefit plans.

So last year Nataline's parents, Hilda and Krikor Sarkisyan went to CIGNA's corporate headquarters on October 29, 2008 to ask for an apology. What they got was a front man who came out and told them that he was very sorry but that the company would not even offer them an apology, and further that the CEO or anyone involved with the decision would not come out and talk to them. Not that they didn't see someone higher up, of course. What they got was the man upstairs throwing them 'the bird.'

Hilda and Krikor Sarkisyan are not giving up in trying to change things though.

The catalyst for this came not only in the judge being forced by the 1987 court decision to have to dismiss Nataline's wrongful death suit, but also from CIGNA's official press release after this.

"Cigna said the dismissal of the wrongful-death case in April showed that the court "agreed with our position that the Sarkisyans' claims regarding Cigna's decision making were without merit."

In fact, the court did not consider the merits of the family's wrongful-death claims. Instead, it decided those claims could not be heard.

Not heard because of the Supreme Court decision!! If it were based solely on the merits of the case then it could be heard. The pure and unadulterated arrogance and contempt on display CIGNA, knowing very well that they have nothing to fear if they do kill someone, is stunning.

The Sarkisyans have proposed 'Nataline's law,' whereby Congress would put in place a mechanism by which insurance companies like CIGNA will be held accountable (even if it is by fines rather than by direct compensation to victims or their families) for injuries or death that it can be proven was caused by withholding payment for a procedure.

According to the linked article, at least one CIGNA employee did have a conscience and quit his job so he could stand with the Sarkisyans:

"ERISA is a license to kill," Glovsky said. "The companies know that they can deny treatment with the sick or dead member having virtually no recourse."

Wendell Potter, a Cigna spokesman who quit after handling the publicity surrounding the Sarkisyan case, agreed.

"HMOs and insurers are largely free to deny access to care without fear of reprisal or financial consequences," Potter said in a speech to the Civil Justice Foundation in San Francisco.

Right now, as Congress debates health care overhaul it is time to undo the disastrous ERISA provision. The truth is that tort reform is long overdue-- instead of aiming lawsuits at doctors whose hands may well be tied by the knowlege that some procedures will likely be denied even if they ask for them, maybe the truth is that it is the insurers who should be included in these suits.

Santa Monica-based Consumer Watchdog sent a letter to key congressional leaders urging them to undo the ERISA ruling, and group President Jamie Court said Nataline's case shows why such a move is crucial to any healthcare reform.

"If the insurer decides they don't want to pay for the treatment because they can save a lot of money, there is not a dime available in damages if the person dies or is injured," Court said. "It's cheaper to kill you. If you die, you can't go to court.

Baucus bill is a bad one, go the reconciliation route.

I'm certainly not a fan of the Baucus Finance Committee bill, which as I've noted before would force people who can't afford it to pay for insurance anyway-- the same formula as MittCare in Massachusetts, which has not succeeded in that state either. It also would only insure about half of the uninsured today in America.

The fact that the CBO has claimed that it will cost $829 billion over ten years and have a net effect counting savings and new taxes of reducing the deficit by $80 billion still doesn't appeal to me, because I still think it's a lousy bill, period.

That said, it is interesting to hear what Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell had to say today.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) fired back that Democrats have yet to craft a package that can win 60 votes and, until they do, any claims that the package can dramatically shrink the ranks of the uninsured while lowering the budget deficit are "irrelevant."

Translation: He's still planning to filibuster any bill, and it doesn't matter what is in it or not.

Under the circumstances then it makes more and more sense for Democrats to throw out the half-measures, mandates and tax increases in the Baucus bill and go with a more liberal bill that they push through using reconciliation.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

A hate crime in Phoenix this morning

A homeless woman was murdered today in Phoenix in what appears to be a hate crime.

A gunman opened fire on a 39-year-old woman and her friend early Saturday morning in what Phoenix police are calling a possible hate crime.

The woman, whose name wasn't released, was shot dead. Her friend, Jeffrey Wellmaker, 48, told police he and the woman were walking in Palma Park, on 12th Street and Dunlap Avenue around 1:30 a.m. when a heavily tattooed, bald White man confronted them.

Wellmaker, who is Black, said the tattooed man yelled, "What are you doing with that White woman," said Detective James Holmes, a Phoenix police spokesman. The friends, who are homeless, didn't respond and kept walking, Holmes said. Investigators don't know why the couple was in the park, police said.

The tattooed man followed the pair for a couple blocks. By the time the couple reached 4th Street and Puget Avenue, Wellmaker saw a white four-door newer model sedan with tinted windows drive past them, Holmes said. In the passenger seat was the tattooed man.

That's when Wellmaker said the passenger pulled out a shotgun and shot two blasts at the couple, Holmes said.

For some reason, probably a weird mix of racism, misogyny and misplaced jealousy, nothing seems to set off white racists like a white woman with a black man. Although these folks are against all interracial dating the reverse doesn't seem to set them off as quickly. Whether it is because of our President or what, they seem to be coming more out into the open lately.

Clearly this is a hate crime, and clearly this murderer is a menace as he tries to enforce his own views of marriage on everyone else by means of murder. Let's hope he gets caught quickly.
Flag Counter