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Submission Summary: 0 pending, 8 declined, 2 accepted (10 total, 20.00% accepted)

United States

+ - DoD appeals to Indian Wars case to defend tribunal->

Submitted by boombaard
boombaard (1001577) writes "The DoD has thought of a new defense of the use of military tribunals for trying 'unlawful enemy combatants':

Pentagon prosecutors touched off a protest — and issued an apology this week — for likening the Seminole Indians in Spanish Florida to Al-Qaeda in documents defending Guantanamo's military commissions.
Citing precedents, prosecutors reached back into the Indian Wars in arguments at an appeals panel in Washington D.C. Specifically, they invoked an 1818 military commission convened by Gen. Andrew Jackson after U.S. forces invaded then-Spanish Florida to stop black slaves from fleeing through a porous border — then executed two British men for helping the Seminole Indians.
Navy Capt. Edward S. White also wrote this in a prosecution brief:
"Not only was the Seminole belligerency unlawful, but, much like modern-day al Qaeda, the very way in which the Seminoles waged war against U.S. targets itself violate the customs and usages of war."

As the blogger notes: 'And so it is that our government clings desperately to one of the darkest chapters of our history to legitimize its current actions. Rather than reflect on what that means–how damning it is that we can point only to Andrew Jackson’s illegal treatment of Native Americans to justify our current conduct–the government says simply, “a precedent is a precedent!”'"
Link to Original Source

Medicine

+ - Pharma-Funded Study Shows that pirated drugs Save->

Submitted by
boombaard
boombaard writes "Pharmaceutical Industry Funded Study Shows that Unauthorized Drug Copies Save Tens of Millions
This is the clear implication of a new industry funded study, even if USA Today essentially ran an ad for the pharmaceutical industry by headlining its piece: "growing problem of fake drugs endangers consumers' health." The article highlighted the fact that unauthorized copies of drugs sometimes do not meet the same standards as the official version, but also notes that: "counterfeiters are now able to fake drugs so well that even experts find it hard to distinguish the copies from the real deal." This implies that often the unauthorized versions will be every bit as good as the brand drugs.
According to the article, the study finds that the unauthorized drug market is between $75 billion and $200 billion a year, but adds: "the market is likely much bigger because many cases are hard to detect." If we assume an average prescription price of $2 (many of these drugs are sold in the developing world), then this implies that the unauthorized market involves sales of 37 billion to 100 billion prescriptions year. If 1 in 1000 of these prescriptions save a life (because the patient could not afford the authorized version), then unauthorized drugs save between 37 million and 100 million people a year.
In an act of unbelievable sloppiness this article fails to distinguish between unauthorized copies, where the buyer knows that they are not getting the brand drug and genuine counterfeits, where the buyer is deceived about the drug they are buying.
"

Link to Original Source
Politics

+ - Ban on photographing oil-polluted areas & Wild

Submitted by
boombaard
boombaard writes "The day before yesterday CNN's Anderson Cooper reported that, from now on, there is a new rule in effect to 'protect' reporters from themselves, which de facto bans/bars any photographer from coming within 65 feet of any deployed boom. (Official announcement here) The rule, announced by the US Coast Guard, forbids "photographers and reporters and anyone else from coming within 65 feet of any response vessel or booms out on the water or on beaches. In order to get closer, you have to get direct permission from the Coast Guard captain of the Port of New Orleans," while "violators could face a fine of $40,000 and Class D felony charges. What's even more extraordinary is that the Coast Guard tried to make the exclusion zone 300 feet, before scaling it back to 65 feet."
A HuffPo blogger adds: "If the Coast Guard has its way, all media, not just independent writers and photographers like myself and Jerry Moran, will be fined $40,000 and receive Class D felony convictions for providing the truth about oiled birds and dolphins, in addition to broken, filthy, unmanned boom material that is trapping oil in the marshlands and estuaries."
Meanwhile, the USCG defends its 'rule' by stating:

The Coast Guard Captain of the Port of New Orleans has delegated authority to the Coast Guard Incident Commander in Houma to allow access to the safety zones placed around all Deepwater Horizon booming operations in Southeast Louisiana. The Coast Guard Incident Commander will ensure the safety of the members and equipment of the response before access is granted. The safety zone has been put in place to prevent vandalism to boom and to protect the members and equipment of the response effort by limiting access to, and through, deployed protective boom.

First amendment trampling, anyone?"

News

+ - Why the boom laid by BP is a useless PR stunt 1

Submitted by
boombaard
boombaard writes "Remember seeing all those nice pictures of coastline "protected" by boom laid by BP? Started wondering why it seems to have so little effect yet? Sadly, the reason is that the boom, as it is being laid out by BP, is being laid out in a way that makes the entire effort pointless. As this booming expert describes it in the video (skip ahead to 1:48 if you want the content), BP has been willfully negligent in preparing for this type of disaster, by not having enough boom ready for any type of accident, and, more importantly, because its own drilling — as opposed to production — employees aren't forced to attend booming school, which they think is for pussies, is allowing all the boom to be laid in ways that are known to be useless by everyone who knows how to properly lay booms. As she describes it, boom laid in single, straight lines, without catch basins anywhere, is little more than a PR trick meant to make the media and congresscritters believe that they are doing "their jobs".
Quoting her (I've removed some of the flourishes): "Boom is not meant to contain oil; boom is meant to divert oil. Boom must always be at an angle to the prevailing wind, wave action, or surface current. Boom, at this angle, must always be layered, in an overlapped sort of way, with another string of boom. Boom must always divert oil to a catch basin or another kind of container from where it can be removed from the fucking area. Looks kinda involved, doesn't it? But if done properly, you can prevent most to almost all of the oil from ever touching the shoreline, and you can do it day after day, week after week, month after month. A week after it stops coming, nobody will be able to tell that there ever was an oil spill."

That is, without catch basins, booms provide a 3-minute respite before all the oil flows either under or over the boom, at which point all the hard work laying it was for nothing. But nobody has, apparently, picked up on this yet, and nowhere along the entire coastline are we seeing footage of oil properly being contained. Yet while the coast guard knows this, all you hear from Thad Allen is that 'BP is doing the best it can'. How can this be?"
News

+ - "2012" a Miscalculation; actual calendar ends 2220-> 2

Submitted by
boombaard
boombaard writes "News is spreading quickly here that scientists writing in a (Dutch) popular science periodical (google translation linked) have debunked the 2012 date featuring so prominently in doomsday predictions/speculation across the web. On 2012-12-21, the sun will appear where you would normally be able to see the 'galactic equator' of the Milky Way; an occurrence deemed special because it happens 'only' once every 25.800 years, on the winter solstice. However, even if you ignore the fact that there is no actual galactic equator, just an observed one, and that the visual effect is pretty much the same for an entire decade surrounding that date, there are major problems with the way the Maya Calendar is being read by doomsday prophets.

Because written records were almost all destroyed by 16th-century Spaniards, quite a lot of guesswork surrounds the translation of their calendar to ours, and it appears something went very wrong with the calculations. The Mayas used 4 different calendars, all of different lengths, with the longest of which counting out ages of roughly 5200 years. Figuring out how these relate to 'our' calendars is a big problem, which scientists had thought they had figured out about a century ago. (That's where the 2012 date, which now turns out to be almost 2 centuries out of date, comes from.) However, A German geologist showed in 2005 (in his dissertation) that the proposed correlation to GMT didn't fit with a lot of Mayan-observed events that we know about, and calculated that a roughly 208 year correction was needed, meaning the soonest the Mayan Calendar can end is in 2220.

The final blow was arguably the thesis that nature scientist Andreas Fuls three years ago doctorate at the Technical University Berlin. Fuls pointed out that the GMT-correlation not consistent with a preserved Mayan table on which the positions of Venus are listed. And so there is more, such as inscriptions and objects in time of Goodman, Martinez and Thompson were not detected or outdated. By adding to it all, comes from a very different Fuls dating: one that 208 years has shifted. The end of the long count by the correlation is only about two centuries, at 21, 22 or December 23, 2220. "It is the only option," says Fuls if you ask him about it. (Google translation)

Until then, it would appear we are quite safe, except from Hollywood."
Link to Original Source

+ - Enormous Profits for companies who harrass pirates

Submitted by
boombaard
boombaard writes "Torrentfreak just ran an article about how copyright "enforcers" track people who download/offer content, try to find out their addresses, and then send them "settlement" letters, with almost 25% of the addressees "settling" without question.

The German-based anti-piracy outfit DigiRights Solutions (DRS) recently published an interesting PowerPoint presentation (in German) which shows how copyright holders can make millions from pirates. After finding out the addresses of alleged file-sharers they send out requests for damages directly, usually in the range of a few hundred dollars (or in the UK, around £600) per infringement. DRS says it generally sends out emails to alleged file-sharers requesting them to pay €450 (650$) per offense. According to the company they get to keep 80% of the money, leaving 20% for the copyright holders. (DRS says that an impressive 25% of all recipients do without asking questions.) A legal online purchase of a song brings about €0.60 into the pockets of the copyright holders compared to the €90 per alleged file-sharer that pays up. So, the copyright holders get 150 times more from pursuing filesharers than from selling actual music, the company claims. DRS and partners are by no means interested in protecting the rights of artists or how to deter people from sharing copyrighted work, it’s a solid cash machine. Undoubtedly it also raises questions whether these extortion practices should be allowed, or whether local governments should intervene.

"
Education

+ - "Americans spend it all on gadgets" myth debunked->

Submitted by
boombaard
boombaard writes "How is it that American families have become such terrible spendthrifts in the past 30 years? I find I keep running into this "fact", and really nobody even bothers to think about it anymore before answering: they're buying too many designer clothes, enormous 3 bedroom houses, and they eat out every other day. Yet why did they decide to become like that? This is the question Elizabeth Warren (Harvard Law) set out to answer, and in this lecture (she starts talking 5mins in) [as well as in her 2003 book The Two-income trap] she reports her findings. She makes a strong case for the argument that, unlike folk wisdom tells us, Americans are not spending it all on new gadgets, but they've all been hit by the effects of an enormous bidding war for housing in "good" school districts, and they're willing to spend up to 50% of their new combined incomes on the mortgage in order to try to get their their kids "ahead". This is an enormous hidden education-related expense, and nobody seems to be acknowledging it, or even realize it. (And please click the link before commenting, just this once.)"
Link to Original Source
Book Reviews

+ - The Two-Income Trap 3

Submitted by
boombaard
boombaard writes "A few days ago, I encountered this lecture (the lecture itself starts about 8mins in), the contents of which quickly grabbed my attention. In it, Elizabeth Warren attacked a number of very common myths and misconceptions about the modern economy, most notably the notion that two-income families are more financially secure than one-income families were 30 years ago. While this would seem to be the rather obvious obvious consequence of both partners working, the somewhat counterintuitive fact of the matter is that far more families are going bankrupt now than when mom was still expected to stay at home. Even though today's families have two incomes, they have less money left over for discretionary spending than comparable one-income families did 30 years ago. Or, in slightly charged statistical jargon: "Having a child is now the single best predictor that a woman will end up in financial collapse."

In 1999, bankruptcy filings by single women were up 662% from 1981 (to 500.000/y), with the number married women filing (alongside their husbands, obviously) also in the hundreds of thousands per year. As Warren says near the end of the lecture, there are [now] more children being confronted with their parent(s) going bankrupt, than there are children being confronted with their parents opting for a divorce. And yet, almost nobody seems to acknowledge this pervasive problem, even though everybody and their dead grandparents worry about the horrible negative impact divorces have on children. Am I to conclude that it is better to be destitute than to have to go through a divorce, or is something else the issue here?
In the lecture Warren mentioned a book which she had written some years previously, in 2003, The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Mothers and Fathers are going broke, which she co-authored with her daughter, Amelia Warren, and it is this book I wish to bring to your attention.

The book was written in the wake of their 2001 Consumer Bankruptcy Project study (for which they interviewed 2000 people) on the prevalence and causes of personal bankrupty filings in the US, and is meant to create awareness among politicians and the public alike of the counterintuitive consequences of both parents working. However, given the political climate in 2003, and the message contained in the book, it would seem that the book was released at a rather inopportune moment, as it mostly seems to have been ignored so far.
The first claim the Warrens pretty much demolish in their book is the popular myth that People Bring It Upon Themselves, and do so by buying stuff they don't need. One of the most interesting conclusions that can be drawn from the CBP is that, in 90% of cases, the reason people are filing for bankruptcy cannot be traced back to frivolous spending (which, so the argument goes, would mean it's their own fault), but rather to one of three reasons: Job loss, Medical bills and family break-up, often with one of those reasons causing another. As they put it:

They are not the very young, tempted by the freedom of their first credit cards. They are not the elderly, trapped by failing bodies and declining savings accounts. And they are not a random assortment of Americans who lack the self-control to keep their spending in check. Rather, the people who consistently rank in the worst financial trouble are united by one surprising characteristic. They are parents with children at home.(p.6)

While this may in a way seem logical (i.e., people, especially single mothers, who have more financial obligations are at more risk), the question which immediately comes to mind is: Shouldn't this be impossible specifically in the two-income family? Isn't it exactly to prevent this from happening that they both have jobs?

Consider, however, the following: Way back when women were not expected to work, they would be at home, taking care of the kids, their elderly parents, and the sick. If a child became ill, a grandparent needed more care, or someone had an accident, they would be cared for without the family income taking a hit. And if dad was the one to become ill, mom could choose to enter the workforce – earning less, of course, than dad had been, but generally they would still be able to rake in about 60% of what her husband used to earn (p.59). Nowadays, of course, the normal situation is one where both parents are working, so that, as soon as either worker becomes ill or is laid off, the family income will on average be halved almost immediately. And this is a problem because the average family is spending nearly 50% of their income on the mortgage payments, leaving less money for discretionary spending now – with both parents working – than in the 70s with only one ‘working’ parent, and no backup worker for when something goes wrong.
The question here, of course, is why people are so (I would indeed call it that) foolish as to buy a house which required you to take out a mortgage that basically eats up an entire income. The answer to this question is two-fold, with one half being due to market forces, and the other to legislation.

As most readers will probably know, the US has a school system where you can only get into certain schools if you belong to the zip code area for that school. As such, if you are worried that the school in the area you are living in is bad, you will have to move to another zip code area. And in reality this meant moving out of the inner cities into the suburbs, which were perceived to be safer, as well as offering higher quality education. This, of course, means that housing in those areas will be relatively scarce compared to housing elsewhere, which in turn means higher prices. Now, once people started having a second income, this meant that more could be spent on the mortgage, and, when the lending market was deregulated early in the 1980s, there was no longer an imposed limit of 30% of total income which could be spent on mortgage payments. This meant house prices could rise a lot, with the bidders having to choose between the fear/thought of “not giving your children the chance they deserve” and trying to make ends meet (and all the risks that that entails):

By way of example, consider University City, the West Philadelphia neighborhood surrounding the University of Pennsylvania. In an effort to improve the area, the university committed funds for a new elementary school. The results? At the time of the announcement, the median home value in the area was less than $60,000. Five years later, "homes within the boundaries go for about $200,000, even if they need to be totally renovated." The neighborhood is otherwise pretty much the same: the same commute to work, the same distance from the freeways, the same old houses. And yet, in five years families are willing to pay more than triple the price for a home, just so they can send their kids to a better public elementary school. (24)

So, we’ve got enormously increased housing costs, a family with two people working who must bring in twice as many paychecks as before to live at the same level of comfort (with a more-than-doubled chance that something will go wrong: "A family today with both husband and wife in the workforce is approximately two and a half times more likely to face a job loss than a single-income family of a generation ago." (82-3)). And then there is the socially pretty much invisible disease of bankruptcy, apparently quickly becoming just as prevalent as divorce (and sometimes accompanying it). The point with bankruptcy, of course, is that people try like the plague to avoid it. Once someone is laid off, most families seem hold out the hope that they will quickly be able to find a new job, and generally use their credit card to make up for the temporary difference in income, figuring they will be able to pay it back when they've got 2 jobs again, rather than deciding their only recourse is to take their child out of the school he/she is in, and move to another district, where housing is cheaper (and schools are potentially worse). This is, of course, statistically quite unrealistic, because even when they are able to find a job in, say, 3 months, they will be unable to save enough money every month to pay back the loan with. And so, after a while, they start incurring quickly-mounting "late fees", enormous interest hikes, and, oddly enough, more offers from credit companies to take out yet more loans, second or third mortgage, and so on, with the end result generally being (de facto) bankruptcy even when people do not file for it. ("In 1981, the median family filing for bankruptcy owed 80 percent of total annual income in credit card and other non-mortgage debts; by 2001, that figure had nearly doubled to 150 percent of annual income." (77)) Consider what they have to contend with:

After he suffered a heart attack, missed several months' work, and fell behind on his mortgage, Jamal Dupree (from chapter 4) got the hard sell from his mortgage lender. When Jamal missed a payment, the mortgage company sent him dozens of personalized letters with a single goal—to persuade him to take out yet another mortgage. "They'd send out a notice, saying 'you need a vacation, take out this thousand dollars and pay it back in ninety days.' If you didn't pay it back in ninety days, they charged you 22 percent interest." When he didn't respond to the mailers, the mortgage company started calling Jamal at home, as often as four times a week. Again, the company wasn't calling to collect the payments he had already missed; it was calling to sign him up for even more debt. Jamal resisted, but his mortgage lender didn't let up. "When I turned them down, they called my wife [at work], trying to get her to talk me into it."(139-40)

The book is filled with stuff like this, all backed up through a very impressive collection of references in the footnotes (the last 40 pages of the book contain the references to other research), and all basically pointing to a single conclusion: in the current unregulated lending market the banks get away with charging whatever they want, and there is really nothing you can do to complain about it. Bankruptcies are becoming a fact of life, but nearly 80% (p.73) of the people who would stand to gain financially from declaring themselves bankrupt don't do so because of the shame they feel over having to do so. And while the borrowers feel guilty over not being able to pay anything back, the banks do whatever they like. I mention this because, ever since 1997, banks had been lobbying to restrict bankruptcy filing, a fact the Warrens mention when they debunk the "fact" that bankruptcy filing rules were being abused by borrowers. Their attempts were blocked at first, but in 2005 consumers lost the fight, even though this book (and the results of study the book is based upon which showed the exact opposite was true) had already been published years earlier.
Other tidbits they mention is that college-educated single women are 60% more likely to go bankrupt than their less educated 'sisters' (106), and that affluent African Americans were more likely to be talked into a subprime mortgage (because of the recommendations/insistence/redlining of the mortgage seller, and basically suggesting discrimination is alive and well in that industry) than poor white people (indicating the sheer lack of information consumers have access to, and power the banks wield over them), or the fact that banks would often try to get people to take out second mortgages they didn't need in the hope they would fall behind on payments so that they could repossess the house, etc, a process called "loan-to-own".(136)

Now, I'm aware of the fact that "regulation" is almost as taboo in a some parts of US society as talking about taxpayer-funded access to healthcare, but I would really suggest that everyone reads this book in order to inform themselves of the consequences that belief, specifically when it comes to the banking industry. As the book suggest, they were trying to suck the middle class dry, even before the subprime crisis happened. Data really does matter in this debate, and this book is very honest & clear when it comes to showing what research they're basing their claims upon. (And if you also feel this book made you think, please recommend it to friends yourself. It doesn't seem right that these facts can be ignored in policy debates, either at home or in government.)"

Politics

+ - The Two-Income Trap 17

Submitted by
boombaard
boombaard writes "A few days ago, I encountered this lecture (the lecture itself starts about 8mins in), the contents of which quickly grabbed my attention. In it, Elizabeth Warren attacked a number of very common myths and misconceptions about the modern economy, most notably the notion that two-income families are more financially secure than one-income families were 30 years ago. While this would seem to be the rather obvious obvious consequence of both partners working, the somewhat counterintuitive fact of the matter is that far more families are going bankrupt now than when mom was still expected to stay at home. Even though today's families have two incomes, they have less money left over for discretionary spending than comparable one-income families did 30 years ago. Or, in slightly charged statistical jargon: "Having a child is now the best single best predictor that a woman will end up in financial collapse."

In 1999, bankruptcy filings by single women were up 662% from 1981 (to 500.000/y), with the number married women filing (alongside their husbands, obviously) also in the hundreds of thousands per year. As Warren says near the end of the lecture, there are [now] more children being confronted with their parent(s) going bankrupt, than there are children being confronted with their parents opting for a divorce. And yet, almost nobody seems to acknowledge this pervasive problem, even though everybody and their dead grandparents worry about the horrible negative impact divorces have on children. Am I to conclude that it is better to be destitute than to have to go through a divorce, or is something else the issue here?
In the lecture Warren mentioned a book which she had written some years previously, in 2003, The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Mothers and Fathers are going broke, which she co-authored with her daughter, Amelia Warren, and it is this book I wish to bring to your attention.

The book was written in the wake of their 2001 Consumer Bankruptcy Project study (for which they interviewed 2000 people) on the prevalence and causes of personal bankrupty filings in the US, and is meant to create awareness among politicians and the public alike of the counterintuitive consequences of both parents working. However, given the political climate in 2003, and the message contained in the book, it would seem that the book was released at a rather inopportune moment, as it mostly seems to have been ignored so far.
The first claim the Warrens pretty much demolish in their book is the popular myth that People Bring It Upon Themselves, and do so by buying stuff they don't need. One of the most interesting conclusions that can be drawn from the CBP is that, in 90% of cases, the reason people are filing for bankruptcy cannot be traced back to frivolous spending (which, so the argument goes, would mean it's their own fault), but rather to one of three reasons: Job loss, Medical bills and family break-up, often with one of those reasons causing another. As they put it:

They are not the very young, tempted by the freedom of their first credit cards. They are not the elderly, trapped by failing bodies and declining savings accounts. And they are not a random assortment of Americans who lack the self-control to keep their spending in check. Rather, the people who consistently rank in the worst financial trouble are united by one surprising characteristic. They are parents with children at home.(p.6)

While this may in a way seem logical (i.e., people, especially single mothers, who have more financial obligations are at more risk), the question which immediately comes to mind is: Shouldn't this be impossible specifically in the two-income family? Isn't it exactly to prevent this from happening that they both have jobs?

Consider, however, the following: Way back when women were not expected to work, they would be at home, taking care of the kids, their elderly parents, and the sick. If a child became ill, a grandparent needed more care, or someone had an accident, they would be cared for without the family income taking a hit. And if dad was the one to become ill, mom could choose to enter the workforce – earning less, of course, than dad had been, but generally they would still be able to rake in about 60% of what her husband used to earn (p.59). Nowadays, of course, the normal situation is one where both parents are working, so that, as soon as either worker becomes ill or is laid off, the family income will on average be halved almost immediately. And this is a problem because the average family is spending nearly 50% of their income on the mortgage payments, leaving less money for discretionary spending now – with both parents working – than in the 70s with only one ‘working’ parent, and no backup worker for when something goes wrong.
The question here, of course, is why people are so (I would indeed call it that) foolish as to buy a house which required you to take out a mortgage that basically eats up an entire income. The answer to this question is two-fold, with one half being due to market forces, and the other to legislation.

As most readers will probably know, the US has a school system where you can only get into certain schools if you belong to the zip code area for that school. As such, if you are worried that the school in the area you are living in is bad, you will have to move to another zip code area. And in reality this meant moving out of the inner cities into the suburbs, which were perceived to be safer, as well as offering higher quality education. This, of course, means that housing in those areas will be relatively scarce compared to housing elsewhere, which in turn means higher prices. Now, once people started having a second income, this meant that more could be spent on the mortgage, and, when the lending market was deregulated early in the 1980s, there was no longer an imposed limit of 30% of total income which could be spent on mortgage payments. This meant house prices could rise a lot, with the bidders having to choose between the fear/thought of “not giving your children the chance they deserve” and trying to make ends meet (and all the risks that that entails):

By way of example, consider University City, the West Philadelphia neighborhood surrounding the University of Pennsylvania. In an effort to improve the area, the university committed funds for a new elementary school. The results? At the time of the announcement, the median home value in the area was less than $60,000. Five years later, "homes within the boundaries go for about $200,000, even if they need to be totally renovated." The neighborhood is otherwise pretty much the same: the same commute to work, the same distance from the freeways, the same old houses. And yet, in five years families are willing to pay more than triple the price for a home, just so they can send their kids to a better public elementary school. (24)

So, we’ve got enormously increased housing costs, a family with two people working who must bring in twice as many paychecks as before to live at the same level of comfort (with a more-than-doubled chance that something will go wrong: "A family today with both husband and wife in the workforce is approximately two and a half times more likely to face a job loss than a single-income family of a generation ago." (82-3)). And then there is the socially pretty much invisible disease of bankruptcy, apparently quickly becoming just as prevalent as divorce (and sometimes accompanying it). The point with bankruptcy, of course, is that people try like the plague to avoid it. Once someone is laid off, most families seem hold out the hope that they will quickly be able to find a new job, and generally use their credit card to make up for the temporary difference in income, figuring they will be able to pay it back when they've got 2 jobs again, rather than deciding their only recourse is to take their child out of the school he/she is in, and move to another district, where housing is cheaper (and schools are potentially worse). This is, of course, statistically quite unrealistic, because even when they are able to find a job in, say, 3 months, they will be unable to save enough money every month to pay back the loan with. And so, after a while, they start incurring quickly-mounting "late fees", enormous interest hikes, and, oddly enough, more offers from credit companies to take out yet more loans, second or third mortgage, and so on, with the end result generally being (de facto) bankruptcy even when people do not file for it. ("In 1981, the median family filing for bankruptcy owed 80 percent of total annual income in credit card and other non-mortgage debts; by 2001, that figure had nearly doubled to 150 percent of annual income." (77)) Consider what they have to contend with:

After he suffered a heart attack, missed several months' work, and fell behind on his mortgage, Jamal Dupree (from chapter 4) got the hard sell from his mortgage lender. When Jamal missed a payment, the mortgage company sent him dozens of personalized letters with a single goal—to persuade him to take out yet another mortgage. "They'd send out a notice, saying 'you need a vacation, take out this thousand dollars and pay it back in ninety days.' If you didn't pay it back in ninety days, they charged you 22 percent interest." When he didn't respond to the mailers, the mortgage company started calling Jamal at home, as often as four times a week. Again, the company wasn't calling to collect the payments he had already missed; it was calling to sign him up for even more debt. Jamal resisted, but his mortgage lender didn't let up. "When I turned them down, they called my wife [at work], trying to get her to talk me into it."(139-40)

The book is filled with stuff like this, all backed up through a very impressive collection of references in the footnotes (the last 40 pages of the book contain the references to other research), and all basically pointing to a single conclusion: in the current unregulated lending market the banks get away with charging whatever they want, and there is really nothing you can do to complain about it. Bankruptcies are becoming a fact of life, but nearly 80% (p.73) of the people who would stand to gain financially from declaring themselves bankrupt don't do so because of the shame they feel over having to do so. And while the borrowers feel guilty over not being able to pay anything back, the banks do whatever they like. I mention this because, ever since 1997, banks had been lobbying to restrict bankruptcy filing, a fact the Warrens mention when they debunk the "fact" that bankruptcy filing rules were being abused by borrowers. Their attempts were blocked at first, but in 2005 consumers lost the fight, even though this book (and the results of study the book is based upon which showed the exact opposite was true) had already been published years earlier.
Other tidbits they mention is that college-educated single women are 60% more likely to go bankrupt than their less educated 'sisters' (106), and that affluent African Americans were more likely to be talked into a subprime mortgage (because of the recommendations/insistence/redlining of the mortgage seller, and basically suggesting discrimination is alive and well in that industry) than poor white people (indicating the sheer lack of information consumers have access to, and power the banks wield over them), or the fact that banks would often try to get people to take out second mortgages they didn't need in the hope they would fall behind on payments so that they could repossess the house, etc, a process called "loan-to-own".(136)

Now, I'm aware of the fact that "regulation" is almost as taboo in a some parts of US society as talking about taxpayer-funded access to healthcare, but I would really suggest that everyone reads this book in order to inform themselves of the consequences that belief, specifically when it comes to the banking industry. As the book suggest, they were trying to suck the middle class dry, even before the subprime crisis happened. Data really does matter in this debate, and this book is very honest & clear when it comes to showing what research they're basing their claims upon. (And if you also feel this book made you think, please recommend it to friends yourself. It doesn't seem right that these facts can be ignored in policy debates, either at home or in government.)"

Privacy

+ - Minority Report coming your way

Submitted by boombaard
boombaard (1001577) writes ""Police target dangerous suspects before they can offend"

As far as odd stories about new developments in law enforcement (in the UK) go, this seems to be the strangest by far..

"Details of the database emerged after Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner, said that Britain had "sleepwalked" into a surveillance society."

The article itself also mentions how this might seem to resemble the movie Minority Report, but doesn't bother to ask anyone from the interviewed department how the development might possibly have a slightly disconcerting feel to it, and if they feel it would be justified if so.

The team is concentrating on reducing the risk of those with a history of domestic violence turning into murderers. About a quarter of murders are related to domestic violence. "There are some pretty dangerous people out there, so you need these risk models to wheedle them out, separate the wheat from the chaff," she said. "If you add up all the information, it tells us which people are risky." Ms Richards said that once an individual had been identified, police would decide whether to make moves towards an arrest, or to alert the relevant social services who could steer those targeted into "management programmes."

Simon Davies, director of Privacy International, said yesterday: "It is quite right that the police should keep intelligence on suspected criminals, but it is obscene to suggest there should be a 'crime idol' list of those who might commit an offence. The police are systematically moving the boundaries as to where they can exercise their powers. The Minority Report syndrome is pushing the boundary of criminal intervention further into the general community.""

Contemptuous lights flashed flashed across the computer's console. -- Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

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