Wealthy Far More Likely To Default On Mortgages
July 9, 2010, 12:24 pm
Filed under: Economics, Poverty | Tags: , , ,

crossposted at Political Correction

For much of the past two years, Congressional Republicans have wasted few opportunities to blame poor and working class Americans for the financial meltdown and the subsequent recession. They’ve argued that through well-intentioned government initiatives, including the Community Reinvestment Act, the government and those in traditionally underserved communities created much of the foreclosure crisis.

As Rep. Steve King (R-IA) often puts it, by promoting “bad loans in bad neighborhoods,” the government laid the groundwork for a catastrophic meltdown in the financial services sector.  Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) has also blamed CRA for decreasing underwriting standards and increasing the number of loans to people who “could not afford to pay them back.”  Often, the sentiment, such as King’s reference to so-called bad neighborhoods, comes tinged with a kind of subtle racism.

It’s all ridiculous.  As Aaron Pressman pointed out back in 2008, “Just the idea that a lending crisis created from 2004 to 2007 was caused by a 1977 law is silly. But it’s even more ridiculous when you consider that most subprime loans were made by firms that aren’t subject to the CRA.”  Additionally, as Paul Krugman notes, “Commercial real estate lending, which was mainly lending to rich white developers, not you-know-who, is in much worse shape than subprime home lending.”

Undeterred by such facts, conservatives — who have made their war on workers and the poor central to their platform — continue to blame rising delinquencies on the poor.  In their efforts, they’ve even managed to drag immigrants in the conversation in an effort to tie the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression to their hateful nativist agenda.

But there is more to the story.  The wealthy, the Republican Party’s core constituency, have played a much larger role in the foreclosure crisis then most had assumed.  The New York Times reports today:

Whether it is their residence, a second home or a house bought as an investment, the rich have stopped paying the mortgage at a rate that greatly exceeds the rest of the population.

More than one in seven homeowners with loans in excess of a million dollars are seriously delinquent, according to data compiled for The New York Times by the real estate analytics firm CoreLogic.

By contrast, homeowners with less lavish housing are much more likely to keep writing checks to their lender. About one in 12 mortgages below the million-dollar mark is delinquent.

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GOP House Candidate: Mosque Near Ground Zero Is A “Martyr-Marker”

Conservative activists and the Muslim-baiters among them are furious about a proposed Islamic community center to be built near Ground Zero.  The debate has become entirely unhinged and some of the more hateful folks are using the controversy as a rallying cry to oppose the construction of all future mosques.  Among them is Illario Pantano, a Republican candidate for the House from North Carolina. Writing in the The Daily Caller, he notes:

This Cordoba Mosque is not benign. This is not about reconciliation or understanding. If this was truly about bridging cultures, we should be erecting a church because it was Christians who were targeted for murder, not Muslims. This is about marking religious, ideological and territorial conquest. The Mosque is a martyr marker, and it must be stopped.

How would erecting a church in this instance bridge cultures?  It’s completely illogical. (Pantano can’t even call the project by its actual name.  It’s not the Cordoba Mosque, it’s the Cordoba House.)  And what evidence does he have to prove that the project is “not benign”?

One thank-you note can be struck early for the mosque’s front man: Kuwaiti-born Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf. Chairman of the Cordoba Initiative, Rauf is also the CEO of the American Society for Muslim Advancement (ASMA). But he’s more than just an apologist for the religion-based sharia law, which many experts see as being in direct opposition to the U.S. Constitution. Rauf is also a key member of the Malaysian-based Perdana Global Peace Organization, which is reportedly the single biggest donor to the Free Gaza Movement (FGM) and its affiliated activists. Those activists include former Weather Underground founders William Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn, as well as Jodie Evans, the leader of Code Pink: Women for Peace.

The project is not benign, writes Pantano, because Rauf, a devout Muslim, believes in both the religious and secular jurisprudential elements of his faith.  That’s quite a clever argument.  Worse, through a series of connections wholly-unrelated to Rauf’s personal actions, he is affiliated to those nefarious folks over at Code Pink.  This Kevin Bacon game and guilt-by-association style of presenting an argument is becoming increasingly popular among conservative activists.  In this case, as in most, the reasoning is downright laughable.

Here is how some other so-called activists have used it.  Rauf is Egyptian and his father was associated with one of the biggest political movements there, the Muslim Brotherhood.  Ayman al-Zawahiri was part of the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Zawahiri knows Osama bin Laden.  Therefore, Rauf and bin Laden are inseparably linked.  Using this line of reasoning, virtually anyone and everyone can be associated to every terrible thing that has ever happened.

For instance, Barack Obama taught at the University of Chicago.  So did economist Milton Friedman.  Friedman gave Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet advice on how to put his economy through shock treatment. Barack Obama, therefore, supported the privatization of the Chilean economy and the brutal reign of Pinochet.  Pinochet was friends with Ronald Reagan, Barack Obama also supported Ronald Reagan.  Since Reagan defeated the commies, then Barack Obama actually was instrumental in bringing down the Soviet Union.

Pantano and his ilk make absolutely no sense.  But that’s precisely why this sort of fly-by-night reasoning is so popular.  To make sense is to be an elitist.



Ergun Caner, Ex-Muslim Evangelical Leader, Exposed As Fake
May 19, 2010, 3:57 pm
Filed under: Religion | Tags: , , , , ,

Ergun Caner is one of the most prominent figures in the evangelical movement. He is also one of the most deceptive.

A self-professed Muslim convert to Christianity, Caner plays an important, and arguably dangerous, role in the community. After the 9/11 attacks, when many Americans were searching for answers, Caner stepped up with enthusiasm to present himself as an expert on Islam. He used his own “personal history” (much of it since demonstrated as bogus) to confirm his audience’s deeply-held suspicions about the faith that many of them blamed for the attacks.

Today, as president of the Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary and a professor of apologetics, he exhibits tremendous influence in shaping the next generation of evangelical leaders.

A burly man with a charming smile, Caner is an eloquent speaker and an ever better storyteller. He blends the Gospel with humor. He’s a big fan of Glenn Beck and NASCAR. He speaks about love. He tweets. And, he is well liked by his students. In the five years that he’s been at Liberty, the school’s enrollment has nearly tripled.

Caner is a protégé of Paige Patterson, the controversial and successful leader of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, who is perhaps best known for forcing the Southern Baptist Convention into the political right. Paterson spoke at the school’s commencement this year.

By the time he came to Liberty University, a Baptist school in Lynchburg, Virginia founded by the late Reverend Jerry Falwell, Caner had already become a prolific writer. He and his brother had written several books aimed at evangelical audiences. Many of the books recounted their paths to Christ. It’s hard not to be moved by the narrative – true or not.

Born in Turkey to a religious father, a muezzin (one who performs the call to prayer), Caner grew up detesting the United States and all it stood for. He learned bits and pieces about his future homeland from watching the Dukes of Hazzard. During his teenage years, his family immigrated to the United States. His father came here to spread the message of Islam and build mosques.

During his senior year in high school, his life changed. Caner found Christ. A friend, “a solitary Christian boy,” refused to take no for an answer and insisted that Caner learn about Christianity. He invited him to his tiny store-front church where Caner talked to the pastor, a man with a sixth grade education who questioned him about his firmly-held convictions. Caner was amazed to discover the true teachings of a faith he had been trained his whole life to hate. He accepted Christianity, as did his two brothers, Emir and Erdem.

When he told his father, he was disowned. It was, he writes, a difficult experience for young Ergun, who didn’t speak to his father for many years. In one of his books, he writes, “For the other 95 percent of the world’s population, conversion to Jesus Christ often means disowning, disinheritance, expulsion, arrest, and even death.” But he was resolute in his newfound faith and was willing to give it all up for eternal salvation. Caner and his younger brother Emir (president of Truett-McConnell College, a small Bible college in Cleveland, Georgia) became shining examples to evangelicals.

If a hardened and hidebound jihadist “trained to do that which was done on 11 September” could come around to accepting Christ, the logic went, it proved beyond doubt that the message of Christ was universal.

The main problem with Caner’s journey from Jihad to Jesus is that much of it is fiction, a complex lie made up to give his conversion more authenticity. He fabricated almost everything. For someone who allegedly fought jihad, Caner’s understanding of the very basic tenets of the faith he is a so-called expert in is rudimentary.

Caner does not know the difference between Islam’s article of faith and the first chapter of the Qur’an. He’s claimed that the lunar month of Ramadan lasts for 40 days. In his book, he writes that he performed all of the rakats (daily prayers). The actual word is salah. It’s not a difference most people would know, but he says he is an expert on Islam. Muslims, he once said, followed something he called the “tobaad.” He’s claimed to have debated Muslim scholars who’ve never heard of him. Court records from his parent’s divorce indicate that he was in Ohio when he was a young child, long before his alleged move from Turkey. On his books, his middle name is Mehmet (Muhammad in Turkish), yet it is listed as Michael on his concealed-weapons permit in Virginia. Before 9/11, he went by E. Michael Caner.

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Aliou Kumbaya
May 5, 2010, 11:35 pm
Filed under: Racism, Society | Tags: , , , , ,

My brother Aliou Niasse has saved the day.  He was the first to spot smoke coming out of the Nissan Pathfinder that Faisal Shahzad intended to detonate in crowded Times Square.

Thankfully, the incompetence of Shahzab and the alertness of Niasse and two other gentlemen, both of whom are Vietnam War veterans, are the reasons why no one was hurt. The good work of the NYPD and the other law enforcement agencies must also be commended.

Much has been made about the fact that Shahzad, a Pakistani-American, is Muslim.  Some of the more detestable figures have jumped on Shahzab’s faith to argue for ending immigration from Muslim-majority countries.  Others have renewed calls for racial and ethnic profiling.

What’s gone somewhat unreported is that Niasse also happens to be a Muslim.  The brother is from the great country of Senegal.

Niasse’s alertness in no way cancels out Shahzad’s detestable attempt at taking the life of many innocent people.  But the story does offer us some perspective.  Things aren’t as simple as the more delusional, myopic and hateful members of our society want us to believe.

As Frank Fredericks reminds us in an article on the Huffington Post yesterday, “Whether or not the culprit in the attempted bombing of Times Square was an angry Arab or a wacky white guy, the act is terrorism, no matter where the culprit is from or what he or she believes.”

Amen to that.



Exploring The Idea Of The “Intolerant Muslim”

In his column today, the New York Times‘ Ross Douthat takes Comedy Central and others to task for censoring depictions of the Prophet Muhammad.  Douthat sees a double standard afoot, pointing out that while our sensibilities are routinely satirized, “Islam is just about the only place where we draw any lines at all.”  Phil Donahue and Sinéad O’Connor no doubt will find that statement astonishing.

Douthat is, of course, wrong.  Not only has it become acceptable to attack Islam and vilify Muslims, but xenophobia directed at the community has become commonplace and in some places, rampant.  These days, it’s not unusual for Muslims to be referred to as barbarians.  Anti-Islam/Muslim books are New York Times bestsellers.  Prominent Christian groups have called for American-Muslims to be deported.  Others want Muslims barred from serving their country.  The term “Islamo-fascism” is as casually used as “Judeo-Bolshevism” was in the 1920s and 30s.  When Rep. Keith Ellison first won a seat in Congress, Glenn Beck said to him, “[P]rove to me that you are not working with our enemies.”

Substitute any other group in place of Muslim and you’ll see just how insidious such rhetoric truly is.  Arizona recently passed a law which for all intents and purposes will open the floodgates of racial profiling.  The bill is rightfully being attacked as unconstitutional and unjust.  But as any Afghan or Arab man can tell you, profiling has long been a reality in the Muslim community. And we have endured and joined the democratic process and aimed to influence policy.  As a group, we are neither victims (as some claim) nor a protected class (as, no doubt Douthat believes).  We are Americans who are oddly asked to repudiate the actions of people we don’t know and linked to the actions of people we disagree with.  Imagine for a second if a Christian in Kansas was constantly asked to repudiate the actions of Christians in Kenya.

Not only is criticism of Islam and attacks against Muslims acceptable, but actually, the fact that they occur go against Douthat’s underling claim that it is Muslims alone who are pushing for censorship in the public square. You’ll remember that several years ago, the Dixie Chicks received death threats for political speech.  More recently, congressional Democrats received death threats because they voted for health care reform.  Abortion clinics have been attacked because people’s religions tell them that abortion is a sin.  It’s not Muslims who’ve led these attacks.  That’s a fact.  It wasn’t a man named Khalid that called for the banning of the dictionary.

Meanwhile, conservative politicians have openly embraced pastors who’ve said very vile things about Islam.  Sarah Palin’s praise of Franklin Graham (who called Islam “evil” and advised Muslims to accept Christ so that “they don’t have to die in a car bomb“) is but the most recent example.  It’s unlikely that Palin will be forced to distance herself from Graham.

This begs the question: Is Mr. Douthat being naïve, dishonest or both?

Salon’s Glenn Greenwald also has a very interesting take on Douthat’s fallacious conclusion.



Firms Make Money By Disputing Unemployment Claims
April 4, 2010, 10:01 pm
Filed under: Economics, Poverty | Tags: , ,

With unemployment still hovering around 10% and the prospects for recovery still uncertain, millions of Americans are really struggling and most of us who do have jobs still face some sort of economic uncertainty.

The economy is slowly finding its footing, but just barely.  Most economists predict that a so-called double-dip recession is not likely to occur.  The stimulus has had a positive impact.  However, despite the good news that’s slowly starting to come out, rampant unemployment is and will continue to be part of the equation for many more years to come.

The middle-class safety net – unemployment benefits, COBRA and the like – was designed specifically to work best in conditions like these.  Compared to many other industrialized nations, our programs are relatively ungenerous.  COBRA, which allows someone to keep their health insurance coverage after they leave their job, is important but also very expensive.  Health care reform legislation will fix some of these problems, but that will take some time.

Despite their shortcomings, we’d be in a much worse place without such programs.  However, keeping the net in place, expanding it during a recession and guaranteeing that the middle-class has enough to get by on has not come easily.  In the Senate, Republicans are delaying the extension of benefits, and in the private sector, the New York Times reports, companies are hiring firms that specialize in fighting to delay unemployment claims.

Claims can be denied if a worker is fired for some offense, say for example, sexual harassment or stealing.  That’s fair.  But these firms are not trying to keep the system fair.  They are exploiting the rules and disputing claims so as to compel workers who would otherwise qualify to not apply for benefits in the first place.  The fewer people who apply, the lower the tax on the company.  It’s the invisible hand and it’s ruthless.

With a client list that reads like a roster of Fortune 500 firms, a little-known company with an odd name, the Talx Corporation, has come to dominate a thriving industry: helping employers process — and fight — unemployment claims.

Talx, which emerged from obscurity over the last eight years, says it handles more than 30 percent of the nation’s requests for jobless benefits. Pledging to save employers money in part by contesting claims, Talx helps them decide which applications to resist and how to mount effective appeals.

The work has made Talx a boom business in a bust economy, but critics say the company has undermined a crucial safety net. Officials in a number of states have called Talx a chronic source of error and delay. Advocates for the unemployed say the company seeks to keep jobless workers from collecting benefits.

“Talx often files appeals regardless of merits,” said Jonathan P. Baird, a lawyer at New Hampshire Legal Assistance. “It’s sort of a war of attrition. If you appeal a certain percentage of cases, there are going to be those workers who give up.”

When fewer former workers get aid, a company pays lower unemployment taxes.



Creditors Kicking People While They’re Down
April 2, 2010, 1:08 am
Filed under: Economics, Poverty | Tags: ,

In the middle of a severe recession, you’d expect creditors to make their rules a bit more amendable so as not to overburden those who have already lost their homes and quite possible, their livelihoods.

But of course, where the supposed superiority and wisdom of the market is concerned, such an expectation is pure fantasy. In fact, when people are struggling, it seems, the opportunities to profit off of their miseries become even more plentiful.  Creditors and collection agencies are raking in millions.

The New York Times reports that “[o]ne of the worst economic downturns of modern history has produced a big increase in the number of delinquent borrowers, and creditors are suing them by the millions. Concern is mounting in government and among consumer advocates that the debtors are not always getting a fair shake in these cases.”

Bankruptcy can clear away most debts. Yet sweeping changes to federal law in 2005 — pushed by the banking lobby — complicated that process and more than doubled the average cost of filing, to more than $2,000. Many low-income debtors must save for months before they can afford to go broke.

In some states, courts allow creditors to charge high interest rates for years after a lawsuit is decided in their favor. In others, creditors can win lawsuits by default and seize wages and bank accounts without a case ever appearing before a judge.

Lack of participation is the most fundamental problem. Some consumers do not even know they are being sued; the people who are supposed to serve them with formal notice have sometimes been caught skipping that step and doctoring the paperwork.

In far more cases, consumers are served but still do not offer a defense. Few can afford lawyers; others are intimidated or confused. In their absence, judges can offer little relief.

What collection companies do is perfectly legal.  But going after those who have the least ability to pay back their debts and garnishing their wages, when they often have just enough to survive, is ruthless.