Sunday, September 08, 2013

Nothing left to lose

This is criminal. Witness government sponsored predatory debt collection.
On the day Bennie Coleman lost his house, the day armed U.S. marshals came to his door and ordered him off the property, he slumped in a folding chair across the street and watched the vestiges of his 76 years hauled to the curb.

Movers carted out his easy chair, his clothes, his television. Next came the things that were closest to his heart: his Marine Corps medals and photographs of his dead wife, Martha. The duplex in Northeast Washington that Coleman bought with cash two decades earlier was emptied and shuttered. By sundown, he had nowhere to go.

All because he didn’t pay a $134 property tax bill.
But mostly because the government sold his city lien to an out-of-town debt collection company which proceeded to rack up a boatload of bogus fees and added it to his bill.
Coleman, struggling with dementia, was among those who lost a home. His debt had snowballed to $4,999 — 37 times the original tax bill. Not only did he lose his $197,000 house, but he also was stripped of the equity because tax lien purchasers are entitled to everything, trumping even mortgage companies.
Mr. Coleman is not alone.
Foreclosures have upended families in some of the city’s most distressed neighborhoods. Houses were taken from a housekeeper, a department store clerk, a seamstress and even the estates of dead people. The hardest hit: elderly homeowners, who were often sick or dying when tax lien purchasers seized their houses.

One 65-year-old flower shop owner lost his Northwest Washington home of 40 years after a company from Florida paid his back taxes — $1,025 — and then took the house through foreclosure while he was in hospice, dying of cancer. A 95-year-old church choir leader lost her family home to a Maryland investor over a tax debt of $44.79 while she was struggling with Alzheimer’s in a nursing home.
How did we reach the point where such vicious preying on the elderly and the weak is legal? These vultures shouldn't be in business, they should be in jail.

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Saturday, July 06, 2013

Cult of irrationality

Dear "serious" news channel: This is not helping:
On Friday, CNBC anchor Joe Kernen described climate science as a “bona fide cult” of “enviro socialists” in an interview with the former CEO of Shell Oil.
The two of them yukked it up over this "foolishness." The CEO laments we're "not dealing with the real problems." I assume by that he means, his profit margin is simply not obscenely high enough yet. He'll never get that gargantuan bonus without it.

It's not surprising CNBC would be in the pocket of BigBusiness but ye gods, they're working against their own self-interest when they promote denialism like this. It's irrational.
CNBC has long-misrepresented climate change to its viewers, including Larry Kudlow and Rick Santelli. In fact, a study from Media Matters found that over half of CNBC’s climate coverage miscasts the science.
Meanwhile, that "cult" of climate scientists may not have all the solutions, but 97% of them sure as hell have identified the problems. So what do these short-sighted idiots on CNBC expect to do with all the money they make on fomenting denialism? By the time they extract every last penny of value from ravaging the enviroment, the planet won't be habitable anymore. They'll have nowhere to spend it.

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Sunday, May 05, 2013

Deep in the broken heart of Texas

Looks like the residents of West, Texas won't recover damages from the explosion of the fertilizer plant.
The West Fertilizer Co., scene of an explosion last month that killed 15 people and injured 200, carried only $1 million in liability insurance.

Property damage alone in West could reach $100 million, according to the Insurance Council of Texas, an industry association. ...

Fertilizer facilities like the one in West are not required to have liability insurance that would compensate for damage they might cause, state insurance officials say, even if hazardous material is on hand.
Make that even if there hundreds of tons of hazardous and potentially explosive material on hand. The plant was storing 270 tons of ammonium nitrate. They were supposed to report anything over 400 pounds to DHS because it can be used to make bombs like McVeigh did in Oklahoma. They failed to report it.

Even more disturbing, they're are almost 7000 chemical facilities that pose a greater danger than the West fertilizer plant. The West facility wasn't even on the list because of their failure to report. And how is this possible, you ask?
Texas lawmakers have also recently sought to weaken the state environmental agency that oversaw the West plant and reduced its budget by $305 million. Governor Rick Perry (R) has also indicated that he isn’t interested in new safety regulations. Meanwhile, members have Congress have recently worked to advance a bill that would weaken the EPA’s powers to regulate major chemical plants.
West Fertilizer didn't make the chemicals. They're just a storage facility. A symptom of dereg, not the cause. The big money is the production. The real danger is coming from the manufacturers and their deep pocket lobbyists.

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Thursday, April 18, 2013

Exploding the myth of over-regulated industry

By now you've heard about the horrible explosion at the fertilizer plant in Texas. We don't know what caused it yet, but deliberate sabotage is rarely the cause of these things. It's a pretty safe guess it had to do with shoddy plant maintenance and/or cheating on safety practices. Not that the company will ever admit to it. In fact, they assured the people of West, this couldn't possibly happen.
The fertilizer plant that exploded Wednesday night in West, Texas, reported to the Environmental Protection Agency and local public safety officials that it presented no risk of fire or explosion, documents show. [...]

[T]he report, reviewed Wednesday night by The Dallas Morning News, stated “no” under fire or explosive risks. The worst possible scenario, the report said, would be a 10-minute release of ammonia gas that would kill or injure no one.

The second worst possibility projected was a leak from a broken hose used to transfer the product, again causing no injuries.
The company claims to have "implemented proper safety rules," but who know if that's true. The plant hasn't been inspected in the last five years. And chances are if it hadn't blown up, it might never be inspected for decades:
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is chronically understaffed, which means that a given plant like West Fertilizer can only expect to get a state inspection once every 67 years on average.
And of course, under the sequester cuts OSHA's funding will be slashed further. OSHA is one of the cons favorite punching bags. They love to talk about the stupid safety rules that interfere with the free market and corporate profits. We should just trust Big Business to police itself, because we can't afford to keep spending tax dollars to make sure they're not cutting corners on safety measures that might result in killing people. Besides, they need that money to pay off the politicians --er, I mean to create jobs -- you know.

Useful to remember when Republicans tell you they want to shrink government, they mean they are going to sell you out to the highest private bidder. [photo via Mother Jones]

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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Round and round and round in the circle game

Probably going to rot in hell for taking entirely too much pleasure in watching Fox News flail:
January marked Fox News Channel’s lowest 25-54 demo delivery for Monday-Sunday Primetime and Sales Prime (M-Su 7p-2a) since August 2001.

January was also the worst month ever for FNC’s On the Record w/ Greta Van Susteren in the 25-54 demo. It was also Fox's lowest total at 10 pm since July '08.
Photos and more at the link.

That's not the only untoward delight I'm enjoying on this day of great changes. The long past their sell-by date, dueling husband and wife pundits, Carville and Matalin no longer work at CNN and Erick, son of Erick sadly bid adieu as well, as he headed to his new home at Fox News.

The only thing that would have made this day better would have been if George Will suddenly decided to retire to spend more time contemplating the deeper meaning of blue jeans.

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Friday, December 07, 2012

Just another brick in the (pay) wall

Apparently digital ad revenues are down so pay walls are back in fashion among the online news sites. The rush to brick up the open doors appears to be predicated on NYT's success with the tiered model. Word has it WaPo is seriously considering going to pay wall next year.

It's not that I don't want them to make money for their work but I'm guessing if everyone does it, most likely it will lead to news consumers re-evaluating the worth of their product. I agree with this guy:
What pay walls are reminding me of is that time is my most valuable (or scarce) resource, not access to content. By putting a price on their content the Globe, the Sun and everyone else with a paywall is simultaneously helping me put a “value” on my time. And that is a real service.

But that doesn’t solve any problems for newspapers.
No it doesn't. For the most part, there is little unique content anymore. Everybody is chasing after the same stories. And there are always going to be free sites that innovate and try to break through the conventional narratives. If those thrive in the wake of pay wall fatigue, maybe that's not such a bad thing.

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Monday, December 03, 2012

A Ronald Reagan Christmas

There was a time when a carton of cigarettes was considered a thoughtful and tasteful gift. Especially if you got the brand right.

These old graphics capture what America felt like when that was a popular gift. Mad Men ruled our world long before the series started.

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