Punishing the Victim in Indy

At Arsenal Technical High in Indianapolis, Indiana, bullying is OK but standing up against bullying isn’t.  In its infinite idiocy, the school expelled Darnell “Dynasty” Young when he fired a stun-gun into the air after being surrounded by six people who were bullying him.  The bullies became afraid and left the scene, and Young was safe.  No one was injured.

Young had reportedly been bullied repeatedly since the start of the school year.  When he and his mother reported the bullying to the school authorities, he was told that the bullying basically was his own fault because he was so flamboyant.  If he wanted the bullying to stop, he could adjust his behavior.

So far, none of the bullies has been expelled.

The callousness of the school authorities is stunning but not surprising.  In so many places in the nation, bullying is ignored or tacitly sanctioned by schools, churches, and other institutions who consider bullying to be merely a part of growing up. It’s a pretty safe bet that these institutions are run by people who weren’t on the receiving end of bullying when they were growing up.

There may be Pink Houses in Indiana, but there sure isn’t a pink consciousness.

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Santorum Caves In

News outlets are reporting that Rick Santorum, arguably the most outspoken and critical of Mitt Romney’s primary rivals, has sent an email to his supporters endorsing the Romney campaign.

Let’s not forget that it was less than two months ago that Santorum made the following statement about Romney:

“You win by giving people the opportunity to see a different vision for our country, not someone who’s just going to be a little different than the person in there. If you’re going to be a little different, we might as well stay with what we have instead of taking a risk with what may be the Etch-A-Sketch candidate of the future.”


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Tampa, the GOP, and the Subprime Mess

There’s a stunning irony in the choice of venues for the GOP convention that is likely lost on most Republicans.  Tampa, Florida, was home to an entire division of Countrywide — the mortgage lender that played an enormous part in the nation’s economic downturn by saturating the market with subprime mortgages and then bundling them together into securities that could be sold by equally unscrupulous bankers on the open market to unsuspecting purchasers.

At the peak of subprime frenzy, Countrywide built out an entire facility in Tampa devoted to the sales and servicing of subprime mortgages.  The company could barely hire people fast enough to keep up with the demand that they themselves had generated by making loans available — on the worst terms possible for the borrower — to tens of thousands of borrowers who simply were not qualified to carry those loans.

At one point, Countrywide boasted of a record of $28 billion of mortgages written in a single month of lending, with many of those loans underwritten using the shoddiest of underwriting standards.

Consider these unemployment numbers for Florida:  In 2005-2006, unemployment bottomed out at 3.3%, right when all that subprime lending was going on.  With the subsequent tanking of the economy, due in large part to the collapse of the subprime market because of the fraudulent lending practices of Countrywide and others, unemployment in Florida skyrocketed to 11.4% in mid-2009, and remains to this day at or above 9%.

Florida also boasts one of the highest foreclosure rates in the nation, particularly on condominiums which were built (or overbuilt) in response to the new demand that all that subprime lending had created.  When the bubble burst, construction on half-finished developments came to a halt. Buyers who had bought into these developments were stuck with properties that were worth pennies on the dollar compared to what they now owed.  These early owners also took on the obligations of the condominium associations, the expense of which was to have been spread across dozens or hundreds of owners and now consequently was legally required to be borne by those unlucky few.

So, when the GOP opted to hold its convention in Tampa, organizers apparently were completely unaware of the optics of this choice.  Add to the bad optics of this backdrop the fact that the presumptive GOP candidate is touting a return to (or a doubling down on) the same economic policies that created this financial disaster, and it becomes hard to think that there won’t be some pretty significant negative repercussions for the Republicans.

The Democrats would be fools not to make hay out of this hypocrisy.  My guess is that the haymaking is already underway.

 

 

The War on Pink-Haired Religion

If you’re a fan of pink hair and oversized nostrils, you’ve undoubtedly found yourself occasionally transfixed in a late-night television stupor by that mega-couple of Christian scams, Jan and Paul Crouch.

The Crouches have occasionally come under scrutiny over the years and have had brushes with scandals, both financial and sexual.  But a family squabble among the potential heirs to the TBN empire has triggered recent renewed attention to their finances and, in particular, to the tax-exempt status of their organization.

The New York Times delved into this juicy subject recently in a lengthy expose of the multi-million dollar empire that the two have built, focusing on their family dysfunction and on their questionable accounting practices.

Mr. and Mrs. Crouch have his-and-her mansions one street apart in a gated community here, provided by the network using viewer donations and tax-free earnings. But Mrs. Crouch, 74, rarely sleeps in the $5.6 million house with tennis court and pool. She mostly lives in a large company house near Orlando, Fla., where she runs a side business, the Holy Land Experience theme park. Mr. Crouch, 78, has an adjacent home there too, but rarely visits. Its occupant is often a security guard who doubles as Mrs. Crouch’s chauffeur.

The twin sets of luxury homes only hint at the high living enjoyed by the Crouches, inspirational television personalities whose multitudes of stations and satellite signals reach millions of worshipers across the globe. Almost since they started in the 1970s, the couple have been criticized for secrecy about their use of donations, which totaled $93 million in 2010.

The only confusion in all of this is how this duo has managed to get away with their scam for as long as they have.

Read the New York Times article:

Sarkozy Is History

Nicholas Sarkozy, who has been at the head of a country with an austerity plan and an unemployment rate greater than 10%, has just been voted out, in favor of Socialist François Hollande. The ramifications of this change in leadership and policy may be far-reaching.

Many prominent economists blame the austerity measures put in place by the Sarkozy government for the failure of the French economy to recover. And yet those measures are almost identical to the GOP’s so-called economic recovery plan.

While it’s not likely that any drastic economic improvements will happen instantaneously with the change in leadership in France, it will certainly be something to keep an eye on in the coming months.  And there’s no doubt that what happens in France will affect economies around the world.

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Biden Endorses Marriage Equality

The Vice President, in an appearance on today’s Meet the Press, became the highest ranking U.S. official ever to have endorsed marriage quality. He described himself as “absolutely comfortable” with gay marriage.

The right wing is undoubtedly going to twist Biden’s words around and have a field day with this, but Biden describes the issue in the most understandable way possible.

Brotherly Love

They do things kinda strange down below the Mason-Dixon line:

South Carolina Police say Wayne Joshua Mitchell, 20, died after he ate an ounce of cocaine that was hidden in his brother’s buttocks according to a WCIV report.

Authorities have charged the victim’s brother 23-year-old Deangelo Rashard Mitchell, with involuntary manslaughter.

There’s more here, if you can stand to read the details.


Here’s another ingenious medical idea:

I think the lesson to be learned is that you probably shouldn’t get your medical referrals from anyone at Home Depot.

No Thanks, BofA

Last week Bank of America announced it would be charging customers a monthly fee to use its debit cards to use their own money to make purchases.  Today, Citibank announced it would be increasing its fees for its checking accounts. The news media are buzzing and the public seems to be bristling at these developments.  This should come as no surprise.

By way of background, let’s take a trip down big-bank memory lane.

It used to be that you could walk into a bank and make your deposit or withdrawal with a teller.  Even if you were a small account holder, the tellers generally made you feel like you had some kind of relationship with the bank. (I even remember doing some banking in Beverly Hills about 30 years ago in a bank that had nice comfortable chairs that you could sit down in while you were transacting your business with the teller.)  But banks soon discovered that it was cheaper for these transactions to be executed at ATMs, so that technology proliferated.

Who benefitted financially? The banks.

A number of banks, to force their customers to do business with ATMs instead of tellers, even started charging to transact business with a teller.

Who benefitted financially? Again, the banks.

So. To the debit card issue.

Banks used to encourage people to open checking accounts.  Remember the free toaster they’d give you when you started a new account?  They wanted your checking account business because it meant that, for the wholesale cost of a small kitchen appliance, they essentially had free use of your money.  Your money was way more valuable to them than was the blender or hand mixer or toaster they’d pawn off on you.  They could combine the money in your checking account with the money in everyone else’s checking accounts, and they’d have a whopping big amount to invest, earn interest and receive dividends.  (If you’re not familiar with this practice, read more here.)

Who benefitted financially? Once again, the banks.  (I’m sensing a pattern here.)

But that wasn’t enough. The banks soon started charging fees for checking accounts.  Perhaps they’d waive the fees if you adhered to some rule or other, like a minimum balance or direct deposit of your paycheck.  For many, it wasn’t possible or practical to meet those requirements, so the fees were inevitable.  Add to that huge increases in overdraft fees, as well as a whole host of fees the banks concocted over the years.

Lots more money to the banks.

Somewhere in there, banks started issuing debit cards along with or instead of their ATM cards.  Depositors could make purchases with them in places where credit cards were accepted, but the real benefit was to the bank. Merchants paid fees to the bank for each transaction for which their customers used their debit cards. A few cents might not be much, but a few cents times millions of transactions starts to add up to some real money.

Additionally, the costs associated with processing all those paper checks was virtually eliminated and replaced by computerized tracking of purchases.  This has been in addition to the popularity of online banking, which also streamlines banking processes and theoretically reduces costs.

And still, that’s not enough.  Now Bank of America (and others) are starting to charge for the privilege of making your purchases with your own money.

Wouldn’t it seem that, with all of the jockeying that the banks have done over the years to stack the deck in their favor, they would be solvent by now?

It seems like there are only a couple of explanations.  Either they are grossly incompetent in their management of our money (which I doubt they would fess up to being), or their cost of doing business has raised substantially.

Shopping for Groceries at the Hardware Store

When it’s really clear that one is looking for the right thing in the wrong place, I often use the metaphor of shopping for groceries at the hardware store.  Your intentions might be good, but no matter how hard you look, you’re not going to find ketchup in the plumbing aisle (except, perhaps, as a stain on the shirt of the hardware store clerk).

The most recent example of this disconnect is documented in today’s New York Times.  The gist of the article is that a considerable number of influential Conservative Republicans are boycotting the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) because the unfortunately-named GOProud political action committee was co-sponsoring the event.  Although I’m sure including gay people chafed, this breach of Republican tenets was somehow able to be overlooked by the other more conservative participants of that conference for GOProud to participate in the conference.  After all, there are all those supposed gay dollars to be raised.  But, for venerable institutions like Concerned Women for America, the Heritage Foundation, and all those other rabid right leaning groups whose names sound like they were created by some Internet conservative organization name generator, the fact that GOProud participated in the planning of the conference was too much for their weak little hearts to take and, thus, the boycott.

If you truly want pay to listen for three non-stop days to the vitriol of the likes of Ann Coulter, Jim Demint, Michelle “Vacant Stare” Bachmann, Wayne Lapierre, Liz Cheney, and a whole host of others, I fully defend your right to waste your money.  Go ahead.  Knock yourselves out.

But what I can’t get my brain around is that, somehow, certain gay people still believe that the Republican Party has carved out a viable little niche for them.  They seem to believe that there’s actually seat at the table for them.  But clearly, as evidenced by these recent reports, the best that the Republicans can come up with is a seat at the children’s table.  The GOProud folks don’t seem to understand that, unless there’s a tectonic shift in the underlying philosophy of the Republican party, they will always be shopping for groceries at the hardware store if they choose to align themselves with this socially conservative crowd.

In some way, I suppose it should be no surprise that GOProud finds this arrangement acceptable; the group has already fully embraced second-class citizenship.  Their platform wants no federal involvement in gay marriage, although it has been proven time and again that there is no way to achieve true parity without a federal standard.

For those of us unwilling to settle for the crumbs, perhaps it would be helpful for these conservatives to agree upon and publish the hierarchy so that we know just how much or how little citizenship they think we deserve.  But they can’t even seem to agree among themselves.  But it’s really clear that even so-called moderate Republicans don’t want gay people to be full citizens.  And, perhaps, that’s because there is no good answer, except for full equality.

But this kind of clarification of their narrow-mindedness – a concrete definition of just what the Republicans expect of gay people – would be good for all of us.  It would help Republicans define their platform.  It would help the GOProud folks see exactly who they were in bed with.  Most of all, it would save all of us so many trips to the wrong aisle of wrong store.