Tuesday, April 7, 2009

April is the Cruelest Month

So said poet T. S. Eliot, and it continues to be the case. We've had several mass shootings in the past month. For those of us who track such developments, the time of year is nothing new (most school shootings, for example, take place in the spring), but the sheer numbers of dead (53 total, 7 of whom were police officers) has been surprising.

As Jay points out at Montclair, the pro-gun response to this is something we've discussed in class before (and I mentioned last week): if more people were packing, these shooters would be "taken out" more quickly.

It's an odd, somewhat ironic, line of reasoning, but it seems grounded in the strange belief out there amongst the pro-gun crowd that the government, particularly the Obama administration, is bent on taking their guns.

Apparently they don't read Supreme Court decisions. As I pointed out last summer, not only did the court affirm the 2nd amendment's wording in terms of an individual's right to bear arms, but it was a decision which was loudly supported by Obama himself during the campaign.

The focus on guns also fails to take into account the role of the recession in this violence. Not all is job-motivated, but several of the stories involve "recently laid off" people who then crack under the stress and react violently. Instead of loading up on more guns, perhaps we should be loading up on more jobs.

Like maybe in the foreclosure business.

Welcome to the spring 2009 Reomac conference, which has attracted nearly 3,000 real estate agents and property managers to this lush desert resort. The crowd brimmed with a gusto that is hard to find in this recessionary era. The hotel bar did more business on Saturday night than it did on New Year’s Eve. Small wonder: These are the people cashing in on the boom in foreclosed properties.

R.E.O. is industry lingo for “Real Estate Owned,” the term that bankers assign to homes they have taken in a foreclosure. Reomac is the industry group that serves the mortgage default trade, specializing in selling the busted-up American dream.

“Things are going tremendously,” said Darren Johnson, an R.E.O. agent from the Detroit area, who has handled about 180 bank property sales in the last year. “It has never been this good.”
You should read that entire article. Have you ever seen a group of vultures circling road kill, then going off to party afterwards?

Speaking of parties, break out the champagne: Debtor's Prisons are making a comeback in the U.S.
In 1970, the Supreme Court ruled that it violates equal protection to keep inmates in prison extra time because they are too poor to pay a fine or court costs. More recently, the court ruled that a state generally cannot revoke a defendant’s probation and imprison him for failing to pay a fine if he is unable to do so. That has not stopped the practice.

In Georgia, poor people who cannot pay off fines — plus a monthly fee to the private company that collects the payments — are often sent to jail for nonpayment, according to Stephen Bright, president of the Southern Center for Human Rights. In 2006, the center sued on behalf of a woman who was locked up in Atlanta for eight months past her original sentence because she could not pay a $705 fine.
That's called debtor's prison. Other states, like Florida, are ginning up efforts beyond that.
Here in Leon County [Florida], 839 people were arrested and jailed in the year ended last September over court debts or failure to appear at Collections Court, according to a study by the Brennan Center. Around Leon County, there are some 5,400 outstanding “blue writs” — the civil equivalent of an arrest warrant for failing to appear and pay fees. Some people come in and pay when they receive their summons; others spend a night or more in jail, often having been arrested when the writ pops up during incidents like routine traffic stops.
No word yet on whether we're incarcerating their children along with them, but it doesn't sound like the days of Dickens' "Little Dorrit" are that far behind us. Or ahead of us, for that matter.

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