Monday, November 15, 2010

The foreclosure crisis

As part of my law school training, I have to put together 'testimony' to a Connecticut legislative committee on the foreclosure crisis.
The more I read about the foreclosure crisis - the more ill I feel.

Law school professor Alan White reports that most mortgage modifications actually increased the costs to the homeowners seeking help.
They can't afford their mortgages in the first place.  Many who received modifications from large banks ended up in foreclosure again because the modifications did not lower the costs. (The exceptions were Goldman Sach's Litton Loan Servicing and Ocwen Financial -- kudos to them for recognizing and abiding by their obligations).

A congressional program intended to save 1 million homes by modifying 1 million mortgages ended up being used by only 25 homeowners. The banks had grafted on enough fine print to make the relief program unusable by almost every homeowner in the country.
The key players in all the damage are the lobbyists.
In its Feb. 12, 2009 issue, Businessweek reported that lobbyists made concerted efforts to thwart foreclosure relief legislation.  Recently, the New York Times has been reporting that the foreclosure companies rarely do the legal paperwork necessary for the foreclosures. A few have rushed through so much paperwork that they foreclosed on the wrong houses.  Homeowner rights have been completely ignored. Where were the legislators? The most they were willing to do was talk to the loan industry -- not actually regulate it.  The Constitution gives Congress the right to legislate mortgage modifications through the federal commerce clause and the contracts clause.  But we have not had any legislation with teeth. People continue to lose their homes.

Retiring senator Christopher Dodd, chair of the banking committee, initially made noise about restraining the mortgage loan abusers Business Week reported (Feb. 12, 2009). After receiving $5.9 million in 2007 and 2008 in contributions from the financial services industry, Dodd became very sympathetic to the mortgage loan industry.
Sometimes love can be bought.

I know someone dear to me who lost their home. They were happy to leave the craziness behind - a mortgage that doubled in payment amount - and a lender hostile to any modification unless it increased the total amount of the loan.   The homeowners are relieved to be rid of the burden -- one that forced them to spend every dime of income on their mortgage. They will probably never buy again -- despite having a high income.

The lobbyists that saved the foreclosure industry will have a lasting effect on America. They turned the American dream of home ownership into the American nightmare.  It will be interesting to see how things turn out 10 years from now. Will people permanently move away from buying?
How will we guard against the abuse of the foreclosure process?

If the federal government neglects to legislate against foreclosure fraud and abuse and refuses to legislate in favor reasonable mortgage modifications that bring total payments down, can the states step in to protect their own citizens?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Connecticut Color

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Monday, September 27, 2010

Hot dogs for dog lovers

     Recently I overhead a spirited discussion about the tastiest hot dogs between animal rights activists gnoshing on pizza.
     It made me laugh -- and then it made me think.
     This group is funded by a national animal rights group, the Student Animal Legal Defense Fund (SALDF), which does not permit its funds to be used to pay for meat at functions. 
     A lawyer then asked me if it possible to support animal rights and eat animals. That's a hell of a question. There should be a class about that. 
     I don't know.  
     The animal rights spectrum is really broad. You've got the people who love animals because they are cute and look adorable in $80 kitty cardigans. Then there are the anti-specists, who say that we have no right to presume animals exist for our benefit and consumption.
I like the middle position -- where my cats are not my equals but I have a moral obligation to treat them with decency.  They are capable hunters, but I feed them, ironically, because I hate to see them kill birds and squirrels in the neighborhood.  They are just keeping it real. The hunt is their prelude to mealtime. But the prey suffers only briefly and the ordeal is over.

     For animals raised by human consumption -- life is considerably different than for the birds and squirrels and moles and voles caught by the kitties. Wildlife actually get to enjoy a bit of life -- out in the sun -- taking in the sunshine, gnoshing on bugs, building nests with twigs and fluff, finding their mates, raising babies. Factory farm animals never get to do any of these normal things. 
     To make meat cheap, we have divorced them from their natural life cycles.  They live in a dark matrix, bereft of animal relationships, sunshine, space, the elements, and the rest of the green earth.
     It is hard for me to see how you can keep comfortably eating factory meat and claiming to believe in some level of moral obligation to treating animals with compassion. How can an animal rights activist not see the implications of their eating habits? I'm not talking about meat in general -- I'm talking about meat and fish harvested in unnatural conditions created by factory farms.
      I draw a distinction between factory farm meat (any poor creatures in massive Animal Feeding Operations) and other farms or hunted meat.
     All animals die, and many animals eat meat, so in my book, eating meat that is humane-certified or raised and killed humanely is consistent with values held by animal rights activists.
     (Humanely raised meat costs more but there is a broad price range and I'd be happy to help if your interested. I also recommend visiting the farm your meat comes from to verify conditions yourself.)
     Animals raised in factory farms or AFOs do not get to enjoy any part of life. Every minute of their waking lives is painful. They live in darkness (because industrial farm operators know animals gain weight faster in the dark).
 To get a quick education on the topic, go to the Sustainable Table online:
For more details read anything by Michael Pollan, especially his classic "The Omnivore's Dilemma", or "Factory Farm" or "Eating Animals" by Jonathan Safran Foer, a more contemplative, philosophical look at the issue.
(If you just want a fun, flippant, short read that makes the vegab argument dressed up as Posh Spice, try reading "Skinny Bitch."
It's an animal rights book parading as a diet guide. Not kidding. The book became a best seller because Victoria Beckham was photographed carrying it around.)
     Ultimately, these books all raise the question about our obligation to animals. It seems anathema to some people that humans have any obligations to other members of this planet.  To me, it's just being a responsible steward of the planet. We have consciences. Let's use them.

      Factory farmed animals lead living deaths.They fare worse than all other animals.  With animals on traditional farms, there seems to be an implied bargain among human beings with our own consciences about how we treat animals. We give them plenty of food, water, shelter, rest. We get food.  They get to live a certain quality of life before death.   With wild animals, we give a bargain in which we take their lives, but as quickly and painlessly as possible.  Of course, there is a higher way -- to evolve past killing.  We really don't need to anymore. But I won't advocate for that since I'm not really opposed to killing animals. I'm all for killing mosquitos. Even mosquitos, however, get to enjoy their little lives before death. They live in paradise compared with animals raised on factory farms ( whether for meat or laboratory research).

      Factory farmed animals live very unnatural lives. Their deaths may be quick or prolonged and slow. They may be tortured by frustrated plant workers. There is plenty of footage showing frustrated, tired slaughter house workers doing sadistic things to animals.
      It seems contradictory for someone to say they support animal rights in any way, shape or form and then feast on cheap factory meat.

     That brings me back to the hotdogs that started me thinking.
Hotdogs are generally produced from meat that would otherwise go to waste -- the sweepings of the slaughterhouse. Large-scale hotdog manufacturers generally go to factory farms for meat because they need vast quantities.
     Although there is a broad spectrum of views among animal rights advocates, there is no view in that spectrum that consciously tolerates extreme suffering by animals used by factory farms for meat.
     So animal rights activists noshing on hot dogs will be seen as hypocritical.
     Incidentally -- it's not hard to stop supporting factory farms.  You don't need to start by ordering expensive meat from boutique organic farmers.  You stop factory farms by simply eating less meat.  For some people, that's a major change in habit. They think that a meal without meat is not complete, but there's more protein in spinach than in the same quantity of beef.  Vegetables are loaded with protein and often have higher protein and vitamin content, albeit with lower amounts of helpful amino acids. * (See article abstract at the bottom of the blog entry for more details).
Try enjoying some of your meals without meat -- you can find loads of recipes at
     It is possible to eat meat and be humane toward animals -- but factory farms do not make the cut.
      As an alternative, you can just buy meat from farms that are certified for humane conditions (there are fake approvals from the factory farm industry members so be cautious about greenwashing).
      Check out
     If you choose to go completely vegan, then check out this quick abstract of a 2005 research article about the pros and cons of a vegetarian diet:

Research Base of The Slovak Medical University, Institute of Preventive and Clinical Medicine, Bratislava, Slovakia.
Plant proteins have a reduced content of essential amino acids in comparison to animal proteins. A significant reduction of limiting amino acids (methionine, lysine, tryptophan) means lower protein synthesis. In subjects with predominant or exclusive consumption of plant food a higher incidence of hypoproteinemia due to significant reduction of methionine and lysine intakes was observed. On the other hand, lower intake of these amino acids provides a preventive effect against cardiovascular disease via cholesterol regulation by an inhibited hepatic phospholipid metabolism. Vegetarians have a significantly higher intake of non-essential amino acids arginine and pyruvigenic amino acids glycine, alanine, serine. When plant protein is high in non-essential amino acids, down-regulation of insulin and up-regulation of glucagon is a logical consequence. The action of glucagon in the liver is mediated by stimulation of adenyl cyclase that raises cyclic-AMP (adenosine-3,5-monophosphate) concentrations. Cyclic-AMP down-regulates the synthesis of a number of enzymes required for de novo lipogenesis and cholesterol synthesis, up-regulates key gluconeogenic enzymes and the LDL receptors and decreases the IGF-1 activity (insulin-like growth factor). Cyclic-AMP thus provides a reduction of atherosclerosis risk factors as well as a retardation of cancer development. A sufficient consumption of plant proteins has the protective effects against chronic degenerative diseases (Tab. 2, Ref. 26)." 

Did you enjoy that read? 
Me neither. 
But the information comes in handy at a time when we need to think about the long-term impacts of our choices, because our choices reflect who we have chosen to become.

And by the way -- do yourself a favor. Before eating a hot dog, watch it being made. You owe it to yourself to see the consequences of your choices.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA/CFPB)

This new agency may be the long missing David in the battle against banking Goliaths. With President Obama taking a new tack by hiring consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren to establish the new agency, we may be in for better banking and real consumer rights.

For more information on the soon-to-emerge bureau and the latest news, check out this link to the Center for Responsible Lending,  a nonprofit organization that analyzes developments and the economic impact that our current banking practices have on consumers (aka voters).

Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA/CFPB)

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A greener skein

This summer I taught myself to knit using Youtube videos. By the end of August, I had a six foot double-ribbed shimmering grey scarf. In the first week of August, I knit my sister Rose a fluffy cotton scarf of denim blue shot through bright Origami yarn.  Then I started to knit one for myself, a coffee-colored cotton scarf in a basket weave pattern.

Knitting is as relaxing as working in the garden, and you don't need nature's cooperation for results. You can purl rain or shine. I can purl as meditation. Needles are key. They must have a smooth, slippery surface so that you develop a mental rhythm undisrupted by snags. Even slight snags distract.  Bamboo needles are great for the environment, but not for my meditation, because they tug ever so slightly at the yarn.

Old metal needles work fluidly -- and it's easy enough to find old ones. I also like highly polished reclaimed wood, vintage, or Laurel Hill, which makes the most wonderful slippery needles out of fallen branches of Forest Palm.

 I discovered a convenient, lovely little spot that carries Laurel Hill needles. The place is called Knit Haven in New Haven, where Church Street and Whitney Avenue meet, near the Dunkin' Donuts.  Their selection of yarns is well-chosen, mostly wool, mohair and alpaca with some skeins of silk and cotton in colors from cotton candy and charcoal gray to earthy, hand painted patterns from artisans in somewhere in upstate New York. What they don't have is reclaimed yarn. That's the stuff that veteran, brilliant spinners make out of old sweaters, newspapers, plastic bags, T-shirts.  They can turn amazing things into continuous fiber that knitters convert into cable knit cardigans. carries a lot of these and they are beautiful.

I would love to knit a sweater out of fiber from recycled water bottles or reused plastic grocery bags. These fibers exist, but they seem to be restricted to wholesale buyers such as Patagonia. If anyone figures out how to spin a skein of recycled water bottles, let me know.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Why we need MORE health care reform

Pacificare customers paid for private health insurance.
Their claims got ignored or rejected. In Private health insurance -- denying health care to increase profits -- cheating policy holders is just another way of boosting the bottom line. This is why we need a public option health insurance or Medicare for All -- because these nonprofit program
s have less incentive to cheat people out of medical care.