Friday, June 25, 2010

Most Annoying iPhone App Ever?

One of my favorite Far Side cartoons has a split screen image. On the top, there is an angel greeting a bunch of new arrivals, saying "welcome to heaven, here's your harp." On the bottom half, there's a devil also greeting new arrivals, saying, "welcome to hell, here's your accordion." Every time I see that cartoon I think the only thing that kept it from being perfect is that the devil should have had bagpipes.

Even if you believe the adage "if it's not Scottish, it's crap", that doesn't mean the converse is also true. Exhibit #1: bagpipes. We were always blessed that bagpipes were hard to find and expensive. Soon that won't be true as a company called Epipes is bringing out an iPhone application called EpipesKeys that turns your (note that I didn't say MY) iPhone or iPod touch into a very realistic set of bagpipes. The app hasn't even officially been released, but I'm saving for my lawyer now. I'm looking for one that is an expert on justifiable homicide defenses.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Al Gore Cheapshot of the Day

How is Al Gore like a sex-crazed poodle?

Answer: They both know how to use a pointer.
Al Gore: "An Inconvenient Masseuse"

The web is buzzing with hints and allegations that Al Gore groped a masseuse and acted like a "sex-crazed poodle".

My buddy the internet searching superhero, The Googleteer, just flew in the window. He tried this search

"an inconvenient masseuse"

and got no actual hits, just noise. That'll change.

Side note: I had a neighbor with a sex-crazed poodle. Al Gore looks nothing like a sex-crazed poodle. Furthermore, my neighbor's poodle never gave anybody any trouble, unless they happened to be a beachball.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Americans - Homeowners or Homeowned?

David Wessel wrote a great article in today's Wall Street Journal titled Rethinking the American Dream. The gist of the article is that the U.S. really needs to rethink its core policies regarding homeownership. The subsidies inherent in the mortgage deduction and the loan guarantee agencies and the securitizers Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac have made a positive impact toward the government goal of increasing home ownership, but in doing so, they may have created markets subject to bust cycles that have huge impacts on the economy. Secondly, in times like today with negative home equity, the benefits of home ownership (the justification for the subsidies) are largely nonexistent.

The article has a great graph that I hope will post here. It shows the peak homeownership % for several US cities, the current homeownership percentage, and the percentage of the owners with positive home equity. There are regional crises illuminated by these numbers. For example, Las Vegas, Nevada has a 15% positive home equity rate, that's roughly 1/3 of the rate in Detroit, a city that many would consider to be blighted.

(Graph via

A couple of years ago, I was among those who were advocating legislation allowing the cram down of negative equity in a chapter 13 bankruptcy. That would have been a great idea at that time. I think it would have been a lot better than the HAMP nonsense we have now. I don't know how you could realistically expect to allow cramdowns now. What would happen if 85% of Las Vegas homeowners filed for bankruptcy, or even half that? The window might be closed, and it's a shame. The negative equity is a millstone around the neck of Americans and the American economy and will be for years to come. People can't move to find new jobs, because they can't sell their houses. If you take the hit and abandon your house, then the poor credit that follows you keeps you from being a full participant in the economy for years afterwards.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Pay Your Bill or Go to Jail
Bench Warrants to "Pay or Stay"

The Minneapolis St. Paul Star Tribune is featuring a series of articles about ordinary folks who are thrown in jail for not paying their collection accounts. Actually, the most frequent occurrence is for someone to be thrown in jail for not appearing at a post-judgment remedies hearing, in which case it is common practice for the court to issue a bench warrant for a law enforcement officer to pick up the person for a later court appearance. When the person is picked up at a time the court is closed, it's common for them to be held a couple days until the court is in session. This type of bench warrant is pretty much accepted as within the court's inherent powers to remedy contempt of court. Still, it sure seems like being thrown in jail for not paying a bill.

In some states it is common for a judge to order a debtor to make a payment or face jail time. Such an order is called "pay or stay". Pay or Stay orders may violate a state constitutional provision against imprisoning debtors. It would be interesting to see what kind of offensive civil rights case could be made out of a "pay or stay" detention.

According to the Startribune's investigation the two creditors which happened to use the bench warrant remedy the most were both "bottom feeder" or "Zombie" debt collectors, Unifund CCR Partners, and Portfolio Recovery Associates.

Time for the marginally relevant video of the day - We So Broke. I couldn't even tell what the name of the artist is. Language and bad taste alert, so what else is new?

Hof's Blog Special Feature:

CNN reports that a dead grey whale has washed up on New York's Jones Beach. They're trying to figure out what to do with it.

It's not that hard to figure out what NOT to do with it - blow it up on the beach. In 1970 a whale washed up on the beach, and a genius thought the best thing to do was to blow it up with about a half a ton of explosives. They cleared everybody off the beach for a quarter mile and here's what happened. (In case you don't want to watch the whole thing, the explosion is at 1:51 in the video.)

In Taiwan, they were planning on keeping their dead whale and stuffing it. But it blew up all by itself.


Here's a clip from a National Geographic special where scientists are studying how whales blow up. Guess what the graduate assistants have to do.

In Western Australia, they have a different way of doing things. Instead of waiting for the whale to beach itself and die, they try to blow it up while it is still in the water - alive. (No, you don't actually see the whale blow up.)

Where is Hancock when you need him?

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Youtube Video of the day: A Day in the Life of an Internet Car Forum

Thanks to for the link.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Foreclosures - Last Payment to Eviction is 438 Days on Average

Per the New York Times, the average length of time between the time a defaulting homeowner makes the last payment and the person is actually evicted from his or her home is now 438 days, up from 251 days in January 2008. This period appears to be growing. The Times, giving figures attributed to a firm called LPS Analytics, says that more than 650,000 households haven't paid in 18 months or more, and of that figure there had not yet been foreclosure proceedings filed against 19% of them.

The driving force behind most of this is simple rational behavior by consumers. It makes no sense to continue paying on a house you can't afford and which is worth less than the balance of the loan if making those payments would put you behind on other accounts or take resources that would ultimately be better spent in securing substitute housing. The strategy of squatting in your own home has lots of advocates, including US Representative Marcy Kapture as shown in the Youtube clip below from February 2009.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Who Are These Investors who ABD*?
*ABD = always be denyin'

The New York Post last week posted an article about a current trend: folks who are in a trial mortgage modification but can't get a permanent modification because "investors" deny the proposed modification. The dirty little secret of the government's HAMP program is that ultimately the mortgage modifications are discretionary for loans that aren't owned outright by the guarantee agencies, HUD or FHA. Many homeowners are getting denied modifications on the grounds that the "investors" in the loans denied the modification.

Many in the consumer bar question the legitimacy in these denials, but getting accurate information on just who killed the deal can be challenging. It doesn't help things that many consumer lawyers, including me, are skeptical of HAMP modifications in the first place; mostly because it ties the consumer to a negative asset for years and hinders physical mobility that may be necessary to build a new economic future.

If you are a homeowner who gets an investor denial or an attorney representing a homeowner, you can use the RESPA Qualified Written Request Process to ask about the decision making process behind the denial. The problem with RESPA is that it is slow, and the answers you get are often imprecise and unhelpful. If you are fighting a foreclosure, actively questioning the legitimacy of an "investor" denial may have some tactical and/or strategic benefits.