Friday, April 29, 2011

TN Moves To Ban Teachers Union

Pretty much as expected and predicted, the state of Tennessee is following up on their plan do ban unions in Tennessee, starting with teachers, for now.

Never mind those comments from legislators recently that they were NOT going to create anti-union legislation, see, because they are just repealing the law that makes unions for teachers legal. How is that anti-union? We love teachers. We are reforming education!

House Speaker Beth Harwell and key lawmakers have agreed to completely repeal the 1978 law that gave teachers the ability to unionize, casting aside an earlier compromise that would have let them continue to negotiate with school boards over a few issues.

They now plan to accept a Senate measure that would ban contracts negotiated by teachers unions and replace them with employee handbooks written by local school boards
." (via the Tennessean)

Yes, all this economic turmoil was caused by those ultra-rich teachers in Tennessee. Problem solved! What's next? Looking for work? Your local school is probably going to hire folks ....

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Superman Renounces U.S. Citizenship

In the landmark 900th issue of Action Comics, the magazine where Superman came to life, the iconic hero has announced he's renouncing his US citizenship - he is American no more. It follows his presence at a protest rally in Iran, where he joined the protest though he took no 'super' actions.

Of course, with the cost of that comic book at 6 dollars, I wish he'd renounce such high prices too. I've always been a comics fan, though when prices starting hitting 3 bucks a pop some years back, I stopped buying them. But I still like them for the most part - they are a fascinating collection of pop art and pop culture which has been constant in the country since Clark Kent, aka Superman, hit the stores in 1938 - and I do read them when I can.

And since comics are also a major source of movies too this is shaping up as a pop culture Event for Supes to chide the world for dividing and attacking each other on nationalistic ideals. (And a way to keep Supes comics selling and to appear popular and topical).

I'm sure the Controversialists of FOX News and such will wail and bemoan such an iconic change, even if it is just one of those "durned heathen funny books". Tennessee has a historic political tie to comic books, thanks to TN Senator Estes Kefauver's infamous Congressional hearings on them back in the 1950s. A Madisonville native, the Democrat senator was charged to probe the effects of comic books on young people and found, of course, they were horrible.

Action Comics number 900 would likely make Sen. Estes Kefauver's head explode.

(Personally, I sort of expected trouble for Superman when he donned a hoodie and started walking across America last fall - an Emo Superman is not a pretty thing.)

Pop Fiction has to change to keep up with Pop Culture - or it becomes dull. Even fictional heroics are defined by the times.

I never was a big fan of Supes - he had too few flaws and too much perfection to drive a storyline. I've been more of a Marvel Comics kind of guy - especially the X-Men, which has this nice subext about life for minorities.

More here at Wired

In an age rife with immigration paranoia, it’s refreshing to see an alien refugee tell the United States that it’s as important to him as any other country on Earth — which in turn is as important to Superman as any other planet in the multiverse."

And here via a FOX News site:

Besides being riddled with a blatant lack of patriotism, and respect for our country, Superman's current creators are belittling the United States as a whole. By denouncing his citizenship, Superman becomes an eery (sic) metaphor for the current economic and power status the country holds worldwide.

Fanboy meltdown!

(hat-tip to TGW for alerting me to this story)

Birther Is Code For Racist

The sideshow carnival act of the Conservative Republican/Tea Party/Reality TV Star Candidates which have been clamoring for that non-white fellow in the White House to pony up proof he's American has been deeply disgusting and got served up a smackdown yesterday by President Obama. For some elected officials, of course, the issue is far from over, because it is not about law, it is about racism.

For Donald Trump and all the networks devoting time and newsprint devoted to this idiocy, they have been after ratings in one of the worst ways, by playing up racial fears.

Goldie Taylor at The said it very well:

When they tell you this isn't racial, don't believe them. This controversy was constructed solely as a way to de-legitimize the presidency of a black man. Those who question the location of Barack Obama's birth are the very same people who would pack up and move out of the neighborhood if someone like me moved in next door.

When they say they want to take their country back, they mean from us.

According to a recent Public Policy Polling survey, a stunning 51 percent of Republicans believe the president wasn't born in the United States. In Mississippi, nearly half of all Republicans believe interracial marriage should be illegal. If they had their way, not only would Obama not be president, he never would have been born.That's how far we have not come.

Some 112 years after my grandfather was snatched from a street corner in the central west end section of St. Louis, it seems we still need to prove our right to be here.

I thought we were better than this."

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

TN Bankers Now Blame Newspapers For Foreclosure Costs

I received yet another angry email from attorney for the Tennessee Bankers Association, Amy Smith, about their plan to make foreclosures easier in Tennessee - but it seems the blame has gone from my rogue and reckless blogging and is now aimed at that dirty, old, money-grubbing newspaper business. The original bill as approved is here.

I'll reprint her complete email below, but first I again must speak my mind.

I might buy some of the TBA's arguments if they had less blamethrowing.

And at least here on this blog, I've linked to the actual locations and names of those whose information I have used - however, the TBA's Counsel offers this with no names attached:

"We have sent response letters to every major newspaper in the state that has run distasteful, inaccurate and misleading articles and editorials about the proposed legislation. But no newspaper has printed our response."

Then NAME these publications. Call them out.

In fact, after explaining the legislation to one of the largest consumer groups with an active lobbying effort in the state (specifically that we intend to file amendments clarifying that the street address must be included, notices must be published two times rather than one, and that this will not change the foreclosure process at all), they are now fine with the legislation."

What group? They have a name don't they?

These claims that the TBA's decision to create and pass legislation which will reduce the amount of time it takes for foreclosure notices to be given to homeowners who have been falling behind is merely a way to protect and save homeowners money just doesn't make sense to me.

Cut out the number of mortgage policies in effect in TN which contractually call for 3 published notices - a protection within a mortgage agreement meant to protect lenders and borrowers and a quite common agreement -- how many would that leave? How old a mortgage or how poorly created would it be to lack such an agreement? Is that number the majority of mortgages held, a minority, half, twenty-five percent?

Yes, I know there is a push by some in the state legislature to remove all public notices from newspapers, with the claim that everyone can access the information via the internet. But we live in Tennessee, which is mostly rural and which has areas without the access to the internet and there are companion bills to allow government itself to start charging higher and higher fees to access "public information". Personally, I say require public notices to be published in print and online both. It's not like we can all assume that government and business always and only have the best interests of residents and voters in mind. If such were true, why vote? Why read any news? Everything is hunky dory!

And since the TBA's legislation has gotten so much negative response, they offer to change the notice reduction from three to one and now to two. So one less public notice - is that going to create any notable change in revenues or just make the process quicker?

Banks pay attorneys to get foreclosures rolling and get those title searches done and get those notices written up and if those costs have become too high, then maybe the banks are being overcharged?

The process in Tennessee can take up to 100 days, but 60 days is the average time from notice to sale of property.

So I am left with many questions about just what problem exactly this legislation is trying to address. And, below, as promised is the complete uncut email from TBA Counsel Amy Smith:


I appreciate you keeping me informed on your posts. In it you asked several questions about what I have done, or not done.

You mention being flattered by the email I sent to you. I assure you this is not the only communication TBA has sent in the past few weeks to critics of our bill. We have sent response letters to every major newspaper in the state that has run distasteful, inaccurate and misleading articles and editorials about the proposed legislation. But no newspaper has printed our response. I suppose the saying is true, “never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel”. The newspapers have nothing to gain by printing our letters (other than, of course, publishing the other side of their one-sided story) and everything to lose – most importantly, revenue.

This legislation will not speed up the process by which banks can foreclose nor it will make the process any easier. Despite what the articles say, the process is much longer than 21 days (on average, 100 days at a minimum) and requires multiple notices – not just the ones published in the newspapers. In fact, the notice in the newspaper is sent to the debtor and co-debtor(s) via certified mail, and this comes after at least three other notices sent over the previous 2-3 months.

This will in no way harm homeowners. In fact, it will only benefit them. As I mentioned, banks are not the ones responsible for paying the costs of foreclosures. Homeowners are. By reducing the cost of the ads, it will save homeowners a significant amount of money.

Unfortunately this message has gotten lost. And, the newspapers are to blame. They are not opposing this bill with everything they’ve got because they have the public interests at heart. They are opposing this bill because it will be a huge reduction in revenue for an industry already in trouble. Their revenues have declined in recent years as many more citizens are turning to online publications, and foreclosure notices are one of their biggest sources of revenue. Take that and couple it with the fact that this year other groups have been pushing to remove other legal notices entirely from the newspapers and post on the internet, and you’ve got the real reason there is so much opposition to this bill. Newspapers fear that even if the slightest reduction in public notices occurs (ie, REVENUE), then what is next??

It is a valid concern, but when you have to choose between newspaper revenue or homeowners foreclosure costs, who should win? It’s an easy question, but with all the misleading and inaccurate stories newspapers have been publishing lately, they’ve managed to portray this as a fight between newspapers/consumers and the banks who are one of the major causing of the housing crisis.

This brings me to another point I’d like to clarify. In your original post, you reference the recent regulatory “fixes” that were just issued for the 14 biggest mortgage firms. I do not deny this. But this is completely irrelevant to this issue at hand. Those banks are not behind this legislation. This legislation has come from the Tennessee banks, mainly the community banks, who know their customers and have good relationships with them and who are active in the community and do whatever it takes to keep a customer in his/her home rather than foreclose.

Banks have nothing to gain by pushing legislation that would speed up the process or cause any less bidders at the sale. This would only serve to reduce the amount of money a home is sold for in foreclosure, which would have only negative consequences for the bank.

I mentioned earlier that one of our biggest challenges is fighting a group that can “buy ink by the barrel”. They can write whatever they want, and trust me, they have, and we have no means to respond to their attacks as they refuse to publish our letters. That is why I responded to you article. Although TBA is fighting a nearly impossible battle in getting our message out there, we have not stopped trying. I spoke to another blogger for over an hour recently about the reasons we support this bill and what its real impact will have on the foreclosure process. I, and other at TBA, have also communicated with other groups who have been mislead by the newspapers.

In fact, after explaining the legislation to one of the largest consumer groups with an active lobbying effort in the state (specifically that we intend to file amendments clarifying that the street address must be included, notices must be published two times rather than one, and that this will not change the foreclosure process at all), they are now fine with the legislation.

Also, you argue that you did not put misinformation in your blog because you obtained this through another blog and newspapers articles. If you truly wanted to print the facts rather, not opinions, you would have done your own research. Everyone knows that there is always another side to the story. In your case, you chose to blog only about the newspapers side…the side that has only their revenue at stake in this."

And again, there it is - only newspapers have revenue at stake in this? Homeowners do. And so do banks.

Monday, April 25, 2011

American Passports Set For Massive Changes

It's about to become next to impossible for an American to get a passport - unless you get it today, or by some fluke, if the so-far-seldom-reported-time for public comment on this idea is not extended.

And I mean it's gonna be tough -

The U.S. Department of State is proposing a new Biographical Questionnaire for some passport applicants: The proposed new Form DS-5513 asks for all addresses since birth; lifetime employment history including employers’ and supervisors names, addresses, and telephone numbers; personal details of all siblings; mother’s address one year prior to your birth; any “religious ceremony” around the time of birth; and a variety of other information. According to the proposed form, “failure to provide the information requested may result in … the denial of your U.S. passport application.”

The State Department estimated that the average respondent would be able to compile all this information in just 45 minutes, which is obviously absurd given the amount of research that is likely to be required to even attempt to complete the form.


"It seems likely that only some, not all, applicants will be required to fill out the new questionnaire, but no criteria have been made public for determining who will be subjected to these additional new written interrogatories. So if the passport examiner wants to deny your application, all they will have to do is give you the impossible new form to complete. (NOTE: This requirement will likely be used if there is "questionable authenticity" to someone's birth records ... so, maybe this is a Birther Bill?)

It’s not clear from the supporting statement, statement of legal authorities, or regulatory assessment submitted by the State Department to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) why declining to discuss one’s siblings or to provide the phone number of your first supervisor when you were a teenager working at McDonalds would be a legitimate basis for denial of a passport to a U.S. citizen.


"Extra points to the person who gives the best answer in the comments to the question on the proposed form, “Please describe the circumstances of your birth including the names (as well as address and phone number, if available) of persons present or in attendance at your birth.”

TN Bankers Association Does Not Like Their Cup of Joe Powell

On April 14th, I published a post about proposed legislation regarding foreclosure laws in Tennessee and my concerns that it would be harmful to homeowners.

On Friday afternoon, I received the following email from Amy B. Smith, Associate Counsel for the Tennessee Bankers Association, which is backing this initiative. I'm always glad to hear from readers and wanted to share the email with the rest of you:

From: Amy Smith
Subject: Proposed Foreclosure Notice Publication Law
Date: Friday, April 22, 2011, 4:05 PM


I just came across your recent blog “TN Legislature Hates Homeowners” and was quite disappointed of the false depiction presented in the title, and especially in the content of what you posted. It could not be farther from the truth, and a little bit of research on your part would have prevented all of the misinformation you cite.

Saying that this legislation will hurt homeowners could not be farther from the truth. The legislation is intended to do just the opposite – it would reduce the financial burden placed on homeowners facing foreclosure by (1) reducing the number of times an advertisement of a foreclosure sale must be published in a newspaper from three times to two (original bill provided for one time, but an amendment will be offered to increase it to two), and (2) clarifying that the advertisement must only contain a reference to the deed book and page number rather than the full metes and bounds description (an amendment has already been offered that further clarifies that the description must also contain the street address and map and parcel number.

Below are a few key points about the bill – what it does, and, more importantly, what it does not do – that will clearly show just how off-base your blog is.

It would only replace the lengthy and hard-to-read metes and bounds description with a reference to the deed book and page number. It would not eliminate or otherwise change the content of foreclosure sale advertisements.

It would not eliminate any actual notice to the debtor. The debtor would continue to receive late payment notices, notice of default, notice of collection, and, most importantly, notice of the foreclosure sale by certified mail.

It would not shorten the foreclosure process, which takes a minimum of 100 days.

It would not affect publication requirements for any foreclosure under deed of trust that specifically requires foreclosure notices to be published three times.

Banks do not pay the costs of foreclosures, property owners do. The cost of advertising in a newspaper can be as high as $2,500.

50% of foreclosures sales that are advertised in newspapers do not happen, which means that those property owners were able to make up their late payments and avoid foreclosure by also paying the costs of the advertisements, which at $2,500, is as much as one or two mortgage payments.

TBA supports this legislation because reducing the cost of the foreclosure process is one of the most effective ways to help prevent a homeowner from losing his/her home once the foreclosure process begins. Banks lose money on foreclosures, and the last thing they want to do is be in the real estate business.

If you have any questions or would ever like to call into question a bill backed by TBA or the character or integrity of our association or the state legislators we support, I encourage you to please research first, write later. Maybe then, you could avoid writing stores as inaccurate and completely misleading as this one.

Amy B. Smith
Associate Counsel
Tennessee Bankers Association
211 Athens Way
Nashville, TN 37228-1603
Phone: 615-244-4871 ext. 116
Fax: 615-324-1994

Now I have to wonder a few things after receiving from such a communication from this organization's legal counsel. First, I'm flattered they think my opinion and it's availability to the public has such worth and value that it demanded a response from their attorney. And I have a few other thoughts too, but first let me share with you the email I sent back to Amy Smith this morning:

Dear Amy,

Thank you for reading my blog and offering your comments as Associate Counsel for the
Tennessee Bankers Association regarding the bill under consideration in the Tennessee legislature. I'm always happy to hear from readers!

And thanks too for your offer to respond to any questions I might have in relation to this
legislation. I'll put some thoughts together and send them along shortly.

I must note, however, you're quite mistaken that I had "misinformation" in my post. The articles I cited, 2 from the NYTimes and 1 from a blogger and 1 from an editorial in the Knoxville News Sentinel, were accurately quoted. Another error you made was that my headline on the post was a statement of fact. It was not - it was a question. And yes, I do have concerns that the current chairman of the TBA, Craig Fitzhugh, is also a House member, and a co-sponsor of this legislation.

The rest of the post was my opinion - which I will continue to offer readers, such as yourself, and to my elected representatives. I look forward to continued communication with you and trust you realize your emails and comments may be used on my blog as I continue to discuss public policy issues in our state government.

Thanks again for your support,
Joe Powell

I wonder if their legal counsel also communicated with the editorial board of the Knoxville News Sentinel, which termed the bill "shameful"? I may be wrong, but I think the AP ran that editorial statewide as well.

I wonder if their legal counsel also communicated with the New York Times reporters or editors whose reports noted that leaders in Congress find enormous fault with the current economic collapse should lay at the feet of our financial institutions?

I wonder if their legal counsel communicated with the blogger at A Disgruntled Republican, which I also quoted in my post, or did they communicate with the EPPC he mentioned, which is opposing the removal of all government notices from publication requirements in newspapers?

Or did their legal counsel just communicate with me about their feelings for my opinion on this public policy issue?

And over the weekend, I read more on the legislation, such as this report by Chas Sisk at the Tennessean:

Proper notice is not going to be given when the process of foreclosure used in this state is one in which it is already pretty easy to foreclose,” said Art Powers, president of the Tennessee Press Association and publisher of the Johnson City Press.

The bill could ultimately threaten the state’s foreclosure law itself, Baker said.

If Tennesseans conclude they are not being told enough about foreclosures, they could demand courts to take a greater role. That would slow the process and lead to costs far higher than the price of advertising, he said.

“This thing is not broken,” he said. “I think it’s a bad bill for both sides.”

Well, as I wrote to Amy Smith, I do have more questions and I do appreciate that she reached out to me to offer to help me understand it. I hope to share more of our discussions and thoughts on this topic and others in the days ahead.

And of course, you are free to share your thoughts here or anywhere else too!

NOTE: See latest UPDATE here.