Archive

  • What Drives Credit Card Debt?

    Americans cumulatively have $854 billion in revolving loan (mostly credit card) debt, according to the Federal Reserve. The amount has actually declined since the Great Recession, as credit card issuers tightened their lending standards, borrowers became more cautious, and strong and effective consumer protection laws went into effect, producing substantial savings for households. Still, $854 billion is no small matter, and its source is worth considering. Why do some people stagger under a mountain of credit card debt, paying high interest rates on their outstanding balances and never seeming to come out ahead, while others rarely if ever carry debt for long, despite pulling out their plastic on a regular basis? That’s the question I set out to answer in a new study , which compares two groups of low- and middle-income households with working age adults. The households are statistically indistinguishable in terms of income, racial and ethnic background, age, marital status and rate...
  • Will the Fourth Amendment Go Mobile? SCOTUS and the Fate of 21st Century Privacy

    07-12-09 © billyfoto
    07-12-09 © billyfoto O n Tuesday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in two cases whose outcomes will have major ramifications for Fourth Amendment and privacy rights. Both cases, Riley v. California and United States v. Wurie , involve convictions based, in part, on evidence uncovered from a mobile phone searched without a warrant after the suspect was arrested. (In Riley , the warrantless search was upheld by the California courts; in Wurie , the warrantless search was determined by the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals to have been illegal.) Warrantless searches are, in general, presumptively not "reasonable" and are therefore forbidden by the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures . There are, however, allowable deviations from this general rule. One longstanding exception is that police have a right "to search for and seize any evidence on the arrestee's person in order to prevent its concealment or destruction," as set out in the high court's...
  • Are Liberal Mega-Donors Just As Bad As Conservative Mega-Donors?

    We are not so different, you and I. (Flickr/East Coast Gambler)
    Democrats are spending a lot of time criticizing Charles and David Koch these days, for a few reasons. They'd like to inoculate people against the Koch brothers' political ads, most of which are funneled through Americans for Prosperity (though it's difficult to do that when people have no idea that an AFP ad comes from the Kochs). It's also good to personify the issue of the influence of big money in identifiable individuals, particularly if those individuals are the billionaire owners of an oil company. And, as my colleague Greg Sargent has argued , it's about putting a face on policy differences between the two parties, a way of demonstrating that Democrats are the party of regular folks with an economic agenda to match, and Republicans advocate for the interests of the wealthy. And when people ask those Democrats, "Well, don't you have your own billionaires pumping money into campaigns? How is that any different?" the Democrats reply, "It's totally different!" Do they have a case...
  • Daily Meme: An Execution Gone Horribly Wrong

    Nothing is more likely to make you question the morality of the death penalty than an execution gone horribly wrong. Yesterday, Oklahoma officials attempted to intervene after the lethal drug cocktail administered to death row inmate Clayton Lockett not only failed to kill him, it made him writhe and gasp after he'd been declared unconscious . The episode was disturbing enough that Oklahoma's governor, Mary Fallin, delayed a second execution that was supposed to happen later in the day, calling for a "full review" of the state's execution procedures. A reporter who was on the scene in Oklahoma was so horrified by what she saw that she decided to tweet details from the execution . "Live tweeting an execution seems unnecessary and kind of sick to me," she wrote. "After what happened, I felt like it was important for people to know." Officials are now claiming that the problem wasn't with the drugs themselves, but the way they were administered. But other grisly episodes in which...
  • The Rich, Still Different From You and Me

    Photos by some tool via Rich Kids of Instagram.
    When the news broke that Los Angeles Clippers owner and creepy racist misogynist billionaire Donald Sterling would be banned from the NBA for life (perhaps resulting in him selling the team) and fined $2.5 million, a lot of people probably said, "$2.5 million? The guy's got a couple of billion dollars! Why not give him a fine that'll hurt?" Frankly, I think any fine at all is a little strange in this case. We usually think of fines as punishment for violations of some rule or law, not as a response to someone just being a horrible human being (though there could well be some clause in the the secret NBA owner bylaws about behavior that reflects poorly on the league). The ban, on the other hand, seems perfectly appropriate, even if when he sells the team he'll net a few hundred million dollars on his original $12 million investment. But the fine—and the weird fact that he was about to get a "lifetime achievement award" from the NAACP for his contributions to the welfare of black people...
  • Who's Got the Political Will to Save the Middle Class?

    Demonstrator blocks traffic at December fast-food workers' protest in Washington, DC. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
    AP Photo/Charles Dharapak I t’s not easy being president during an epoch of downward mobility for the American people. The shrinking of the middle class--a phenomenon to which Americans are historically unaccustomed, most particularly during recoveries-- depresses the president’s popularity, drags down that of his party, and generally plays hell with incumbents’ election prospects. That the American people are downwardly mobile was underscored this weekend by a report from the National Employment Law Project demonstrating that while lower-wage jobs accounted for just 22 percent of the jobs lost during the recession, they account for 44 percent of the jobs created since the recession ended in 2010. Middle-wage jobs, by contrast, accounted for 37 percent of the jobs lost during the recession, but just 26 percent of the jobs created since. Median annual household income is still roughly $4,000 beneath its level before the recession started. Indeed, the most alarming polling for the...
  • The Conflicted Voter

    Flickr/marta...maduixaaaa
    One of the most persistent and defining features of American public opinion is that as a whole, the electorate is what political scientists call "symbolic conservatives" and "operational liberals." That is, when you ask them abstract questions they sound like conservatives expressing a dislike of big government. But when you ask them specific questions they sound like liberals, expressing support (and wanting to increase funding) for just about everything government does. The parties understand that, which is why Republicans tend to talk about principles and Democrats tend to talk about programs. This extends to specific policy choices; most of the things on the agenda of Democrats have majority support. So why don't Democrats always win? The answer is complicated, and today, Kevin Drum points us to this odd result in the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll : on most of the issues the poll tested, voters said they trust Democrats more than Republicans, yet when you ask them whom they...
  • Daily Meme: Racist Team Owner Loses Dignity; Keeps Team

    Contemplating how best to celebrate the birthday of the late, great Edward Kennedy Ellington, one of the finest composers and orchestra leaders who ever lived, one might not have considered the banning for life of a racist team-owner from attending the games of his own team, but that’s not a bad way to fête the Duke. But that’s just what happened to Donald Sterling, franchise owner of the National Basketball Association’s Los Angeles Clippers--that, and a $2.5 million fine , which is pretty much chicken feed to a guy who apparently gave his alleged mistress two Bentleys and a Ferrari . However, reports the Los Angeles Times , Sterling, for the time being, will get to keep ownership of the team, unless other NBA team owners find a way to force him to sell. This all stems, of course, from reports of a recorded telephone conversation that has a man alleged to be Sterling telling a female friend not to bring black people to his team’s games, despite the fact the the team comprises mostly...
  • Daily Meme: Post-Racial America From Hell

    It’s been quite a week in post-racial America, beginning with a Supreme Court decision on Tuesday that upheld the results of a ballot measure that barred the use of race-based affirmative action in the admissions process used by the University of Michigan, and exploded this weekend with the utterances, attributed to NBA team-owner Donald Sterling (who like all but one NBA team-owner, is white), of the alleged reputational harm of being seen in the company of black people. In between, a rancher celebrated by Fox News host Sean Hannity , and Republicans across the country, denied that his comments suggesting that “the Negro” may have been better off as a slave were in any way racist. Hannity has since stepped back from his support of Cliven Bundy’s quest to resist the federal government’s insistence that he not graze his cattle on federal land. Sterling, who owns the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team, is alleged to be the male voice on a recorded telephone conversation with friend V...
  • Words, Ideas, Actions, and the Tangle of Race

    Beware of these. (Flickr/Pierre Metivier) (AP Photo of Cliven Bundy/Las Vegas Review-Journal, John Locher)
    We seem to be having one of those moments when a series of controversies come in rapid succession and make everyone newly aware of the relationship between language, ideas, and actions. And naturally, it revolves around our eternal national wound of race. Nevertheless, it's nice to see that in a few of these controversies, we aren't actually arguing about what words mean. This is often a focus of disagreement when somebody says something that other people take offense at; for instance, when Paul Ryan said a few weeks ago that "[w]e have got this tailspin of culture in our inner cities, in particular, of men not working, and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value of the culture of work," conservatives believed he was being unfairly tagged as racist for using a common phrase, while liberals objected to the connection between the word and the idea that followed. There's nothing racist about the term "inner city" in and of itself, but when people say...

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