Saturday, March 5, 2011

Trains passing in the night, Europe going American?

Like 'The Prince and the Pauper', Europe and the USA seem to have reversed roles the past few years.

European countries are grappling with high government debt by cutting budgets.... the USA is grappling with massive gov't debt by , er, well, by NOT cutting budgets, and going into much deeper debt ??

America publishes official gov't documents in many languages and is proud to be a multilingual society , while Europe now is requiring all citizens be fluent in the language of the land (unilingual).

Europe is confronting multiculturalism and Germany's Merkel and several other countries' political leaders have declared it a failed experiment. The USA meanwhile continues to promote multiculturalism as the ideal society and to promulgate that all cultures are equally good.

Europe is erecting barriers both literally and figuratively against waves of immigrants while America continues it's policy of open, porous borders.

As we pass each other going opposite directions on these train tracks, can one ask, Who's heading away from the train-wreck in the future and who is blithely heading toward it?

March 5, 2011

Italy Makes Immigrants Speak Italian

Filed at 7:22 a.m. EST

FLORENCE, Italy (AP) — Svetlana Cojochru feels insulted.

The Moldovan has lived here seven years as a nanny to Italian kids and caregiver to the elderly, but in order to stay she's had to prove her language skills by writing a postcard to an imaginary friend and answering a fictional job ad.

"I feel like a guest," said Cojochru. She had just emerged from Beato Angelico middle school where she took a language test to comply with a new law requiring basic Italian proficiency for permanent residency permits following five years of legal residence.

Italy is the latest Western European country turning the screws on an expanding immigrant population by demanding language skills in exchange for work permits, or in some cases, citizenship. While enacted last year in the name of integration, these requirements also reflect anxiety that foreigners might dilute fiercely-prized national identity or even, especially in Britain's case, pose terror risks.

Some immigrant advocates worry that as harsh economic times make it harder for natives to keep jobs, such measures will become more a vehicle for intolerance than integration. Others say it's only natural that newcomers learn the language of their host nation, seeing it as a condition to ensure they can contribute to society.

So far, Italy is only giving a gentle turn to the screw. Cojochru and other test-takers described the exam as easy. No oral skills were tested.

In Austria, terms are tougher. There, where native speakers have been sometimes known to scold immigrant parents for not speaking proper German to their children, foreigners from outside the European Union need to prove they speak basic German within five years of receiving their first residency permit. Failure to do so can bring fines and jeopardize their right to stay.

The government argues that foreigners who master German can better integrate and help foster understanding across cultures. But, like in Italy, critics say it's a just a pretext for erecting barriers.

"The German language is increasingly being used as a marginalization tool," said Alev Korun, a Turkish-born member of the opposition Greens party who immigrated to Austria when she was 19.

Austria's Cabinet approved new rules requiring most immigrants to have elementary German skills before they even enter the country. They're part of a plan to create a new "red-white-red card" — the colors of the Austrian flag — for a work permit for qualified non-EU citizens aimed at filling gaps left by an aging work force. The legislation now goes to parliament for consideration.

Critics say requiring people to speak basic German before they set foot in Austria would be an unreasonable barrier for people from poor, rural areas who can't afford or access German classes.

"I think this is a very clear form of discrimination of certain type of immigrants," said Barbara Liegl, head of the Austrian anti-racism organization ZARA. "I see massive disadvantages for specific groups."

Terrorism pushed Britain to start strictly enforcing a requirement for English-language competency for prospective citizens. Three of the 2005 London suicide bombers were native Britons of Pakistani descent while the fourth was born in Jamaica.

Since 2005, would-be citizens and permanent residency holders have been asked to prove their command of "Britishness" by answering multiple choice questions, in English, on British history, culture and law, from explaining the meaning behind the fireworks-filled Guy Fawkes Night, to knowing which British courts use a jury system.

Britain's government has pledged to dramatically cut immigration, and the language requirement is effectively a tool to put a cap on the number of newcomers, said Sarah Mulley, an immigration expert at the Institute of Public Policy Research, a London think tank.

Home Secretary Theresa May, who aims to cut immigration to below 100,000 by 2015, said language tests will help weed out those who don't plan to contribute to British life. She has singled out spouses seeking marriage visas to join English-speaking partners as a particular concern.

"There is a concern about long-established communities in the U.K. who are not well integrated, for examples, some of the Pakistani (and) Bangladeshi communities, and that's largely linked to language limitation," Mulley added.

But Mohammed Reza, a Pakistani on a student visa who is studying for Britain's citizenship test, saw language as a path to integration.

"If I'm wearing traditional clothing on my way to the mosque, everyone on the tube (subway) looks at me funny and gives me wide berth," Reza said. "It's hard to beat the stereotype, but speaking English is probably the most important thing for fitting in. That's why I read as much as I can and try to learn the lingo here."

In Italy's case, there has been a much weaker tradition of immigration and no major Islamic terror attacks. Still, a strong spike in newcomers in recent years — along with the very newness of the immigration phenomenon — has fueled a xenophobia surge and boosted the popularity of the anti-immigrant Northern League, Premier Silvio Berlusconi's main coalition partner.

In 1990, immigrants numbered some 1.14 million out of Italy's then 56.7 million people, or about 2 percent, according to the state statistics bureau, ISTAT. At the start of this year, foreigners living in Italy amounted to 4.56 million of a total population of 60.6 million, or 7.5 percent, with immigrants' offspring accounting for an ever larger percentage of births in Italy.

Amid the trend, Northern League leader Umberto Bossi's influence in government has grown ever stronger, his rhetoric often laced with a racist tinge. Bossi once referred to immigrants as "bingo bongos" and has suggested that migrant smugglers' boats off Italy's shores be fired upon with cannons.

Last year, a Northern League lawmaker proposed extending the language requirement to all non-EU citizens who want to open a store or other business in Italy, but the move died in Parliament.

Bossi "represents the extreme" in stands on immigration, said Manuele Bacci, 38, one of a fourth generation of butchers running a shop in Florence's cavernous San Lorenzo covered market. The other extreme, he said, is absolutely no restrictions.

"We need to take a step toward them and they need to take a step toward us," was Bacci's formula for integration.

But many immigrants say they'll be rejected no matter how hard they try to fit in.

Cojochru, the Moldovan nanny and caregiver, hoped obtaining permanent residence would help her bring her two teen children to Italy; they live with her sister in Moldova, where wages are among the lowest in Europe. She was skeptical that the language requirement would encourage integration.

Italians always "see me as a foreigner," an outsider, despite her years in the country and despite her flawless command of the local language, she said.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Tax my neighbors please !

.... because I can't bring myself to give to causes I vociferously support and believe in.

The NYTimes publishes in the wealthiest and most liberal area in the country.

Liberals support higher taxes for government programs that help people down on their luck.

While taxes are forced and mandated for everyone unless you can find the right loophole, charitable contributions are voluntary and open to anyone with a liberal view.

$6million from all it's readers after 3 months of daily articles highlighting the plight of individuals down on their luck !?

This isn't enough to run a small social service agency for more than a couple months.

When it comes to pocketbook action, it appears that liberals want others to pay for their programs, via the government,through forced taxes.

February 19, 2011

A Season of Giving Motivates Donors in Greater Numbers

The 99th New York Times Neediest Cases Fund campaign began Nov. 7 and ended Jan. 30. Daily articles in the newspaper and online offered a window into the lives of New Yorkers coping with poverty and spotlighted how the fund helped ease some of their struggles.

Thanks to money given to the fund, Mary Spencer, who at 102 had outlived her savings, was able to replace worn-out clothing. Patricia Walsh, formerly homeless and barely getting by collecting cans and bottles, bought a bed and a dresser — the first time in her life she had a new bed, she said. Mirna B. López, a Guatemalan refugee who cleans houses for a living, fell behind on her rent after a kidney transplant, but was able to avoid eviction.

As the worst economic slowdown since the Great Depression dragged on, increasing the need for help, there was concern that donations would dry up. But readers responded in greater numbers than the year before. A total of 10,457 donors gave $6,061,024 in the course of the campaign, according to the fund’s accountants. Last year, 10,428 donors contributed $6,280,243.

“We are extremely pleased and honored that our readers have remained so generous,” said Desiree Dancy, the vice president of the New York Times Company Foundation, which administers the fund. “While the dollar amount we received in donations this year was down, the number of online donations increased.”

This year’s total contributions were about 3 percent short of last year’s. Online, 4,689 donations came in, a 13 percent increase from last year’s.

“The percentage of online gifts has climbed to 23 percent of the total, which is remarkable given that many donors have contributed for years by writing a check,” said Cristine Cronin, president of, which manages online donations for the fund. “Donors clearly feel increasingly confident with the security and ease of Internet giving.”

Readers were particularly moved by an article about Thakane Masondo, an 18-year-old who was living in a homeless shelter while attending high school. Many wrote in, offering not only money but a room in their homes and help applying to college. A filmmaker expressed interest in making a documentary about her.

Alice Kenny, spokeswoman for Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, one of the seven agencies supported by the Neediest Cases Fund, said that thanks to the outpouring of support, Ms. Masondo had found a home in the Riverdale section of the Bronx with a family that rents out rooms in its home to international college students; the family offered her a free room.

Two investment banks, Citigroup and Goldman Sachs, continued a tradition of conducting company drives organized by first- and second-year associates. On Feb. 3, the people who led the fund-raising efforts — Matthew Perlman and Caroline McKim Woodworth of Citigroup, and Nat Wells, Matthew T. Healey and Azer Songnaba of Goldman Sachs — presented a total of $286,289 to Ms. Dancy.

The amount was an 81 percent increase from last year’s and the largest sum raised by the banks in any year since the start of their involvement with the Neediest Cases Fund, in 1991. Ms. Dancy thanked the bank representatives and their colleagues for their efforts.

“There was a feeling that everyone was contributing, and that everyone should,” Ms. Woodworth said.

Donations ranged from a few dollars to thousands. An executive at Citigroup matched every dollar raised over $50,000 — excluding his own $25,000 donation. At Goldman Sachs, the company matched employee contributions.

“The articles are the most compelling way to get people to donate,” Mr. Healey said.

Mr. Perlman agreed, saying, “The articles show that you can make a big difference at the margin, with a little bit of money.”

During the campaign, some donors explained what inspired them, including brief notes with their checks or online forms.

Florence Glazer wrote: “Enclosed is a check for $77, $1 for every year of my age. My dad started this with $1, and I am continuing the tradition.”

On, Susan Glenn, inspired by Luke 12:48, wrote, “To those whom much is given, much is required.”

Larry Mark found an envelope on the street, he said: “I picked it up in curiosity, and it contained a couple hundred dollars in new bills. I contacted two local police precincts, but no one reported the missing money.”

So Mr. Mark gave it to the Neediest Cases Fund.

This year, Alquena Reed was a donor, but in the past, she had been a recipient of Neediest Cases aid. She wrote: “Things were really bad for me. I was told about the charity. They said they could help me. They did.”

Every dollar sent to the fund during the 2010-11 campaign will be divided among seven of New York’s largest charities to provide continued emergency assistance. Profiles of some of those people helped will appear in the 100th campaign.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Objective Journalism - NYTimes on the Juan Williams case

The NYTimes tries to take a holier-than-thou high moral ground in this brouhaha by defending the purity of true and objective journalism (high on the mountain) versus opinion journalism (languishing in the depths of underground caves).

But this very article makes the point that strictly 'objective' reporting takes a definitive slant continually by its choice of words and the juxtaposition of ideas that are cherry-picked to not-so-subtly make this an opinion piece.

I've added highlights to show where the use of wording turns soft objectivity into strong subjectivity.

By the way, what about shows like PBS's 'Washington Week in Review' with Gwen Ifill ? A panel of 'objective' , 'real' journalists give their opinions (interpretations?) on the week's stories.

When an NPR journalist like Tom Gjelten speaks on this show 'interpreting' news stories of the week, how is it ANY different than when NPR journalist Juan Williams speaks on Fox?

And isn't Mara Laisson, senior correspondent for NPR, also a panelist on the Fox Sunday News program hosted by Chris Wallace? A program that is explicitly defined to interpret and analyze news stories, not report them.

No breach ' impartiality, a core tenet of modern American journalism ...' with her or Gjelten?

October 21, 2010

Two Takes at NPR and Fox on Juan Williams

NPR’s decision on Wednesday to fire Juan Williams and Fox News Channel’s decision on Thursday to give him a new contract put into sharp relief the two forms of journalism that compete every day for Americans’ attention.

Mr. Williams’s NPR contract was terminated two days after he said on an opinionated segment on Fox News that he worried when he saw people in “Muslim garb” on an airplane. He later said that he was reflecting his fears after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks nine years ago.

NPR said on Wednesday night that Mr. Williams’s comments were “inconsistent with our editorial standards and practices.” According to a report in The Los Angeles Times, Roger Ailes, the Fox News chairman, offered Mr. Williams, who was already a paid contributor to Fox, a new three-year contract worth nearly $2 million in total.

After dismissing Mr. Williams, who was one of its senior news analysts, NPR argued that he had violated the organization’s belief in impartiality, a core tenet of modern American journalism.(the reporter feels the need to define 'impartiality' as 'core' to a 'real' News organization, thus setting up for his argument that NPR is 'true' journalism and Fox News is not.) By renewing Mr. Williams’s contract, Fox News showed its preference for point-of-view — rather than the view-from-nowhere — polemics. (He is tarring ALL of Fox News as being 'point of view' journalism even though in the 2nd paragraph the reporter specified that Williams spoke on an 'opinionated segment' program of the channel). And it gave Fox news anchors and commentators an opportunity to jab NPR, the public radio organization that had long been a target of conservatives for what they perceived to be a liberal bias.( He reinforces the 'all of Fox News is opinionated and conservative' point by lumping anchors and commentators together)

Those competing views of journalism have been highlighted by the success of Fox and MSNBC and the popularity of opinion media that beckons some traditional journalists. (here we have a lament that money is corrupting the purity of real journalists That Mr. Williams was employed by both Fox and NPR had been a source of consternation in the past.

Last year, NPR made it known that it did not want Mr. Williams identified as an NPR employee in appearances on “The O’Reilly Factor,” the Fox News program hosted by the conservative commentator Bill O’Reilly.

“This isn’t the first time we have had serious concerns about some of Juan’s public comments,” Vivian Schiller, NPR’s chief executive, wrote in an e-mail to affiliates.

She said that his most recent comments “violated our standards as well as our values and offended many in doing so.” (it is one thing to violate standards and guidelines of an organization, but here she admits that NPR has shared ('our') values, which is an explicit admittance that the organization has a singular point of view and tolerates no diversity from it)Ms. Schiller, the general manager of before she moved to NPR in 2009, declined an interview request.

Like many other news organizations, NPR expects its journalists to avoid situations that might call its impartiality into question — an expectation written into the organization’s ethics code.(hello Mara Liasson!)

That expectation can erode under television lights and on Twitter. At outlets like NPR, some journalists have found it difficult to not share their opinions, especially when they are speaking in forums that lend themselves to commentary, like “The O’Reilly Factor.”

Kelly McBride, the ethics group leader for the Poynter Institute, a school for journalists, called the Williams case an “object lesson in how different news organizations have different values.” She said the ethics guidelines at many news organizations matched those at NPR.( 'many news organizations' ... implies that 'real' news organizations do this , coming from a Journalism School 'ethics group leader' ... does MANY mean MOST? SOME?)

“If you make some outlandish statement on your Facebook page or at a public event somewhere, you are still representing your newsroom,” she said. “So there are consequences to that.”

The consequences can differ widely, though, depending on the news organization. Mr. Williams is one of just a few prominent liberal contributors at Fox News (hello Mara!), a channel with a bigger bench of conservative contributors.(this is stated - bigger bench of conservative contributors - as a statement of fact, acknowledged as such. Based upon some objective report of these contributors, showing their number and the method used to define them as conservative?) A Fox News spokeswoman declined to comment on Mr. Williams’s new contract. But The Los Angeles Times published a statement from Mr. Ailes, who said: “Juan has been a staunch defender of liberal viewpoints since his tenure began at Fox News in 1997. He’s an honest man whose freedom of speech is protected by Fox News on a daily basis.”

Many prominent conservatives pounced on Mr. Williams’s firing. John A. Boehner of Ohio, the House Republican leader, told National Review Online that “I think it’s reasonable to ask why Congress is spending taxpayers’ money to support a left-wing radio network — and in the wake of Juan Williams’s firing, it’s clearer than ever that’s what NPR is.”

On the “O’Reilly Factor” broadcast that contained his remarks, Mr. Williams had been set up as the liberal foil. ('set up' ? Williams was duped and didn't understand his role bringing a different perspective in debating issues? And he doesn't have the intellectual strength and capital to respond strongly to O'Reilly? ) After Mr. O’Reilly conveyed to viewers that there was a “Muslim dilemma” in the United States, he asked Mr. Williams to explain, “Where am I going wrong?”

Mr. Williams answered, “I hate to say this to you because I don’t want to get your ego going. But I think you’re right.” He proceeded to talk about being nervous on an airplane that had passengers in “Muslim garb.”

Mr. Williams tempered his remarks, though, by reminding Mr. O’Reilly that all Muslims should not be branded as extremists. “We don’t want, in America, people to have their rights violated, to be attacked because they hear rhetoric from Bill O’Reilly and they act crazy,” Mr. Williams said, and Mr. O’Reilly agreed.

Still, his comments quickly came under fire online. On Wednesday, CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, called on NPR to “address the fact that one of its news analysts seems to believe that all airline passengers who are perceived to be Muslim can legitimately be viewed as security threats.”

Mr. Williams said in an essay published Thursday on that he was fired “for telling the truth.”

He continued in the essay: “Now that I no longer work for NPR let me give you my opinion. This is an outrageous violation of journalistic standards and ethics by management that has no use for a diversity of opinion, ideas or a diversity of staff (I was the only black male on the air). This is evidence of one-party rule and one-sided thinking at NPR that leads to enforced ideology, speech and writing. It leads to people, especially journalists, being sent to the gulag for raising the wrong questions and displaying independence of thought.”

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

'For a thousand years ...'

This article is about old fashioned paper-based college textbooks but a quote from a student at Hamilton College caught my attention .

“The screen won’t go blank,” said Faton Begolli, a sophomore from Boston. “There can’t be a virus. It wouldn’t be the same without books. They’ve defined ‘academia’ for a thousand years.

'Defined Academia for a thousand years' ??

When was the Gutenberg printing press invented?

Where there any 'colleges' 1000 years ago? If so, how many ?

How long has any kind of formal education been required and commonplace in the West, elementary thru High Scool type education?

The worst part is that the reporter doesn't mention that this statement is either wrong or meant as strong hyperbole. Probably because the reporter didn't pick up on it or it sounded correct to her.

October 19, 2010

In a Digital Age, Students Still Cling to Paper Textbooks

CLINTON, N.Y. — They text their friends all day long. At night, they do research for their term papers on laptops and commune with their parents on Skype. But as they walk the paths of Hamilton College, a poster-perfect liberal arts school in this upstate village, students are still hauling around bulky, old-fashioned textbooks — and loving it.

“The screen won’t go blank,” said Faton Begolli, a sophomore from Boston. “There can’t be a virus. It wouldn’t be the same without books. They’ve defined ‘academia’ for a thousand years.”

Though the world of print is receding before a tide of digital books, blogs and other Web sites, a generation of college students weaned on technology appears to be holding fast to traditional textbooks. That loyalty comes at a price. Textbooks are expensive — a year’s worth can cost $700 to $900 — and students’ frustrations with the expense, as well as the emergence of new technology, have produced a confounding array of options for obtaining them.

Internet retailers like Amazon and are selling new and used books. They have been joined by several Web services that rent textbooks to students by the semester. Some 1,500 college bookstores are also offering rentals this fall, up from 300 last year. Here at Hamilton, students this year have a new way to avoid the middleman: a nonprofit Web site, created by the college’s Entrepreneur Club, that lets them sell used books directly to one another.

The explosion of outlets and formats — including digital books, which are rapidly becoming more sophisticated — has left some students bewildered. After completing the heavy lifting of course selection, they are forced to weigh cost versus convenience, analyze their own study habits and guess which texts they will want for years to come and which they will not miss.

“It depends on the course,” said Victoria Adesoba, a pre-med student at New York University who was standing outside that school’s bookstore, a powder-blue book bag slung over her shoulder. “Last semester, I rented for psychology, and it was cheaper. But for something like organic chemistry, I need to keep the book. E-textbooks are good, but it’s tempting to go on Facebook, and it can strain your eyes.”

For all the talk that her generation is the most technologically adept in history, paper-and-ink textbooks do not seem destined for oblivion anytime soon.

According to the National Association of College Stores, digital books make up just under 3 percent of textbook sales, although the association expects that share to grow to 10 percent to 15 percent by 2012 as more titles are made available as e-books.

In two recent studies — one by the association and another by the Student Public Interest Research Groups, a national advocacy network — three-quarters of the students surveyed said they still preferred a bound book to a digital version.

Many students are reluctant to give up the ability to flip quickly between chapters, write in the margins and highlight passages, although new software applications are beginning to allow students to use e-textbooks that way.

“Students grew up learning from print books,” said Nicole Allen, the textbooks campaign director for the research groups, “so as they transition to higher education, it’s not surprising that they carry a preference for a format that they are most accustomed to.”

Indeed, many Hamilton students waxed passionate about the weighty tomes they still lug from dorm room to lecture hall to library, even as they compulsively check their smartphones for text messages and e-mails.

“I believe that the codex is one of mankind’s best inventions,” said Jonathan Piskor, a sophomore from North Carolina, using the Latin term for book.

That passion may be one reason that Barnes & Noble College Booksellers is working so hard to market its new software application, NOOKstudy, which allows students to navigate e-textbooks on Macs and PCs. The company, which operates 636 campus bookstores nationwide, including Hamilton’s, introduced the free application last summer in hopes of luring more students to buy its electronic textbooks.

“The real hurdle is getting them to try it,” said Tracey Weber, the company’s executive vice president for textbooks and digital education.

The company is giving away “College Kick-Start Kits” to students who download NOOKstudy in the fall semester, with ramen noodle recipes and a dozen classic e-books like “The Canterbury Tales” and “The Scarlet Letter.” CourseSmart, a consortium of major textbook publishers, is letting students try any e-textbook free for two weeks.

But not every textbook is available in digital or rental format. At Hamilton, for instance, only about one-fifth of the titles are sold as e-textbooks this fall. A stroll through the campus store revealed the price difference. A book on constitutional law, for instance, was $189.85 new, $142.40 used and $85.45 for rent. (Typically, an e-textbook is cheaper than a used book, though more expensive than a rental.)

The expense of college textbooks, which is estimated to have risen four times the inflation rate in recent years, has become such a concern that some politicians are taking up the cause. Last month, Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York urged more college stores to rent books, after a survey of 38 campus bookstores in New York City and on Long Island by his office found that 16 did not offer the option.

On Thursday, students at more than 40 colleges nationwide are planning an Affordable Textbooks Day of Action, organized by the Student Public Interest Research Groups, to encourage faculty members to assign texts that are less expensive, or offered free online.

For now, buying books the old-fashioned way — new or used — prevails. Charles Schmidt, the spokesman for the National Association of College Stores, said that if a campus store sold a new book for $100, it would typically buy the book back for $50 at semester’s end and sell it to the next student for $75.

The buy-back price plummets, however, if the professor drops the book (or edition) from the syllabus or if the bookstore has bought enough books to meet demand. When Louis Boguchwal, a junior at Hamilton who is majoring in economics and math, tried to sell a $100 linear algebra textbook back to the college bookstore, he was offered $15.

“It was insulting,” he said. “They give you next to nothing.”

Thus, the creation of Hamilton’s new nonprofit Web site, So far, traffic has been light: only about 70 books have been sold this fall. But Jason Mariasis, president of the Entrepreneur Club, said he expected sales to pick up as word spread. The site also lists hundreds of other colleges.

Mr. Begolli, a member of the club, recently sold three German novels for $17 on the site. “If I had sold them back to the bookstore, I would have gotten $7 or $8,” he said. “The bookstore is king when it comes to textbook sales. We felt there should be something for students, by students.”

Yet some students have to go it alone. Rosemary Rocha, 26, an N.Y.U. student pursuing a degree in hospitality and tourism management, tallied up her required reading for the semester: $600. “It’s harsh,” she said. “I’m currently collecting unemployment, so that’s not going to happen.”

Instead, she waits to borrow the few copies her professors leave on reserve at the library, or relies on the kindness of classmates. “My friends will let me borrow their books in exchange for coffee or a slice of pizza,” she said. “I very seldom buy the textbooks, but I’m always like a chicken without a head.”

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Jerry Manuel's firing from Mets - A liberal view

Jerry Manuel was fired 2 weeks back as the manager of the NY Mets baseball team after 2 years of high hopes for the team but resulting with poor results.

A liberal's view of Manuel's management record after 2 years might echo Obama's term as president, except of course that fans are much more demanding for results from sports people than from politicians:
  • He only had 2 years under his belt
  • He inherited a mess from the previous manager (i.e. administration)
  • He is not being given enough time due to racism
  • While there was a vast increase in spending on players and infrastructure (new stadium) in the two years, there was no corresponding increase in wins or attendance.
  • Results (a pennant) were promised immediately.
  • The fans (i.e. taxpayers) were promised no increases in tickets (taxes) because of the spending, but everything from tickets to hot dogs and beer increased (taxes and fees).
These management techniques did not seem to help the outcome:
  • They hired the best players (Ivy Leaguers) .
  • Diversity in the management team and the players.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Exception-al Liberal thoughts


Believe in quotas everywhere EXCEPT at the border.

Are against killing anything, anywhere EXCEPT in the uterus.

Believe in spending on everything EXCEPT Defense.

Are against anyone bearing arms EXCEPT criminals.

Believe women and minorities should have equal representation everywhere EXCEPT death row.

Are for affirmative action in every field EXCEPT the athletic field.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Cause of the forclosure processing mess

The biggest banks were bailed out by American taxpayers. And when they need to hire people to process their immense backlog of foreclosures where do they go?

Well it seems that banking is more work that Americans won't do . Or can't do. So they are 'forced' to look for these 'special skills' overseas.

Well, that doesn't seem to be working out too well either.

You have to go to the VERY last paragraphs to learn about one of the major causes of the problems currently plaguing the banks foreclosure operations.

They never wanted to hire people to process and manage mortgages or any resultant foreclosures. Now that they had tons of foreclosures and no experienced personnel, what should they do?

Hire the cheapest workers, provide them with minimal training and overwhelm them with work.

A perfect scenario for massive outsourcing, which is what they did:

And even when banks did begin hiring to deal with the avalanche of defaults, they often turned to workers with minimal qualifications or work experience, employees a former JPMorgan executive characterized as the “Burger King kids.” In many cases, the banks outsourced their foreclosure operations to law firms like that of David J. Stern, of Florida, which served clients like Citigroup, GMAC and others. Mr. Stern hired outsourcing firms in Guam and the Philippines to help.

The result was chaos ....

Globalization !

October 13, 2010

Bankers Ignored Signs of Trouble on Foreclosures

At JPMorgan Chase & Company, they were derided as “Burger King kids” — walk-in hires who were so inexperienced they barely knew what a mortgage was.

At Citigroup and GMAC, dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s on home foreclosures was outsourced to frazzled workers who sometimes tossed the paperwork into the garbage.

And at Litton Loan Servicing, an arm of Goldman Sachs, employees processed foreclosure documents so quickly that they barely had time to see what they were signing.

“I don’t know the ins and outs of the loan,” a Litton employee said in a deposition last year. “I’m not a loan officer.”

As the furor grows over lenders’ efforts to sidestep legal rules in their zeal to reclaim homes from delinquent borrowers, these and other banks insist that they have been overwhelmed by the housing collapse.

But interviews with bank employees, executives and federal regulators suggest that this mess was years in the making and came as little surprise to industry insiders and government officials. The issue gained new urgency on Wednesday, when all 50 state attorneys general announced that they would investigate foreclosure practices. That news came on the same day that JPMorgan Chase acknowledged that it had not used the nation’s largest electronic mortgage tracking system, MERS, since 2008.

That system has been faulted for losing documents and other sloppy practices.

The root of today’s problems goes back to the boom years, when home prices were soaring and banks pursued profit while paying less attention to the business of mortgage servicing, or collecting and processing monthly payments from homeowners.

Banks spent billions of dollars in the good times to build vast mortgage machines that made new loans, bundled them into securities and sold those investments worldwide. Lowly servicing became an afterthought. Even after the housing bubble began to burst, many of these operations languished with inadequate staffing and outmoded technology, despite warnings from regulators.

When borrowers began to default in droves, banks found themselves in a never-ending game of catch-up, unable to devote enough manpower to modify, or ease the terms of, loans to millions of customers on the verge of losing their homes. Now banks are ill-equipped to deal the foreclosure process.

“We waited and waited and waited for wide-scale loan modifications,” said Sheila C. Bair, the chairwoman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, one of the first government officials to call on the industry to take action. “They never owned up to all the problems leading to the mortgage crisis. They have always downplayed it.”

In recent weeks, revelations that mortgage servicers failed to accurately document the seizure and sale of tens of thousands of homes have caused a public uproar and prompted lenders like Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Ally Bank, which is owned by GMAC, to halt foreclosures in many states.

Even before the political outcry, many of the banks shifted employees into their mortgage servicing units and beefed up hiring. Wells Fargo, for instance, has nearly doubled the number of workers in its mortgage modification unit over the last year, to about 17,000, while Citigroup added some 2,000 employees since 2007, bringing the total to 5,000.

“We believe we responded appropriately to staff up to meet the increased volume,” said Mark Rodgers, a spokesman for Citigroup.

Some industry executives add that they’re committed to helping homeowners but concede they were slow to ramp up. “In hindsight, we were all slow to jump on the issue,” said Michael J. Heid, co-president of at Wells Fargo Home Mortgage. “When you think about what it costs to add 10,000 people, that is a substantial investment in time and money along with the computers, training and system changes involved.”

Other officials say as foreclosures were beginning to spike as early as 2007, no one could have imagined how rapidly they would reach their current level. About 11.5 percent of borrowers are in default today, up from 5.7 percent from two years earlier.

“The systems were not ever that great to begin with, but you didn’t have that much strain on them,” said Jim Miller, who previously oversaw the mortgage servicing units for troubled borrowers at Citigroup, Chase and Capitol One. “I don’t think anybody anticipated this thing getting as bad as it did.”

Almost overnight, what had been a factorylike business that relied on workers with high school educations to process monthly payments needed to come up with a custom-made operation that could solve the problems of individual homeowners. Gregory Hebner, the president of the MOS Group, a California loan modification company that works closely with service companies, likened it to transforming McDonald’s into a gourmet eatery. “You are already in chase mode, and you never catch up,” he said.

To make matters worse, the banks had few financial incentives to invest in their servicing operations, several former executives said. A mortgage generates an annual fee equal to only about 0.25 percent of the loan’s total value, or about $500 a year on a typical $200,000 mortgage. That revenue evaporates once a loan becomes delinquent, while the cost of a foreclosure can easily reach $2,500 and devour the meager profits generated from handling healthy loans.

“Investment in people, training, and technology — all that costs them a lot of money, and they have no incentive to staff up,” said Taj Bindra, who oversaw Washington Mutual’s large mortgage servicing unit from 2004 to 2006.

And even when banks did begin hiring to deal with the avalanche of defaults, they often turned to workers with minimal qualifications or work experience, employees a former JPMorgan executive characterized as the “Burger King kids.” In many cases, the banks outsourced their foreclosure operations to law firms like that of David J. Stern, of Florida, which served clients like Citigroup, GMAC and others. Mr. Stern hired outsourcing firms in Guam and the Philippines to help.

The result was chaos, said Tammie Lou Kapusta, a former employee of Mr. Stern’s who was deposed by the Florida attorney general’s office last month. “The girls would come out on the floor not knowing what they were doing,” she said. “Mortgages would get placed in different files. They would get thrown out. There was just no real organization when it came to the original documents.”

Citigroup and GMAC say they are no longer giving any new work to Mr. Stern’s firm.

In some cases, even steps that were supposed to ease the situation, like the federal program aimed at helping homeowners modify their mortgages to reduce what they owed, had actually contributed to the mess. Loan servicing companies complain that bureaucratic requirements are constantly changed by Washington, forcing them to overhaul an already byzantine process that involves nearly 250 steps.