Open Thread for Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Bad news is, a hurricane's coming. Good news is, the cool sign language dude is back!

Bad news is, a hurricane’s coming. Good news is, the awesome sign language dude is back!

Things continue to be weird out there:

  1. Trump sides with Democrats on debt ceiling, throwing GOP plans into chaos — Golly, it almost makes my post yesterday about the way he and Dems sometimes agree seem prophetic. Almost. In any case, I guess he really was ticked off at the GOP leadership…
  2. Hurricane Irma Churns Across Caribbean With Lashing Winds — It hit Barbuda as a Category 5.
  3. Irma’s approach prompts McMaster to order state of emergency — But I mentioned that already….
  4. Plastic fibres found in tap water around the world, study reveals — This is an exclusive by The Guardian (which is why it’s spelled “fibre”). You know what? As soon as I read that, it hit me that sometimes when I drink tap water, it kind of smells like molten plastic…
  5. How Red Sox Used Tech to Steal Signs From Yankees — An interesting baseball story, which I offer in another vain attempt to distract y’all from football. The BoSox supposedly used Apple Watches and other tech to steal signs. Makes me sort of nostalgic for the days when players cheated with a little Vaseline stored under the bills of their caps.
Forget about the curve ball, Ricky. Give him the heater!

Forget about the curve ball, Ricky. Give him the heater!

21 thoughts on “Open Thread for Wednesday, September 6, 2017

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      … which makes it perfect for the summer.

      And of course, it’s not always slow. Once the ball’s in play, things happen pretty fast, on multiple parts of the field.

      But there’s no clock, which is one of the best parts of the game. Any game with a clock has a strike against it with me…

      Reply
  1. Bart Rogers

    Since this is an open thread, thought I would throw this in for something else to consider or discuss. If anyone recalls, a couple of years ago or longer, I made the comment that the crash of 2007 – 2008 was not the fault of the people who bought houses, couldn’t afford them, and therefore, foreclosure. The guy who made $25k but bought a $250k house actually happened on occasion but to a much less degree than the politicians and political parties looking for someone to blame tried to indict as the cause of the crash.

    A report was issued today in Quartz about a study by some very respected economists that supported what I knew all along. The main culprits for the crash was the upper 30-50% who already owned a home, had some cash on hand and engaged in speculative “house-flipping”. “Mom and Pop” would buy up first mortgages with little cash investment, hold onto the mortgage and when the value of the house increased, sold it at a very nice profit. Apparently when the market inevitably slowed down due to massive overbuilding nationwide and the investments in houses they were planning to sell at high profits didn’t materialize, for the most part, they simply walked away and left the banks holding the bag.

    The default rate for the lower income percentile of home buyers was statistically lower than the higher income percentile home speculators and investors. It was like a snowball rolling downhill, gathering more and more defaulters and we the taxpayers ended up holding the check to pay for their greed.

    This is not a blow by blow recount of the article, just the general theme. Sometimes one does feel a little exonerated when a report comes out even years later that supports what he or she already knew but had to listen to the lies and political pandering by the political class.

    Just thought some may be interested.

    Reply
    1. Larry Slaughter

      It was interesting. I read the Quartz article, but I’m too cheap to spring for 5 bucks to read the work it cited. I’m not familiar with Quartz. But the writer seems to interchangeably blame borrowers with higher credit scores and borrowers with higher income. Not an unreasonable stretch, but it made me wonder if the research made this connection somehow.

      Matt Tiabbi has interesting articles on this topic as well.

      Reply
  2. Bart Rogers

    “Not an unreasonable stretch, but it made me wonder if the research made this connection somehow.” Good point and reasonable. But, if it will help, during the boom, I was working for a contractor at MB that specialized in building large high rise condos. One of the project managers was a realtor as well. He kept up with the inventory of unsold condos and homes and just before the bubble exploded, not just burst, the inventory of existing condos and homes and the ones under construction was around 30,000. It may sound high but that is based on the numbers he shared with me. He accurately predicted that by 2007, the huge inventory nationwide would bring the economy down and he divested himself of everything he could to avoid becoming a bankruptcy or foreclosure statistic.

    I know personally of a couple of projects underway and the developers were soliciting some of us to buy a unit with minimal down payment, $5K, and hold onto it until the financing was in place. Several people who had the funds available and bought into it based on what others had already done and made huge profits by “flipping” as soon as financing was in place and the values of the homes or units sometimes doubled almost overnight ended up losing their initial investment but were on the hook for the house or condo because they couldn’t sell it. They had to either follow through or default. Most defaulted.

    Houses and condos that were selling initially for $200k would go up to close to $400k before construction was completed before the bottom dropped out. A friend bought one of the $400k condos recently for $200k, fully furnished. The high rise condo projects that were caught up in the crash ended up being sold as time share units, that was the only market available. A family member made high six figure income selling time shares, it was a great market for a while.

    It was obvious the crash was coming and no one was prepared for the extent of the damage it did to our economy. While it is accurate that many of the homes abandoned or seized under foreclosure were owned by people who couldn’t afford them, the hard truth is that too many got into the market without understanding what could and did eventually happen. Some took the chance early on and invested most of their life savings into the “flipping” market and did very well, sometimes doubling, tripling, and quadrupling their initial investment. But, the ones who got in in 2005 and 2006 lost their investment and declared bankruptcy leaving the lenders holding the bag and eventually, we the taxpayers.

    If I had not been there and witnessed what was going on first hand, I may have been one who believed it was the lower income family buying a home well above their ability to pay for it but knowing first hand what I witnessed, the primary responsibility does belong to the upper end income investors, speculators, and “Mom and Pop” investors trying to increase their finances.

    That is the primary reason I left the company and some of what I will describe as predatory practices that goes against everything I believe in.

    Apologize for the long post but the economic crash has lasted a long time and for too long, the wrong people have been assigned almost all of the blame when in fact, they were not the main contributors.

    Reply
  3. Doug Ross

    More good investigative work by Ron Aiken for Quorom.

    Paid content:
    http://quorumcolumbia.org/2017/09/06/documents-show-richland-county-paid-5m-to-outside-law-firms-over-past-year/

    Summary:

    Documents Show Richland County Paid $5M To Outside Law Firms Over Past Year, County Won’t Say What For

    $4 Million Went To Single Firm Connected To Attorney General And Richard Quinn & Associates
    By RON AIKEN

    A review of more than 500 pages of financial records and legal documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by Quorum shows Richland County paid $5 million in legal bills from May 2016 to August 2017 to six different outside firms, the vast majority of which — $4 million — was paid to Willoughby & Hoefer, a firm whose deep connections to S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson and political consultants Richard Quinn & Associates have been the subjects of recent reporting about the ongoing Statehouse corruption probe led by First Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe.

    Willoughby & Hoefer’s fees — including a single payment $3.15 million on Aug. 1 — are more than 10 times the amount charged by the next highest-billing client, McNair Law Firm, which billed the County $355,000 over the same 16-month period.

    The amounts are easy to discover. The work performed for them is not.

    —–

    In the article, it explains the FOIA request made by Aiken for invoices related to legal expenses were provided but with basically all the invoice details were heavily redacted so there is no way to tell what the millions of dollars were spent on. (What have they got to hide?)

    It is Aiken’s assertion that the legal bills were related to the Penny Tax — which is not allowed as the Penny Tax is supposed to be self funded.

    “This week Quorum asked Willoughby & Hoefer, County spokesperson Beverly Harris and County
    Administrator Gerald Seals whether any penny tax projects were in the scope of Willoughby & Hoefer’s work and whether any penny tax funds were used either to directly pay or reimburse other accounts used to pay Willoughby & Hoefer. Quorum has received no response from either party to the contract.”

    So much money has been misspent on the Penny Tax program that people don’t even know about. All the parties who pushed so hard for this tax should be actively involved in making them accountable. But that doesn’t happen… that’s exactly what those running the program hoped for. A slush fund without any oversight.

    Reply
    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Question the expenditure, of course, but these “connected to” things get rather silly sometimes.

      Let’s see… to whom is Willoughby and Hoefer connected?

      Well, the first connection that normally comes to mind would be Jean Toal. She’s a Hoefer, and I believe John Hoefer is her cousin.

      It gets deeper. The firm, like a number of SC law firms, has been a client of ADCO. Gasp!

      As for its connections to the business community, the firm owns the very building that the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce occupies! And you know the Community Relations Council, on which I serve? It, too, is a tenant in that building!

      I’ve run into Mitch Willoughby a number of times at my club — I suspect he may be a member!

      In fact… in fact… my own first cousin was once an attorney in that firm!

      Now, take a deep breath, and let me tell you the truth: While I’ve been in the building many times (for CRC and Chamber meetings and events) I’ve never in Willoughby & Hoefer’s offices. I, personally, have done no work for them as near as I can recall. I don’t personally know any of the attorneys, except Mitch Willoughby — and I only know him to say hello to. In fact, whenever I run into him, he reintroduces himself, apparently uncertain that I’ll remember him.

      But do you see how easy it is to make it LOOK like we are closely connected, and — in the mind of a suggestible public — stain the firm with my perceived sins and vice versa?

      So WHAT if you can draw lines from W&H to the Quinns? Do you have reason to believe the firm did anything wrong? If so, what?

      Reply
      1. Doug Ross

        How do we question the expenditures if we don’t know what they are for? Why would they be redacted? Why won’t anyone comment on it?

        Rather than branch off into areas that are NOT related to the question at hand, why wouldn’t it be better to focus on the relationships that are mentioned? Follow the chain of evidence until it stops.

        Did Willoughby work on Penny Tax work that was not authorized to be paid by the County?
        If so, who authorized those payments? If not, we are done.
        Next:
        Is the person who authorized those payments is associated with the Quinns in any way?
        If so, what is the relationship and is it of a financial nature? If not, we are done.
        Did the Quinns receive any money for supporting the Penny Tax? If not, we’re done.

        Perhaps you haven’t ever heard of the term Good Old Boy Network? That didn’t get invented out of thin air. Much of what happens in and around government is through relationships from A to B to C. And those relationships exist to gain power and money. These are not saints we’re dealing with.

        Reply
        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Actually, to be pedantic, those are two things: There’s the term “good old boy,” and there’s the term, “old boy network.” (I wrote a column about this in 2008.)

          “Good ol’ boy” is kind of a redneck thing. It’s a guy who may drink too much and talk too loud and get kind of rowdy on a Saturday night, but (according to the theory) there’s no great harm in him. You can trust him, and he’ll have your back in a fight. As time wore on and Southern white males fell more and more out of favor, it became widely seen as a pejorative, but originally it wasn’t — at least, among Southern white males. Originally, there was nothing ironic about the “good” part.

          “Old boy network” is an older phrase, referring to a very different world. At elite, all-male British public boarding schools (which Americans call private schools), a pupil who’s been there awhile is an “old boy.”

          The “network” part comes from the fact that the bonds those boys formed in school will bind them together throughout their careers, giving them advantages (at least, in terms of dealing with fellow old boys) over outsiders. That’s the way it traditionally worked in British public life.

          “Old boys” are not “good ol’ boys.” They belong to very different social classes.

          But yeah, people have been mashing the two concepts together for decades now. Carroll Campbell popularized “good ol’ boy system” in the ’80s.

          But since it’s contradictory, it still makes for a slippery phrase…

          Reply
          1. Doug Ross

            Yeah, well as you said, it’s been used for decades — I heard it used even in my earliest days of working in Massachusetts which isn’t a bastion of Good Old Boys.
            So whatever the derivation, spending time to “correct” me is probably a waste of pixels.

            Reply
              1. Brad Warthen Post author

                It’s your fault. You said, “Perhaps you haven’t ever heard of the term Good Old Boy Network.”

                That reminded me that not only had I heard of it, I had a LOT to say about it… And while maybe it didn’t “get invented out of thin air,” it IS a hybrid phrase invented within my adult lifetime…

                Reply
        2. Brad Warthen Post author

          Now, as to the substance of the questions you raise… there’s a theme: Anything that has anything to do with the Penny Tax is BAD.

          But I don’t know whether this has to do with the tax or not, and that doesn’t seem to be the point anyway. The issue here seems to be (going by your account of what you read) whether funds that should not have been spent on matters relating to the Penny Tax were in fact spent for that purpose.

          That’s the question Ron raises. And I don’t know the answer.

          To me, there’s a larger issue: The county should not be spending a dime, much less five million dollars, without accounting to the public for the expenditure.

          I’m not clear on the facts here, but I’m guessing the county is trying to hide behind the attorney-client privilege loophole in South Carolina’s Swiss-cheese FOI law. Still, as weak as FOI is in this state, I find it incredible that it’s legal for them to hide this.

          And even if it IS legal, it’s wrong. On something like this, the county should go FAR beyond what the law requires…

          Reply
          1. Doug Ross

            Aiken addresses the possible excuse of “attorney client privilege” –

            “For governmental watchdog John Crangle of the Progressive Network, the sheer amount of money spent on outside counsel is almost as extraordinary as the County’s redaction of specific work done.”

            “As for whether the billing is legitimate, unfortunately we can’t say. (The firms) may very well be doing work to justify billing such large amounts of money, or maybe there’s what I call a lot of ‘cotton candy’ on the invoice. You need specificity, you need to know what work was performed. It’s all bull (expletive) to black that out.

            “What’s the justification for that? If you say it’s because of attorney-client privilege, that only holds up for personnel or contractual issues. And the client in this case are the taxpayers, not staff or Council, because they’re the ones paying the bills. It’s outrageous that the County Attorney (Larry Smith) would agree to allow the attorneys providing public services to be excluded from discovery by the public. The public, the taxpayers, are entitled to know what services were being rendered to justify those fees. It’s irresponsible of Council to allow it.”

            Reply
            1. Bryan Caskey

              Being a lawyer, one issue I deal with on a regular basis is attorney’s fees. First, attorney’s fees are really important. If we didn’t have attorneys’ fees, then we wouldn’t have any attorneys, and I think we can all agree that would be really bad. :)

              Seriously though, I deal with it on a regular basis because a lot of the litigation I am in allows for the court to assess attorneys’ fees against the other party. It’s not required, but it’s allowed. Accordingly, everyone seeks them in their formal pleadings. However, when you’re seeking attorney’s fees as part of your legal claim you run into a matter of proof. Naturally, you have to prove that part of your case just like everything else you would have to prove. This means you have to eventually submit your billing statements to the Court as evidence. Just like any other evidence, you can be cross-examined on them by the other side if they believe them to be unreasonable or whatever.

              Now, this runs up against attorney-client privilege, which is one of the cornerstones of our jurisprudence. Quite often, I come across a lawyer who makes a claim (legally) for their attorneys’ fees to be paid. My first response is to request their billing statements, invoices, and payment receipts, as part of my basic written discovery so I can verify this claim. Quite often, I get a response that is essentially “My billing records are attorney-client privileged, so you can’t see them.” This is both right and wrong.

              Yes, billing statements may contain attorney-client privileged information. For instance, in a divorce case, an entry on a statement could look like something like: “Spoke to client about issues related to her drug use and adultery and advised re: same .5” (.5 means half an hour).

              Obviously, what the client tells the lawyer and what the lawyer advises the client is privileged and is not to be disclosed. Attorney-client privilege is a shield against the disclosure of that information However, when a client is seeking to be reimbursed for the lawyer’s time, they are using the same issue as a sword against the other side.

              The law does not allow you to use your attorney fees as a sword and at the same time use the concept of attorney-client privilege as a shield to completely blind court and the other side from seeing what time has been expended for what. The remedy for these two opposing forces is to simply redact the bill as to issues that are attorney client privileged, which is specifically the information conveyed to and from the lawyer and client. The amount of time spend on the issue is not privileged. In my practice, I simply strive not to include specific information in the bill. Rather, I try to make it vague enough that it isn’t descriptive of the issue, but specific enough that it shows what I was actually doing.

              That’s all a long explanation of why I don’t buy this idea that a municipality can hide behind attorney-client privilege when it’s seeking to have it’s attorney’s fees paid by public funds. The billing statements should be available, and if necessary, specific attorney-client privileged information can be redacted. If the city is asking for the public to pay for some attorneys, the public has the right to know what services were being provided, how much time was spent, and what the rate charged was. To use attorney-client privilege as a blanket defense doesn’t hold up.

              Reply
                1. Brad Warthen Post author

                  OK, just on the off chance that was based on a real client, I now feel bad.

                  You know the semi-flippant thing I did about not knowing who famous poet John Ashbery was the other day? Well, I got this response to the Tweet about it:


                  So I felt bad.

                  I wrote back that I was sorry for the family’s loss, and my correspondent replied, “Thank you, Brad. He was one of a kind. A giant.”

                  So no poet jokes today, alright?

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