January 28, 2007

Do You Mean Credit Isn’t Automatically Evil (and Being Debt-Free Isn’t a Bed of Roses)?

Filed under: General,Money Tip of the Day — Tom @ 5:59 pm

Imagine that. The two major takeaways from the SmartMoney.com article are:

  1. There are challenges to living debt-free.
  2. There are times when having certain debts makes financial sense. For example, having a low-rate traditional fixed-rate mortgage with a rate of under 5%, not paying it off more quickly, and investing money you may have targeted towards paying the mortgage off more quickly in a reasonably aggressive manner will ordinarily leave you with more wealth when the mortgage is eventually paid off.

I’ll focus on the challenges to living debt-free in this post.

The biggest challenge is that if you are truly debt-free, you may not even have any credit established — and if you don’t have credit, you often can’t get credit. “Credit” in the broadest sense includes getting services that you don’t have to borrow money to obtain, but for which you still have to present some kind of proof of financial viability to get access to. In this broad scope, not having credit could even affect your ability to get a wireless phone, to avoid having to put down deposits to get utility, cable, or phone service, or to make other supposedly “routine” purchases.

Then there is the hassle you’ll likely face when traveling. Most rental-car companies insist on having a credit card number (a debit card will NOT suffice. More hotels are insisting that you guarantee your room with a credit card (debit cards are somewhat more likely to work here).

Putting the above potential problems aside, most people aspire to owning a home, and most people wishing to be totally debt-free usually don’t have the money to pay cash for a house. A person without a credit history or having a very sketchy one will often have a tough time getting a mortgage loan approved. It shouldn’t be that way, and if I were king of the world, I would force lenders to consider the absence of late payments on routine bills, such as utilities, wireless phone and the like positive evidence of creditworthiness. If lenders felt like they routinely needed proof (a fair request, I suppose), I would want the service providers I just named to report payment history to the bureaus. Voila, the “problem” of being debt-free without evidence of creditworthiness would be solved.

Since I’m not king (yet), the main ways to head off the potential “no credit, no approval” problem in advance of applying for a mortgage are:

  • Get a general-purpose credit card (Visa/MC/Discover/Amex). Use it occasionally, and pay the bill in full when it’s due. The card will at least show up on your credit report (even Amex, as of some years ago). Whether the card’s unpaid balance shows up on the report, even when always paid in full, depends on the card, but I don’t think it matters that much to your perceived creditworthiness whether it does or doesn’t (if you think I’m wrong about that, let me know or leave a comment).
  • If you already have a general purpose card or two already but never use them, do the things suggested in the previous step.
  • If you can’t get approved for a general-purpose card because of no credit history, get a retail card, for which you will get approved if you either a) have a pulse, or b) can fog a mirror when you breathe. Charge a few things on it for 3-6 months and pay it in full, and you will probably have little difficulty getting approved for a general-purpose card.
  • Have a checking account AND a savings account — A surprising number of people who are living debt-free without established credit also live outside the banking system. I like privacy as much as the next person, but this is not a good long-term idea. The credit-application scoring systems (different from your credit score) give a person a lot of points for having an open checking and an open savings account. You may get approved even if you are totally debt-free and don’t have much of a credit history (but don’t take it for granted that this is what will happen).
  • Consider borrowing from a credit union where you are already a customer if it offers mortgages. The rates they offer may be a bit better too.
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Warren County (OH) Illegal Immigration Update: The Stories, Government Action, and Media Letdown (Part 2, Jose Ramon Ocasio Nuñez)

NOTE: I believe this post and the previous one have relevance outside of Southwest Ohio. Many local governments are considering illegal immigration laws, and I find it unlikely that metro Cincinnati is the only area where the city’s newspaper and other media outlets are failing to provide, or are misreporting, basic facts about illegal-immigrant cases.

_____________________________________

When I blogged on the frightening construction-site incident that took place in Hamilton Township in Warren County, OH in July of last year, I called it a possible “sneak preview of the consequences we face, even in America’s heartland, of our government’s decades-long abandonment of border control and immigration sanity.”

One of those feared consequences took place just six weeks later, when 27 year-old Kevin Barnhill was brutally murdered in Mason. As noted in the Part 1 post yesterday (which unfortunately appears to be the only published location of reasonably complete and accurate info about the alleged perpetrators of the crime), three men characterized as “no doubt” illegal immigrants by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have been indicted for murder. One of the three, Enrique Torres, is still at large.

Is it at least somewhat possible that the poor reporting and swept-under-the-rug treatment of the construction-site incident by the local media, in combination with subsequent events that I will detail shortly, emboldened the criminal element in the illegal-immigrant community to believe that it is untouchable? I think so. This is the criminal element that Krista Ramsey of the Cincinnati Enquirer, for one, wants to pretend, in the face of massive proof to the contrary (specifics here and here) doesn’t exist (Ramsey link is to copy of her October 1, 2006 column at the NewsBank library database copied to BizzyBlog’s web host for fair use and discussion purposes).

Let’s go over the facts and chronology of the Nuñez case, starting with one of the better initial reports from local station WCPO-TV on July 14, 2006, the date of the incident:

Police are looking for as many as ten suspects after a fight broke out at a Warren County construction site after an employee was fired and later sought retaliation. It happened at a worksite for All-Good Construction on SR 22 in Hamilton Township.

The supervisor of the construction company reportedly fired the worker earlier in the day after he said the man had repeatedly not shown up for work.

The employee told the supervisor he’d be back as he left the site.

The supervisor said he eventually did make his way back, only this time with a car full of other men who fired shots and repeatedly swung baseball bats at him in what onlookers describe as “pure melee.”

The supervisor called 911 and hid in a nearby wooded area.

It’s a miracle that no one was seriously injured or killed. WKRC’s TV report that evening (video at link loads slow, and may not work in your browser) said that one man “narrowly escap(ed) a bullet to the head by shielding himself with this board”:

http://www.bizzyblog.com/wp-images/BulletBoard

I spoke with Warren County Prosecutor Rachel Hutzel and Hamilton Township Police Lt. Braley earlier this week about the history and current status of the investigation of and prosecution related to the incident, and learned the following:

  • The fired worker, apparently known as Victor “Max” Martinez at the job site, is really Jose Ramon Ocasio Nuñez.
  • Nuñez was arrested on July 17, 2006.
  • A $10,000 bond was set by the county court.
  • The county court has the discretion to allow the payment of an amount as low as 10% of the bond for a suspect to be released.
  • Nuñez was released a few days later without a preliminary hearing after only $1,000 was posted.
  • Nuñez was indicted for Felonious Assault with a Firearm on August 4, 2006. A “John Doe” indictment was also entered to cover whoever else was involved in the incident.
  • Attempts to locate Nuñez have been unsuccessful, and there is a “warrant on indictment” out for his arrest and apprehension.
  • Police and and the prosecutor do not know the identities of the other eight or nine other people who came back to the construction site with Nuñez armed with bats and guns. (I think it’s possible they are holding back what they might know, which would be understandable if they thought that tipping their hand might cause those they are looking for to flee. By the way — Does anyone want to bet against me that one or more of the three illegals indicted for the Kevin Barnhill murder weren’t among the 8-9 others who came back to the construction site with Nuñez? I didn’t think so. — Ed.)
  • Police are confident that most or all of those involved are gang members, most likely MS-13, based on tattoos observed at the scene.
  • Ms. Hutzel said that ICE has told her that there is “no doubt” that Nuñez, pictured below in photos sent to me by the prosecutor’s office, is an illegal immigrant, contrary to some local TV reports shortly after the incident that stated otherwise:
JoseOcasioNunezVar0806
  • Active attempts to find Nuñez and his accomplices have been in place throughout multiple law-enforcement jurisdictions, and they remain in place.
  • Hutzel and police believe that Nuñez is still in the Metro Cincinnati area.

Now, with this rundown of the facts, ask yourself two questions:

  1. First, if you and your fellow gang members had just engaged in a very violent action, the result of which was just one indictment, and where even the one person who was caught was able to game the system and avoid apprehension (thus far), wouldn’t you feel a bit full of yourself and more inclined to cross the line into further violence at the smallest real or perceived slight? I would think so. (Though it may be out there, I have searched and haven’t found any evidence that Nuñez’s effective escape thanks to a bail “down payment” was covered anywhere. In fact, this WCPO-TV story from August 7 mentions the “John Doe” indictment, but at the same time reports that “Nuñez was arrested” — without reporting that he had gotten out on bail roughly two weeks earlier and was at large!)
  2. Second, is it possible that Nuñez et al’s avoidance thus far of any consequences for their actions, combined with the lack of story follow-up by the local media, emboldened those who murdered Kevin Barnhill (some of whom might be the same people)? I believe it has.

All of this brings me back to the points I raised back in October:

The fact is that there is a significant criminal element in the illegal-immigrant population, that they are operating with virtual impunity in Southwestern Ohio, and that the problem is probably getting worse. ….. Local (media’s) failure to inform us of the dangers that exist could cause people to either miss clues that might lead to the apprehension of perpetrators, or could put people unknowingly into dangerous situations. It is totally inexcusable, and breathtakingly irresponsible.

How many more Kevin Barnhills will have to die before our local press and federal immigration officials start doing their jobs?

Why should anyone be surprised that local and county governments (like Mason, noted in Part 1) are attempting to take some control over immigration enforcement?

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UPDATE (and an apology): In that October 2 post, I strongly criticized Channel 12′s Crimestoppers and Wheel of Justice for their handling of the Nuñez situation:

The “Wheels of Justice” link is so weak that it doesn’t even have a picture of Nunez. It also doesn’t bother to chronicle the complete list of charges against him or to completely describe his possible whereabouts (both sections end with ellipses).

Nuñez came off of the Wheel of Justice list some time after that, even though he remained, and remains, at large.

I spoke and exchanged several e-mails with Channel 12′s Crimestoppers/Wheel of Justice reporter Debra Dixon during this past week to find out why Nuñez had dropped off, and to see what needed to be done to get him back on. What apparently happened is that Wheel staff found an indication that Nuñez had been arrested without taking note of the July date of that arrest. They then (I believe erroneously) dropped him from the list as a result.

As of this writing (late Saturday night), I believe Nuñez is on the verge of being placed on the Wheel or otherwise appropriately highlighted at Crimestoppers. I will take note of when that actually does take place. Please let me know or put in a comment if you see it before I get a chance to.

That said, it is clear that what I wrote on October 2, while accurate, was overly critical in failing to note the overall success of a decades-old Cincinnati institution that has done more to combat crime and take dangerous people (hundreds of them) off the streets than any other media initiative I can think of. That context was lacking in my comments about Crimestoppers’/The Wheel’s handling of Nuñez, and as such may have conveyed to some readers that I have general contempt for Channel 12′s outstanding efforts in this area for so many years. That is absolutely NOT the case. I apologize to Deb Dixon and Channel 12 for neglecting to paint the bigger picture while making what I maintain are valid criticisms of how Nuñez’s situation has been handled. Such a lack of perspective won’t happen again, as I’d like to think we’re on the same team.

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UPDATE 2, Jan. 30: I received this e-mail from Cara at WKRC-TV (thanks for the note, Cara):

Hello Tom. There was a misunderstanding today in our graphics department and unfortunately Nunez’s mug was not printed for the Wheel spin tomorrow, therefore, he will be added again next Wednesday. I have been in touch with Lt. Braley in Hamilton Twp. and he knows we will be adding him back on the Wheel, I’m just sorry it isn’t tomorrow.
Thanks for your interest…

Sincerely,
Cara Mia Brooke-McMullen
Local 12 WKRC-TV News
Producer, ‘Wheel of Justice’ & ‘School Crimetracker’

That would be February 7. I’ll be on the lookout. Good to see the movement.

Asbestos: Judicial Hammer Time, Commenter Repudiation, and Old Media Silence

On January 9, at this December 7, 2006 post on asbestos lawsuit double-dipping (“the process by which lawyers file claims at many different bankruptcy trusts on behalf of a single plaintiff”), I received this comment from Brayton Purcell (#11 if your browser doesn’t take you directly to it), the law firm that attempted a fifth dip on behalf of one of their clients, and was caught in the act of doing so by Judge Harry Hanna of the Cuyahoga County (OH) Court of Common Pleas.

The comment is a reprint of the response the law firm sent to the Wall Street Journal in response to Kimberly Strassel’s OpinionJournal.com column in early December on the situation.

The Journal updated in a Monday, January 22 subscription-only editorial, and the results reported make a mockery of the comment referred to above:

The judicial hammer finally came down last week on the California law firm of Brayton Purcell, one of the giants of the asbestos bar. All the firm had done was file a false claim, lie in court and obstruct discovery. But hey, everyone has a bad day once in a while.

The ruling came from Ohio Judge Harry Hanna of the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas, as he barred Brayton Purcell from practicing in his court. In the process, the judge exposed one of the darker corners of tort abuse: asbestos trusts, or funds set up by bankrupt companies to pay legal claims.

The judge is overseeing a suit brought by Brayton Purcell, which claimed Lorillard Tobacco’s cigarettes had caused the late Harry Kananian’s mesothelioma. What emerged in court, however, is that Brayton Purcell and other firms had previously filed numerous claims to other asbestos trusts claiming that Kananian had developed his asbestos cancer for different reasons.

This is called “double dipping,” and because trust payouts are confidential the public rarely learns of these abuses. Our Kimberley Strassel exposed the Kananian scam last year on these pages, reporting on court records showing that Brayton Purcell and its lead attorney, Christopher Andreas, had gone to extraordinary lengths to hide these facts.

In his opinion, Judge Hanna found that Brayton Purcell disobeyed court orders and lied to the court about it; that it had filed a false claim to an asbestos trust, because “this fiction, of course, improved chances of recovery from the trust”; that Mr. Andreas had lied to the court about what he knew about the claim forms and when and had encouraged trusts to resist discovery; and that the lead counsel had shown a “shocking” lack of “respect” during his deposition.

“The record before this court indicates that Brayton Purcell institutionally and Christopher Andreas individually have failed to abide by our rules. They have not conducted themselves with dignity. They have not honestly discharged the duties of an attorney in this case. Therefore, they have forfeited their privileges to practice before this court,” the judge wrote.

Cuyahoga County has long been a mecca for asbestos lawsuits, and tens of thousands are still pending. Judge Hanna and two of his colleagues are charged with overseeing that docket, which means that Brayton Purcell’s banishment is a serious sanction that hurts its pocketbook.

The editorial goes on to hope that the Ohio Bar Association sees fit to take disciplinary action, and that other judges start scrutinizing the documents submitted to them in asbestos-related matters more thoroughly.

The law firm’s comeuppance is a single but significant hard-fought victory over particularly egregious form of legal malpractice, and Judge Hanna deserves the thanks of all remaining legitimate asbestos victims, who may find there is actually money left for them not illegally raided by the likes of Brayton Purcell.

It is also a classic “good guy exposes bad guy’s corruption” story that you would ordinarily expect the formerly Mainstream Media to jump on. But as you can see from this Google News search that located fewer than 20 results (and a few of those are unrelated PR releases), the story has received very little national exposure, and none in the Old Media “newspapers of record,” namely the NY Times, Washington Post, or LA Times (links are to searches on “Brayton Purcell,” in quotes, at each paper, all of which contain no results).

So why isn’t this news? Could it be that anything that doesn’t fit the riding-to-the-rescue template that Old Media seems to favor when covering the plaintiff’s bar really isn’t worth reporting?

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

Positivity: Teammates Forever

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 7:00 am

From ESPN.com — well, just read the whole thing, as the excerpt is just a warmup:

Tuesday, January 23, 2007
Updated: January 26, 11:54 AM ET

Walls, Springs are now teammates forever

By Greg Garber
ESPN.com

PLANO, Texas — His sinewy hands, once lithe and alive, are gnarled and balled involuntarily into fists.

Ron Springs, once one of the best pure athletes on a series of vintage Dallas Cowboys teams, sits in a wheelchair in an oak-paneled room and wrestles with the challenge that sits in his lap:

A bowl of cherries, delivered by his wife Adriane.

With great concentration — the muscles of his jaw tighten with the effort — he forces his fingers to open just enough to scoop a cherry into his hand. Slowly, he lifts the hand to his mouth. Ladles it, really. He closes his eyes, savors the fruit and chews deliberately. He exhales, then spits out the pit. There are about 30 more cherries left in the bowl.

No, Springs’ life is not a bowl of cherries, but he will tell you it’s better than the alternative. Ravaged by type 2 diabetes at the age of 50 — he has already lost his right foot and much of his incessant energy — Springs is waiting for a miracle.

This miracle has a name: Everson Walls. They played together for four seasons with the Cowboys (1981-84) and soon they will be linked by a fist-sized organ. Sometime in March, Walls will give Springs one of his kidneys.

“I don’t see him as a hero,” Springs said. “Heroes are somebody that just did something to get notoriety. He is not doing it for that. He is a dear friend, and he loves me and believes in me and wants to see me have a better quality of life.”

This, in the hurly-burly world of professional football, constitutes an unlikely love story.

“We already know we love each other,” Walls said. “I have never told Ron I love him. He has never told me he loved me. He didn’t have to.” …..