Monday, August 31, 2009
There were parades, food vendors, public art, live music, bike repairs and information all along the 6-mile route. And smiles, lots of smiles. I got out to enjoy the rare opportunity to bike freely down some major thoroughfares and saw lots of people out enjoying the heck out of the day (which, thankfully, turned out rather beautiful - especially compared to the week we'd been having).
I would have liked to seen more in the way of bike education - people talking about the various bike paths and routes we have in the city, urging people to be active in lobbying for better bike and pedestrian access, and more outreach to lower income areas about how to get a basic, cheap bike and get around that way. Overall, though, I thought it was a great first year and a remarkable event. It takes some time to get everything right, after all.
Of course, there were plenty of detractors: Mostly people who found their vehicle paths through the city blocked, as well as those who rely on the buses to get around. The latter I can forgive, but honestly, drivers, can't you handle one day without immediate access? There were other ways to get around the RtD traffic - maybe adding a few minutes to your commute, but that's small beans compared to what those who travel by foot or bike have to put up with on a daily basis. You'll pardon me if I have little sympathy.
Ultimately, though, the whole thing seemed to go over quite well, and I'm hopeful that Madison will make this sort of thing a tradition. I'm also hoping, and planning to work for, better non-vehicle access to all parts of the city in the future. We all need to work together--bikers, pedestrians, and drivers alike--to make this a more livable place for everyone.
Thursday, August 27, 2009
I have to give credit where credit is due: those industry insiders definitely have their lines down pat. The claims run from them offering a "necessary" service to people who wouldn't otherwise be able to get access to needed funds, and that looking at the APR for these "short-term" loans is unfair.
It's a well-polished line, for sure. Thankfully, Rep. Hintz and 58 of his fellow legislators aren't falling for it. AB 392 (the Predatory Lending Consumer Protection Act) was officially introduced yesterday. If passed, it would place a 36% interest rate cap on payday lending stores - a number decided upon by Congress when it passed similar legislation to protect military families from shady lending practices.
I have no doubt that the bill faces a massive uphill challenge. The payday lending industry has faily deep pockets and lots of lobbyists. Don't be surprised if you start hearing a lot from both sides of the issue in the coming weeks and months. But don't be fooled. Regulating the rates of these loans is a crucial part of keeping the most vulnerable members of society from falling into traps that will only serve to keep them vulnerable. It's not the end-all-be-all solution to the much larger problem, but it's an important facet.
You can be sure I'll be writing more about this in the future--going more in-depth, interviewing the people involved in the issue, etc.--so keep your eyes peeled.
Read Rep. Hintz's press release about the bill here:
Predatory Lending Consumer Protection Bill Formally Introduced
with Strong Legislative Support
AB 392 introduced with 58 legislator co-sponsors
OSHKOSH–Rep. Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh) introduced the Predatory Lending Consumer Protection Act with strong bi-partisan legislative support. Assembly Bill 392 will protect against predatory lending by enacting a 36% interest rate cap for payday lending stores. The bill was introduced with 43 co-sponsors in the State Assembly and 15 in the State Senate.
“This unprecedented level of support demonstrates that predatory payday lending reform is a high priority for the legislature” said Hintz. “Passing AB 392 into law is necessary and long overdue. Taking advantage of people in desperate times with no consideration of income and unaffordable repayment terms erodes worker earnings and for many imposes a high-cost debt burden that can be devastating. Unregulated payday lending is neither a necessary service nor sustainable model for the long-term economic prosperity of our state.”
Currently, Wisconsin payday lenders can charge triple-digit interest rates. A study by the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions reported the average APR for a payday loan is 542.2%, while the average annual net income of payday borrowers is less than $19,000 and that over half of the loans analyzed were refinanced.
In 2005, Wisconsin consumers paid an estimated $124 million in fees. Bankruptcy, evictions and taxpayer assistance are not uncommon results. This crushing debt exacerbates income inequality and undermines long-term economic prosperity.
AB 392 establishes a uniform protection through a rate cap that will:
- Protect against unaffordable repayment terms
- Eliminate the lack of consideration of a borrower’s outstanding debt payments or ability to pay
- Reduce the never-ending debt cycle of high-cost debt
- Protect worker earnings and benefits
- Save citizens millions of dollars annually
- Provide to our citizens the same protections we provide active military members and their families
“The $40 billion payday industry will fight any meaningful reform efforts to preserve their profits made off of the vulnerable who can least afford to pay it. That is why the strong support in the Assembly and Senate is so encouraging. We have the opportunity to do what is right for our citizens and our state.”
Payday lending is a relatively new phenomenon rising after Wisconsin eliminated its usury law in 1995 that capped interest at 18% to enable creditors to compete nationally. The unintended consequence was the rise of predatory payday lending. In 1995, Wisconsin had 17 payday lenders; today there are more than 542. Rates charged today were illegal for most of Wisconsin’s history.
Payday lenders have become such a problem that some communities in Wisconsin have taken matters into their own hands and passed local ordinances. The list of communities that have addressed this include Milwaukee, Racine, Pleasant Prairie, West Allis, Green Bay, and Superior. But what Wisconsin really needs are statewide protections to prevent lenders from just relocating over boundary lines.
The Predatory Lending Consumer Protection Act establishes the same 36% interest rate cap that Congress enacted in 2007 after determining it was necessary to protect military personnel and their families from the debt trap. Fifteen states and the District of Columbia have either prohibited payday lending outright or established a two-digit interest rate limit.
“It is no longer acceptable for the Legislature to look the other way and ignore this problem. Wisconsin fails to have any law or meaningful regulation on the books. We will always have a challenge providing credit to people outside the financial mainstream. But ending the most abusive (and profitable) lending practices and encouraging reasonable credit services will enable people needing these services to keep more of their income. Passing AB 392 is the first step. It is time to pass the Predatory Lending Consumer Protection Act to curb abusive payday lending in Wisconsin.”
AB 392 has a strong constituent support. Wisconsinites for Responsible Lending (WRL), a grassroots constituent based organization formed in support of AB 392 represents a diverse coalition of organizations including Wisconsin State AFL-CIO, AARP, Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee, and La Casa de Esperanza, Inc. (Additional information about WRL and its members can be viewed online at http://www.consumer-action.
The bill also has the support of the Wisconsin Catholic Conference and the proposal was a part of U.S. President Barack Obama’s Plan to Strengthen Working Families.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
I had to chuckle, though, that I'm sharing the slot with none other than Dave Blaska, Daily Page blogger extraordinaire and one of my favorite targets for criticism. He also seems to be laboring under the delusion that I think he's my father, perhaps lending credence to a theory I've been working on wherein Blaska believes he and I have a Luke/Darth Vader type of relationship. Either that, or the guy never saw an oft-satirized anti-drug ad from the '90s.
Many congratulations to Nichole and JM of Eating in Madison A to Z for taking a well-deserved first place in the poll, and also to Greg at Caffeinated Politics for coming in second.
I have to say that I was also tickled beyond all get out that my band, Little Red Wolf, was voted the #1 Favorite New Local Band in the poll. We were all pretty flabbergasted by the result. My sincere gratitude to everyone who voted for us, and to everyone who has been supporting this new musical venture. We're having a blast and hope to continue for a long time to come.
Friday, August 21, 2009
JB Van Hollen, Wisconsin's current AG, has just announced that he will not defend the state in a lawsuit filed by Wisconsin Family Action challenging the same-sex domestic partnership registry that was passed as part of this year's budget and went into effect on August 3.
This is interesting simply because of all the speculation over Van Hollen's ability to put his presumably non-partisan job over his politics (he's a registered Republican) that first arose when he initially ran for the office. The allegations again surfaced when he was pushing for what could have been massively disruptive voter registration checks during the fall elections.
It gets especially fascinating when taken alongside the federal Department of Justice's decision to defend DOMA against a lawsuit brought by a gay couple that wishes to be married. Though the DoJ has since issued a memo stating that they, along with the Obama Administration, believe DOMA to be discriminatory and in need of repeal, but that they're still obligated "to defend federal statutes when they are challenged in court. The Justice Department cannot pick and choose which federal laws it will defend based on any one administration's policy preferences."
(Of course, the fact that the DoJ has, historically, done just such picking and choosing seems to fly right over their heads here, but technically they're still correct that they're supposed to defend all federal laws--if they are looking to see it eventually overturned, though, they'll need to start using less inflammatory language in their legal briefs)
I'm of the personal opinion that defense of such blatantly discriminatory laws is not warranted, and that our national charter of equality for all should always trump deeply flawed legislation. But I can also understand if, legally, the DoJ is supposed to defend them all regardless.
So then I'm particularly impressed at Van Hollen's apparent dismissal of his own job description. He was elected by the people of Wisconsin to uphold the state's laws, no? Of course, his public argument seeks to get around all that:
"My decision isn’t based on a policy disagreement," he said. " As Attorney General, I prosecute and defend laws that I wouldn’t have voted for if I were a policymaker. That is what I believe the job entails.What if the amendment is illegal, though? There's also a lawsuit currently pending that challenges the legality of the law because it allegedly violates the rule that you can't have a single vote for two or more issues. Wisconsin's marriage amendment does, in fact, appear to violate that rule by including the ban on gay marriage as well as a ban on "anything substantially similar" to marriage.
"But I will not ignore the Constitution. My oath isn’t to the legislature or the governor. My duty is to the people of the State of Wisconsin and the highest expression of their will -- the Constitution of the State of Wisconsin. When the people have spoken by amending our Constitution, I will abide by their command. When policymakers have ignored their words, I will not."
Staunch amendment backers like Julaine Appling of WFA were careful to vehemently deny that the law would effect things like domestic partnerships, but that's exactly what they're now trying to do. And it looks like Van Hollen is on their side.
All of this hubbub could make for a great case when the lawsuit challenging the legality of the amendment goes to court. Clearly, it was talking about more than one thing, otherwise Van Hollen and WFA wouldn't be up in arms about the domestic partnership registry (which, it's important to remember, only affords 40 of the 200 rights married heterosexual couples get).
I still have to wonder, though - can we recall Van Hollen for dereliction of duty while we're at it?
Thursday, August 20, 2009
The most recent legislative response to said discussion comes from Sen. Judy Robson (D-Beloit) in the form of a bill that would alter the current law that allows persons under 21 years of age to drink in a bar so long as they're with their parents, guardians or spouse. "Bartenders are given the discretion to determine whether the child should be served."
The new bill would still allow those people between 18 and 20 years of age to drink if accompanied. Under 18, though? No more booze for boozy.
I'm of the opinion that the general legal drinking age should be brought back to 18 anyway. If you're allowed to vote, go off to war, and legally be considered an adult in general, why not be able to decide if you'd like a few nips or not?
But I also believe that the new bill makes a certain degree of sense. I'm not entirely convinced that a blanket restriction on under-18 drinking is the way to go, though, because there are exceptions to every rule - but overall, and call me a cynic, I don't think legal guardians are always the best judges of when and how much alcohol a minor should consume. Frankly, I think a lot of people make piss poor decisions - for themselves, and for their kids. This may well put me at odds with a lot of people, including The Sconz, who argues that "Parents who take their teens to wine tastings should not be decried for encouraging alcoholism, but lauded for encouraging moderation."
Problem is, there are far too many parents who don't know what moderation is, and who pass their bad habits on to their kids. That's liable to happen regardless of if it's at home or in public, but making it legal for them to do so out at the bars just makes the state an enabler.
Teaching moderation and responsible drinking habits, coupled with rigorous enforcement and punishment (you know, actually holding drunk drivers responsible sooner rather than 8 tickets later), are the best tools for curbing bad alcohol-related trends in this state. I don't think the former is accomplished by allowing children to belly up to the bar and throw a few back with their folks.
Monday, August 17, 2009
This leaves several questions floating in the air, the most obvious of which is which Democrats will step in to run now that Doyle is out?
There's been a lot of speculation about current Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton jumping into the fray, especially since she's been making public moves to distance herself from Doyle's policies in recent weeks. Lawton has long been seen as more liberal, so those sorts of decisions would certainly play well to the left-leaning citizens tired of Doyle (I, for one, will be glad to not have him making speeches at various state events anymore--the man's oration skills are cringe-worthy).
Also proposed as a possible candidate is Rep. Ron Kind, who's a moderate-but-not-Blue-Dog Democrat from the western chunk of the state. He might be good, but some have (rightfully, I suspect) suggested that Kind may be looking instead to inhabit Sen. Herb Kohl's seat at some point in the future. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett's name has also been thrown into the ring, especially after his very recent turn as public hero earned him some seriously good press.
Normally I'd say that mayors don't have the best chance of winning a governorship, solely because of a lack of statewide visibility, but the Barrett incident may well change things for him. Hard to say for sure.
Whoever ends up being the Dem's candidate, I just hope they'll give the Republican challengers a good run for their money. I am not a fan, to say the least, of either Milwaukee County Supervisor Scott "Can't Take Care of His Own County Let Alone A Whole State" Walker or Mark Neumann (currently the top two GOP contenders).
And then, what will Doyle do with the $2 million in campaign contribution's he's collected? It's not exactly chump change. One hopes he'd use it to support whoever runs in his stead, whether by returning it to donors so they can then give it to that person, or by making (within legal limits) donations of his own.
One thing that has the potential to be very interesting is what Doyle does in his final months as governor. Since he's not campaigning and trying to win more wide-ranging votes, will he step up and pass more contentious legislation? What will his focus be? He has the potential for becoming a lame duck, sure, but there's always a chance that Doyle will surprise us. Whether it's a good or bad shock, of course, remains to be seen.
UPDATE: And awaaaay we go! An aide to Lt. Gov. Lawton says she does intend to run.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
No caveats, no conditions, no strings. Everyone. Health care is and should be treated as a fundamental right. Instead, certain individuals and groups in my poor, confused country are trying to make the opposite argument. They're doing it through the use of scare tactics, gross distortions, and blatant lies. And all the while, they're willfully stirring up fearful, ignorant masses and egging them on toward massive public disruptions and even violence, making meaningful debate about this incredibly crucial issue almost impossible.
It's fucking despicable.
The most vocally anti-health care reform Republicans have decided that their own political ambition and desire to see Obama taken down a peg or two trumps the well-being of their fellow Americans. That's the cold, hard truth of the matter. Petty backstabbing and one-upsmanship has taken precedence over honest discussion and work toward bettering the health care situation for their country.
How we've allowed this to happen is beyond me. There's plenty of blame to go around: Democrats too spineless to stand up for what's right or make clear what's really in the bill, politicians too willing to sacrifice work for the great good in the name of ambition, everyday folk too susceptible to the bald-faced lies and fear mongering, a media too ready to spend more time covering nonsense than issues and events that really matter.
The underlying issues are even more complicated. It's fairly obvious that questions of race and class insecurity permeate much of this debate. Selfishness, ignorance, pride, arrogance, and greed play their part, too.
But I want to scream at the top of my lungs that the health and well-being of our fellow citizens should always trump that sort of shit. Always. And how anyone can allow themselves to be distracted from that fact...I spend more time shaking my head these days than not.
- Upwards of 47 million Americans do not have health insurance.
- 8.6 million of those are children.
- The United States has the second worse infant mortality rate in the developed world.
- Prescription drug prices are some of the highest of any industrialized nation.
- More than 60% of bankruptcies in this country are caused by medical bills. (Sidenote: I have personal experience with this, and it's a major sore spot to this day - bankruptcy due to the care of a dying family member, or any other medical situation, should never happen)
- Yet more startling statistics here.
The numbers are not good. The personal stories of those effected are even worse. So it should be glaringly obvious to most everyone that serious reform of the health care system needs to be undertaken right now if we're to avoid an even more massive economic and social meltdown.
And yet, we see these angry, sometimes disturbed, shouting, bizarre-sign-wielding protesters crashing town hall meetings and hijacking the national debate. Some have come up with their own reasons for hating the health care bill, many have swallowed the various ridiculous assertions coming out of the GOP. Almost all of the accusations are easily proved false.
- A "death panel" that decides whether you're too old or enfeebled to get care? Not so much.
- Abortions will be taxpayer subsidized! Crock of shite.
- We'll go to a UK-style system of socialized health care where old/disabled people will be denied care! Um...that's a big 'no' - and the UK is miffed at the accusations.
- Illegal immigrants will be given free health care! Not quite (though they should).
None of this is to say that the current bill is perfect - single fucking payer, anyone? - but it's a sight better than what we've got now and at least a starting point from which to do better. We won't get anywhere good, however, if the current reliance on irrational screaming matches and totally untrue statements from opposing lawmakers continues.
We need to decide, as a nation, what's more important: Meaningful debate about and changes made to our health care system so that no one has to go bankrupt because of needed medical care, or selfish and misplaced pride with a side of sensationalism?
The choice we make will have long-lasting repercussions, and probably change everything.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Shameless self-promotion, I know! But it's for a truly good cause, in a unique and fun venue, and I'm told there will be free wine. That beats clipping toenails any night of the week, if you ask me. Show starts at 8:00p.m. ($5 suggested donation) and it'll be Tiger Went Tiger first, followed by Little Red Wolf. We promise we didn't intentionally plan the animal-band-name-themed evening, it just happened!
We also promise good times.
And if you're not busy tonight, one of my favorite indie bands, The Breeders, will be at the Majestic doing their thang. Plus I'm told that everyone who goes will get a free ticket to see the Dandy Warhols on August 31. Which is pretty cool. Anyway, I'll be there tonight taking pictures and whooping it up, so if you're around, do say hello.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Konkel just posted the contents of her first full complaint against the process. Read it here. I only hope that more people jump on board with this effort to find out the truth and hold the company responsible for any violations. Having it be Konkel alone who files these complaints leaves the effort open to easy poo-pooing by officials who've grown sour with her activities in the past (which is a shame, because though I don't always agree with her, Konkel has been a tireless champion of what she thinks is best for Madison--and you have to admire that tenacity).
I will be very curious to see how the City Attorney handles the complaint. I would think that, with this much solid documentation, they'd pretty much have to at least investigate the charges. Regardless of the verdict, I expect at least that much to be done.
If, on the other hand, the whole thing is dismissed out of hand, then we need to seriously reexamine 1) the meat of Madison's lobbying ordinances, and 2) how we go about enforcing them.
UPDATE: Everyone's talkin' about the Edgwater it seems. The Sconz weighs in here, and is actually interviewing some of the developers soon. Over at the Cap Times, they raise very reasonable objections to the request for TIF money to help fund the project.
Friday, August 7, 2009
You really should read it. There are more than a few troubling aspects of the current process, and Rath goes into great detail about them.
Former alder Brenda Konkel is apparently now filing a formal complaint with the city over the company's lobbying practices, which don't appear to be properly accounted for in recent numbers released by the city.
In addition, Hammes Co. looks to have some seriously shady business dealings in their past (and present, as is the case with a lawsuit pending against them in Milwaukee). They're also asking for TIFF money from the city, though they appear to have ample funds of their own - as evidenced by substantial past campaign contributions to the likes of Bob Dole and George W. Bush, and more recently to a whole spate of local members of Congress and the like.
There's also this tidbit: "In all, according to the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions, Robert Dunn [president of Hammes Company Sports and Entertainment] is the registered agent of 18 active state companies, most of them limited liability companies (LLCs)."
This is fun, too:
Rath goes on to list a series of other lobbying irregularities for the company. Ever heard of the newly created Mansion Hill Neighborhood Coalition? It was formed as an alternative to the existing Capitol Neighborhoods Inc. group, and is chaired by a one Amy Supple--a registered Landmark X lobbyist.
Landmark X is the designated principal for Edgewater development lobbying. It has six registered lobbyists. Hammes also lists Landmark X as the "owner" of the completed Edgewater.
It's not unusual for a developer to create an LLC to combine interests during construction. The LLC Hammes is using is not new, however. Landmark X was created Feb. 6, 2004. It is "managed by members," according to its 1st quarter 2009 LLC report to the state. Whoever those members are, their business is "real estate, rental and leasing of property," according to state reports.
We don't know who those members are because the lobbyist registrations for Landmark X state that it is not an LLC, and therefore does not have to disclose that information.
According to the State Department of Financial Institutions, however, it is indeed an LLC.
And it goes on. Seriously, read the whole thing - it's a pretty epic piece.
It's hard to say what the truth of this whole episode is, and I'm not quite ready to say the whole thing is a bust. But I'll be damned if it doesn't look exceedingly bad. I'm glad, then, that Konkel, Rath, and a host of other concerned residents have taken up the cause and are giving the process greater scrutiny. A little transparency could go a long way to make sure we don't end up with one massive boondoggle the city would regret for years to come.
Thursday, August 6, 2009
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
It is, in my opinion, one of Wisconsin's dirtiest not-so-secret truths that we currently have practically no regulations in place for these operations. When "the Legislature in 1995 repealed what was then an 18 percent interest rate cap on consumer loans," the payday loan business took off with a vengeance. Interest rates on these loans can now be as much as 525% (or more) a year. That is, simply put, absurd.
Hintz's legislation would "cap at 36 percent the rate on consumer loans of $5,000 or less," which is also the rate at which recent federal legislation limits loans made to military personnel (and which there is an effort underway to expand to all citizens). Further to this, we should be working to regulate the due dates placed on loans, as all too often borrowers are forced to roll over loans, thus accruing yet more interest, because they can't fully pay off the first one by the time their next paycheck rolls around. That's the ultimate trap.
This sort of regulation seems more than reasonable to me, but of course the lobbyists representing the payday loan industry have been quick to cry foul.
After all, we're talking about preventing them from fleecing the ever living crap out of people in already dire financial straits--which they seem to think is their God-given right to do.
It's because the industry has such deep pockets that legislation of this sort hasn't already been passed. That and lawmakers who are far too prone to being swayed by said deep pockets. They should all be ashamed of themselves. This is preying on the most vulnerable members of our society at some of its worst.
I won't argue that payday loans don't have a place in our society. They clearly serve a need. What we should be doing is encouraging more reputable banks and businesses to offer these sorts of micro-loans, though, as opposed to letting these shady operations run rampant and unregulated.
Take, for example, the credit union programs detailed in the article:
This sort of thing just makes sense. Much like the Kiva model of micro-financing for small business owners in developing countries, we would do well to offer a similar model right here in the good ol' United States. It addresses both the sky-high interest rates that often lead to further financial trouble as opposed to doing any good for those in need, and also begins to point those folks in a better direction for managing their money in the first place.Credit unions are trying to meet the need for small, short-term loans, says Christine Henzig, director of communications for the Wisconsin Credit Union League. A survey last year found that 60 member credit unions offered loans that are, in effect, alternatives to payday loans -- although they are not always marketed that way. And a national initiative assists local credit unions in developing products to help their members improve creditworthiness and build wealth.UW Credit Union in Madison is pleased with the response to its Paycheck Advance program, which lent more than $21,000 in 51 loans to members since its launch in June. Members can borrow up to $500 at 21.75 percent interest and must pay back a minimum $50 each month.
We are few of us financial wizards, and when things get really tough, we often end up feeling like there are no alternatives. That has to change.
We need to realize that this sort of problem effects us all, too. Not only do you never know when the proverbial financial shit might hit the fan for you, but it also behooves us, as a society, to make sure that the most vulnerable among us are not taken advantage of in this way.
I can think of no good reason not to regulate the payday loan business. Ultimately, interest rate caps and regulation of the due dates on loans are just the start of what needs to be done. But they're an important start--crucial, even. We need to hold our representatives accountable to make sure this legislation is well-crafted, with actual teeth, and then passed into law. And soon.
(photo by taberandrew on Flickr)