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The NFL’s Uneven History Of Punishing Domestic Violence

The elevator doors open and he drops her. She falls to her knees, and then to the floor, but her feet prevent the doors from closing. The man is holding the woman’s purse as he tries to move her unconscious body out of the way using his feet, but she won’t budge. He tries picking her up again, but unconscious bodies can be heavy, even for a 5-foot-8, 208-pound running back in the National Football League. Then the video ends.

That video, showing the aftermath of an altercation between Ray Rice and his then-girlfriend (now wife), Janay Palmer, made the rounds this NFL offseason as if it were a Zapruder film. Prompted by the video and an arrest, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Rice, a star running back for the Baltimore Ravens, for two games, citing personal interviews with Rice and Palmer and the league’s personal conduct policy.

But the punishment felt incommensurate with the crime. “It’s a joke, and a bad one,” ESPN columnist Jane McManus wrote. How was it possible that Rice was given two games, many exclaimed, when players had beensuspended six games for cheating on a test for performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) and entire seasons for repeatedly smoking marijuana?

“We can’t just make up the discipline,” Goodell said at a press conference after issuing Rice’s suspension. “It has to be consistent with other cases and it was consistent with other cases.”

On Thursday, Goodell announced a new discipline policy. In a letter to all 32 team owners obtained by ESPN, Goodell wrote that the league fell short in its treatment of the Rice case. “Effective immediately, violations of the Personal Conduct Policy regarding assault, battery, domestic violence or sexual assault that involve physical force will be subject to a suspension without pay of six games for a first offense, with consideration given to mitigating factors, as well as a longer suspension when circumstances warrant.” (This will not affect Rice’s current suspension.) A second offense will result in a ban from the league, with the opportunity to apply for reinstatement after one year.

A six-game suspension, according to data collected by FiveThirtyEight, would be four times what the average suspension has been for domestic violence and an unprecedented consequence for a first offense of any kind. The ban from the league after a repeat offense would be the harshest punishment for all second-time offenders.

Following the Rice incident, I went looking for every NFL suspension1 issued in the league’s 94-year history. I wanted to understand how violations like Rice’s, the ones unrelated to steroid or substance abuse, were determined. If domestic abuse warranted two games, what kinds of conduct violations warranted five games? Eight games? An entire season? I assumed that someone — if not the governing body itself — must keep track of every player suspended, why he was suspended, and the length of the suspension. I was wrong.

When I contacted the NFL, a spokeswoman, Darlene Capiro, responded by email, “We do not have a comprehensive list.” Several of my colleagues at ESPN and Grantland who report on the NFL were unaware of any complete data set. The ESPN Stats & Information group also did not have this information in its entirety, only selected incidents. A spokesman for the NFL Players Association, George Atallah, said the union had at least some of the data but did not provide it after repeated requests.

And so I cobbled it together myself, with the help of the San Diego Union-Tribune’s NFL arrests database, a Wikipedia list dating back to 1947, and theSpotrac suspension tracker.2 I found 263 incidents in that process, and verified suspensions using news reports,3 while making note of the reason for the suspension and the number of games the player ultimately missed.4 The data isn’t perfect, but it’s a good start.

Once I’d categorized the offenses and the corresponding games missed, I had hard evidence of what many already suspected: The NFL’s punishment of personal conduct violations has been inconsistent and on average less harsh than its punishment of drug offenses.

mccann-feature-nflsuspensions-1

Note that the tallest peaks occur in the two charts on PEDs; more than 90 percent of first-time offenders receive a suspension of four games and 100 percent of repeat offenders receive a suspension of eight games. There’s little question about the number of games a player will be forced to miss for using steroids because the length of the suspension is specifically outlined in league policy.

Substance abuse violations are not as consistently punished as PED violations, but 68 percent of first-time offenders receive four games and almost 75 percent of second-time offenders receive one year, per league policy.5

Contrast that with the greater variation in the length of suspensions for personal conduct violations. This catchall category includes everything from murder to unsanctioned in-game violence to embarrassing the league on social media.

Since 2002 (the first instance I could find), 38 percent of conduct violators received a one-game suspension. In this group are Larry Johnson, who spit his drink in a woman’s face, and Ricky Manning, Jr., who assaulted a man outside a Denny’s restaurant. Another 19 percent of players received two games, among them Jeremy Bridges, who pointed a gun at a stripper. Marshawn Lynch was among the 21 percent of players to receive a three-game suspension — after he was arrested for having a gun in his car. Even fewer players — 13 percent — received four games, and their cases ranged fromsexual assault to multiple DUI arrests. The longest suspension went to Adam “Pacman” Jones, who was suspended 20 games (the entire 2007 season and the first four games of 2008) for numerous arrests and altercations with the police.

The difference in the NFL’s treatment of drug and conduct violations is a result of the league’s collective bargaining agreement. The CBA does not mention the Personal Conduct Policy, but does explicitly refer to the Policy and Program For Substances of Abuse. The disparity is evident even when you compare the two documents. The one covering drugs is 32 pages. The other, three.

The league’s new regulations are meant to bridge that gap. For years, there has been clear guidance on how to handle drug offenses but no prescription for violent, off-field offenses. Now there will be, and if a player commits a second act of violence, it “will result in banishment from the NFL.” An appeals process is available, but the player must wait a year.

There were only four previous lifetime bans in my database — three were for repeated substance abuse, one was for gambling.6 For comparison, Donte Stallworth, who pleaded guilty to DUI manslaughter in 2009, was out of the league for a year.

The previous inconsistency in punishment of domestic violence became clear when I looked at the 53 personal conduct violations that the league has issued since 2002. The average number of games suspended for all personal conduct violations was 3.0. For the 15 cases of domestic violence that had been punished under the old, nonspecific guidelines, the average number of games suspended was 1.5.

mccann-feature-nflsuspensions-2

The baseline suspension is now six games, assuming Goodell doesn’t reduce it because of “mitigating factors.” That means any domestic violence suspension going forward will double the previous record for any domestic violence punishment. The NFL will now take it more seriously when a player beats a woman than when he’s caught smoking a joint.

Editor’s note: This post originally featured a searchable table of NFL suspensions. We’ve removed it while we work to correct errors in some of the entries.

FOOTNOTES

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Maney: Putin mauls Russian tech startups

Vladimir Putin

Russian president Vladimir Putin took part in the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in May. The SPIEF is an annual international conference dedicated to economic and business issues.

by J Jennings Moss -

The UpTake: The United States and China both have vibrant and robust tech sectors, but not Russia. A big reason we haven’t seen much home-grown innovation there, reports Newsweek’s Kevin Maney, is because of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Amid all the reports about a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine today, thispiece by Kevin Maney in Newsweek caught my eye because it rightly pointed out another casualty of Vladimir Putin‘s distorted view — Russian tech startups.

Maney, a veteran of the tech news scene who once wrote a column for a previous version of this site, penned his piece before today’s military reports. That only makes his conclusions about the Russian leader all the more painful to read.

“This is Vladimir Putin’s hidden crime: Just as Russia’s startup culture had a hope of getting legs, Putin’s actions in Ukraine have helped knock it back down. Since economic power increasingly flows to nations that innovate around software and data, Putin is basically exiling Russia to the economic backwaters of the next decade or two,” Maney writes.

Maney lays out a fascinating history of the Russian tech scene, starting with this headshaking anecdote provided by Russian-based investor Dennis Adamovich who said the last successful Russian tech export was the game Tetris — in 1984.

The entire Newsweek piece is well worth a read, especially as he talks about the glimpses of real promise offered by some Russian entrepreneurs and startups like Yandex and Qiwi. But then, in comes Putin:

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in March and got nailed by international sanctions, Western investors have wanted to get involved in Russia about as much as the Scarecrow wants to date the Wicked Witch of the West. Add that to Putin-sanctioned raids on Russian businesses, government meddling, anti-blogging laws and word of a coming firewall around Russia, and the tech picture gets bleak.

Two years ago, we wrote about a Russian high-tech incubator and business center near Russia’s capital. That facility, named after its key sponsor the Skolkovo Foundation, hasn’t gotten much attention in the Western press lately though its website does show off some of the same kind entrepreneurial spirit you find in other cities all over the world. Check it out here.

To see some of Kevin Maney’s reporting for Upstart Business Journal’s previous life as Condé Nast Portfolio, click here.

 

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The Virgin Way – Insights Into Richard Branson’s Leadership

670px-richard-branson-by-origa

While Richard Branson’s new book, “The Virgin Way” is “about listening, learning, laughing and leading”(1), applying the BRAVE leadership framework(2) to the book’s ten summary ideas yields highly applicable insights.

Environment/where to play: Listen out there

Listen, take lots of notes and keep setting new challenges.

“One of the keys to ‘the way’ we do things is nothing more complex than listening – listening intently to everyone.” Ask “why” with a “wide-angled lens”. For example, Virgin expanded the field of play for Upper Class airline travel to include airport limo connections and superior airport lounges.

Turn off that laptop and iPhone and get your derrière out there (Part I)

Branson has never had an office in the office. He never summons people to “come unto me”. Instead he stops people where they work and asks them questions about the good things they are doing to learn and encourage.

Values/what matters and why: Do good that you love

Make a positive difference and do some good.

In line with Shawn Achor’s findings in “The happiness advantage” that “when we are more positive our brains are ‘more engaged, more energized, creative, motivated, healthier, resilient and productive’, Branson founded Virgin “to make people’s lives better.”

Do what you love and have a couch in the kitchen.

Businesses have the opportunity and the responsibility to do good things in their communities. They have to create and “creators are never satisfied: they believe they can always do better.”

Attitude/how to win: Turn dreams to actions grounded in beliefs

Follow your dreams and just do it.

Branson told PrimeGenesis partner Roger Neill that “The difference between me and many others is that I write down all my ideas – and then make them happen.” He’s convinced that “everything that’s really worthwhile in life involves some degree of risk.” So he loves being the underdog, finding holes in the way the “big dogs” do things and then beating them by changing the game.

Believe in your ideas and be the best.

This passion for being the best is why Virgin Air traded its “typical” earphones for high-quality digital earphones that each passenger could keep, why Branson values capability over expertise and why culture is so important to Virgin. You can’t be the best as an individual. You have to be the best as a team.

Relationships/how to connect: Communicate to build your team

Communicate, collaborate and communicate some more.

Relationships are about personal connections fueled by communication. As Branson puts it, “great leaders are…simplifiers…that can communicate…in terms that are universally understood.” This is why Steve Jobs focused Apple’s new headquarters on a central piazza – to enable random interactions, collaboration and communication.

Have fun and look after your team.

The core of Virgin’s magic is “a youthful joie de vivre and great people skills, combined with a relentless focus on great service and succeeding, (and a) never-failing sense of humor.” This creates a culture in which employees feel “valued, empowered and trusted” so they can “go out and make amazing things happen.”

Behaviors/what impact: Delegate and follow through

Turn off that laptop and iPhone and get your derrière out there (Part II)

When a Virgin train had an accident, Branson dropped everything to be in the hospital with those injured. He didn’t wait until the dust had settled, the analyses were done and he could answer questions. It’s not about answering questions. It’s about showing up.

Don’t give up.

Roman philosopher Seneca said “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” Branson has adds a dose of persistence to that. Witness his persistence in pushing back on the UK government when it miscalculated a rival’s bid for a rail franchise. Not surprisingly, Branson has a history of what Jim Collins describes as “return on luck.”

Delegate and spend more time with your family.

Leadership is not about you. It’s about inspiring and enabling others to do their absolute best together to realize a meaningful and rewarding shared purpose. Be BRAVE. Delegate. And spend more time with your family.

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(1) Most of the quotes in this article are from “The Virgin Way”, Richard Branson, Penguin – September 9, 2014

(2) Click here for an overall executive summary of the New Leader’s Playbook including the BRAVE Leadership Framework and links to each of its individual articles on Forbes organized by category.
English: Richard Branson, Virgin Icona, portra…
English: Richard Branson, Virgin Icona, portrait by italian artist Graziano Origa, pen&ink+pantone, 2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

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U.N. Conference Set to Bypass Climate Change Refugees

drowningAn international conference on small island developing states (SIDS), scheduled to take place in Samoa next week, will bypass a politically sensitive issue: a proposal to create a new category of “environmental refugees” fleeing tiny island nations threatened by rising seas.

“It’s not on the final declaration called the outcome document,” a SIDS diplomat told IPS.”It’s clear that governments have an obligation to reduce the risk of climate-related disasters, and displaced individuals and communities should be provided legal protection in their countries and abroad.” — Kristin Casper of Greenpeace

The rich countries that neighbour small island states are not in favour of a flood of refugees inundating them, he added.

Such a proposal also involves an amendment to the 1951 U.N. Convention on the Status of Refugees, making it even more divisive.

The outcome document, already agreed upon at a U.N. Preparatory Committee meeting last month, will be adopted at the Sep. 1-4 meeting in the Samoan capital of Apia.

Sara Shaw, climate justice and energy coordinator at Friends of the Earth International (FoEI), told IPS, “We believe that climate refugees have a legitimate claim for asylum and should be recognised under the U.N. refugee convention and offered international protection.”

Unfortunately, she said, the very developed nations responsible for the vast majority of the climate-changing gases present in the atmosphere today are those refusing to extend the refugee convention to include climate refugees.

“Worse still, they are trying to weaken existing international protection for refugees,” Shaw added.

The world’s first-ever “climate change refugee” claimant, a national of Kiribati, lost his asylum appeal in a New Zealand courtroom last May on the ground that international refugee law does not recognise global warming and rising sea levels as a valid basis for asylum status.

Ioane Teitiota, a 37-year-old native of the Pacific island nation, claimed his island home was sinking – and that he was seeking greener and safer pastures overseas.

But the New Zealand court ruled that the 1951 international convention on refugees, which never foresaw the phenomenon of climate change, permits refugee status only if one “has a well-founded fear of persecution because of his/her race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.”

The U.N.’s electronic newsletter, U.N. News, quoted Francois Crepeau, the special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, as saying, “We don’t have, in international law, or any kind of mechanisms to allow people to enter a State against the will of the State, unless they are refugees.”

And even then, he said, they don’t technically have the right to enter, but cannot be punished for entering.

Addressing the General Assembly last September, the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda Winston Baldwin Spencer told delegates, “It is a recognised fact – but it is worth repeating – that small island states contribute the least to the causes of climate change, yet we suffer the most from its effects.”

He said small island states have expressed their “profound disappointment” at the lack of tangible action at U.N. climate change talks.

Developed countries, he said, should shoulder their moral, ethical and historical responsibilities for emitting high levels of anthropogenic greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

“It is those actions which have put the planet in jeopardy and compromised the well-being of present and future generations,” he said.

Kristin Casper, legal counsel for campaigns and actions at Greenpeace International, told IPS, “It’s a scandal that low-lying coastal and small island developing states stand to lose their territory by the end of this century due to sea level rise.”

She said climate-driven migration will increase, “therefore we salute all efforts by Pacific Small Island Developing States, other governments and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to call for urgent action to allow the world to fairly deal with climate-forced migration.

“It’s clear that governments have an obligation to reduce the risk of climate-related disasters, and displaced individuals and communities should be provided legal protection in their countries and abroad,” Casper said.

The Samoa conference is officially titled the Third International Conference on SIDS, the last two conferences being held in Barbados in 1994 and Mauritius in 2005.

The 52 SIDS include Antigua and Barbuda, Cuba, Fiji, Grenada, Bahamas, Suriname, Timor-Leste, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

Addressing reporters last week, the Secretary-General of the Samoa conference Wu Hongbo told reporters he expects over 700 participants, including world political leaders, 21 heads of U.N agencies and over 100 NGOs.

The outcome document, he said, has several recommendations for action on how to move forward. But these goals, he stressed, cannot be achieved by governments alone.

“All of us are affected by climate change,” he said, pointing out that there was a broad agreement among member states on the challenges ahead.

FoEI’s Shaw told IPS millions of people around the world are internally displaced or forced to seek refuge in other countries because of hunger or conflict. Many of these crises are being directly exacerbated by climate change as resources such as fresh water become scarcer and conflicts arise.

“The impacts of climate change, which include increased sea-level rise, droughts, and more frequent extreme weather events, will lead to a growing number of climate refugees around the world,” she warned.

Friends of the Earth would welcome climate refugees being recognised under the U.N. refugee convention and offered international protection, she said.

“However we remain doubtful that these refugees would ever receive a warm welcome from the rich countries who climate polluting actions forced them from their homes.”

The reality is that the overwhelming majority of climate refugees like those escaping conflict or persecution will end up in other poor countries, whilst rich countries build ever greater walls and fences to keep out those seeking a safer life for their families, Shaw said.

According to the United Nations, SIDS are located among the most vulnerable regions in the world in terms of the intensity and frequency of natural and environmental disasters and their increasing impact.

SIDS face disproportionately high economic, social and environmental consequences when disasters occur.

These vulnerabilities accentuate other issues facing developing countries in general.

These include challenges around trade liberalisation and globalisation, food security, energy dependence and access; freshwater resources; land degradation, waste management, and biodiversity.

 

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After Ferguson: St. Louis’ decaying black suburbs are about to be forgotten. Again.

140826_kendzior_stlouis_courtesyBy SARAH KENDZIOR

“What we want to know,” the barber said, “is where has the media been? Because these problems aren’t new.” It was a Tuesday afternoon in Ferguson, and we were at a barbershop a few blocks from where 18-year-old Michael Brown had been gunned down by Officer Darren Wilson nine days before. Barbers and patrons were giving us the gossip. Police had long been harassing the black community, they said. One customer reported seeing officers taking backpacks from young black men and emptying the contents on the ground. When asked if Wilson had been among them, he said yes.

Now Ferguson was reeling from a new form of brutality: St. Louis County cops had fired tear gas the previous night. Locals in the vicinity of the protests told us their throats were still sore and they feared another round. We thought this was important information and shared it on Twitter. We were not prepared for what happened next.

Within minutes, the door flew open and a camera crew from Al Jazeera America entered, followed by a crew from CNN, both of whom confirmed they had seen our tweets. Customers quickly finished their business and fled the scene. A barber who had been telling us his idea for a St. Louis reality show—“Rich white people live like us for 60 days, making $700 a month, see how it feels walking in our shoes” — announced he did not do media, and walked out. The camera crews rearranged the chairs and the clientele. One of us ended up getting a 20-minute fake haircut because a producer thought it would make an appealing background shot.

This is life in Ferguson, Missouri, in late August 2014: a media circus in which the complicated racial politics of St. Louis County’s 90 municipalities are parsed by pundits who, weeks before, could not have found Ferguson on a map.

But when the circus leaves town, as it is already starting to do, what will be left behind? Will St. Louis really have changed?

Everything might feel different in Ferguson—money, support and attention have been rolling into the town from all over the country in the past few weeks—but with the media’s eye trained on the woes of just one St. Louis suburb, many are ignoring the larger picture. The economic problems of Ferguson’s surrounding North County—more than 200 square miles of economically hard-hit towns, many majority black, located north of St. Louis’s bottomed-out inner city—remain unresolved and, outside of Ferguson, unaddressed.

***

St. Louis, once the fourth largest city in the country, buoyed by the Mississippi River trade, is a metropolis of ruins, dotted with neighborhoods full of smashed windows, broken doorways and crumbling walls that are living reminders of the city’s mid-century decline. North County, originally a quiet area of blue-collar communities, became an escape route from the city’s job loss, social unrest and decaying infrastructure. White families fled first in the 1950s and 1960s, followed by black families in the 1980s and 1990s. These days, North County is where struggling black St. Louis families come looking for a place to call home, only to find that the basic amenities necessary to raise a family—jobs, public transportation, a functional education system—are in short supply.
Entrance to the abandoned Jamestown Mall, which opened in 1972 and closed in June 2014. | Photo courtesy of the authors
Today, ruins dot the North County landscape too. An abandoned mall, its closed entrance declaring “Cash paid for anything of value.” A meadow, lush and random, in the space where the Wyndhurst and Terwood apartments—bulldozed in the 1980s for an airport extension that never materialized—once stood. A closed-down, castle-shaped playland turned night club turned day care turned abandoned failure. A faded wall of fame in Kinloch, Missouri’s first black incorporated town, proclaiming its historic achievements, before the population dwindled to 600 and it became capital of North County’s drug trade, another airport expansion casualty. Kinloch’s roads lead nowhere but are still blockaded with “Road Closed” signs, in case you mistakenly detected a sense of possibility.

 

By GLENN THRUSH
The St. Louis metropolitan area is a city of migration, but that migration is not limited to the historic patterns of successive white and black flight. Migration is an everyday occurrence. Many St. Louisans—especially poor and black St. Louisans—live in a state of permanent transience, moving from one apartment complex to the next, one suburb to the next, multiple times per year, on a futile hunt for safety and affordability. Canfield Green Apartments, where Michael Brown resided, is a typical example.

Hand-to-mouth living has made the notion of “hometown” debatable, particularly since the 2008 foreclosure crisis decimated the area. With families constantly moving between municipalities with populations of less than 500, many start thinking of North County itself—NoCo for short—as home.

Read more: http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/08/ferguson-st-louis-suburbs-poverty-110363.html#ixzz3BcPeF1YN

 

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Anti-dumping duties would undermine Modi’s appeal for “make in India”

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In his Independence Day speech on the 15th of August, Prime Minister Narendra Modi invited Indian and international companies to come to India to manufacture, or in his words “make in India”. A decision on anti-dumping duties (ADD) is due this Friday (22nd August). On the face of it, it might seem that ADD supports “make in India”, however, this is a fallacy. In reality, ADD will hamper manufacturing of solar cells, modules, inverters and other Balance of System (BOS) components in India because it will set back the market as a whole.

  • The prime driver for solar manufacturing in India is the domestic market size
  • The imposition of ADD will shrink the market size by over 67% in the next year
  • In order to encourage domestic manufacturing the focus should be on reducing, not increasing the cost of solar in India

Indian cells and modules manufacturing requires investments in scaling up to become globally competitive. The predicted growth and size of the domestic market would be the prime driver of investment in solar cells and modules manufacturing. In 2013, India was ranked 12th globally in terms of cumulative installed capacity. The installed base is significantly smaller than in Germany, China, Japan and USA.

Figure 1: Cumulative installed solar capacity by 2013[1]

Blog_ADD and solar manufacturing in India

According to BRIDGE TO INDIA’s estimates, an imposition of ADD will result in an increase in the cost of solar power by about 10%, making many projects unviable. As a result, India would only add around 500 MW in the coming year. This is a reduction by over 67%.[2] Such shrinking of the market will have an adverse long-term impact not only on cells manufacturing but also on modules, inverters and other BOS manufacturing.

Large global inverter manufacturers such as ABB, Bonfiglioli, Advanced Energy (erstwhile Refusol) and TMIEC (erstwhile AEG) have decided to manufacture in India without any protectionist measures or incentives. These manufacturing capacities have been set up due to a belief in the strong market growth in India. A policy measure in the form of ADD will affect these investments in India and hamper investor confidence. This is just one example of how protectionism derails the “make in India” proposition.

The levying of ADD is not the answer to the inherent problems of domestic solar cells and modules manufacturers. Instead, domestic cells and modules manufacturing should be supported by incentivizing them directly based on a sound long-term business plan, and by providing clarity on the future demand through policy stability. The government should focus on measures that reduce the cost of solar power in India. This would bring all interests in the market into alignment and help the market grow. Incentives could include- making available low cost power and land without encumbrances, providing a rebate on excise and customs duties or providing cheap loans.

 

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Homeowner help remains elusive in $16.5bn Bank of America fine

In a deal with the Justice Department, the bank agreed about $7bn should go to homeowners. History reminds us not to hold our bre

Occupy
The financial crisis created enough rage for the Occupy protests, which had police protecting bank ATMs all over the country. But are the mortgage reparations on the same scale as the banks’ offenses? David Dayen says no. Photograph: Natalie Behring/Getty Images

The Justice Department has inked yet another cash settlement for misconduct in the production of mortgage-backed securities, this time with Bank of America for $16.65bn.

Don’t expect a lot of that to be of any help to people who lost their homes.

While Bank of America is ostensibly devoting around $7bn of the money to consumers, homeowners will actually see very little money or help.

The JP Morgan precedent

Jamie
Jamie Dimon, chairman and CEO of JP Morgan Chase, which signed a similar mortgage settlement with the Justice Department last year and has delivered under 1% of the money it has promised to help homeowners. Photograph: Jason Reed/Reuters

We can look to the first settlement of this type with a bank – last November’s deal with JPMorgan Chase – and draw some conclusions.

Under that settlement, which the Justice Department called a template for future fines against the banks, JPMorgan is supposed to deliver $4bn in consumer relief, primarily through reducing interest rates or principal on mortgages.

But homeowners will have to wait. Like the other banks, JPMorgan has three years to make good on this relief. An initial report from Joseph Smith, who is overseeing JPMorgan’s consumer relief obligation, shows that the bank’s money is not exactly flying out the door to homeowners.

As of 31 March of this year, five months after the settlement, JPMorgan only claimed verifiable modifications on 100 loans, for a grand total of $6m in credited relief – a little under 1% of the total it has promised. Even though the settlement provides a bonus credit for relief delivered within the first year, JPMorgan has decided to stretch things out.

Community housing activists like the Home Defenders League have repeatedly questioned whether relief will ever materialize. The group even filed a Freedom of Information Act request in July, asking the Justice Department about how the JPMorgan settlement is being implemented.

“The bankers bought their way out of jail, but the money hasn’t actually arrived to help the families who need it,” said Kevin Whelan, National Campaign Director of the Home Defenders League, in a statement.

A punished bank is forced to lend

JPMorgan and its competitors don’t necessarily have to give relief directly to homeowners to pay their way out of their penalties. They can just sign more loans. Under the language of the settlements, banks can get credit for making new mortgages available to borrowers in hard-hit areas or Fema disaster zones, to first-time low- to moderate-income buyers, or to borrowers who lost their homes to foreclosures and short sales.

Since making loans is the bank’s actual business, from which they profit, it’s odd that this is considered a penalty for misconduct.

Banks only get a flat $10,000 in credit for each loan made, as opposed to dollar-for-dollar relief on principal forgiveness.

And they can only use this trick to pay off a paltry $165m of the $4bn in relief they owe homeowners. But a smart bank would take the “penalty” of making a profitable loan over cutting principal any day.

demolish
Banks get more financial benefit from demolishing houses than for providing mortgage help to homeowners. Photograph: HAP/Quirky China News/Rex Feat

How to get credit: tear down the house

Banks also can get credit under the settlement for demolition of blighted properties, donations of homes, or funding for community development projects. These all may be worthy causes, but they don’t directly help struggling homeowners facing foreclosure. And JPMorgan can use these anti-blight measures to satisfy as much as $2bn, or half, of the penalty.

Finally, even if homeowners manage to secure relief for their mortgage debt, under current law they would have to pay taxes on it.

Want mortgage help? The $25,000 tax bill

The Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act, which would have protected homeowners from taxes on debt relief, expired last December, and there’s no guarantee that Congress will retroactively renew it. That means that any benefit from forgiveness of principal gets treated for tax purposes like earned income.

On a principal reduction of $100,000, the tax bill would be around $25,000 for the typical homeowner. Stressed families at risk of foreclosure don’t usually have tens of thousands of dollars lying around to devote to taxes for phantom “income” they don’t actually see. So the “consumer relief” may actually harm them.

Clearly worried about the potential for hitting customers expecting help with a tax bill, on this settlement the Justice Department forced Bank of America to place $490 million in a “tax relief fund” to defray any tax liability arising from delivering debt relief. This was not a feature of other Justice Department settlements with JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup, and shows the very real fear that the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act will not be renewed. JPMorgan and Citi customers will be out-of-luck victims of bad timing, but Bank of America borrowers will theoretically be more protected.

However, if $490 million in the settlement goes toward the unintended tax consequences, that much less will go to help borrowers stay in their homes. So fewer homeowners will get aid as a result. And Bank of America has four years, until August 2018, to comply with the relief terms.

Put aside the fact that no cash payment will suffice either as just compensation for the magnitude of the losses or as deterrent for the enormity of the crimes – at least not without executives seeing the inside of a jail cell. Put aside the fact that the crime described here is swindling investors, yet investors will reap virtually none of the benefits, with most of the cash penalty going to the Justice Department itself. Put aside that this normalizes slaps on the wrist: banks can pay their way out of trouble without even having to describe their wrongdoing in detail.

Homeowners have waited for years for aid from the toxic loans banks knowingly and fraudulently sold them. These Justice Department settlements haven’t sped relief to them either, and may only give them more headaches.

 

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