15 December 2013

Quick Hits

* Gun control is very effective at preventing suicide and suicides make up a much larger share of gun deaths than is generally realized because they receive less publicity.  This is notable, in part, because many of the most dramatic public shootings, such as the Arapahoe High School shooting last week in Colorado, the Columbine High School Shooting, the Sandy Hook school shooting, and many more of these events are, in terms of motive and usual outcome, more like suicides than typical homicides.

It is also notable that these kinds of shooting (add also the Aurora Theater Shooting which arguably was not suicidal), seem to be one kind of crime where the prototypical perpetrator is a young male who is white and middle class, a vastly different profile than a gang related killing, for example.

* Polling shows that the referendum on independence that the UK is permitting that region to hold is very likely to fail.  But, the likelihood of a successful vote for independence in Catalonia, which the central Spanish government is vehemently trying to prevent, seems much greater.  That vote is scheduled for a month after the one in Scotland.

* Consumer arbitration in credit card agreements almost never actually happen.
The CFPB found that large banks are much more likely than small banks to include arbitration clauses, but that because of their market share, around 50% of credit card loans and 44% of insured checking account deposits are covered by arbitration agreements. (The numbers would be far higher but for the NAF settlement, under which many issuers removed arbitration clauses from their contracts.) The percentages are much higher for prepaid cards.
Ninety percent of the arbitration agreements studied include class waivers. Most contain small-claims court carve outs. The banks are far more likely than the consumers to go to small claims court. That makes sense. For small debts, a collection action in a small claims court will usually lead to a default judgment, which is then immediately enforceable. Arbitration requires two steps, the arbitration proceeding and then the filing of the award.
Out of these millions of agreements, only about 300 arbitration claims have been filed by consumers per year over the last three years, and they were all for high dollar-value claims (more than $1,000). . . . 
the Bureau observed that almost no consumers filed arbitrations about disputes under $1,000. For arbitration filings involving debt disputes, the average amount of debt at issue was over $13,000. For other arbitration filings, the average consumer claim was for over $38,000. 
A number of arbitration clauses allow a consumer, and sometimes the company, to use small claims courts rather than arbitration for dispute resolution. The CFPB’s preliminary analysis indicates that not many consumers initiate small claims court cases in credit-card disputes. Rather, the analysis shows that small claims court cases are much more likely to be brought by banks than by consumers. In the states and counties studied, the Bureau was able to identify at most 870 credit card cases brought by consumers in small claims court against large credit card issuers, but more than 41,000 cases brought by these banks against consumers in small claims court. 
Got that, there were on average only about 100 consumer arbitration claims filed per year against banks, despite the fact that they cover half of all credit cards and more than 40% of deposit accounts. If people in Colorado file consumer arbitration claims in numbers proportional to the national average, that means there are only 1-2 consumer arbitration claims filed concerning credit card and account disputes per year in the entire state.

Basically, when compared to non-arbitration claim rates, the result of consumer arbitration clauses appears to be to deny consumers any meaningful remedy.

* Zombie debt collection is a growing kind of abusive debt collection practice.

* Almost a third of attorneys violate their ethical duties in negotiation settings.

* Prosecutors frequently violate the constitutional rights of criminal defendants by committing Brady violations (i.e. failing to disclose exonerating information to defendants), which is a violation of professional conduct rules for prosecutors and sometimes is a crime as well.  But, prosecutors are almost never personally punished for this misconduct.

* Federal courts are intervening to cease the grossly inadequate "meet and plead" public defender systems in some Washington State cities.

* Once again, U.S. drones killed an innocent wedding party.  This time, in Yemen.

* The Cincinnati library was beautiful before it was demolished.

* Data comparing aggregate IQ in various nations at different times and places support the notion of wealth as a cause, rather than an effect of national IQ.

* A federal court has finally struck down the minister's housing allowance, an exclusion from federal income for tax purposes only available to clergy and hence discriminatory on the basis of being religious rather than non-religious.  Other tax breaks in the Internal Revenue Code available to religious organizations are generally also available to other non-profits (except a certain religious FICA exemption).  The opinion is here.

* The labor and delivery medical expenses for almost half of all U.S. births are paid for by Medicaid (48% in 2010).  But, there is substantial regional variation:
[J]ust one quarter of births in Hawaii were financed by Medicaid compared to nearly 70 percent in Louisiana. States in the northeastern and northwestern United States have the lowest proportion of births financed by Medicaid. For example, Massachusetts and New Hampshire reported fewer than 30 percent of births funded by Medicaid, and Washington State reported 39 percent.  Southern states tend to have the highest Medicaid coverage: For example, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico each reported more than 60 percent of all births financed by Medicaid in 2010.

* Crisis Pregnancy Centers (at least in Virginia) routinely lie and spread disinformation.

* New York City has an awesome passport office.

* Swedish entrepreneurs tend to have anti-social tendencies.  This is probably a phenomena that can be generalized but is easier to study in Sweden due to it massive ability to cross-reference population-wide databases.

* Basing fraud sentences on the difference between what was asserted the victims would receive and what they did receive, rather than on actual losses, produces sentences that punish the wrong people most severely.

* Thomas Cooley Law School graduates do very poorly in the job market.

* The good customer service in the low income shadow banking world partially explains why they have more market share than traditional banking institutions.

* State fairs offer many weird food options.

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