Malice? Or Incompetence?
I'm sitting here, Saturday morning -- the wind is whipping around the house as I write.
I just scanned the New York Times webpage -- and impressed myself when I recognized a guy I used to sit next to at the synagogue where I was converted -- a former Republican city councilman who's somehow risen up the ranks to be an assistant to Condoleeza Rice and an ambassador who's very verbal about fighting against human slavery. Verbal. I guess results are supposed to come later. So much for six degrees ... from effectiveness. But at least he's trying. It must be hard to do humanitarian work in this administration.
I move over to the Washington Post, and an editorial line at the bottom caught my eye. Something about "Warrantless wiretapping and immigrant bashing: What else can Republicans run on this year? Their competence? Their ethics?"
And that streamed my consciousness to the Bankruptcy Law class I'm taking this term.
Most of us are blissfully unaware that bankruptcy law in this country has been completely revamped within the past year. The option for a "fresh start" in Chapter 7 bankruptcy -- the discharge of nearly all one's debts -- is now nearly impossible to qualify for. A good thing, most of us would say. People should take responsibility for their debts. Learn to live within their means.
On the face of it: of course. But what this law will do in practice will drive the pain, the misery index, of those already suffering economically, through the roof.
My instructor -- a practicing attorney -- alternates between railing against this poorly constructed, legislated "reform" and reminding us that it's the law. And we need to learn how to apply it.
While she's railing, she takes us through the bankruptcy petition and schedules -- like a 1040 tax form -- that is often a paralegal's job to complete.
We take our pretend client through the "means test" that's required of anyone attempting to declare Chapter 7 (most will fail this test and be compelled to file Chapter 13, reorganize their debts and file a payment plan -- whether they can actually pay it or not).
As part of the process (and I'm giving you loose numbers in this example but, believe me, there is truth in this) we find out that if he's head of a family of four and makes $24,000 -- he will be allowed approximately $300 a month to feed his family.
But if he makes $90,000, he'll be allowed $1200 to feed that family.
Think about this. You are both in debt up to your eyeballs. You both are asking the court for relief from the debt. But one of you makes three times more than the other. And that is the difference between feeding your children whole milk -- or being required by the law to feed your children powdered milk. Because of your difference in income.
Both clients will feel pain in this process.
The hypothetical $90,000/year Boeing engineer will have to undergo a tremendous lifestyle change to make his way through Chapter 13. But food for his kids will probably not be an issue.
The $24,000 construction laborer, though, will choose whether he can afford gas to get to work or food for his kids, after his repayment plan is in effect.
Did the "reformers," heavily influenced by creditor lobbyists, think about these repercussions when they slammed this through last year?
My instructor's mantra is "Was it incompetence? Or malice?"
Did the legislators not know the effect of this law will probably be to drive the poorest further into an underclass that abdicates their debts totally, changes their names and makes what existence they can in a gray market of non-documented, under-the-table workers? Whose marginal lives, by the way, contribute nothing to the tax roles?
Or did they know, and not care?