Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Why Journalists are Not Lawyers (and Are Indeed Lesser Beings) Reason # 2459

This item provides even more ammo to what will be my much anticipated (by me) 3-part series: A Touch of Gravitas, The Art of Argumentation. Just read this and file it away. You will eventually see what I mean.

In its lead editorial today, the Strib reassumes its role as mouthpiece / messenger of the Democratic party, dutifully reciting the Dems talking points in regard to the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act.

Not knowing a voidable preference from an automatic stay, the Strib writers count on others to crutique the bill (the House version of which you can read here, but I dont advise it), rather than reading it themselves (emphasis mine):

Lobbyists present the bill as a crackdown on deadbeats who walk away from their debts and drive up borrowing costs for everyone else. The bill would make it harder to file for Chapter 7 protection, where consumers can wipe their slates clean, and push more filers into Chapter 13, where they must follow a repayment plan.

It's true that bankruptcy filings have soared in the last decade, and no one doubts that there are some irresponsible borrowers who game the system. But independent research simply doesn't support the excessive reach of this bill. A recent study from the Harvard Medical School found that fully half of personal bankruptcies result from major illness or medical debt -- no surprise given the staggering costs of even one hospital visit and the growing number of Americans without health insurance. An earlier study by Harvard Law Professor Elizabeth Warren found that some 90 percent of personal bankruptcies involve medical crises, layoffs or divorces. There's nothing wrong with giving these consumers a fresh start after unforeseen disasters. Moreover, bankruptcy judges already have the authority to reject Chapter 7 petitions from filers engaging in "substantial abuse" of the system.

What is it about this bill that constitutes an "excessive reach"? The Strib doesn't say, and I can't find anything in my admittedly cursory glance at the bill.

And I did look at the bill. I spent about a half hour going through what I figured to be the "controversial provisions". But hell, you don't even have to do that. You could just read the Bill Summary on Thomas. Here are some of the the controversial excessively reaching provisions as described in the Bill Summary (which I'm guessing the Strib editors also didn't read):

Permits the bankruptcy court to convert a Chapter 7 case to either Chapter 11 or 13 with a debtor's consent. (Current law requires the debtor's request for such a conversion.)

Whoa! How draconian! How about this:

Permits the court upon its own motion, or upon the motion of the bankruptcy trustee, bankruptcy administrator, or any party in interest, to move for a dismissal. (Current law prohibits a party in interest from entering such motions.)

Lowers the "substantial abuse" standard for dismissal or conversion to one of simple abuse.

Yikes! You mean the debtor in bankruptcy isn't the only person with rights? How fascist! Then there's this one that really has the libs' panties in full wedgie mode:

Replaces the presumption in favor of granting the relief sought by the debtor with a presumption that abuse exists if the debtor's current monthly income exceeds an amount determined according to specified formulae.

I also read the actual provision in the bill. I will put it simple terms for all those readers out there who may also be professional journalists: this provision means that if the debtor's current monthly income (adjusted to account for regular and necessary expenses) is insufficient to pay down his/her debts, he/she may remain in Chapter 7 (discharge). If the debtor's current monthly income (adjusted to account for regular and necessary expenses) allows the debtor to pay down his or her debts, then the judge may convert the filing to a Chapter 13 proceeding (debt restructuring).

This observation pretty much reveals this assertion by the Strib for the bullshit that it is:

An earlier study by Harvard Law Professor Elizabeth Warren found that some 90 percent of personal bankruptcies involve medical crises, layoffs or divorces. There's nothing wrong with giving these consumers a fresh start after unforeseen disasters. Moreover, bankruptcy judges already have the authority to reject Chapter 7 petitions from filers engaging in "substantial abuse" of the system.

And if they cannot afford to pay down their debts as would be restructured in a Chapter 13 proceeding, not one of these people who are victims of circumstances beyond their control would be deprived of the ability to proceed under Chapter 7.

I hate it when no-mind journalists try to play lawyer. Next time try reading the law you plan on criticizing instead of taking the word of some political hack.

Or is that the Strib's game?

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