Archive for the ‘Money Money!’ Category

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WHAT HAPPENED: Appellant was convicted of a criminal offense and filed an appeal.  Subsequent to that filing, the Court imposed $4,500.00 in fines.  Appellant did not amend their Notice of Appeal, but assumed that the original notice would have encapsulated all issues present in the case.  The government argues that the notice had to be amended to include the monetary penalties.

WHY IS THIS BEFORE THE SUPREME COURT:  Stop me if you’ve heard this before in these case reviews.  A very strict application of the rules favors the government, but a very strict application of the rules would require you to bury your head in the sand and ignore the many ways that the rules are unfair and stupid.  Although the Appellant here did not follow the rules, it also does not hurt the government at all to allow the notice to include all applicable issues.

WHAT ARE THE RAMIFICATIONS – The worst part about the law is the way that Court rules set arbitrary deadlines and then strictly apply those deadlines independent of reason or mercy.  If Appellant wins, the system would make it easier for criminal defendants with either overwhelmed or bad lawyers on their side to appeal all aspects of their case, but that result is mostly likely going to make bad lawyers lazier.  Once again, the question here is whether it worth the Court’s time and energy to find a way to bend the rules, or if it is easier to let this defendant’s judgment stand to keep the rules clear and unassailable.

ROOT FOR MANRIQUE IF: you are a bad and/or overwhelmed lawyer.

ROOT FOR COLORADO IF: you are Government lawyer who likes having less work based on technicalities.

PREDICTION:  U.S. 8-0

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WHAT HAPPENED: Appellant was convicted of selling meth in order to pay off treatment of cancer because apparently selling meth is lucrative.  Appellant was accused of being in a conspiracy with a former student of his with clever catch-phrases with a relative of his who kept all the money they made.  After getting caught, Appellant murdered his brother in law, went into hiding, and returned only to exact revenge on a collection of side characters and murder a warehouse full of Neo-Nazi’s was hit with a $75,0000.00 restitution order that he could not afford, because he never received any of the money that was earned in the conspiracy.

WHY IS THIS BEFORE THE SUPREME COURT:  Joint and several liability is a legal doctrine that states if more than one person is liable for a monetary amount, than each of those people are liable for the amount owed in full.   In other words, if three people are liable for $100K, then each of them could be liable for the full amount, and it does not have to be split in thirds.  Appellant here argues that it is unfair to be joint and severally liable for the restitution order because he did not actually receive the money he is liable for.  The background of the law is that conspiracy defendants are always joint and severally liable, but a weird case out of D.C. has cast doubt on whether that applies universally or if there are exceptions.

WHAT ARE THE RAMIFICATIONS – It is unlikely that the Court is going to strike down all joint and several liability, but more likely that the Court is going to clarify the weird D.C. Court case stated above.  That case in question dealt with millions of dollars in a vast drug dealing conspiracy, so it is both factually and legally distinguishable from the present issue.  Also, the government has argued that removing joint and several liability would make recouping conspiracy funds impossible, since people could just say “I don’t have it”, and give that money to someone else.  For those reasons, should the defendant win somehow, it is more likely to be on a factual nuance in this case, rather than a substantial change in the law.

ROOT FOR HONEYCUTT IF: you feel this case is pretty lame as far as Breaking Bad fan-fiction goes.

ROOT FOR U.S. IF: you know you can’t get blood from a stone, but still like to give it a squeeze.

PREDICTION:  U.S. 8-0

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WHAT HAPPENED: The Appellants were convicted of criminal charges and paid fines.  Appellants subsequently won their appeal and their convictions were overturned.  Appellant asked for their fees back, but Colorado said they had to go to civil court and prove their innocence by clear and convincing evidence to get their money back.

Wait…..

(reads facts again)

HAHAHA that’s so stupid.  OK sure let’s do this.

WHY IS THIS BEFORE THE SUPREME COURT:  Colorado argues that once the fines are paid into the Court system, the money becomes the ownership of the State and that it’s the Defendant’s burden to prove that they can get it back.

(reads appellate brief again)

HAHAHAHA seriously Colorado maybe it’s time to ban weed again.

WHAT ARE THE RAMIFICATIONS – Ok, seriously this time.  You could argue that this case represents the Court stepping on State’s rights because if Colorado wants to have a stupid rule about keeping your fines, they should be allowed to do whatever they want.  That being said, this clearly violates procedural due process, probably violates substantive due process, and could colorably be classified as a government taking without due process.  Luckily we don’t have anyone from Colorado joining significant parts of the Federal judiciary with life tenure anytime soon.

(reads news)

HAHAHAHAHAHA, never change Colorado.

ROOT FOR NELSON IF: you’re not the one person whose salary is paid by defendants who are motivated enough to appeal their criminal convictions, but not motivated enough to file for the fees returned.

ROOT FOR COLORADO IF: you are Colorado

PREDICTION:  Nelson 6-2 (Alito/Thomas special).

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WHAT HAPPENED: Appellant is an indigent defendant who was convicted of first degree murder.  Appellant sought medical expert to assist with his sentencing and was provided with an expert by the State.  Following some kind of calamity involving timing and delivering the report, Appellant was sentenced to death (by electrocution because this was in 1984).

WHY IS THIS BEFORE THE SUPREME COURT:  In the 1970s, the Supreme Court (by way of Thurgood Marshall) held that indigent defendants were entitled to medical experts to assist with the insanity defense.  The Court held that the cost to the State was nominal compared to the benefit it would provide in ensuring that justice was served.  This case takes that holding one step further, and asks that not only does the State have to provide a medical expert, but also has to provide someone who is completely independent from the State as to reduce bias.

WHAT ARE THE RAMIFICATIONS – This is either (1) a dollars and cents issue, or (2) another way that the Court could create more ways that people on death row can overturn their sentences.  One on hand, hiring an independent expert would cost more, but once again you would have to wonder how much it would really be in light of the purpose behind providing the expert.  If you also believe that experts are mostly just mercenaries who say whatever they are paid to say, the benefit here is pretty high.  On the other hand, a ruling in favor of the Defendant is a pretty far stretch from the original Court’s holding, and finding that an independent expert has been required since 1984 would open the door for past death row inmates to contest their sentences, which would in turn bring more old death row cases before the Court, which would in turn make Clarence Thomas freak out.

ROOT FOR MCWILLIAMS IF: you want to see Clarence Thomas freak out.

ROOT FOR DUNN IF: you think poor Clarence Thomas has been through enough.

PREDICTION:  Dunn 6-2

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Since Obamacare causes such controversy, and for good cause, it’s worth trying to untangle some of the issues presented by what I’m generically going to call government-managed health care. I’m using this umbrella term to cover anything that remotely resembles Medicare, the Veterans Health Administration, and the myriad of similarly large health care systems managed by governments across the world. Given the amount of debate on the issue, some other clarifications seem necessary. This article isn’t looking at the quality of the care, or whether it has any private components to it. These are certainly very important issues, but I’m only human, okay? One thing at a time.

Unless there are gross inefficiencies, which government is often unjustifiably famous for, the government’s overhead for administering health care is dramatically lower than private entities’ because profit and marketing are less important factors. This is even true for Medicare, despite the ridiculously high cost of health care in the US. But this only gets us a half way to the answer. The question is perhaps better measured by how much we currently spend on health care, and how much of that is paid for by the taxpayer.

First, although some struggle with costs, governments across the world already shoulder this burden. So it’s definitely possible. And before someone compares the cost of care in the US to the cost of care elsewhere, many, if not most, of the medication used elsewhere is also used here. Since private companies do not sell medication at a loss, it follows that the sales in other countries also operate profitably, and therefore, those costs are necessarily similar. The truth may be that US patients may be the victims of broadly-orchestrated price-gouging, but that’s beyond the scope of this article. In the US, taxpayers already fund over 60% of all health spending. And that number doesn’t account for the discounts on taxes that we give to companies operating emergency rooms, which is one of the main ways health care is provided to Americans. The US tax code grants non-profit status to hospitals that have emergency rooms. So, in effect, we’re saying, you don’t have to pay the government money you’d normally owe it if you’re spending it to run emergency care. This kind of quid pro quo is about the same as if the government taxed the entities and then spent money to provide similar health care. The amount of money spent on emergency care may not be much, but that’s, in part, because the uninsured, which are most of the emergency care patients, simply don’t seek medical care that much. I can’t really blame them, given the prices they have to pay, and the fact that the median household wealth for those without insurance is less than $20,000 (as opposed to over three times that if you’re insured).

So, it’s likely that US taxpayers already cover about 70 or 80% of US health care costs. Given the difference in overhead mentioned above, it’s easy to imagine that a government-managed health care system would incur lower costs, and therefore the percentage of actual health care costs covered would rise very close to 100%.

Another point that nudges the equation towards “why aren’t we already doing this?” is the fact that health problems are a significant drag on the economy. This works out in several ways. It might be the fact that the guy making your lunch can’t afford to get treatment for whatever contagious disease he might be tossing into your salad. Or the notion that employers have to, whether required by law or as a draw for employees, frequently offer health care coverage, which is a cost they incur. Or the number of medical bankruptcies. Or the vast number of other costs associated with preventable or treatable disease.

Given the above, recognizing that taxpayers already foot most of the health care bill and changing things simply so that the money is spent more efficiently would not only alleviate one of the biggest concerns for Americans, it would also probably galvanize the economy and productivity in a big way. Fiscally speaking, it seems like a no-brainer, and it appears that Congress is only against it because there are very wealthy donors that profit under the current scheme. Sorry, I’m contractually required by Brett to go there.

More info, if desired, at the Physicians for a National Health Program.

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WHAT HAPPENED:  Appellant is a pastel-clad, humid municipality populated by hot women and Pitbull (or so I’m told). Appellee is a commercial full of less-aggressively good-looking suburbanites in their late twenties who are far too relaxed and self-aggrandizing during the process of buying a house (I watch too much TV).  The basis of Appellant’s claim is that Appellee caused gave predatory loans (OK) to minority homeowners (probably true) which caused the housing crisis (wait, what) and ruined Miami (arguable).

WHY IS THIS BEFORE THE SUPREME COURT:  Even if we assume that all of the propositions in that last sentence are true, there are three big technical issues Appellant has to get by to bring this claim.  First, the Court has to determine whether or not Miami has standing to bring this claim under the Fair Housing Act, because even though Miami asserts elements of racial discrimination, it is not quite the focus of the claim like other lawsuits under the Fair Housing Act.  Second, the Court has to determine whether or not proximate cause is proven, meaning whether or not a bank giving bad loans could somehow be traced to the complete collapse of the housing market.  Third, the Court has to determine whether or not Miami can prove damages that are not just “infinity dollars”.

WHAT ARE THE RAMIFICATIONS –  By way of background, wild cases like this are not entirely uncommon in the legal profession.  Whether it is by the government or private parties, creative lawsuits can often move the law forward and bring about institutional or social change that the Court is commonly known for.  For example, Roe v. Wade was a fairly wild shot in the dark when it happened, and that is probably the most famous case of the last century.  That being said (and this gets forgotten about often), most of these cases lose.  This is a rough comparison, but the success of these cases are probably at the same rate of being on American Idol, where some contestants have perfect pitch and look like Carrie Underwood, and others are tone-deaf weirdos who somehow did not have a friend throw their body in front of the idea of auditioning in front of a live televised audience.  Following this analogy to its naturally ridiculous conclusion, this is the kind of case where Randy Jackson would say “Gee, I don’t know, dog.  I just don’t’ think it’s your time”, and then the lawsuit sadly goes back to the lobby and has to tell its disappointed family members that no, we are not going to Hollywood.

ROOT FOR CITY OF MIAMI IF:  you’re down with creditors getting taken down a peg, even if the implications of said peg are completely unknown.

ROOT FOR WELLS FARGO IF:  you didn’t own a house in the late 2000s.

PREDICTION:  Wells Fargo 6-2

A History of Airbag Choices

Posted: September 2, 2016 by Nazim in Money Money!, Technology

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Last weekend, the New York Times ran a svelte history of the Takata airbags, the ones that are now being recalled in millions of vehicles because they explode, although not in the way depicted above. Following the convoluted series of choices helps illustrate some of the difficulties involved in a lawsuit against a large manufacturer for a problem, and why these lawsuits at times run aground if the plaintiff or the plaintiff’s law firm runs out of steam (money) to carry on the suit, as happened in the case made famous by John Travolta in A Civil Action. This is also why the right to sue can be sold to someone who can actually see it through.

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Nazim mentioned the concept of a National Basic Income on a recent episode, and I wanted to post some extra information about it, just in case there was interest. The core notion is to replace all governmental income subsidies, which include unemployment assistance, social security, the Earned Income Tax Credit, Food Stamps, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and the many other programs that assist those who may in be temporary or long-term financial distress with a paycheck that the recipient can spend however she or he chooses. It would also remove some regulations that shift livelyhood burdens on employers, such as their portion of unemployment insurance, social security contributions and minimum wage requirements. However, this would not replace medical or educational assistance programs, at least as far as I understand it.

This idea comes in many shapes and sizes, and Nazim likes the administrative efficiency of a Negative Income Tax (which is just another form of Basic Income) the best, and while the notion has the big draw of being administratively light and deferring to individuals’ choices, most concerns focus on its feasibility, mainly the price tag and whether people will just turn into large, pale slugs.

As far as the latter goes, well, pilot programs haven’t yielded any such evolutionary step. Many of the experiments report a small decrease in working hours, but some report an increase, and overall productivity doesn’t seem to change much, but most attempts so far have been pretty small in terms of scale, so it’s hard to say. Finland might implement a large scale program in a couple of years, and it would be very interesting to see how it goes.

The feasibility issue, and the economic cost, is the bigger issue, and one that I did some quick, back-of-the-napkin math for. The Office of Management and Budget, which both parties use when they make budget projections, puts the total cost of Social Security and Income Security programs at $1.35 trillion in 2013, so lets start with that number. Basic Income would really only benefit the poorest part of the population, because it would be taxed back (or not paid out at all, in the case of a Negative Income Tax bracket) from anyone wealthy enough to not need it, which I will arbitrarily draw the line for at $30,000 of annual income. So, those making below $30 grand a year, they would get a graduated paycheck that scales inversely to their “normal” income, from zero for those who make $30,000 or more to, say (again, arbitrarily), $10,000 a year for those who make nothing. These are numbers I’ve plucked from thin air, for the sake of discussion. According to the Census Bureau, we get the following breakdown (pdf warning; and the numbers are approximate and rounded for ease of calculation):

  • About 11 million people in the US make close to nothing in annual income, so they would get the full $10,000 in basic income.
  • About 40 million make around $10,000 a year, so their basic income would decrease by a third, netting them $6,666 in basic income for that year, in addition to their regular income.
  • Another 42 million people make around $20,000 a year, so they would get about $3,333 in basic income to supplement their $20,000.
  • The remaining population, who all make $30,000 a year or more, either get no basic income or it is taxed back, so we don’t need to calculate needs at all.

These costs total only half a trillion dollars, so we could spend the same amount again to administer it in the most inefficient way imaginable and still come in at a substantially lower price tag than the current programs cost us. While it’s hard to tell whether current programs are better off giving cash, or directed assistance, what Nazim likes in these programs is that the individuals involved would determine their needs, instead of legislative dictates. But, perhaps more importantly, there would be a substantial solution to the growing automation of menial labor, and the decrease in untrained job offers. Sure, folks might not want to work for McDonald’s anymore, but that would mean that McDonald’s would have to either offer better compensation or automate more of the production, which sounds like progress to me.

Man, it’s weird to write about myself in the third person.

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Before Citizens United was even a glimmer in the Supreme Court’s eye, a 2014 study reviewed 1,779 important US policy decisions made between 1981 and 2002. The researchers compared the decisions policymakers made compared to the desires of the average voter. In other words, it asked, if the average voter desires a policy, is that policy more likely to happen? Surprisingly, It’s not. Over twenty years of policy making, the average american voter’s preferences have so little impact on major policy decisions that it’s within the margin of error for zero. On the other hand, “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy.”

All Citizens United did was clarify that we’re in an oligarchy with virtually unlimited political bribery.

Tax & Spend

Posted: July 3, 2016 by Nazim in Federalism, Money Money!, Taxation

A nice, unbiased breakdown of the federal budget, courtesy of nationalpriorities.org (more detail in link).

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