Showing posts with label Mayor Bill de Blasio. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mayor Bill de Blasio. Show all posts

Friday, June 5, 2020

George Floyd protests and NYC curfew arrests: Civil disobedience works great in a humane society

Two nights ago, George Floyd protesters tried a new tactic in New York City. Thousands of peaceful demonstrators remained on the streets after the curfew went into effect, and NYC cops arrested about 180 of them. No one resisted. All the detained protestors passively submitted to being hauled off to jail.

Passive resistance is an excellent tool for opposing injustice. Mahatma Gandhi used it and drove the British out of India. Martin Luther King preached the doctrine of nonviolent protest and galvanized the civil rights movement. Rosa Parks refused to sit in the back of the bus, and she ultimately saw the end of segregated public transportation in Montgomery, Alabama.

But passive resistance only works if there is a baseline of humanity in the hearts of the oppressors. Mahatma Gandhi would have been strangled with piano wire if he had challenged Adolph Hitler. Rosa Parks would have disappeared into the Gulag if she had stood up to Stalin. Martin Luther King would have vanished into a concentration camp if he had opposed the Chinese Communist regime.

Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks displayed great courage--physical courage. The police departments of the South during the 1960s showed themselves to be ruthless, brutal, and lawless. But Southern racists finally bent to the national will for justice and racial equality, which the federal courts enforced.

Passive noncompliance with the New York City curfew is the perfect tactic for protesting the death of George Floyd. Why? Because the New York City Police Department, the courts, and the municipal government are basically liberal and humane institutions.

We should also remember that most people arrested for defying NYC's curfew will not spend much time in jail--if any. And this is a good thing. Locking up peaceful protesters in crowded detention centers cannot be justified given the risk that demonstrators could contract COVID-19 while incarcerated. I wouldn't do that, you wouldn't do that, and Major De Blasio won't do that either.

Violence and looting will dissipate in New York City in the coming days, but the nation's largest metropolis will pay the price for all these nights of civil unrest.  The coronavirus may return because thousands of people congregated on the streets with no thought to social distancing. Foreign tourists will decide to cancel their vacations in the Big Apple. A significant number of law-abiding New Yorkers will leave the city for warmer climes, lower taxes, and less social turmoil.

But for now, the spirit of Mahatma Gandi prevails in the City of New York, and the urban protesters who passively defy the city's curfew will win a victory over the police. As we pass through troubled times, let us remember to be thankful for the remarkable fact that Americans can engage in peaceful protest because America has a First Amendment that guarantees our right to free speech.








Saturday, September 24, 2016

Free bankruptcy attorneys for destitute student-loan debtors: Why the heck not?

The New York Times editorialized yesterday that tenants should have access to free attorneys when their landlords start eviction proceedings against them. As the Times put it, "There are few legal fights more lopsided than landlords suing to evict their lower-income tenants." The Times commended New York Mayor Bill de Blasio for his plan to provide municipal funding to hire legal help for the city's low-income tenants.

I agree with the Times; providing tenants with legal assistance when they face eviction would be a good thing. But let's expand that idea a bit. Why not provide free bankruptcy attorneys for destitute student-loan debtors?

After all, almost all college-loan borrowers who try to discharge their student loans in bankruptcy are too poor to hire lawyers to steer them through the bankruptcy process. And when they go to bankruptcy court, they almost always face a platoon of lawyers who argue that their student loans should not be discharged.

The debtor either faces government lawyers dispatched by the U.S. Department of Education or private attorneys hired by Educational Credit Management Corporation (ECMC) or  another federally authorized debt collector. For example, in the Acosta-Conniff bankruptcy case, now on appeal to the Eleventh Circuit, ECMC has six attorney to defend its interests. Six!

Currently, this country has thousands of unemployed lawyers.  As Joshua Wright reported recently, American law schools are turning out two attorneys for every available job. Why not put some of these unemployed law graduates to work defending student-loan debtors in the bankruptcy courts?

I will tell you why not. The Department of Education does not want anyone to discharge their student loans in bankruptcy. And when I say anyone, I mean anyone. In a 2013 case, DOE fought bankruptcy discharge for a quadriplegic who was working full time but who did not make enough money to pay his live-in caregiver and still pay off his student loans.

Lynne Mahaffie, a DOE Under Secretary, issued a letter in July 2015 outlining when DOE would not oppose bankruptcy discharge for distressed student-loan debtors; but that letter was misleading. In fact, DOE and its debt collectors fight almost every debtor who seeks to discharge student loans in bankruptcy. If DOE is going to oppose bankruptcy relief for a quadriplegic, then you know it is going to oppose relief for almost everyone.

DOE, Congress, and the higher education industry know that the whole corrupt, mismanaged, and wildly overpriced system of higher education in the United States would collapse without the student loan program; and the student loan program's continued existence depends on the fiction that students are paying back their loans.

In fact, they are not paying back their loans; but the government has largely managed to hide that fact from the public. If insolvent student-loan debtors were able to discharge their student loans in bankruptcy, millions of people would be entitled to relief. And if that were to occur, then it would be apparent to everyone that the federal student-loan program is itself bankrupt; and the program would collapse.

And Congress, DOE, and the higher education industry want to postpone the day of reckoning for as long as possible.

References

Editorial. A Right to a Lawyer to Save Your Home. New York Times, September 23, 2016, p. A26. Accessible at http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/23/opinion/a-right-to-a-lawyer-to-save-your-home.html?_r=0

Lynn Mahaffie, Undue Hardship Discharge of Title IV Loans in Bankruptcy Adversary Proceedings. CL ID: GEN 15-13, July 7, 2015. Accessible at https://www.ifap.ed.gov/dpcletters/attachments/GEN1513.pdf

Myhre v U.S. Department of Education, 503 B.R. 698 (Bakr. W.D. Wis. 2013). Accessible at http://www.wiwd.uscourts.gov/wiwb/Decisions/Decisions_rdm/2013/Myhre.pdf

Joshua Wright. The Oversaturated Job Market for Lawyers Continues, and On-The-Side Legal Work Grows. Economicmodeling.com, January 10, 2014. http://www.economicmodeling.com/2014/01/10/the-oversatured-job-market-for-lawyers-continues/