Fly away, black swan

Emulating a politician, I’ll promise the moon in this column but provide green cheese in hopes it will distract from your hunger for a lunar landing.

I’ll offer dead lawyers and liberal bankers via Shakespearean and G.B. Shaw plays, plus an N.N. Taleb book. I’ve got a pie-in-the-sky health reform tradeoff and fear-mongering about foreclosure fallout. I’ll cap the effort with swans’ song stuff.

As a character in Henry VI (Part 2) said, let’s kill all the lawyers. (All but two, I interject. Why any exceptions? Advocating death to all lawyers includes the president and vice president, a tasteless joke and arrestable offense, to say nothing of elevating Speaker Nancy Pelosi to the presidency.)

Lawyers are experts at framing issues. What you leave out is as important as what you put in. Health care reform hinges in part on what president and attorney Obama wants to leave out.

Jen Huntley, my fellow RN&R columnist, two weeks ago made pertinent points on reforming health care. She went after pharmaceutical and insurance companies (hospitals a bit, too). She wants to allow negotiated drug prices to keep down costs.

I’d try to persuade conservatives to go for negotiated drug prices in health care reform if Jen would get liberals to lobby our lawyer-in-chief into including tort reform that caps malpractice and related health care lawsuit awards against doctors, hospitals, etc.

We all help drive up costs, lawyers included. As a semi-relevant bumper sticker puts it: “Support Your Local Lawyer—Send Your Kid to Medical School.”

By the way, Jen, you’ll get about as far as I will with this lobby effort I’m proposing.

Shaw had a character in one of his plays—I forget which—who said every profession is a conspiracy against the laity. This includes lawyers, doctors, insurers, pharma execs, hospital administrators, even columnists, government bureaucrats and bankers.

That brings me to a recent Treasury Department report on the first months of the Obama administration’s plan to help folks fix foreclosure problems via mortgage payments lowered to 31 percent of income.

Less than 8 percent of eligible homeowners had loans modified in the first three months of the $75 billion program. There were five times as many foreclosures as modifications during the period.

Bank of America and Wells Fargo modified, respectively, loans of 4 percent and 6 percent of their eligible borrowers—TARPapered status notwithstanding.

Reported overall were 235,247 trial modifications during May-July, yet in the first quarter of 2009, mortgage servicers said there were 370,000 modifications initiated voluntarily. Voluntary or government-prodded, these figures are small compared with continuing foreclosures and growing commercial real estate trouble. The real estate collapse isn’t over.

In his 2007 pre-recession book, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, Nassim Nicholas Taleb wrote that bankers aren’t conservative. “They are not conservative; just phenomenally skilled at self-deception by burying the possibility of a large, devastating loss under the rug,” he charged.

Bankers were actually very liberal with other peoples’ money.

Taleb, an options trader and author, argues that no matter how many white swans you see without spotting a black one, such unforeseen black beauties/uglies still may lurk in the weeds.

In plainer terms … traders, pilots, bankers, etc. learn life can be years of mundane work, short periods of sheer terror, years of repercussions. Lawyers, meanwhile, work to strike evidence of problematic swans, whatever their color, from the record.

Next, would you care for some lavender wine with your black swan and green cheese sandwich?

And now whatever you do, dear lunar traveler, please don’t consider yourself mooned.