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“Bank Of America’s Foreclosure Frenzy”: Maximizing Fees And Profits For Big Banks

In one corner, we have five former Bank of America Corp. employees who told a federal court they were instructed to mislead customers on the verge of losing their homes and stall their applications for loan modifications.

In another corner, we have Bank of America, which says nothing could be further from the truth.

Who’s right? If anything, the bank’s strident denials make me more inclined to believe the workers’ claims. “These allegations are absurd, patently false and contrary to Bank of America’s long-standing policy only to foreclose as a last resort when other available options to help keep people in their home have been exhausted,” Jumana Bauwens, a Bank of America spokeswoman, told Bloomberg News in an email this week.

Perhaps some of the allegations may be wrong. But to say all of them are obviously false? You have to wonder. A lot of the former employees’ claims make sense.

We have known for years that the U.S. Treasury Department’s Home Affordable Modification Program failed miserably at its stated goal of helping struggling homeowners. In part, that’s because companies and divisions of major banks that service mortgage loans often can make more money from foreclosures than from loan modifications.

It didn’t bother the banking industry’s “robo-signers” that they risked committing perjury when they signed false affidavits filed in courthouses across the country to speed foreclosures along. Now, Bank of America would have us believe that all of these former employees were making things up under penalty of perjury when they came forward and told their stories.

The former employees’ statements were filed with a federal court in Boston as part of a lawsuit against Bank of America by homeowners who say they were improperly denied permanent loan modifications. Bank of America says it will respond to the statements in greater detail in a court filing.

The workers gave horrific accounts about Bank of America’s compliance with the Home Affordable Modification Program. One consistent theme was that they said they were told to deceive borrowers about the status of their applications.

“My colleagues and I were instructed to inform homeowners that modification documents were not received on time, not received at all, or that documents were missing, even when, in fact, all documents were received in full and on time,” said Theresa Terrelonge of Grand Prairie, TX, who worked at Bank of America from 2009 to 2010 as a loan-servicing representative. She said workers “were awarded incentives such as $25 in cash, or as a restaurant gift card” based on “how many applications for loan modifications they could decline.”

Simone Gordon of Orange, NJ, who left Bank of America in 2012, gave a similar account. “Employees were rewarded by meeting a quota of placing a specific number of accounts into foreclosure, including accounts in which the borrower fulfilled a HAMP trial period,” Gordon said. “For example, a collector who placed ten or more accounts into foreclosure in a given month received a $500 bonus.” Other rewards for placing accounts into foreclosure included gift cards to Target or Bed, Bath & Beyond.

“We were regularly drilled that it was our job to maximize fees for the bank by fostering and extending delay of the HAMP modification process by any means we could — this included by lying to customers,” Gordon said.

William Wilson, a Bank of America underwriter and manager in Charlotte, NC from 2010 to 2012, described what he said was called a “blitz.” About twice a month, he said, Bank of America would order case managers and underwriters to clean out the backlog of HAMP applications by rejecting any file in which the documents were more than 60 days old. Employees were instructed to “enter a reason that would justify declining the modification to the Treasury Department,” Wilson said.

“Justifications commonly included claiming that the homeowner had failed to return requested documents or had failed to make payments,” he said. “In reality these justifications were untrue. I personally reviewed hundreds of files in which the computer systems showed that the homeowner had fulfilled a trial period plan and was entitled to a permanent loan modification,” but was nevertheless declined during a blitz.

“On many occasions, homeowners who did not receive the permanent modification that they were entitled to ultimately lost their homes to foreclosure,” he said.

After Bloomberg wrote last week about the former employees’ statements, the top Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee, Maxine Waters, sent a letter to Christy Romero, the special inspector general of the Troubled Asset Relief Program, asking that her office investigate. Yet it’s hard to get one’s hopes up about the government’s desire to get at the truth.

There already has been a $25 billion nationwide whitewash of a settlement between regulators and big banks over improper foreclosure practices, along with billion-dollar payments under a different settlement to consultants who were hired to review those practices. Nobody was prosecuted, much less wrist-slapped.

This week, the court-appointed monitor overseeing compliance with the terms of the national mortgage settlement said he found “more work needs to be done” by big mortgage servicers to improve their treatment of customers. But neither he nor the regulators have ever reported anything as dubious as the conduct described in the former Bank of America employees’ court declarations. Perhaps they just missed a bunch of stuff.

If there was a good reason to believe that the government’s priority is to investigate big banks rather than protect them, maybe Bank of America’s blanket denial would seem more credible.

 

By: Jonathan Weil, Bloomberg View, Published in The National Memo, June 21, 2013

June 23, 2013 Posted by | Big Banks, Foreclosures | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Republican House Bills: A Glimpse Into The Tea Party’s Vision For America

If the House ran America, what would America look like?

It would no longer have a far-reaching health-care law. The House voted to repeal that legislation in January.

It would no longer have federal limits on greenhouse gases. The House voted to ax them in April.

And it would not have three government programs for homeowners who are in trouble on their mortgages. The House voted to end them all.

These and many other changes are included in an ambitious slate of more than 80 bills that have passed since Republicans took control of the chamber this year.

Most of these measures will die in the Democrat-controlled Senate. Still, they are a revealing kind of vision statement — the first evidence of how a tea-party-influenced GOP would like to reshape the country.

That vision is aimed at dismantling some Democratic priorities. The GOP’s philosophy holds that paring back an expensive and heavy-handed government bureaucracy would help restore the country’s financial footing and give private businesses the freedom to grow and create jobs.

After seven months, it is still only half a vision.

On major issues such as health care, climate change and bad mortgages, the House has affirmed that fixes are needed — if it can ever manage to repeal the old ones.

It hasn’t said exactly what those changes should be.

“The Republican Party is sort of united in terms of what they’re against. But there’s not a great deal of consensus right now in terms of what they’re for,” said Michael D. Tanner, a senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute and an expert on health-care reform and recent GOP history.

This month, a divided Congress finally staggered into its summer recess. Its business has been split between the terrifyingly urgent — including standoffs that threatened a government shutdown and a national debt default — and the purely theoretical.

The theoretical part has come because neither the House nor the Senate is likely to approve big ideas dreamed up by the other. The Democrat-held Senate has reacted to this by withdrawing into legislative hibernation.

House Republicans have instead been passing bills that tell a story — about the country they want but can’t quite get.

“The new House Republican majority was voted into office to change the way Washington does business and make the government accountable to the American people once again. Our agenda has reflected these goals,” said Laena Fallon, a spokeswoman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.).

But even within the Republican ranks, there is a desire for more details about the party’s vision for replacing Democratic policies.

Rep. Trey Gowdy (S.C.) said the GOP must put forward its own solutions on issues such as health care, job creation and mortgage assistance. He said he is not convinced that there is a need to take on climate change in the same way.

“Being the party of ‘no’ . . . is an appropriate response” in some cases, Gowdy said. “It’s not appropriate when you’ve been extensively critical of someone else’s ideas” and have none to replace them, he said.

“For substance reasons, and for credibility reasons, we also need to have a comprehensive . . . alternative that goes beyond saying, ‘Your plan is bad,’ ” Gowdy said.

The best-known part of the House’s vision has to do with spending. The chamber passed a budget that calls for a Medicare overhaul that would force new recipients to buy private insurance after 2022. It also passed, with five Democratic backers, a bill that demanded a balanced budget amendment: essentially, a spending limit written into the Constitution.

But the House’s measures have gone far beyond the budget.

It has passed legislation to forbid new energy-efficiency standards for light bulbs and to punish shining a laser pointer at an airplane in flight. It voted to take away federal funding for National Public Radio and for public financing of presidential campaigns.

The House also took a stand against President Obama on the military campaign in Libya, rejecting a motion to approve U.S. involvement. And it voted to rein in Environmental Protection Agency efforts against “mountaintop-removal coal mines” by requiring the EPA to defer to decisions by state regulators.

On three major issues, the House seemed to acknowledge that simply repealing a Democratic idea might not be enough — and that it did not have its own solutions.

On Jan. 19, for instance, 242 Republicans and three Democrats voted to repeal the landmark health-care law.

In place of the legislation, Republicans had said they would craft their own solutions for problems involving high costs and the denial of coverage for preexisting conditions. Their slogan, outlined in last fall’s Pledge to America, was “Repeal and Replace.”

No replacement has occurred.

A bill that would limit liability in malpractice lawsuits has passed in committee. Other ideas are being developed, aides said.

On climate change, the EPA is requiring larger power plants and industrial facilities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to obtain new permits.

But many in Congress worried that the effort would drive up energy prices and kill jobs. So in April, 236 House Republicans and 19 Democrats voted to make the EPA stop in its tracks.

In place of regulations, they approved only a vaguely worded “sense of the Congress” about climate change.

“There is established scientific concern over warming of the climate system,” the bill says. It adds that Congress should attack the problem “by developing policies that do not adversely affect the American economy, energy supplies, and employment.”

But how? When? The measure doesn’t say.

And it doesn’t need to, said Tim Phillips, president of the conservative group Americans for Prosperity. He said his group thinks that simply repealing this legislation — and the health-care law — is enough for now.

“The big-government assault [has been] so damaging to the economy and the government. They’re doing the right thing by just trying to stop and reverse,” Phillips said.

Environmental groups have said that the House’s bill would leave the nation powerless to fight an escalating global problem.

“They clearly aren’t going to pass any legislation themselves that would address that pollution,” said Dan Lashof of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The House also has voted to eliminate three federal programs meant to aid homeowners in danger of foreclosure. Two help modify loans to create lower payments. The third gives no-interest loans to borrowers who are in trouble. All have been criticized for moving too slowly and helping too few.

In March, the House decided to do away with them. The Congressional Budget Office said that doing so could save taxpayers $2.4 billion.

“None of the programs . . . have been successful,” Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), wrote in a statement.

By: David Fahrenthold, The Washington Post, August 17, 2011

August 18, 2011 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Budget, Climate Change, Congress, Conservatives, Constitution, Debt Ceiling, Deficits, Democrats, Economic Recovery, Economy, Elections, Energy, Environment, Foreclosures, Global Warming, GOP, Government, Greenhouse Gases, Health Reform, Ideologues, Ideology, Jobs, Lawmakers, Medicare, Politics, Regulations, Republicans, Right Wing, Taxes, Teaparty, Unemployed, Voters | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Loose Lips: Romney Miscasts Economy In GOP Debut

In rhetorical excesses marking his entry in the presidential campaign, Mitt Romney said the economy worsened under President Barack Obama, when it actually improved, and criticized the president for issuing apologies to the world that were never made.

A look at some of the statements by Romney on Thursday in announcing his bid for the Republican nomination and how they compare with the facts:

ROMNEY: “When he took office, the economy was in recession. He made it worse. And he made it last longer.”

THE FACTS: The gross domestic product, the prime measure of economic strength, shrank by a severe 6.8 percent annual rate before Obama became president. The declines eased after he took office and economic growth, however modest, resumed. The recession officially ended six months into his presidency. Unemployment, however, has worsened under Obama, going from 7.8 percent in January 2009 to 9.1 percent last month. It hit 10.1 percent in October 2009.

A case can be made for and against the idea that Obama’s policies made the economy worse than it needed to be and that the recession lasted longer than it might have under another president. Such arguments are at the core of political debate. But Obama did not, as Romney alleged, make the economy worse than it was when he took office.

ROMNEY: “A few months into office, he traveled around the globe to apologize for America.”

THE FACTS: Obama has not apologized for America. What he has done, in travels early in his presidency and since, is to make clear his belief that the U.S. is not beyond reproach. He has told foreigners that the U.S. at times acted “contrary to our traditions and ideals” in its treatment of terrorist suspects, that “America has too often been selective in its promotion of democracy,” that the U.S. “certainly shares blame” for international economic turmoil and has sometimes shown arrogance toward allies. Obama, whose criticisms of America’s past were typically balanced by praise, was in most cases taking issue with policies or the record of the previous administration, not an unusual approach for a new president — or a presidential candidate. Romney’s actual point seems to be that Obama has been too critical of his country.

But there has been no formal — or informal — apology. No saying “sorry” on behalf of America.

ROMNEY: “Three years later, foreclosures are still at record levels. Three years later the prices of homes continue to fall.”

THE FACTS: Although foreclosures remain high, the number of U.S. homes that were repossessed by lenders fell in April, compared with March and a year ago, according to the foreclosure listing service RealtyTrac Inc. Romney’s claim about home prices, though, is supported by the Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller 20-city monthly index. It found home prices in big metro areas have sunk to their lowest since 2002. Since the bubble burst in 2006, prices have fallen more than they did during the Great Depression.

ROMNEY: “Instead of encouraging entrepreneurs and employers, he raises their taxes, piles on record-breaking mounds of regulation and bureaucracy and gives more power to union bosses.”

THE FACTS: Romney ignores ambitious tax-cutting pushed by Obama. The stimulus plan early in his presidency cut taxes broadly for the middle class and business. He more recently won a one-year tax cut for 2011 that reduced most workers’ Social Security payroll taxes by nearly a third. He also campaigned in support of extending the Bush-era tax cuts for all except the wealthy, whose taxes he wanted to raise. In office, he accepted a deal from Republicans extending the tax cuts for all. As for tax increases, Obama won congressional approval to raise them on tobacco and tanning salons. The penalty for those who don’t buy health insurance, once coverage is mandatory, is a form of taxation. Several large tax increases in the health care law have not yet taken effect.

ROMNEY: “The expectation was that we’d have to raise taxes but I refused. I ordered a review of all state spending, made tough choices and balanced the budget without raising taxes.”

THE FACTS: Romney largely held the line on tax increases when he was Massachusetts governor but that’s only part of the revenue story. The state raised business taxes by $140 million in one year with measures branded “loophole closings,” the vast majority recommended by Romney. Moreover, the Republican governor and Democratic lawmakers raised hundreds of millions of dollars from higher fees and fines, taxation by another name. Romney himself proposed creating 33 new fees and increasing 57 others — enough to raise $59 million. Anti-tax groups were split on his performance. The Club for Growth called the fee increases and business taxes troubling. Citizens for Limited Taxation praised him for being steadfast in supporting an income tax rollback.

 

By: Calvin Woodward and Jim Kuhnhenn, Associated Press, Yahoo News, June 3, 2011

June 4, 2011 Posted by | Democracy, Economic Recovery, Economy, Elections, Foreclosures, GOP, Government, Ideologues, Ideology, Mitt Romney, Politics, President Obama, Regulations, Republicans, Tax Increases, Taxes, Unemployment | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

We Don’t Have A Spending Problem, We Have A Fraud Problem

Conservatives seem to have a knack for changing the subject whenever their backs are up against the wall. Over the last several weeks, there has been an orchestrated chorus  by the House Republicans in particular to define the so-called “deficit problem” in terms of a wild spending binge by the federal government and the Obama administration. They seem to have easily forgotten who got us into this mess in the first place. That aside, everyone from Speaker John Boehner to Sen Mitch McConnell have been bellowing throughout the halls of Congress and at every available microphone that “We don’t have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem”.

It’s amazing how we all have bought into this line. The media, in its usual rush to get a headline or sound bite, immediately picked up this line and has been the waterboys for the GOP by enabling this hoax on the American people. The focus in most circles has been on spending cuts. Well, we need to re-characterize what is actually going on here. We don’t have a spending problem..we have a fraud problem.

This fraud has been played on the American people by an ideologically depraved Republican party for at least the last ten years. They have made everybody believe that if we just make the wealthy wealthier, somewhere down the road, we will all benefit. There would be job creation with full employment, small businesses would thrive, home prices would fall, gas would cost less than two dollars a gallon and there would be a chicken in every pot. And we believed it hook, line and sinker. Now we are back to square one. None of these things have happened except the fact that we have indeed made the wealthy wealthier. In 2010,  the 400 Americans with the highest adjusted gross revenue incomes averaged $345 million. The average federal income tax was 17%, down from 26% in 1992. The income gap just keeps getting wider. Why  does this continue to happen? Because we let it happen.

Just last week, Standard and Poor’s accentuated the Republican clarion that the sky is falling. This call comes from the same S&P who supported every toxic waste subprime security under the sky, the same S&P  who sold its ratings to the highest bidder. Regulators have also assisted the GOP in their fraud. The Office of the Currency has gone out of its way to protect its clients, ie the banks. Efforts to reign in the banks and stop their predatory loan practices have been foiled at every turn. Even the banks are too big to fail. Profits for banks, corporations, CEO’s, Wall St and the wealthy just keep soaring. There is a lot of back scratching going on here, by and for a lot of wealthy people.

Now that the cat is out of the bag, all of these wealthy people are trying to figure out a way to take the spot light off themselves. They are beginning to see that they may not be able to stave off demands any longer that they pay their fare share. People who have been adversely affected for so many years are now demanding that this fraud be stopped. Teachers and other low wage earners, the poor, seniors, students and union members have all come to believe that they have sacrificed enough. Even some tea party members are beginning to see the light.

For too many years, the Republicans and their wealthy friends have had their hands in everybody’s pockets. Your pocket was the revenue stream for them. General Electric and the Koch Brothers were probably happier than anyone. The Republicans were also happy because their happy friends provided the cover that allows them to do whatever they want to in terms of policy. Being the ideologues that they are, this protection gives them unimpeded opportunity to push forward with their agenda, from dissolving women’s rights, overturning the Affordable Care Act, union busting, replacing Medicare with vouchers and completely eliminating any sense of environmental protection just to name a few. With happy and contented wealthy backers behind you for so many years, how could you go wrong. My, how things are changing.

The revenue stream that the Republicans have depended on for so long is now drying up…that stream is you. They are finding that when they put their hands in your pockets now, they are feeling the seam of the sewn pocket. There just isn’t any more money there. They become flushed and filled with extreme panic, finally realizing that they are going to have their taxes raised after all these years. Their backs are against the wall. So what do they do now? Change the debate..”Let’s raise taxes on everybody”. Nice try!

It’s well past time that shared sacrifice mean exactly what it says. It is no longer acceptable that the poor, under privileged, seniors and the disenfranchised continue to carry the load for corporations, Wall St and their deadbeat tax-evading friends. No, let’s not raise taxes on everybody. Let’s end the fraud and insist that the wealthy start paying taxes just like everyone else. This being Easter Sunday, this may be a good symbolic time to increase taxes only for the rich. We should leave that rate in place for oh say, the next 40 years. Besides, they have accumulated a fair amount of wealth over the years and should easily be able to live off that profit during that time. Perhaps take a trip or two or just wander around the world enjoying their spoils. We will pledge to re-visit this issue after that time. If, and only if,  the middle class has reached a level playing field, then we can talk about lowering the tax rate for the wealthy. I think Moses and the Pharaoh’s would be happy with this compromise.  So it is written, so let it be done.

By: raemd95, mykeystrokes.com, April 24, 2011

April 24, 2011 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Banks, Businesses, Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Consumers, Corporations, Deficits, Democracy, Economy, Equal Rights, Federal Budget, Foreclosures, General Electric, GOP, Government, Health Care, Ideologues, Ideology, Income Gap, Jobs, Journalists, Koch Brothers, Labor, Lawmakers, Medicare, Middle Class, Politics, President Obama, Press, Public, Pundits, Regulations, Republicans, Right Wing, Standard and Poor's, Tax Increases, Taxes, Tea Party, Unemployed, Unions, Wall Street, Wealthy, Womens Rights | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Letting The Banks Off The Hook: Top Bank Regulator Is Back To Its Old Tricks

Judging by last week’s performance, it sure looks as though the country’s top bank regulator is back to its old tricks.

Though, to be honest, calling the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency a “regulator” is almost laughable. The Environmental Protection Agency is a regulator. The O.C.C. is a coddler, a protector, an outright enabler of the institutions it oversees.

Back during the subprime bubble, for instance, it was so eager to please its “clients” — yes, that’s how O.C.C. executives used to describe the banks — that it steamrolled anyone who tried to stop lending abuses. States and cities around the country would pass laws requiring consumer-friendly measures such as mandatory counseling for subprime borrowers, or the listing of the fees the banks were going to charge for the loan. The O.C.C. would then use its power to either block or roll back the legislation.

It relied on the doctrine of pre-emption, which holds, in essence, that federal rules pre-empt state laws. More than 20 times, states and municipalities passed laws aimed at making subprime loans less predatory; every time, the O.C.C. ruled that national banks were exempt. Which, of course, rendered the new laws moot.

You’d think the financial crisis would have knocked some sense into the agency, exposing the awful consequences of its regulatory negligence. But you would be wrong. Like the banks themselves, the O.C.C. seems to have forgotten that the financial crisis ever took place.

It has consistently defended the Too Big to Fail banks. It opposes lowering hidden interchange fees for debit cards, even though such a move is mandated by law, because the banks don’t want to take the financial hit. Its foot-dragging in implementing the new Dodd-Frank laws stands in sharp contrast to, say, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which is working diligently to create a regulatory framework for derivatives, despite Republican opposition. Like the banks, it views the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as the enemy.

And, as we learned last week, it is doing its darndest to make sure the banks escape the foreclosure crisis — a crisis they created with their sloppy, callous and often illegal practices — with no serious consequences. There is really no other way to explain the “settlement” it announced last week with 14 of the biggest mortgage servicers (which includes all the big banks).

The proposed terms call on servicers to have a single point of contact for homeowners with troubled mortgages. They would have to stop the odious practice of secretly beginning foreclosure proceedings while supposedly working on a mortgage modification. They would have to hire consultants to do spot-checks to see if people were foreclosed on improperly. (Gee, I wonder how that’s going to turn out?)

If you’re thinking: that’s what they should have done in the first place, you’re right. If you’re wondering what the consequences will be if the banks don’t abide by the terms, the answer is: there aren’t any. And although the O.C.C. says that it might add a financial penalty, I’ll believe it when I see it. While John Walsh, the acting comptroller, called the terms “tough,” they’re anything but.

No, the real reason the O.C.C. raced to come up with its weak settlement proposal is that last month, a document surfaced that contained a rather different set of terms with the banks. These were settlement ideas being batted around by the states’ attorneys general, who have been investigating the foreclosure crisis since late October. The document suggested that the attorneys general were not only trying to fix the foreclosure process but also wanted to penalize the banks for their illegal actions.

Their ideas included all the terms (and then some) included in the O.C.C. proposal, though with more specificity. Unlike the O.C.C., the attorneys general had devised a way to actually enforce their settlement, by deputizing the new consumer bureau, which opens in July. And they wanted to impose a stiff fine — possibly $20 billion — which would be used to modify mortgages. In other words, the attorneys general were trying to help homeowners rather than banks.

By jumping out in front of the attorneys general, the O.C.C. has made the likelihood of a 50-state master settlement much less likely. Any such settlement needs bipartisan support; now, thanks to the O.C.C., there’s a good chance that Republican attorneys general will walk away. The banks will be able to say that they’ve already settled with the federal government, so why should they have to settle a second time? If they wind up being sued by the states, the federal settlement will help them in court.

“It’s a vintage O.C.C. move,” said Prentiss Cox, a law professor at the University of Minnesota who was formerly an assistant attorney general. “It is clearly an attempt to undercut the A.G.’s”

Old habits die hard in Washington. The O.C.C.’s historical reliance on pre-emption should have died after the financial crisis. Instead, it’s merely been disguised to look like a settlement.

By: Joe Nocera, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, April 18, 2011

 

April 19, 2011 Posted by | Banks, Congress, Consumer Credit, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Consumers, Foreclosures, Politics, Regulations, States | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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