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GOP Wheeling And Dealing May Come Back To Bite Them

Wednesday was the anniversary of the day in 1944 when Democrats nominated Franklin Roosevelt for a fourth term. If he could see the wheeling and dealing in D.C. during the current budget deficit debate, FDR wouldn’t be surprised. Republicans are still trying to kill Social Security, and the GOP is still cozy  with bankers, billionaires, and big business.

Tea Party House Republicans, under the leadership of Eric Cantor, are doing  everything they can to protect their BFFs on Wall Street from paying their fair  share of taxes. If majority Leader (and presumptive peaker) Cantor and the rest of the Tea Party  types were really concerned about the budget deficit, they would support  President Obama’s effort to save money by ending billions of dollars in  wasteful subsidies to big oil and for corporate jets. Tax breaks for corporate  jets with full bars don’t stimulate the economy, but they do stimulate corporate  jet setters.

Republicans did  score one victory this week which may come back and bite them on the butt.  President Obama passed over consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren for the job of director of the new federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau after  Senate Republicans said they would filibuster her appointment. Warren’s  crime was her fight to protect consumers from the big financial firms  that rip off working families. Today is the first  anniversary of the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act which Congress passed to curb predatory behavior by Wall Street.

Warren will return to her home in Massachusetts,  and she may run against Republican U.S. Senator and Cosmo centerfold, Scott Brown. If the GOP has any hope of taking control of the Senate next year, Brown  must win.  But polls show that Brown is vulnerable, and Brown has the chops  to show blue collar Democrats that Wall Street is the enemy of the working  families who have lost their jobs and then their homes in the wake of the great  recession, a downturn caused by big business and the bad boy bankers and  billionaires that Warren has fought to regulate.

And one last date for all you  American history buffs, Tuesday was the anniversary of the day in 1848 when a  pioneering women’s rights convention met in Seneca Falls New York.  The convention paved the way for way for women like Elizabeth Warren and  Michele Bachmann to run for office. By the way, Representative Bachman, the convention  was in Seneca Falls, N.Y., not Seneca Falls, N.H., if anyone asks.

 

By: Brad Bannon, U. S. News and World Report, July 22, 2011

July 22, 2011 Posted by | Banks, Big Business, Budget, Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Consumer Credit, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Consumers, Debt Ceiling, Debt Crisis, Deficits, Democracy, Democrats, Economic Recovery, Economy, Elections, Financial Institutions, GOP, Government, Government Shut Down, Ideologues, Ideology, Lawmakers, Middle Class, Politics, President Obama, Republicans, Right Wing, Senate, Social Security, Tax Loopholes, Taxes, Teaparty, Wealthy, Wisconsin Republicans, Women | , , , , , , , | Leave a 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

The Republican War On Elizabeth Warren

Last week, at a House hearing on financial institutions and consumer credit, Republicans lined up to grill and attack Elizabeth Warren, the law professor and bankruptcy expert who is in charge of setting up the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Ostensibly, they believed that Ms. Warren had overstepped her legal authority by helping state attorneys general put together a proposed settlement with mortgage servicers, which are charged with a number of abuses.

But the accusations made no sense. Since when is it illegal for a federal official to talk with state officials, giving them the benefit of her expertise? Anyway, everyone knew that the real purpose of the attack on Ms. Warren was to ensure that neither she nor anyone with similar views ends up actually protecting consumers.

And Republicans were clearly also hoping that if they threw enough mud, some of it would stick. For people like Ms. Warren — people who warned that we were heading for a debt crisis before it happened — threaten, by their very existence, attempts by conservatives to sustain their antiregulation dogma. Such people must therefore be demonized, using whatever tools are at hand.

Let me expand on that for a moment. When the 2008 financial crisis struck, many observers — myself included — thought that it would force opponents of financial regulation to rethink their position. After all, conservatives hailed the debt boom of the Bush years as a triumph of free-market finance right up to the moment it turned into a disastrous bust.

But we underestimated the speed and determination with which opponents of regulation would rewrite history. Almost instantly, that free-market boom was retroactively reinterpreted; it became a disaster brought on by, you guessed it, excessive government intervention.

There remained, however, the inconvenient fact that some of those calling for stronger regulation have a track record that gives them a lot of credibility. And few have as much credibility as Ms. Warren.

Household debt doubled as a share of personal income over the 30 years preceding the crisis, and these days high levels of debt are widely seen as a major barrier to recovery. But only a handful of people appreciated the dangers posed by rising debt as the rise was happening. And Ms. Warren was among the foresighted few. More than a decade ago, when politicians of both parties were celebrating the wonders of modern banking and widening access to consumer credit, she was already warning that high debt levels could bring widespread financial disaster in the face of an economic downturn.

Later, she took the lead in pushing for consumer protection as an integral part of financial reform, arguing that many debt problems were created when lenders pushed borrowers into taking on obligations they didn’t understand. And she was right. As the late Edward Gramlich of the Federal Reserve — another unheeded expert, who tried in vain to get Alan Greenspan to rein in predatory lending — asked in 2007, “Why are the most risky loan products sold to the least sophisticated borrowers?” And he continued, “The question answers itself — the least sophisticated borrowers are probably duped into taking these products.”

Given Ms. Warren’s prescience and her role in shaping financial reform legislation — not to mention her effective performance running the Congressional panel exercising oversight over federal financial bailouts — it was only natural that she be appointed to get the new consumer protection agency up and running. And it’s hard to think of anyone better qualified to head the agency once it goes into action.

The fact that she’s so well qualified is, of course, the reason she’s being attacked so fiercely. Nothing could be worse, from the point of view of bankers and the politicians who serve them, than to have consumers protected by someone who knows what she’s doing and has the personal credibility to stand up to pressure.

The interesting question now is whether the Obama administration will see the war on Elizabeth Warren for what it is: a second chance to change public perceptions.

In retrospect, the financial crisis of 2008 was a missed opportunity. Yes, the White House succeeded in passing significant new financial regulation. But for whatever reason, it failed to change the terms of debate: bankers and the disaster they wrought have faded from view, and Republicans are back to denouncing the evils of regulation as if the crisis never happened.

By the sheer craziness of their attacks on Ms. Warren, however, Republicans are offering the administration a perfect opportunity to revive the debate over financial reform, not to mention highlighting exactly who’s really in Wall Street’s pocket these days. And that’s an opportunity the White House should welcome.

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, March 20, 2011

March 21, 2011 Posted by | Consumer Credit, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Consumers, Debt Crisis, Financial Institutions, Financial Reform, Regulations | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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