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Can You Handle The Truth?: What The Public Doesn’t Understand About The Debt Ceiling

When a CBS reporter asked President Obama why a  recent poll shows that 69% of Americans don’t want the debt ceiling lifted, he responded by stating that “professional politicians understand the  debt crisis better than the general public.” As I heard the words come from his lips, I knew there would be outrage  on the right, and the left and certainly the right again!

The problem is, the president was right; ahem,  correct.

When posed with the question, “If you have a credit  limit and have  maxed out your credit card, should you raise your credit limit  so you  can spend more?”   Americans  respond with a resounding “NO!” as would I  if that were the question.

But here is the real question:

As an American, did you know if we do not raise the  debt ceiling and  go into default, that thousands of Americans will lose their  jobs? And  a 9% unemployment rate will be something you’ll hope for? Or that   programs like Homeland Security will be cut which I’m sure will make any   terrorist organization smile.

How about home owners and small business owners  longing for the  days of 2008? And that double dip recession the Republicans  were trying  to scare you about? Well, it certainly would happen. Speaking of   money, our bonds will be worthless; and if you think that TARP and the  bailout  were bad, that’s just an appetizer for the domino effect not  raising the debt  ceiling would have on Wall Street, perhaps worldwide;  just look at what  happened with Greece.

I mentioned that the president was right when he  said Americans  don’t know as much about the debt ceiling crisis as a  professional  politician; and I do believe that.   When some of the nation was  outraged or offended by his remark, I could  hear Jack Nicholson saying,  “The truth, you can’t handle the truth!!”

We need only   look at our own television viewing habits to see  evidence to support the president’s rhetoric.  Let’s take a  little  quiz shall we?

  1. Were  the Bush tax credits meant to last forever?  Answer: No, just ask the authors of the  legislation.
  2. When  is the president planning on removing those temporary  credits? Answer: 2013 and  beyond, not a massive tax cut taking place in  August.
  3. How  many times did President George W. Bush raise the debt ceiling? Answer: 7 times.

And where was the Republican outrage then? Answer: they didn’t have a  Democrat in the White House up for re-election!

OK…now a few more…

  1. What  former governor’s daughter was on “Dancing With The Stars?” Answer: Sarah Palin.
  2. What  was the verdict in the Casey Anthony trial? Answer: Not guilty.
  3. Who  was voted off (pick one) American Idol, The Biggest Loser or  The Bachelorette?  Answer: I don’t know, I was too busy paying attention to  the debt crisis.

The point is, most Americans would’ve been able to  easily answer the  latter three questions. We were glued to our T.V. sets during the  Casey  Anthony trial; not to CSPAN and the ratings prove it.  So don’t be  offended, the president’s not  saying you’re dumb. He is simply saying  you don’t have the time to spend 40-60  hours a week to do a job you  elected him and Congress to do.  Oh, and by the way, the latest poll  shows 47%  of Americans (Rasmussen) don’t want the debt ceiling lifted;  see even the CBS reporter proved the president right with his question.   Love that!

By: Leslie Marshall, U. S. News and World Report, July 13, 2011

July 14, 2011 Posted by | Congress, Conservatives, Consumers, Debt Ceiling, Debt Crisis, Deficits, Economic Recovery, Economy, Elections, GOP, Government, Government Shut Down, Ideologues, Ideology, Jobs, Middle East, Politics, President Obama, Republicans, Right Wing, Small Businesses, Unemployment | , , , , , | 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

Despite Scandalous Abuses, Banks Are Off the Hook Again

Americans know that banks have mistreated borrowers in many ways in foreclosure cases. Among other things, they habitually filed false court documents. There were investigations. We’ve been waiting for federal and state regulators to crack down.

Prepare for a disappointment. As early as this week, federal bank regulators and the nation’s big banks are expected to close a deal that is supposed to address and correct the scandalous abuses. If these agreements are anything like the draft agreement recently published by the American Banker — and we believe they will be — they will be a wrist slap, at best. At worst, they are an attempt to preclude other efforts to hold banks accountable. They are unlikely to ease the foreclosure crisis.

All homeowners will suffer as a result. Some 6.7 million homes have already been lost in the housing bust, and another 3.3 million will be lost through 2012. The plunge in home equity — $5.6 trillion so far — hits everyone because foreclosures are a drag on all house prices.

The deals grew out of last year’s investigation into robo-signing — when banks were found to have filed false documents in foreclosure cases. The report of the investigation has not been released, but we know that robo-signing was not an isolated problem. Many other abuses are well documented: late fees that are so high that borrowers can’t catch up on late payments; conflicts of interest that lead banks to favor foreclosures over loan modifications.

The draft does not call for tough new rules to end those abuses. Or for ramped-up loan modifications. Or for penalties for past violations. Instead, it requires banks to improve the management of their foreclosure processes, including such reforms as “measures to ensure that staff are trained specifically” for their jobs. The banks will also have to adhere to a few new common-sense rules like halting foreclosures while borrowers seek loan modifications and establishing a phone number at which a person will take questions from delinquent borrowers. Some regulators have reportedly said that fines may be imposed later.

But the gist of the terms is that from now on, banks — without admitting or denying wrongdoing — must abide by existing laws and current contracts. To clear up past violations, they are required to hire independent consultants to check a sample of recent foreclosures for evidence of improper evictions and impermissible fees.

The consultants will be chosen and paid by the banks, which will decide how the reviews are conducted. Regulators will only approve the banks’ self-imposed practices. It is hard to imagine rigorous reviews, but if the consultants turn up problems, the banks are required to reimburse affected borrowers and investors as “appropriate.” It is apparently up to the banks to decide what is appropriate.

It gets worse. Consumer advocates have warned that banks may try to assert that these legal agreements pre-empt actions by the states to correct and punish foreclosure abuses. Banks may also try to argue that any additional rules by the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to help borrowers would be excessive regulation.

The least federal regulators could do is to stress that the agreements are not intended to pre-empt the states or undermine the consumer bureau. If they don’t, you can add foreclosure abuses to other bank outrages, like bailout-financed bonuses and taxpayer-subsidized profits.

By: The New Yor Times, Editorial, April 9, 2011

April 10, 2011 Posted by | Banks, Consumers, Financial Institutions, Foreclosures, Mortgages, Politics, Regulations, States, Wall Street | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Another Inside Job: The Continuation Of Banker Bad Behavior

Count me among those who were glad to see the documentary “Inside Job” win an Oscar. The film reminded us that the financial crisis of 2008, whose aftereffects are still blighting the lives of millions of Americans, didn’t just happen — it was made possible by bad behavior on the part of bankers, regulators and, yes, economists.

What the film didn’t point out, however, is that the crisis has spawned a whole new set of abuses, many of them illegal as well as immoral. And leading political figures are, at long last, showing some outrage. Unfortunately, this outrage is directed, not at banking abuses, but at those trying to hold banks accountable for these abuses.

The immediate flashpoint is a proposed settlement between state attorneys general and the mortgage servicing industry. That settlement is a “shakedown,” says Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama. The money banks would be required to allot to mortgage modification would be “extorted,” declares The Wall Street Journal. And the bankers themselves warn that any action against them would place economic recovery at risk.

All of which goes to confirm that the rich are different from you and me: when they break the law, it’s the prosecutors who find themselves on trial.

To get an idea of what we’re talking about here, look at the complaint filed by Nevada’s attorney general against Bank of America. The complaint charges the bank with luring families into its loan-modification program — supposedly to help them keep their homes — under false pretenses; with giving false information about the program’s requirements (for example, telling them that they had to default on their mortgages before receiving a modification); with stringing families along with promises of action, then “sending foreclosure notices, scheduling auction dates, and even selling consumers’ homes while they waited for decisions”; and, in general, with exploiting the program to enrich itself at those families’ expense.

The end result, the complaint charges, was that “many Nevada consumers continued to make mortgage payments they could not afford, running through their savings, their retirement funds, or their children’s education funds. Additionally, due to Bank of America’s misleading assurances, consumers deferred short-sales and passed on other attempts to mitigate their losses. And they waited anxiously, month after month, calling Bank of America and submitting their paperwork again and again, not knowing whether or when they would lose their homes.”

Still, things like this only happen to losers who can’t keep up their mortgage payments, right? Wrong. Recently Dana Milbank, the Washington Post columnist, wrote about his own experience: a routine mortgage refinance with Citibank somehow turned into a nightmare of misquoted rates, improper interest charges, and frozen bank accounts. And all the evidence suggests that Mr. Milbank’s experience wasn’t unusual.

Notice, by the way, that we’re not talking about the business practices of fly-by-night operators; we’re talking about two of our three largest financial companies, with roughly $2 trillion each in assets. Yet politicians would have you believe that any attempt to get these abusive banking giants to make modest restitution is a “shakedown.” The only real question is whether the proposed settlement lets them off far too lightly.

What about the argument that placing any demand on the banks would endanger the recovery? There’s a lot to be said about that argument, none of it good. But let me emphasize two points.

First, the proposed settlement only calls for loan modifications that would produce a greater “net present value” than foreclosure — that is, for offering deals that are in the interest of both homeowners and investors. The outrageous truth is that in many cases banks are blocking such mutually beneficial deals, so that they can continue to extract fees. How could ending this highway robbery be bad for the economy?

Second, the biggest obstacle to recovery isn’t the financial condition of major banks, which were bailed out once and are now profiting from the widespread perception that they’ll be bailed out again if anything goes wrong. It is, instead, the overhang of household debt combined with paralysis in the housing market. Getting banks to clear up mortgage debts — instead of stringing families along to extract a few more dollars — would help, not hurt, the economy.

In the days and weeks ahead, we’ll see pro-banker politicians denounce the proposed settlement, asserting that it’s all about defending the rule of law. But what they’re actually defending is the exact opposite — a system in which only the little people have to obey the law, while the rich, and bankers especially, can cheat and defraud without consequences.

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, March 13, 2011

March 15, 2011 Posted by | Bank Of America, Banks, Citibank, Foreclosures, Mortgages, Regulations | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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