SYNDICATED COLUMN: Lose Your House, Collect $300

Why Aren’t Rioters Burning Down the Banks?

One in ten Americans take such antidepressants as Prozac and Paxil. Among those in their 40s and 50s, it’s 23%. Maybe that’s why we’re so passive.

Like the blissed-out soma-sucking drones of Huxley’s “Brave New World,” we must be too drugged to feel, much less express, rage. How else to explain that furious mobs haven’t burned the banks to the ground?

Last week, as the media ginned up empty speculation about Hillary Clinton’s presidential prospects, and wallowed in nuclear cognitive dissonance — Iran, which doesn’t have nukes and says it doesn’t want them, is repeatedly called a grave threat worth going to war over, while North Korea, which does have them and won’t stop threatening to turn the West Coast of the U.S. into a “sea of fire,” is dismissed as empty bluster, nothing to worry about — the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Federal Reserve released the details of the settlement between the Obama Administration and the big banks over the illegal foreclosure scandal.

Citibank, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and other major home mortgage lenders foreclosed upon and evicted millions of homeowners between the start of the housing collapse in 2007 and 2011. Millions of families became homeless, including 2.3 million children. The vast majority of these Americans are still struggling; many fell into poverty from which they will never escape.

Disgusting, amazing, yet true: the banks had no legal right to evict these people. In many cases, the banks didn’t have basic paperwork, like the original deed to the house. They resorted to “robo-signing” boiler room operations to churn out falsified and forged eviction papers. In others cases, people could have kept their homes if they’d been allowed to refinance — their right under federal law — but the banks illegally refused, giving them the runaround, repeatedly asking for the same paperwork they’d already sent in. Soldiers fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, protected from foreclosure under U.S. law, came home to find their homes resold at auction. In other cases, banks even repossessed homes where the homeowner had never missed a mortgage payment.

The foreclosure scandal helped spark the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Promising justice and compensation for the victims, President Obama’s Justice Department joined lawsuits filed by the attorneys general of several states.

Last year, Obama announced that the government had concluded a “landmark settlement” with the banks that would “deliver some measure of justice for those families that have been victims of their abusive practices.” The Politico newspaper called the $26 billion deal “a big win for the White House.” $26 billion. Sounds impressive, right?

So…the envelope, please.

How much will the banks have to pay? What will people whose homes were stolen — there is no other word — receive? Now we know the details.

Remember what we’re talking about. Your house is your biggest asset. You own tens of thousands, in some cases hundreds of thousands of dollars in equity. One morning the sheriff comes. He throws you and your family out on the street. Your possessions are dumped on the lawn. You have nowhere to go. Your kids are crying. If you were struggling before, now you’re completely screwed. And the bank that did it had no legal basis whatsoever to do what they did.

They took your house, sold it, and pocketed the profits.

What would happen to you if you walked into Tiffany’s and stole a $200,000 necklace?

The details:

  • Even though they qualified for federal loan modifications, the banks seized 1.1 million homes, making 1.1 million families homeless after they were approved for refinancing. Since the average foreclosed home was worth $191,000, the banks stole $210 billion in homes. Under the “landmark settlement,” these wrongfully evicted Americans will receive $300 or $500 each, the value of a modest night out at a nice restaurant in Manhattan (two tenths of one percent of their loss).
  • 900,000 borrowers who were entitled under Obama’s Make Home Affordable program to refinancing were denied help and lost their homes. They get $300 or $600.
  • 420,000 homeowners who lost their homes while the banks intentionally dithered and “lost” their paperwork get $400 or $800.
  • 28,000 families who were entitled to protection against foreclosure under federal bankruptcy law, but got thrown out of their homes anyway, get $3,750 to $62,500.
  • 1,100 soldiers entitled to protection against foreclosure because of their military status get $125,000.
  • 53 families who weren’t late on their mortgages, never missed a payment, but got thrown out anyway, get $125,000.

So we’ve got more than 2.4 million families — that’s 5 million people — whose homes got bogarted by scumbag banksters. They’re getting a thousand bucks each on average. A thousand bucks for a two hundred thousand dollar theft! Not to mention the heartbreak and stress they suffered.

Why aren’t those five million people stringing up bank execs from telephone poles? It’s gotta be the Paxil.

But what really gets me is the 53 families who are getting $125,000 payouts for losing homes they were 100% up to date on.

Even if you’re a heartless right-winger, you’ve got to have a problem with a bank taking your house when you never missed a payment. Sorry, but these are multinational, multibillion dollar banks. They should pay these families tens of millions of dollars each.

Those 53 families should own Citibank, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Wells Fargo.

Some perspective:

Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit received $260 million in pay between 2007 and 2012, the height of the foreclosure scandal.

In 2011 alone, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon was given $23 million. In 2012, the company’s board of directors “punished” him for a $6 billion loss in derivatives trading by paying him “merely” $18.7 million.

In 2012 alone, Bank of America paid CEO Brian Moynihan $12 million; Wells Fargo paid $23 million to CEO John Stumpf.

Not bad for some of the worst criminals in history.

That’s how things work in the United States: the criminals get the big payouts. The people whose lives they destroy get $300.

(Ted Rall’s website is His book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” will be released in November by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)


7 thoughts on “SYNDICATED COLUMN: Lose Your House, Collect $300

  1. OWS was taken over, ironically enough, by dipshits. Many of them were well-meaning dipshits, but dipshits nonetheless. Now, I don’t mean that they were bad or terrible people — not like the bad and terrible cops that harassed them, or the bad and terrible mayor that broke laws to enforce his authoritarian impulses, or bad and terrible like the bankers that they were (supposed) to harass.

    No, they were just kinda jerks.

    So remember when John Lewis was denied the right to speak at Occupy Atlanta? Someone shouted out “John Lewis is no better than anyone else!”

    Yes, asshole, he is better than someone else. He’s better than you.

    You’re there to do a job. You are not there to speak your mind.

    This is the problem. The OWS movement was full of exclusionary persons, people that wanted to express themselves, even if it meant that nothing got done. They represented no one but themselves. Now, not ALL of the OWS protesters felt that way. But enough of them did that the movement couldn’t persist. It had two choices: tackle immediate, short-term political issues in order to be useful to the general populace (which wasn’t going to happen since no one had the experience to do that and anyone that DID was ignored or, as mentioned above, simply muzzled), or start seriously practicing civil disobedience and literally occupy every major financial institution they could — like Ted suggested.

    They did neither.

    Ask yourself this: why weren’t they in nice clothes?

    No, really.

    Check out the civil rights marchers during the Civil Rights Era. Go look up those old pictures of people like John Lewis. How did they dress? Nicely. Why? Because they wanted to represent everyone in the U.S. that they could. It wasn’t about them, it was about everyone. Their goal, among others, was to get everyone to ask themselves “why aren’t I marching?” That’s why striking garbagemen wore suits. They deserved respect, and you should back such respectable people.

    In the case of OWS, the answer for many Americans was “because those guys look smelly and drum circles are the fucking work of Satan.” Again, not to besmirch many of the people involved in OWS, but the insistence on the cultural predilections of some served to exclude other cultures.

    Here’s the final irony: in my view, the emphasis on their own cultural concerns makes much of OWS very vulnerable to complete co-option by Democrats and Co-opters are much more likely to flatter movement leaders than they are to ask them to become more accessible to the mainstream — like civil rights activists would ask them to do.

  2. I recommend Barbara Ehrenreich’s book about the negative consequence of positive thinking, “Bright-sided.” Her thesis: We have been conditioned over a number of years to constantly be “upbeat.” Anyone who has worked in a cubicle office knows she’s right.

    When you complain now, you are told that you are causing your misfortunes by your negativity. The megachurches run off this notion of “like attracts like,” (so, if you want to be rich, you have to think and behave as though you are, and the wealth will just roll in, if you have faith).

    Look at OWS. I did. It was mostly a goddamned good-times party for a bunch of party-hardy college kids. The non-organizers failed to grasp two of the most crucial aspects of how you win a protest: one, you have to DO something — raise awareness, civil disobedience, something. Two, you have to make the middle-of-the-road crowd find you reasonable.

    Standing around Union Square drinking Starbucks coffee and posting updates to Twitter on your iPhone is NOT protesting, and it is not something the middle-of-the-road crowd will identify with positively. Only someone raised on a solid diet of “empowerment” and “use your indoors voice” would think it was. There were thousands of people. How much outreach did they do into the neighborhoods where the underrepresented were? Did they carry any voter registration cards around? Did they establish any small groups to arrange continuous meetings with elected representatives? (Give me 100 people who can follow a timetable and I’ll get a senator’s staff crying uncontrollably, promising anything if you’ll just let them get back to the other stuff they have to let slide while you keep coming to the office.) No. They just showed up, scrounged food, acting exactly like Dubya in his flight suit, and then went home when it got too boring.

    Hell, maybe they had it right in Blake’s 7: perhaps something’s pumped into the water and the food to keep us all manageable.

  3. I’d say its a bunch of things, many of which are already expressed by other people in this thread.

    1) No sense of tribe (as suggested and discussed by Sekhmet)

    2) US citizens have largely bought into the propaganda that capitalism always gives the best possible outcomes and is infinitely fair and meritorious. So when capitalists steel a person’s house then blow up the financial systems and make that person pay for it via taxes, the person in question is usually indoctrinated enough to actually believe that he or she must, in fact, deserve it … for some non-apparent reason or other.

    3) US citizens quite honestly feel like there is nothing they can or could do to help or change anything this big or serious, so they preemptively give up. They have largely taken to heart the Homer Simpsonism “trying is the first step in failing.”

    4) The drug issue Ted points to probably does have a bit to do with it.

    There are probably other factors as well.

    In the end though I don’t think solving any one of these is enough to fully fix the silence or apparent apathy. If you solve only one or two of these problems you might start to here talk or grumbling, maybe even a little action, but you won’t see revolt. You need to solve most of them, including the ones I don’t know how to identify but assume must exist, before people will start getting out the guillotines and lighting torches.

  4. To second Glenn’s statement, I believe Chomsky once said “They say crime doesn’t pay, but in a criminal state, crime does pay and it pays very well.”

  5. We have no proper sense of tribe.

    U.S. citizens have no proper sense of who they vis-a-vis other people. I can get random citizens mad at a bad driver before I can get them mad at a banker because the driver affects them in a direct way. We have little concept of being in the same boat. Keep in mind, the average citizen is in far less civic organizations and clubs (usually zero) than we were fifty years ago. Our associations do not expand our sense of place, which is ridiculously ironic sense our communication network is the greatest in human history.

    But there are those who have an intense sense of tribe — white supremacists and nationalists — that work very hard to create divisions amongst the poor. This is why I’ve claimed Rall is wrong in saying that would-be revolutionaries must make common cause with the Tea Party and similar organizations; their entire raison d’être is to divide and narrow class consciousness for selfish gain. They’re not winning unless someone else is losing.

    So poor people don’t think of themselves as a class, and there aren’t any large subgroups there that could mobilize for serious revolution.

    On top of that, we are breathtakingly ignorant. Television serves as a massive distraction. Fox News viewers know less about politics than people who just don’t watch television. I’ve met political activists who aren’t aware of massive scandals involving their favorite candidate. I’ve met a military veteran (out less than 10 years ago) who didn’t know what drones are. We just plain don’t know shit, and some of us get mad when we’re told things that don’t fit our personal mythology.

    So I’d bet that the reason we’re not rioting over the bank theft is that a) victims don’t know that they’re not alone and b) people don’t know about it.

  6. I know a Bank of America Investment Vice-President now with the Merril-Lynch Investment side who told me right in the middle of the 2008 debacle that “the taxpayers will pay for all of this” – and laughed and sneered at the idea that the bank would suffer. They knew they could get away with it because they were “too big to fail” and that the government couldn’t get through the mess of due process to nab them or even pinpoint who was the most responsible. The banks are in collusion with the FED, and the FED “creates” money which dilutes all our savings and robs us of its worth.

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