Tag Archives: Foreclosures

LOS ANGELES TIMES CARTOON: Balancing the Budget on the Backs of the Homeless

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As a news junkie and student of the human condition, it takes a lot to make my blood come to a full boil. It takes even more to make me sympathize with wealthy corporations. Hand it to Gov. Jerry Brown — he managed to pull off both feats with the news that he diverted $350 million from California’s share of the 2012 national mortgage settlement in order to reduce the state’s 2013 budget deficit.

Now that California is enjoying a budget surplus, a coalition of homeowner advocates and religious organizations has filed suit against the state to force Brown to restore the money.

Back in 2008-09, the real estate bubble burst, taking the global economy with it. By many measures, especially real unemployment and median wages, we still haven’t recovered.

By 2010 a political consensus had formed. Though politicians were partly to blame, the worst offenders were the giant “too big to fail” banks that had knowingly approved loans to homebuyers who couldn’t afford to pay them back, sold bundles of junk mortgage derivatives to unsuspecting investors and secretly hedged their bets against their clients. After the house of cards came down, they played the other side. They cashed in their chips, refused to refinance mortgages even though interest rates had fallen and deployed “robo-signers” to illegally evict hundreds of thousands of homeowners — including people who had never missed a payment — to ding them with outrageous late fees on their way to profitable (for the banks) foreclosure.

On the Left, anger at the banks coalesced around the Occupy Wall Street movement. Though less widely reported, anti-bank sentiment also found a home in the Tea Party.

Politics ultimately play out in the courts. Lawsuits filed by state attorney generals forced the banks to the bargaining table. In 2012 they agreed to cough up $26 billion as penance.

The money was supposed to compensate people who had lost their homes and to help those who were hanging on by a thread avoid eviction, either by refinancing at lower rates or writing down principal to reflect lower real estate prices.

Enter the governors.

Jerry Brown wasn’t unique. Cash-hungry states siphoned off half of their share of the mortgage settlement to plug holes in their budgets.

We will never know how many families became homeless as a result.

The more you think about it, the more disgusting it is. Obviously it’s important for the state to get its fiscal house in order. But not at the expense of those least able to bear the burden. Desperate families lost — and are still losing — their homes so that holders of California’s state debt, much of it held by the same banks who caused the mortgage crisis, can be repaid.

This outrage is not without precedent.

Rather than the anti-smoking and health campaigns they were supposed to launch, the states siphoned off 47% of the $7.9 billion they received from the 1998 tobacco settlement for general budget purposes.

How many kids might have been reached by tobacco education programs that never got off the ground? How many will die of lung cancer? “Fifteen years after the tobacco settlement, our latest report finds that states are continuing to spend only a miniscule portion of their tobacco revenues to fight tobacco use,” the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids said in 2014.  In Fiscal Year 2014, the states will collect $25 billion in revenue from the tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes, but will spend only 1.9 percent of it – $481.2 million – on programs to prevent kids from smoking and help smokers quit. This means the states are spending less than two cents of every dollar in tobacco revenue to fight tobacco use.”

This is the kind of behavior that prompts conservatives to characterize these settlements as government shakedowns of big business. It’s hard to disagree. As slimy as the banksters were and are — they’re sabotaging political solutions to the foreclosure crisis — they’re just greedy bastards doing what greedy bastards do. Public officials, on the other hand, are supposed to be on our side.

What Brown and his fellow governors have done with the mortgage settlement money is even more nauseating.

 

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Investigating the Investigators

IRS Targeting is a Scandal, CIA Targeting is Business as Usual

“We’re fighting for you!” That’s what the Democratic Party tells Democratic voters and what the Republican Party tells Republicans. But even their “battles” reveal how similar the two parties really are.

Case study: what gets investigated.

Less than a week after the news broke that the IRS engaged in ideological profiling in 2011 and 2012 — targeting Tea Party-related non-profits for checks into whether they were violating the terms of their tax-exempt status by spending donor money on political ads — top Democrats joined their GOP counterparts to demand a Congressional investigation. That’s lightening quick for government work — and yet not fast for some. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida, ’16 prez prospect) called for Acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller to resign immediately. President Obama called the IRS’ actions “outrageous” and “contrary to our traditions.” The IRS has already apologized.

This all goes to show that the federal government can turn on a dime when it wants to do something. It’s a matter of priorities. Millions of Americans whose homes were stolen by banks in illegal foreclosures waited five years for $600 settlement checks that bounced; the Fed gave the executives of those banks $7.77 trillion in a matter of days, no questions asked.

So it goes with what gets investigated.

Thrown under the bus in a matter of days, the IRS is already getting ground to mincemeat. Meanwhile, a spectacular panorama of Bush-era abuses have yet to draw the attention of a single Congressional subcommittee.

The 2000 stolen presidential election fiasco? Still no investigation — even though retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the swing vote in the 5-4 decision in Bush v. Gore, now agrees with constitutional lawyers who say the high court had no jurisdiction in the case and thus shouldn’t have heard it.

There still hasn’t been an independent investigation of 9/11.

No one has ever been questioned, much less held accountable, for the invasion of Afghanistan (ostensibly to catch Osama bin Laden, though he was already in Pakistan), the installation by the U.S. of the unpopular Hamid Karzai as a U.S. puppet, huge cash bribes paid to Karzai by Bush and now Obama,  or the lies — an impeachable offense — about Saddam’s WMDs used to con the public into war against Iraq.

People outraged by Bush’s torture program, secret prisons, extraordinary rendition and indefinite detention of innocent people, including children, at post-9/11 gulags at places like Guantánamo, the “salt pit” at Bagram and the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia — even on prison ships on the high seas — hoped that President Obama would make good on his campaign promises to investigate these horrific crimes against international law, U.S. law and common decency. Instead, he obstructed justice — another impeachable offense — issuing a directive to his Justice Department and other law enforcement agencies to ignore them. “We need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards,” he told a TV interviewer on January 12, 2009, eight days before taking office.

“At the CIA, you’ve got extraordinarily talented people who are working very hard to keep Americans safe,” he said. “I don’t want them to suddenly feel like they’ve got spend their all their time looking over their shoulders.”

Yes. God forbid our heroic torturers should face any questions about jamming forced enemas up prisoners’ butts. Sorry: I meant our extraordinarily talented torturers.

And, now a flashback to April 14, 2008 — a mere nine months earlier. Candidate Obama told The Philadelphia Inquirer: “If I found out that there were high officials who knowingly, consciously broke existing laws, engaged in cover-ups of those crimes with knowledge forefront, then I think a basic principle of our Constitution is nobody above the law.”

Except the CIA. And the military. And Donald Rumsfeld and Condi Rice and Dick Cheney and John Yoo and, of course, George W. Bush, who explicitly authorized the torture and other high crimes, and is now an elder statesman with his own library and everything.

To recap:

Both parties think it’s bad bad bad for the IRS to target right-wing pseudo-nonprofits for audits.

Both parties think it’s perfectly fine A-OK doubleplusgood to target the buttholes of random Muslims you kidnapped from Afghanistan or Yemen or wherever.

What the IRS did was, of course, wrong. But I’d rather be audited than butt-raped. Butt-raping, especially butt-raping that occurs before illegal auditing, should be investigating before illegal auditing.

Both parties also agree that if there’s ever been something that doesn’t need investigating by anyone, ever, it’s drones. Yes, a whopping 1.8% of Congress recently held an “unofficial hearing” (toothless PR stunt) and politely requested that Obama provide “further clarification of the legal justifications behind drone strikes.”

But no one —not even Vermont’s token “socialist” Bernie Sanders — has called for an investigation into a drone war that ridiculously remains “classified,” a secret to everyone but the dead, the maimed and their survivors. Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky, ’16 prez prospect)’s filibuster merely demanded whether Obama planned to drone any U.S. citizens on U.S. soil. (Since he has already droned U.S. citizens on foreign soil, we know the answer to that.)

I’m not Suze Orman, but please let me help you save a few bucks. Whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, the next time you get a campaign mailer asking you to support them because they’re “fighting hard for you,” chuck that sucker into the recycler. The truth is, the two major parties are on the same page on just about everything.

They’re not fighting for you.

They’re fighting for themselves.

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. 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.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

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Horror Movie Justice

What if horror movies were real? Perhaps the people who are voting for Obama despite his murderous drone policies, endorsement of torture of Bradley Manning and others, post-foreclosure suicides, etc. would be faces with a terrible vengeance.

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: If You Vote, You Can’t Complain

Why It’s OK for Disgusted Liberals Not to Vote for Obama

Here we go again. Like Charlie Brown considering Lucy’s offer to hold the football so he can kick it–and Lucy’s promises not to pull it away at the last second, as she’s done every time in the past–lefties are being urged to set aside their disgust over the last four years and vote Democratic.

At least Lucy respected Charlie Brown enough to lie to him. President Obama isn’t even bothering to tell disappointed progressive voters that things will be different this time. At last night’s second presidential debate, for example, he promised to create jobs years in the future–not now, when we need them.

Despite my well-documented doubts, I voted for Obama in 2008. Not this time.

“If you don’t vote for Obama, you’re letting Romney win.” (So many friends, colleagues, family members, correspondents, bloggers and random whoevers have told me that that it hardly seems fair to single one out for attribution.)

Nonsense!

No election in the U.S. has ever been decided by one vote. None.

Thus, by definition, my vote is purely symbolic. (Don’t give me that “if everyone thinks the same way…” garbage. If everyone bought my book, it would be a #1 bestseller. If everyone used trashcans, there wouldn’t be litter. If everyone…if if if. The only vote you control, the only action you can take, is your own.)

My vote has no value other than as a symbolic endorsement. And I refuse to endorse what this president has done and failed to do.

I won’t symbolically endorse his drone war, which has killed thousands of Pakistanis–98% of them innocent civilians, the other 2% political dissidents with no designs against the U.S.

I will not endorse Obama’s 2009 decision to hand $7.77 trillion–$24,000 for every man, woman and child in the country–to bankers, no strings attached, who ought to be in prison while consciously standing by and allowing millions of homeowners to fall victim to illegal foreclosures and failing to abolish the time limit for unemployment benefits, as is standard in other countries.

Obama can go golfing more than 100 times while prisoners the Pentagon has declared innocent continue to rot in Gitmo dog cages. I can’t stop his war crimes. But he can commit them without my tacit silence-equals-death consent, much less my voluntary endorsement.

I could write a book.

The comedian George Carlin said: “People say, ‘If you don’t vote, you have no right to complain,’ but where’s the logic in that? If you vote and you elect dishonest, incompetent people into office who screw everything up, you are responsible for what they have done. You caused the problem; you voted them in; you have no right to complain. I, on the other hand, who did not vote, who in fact did not even leave the house on election day, am in no way responsible for what these people have done and have every right to complain about the mess you created that I had nothing to do with.”

If you’re like me, you think Mitt Romney would be even worse than Obama. What should you do? Whatever you want.

I don’t care if you vote for Obama, or for a third-party candidate like Jill Stein of the Greens, or if you don’t vote at all. Do whatever you want, but don’t think about it. Electoral politics is a distraction.

You should be spending your time and energy thinking about revolution.

Between now and the dictatorship of the proletariat, however, we have to fend off a lot of stupid pro-Democrat entreaties to forget the dead Pakistanis and the desperate poor and your own bank balance and endorse the man and the administration who made them possible. To help you refute your pseudo-liberal, Obama-loving, Democratic apologist friends, here are some powerful counterarguments to their lesser-evilism.

Argument 1: If you don’t vote for Obama, Romney will win.

Your response: Bull. That might be true if you live in a swing state. (If you’re one of the three out of four Americans who don’t live in a swing state, stop reading here.) A 2010 study found that zero out of 20,000 elections–including for Congress and Senate–has ever come down to one vote. The closest margin, for one race in 1910, was six votes. Feel free to stay home. Hell, vote for Romney. Won’t make any difference.

Argument 2: Obama will be more liberal in a second term.

Your response: How do you know? Not having learned anything from the last four years, Obama still says he’ll be “more than happy to work with Republicans” after the election (to help them dismantle Medicare). Let’s take the man at his lack of word: he hasn’t promised much. Even if we stipulate Obama’s secret, silent liberal intentions, how will he push them through House that will likely remain Republican? Not to mention, lame duck presidencies aren’t renowned for their record of legislative achievement. Obama will have as much chance of signing big new programs into law sitting in his kitchen in Chicago as in the Oval Office.

Argument 3: Romney will push the country even further to the Right.

Your response: The U.S. has moved to the right since the early 1970s. But it wasn’t just because of Reagan and Bush Jr. Presidents Carter, Clinton and yes, Obama also moved the needle to the right. Their most important actions were pro-Republican: Carter’s pre-Reagan defense build-up and arming the Afghan Islamists, Clinton’s gutting of welfare and hollowing out of American manufacturing with “free trade” deals, Obama’s expansive drone wars and bank bailouts, which increased the chasm between the rich and the poor. They ridiculed, marginalized and silenced liberals and progressives within the Democratic Party. Most of all, they didn’t hold the line against GOP ideas, rarely resorting to filibusters and frequently going along with conservative initiatives.

Whether Romney or Obama wins, the Right will continue to get their way. That’s how the system works.

Don’t forget the ironic only-Nixon-could-go-to-China phenomenon: Democratic presidents sometimes go further right than Republicans can. If George W. Bush were still president, he would have taken a lot more heat from the left than Obama has. It’s easy to imagine him being forced to, for example, extend unemployment benefits indefinitely–something Obama hasn’t even tried–to avoid a revolutionary uprising.

In the short run, it makes sense for liberals to vote Democratic. In the long run, voting for conservative Democrats costs libs their leverage. During times of crisis, like now, short-term and long-term considerations intersect. This is not a time to vote same-old, same-old–or to think that voting matters.

(Ted Rall‘s latest book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2012 TED RALL

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: The Rebranding of the President, 2012

Why Is Obama Running on His Record?

“It’s not clear what [President Obama] is passionate to do if he is elected for another four years,” writes David Brooks, conservative columnist for The New York Times. “The Democratic convention is his best chance to offer an elevator speech, to define America’s most pressing challenge and how he plans to address it.”

Addressing the DNC Wednesday night, Bill Clinton came as close as any Democrat has this year to answering Brooks: “In Tampa, the Republican argument against the president’s reelection was pretty simple: We left him a total mess, he hasn’t finished cleaning it up yet, so fire him and put us back in. I like the argument for President Obama’s reelection a lot better.”

Nicely done—though this argument only works for voters stuck in the two-party trap. But the biggest piece is still MIA: Obama’s domestic and foreign policy agenda for a second term.

Two principal arguments are being advanced in favor of Obama’s reelection: first, that he “took out” Osama bin Laden; second, that we are “absolutely” better off economically than we were four years ago.  These arguments, if they continue to be the Democrats’ main talking points, will lead Obama to defeat this fall.

U.S. history shows that the candidate who presents the most optimistic vision of the future usually prevails. The future he sells doesn’t have to be specific (Romney’s 12 million new jobs, say). Ronald Reagan, who projected vague aw-shucks optimism reflected by a 100%-pabulum campaign slogan, “It’s Morning in America,” defeated Jimmy “Malaise” Carter and Walter “Let’s Tell the Truth About Taxes” Mondale. (Never mind that Carter and Mondale were more honest, smarter and nicer.)

Obama followed the Reagan model in 2008: hope, change, charming smile, not a lot of specifics. And it worked. (It didn’t hurt to run against McCain, the consummate “get off my lawn, you damn kids” grouch.) So why is Obama trading in a proven winner? Why is he running on his first-term record?

Obama’s entourage has obviously talked themselves into believing that the president’s record is better than it really is—certainly better than average voters think it is. Grade inflation is inevitable when you evaluate yourself. (In 2009, at the same time the Fed was greasing the banksters with $7.77 trillion of our money—without a dime devoted to a new WPA-style jobs program—he gave himself a B+.)

First, the extrajudicial assassination of bin Laden, an act of vengeance against a man in hiding who had been officially designated to pose no threat since at least 2006, makes some people queasy. Sure, many voters are happy—but getting even for crimes committed more than a decade ago still doesn’t spell out an optimistic vision for the future.

Similarly, and perhaps more potently since jobs are the most important issue to Americans, claiming that we are better off than we were four years ago, either personally, or nationally, is a dangerous argument for this president to make. Four years ago marks the beginning of a financial crisis that continues today. GDP remains a low 1.7%. Credit remains so tight that it’s still strangling spending.

Four million families lost their homes to foreclosure, millions more were evicted due to nonpayment of rent, and a net 8 million lost their jobs under Obama. Structural unemployment is rising. New jobs are few and pay little.

Most Americans—by a nearly two-to-one margin—feel worse off now than they did four years ago. Coupled with the media’s ludicrous claim that the recovery began in mid-2009, Obama’s “who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes” (or pocketbook) sales pitch is so insulting and reminiscent of George H.W. Bush’s tone-deaf attitude during the 1992 recession that it can only prove counterproductive.

The historical lesson for Obama is 1936. Franklin Roosevelt is the only president in recent history to have won reelection with unemployment over 8%, as it is currently (it was 17%). Why? FDR’s New Deal showed he was trying hard. And things were moving in the right direction (unemployment was 22% when he took office).  Fairly or not, Obama can’t beat Romney pointing to improvement statistics don’t show and people don’t feel.

Obama must articulate a new vision, relaunching and rebranding himself into something completely different—in other words, running as though the last three four years had never happened. Like this was his first term.

New image. New ideas. New policies. New campaign slogan.

Not only does Obama need to float big new ideas, he needs to convince voters that he can get them through a GOP Congress. Not an easy task—but there’s no other way.

It isn’t enough to simply say that Romney will make things worse. Lesser-evil arguments are secondary at best. As things stand now, with people angry and disappointed at government inaction on the economy, Romney’s “Believe in America” meme—though stupid—is more potent than Obama’s reliance on fear of a Ryan budget.

(Ted Rall’s new book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt.” His website is tedrall.com. This column originally appeared at NBCNews.com’s Lean Forward blog.)

COPYRIGHT 2012 TED RALL

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Help!

Obama tried to finesse his response to the housing crash, rejecting a bailout of homeowners facing foreclosure in favor of a limited aid program and a bet that a recovering economy would take care of the rest. Millions of people lost their homes and the recovery never materialized. The economy is now the primary threat to Mr. Obama’s bid for a second term, and economists and political allies say the Obama’s non-response to the housing crisis was the administration’s most significant mistake.

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