I do not usually just post simply to repeat what another somewhat similarly situated blogger has said. But late this afternoon/early this evening, I was struck by two things almost simultaneously. Right as I read Gretchen Morgenson’s latest article in the NYT on the latest and most refined parameters of the foreclosure fraud settlement, I also saw a post by Digby. The intersection of the two was crushing, but probably oh so true.
First, the latest Foreclosure Fraud Settlement trial balloon being floated by the “State Attorney Generals”. There have been several such trial balloons floated on this before; all sunk like lead weights. This is absolutely a similar sack of shit; from Morgenson at the NYT:
Cutting to the chase: if you thought this was the deal that would hold banks accountable for filing phony documents in courts, foreclosing without showing they had the legal right to do so and generally running roughshod over anyone who opposed them, you are likely to be disappointed.
This may not qualify as a shock. Accountability has been mostly A.W.O.L. in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. A handful of state attorneys general became so troubled by the direction this deal was taking that they dropped out of the talks. Officials from Delaware, New York, Massachusetts and Nevada feared that the settlement would preclude further investigations, and would wind up being a gift to the banks.
It looks as if they were right to worry. As things stand, the settlement, said to total about $25 billion, would cost banks very little in actual cash — $3.5 billion to $5 billion. A dozen or so financial companies would contribute that money.
The rest — an estimated $20 billion — would consist of credits to banks that agree to reduce a predetermined dollar amount of principal owed on mortgages that they own or service for private investors. How many credits would accrue to a bank is unclear, but the amount would be based on a formula agreed to by the negotiators. A bank that writes down a second lien, for example, would receive a different amount from one that writes down a first lien.
Sure, $5 billion in cash isn’t nada. But government officials have held out this deal as the penalty for years of what they saw as unlawful foreclosure practices. A few billion spread among a dozen or so institutions wouldn’t seem a heavy burden, especially when considering the harm that was done.
The banks contend that they have seen no evidence that they evicted homeowners who were paying their mortgages. Then again, state and federal officials conducted few, if any, in-depth investigations before sitting down to cut a deal.
Shaun Donovan, secretary of Housing and Urban Development, said the settlement, which is still being worked out, would hold banks accountable. “We continue to make progress toward the key goals of the settlement, which are to establish strong protections for homeowners in the way their loans are serviced across every type of loan and to ensure real relief for homeowners, including the most substantial principal writedown that has occurred throughout this crisis.”
Read the full piece, there is much more there.
Yes, this is certainly just a trial balloon, and just the latest one at that. But it is infuriating, because Continue reading
The military officer corps is rumbling with dissatisfaction and dissent, and there are suggestions from some that if officers disagree with policy decisions by Congress and the White House, they should vigorously resist.
Officers have a moral responsibility, some argue, to sway a policy debate by going public with their objections or leaking information to the media, and even to sabotage policy decisions by deliberate foot-dragging.
This could spell trouble ahead as Washington grapples with at least two highly contentious issues: changing the policy on gays and lesbians in the military, and extricating U.S. forces from Afghanistan. In both cases, senior officers already have disagreed sharply and publicly with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and President Barack Obama, and in some cases officers have leaked documents to bolster their case.
“The military officer belongs to a profession upon whose members are conferred great responsibility, a code of ethics, and an oath of office. These grant him moral autonomy and obligate him to disobey an order he deems immoral,” writes Marine Lt. Col. Andrew R. Milburn in Joint Forces Quarterly, an official journal published by the National Defense University under the aegis of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
That is especially true if his civilian leaders are incompetent, writes Milburn, who currently is assigned to the U.S. Special Operations Command in Stuttgart, Germany.
“When the results of bad decision-making are wasted lives and damage to the Nation; when the customary checks laid down in the Constitution — the electoral voice of the people, Congress, or the Supreme Court — are powerless to act in time; and when the military professional alone is in a position to prevent calamity, it makes little sense to argue that he should not exercise his discretion,” Milburn writes.
Read the entire article; please.
Now, there is no sense of any direct coup type of trend afoot in all this so much as an accelerating trend to the militarization of government and resigned acceptance by the Continue reading
In a country founded on “self evident truths” such as life, liberty, equality, and due process of law, the timeless quote from Ben Franklin speaks to the peril imposed when the founding principles are discarded or compromised:
Those who desire to give up freedom in order to gain security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.
Yet, of course, since 9/11 that is exactly what the United States has done and what has resulted in return. Fareed Zakaria has a piece up at Newsweek speaking to the senseless and destructive madness that has consumed the US since the 9/11 attacks:
The error this time is more damaging. September 11 was a shock to the American psyche and the American system. As a result, we overreacted.
Some 30,000 people are now employed exclusively to listen in on phone conversations and other communications in the United States. And yet no one in Army intelligence noticed that Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan had been making a series of strange threats at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where he trained. The father of the Nigerian “Christmas bomber” reported his son’s radicalism to the U.S. Embassy. But that message never made its way to the right people in this vast security apparatus. The plot was foiled only by the bomber’s own incompetence and some alert passengers.
Such mistakes might be excusable. But the rise of this national-security state has entailed a vast expansion in the government’s powers that now touches every aspect of American life, even when seemingly unrelated to terrorism.
In the past, the U.S. government has built up for wars, assumed emergency authority, and sometimes abused that power, yet always demobilized after the war. But this is a war without end. When do we declare victory? When do the emergency powers cease?
Conservatives are worried about the growing power of the state. Surely this usurpation is more worrisome than a few federal stimulus programs. When James Madison pondered this issue, he came to a simple conclusion: “Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germs of every other … In war, too, the discretionary power of the executive is extended?.?.?.?and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people.
“No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual war,” Madison concluded.
Indeed it is a chilling picture we have allowed our political “leaders” to paint us into, and Zakaria does not even hit some of the most disturbing impingements on due process and the rule of law such as the government arrogating itself the right to summarily execute American citizens with no judicial trial or due process whatsoever and the legal black hole that is Guantanamo and the Obama Military Commission and indefinite detention program. That is, as a nation, who and what we are today and it has bought us nothing except world scorn, geometrically more enemies, a plundered treasury, ignored and dilapidated domestic infrastructure, swelling joblessness and exploding income inequality.
But, hey, at least we have increased security and all those oppressive terrorist modalities are only for al-Qaida and the bad foreigners, right? No. The rot is now who we are, towards ourselves in addition to “them”. And that is where we finally get to the subject of the title of this post. Nothing demonstrates the deadly rot virus that has been injected into the blood of the American ethos than the story of Zeitoun. (more after jump) Continue reading