Remembering an Attorney General Who Stood Against the Big Banks

Sad news about the death of one of the few people in power who seemed to care at all about the big banks’ glaring fraud in creating and then profiting from the ongoing foreclosure frenzy.

Former Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, son of Vice President Joe Biden, died yesterday from brain cancer. He, along with New York AG Eric Schneiderman, was one of very few politicians and law enforcement personnel who worked to bring some justice to the financial crisis and its aftermath.

When information about widespread paperwork fraud (robosigning) came to light, he called for a foreclosure moratorium in his state, where his office already had created a Mortgage Fraud Task Force to help homeowners. He also championed the rights of citizens in his state by filing a deceptive consumer practices lawsuit against Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems (MERS), the company that aided Wall Street in slicing and dicing the housing market for its own profit.

How many of us wish we lived in states where the attorneys general at least appeared to notice that the banksters were taking advantage and harming homeowners? Me, for one. At the beginning of the financial fiasco, Arizona had an Attorney General who was on the forefront of the fight against the big banks. Sadly, he was replaced by a man one Phoenix news outlet compared with Elmer Fudd (which is an insult to the cartoon character.

What the country’s beleaguered homeowners couldn’t have done with a Beau Biden in every state where the foreclosure feeding frenzy swallowed up families and spit them out into the streets. RIP sir.

We’re Still Waiting, Mr. President

Where’s my justice, Mr. President? Two years ago in your State of the Union address you promised to crack down on the banksters who created the financial crisis and played games with mortgage holders.

Watch Video Here 

I’ve been searching, but I can’t find any mention of any actions taken by your financial crimes unit, which turned out not to be a new organization but instead a division of the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force, which already wasn’t doing much. (Oh, and tough-talking NY AG Eric Schneiderman turned out not to be THE leader of the unit but one of a group. Because group leadership is always so efficient at getting things done.)

Have you, yet again, promised a program that sounded good in a speech but was never meant to do a darn thing for the average American? Well, Mr. President, I for one won’t ever again hold out even a teeny bit of hope that you or your administration intends to bring any of the banksters to justice.

Meanwhile, Schneiderman is back to focusing on his own state trying to right some wrongs in the financial sector. Do those of us lied to and cheated by our banks have to move to New York to get some justice, Mr. President?

“Wake me up when someone goes to jail.”

The headline is a quote from investigative journalist Matt Taibbi, who has written some of the best articles on Wall Street fraud and greed and the mortgage/financial debacle. He’s writing about yet another bogus investigation into the unbridled greed and blatant fraud that brought the economy to its knees back in 2008.

Despite the hue and cry of millions of foreclosed homeowners and more than a few excellent journalists, there’s been nothing like real justice for what the big banks and Wall Street did to cause so much grief. And, aided and abetted by Congress (with a few notable exceptions), the Justice and Treasury departments, the President and the colluding “regulators,” the greed-crazed financial execs are winding up to take another whack at the economy.

How? By going on doing exactly what they were doing pre-2008, only now with even more arrogance and sense of entitlement, secure in the knowledge that they’ll get richer and get away with it again.

“These banks are not getting smaller; they’re getting larger. There are now more too-big-to-fail institutions than there were prior to the 2008 crisis.” 
Gretchen Morgenson, Why Banks Are Still Too Big To Fail

 The “too big to fail” myth is still alive and well five years after the first domino, Lehman, fell and seems to be accompanied by an overwhelming belief that the perpetrators are also too big to jail. That’s a very dangerous situation. Overthrowing countries dangerous.

And it’s not going to get reined in any time soon, not as long as our political leaders are so cozy with Wall Street and the big banks.

“When JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon testified before the Senate Banking Committee earlier this year about the “London Whale” scandal, only two of the senators facing him had not received campaign contributions from his bank. Dimon was also called “Obama’s Favorite Banker” for a while.”
From Seven Things You Wanted to Know About Prosecuting Wall Street

Still holding out hope that somewhere, someone is investigating the facts behind your predatory mortgage loan or any of the fast-and-loose dealings that brought on the crisis? Sorry to say, the statute of limitations for some of the infractions is about to expire.

And that special task force on the mortgage crisis that President Obama announced in his January 2012 State of the Union speech? Well, without funds and staff, NY AG Eric Schniederman didn’t have much of a chance to

“…hold accountable those who broke the law, speed assistance to homeowners and help turn the page on an era of recklessness that hurt so many homeowners.”
~ Barack Obama, 2012 State of the Union

I predicted at the time that it was just another of Obama’s false promises to beleaguered homeowners. Very disappointing that I was right.

What would revive our economy and our faith in the nation where we live? Easy. If you’re of a “certain age,” you probably said it every morning of your grade-school days:

“Liberty and justice for all.”

In the meantime, you can stop supporting the companies that are getting away with fraud by simply removing your patronage. Move your accounts to a community-oriented local or regional bank or credit union and go on about your business as if the big banks simply don’t exist.

I only want to hear about the banksters in one context: Wake me when someone goes to jail.

Someone Notices Wells Fargo is Still Cheating Homeowners

Wells Fargo and Bank of America are in the news for failing to comply with the provisions of last February’s National Mortgage Settlement and maybe someone is finally going to stand up for homeowners.

For anyone still out there fighting to keep the foreclosure-frenzied loan servicers from taking a house, it comes as no surprise that these two banks have not been following the guidelines detailed in their agreement with 49 of the 50 state attorneys general.

It’s not as if anyone is still expecting to get any of the $26 billion that was supposed to provide direct help to wrongfully foreclosed homeowners. Most of that was stolen appropriated to plug holes in the states’ budgets.

But the settlement emphasized a number of servicing standards that should have been very helpful to homeowners seeking loan modifications to avoid losing their homes to foreclosure. Among those was a requirement that loan mod applications be reviewed in 30 days, a specific mandate that borrowers be assigned a single knowledgeable contact person to work with them through the review process and provisions that limit the process known as “dual-tracking” whereby banks race to complete foreclosures whilst dragging out loan mod reviews.

(Never mind that HAMP and at least one of the big pretender-lenders, Freddie Mac, included most if not all of these items in their guidelines for loan mods starting as early as 2009 and the banks have summarily ignored them in favor of protracted delaying tactics.)

What may seem surprising is that the two banks only failed to comply with one or two of the requirements as measured by the Office of Mortgage Settlement Oversight, which is supposed to be keeping track of the banks’ progress at finally implementing systems to deal with loan mod reviews in a timely and professional manner.

Or, maybe not so surprising. If the OMSO is anything like the other faux oversight agencies, the banks “self-report” their level of compliance and this self-serving data is taken as accurate. Right. Because no bank would ever lie about its treatment homeowners, most of whom it discarded as customers the second their mortgage loans were sold to “investors,” who then became clients of the banks’ “mortgage servicing” tentacles.

The OMSO website mentions a number of “metrics,” or tests, but doesn’t tell us from whence the data to fuel them comes. The agency’s FAQ page is pretty vague on the subject. “Specifically, the Monitor will receive and review periodic reports from the banks, and will then make his own determinations and findings as to the banks’ compliance with the settlement.”

Despite this blatant cheerleading by HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, it sounds to me like this is another of those idiotic “self-policing” programs in which the banks assert they are doing everything they can to help homeowners while in reality they’re stringing people along with ridiculous delaying tactics.

I think New York AG Eric Schneiderman has a better idea of the scope of the problem, but even his citation of more than 200 violations of the settlement standards sounds low to me, notwithstanding that the settlement excluded a vast majority of borrowers in the first place by excluding loans “owned” by the big government-supported entities Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.

But at least the NY AG is pursuing some course of punitive action. Maybe. Let’s hope this isn’t just another psuedo-investigation for show to be followed by another toothless “no admission of wrongdoing” settlement that somehow fails to provide meaningful restitution to those the banks have cheated.

Time will tell whether the efforts of Monitor Smith or AG Schneiderman will have any effect at all in reining in the banksters’ foreclosure free-for-all.

Update June 28, 2013: How disappointing. Turns out Schneiderman has rolled over for the banksters.
BofA, Wells Fargo Won’t Face Mortgage Deal Enforcement Case


Justice … or Just Another Scam?

In State of the Union, Obama Stands Up for Homeowners  Or does he?

Yes, on the surface it seems like President Obama’s announcement in last week’s State of the Union speech of a new financial crimes unit means homeowners fighting the big banks’ foreclosure feeding frenzy will finally see some justice.

I hope it is so. But I have to say I’m a doubter. Why? Well, the administration’s past actions and, more notably, inactions.

For one, back in 2009 Obama created a Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force, which has managed to do some good investigating the pooling and securitization of mortgage securities by big banks, but doesn’t seem to have been too interested in aiding consumers cheated by bogus mortgage mod claims.

No big surprise there. The administration doesn’t seem to care what happens to homeowners, as evidenced by its much-touted HAMP program that was supposed to provide $50 billion to help 4 million homeowners keep their homes.

The program is a failure and a farce because it requires that those same banks whose unmitigated greed caused the foreclosure crisis in the first place will voluntarily comply with a toothless set of guidelines to help people refinance and restructure their mortgage loans. Instead the banks deliberately lie and cheat and string people along, then swoop in and foreclose. And neither the Obama administration nor Congress nor Attorney General Eric Holder nor any of the agencies that are supposed to oversee and regulate the banking industry has done a darn thing to stop the banks or help homeowners in any real way.

None of the executives involved in predatory lending practices or shady securitization schemes has gone to trial, let alone to jail. Nobody with any power to prosecute seems to cares that banks blatantly forged untold thousands of foreclosure documents, so why would the banks stop lying to people about pretty much every aspect of the so-called “home preservation” process?

And where is the political will to go after the fat cats, especially in an election year, when Wall Street and the banking sector provide billions in campaign contributions? We live in a time when the 30 of the country’s largest corporations (including my nemesis Wells Fargo) spend more on lobbyists than they pay in taxes and 25 of the 100 highest-paid CEOs make more money than their companies pay in federal income taxes.

Much as I admire New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who has been tapped to head the new financial fraud squad, I don’t think he and a small task force will make much headway against all those dollars.

And speaking of will, where has the will been for the past three years as foreclosures reached record numbers and the customers of all the big mortgage servicers complained about the remarkably similar games being played to delay and deny their requests for mortgage relief? The president didn’t mention any new laws being needed for his task force to go after financial fraud; in fact, laws already exist. They just seem to have been ignored at all levels, from AG Holder right down to municipal courts and community law enforcement.

So, I do hold out a teeny bit of hope that at least some token justice will be doled out by this task force, though I’m not as enthusiastic as Rolling Stone reporter Matt Taibbi, who gleefully predicts that if the task force is for real we could see “half the luminaries on Wall Street doing prison time.”

I’m much more confident in Florida consumer lawyer Matt Wiedner’s analysis of the reasons why Obama’s announcement is just more propaganda designed to fool average Americans into thinking they and their issues mean anything at all to our so-called democratic leaders.

“The reason is quite simple….the banks and Wall Street are throwing hundreds of millions in bribes (campaign contributions) to shut up and buy off every bit of our government.

“Our government, at all levels, is entirely captive to corporations who do not exist to serve or protect The People.  They exist with one singular purpose in mind…maximize shareholder profits.

“So with that as background, I state that the President’s recently announced Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force is nothing but theater. A farce. A cruel joke being played on Americans who think something will be done to protect them.”

You Get It, Right? Obama, Congress Are Not On Our Side.

While President Obama and the rest of our dubiously elected “representatives” in Congress shift into all-campaign, all-the-time mode, it’s getting bad out there for the average American.

“Despite the robo-signing debacle slowing down foreclosures as the processing and servicing is rapidly changing, foreclosures remain high and homes in default or scheduled for auction rose 6.5 percent in the second quarter from the first, according to RealtyTrac. In July 2011, one in every 611 homes received a foreclosure filing… ” ~agbeat

Do more than a handful of honorable legislators seem to care? No. But there are government programs that are supposed to help people keep their homes, aren’t there? Ha! What are you, stupid or something? Haven’t you been paying attention?

“With housing prices dropping sharply, and foreclosure filings against more than 1 million properties in the first half of this year, the Obama administration is scrambling for ways to help homeowners.

“One place they won’t be looking:… an estimated $30 billion from the bailout that was slated to help homeowners but is likely to remain unspent.

“Instead, Congress has mandated that the leftover money be used to pay down the debt.” ~ProPublica

Thank you Congress. That’s just what I would have told you I wanted done, if you had asked. Not. And there I was feeling a teeny bit guilty for wishing the hurricane flooding would just wash away Wall Street.

(Cool photo of Wall Street bull on empty street before the hurricane.)

But, hey, there’s an election coming up and the economy is in the toilet. Surely somebody will come up with the bright idea that it would be a great vote-getter to solve the foreclosure crisis and jump-start a little prosperity.

“Congress has the power to “re-route” these funds so that they fulfill their original purpose of helping homeowners through loan modification programs and other plans. But it’s unthinkable that Republicans will take such action, even to help struggling families stay in their homes.

“GOP lawmakers have consistently prioritized reducing the deficit over the more pressing concerns of chronically high unemployment and foreclosure. Their willingness to let billions that could be used to aid homeowners go to paying down the debt instead is perhaps the clearest illustration to date of their skewed priorities.” ~ThinkProgress

Quick, ask New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman if there’s any statutory limit to how many times the President and Congress can sell us out to the banksters. He at least seems to give a flip about helping homeowners and getting the economy back on track.

“Government officials are seeking an agreement that provides funding for writedowns on mortgage loans for borrowers and sets standards for how the banks service loans, interact with borrowers and conduct foreclosures, according to terms proposed in March.

“Several attorneys general, including Schneiderman, criticized any settlement that would protect banks from state investigations by providing the lenders with broad releases from liability. Those probes include the bundling of mortgage loans into securities.” ~Bloomberg

“So why is the Obama Administration NOT on Schneiderman’s side?” ~The Big Picture

Ooh, ooh! I know this one!! Because the Obama administration and Congress are not on the side of average American people.

Update 9/7/11:
Organizing to Fight the Plutocracy
Quite simply, corporations have stolen the political process and the rights of citizens, in much the same way they robbed people of their economic rights in times past.