Can I rant?

It seems that more and more people have forgotten the basic rules of the road.

That lever on the left side of the steering column is the turn signal. You use it to tell other drivers what you are want to do. Please use it because I really suck at reading minds.

The triangular signs that have the word YIELD on it means that you have to give way to the main flow of traffic…it does not mean that you keep going and expect traffic to move for you. Sometimes there’s nowhere to go because someone is passing in the merge zone…another rule that people seem to have forgotten about…you’re not supposed to pass in a merge zone.

Music is great. I love music. I’m not so sure I love it when it’s so loud that the windows of my house rattle. I’m not so sure I like it when the bass is so heavy that it actually hurts my ears. Do these people really think that we all WANT to hear their music? WE DON’T!!!!

Those yellow lines down the middle of the street define the lanes. If you drive with those lines between your left and right tire you are outside your lane. WHY? Are you scared the parked cars might bite?

I won’t even get on the topic of stop signs.

Right and left turn on red. Just for the record, just because someone is allowed to turn right or left on red doesn’t mean they are required to turn on red.

I’ll quit now but I really, really want twin front mounted machine guns some days.

Banker’s Foreclosure Fraud Threatens a New Financial Meltdown

The Bush Recession was ignited by trillions of dollars in bad mortgage securities created by Wall Street and unregulated by Washington.  They drove the housing bubble until it burst resulting in 8 million unemployed, seven trillion in wealth vanished and eight million home foreclosures.  Now there are serious questions about fraud endemic in those foreclosures, fraud which could collapse our major financial institutions and result in yet another panic and economic meltdown.

Twenty three states, including Pennsylvania require banks holding mortgages to enter into a legal process in order to foreclose on a home loan.  This requires going to court and filing legal documents proving they have standing in the case, the amount owed, etc.  It turns that the foreclosure mills (law firms) and bank officials charged with doing so were engaged in massive fraud.  As homeowners began hiring lawyers, many because they were not behind in payments, did not know which financial institution actually held their mortgage, or, in one case in Florida, hadn’t even taken a mortgage on their home, the treachery of these bankers came to light.

Two weeks ago GMAC, now Ally Financial, shut down its foreclosure process until it could determine the legality of the documents it was using in courts.  It turns out the legal affadavits upon which its court filings were based weren’t valid.  Affadavits are sworn statements in which the facts of the case are spelled out and whose signatories are required to have verified all of the information within.  It turns out one bank official was signing 10,000 of these every month and not even reading them according to his court testimony.

The New York Times has been exposing examples where people were forced out of their homes illegally by these abuses.  Today they exposed a bank official whose signatures in three cases are so disparate they could not have been signed by the same person.  They likely were done by employees on the manager’s behalf making them fraudulent.  Signatures on affadavits have been notarized by notary publics in other states implying they aren’t legal.  These documents were the basis for unknown numbers of foreclosures meaning those actions can be challenged (and they are) and the foreclosures set aside.  In some instances angry courts are sanctioning the lenders by prohibiting them from refiling.

When Wall Street began securitizing mortgages to create new securities mortgages were sliced and diced and constantly sold and resold.  It is possible, very possible, that no one can say with any certainty who holds a mortgage.  By using spreadsheets to assign these loans Wall Street broke the chains of title and now these banks cannot ascertain for the certainty of a court proceeding who actually has legal standing to bring a foreclosure case to court.  If one is not the damaged party they have no standing and cannot sue.  In some cases multiple banks are claiming standing to foreclose on a single property.

This is a huge mess, one of both Wall Street and Washington’s fault.  Congress, under Republican policies of deregulation under George W. Bush turned a blind eye to the machinations of hedge funds and exotic securities which were the only economic bright spot in a tough economy.  The housing boom was President Bush’s only economic success and he based his 2004 election campaign on the success of the housing market.  Unfortunately Americans were using the bubble and increasing home equity to fuel their consumer spending.  As unwise as this was we were inundated with television ads from firms like Ditech.  They touted the desirability of their “no document” loan process and convinced people to tap their equity to pay off credit cards and other consumer debts.  Unfortunately this meant putting their houses on the line for their plasma TV’s and SUV’s.  Since this was the only thing fueling a stagnant economy Bush looked the other way when cries for regulation came from many responsible sources.  

I’m not sure how many I warned about unregulated hedge funds but it was a recurrent theme on this blog.  Anyone could see the false economy was doomed to crash and it did.  Now banks continue to engage in the same fraud which resulted in the financial meltdown.  They are submitting fraudulent documents to force people from their homes and the courts are beginning to call them out on it.  This means countless numbers of foreclosed homeowners now have recourse to sue the banks and get their homes back, maybe free and clear due to the fraud.

If millions of Americans gain court victories based on this our major banks will fail.  The federal government bailed out GMAC and it is government owned.  The other major banks, JPMorganChase, Wells Fargo and others have huge exposure because of their desire to foreclose as quickly as possible and use fraudulent means to do so.  There were simply too many homes being foreclosed on that bankers and lawyers couldn’t keep up with the workload and so took short cuts.  There are no valid legal shortcuts and now the ugly reality of their actions is catching up to them in these same courts.

So what happens to all those, like us, who bought foreclosed homes?  If the previous owner can go to court, establish fraud they can reclaim the title to their old home and force the new people out.  This all goes to the integrity of the title process.  If the chain of title was broken, as it appears it was on almost every mortgage in the country, banks have no standing to sue for foreclosure.  They are out all those funds.  If the people victimized can prove fraud in that process they can go to court and overturn their foreclosure.  The people who bought those homes and now face eviction because they don’t have legal title can sue everyone involved for their financial losses.

This will all lead to a new financial meltdown.  The major banks, all those “too big to fail” institutions who were saved by TARP and who were allowed to merge and swallow failing banks such as Wachovia, will teeter and fall.  This means no new mortgage payments coming in (why keep paying your loan if the bank has no standing to foreclose?), no repossessions of properties for resale canceling all that cash flow, lawsuits left and right from those defrauded and the new owners forced onto the streets, penalties from angry judges seeking to impose penalties and on and on…  This could make the last meltdown seem pale by comparison.  It is all the result of Wall Street greed and the buying off of Congressmen, Senators and state legislators who refused to take appropriate action.

Every time you hear terms like “smaller government,” less regulation, deregulation and “keep the government off my back” you’re hearing code words for the policies which caused all this mess.  If you go out next month and vote for them anyway you get what you deserve.

Tom Corbett’s Future for a Theocratic PA?

by Thomas C. Waters

In the Primary season, some LGBT activists criticized the leading Democratic candidate for not being progressive enough. They claimed Dan Onorato’s history on LGBT issues and women’s issues wasn’t strong enough. The most progressive candidate came in last in that race, mostly because Pennsylvania is a state with 2 progressive pockets on either end of the state, but with the vast majority being voters who are more conservative generally speaking. Since then, most LGBT bloggers across the state have refused to really give Dan Onorato a chance, and have said practically nothing about his opponent in this November’e election Tom Corbett. Will progressives simply not vote this November because they couldn’t gather more than 10.4% of the vote in the Spring?

This would be a grave mistake, because if progressives stay home (or don’t vote democratic) the REAL conservative in the general election, Tom Corbett could be elected, and this would extremely bad for LGBT issues. Consider this:

   The 13 states represented in the attorney generals’ brief, meanwhile, include Alabama, Alaska, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Utah, Virginia and Wyoming.

I chose this particular website for the URL on purpose because I want you, my readers to see how the extreme religious right is salivating already over their potential gain in Pennsylvania if Corbett becomes governor.

Earlier this year, Corbett as the PA Attorney General joined the lawsuit against the Health Care Reform, which demonstrated how far to the right he was- practically Tea Party right on general issues. He is clearly a part of the Party of “No,” which in itself doesn’t bode well for our state which needs an active and thoughtful approach for growth.

However, he has now demonstrated a part of his real agenda which could not be more anti-LGBT by filing a brief in the California Prop 8 case.  To be clear, the Prop 8 case, by everyone’s estimation wouldn’t have any bearing on Pennsylvania directly. It will affect California law and California residents only. So why are 13 states (more on the number 13 in a minute) stepping in on this one if the outcome of the appeals will not affect them? For Pennsylvania, the answer is clear. Corbett has already pledged that if elected he will support and push for a state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. His campaign has tried to portray him as being all about cleaning up Harrisburg politics and reigning in state spending, but that is just a facade. Social conservatism is his real agenda.

The Prop 8 case matters to his agenda because if the Federal government can overturn a California law as unconstitutional, then a PA constitutional amendment could also be challenged. Corbett needs a Prop 8 win to help set the stage for smoother passage of a PA constitutional ban.

It is both interesting and amusing that there are 13 states that filed briefs. Where has that number 13 come up before in a political context. 13 colonies perhaps?  The social extremists have been doing everything that can to paint social change as tyranny. In fact the entire appeals of Judge Walker’s Prop 8 decision is to suggest that a requirement of laws to be constitutional is tyranny against religious freedom.

The same is true for other progressive issues such as a woman’s right to choose. Corbett is an anti-abortion Catholic who has pledged to make PA’s abortion laws even more restrictive once Roe v Wade is struck down. Onorato on the other hand, has vowed to leave PA law exactly as it is. I’m not suggesting current law is excellent from a progressive standpoint, but it is a far way better than rolling back all women’s rights entirely. For many PA conservative voters, abortion is their top motivator.

So, what will Pennsylvania progressives do in November?

They may stay home and not vote. This will assure Tom Corbett and the radical social agenda a victory, and all legislative efforts for greater equality in Pennsylvania will be for naught.

They may vote Green Party. This in theory makes sense. It allows progressives to share their voice via their vote, and that is not a bad thing. The problem however, is that like the vote in the primary, their percentage is so small, it won’t make any different FOR progressive purposes. It will be a feeble attempt to show the rest of the state that there are some progressives around. This desire to make a statement to the Democratic Party and overall base is meaningful but poorly timed. The way to move the entire Democratic party towards the left isn’t on Election day. That work must begin the day after election day, and take the form of constant work over the following 2 years. The other problem with this strategy is that it also assures Corbett’s win.

I believe the only useful choice to advance progressive issues in Pennsylvania, is to turn out in a big way, and urge others to turn out and vote for Dan Onorato, and to vote Democratic in State House races as well. The choice is between allowing progress to continue or setting the stage for all of our past progress to be wiped away.

 

Cheap Air Fares: Just Add Surcharges

by Walter Brasch

           America’s airlines-they’re the ones who have told passengers to take a flying leap-have wallpapered the country with ads focusing upon how inexpensive their basic airfares are.

           While I don’t enjoy flying, I recently had to get from here to there and back. A few of the details are hazy, but I’m sure this is how my conversation went with a ticket agent.

           “I’d like a ticket,” I said with a smile.

           “No problem,” said the agent, equally smiling, “that’d be $300.”

           “But I didn’t tell you where I’m going.”

           “Makes no difference. We’re running a special this month. Anywhere for only $300. Now, would you like a seat?”

           “Of course I’d like a seat!” I said.

           “$75,” said the agent.

           “But you said the ticket was only $300.”

           “And it is. But if you’d like a seat, that’s a surcharge.”

           “That’s outrageous. What if I didn’t want a seat?”

           “We have a special this month only. No seat is only $25.”

           “$25 for not getting a seat?”

           “No, sir,” said the agent. “The $25 is for a strap on the ceiling to hold onto.”

           “What if I don’t want a strap?”

           “Sir, the FAA requires it.”

           “Give me a seat,” I said reluctantly.”

           “Fine. One seat. Now will that be a window seat, an aisle seat, or one of the five pencil-thin narrow seats between them?”

           “An aisle seat would be nice,” I said.

           “$50 said the agent.”

           “You charge for a seat and another charge for an aisle seat? I asked incredulous.

           “It’s a lot cheaper than a window seat.”

           “Why is it less than a window seat?”

           “Everyone knows that in a window seat you can look out at absolutely nothing but clouds, but get the joy of inconveniencing the other passengers as much as you want when you have to go to the bathroom.”

           “I suppose there’s a charge for the bathroom,” I said sarcastically.

           “$5 a visit,” she said matter-of-factly. “Now, would you like lunch on your flight?”

           “How much?”

           “It’s $10, and you get a choice of day-old chicken salad sandwich or recently unfrozen cheese sandwich, each with five potato chips.” I selected the ebola chicken salad. “Something to wash it down? We have a wide variety of almost-cold drinks. “$3 for soda, $5 for any micro-mini liquor. But if you buy three or more, you get one free bathroom pass.”

           “Can I just pass on the drinks right now and decide once I’m in the air?”

           “Not a problem,” she said just as sweetly, “but there’s a surcharge for last-minute decisions. We have to add a buck to each drink. And we take only cash. Clean, unmarked, crisp bills in the exact amount.” I bought two sodas. “Diet or regular?”

           “Diet.”

           “That’d be fifty cents more for each soda.”

           “That’s outrageous. You can go to any soda machine in the country and buy two diet sodas for the same price as regular sodas. And they’re only a buck or so apiece.”

           “Really? That’s strange. I’ll have to look into that. So, that’s $6 for two sodas plus a buck for the surcharge. Now, do you have luggage you’re taking?”

           “How much?”

           “Only $50 a bag. Carry-on bags are only $30. How many bags, sir?”

           “One checked bag and one carry-on bag.”

           “Yes, sir, that’ll be $160.”

           Apparently she didn’t ace her SAT math test. “You said a checked bag was $50, and a carry-on was $30. That’s only $80.”

           “I’m just assuming you’d want them to return with you. Most passengers do.”

           “You mean the $80 is for one-way only?”

           “That’s what the illegible fine print says. Most people prefer to bring their bags back with them.”

           “Do most people prefer to take trains?” I asked. She let it pass unnoticed.

           “Now, sir, if you’ll just step on the scale.”

           “You mean I should put my bags on the scale,” I said.

           “No, sir, I mean you should put you on the scale. It costs more in jet fuel if we have passengers, so we add a weight surcharge.” I complied with her request. “That’ll be an extra $15,” she said.

           “For what?!”

           “According to our weight charts, you’re 15 pounds overweight. We charge a dollar a pound.”

           “That’s ridiculous,” I said. “My physician says I’m within the normal weight range.”

           “Sir, I don’t wish to argue with you, but according to our charts you’re overweight. We can’t have you slowing down our plane’s speed because of your bulk.”

           “Who prepares these charts! The Society of Anorexic Actuaries?”

           “No, sir,” said the ticket agent proudly, we have only professionals. Last month, it was one of the women from ‘Friends.’ I think next month it’ll be Nicole Richie.”

           “I assume if someone is underweight, you give them a refund?” It took her two minutes to stop laughing.

           “Is there anything else you would like to make your flight more enjoyable?” she asked. “Seat belts, barf bags, headsets for music or an abridged and censored movie?”

           I took one of each, and she began calculating the costs. ” . . . And, finally, there’s the gas surcharge, state, federal, cloud, and runway taxes-”

           “I have to pay for the runway?!”

           “You do want to land don’t you?” She gave me the total. “Would you like a shot of oxygen with that?” she asked. I gave her two bucks more.

[Dr. Brasch’s latest book is Sex and the Single Beer Can, a witty look at the mass media and American culture. It’s available at amazon.com and other online stores.

News & Notes October 1, 2010

Its another beautiful day in downtown Santa Fe but I’m heartened to see Pennsylvania is finally getting rain.  A bit too much all of a sudden but at least the lakes and rivers are full, or flood stage.  Blue Marsh lake in Berks County had been dropped seven feet in order to keep the Schuylkill River flowing and the trout alive.  Normally the lake is lowered five or six feet during the winter months, dropping it seven in late summer showed the extreme nature of our weather.

The news in Santa Fe yesterday was about City Council adopting a strict new ordinance against nudity.  The Naked Bike Ride came through here last month and apparently outraged the more puritanical citizenry.  Now no exposure of the backside or frontal areas are allowed.  In a City which is home to hundreds, maybe thousands of creative people, artists, writers, sculptors, etc. this wasn’t met with glee by all.  The ordinance seems quite vague on what amounts to too much exposure and I believe local lawyers will have a field day.  If a resident has a swimming pool or spa and can’t wear a bikini they might get ugly.  As far as men go the law refers to certain levels of “turgidity” in a swim suit as being offensive.  I wonder who is going to circulate around the city examining men for the state of their turgidity?  Maybe there’s a job opening for me.

Tom Corbett is already hedging his “no new taxes” pledge except for workers.  Oops, while refusing to levy taxes of energy companies raping our land for natural gas he would increase your payroll taxes and reduce your unemployment compensation.  Of course if you’re unemployed he already thinks you’re simply “fat and lazy.”  Go get a job he says.  Better yet go vote next month and deny him a job.

Bryan Lentz and Pat Meehan held a debate where the former “loyal Bushie” stumbled through a statement so incomprehensible no one can determine what his babbling was about:

Ok, the choice in PA-07 is between a bumbling idiot or an Iraq War veteran who has served diligently in Harrisburg for four years?  Bryan Lentz ate Meehan’s lunch in this debate.

Meg Whitman, the former eBay CEO running for Governor of California has spent $120 million of her own money yet was caught employing an undocumented worker to clean her home for nine years.  Knowing the woman was illegal and knowing she had ambitions, Meg fired her and told her “I don’t know you and you don’t know me.”  Well, paybacks are a bitch.  The former maid held a press conference this week.  Republicans are strict on illegal immigration as long as it doesn’t affect their maids and landscapers.

In New York the Tea Party/GOP candidate for Governor got angry at a Post reporter for tracking down his mistress and their bastard child.  I suppose he got into such a high profile race not thinking the press would delve into his personal life after admitting he had a ten year old daughter out of wedlock.  He then accused his opponent Andrew Cuomo, with no basis or evidence whatsoever, of infidelity.  The Republicans this year are a piece of work.   Carl Paladino threatened the reporter saying “I’ll take you out!”  I long for the good old days of NY politics when having a Governor who said that meant going to dinner with a hooker.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss, the guy who had the gall to paint triple Vietnam amputee Max Cleland as unpatriotic for sticking up for federal workers, apologized for a staffer’s blog comment.  He fired the guy who left the statement on “Joe By God” saying “all faggots must die.”  Maybe all bigots should be voted out of office.

The two programs most hated by Tea baggers, TARP and ARRA, have actually been tremendously successful.  Facts belie the myth that trillions of tax dollars were wasted and ballooned the deficit.  The deficits which went from $2 trillion in 1981 to $12 trillion in 2008 under thirty years of GOP profligate spoending and tax cuts for the rich were never an issue for these morons.  Two unfunded wars later and a global economic collapse and they’re suddenly for fiscal austerity when the country desperately needs it to pull out of the Bush Recession.

TARP will now likely show a profit because AIG has announced a plan to repay their TARP money and ARRA, the stimulus bill saved or created 3 million jobs, had 3000 projects come in under cost and ha shad almost no fraud.  I ran into a Tea Partier in Oklahoma (he was from Illinois) who falsely claimed to me that the ARRA bill had wasted huge amounts of money on fraud.  I explained to him he could go online and see every dollar spent.  hmm, those idiots who told him that tale seemed to have forgotten the White House created a web site to track all the programs and all the money.  Why lie when your lie is so easily proven wrong?