Monday, April 29, 2013

Worcester bank "fee" "backfires on struggling homeowners"

In response to Telegram and Gazette article

Worcester bank fee backfires on struggling homeowners

The ordinance requiring banks to register with the City and post a $5000 bond when they file an Intent to Foreclose petition with the State has made a visible difference.  Properties foreclosed in the last few years that are going to ruin now seem less common around town compared to properly secured and weatherized ones. But the practice of passing this deposit on to the borrower needs to be outlawed. City Manager O'Brien deserves applause for his statements and for pursuing the banks on this. 

This is just one more example of an endless litany I hear from people. There often seems to be no logic, rhyme or reason - or decency - to the things these big banks do. Their behavior of toward their borrowers makes a mockery of all of our notions of fair dealing or even what banking is. 

For example, when people run into trouble on their mortgage payments due to some circumstance like a layoff or divorce and go to the bank for help - sometimes just with catching up - many report being told (illegally!) that they need to first be three months behind on their payments. So they let themselves fall three months behind and then find themselves in a nightmare world of negotiations often dragging on for years, leading almost inevitably to foreclosure. Fees and penalties pile up, days spent on hold or re-faxing paperwork the bank couldn't find. 

And just when the borrower thinks they have a deal, the bank invents a new rule - or just forecloses anyway! The example here of a bank foreclosing after having completed the loan modification is typical. 

This is not banking - or even capitalism - as you learned about it in school. These banks are mostly merely servicing loans that have been placed in a trust against which mortgage-backed securities were issued. They notoriously show little concern for recovering the investment. They get handsomely paid out of the trust fund, and their biggest payoff is for the foreclosure! Their victims include the borrowers, the City - and the investors who bought those securities! 

Now we need the City Council to pass Mandatory Mediation next week, which has been highly effective wherever it has been tried. 

By the way, many of those hollowed-out and semi-fraudulant Mortgage Backed Securities have been purchased by the Federal Reserve Banks as part of their Quantitative Easing programs. The Fed is a private institution, fully owned by other mega-banks, but they issue our public money. Their buying of these securities contributes to a growing lack of confidence throughout the world in the stability of the dollar.

In the end we will all pay the price for this vast system of fraud. 

Friday, April 26, 2013

Why are we fascinated by possible mega-disasters?

A commenter on a LiveScience article about the Yellowstone Caldera ended with:  "Instead we busy our brains obsessively with disaster movie plots - how stupid."

Perhaps this is because we feel so powerless in the face of the looming man-made catastrophes that could end our species. 

The Hothouse Earth catastrophe that is being unleashed by carbon burning and methane releases has been thoroughly explored and explained and it is clear what "we" have to do to prevent or reverse it. But "we" apparently have no power over the decision-makers, who are driven by an insane institutional drive to profits and power that defies even the will of the more enlightened billionaires among them! The energy corporations were able to buy a few washed-up scientists and a whole lot of airtime and politicians, and convince half the population that global warming is a hoax!

Then there's the drive to nuclear war, which was supposed to go away after the Soviet Union collapsed, but has again gone critical, with nuclear bombs being reclassified as conventional weapons and preemptive nuclear strikes again being openly discussed. After the largest demonstration in history in 2002, when 10 million people around the globe took to the streets to try to stop the invasion of Iraq and were ignored, the peace movement has apparently collapsed into hopelessness. Yet it is well understood how a major nuclear war would destroy our entire civilization and possibly our species, and put to a vote it would surely be abolished.

So what are we to do when we can so clearly understand the ways human activities are leading to destruction, laid out in detail by tens of thousands of dedicated scientists, yet we are seemingly so helpless to do anything about it?

Perhaps the Yellowstone Caldera exploding would come as a relief!

Or perhaps it is we that need to break through the overlying crust that is containing our pressure, our energy, and erupt!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

No Slots in Worcester!

There are deep and fundamental problems with the Rush Street Gaming proposal for Worcester. 

First, this is not a casino. It's a slot parlor. That's an important difference. Very few will drive 25 miles, let alone 50, to get to a slot parlor. It's main market will be the people who now gather in neighborhood bars and play Keno, in Worcester proper and the immediate suburbs. (Bye, bye neighborhood bars!) 

Modern electronic slot machines are scientifically designed to be addictive, to keep people rooted to their seat and excited because they seem to be winning. And they can be directly connected to people's bank accounts so they play til the accounts are drained. Gambling addiction is very real and hugely destructive. Would we support a $1/4 billion glorified opium den in downtown Worcester? 

Second, this developer has a history of being dishonest, predatory and a bad employer. That was on display last night as they presented all the advantages of this "casino", not a slot parlor, comparing it to other casinos. We can expect a slick, deceptive and lavishly-funded campaign to sell it to Worcester voters if it reaches the stage of a referendum. And whether it will reach that stage is what is being decided on now. 

Third, it will change the character of Worcester in ways that even its supporters will come to deplore. And unless the casino goes belly up it will be almost impossible to get rid of. 

Fourth, when we talk about not missing this huge opportunity to bring this money to Worcester, consider that the only inflow will be during the construction phase. Once it's up and running it will be a place where Worcester residents go to spend their paychecks on a few hours of getting high, and - unlike the Lottery - most of that money goes straight to a multi-billion dollar corporation in Chicago! 

It will be like a giant vacuum cleaner sucking the life-blood out of the Worcester economy, leaving behind failed businesses and broken lives. 

We need to walk away from this lemon now! 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Truth Emergency and the Emperor's New Clothes moment.

Re: the latest AP story on the Bureau of Labor Statistics report, April 11 2014:

So unemployment claims "plummet", "reversing sharp gains the previous two weeks," but the "four week average, a less volatile measure, rose 3000," and "employers added only 80,000 jobs".

Somewhere in there is something that "could signal that more solid hiring could return in April."

"The unemployment rate fell to a four-year low of 7.6 percent last month, ... However, the rate fell only because more people stopped looking for work and were no longer counted as unemployed."  (At last a whiff of truth leaking in!)

It's like looking for signals in tea leaves or chicken entrails.

So now they regularly admit that there's a large pool of unemployed that their statistics leave out, why do they go on using them?

These official statistics are so deeply flawed they can't be used for serious economic modeling, which is why many corporations and economists turn to "" instead. They can't be used for serious policy discussions.  How do we talk about the unemployment emergency when the statistics we use don't show it?

Yet these so-called "unemployment rate" statistics are built into the laws.  Because they're falling,  because job seekers are giving up, as of Sept. 1 Massachusetts unemployed will lose another "tier", another 10 weeks of Federal benefits!

These unemployment statistics are part of a larger "Truth Emergency". People with some control, some influence, money or security are living in one conversation about the world, one reality, while the rest of us, the 90% say, live in a different reality.  Out here no one much believes what we read in the newspapers or see on TV anymore, because it doesn't match the reality of our lives.

What's left is the illusion of "all those other stupid people out there" happily sitting on their couches playing video games who believe what they see and don't care.

With our unmet needs getting more and more urgent, we are rapidly approaching an "Emperor's New Clothes" moment when we shed that illusion.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Do we need more jobs at any wage?

Subscriber 007,  what you say makes a certain kind of short-term sense, but you're missing the big picture, which is that our wage and work-condition standards are getting trashed in this depression, and it's driving millions of people and even the whole economy ever closer to a bigger disaster.

Median income is down 7% already nationally.  Millions of unemployed have been forced back to work for below-subsistence wages.  Millions have lost all benefits.  The economy is being "hollowed out", with a disappearing middle class and not enough money in people's hands to drive a sustainable expansion.  Creating more near-minimum-wage jobs is just setting the stage for the next round of the economic collapse.

All of the unemployed workers in our group agree that we don't just need jobs, we need GOOD jobs.  At $8, $9, $10 an hour, even full time, you're just staving off disaster, with not enough to ever start pulling yourself out of the pit.  Plus, many of these jobs are temporary or part time.  It's common now for these jobs to have random hours so if you try to hold two jobs you lose them.  And if you call in sick you lose your job.  (Think about that the next time you eat out at a fancy restaurant!)

Many of us will take those jobs when we can get them because we have to, but they're no solution.  Certainly we all agree we shouldn't be spending City tax dollars to get more of them!

Sequesters, Jobs, Revenue and Riots

Make no mistake, the cuts Congress is imposing with the Sequester will hurt everyone, as will Obama's "compromise", and no one will be hit harder than the unemployed.  We need government help and action to create jobs now, not cuts!  Obama's proposed cuts in Social Security are completely unnecessary.  Make no mistake, this is the first move in what will develop into a grab by the Corporations for the big prize of the SS Trust Fund.  Cuts in Medicare are unconscionable.  

The politicians and media claim there is no money.  They must know better.  There's just no money that they have the will and guts to go after.  Like dogs they nuzzle the hands that stroke and feed them, and cringe from the power of those hands to swat them if they get out of line.

But the money's there.  As of last July, US Corporations reported $1.7 trillion in idle cash on hand.  One Corporation, Apple, now reports $137 billion on hand.  Put that in perspective: Apple, one corporation, could pay the whole $86 billion shortfall to cover the first Sequester and have $51 billion left over!  

Then there are the well-documented reports of many trillions of dollars in private and corporate money stashed in overseas accounts to avoid taxation! 

For whatever reason Congress' corporate handlers are relentlessly seeking ways to force us further into peonage, strip us of the fruits of our hard work and set us to fighting each other over the scraps.  They know these cuts will cost jobs and deepen the recession.  They seem to want that.  Why?

Everyone thought if things got as bad as they are now there would be rioting in the streets. People regularly mutter "they can't do that, they'll be riots if they do."  But the years go by, things keep getting worse for the millions of unemployed and "unemployable", and nothing happens.  

The government has certainly been preparing for riots, with well-documented laws, equipment, new technologies, detention facilities and even troop deployments, but the predicted riots have not started.  Are they determined to keep pushing us down, down, down until they do?  

If so, we have to ask, what's in it for them?  Are they looking for the excuse to suspend the Constitution and suspend our rights?  The excuse to suspend the state and local governments that are impeding the foreclosures and evictions?  The excuse to impose controls on what can be posted to the Web, so they can operate in secret?  The excuse to clear away what's left of our unions?  

Clearly riots are not in our interests.  So far the people have had the wisdom to resist the provocations.  But if we are to escape this trap that we are being herded into, we urgently need to start acting together to regain control of our own government, and get it do it's job.  We need to demand and organize for a government with the will and power to lay its hands on the money we need for the necessary massive job-creating investments to restart the economy and to restore and expand public services. 

TIF Tax Giveaways - City Council Steps Up

The City Council has a right and duty to assure that when we give away our tax money we are going to get real value for it. They were looking for a demonstration that Hampton Inn really needs our tax money to do what they are proposing, a firm commitment to stay and deliver on the services they promise, and a commitment to participate in the economic life of Worcester in a way that benefits the residents and taxpayers of our City. 

There were several reasons for the Councilors on the Committee expressing opposition to this bid by Hampton Inn to build a new hotel on Prescott St. 

First, it came out that there was some fancy financial dealing going on where one branch of the corporation would sell property to another branch and make a profit of nearly $1 million up front. This raised questions about their motives and long term intentions. 

Second there were questions about why this hotel would need a tax break when others don't. 

Third, Councilors responded to some serious questions raised by members of the community about what kind of jobs would be created. Evidence was brought forward that the corporation was using a sub-contractor who required employees to work as independent contractors, thus depriving them of benefits, evading paying FICA taxes and of the protections of Federal labor standards such as overtime. 

It was also noted that Hampton Inn had offered no commitment to local hiring or to paying staff more than bare subsistence wages. 

A TIF tax break amounts to the City giving money to an investor in return for something they presumably would not do otherwise. The Council rarely in the past has looked behind the curtain to see what is really going on and what exactly we would get for our money. They should be applauded for doing so now. 

City Manager O'Brien was visibly upset over this unexpected rejection of the deal he had worked out with Hampton Inn. He will have to get used to this new level of scrutiny of where our money's going. 

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Why we hate panhandlers


I hate to have to tell you this, but we do not have a commendable system of homeless shelters.  First stop for most is the former PIP shelter, which is a complete disaster - unsupervised, dangerous, filthy, degrading and with rules that trap people, leave them unable to do anything except scrounge for the food the "Triage Center" is supposed to provide but doesn't.  

Shutting the Willis Center and turning its family shelters over to SMOC will make the problems even worse.

The number one reason given me by sign-holders for begging is to get enough money to stay out of the shelters - to keep a roof over their heads.  Many are on SSI and aren't getting enough to cover rent.  

If you are a Christian, giving to beggars when you can is necessary for your soul.  No way out of it.  When a beggar makes eye contact with you, you are confronted with an immediate choice between Heaven or Hell.  In the instant you choose to turn away you are plunged into a conversation of self righteousness, self-justification, blaming and denying the equivalence between yourself and the beggar in the eyes of God.  In that moment you have committed yourself to living in darkness.  

If you're not a Christian, at least when you turn from the panhandler and deny his humanity you're not being a hipocrite , yet your choice is the same.  You don't have to believe in the choir of angels or the pit of fire to experience this immediate choice between living right now in the love of your fellow beings or living in a state of blame, complaint and self-pity that trends toward hate.  

Next time you turn away from a beggar, notice what goes on for you right then -  how it shapes how you see and experience everything.  

Then, just for once, try making eye contact, giving a dollar and a friendly "good luck brother", and notice the state that leaves you in, how you feel about the world and about yourself. 

Giving that dollar is really a gift to yourself.  It's the gift of allowing yourself to live for that moment as a full human being, despite all the traps and snares of life in a corrupt, dog-eat-dog empire built on greed and exploitation.

re. Mass Teen Birthrate Down

Jim B*** said "it's all about the MONEY." 

Not really. It's all about the dreams. Dreams and belief. Dreams girls have of a boyfriend who will love them and love their baby and give them a home and a family and a future. Belief in the loving lies boys tell them - dreams and hopes the boy may or may not believe themselves, but at least they have to be able to imagine them, feel them as real in the moment they speak. 

" 'It is whether or not young people have a perception of opportunity, so they see something bigger for themselves,' Ms. Peck [a state official] said." 

Ms. Peck has it backwards. Birthrates are down because there is less perception of opportunity, not more!  There have never been fewer summer jobs. There's almost nothing out there for the tens of thousands of kids who can't finish high school or who go on to college. And surely they're hearing the stories of the ones who did and ended up with nothing but a huge debt they can never pay off. 

No, it isn't the alternative future of success and prosperity that has that girl putting off having that baby.  And it isn't the dream of a life on welfare either. 

Welfare life sucks, as any child who grew up on it knows full well. It's humiliating. The money isn't enough to live on but any effort to get more can get you kicked off. Food Stamps don't last the month. Everyone has to cheat to survive, and everyone lives in fear of getting caught. Welfare doesn't cover rent and it can be years of waiting to get Section 8. Then they live in fear of losing it. TFADC is supposed to be temporary, good for two years out of five, but there's no daycare for the other three, and these days there's no job either. 

Kids hate going to school in Goodwill clothing that some other kid may recognize. School lunch may be their only meal. Parents come home angry and frustrated from their latest bout with an overworked, snippy caseworker, and then snap and yell when kids ask for money for something. 

No, no girl has a baby so she can get more of that life.  

For that woman-child in her man-child's arms, there may be a calculation, but it's one that comes filtered through stories and hopes and fairy-tale images.  If she has that baby, it's because some boy sells her a dream she's ready to believe in. 

And when even that silver-tongued boy can't offer her a dream to live for, birthrates go down.