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Woody Guthrie at 100 March 7, 2012

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Published on Wednesday, March 7, 2012 by Creators.com

  by  Jim Hightower

Where’s Woody when we need him?

In these times of tinkle-down economics — with the money powers thinking that they’re the top dogs and that the rest of us are just a bunch of fire hydrants — we need for the hard-hitting (yet uplifting) musical stories, social commentaries and inspired lyrical populism of Woody Guthrie.

Woody Guthrie (1912 – 1967)

This year will mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of this legendary grassroots troubadour, who came out of the Oklahoma dust bowl to rally America’s “just plain folks” to fight back against the elites who were knocking them down.

As we know, the elites are back, strutting around cockier than ever with their knocking-down ways — but now comes the good news out of Tulsa, Okla., that Woody, too, is being revived, spiritually speaking. In a national collaboration between the Guthrie family and the George Kaiser Family Foundation, a center is being built in Tulsa to archive, present to the world and celebrate the marvelous songs, books, letters and other materials generated from Guthrie’s deeply fertile mind.

To give the center a proper kick-start, four great universities, the Grammy Museum, the Smithsonian Institution and the Kaiser Foundation are teaming up to host a combination of symposiums and concerts (think of them as Woody-Paloozas) throughout this centennial year. They begin this Saturday, March 10 at the University of Tulsa, then they move on down the road to Brooklyn College and on to the University of Southern California and Penn State University.

If Woody himself were to reappear among us, rambling from town to town, he wouldn’t need to write any new material. He’d see that the Wall Street banksters who crashed our economy are getting fat bonus checks, while the victims of their greed are still getting pink slips and eviction notices, and he could just pull out this verse from his old song, “Pretty Boy Floyd”:

Yes, as through this world I’ve wandered, I’ve seen lots of funny men. Some will rob you with a six-gun, And some with a fountain pen.

And as through your life your travel, Yes, as through your life your roam, You won’t never see an outlaw Drive a family from their home.

Also, witnessing the downsizing of America’s jobs, decimation of the middle class and stark rise in poverty, Guthrie could reprise his classic, “I Ain’t Got No Home”:

I mined in your mines, and I gathered in your corn. I been working, mister, since the day I was born. Now I worry all the time like I never did before, ‘Cause I ain’t got no home in this world anymore.
Now as I look around, it’s mighty plain to see, This world is such a great and a funny place to be. Oh, the gamblin’ man is rich, an’ the workin’ man is poor, And I ain’t got no home in this world anymore.

Guthrie unabashedly celebrated America’s working class, seeing in it the commitment to the common good that lifts America up.

He drove The Powers That Be crazy (a pretty short ride for many of them back then, just as it is today). So they branded him a unionist, socialist, communist and all sorts of other “ists” — but he withered them with humor that got people laughing at them: “I ain’t a communist necessarily, but I have been in the red all my life.”

Going down those “ribbons of highway” that he extolled in “This Land Is Your Land,” Guthrie found that the only real hope of fairness and justice was in the people themselves: “When you bum around for a year or two and look at all the folks that’s down and out, busted, disgusted (but can still be trusted), you wish that somehow or other they could … pitch in and build this country back up again.” He concluded, “There is just one way to save yourself, and that’s to get together and work and fight for everybody.”

And, indeed, that’s exactly what grassroots people are doing all across our country today. From Occupy Wall Street to the ongoing Wisconsin uprising, from battles against the Keystone XL Pipeline to the successful local and state campaigns to repeal the Supreme Court’s atrocious Citizens United edict, people are adding their own verses to Woody’s musical refrain: “I ain’t a-gonna be treated this a-way.”

Where’s Woody when we need him? He’s right there, inside each of us.

Find more information on Saturday’s Guthrie Centennial Celebration here.

© 2012 Creators Syndicate

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Jim Hightower

National radio commentator, writer, public speaker, and author of the book, Swim Against The Current: Even A Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow, Jim Hightower has spent three decades battling the Powers That Be on behalf of the Powers That Ought To Be – consumers, working families, environmentalists, small businesses, and just-plain-folks.

Foreclosed Homeowners Re-Occupy Their Homes November 25, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis, Housing/Homelessness, Occupy Wall Street Movement, Racism.
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Published on Friday, November 25, 2011 by New America Media

  by Zaineb Mohammed

SAN FRANCISCO – Carolyn Gage was evicted from her foreclosed home in January. Earlier this month, she moved back in.

“I’ve been in here for 50 years. I know no other place but here. I left and it was just time for me to come back home,” said Gage, who is in her mid-50s.

Gage’s monthly payments spiked after her adjustable rate mortgage kicked in, and she could no longer afford the payments on her three-bedroom house in the city’s Bayview Hunters Point district. She says she tried to modify her loan with her lender, Florida-based IB Properties, but to no avail.

When Gage initially left about 10 months ago, she took some personal items with her, but left most of the furniture and continued paying for some utilities.

“It didn’t feel right for me to move. I just left my things because I knew I was going to return to them eventually,” she said.

She had to re-activate a few utilities when she returned, like the water, but found the process fairly easy.

Walking back into the house was an emotional moment for Gage, but a joyous one.

“I was like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz; there’s no place like home,” Gage said. “It’s a family home; I plan to stay there.”

Gage was one of about two dozen homeowners who gathered Tuesday for a community potluck on Quesada Avenue for residents facing foreclosure and are refusing to leave their homes.

Homeowners expressed outrage at the way predatory lenders have targeted their community.

Residents of the Bayview are starting to see how the African-American community was especially victimized in the foreclosure crisis.

Gage believes that single women and elders in the black community were targeted for predatory loans. At the peak of the housing boom she was solicited for an adjustable rate loan to do some home improvements, even though she told the loan agent that she was on disability and did not have a steady income.

According to a report released last week by the Center for Responsible Lending, African Americans and Latinos were consistently more likely than whites to receive high-risk loan products. About a quarter of all Latino and African-American borrowers have lost their homes to foreclosure or are seriously delinquent, compared to under 12 percent for white borrowers.

Bayview residents Reverend Archbishop Franz King and Reverend Mother Marina King, who are founders of the St. John Coltrane African Orthodox Church, are also facing foreclosure. Their eviction date is set for Dec. 22.

King expressed deep anger and sorrow at the situation facing the black community in the Bayview.

“First redevelopment moved us out of the Fillmore and now we’re losing our properties too? It’s like there’s nowhere for us to go,” he said.

Grace Martinez, an organizer with Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) who helped to arrange the event, commented that banks have become increasingly hostile to their efforts. “They call the police on us; they laugh at us.”

Vivian Richardson, a homeowner on Quesada Avenue whose house was also foreclosed on, also has no intention of leaving. Her current eviction date is set for Dec. 31, but she, like many of her neighbors, is asking her lender to reduce the principal on her loan in order to make the monthly payments more affordable.

Richardson has been attempting to modify her home loan for the past two years. Earlier this month, tired of the lack of communication from the lender, Aurora Loan Services based in Delaware, she worked with ACCE to coordinate an e-mail blast to Aurora’s chairman.

On Nov. 3, over the span of one to two hours, approximately 1,400 emails were sent and more than 100 phone calls made, imploring Chairman Theodore P. Janulis to stop Richardson’s eviction. A spokesperson from the bank called her an hour after the blast and asked her to send an updated set of financial information so that they could review her case.

Two weeks have passed and she has yet to hear anything further. The bank spokesperson commented that Richardson’s case is still being reviewed internally and they hope to get back to her by the end of next week.

However, Richardson has lived in her house for 13 years and plans to stay regardless of the bank’s decision.

“I will defend the home,” she said.

On Dec. 6, there will be a national day of action, “Occupy Our Homes,” where people across the country facing predicaments similar to Gage and Richardson may follow their lead.

Partly inspired by the Occupy movement, the day of action is supported by various community organizations like Take Back the Land and ACCE. The call to action is for people to move back into their foreclosed properties and to defend the properties of families facing eviction.

Martinez commented on the growing anger people are feeling. “The idea is, ‘I want what’s mine.’” She said many homeowners had trusted the banks and ultimately, “People were buying into a lie.”

Copyright © 2011 Pacific News Service

Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) Urges Homeowners to Stay in Foreclosed Homes February 3, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis.
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Guests:

www.democracynow.org, February 3, 2009

Rep. Marcy Kaptur, Democratic Congress member from the Ninth Congressional District of Ohio. She’s the longest-serving Democratic woman in the history of the House.

Bruce Marks, Founder and CEO of NACA, the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America, which has just successfully pressured Fannie Mac to restructure thousands of troubled mortgages.

Kathy Broka, President of the Fair Housing Center in Toledo, Ohio.

AMY GOODMAN: After an $850 billion bailout for Wall Street and another $25 billion for the auto industry, struggling homeowners still await large-scale government assistance. The Obama administration says it’s working out the details of its plan to stem foreclosures.

 

Well, in the absence of government action so far, some are taking action on the local level. In Michigan, Wayne County Sheriff Warren Evans announced Monday he won’t enforce sales of foreclosed homes. Wayne County includes the city of Detroit and has had more than 46,000 foreclosures in the past two years. Evans says he came to the decision after reviewing the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the Wall Street bailout measure known as TARP. He says the foreclosures would conflict with a provision ordering the Treasury Department to reduce foreclosures and help restructure loans. Evans said he’d be violating the law by denying foreclosed homeowners the chance at potential federal assistance. He said, “I cannot in clear conscience allow one more family to be put out of their home until I am satisfied they have been afforded every option they are entitled to under the law to avoid foreclosure.”

 

Meanwhile, the government-backed mortgage giant Fannie Mae has agreed to restructure mortgages after a campaign led by one of its biggest critics, the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America, or NACA. Fannie Mae will work with NACA to modify mortgage payments for struggling homeowners. In October, NACA held a protest outside Fannie Mae’s D.C. headquarters, blockading the entrance until being granted a meeting with top executives.

 

And in Ohio, Democratic Congress member Marcy Kaptur is encouraging homeowners facing foreclosures to stay in their homes. Kaptur says residents should exercise squatters’ rights to refuse being forced out because of loans she says could well have been illegal.

 

Congress member Kaptur joins us now from Toledo, Ohio. She is the longest-serving Democratic Congress[woman] in history. We’re also joined by Kathy Broka, president of the Fair Housing Center in Toledo. And on the line in Boston is Bruce Marks. He’s the president of the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America, which has just successfully pressured Fannie Mae to work with it to restructure thousands of troubled mortgages.

We’re going to go first to Ohio. Congress member Marcy Kaptur, can you repeat what you said on the floor of the House? What are you urging homeowners who could be foreclosed to do?

REP. MARCY KAPTUR: Well, the most important thing to do is to get legal help. And what we are finding is that if people receive a notice from a financial institution, their first reaction is fear, rather than getting proper legal representation. Here in our region, we recommend that people go to Legal Aid or the Advocates for Basic Legal Equality—or nationally, there’s a number people can call: (888) 995-HOME—and to get the proper legal representation, so they can actually have the scales of justice be balanced rather than, now, all the power to Wall Street and none of the justice to Main Street.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, explain how that works. If you have a person who’s at home, and they come to take the family out, you’re saying sit there?

REP. MARCY KAPTUR: Well, if it’s a sheriff’s eviction, if it’s reached that point, that is almost impossible. But we find that most of the foreclosures that haven’t reached that point, families are not getting the proper legal representation, and that’s why I’m saying that possession is nine-tenths of the law; therefore, stay in your property.

Get proper legal representation. If you believe that Wall Street has been deceptive, could have been fraudulent or tried to dupe the public, and with these subprime loans and with the kind of circuitous financing that’s been done, Wall Street cannot produce the deed nor the mortgage audit trail, you need a lawyer.

And you should stay in your home. It is your castle. It’s more than a piece of property. It’s your home.

And just because Washington hasn’t handled this bailout properly—and we never should have done it this way in the first place. We should have used the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Securities and Exchange Commission to resolve and do these workouts. Washington chose another road, which has been very, very destructive. I have opposed this all the way. But because they’ve done the wrong thing, you, at least, shouldn’t be the victim of what’s been happening on Wall Street and in Washington. You need a lawyer. You need a good lawyer. And you ought to get that legal representation so that the scales of justice are balanced.

AMY GOODMAN: And Congressman Kaptur, of course—Congress member Kaptur, of course, the people who are being forced out of their homes now are in the most difficult situations. How do they afford a lawyer? How can they even think along these lines?

REP. MARCY KAPTUR: Well, that’s why I’m recommending your Legal Aid Society. Call your local bar association or the national number, (888) 995-HOME. Most people don’t even think about getting representation, because they get a piece of paper from the bank, and they go, “Oh, it’s the bank,” and they become fearful, rather than saying, “Oh, wait a minute. This is contract law. The mortgage is a contract. I am one party. There is another party. What are my legal rights under the law as a property owner?” And many times, they are abrogating their own rights. They’re forgetting that they have rights in this proceeding. And they need to exercise those legal rights.

You know, when this mess started, when the meltdown really started back last year, 75 percent even of the subprime loans were performing. That means people were making their payments. What Washington has done and what Wall Street has done has made it so much worse. But those loans were performing loans. The other 25 percent weren’t all bad either. There were some issues, but they could have been worked out. Washington went backwards, when it should have gone forwards. It should have embraced Main Street; it embraced Wall Street first, and they trusted them again, the very same institutions, the five top ones, that have done most of the damage: JPMorgan, Wachovia, Bank of America, Citigroup and HSBC. If you get a letter from one of those, you should say, “I need a lawyer.” You need a lawyer in order to represent your interests in that contract.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re saying they did it wrong. Explain exactly what you felt was wrong and how it should have been done right and how it can be fixed now, Congress member Marcy Kaptur.

REP. MARCY KAPTUR: Alright. Well, if we look at prior meltdowns in the real estate market—and I’d love to have an hour to tell you what’s really gone wrong—but the federal institutions that were normally used to do workouts and to resolve pending bank failures are the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Securities and Exchange Commission. They have all the examination powers. They have enormous power to do workouts, to track that loan, to get it, to put the borrower at the same table. If they have to write down some losses, both by the lender and by the mortgagee, they do that. The Securities and Exchange Commission comes in and, through their auditors, they deal with the real valuation of property, even in a downturned economy.

Those institutions were put on the shelf. They were not used. In fact, I think one of the reasons they were not used is because when they come in, they bring examiners. They actually look at the books. They can do mortgage audit trails. And I think that Wall Street really didn’t want that, and they were powerful enough, in order to help to pass a bill, scaring Congress right before the election, before a new president was elected last fall, that they really put all the power in the Treasury Department, which isn’t a housing agency. It really doesn’t do bank regulation in the same way that the FDIC does, nor oversight. Treasury really works with Wall Street. They basically sell US debt. There’s a real circuit that goes between Wall Street and Washington, the Capitol, the US Treasury Department. So they used the wrong agency.

They brought in people from the very companies, like Goldman Sachs, to run the Treasury that had been one of the agencies—one of the companies that was going under, so they made it into a bank holding company. You can follow the trail of what they did. Meanwhile, they’re protecting their interests on Wall Street. And here on Main Street, the so-called bailout that they were given hasn’t trickled down. And so, millions and millions of families are getting foreclosure notices. They don’t have proper legal representation. The Washington-Wall Street circuit isn’t really working to allow these workouts to occur, and people are falling off the edge.

Somewhere, the scales of justice have to be balanced, and Washington has to use the traditional instruments that have worked. They have actually given power to a department that has been abysmal in its handling of taxpayer dollars. And you know what? There’s been no real oversight by the Congress, as required by that TARP law that was passed last year. So it, to me, is just an indication of how much power these institutions really have politically. But why should my constituents or the constituents of members around the country be hurt even more? They need representation in this process. They deserve it.

AMY GOODMAN: Congress member Marcy Kaptur, when you talk about those who caused the problem now being in charge of solving the problem, you can only think of a job description for the Treasury Secretary: be a part of the mess and don’t pay your taxes, and you, too, could be Treasury Secretary of the United States of America, Tim Geithner. Your thoughts?

REP. MARCY KAPTUR: Walk away with billions. And then—oh, Secretary Paulson came from Goldman Sachs, which, as this crisis began, carefully tucked itself as a—I call it a gambling house; it was an investment house up on Wall Street—they came under the Bank Holding Company Act. Why would they do that? Morgan Stanley did, as well. Why would they do that? They did that because they then become eligible for deposit insurance, which the good banks have paid into for decades. But Goldman didn’t pay into that. Morgan Stanley didn’t pay into that. So they all of a sudden went legit; they turned from a gambling house into a bank, just like that. Most of the public didn’t even catch that. And so, they wanted the protections, though they were high-risk institutions in their behavior, and they’ve hurt our country and the people of our country so much. They wanted to come under, put their nose under the tent of the Deposit Insurance Corporation.

You know, and then the good banks had to pay more for deposit insurance. They were powerful enough to turn the banking industry of this country almost upside-down and hurt banks in places like Ohio and caused the merger of institutions. Ohio now lost one of its major banks called National City Bank; it was merged with PNC in Pittsburgh. And the vice chair of PNC in Pittsburgh was the gentleman who invented derivatives on Wall Street. He left Wall Street and went to PNC. PNC now effectively has price control over the western part of Pennsylvania and parts of eastern Ohio now. That’s how powerful these institutions are.

And so, they’re not just powerful in Washington; they really have power out in the regions to control lines of credit, lending. It’s just unbelievable. This feels like the late 1920s and early 1930s, in terms of the concentration of the banking system itself. And if you look at the bad paper, if you look at where there’s trouble, 95 percent—95 to 98 percent of the paper really has moved to five institutions, the ones that I mentioned: JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Wachovia, Citigroup and HSBC. They have this country held by the neck.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Congress member Marcy Kaptur. This term, she becomes the longest-serving Democratic congresswoman in US history. She is the dean of the Ohio congressional delegation. I hope you’ll stay with us. We are also going to go to a housing activist in Toledo, and we’ll be joined by Bruce Marks, who’s head of NACA, the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America. He’s from Boston. He was blockading Fannie Mae; now he’s working with them. We’ll find out what’s happened. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking about the housing crisis. Our guests are Congress member Marcy Kaptur, the longest-serving congresswoman in US history. She joins us from Toledo, Ohio, as does Kathy Broka, president of the Fair Housing Center in Toledo, and Bruce Marks, founder and CEO of NACA, the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America.

We’re going to come back to Toledo in a minute. But, Bruce Marks, tell us the scope of the problem in Massachusetts. And how did you, who was blockading the doors of Fannie Mae in October until you could meet with its CEO, how did you end up now working with Fannie Mae?

BRUCE MARKS: Well, it’s good to be on, Amy.

I mean, we have got offices around the country. We have got forty offices around the country. We do the best solutions out there for working people throughout this country. So if you go through NACA, you’re able to restructure your mortgage by permanently reducing your interest rate to as little as three percent and reducing your principal to make your mortgage affordable. And we’re doing it for tens of thousands of homeowners.

And in a sense, it’s done through nonviolent bank terrorism. So what we do is we confront these institutions. And yes, Fannie Mae has done the right thing. They have set the standard. But on this Saturday, Sunday and Monday, if you go to our website, Amy, and you go there, and what—we appreciate what Marcy is saying in terms of being able to—don’t leave your home, like what the sheriff in Cook County, Chicago has done—he has said, “I will not foreclose. I will not throw anybody out of their home.” But this weekend, we’re going on the Predators Tour. So when the congresswoman says that we should hold JPMorgan responsible, we should hold Option One, Wilbur Ross, who heads Option One, responsible, and GMAC. Let’s go to their homes. So if you go to our website at naca.com—and we would like the congresswoman to join us—let’s go on the Predators Tour to the homes of these CEOs with thousands of homeowners.

And this is what we’re going to do with thousands of homeowners, go into their home and say, “I want you to meet my family. I want you to see who you’re foreclosing on.” We’ve got to not just talk the talk; we’ve got to walk the walk. And walking the walk means it’s personal. If someone’s going to lose their homes, if you go to our website, you can see pictures of how the rich and the greedy are living now on our dime, on our dollar, on our homes. So we’re going—if they’re going to take our homes, we’re going to go to their homes, and we’re going to tell them, “No more.” And that’s what it has to do, not just go and stop the foreclosures. Let’s go into their communities.

And so, you can see pictures of where Jamie Dimon, CEO of Chase, lives, not just in Stamford, Connecticut, where we’re doing this event with literally thousands of homeowners, or re. Wilbur Ross, who runs Option One, or Feinberg, who runs GMAC, you can see where they live. And if you can’t come to Stamford, Connecticut, then go to their—go to Jamie Dimon’s home in Chicago or in other parts of the country, because these CEOs, they have multi-million-dollar homes. The one in Stamford, Connecticut—actually it’s in Mount Kisco, $17 million, where he lives. And so, that’s what we have to do. And also, what we’re going to do—

AMY GOODMAN: And what are you demanding when you go to their homes?

BRUCE MARKS: I’m sorry?

AMY GOODMAN: What are you demanding when you go to their homes?

BRUCE MARKS: We are demanding that they meet with the homeowners who they’re foreclosing on. We believe that if they can see, face-to-face, in the eyes of the homeowners, what they’re doing and the consequences of their actions, that that makes it personal. And we want their children to meet the children of the homeowners who are losing their homes and have those children have a conversation with each other and have their children go back to their parents and say, “Mom, Dad, is it true that you’re foreclosing on these homeowners?”

I mean, Wilbur Ross, he owns Option One. He has $1.8 billion in net worth. $1.8 billion. Jamie Dimon, $300 million. Frey—this guy is suing Bank of America, because he does not want them to do modifications. I mean, you go down the line, you can see their homes, you can have their addresses. You can go visit them, not just on our Predators Tour, but anytime you want, because they—it’s personal now.

And we’re not just going as ten or twenty people; we’re going with hundreds and thousands, because at this event, we’re also doing individual counseling, because, yes, you’re right, we have agreements with the major servicers out there where they’re required to restructure your mortgage to make that affordable for the long term. Yes, it’s nice, and it’s a good step that we say get an attorney, but it’s the confrontation, it’s the advocacy, it’s personalizing the issue that makes that work, and to get other sheriffs around the country, like they’ve done in Cook County, saying, “I’m not going to foreclose on my own. I’m not going to foreclose on hard-working people, because that’s who I am,” to do that. And, you know—and we’re able to get it done.

And Congress has been nowhere on this stuff. Where is the moratorium on the foreclosures? Where is—we still have hearings today on the refinance option by Barney Frank. We know that doesn’t work. So—

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s talk about Hope for Homeowners, and I want—

BRUCE MARKS: —when is Congress going to step up and say, “Let’s restructure mortgages to make them affordable”?

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to talk about the Hope for Homeowners bill, and maybe Congress member Kaptur could weigh in here. It was passed last summer. The idea is it would help out something like 450,000 homeowners to stop the foreclosures. And in the end, I think there have been twenty-one successful applications. It’s almost impossible to go through that system. Barney Frank is saying, well, now they’ve not only prevented abuse, they’ve prevented use. And so, today they’re reopening it. What’s that about, Congress member Kaptur?

REP. MARCY KAPTUR: Well, I am one of three Democrats that voted no on that bill. And during the debate and during our caucus meetings on the bill, Congressman Frank, who chairs the committee, and I had an ongoing debate in a very open forum, where I basically said it won’t work and that the necessary workouts were not going to be done, that the administration would find a way, because of the way that the bill was written, not to give us the immediate help that we needed. He prevailed in that vote; I did not.

But I went up to him after that vote—I’ll never forget it—and I said, “You know what, Barney?” I said, “You’re a friend of mine. We serve together. I really hope you’re right.” And my heart was breaking at that point, because I knew that hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of more people in my region, just my region, would receive foreclosure notices and would be thrown out of their homes during that period. And that is exactly what has happened. I hope that Chairman Frank will act with dispatch to bring to the table the parties that need to be brought to the table to get these workouts going.

This foreclosure crisis has tied up our entire banking system to the point where companies that want to expand in districts like ours, where unemployment is over 11.5 percent now, cannot get credit from the banks. This is having a terrible impact on the credit system of this country. And that bill was completely inadequate, and it was almost doomed to fail.

The proper way to proceed is to bring the FDIC and the SEC to the table now. I hope that the new president, President Obama, will bring the chair, will bring Sheila Bair to his office, will make necessary appointments to those boards and talk to people who’ve actually resolved bank crises in the past, like William Isaac, who had served both the Democrats and Republicans back in the 1970s and ’80s when we had these problems before. This isn’t the first time that the banks of this country have sort of done it to the American people, and there are very knowledgeable experienced people in the commercial banking world who have actually done these workouts and have systemically changed what needs to be done. They’re not being used right now.

AMY GOODMAN: Congress member Kaptur, your assessment of the Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and who he has brought on?

REP. MARCY KAPTUR: Well, you had asked me the question before about the influence of Wall Street in Washington. Mr. Geithner has now brought one of the major lobbyists who had lobbied for Goldman Sachs as his chief of staff, Mr. Patterson. And this revolving door between Washington and Wall Street is terribly strong. And I say, how can we trust the very people who brought us to this point to now manage the public dollars, the taxpayer dollars of the people of the United States? We need to clean out that operation, and we need to hold the Wall Street banks and all of their associates accountable to the American people. The scales of justice have to be balanced. They are far out of whack right now.

AMY GOODMAN: Kathy Broka is also in Toledo with Congress member Kaptur. She’s president of the Fair Housing Center there in Toledo. Tell us the scope of the problem, Kathy Broka. We heard Bruce Marks lay out what NACA is doing. What is Fair Housing Center in Toledo doing? How many people are being foreclosed on? How are you helping?

KATHY BROKA: Toledo is, along with Cleveland, which was considered the epicenter of the foreclosure crisis in the country—I was talking to Cleveland people months ago who had people from all over the country showing up in their offices as the epicenter of the foreclosure crisis. So we’ve been struggling with this for years.

The Fair Housing Center alone has helped save homeowners over $5 million by doing loan modifications and workouts. This is one small agency, whose primary purpose was to investigate allegations of discrimination in housing. Now, at least half of the work that we do is on foreclosures, because there were really no other agencies in the city that was doing the work, and it was the primary problem in our community. And so, we are doing workouts, but we’re one small agency. This needs to be on a massive national scale. We can’t piecemeal this any longer. I feel like my staff are little gerbils on a wheel that just keeps turning around. So, as much hard work as we do, as dedicated as my staff is, we need help.

I’m so tired of hearing how banks are saying, “Call us early, before you get in trouble.” And then we try to do that, and they tell us, “Why are you calling us? You’re not even behind yet on your mortgage payment,” even though the homeowners are doing their due diligence and know that they’ve got a loan that’s going to adjust in two to three months and that they absolutely won’t be able to keep those payments going. And so, they’re doing what the banks tell them to do. When are the banks going to do what they say they’re going to do? That’s my question.

I was watching TV not too long ago, when Maxine Waters was on trying to get in touch with one of her constituent’s lenders to see what could be done for them, and it took her over half-an-hour, maybe even longer, two, three hours, where she kept getting the runaround. If she can’t get an answer, a straight answer, from the banks, what do you think our constituents are doing? How hard do you think it is for those of us who are on the frontline trying to get these deals done to keep the homeowners in their houses?

AMY GOODMAN: What would be the single act that would help you most, would help people who are threatened with losing their homes most, Kathy Broka?

KATHY BROKA: The single act would be for the banks to do what they say they’ve been doing for months and years: just do what you say you’re doing, that you want to keep people in their houses, that you’re willing to work with them, because we get someone at a bank, we finally get a person who’s there to help, who will do these loan modifications and workouts, and then the next month they’ve been laid off, and somebody new comes on. Get people in those departments at the banks who have the authority to do workouts that make sense.

I get so tired of hearing the banks say, “Well, you know, these don’t work. These loan modifications don’t work, because we give them to homeowners, and then, two or three months later, they’re right back being in default.” But what they don’t say is, oftentimes those homeowners have gotten into workouts without any representation, the bank has thrown them something and said, “Take it or leave it,” have set them up once again for failure, and then they use those very statistics to tell the rest of the people in the United States that these are just freeloaders and why are we helping them. It’s so unfair, and it’s so untrue.

AMY GOODMAN: Congress member Kaptur, what do you think of the Obama stimulus plan? What do you think, the possibility that your state, that Ohio, could get something like $9 billion under the plan? How much of a stimulus is the overall plan?

REP. MARCY KAPTUR: Well, first of all, I’ve been concerned about how much a state like Ohio, which is in deep recession, will actually receive from this program. We appreciate the President’s leadership on extending unemployment benefits, on covering people with health insurance, on heating assistance. I call these lifeline programs, absolutely essential. The people who have been thrown out of work have paid tax dollars to help our country when she gets in a situation like this, so I think they’re getting back what they paid for, essentially.

But the real issue for Ohio is, if all Ohio gets is $9 billion or $12 billion, which some people have been saying, our population is 3.66 percent of the country. Not even discounting for unemployment, we should be receiving anywhere between $25 billion and $30 billion in the various tax provisions and the investment portions of the bill. And if we do not receive that, then my question is, to which states is that money going?

So I think that the lifeline support programs are critical, but here, regionally, right now, because our banks are not loaning, even green energy companies—we’re one of the three leading solar energy capitals in the hemisphere. I have solar companies out here that want to bring on employees. The banks won’t loan. They—we have companies that want to bring up factory floors right now, and even some of these Ohio banking institutions that have received TARP funds, the bailout funds, aren’t making loans. So it’s very important—and I hope the administration is listening to this—that—

AMY GOODMAN: Looks like we just lost the satellite. We’re going to try to bring it back. We’ve been talking to Congress member Marcy Kaptur, also Kathy Broka, president of the Fair Housing Center in Toledo. We’re going to go to a break. We’ll come back, and hopefully we’ll get her back on satellite, or we’ll get her on the phone. But we’ll wrap up that discussion, and then we’re going to turn to Sri Lanka and what’s happening there. This is Democracy Now! Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: We’re back with Congress member Marcy Kaptur. Again, she is the longest-serving congresswoman in US history. Two last questions for you.

Slightly off topic, but very much a part of the stimulus package, we just got this emergency email from a fellow Ohioan, Congress member Kaptur. It is from the well known anti-nuclear activist Harvey Wasserman. As you were talking about alternative energy, he says, “A $50 billion nuke power bomb is dropping toward Obama’s stimulus package. The desperate, dangerous nuclear power industry has dropped a $50 billion stealth bomb,” he says, “meant to irradiate the Obama Stimulus Package.

“It comes in the form of a mega-loan guarantee package that would build new reactors Wall Street [wouldn’t] finance even when it had cash.” He says, “It will take a [healthy] dose of citizen action to stop it, so start calling your Senators now.”

He says that “[t]he vaguely worded bailout-in-advance provision was snuck through the Senate Appropriations Committee in the deep night of January 27. It would provide $50 billion in loan guarantees for ‘eligible technologies’ that would technically include renewable sources and electric transmission. But the handout is clearly directed at nukes and ‘clean coal.’”

Now, this is in the Senate section. What do you think of this?

REP. MARCY KAPTUR: Well, I have not read the Senate bill. They’ve just been drafting that. I can tell you, in the House bill, we have $114.5 billion for green energy: for solar, for wind, for geothermal, for biofuels. These are all industries we are bringing up here in our region.

I happen to represent the nuclear power plant that in the last twenty years has had more accidents than any other one in the country. And so, my own view is—and, in fact, there was a brownout a couple years ago because of this particular—the system this particular plant is attached to. And my feeling is, until we can actually assure ourselves that these plants are operated safely, I don’t know why we would want to reward this industry. I would be very concerned about that, based on our own living history of what has happened here. This is a very dangerous technology and one that we have to exercise extraordinary responsibility. So I was—that was not in the House version, to my knowledge, and I haven’t read the Senate language.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, two questions. One is Judd Gregg as Commerce Secretary, and the other is, well, the question about you. George Voinovich has announced he will not be seeking another Senate seat. You’re the longest-serving congresswoman in history. Will you be seeking his seat in 2010?

REP. MARCY KAPTUR: Well, maybe I’ll just say that in terms of my tenure, I’m the longest-serving Democratic woman. There are others, Republican women, who have served thirty-five years, so I’m far from that right now, but at least on the Democratic side of the aisle, I am the longest-serving woman.

And we’ve just come through an election out here in Ohio. Our economy is in really tough straits. And I think it’s too early for anyone to say that they are or are not running. Obviously, I think every elected official in Ohio who’s a Democrat is looking at that right now. And we’ll give it some time.

AMY GOODMAN: And as for Judd Gregg, who is stepping away from his seat as senator, tapped to be the third Republican in the Obama administration in a key seat as Commerce Secretary, your thoughts on him?

REP. MARCY KAPTUR: Well, the Department of Commerce is a very important department, obviously. And about 60 percent of its budget is NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. He comes from a coastal state in the Northeast, so I think that his knowledge of some of the issues that come before the Department of Commerce will be an asset. And we wish him very well. And the Department of Commerce, particularly in the Economic Development Administration, is very important to us here in the industrial and agricultural heartland. I would hope that the fact that he comes from a rather small state will not in any way prescribe his travels or his views about what needs to be done to help the big industrial and agricultural states to move forward economically.

AMY GOODMAN: Congress member Marcy Kaptur, thanks so much for being with us, again, the longest Democratic woman who has served in US history.

REP. MARCY KAPTUR: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Thank you, speaking to us from Toledo, Ohio. And thanks also to Kathy Broka, president of the Fair Housing Center in Toledo, and Bruce Marks of NACA, naca.com, that’s the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America, speaking to us from Boston.

Resistance to Housing Foreclosures Spread Across the Land January 24, 2009

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www.truthout.org

23 January 2009

by: Ben Ehrenreich, The Nation

 

  Community-based movements to halt the flood of foreclosures have been building across the country. And they’re not the usual suspects.

    “This is a crowd that won’t scatter,” James Steele wrote in the pages of The Nation some seventy-five years ago. Early one morning in July 1933, the police had evicted John Sparanga and his family from a home on Cleveland’s east side. Sparanga had lost his job and fallen behind on mortgage payments. The bank had foreclosed. A grassroots “home defense” organization, which had managed to forestall the eviction on three occasions, put out the call, and 10,000 people — mainly working-class immigrants from Southern and Central Europe — soon gathered, withstanding wave after wave of police tear gas, clubbings and bullets, “vowing not to leave until John Sparanga [was] back in his home.”

    “The small home-owners of the United States are organizing,” Steele concluded, “tardily perhaps, but none the less surely.” It wasn’t just homeowners — three months earlier the governor of Iowa had called out the National Guard after farmers stormed a courthouse and threatened to hang the judge if he didn’t stop issuing foreclosures. They left him in a ditch, bruised but alive. By the end of the 1930s, farmers’ and home-owners’ struggles had pushed the legislatures of no fewer than twenty-seven states to pass moratoriums on foreclosures.

    The crowds appear to be gathering again — far more quietly this time but hardly tentatively. Community-based movements to halt the flood of foreclosures have been building across the country. They turned out in Cleveland once again in October, when a coalition of grassroots housing groups rallied outside the Cuyahoga County courthouse, calling for a foreclosure freeze and constructing a mock graveyard of Styrofoam headstones bearing the names of local communities decimated by the housing crisis. (They did not, unfortunately, stop the more than 1,000 foreclosure filings in the county the following month.) In Boston the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America began protesting in front of Countrywide Financial offices in October 2007. Within weeks, Countrywide had agreed to work with the group to renegotiate loans. In Philadelphia ACORN and other community organizations helped to pressure the city council to order the county sheriff to halt foreclosure auctions this past March. Philadelphia has since implemented a program mandating “conciliation conferences” between defaulting homeowners and lenders. ACORN organizers say the program has a 78 percent success rate at keeping people in their homes. One activist group in Miami has taken a more direct approach to the crisis, housing homeless families in abandoned bank-owned homes without waiting for government permission.

    It’s unlikely, though, that any of these activists will be able to relax soon. Other than calling for a ninety-day freeze on foreclosures — which, given that loan negotiations can take many months to work out, would almost certainly be inadequate — President Obama has been consistently vague about his plans to address the foreclosure crisis. He has indicated his support for a $24 billion program proposed in November by FDIC chair Sheila Bair, which would offer banks incentives to renegotiate loans, aiming to reduce mortgage payments to 31 percent of homeowners’ monthly income. Obama’s economic team has since worked with House Financial Services Committee chair Barney Frank on a bill that would require that between $40 billion and $100 billion of what’s left in the bailout package be spent on an unspecified foreclosure mitigation program. It would be left to Obama’s Treasury Department to design that program. But Frank’s and Bair’s proposed plans are voluntary. Banks that choose not to accept federal assistance won’t have to renegotiate a single loan.

    Community organizers, however, aren’t sitting around waiting for banks to come to the table. Nowhere have they had more cause to keep busy than in California, home to a quarter of the 3.2 million foreclosures filed in the country last year. The collapse of the state’s hyperinflated real estate market has left as many as 27 percent of mortgage holders owing more on their homes than the properties are worth; California’s foreclosure rate is more than twice the national average. From San Diego to Stockton, in churches, union halls and community centers, angry homeowners have been organizing to freeze foreclosures and impose a systematic modification of home loans.

    The crisis has produced some unlikely activists. Faith Bautista didn’t start out as a rabble-rouser. A small, energetic and stubbornly cheerful woman, she has run a tiny nonprofit called the Mabuhay Alliance since 2004. Until recently, it functioned as an all-purpose minority small-business association. With a staff of six working out of a mini-mall office behind an auto parts store in an industrial section of San Diego, the Mabuhay Alliance served a largely Filipino community (mabuhay translates roughly from Tagalog as viva!) offering, among other services, free income-tax preparation, microloans and counseling for first-time homeowners.

    It was through the latter program that Bautista heard the first rumblings of the mortgage meltdown, which would ultimately bring down Wall Street’s most powerful financial firms. Southern California’s development boom hadn’t yet begun to ebb in late 2006, but, Bautista says, “people were already calling us and asking what was going to happen. They were clearly going to default.”

    The community Mabuhay serves — about 40 percent Filipino, the remainder Latino, African-American and other Asians — was hit particularly hard. Throughout the housing boom, immigrant and minority borrowers were disproportionately issued high-priced subprime loans, even when they qualified for less expensive, fixed-rate mortgages. One study by the California Reinvestment Coalition found that African-American and Latino borrowers were nearly four times as likely as whites to receive high-cost mortgages. Bautista had an adjustable-rate mortgage on the home she bought in 2004. Her monthly payments soon leapt to $6,000. It took her nine months, she says, and a personal meeting with the CEO of the bank that held her mortgage, to renegotiate the loan. It quickly became obvious to her that fighting the banks on an individual basis would be inadequate to the scale of the crisis — only an organized battle for systematic changes would help keep people in their homes.

    In the early months of 2007, as the first of the subprime lenders began to declare bankruptcy, Bautista started contacting major lenders, asking them to stop foreclosures and take part in a “massive loan-modification program” — dropping interest rates, writing down principals and donating executive bonuses to a fund for borrowers at risk of default. If lenders shared responsibility for the crisis, she calculated, homeowners shouldn’t bear the full brunt of the suffering. Not surprisingly, she laughs, “they didn’t want to talk to us.”

    That summer, with the help of the Greenlining Institute, a Berkeley-based research and advocacy group that works on racial equality issues, she was able to arrange a meeting with Countrywide co-founder and CEO Angelo Mozilo. At the time, almost one-fourth of Countrywide’s subprime loans were delinquent. The meeting, Bautista says, was fruitless: “Eyes are closed, ears are closed.” Over the next few months, she met three more times with Countrywide management, getting nowhere. “They didn’t want to admit they were doing anything wrong.”

    Elected officials appeared equally blind to the extent of the problem. Countrywide’s stock had plummeted, but the influence of the nation’s largest mortgage lender still ran deep. Mozilo’s so-called Friends of Angelo program had cut favorable deals on loans to his highly placed acquaintances, including Christopher Dodd and Kent Conrad, chairs of the Senate banking and budget committees, respectively. And Countrywide, along with other top mortgage lenders and industry associations, spent tens of millions of dollars lobbying Congress and gave millions more in campaign contributions. By mid-October 2007, the government’s only response to the foreclosure crisis had been the creation of the Hope Now alliance, a voluntary mortgage-industry coalition that established a telephone hot line to aid homeowners in altering the terms of their mortgages. But, critics say, the program has done little more than design repayment plans that in many cases actually increased borrowers’ monthly payments. “I call it Hope Not,” quips Bautista.

    At the state level, things weren’t much better. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger brokered a nonbinding agreement in which Countrywide and other lenders volunteered to extend the introductory low interest rates on some adjustable-rate mortgages. It only deferred disaster and did nothing for those who were already in default. Meanwhile, new foreclosure records were being broken every month.

    The day before Thanksgiving, the Mabuhay Alliance, joined by the Mexican-American Political Alliance, staged a protest in front of Countrywide’s San Diego office. They attempted to hand-deliver a turkey to Mozilo, who, not counting stock options, would be paid $22 million in 2007, down from $42 million in 2006. Once again, the doors were locked. Only about fifty people showed up that day, but the protest got enough press to have a powerful symbolic effect. “No one was willing to take on Mozilo in California,” says Greenlining’s Robert Gnaizda. “He held enormous power. And [Bautista] took him on. She forced the financial industry to pay attention.”

    The next week, Bautista and Gnaizda went to Washington and met with Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke and FDIC chair Sheila Bair, asking for a freeze on foreclosures and wholesale relief for mortgage holders. Bair was receptive, Bautista says. Bernanke was not. Eight months later, when the FDIC took over IndyMac, Bair immediately suspended foreclosures. “Now they’re willing to do it,” Bautista shrugs. If they’d acted earlier, she says, “all those people who were foreclosed wouldn’t have been foreclosed.”

    In December, a few weeks after the Countrywide protest, she and Gnaizda wangled a meeting with California Attorney General Jerry Brown, asking him to sue Countrywide for defrauding borrowers. He wasn’t interested, Bautista says. The following June, a few days before Bank of America bought out the crippled lender, Brown finally filed suit against Mozilo and Countrywide. Gnaizda explains the delay: “Countrywide was not weak in December.”

    In the meantime, all the major loan providers in the country have agreed to work with Mabuhay to modify individual loans. This means, Bautista says, that Mabuhay can help about twenty people a week. She is far from satisfied. Despite the hundreds of billions of dollars given to the financial industry, no federal or state government has provided any substantive relief to the people hit the hardest by the mortgage crisis — the ones who are losing their homes. “You gotta start from the bottom and go up,” Bautista says. “If you start at the top, then at the bottom you get crumbs. You get nothing.”

    In December Mabuhay sponsored a “foreclosure clinic” at a community college in the San Francisco Bay Area city of Vallejo, which despite its small size — its population is about 112,000 — boasted the tenth-highest foreclosure rate in the country at the time. About 150 anxious homeowners showed up, clutching thick folders of financial documents, waiting to speak with mortgage counselors. Their stories were painfully similar: one couple was struggling to pay an interest rate of 16 percent; another was unable to make $4,300 monthly payments and owed $630,000 on a home worth $370,000; another, in their mid-60s, had resigned themselves to losing the home in which they’d lived for twenty-three years and spending their retirement in a motor home.

    Standing beside Bautista at the front of the auditorium, Gnaizda did his best to channel the crowd’s frustration into action. “Ten million families are facing foreclosure right now,” he said. “Change is not going to come about because President Obama wants it to. He is not going to act unless you hold his feet to the fire.”

    Gnaizda was not alone in that conclusion: other grassroots efforts to stop foreclosures have been sprouting up all over California. In metropolitan Los Angeles and Oakland, groups like ACORN had already established an effective infrastructure to organize low-income homeowners. A list of community demands that came out of a December 2007 ACORN-sponsored meeting at an Oakland senior center became the basis for a July state law requiring banks to warn homeowners thirty days before filing a notice of default. The law is credited with dramatically lowering foreclosure rates in California for two months after it took effect. (Predictably, foreclosure rates resumed their northward climb after that.)

    More recently, ACORN has been pushing the adoption of the program the group helped pioneer in Philadelphia, a mandatory mediation process that forces lenders to negotiate with homeowners before filing a judgment of default. “If they can’t figure this out in Sacramento,” says ACORN’s Austin King, “they’re not trying.”

    Much of the local organizing on the issue, though, has not come from the usual activist suspects. Circumstances have forced groups that usually practice more staid forms of engagement into the fray, particularly in the former industrial towns just beyond the urban fringe, which have been among those hit hardest by the economic collapse. The antiforeclosure movement in Antioch, about thirty-five miles east of Vallejo, began with ten people forming an organizing committee at a local Catholic church. “We just heard dozens and dozens of stories of people struggling to keep their homes, of people losing their homes. They couldn’t get any of the banks to respond or even speak to them,” says Adam Kruggel, executive director of Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization (CCISCO). Two hundred and fifty people showed up at the group’s first meeting on the issue. “We sort of deputized ourselves,” Kruggel says. “The government wasn’t regulating the banks, so we were going to embarrass them in public.”

    The strategy worked. CCISCO protested in front of several Antioch bank branches in May. Lenders soon began returning the group’s phone calls and agreeing to renegotiate their members’ loans. But the Bush administration’s bailout plan generated enough anger that, Kruggel says, “we realized we needed to work on a local and national level. For less than what [the Treasury] gave Wells Fargo, they could create a loan-modification program that could save a million and a half families their homes.” CCISCO began coordinating with similar efforts one county over in Stockton and halfway across the country in Kansas City, and the group sent a lobbying delegation to Washington. It’s asking for a six-month freeze on foreclosures and a cap on mortgage payments at 34 percent of family income. “Any bank that got any bailout money needs to do systematic loan modifications,” Kruggel says. “We’re not going to wait for the Obama administration.”

    Craig Robbins, who directs ACORN’s foreclosure campaign, echoes Kruggel’s sentiment: “We’re excited about some of the things Obama has been saying, but there’s got to be tremendous pressure for a real, comprehensive federal solution.” Taking cues from Depression-era antiforeclosure movements, ACORN activists began disrupting foreclosure sales at courthouses across the country in Januaary. “We’re looking to throw a wrench in the foreclosure machinery,” says Robbins, adding that ACORN is planning to organize “rapid defense teams” ready to turn out crowds on short notice to prevent evictions. Until that happens, it might help to remember that the crowd of thousands that came to the Sparanga family’s defense in Cleveland didn’t gather until four years into the Depression. This one has just begun.

    ———

    Ben Ehrenreich, a journalist and novelist based in Los Angeles, is the author of The Suitors.

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