It’s Time for Home Opportunity

Dramatic developments this month have underscored our nation’s progress, as well as our continuing peril, when it comes to Home Opportunity—the deeply held idea that everyone should have access to an affordable home under fair conditions. These developments, both positive and negative, should inform the national choices ahead, including in the presidential race.

On July 11th, California lawmakers enacted the groundbreaking California Homeowner Bill of Rights, halting unfair bank practices that have forced thousands of Californians into foreclosure. Among other protections, it restricts “dual-track” foreclosures, in which lenders preemptively foreclose on homeowners who are in active negotiations to save their homes. Importantly, the law also empowers consumers to hold lenders accountable in court.

Just a day later, the U.S. Justice Department announced a landmark settlement of lending discrimination charges against Wells Fargo. The settlement provides $125 million in compensation for borrowers who the Justice Department says Wells Fargo or its brokers steered into risky and expensive subprime mortgages, or charged higher fees and rates than white borrowers, solely because of their race. The discrimination “resulted in more than 34,000 African-American and Hispanic borrowers paying an increased rate for loans simply due to the color of their skin,” according to Deputy Attorney General James Cole.

The Wells Fargo agreement builds on an earlier Justice Department settlement—the largest ever—against Countrywide Financial Corporation for racial discrimination that included a widespread pattern of discrimination against qualified African-American and Hispanic borrowers in mortgage lending. And on July 20, the Justice Department asked a judge to compel New York’s Westchester County to provide information on local zoning practices that might be racially discriminatory. This was a long-overdue step, since Westchester has consistently flouted the terms of a historic fair housing settlement it agreed to three years ago after decades of fostering neighborhood segregation.

These are important developments that, together, help to address the harm that years of lender misconduct and lax rules and enforcement have done to millions of American homeowners and our larger economy. They are making a difference, with the number of Americans facing foreclosure activity declining 11 percent in the first half of 2012, compared with the same period last year.

But much more is needed. Over one million homes and properties still saw foreclosure filings in the first half of this year. That’s hundreds of thousands of senior citizens losing their economic security, children and families disrupted, neighborhoods blighted with vacant properties, lifetimes of economic security destroyed.

And the financial institutions that wrecked our economy have continued their misconduct in different forms. This week, for example, JPMorgan Chase agreed to pay $100 million to settle a lawsuit filed by its customers accusing the firm of improperly increasing minimum payments on borrowers whom they knew could not afford to pay more, generating ill gotten income from the resulting late fees. This, after JPMorgan gambled and lost its clients’ money to the tune of at least $5.8 billion.

And after the British bank Barclays settled with U.S. and British regulators for $453 million, admitting to manipulating the London interbank offered rate, or Libor (a benchmark that underpins hundreds of trillions of dollars in contracts), over a dozen additional banks are now being investigated for similarly rigging exchange rates on international markets.

It’s time for Home Opportunity—American homeownership, fair lending, fair housing—to return to the national debate. That has begun, with the rise of Home for Good, a national campaign driven by people and organizations throughout the nation concerned about the enduring foreclosure and housing crisis. That effort is equipped with clear, practical solutions, in the form of a Compact for Home Opportunity developed by housing, lending, and consumer protection experts around the country.

With the presidential contest now in full swing, it’s time for the candidates to take a stand on this crucial economic and moral issue. President Obama has taken important steps, yet he’s avoided some of the most bold and effective remedies that are available to him. Governor Romney has been mostly silent on what his Administration would do to restore Home Opportunity. It’s time we demanded clarity and commitment from each of them.

 

 

Don’t Fire Me for Not Knowing Romney’s Position on Global Warming

I don’t mean to sound like a whiner, but Mitt Romney is making it hard for me to do my job.

You see, as the primary editor of and contributor to the Markup blog for the NRDC Action Fund, one of my responsibilities is to keep our readers informed about politicians and the environment. In the middle of a heated presidential campaign, you’d think I would be able to tell you where the two major party candidates stand on our issues.

However, I’d be lying if I said I could. For the record, I blame Mitt Romney. He has changed his position so frequently that I never know what the man is thinking on any given day.

You might recall that last June Romney told a New Hampshire town hall that:

“I believe the world is getting warmer, and I believe that humans have contributed to that. It’s important for us to reduce our emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases that may be significant contributors.”

Just five months later, Romney officially earned his Tea Party merit badge in denial when he said:

“My view is that we don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet. And the idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try to reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course for us.”

And now it appears Romney may be trying to get back in the good graces of the 70 percent of Americans who do think the climate is changing. Last week, a Romney campaign surrogate, Linda Stuntz, stated that Romney is “certainly not a denier” of global warming. Is this a new (or perhaps I should say “revitalized”?) position or did Stuntz just stop reading her briefing book before she got to the most recent position?

If I can’t learn his position soon, I will just have to hope that my bosses don’t share his love of firing people.

 

 

 

How Conservatives Really Control the Media

Sean Hannity calling President Obama on Fox News Channel a “socialist” every night in prime time on the Fox News Chanel is only the visible tip of the conservative propaganda iceberg. The Right’s real power lies in its ability to shape the narrative and define what is fair and out of bounds for the rest of the media.

Last week MSNBC reported the following:

“So you may not hear Mitt Romney say ‘Keep America American’ anymore, because it was a rallying cry for the KKK group, an intimidation against blacks, gays and Jews, and the progressive AMERICAblog was the first to catch on to that.”

Within hours, so-called liberals at MSNBC like Chris Matthews and Al Sharpton were falling over themselves to see who could offer the most debasing, abject apology to Mitt Romney.

Predictably, the rest of the so-called mainstream media and more of the “Liberal Media Establishment” weighed in on the issue, all to denounce MSNBC and to portray Romney as an innocent victim.

As recent as last night, Bill O’Reilly and fellow right-wing media ideologist Bernard Goldberg hashed over the affair in Prime Time. The focus of their debate was whether NBC did enough in their apologizing or whether they were still evil because of their so-called liberal bias.

The otherwise normally sensible Mediaite.com describes the story this way:

“It turns out, the (MSNBC’s) story was not exactly true. …”

There is only one little problem with all of this hysteria. MSNBC’s story that Romney said “keep America American” and that this was a phrase used by the Klan appears to be 100% factual and truthful!

The Romney campaign initially refused to respond to this story for two days. Finally, they claimed that Romney never said “Keep America, American.” They claim he said “Keep America, America.” The central point of evidence is a video you can see here. http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=26AMgycOWoU.

When I play the video to various people, most claim they hear Romney saying “Keep America American” (I definitely do). But to be fair, a few do hear Romney saying “Keep America America.” But here’s what isn’t a close call. The Los Angeles Times reporter on December 9, 2011 reported that Romney said this: "We have on one side a president who wants to transform America into a European-style nation, and you have on the other hand someone like myself that wants to turn around America and keep America American with the principals that made us the greatest nation on Earth. And I will do that with your help."

Was the reporter ever contacted by the Romney campaign demanding a retraction? Are there comments on the LATimes website at the time of the story (this was before the controversy broke out)?

No and no.

So now we are supposed to believe that he Los Angeles Times reporter just makes up stuff and that most people who hear Romney on this video with their own ears saying “Keep America American” should disbelieve their own ears and instead put their trust in the Romney campaign’s press release.

This stretches credulity.

Another school of thought in most of the media reporters is that MSNBC was horribly irresponsible for not providing more context to the story, presumably to cast Romney in a more favorable light.

Fair enough; let’s parse the phrase “Keep America American.” After all, it truly would be unfair to pick a random phrase like “I love America” or “I am a vegetarian” and show that the Klan or a Nazi had once used the phrase. But “Keep America American” is not that general. It’s not a phrase that easily floats from everyone’s mouth. The phrase had a specific meaning in the 1920s and it has one today. The similarity is that in both cases, what it means is this “My ideas and principles are good and the ideals and values of people who oppose us are bad. And these ideas are bad because they got their ideas from other countries and other parts of the world. We should reject their ideas and values not just because they are bad but specifically because their ideas originated from other parts of the world.”

It doesn't matter how you slice or dice it, the phrase “Keep America American” is a rhetorical cheap shot used by demagogues in the act of committing demagoguery. No, it doesn’t mean Romney is a closet Klansman, but it does mean he uses rhetorical cheap shots that have a long tradition and it’s fair game to point out their tradition.

So are we being unfair to Romney for looking at the phrase he used and inferring one set of ideas when he really was implying something else? NO. Just look at the full quote above. Romney is rejecting Obama and his ideas, specifically because Obama’s ideas are European. That’s what makes them bad, they aren’t from America—get it?

What O’Reilly and all of the right wing echo chamber have been doing for the last week is tending to the media landscape. And what they have done, to a remarkable degree of success, is to say that any suggestion of racism among prominent republicans is out of bounds. In the conservative media establishment’s worldview, there is no such thing as racism among conservatives. Only liberals can be racist. Therefore any story that hints at or suggests that a conservative is racist is inherently wrong and demands an immediate denunciation and retraction.

This bit of zeitgeist shaping was done with such efficiency and collaboraton that it left the other side helpless.

n the conservative world view, it is quite Ok to brand Obama a “socialist” or even a “communist” if he does something so radical as suggesting Richard Nixon’s healthcare plan. Never mind that socialism and communism are hated ideologies by most Americans and is represented by regimes such as Cambodia’s where 7 million people were slaughtered by a genocidal communist. No, that’s considered completely fair, and normal because, well, because that’s what every conservative gets away with in the media every day.

But no one is ever allowed to compare any extreme Republican rhetoric with, say, fascists or racists. That’s considered automatically beyond the pale. There is an un-written rule imposed by the conservative media establishment and accepted by even liberal mainstream media:

“Thou shalt not accuse any Republican of doing anything even mildly racist or even racist-friendly unless you can capture video tape of the republican saying ‘I hate all black people and want to string them all up and kill them!’”

The result is a media climate where any ambitious, smart reporter pulls his/her punches when reporting on Republicans. Don’t report anything that can tie a Republican to an extremist cause or organization, even if the facts bear it out. Instead, use that time to report that Obama isn’t a citizen or that Bill Clinton made a fortune on Whitewater or that House Democrats want to wage “class warfare” because they want to raises taxes to the same rates they were in 1994.

The strongest form of power is away the subtlest and Conservatives have both overt and subtle power to get the media, all the media, to sell their propaganda.

 More info at the Dailynational

 

 

 

 

GOP Presidential Candidates Are Inconsistent in their Religious Values

Representative Michele Bachmann officially joined the crowded field of GOP presidential candidates on Monday. Like many in the race, she identifies herself as a Christian. In fact, in her kick-off speech in Waterloo, Iowa, she described how she gave her heart to Jesus Christ at the age of 16, and how she uses prayer to guide her decision-making. 

But there is one area in which Bachmann departs dramatically from her own tradition and that of most Christian denominations in the nation: environmental values.  Bachmann calls climate change “nonsense” and she routinely refers to the EPA as “the job-killing organization of America.” And yet the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, to which Bachmann was until recently connected, asserts that caring for the world is “a moral issue.”

Bachmann isn’t alone: In a great new post, Eleni Towns of the Center for America Progress outlines how nearly every GOP presidential candidate follows their church teachings when it comes to abortion and gay marriage, but not when it comes to climate change and environmental protection.

As a Christian myself, I know what it is like to have disagreements with the Church. I don’t concur with every teaching that comes from the pulpit, and I believe that questioning is a vital part of faith. But I am still suspicious about the timing of this GOP heterodoxy.

Over the past several years, most Christian denominations have officially embraced environmental values broadly and the moral imperative to confront climate change specifically. The Vatican, the National Association of Evangelicals, leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention, and other churches have called for on the faithful to help solve the climate crisis.

Several GOP candidates agreed with these church teachings — until the Tea Party became the new religion in Washington, that is.

Ever since the Koch Brothers (who made their money in oil refining and other fossil fuel operations) started pouring funds into the Tea Party, it has taken on decidedly polluter-friendly positions: climate change does not exist, we should rollback public safeguards that help prevent business from harming communities, and companies should not be required to reduce their dirty emissions.

And seemingly, once GOP campaigns realized that the Tea Party might bring more voters to the polls than churches could, they too started following the gospel according to the Koch Brothers. They began siding with the guys behind the curtain instead of the guys in the pulpit.  Almost every candidate has flip-flopped from their previous positions on climate change in the last year, even as their churches’ positions have become stronger.

Back in 2008, for instance, Newt Gingrich sat down with Nancy Pelosi and made a video saying the only issue they agreed upon was the need to fight climate change. Today, Gingrich doubts climate science and questions the need for action.

When Tim Pawlenty was governor of Minnesota, he signed a climate law designed to reduce Minnesota’s carbon emissions and helped launch a regional climate initiative within the Midwest. Today, however, he wonders how much of climate change is caused by humans and accuses the scientific community of “data manipulation.” Pawlenty, who is an evangelical, must have missed the 2006 “Climate Change: An Evangelical Call to Action” that 86 leaders signed, including the pastor of Pawlenty’s church.

I too hold positions that are at times out of sync with the Methodist Church, even though the church plays an enormous role in my life. It isn’t easy, and it makes me uncomfortable, and I only do it if my heart, my conscience, and my prayer guide me in that direction. I don’t do it to win primaries.  When the GOP candidates chose to follow the polluting Koch brothers instead of their own clergy, that’s pandering, not principle.

Romney Needs to Go Further

Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney has garnered attention lately for refusing to back down on climate change. He recently told a town hall meeting in Manchester New Hampshire: “I believe the world is getting warmer, and I believe that humans have contributed to that. It’s important for us to reduce our emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases that may be significant contributors.”

I’m relieved that at least one GOP candidate for president is willing to accept the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change.  But I am disheartened that he has yet to offer any solutions to meaningfully address the problem.  And, I can’t help but feel saddened by the flurry of chatter about Romney’s position.

Has climate denial become so routine nowadays that any candidate who acknowledges the facts makes headlines?

In this phase of the presidential election cycle, candidates are jostling over which political strategies will best fix our government’s problems. I expect to see disagreement over policy solutions, but opting out of the facts shouldn’t be an option. It’s one thing to fight over how to fix Medicare. It’s another thing to decide that tumor growth, the evaporation cycle, or other physical phenomena do not exist.

Against this backdrop of denial, Romney looks like a clear-eyed savant.

Of course, he has his own political reasons for sticking to the facts. He doesn’t want to be tagged with the dreaded "flip flopper" label that hovers around him. And he astutely believes that his reasoned stance on climate change will appeal to the majority of voters who value science and want to protect their children from an altered climate.

Romney thinks acknowledging climate change is enough. That is only the beginning. I want to know what he and all our elected officials are going to do to stop the climate crisis.

Romney says he doesn’t believe cap and trade is the answer. This surprises me, considering cap and trade is a Republican-crafted approach first promoted by President George Bush to address acid rain that relies on free markets to drive down the cost of reducing pollution. One would think that a man who built his fortune in the private sector would appreciate a market-driven solution.

But like other fence sitters, Romney would like to play it both ways: acknowledge that climate change exists but don’t actually try to fix it.

That isn’t leadership. Belief without the determination to act is cowardly. What if President Roosevelt said the economic realities of the Depression were grim, but failed to take steps to get America out of it? What if President Reagan had said the Soviet Union was a threat to democracy but hadn’t done anything to deter it?

America needs presidents who don’t just name a problem, but actually solve it.  To be considered a serious contender for environmental voters, he needs to propose solutions.

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