Economy

Full-Catastrophe Banking in 2011

With a $4.7 trillion dollar bailout under their belts with no harm done to their billion-dollar bonuses, don't expect Wall Street bankers to be chastened by the 2008 financial crisis. Below we list eight things to watch out for in 2011 that threaten to rock the financial system and undermine any recovery.

1. The Demise of Bank of America

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is promising to unleash a cache of secret documents from the troubled Bank of America (BofA). BofA is already under the gun, defending itself from multiple lawsuits demanding that the bank buy back billions worth of toxic mortgages it peddled to investors. The firm is also at the heart of robo-signing scandal, having wrongfully kicked many American families to the curb. If Assange has emails showing that Countrywide or BofA knew they were recklessly abandoning underwriting standards and/or peddling toxic dreck to investors, the damage to the firm could be irreparable.

America's Inefficient and Ineffective Approach to Border Security

Border fence

Last week, the Senate refused to approve the DREAM Act, a bill that would have offered a path to citizenship for children brought into the country illegally if they attend college or serve in the military. Opponents stated that no immigration reform will happen without first "securing" the 1,951 mile U.S. border with Mexico. America's current approach to border security is wasteful and ineffective, and "securing the border" will never be achieved until we redefine our approach to, and definition of, border security. With many in Washington expressing concern about fiscal responsibility, reining in the billions wasted annually on current border security policies should really be a priority. But America's xenophobic preoccupation with an "invasion" by brown-skinned "illegals" may keep us pursuing an expensive and unreasonable approach to border security.

A Cheery Holiday Message from Bankster: Death Eaters on Wall Street

Today's Wall Street Journal has a stunning exposé on a publicly-traded company called Life Partners Holdings. Are you ready for this? Life Partners creeps around asking the unemployed, the elderly and the sick (especially people with HIV/AIDS) to sell them their life insurance policies for cash. Then they bundle these policies into securities and sell them to vultures -- oh, I am sorry, "investors." Then the "investors" sit around and wait for people to die -- the sooner the better for the purchasers of these death bonds. The future of this industry "looks bright," chirps National Underwriters.

Reminds you a little of those Death Eaters in Harry Potter, doesn't it?

Will Cutting Taxes for the Rich Really Create Jobs?

The White House and many Congressional Democrats recently caved to Republicans in a deal extending all of the Bush tax cuts for two years in exchange for a 13-month extension of unemployment benefits. The deal reverses stated opposition by many Democrats to an extension of tax cuts for the top income bracket, with 25 percent of the savings from the deal going to benefit the richest one percent of Americans. While Democrats who supported the bill claimed to do so begrudgingly, the plan has many avid supporters who justify its lopsided benefits by insisting that tax cuts for the rich and for businesses create jobs and benefit the economy. This is a big myth.

Happy Thanksgiving! You're Tele-Fired

TelephoneOn November 30, employees at the world's fourth biggest drugmaker, Sanofi-Aventis, got an email from the company wishing them a happy Thanksgiving. It instructed them to check their email again starting at 5:00 AM on Tuesday, December 2. A sales representative who wishes to remain anonymous says she and her co-workers each got one of the two mass emails the company sent out on Tuesday morning. Both emails contained an 800-number, a code and a time to call, at either 8:00 or 8:30 AM that day. The employees who were instructed to call at the earlier time got an automated recording telling them that they were going to keep their jobs, but 1,700 employees who were told to call in at 8:30 AM got a voice telling them that they were laid off and should quit working immediately. The anonymous worker who got laid off said a representative from a third-party company hired by Sanofi-Aventis came by almost immediately after the call to repossess the company car she had been driving. She had sold her personal car just three months earlier because her manager had told her the company was in good financial shape.

No

New Committee Chair Gets Ready to Serve -- the Banks

Spencer BachusAfter 18 years in the House, Republican Alabama Congressman Spencer Bachus will finally take over as House Finance Committee chair come January. The committee has wide jurisdiction over banks, capital markets, housing, consumer credit and the health and stability of the financial system. Bachus explained to his local paper the new attitude he plans to bring to his job: "In Washington, the view is that the banks are to be regulated, and my view is that Washington and the regulators are there to serve the banks," Bachus declared. Before he even takes over the committee, Bachus is already on bended knee threatening to gut funding for Elizabeth Warren’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, working to postpone the implementation of the "Volcker rule" ban on Goldman Sachs-style proprietary trading, and pledging to weaken the derivatives reform portion of the bill, calling it "overly expansive."

No

Trapped in Bank of America Hell

Are you one of the lucky ones? Have a good job, live in a nice neighborhood, enjoy your cozy home? Think foreclosure only impacts the reckless or the unemployed?

Think again.

George Mahoney worked and saved and built his cozy colonial-style home in Lynnfield, Massachusetts in 1981. There, he and his wife raised three lovely daughters. For many years, the Mahoneys paid down their relatively small mortgage with their local bank -- a division of Bank of America (BofA). In 2007, they took out a second mortgage to help a daughter start a small business. Two wage earners, a great credit record -- the loan was a breeze. That was when the trouble began.

About a year after getting the second mortgage, BofA started notifying George that his payments were late. Soon they jacked his credit card interest rates from seven percent to twenty-eight percent. Next, they ruined his credit record. His Sears card dropped from a $10,000 limit to a $500 dollar limit. Then one day in the fall of 2009, BofA initiated foreclosure on the house he had built and owned for 28 years.

The only problem? The Mahoneys had never missed a single payment on either their first or second mortgage.

Quietly Ticking Time Bomb in Fed Data

Last week, the Federal Reserve was finally forced by law to release some (not all) of the details of its back-door bailout of the global financial system. The Fed data focuses on the emergency lending programs initiated in 2007/2008, but it also includes data for the Fed's more recent purchases of mortgage-backed securities (MBS). These later purchases represent the real risk for taxpayers in the Fed's continuing bailout activities, but have received the least coverage in the mainstream press.

Obama Economic Team Passes Out the Kool-Aid

Obama Kool AidIt’s the day before a hotly-contested national election, where it appeared the rabble was well positioned to deliver a colossal spanking to the elites who have for too long ignored their plight, so what does Team Obama do?

They have a press conference to talk about their eagerness to complete the Korea Free Trade Agreement negotiated by President Bush. "The president has long said we want to try and address the outstanding issues regarding the Free Trade Agreement in order to bring it forward for approval," said Mike Froman, Obama’s deputy national security advisor for international economic affairs. “[W]e're going to put every effort into achieving ... an acceptable agreement, a satisfactory agreement, by the time the president comes to Seoul," he told a news conference on Monday.

Are these people nuts?

Ask Your Bank to Produce the Note!

Produce the Note!Do you know who holds the promissory note to your mortgage? The legal document that shows that you really owe that debt? Really, are you sure? So many mortgages have been securitized, sliced and diced, sold and resold, that the paper trail from your local bank to Wall Street is murky and flawed. In some instances, the promissory note may even have been destroyed.

Every day the financial crisis continues to hit home for families being foreclosed upon. Last month, there were 347,420 foreclosure filings across America, and the rate shows no signs of slowing. The unemployment rate is now driving these tragic foreclosures and 11 million Americans are at risk of losing their homes.

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