05/07/2013 archive

Mortgage Fraud Settlement: “Buyer’s Regret”

New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced that he plans to sue Wells Fargo and Bank of America over claims that they breached the terms of a multibillion-dollar settlement intended to end foreclosure abuses.

Under the terms of the settlement, banks have to abide by 304 servicing standards, like notifying homeowners of missing documents within five days of receiving a loan modification and providing borrowers with a single point of contact.

“Wells Fargo and Bank of America have flagrantly violated those obligations, putting hundreds of homeowners across New York at greater risk of foreclosure,” Mr. Schneiderman said. Since October 2012, Mr. Schneiderman’s office has documented 210 separate violations involving Wells Fargo and 129 involving Bank of America.

Shahien Nasiripour reports at Huffington Post that it’s unclear if Mr. Schneiderman can do this:

The agreement does not specify whether he can independently pursue legal action against the banks without first allowing the Office of Mortgage Settlement Oversight, run by (Joseph) Smith, to determine whether they are complying, a process that could take months.

Smith’s office will make public by June 30 its first required report on the banks’ compliance with the mortgage servicing standards. The deal dictates that the companies shall have an opportunity to correct potential violations once they are identified. If the same violations continue, the monitoring committee could launch lawsuits and levy penalties totaling as much as $5 million for each violation.

But as attorney and writer Abigail Field notes at naked capitalism, it would seem that AG Schneiderman has a case of buyer’s remorse and examines why this lawsuit is a lashing with a wet noodle:

Now that that A.G. Schneiderman’s learned that Bank of America and Wells Fargo have failed to service 339 New Yorkers according to the standards dictated by the Settlement, he’s served notice he intends to sue. Not for money; for “equitable relief.” Though I’ve not seen a filing, I imagine if he actually will seek an injunction to get Wells and BofA to start complying with (specific performance of) the four servicing standards Schneiderman is targeting in his press release: [..]

The Bottom Line

It’s really hard to see how this effort-even if A.G. Schneiderman triumphs-leads to the kind of systemic change that was possible when all of the liability for the banks’ bad acts was still on the table. You know, pre-settlement, when A.G. Schneiderman and a few other Democratic A.G.s looked like they were going to stand up for America and insist on a meaningful deal.

Consider, the most that can come of this is two of the five banks complying completely with four of the 304 Servicing Standards.

AG Schneiderman joined MSNBC”S All In host Chris Hayes for an exclusive interview about why, after a multibillion dollar settlement, banks are still not living up to rules about mortgages and refinancing.

Triumph of the Will?

Our last Impression Under Water of Oscar winning film makers Bigelow and Boal and their Academy Award Nominated Zero Dark Thirty was that far from giving a ‘journalistic’ view ‘based on first hand accounts of actual events’, the film was just a propagandist hagiography of torture totally contradicted by the testimony under oath of John Brennan among others.

Now we know that our ‘brave, boundary breaking artists willing to explore the dark side of the War Against a Tactic that makes cowards wet their pants (see London during the Blitz)’ are nothing more than sycophantic lapdogs willing to trade their souls and vision for ‘access’.

CIA requested Zero Dark Thirty rewrites, memo reveals

Ben Child, The Guardian

Tuesday 7 May 2013 11.47 EDT

In January the US Senate intelligence committee launched an investigation into whether Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal were granted “inappropriate access” to classified CIA material following concern from high-profile members over the film’s depiction of torture in the search for the al-Qaida chief. The probe was dropped in February after Zero Dark Thirty, which had initially been tipped as an Oscars frontrunner, left the world’s most famous film ceremony with just a single award for sound editing.

However according to Gawker it has now emerged that the CIA did successfully pressure Boal to remove certain scenes from the Zero Dark Thirty script, some of which might have cast the agency in a negative light. Details emerged in a memo released under a US Freedom of Information Act request. It summarises five conference calls held in late 2011 for staff in the agency’s Office of Public Affairs “to help promote an appropriate portrayal of the agency and the Bin Laden operation”.

Several elements of the draft screenplay for Zero Dark Thirty were changed for the final film upon agency request, according to the memo. Jessica Chastain’s Maya, the film’s main protagonist, was originally seen participating in an early water-boarding torture scene, but in the final film she is only an observer. A scene in which a dog is used to interrogate a suspect was also excised from the shooting script. Finally a segue in which agents party on a rooftop in Islamabad, drinking and shooting off an AK47 in celebration, was also removed upon CIA insistence. This was agreed to despite the documented use of aggressive dogs in US interrogations of terror suspects at Guantánamo Bay in the early days of George W Bush’s war on terror, and despite some of the photographs from the later Abu Ghraib scandal featuring dogs menacing naked prisoners.

Here’s a link to the Gawker piece- Newly Declassified Memo Shows CIA Shaped Zero Dark Thirty‘s Narrative by Adrian Chen, 5/06/13 6:04pm.  It includes futher links to the actual memo in .PDF and text formats.

Declassified Memo Shows ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ Filmmakers Played Role of Willing Propagandists for CIA

By: Kevin Gosztola, Firedog Lake

Tuesday May 7, 2013 9:55 am

The memo opens by noting that conference calls took place on October 26, November 1, November 18, one other day in November and December 5 in 2011, where “Mark Boal verbally shared the screenplay for the Kathryn Bigelow-directed Bin Ladin movie with [Office of Public Affairs] officers.”

“From an Agency perspective,” the memo reads, “the purpose for these discussions was for OPA officers to help promote an appropriate portrayal of the Agency and the Bin Ladin operation. Boal noted early on that, while it is known that he conducted research for his screenplay from a variety of sources, the characters and storylines are heavily fictionalized while based on true events.”

The memo indicates that the public affairs officers advised Boal to edit an interrogation scene with a character “modeled after Ammar al-Baluchi”.

While they deny Waterboarding, the CIA has admitted Ammar al-Baluchi was subjected to “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques” which may have included any or all of the following-

  • Sleep deprivation.
  • Exposure to extreme heat and cold.
  • Confined quarters.
  • Psychological and physical abuse.
  • The use of psychotropic drugs.

Use of attack dogs

Maya, played by Jessica Chastain, was going to be actively involved in torturing a detainee. The CIA objected and Boal ultimately rewrote the scene.

Rafiq al-Hami, a Tunisian national, was arrested in Iran in November 2001. According to the Open Society Foundation’s report, “Globalizing Torture,” when he was held in “three CIA ‘dark sites in Afghanistan,” he was “stripped naked, threatened with dogs, shackled in painful “stress” positions for hours, punched, kicked and exposed to extremes of heat and cold.”

Al-Hami’s case is a known instance. There must be multiple unknown instances, where detainees were threatened by dogs. So, it would not have been terribly far-fetched to have dogs appear in an interrogation scene. Yet, Boal took it out in deference to the CIA.

The Veil of Secrecy

(O)fficers were also making sure techniques or instances of torture that had not been declassified were not being depicted the film. If one had been found, the officers would have likely asked Boal to take it out because it was not publicly known that technique had been used-regardless of whether it was illegal or inhumane.

Also, evidently, Boal wrote a fictional scene where Agency officers were socializing that the officers found objectionable.

The CIA did not want the public getting the wrong idea that agents sometimes behave like proud, unsophisticated warrior-like Americans. Audiences would never have thought once about how bad it looked to mix drinking and weapons. But, again, Boal complied.

Officers took exception to a “cinematic device” Boal was using, where May conducted research through “reviewing film of detainee interviews.” Multiple videos were analyzed as she looked for clues. The problem the officers had was that “detainee sessions were not videotaped and used for research and analysis.” Boal understood but “visually” it was the “only way to show research in an interesting cinematic way.” Since it was just factually inaccurate and did not make the CIA look bad, the officers “did not request Boal take this scene out of the movie.” [The CIA is known to have recorded some interrogations that included waterboardings, but tapes were destroyed by pro-torture advocate and head of the clandestine service, Jose Rodriguez.]

“Seduced by their sources”

It had already been revealed that the CIA saw the film as a great opportunity for the agency. Judicial Watch obtained documents showing an e-mail exchange on June 7, 2011, where “CIA spokesperson Marie E. Harf openly discussed providing preferential treatment to the Boal/Bigelow project over others related to the bin Laden killing.” He wrote, “I know we don’t pick favorites but it makes sense to get behind a winning horse…Mark and Kathryn’s movie is going to be the first and the biggest. It’s got the most money behind it, and two Oscar winners on board.”

On July 20, 2011, in an e-mail, Boal thanked then-CIA Director of Public Affairs George Little for “pulling for him” inside the agency. It made “all the difference.” Little responded, “…I can’t tell you how excited we all are (at DOD and CIA) about the project…PS – I want you to know how good I’ve been not mentioning the premiere tickets [smiley face].”

“Boal has been working with us and with the CIA (via George Little) for initial context briefings,” another e-mail sent on June 15, 2011, read. “At DoD this has been provided by Mike Vickers, and at CIA by relevant officials with the full knowledge and full approval/support of Director Panetta.”

Thus, it would seem film director Alex Gibney was correct when he critiqued the film for its portrayal of torture and wrote, “Boal and Bigelow were seduced by their sources.”

Documents Reveal Zero Dark Thirty Had CIA Script Rewrite

By: DSWright, Firedog Lake

Tuesday May 7, 2013 5:49 am

Unfortunately for Bigelow and Boal the CIA were lying to them – something John Brennan admitted during his confirmation testimony. Not that this was an incredible revelation as the Senate had already blown the whistle on ZDT’s promotion of the CIA’s propaganda on torture.

And it is important to note these are editorial and artistic changes, well after the initial (false) information was supplied to Boal on what events occurred and why. Is it the job now of the CIA to edit and produce popular films?

“We honored certain requests to keep operational details and the identity of the participants confidential. But as with any publication or work of art, the final decisions as to the content were made by the filmmakers.” – Boal

And Leni Riefenstahl was just a photographer.

Around the Blogosphere

The main purpose our blogging is to communicate our ideas, opinions, and stories both fact and fiction. The best part about the the blogs is information that we might not find in our local news, even if we read it online. Sharing that information is important, especially if it educates, sparks conversation and new ideas. We have all found places that are our favorites that we read everyday, not everyone’s are the same. The Internet is a vast place. Unlike Punting the Pundits which focuses on opinion pieces mostly from the mainstream media and the larger news web sites, “Around the Blogosphere” will focus more on the medium to smaller blogs and articles written by some of the anonymous and not so anonymous writers and links to some of the smaller pieces that don’t make it to “Pundits” by Krugman, Baker, etc.

We encourage you to share your finds with us. It is important that we all stay as well informed as we can.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

This is an Open Thread.

At Beat the Press, Dean Baker gives a lesson in logic:

At Conscience of a Liberal, Paul Krugman, defends his role in the ’08/’09 stimulus debate:

and dissects John Maynard Keynes’ views on the liquidity trap:

From Marcy Wheeler at emptywheel continues to document the war crimes:

Two articles by Jon Walker at FDL Action on Medicare:

From Yves Smith at naked capitalism, an article by Robert H. Wade, a Professor of Political Economy, London School of Economics and a winner of the Leontief Prize in Economics for 2008:

While the news media has been gushing over guns, Benghazi (again) and the three women rescued in Cleveland, OH, the House of Representatives has been really busy aiding and abetting grand theft by the banks and Wall St., as noted by DSWright at FDL News Desk:

Finally Charles P. Pierce at the Esquire’s Daily Politics Blog:

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

Dean Baker: The Secret of the Weak Recovery: We Had a F***ing Housing Bubble

The problem with economics is not that it’s too complicated; the problem is that it’s too damn simple. This problem is amply demonstrated by all the heroic efforts made by economists to explain the weakness of the current recovery. [..]

If none of these stories, or any of the others that economists develop to stay employed, explain the length of the downturn, what does? Well, it’s pretty damn simple, we had a housing bubble driving the economy before the collapse and there is nothing to fill the gap created. The bubble led residential construction to soar to more than 6.0 percent of GDP at the peak of the boom in 2005. It is now a bit over 2 percent of GDP implying a loss in annual demand of more than $600 billion. The $8 trillion in housing wealth created by the bubble led the saving rate to fall to almost zero due to the housing wealth effect (people increase annual spending by 5-7 cents for each dollar in housing wealth). With the saving rate hovering near 4 percent, we have lost close to $400 billion in annual consumption demand.

Cindy Cohn and Trevor Timm: After the Tragedy in Boston, More Government Surveillance is Not the Answer

Since the tragedy in Boston three weeks ago, there has been much talk in the media and political circles about technology that helped capture the suspects, the role of surveillance, and the critical issue of how privacy should be handled in the digital age. Yet the public facts known so far do not call for new governmental surveillance powers or tools.  Instead, the investigation supports the conclusion that the government’s current actions did not cross the Fourth Amendment line, and complying would not harm future terrorism investigations. [..]

First, the familiar attempt to throw privacy out the window: The Mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg led the way last week, saying that, despite privacy concerns, “our laws and our interpretation of the Constitution, I think, have to change.” NYPD chief Ray Kelly echoed Bloomberg,  saying, “I think the privacy issue has really been taken off the table,” in reference to surveillance after the bombings in Boston.

Bloomberg said terrorists “want to take away our freedoms,” yet his solution seems to be the government should take our freedoms away first. This is folly, and the very reduction of privacy and freedom is what could give victory to terrorism.

John Nichols: Austerity Is ‘Suffocating the Economy’

The US economy is suffering from a nasty case of austerity.

Only 165,000 new jobs were created in April – far fewer than is needed to address existing unemployment and to create positions for the millions of Americans who are entering the workforce. [..]

“This is a classic ‘hold-steady’ report – enough job growth to keep the unemployment rate stable but not much more,” Heidi Shierholz, an economist with the Economic Policy Institute, says of the latest news from the US Department of Labor. “In good times, this would be fine, but at a time like this, it represents an ongoing disaster.”

Why are things so slow?

In a word: austerity.

E. J. Dionne: Obama’s Wake-Up Call

President Obama got roughed up by the pundit class last week. The question is what lessons he draws from the going-over. Here’s one he should take: The nation’s political conversation has grown stale and many Americans have lost the sense of what he is doing to improve their lives.

You can argue that this perception isn’t fair. The Affordable Care Act, if it’s implemented well, will improve a lot of lives. The economy is adding jobs, not shedding them. The deficit is coming down. Two front-burner initiatives, immigration reform and broader background checks-yes, they’ll be voted on again-really do matter.

But the fact is that the talk in Washington has been dominated by the same stuff we obsessed over in 2010, 2011 and 2012: a monotonous, uninspiring, insider clash over budgets. Even in that context, we barely discuss what government can do that would be helpful (except to air travelers).

Eugene Robinson: Burning Questions About Intervention in Syria

For all the armchair generals advocating U.S. military intervention in Syria, I have a few questions: [..]

Isn’t it the case that Syria presents no good options, only bad ones? Isn’t it unclear whether U.S. intervention can even alleviate the Syrian people’s pain, much less advance U.S. interests? And although doing nothing seems like a bad alternative, doesn’t the only other choice presently available-doing something for the sake of doing something-look worse?

Last question: We have been at war in Afghanistan for a dozen years and in Iraq for a decade. Have we learned nothing at all?

Betsey Stevenson & Justin Wolfers: Reinhart-Rogoff’s Lesson for Economists

What lesson can economists draw from the ruckus over a flaw found in an influential study by two Harvard University scholars? Our suggestion: Do a better job of checking one another’s work. [..]

Many observers have concluded that the error went undetected for so long because the research never underwent peer review, a traditional stop on the way to the coveted goal of publication in a prestigious journal. But peer review isn’t a line-by-line error check. It involves a few academics making a holistic judgment as to whether new research increases our understanding of the world.

There’s only one reliable way to verify empirical findings: Try to replicate them. In the narrowest terms, this can mean taking the author’s data and checking their spreadsheets, as economists Thomas Herndon, Michael Ash and Robert Pollin did in their critique of Reinhart and Rogoff. At a broader level, replication can mean collecting new data, assessing their reliability and using them to subject a finding to fresh scrutiny.

Waste, Fraud, and Abuse

Isn’t it nice to know that your Headstart and Cancer Care money is going to projects like this-

Navy Ship Can’t Meet Mission, Internal U.S. Report Finds

By Tony Capaccio, Bloomberg News

May 6, 2013 9:49 PM ET

“The LCS (Littoral Combat Ship) program today is one of our very best programs,” Navy Secretary Ray Mabus told the House Armed Services Committee on April 16. “It’s coming in under budget. It’s coming in on schedule. And it’s coming in with capabilities that we have to have.”

The Navy has 20 vessels under contract out of a planned fleet of 52. Construction costs have doubled to $440 million per ship from an original goal of $220 million.

Key to the Littoral Combat Ship’s success is fulfilling its planned capability of switching within 96 hours the vessel’s weapons modules for missions, such as finding mines, conducting anti-submarine operations and waging surface warfare.

The confidential report found, though, that the 96-hour goal doesn’t represent the entire process of switching weapons modules. The clock only starts when the module and everything ready to support it are dockside, the report said.

One wargame demonstrated that “getting all of the right people and equipment on station to conduct the exchange could take several weeks,” according to the report, and that process “removed LCS from the tactical fight.”

The Perez report also highlights the vessel’s limited combat capability. The Navy has acknowledged that the vessels are being built to the service’s lowest level of survivability, a Pentagon-approved decision that sought to balance cost and performance.

The ship “is not expected to be survivable in that it is not expected to maintain mission capability after taking a significant hit in a hostile combat environment,” Michael Gilmore, the Pentagon’s chief weapons tester, said in a January report.

Even in its surface warfare role, when all armaments are working as intended, the vessel “is only capable of neutralizing” small, fast-attack boats and it “remains vulnerable to ships” with anti-ship cruise missiles that can travel more than five miles (8 kilometers), according to the Perez report. Iran has 67 such vessels, according to a chart in the report.

Because they couldn’t make up their mind this new ship is being sourced from two different vendors, negating any cost saving from standardization.  Remind you of anything?  Why yes, the two engine controversy from the F-35, another boondoggle brought to you by our friendly arms merchants at Lockheed; so it’s no surprise to learn that they’re one of the 2 prime vendors with an all Aluminum trimaran which just dissolves in salt water.

But what I’d like to focus on is that 5 mile range.  You’d get better results stationing a couple of guys with Stingers on a tanker deck.  In Harpoon (favorite game ever) we had a word for ships like that-


Dasvidania Rodina,” (traditional salute as Russian ships begin their attack runs).

On This Day In History May 7

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

Click on images to enlarge

May 7 is the 127th day of the year (128th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 238 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1824, the world premiere of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in Vienna, Austria. The performance is conducted by Michael Umlauf under the deaf composer’s supervision. It was Beethoven’s first appearance on stage in 12 years. Over the years the symphony has been performed for both political and non-political from the eve of Hitler’s birthday, to the celebration of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, to the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. The Ode to Joy was used as the anthem by Kosovo when it declared it’s independence in 2008.

Obama Losing Democratic Support on Social Security Cuts

Eight of the 14 Democrats who are up for reelection in 2014, three from red states, have taken a stand against Pres. Obama’s proposed Social Security cuts:

The majority of Senate Democrats running for reelection in 2014, including three running in red states, have broken with President Barack Obama and are opposing his effort to cut Social Security benefits, imperiling the austerity project known as the “grand bargain.” [..]

Democratic Sens. Kay Hagan (N.C.), Mark Begich (Alaska) and Mark Pryor (Ark.), all running in states won by Republican Mitt Romney in 2012, have publicly opposed the president’s effort, going so far as to co-sponsor a Senate resolution against chained CPI last week. Sens. Al Franken (D-Minn.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), running in bluer states, also co-sponsored the resolution. [..]

Other Senate Democrats up for reelection who didn’t sign the resolution were still unfavorably disposed toward chained CPI. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) opposes the cost-of-living cut, her office confirmed to HuffPost, and has said Social Security should be off the table in debt talks.

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) has been open to the chained CPI cut, but insisted a “circle of protection” must be established for the most vulnerable Americans.

Alaskan Senator Mark Begich will introduced two bill that would protect Social Security benefits:

Begich plans to introduce the Protecting and Preserving Social Security Act and the Social Security Fairness Act of 2013 when he returns to Washington, DC next week. He says his plan has three points. The Protecting and Preserving Social Security Act would remove a cap on high income contributions. The cap is now at 113,700 dollars. Removing the cap would make high income earners pay into Social Security just like everyone else, he says. [..]

The second part of that bill would revise how SS payments are adjusted to better reflect how America’s senior spend their income. Currently, payments are based on a Consumer Price Index model that does not accurately reflect higher costs seniors pay, for medications, for example. The bill would create a CPI – E for elders.

The Social Security Fairness Act would remove penalties that are now placed on retirees who worked more than one job, paid into Social Security, but then retired under a different retirement system. Under current law, they are denied their Social Security benefits Many government workers and some teachers in Alaska fall into this category.

It’s about time the Democrats stood up to the Republican in the White House.