The Foreclosure Settlement Fiasco: What Would Jesus Do?
Last year when I published my most recent book, “The Middle and Working Class Manifesto”, I devoted the entire second chapter to the ongoing foreclosure crisis across the US and how it was devastating the American middle and working classes. I also described in great detail how the mortgage crisis was basically manufactured by Wall St. and big banking as a legalized criminal enterprise. It seems that we have now nearly come full circle regarding this matter, except for the fact that the “settlement” is a joke. Just this past week the Department of Justice and 49 state attorneys general announced the long anticipated $25 billion deal with 5 large Wall Street firms — Bank of America Corporation, JPMorgan Chase & Co., Wells Fargo & Company, Citigroup Inc. and Ally Financial Inc. — to settle foreclosure and mortgage servicing abuses. Corporate media is reporting that the deal settles only foreclosure and servicing abuses. But the agreement settles only some aspects of the banks conduct related to the financial crisis (foreclosure practices, loan servicing, and origination of loans) in return for the second largest state attorneys general recovery in history and direct relief to distressed borrowers while they can still use it. The Florida Attorney General concedes on her web site that the deal with the state includes loan origination issues. That may not sit well with residents of a state where some of the highest levels of loan origination frauds occurred. Why is mortgage loan origination a big deal? Because tens of thousands of consumers were victimized in a bait and switch racket, believing they were getting a fixed rate mortgage only to find out a few years down the road that they had an adjustable rate mortgage that reset and doubled or even tripled their monthly payment – making it impossible to stay in their home; an effective wealth stripping enterprise by Wall Street against decent, hardworking families across America.
Jesus warned us about this very thing during His ministry on earth, as the gospel of St. Luke document so well. It says and I quote, “While all of the people were listening, Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Such men will be punished most severely’.” (Luke chapter 20, verses 45-47, NIV)
In the past, Wall Street knew it could steal billions and settle with its easily maneuvered regulators for millions. It did this time and time again, never having to admit to any crime. Wall Street translated this to mean that crime was a lucrative profit center. This latest settlement raises the potential of this profit center. Wall Street now understands that it can steal trillions and settle for billions. And just why is it that the Feds can’t or won’t prosecute the biggest of the Wall Street firms? Because they are the Federal Government’s bond brokers, the primary dealers who contractually agree to buy Treasury bills or notes or bonds at every U.S. Treasury auction. They may be serially corrupt, but Uncle Sam needs those contractual guarantees of its primary dealers to be sure it can pull off its debt auctions. And the U.S. government cannot engage in contracts with convicted financial felons. And it won’t break up these bloated behemoths because big balance sheets are just what a government with $15 trillion in debt is looking for in a bond broker.
Unfortunately, there are aspects to this settlement that are so disadvantageous to those it intends to help that the terms can only be described as insulting. It’s not that there are programs that have been put in place to assist homeowners with their loans and the value of their properties. It is also questionable as to how effective these measures will be until we have more data, only time will tell. But I am referring to the “settlement” being given to those who have already been evicted from their homes, whether lawfully or not, in the amount of $2,000.00 each. Given how much distress and hardship these people have endured from being tossed out on the street, the amount of the settlement is so tiny that it would be a bad joke if it were not so infuriating. Two thousand dollars as compensation for losing the family dwelling, in an often less than legal and sometimes outright fraudulent manner, is a completely ridiculous offer by any standard when we consider that the homes that these crime victims lost were worth an average of $250,000.00 or so at the time they were purchased.
So what happens to these individuals and families after they lose their homes to foreclosure? The lucky ones who still have jobs find a place to rent and move on with their lives. Still others find themselves moving in with relatives, and even moving back home with parents in the case of many recent college graduates who can find no work at all, not even menial jobs! Some are able to hang on to their homes by renting out rooms or even whole basements, usually to total strangers for the sake of economic expediency. A number of them wind up being the ones who are renting those extra rooms and basements because they have no where else to go. Still more have none of the above, and wind up sleeping in their cars, assuming they are lucky enough to still have their own transportation. The least fortunate wind up sleeping outdoors in tents, in abandoned houses that are vacant due to the same foreclosure process that rendered them homeless in the first place, or in shelters. They are the new homeless.
America was once synonymous for the prosperity and promise associated with the opportunity that was once available to anyone willing to work, for the sole express purpose of acquiring a piece of the America Dream. Today, the story is much different. Hard work seems to mean little in our current system where the elite control the virtually all the money, and the associated greed has robbed good, hard working Americans of their same right to the Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness that Thomas Jefferson so eloquently penned over 230 years ago.
After a lifetime of effort in the chase for their piece of the pie, some Americans are finding themselves out in the cold, having lost their jobs and their dreams in the aftermath of the Great Recession. Some have fallen victim to not only Wall Street’s suspect derivative trading and over speculation in a system that could not support such monetary betting, but to a banking system that manipulated loan rates when looked to and trusted by home buyers for professional guidance. Many of these unfortunate people are trying to survive the current economic depression by seeking federal assistance but have found, much to their dismay, that government programs, one of their only rays of hope during their time of tribulation, are being taken by the same group of people who assisted in their demise: Congress. That’s because those responsible for the economic plunge are trying to phase out social systems that provide those who are suffering a lifeline in the ocean of betrayal they are drowning in. Even worse, it seems to not matter to those surviving the current economic disaster. They couldn’t care less.
In light of the actions taken – or inaction in some cases – by our governmental representatives, those from rural and suburban areas have had no choice but to abandon their beloved countryside and move toward the cities in search of shelter and whatever government aide remains. They have migrated by the millions to the urban centers of this nation in search of the remnants of their former middle class security, but in place of the Golden Lamp on the Statue of Liberty they have only found iron bars and cold, impersonal streets. Cities are beginning to enact anti-homeless initiatives to drive them back to where they came while those responsible for this treachery receive record bonuses and wallow in ill-gotten gains. Here in Atlanta where I reside, for example, you can be arrested for camping outdoors within the city limits, or charged with trespassing for sleeping in an abandoned house. Across America, the class warfare of economic victimization is being called to the forefront as the newest criminal act.
Both sides of the Congressional aisle have argued the semantics of the mortgage crisis and the current economic strife, but the blame for the downfall of this once great nation means nothing when one is huddled beneath a dirty blanket trying to survive the cold or going hungry. The homeless only know that their basic American rights have been denied. Adding insult to injury, those Congressional representatives, who were put into office to ensure the continuation of our American system, are trying to take even more from them. The only security this country seems to care for anymore is the one that allows for funds to be taken from social services and used for war, Patriot Act driven oppression and corporate welfare entitlement. Those unfortunate souls who have to stand in line for a warm bed in an overcrowded dormitory or in a food kitchen line to get a modest meal, are painfully finding that many of their lifelines are being denied by the very country they pledged their allegiance to. Instead of solutions, politicians are only delivering rhetoric, excuses and false promises. In this, our nation’s greatest time of need, they would rather protect their own than fight for providing for the American people.
Many try to ignore these dispossessed and indigent people because they represent the unwanted byproduct, the errors and immoral gluttony of an American nation that is lost, but they are still American citizens and still need to be cared for. In America today, people who have been misguided enough to believe in the American system and lost their piece of the Dream because of it, are now hoping for a savior. Unfortunately, none is to be found in this, our modern America, although I firmly believe the Bible when it tells me of the Savior who will return very soon. We as a nation are quickly falling into the realm of the second world. The rise of a real, sincere leader is a pipe dream under the debt-ridden and utterly corrupt umbrella of our current political system and the economic destruction they have reaped. The future of this nation indeed looks pretty dim, but there is an alternative, a way out and a resolution to the people’s dilemma. The more the rich elite in this country try tirelessly to impose their neo-fascist state, more tirelessly we true patriots will resist, and in the end “we the people” will prevail. The Arab Spring of 2011, along with the current Syrian uprising (and possibly even the rioting in Greece) will spawn the American Spring of 2012, and I intend to be there for it. I firmly believe that this is what the current Occupy and 99% Movements will evolve into.
Homelessness has in the past been viewed as a state of laziness, but today it is a growing condition that represents a dying world power. The elite persist in the denial of this national illness. After all, its recognition would admit their fault. At the end of the day though, ignoring it will not lessen the inevitability that this, our once great nation, is now a declining empire. Many are on the brink of bankruptcy in this country and where once lay the promise of prosperous times for all, there now exists the reality that we are all only one misfortune away from being homeless.
So the next question becomes, what would Jesus say or do about this? He is, after all, the Savior we have all been looking for that I mentioned above, and the ultimate solution to all mankind’s problems. We can find part of the answer in the gospel of Matthew, as the following quote will show: “Then Jesus said to the crowds and to His disciples: ‘The teachers of the law and the pharisees sit in Moses seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy loads and put them on mens’ shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. Everything they do is done for men to see….. they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and have men call them “Rabbi”. But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi’, for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father’, for you have only one Father, and He is in heaven. Nor are you to be called ‘teacher’, for you have one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in mens’ faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to….. Woe to you, teachers of the law and pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill, and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy, and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. Woe to you, teachers of the law and pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside will also be clean. Woe to you, teachers of the law and pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like white-washed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside, but on the inside are full of dead mens’ bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” (Matthew 23, verses 1-14 and 23-28, NIV)
… “Do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy loads and put them on mens’ shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them”. Sound familiar? Some churches “teach” that it is written that we are to tithe – or donate to the church – a tenth of all we earn. Technically that is true; you can find it in several places in the Law of Moses, the first five books of the Old Testament. But the Bible also says that when Jesus came to earth and lived and labored among us until His death on a cross – only to live again, hallelujah! – he became the “new covenant” that He spoke of at the last supper, and a replacement for the old. Does this mean we don’t have to give 10% of our income any more? Yes, because the risen Jesus is the fulfillment of the old covenant while being the initialization and commencement for the new one. But does that mean we need not bother giving what we can when we attend church? Absolutely not! We should give what we can when we can, understanding that these are exceptionally tough economic times we are living in, so its OK if the size of your offering varies from week to week. Jesus then goes on to explain that the titles we give one another within the various church denominations are basically meaningless in God’s sight. If we really want to be considered the greatest among the faithful, then we can do so by becoming the best servant of God that we can possibly be. Nothing else matters, and that includes our material possessions and our offerings.
Then, just as He did when he threw the moneychangers out of the temple, Jesus confronts the pharisees and really lets them have it with both barrels. As it was then, so it is now with the foreclosure crisis, although ‘shakedown’ might be a better word to describe it. The same people who show up at church every Sunday (or Saturday depending on the denomination) and take their usual seats in or near the front row while praying the loudest and the longest of anybody else in church, it is those same people who go back to their jobs on Monday morning as a part of an economic or governmental system that victimizes home owners who can no longer make their mortgage payments because someone at their former place of employment decided that the company could do without their services by outsourcing their job overseas, or by downsizing it out of existence by redistributing their workload onto the backs of the remaining workers with no increase in pay whatsoever. Some work in the corporate world, some work in government, still others work as enforcers of the absolute rule of the top 1% such as in law enforcement, in the court system and the accompanying prison/industrial complex, or in the military. Most notable of all as far as today’s message is concerned is that some of these same people work in the banking and financial sectors, the same ones who are taking people’s houses using robo-signed documents that are blatant forgeries while throwing the occupants out in the street. Jesus told them that while they certainly were religious enough, being so doesn’t count in God’s kingdom. As Jesus said, “But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy, and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.”
There is a saying in the Old Testament about the penalty for stealing. Whenever a thief is caught stealing, or is convicted upon the testimony of two or more witnesses, he/she must repay the full amount of that which was taken, plus 20% of the value thereof. It’s in Leviticus and again in Deuteronomy in the Law of Moses. I think that what needs to be done is to address the ongoing foreclosure crisis, with all its inherent fraud, and the subsequent loss of people’s homes, often through no fault of their own, in a fair and honorable manner such as what God’s law required in those days. We can accomplish this goal by peacefully protesting and demonstrating, or by occupying homes that are about to be foreclosed on. Peaceful protest is the way to victory, and should be done in the spirit of Rev. Dr. King. It’s time we took up where he left off in April of ’68.
Think about it for a minute, it could be the focal point of the Occupy and 99% Movements of which I am proud to be a part, and a good part of the way forward for these movements when the American Spring commences soon. Like the Arab Spring of 2011, the American Spring of 2012 will make Egypt look like a good warm-up by comparison, and a demand for reparations would be a very good starting point, especially in light of the ridiculous and insulting “settlement” scrap of $2,000.00 per household. For example, Biblically speaking, someone who lost a $200,000.00 home due to foreclosure fraud would be entitled to a settlement of $240,000.00, $360,000.00 for a $300,000.00 house and so on. It’s right there in the Bible, and that’s the best legal precedent I can think of to establish a new law.
There are other issues that must be addressed if we are going to put the 99% back in charge of our country like our Constitution says, with job creation and ending all the wars being the other two top priorities of our continued dissent (not including getting corporate money out of politics). Besides these key issues, it is clear to me that reparations for those who lost their homes due to foreclosure fraud should be a focal point of this spring’s demonstrations. And we can do so knowing that we have God’s Word on our side.