Bank Excuses on Foreclosure Growing Stale
The Bank of America lawyer laid down a patented rhetorical move heard in courts across America. Your Honor, this Orange County, N.Y., homeowner — a New York City police officer — didn’t make enough money to qualify for a mortgage modification. He didn’t send us the right documents.
He didn’t, he didn’t, he didn’t, and so we should be allowed to foreclose.
Justice Catherine M. Bartlett of New York State Supreme Court cut off the lawyer. You, she said, are telling me lies.
“Bank of America got a bailout, and this is an outrage, how this man has been treated,” she said. “Hard-working, middle-class Americans are trying to make it, trying to refinance with your bank.”
Either bank officials show up in person, the justice said, or I’m going to order them “here in handcuffs.”
Rage has acquired a cleansing power. Patience as a virtue is a hard sell at the burnt end of a four-year economic collapse. Zuccotti Park shakes, rattles and rolls; television yakkers chat about inequality; and the federal judge Jed Rakoff all but heckled the Securities and Exchange Commission last week for going easy on Citigroup misbehavior.
Then there is Eric T. Schneiderman, New York’s attorney general, caught in Month 5 of a face-off with the White House. President Obama dearly wants to seal a deal in which the nation’s largest banks toss over a few bales of cash — $20 billion to help with foreclosure relief — and the state attorneys general agree not to pursue sprawling and explosive legal cases against the banks.
Mr. Schneiderman and Attorney General Beau Biden of Delaware, joined by a few others, say no. Banks, they say, should disgorge more documents, testify more precisely and prove more completely that they own millions of mortgage notes. These rebel attorneys general want the banks to hand over more than $200 billion, which would enable the government to write down tens of millions of mortgages.
But in the end, their argument is elemental: Wouldn’t the nation benefit from knowing the truth about the behavior of banks and bankers?
“If you don’t air out the policies that led to the implosion of the economy, it will happen again,” says Mr. Schneiderman. “There’s not one sentence in the proposed agreement, not one period or comma about the stuff that blew up the economy. We can’t let the banks rewrite history.”
The desire to know precisely what happened during that give-a-mortgage-to-anyone-who-breathes, securitize-this frenzy has historical antecedents. In the Great Depression, the United States Senate hired another New York lawyer, Ferdinand Pecora, to write the report on its investigation of that collapse.
Mr. Pecora found more questions than answers, and insisted on more subpoenas, more forensic investigators and more brokers testifying under oath. Like a man reaching into a barrel of dead fish, he found a great stink. Not least, he discovered that National City (the lineal ancestor of the same misbehaving Citigroup) had sold flawed investments and that its president engaged in something close to tax evasion.
Seventy-eight years later, the Obama administration has Shaun Donovan, secretary of housing and urban development; the economic adviser Gene Sperling; and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. dialing liberals, activists and bloggers, urging them to pressure the rebellious attorneys general to forgo emotionally satisfying inquiries and take the deal.
Banks make money and find loopholes, the president noted last month. These actions aren’t “necessarily against the law.”
That raises the question: How does he know?
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Party of No Continued:
GOP To Rework Budget Cuts
Republicans will try to spare defense programs by reconfiguring the $1.2 trillion in spending cuts that are to be triggered in 2013 by the collapse of congressional deficit-cutting committe, a GOP senator said.
GOP Blocks Judgeship Nominee
WASHINGTON — U.S. Senate Republicans Tuesday blocked President Barack Obama's nominee for a judgeship on a key U.S. appeals court that John Roberts vacated six years ago when he became U.S. chief justice.
On a 54-45 vote, Obama's Democrats fell short of the 60 votes needed to end a procedural roadblock against Caitlin Halligan, a former chief appellate lawyer for New York state.
Republicans opposing her cited her record on detainee policy and gun rights, including lawsuits she worked on against gun manufacturers.