Political MoJo

Elizabeth Warren Demands An Investigation Of Mortgage Companies

| Tue Oct. 21, 2014 12:12 PM EDT

On Monday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) called on the Government Accountability Office to investigate non-bank companies that service Americans' mortgages, noting in a letter co-signed by Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) that an increasing number of lawsuits has been filed in recent years against these firms—which are not regulated as strictly as banks.

Mortgage servicers, whether they are owned by banks or not, handle mortgages after they've been sold to a customer. That means they take care of administrative business including collecting mortgage payments and dealing with delinquent borrowers. What Warren and Cummings are worried about is that the share of non-banks servicing mortgages has grown astronomically—300 percent between 2011 and 2013—and it appears that the increased workload has led to shoddier service.

The rise of the industry, which typically services lower-income borrowers, "has been accompanied by consumer complaints, lawsuits, and other regulatory actions as the servicers' workload outstrips their processing capacity," according to a recent report by the Federal Housing Finance Agency. Last December, for instance, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau—the agency Warren helped create—entered a $2 billion settlement with the nation's largest non-bank servicer over mortgage mismanagement. Financial industry watchdogs and consumer advocates have charged that the non-bank home loan servicing companies are often unwilling to work with troubled borrowers to modify mortgages and prevent foreclosures.

In their letter, Warren and Cummings also urge the Government Accountability Office to investigate how consumers might be harmed in the event that a large non-bank servicer collapses during a economic downturn. Non-bank mortgage companies are not subject to the regulations governing banks that perform the same functions, such as the requirement that they hold onto a certain amount of emergency funds in case of a financial collapse.

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Rwanda Hits Back at America's Ebola Paranoia

| Tue Oct. 21, 2014 11:40 AM EDT
Nigerian health officials wait to screen passengers at the arrival hall of Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos, Nigeria, Monday, Aug. 4, 2014.

Rwanda will be begin screening all Americans entering the country for Ebola, regardless if they're exhibiting symptoms or not, government officials in the East African nation announced Tuesday. Coincidence? The new measure comes just days after two Rwandan students were denied enrollment at a New Jersey school over Ebola fears, even though Rwanda has had zero cases of Ebola. The United States, on the other hand, has had three confirmed cases. Rwanda is also more than 2,500 miles from the closest Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

The US Embassy in Rwanda explains the situation:

On October 19, the Rwandan Ministry of Health introduced new Ebola Virus Disease screening requirements. Visitors who have been in the United States or Spain during the last 22 days are now required to report their medical condition—regardless of whether they are experiencing symptoms of Ebola—by telephone by dialing 114 between 7:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. for the duration of their visit to Rwanda (if less than 21 days), or for the first 21 days of their visit to Rwanda. Rwandan authorities continue to deny entry to visitors who traveled to Guinea, Liberia, Senegal, or Sierra Leone within the past 22 days.

Although there's no way to tell if the screenings are indeed motivated by retaliation for the ignorant panic displayed by the New Jersey school, this sure is an interesting turn of events.

Everything You Need to Know About Ebola in America, in One Fantastic Quote

| Mon Oct. 20, 2014 11:13 PM EDT

Meet a man made of very stern stuff indeed:

Peter Pattakos spent 20 minutes Saturday in an Akron bridal shop, getting fitted for a tux for his friend's wedding. Thursday, his friend sent a text message, telling him that Ebola patient Amber Joy Vinson had been in the store around the same time.

[...]

Pattakos, 36, a Cleveland attorney who lives in Bath Township, called the health department, which told him to call back if he exhibits any Ebola symptoms. He called a doctor, who told him not to worry.

"I didn't exchange any bodily fluids with anyone, so I'm not worried about it," he said. "I'm much more likely to be mistakenly killed by a police officer in this country than to be killed by Ebola, even if you were in the same bridal shop."

Yep.

Elizabeth Warren Was on Fire This Weekend. Here Were Her 5 Best Lines.

| Mon Oct. 20, 2014 5:21 PM EDT

It's good to be Elizabeth Warren. The senior senator from Massachusetts spent her weekend campaigning for Democrats in Minnesota, Colorado, and Iowa, and by all accounts, she tore it up, and got more than a few calls to run for president. (Breaking: she still insists she isn't going to.) These were some of her biggest red-meat lines from the campaign trail:

1. "The game is rigged, and the Republicans rigged it. We can whine, we can whimper or we can fight back, and we’re here to fight back. We know what we’re fighting for and what we’re up against. We’ve got our voices, or votes and our willingness to fight. This is about democracy, about your future, and about the kind of country we want to build.”

2. "[W]ho does this government work for?…Does it work just for the millionaires, just for the billionaires, just for those who have armies of lobbyists and lawyers or does it work for the people? That’s the question in this race.”

3. "Republicans believe this country should work for those who are rich, those who are powerful, those who can hire armies of lobbyists and lawyers."

4. When conservatives came to power in the 1980s, the first thing they did was "fire the cops on Wall Street. They called it deregulation. But what it really meant was have at 'em boys. They were saying in effect to the biggest financial institutions: Any way you can trick or trap or fool anybody into signing anything, man, you can just rake in the profits."

5. "They ought to be wearing a T-shirt [that says]...'I got mine. The rest of you are on your own.' We can hang back, we can whine about what the Republicans have done…or we can fight back. Me, I’m fighting back!"

Contrast Warren's rock star treatment with the President's reception this weekend: he spoke at a campaign event in Maryland, and attendees filed out as soon as he started speaking. Obama is being kept at arms' length in close races—Warren, on the other hand, will head to New Hampshire this weekend to campaign for Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, who's running against Warren's old nemesis, Scott Brown.

The 5 Stupidest Paranoid Responses to Ebola

| Mon Oct. 20, 2014 4:41 PM EDT

As President Barack Obama noted in his weekly address Saturday, Ebola is a serious public health issue. But the level of paranoia that has surfaced across the country since Thomas Duncan became the first patient diagnosed with the disease in the United States is not only unwarranted—it's  dangerous. Ripped straight from the headlines, here are just five of the more surreal incidents of Ebola panic.

Syracuse University disinvites photographer. Ebola has an incubation period of up to three weeks. If someone hasn't gotten sick within 21 days of exposure, they're in the clear. But News Photographer magazine reported last week that "three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Michel du Cille of The Washington Post, who returned from covering the Ebola crisis in Liberia 21 days ago and who is symptom free, was asked by Syracuse University officials today not to come to campus, where he was scheduled to participate in a journalism program." Cille was not pleased:

 

Maine teacher put on leave after traveling to Dallas. "A teacher at Strong Elementary School was placed on a 21-day paid leave of absence after parents told the school board they were concerned that she might have been exposed to Ebola during a trip to Dallas for an educational conference," the Portland Press Herald recently reported. Dallas, where Duncan's case was first diagnosed, is a city of 1.25 million. Five million people travel to and from Dallas every month.

Rwandan students kept home from New Jersey elementary school. Two students who moved from Rwanda—where there have been zero cases of Ebola—are being kept home from school in Burlington County, New Jersey, for 21 days in response to concerns from parents. Rwanda "is about 2,600 miles away from the closest affected country in West Africa," notes Philadelphia's local Fox station. "That's about as close as Seattle, Washington, is to Philadelphia. But for some parents it really doesn't matter."

Cleveland man charged with felony after stupid joke. "Bond is set at $10,000 for a Cleveland man charged with inducing panic after being accused of telling a Horseshoe Casino worker that he was gambling to avoid his Ebola-stricken ex-wife," Cleveland.com reported last week. Needless to say, neither the man nor his wife has Ebola.

Texas college rejects applicants from Ebola-free Nigeria. Officials at Navarro College in Texas cited Ebola as a basis for refusing admission to two Nigerian students. Nigeria has been extraordinarily effective in fighting its recent outbreak, which included just 20 confirmed cases—so extraordinary, in fact, that as of today, the World's Health Organization officially declared the country Ebola-free. After the media caught wind of the story, an official from Navarro pushed back against "misinformation" by saying that the college is focusing on students from China and Indonesia for the next year.

There's much, much more out there, but we leave you with this note from Bloomberg's Gabriel Snyder.

Which Dad is More Embarrassing: Ron Paul or Rafael Cruz?

| Mon Oct. 20, 2014 2:10 PM EDT

If Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) do battle for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, they'll have to carefully manage their most popular yet embarrassing surrogates: their fathers. Here's a quick guide to the septuagenarian bomb-throwers.

 

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 20, 2014

Mon Oct. 20, 2014 11:16 AM EDT

A US Army Corporal carries a detonation cord to blow up expired ordinance in Afghanistan. (US Army photo by Staff Sgt. Whitney Houston)

NBA Player Kisses Sideline Reporter, Calls Her the Wrong Name

| Sun Oct. 19, 2014 12:56 PM EDT

Before Tristan Thompson of the Cleveland Cavaliers took the court Friday to play the Dallas Mavericks, Allie Clifton, a Fox News Ohio reporter, tried to interview him about his game strategy.

After haphazardly answering one of her questions, Thompson calls her "Tina," winks at the camera, and then kisses her on the cheek before running away.

Here's video of the incident:

Contrary to some of the sports media's reporting, kissing a reporter on air while she is working is not "an unexpected gift" or "harmless, and nothing more than an awkward one-sided exchange." It's downright uncomfortable and belittling, even if Clifton maintained utter professionalism throughout. As Kelly Dwyer at Yahoo Sports put it: "This isn't cute or funny or meme-worthy…Just because you're working with someone of the opposite sex, it doesn't mean a sly innuendo, pat on the rear, or kiss on national television is in any way appropriate."

Would Joe Biden Put His Son In Prison For Doing Coke?

| Fri Oct. 17, 2014 6:19 PM EDT

So the son of our Vice President was booted from the military for doing coke. This must be an awkward situation for Joe Biden, given his role in cracking down on drug use over the last few decades. Joe Biden created the position of “drug czar,” a key step in the drug war. As the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1986, he played a major role in passing mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines. He was the main sponsor of the RAVE Act in 2003, meant to crack down on MDMA use, which would have held club owners liable for providing “paraphernalia” like glowsticks and water. He still vocally opposes marijuana legalization.

To be clear: Hunter Biden wasn’t caught with actual cocaine. He just failed a drug test. But what if he'd happened to be found with a little bag in his pocket? Would Joe Biden would find it fair for him to serve 87 months, which is the average federal sentence for drug possession?

Of course, were Hunter Biden to be caught with powder cocaine, he would likely fare better than someone caught with crack. To his credit, Joe Biden himself has pushed for reducing the longstanding sentencing disparity between crack and regular cocaine, but possession of 28 grams of crack still triggers a five-year minimum sentence. It takes 500 grams of regular cocaine to trigger the same sentence. That’s an 18-to-one difference. (African Americans make up 83 percent of people convicted for crack offenses, even though the number of white crack users is 40 percent greater than that of black users, according to a National Institute on Drug Abuse study).

America has more prisoners than any other country—a quarter of all people behind bars in the entire world are in US prisons or jails. Nearly half of all federal prisoners are serving sentences for drugs. Many of them won't have a chance to "regret" their mistakes and move on, as Hunter Biden has said he will.

The Head of the Federal Reserve Just Gave a Rousing Speech on Inequality

| Fri Oct. 17, 2014 2:59 PM EDT

On Friday, Janet Yellen presented a thorough speech outlining the inherent problems income inequality presents to the American ideology, proving once again she is committed to using her role as Federal Reserve chair to tackle widening income inequality rates.

"The extent of and continuing increase in inequality in the United States greatly concern me," Yellen told the Federal Reserve of Boston. "The past several decades have seen the most sustained rise in inequality since the 19th century after more than 40 years of narrowing inequality following the Great Depression."

“I think it is appropriate to ask whether this trend is compatible with values rooted in our nation’s history, among them the high value Americans have traditionally placed on equality of opportunity," she added.

The speech, titled "Perspectives on Inequality and Opportunity from the Survey of Consumer Finances," follows several notable instances in which Yellen has indicated she would be actively working towards reducing wealth inequality–a more pointed approach that distances her from her predecessors, former chairs Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke. In Friday's speech, Yellen also echoed Sen. Elizabeth Warren's (D-Mass.) calls to fix the burden of rising higher education costs.

As continued evidence has shown, income inequality rates have soared over the last few decades, with the average income of the one percent rising more than 175 percent since 1980, while the bottom 90 percent hardly moved.

 
 

 

While Yellen's speech on Friday made no mention of any specific policy changes the Federal Reserve may take on to combat inequality rates, it did signal a significant shift in how the Federal Reserve views inequality as a serious hindrance to the country's economic health. To read Yellen's speech in its entirety, click here.