Indian space rocket explodes after lift-off

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – A rocket carrying an Indian communications satellite exploded seconds after lift-off from a launchpad in the country’s south on Saturday, officials said, in a potential setback for its commercial space business.

Thousands flee Ivory Coast crisis

About 14,000 people have fled Ivory Coast to neighbouring Liberia following last month’s disputed Ivorian presidential election, the UN says.

Art Levine: No Home for Xmas: Can Labor — or Anyone — Stop the Foreclosure Mess?

As Americans head home for the holidays or look forward to a Christmas meal with friends and family nearby, it’s worth remembering that over two million people have had their homes repossessed in the last few years — and another 6.5 million are in foreclosure or will face it soon. Thousands of current and pending foreclosures may have been carried out due to forged documents, bank negligence or lack of court authority to do so. And as NPR reported recently, people like Jennifer Ryan-Voltaire may be spending their last Christmas in the home that Wells Fargo now owns after it allegedly lost her tax paperwork needed to stay in a loan modification program. As NPR noted:

“We’re trying to make it as fun for the kids as possible without them knowing or having to worry about what we’re going through,” says Voltaire, an office manager at a medical practice.

She hasn’t told her three kids that they don’t own their house anymore.

         So it’s especially ironic that in the same week that President Obama was showered with well-deserved hosannas for his lame-duck legislative feats, reports surfaced that the Bank of America was accused in recent lawsuits of wrongfully foreclosing on homeowners and breaking in to throw out  their property. It’s part of  a pattern of broader failures in the foreclosure racket and housing market that could cause another $1 trillion in losses to the banking industry, according to economist Nouriel Roubini (a.k.a. “Dr. Doom”) who predicted the first meltdown of 2008.

        At the same time, while a network of state attorneys general are vowing to prosecute a wave of foreclosure fraud involving fabricated documents and ruses designed to force people out of their homes, there’s been only a smattering of grass-roots actions designed to protest needless or unfair evictions caused by the Wall Street-driven economic collapse in the first place. Yet these protests last week — such as a theatrical “citizens’ arrest” at the New York Stock Exchange over inflated bonuses that could be used instead to salvage homeowners and a sit-in outside a Los Angeles Chase bank — are  among the few signs of life in the relatively moribund progressive movement’s response to this growing crisis. (One  possible exception: the claimed 10,000 protesters who marched on Wall Street in April, led in part by labor-affiliated groups.)

At a national level, SEIU is taking a leading role in documenting the pay, foreclosure and lending abuses in its vital new report, Big Banks Bonanza, which shows that just half of the $143 billion going to pay the executives at the top six banks could be used to write down homeowners’ mortgages to their fair market value. As progressive strategist Mike Lux argues, this is the “sleeper” issue that, if left unadressed,  could significantly harm the economy and a progressive agenda over the next two years. He says, “Taking that money out of the bankers’ hands and putting it in the hands of the hard pressed middle class would do more to stimulate the economy than any other thing the President could do right now.”

 

But, so far, there’s been no  high-impact national efforts backed by strong political pressure, lobbying, messaging and TV ads to do anything about it, but perhaps that might change in the year ahead. On top of that, the Obama administration has flubbed various mortgage relief efforts and, until recently, faced virtually no major political pressure to clean up its inept and bungled mortgage relief programs. Yet there has been mounting concern reflected in some criticism in the progressive media, a letter from over 50 influential economists and investors, and by a few Democratic committee chairmen, such as Rep. Barney Frank, to toughen standards and regulations in the Wild West world of the mortgage servicing field. As the industry’s own trade paper reported this week on the experts’ letter:

              The call for federal officials to establish industry-wide mortgage servicing and foreclosure standards is getting louder. A group of more than 50 senior economists, academic leaders, and influential investors sent a letter to reasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and the heads of five federal regulatory agencies Tuesday, urging them to take the lead in setting national standards for mortgage loan servicers.

“Widely reported servicer fraud, whether in the foreclosure process or in the systematic assessment of illegal fees against homeowners, is…a serious problem,” the group said in the letter. “Fraud is also a symptom of the disease affecting our broader financial system, namely the lack of accountability in the loan servicing industry and the resulting impairment of the value of securities sold to investors.”

The group demanded that new standards “be adopted now,” and put forth the argument that provisions of the Dodd-Frank Act relating to disclosure and risk retention for mortgage securitizations gives regulators the authority to undertake a coordinated rule-making effort to map out guidelines for the proper origination, sale, and servicing of mortgage loans.

      What’s important here, some advocates believe, is that these calls for reform have to be focused on regulatory agencies and the White House, because the GOP, scheduled to take over the House of Representative, will block any actions that could limit the financial industry and its minions. That’s why groups such as National People’s Action, recently honored by the Nation magazine as the most effective grass-roots group for its efforts to confront predatory lenders and “Make Wall Street Pay,” also promote sound new mortgage strategies the Obama administration could adopt without necessarily needing legislative approval. These include such common-sense measures as freezing foreclosures — especially given the widespread fraud — while borrowers are being evaluated for the federally supported loan modifications.

Unfortunately, there’s been little effective pressure so far on the Obama administration to clean up its mortgage relief programs. The Treasury Department has spent only a fraction of the $50 billion allotted to it  for mortgage write-downs,  over half of enrollees in a key Obama mortgage relief program have dropped out, and a Congressional oversight panel reported last week that less than a fourth of the four million distressed homeowners supposed to be helped by the federal program will get any assistance at all. The Federal Reserve is also resisting calls to strengthen its oversight over the mortgage field. Many homeowners are also stuck in a limbo where they get preliminary three-month write-downs, and then little else happens for as long as a year as they face eviction and further modifications never occur. 

 It’s all such a mess that just scrolling down handful of recent New York Times headlines can give a flavor of the hydra-headed foreclosure monster that’s destroying the lives of million of homeowners and squeezing the economy into another potential collapse — even as joblessness remains stubbornly high.  The alarming reports range  from “Banks Accused of Illegally Breaking into Homes” to “Trying to Overcome the Stubborn Blight of Vacancies.”

      That’s why the protests at Wall Street last week were so important, even if national progressive and labor groups haven’t coalesced around a pragmatic strategy to fight this downward economic spiral in a Washington fueled by deficit-slashing mania and anti-government Tea Party rage.  But the protest’s voices should be heard if the Democrats have a chance of showing the public that they’re willing to stand for the needs of average citizens against Wall Street. From the Showdown in America coalition:

 

Community Leaders Stage Citizen’s Arrest Over Bank Bonuses While Foreclosure, Unemployment & State Revenue Crises Grow

Mock Crime Scene Created Outside New York Stock Exchange

New York – A diverse coalition of community leaders created a mock crime scene outside the New York Stock Exchange today, drawing attention to record bonuses on Wall Street during this holiday season. 

Today, SEIU released a report showing that Wall Street is on track for another year of record bonuses, with total compensation at the six largest Banks projected at $143 billion, just below 2007 levels at the height of the financial bubble, while Americans struggle to keep their homes, find work and hold onto essential government services… 

 During today’s action, advocates zeroed in how record bonuses and compensation could be used to rebuild our economy. Just half the money could be used to halt foreclosures by resetting principals and interest rates on underwater mortgages while at the same time injecting $73 billion into the national economy. The total amount would more than balance the budget in every state facing a revenue shortfall in 2011. 

During today’s demonstration community leaders singing holiday carols like “oh stockbroker, oh stockbroker why are you so greedy?” created a crime scene by stretching out yellow crime scene tape across the front of the NY Stock exchange. They carried signs reading “143 billion in bonuses is a crime” and had a giant pair of handcuffs as well as cardboard chalk body outlines of people symbolizing homeowners being foreclosed, jobless Americans, and people living in poverty…

“After crashing our economy and getting bailed out by taxpayers, Wall Street Bankers are rewarding themselves and celebrating like nothing ever happened,” said Loretta Manning from Community Voices Heard. “While they’re buying fancy cars and jewelry, I’m looking for work and trying to afford my home,” Loretta added. “Wall Street needs to accept their responsibility and help pay to fix the mess they made. Why can’t Wall Street take a bonus cut?”…

“We need to make sure these Big Banks fix the foreclosure crisis and modify loans to keep people in their homes and get our economy moving again,” said Desiree Pilgrim-Hunter, whose 81 year old mother has been threatened with foreclosure. 

But who in Washington is really listening to them as the Congressional session ends with new praise by pundits for the spirit of bipartisanship and Obama’s legislative prowess?  

UPDATE: Those seeking to take action to stop these abuses — or save their own homes — can learn more at the action and resource pages of SEIU, the Showdown in America coalition and the Center for Responsible Lending’s mortgage resources for consumers. Among the most useful tools is the “Where’s the Note” campaign that aims to block illegal foreclosures and help  determine which institution has your mortgage. As SEIU points out:

 

When Wall Street banks securitized, packaged, sold, and resold our mortgages, they created a system where it is often impossible to figure out who actually owns mortgage notes and therefore has the authority to foreclose on properties. But the big banks are getting tangled up in their own web. Recent events have exposed a handful of banks that are throwing families out of their homes even though they don’t have the mortgage note that proves they actually have a legal right to do so. 

Whether you are facing foreclosure, have an underwater mortgage, or are just a concerned homeowner, it’s important that you contact your bank and demand to see the original note on your mortgage. It only takes a few minutes using our free online tool.

 

 

Read more: Foreclosures, Labor, Obama, Economy, Seiu, Bank of America, Mortgage Servicers, Mortgage Fraud, Foreclosure Fraud, Foreclosure Crisis, Business News

Sarah Wexler: Shop Smarter — And Smaller — This Christmas

Americans tend to over-consume, which is especially true over the holidays — from gorging ourselves on Christmas cookies to spending ourselves into debt on presents. Not to sound too Grinch-like, but the real challenge this time of year isn’t dealing with in-laws or finding the perfect gift for your niece — it’s restraining yourself from going on a buying bender that you’ll still be working to pay off when next December rolls around. Though the loving, altruistic motivation behind gift-giving is wonderful, the effect of gift-buying is less so. The startling fact is, Americans now have less saved in the bank than at any other point since the Great Depression; we also carry more credit card debt than ever before, with the average person owing nearly $8,000. Combined, those are putting us in a pretty deep hole, but one we could certainly dig out of (we’re Americans, for God’s sake!), with a little belt-tightening. But rather than slowly work our way out of debt, this Black Friday we set all-time spending records.

For a chapter of my book, “Living Large: From SUVs to Double Ds, Why Going Bigger Isn’t Going Better,” I spent 24 hours inside the Mall of America. I wasn’t the only tourist there: the Mall receives more visitors every year than the Grand Canyon, Disney World, and Graceland combined, and is especially crowded during the Christmas season. In one guest guide, its supporters even boast, “If you can’t find what you’re looking for here, America doesn’t have it.” While I checked out its 520 stores, I spoke to casual mall-walkers, admitted compulsive shoppers and various experts who study mall design, spending and happiness, and grilled them about the best ways to shop for holiday gifts that won’t leave you over-spent.

First, shop at a boutique, not a mega-mall. Not only are you supporting local business rather than chains, but you’ll likely end up spending less. Big malls might seem convenient, but shoppers have been shown to drop more money when there are more stores. Spending also increases the longer you’re in the mall, ticking up at about one dollar for every minute you’re there.

Second, don’t shop when you’re feeling blue, which many people do over the holidays. Harvard researchers found that sad shoppers are willing to pay four times as much for the same item as when they’re not sad (authors of the study say that by purchasing something of high value, the buyers are trying to assert their own value). So get happy before you head out to holiday shop. Though the experts didn’t specifically say this, I recommend blasting the “Glee” Christmas album while drinking warm cider.

Or best yet, skip the stuff completely (don’t most of us have enough junk already?) and spend the money on a trip. It doesn’t have to be a week at a luxe Caribbean hotel to count; a weekend away somewhere nearby can have a similar effect. Spending money on experiences rather than on objects is a proven happiness booster for both yourself and the recipient because researchers say that positive memories of experiences tend to hold up better than furniture or clothes. Ten years from now, your niece is far more likely to remember the time you took her for a day of ice skating and high tea than some long-outgrown argyle sweater you bought her.

Read more: Holiday Season, Christmas Shopping, Consumer Spending, Shopping, Happiness, Christmas Gifts, Consumerism, America, Holiday Shopping, American Consumerism, Economy, Mall of America Shopping, The Mall of America, America Economy, Living News

For many troops, a last Christmas in Iraq

JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq (Reuters) – Colonel Lance Kittleson is looking forward to spending Christmas with his family next year as troops withdraw from Iraq 7-1/2 years after the invasion that toppled Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein.

Pakistan food aid blast wreaks carnage

At least 43 people are killed by a female suicide bomber who targeted a crowd receiving food aid in north-west Pakistan, officials say.

China fights inflation with Christmas rate rise

BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s central bank raised interest rates on Saturday for the second time in just over two months as it stepped up its battle to rein in stubbornly high inflation.


World economy can withstand $100 oil price: Kuwait

CAIRO (Reuters) – The global economy can withstand an oil price of $100 a barrel, Kuwait’s oil minister said on Saturday, as other exporters indicated OPEC may decide against increasing output through 2011 as the market was well supplied.