Fed officials play down oil price risks

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The Federal Reserve would react to higher oil prices only if the increases spilled over into broader areas, officials of the U.S. central bank said on Friday, with one policy…

Ohio Republicans may modify state worker union bill before vote

CLEVELAND, Ohio (Reuters) – An Ohio bill that would terminate collective bargaining rights for state workers likely will be softened by amendments before it comes to a vote next week, an Ohio Senate Democrat said on Friday.

Wall St rebounds from sell-off, but down for week

NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. stocks rose on Friday, bouncing back from a three-day sell-off as oil prices stabilized, but unease over the Libyan rebellion could be enough to keep buying in check.

Egypt’s bourse faces MSCI index decision in 4 weeks

NEW YORK, Feb 25 (Reuters) – Egypt’s stock exchange, which
has been closed since Jan. 28 after the onset of protests that
toppled President Hosni Mubarak, faces the risk of being
excluded from MSCI’s…

Michael Winship: Attacks on Unions Barking up the Wrong Money Tree

“More cheese, less sleaze!”

That was the funniest group chant at Tuesday’s rally of several hundred union and other progressive activists outside the Manhattan headquarters of Fox News.

Several “cheeseheads” were in attendance, their noggins topped by the now familiar wedge-shaped, orange hatwear made popular by Green Bay Packer fans. On Tuesday they were out in the twilight chill expressing their opposition not to lactose intolerance but Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s intolerance of organized labor. (Unadorned by cheddar, I briefly spoke at the gathering as president of an AFL-CIO affiliated union, the Writers Guild of America, East.)

Governor Walker continues his obdurate opposition to the state’s public employee unions’ right to collective bargaining, despite a willingness on their part to concede pension and health givebacks he claims would help close Wisconsin’s alleged deficit. Meanwhile, there has been a decided increase on the sleaze end of the cheese vs. sleaze quotient, as evidenced in part by the prank phone call to the governor in which an online newspaper editor impersonating right wing billionaire David Koch elicited from Walker a proposed scheme to lure back, then double cross Democratic state senators who have prevented a quorum by retreating to Illinois. Further, when asked about planting troublemakers amongst the protesters, Walker told the trickster that he and his team had “thought about that” but decided not to. Apparently, all the really good disrupters are tied up in the Middle East.

But of course, this isn’t really about saving taxpayers money but consolidating political power. Walker and such leading lights of the GOP leadership as Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey and Ohio Governor John Kasich, among others, have decided that public employee unions make great punching bags, effective scapegoats for an outraged electorate and a satisfactory diversion from the real culprits of this grim, economic melodrama — the Simon Legrees of banking and finance who got us into this meltdown mess in the first place.

As Josh Dorner reported on the progressive ThinkProgress website this week:

“Instead of making the tough choices necessary to help their states weather the current crisis with some semblance of the social safety net and basic government services intact, Republican governors are instead using it as an opportunity to advance several longtime GOP projects: union busting, draconian cuts to social programs, and massive corporate tax breaks. These misplaced priorities mean that the poor and middle class will shoulder the burden of fiscal austerity, even as the rich and corporations are asked to contribute even less.”

Dorner cites examples: in Arizona, Republican Governor Jan Brewer proposes kicking some 280,000 off the state Medicaid rolls but two weeks ago signed into law $538 million in corporate tax cuts. Florida Governor Rick Scott’s new budget calls for billions of dollars in cuts to essential programs and services to pay for corporate and property tax cuts of at least $4 billion. Rick Snyder, newly elected governor of Michigan, has asked for $180 million in concessions from public employees and more than a billion to be taken from schools, universities, local governments and others, most of which could be avoided if he wasn’t so deeply dedicated to giving business $1.8 billion in tax breaks.

Writing in the February 23 Boston Globe, Mark Erlich, executive secretary-treasurer of the New England Regional Council of Carpenters asks:

“While there are legitimate and critical public policy issues about education reform, spiraling health costs, and pension liabilities at a time of state and municipal budget deficits, why is the fault laid at the feet of teachers, police, and firefighters? Today’s pension obligations are the product of massive investment losses, not excessively generous public pensions that, in fact, average about $19,000 a year. For that matter, a 2010 Economic Policy Institute study showed that, controlled for educational achievement, public sector workers actually earn less than their private sector counterparts.”

So instead of screaming about the advances public employee and other unions have made to preserve health care, job security and economic justice, angry voters should be asking what or who have been keeping them from obtaining the same. Nor does Wall Street’s pillaging of private 401 (k) retirement plans justify tit-for-tat, eye-for-an-eye acts of covetous revenge against union pensions. As Erlich writes:

“A generation ago, non-union workers often welcomed news of improved wages and benefits for unionized employees, recognizing that a rising tide lifts all boats. But… at a time of sacrifice and insecurity, many would prefer to sink their neighbor’s slightly bigger boat while wistfully hoping for a glance at a yacht in a gated marina.”

The American middle class largely exists because of unions; it would be a tragedy of Greek proportions if, in frustration, resentment and fear, members of that class were to turn on labor and bring about their mutual destruction. Conservative Republican governors and their associates are barking up the wrong money tree. Don’t reward corporate greed and malfeasance with yet more tax breaks and a blind eye to windfall bonuses. And don’t punish unions for whatever success they’ve had protecting members and holding on to an ever-dwindling power base of American workers. That’s just plain cheesy and sleazy.

Michael Winship is the former senior writer of Bill Moyers Journal on PBS and current president of the Writers Guild of America, East.

Read more: David Koch, Chris Christie, Wisconsin, Afl-Cio, Arizona, Labor, Jan Brewer, Rick Scott, Scott Walker, Financial Crisis, John Kasich, Florida, Organized Labor, Unions, Republican Party, Michigan, Republicans, Rick Snyder, Politics News

Homeowners Demand Criminal Prosecutions In Foreclosure-Fraud Deal

WASHINGTON — Fifty state attorneys general and nearly a dozen federal agencies are currently hashing out plans for a multibillion-dollar settlement with some of the nation’s largest banks over alleged mortgage abuses. But some consumer advocates argue that the figures being discussed are too small to account for the economic damages incurred, and say no deal will be acceptable without criminal prosecutions of the bankers. There is no indication that such charges will be filed under the deal currently being negotiated.

By contrast, more than 1,100 bankers went to jail after the savings-and-loan crisis of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Because regulatory fines are typically levied against institutions rather than key decision-makers accused of wrongdoing, consumer advocates view them as a relatively weak deterrent against future abuses.

“You’ve got all of the top law enforcement officials investigating the foreclosure crisis, and it seems like if they found evidence that people broke the law, there would be criminal penalties,” said George Goehl, the executive director of National Peoples’ Action, an anti-foreclosure group. “There’s no reason to go to all this trouble and not take that final step. It’s mind-boggling for them to be considering letting all these guys off the hook.”

On Thursday, as federal regulators contemplated a settlement of up to $30 billion, National Peoples’ Action delivered a petition with over 8,900 signatures demanding that state officials file criminal charges and compensate wronged homeowners.

“Home prices have plummeted by $9 trillion over the last four years because of the massive fraud that the big banks perpetrated on the American people — $20 billion is chump change, especially when you divide that amongst the nation’s 14 largest banks,” said one of the petitioners, Gina Gates from San Jose, Calif., who claims to have lost her home fraudulently to JPMorgan Chase. Gates was referring to an earlier Wall Street Journal story, which cited $20 billion as a potential settlement amount.

Advocates like Goehl were heartened by statements late last year from Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, who vowed to “put people in jail” as part of the 50-state investigation into fraud in the foreclosure process.

Miller has since backpedaled dramatically from that claim. In a January town hall meeting (see video below), Mike McCarthy, a local union leader and deacon at the St. Ambrose Cathedral in Des Moines, asked Miller anew, “Are we going to put some people in jail?”

The attorney general offered a tepid response, saying that law enforcement officials were negotiating with banks over whether or not bankers would be prosecuted.

“I don’t feel like I should talk about what’s gonna be in the agreement and what isn’t going to be in the agreement,” Miller said. “That’s something that we have to hammer out with the Justice Department and with the federal people and with the banks in a negotiating session.”

This is no time to aim low, argues Lisa Donner, the director of Americans for Financial Reform, a coalition lobbying for increased regulation.

“The record of abuses is astounding,” Donner told HuffPost. “There’s a lot of leverage for regulators, and there’s a lot at stake.”

Even some officials at the Federal Reserve, which is principally charged with maintaining the stability of the banking system rather than protecting consumers, are sounding the alarm against foreclosure abuse. In a speech this month before bankers in Utah, Fed Governor Sarah Bloom Raskin declared the foreclosure system “broken” given what she described as “widespread” problems. Raskin even suggested that bankers had broken the law in foreclosure proceedings, a rare allegation for central bank officials.

“Going forward, the … industry must foster an operational environment that reflects safe and sound banking principles and compliance with applicable state and federal law,” Raskin said, according to prepared remarks released by the Fed.

The Federal Reserve, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the Treasury Department, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau all declined to comment for this story, citing ongoing negotiations.

“We as attorneys general are working very closely with nearly a dozen federal agencies on a settlement,’ Miller spokesman Jeff Greenwood told HuffPost. ‘We have not finalized anything and I don’t want to speak for the federal government, but our understanding is that none of those agencies have finalized anything either.'”

Watch Miller’s exchange with Iowa homeowners:

Read more: Foreclosure Crisis, Mortgage Servicers, Wall Street Reform, Mortgage Crisis, Federal Reserve, Foreclosure Fraud, AG Investigation, Fraud, Financial Fraud, Foreclsoures, Tom Miller, Wall Street, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Fed, Settlement, Cfpb, Financial Crisis, Banks, Foreclosure, Subprime, Politics News