October 11, 2010

Obama’s Courageous Stand on Foreclosure

In an excellent post outlining one of President Obama’s most daring and uplifting actions in the White House that just simply hasn’t seen nearly enough attention from the mainstream media, Marc Ash, writing for Reader Supported News, has this to say, which I simply can’t cut:

President Barack Obama today made good his pledge to use the power of the Oval Office to help American homeowners. Obama refused to sign legislation specifically crafted to protect lenders involved in record numbers of home foreclosures, and stymie efforts by homeowners and their attorneys to challenge documents in those foreclosure actions.

While public attention and media coverage has been drawn in recent days to the issue of foreclosure document-doctoring by mortgage lenders, including some of the nation’s largest, Congress was quietly crafting legislation that would have given the protection of federal law to the very documents at the center of the storm.

The “Interstate Recognition of Notarizations Act,” first passed by the House in April of this year, sat quietly in the Senate Judiciary Committee until the day before Congress recessed for their midterm-election break. On September 27, with little media coverage, public attention or public debate in the Senate, the bill was unexpectedly brought to the floor and passed.

Reminiscent of modifications made in 2008 to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that provided retroactive immunity to giant American telecommunications companies for their participation in Bush-era domestic electronic surveillance, the Interstate Recognition of Notarizations Act appears custom-crafted to validate retroactively mortgage foreclosure documents that many states’ attorneys general fear may be fraudulent.

At the center of the recent firestorm are what are alleged to be flawed foreclosure documents. Challenges to those documents are the basis for foreclosure defense actions in many states. The Interstate Recognition of Notarizations Act would have forced state courts to ignore many of the most commonly cited flaws in foreclosure documents, potentially streamlining and accelerating the already record pace of US families’ home foreclosures.

Flawed documents, experts say, may only be a symptom of the larger, more tangled web of so-called “securitized mortgages,” mortgage notes bundled into Wall Street investments – the very investments at the heart of the nation’s economic crisis.

In refusing to sign the Interstate Recognition of Notarizations Act, President Obama broke with his own party’s leadership on legislation successfully passed by both Democratic-controlled houses of Congress. It was a bold and principled stand by a president often maligned by party activists for failing to act forcefully enough on issues of passionate concern to the party’s base, and often touted by the president himself.

For Obama, locked in a pitched battle to preserve congressional majorities for his party and his agenda, this decisive stand is sure to resonate with homeowners across the nation, regardless of party affiliation. For a presidency struggling to define itself, Mr. Obama’s demur is a gauntlet thrown down.

Most people didn’t even know that this legislation was quietly working through Congress – and not so much thanks to the Democratic majorities in both chambers, but because of the phenomenon that most Americans simply don’t understand: a great deal of legislation is crafted by lobbyists and then presented to lawmakers with a candy coating, regardless of whether it’s actually good for America or not. Even some of the best legislation winds up being written by special interest groups.

President Obama, seeing the nation’s foreclosure crisis for what it was, simply refused to sign the bill. He didn’t veto it, he didn’t reject it, he simply refused to allow it to become law. He told Congress that in a time when our priorities should be towards keeping Americans in their homes, even at the cost of the bottom line of the greedy banks that made them unsustainable loans using unsustainable financial practices, now is not the time for another bank bailout, and now is not the time to give the banks another helping hand when the American people are drowning at worst and treading water at best.

Thank you, Mister President, for standing up for us, yet again.

[ Obama’s Courageous Stand on Foreclosure ]
Source: Reader Supported News

Forcing the Black Community to Confront Homophobia

When I was an undergrad, I went to see a speech by world reknown poet and author Nikki Giovanni. Her speech changed my life, and completely brought to the fore my own budding political and ideological beliefs. I sat in a room full of my peers – other African-American students at my University – while Giovanni challenged us to move on past our own homophobia, and to not let the racism and privilege that still sits near to the hearts of many of our white classmates deter us from greatness.

She pointed out that we should be less concerned with winning hearts and minds as we are concerned with ensuring equal treatment and equal access – essentially, the end of privilege. Racism is a cancer we may never be able to remove from the human psyche, but racist behavior and the curse of privilege is much easier to attack.

She noted that she hadn’t cared what was in the heart of someone who wasn’t sleeping in bed next to her for years – what was important was how people treated each other in the real world; the doors they opened and the doors they closed.

She also said she was tired of the homophobia in the Black community, and that if we kept this up we were destined to repeat the oppressions and mistakes of the same people who tormented us and marginalized us – she reminded us to be all-inclusive and to fight hatred wherever it rears its ugly head and in whatever form, even if it’s couched in religion and hurled at us from the pulpit of our churches.

She was absolutely right, and to this day I’m irritated at the homophobia in the Black community. Admittedly much of it is religiously driven and I’m not horribly religious, which puts me on the outside of a lot of it, but it still tears at me greatly.

Over at Alternet, Devona Walker is irritated at it as well, and wonders if the Eddie Long sex scandal will force us all to come face to face with its ugliness for what it is:

Atlanta megachurch Bishop Eddie Long faces four lawsuits from young men — either members of his congregation or employed by his church — who alleged that Long coerced them into sex. The news broke a few weeks ago and has caused a huge uproar within the black church community. But black lesbian, gay and transgendered folks as well as numerous civil rights leaders wonder if Long’s downfall could open the door for a long overdue conversation about homophobia in the black church. It also offers an opportunity for the black church to distinguish itself from the anti-gay rhetoric of white evangelicals and reclaim its historical place as being primarily about civil rights, as opposed to hate.

“We have a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy within the black community and the black church. As long as you don’t disclose your sexuality, you can be on the usher board, you can be in the pulpit, but don’t you dare talk about it,” said Darion Aaron, a black gay Christian, activist and author who lives in Atlanta. “And it’s killing us as a community, and it’s killing gay and lesbian members of the black church who have to go to church and listen to that mental abuse. We are more accepting of a rapist or a murderer than an unrepentant gay and lesbian.”

Aaron says the gay community in Atlanta has known for some time that Long was a hypocrite. He has personally seen the bishop on numerous occasions out at the mall with young, attractive men who were either gay or bisexual. The gay community in Atlanta is upset, he says, by the hypocrisy, but not surprised.

“When the news broke,” Aaron said. “It was like, ‘Oh, there it is.”

On the upside, Aaron says the accusations have touched off numerous conversations in Metro Atlanta about gay African Americans and their place in the black church. The black church has historically accepted gay folks as long as they kept silent about their sexuality. Many African American gays and lesbians have accepted these limited roles for the sake of having a place within the black community. You can walk into just about any black church in the country and find dozens of gay folks present. Gay men are leading the choir. They are ushering you to your seat. They are cooking the church’s Sunday dinner.

“Gay men and lesbians have always been present in the black church, actively engaged at that,” said Joshua Altson in a Sept. 23 Newsweek.com article. “The prevalence of gay men in black church choirs and bands, for example, is accepted but not widely discussed. The unspoken agreement is that gay men get to act as seraphim, so long as they are willing to shout in agreement as they are being flagellated from the pulpit. It’s an indignity some gay men subject themselves to each and every Sunday. Why should they have to live this way?”

Alston recalled how another black pastor in Atlanta, Dennis Meredith, had gone from espousing anti-gay views to “preaching acceptance” once his own son came out as gay. While some parishioners left, rather than hear a message of love and acceptance for gays, they were replaced by new congregants looking for a church that would accept and affirm them.

“Long’s predicament is bringing back to the surface the endless debate over whether or not homosexuality is fundamentally moral or acceptable, a debate that preachers like Long have prolonged with their bigoted teachings,” Alston wrote. “It’s about the black community on the whole and whether or not gay men and lesbians are going to be considered full citizens in it.”

Ray Taliaferro, of the San Francisco Bay area, is just one of many longtime civil rights activists who have used the Long scandal as an opportunity to blast black homophobia.

“It is inhumane to do what black people do when they approach the issue of homosexuality,” Taliaferro told the San Francisco Examiner. “Why is it that black people, my people, feel they got to get up in the pulpit and they have to condemn a very active segment of the population of our society who happen to be gay, who happen to be homosexual?”

Taliaferro is a former San Francisco NAACP president and has been a choir director for years at several churches in San Francisco.

I’ve wondered for a while – and said for a while publicly – that maybe it’s time for some of the old guard leadership of the Black community – those who so courageously led us through the Civil Rights Movement and the darkest days of the 50s, 60s, and 70s – now retire and appreciate how far we’ve come in that time, and let the young ones who are more familiar with and able to adapt to this new age take the lead now.

The world is different now, the threats to our freedom are different, and many disparate communities being attacked by privilege and hate need the bolster and support of other communities that have been through it and have learned that only be coming together can you face down hatred and injustice.

I can only hope – for the sake of our communities and for the sake of Black people as a unified force for social justice and equality everywhere – that we can get past this, and those of our community that are religious can begin to preach the gospel of acceptance and love instead of thumping the bible in darkness and out of hatred.

[ Will the Eddie Long Sex Scandal Force Black Churches to Confront Their Homophobia? ]
Source: AlterNet

The Conservative Assault on the Constitution

A brilliant op-ed article in the LA Times outlines how the conservative voices on the Supreme Court – all of whom are likely to stay as long as they can in order to make sure they’re never replaced with anyone less vitrolic than they are – are, when acting in the interest of conservatives in the United States are actually shredding the Constitution that they supposedly worship so deeply.

It’s amazing how quick conservatives are to bemoan President Obama and progressive politicians and activists for “trampling” on the constitution, holding up the banner of being its so-called defenders, but nothing could be further from the truth. They may be interested in defending some ideological perception of what America looked like and who benefitted from whom’s strife during the time of the framing of those ideals, but they — as we’ve seen a number of times — contradict themselves freely in order to maintain their own interests, and in the end are willing to eliminate the rights and freedoms that the Constitution mandates in order to ensure their own privilege and grip on political, economic, and social power.

Nowhere is this more evident than on today’s Supreme Court, where a term as ugly as “judicial activism,” a phrase I hate to no end, can actually be appropriately applied to some of the Court’s more recent widely Conservative and completely unconstitutional judgements.

During the first years of the Roberts court, it has consistently ruled in favor of corporate power, such as in holding that corporations have the 1st Amendment right to spend unlimited amounts in independent political campaigns. For the first time in American history, the high court has struck down laws regulating firearms as violations of the 2nd Amendment and held that the Constitution protects a right of individuals to possess guns. It has dramatically cut back on the rights of criminal defendants, especially as to the exclusion of evidence gained through illegal searches and seizures under the 4th Amendment and the protections of the 5th Amendment’s privilege against self-incrimination. It has greatly limited the ability of the government to formulate remedies for the segregation of public schools. It has significantly expanded the power of the government to regulate abortions.

As always, the composition of the court is a product of historical accident and presidential elections. From 1968 to 2009, there were only two Democratic appointees to the Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer, in part because President Carter is one of the few presidents who did not get to fill a vacancy. Republican Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan and both Bushes had a total of 12 vacancies to fill, and their picks included four staunch conservatives who are now on the court: Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr.

On the issues that today define the ideological continuum, these four justices are as conservative as any in American history. Their views are best understood far more by reading the 2008 Republican Party platform than by studying the views of the Constitution’s framers.

How apalling is that? You can go back to the documents and writings and papers of the founding fathers of the American state, and find less in common with these justices – who claim to be strict and staunch interpreters of the Constitution as a document that is not up for interpretation and must be judged exactly as written – and find less in common with them as you’ll find in common with hooligans like Glenn Beck and Michelle Malkin. Why? Because it serves their interested – both the Justices who seek to steer the course of American social and political discourse, and their favored interests and friends off the bench as well. It’s terrifying, and unfortunately it’s likely to continue as long as the American people lack the patience and courage to elect and maintain progressives in the Legislative branch who can sponsor, author, and push legislation that will withstand challenge by that court.

[ Supreme Court’s Conservative Majority is Making its Mark ]
Source: The LA Times

Ayn Rand Conservatism at Work — Firefighters Let Family’s House Burn Down Because Owner Didn’t Pay $75 Fee

The beauty (and subsequently the horror) of this story is exactly how real it is and how much this is exactly the kind of world the Web-ertarians and their ilk would see us all living in: one where only the privileged or those willing to pay for social services get to benefit from them: a world where every person is somehow an island, where the well-being of their communities is irrelevant when compared to the desire for individual determination.

A world that ignores that the property values of an entire neighborhood goes down when a few homes in the neighborhood are foreclosed on, where an entire city is less desirable to business, development, and people looking for a new place to live when the citizens would rather recoup money in their pockets to spend on their own sundries than collectively share the burden of better schools, roads, and hospitals.

Here’s the story:

hanks to 30 years of right-wing demagoguery about the evils of “collectivism” and the perfidy of “big government” — and a bruising recession that’s devastated state and local budgets — we’re getting a peek at a dystopian nightmare that may be in our not-too-distant future. It’s a picture of a society in which “rugged individualism” run amok means every man for himself.

Call it Ayn Rand’s stark, anti-governmental dream come true, a vision that last week turned into a nightmare for Gene Cranick, a rurual homeowner in Obion County, Tennessee. Cranick hadn’t forked over $75 for the subscription fire protection service offered to the county’s rural residents, so when firefighters came out to the scene, they just stood there, with their equipment on the trucks, while Cranick’s house burned to the ground. According to the local NBC TV affiliate, Cranick “said he offered to pay whatever it would take for firefighters to put out the flames, but was told it was too late. They wouldn’t do anything to stop his house from burning.”

The fire chief could have made an exception on the spot, but refused to do so. Pressed by the local NBC news team for an explanation, Mayor David Crocker said, “if homeowners don’t pay, they’re out of luck.”

How horrifying is that? The worst part is that the firefighters rushed to the scene to help, and then stood there doing nothing because those are “the rules.” What’s that about evil winning when good men do nothing?

Granted, the homeowner in this story hadn’t paid the fee, and I’m sure most libertarians will be quick to blame him for that – but frankly, aren’t taxes and fees essentially the same thing? Money that leaves your pockets to go to government coffers to provide for the common good? Yeah – you can call it whatever you want, but taxes and fees are the same (we’re seeing this debate in the Maryland gubenatorial debate, where the previous Republican governor is trying to claim he never raised taxes when in reality raising taxes would have been more fair: he just raised fees on goods and services that specifically targeted the middle class, and wound up being nothing more than pocket change to his upper-crust friends.) and if the community in Obion county had simply remembered this, Mr. Cranick wouldn’t have had to stand there and beg the firemen to do something about his burning home – something they decided not to do.

Welcome to Libertarian America, ladies and gentlemen: where the privileged have it all and the disenfranchised have nothing.

[ Ayn Rand Conservatism at Work — Firefighters Let Family’s House Burn Down Because Owner Didn’t Pay $75 Fee ]
Source: AlterNet