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TBR NEWS September 14, 2018

Sep 14 2018

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Isaiah 40:3-8 

Washington, D.C. September 14, 2018:” “Haven’t brilliant, fearless reporters and daring bloggers exposed the Real Truth behind the 911 disaster? What has happened to the Plasmoid Clouds? The Chinese/Bulgarian Guided Missiles? The ex-Soviet Scientists working with the CIA, Mossad and the Illuminati? What about the self-sacrificing US Army Special Forces who actually went inside the buildings, acting on orders from Laura Bush and the Freemasons,  and blew the Twin Towers, and themselves, up? And the acres of foreign rocket engine parts strewed all over New York’s streets, or huge lakes of molten steel found by unidentified rescue workers in the cellars of the WTC? God, will these disillusions never end? Here we have reassurance that all is not lost after all…. Next week, a stunning report will emerge on how Nicolas Tesla’s Z-Ray, controlled by former KGB officers stationed on Planet X,  actually brought down the two buildings,  as well as the Pentagon!”

The Table of Contents

  • Donald Trump has said 2291 false things as U.S. president: No. 23
  • Sources say former Trump aide Manafort close to plea deal with Mueller
  • Millions of Americans still trapped in debt-logged homes ten years after crisis
  • Countrywide: Subprime Kings
  • US government accused of ‘devastating damage’ to families separated at border
  • Why the U.S. Seeks to Hem in Russia, China and Iran
  • Washington’s message is clear, do as we say or be punished – US Secretary of Energy Perry
  • U.S. import prices post largest drop in more than one-and-a-half years
  • Washington’s Influence in Syria is Nowhere to be Found

Donald Trump has said 2291 false things as U.S. president: No. 23

August 8, 2018

by Daniel Dale, Washington Bureau Chief

The Toronto Star, Canada

The Star is keeping track of every false claim U.S. President Donald Trump has made since his inauguration on Jan. 20, 2017. Why? Historians say there has never been such a constant liar in the Oval Office. We think dishonesty should be challenged. We think inaccurate information should be corrected

If Trump is a serial liar, why call this a list of “false claims,” not lies? You can read our detailed explanation here. The short answer is that we can’t be sure that each and every one was intentional. In some cases, he may have been confused or ignorant. What we know, objectively, is that he was not teling the truth.

Last updated: Aug 8, 2018

 

 

  • Jul 26, 2017

 

“Why didn’t A.G. Sessions replace Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, a Comey friend who was in charge of Clinton investigation but got big dollars ($700,000) for his wife’s political run from Hillary Clinton and her representatives. Drain the Swamp!”

Source: Twitter

in fact: Hillary Clinton was not the source of this money; nor did it go to Andrew McCabe. Here’s what happened: Jill McCabe, the wife of senior FBI official Andrew McCabe, was running for Virginia’s state Senate in 2015; her campaign received nearly $700,000 from political allies of Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe. McAuliffe is a close ally of Clinton, but there is no evidence that the donations were improper or intended to influence Andrew McCabe, who was not put in charge of the Clinton investigation until three months after his wife’s campaign ended. Moreover, there is no evidence Clinton even knew about the donations.

Trump has repeated this claim 7 times

 

“The crowd in Ohio was amazing last night – broke all records. We all had a great time in a great State. Will be back soon!”

Source: Twitter

in fact: Trump’s crowd in Youngstown, Ohio did not break “all records.” The capacity of the arena was announced at a modest 7,000 people. (Some news reports said as many as 8,000 were present, but nonetheless.) Nobody stood outside to watch on a screen that had been set up for a hypothetical overflow crowd.

 

“We’re getting great job numbers — best in 17 years. Best job numbers in 17 years.”

Source: Speech to the American Legion Boys Nation and the American Legion Auxiliary Girls Nation

in fact: This is minor, but Trump keeps adding an extra year. At the time he spoke, the unemployment rate was the lowest in 16 years.

Trump has repeated this claim 8 times

 

  • Jul 28, 2017

“The previous administration enacted an open-door policy to illegal migrants from Central America. ‘Welcome in. Come in, please, please.'”

Source: Speech to law enforcement on MS-13

in fact: Not so. PolitiFact reported: “Obama returned more than two million Central Americans in his first seven years in office, according to data from the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Immigration Statistics.”

 

“You know, I said from the beginning: Let Obamacare implode, and then do it. I turned out to be right. Let Obamacare implode.”

Source: Speech to law enforcement on MS-13

in fact: Trump did not say from the beginning that he wanted to let Obamacare implode. For the entirety of his campaign, and then for the first six months of his presidency, he advocated repealing and replacing Obamacare.

Trump has repeated this claim 2 times

 

“But we had certain countries in South America where they wouldn’t take the people back. And I said, that’s OK, no more trade. All of a sudden they started taking their people back. It’s amazing, isn’t it? They used to send to the former Secretary of State of the country, ‘Please call. Would you please work it so that we can take’ — and they used to just tell her, ‘No, we won’t take back.’ They take back with us, every single time. We’re having very little problem.”

Source: Speech to law enforcement on MS-13

in fact: This is an exaggeration. Trump has indeed had success in persuading so-called “recalcitrant countries” to take back illegal immigrants convicted of crimes in the U.S. — but his success has been far from total. The Washington Times reported in July that the list of countries refusing to take back their nationals had been cut in half, from 23 to 12, but that still leaves major countries like China, Pakistan, Egypt, Nigeria and Brazil, among others. And a U.S. judge has blocked a mass deportation to Iraq, expressing concern that the deportees could face peril there.

 

“And they (MS-13) were all let in here over a relatively short period of time. Not during my period of time, believe me. But we’re getting them out. They’re going to jails, and then they’re going back to their country. Or they’re going back to their country, period.”

Source: Speech to law enforcement on MS-13

in fact: Trump wrongly suggests that MS-13 was “let in” to the United States from abroad in a brief flurry of immigration under his predecessors. In fact, MS-13 was founded in the United States — in Los Angeles — in the 1980s. Similarly, it is impossible for Trump to send all MS-13 members “back to their country,” as many of them are American citizens

Trump has repeated this claim 2 times

 

“Under past administrations, the border didn’t go down — it went up.”

Source: Speech to law enforcement on MS-13

in fact: Trump is far from the first president to preside over a decline in border apprehensions. As PolitiFact noted, the number of apprehensions on the southwest border fell from 1.6 million in 1986 to an average under 500,000 during Barack Obama’s tenure.

Trump has repeated this claim 4 times

 

“You know, the border is down 78 per cent.”

Source: Speech to law enforcement on MS-13

in fact: Trump and others use the number of apprehensions on the southwestern border as a way to measure illegal immigration. Comparing the five full months of Trump’s tenure — February through June — to the same months in 2016, apprehensions were down 58 per cent, not 78 per cent.

Trump has repeated this claim 12 times

 

“You know, when you wanted to take over and you used military equipment — and they were saying you couldn’t do it — you know what I said? That was my first day: You can do it. In fact, that stuff is disappearing so fast we have none left.”

Source: Speech to law enforcement on MS-13

in fact: Trump has not made significant changes to the government program that allows local police departments to obtain surplus military equipment. Police forces have been hoping that Trump will overturn a Barack Obama executive order that imposed some restrictions on the program, but he had not yet done so at the time he spoke.

 

“MS-13, the cartel, has spread gruesome bloodshed throughout the United States.”

Source: Speech to law enforcement on MS-13

in fact: MS-13 is a gang, not a cartel. It has developed relationships with actual cartels.

Trump has repeated this claim 2 times

 

“And she’s seen crowds in her life, and she said, boy, those are really big crowds. Crowds of people all lining the streets, all the way over to here.”

Source: Speech to law enforcement on MS-13

in fact: There were not crowds of people lining the streets of Long Island all the way to Trump’s arrival to his speech venue — and where there were crowds, on a few streets, they were mostly protesters, the Associated Press reported. There were also “a handful of supporters.”

 

“Any time we have a trade deficit, it’s very easy — which is almost everywhere. We have trade deficits with almost every country because we had a lot of really bad negotiators making deals with other countries.”

Source: Speech to law enforcement on MS-13

in fact: The U.S. does not have trade deficits with almost every country. In fact, it has more surpluses than deficits. According to U.S. government data, the U.S. had surpluses with 134 countries or territories in 2016, deficits with just 99 — and that is only counting trade in goods. If the data included trade in services, at which the U.S. excels, the numbers would be even better.

Trump has repeated this claim 21 times

 

“3 Republicans and 48 Democrats let the American people down. As I said from the beginning, let ObamaCare implode, then deal.”

Source: Twitter

in fact: Trump did not say from the beginning that he wanted to let Obamacare implode. For the entirety of his campaign, and then for the first six months of his presidency, he advocated repealing and replacing Obamacare.

Trump has repeated this claim 2 times

 

Sources say former Trump aide Manafort close to plea deal with Mueller

September 13, 2018

by Karen Freifeld

Reuters

(Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort is nearing a plea deal with U.S. prosecutors to avoid a second criminal trial, sources familiar with the matter said on Thursday.

It remains unclear if the deal will include Manafort cooperating with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign.

A move by Manafort to cooperate could be a blow to Trump, while an outright guilty plea with no cooperation would resolve a cloud over the president ahead of congressional elections in less than two months.

“It’s close but not there yet,” one of the sources said about negotiations over a deal.

Jury selection is scheduled to begin in Washington, D.C., on Monday in Manafort’s second trial in federal court on charges including conspiring to launder money and defraud the United States, and failing to register as a foreign agent for the tens of millions of dollars he earned lobbying for pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine.

Manafort was convicted in Virginia on eight counts of bank and tax fraud and failing to disclose foreign bank accounts in the first trial that ended last month. Prosecutors said he evaded taxes on $16 million laundered through shell companies overseas

The talks over a deal come ahead of a planned hearing in Washington on Friday where the judge, among other things, is scheduled to rule on evidence to be allowed at trial. Manafort could plead guilty at the hearing, one of the sources said.

Three members of Manafort’s defense team – Kevin Downing, Thomas Zehnle and Richard Westling – declined to comment as they entered their office on Thursday evening. Mueller’s spokesman Peter Carr declined to comment on the possible deal, which was first reported by ABC News.

Manafort’s wife Kathleen also did not answer questions when she stopped by the lawyers’ office to drop off a navy men’s suit.

‘BLOODIED UP’

Joshua Dressler, a law professor at Ohio State University, said it made sense that Manafort, 69, was considering cutting his losses and avoiding the time and money needed to defend himself against a second trial.

Manafort is already facing 8 to 10 years in prison from the eight guilty counts in Virginia, terms that may not change significantly no matter the outcome of the second trial.

“With eight convictions already in place, and more possible convictions awaiting him, it seems that he has been bloodied up enough to see the light,” Dressler said.

Manafort worked for five months on Trump’s 2016 campaign, including three as chairman. He resigned in August 2016 following a news report linking him to covert payments from a pro-Kremlin political party in Ukraine.

Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor who is representing Trump in the Russia probe, previously told the Politico news outlet that taking a plea deal to avoid a second trial would not crush Manafort’s chances of receiving an eventual presidential pardon. Trump has not said whether he would pardon Manafort but he has not publicly ruled it out.

Manafort was at a controversial meeting at Trump Tower in 2016 where Russians were offering “dirt” on election opponent Hillary Clinton. Trump’s critics have pointed to the meeting as evidence of the collusion with Russia that Trump denies.

“I don’t think he has any information that would hurt the president,” Giuliani told Reuters.

Trump praised Manafort last month for not entering into a plea agreement, as the president’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen had. “Unlike Michael Cohen, he refused to ‘break’ – make up stories in order to get a ‘deal. Such respect for a brave man!”, Trump wrote on Twitter on Aug. 22.

Rick Gates, Manafort’s former business partner and the campaign’s deputy chairman, pleaded guilty to lesser charges in exchange for his cooperation, later testifying against Manafort in Virginia.

Gates could be called as a prosecution witness in his Washington trial as well, as could veteran political operative Samuel Patten, who pleaded guilty to unregistered lobbying for Ukrainian politicians two weeks ago.

A second trial could delve deeper into Manafort’s Russian connections including to Konstantin Kilimnik, a Ukrainian-Russian political consultant who was indicted along with Manafort and who Mueller’s team has linked to Russian intelligence.

Prosecutors have said Manafort and Kilimnik conspired to tamper with witnesses, which prompted U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson to revoke his bail and order him jailed pending trial.

Reporting by Karen Freifeld in New York; Additional reporting by Sarah N. Lynch, Nathan Layne and Eric Beech in Washington; Editing by Peter Cooney, Grant McCool and Paul Tait

 

 

Millions of Americans still trapped in debt-logged homes ten years after crisis

September 14, 2018

by Michelle Conlin, Robin Respaut

Reuters

EAST STROUDSBURG, Pa., 2018 (Reuters) – School bus driver Michael Payne was renting an apartment on the 30th floor of a New York City high-rise, where the landlord’s idea of fixing broken windows was to cover them with boards.

So when Payne and his wife Gail saw ads in the tabloids for brand-new houses in the Pennsylvania mountains for under $200,000, they saw an escape. The middle-aged couple took out a mortgage on a $168,000, four-bedroom home in a gated community with swimming pools, tennis courts and a clubhouse.

“It was going for the American Dream,” Payne, now 61, said recently as he sat in his living room. “We felt rich.”

Today the powder-blue split-level is worth less than half of what they paid for it 12 years ago at the peak of the nation’s housing bubble.

Located about 80 miles northwest of New York City in Monroe County, Pennsylvania, their home resides in one of the sickest real estate markets in the United States, according to a Reuters analysis of data provided by a leading realty tracking firm. More than one-quarter of homeowners in Monroe County are deeply “underwater,” meaning they still owe more to their lenders than their houses are worth.

The world has moved on from the global financial crisis. Hard-hit areas such as Las Vegas and the Rust Belt cities of Pittsburgh and Cleveland have seen their fortunes improve.

But the Paynes and about 5.1 million other U.S. homeowners are still living with the fallout from the real estate bust that triggered the epic downturn.

As of June 30, nearly one in 10 American homes with mortgages were “seriously” underwater, according to Irvine, California-based ATTOM Data Solutions, meaning that their market values were at least 25 percent lower than the balance remaining on their mortgages.

It is an improvement from 2012, when average prices hit bottom and properties with severe negative equity topped out at 29 percent, or 12.8 million homes. Still, it is double the rate considered healthy by real estate analysts.

“These are the housing markets that the recovery forgot,” said Daren Blomquist, a senior vice president at ATTOM.

Lingering pain from the crash is deep. But it has fallen disproportionately on commuter towns and distant exurbs in the eastern half of the United States, a Reuters analysis of county real estate data shows. Among the hardest hit are bedroom communities in the  Midwest, mid-Atlantic and Southeast regions, where income and job growth have been weaker than the national norm.

Developments in outlying communities typically suffer in downturns. But a comeback has been harder this time around, analysts say, because the home-price run-ups were so extreme, and the economies of many of these Midwestern and Eastern metro areas have lagged those of more vibrant areas of the country.

“The markets that came roaring back are the coastal markets,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics. He said land restrictions and sales to international buyers have helped buoy demand in those areas. “In the middle of the country, you have more flat-lined economies. There’s no supply constraints. All of these things have weighed on prices.”

In addition to exurbs, military communities showed high concentrations of underwater homes, the Reuters analysis showed. Five of the Top 10 underwater counties are near military bases and boast large populations of active-duty soldiers and veterans.

Many of these families obtained financing through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA makes it easy for service members to qualify for mortgages, but goes to great lengths to prevent defaults. It is a big reason many military borrowers have held on to their negative-equity homes even as millions of civilians walked away.

A poor credit history can threaten a soldier’s security clearance. And those who default risk never getting another VA loan, said Jackie Haliburton, a Veterans Service Officer in Hoke County, North Carolina, home to part of the giant Fort Bragg military installation and one of the most underwater counties in the country.

“You will keep paying, no matter what, because you want to make sure you can hang on to that benefit,” Haliburton said.

These and other casualties of the real estate meltdown are easy to overlook as homes in much of the country are again fetching record prices.

But in Underwater America, homeowners face painful choices. To sell at current prices would mean accepting huge losses and laying out cash to pay off mortgage debt. Leasing these properties often won’t cover the owners’ monthly costs. Those who default will trash their credit scores for years to come.

DREAMS DEFERRED

Special education teacher Gail Payne noses her Toyota Rav 4 out of the driveway most workdays by 5 a.m. for the two-hour ride to her job in New York City’s Bronx borough.

“I hate the commute, I really, really do,” Payne said. “I’m tired.”

Now 66, she and husband Michael were counting on equity from the sale of their house to fund their retirement in Florida. For now, that remains a dream.

The Paynes’ gated community of Penn Estates, in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, is among scores that sprang up in Monroe County during the housing boom.

Prices looked appealing to city dwellers suffering from urban sticker shock. But newcomers didn’t grasp how irrational things had become: At the peak, prices on some homes ballooned by more than 25 percent within months.

Today, homes that once fetched north of $300,000 now sell for as little as $72,000. But even at those prices, empty houses languish on the market. When the easy credit vanished, so did a huge pool of potential buyers.

Eight hundred miles to the west, in an unincorporated area of Boone County, Illinois, the Candlewick Lake Homeowners Association begins its monthly board meeting with the Pledge of Allegiance and a prayer.

Nearly 40 percent of the 9,800 homes with mortgages in this county about 80 miles northwest of Chicago are underwater, according to the ATTOM data. Some houses that went for $225,000 during the boom are now worth about $85,000, property records show.

By early 2010, unemployment topped 18 percent after a local auto assembly plant laid off hundreds of workers. At Candlewick Lake, so many people walked away from their homes that as many as a third of its houses were vacant, said Karl Johnson, chairman of the Boone County board of supervisors.

“It just got ugly, real ugly, and we are still battling to come back from it,” Johnson said.

While the local job market has recovered, signs of financial strain are still evident at Candlewick Lake.

The community’s roads are beat up. The entryway, meeting center and fence could all use a facelift, residents say. The lake has become a weed-choked “mess,” “a cesspool,” according to residents who spoke out at an association meeting earlier this year. Association manager Theresa Balk says a recent chemical treatment is helping.

Annual homeowner’s dues of $1,136 are being stretched to pay for all the upkeep. But those fees may be a big deterrent for many would-be buyers at Candlewick Lake, said association board member Randy Budreau.

“A gated community like this, with our rules and fees, it may be just less attractive now to the general public,” he said.

Reporting by Michelle Conlin and Robin Respaut; Editing by Marla Dickerson

 

Countrywide: Subprime Kings

The Mortgage Fraud history

September 14, 2018

by Christian Jürs

Many factors combined to create the current housing crisis in the United States.

Low interest rates after the 2001 stock market crash spurred the housing boom. Housing prices skyrocketed above historic trendlines. People were duped into thinking prices would rise forever, but it was inevitable that the housing bubble would burst, and houses would suddenly be worth a lot less. With house prices falling, lots of people are now finding they owe more than their house is worth. This problem is exacerbated by predatory loan arrangements that have left millions facing suddenly rising mortgage payments.

A lot of people and corporations deserve blame for this state of affairs.

Instead of warning consumers about the housing bubble – which would have gone a long way to counter the excessive price run-ups – then-Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan denied a bubble was occurring. Wall Street firms created exotic investment instruments that made possible the purchase and trading of large numbers of mortgages. This created conditions so that banks and initial lenders took less care in issuing mortgages – since they wouldn’t be responsible for mortgages gone bad. The Wall Street firms not only sold these instruments to duped investors, they took on major liabilities on their own – even though it was obvious the housing bubble would have to burst.

Rating agencies like Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s, which evaluated the riskiness of these new mortgage investment instruments, failed utterly. The housing bubble meant mortgage investments were sure to lose money, but the ratings agencies gave them top ratings anyway. Along with the “innovation” of the Wall Street firms, the ratings agencies helped maintain a market that dramatically exacerbated, and to a considerable degree may have created, the housing bubble.

Financial bubbles create an incentive for criminal and shady activity. Just like the stock bubble of the late 1990s created the climate for Enron and dozens of other companies to cook their books, the housing bubble created incentives for predatory lenders to exploit consumers.

The predatory lenders offered low rates, at least at first. Rates would rise later, but the lenders said that – because home prices were rising so fast and would continue to do so – borrowers could always refinance with a new loan.

The biggest of the predatory lenders was Countrywide, a mortgage lender acquired by Bank of America in January 2008. The company and its CEO, Angelo Mozilo, made a bundle, while setting up thousands and thousands of families for financial ruin.

“Over the past few years,” says Martin Eakes of the Center for Responsible Lending, “by steering millions of people into bad loans, Countrywide has been the largest rogue mortgage lender in the country. According to Countrywide’s own data, more than 80 percent of its exotic adjustable-rate loans were made to borrowers that do not meet current banking standards. Countrywide knew that these homeowners would not be able to make their monthly loan payments after dramatic payment increases became effective.”

The Center for Responsible Lending has compiled a dossier on Countrywide’s irresponsible practices, presented in a report, “Unfair and Unsafe.” Its devastating report, based on customer complaints, lawsuits, regulatory actions, news accounts, government reports and company documents, shows how Countrywide engaged in rampant wrongdoing:  Predatory lending. “Lawsuits filed around the country have accused Countrywide of preying on borrowers through a variety of unfair and fraudulent tactics that have siphoned equity out of their homes and pushed many into foreclosure,” notes “Unfair and Unsafe.” “Borrowers and regulators have accused the company of: steering borrowers with good credit into higher-cost ‘subprime’ loans; gouging minority borrowers with discriminatory rates and fees; working in cahoots with mortgage brokers who use bait-and-switch tactics to land borrowers into loans they can’t afford; targeting elderly and non-English-speaking borrowers for abusive loans; and packing loans with inflated and unauthorized fees.”

In one lawsuit, Albert Zacholl, a 74-year-old man living in Southern California, alleges that Countrywide and a pair of mortgage brokers “cold-called and aggressively baited” him. They promised him $30,000 cash, a mortgage that would replace his previous mortgage (which was leaving him owing more each month) and a monthly payment that would not exceed $1,700. Zacholl told the brokers that his income consisted of a pension of $350 a month and Social Security payments of $958, and that with help from his son, he could afford a mortgage up to $1,700. According to the lawsuit, the broker falsified his loan application by putting down an income of $7,000 a month, and then arranged for a high-interest mortgage that required him to pay more than $3,000 a month (and failed to deliver the $30,000 cash payment). The motivation for the scam, according to the lawsuit, was to collect $13,000 in fees.

In court papers, the Center for Responsible Lending reports, Countrywide responded that Zacholl “consented to the terms of the transaction” and that any problems were the result of his own “negligence and carelessness.”

  • Dangerous products. Countrywide has been a leader in pushing unsound mortgage terms. These include “exploding” subprime adjustable rate mortgages – with reasonable interest rates in the first year that jump in subsequent years, often by as much as 30 percent to 50 percent.
  • Conflicts of interest. “Countrywide has created a corporate structure designed to allow its subsidiaries to work hand-in-hand in squeezing borrowers with excessive fees and penalties,” according to “Unfair and Unsafe.” Countrywide affiliates handle appraisals, credit reports, flood certifications and other documentation for new loans; provide “force-placing” insurance for borrowers whose homeowners insurance has lapsed; and serve as a foreclosure trustee. The interconnections enable Countrywide to charge high fees, and deny borrowers the benefit of third parties’ independent judgment and independent interests.
  • Broken promises on loan modifications. The company has a history of failing to fully live up to its promises to help borrowers keep their homes by modifying onerous loans, according to “Unfair and Unsafe.” The report cites a Fall 2007 Credit Suisse review that ranked Countrywide as one of the mortgage lenders least willing to adjust loan terms.

Countrywide says it is committed to working out fair arrangements to keep homeowners in their houses. In December, it entered into an arrangement with the community group ACORN designed to help subprime borrowers.

“During the first 11 months of 2007, Countrywide helped more than 69,000 customers retain their homes through solutions such as loan modifications, long-term repayment plans, special forbearance and other options,” says Steve Bailey, a Countrywide senior managing director of loan administration. “Regardless of the reason for the payment difficulties, Countrywide wants to try to find reasonable solutions for our borrowers.”

Abusive loan servicing. Borrowers claim that Countrywide has engaged in sloppy and fraudulent loan servicing that has produced unwarranted fees and foreclosures.

With the collapse of the housing market in 2007, Countrywide’s fortunes turned, its mortgage-backed securities plummeted in value, and the company seemed on the edge of bankruptcy. In January 2008, Bank of America agreed to buy the company.

 

US government accused of ‘devastating damage’ to families separated at border

Lawsuit says the government should provide mental health care, establish a fund for treatment and pay damages to those harmed

September 14, 2018

by Amanda Holpuch in New York

The Guardian

Children who won’t leave their parents’ side. Parents tormenting themselves every night for not having been able to stop their children being torn away by border patrol agents.

This is what’s left behind months after the Trump administration cancelled its family separation policy, which saw the US government separate more than 2,300 children from their parents at the US border with Mexico.

There are still 416 of those children who have not been reunited with their parents – and even the families who have been reunified are suffering from the traumatic experience. In an effort to address this trauma, lawyers have filed a federal lawsuit arguing the US government should provide mental health care to the affected families.

The complaint, filed in Massachusetts district court last week, accuses the US government of betraying the constitution and having “harmed the most vulnerable: children.”

It also calls on the US government to establish a fund for mental health treatment for the parents and children separated at the border and to pay damages to those harmed.

“The case is focusing on mental health because that is where the most devastating damage has been inflicted upon these children and it is an area where the law provides a remedy,” the lead attorney, Howard Cooper, told the Guardian.

Two families are plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit, which seeks mental health care for all separated families.

“I do think it’s fair to say that it’s extraordinarily doubtful that the defendants would of their own accord take any steps to try and undo any harm they caused and the intention is that the court should impose that remedy,” Cooper said.

The plaintiffs, who fled Guatemala intending to seek asylum in the US, described in court documents their relief at meeting border agents – only to be put through further trauma in US custody.

One father, who was separated from his 11-year-old son for 36 days, said since their reunification, the child wakes up from nightmares that are so bad he sometimes falls out of bed.

While detained, the child named as CJ in legal documents, said he eventually believed he would never see his father again and would spend years in detention. “While the relief and joy they both felt at seeing each other again was overwhelming, the harm that Defendants caused to CJ during the time that he was separated from his father and in Defendants’ custody can never truly be remedied,” the lawsuit said.

The medical community warned the Trump administration that its policy could cause long-term harm to the families already traumatized by the circumstances that drove them from their homes and the difficult journey to the border.

The American Psychological Association CEO, Arthur Evans Jr, wrote to Trump in June to explain how family separations psychologically harm children. “As psychologists, we have documented multiple harmful effects of parent-child separation on children’s emotional and psychological development and well-being and urge that the current policy of family separation be reversed,” Evans said.

Evans also warned that policies like this could harm the mental health of immigrants who are already in the US.

The US justice department did not respond to requests for comment.

By the time Trump ended the policy with an executive order on 20 June, more than 2,300 children had been separated from their parents.

One of those families includes plaintiffs 17-year-old EO jr, his sister, nine-year-old KO and their mother, LJ.

The brother and sister were separated from their mother after walking five hours looking for a border agent. The children remained close, but were held in separate cells, put on separate airplane seats when being transported from the border to a children’s shelter and told not to speak to each other in the border detention facility, according to court documents.

Their mother, LJ, said her daughter follows her mother everywhere and is afraid they will be separated again. “The guilt that LJ feels as a mother is overwhelming,” the lawsuit said. “She feels as if she was unable to protect her children.”

The American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the first legal case against family separation in February, also proposed a measure to address mental health in its case seeking reunification for all families.

Though groups of people have sought damages from the US government before, Cooper said: “I am unaware of a case like this previously where there is a class of children seeking uniquely damages related to mental distress caused by the United States government.”

They approached the border on 17 June having left Guatemala because organized crime members extorted the father and threatened to kill him and his family, according to the lawsuit.

 

Why the U.S. Seeks to Hem in Russia, China and Iran

America’s three principal adversaries signify the shape of the world to come: a post-Western world of coexistence. But neolibera and neocon ideology is unable to to accept global pluralism and multipolarity, argues Patrick Lawrence.

September 13, 2018

by Patrick Lawrence

Consortium News

The Trump administration has brought U.S. foreign policy to the brink of crisis, if it has not already tipped into one. There is little room to argue otherwise. In Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, and in Washington’s ever-fraught relations with Russia, U.S. strategy, as reviewed in my previous column, amounts to little more than spoiling the efforts of others to negotiate peaceful solutions to war and dangerous standoffs in the interests of an orderly world.

The bitter reality is that U.S. foreign policy has no definable objective other than blocking the initiatives of others because they stand in the way of the further expansion of U.S. global interests. This impoverished strategy reflects Washington’s refusal to accept the passing of its relatively brief post–Cold War moment of unipolar power.

There is an error all too common in American public opinion. Personalizing Washington’s regression into the role of spoiler by assigning all blame to one man, now Donald Trump, deprives one of deeper understanding. This mistake was made during the steady attack on civil liberties after the Sept. 11 tragedies and then during the 2003 invasion of Iraq: namely that it was all  George W. Bush’s fault. It was not so simple then and is not now. The crisis of U.S. foreign policy—a series of radical missteps—are systemic. Having little to do with personalities, they pass from one administration to the next with little variance other than at the margins.

Let us bring some history to this question of America as spoiler. What is the origin of this undignified and isolating approach to global affairs?

It began with that hubristic triumphalism so evident in the decade after the Cold War’s end. What ensued had various names.

There was the “end of history” thesis. American liberalism was humanity’s highest achievement, and nothing would supersede it.

There was also the “Washington consensus.” The world was in agreement that free-market capitalism and unfettered financial markets would see the entire planet to prosperity. The consensus never extended far beyond the Potomac, but this sort of detail mattered little at the time.

The neoliberal economic crusade accompanied by neoconservative politics had its intellectual ballast, and off went its true-believing warriors around the world.

Failures ensued. Iraq post–2003 is among the more obvious. Nobody ever planted democracy or built free markets in Baghdad. Then came the “color revolutions,” which resulted in the destabilization of large swathes of the former Soviet Union’s borderlands. The  2008 financial crash followed.

I was in Hong Kong at the time and recall thinking, “This is not just Lehman Brothers. An economic model is headed into Chapter 11.” One would have thought a fundamental rethink in Washington might have followed these events. There has never been one.

The orthodoxy today remains what it was when it formed in the 1990s: The neoliberal crusade must proceed. Our market-driven, “rules-based” order is still advanced as the only way out of our planet’s impasses.

A Strategic and Military Turn

Midway through the first Obama administration, a crucial turn began. What had been an assertion of financial and economic power, albeit coercive in many instances, particularly with the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, took on further strategic and military dimensions. The NATO bombing campaign in Libya, ostensibly a humanitarian mission, became a regime-change operation—despite Washington’s promises otherwise. Obama’s “pivot to Asia” turned out to be a neo-containment policy toward China. The “reset” with Russia, declared after Obama appointed Hillary Clinton secretary of state, flopped and turned into the virulent animosity we now live with daily. The U.S.-cultivated coup in Kiev in 2014 was a major declaration of drastic turn in policy towards Moscow. So was the decision, taken in 2012 at the latest, to back the radical jihadists who were turning civil unrest in Syria into a campaign to topple the Assad government in favor of another Islamist regime.

Spoilage as a poor excuse for a foreign policy had made its first appearances.

I count 2013 to 2015 as key years. At the start of this period, China began developing what it now calls its Belt and Road Initiative—its hugely ambitious plan to stitch together the Eurasian landmass, Shanghai to Lisbon. Moscow favored this undertaking, not least because of the key role Russia had to play and because it fit well with President Vladimir Putin’s Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), launched in 2014.

In 2015, the last of the three years I just noted, Russia intervened militarily and diplomatically in the Syria conflict, in part to protect its southwest from Islamist extremism and in part to pull the Middle East back from the near-anarchy then threatening it as well as Russia and the West.

Meanwhile, Washington had cast China as an adversary and committed itself—as it apparently remains—to regime change in Syria. Three months prior to the treaty that established the EAEU, the Americans helped turn another case of civil unrest into a regime change—this time backing not jihadists in Syria but the crypto-Nazi militias in Ukraine on which the government now in power still depends.

That is how we got the U.S.-as-spoiler foreign policy we now have.

If there is a president to blame—and again, I see little point in this line of argument—it would have to be Barack Obama. To a certain extent, Obama was a creature of those around him, as he acknowledged in his interview with Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic toward the end of his second term. From that “Anonymous” opinion piece published in The New York Times on Sept. 5, we know Trump is too, to a greater extent than Obama may have feared in his worst moments.

The crucial question is why. Why do U.S. policy cliques find themselves bereft of imaginative thinking in the face of an evolving world order? Why has there been not a single original policy initiative since the years I single out, with the exception of the now-abandoned 2015 accord governing Iran’s nuclear programs? “Right now, our job is to create quagmires until we get what we want,” an administration official told The Washington Post’s David Ignatius in August.

Can you think of a blunter confession of intellectual bankruptcy? I can’t.

Global ‘Equals’ Like Us?

There is a longstanding explanation for this paralysis. Seven decades of global hegemony, the Cold War notwithstanding, left the State Department with little to think about other than the simplicities of East-West tension. Those planning and executing American diplomacy lost all facility for imaginative thinking because there was no need of it. This holds true, in my view, but there is more to our specific moment than mere sclerosis within the policy cliques.

As I have argued numerous times elsewhere, parity between East and West is a 21st century imperative. From Woodrow Wilson to the post-World War II settlement, an equality among all nations was in theory what the U.S. considered essential to global order.

Now that this is upon us, however, Washington cannot accept it. It did not count on non-Western nations achieving a measure of prosperity and influence until they were “just like us,” as the once famous phrase had it. And it has not turned out that way.

Think of Russia, China, and Iran, the three nations now designated America’s principal adversaries. Each one is fated to become (if it is not already) a world or regional power and a key to stability—Russia and China on a global scale, Iran in the Middle East. But each stands resolutely—and this is not to say with hostile intent—outside the Western-led order. They have different histories, traditions, cultures, and political cultures. And they are determined to preserve them.

They signify the shape of the world to come—a post-Western world in which the Atlantic alliance must coexist with rising powers outside its orbit. Together, then, they signify precisely what the U.S. cannot countenance. And if there is one attribute of neoliberal and neoconservative ideology that stands out among all others, it is its complete inability to accept difference or deviation if it threatens its interests.

This is the logic of spoilage as a substitute for foreign policy. Among its many consequences are countless lost opportunities for global stability.

 

Washington’s message is clear, do as we say or be punished – US Secretary of Energy Perry

September 14, 2018

RT

A routine press conference of the US energy secretary and the Russian energy minister has surprisingly turned into a lecture on Washington’s superiority and exceptionalism as the US official faced a question on sanctions.

A sudden but not all that much unexpected rant by the US Secretary of Energy Rick Perry came as a response to RT’s Maria Finoshina’s inquiry about an apparent contradiction between the US accusations against Russia over its alleged use of energy policy as a political tool and Washington’s own threats to bring Iranian oil revenues to “zero.”

Instead of addressing this issue, Perry, who spoke to the journalists together with Russian Energy Minister Aleksandr Novak, preferred to explain that the US is simply in a unique position allowing it to basically impose its will on other countries, and the likes of Iran are, naturally, expected to oblige.

“The message to Iran is that we expect them to be acceptable neighbors, acceptable members of society,” Perry said, adding that such is not only the will of Washington but that of “some Iran’s neighbors.”

The energy secretary then decided not to beat about the bush and openly said that Saudi Arabia – one of the US major allies in the Middle East and Iran’s long-time arch-rival in the region – is “very supportive of the activities we are involved in” while finding Tehran’s behavior “unacceptable.”

Perry then said that pretty much any country has “responsibilities about [their] actions in the world” as part of the “global citizenry.” Moreover, those very responsibilities apparently consist in following the US lead, according to him. He bluntly told journalists:

As he apparently finished explaining the supposed basics of world politics in Washington’s interpretation, Perry moved to issuing some more threats.

Perry said, adding that “the United States is in a position today to send a message to countries that do not participate in a civilized way that they will be punished.”

He did not stop at that and issued another warning by saying that there are “a lot of different ways” to inflict punishment, and sanctions against the energy industry are just “one of those.” All that said, Perry never actually got to the point of the question he was asked.

Meanwhile, it might be worth considering how the situation with international responsibilities and Iran in particular looks outside of Washington. It was the US that withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), in May despite the fact that Tehran’s compliance with the 2015 agreement was repeatedly confirmed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The move was unanimously condemned by all other parties to the agreement, including Washington’s major allies in the West, which vowed to keep the deal in place. The US then penned a 12-point ultimatum to Iran and decided to reinstate its penalties against the Islamic Republic as Washington vowed to reduce its revenue from crude oil sales to “zero.”

Tehran shows no signs of caving in to US pressure as it has gradually ditched the dollar in its foreign trade and even sued Washington at the UN’s highest court. The US allies in Europe, meanwhile, seek to protect themselves from the extraterritorial effects of US and keep their ties with Tehran, while speaking about the need of becoming less dependent on Washington.

 

U.S. import prices post largest drop in more than one-and-a-half years

Septembr 14, 2018

Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. import prices recorded their biggest drop in more than 1-1/2 years in August amid declines in the cost of fuels and a range of other goods, suggesting a strong dollar was curbing imported inflation pressures.

The Labor Department said on Friday import prices fell 0.6 percent last month. That was the largest decline since January 2016 and followed a downwardly revised 0.1 percent dip in July.

Import prices were previously reported to have been unchanged in July. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast import prices falling 0.2 percent in August.

In the 12 months through August, import prices rose 3.7 percent, slowing after surging 4.9 percent in July.

Last month, prices for imported fuels and lubricants fell 3.9 percent, the biggest drop since February 2016, after rising 1.0 percent in July. Food prices rose 0.4 percent in August after tumbling 1.6 percent in the prior month.

Excluding fuels and food, import prices fell 0.2 percent last month after slipping 0.1 percent in July

The so-called core import prices advanced 1.3 percent in the 12 months through August. The monthly decline in core import prices likely reflects the strong dollar, which has gained more than six percent this year against the currencies of the United States’ main trade partners.

Dollar strength is expected to offset some of the anticipated increase in prices, especially if the Trump administration presses ahead with tariffs on nearly all Chinese imports. Washington has already slapped duties on $50 billion worth of Chinese imports, provoking retaliation from Beijing.

The import price data excludes duties. In August, import prices for nonfuel industrial supplies and materials dropped 0.8 percent after falling 1.1 percent in July. The cost of imported capital goods dipped 0.1 percent.

Imported motor vehicle prices were unchanged in August for a second straight month. The cost of consumer goods excluding automobiles was also unchanged after rising 0.3 percent in July.

Prices for goods imported from China slipped 0.1 percent in August for a second straight month. Prices for Chinese imports gained 0.2 percent in the 12 months through August.

The report also showed export prices fell 0.1 percent in August after declining 0.5 percent in July. Prices for agricultural products rose 0.2 percent last month, lifted by increases in soybean, wheat and corn prices.

Export prices increased 3.6 percent on a year-on-year basis in August after rising 4.3 percent in July.

Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci

 

Washington’s Influence in Syria is Nowhere to be Found

Yet we’re still there, threatening Assad as though we won the war.

September 13, 2018

by Doug Bandow

The American Conservative

DAMASCUS—Syria’s capital looks a bit like Washington, D.C.: imposing government buildings, heavy traffic, busy streets, and imperious officials. Public edifices are surrounded by concrete walls. The main difference may be the ubiquitous regime propaganda: you can’t miss images of President Bashar al-Assad and his father Hafez, whereas President Trump’s visage is missing from Washington.

Also unusual are the ubiquitous checkpoints. They’re there to prevent terrorism via car bombs. Although the threat of terrorism scares most Americans, it actually offers a form of relief to Damascus residents. Until recently insurgents controlled some suburbs, from which they fired artillery and mortars into the city. Today those neighborhoods, just a few minutes away, are wrecked and empty. It may be the peace of the grave, but at least it is peace.

On a recent trip to Syria, I found similar situations in Homs and Aleppo. The damage was greater and more extensive—entire neighborhoods in the latter are just rubble—but other areas of the cities were recovering. The government rules without an overwhelming public security presence. The war is over and they have won.

The last area under insurgent control, surrounding Idlib, faces an imminent offensive by the Syrian military backed by Russian airstrikes. Washington has warned the Assad regime against using chemical weapons but otherwise won’t intervene. The humanitarian consequences could be severe, but Damascus is widely expected to prevail.

If so, only lands in the north, where U.S. forces are cooperating with Kurdish militias, and in the southeast near the Iraqi border, the site of another American base, remain outside of Syrian government control. President Donald Trump said he wanted to keep America out of the Syrian conflict and remain only long enough to defeat the Islamic State. But the administration recently announced what sounds like a plan for an essentially permanent, though lawless—without any congressional authorization—presence in Syria.

According to Washington, there are two primary objectives. One is to force Assad from power, presumably through some political settlement negotiated with Moscow. The other is to force Iran to withdraw its forces, also apparently with the assistance of Russia. These are quixotic, bizarre plans. The Syrian Civil War is over. The government won. The U.S. can’t force Syria, Russia, or Iran to do anything. America’s intervention in Syria is entirely misguided.

Syria is a humanitarian tragedy, of course. But that is no reason for the U.S. to risk sacrificing its own peoples’ lives and wealth in another lengthy, brutal conflict. Washington has been entangled in Afghanistan for 17 years and Iraq for 15 with no ends in sight. There is little that it can do in Syria, absent becoming just another active participant in a complicated, multi-sided battle with multiple bad actors. President Assad was one of them and deserved to fall, but ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra (an al-Qaeda affiliate), and a gaggle of other radical groups were even worse, murderous totalitarians that brutalized those they rule and threatened those who believe differently, including Americans.

In contrast, Syrian rebel “moderates” were largely irrelevant and ineffective. They never appeared to be real contenders for power and routinely cooperated with the radicals, often surrendering personnel and (U.S.-supplied) materiel.

Nor was ousting Assad likely to end the humanitarian crisis. Overthrowing him would have merely led to the next conflict over who would succeed him. In countries from Iran to Nicaragua, diverse coalitions defenestrated long-ruling dictators only to see the most vicious authoritarians among them take control. There is no reason to believe Syria would have been any different. Alawites, Christians, and other minorities saw Washington’s previous production in Iraq and didn’t like the ending. For understandable reasons these groups saw Assad as their best protection.

In any case, today Washington’s ability to influence events in Syria is only a little above nil. U.S. forces occupy part of that sovereign nation without the slightest legal authority. And the Assad government is more secure today than at any point during the last seven years. Why would it give way now? American policy actually gives the regime a plausible excuse to its own people for a slow recovery.

In fact, the administration said it will not support reconstruction in government-controlled areas. The theory, apparently, is that people will rise up and throw off their Assad-imposed chains in disgust. That is unlikely, given the fact that Damascus triumphed against a plethora of well-armed and funded opponents. Anyway, disgruntled Syrians are more likely to target Washington with their disgust, having felt punished by the U.S. for not making political choices that aren’t actually empowered to make.

Nor could Moscow displace Assad even if it wished to do so. His government controls the ground. At most, Russia could withhold air support in a conflict that has largely ended. And having invested so much, the Putin government is unlikely to risk its ties with Damascus. Relations are close: pictures of Assad and Putin together are common, the two countries share an airfield near the coast, and I saw truckloads of armed Russian soldiers driving about. The belief that Moscow would, or even could, force Iran from Syria is even more fanciful: Tehran has long has been allied with Syria and has far more at stake there than does Washington.

Indeed, America’s position is beyond arrogant. Washington is in Syria illegally. In contrast, Iran, like Russia, has been invited in by the legally legitimate (however brutal) Syrian government. Whatever the tensions between Moscow and Tehran, the former has no way of pushing out the latter. And given U.S. policy toward Russia, why would the latter do Washington any favors?

Moreover, the administration apparently imagines that the U.S. can use the Kurds to limit the access of Iranian forces to Syria, as if Tehran was unaware of airplanes. Worse, Kurdish forces know that Washington will not protect them, from Turkey or likely anyone else. So they have little reason to take great risks for America. Indeed, Damascus is engaged in negotiations with Kurdish officials. A Syrian takeover along the Turkish border might satisfy Ankara and finally end Turkey’s invasion, which is designed to prevent the creation of an autonomous Kurdish state.

Given the inevitable failure of the administration’s plans, how long will Washington continue its illegal military occupation of another country? The problem is not just wasted time, effort, and money. America’s role creates a serious risk of wider conflict.

U.S. forces are taking aggressive, confrontational positions within a war zone, forcibly occupying another nation’s territory. Washington is daring Damascus and its allies to take a shot at the foreign invaders. Simple error or misjudgment could land Washington in a violent conflict with Syrian, Iranian, and/or Russian forces.

Perhaps worse, the U.S. remains at odds with its NATO ally Turkey. Washington has positioned American military personnel between the Turkish military and Kurdish militias, having promised what it has no authority to do: force the Kurds away from their home territory along the border. Earlier this year, the threat of violent collision appeared real when the Pentagon promised to defend its positions and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to deliver an “Ottoman slap” to the U.S.

The Syrian civil war was and remains a tragedy. Unfortunately, the Trump administration appears to share the belief of the Obama and Bush administrations that it can transform the Middle East in America’s image. But Washington’s record when it attempts that is not just bad: it is catastrophically awful.

It’s time to say no more. Social engineering doesn’t work at home. It has worse results when attempted overseas. President Donald Trump has a unique opportunity to change the course of U.S. foreign policy for the better. It is time to bring home America’s troops and leave at least one foreign problem, Syria, to others.

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