Saturday, September 22, 2012

Holding Down Fort Hernandez

This past Tuesday, my guests on the show included Alissa Kokkins (known as Alissa Occupy Everywhere to many of us on Facebook) and Ulysses Hernandez, whose family is currently trying to hold on to their home against what could be called an illegal eviction in Van Nuys, CA.

You can listen to the episode, "Occupy Fort Hernandez" and get a summary of what has happened to this family over the past four or five years, as their bank raised their rates under the terms of their ARM to a level they couldn't sustain, advised them to let payments lapse so they would qualify for a mortgage restructuring, and then sold their house at auction before restructuring their loan.

Here's a video that briefly explains their situation, and an effort the other night to check on the welfare of Adrian, Ulysses' younger brother, after midnight on a school night:

These are the ABC's of the Banking Scandal:


I lend you money so you can buy a house and I collect payments from you, with interest.

Our arrangement is that your payments will go up, big time, at some point, but I tell you not to worry, because I will let you refinance before that happens.

I keep insurance on the loan, so if anything happens, I get mine.

When your payments are about to increase, I don't let you refinance. After all, the housing bubble has burst, and the over-inflated value we agreed with you that the home was worth is less than half of that, so you're underwater, and we can't lend to someone underwater, now, can we? You manage to meet the new payments as long as you can, because it is your house, after all.

When it becomes clear you aren't going to be able to keep up the new, huge payments, I sell your loan to another bank or investment company or individual, whatever, as long as they're overseas, as a good investment. I get my buddies in the industry who rate investments to say they're super-good.

Then, I watch as you go under, the investor overseas is left holding the bad debt and I collect the insurance on the defaulting loan.


The banks have been engaged in these practices for years, since the abolition of Glass-Steagall under the Clinton administration and continuing onward. We're taught that banks are financial institutions, the place to put your money if you want conservative returns but safe, insured investments. After Glass-Steagall went away, banks were able to "gamble" with money, investing it in ways that hadn't been allowed since....let's see, does the Great Depression ring a bell...?

So, the Hernandez family find themselves in a situation many families have in recent years. The bank is trying to evict them from their home after giving them bad advice that led to them defaulting on the loan they had provided them. The bank gets the property, gets to re-sell it, and collects the insurance on the bad loan.

BTW, the bank is required to prove they own the loan document they're throwing you out over. In many cases, they don't have the proper chain of transfers. Papers haven't been signed or filed properly; there are instances of auto-signing, which isn't allowed when it comes to this kind of documentation. But rather than give the home-owner a chance to refinance, as they were supposed to get under HAMP and the 'too-big-to-fail' bailouts, the banks pressure the homeowners to leave voluntarily, or have them evicted with the assistance of the police.

All families have to do when faced with eviction is demand proof the bank owns their loan and has the legal authority to remove them from the property. If the bank cannot provide it, in full, they can't evict.

In the case of the Hernandez family, they have been joined by the Occupy Movement and have formed #FortHernandez (Twitter: @Fort_Hernandez). There are anywhere from 40 to 100 people helping them "hold down the fort" and stop them from being evicted while the Hernandez family tries to work with the bank to renegotiate their payments and modify their loan to a reasonable level.

They have been Occupying their own home against the banks and police for 28 days now, and you have to wonder: what's the benefit in making this family homeless, when there are so many empty homes in this country, and no families to buy them? If someone owes me money, it's in my best interest to work with them if their situation changes, so they can continue to pay me back.

There are more families around southern California fighting to hold their homes under similar circumstances. If these families can hold out until January 1st, they will be protected under the recently-signed Homeowners Bill of Rights.

If they can't hold out that long, they will be added to the roles of homeless families, homeless children, living in the streets, in poverty, in of one of the greatest countries on Earth.

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"Independent Thinking With Steve Gelder" airs on and, every weekday morning at 10AM Pacific, 1PM Eastern. 

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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

And Then, A Year Later...

   Following yesterday's post of the 9/11 piece I wrote in 2001, I wanted to follow up and share the column I wrote one year after the attacks. I think you can already sense in this piece the growing distrust I had for politicians and other individuals trying to exploit the memory of that horrible event for their own gains. Unfortunately, it's continued to get worse, until we're at the point where government-types drop phrases like "Obamacare is as bad for our country as 9/11."

   Hardly, You Opportunistic Jackasses.

   This is from September, 2002.

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   Before you read this column, you should know these truths, which I hold to be self-evident:

   I am an American.  I recited the Pledge of Allegiance every morning and don't think I'm any more screwed up than the next guy, as long as that Next Guy is Charles Manson or the Unabomber. 

   I can sing the Star Spangled Banner, including most of the high parts, and I don't think we should drop it as our National Anthem because "it's too hard".  The guy who wrote that song did more work saddling his horse in the morning than most people do all day. We're Americans - we don't stop doing things because they're difficult.  Following this logic, eventually "Born In The U.S.A." will be sung at the beginning of ball games, for all the wrong reasons.

   You should also know I had a plane ticket in my hand September 11 last year; for obvious reasons, my flight was cancelled   I won't dwell on that; you're reading a newspaper - you're smart enough to connect the dots, or finish the Jumble at the very least.

   Apparently, I'm not patriotic enough though, as I just recently learned September 11th was designated "Patriot's Day" by President Bush, and I didn't get a card or anything.  Basically, it's a Public Law that asks us to remember the victims and tragic events of 9/11 - like the many magazines, newspapers, books, TV news and talk shows, radio shows, etc. will ever let you forget.

   Every September 11, from now till TV is no longer broadcast into your home, but rather, into microchips in your brain so you "see" it right in front of you, you'll be forced to relive those horrible moments.  They're on film, and there's no way any news station isn't going to run those again and again.  They're sensationalistic, they provoke a response, and most people won't turn away.  I think maybe it's time we do.

I'm about to smother a bald eagle with a flag - that's how freakin' patriotic I am...

   The First Lady, Laura Bush, is making a series of appearances asking parents of young children to turn off their TV that day, to avoid those awful images.  (Looking at her and Dubya side-by-side, she comes across as the brains of that outfit, doesn't she...?)

   I agree.  We, as a country, should find our collective volume control and turn it down for a day.  A little dignity, some respect, and the chance to reflect that we're all pretty lucky to be alive and hopefully making the most of that life.

   Instead, we'll get constant coverage from Washington and New York and Pennsylvania, where the various hijacked jets ended their flights.  We'll explore the ins and outs of every angle of the people and the planes and the towers and the concerts and the reactions - because we have a lot of news channels, and that's the biggest story of the day.  And that's kind of sad.

   I think the ongoing coverage has made us all a little numb to it.  And now, some people are asking Congress to consider Patriot's Day as a National Holiday, with a day off from work.  I hope it doesn't pass.

   We already have a number of holidays that were designed to commemorate veterans and workers and past leaders (Memorial Day, Labor Day and President's Day) that have mutated into three-day holiday weekends with gigantic Sale-A-Brations.  We were originally supposed to reflect quietly on those who sacrificed to give us the lifestyles we enjoy.  Years and generations later, it's just another long weekend spent in the SUV, driving to the beach or the lake or the mountains or wherever the family goes to get away...

   Not long from now, I predict you'll see the first 9/11 sales.  You know: "September Eleventh - a day that will live forever in our country's don't YOU forget to save like never before at Smiling Jack's Half-Off Patriot's Day Sale, where all golf shirts are all $9.11 or less!"

   Volume down.  Shhhhhhhhhhh.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A Decade, A Year And A Day

I wrote this almost eleven years ago. I shared this on the show today, and thought it deserved another chance to be read.  These were my almost immediate thoughts following the attacks on the WTC, Washington D.C. and Flight 93 in Pennsylvania.

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   I was scheduled to be on an American Airlines flight this past Tuesday, September 11, 2001. 

   Normally, I would have hopped on, transferred once, and after arriving home wouldn't have thought twice about it.  But this week has been far from normal.  This week, it's almost all I've been able to think about.  Out of thousands scheduled to fly that day, hundreds died, and the rest of us never left the ground.  Unknown numbers perished in New York City and Washington and a field in Pennsylvania, and I fear nothing will be normal again.

   I don't know how I'm supposed to react to this incredible act of hatred and violence against our nation.  I'm numb, shocked, saddened and confused, as is most of the country.

    By all reports, it's been staged by a large, well-organized group of terrorists, operating "terrorist cells" around the world.  The most talked about suspect, Osama (or Usama, depending on which paper you read) Bin Laden, is most likely going to be held accountable, unless someone else comes forward and takes credit for these acts of war - and I don't think anyone's stupid enough to do that, now that we've shown how angry we are and how united we can become.

   This event has brought our country together, swiftly and loudly.  We have started to sing the National Anthem more emphatically than ever before, with a sense of pride that was forgotten for far too long.  There's no more talk about changing the lyrics, or rewriting the song to make it easier to sing - people open their mouths and they sing as Francis Scott Key intended.  The same with "God Bless America" and "America The Beautiful."  I hate that it took such a tragic event, such horrible destruction on our own soil, for us to remember how those songs go.

I will never have enough words.

  I hope we find the people who did this.  I want to forget the concept of cruel and unusual punishment, and I would offer anyone who has lost a loved one five minutes alone with the guilty parties and the Craftsman power tool of their choice.  I want these unspeakable cowards to suffer, and I want them to die.  I'm sorry to say that so plainly and coldly, but it's utterly true.

   I hear suggestions from people who are thirsty for any blood, people who demand we blow Afghanistan, whose leaders have harbored Bin Laden in the past, back to the Stone Ages.  Guess what?  They're there already.

   I want to see justice carried out, but I don't want to see more innocent people die.  Not folks who live in cities that are ruled by evil dictators, but who are themselves, just people like us.  People who want the best for their families, people who want a better life for their children, people who would rather not be bothered by the government.  They didn't ask for any of this, any more than we did.

   I felt a terrible mixture of emotions watching people dance in the streets over our tragedy.  One part of me hated them for celebrating our deaths, our losses; another part of me was sad for them.  Sad, because they don't know better - their government starves them, robs them and lies to them.  They may actually believe what happened to us will make their lives better somehow.  And I'm afraid they may have signed their own death warrants.

   There have been reports of violence towards Middle Easterners this past week - hopefully, that won't grow.  Racism and hatred isn't what America is supposed to be about.  And, technically, Afghanistan isn't in the Middle East - it's a part of Southern Asia.  If you're going to beat somebody up because of their country of origin, try to make sure you're at least on the same continent.

   When I was finally able to return home early Saturday morning after commercial flights had begun to run again I had a cab driver who, it turned out, was originally from Pakistan, which is right between Afghanistan and India - a dangerous chunk of real estate.  I asked him how things had been for him since the attacks, and he said he had been fine.  His Mosque had received some bomb threats, but nothing had happened.

   Nothing had happened, he said.  Essentially, his church had received bomb threats, and he said nothing had happened. 

   I apologized to him, for the anger of these people, people who were supposed to be my people, but people who would be so low that they would threaten innocents in their own place of worship.  I understand that we're all angry, hurt, confused, enraged - but in the America I grew up in, you don't threaten people in their church.

   The good things America is supposed to be about are happening in abundance.  Blood banks are being flooded with donors, money is pouring in to the Red Cross and firefighters associations across the country, people are opening their wallets and their hearts and are flying the Stars and Stripes more than I have ever seen on a non-Fourth of July weekday.  When you see the reports of the people on the streets, the little tales of hope and heroism that keep turning up, you can't help but feel proud.  Proud to be an American.

   Conduct yourselves like true Americans in the coming weeks.  Listen to your leaders, and to your loved ones, and to your hearts, and continue to make us all proud.  Let's remember to bring justice to those who deserve it, and to try to stay just in our actions.

   I used to spend quite a bit of time in New York City.  I've performed there on many occasions, as well as in and around Washington, D.C.  I've seen the Pentagon before this past bloody Tuesday, and I stood at the base of the World Trade Centers when they stretched so far to the heavens you'd strain your neck and your eyes and still not see the top.  I hope to see these things again.  I dream of it. 

   And in America, dreams will always be able to come true.

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Sunday, September 9, 2012

Cognitive Dissonance, Cognitive Shmissonance

On this past Thursday's show, I had as my guests two psychologists, Brittany Liu and Pete Ditto, from the University California-Irvine, to discuss the results of a study they had conducted that was being touted by liberal bloggers as proof that conservatives "lie to themselves" to justify their already existing beliefs. You can check out the original article that was being shared on my Facebook for the story:

Study: Conservatives More Likely To Make Up Facts In Order to Justify Their Beliefs

I was interested in the study, and how you measure something like that, so they agreed to come on the show and explain their testing, information-gathering, scoring, methodology, etc. 

During our conversation, we discussed how both conservatives and liberals engage in this behavior, and how liberals were, paradoxically, using the study as evidence to support their already existing beliefs, which was proving the point of the study. Wheels within wheels, My Friends. Wheels within wheels.

Anyway, Brittany gave me a few addresses online so I could share the study and some other information with all of you, so, finally, here they are, in no particular order:

Moral Coherence Blog

Brittany Liu's website

Pete Ditto's website

According to Brittany, there's a link to the study on the blog and on both of their websites, so if you don't want to go through a politically-biased site to get to the study, you can go through them.

There is also a group Brittany Liu started on Facebook called Moral Coherence that you should go and Like, if you want to join in on some conversations about the topic. The stated definition of Moral Coherence is "...a term my graduate advisor (Pete Ditto) and I came up with to describe the tendency for people (especially partisans) to fit factual beliefs about science and evidence to their moral world-view."

In our highly-partisan society, it's easy to see where the dangers of this kind of thinking come into play: otherwise intelligent, rational people ignore factual data and actually alter the perceived benefit-to-cost ratio away from reality to support their stances, and nothing gets accomplished. 

Sound like any Congress we know?

The show itself was informative and fun, but I'm kind of fascinated by understanding what makes people think and do the things they do. If you'd like to listen to that show, follow the link at the top of this blog that says "Thursday's show."

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Insert FIngers In Ears, Begin Humming

I am not watching the Democratic National Convention.

I did not watch the Republican National Convention.

I know that, as a political commentator and radio show host, I should probably be glued to a TV or my Internet feed and watch every second of every speech, but I can't bring myself to do it. For very much the same reason I don't watch those hour-long infomercials that play on most cable channels after 3 in the morning rolls around.

I don't like watching commercials.

And that's what these are. Big three- or four-day commercials that are carefully scripted and rarely hold surprises, if you don't let octogenarians on stage with talking chairs. Michelle Obama spoke tonight, and although I'm sure it was an inspiring, wonderful speech - it is only another part of the taxpayer-funded commercial that is this week's DNC, which is trying to outsell last week's RNC.

That's kinda what this boils down to. Both parties in our or-so-variety-filled political system are spending $68 million each ($18 mil per convention; $50 mil for security per convention) of taxpayer's money - $138 million dollars of your and my taxpayer dollars - to throw huge parties to convince us they know how to spend our money wisely during a time of fiscal crisis.

Funny, isn't it?

I know whenever I am having financial woes, the first thing I do is spend the Steve-sized equivalent of a stretch of highway or a small government program throwing a party to let everyone know I'm the guy in charge of my financial problems, and I am really going to be working to figure them out, doo-dah, doo-dah.

I would have been so impressed if, after meeting with Ron Paul supporters and agreeing in advance that the rest of the RNC was just going to pretend they were invisible, Romney and Obama had gotten together and said, "We're not going to have conventions this year. Why spend $138 million dollars to tell you President Obama is running for re-election, and Governor Romney has amassed enough delegates to be the Republican candidate...? Let's keep school lunches for another year and let the best man win!" I'd have more respect for that move than these prime-time political Flowbee love-fests.

I catch some of the best clips, if something amazing or jaw-dropping happens (i.e.: the afore-mentioned Eastwood improv with Invisible Obama). I expect the Obamas to give good speeches. I imagine the First Lady mentioned that she loves her husband and believes he is the best man for the job, much as Mrs. Romney did the same for her hubby. There will be some strong speeches - the President, who is a fine orator, teleprompters or not (they all use them), will deliver something inspiring and impassioned, and it will still all boil down to the way a few counties in Ohio vote in November.

Yay, the American Dream!

I do hope everyone will pay attention to the stories that are told in the coming weeks, and will also research the truth and the lies behind different statements that come out of the campaigns. We all need to be very informed going forward. Don't buy anything from a politician without testing it out, first. There are no money-back guarantees, and the shipping and handling fees are murder.

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