“None of the Above” – Getting America Out of a Two Party Stalemate

August 31, 2011

By Terry Smiljanich:

It comes as no surprise that the latest polls show Congress’s approval rating at an all time low of 14%. If we disapprove of the job Congress is doing, why do we keep voting incumbents back into office, as we do year in and year out?

Our Two Party System

A big part of the problem with our system is the two party politics that have infected this country from almost its beginning. Come national election day, no matter what the issues are or what we think about them, we are always faced with the same three choices: vote for the Republican nominee, vote for the Democratic nominee, or stay home. This is the case despite the fact that the Constitution makes no mention of political parties, two or otherwise. Only our first President George Washington, however, was elected without an affiliation with one of two major parties.

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Criticism Grows over AG’s Proposed Foreclosure Settlement

August 17, 2011

A proposed settlement with big banks over allegations of fraudulent foreclosure practices, like robo-signing,  is getting more scrutiny and more criticism from Attorneys General around the country.  The fate of the deal appears to be on increasingly shaky ground, with Nevada’s Attorney General now joining those in New York, Massachusetts and Delaware in questioning some of the proposed details.  Although full details about the proposed settlement haven’t been released, it reportedly requires that the AGs provide banks with a broad release from legal claims in state investigations and lawsuits.

American Association for Justice Associate Editor Courtney Davenport just published an article in its Professional Negligence Law Reporter publication about the growing discourse.  In it, she interviews Consumer Warning Network Managing Editor Terry Smiljanich, a former federal prosecutor, who provided a blistering criticism of the proposed deal:

“It’s patently ridiculous. It’s like saying ‘I agree not to rob any more banks, but if I do, you agree not to prosecute me for it,” said Terry Smiljanich of Tampa-based organization Consumer Warning Network. “Everybody is desperate to sweep it under the rug and get it out of the way. The only people with the power to engage in any kind of enforcement measure are the attorneys general.”

State and federal officials are negotiating the proposed settlement with the five largest mortgage servicers, including Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase. The deal with the mortgage companies would broadly absolve the firms of wrongdoing in exchange for penalties reaching $30 billion and assurances that the firms will adhere to better practices going forward, according to an article in the Huffington Post.

The settlement would reportedly release companies like Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase from legal liability in exchange for a cash settlement, reduced payments for homeowners, transition assistance for troubled borrowers and promises to improve performance and comply with state and federal rules.  Here is an early version of the proposed settlement released back in March by the American Banker.

CWN’s Smiljanich told AAJ’s publication that regardless of the settlement’s final terms, it will amount to a “slap on the wrist” for the banks.

“When I saw the settlement standards, I literally started laughing. In essence, they are agreeing to start doing what they should have been doing all along; they are agreeing to start acting a little more honestly,” he said. “That is the sum total of pressure put on them by this settlement.”

America’s Health Care System at the Bottom of the Heap

August 15, 2011

By Terry Smiljanich:

We all know health care expenses have risen dramatically, not just in America but around the world, as more sophisticated and expensive medical procedures become available. America has, however, the most effective health care system in the world – right? Wrong. Compared to eighteen other major economies around the world, the United States comes in almost dead last! We spend the most by far for what almost ends up being the least effective health care.

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One Day Late with Mortgage Payment – BB&T Forecloses

August 4, 2011

UPDATE: August 5, 2011 — BB&T suspends foreclosure.

In a much needed reminder that standing up and speaking out publicly against wrong can have an impact, BB&T has decided to reconsider its foreclosure action against a small business owner in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Yesterday, the St. Petersburg Times and CWN (see story below) reported on the mind-boggling action of big bank BB&T to foreclose on gas station owner Saji Mathew.  Mathew was stunned when BB&T began foreclosure proceedings on him, after he missed a mortgage payment on his gas station by just one day. He made several attempts to continue paying and  made a $50,000 offer in court to settle the case, but the bank refused.

The power of bad publicity apparently shook some sense into the corporate executives at the bank, especially since they try to promote a business “friendly” reputation in their advertising.

BB&T’s Vice President of corporate communications David White told the St. Pete Times that BB&T regrets the situation has accelerated to this point.  “This issue was reviewed at the highest level at BB&T,” White wrote in a statement.  “(We) are prepared to work with Mr. Mathew to resolve this. There is more to this story than we are able to discuss, due to client confidentiality.”  White is apparently referring to another property that Mathew owns, which has nothing to do with this one.

We’re glad to see some common sense being put forth by BB&T, even if they were forced into it.  The problem is BB&T is not the only bank using these tactics, and Mr. Mathew is far from the only property owner who continues to be subjected to the big bank run-around when they try to fight foreclosure.  It defies logic that a bank would turn down mortgage payments when someone wants to pay, has the means to pay and is doing whatever they can to save their property.

BB&T’s original push to foreclose on Mathew even baffled the judge who was handling the foreclosure case.  “All the people that understand anything about mortgage foreclosures need to know this stuff,” Pinellas County Circuit Court Judge Amy Williams said in court.  “This is the idiocrasy of this stuff. This is why we’re in a worldwide financial crisis, because there’s no business sense any more in the foreclosure industry, none. And it blows my mind. Totally blows my mind.”

It’s time for all homeowners and property owners to stand up and speak out, just like Mr. Mathew did.  The banks might not listen to you, but apparently they listen to bad publicity.

Original story:

One Day Late with Mortgage Payment – BB&T Forecloses

August 4, 2011, St. Petersburg– A gas station owner  in St. Petersburg, Florida was one day late on his mortgage payment.  When he tried to pay the very next day, he was sucked into the big bank foreclosure run-around, which CWN has reported on many times before.  BB&T is trying to drive this small business owner into foreclosure, rather than accept his multiple attempts to pay his mortgage and even a lump sum payment of $50,000.

BB&T didn’t want the money.  It wants the gas station. This is the same BB&T Bank that runs slick commercials saying “We support businesses of  all sizes with personal service and advice.”   Looks like another case of saying one thing and doing another.

The insanity of it all left a Circuit Court judge hearing the case flabbergasted.  “This is the idiocrasy of this stuff. This is why we’re in a worldwide financial crisis because there’s no business sense any more in the foreclosure industry, none. And it blows my mind. Totally blows my mind,”  Judge Amy Williams said in court.

The gas station owner’s attorney, Brian Gray of Fort Lauderdale, told the St. Petersburg Times, “The bank would rather drive (Saji Mathew) into foreclosure. There’s got to be some financial incentive for them to not work with my client. This is disturbing, especially in this economy. It is really wrong.”

It is wrong. And it hurts not only the gas station owner, but the entire community.  BB&T tries to claim it’s the “Best Bank in Town” here to “serve” the public.  It’s time to call these fakers out.  If you use BB&T Bank, let them know, this kind of behavior is not okay with you.  You can always take your money someplace else.

Click here to read the story in the St. Pete Times.