Student Loan Forgiveness Act introduced in Congress

Yesterday Representative Hansen Clarke (D-MI) released HR4170, the Student Loan Forgiveness Act. The bill aims to stimulate the economy and protect those struggling with their student loan payments. Clark announced, "It's time for Congress to stand for the rights of student loan borrowers. It's time to forgive these student loan debts."The bill provides that if a student loan borrower makes payments equal to 10% of their discretionary income for a period of 10 yrs, the balance of their federal student loan debt will be forgiven. Watch the announcement below:


Judge bars voter ID in Wisconsin

Voter ID laws have been sweeping the country state by state in the last year, deliberately barring many progressive-voting citizens from access to the polls. Although it's less likely to commit voter fraud than be struck by lightning, conservatives in state government have been using voter fraud as an excuse to disfranchise people without specific photo identification. The people affected range from students, seniors, low-income communities, the disabled, transgender individuals, and communities of color.In the state of Wisconsin, which has one of the most restrictive voter ID requirements, a judge has temporarily barred the law. An attorney from the NAACP called the decision "a solid victory for voting rights and all voters in the state of Wisconsin." The state will likely appeal. Read below for more details:No such thing as voter fraud

A Dane County judge has granted a temporary injunction against Wisconsin's new voter identification law, which he called "the single most restrictive voter eligibility law" in the country.

Circuit Judge David Flanagan's ruling Tuesday means the voter ID requirement would not apply for the April 3 presidential primary and local general election.

A spokesman for Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said the state likely would appeal, and other state election officials pointed out that other aspects of the law will remain in effect, such as having to sign a poll list.

The NAACP's Milwaukee branch and immigration and worker rights group Voces de la Frontera had sued over the law last year. A trial on whether to grant a permanent injunction is scheduled for April 16.

In granting the injunction, Flanagan found that the plaintiffs likely would succeed at trial and would suffer irreparable harm without the court's inter vention.

"It's a solid victory for voting rights and all voters in the state of Wisconsin," said Richard Saks, attorney for the NAACP, at a news conference Tuesday at St. Mark's AME Church, 1616 W. Atkinson Ave.

"It's a win for the hundreds of thousands who have difficulty or find it impossible to get voter ID under Act. 23."

Rep. Jeff Stone (R-Greendale), a co-sponsor of the voter ID law, said: "Obviously, I'm disappointed. It's a good piece of legislation. It's a good law. I'm looking forward to having the decision appealed, and I believe at end of the day we will have a photo ID law in effect in Wisconsin."

With the primary looming, he wondered whether confusion would ensue.

"Unfortunately . . . we will have our election system going back and forth," Stone said. "But we will have to allow the legal system to work its way through to get an answer. We have constitutional law."

Flanagan's 11-page order covered the history of Wisconsin Supreme Court rulings upholding votes even when they might have run afoul of technical procedural requirements imposed by the Legislature. He distinguished Wisconsin's voter ID law from Indiana's voter ID law that was recently upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

He also relied on the testimony and reports of the plaintiffs' expert, professor Kenneth Mayer of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, whose work concluded there were more than 220,000 constitutionally qualified voters in Wisconsin who don't have the type of ID required under the so-called Act 23 voter ID act, as well as affidavits from 40 residents describing the costs and difficulties they encountered while trying to obtain a photo ID to allow them to vote.

Flanagan found the impact of the law hit disproportionately hard on the elderly, indigent and minorities.

"The scope of the impairment has been shown to be serious, extremely broad and largely needless," Flanagan wrote.

Confidence in appeal

Not surprisingly, reaction to the decision was split along party lines.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald of Juneau said: "Photo ID is a reasonable requirement to make sure that your vote isn't canceled out by someone else's fraud. Fifteen states require photo ID for voting, and 16 more require some other form of ID. Our photo ID bill was based on an Indiana law that was upheld as constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court, and I am confident that the appeals process will once again strike down an activist Dane County judge."

He added: "With as many questionable signatures, multiple signers and convicted felons as we've already seen in the recall process, it makes more sense now more than ever to make sure our elections are clean going forward."

Cullen Werwie, a spokesman for Gov. Scott Walker, issued the following statement:

"Requiring photo identification to vote is common sense - we require it to get a library card, cold medicine and public assistance. Gov. Walker looks forward to implementing common sense reforms that protect the electoral process and increases citizens' confidence in the results of our elections."

He continued: "Ensuring the integrity of our elections is one of the core functions of government. We are confident the state will prevail in its plan to implement photo ID."

'Modern-day poll tax'

Democrats cheered the decision.

Mayor Tom Barrett said, "As Judge Flanagan states in his opinion: 'The right to vote is a fundamental, defining element of our society. The Wisconsin Supreme Court has described it as a "sacred right.' "

U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore said, "This law does nothing but attempt to return us to an era of Jim Crow politics. Requiring strict photo ID at the polls is nothing more than a modern-day poll tax."

Moore added, "Our right to vote is one of the most protected rights of any that we enjoy in our democratic system. In fact, the Constitution was amended five times over our nation's history to reflect this American ideal."

Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of Voces, said: "Justice has been served, but justice doesn't come easy, and we're here to defend and ensure voting rights to all voters."

She and others involved in the case said, however, that although they prevailed, the court battle is not over.

Saks noted that the initial request for a temporary injunction was denied by Flanagan. But then the parties asked for a hearing and after a full day of testimony from Mayer and affidavits and other evidence, the temporary injunction was granted.

Government Accountability Board Director Kevin Kennedy said the board will take steps to suspend enforcement of the photo ID requirement and discuss impacts of the change with local election officials and the public.

He noted that Tuesday's ruling does not affect other parts of Act 23 - the requirement that voters have 28 consecutive days of residency and sign a poll list, and ending the practice of allowing someone else to vouch for a voter without proof of residence.

A spokesman with the attorney general's office, which defended the law, said the office was reviewing the ruling.

The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin also has filed suit in state court challenging the voter ID law. That suit is based on the equal protection clause of the state constitution and says the Legislature never had the authority to pass such a law.

On Monday, Dane County Circuit Judge Richard Niess cleared the way for that case to proceed by dismissing challenges from the state that challenged the league's standing to bring the case and the naming of Walker in the case, said Andrea Kaminski, executive director of the league.

A hearing on the constitutional issue in the case will be at 1:30 p.m. Friday, she said.


You or someone you know

Rebuild is proud to introduce America Underwater, a photo blog dedicated to the 11 million Americans with underwater homes around the country. Help put a face to the housing crisis - share your story or spread the word:

Dear Timothy,

Over 11 million American homeowners are underwater right now, owing more on their mortgages than their houses are actually worth.

Here's what that means: it means either you or someone you know is probably one of those 11 million. They might be a family member or you might work with one of them. They might be teaching your children, delivering your mail, bagging your groceries, or they might live right next door. They need and deserve relief and real solutions.

Our opposition -- Wall Street banks, lenders, and the politicians who work on their behalf instead of ours -- are working hard to paint a different picture. They'd like us to believe that this crisis is hitting only a few selfish people who tried to game the system and ran out of luck. If they're successful, we'll lose this fight. It's that simple.

This is where you come in. We've just launched a photo blog showing the real faces of this crisis, and we need your help to build the site and spread the word. Here's what you can do:

If you yourself are a homeowner who is underwater on his or her mortgage, send us your photo and story to post on the blog.

or

Visit the blog now and share it with your social circle through Facebook and Twitter.

We've joined up with New Bottom Line and National People's Action to launch a new website called "America Underwater," the central hub for our campaign to educate Americans on this crisis and get justice and relief for homeowners. This photo blog, depicting the real faces and stories of this crisis, is the first crucial piece of the campaign.

The foreclosure crisis in America is not only a middle class crisis -- it's a you and me crisis. It's that big. It affects regular, hardworking people who played by the rules and were taken advantage of -- and who we come into contact with every single day.

When you read another story about some greedy bank threatening to evict a family out of their home, this is who they're victimizing. When you hear Ed DeMarco, Federal Housing Finance Agency director, refuse to budge on his stand against badly needed principal reductions for homeowners, these are the people he's turning his back on.

It's an important message -- maybe the most important message we can send throughout the course of this campaign. Help us deliver it.

Help us show the faces of America underwater.

Send us your photo and storyorvisit the site and share it with your network (www.america-underwater.tumblr.com)

Thank you for helping to rebuild the dream,Natalie


Student debt a growing burden

The New York Times wrote about a new report outlining today's burden of student debt, the number one form of consumer debt. According to the report, 27% of borrowers are late by 30 days or more on their payments, average student debt is at about $25,000, and total student debt amounts to around $870 billion. It's expected to hit $1 trillion in the next several months. Check out this chart from Think Progress, which shows how tuition has nearly sextupled since 1985:

College tuition & fees have gone up by over 500% since 1985.

And read the NY Times article here:

"A report released Monday by the Federal Reserve Bank of New Yorkrenews concerns about the growing debt load of college students and graduates.

The report suggests that as many as 27 percent of the 37 million borrowers have past-due balances of 30 days or more.

“In sum, student loan debt is not just a concern for the young,” the report said. “Parents and the federal government shoulder a substantial part of the postsecondary education bill.”

The report, which was created by an analysis of Equifax credit reports, said the total balance of student loans was $870 billion. Of the 241 million with Equifax credit reports (there are 311 million people in the United States), 15 percent had student debt.

Forty percent of the people under 30 had outstanding student loans, and the average outstanding debt is $23,300. About 10 percent of borrowers owe more than $54,000 and 3 percent owe more than $100,000.

Noting that existing figures on student loans are spotty and largely anecdotal, the Fed said its analysis was an attempt to provide more accurate accounting of delinquency data.

The Federal Reserve came up with the delinquency figure by excluding from their calculation borrowers who were still students or those who were granted permission to postpone payments because of financial hardship, graduate school or some other approved reason. Those borrowers represent about 47 percent of all borrowers. Fed economists suggest that they should not be considered when measuring the delinquency rate because they aren’t making payments.

If they were included in the total, the percentage of borrowers who were 30 days late in making payments is 14 percent.

Lauren Asher, president of the Institute for College Access and Success, said the Fed study reinforced the need for borrowers to understand the distinction between federal loans and private loans and to know the available repayment options.

She noted that borrowers of federal loans were eligible for income-based repayment in which caps are placed on monthly payments to make them more affordable. In addition, she noted that borrowers of private student loans, which tend to have higher interest rates and fewer protections than federal loans, could now call the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to register complaints.

The Fed’s numbers are similar to those published in a report a year ago by the Institute for Higher Education Policy. That study, based on a sampling of borrowers, found that 26 percent of borrowers who entered repayment in 2005 became delinquent but did not default. Fifteen percent of borrowers not only became delinquent but defaulted on their loans."


March to Montgomery

This week, thousands will walk in the footsteps of the 1965 Voting Rights Marches in Montgomery, Alabama, to protest the recent extreme anti-immigrant law (HB56) and all laws that scapegoat immigrants, take away workers rights, and jeopardize the right to vote. Are you in Alabama? Read more about this week's events in Montgomery below:IMG_0184

This week grassroots leaders just like you from across Alabama and the nation are taking a stand against right-wing attacks on voting rights, worker rights and immigrant rights by marching in the footsteps of the 1965 Voting Rights Marches from Selma to Montgomery.  They’re sick and tired of laws that scapegoat immigrants, that diminish workers’ rights to organize, and that claw back basic voting rights that were won through the sacrifice of thousands of heroes so many years ago. What began in Wisconsin a year ago has reached the Deep South.  And the people are taking a stand.

On Thursday, March 8th, hundreds of workers, community members and immigrants from Alabama and across the country will march into Montgomery, AL and gather at St. Jude’s Catholic Church for a rally to call for the repeal of Alabama’s harsh anti-immigrant law, HB56. Let’s greet them at 6 PM and add our voices to theirs in the fight for basic human and worker rights.

On Friday, March 9th, thousands of leaders will begin the final 4-mile leg of this 54-mile journey at St. Jude’s at 9 AM and will walk to the Alabama State Capital in Montgomery, AL across from the historic Dexter Avenue Baptist Church calling for a renewal of the progressive movement and unity across the labor, civil rights, and immigrant rights movements.

More useful links on HB56 and the Selma to Montgomery March:

http://www.newstaco.com/2012/03/01/alabamas-law-backfires-creating-a-new-civil-rights-movement/

http://act.aflcio.org/c/18/p/salsa/web/tellafriend/public/?tell_a_friend_KEY=8453&key=10232480

http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/news/2012/03/04/alabama-immigration-laws-become-new-focus-selma-bridge-civil-rights-march/

#Selma2012#crisisAL@ALImmigrant


2010: 93% of income gains went to the top 1%

The 1% had a fantastic year in 2010, reports Washington Post. While the recession hit everyone hard at first, in 2010 America's top 1% of earners saw a huge jump to 19.77% of national income. While on average the 99% lost money between 2009 and 2010, the top 1% saw an increase in income of about $42,685 (excluding capital gains). Inequality is on the rise. Check out the chart and article below for more details:[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="photo via Washington Post"]In 2010, 93% of income gains went to the top 1%.[/caption]

In recent months, some commentators wondered whether the national conversation over inequality was coming too late. Early data suggested that the top 1 percent’s share of national income had dropped from 23.5 percent to 18.1 percent in the early years of the recession. “We don’t want to spend years focused on income inequality, only to learn that the financial crisis fixed it for us,” wrote the Atlantic’s Megan McArdle.

The latest update to Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty’s income data suggests we need not worry. Timothy Noah summarizes:

In the first year of the recovery, 93 percent of all income gains went to the top 1 percent.

In other words, the very rich had a bad 2009, but an incredible 2010. Their share of national income bounced back to 19.77 percent. So inequality is marching upward once again. And there’s reason to believe this will keep going.

We mainly talk about income inequality, but wealth inequality matters, too. For most households, their wealth is in real estate. Those assets aren’t returning to pre-crisis levels anytime soon. But for rich households, their wealth is in financial assets, and those assets are recovering much more quickly.

Here’s more from Mike Konczal.


UPDATE: Freddie Mac goes to court to circumvent Riverside County judge

The campaign to save marine veteran Arturo de los Santos's home is still in motion. Freddie Mac, who has failed three times to provide the proper paperwork to call a hearing, is again trying to circumvent the Riverside County judge and bring Arturo to court. The fourth attempt at a hearing was set for today, March 6th. Read the following press release for more news:

Mortgage giant makes fourth attempt for hearing to have homeowner and Marine Art de los Santos held in contempt, arrested, evicted

RIVERSIDE – After a Riverside County judge told lawyers for mortgage giant Freddie Mac that, for the third consecutive time, they had failed to provide proper notice regarding a hearing to hold Marine Art de los Santos in contempt and remove him from his home of ten years, the company is attempting to circumvent the judge’s orders at court again on Tuesday morning.

As reported in the Riverside Press-Enterprise and on KNBC 4, Judge John Vineyard ruled that Freddie Mac had failed to provide proper written notice for a contempt hearing to decide whether Art should go to jail for moving back into his vacant foreclosed home. Despite Judge Vineyard’s instructions that the company provide proper written notice, Freddie Mac’s attorneys have filed an ex-parte motion and notified Art telephonically that they will go to court on Tuesday morning.

What:  Ex-parte hearing on contempt charges against Riverside homeowner Art de los Santos

When: Tuesday, March 6; 9:30 a.m.

Where: Riverside County Superior Court, 4050 Main St., Riverside 92501; Department 2

A Sheriffs notice to vacate expired in February, and a large crowd of supporters has stood with Art, his wife Magda, and their four kids awaiting the arrival of deputies to the house. While the ongoing ordeal has generated literally hundreds of inquiries to Freddie Mac from across the country regarding their policies for working with at-risk homeowners, the company has apparently decided to have the family removed at all costs.

For months, Art has waged a public campaign to convince Freddie Mac and JP Morgan Chase to reverse the foreclosure and issue him a loan modification, and to stop ignoring the thousands of homeowners in his situation:

•Art, a long-time factory supervisor who spent five years in the Marine Corps, purchased his home almost ten years ago and lives there with his wife and four kids

•in 2009, Art asked JP Morgan Chase for a loan modification, anticipating a drop in hours at work – and was told to miss payments in order to qualify

•after missing some payments, JP Morgan Chase and Freddie Mac granted Art a temporary modification and Art complied with all the terms of the modification

•JP Morgan Chase and Freddie Mac rejected Art for a permanent modification because his income had recovered – but, instead of allowing him to catch up, they quickly foreclosed on the home

•the two companies have consistently refused to reconsider their decision, instead releasing statement after statement that mischaracterize the sequence of events and blame Art for their own mistakes

De los Santos vows to keep fighting on behalf of his family and thousands of homeowners being ignored or improperly foreclosed on by JP Morgan Chase and/or Freddie Mac.

###


Students take a stand: #M1 and #M5 round up


Targeted Facebook Ads Latest Tool In Anti-Foreclosure Fight

Big thanks to Tech President for covering Rebuild the Dream’s latest strategy on fighting foreclosures – targeted Facebook ads. Many of you have already contributed to help Rebuild the Dream send ads to Freddie Mac and JP Morgan Chase’s employees, exposing how their companies’ policies hurt tens of millions of Americans with underwater homes. Read Tech President’s interview with Rebuild the Dream Chief Technology Officer Jim Pugh:

The progressive organization Rebuild the Dream is remixing two online advertising strategies in the hopes of applying pressure on companies like Freddie Mac and JPMorgan Chase to change their foreclosure practices.

Rebuild the Dream is out to its email list with a call to raise money the organization promises will be spent on ads to make this point. The twist is that unlike other campaigns of this type, the money won't go to web videos or TV ads. Instead, says Rebuild the Dream Chief Technology Officer Jim Pugh, the plan is to put Facebook ads in front of employees at both companies using the social network's ad targeting features.

"If you're a financial company you've gotten plenty of bad press, and you've developed a thick skin to some degree," Pugh told me.

The question, he said, is to find a novel approach that companies haven't already seen — something for which they haven't already developed a strategy.

"The idea of these ads is not to attack these employees," Pugh told me. "It's to inform them and say, 'Hey, look at these bad practices that the company that you're working for is engaged in.'"

By targeting the ads to people who list either company as their employer, Rebuild the Dream staffers hope to spend their advertising dollars more efficiently.

"This is kind of like setting up a protest in front of their headquarters," Pugh said. "This is a tactic that's going to be aimed at their employees there — aimed at doing so online."

 


Dems raise pressure on DeMarco to write-down mortgages

The Hill reports that Edward DeMarco is getting more and more heat for his refusal to allow principal reduction. The lastest escalation comes from Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, who said his agency wants to encourage more write-downs for underwater homeowners. Read the article below:Governor Patrick joins U.S. Secretary of Housing & Urban Development Donovan and Congressman Frank to make an announcement relative to housing

"The debate over Washington's efforts to stabilize the troubled housing market escalated last week, as the Obama administration and the nation's top mortgage regulator butted heads over how to rein in foreclosures.

Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan said his agency wants to encourage more principal write-downs to keep people in their homes, even when those loans are backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

"There is increasing data available, we believe, that shows that… principal reduction can be good not only for homeowners and communities, but for investors as well," Donovan testified Wednesday before the Senate Banking Committee. "It can allow people to pay [their bills], stay in their homes and increase the value of those mortgages."

That feeling isn't shared, however, by the head of the independent agency that regulates Fannie and Freddie. Edward DeMarco, acting director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), told the same Senate panel that while he has the authority to reduce mortgage principal to prevent foreclosures, he won't use it because other tools are more effective.

Of the four primary foreclosure-fighting powers available to FHFA – reducing interest rates, extending the length of loans, principal forbearance and principal forgiveness – the last, DeMarco said, is the least valuable to regulators trying to repay the taxpayers who bailed out Freddie and Fannie more than three years ago.

"What FHFA has consistently found in its analysis is that the first three of those tools work better than the fourth one with regard to our fundamental mandate of conserving and preserving [Fannie and Freddie]," DeMarco said. "I've not said that we do not have the legal authority to reduce principal."

DeMarco's remarks drew quick condemnation from Democrats who, for months, have urged FHFA to push Fannie and Freddie to reduce principal loans to help struggling homeowners.

Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) accused DeMarco of being a "shill" for lenders and "obstructing any kind of progress" in the housing market, which is widely considered to be a drag on the larger economic recovery.

"He was a shill for those who don't want to do anything, and I think he should go," Eshoo told The Hill Thursday. "He's not serving the American people and the president should get rid of him and replace him. … This isn't small potatoes."

Republicans have been quick to rush to DeMarco's defense. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) praised the FHFA head for focusing on repaying taxpayers and hammered Democratic critics for lacking "the courage, the will [and] the desire to address these issues."

"You've tried to lay something out to begin the process," Corker said, "and here Congress has not done a single thing."

All sides agree that DeMarco's task is to maximize returns for Fannie and Freddie for the sake of the taxpayers who effectively own the mortgage giants, which the Treasury Department put into conservatorship in September of 2008. But they differ on how best to get that done.

DeMarco maintains that his focus on lowering monthly payments without principal forgiveness strikes the right balance between helping homeowners, protecting taxpayers and avoiding moral hazard. Critics contend that keeping people in their homes, even if it requires principal reduction, will stabilize the housing market more quickly, ultimately paying dividends for Fannie and Freddie.

Donovan noted this week that many commercial banks are offering principal forgiveness to mortgage borrowers. They wouldn't take that step voluntarily, the HUD secretary argued, if it wasn't in the best interest of shareholders.

"If banks are doing that with their own portfolios I think it shows that they've clearly made the decision it protects their own investments," Donovan said.