Thursday, February 10, 2011

No surprise at all





US Senator Jim Webb stabbed Vietnam veterans in the back with his attack on the VA's Agent Orange Registry and that all came down to money -- Webb is more than happy to spend the American tax payers' money on more weapons, he just wants veterans to foot the bill. He was also one of the big opponets to Evan Bayh's proposal for an Iraq and Afghanistan War Registry. Evan presented that himself to the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee where it was roped off and couldn't make it out of committee. One of the strongest objections to a registry was Jim Webb whining yet again about the costs. What about the costs the Torres family's paying? What about the cost of a holiday that the children won't spend with their parents because Le Roy and Roise Torres have to fight and battle just for him to receive NEEDED treatment?


Today we heard US Senator Jim Webb babble on and, when he's insincere, his voice cracks. It was like the episode of The Brady Bunch where the kids are set to record a song but Peter's voice begins changing and won't stop cracking. As he used opening remarks to recount his entire resume at length -- everything but working the counter one night and giving a veteran a free milk shake -- that voice cracked and cracked. Why was that such a hard thing for him. "We have a duty," Webb insisted as he added coughs to his bag of tricks. And "this is not simply a cost item." Oh, now you may be getting why Webb was freaking out.
If not, join us as we drop back to the June 15, 2010 snapshot:
WAVY reports (link has text and video) that victims of Agent Orange (specifically Vietnam era veterans) could recieve addition beneifts for B-Cell Leukemia, Parkinson's disease and coronary heart disease. Could? A US Senator is objecting to the proposed changes by VA. Jim Webb has written VA Secretary Eric Shinseki that ". . . this single executive decision is estimated to cost a minimum of $42.2 billion over the next ten years. A regulatory action of this magnitude requires proper Congressional review and oversight." Besides, Webb wrote, "Heart disease is a common phenomenon regardless of potential exposure to Agent Orange." That is really embarrasing and especially embarrassing for the Democratic Party (Webb is a Democrat today, having converted from a Reagan Republican). It also goes a long way towards explaining Webb's refusal to get on board with Senator Evan Bayh's bill to create a national registry that would allow those Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans to be able to receive treatment for their exposures without having to jump through hoops repeatedly.
And if you doubted that Webb was about to try to pull out the axe on Vietnam veterans benefits, you had to only give him a few more seconds as he began bemoaning that the law was written one way (yes, he is a 'framers' intent' and 'original construction' type politician) and then expanded (to "dual presumptioms both based on very broad categorizations"). What are the expansions? It's been expanded to allow payments to Vietnam Veterans suffering from Parkinson's disease, ischemic heart disease and hairy cell leukemia. VA Secretary Eric Shinseki is not someone we praise blindly here (to put it mildly) but the hearing was really about Shinseki's 'performance,' specifically with regards to expanding the categories -- based on medical and science evidence -- qualifying for payments.




This morning, House Veterans Affairs Committee US House Rep Jeff Miller Chaired the first oversight hearing of the Committee for the new Congressional session exploring violations of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act by JP Morgan Chase Bank. Chair Miller explained in his opening statement, "The Servicemember Civil Relief Act has existed in various forms since the war of 1812 and each version has shared a singular goal: to protect those who protect us. The 2003 version, which I co-sponsored, and the amendments we have made since continue that tradition." He also provided a goal for the hearing: whether or not the SCRA was meeting the needs of service members and their families.
US House Rep Bob Filner was the Chair in the previous session. The 2010 mid-term elections gave control of the House to the Republian Party. Bob Filner is now the Ranking Member on the Committee. In his opening statement, he noted:
Today's hearing seeks to examine why banks such as JP Morgan Chase have overcharged our military familes who are actively engaged in defending our country. While we want to know how these overcharges havppened, I also want to know what they are doing to prevent them from occurring again. As foreclosure filing continue to rise, the effect on Americans has been acute, with my state of California having one of the most affected populations. According to RealityTrac -- I'm sorry, RealtyTrac, California metro areas such as San Diego have been seriously affected by the foreclosures. Like most Americans, many of our nation's heroes see home ownership as an integral part of the American dream. Unfortunately for a number of military families, that part of the American dream became a nightmare when JP Morgan foreclosed on their homes. It is my sincerest hope that JP Morgan Chase will be taking immediate corrective steps to restore these families to their homes as soon as possible.
For context, last Friday's snapshot included this: " Gregg Zoroya (USA Today) reports that many veterans who mistakenly put their trust in 'special government-backed mortgages,' such as DoD's Homeowner's Assistance Program, have seen their homes taken away from them in foreclosures. In related news, Rick Maze (Army Times) reports that the US Labor Department released unemployment figures today and the unemployment 'rate for veterans climbed to 9.9 percent, up from 8.3 percent the previous month. For Iraq and Afghanistan-era veterans, the unemployment rate for January was 15.2 percent. This is a sharp increase from 9.4 percent in November and 11.7 percent in December, a clear trend of worsening job market for younger veterans, many of them combat veterans'." Last Friday, Senator Patty Murray (Chair of the Veterans Affairs Committee) released a statement on the sharp rise in unemployment for veterans which included, "This is very disappointing report that demonstrates clearly the need for us to move quickly to help ournation's veterans find jobs. We all know that veterans going from the battlefield to the working world face a unique set of challenges. And as we see with today's numbers, far too many of our veterans coming home from overseas are having trouble finding work in this tough economic climate." Murray promised in her statement to continue fighting for veterans and to continue her work on job legislation for veterans.
The House Veterans Affairs Committee heard from three panels today. The first panel was made up of Julia and Capt Jonathan Rowles and their attorneys Richard Harpootian and William Harvey. Panel two was JP Morgan Chase's executive vice president from the Office of Consumer Practices Stephanie B. Mudick. The third panel was Col Shawn Shumake (DoD) and Hollister Petraeus (US Treasury Dept).
Richard Harpootian noted Chase's opening statement in his opening remarks and referred to it as "Woops! I made a mistake." He declared, "I was a state prosecutor for 12 years in South Carolina. Every person we ever caught breaking the law, taking something that wasn't theirs, was more than willing to give it back, give a mea culpa and go the other way, be on their way." He stated he wanted to ensure that they were deterred from similar activity in the future and that included upgrading the actions from misdemeanor to felony.
So what happened to the Rowles specifically? They were harassed and threatened. JP Morgan Chase repeatedly threatened to foreclose on their home and attempted to bully the Rowles into payment of more money than they owed on their home mortgage. They also invented little hoops for the Rowles to repeatedly jump through. For example, knowing that Capt Rowles was on active duty, they demanded a verification every 90 days with new threats accompanying them. The Rowles' attorneys are also representing Lt Col Sarah Letts-Smith and Lance Cpl Martin Hupfl who faced similar problems. Letts-Smith, for example. was being threatened with home foreclosure while she was stationed in Iraq.
Chair Jeff Miller: When did you first realize that Chase had violated SCRA? Did you notify the Marine Corps legal staff? And, if you did, what actions did they take on your behalf?
Capt Jonathan Rowles: Yes, sir, I first learned about SCRA while I was at OCS [Officer Candidates School] -- and my rights, thereof. Afterwards, in 2008, after lengthy letters and calls and what not, I did go to the legal staff at NAS Pensacola where I was a flight student at the time. They looked over the case but they were unsure of how to proceed and, due to the volume of other cases that they had at the time they just did not have the resources to pursue it. At which time, we were told, 'We are doing pretty much everything that we could, sir."
Chair Jeff Miller: And you say you were first educated about it at OSC?
Capt Jonathan Rowles: Yes, sir. We got a class while we were at OSC there in Quantico, Virginia, on our rights there to SCRA.
Chair Jeff Miller: Can you give us some idea of the reaction when you contacted JP Morgan Chase and how they handled the situation? And I'm sure you both had conversations with them, so feel free to elaborate.
Capt Jonatha Rowles: Yes, sir. I would characterize it as a delayed and confused. I was asked to fax my orders several times and, being in the field, you would have to -- You would fax your orders, you would go away for a week or two, you'd come back to find, they'd asked for it again. You get a statement that is not correct, so you call to recognize it, they see they need your orders again. Again. At that point, got a letter from my commander as well, just to emphasize the point that I was active duty and sent my orders along with that as well, sir.
Richard Harpootian: Mr. Chairman, I think if Mrs. Rowles could speak, she was pregnant with their second child, he's deployed, the child was born prematurely. She was having to deal with the birth of a child alone and Chase at the same time and she's a little more emotional about it than he is.
Julia Rowles: Yes, sir. Chase always had a problem with acknowledging any of our evidence or of our -- homework, I guess you would say in our SCRA benefits. We would instruct them that we were doing everything we could. We did make our payments every month, on time, in the full amount that they were supposed to be for; however, every month our statements were different. While Jonathan is away -- either in training, flight school or any of his Marine Corps duties, I was left at home to deal with Chase and their problems. We have two children. One of them was born prematurely and had to have a lengthy stay in the hospital but yet at the same time I'm dealing with Chase and getting their phone calls, getting their harassment around the clock. Jonathan missed two hours of our daughter's birthday party because Chase would simply not hang up the phone until he made a payment in which we had already paid our mortgage. This constant harass -- this constant ignorance for the SCRA benefits to service members is ridiculous and it's actually very -- It's very upsetting that for five years, we've had to educate Chase as to the benefits that we were privy to.
Chair Jeff Miller: Entitled to.
Julia Rowles: Entitled to, I'm sorry.
Chair Jeff Miller: Did they ever acknowledge -- I mean, obviously if they kept asking for orders, they must have known that there was something that they had to abide by.
Julia Rowles: We were -- Sir, we were sending them orders quarterly which we later found out we did not have to do. Once you send in orders and verify that you are active duty military, we were acknowledged. We were granted the persmission under the SCRA. That should have been it until his cotract expired and he continued military service. We had -- We have done that time and time again. And it's very -- We didn't have to do this. It's harassment. Even without collection calls, constantly sending them, I guess, his orders and all other paperwork was harassment.
Ranking Member Filner noted that he found what was going on illegal and that it was effecting all Americans and thanked the Rowles for sharing their experience. Filner agreed the actions being taken were illegal but wondered whether or not upgrading the punishment to felony level would just prevent the banks from making the loans? Richard Harpootian noted that the actions were not being taken by banks who had done the loans but by banks who bought the loans when they were resold. (JP Morgan Chase was not the bank the Rowles took their loan out with.) US Rep Michael Michaud wondered if the Rowles had been in contact with JP Morgan Chase management at any time during their ordeal?
Julia Rowles: Yes, there were numerous times when we tried to speak with anyone in management. There were times when we were told we were speaking with management and, to our surprise, management did not know how to fix our problem either. Jonathan and I traveled to Colorado from South Carolina briefly, right before he deployed in July, because we thought we found a mortgage branch manager that said he could help us. And after sitting with him for hours on two different dates, he threw his hands up into the air and said, "I have no clue how to fix your situation. There is nothing I can do. Sorry." And that was pretty much the consensus of every manager we spoke with. I would spend hours trying to find people that would actually talk to us and that would not just write down our name and number and say that they would call us back. We've spoken with managers in South Carolina, to Texas and California. Nobody knew how to fix our problem.
"But when you call your wife at two in the morning just to see how things are going," Capt Jonathan Rowles stated, "and you spend 20 minutes talking about how we can send another letter or how we can make another phone call instead of 'Honey, I love you. How was the day? How's the babies?' It's rough."
As Bob Filner noted during the first panel, "The fact that we have some publicity for what you're going through means we'll have some changes." After identifying herself on the second panel, JP Morgan Chase's Stephanie B. Mudick stated, "Before I go further, I'd like to express to the men and women serving our country and to the memebers of this Committee Chase's deepest regret over the mistakes we made in applying those protections. I commit to you that we will get this right." She acknowledged that Chase charged above the 6% capped interest rate and stated that Chase had identified over charges of $1.8 million and that they intended to repay that amoung along with "7.25% interest from the date of the overcharge." On the issue of forms, she noted that the SCRA requires that the service members is protected from foreclosure or sale while on active duty and for nine months after. (Which would mean that no one needs to supply repeat proof of status every 90 days.) She stated that they have discovered 18 service members who SCRA protections were violated (at least 18 times when Chase broke the law) and that, "In twelve of these cases, we have eitehr rescinded the sale or entered into a settlement with the borrower. We will attempt to make the remaining borrowers whole as quickly as possible."
We'll leap ahead to an exchange between Ranking Member Filner and Mudick.
Ranking Member Bob Filner: Uhm, how many executive vice presidents are there at Chase? Or, let me put it another way, how high are you up in the heirarchy there?
Susan Mudick: Uh, I am a member of Chase's Executive Committee which is fewer than a hundred employees at Chase -- at JP Morgan Chase.
Ranking Member Bob Filner: And what does the 100 people do? I mean, that's the highest policy making thing in Chase?
Susan Mudick: Uh, there is an Operating Committee which is a group of approximately 20 people.
Ranking Member Bob Filner: How many executive vice presidents are there?
Susan Mudick: I don't have the answer to that question, sir, I'm sorry.
Ranking Member Bob Filner: But you'll find out for me, right?
Susan Mudick: I will indeed.
Ranking Member Bob Filner: Could you fix things if we need to ask? I mean, you're here on behalf of Chase so I assume that means you can fix things. Can you fix things? I mean, you said you weren't aware of that hotline number [a JP Morgan Chase number to deal with SCRA problems which Julia Rowles testified was just an answering machine passed off as a hotline and one that has now been disconnected for months]. Can you find it out right away? Can you call someone and say, "What's going on there?"
Susan Mudick: Uh, together with-with my colleagues -- There is -- I would say --
Ranking Member Bob Filner: Okay, so you can't fix things.
Susan Mudick (Con't): -- there are many -- Excuse me, sir. I would say that we try and fix whatever --
Ranking Member Bob Filner: Okay, the Rowles testified that they didn't have any statements for a year, you hadn't cashed their last mortgage check. Can you fix that today?
Susan Mudick: Uh --
Raking Member Bob Filner: You said you were going to make them whole. They've brought up several questions. Can you fix that?
Susan Mudick: We are trying to fix --
Ranking Member Bob Filner: I don't want a "we." You? Can you fix that?
Susan Mudick: I can, together with my colleagues causes changes to be made in our organization. Uh -- and with respect to the Rowleses -- Uh, uhm, you know,,we are trying to figure out how we can come to an agreement --
Ranking Member Bob Filner: Come to an agreement because of a lawsuit. But you said you were going to make them whole. As I read your statement, your average payment to make people whole was seventy dollars. Does that make people whole who've gone through this stuff?
Susan Mudick: The-the median payment is $70 and-and let me explain to you how-how we get to that number.
Ranking Member Bob Filner: Because you're just dealing with the amount of interest you overpaid plus some fees, that's all you're dealing with. You're not dealing with any human costs or any emotional costs or any pain and suffering as they would say. You're just dealing with the amount of interest and fees that you overcharged. Right? I mean that's what it says here [holds up Mudick's prepared statement] anyway.
Susan Mudick: Congressman, most of the, uh, service members who were impacted by this, uh, are-are not even aware that they overpaid. And in part that's because the amount they overpaid was not-not material to them.
Ranking Member Bob Filner: I can't believe that there's nobody else going through what the Rowles did. But, you know, I mean, you can't make the changes, you're not making them whole. Why should -- You broke the law. Your bank broke the law. Shouldn't someone go to jail for that?
Susan Mudick: Uh --
Ranking Member Bob Filner: And who should? Who should? Who's responsible? Are you as the executive v.p. who was given us by the bank to answer for this? Should you go to jail?
Susan Mudick: Uh, we are doing a review internally in order to --
Ranking Member Bob Filner: I want to know --
Susan Mudick: -- figure out --
Ranking Member Bob Filner: -- who's responsible?
Susan Mudick: -- who's responsible for what happened.
Ranking Member Bob Filner: Are you going to tell us who? Are you going to give us a person? Or people? That are responsible?
Susan Mudick: Well we will certainly hold those folks who are resposible for this accountable.
Ranking Member Bob Filner: I want to know about you. You broke the law. How are we going to hold you accountable? Are we going to know who did what when?
Susan Mudick: Uh-uh, as a result of that -- our-our review -- we will be happy to share more information with the Committee.
Ranking Member Bob Filner: I'm sure you will. I think you'll have to probably do it in discovery [legal period in a lawsuit before trial in which the opposing sides are supposed to know what the other side knows and have access to paper work, etc.] before you're going to give it to us. It just seems to me that you all, you're not alone in this. You all have no responsibility. Everything you said was impersonal. Nobody is responsible. You said the SCRA coding 'fell off' the statement? I mean nobody took it off, nobody was responsible, it 'fell off.' Wow. Every -- You look at your testimony, everything is impersonal, everything is "we," "they." Nobody is ever responsible. And yet these people's lives have been turned upside down. Somebody or some group of people should be held responsible. And mabye then -- as the attorney said -- maybe then you'll take this seriously, if somebody went to jail, with a white collar. There's no more Mr. Morgan or Mr. Chase, I take it, but somebody should have responsibility for what's going on. You just cannot hide. As the Supreme Court tells us now, you're an individual. You're not just a corporation. Somebody has to come forward and take responsibility for this. You just cannot apologize and give back people 70 bucks and to think this is over. This is not over for them and they're still going through the thing. You heard what they're still going through. And now you can't fix it anyway. So when are they going to get their mortgage statements? Just to take one thing. You should be able to call somebody right now and say, "Get them their mortgage statements." But apparently you can't. You know, I appreciate your apology. But you've broken the law, you've ruined people's lives and people ought to take responsibility for that.
Back to her opening statement, of the Rowles, she stated she'd examined the files "and we clearly made mistakes. The customer service that we provided to him and to his wife was unacceptable. And the fact that this was a service member makes our mistakes all the more inexcusable." Actually, the fact that Rowles is a service member makes JP Morgan Chase's mistakes illegal. "We deeply regret any hardship we caused the Rowles family," she continued. I didn't buy it but it may be the most the Rowles get publicly from JP Morgan Chase so we'll note it.

RECOMMENDED: "Iraq snapshot"
"Kirkuk slammed with three bombings"
"Continued deployments, continued war"
"Sick of Julie and his women who whore for him"
"What we value"
"the book on naomi"
"Mr. Olbermann and Mr. Gore"
"Take another bong hit, Greg Mitchell"
"Heartburn, Bob Somerby, Patriot Act goes down"
"The Cape"
"Coleen Rowley needs to buy a clue"
"Maturity required to give lessons on it"

No comments: