May 272012
 May 27, 2012  Posted by at 6:45 pm Finance


January 1939. An evicted sharecropper among his possessions in New Madrid County, Missouri. 35mm nitrate negative by Arthur Rothstein.

I would like to present an extremely depressing and disheartening article to you today, written by Surly of the Doomstead Diner. It contains a lengthy story that encapsulates all that is ass-backwards in modern consumerist cultures, where there is an unfathomable level of deception of the general population and an equally unfathomable lack of compassion for those who have fallen on rough times, but it is much more than just a story – it is a fundamental reflection of our religion.

It is something that needs to be heard, shared and considered by us all. And it also needs to be understood in a broader context of where we have been and where we are headed. On this Sunday – a day of worship for many – Surly asks us what we, as citizens and consumers of America, really worship. Who is really our God, what evil deeds has he required of us in the past and how many more will he require of us in the future?

Mammon is Hungry: Husband’s Suicide One Day, Wells Fargo to Evict Wife The Next

A recent quote from Diner Karpatok get me thinking the other day about the nature of our post- industrial society, and several thoughts and issues began to intersect. And then I came across the story of Norman Rousseau, below.

Deep within the bowels of the diner, the original exchange, part of a longer thread:

Quote from: Karpatok on May 22, 2012, 01:18:21 AM

“To really feel the pain of the prisoners, the pain of the raped children, the pain of the animals. Martin Buber wrote of the recognition of the reality of the Other. He called it I and Thou. I and Thou together is the full reality of consciousness. To the extent that one cannot embrace the reality of the Thou, one is not fully human... To the extent that one does not let oneself feel that pain, one also cannot experience joy. We are not solipsists living in isolation and doubting the reality of the forest, we are not autistic unable to respond to others; if we are we are very sick.”

My reply:

To lapse serious for a moment, this is indeed the nut of the matter. And it is the illness at the heart of who we are, our addiction to the paradigm of unlimited growth, and in our “devil take the hindmost” politics. We used to believe, or at least proclaim, “E Pluribus Unum;” there was a time when we even taught it. There was a time where our institutions weren’t corrupt with moral rot. There was a time when people believed that a “rising tide would life all boats.”  Indeed, there was a time when we cared about our neighbor, when we would not pull a crust of bread out of a hungry child’s mouth to give it to a war profiteer or a Wall Street bankster. There was a time, or so we believed, when our churches were not full of pederasts and thieves, when we actually held with what was taught from the pulpit and lived accordingly, or semi-accordingly, according to our lights.

If, as is written in Matthew, “By their fruits shall ye know them,” then we are well and truly fucked. Because by our actions we invert every single thing that Jesus is reported to have said, and which every great teacher and moral leader teaches. By our actions, we clearly worship Mammon. When a vulture capitalist destroys a workforce, dumps pension obligations off on taxpayers, and pockets handsome sums for his trouble; when a company lays off thousands in the name of “efficiency,” leaving the remaining workforce stressed and gasping– and fearful of the next wave; when we balance the budgets on the backs of the poor; when we steal people’s houses through corrupt application of refinancing rules (thinking Wells Fargo here): we do the work of Mammon.

Several years ago I read an article in The Atlantic about the Muslim Brotherhood, and why the originator came to hate the United States. One of the reasons was that he came to hate the manicured, watered lawns in Kansas as an obscenity, when there is so much hunger, privation and suffering across the globe. There is a good reason the rest of the world hates us, and at the root is our wasteful, cannibal culture, that chews up everything in sight, as well as our utterly debased materialism with no organizing set of beliefs aside from profit.

I feel like Jeremiah today, but from here it is crystal clear that we are doomed. Which is, of course, part of what led me to this collective, to RE’s notion of “save as many as you can, ” and to thoughts of “what do we do next?”

It may not matter, but it is incumbent upon us to live and work as if it does.

Karpatok also added:

“Why did I shudder and flinch when my foreman lover said about construction hires at the 7Eleven, “Tu est Patrona, tu dau lucru si ei manunc.” That is ,” You are their patron, you give them work and they can eat.” Who the hell was I to have that power over them to grant life and life to the children on the dirt floor far away? But to do it without acknowledging them, without asking their names,how did they get here,[they walked a thousand miles under the burning sun el norte,el norte] how many children did they have, where were they from exactly? So in a tiny way we touched each other while they carried with their small bodies the huge stones to build the patios, the same stones with which they had built their pyramids before the Conquistadores had arrived. And now the huge houses for which the patios were built in Prince Georges county are all foreclosed and abandoned. Who are we all, passing in this conflagration?”

Who indeed? How we exercise the power that we have over one another, as we pull the levers and grease the gears of the virtual machines that increasingly govern our life says much about who we are– and who we have become.

Mammon remains hungry, and the story of his (our) endless lust for human flesh is best illustrated by the following story, well told by Mandelman on the blog Mandelman Matters. This story goes on at some length, but the length is necessary to place this tragedy in its appropriate context:

Husband’s Suicide Yesterday, Wells Fargo to Evict Wife Tomorrow Anyway

Wells Fargo claimed that Norman and Oriane Rousseau had missed a mortgage payment.  But the payment HAD been made in person at a Wells Fargo branch by Cashier’s Check, and Mrs. Rousseau has the receipt for the transaction.

The Rousseaus file a dispute with Wells Fargo over the supposed missing payment.  Wells Fargo “investigates” and comes back saying that the Rousseaus had stopped payment on the check.  They stopped payment on a Cashier’s Check?  Seriously?

The teller’s receipt establishes that the cashier’s check was in the custody and control of Wachovia on April 1, 2009, and the research by the Cashiering Department should have concluded that Wachovia screwed up by not applying the cash-equivalent funds to the Rousseau’s account. After delivery and acceptance to the branch office, it was Wachovia’s responsibility to safeguard the instrument; Wachovia itself effectively stopped payment on the cashier’s check

Concerned that they could not resolve the payment dispute but told they should apply for a loan modification, the Rousseaus hired a law firm and submitted a loan modification application.  After that it was standard operating procedure at Wells Fargo… we lost this, and we lost that, resend this, and resend that… for almost a year.

Wells Fargo then of course told the Rousseau family not to make their payments, that they were being considered for a loan modification and that making their payments would immediately disqualify them.

So, they saved their payments just in case Wells decided to deny them a modification.  Saved every single one just in case the bank decided to act like… well, Wells Fargo Bank.

Then Wells sent them a Notice of Default, but when they called to say they wanted to reinstate their loan, Wells said what they always say… IGNORE IT… don’t worry about it, everything’s fine, it’s just an automated sort of thing… why, you’re being considered for a loan modification.

Then Wells filed a Notice of Sale on October 28, 2010.  Their home would be sold on November 22, 2010.  And still Wells said… IGNORE IT… it’s just another automated sort of thing… your loan modification is still pending… and please re-submit some documents.

It was November 10, 2010… just 12 days before their home was to be sold… when the Wells Fargo representative told the Rousseau’s that their loan modification had been denied.  The reason: Insufficient income.

Yeah, but you know the funny thing about that is that their income hadn’t changed a nickel since they applied for the loan modification.  So, what’s the deal?  Did it take Wells Fargo a year to figure out the Rousseau’s income was insufficient? That same day the Rousseaus found a lawyer and discovered they had a RIGHT TO REINSTATE their loan.  (Nice of Wells not to tell them that, by the way.)  They contacted Wells and requested a reinstatement quote… TWO DAYS LATER Wells finally gave them the phone number for RCS, the trustee.

But, RSC said that reinstatement would take two weeks and trustee sale was going off as planned in 8 days.  Wells got them their reinstatement quote too… it was dated November 15, but received via email on November 17, 2010.

And it expired in two days and had to be received in Texas by November 19, 2010.

The Rousseaus had more than enough in savings to reinstate their loan, they told Wells Fargo that… but now they couldn’t get the money from their IRA in time for the 2-day deadline and Wells refused to postpone the sale.

So, the Rousseau’s home sold at the trustee sale on November 22, 2010.

Next the Rousseaus go through a series of lawyers.  Finally, they get a good one and in July of 2011, the court grants an injunction contingent on them making a monthly payment of $1800.

But, by December of 2011, Wells finally wore the Rousseaus down and they just couldn’t make December’s payment.  They used up all their money fighting Wells Fargo, and Norm had been unemployed since the foreclosure.  He was taking odd jobs as a handy man to make ends meet.

Wells Fargo immediately goes to court… gets the injunction dissolved… then proceeds with the Unlawful Detainer… the lockout is set for May 15th, 2012… at 6:00 AM.


Over this past weekend, Norm Rousseau talked with their attorney who is working pro bono by the way.  Basically, his lawyer tells him…

“Look… let’s face the facts here.  We’ll proceed with the lawsuit.  We’ll fight like hell to get you back in the home, but you have to be ready with some sort of plan so you’re not left homeless and on the streets.”

Norm found someone who has a 27-foot motorhome he can use, but after he gets it home on Saturday… it stops running… it won’t start.  But, Norm Rousseau is a man in his 50s with mad skills.  He goes to work around the clock taking apart the engine, doing everything he can to get it running so that on Tuesday morning he will have somewhere to house his family.  He’s up all night Saturday night, but still can’t get it running.  It’s too big to tow with a car.

His mind must have been wandering late on Saturday night.  What must a man, a father, a provider be thinking when he knows that everything in life has somehow gone terribly wrong and there’s nothing left to do?  He must have been imagining the sheriff pulling up to evict his family on Tuesday morning… just two days away, as the motorhome’s engine lay in pieces in his driveway.

I can only imagine what must have been going through his mind as he worked tirelessly, without sleep, on that engine and electrical system… as the clock ticked away the hours, I’m sure going faster and faster as time was running out.  Damn, it’s already 11:00 PM… then it’s 3:00 AM… and then 5:00 AM… and then before he knew it… a most unwelcome sun was shining… 9:00 AM…

I can almost hear him thinking: “Damn it, what am I going to do?  How could this have happened?”  I can hear him swearing under his breath as he fights with the old parts trying to get them to work together again… I can see him staring at the engine as the will to go on was leaving his soul…

Norman and Oriane Rousseau had bought their home in Ventura, California in 2000, putting nearly 30 percent down, which was their life savings.  In 2006, every time they went into the World Savings branch they’d get pitched on refinancing into one of World’s infamous Option ARM loans… that are now illegal, I believe.  After a couple of years of being pitched, they finally bought into World Saving’s lies.

They had told World Saving’s loan officer, ERIC COOPER, that they were only interested in obtaining a conventional 30-year, fixed-rate loan.  They wanted consistent payments over the life of the loan.

But COOPER assured them that they could significantly reduce their monthly payments… by more than $600 per month, with a lower interest refinanced loan. COOPER said that the new Pick-A-Payment loan product was better suited to their situation.

He described the Payment Option ARM as the new industry standard.  He pointed out that the lower interest rate and payment flexibility were valuable advantages that were not available with other loan products.  And he said that even more importantly, unlike the previous WORLD loans, the interest rate was tied to an index with historically low rates that were continuing to decrease.

According to COOPER, industry experts projected the interest rates to continue to fall, and so their monthly payments would be EVEN LOWER than their initial payments.

Even under the worst case scenario, COOPER assured them, the historical data for the index indicated that changes in the interest rate would only be slight, and if an increase should occur it would have a negligible effect on their monthly payments… no more than a few dollars.

And besides, COOPER explained, the loan would only be around for a couple years, as they should expect to refinance within the next two years to take advantage of even more favorable interest rates and as the steadily rising housing values would surely increase the amount of their equity in the property.

Then COOPER went for the close…

On the condition that the Rousseaus apply for the new loan that very day, he would agree to waive their pre-payment penalty, stating that there would be virtually no costs to refinance beyond a $35.00 application fee.

COOPER also convinced the Rousseaus that it was in their best financial interests to consolidate approximately $25,000 in unsecured debt in the refinance transaction, citing the benefits of the lower interest rate and the convenience of having only one payment.

The Rousseaus provided COOPER with accurate and truthful information regarding their income and assets, and COOPER was such a nice guy that he offered to complete the Quick Qualifying Loan Application on their behalf.

It was right around November 1, 2007, that WACHOVIA arranged for a notary to complete the closing at the Rousseau’s home.  The notary discouraged their review of the documents and directed them straight to the signature lines, but the Rousseaus noticed that a pre-payment penalty in excess of $4000.00 was included in the closing costs… the fee that COOPER had promised to waive if they applied that same day.  They called COOPER and he apologized for the oversight, but tried to get them to sign anyway, because it would only add a couple of bucks to their payment.

They said… no… they’d reschedule the appointment and wait for the four grand to be taken off their bill, thank you very much.

Two weeks later, the notary returned and they signed the paperwork for their new $368,000 state of the art loan.

Now, the Rousseaus didn’t know it at the time, but COOPER was a lying sack of garbage that had misrepresented just about everything having to do with their new loan.

The 7.2% interest rate of the new loan was actually higher than their old loan and higher than the 6.8% quoted by COOPER.  The “significant reduction in monthly payments” was an illusion accomplished by comparing the fully amortized payment of the 2006 loan with the negative amortizing minimum payment due under the new loan.

The new loan, at annual change dates, added deferred interest to principal and the loan amortized, with payment increases capped at 7.5% for ten years.  Then, the new loan recast when negative amortization reached 125%.

The Rousseaus were never told about the new loan’s fully amortizing payment of $2,497.94 per month, in fact their payment amount was intentionally misrepresented by COOPER.  And the new monthly payment could never decrease because it represented the minimum payment possible… the negatively amortizing option that meant payments would increase at each change date.

But that wasn’t enough for our boy COOPER.  The Rousseaus were charged $2,640.00 in origination fees for the “low cost” refinance, which made a tidy profit for World/Wachovia/Wells/Whatever bank.

And best of all, an undisclosed Yield Spread Premium (“YSP”) of $4,195 was charged for placing them in a loan with an interest rate .50% higher than they qualified for, and that YSP increased their monthly payments by $123.32, or $44,395.20 over the life of the loan.

The truth is that the Rousseaus were a heck of a long way from being considered well qualified for their new loan. Their fully amortized payment represented a total debt-to-income ratio of 27.91%, but that percentage was based on income figures that were grossly overstated by guess who? That’s right… COOPER.

The Rousseaus told COOPER their total gross annual income was, $76,000, but somehow it got listed as $136,800 on the application.  You know… the application that good old COOPER was nice enough to fill out for the Rousseaus.

So, it was Sunday… yesterday… around 10:00 AM… and Norm couldn’t get the motorhome running.  He must have realized that he couldn’t handle the shame of seeing his wife and stepson evicted with nowhere to go… living on the street.  I don’t know how anyone could face that reality.  I don’t think I could. 

How could it be that just 12 years before they had put their life savings down on their first and likely last home?  They had done everything right, but nothing was right anymore, and I’m sure to Norm Rousseau, nothing would ever be right again. 

Their church had offered to help them, maybe find them somewhere to stay temporarily, and that would be fine for his wife and her son… but not for him.  I’m sure he wept as he looked at the engine parts laying there, realizing that it was over.

Norm Rousseau called me a couple of months ago.  He wasn’t asking me to help him, in fact, he never even told me about what he was going through with Wells Fargo.  No, Norm was concerned about someone else who was losing a home.  A really good person who’s done so much for so many others, was how he described her.  It wasn’t right what the banks were doing he said.  He was hoping that I could do something to help someone he knew, because she was someone who had helped others… but he didn’t say a word about himself.

Norman Rousseau gave up over that engine that sits in pieces in his driveway today, the sun shining down making the metal parts hot to the touch.  Maybe it was the frustration of having nowhere to turn for justice, maybe it was the shame he felt that somehow he had let his family down… even though that was not the case at all.

Sometime mid-morning on Sunday Norm Rousseau ended his own life.  He went into his bedroom, covered his head with a blanket so as to contain the mess… and shot himself.  At one point he could have reinstated his loan, that’s what he had planned to do, but Wells Fargo had made that impossible… they stripped him of everything he had.

And now, his wife and stepson are to be evicted at 6:00 AM tomorrow morning.  They have nowhere to go, they have no money, they are still in shock over the loss of Norm.

And I don’t know what to do really.  I’m going to call the sheriff’s office in Ventura… see if I can persuade them to drag their feet for a week before locking them out.  Their lawyer is trying to file something with the courts, but maybe you can think of something too.

Maybe you can forward this article to people in the media.  Tell them what’s going on… maybe someone will care enough to do something.  It’s 11:21 AM and I’ve been up all night again, I can’t really keep this up much longer… but somehow I felt like telling Norm’s story was the very least I could do.

Since Wells Fargo had already done the very least they could do.

Rest in peace, Norm Rousseau.

The psychopaths in charge of Wells Fargo have already killed another American. Wells Fargo, Mammon’s agent on earth, now has Norman Roussseau’s blood on its hands. And these are people who never missed a house payment. Given that Wells’ only responsibility is to generate profits for shareholders, and devil take the hindmost, perhaps Cooper’s behavior, described above, is to be expected. And thus the wages of “corporate personhood:” if we knew a person willing to do whatever it takes to generate a profit, lie, cheat, steal, kill, wouldn’t we call that person a psychopath? Instead, executives get fat bonuses, banks build giant buildings as monuments to themselves, or as temples of Mammon, and we whistle down the street knowing that the business of America is business. And this is why Occupy has sprung from the streets and alleys, and resistance is beginning to form. And why the state maintains such an overweening interest in squelching nonviolent protest.

How we the sheeple can sleep through this slow-motion Kafkaesque nightmare without getting our ample butts off the couch and into the streets is simply beyond me.

In the blog, “The New Inquiry”, George Scialabbla answers the question, “How Bad Is It?” with precision, and by invoking the writer whose work whose works are highly instructive in these times, the man I call the arch-prophet of Doom, Morris Berman:

“Here is a sample of factlets from surveys and studies conducted in the past twenty years. Seventy percent of Americans believe in the existence of angels. Fifty percent believe that the earth has been visited by UFOs; in another poll, 70 percent believed that the U.S. government is covering up the presence of space aliens on earth. Forty percent did not know whom the U.S. fought in World War II. Forty percent could not locate Japan on a world map. Fifteen percent could not locate the United States on a world map. Sixty percent of Americans have not read a book since leaving school. Only 6 percent now read even one book a year. According to a very familiar statistic that nonetheless cannot be repeated too often, the average American’s day includes six minutes playing sports, five minutes reading books, one minute making music, 30 seconds attending a play or concert, 25 seconds making or viewing art, and four hours watching television.

Among high-school seniors surveyed in the late 1990s, 50 percent had not heard of the Cold War. Sixty percent could not say how the United States came into existence. Fifty percent did not know in which century the Civil War occurred. Sixty percent could name each of the Three Stooges but not the three branches of the U.S. government. Sixty percent could not comprehend an editorial in a national or local newspaper.”

This all sounds very much like Kunstler territory, as that stylist regularly decries the burgeoning illiteracy of the neck tattoo crowd, the NASCAR crazies, and the vulture capitalists. Citing Robert Putnam in bowling alone, he notes that “all forms of social capital fell off precipitously.” We stick our noses and computers and on social networking sites, and leave behind having friends to dinner, card parties, making new friends face-to-face, trusting one another, joining volunteer organizations, and otherwise being vitally involved in our respective communities.

And while we members of the “precariat” toil for our bread, the quality of life in the world’s richest nation continues to spiral down to Third World levels. Recently summarized by James Speth and Orion magazine, you’ve heard it all before. The US has the highest poverty rate for both adults and children, lowest rated social mid-ability, lowest score on you and indexes of child welfare and gender inequality and of course, remarkable levels of economic inequality. Thus the legacy of trickle-down economics.

Scialabba goes on to invoke Morris Berman. For those not familiar with his work, Berman is a cultural and intellectual historian, so his portrait of American civilization is anecdotal and atmospheric as well as statistical. Scialabba puts it well:

“He (Berman) is eloquent about harder-to-quantify trends: the transformation of higher (even primary/secondary) education into marketing arenas for predatory corporations; the new form of educational merchandising known as “distance learning”; the colonization of civic and cultural spaces by corporate logos; the centrality of malls and shopping to our social life; the “systematic suppression of silence” and the fact that “there is barely an empty space in our culture not already carrying commercial messages.” Idiot deans, rancid rappers, endlessly chattering sports commentators, an avalanche of half-inch-deep self-help manuals; a plague of gadgets, a deluge of stimuli, an epidemic of rudeness, a desert of mutual indifference: the upshot is our daily immersion in a suffocating stream of kitsch, blather, stress, and sentimental banality. Berman colorfully and convincingly renders the relentless coarsening and dumbing down of everyday life in late (dare we hope?) American capitalism.

In Spenglerian fashion, Berman seeks the source of our civilization’s decline in its innermost principle, its animating Geist. What he finds at the bottom of our culture’s soul is … hustling; or, to use its respectable academic sobriquet, possessive individualism. Expansion, accumulation, economic growth: this is the ground bass of American history, like the hum of a dynamo in the basement beneath the polite twitterings on the upper stories about “liberty” and “a light unto the nations.” Berman scarcely mentions Marx or historical materialism; instead he offers a nonspecialist and accessible but deeply informed and amply documented review of American history, period by period, war by war, arguing persuasively that whatever the ideological superstructure, the driving energy behind policy and popular aspiration has been a ceaseless, soulless acquisitiveness.” Not surprisingly, Berman finds parallels to the fall of Rome in our current state. By the end of that empire, Berman noted that economic inequality steeply rising, the legitimacy of the state was waiting, popular culture utterly the based, and civic virtue among the elites had disappeared. This made the effectiveness of the state and the projection of military power unsustainable. Scialabba points out this is 21st century America in a nutshell. Our foreign policy for the past 50 years has brought us to the turn where, in the period of time after 9/11 we have flailed about looking outside ourselves for the solutions to vague and undefined threats, ramping up internal Stasi-style security apparatus to bend, fold, spindle and mutilate the citizenry. “Our response to 9/11 is been utterly hysterical, and our inability to make an effort to understand the long festering consequences of our Imperial predations portended is clearly as anything could the demise of American bloat global supremacy.”

Scialabba adds, “What will become of us? After Rome’s fall, wolves wandered through the cities and Europe largely went to sleep for six centuries. That will not happen again; too many transitions — demographic, ecological, technological, cybernetic — have intervened. The planet’s metabolism has altered. The new Dark Ages will be socially, politically, and spiritually dark, but the economic Moloch — mass production and consumption, destructive growth, instrumental rationality — will not disappear. Few Americans want it to. We are hollow, Berman concludes. It is a devastatingly plausible conclusion.”

Jesus is quoted in Matthew as having said, “By their fruits shall ye know them.”  By our fruits, or deeds, we clearly worship Mammon, and Norman Rousseau was a blood sacrifice. For all of that and more, as Berman notes, we are doomed, if for no other reason than the Lords of Karma will see to it. After all, Nature bats last.   And, as to how we treat one another, Karpatok reminds us of Martin Buber’s I and Thou: “To the extent that one cannot embrace the reality of the Thou, one is not fully human..” 

What are we? What have we become? Ray Kurzweil whispers of the Singularity, as we dispense with one another with all the empathy of machines.

It is thus on my heart on a Sunday morning, with the soft breezes of her Virginia spring whispering through the trees. . . a holiday weekend, where the sun is bright, the birds chirping in trees bursting with bright green, my neighbors bustling about readying themselves for church. Yet Mammon lurks, hungrily.

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