The nation’s biggest lenders are reportedly preparing to create a compensation fund for borrowers who lost their homes in improper foreclosures. According to the Washington Post, banks are negotiating details with officials heading the foreclosure investigation by all 50 state attorneys general. The probe was launched last month following revelations mortgage companies made misleading or fraudulent statements and signed off on documents without proper review to approve foreclosures. The attorneys general are focusing on the three largest mortgage servicers—Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo—with other banks to follow. The news comes as executives from some of the nation’s top banks appeared before a Senate Banking Committee hearing on the foreclosure crisis. Committee chair Christopher Dodd (D-CT) said that widespread banking practices are threatening homeowners.
Sen. Christopher Dodd: "Many believe that the robo-signing errors are simply the tip of a much larger iceberg, that they are emblematic of much deeper problems at the mortgage servicing business, problems that have resulted in homeowners, of course, losing their homes in unjustifiable foreclosures. In fact, servicing practices may be putting homeowners at risk."
During the hearing, Chase Home Lending chief executive David Lowman was interrupted by protesters as he delivered prepared remarks. One protester unveiled a banner reading "Dave Lowman lies."
A top NATO official says foreign troops could remain in Afghanistan far beyond a newly touted withdrawal deadline. The Obama administration has said it will extend a conditional date for withdrawing troops by three years to 2014. But speaking to reporters ahead of a NATO summit in Portugal, the top NATO civilian official in Afghanistan, Mark Sedwill, said, "The end of 2014 does not mean that the mission is over, but the mission changes. It’s the inflection point, if you like." Sedwill’s comments come as the Canadian government has announced plans to end its combat mission in Afghanistan. In a blow to the U.S.-led NATO occupation, Canadian Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon said Canadian forces would leave Kandahar next year.
Lawrence Cannon: "And despite—yes, despite—the urgings of our NATO allies, we shall withdraw from Kandahar and shut down our combat mission. But we are not abandoning the Afghan people. After 2011, our efforts will be centered in Kabul. We shall dedicate ourselves to development, diplomacy and a non-combat role in training members of the Afghan national security forces."
Protests are continuing in Haiti over the cholera outbreak that has now killed over 1,000 people. On Tuesday, residents clashed with U.N. troops in the city of Cap-Haïtien for the second consecutive day. Nepalese troops stationed there have been accused of inadvertently bringing the cholera outbreak to Haiti. Haitian President René Préval has issued a nationwide appeal for calm a week before elections to determine his successor. At a camp for earthquake survivors in Port-au-Prince, community activist Fenel Domercant said Haitian and U.N. officials have failed to warn residents of the cholera outbreak.
Fenel Domercant: "We do not receive any aid here in this camp. You would think there was never a problem here, because no one ever came here to campaign against cholera and make the people aware of the situation."
The new U.N. expert on torture is calling on the United States to investigate and prosecute torture committed under former President George W. Bush. In his first interview since taking over as the new U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Ernesto Méndez said, "The United States has a duty to investigate every act of torture. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen much in the way of accountability." Méndez also said he hopes to visit Iraq and Guantánamo Bay to probe widespread torture allegations. Méndez was himself a victim of torture under the Argentine dictatorship in the 1970s.
The U.N. Security Council has rejected a plea to investigate the Moroccan government’s recent crackdown on the pro-independence movement in Western Sahara. Moroccan security forces last week raided a camp where some 20,000 Sahrawis had been staging a massive protest against the Moroccan occupation. Dozens of protesters were wounded. Representatives of Western Sahara’s Polisario Front had asked the United Nations to send a fact-finding mission to investigate. But on Tuesday, the Security Council denied the request, instead releasing a statement "deploring" the recent violence without saying who was to blame.
The Obama administration has been dealt a major setback in efforts to obtain Senate ratification of an arms reduction treaty with Russia. The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or New START, calls for the United States and Russia to cut their deployed arsenals to 1,550 nuclear warheads and 700 missile silos and bombers each. On Tuesday, Republican Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona said the pact shouldn’t be voted on until next year. Kyl had previously broken with other Republicans to back the treaty. His new stance means Democrats will have to obtain 14 Senate Republican votes in the next Congress instead of the eight they would currently need with a greater Senate majority.
A congressional panel has convicted Democratic Representative Charles Rangel of New York on 11 counts of ethics violations. Rangel was cited for acts including failing to report rental income, improperly leasing a rent-stabilized apartment, and receiving donations from people with business before Congress. The House prosecutor, R. Blake Chisam, said there is no evidence Rangel engaged in corruption, but maintained that his practices violated congressional ethics rules. Rangel had asked for a delay in the trial because he says he could not afford to pay his attorneys. The full House Ethics Committee will now deliberate on whether to punish Rangel beginning on Thursday.
A team of scientific experts has faulted BP, its contractors, and government officials for missteps that led to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. In a preliminary report, a 15-member committee from the National Academy of Engineering says BP’s "insufficient consideration of risk" and "lack of operating discipline" contributed to the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history. The report also criticizes the U.S. Minerals Management Service, the government agency responsible for overseeing offshore drilling, for "insufficient checks and balances for decisions" on well safety. Overall, the report says regulation of oil drilling has been "relatively minimal" compared to other high-risk industries.
Dozens of people gathered in New York Tuesday night to protest a fundraiser for a group that finances Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron. The Hebron Fund is one of over two dozen tax-exempt U.S. charities that have raised millions of dollars for West Bank settlements. Gloria Bletter of Jews Against the Occupation criticized the Obama administration’s record on Palestinian human rights.
Gloria Bletter: "We’re against exacerbating the facts of the occupation. It’s been so terrible up 'til now what Israel has been doing and militarily and killing and starving Gazans and people in the West Bank, that every time it seems to get worse. It seems like they up the ante again and again. And this government, Obama, is going along with them. It doesn't stand up to them."
The American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center have filed a federal class action suit against the operators of a for-profit youth prison in Mississippi. The suit alleges children held at the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility have been subjected to "barbaric and unconstitutional conditions" and "excessive uses of force." The prison is owned by the GEO Group, the nation’s second-largest private prison firm.
And Pittsburgh has become the first Pennsylvania city to pass a measure barring natural gas drilling. In a unanimous vote, the Pittsburgh City Council approved the ban within city limits. Pittsburgh sits atop the Marcellus Shale formation, which has large reserves of natural gas. Opponents say natural gas drilling has contaminated water and air in communities across the nation.