The U.S. Department of Justice has unveiled a $25 billion mortgage settlement with the nation’s five largest banks to resolve claims over faulty foreclosures and mortgage practices that have indebted and displaced homeowners and sunk the nation’s economy. The bulk of the mortgage settlement is expected to go to as many as one million homeowners in the form of reduced mortgage debts or refinancing at lower interest rates. Another 750,000 people who have lost homes to foreclosure will receive between $1,500 and $2,000. Attorney General Eric Holder helped announce the deal on Thursday.
Eric Holder: "We saw that, far too often, services pushed borrowers into foreclosure, even though federal regulations require the servicers to try other alternatives first. These failures didn’t just hurt borrowers who might have been able to afford modified mortgages, they fueled the downward spiral of our economy and of communities nationwide. They eroded faith in our financial system. And they punished American taxpayers, who have had to foot the bill for foreclosures that could have been avoided. With this settlement, we are recovering precious taxpayer resources."
While the deal is being described as a $25 billion settlement, the banks will only have to pay out a total of $5 billion in cash between them.
The U.S.-led NATO coalition in Afghanistan is being accused of killing eight children in an air strike earlier this week. In a statement, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said the attack took place in the eastern Kapisa province and that he has assigned officials to investigate.
The U.S. military has apologized following the release of a photograph showing a team of marines in Afghanistan posing in front of a flag with a logo resembling that of the Nazi SS. The SS is notorious for having killed millions of people during the Nazi Holocaust. Despite the apology, none of the marines will face disciplinary action. It is the second major controversy involving marines in Afghanistan this year following the discovery of video showing troops urinating on the bodies of dead fighters.
In Syria, at least 25 people have been killed in two bomb attacks on military and security buildings in the northern city of Aleppo. The bombings come as the Syrian government continues to bombard the city of Homs with tanks, helicopters and artillery, reportedly killing more than 100 people on Thursday. Witnesses said roads around the suburb of Baba Amr have been sealed, and residents there are running out of food. In video posted online, an activist living inside Homs appealed for international help.
Danny Abdul Dayem: "This is Homs, Baba Amr. We can see over there another rocket landed on one of the civilians’ houses. This has been going on all day long, from 5 a.m. It’s about 8 a.m. right now. This is going to keep going on until 7 p.m. This is the life we’ve got used to: rockets, bullets killing children dead in the street, body parts. Why isn’t the world helping us? Where’s the humanity in the world? Where is the freaking U.N.? Why isn’t anyone doing anything about this? Are these animals? Aren’t these civilian houses over there? Aren’t these human beings that live in that house."
In the Maldives, ousted President Mohamed Nasheed is calling for his successor to step down and for new elections to be held following what he has described as an armed coup earlier this week. Nasheed said he was forced to resign at gunpoint and blamed the coup on allies of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who ruled the Maldvies for 30 years before Nasheed became its first democratically elected president in 2008. Despite a warrant for his arrest, Nasheed has led hundreds of supporters in a rally through the streets of the capital city Malé. A backer of Nasheed said protesters will defend the ousted president.
Ali Malik: "We are here because we just got news saying that the police are going to come and pick our president. So that is why we are here."
Reporter: "What are you going to do if they come?"
Malik: "Well, we will protest, and we will follow his orders."
The protests for ousted President Mohamed Nasheed come as a U.N. delegation has arrived in the Maldives to help mediate the political crisis. The head of the delegation, U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, said he is concerned for Nasheed’s safety.
Oscar Fernandez-Taranco: "We are concerned about the security of the former president, Nasheed, that it is extremely important that he be treated fully within the rule of law and that his rights, like those of all Maldivians, need to be protected and respected."
Greek unions have launched a two-day strike in protest of a new austerity deal approved in order to receive a European bailout. The deal would cut the private-sector minimum wage by 22 percent for workers over 25, and 30 percent for those under 25. European finance ministers are still withholding the $170 billion bailout, saying the Greek austerity measure does not go far enough.
Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzón has been disbarred for 11 years after being found guilty of ordering illegal monitoring. Garzón is known for taking on international human rights cases, with actions including ordering the arrest of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1998, indicting Osama bin Laden for the 9/11 attacks, and probing the abuse of U.S. prisoners at Guantánamo Bay. But on Thursday, he was convicted of authorizing illegal recordings between clients and their lawyers in a corruption case involving the governing People’s Party. Spain’s Supreme Court has banned Garzón from the legal profession for 11 years, effectively ending his career as a judge. The court also said he could not appeal against the ruling.
Solidarity actions were held online throughout the world on Thursday to back a Palestinian activist who has been on hunger strike for nearly two months in protest of his detention without trial or charge. Khader Adnan, believed to be a member of the Palestinian group Islamic Jihad, has refused to eat since he was arrested in mid-December.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has approved two proposed new nuclear power reactors at Southern Nuclear’s Vogtle site in Georgia. The move marks the first time the NRC has approved new reactors in the United States since 1978, shortly before the Three Mile Island nuclear meltdown in Pennsylvania. The vote was four to one, with NRC Chair Gregory Jaczko casting the sole dissenting vote. Jaczko said he had objected to the licenses over the absence of guarantees to implement recommendations made following the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan last year. A coalition of anti-nuclear groups has vowed to file suit in order to block the project.
More than one thousand students, parents, teachers and Occupy Wall Street protesters rallied in New York City on Thursday at a vote over the closing of two dozen public schools. The protesters, under the umbrella group Occupy the DOE, tried to stop the vote from happening. Using the human microphone, the protesters disrupted the meeting at times but were unsuccessful in stopping the closing of 23 schools. New York public school teacher Brian Jones and high school student Tafador Saurov helped organize the protests.
Brian Jones: "What we really need is real democracy, and unfortunately, what we have right now is mayoral dictatorship over the schools. So, they close the schools, they do whatever they want, and nobody gets any say. None of the teachers get a say, no parents get a say, and students certainly don’t get a say. We have to interrupt them with mic checks just to be heard."
Tafador Saurov: "I’m here tonight because the panel for educational policy, a panel of Bloomberg’s puppets, is here to close down as many high schools as they can in the process of neoliberal education reform to open up privatized charter schools. This is a direct and racially motivated attack on our communities, and we came here tonight to shut it down."
In other education news, new studies are showing the education gap between rich and poor Americans is growing to record levels. According to the New York Times, one recent study found the gap in standardized test scores between affluent and low-income students has grown by about 40 percent since the 1960s. Another study from researchers at the University of Michigan shows the disparity in college completion by income bracket has grown by 50 percent since the late 1980s.
Conservatives are gathering in Washington, D.C., for the Conservative Political Action Conference. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who recently endorsed Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, is expected to appear on a panel entitled "High Fences, Wide Gates: States versus the Feds, the Rule of Law and American Identity," alongside white nationalist Robert Vandervoort. Kobach recently campaigned with Romney on immigration reform in South Carolina. Meanwhile, GOProud, a Republican group that represents LGBT people, has been barred from sponsoring the convention.
The Coalition of Immokalee Workers has announced a major victory in reaching an agreement with the grocery chain Trader Joe’s ensuring humane working conditions for farmworkers harvesting tomatoes sold inside its stores. On Thursday, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers said Trader Joe’s had finally agreed to join the group’s Fair Food Program after a lengthy public campaign that included protests in front of the chain’s locations. Before the deal, the farmworkers said their wages had remained stagnant since 1978, with tomato pickers having to put in 10-hour days just to make the minimum wage.