Saturday, January 8, 2011
The Royal Family is to be granted absolute protection from public scrutiny in a controversial legal reform designed to draw a veil of secrecy over the affairs of the Queen, Prince Charles and Prince William.
Letters, emails and documents relating to the monarch, her heir and the second in line to the throne will no longer be disclosed even if they are in the public interest.
Sweeping changes to the Freedom of Information Act will reverse advances which had briefly shone a light on the royal finances – including an attempt by the Queen to use a state poverty fund to heat Buckingham Palace – and which had threatened to force the disclosure of the Prince of Wales's prolific correspondence with ministers.
Lobbying and correspondence from junior staff working for the Royal Household and Prince Charles will now be held back from disclosure. Buckingham Palace confirmed that it had consulted with the Coalition Government over the change in the law. The Government buried the plan for "added protection" for the Royal Family in the small print of plans called "opening up public bodies to public scrutiny".
Maurice Frankel, head of the Campaign for Freedom of Information, said that since the change referred to communications written on behalf of the Queen and Prince Charles it might be possible for "park keepers working in the royal parks" to be spared public scrutiny of their letters written to local authorities.
The decision to push through the changes also raises questions about the sincerity of the Liberal Democrats' commitment to government transparency. In opposition, senior Liberal Democrats frequently lined up to champion the Freedom of Information Act after it came into force in 2005.
Ian Davidson, a former member of Parliament's Public Accounts Committee (PAC), told The Independent: "I'm astonished that the Government should find time to seek to cover up royal finances. When I was on the PAC what we wanted was more disclosure not less.
"Every time we examined royal finances we found extravagance and indulgence as well as abuse of expenses by junior royals.
"Everywhere we looked, there were savings to be made for the Government. This sends the wrong message about public disclosure and accountability."
Paul Flynn, another member of the committee, described the special protection for the Royals as "indefensible". He said: "I don't think it serves the interests of the public or the Royal Family very well."
Mr Frankel said he believed that Prince Charles was the driving force behind the new law.
"The heir to the throne has written letters to government departments in an attempt to influence policy," he said.
"He clearly does not want these to get into the public domain."
Later this month, lawyers for the Cabinet Office, backed by Prince Charles, will go to court to continue to resist Freedom of Information requests of ministers to publish letters written to them by the Prince of Wales.
Almost immediately after the nation learned of the shooting of Arizona Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and several others (including a federal judge), a few prominent liberal web writers sought to blame Sarah Palin and other conservatives for the action.
Linking to a map of U.S. House districts that Sarah Palin's pac wanted to "target" during the 2010 mid-term elections -- which sadly included crosshairs over Rep. Giffords' district (among others) -- DailyKos founder Markos Moulitsas Tweeted, "Mission accomplished, Sarah Palin."
The liberal blog Firedog Lake also went there.
(Palin has deleted the image from her website, and issued a short statement on the shooting, writing on her Facebook page: "My sincere condolences are offered to the family of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the other victims of today's tragic shooting in Arizona. On behalf of Todd and my family, we all pray for the victims and their families, and for peace and justice."
Liberal blogger Matthew Yglesias Tweeted out several other examples of "violent rhetoric,"including Rep. Michele Bachman saying, "I want people in Minnesota armed and dangerous" to block climate change legislation.
Tea party activists are reportedly already fearing they too will be blamed for this event.
A few personal observations...
First, it is sad to see folks immediately politicize such a tragedy. If your first response to such an event is to think of Sarah Palin, something is wrong.
Like it or not, the sort of rhetoric and imagery employed by Palin's PAC is not terribly unusual. Politicians constantly talk about "targeting" voters -- does anyone think they want to shootthem? Political consultants tell politicians to "hunt where the ducks are, " but they certainly don't mean to shoot voters. Ironically, Moulitsas has also previously urged his readers to "target" Giffords and put a "bulls eye" on her district because she "sold out the Constitution..."
To be sure, it is possible for a politician to use words to incite violence, but putting a target on a congressional district is clearly not an example of that.
Our culture is full of rhetoric that uses violent analogies for everyday events. Here is a headline I just pulled up: "Aaron Rodgers in the Eagles' Crosshairs...Literally." (Here's another: Lindsay Lohan in Sheriff's Crosshairs, Calif. Investigators Ask ..." (Clearly, we had better hope nothing happens to the Aaron Rodgers or Lindsay Lohan in the near future).
It's also worth noting that the majority of the most egregious comments were made on Twitter, an outlet that allows folks to Tweet before thinking.
Robo-Signing Is Child's Play Compared To This - Bank of America Allegedly LYING To State & Federal Courts About Fraudulent Foreclosures
Obama has vowed to repeal the curbs regarding the Guantanamo Bay prison, saying he was forced into signing the bill on Friday.
The new bill bars Guantanamo suspects from being brought to the United States for trial.
The US president further stated that the bill was vital for funding the country's foreign wars in 2011 and that was why he signed it into law.
"Despite my strong objection to these provisions... I have signed this Act because of the importance of authorizing appropriations for, among other things, our military activities in 2011," Obama stated.
Earlier the US chief executive had promised to close the prison, which has drawn international condemnation for its severe mistreatment of prisoners, AFP reported.
The US president also voiced his opposition to the bill without explicitly threatening the restrictions.
"Nevertheless, my administration will work with the Congress to seek repeal of these restrictions, will seek to mitigate their effects, and will oppose any attempt to extend or expand them in the future," he concluded.
The Guantanamo detention facility was established in 2002 by the Bush administration. Almost 800 detainees have been brought to the prison camp since October 7, 2001, when Washington began the war on Afghanistan.
A total of 1,100 US army and navy personnel are engaged in guarding prisoners held in nine separate camps at Guantanamo.
International Red Cross inspectors and released detainees have described acts of torture, including sleep deprivation, beatings and confinement in small, cold cells.
Human rights groups have also argued that indefinite detention constitutes torture. One of the allegations of abuse at the US camp is the abuse of the religion of the inmates.
Earlier this week we published a similar story that you might have missed...
When you thought you’d seen every possible stuff-up in mortgage land, a new one comes to light. As the housing market correction started, most savvy observers pointed out that prices needed to revert to long-term relationships with rentals and income levels. And many have also pointed out that it is reasonable to expect prices to overshoot on the downside.
The powers that be have been trying to forestall the inevitable by using super low interest rates and purchases of mortgage backed securities to keep mortgage borrowing rates low, making housing more affordable. It isn’t clear how productive that massive effort has been. Not only have banks have tightened up on lending standards (which was warranted) but smart buyers might be worried about financing homes when rates are artificially low. When intervention ceases as inflation picks up and the Fed starts to mop up liquidity, the rise in mortgage rates may prove to be disproportionate to the increase in inflation, dampening appreciation.
But with these ongoing large-scale subsidies, and the almost certain prospect of banks pressing for continuing favored treatment (recall, for instance, the “securitization market is TBTF” argument by American Securitization Forum president Tom Deutsch), it’s disturbing to see members of the financial services industry continue, through incompetence and an undue focus on cost containment, take actions that are detrimental to the housing market.
Evidence of the latest self-inflicted wound comes via e-mail from Lisa Epstein of ForeclosureHamlet.org, namely that some lenders, such as Fannie Mae, had not obtained title to foreclosed properties before selling them out of foreclosures. There’s already been a hue and cry over possible clouded title due to the discovery of errors and corners-cutting, particularly the electronic mortgage registry MERS producing an inability to verify the chain of title, and MERS being so loosely run as to raise questions about the integrity of its data.
In classic 'shoot the messenger' behavior, people who have pointed out these issue have been criticized for publicizing these failings and arguably hurting the housing market. But this is tantamount to arguing that the media should hide information about serious auto defects because it might hurt GM.
While the latest fiasco has been reported in Orlando, it isn’t hard to believe that the same problems exist in other parts of the US, since Fannie, Freddie, and outsourced servicer process managers like LPS worked to implement standardized processes to the extent state real estate laws permitted.
From the Orlando Sentinel:
A funny thing happened to DeBary resident Russ Vas Dais as he was about to buy a foreclosed home: He learned the bank selling him the house didn’t actually own it.
Fannie Mae had foreclosed on the property but, in an apparent paperwork problem, never took ownership.
“It was quite shocking to learn the bank didn’t have title to it,” said Vas Dais, who had worked in the real-estate sales and appraisal business for 18 years. “I just felt that there are a lot of incompetent professionals who aren’t paying much attention. …
Another emerging obstacle that could further complicate the foreclosure process: legal appeals that can reverse judicial foreclosures and can put a property’s ownership into deeper doubt.
Christopher Hunt, senior attorney with the Orlando law firm KEL, said the firm has beefed up its appeals staff and plans to start filing 20 foreclosure appeals a week. The firm In July persuaded the 5th District Court of Appeal to overturn state Circuit Judge William Law’s foreclosure against Stephanie and John Crown of Lake County. The bank that took ownership, Chase Mortgage, never put the house on the market, and the Crowns have been able to continue living in it.
Buyers of foreclosed properties could find themselves caught up in such litigation if the foreclosure is overturned in the courts, Hunt said.
“I think that is actually going to happen,” he added. “We’re not going to be able to prevent that in every instance. When that does happen, it’s bad for everyone. It’s a disaster in the making.”
Even in commercial real estate, foreclosure sales have proven so problematic that one Orlando broker likens them to “catching a falling knife.”
And a mere two days ago, the Sun-Sentinel reported that a foreclosed home was sold twice, meaning two buyers closed on and paid for the same property.
As we’ve indicated repeatedly, foreclosure sales are final; the risk is not so much to the home buyer, as the article implies, but the lender that foreclosed. As Bob Lawless wrote:
…most every (or maybe even every–I’ll let someone else do the 50-state survey) state provides the strongest possible finality protections for deeds obtained through foreclosure sales. We also see similar rules for other judicially supervised sales in other contexts such as sales of personal property subject to a security interest or bankruptcy sales….
Suppose Henry and Helen Homeowner lost their home in foreclosure proceeding, and it has since been purchased by Bill and Betty Buyer. Now, Henry and Helen discover the affidavits in their foreclosure proceeding had some of the very same apparently fraudulent signatures reported in the media. When Henry and Helen complain to the court, the answer should be: “Your complaint is against Deutsche Bank (or whoever foreclosed) and not against Bill and Betty. You can recover damages from Deutsche Bank but not eject Henry and Helen from possession.” In turn, this will mean that that Bill and Betty (or their lender) will not have to look to the title insurer for recovery.
WASHINGTON (TheStreet) - State regulators shuttered two banks on Friday, for the first closures of 2011 following 157 shutdowns during 2010.
More from Philip van Doorn
More than 300 banks have failed since the financial crisis kicked in the latter half of 2008. 2010's total, which came after 140 failures in 2009, was the largest number of failures in a single year since 1992.
Friday's combined failures cost the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.'s deposit insurance fund a combined $105.9 million.
First Commercial Bank of Florida
The Florida Office of Financial Regulation seized First Commercial Bank of Florida of Orlando. The FDICwas appointed receiver and sold the failed bank's $598.5 million in total assets and $529.6 million in total deposits to First Southern Bank of Boca Raton, Fla.
First Commercial Bank of Florida had been operating under a Prompt Corrective Action directive handed down by the Federal Reserve on Sept. 27, under which the bank agreed to raise sufficient capital to become adequately capitalized or sell the bank within 45 days. The order followed a written agreement in March when First Commercial Bank of Florida agreed to take various actions to improve its credit quality and submit a capital plan within 60 days. The bank was negatively capitalized as of Sept. 30.
The failed bank's nine offices were scheduled to reopen Monday as First Southern Bank branches. The FDIC agreed to cover 80% of losses on $484.3 million of the assets acquired by First Southern Bank and estimated the cost to the deposit insurance fund would be $78 million.
The Arizona Department of Financial Institutions took over Legacy Bank of Scottsdale and appointed the FDIC receiver. The FDIC sold the failed bank's $125.9 million in deposits for a 1% premium to Enterprise Bank & Trust of St Louis, Mo. Enterprise Bank & Trust also agreed to assume the failed bank's total assets of $150.6 million, with the FDIC agreeing to cover losses on $119.8 million.
Legacy Bank had been operating under a Prompt Corrective Action Directive it entered into with the FDIC in May, under which the FDIC said the bank had been undercapitalized for nearly a year and the bank's management was required to raise enough capital through the sale of shares for the bank to become adequately capitalized or sell the bank to another institution.
As of Sept. 30, the bank remained undercapitalized and its nonperforming assets - including nonaccrual loans and repossessed real estate - made up a critically high 14.42% of total assets.