You need to know this. Despite billions of dollars in fines and numerous new regulations, the mortgage industry has still been breaking the law. A new report by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau details how the industry has continued abusing consumers, and why we need an agency tasked with protecting our rights. According to this report, mortgage servicing companies have been forging paperwork, illegally foreclosing on homes, and even forcing borrowers to sign away their legal rights just to get a loan modification. These companies are essentially the middle men between banks and borrowers, handling everything from mortgage payments to the foreclosure process, but they haven't been doing their jobs. The CFPB report found that several servicing companies were flat-out incompetent, and others were just ignoring the law. Because of these findings, the CFPB banned these companies from participating in federal mortgage modification programs, and collected millions of dollars for wronged consumers in the second half of last year. The CFPB's report shows that companies like this cannot be trusted, and that government regulation and enforcement are necessary to protect consumers. Billions in fines, bad press, and even an economic collapse were not enough to stop these companies from preying on Americans, but thankfully the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is sticking up for us.
In screwed news... It's only the beginning of February, and we've already had two rivers destroyed by the fossil fuel industry. First the Elk River was contaminated in West Virginia, and now, North Carolina residents are dealing with 82,000 tons of coal ash in the Dan River. This toxic sludge is a byproduct of burning coal, and it contains dangerous levels of mercury, lead, arsenic and other heavy metals. The leak occurred Sunday, at the Dan River Steam Station in Eden, North Carolina, which has been used as a coal-ash dumping ground since that plant was closed. Environmental groups say that this spill is just the latest incident in Duke Energy's long history of polluting local communities, and that the company has many more dangerous sites like this one. Chemical and toxic sludge spills are only one of the many ways that the fossil fuel industry is destroying our planet, and disasters like this show just how important it is that we make the switch to green energy.
In the best of the rest of the news...
The state of Washington thinks that everyone should have the right to a vacation. Lawmakers in that state have proposed legislation to require all employers give their workers some paid time off. Unlike most developed nations, our federal government does not mandate paid vacation time, and Congress has blocked any attempt to give all workers a week of paid time off. So, Washington state isn't waiting for D.C. - this recent bill would require businesses with 25 workers or more to provide vacation time to anyone who works at least 20 hours a week. To be eligible for one week of vacation, employees would have to be on the job at least six months, and workers could earn up to three weeks off by staying with a company for five years. The vacation bill is waiting on a vote from the Washington State House Labor Committee, and it also has to survive in the state Senate. The future of this bill is far from certain, but there's no doubt that every worker should have the right to a take a vacation.
According to RadCast.org, radiation levels are spiking in North Carolina because of heavy rain and snow fall, so be sure to shower and clean off pets after being outside in that state. Durham is reporting an average of 44 counts per minute, with spikes all the way to 551. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is sitting at 43 counts per minute, with highs of 92, and Frederick, Wisconsin is hovering at 45, with spikes of 75 counts per minute. Layton, Utah is reporting 46 counts per minute, with spikes of 94, and Colorado Springs if averaging 63, with highs of 104 counts per minute. Medford, Oregon is hovering at 37 counts per minute, with spikes of 62, and Paso Robles, California is averaging 42, with highs of 112 counts per minute. RadCast.org's alert level is 100 counts per minute, however they remind us that there is no such thing as a safe level of radiation.
Living close to nature improves our mental health. A new study by the University of Exeter Medical School in England found that living near “green spaces” has an immediate impact on mental well-being, and that those benefits last for years. This study also found the people who move to urban areas often have an immediate decline in mental health, although those effects did not appear to be as long-lasting. Studies like these prove that our natural environment should be protected as the valuable resource it really is, and they show why it's important for people to connect with nature. So, if you've been feeling a little blue, get outside and find some “green space” - it could benefit you for years to come.
And finally... There are ten candidates running for mayor in Long Beach, California, but only one of them is putting up some risque campaign billboards. Steve Mozena's mayoral campaign doctored a picture of the nine other candidates, to make it appear as if they're posing in the nude. Mr. Mozena said that the ad, which features the phrase “Get buck naked,” is really a message about fiscal transparency. He said, “It's a play on words. We are accountable to the government in so many ways, whether it's the IRS, and now with our healthcare. I'm just asking them to bend over now and show us their finances.” Of course, the other candidates are not happy about the billboard, and one called it “a mockery of the democratic process.” It's definitely a unique way to talk about fiscal transparency, but let's hope that we don't have to see all candidates naked just to get them to hand over last year's taxes.
And that’s the way it is today – Wednesday, February 5, 2014. I’m Thom Hartmann – on the news.