November 25, 2007

Judge Asks Deutsche Bank: Where's the Mortgage?

Let's hear it for Cleveland, Ohio.


Okay, let's at least hear it for Judge C.A. Boyko of the Federal District Court in Cleveland and for Cleveland blogger Bill Callahan.

Before the current sub-prime mortgage meltdown, Cleveland had the highest foreclosure rate in the country. I don't know if it's hung on to this dubious honor, but the foreclosure overhang is getting worse all over the US, as the adjustable rates on sub-prime mortgages soar and the economy threatens to tip into recession.

Which brings us to Boyko. In a recent case in Cleveland, Deutsche Bank National Trust Company was moving to evict 14 families and seize their homes. Boyko asked a simple question: Okay, where are the mortgages?

The Judge asked DB to show documents proving legal title to the 14 homes. DB could not. All DB attorneys could show was a document showing only an “intent to convey the rights in the mortgages.” They could not produce the actual mortgage, the heart of Western property rights since the Magna Charta if not longer.

Again why could Deutsche Bank not show the 14 mortgages on the 14 homes? Because they live in the exotic new world of “global securitization”, where banks like DB or Citigroup buy tens of thousands of mortgages from small local lending banks, “bundle” them into Jumbo new securities which then are rated by Moody’s or Standard & Poors or Fitch, and sell them as bonds to pension funds or other banks or private investors who naively believed they were buying bonds rated AAA, the highest, and never realized that their “bundle” of say 1,000 different home mortgages, contained maybe 20% or 200 mortgages rated “sub-prime,” i.e. of dubious credit quality.

DB's panicky lawyers argued that no one had ever made them do this in all the foreclosures they have pushed through in recent years. Boyko was, to say the least, unimpressed:
The Judge then declared that the banks “seem to adopt the attitude that since they have been doing this for so long, unchallenged, this practice equates with legal compliance. Finally put to the test,” the Judge concluded, “their weak legal arguments compel the court to stop them at the gate.” Deutsche Bank has refused comment.
Now these documents are someplace, and eventually either the banks will bring pressure to bear to overturn Boyko's decision in a higher court, or Deutsche Bank's US subsidiary will lay hands on 'em and proceed with turfing out the poor folk who went for the okey-doke when the mortgage brokers came knocking.

In the meantime, though, this precedent will be raised not only in Cleveland, but in foreclosure cases in Federal District Courts around the country. If upheld, it will slow both the flow of broke folk out of their homes and the shedding of bad paper by banks which are desperate to put the whole mess behind them and reverse their cratering stock prices.

Even if Boyko's decision is overturned, it has already intensified the spotlight being shone on the criminal greed of the big banks whose massive, and still incalculable, losses have made a joke of their every effort to bury their role in this mess. The mechanisms of this massive scam have been explained in detail in the press of late, but the one of the clearest I've seen is by Bill Callahan in his blog Callahan's Cleveland Diary. In an article titled "What’s this Boyko / Deutsche Bank thing all about, anyway?", he takes a case study, this house, four blocks from his, and shows what has happened to it since the couple who owned it made the mistake of refinancing in 2003. Read it and weep.

[In a future FotM post, I hope to dig into the question of what this sub-prime meltdown means for the Black community and other communities of color in this country and tie it in to the "sundown town" posts that appeared here earlier this year.]

Read more!

November 20, 2007

Jay-Z and the Doom of the Dollar

Watch this video, and get a long look into the abyss into which The World's Only Superpower(TM) is sinking.

You're not looking at the sucker as a work of art--I mean, "Blue Magic" is perfectly adequate late Jay-Z. He doesn't quite phone it in, but he's lost a few mph off the old fastball, for sure.

What you're looking at is the future, and you're looking at it in the form of the latest cutting edge status symbol for rappers who've made the big time (and soon, no doubt, for wannabes). Forget the Bentley and the champagne, watch Jay-Z in nighttime New York as he riffles through a sheaf of bills, not hundred dollar bills, but...Euros. Peep his briefcase full of stacks of...Euros.

Most of us haven't been bitten in the ass by the weak dollar--yet. But it's coming--higher prices on imported goods, interest rates jacked up to keep central banks and investors in other countries buying US paper, US firms being snatched up by capitalists from Europe, OPEC countries, China.

The United Arab Emirates shifting out of the dollar and into Euros, that's news. But when Hiphop Nation ditches the Yankee Dollar out for the Euro, now that's a sign.

'Cause it's all about the rococo.

Read more!

November 19, 2007

A Big Shout-Out To FotM Readers

A recent interview with a vice president at Technorati, the search engine for the blogosphere, suggests that the total number of blogs in the world increased 16% from August to October. All that competition had me a bit depressed, until I got to the end of the interview:

Q Any idea how many of the 109.2 million blogs you track
get no hits in the course of a year?

A Just over 99 percent. The vast majority of blogs exist
in a state of total or near-total obscurity.

No hits in the course of a year? Zero? I'd just like to say how much that makes me appreciate our regular readers. Without you, without both of you, Fire on the Mountain might not be in the top 1% of all blogs in readership!

Read more!

November 12, 2007

Dave Cline: Rank & File Rebel, Introduction

In an hour, I will be on my way to Jersey City, NJ where a ceremony will accompany the placing of a plaque honoring Dave Cline on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Community Center in Pershing Field. Dave is being honored because of his extensive work on behalf of veterans there, as recounted in this story from the Jersey City Reporter.

But for me, Jersey City is not just where Dave made his home. It is the home of the US Postal Service's New Jersey Bulk & Foreign Mail Center, the largest postal facility in the country and the scene of important wildcat strikes in 1974 and 1977, in which Dave played a leading role.

I was reminded of this a couple weeks ago by a two page article in the most recent issue of the Union Mail, the newspaper of the New York Metro Area Postal Union (part of the American Postal Workers Union) remembering Dave. It was written by Flo Summergrad, another veteran of the struggles at the Bulk in those days. Flo still works at the Bulk and is active in defending postal workers against management attacks from the national level right down to the shop floor!

I knew it was time to keep the promise I made when I posted four pieces about Dave Cline in September. Those concentrated on his well-known role as a leader of the veterans and anti-war movements, where he made his greatest contributions, but I said I'd try to do something on his role as a rank and file union militant as well.

This is being posted in four parts (reading down, not up): this introduction, an overview of the 1978 postal wildcat by labor historian Michael Braun, followed by two poems drawing on the events of 1978, by Sean Ahern and Martin Zehr. This is only the tip of the iceberg, however. Much more remains to be written about these struggles. Bob? Chris? Lee? Jay? Ken? C'mon folks, chip in a little to this tribute to someone we all miss...

This is a plugger for a documentary film about the 1977 struggle.

Read more!

Dave Cline: Rank & File Rebel, Part 1

[I am very deeply obliged to scholar Michael Braun. At my request, Michael wrote this summary of the 1978 postal wildcat strike, in which Dave Cline was a key leader, based on a far more extensive paper Michael has written in preparation for doing a doctoral dissertation and publishing a book on this important working class battle. Without Michael's work, we might never have had Dave's reflections on these events 30 years later! Other posts under this heading are here, here, and introduced here.]

The 1978 Postal Wildcat

The 1974 "Battle of the Bulk"

In 1974, Dave Cline went to work for the United States Postal Service at their New Jersey Bulk and Foreign Mail Center in Jersey City, New Jersey, right across the river from NYC. The Bulk, as it was called, was not your mythical sleepy neighborhood post office with a single postal employee slowly sorting the mail. The Bulk was the first of twenty-one bulk mail centers, which were going to be the linchpins in a plan to quickly and aggressively transform the old sluggish United States Post Office into the United States Postal Service (USPS), an industrial giant.

The BMCs were created and placed outside the major urban centers to churn out the mail like the auto plants of Detroit made cars or the steel mills of Chicago-Gary turned out steel ingots. They were massive industrial factories filled with machinery and thousands of USPS workers where automation, massive use of new mail-sorting machinery and modern corporate methods became the order of the day. Workers protested the speedup, sub-standard safety conditions, and draconian repressive management measures that accompanied the creation of the BMC. The USPS saw increased profits and efficiency in its new facilities and new corporate management structure, while postal workers saw increased degradation and misery.

The Vietnam War was near its end and many of the new postal workers were veterans, partially reflecting the USPS quasi-federal governmental civil service hiring policy. Veterans received five extra points on the employment exam, while disabled veterans received an additional five points on top of that. Some Vietnam veterans infused the Bulk rank and file movement with their élan and character which at times was reflected in the militancy in the insurgency. Dave Cline, who had been shot three times in Vietnam reflected
That is one thing about returning soldiers, they expect better. That was one of the driving forces of our movement. We had a lot of ‘Namies.
Dave Cline became one of the leaders of the rank-and file insurgency at the Bulk. He joined Outlaw, an “anti-imperialist organization of postal workers” which had active members in USPS facilities throughout the New York City metro area. Outlaw emerged from the aftermath of nine-day 1970 postal strike where 173,000 workers successfully defied no-strike laws aimed at federal employees. The militancy of the 1970 strike was centered in New York City.

Dave was one of the leaders of a successful 4-day “job action” in 1974 at the Bulk protesting the USPS arbitrary changing of work schedules. Dave was a union steward of the American Postal Workers Union (APWU), but also a big critic of the APWU’s leadership. Union leadership in the United States at this time, especially on the national level, was complacent, often more interested in collaboration with management than fighting for worker’s rights, and treacherous at times in foiling attempts by the rank and file to organize itself. The APWU was no different; Outlaw, with Dave as one of its leaders, was often locked in battle with Moe Biller, the president of the Metro local which represented all APWU members in the New York City area. Pitched battles, with chairs flying, erupted at union meetings, as Outlaw brought hundreds of Bulk workers to fight against the undemocratic methods of Biller and his cronies.

Dave, Ken Leiner, and P. McClosky were fired in 1976 and this had a chilling effect on the insurgency at the Bulk. However, one and a half years later the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that the USPS had acted illegally since they had terminated the three activists for what was deemed “union activity”. Leiner, Cline and McClosky got their jobs back, back pay, and marched back into the plant in April 1978. “I played it to the hilt, I walked in down the main aisle, with my fists over my head-Rocky style,” remembered Dave.

The return of Leiner, Cline, and McClosky invigorated the moral of many militants at the Bulk and led to the formation of a new organization called the Good Contract Committee (GCC) to agitate around the new contract coming due in July 1978. They formulated demands such as Decent Wage Increase, Improved Cost of Living, No Mandatory Overtime, Right to Strike and others. The postal activists launched a newspaper called P.O.W. ( Post Office Worker) and distributed fifteen thousand issues at the Bulk, in New York and nationwide through contacts with other postal rank and file groups. Seventy-five thousand leaflets were distributed at postal facilities between May and the end of July 1978. The button of the GCC read “No Takeaways, Tradeoffs or Sellout. Good Contract in ’78.”

The New York locals of the APWU and the NALC issued calls for two demonstrations in front of the Manhattan GPO on 33rd Street to agitate around the contract in the months before the July 20th contract deadline. The GCC played a major role in building these demonstrations which attracted several thousand postal workers each time. Members of the GCC organized other Bulk workers to go to a July 13th rally in Washington, DC, where 6,000 disgruntled postal workers from around the US marched from the Washington Monument to the new, sleek headquarters of the USPS. “No Contract-No Work” was the most popular chant from the demonstration which postal executives described as the loudest and largest display they could recall.

However after midnight, July 20th in Washington, D.C. after the old contract had run out , postal management, the national union leadership, and the Carter Administration, amidst repeated talk of strike possibilities manufactured a collective agreement, which ignored most rank and file postal workers’ concerns. In Jersey City, N.J., a militant rank and file, with diverse and active rank and file leaders like Dave Cline would, in their desire to obtain what they considered to be a good and equitable contract, confront the USPS, their national and local union leadership, and the federal government with an informational picket line which with grew into a wildcat strike action. Dave, in remembering that 5:30 AM picket line said,
We were thinking about a nation-wide “Vote No” movement on the contract. We did not think strike action was in the picture at all… We thought an anti-contract demonstration could possibly spearhead a significant rank and file opposition, a “Vote No” to the contract.
Bulk workers were so angry at the meagerness of the proposed contract and what they saw as their national union leadership’s “sellout” that over ninety percent refused to go to work that morning and for the next four days the Jersey City postal plant was effectively shut down with Dave Cline and the rest of the Good Contract Committee in the leadership.

The Bulk Jersey City wildcat strike lasted from July 21-25, 1978 in an attempt to nullify the tentative national contract agreement between the various postal unions and the USPS. The conflict spread till eventually 4,750 postal workers were on strike nationwide. The Richmond, California bulk center was effectively shut down almost as long as the Bulk in Jersey City. There were two or three day walkouts in Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia and sporadic walkouts or protests in Chicago, Allentown, Pennsylvania, Kearny, New Jersey, Miami, and Los Angeles at other bulk mail centers. After the strike was broken, 125 workers were fired, 130 were temporarily suspended, 2,500 received letters of warning, the union memberships did not ratify the proposed settlement, and an arbitrated contract settlement was imposed.

The 1978 wildcat strike was the largest strike of federal employees since the massive 1970 walkout of 173,000 postal workers during the creation of the USPS and the institution of federal employee collective bargaining. The 1978 Bulk wildcat strike was not surpassed in size among federal employees until 11,500 members of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) struck in August 1981.

Dave Cline was one of the Bulk workers who was fired and never got his job back. A vigorous three year amnesty campaign was successful in restoring many strikers to their jobs, but Dave was one of a few denied reinstatement because of his leadership role in the wildcat. Dave eventually got another job as a toll keeper for the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) where he was an active steward and a valuable member of the bargaining committee of TWU Local 510, which represents Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) employees working at the MTA bridge and tunnel tollbooths and the three metro area airports for many years.

Dave Cline is a true hero of the working class. We remember him and honor him for his long and outstanding role as a leader in the veterans, labor and anti-war movements. Dave Cline ¡Presente!

The quotes from Dave Cline were taken from an interview with him on April 20, 2007.

Read more!

Dave Cline: Rank & File Rebel, Part 2

[This poem by Sean Ahern, a comrade of Dave's in the battles with the US Postal Service and the postal union leadership, comes out of a long close connection born in struggle. The "Clarence" referred to in the 6th stanza is the late Clarence Fitch, for whom the New York/New Jersey chapter of Vietnam Veterans Against the War is named. More about Dave, Clarence and what Sean is writing about can be found in the excellent documentary film, Another Brother. Other posts under this heading are here, here and introduced here.]


I remember
Strong arms and shoulders
That pulled the cops off me
More than once
At GPO almost 30 years ago.

I remember the picket lines
In January and July
And flying chairs in Union meetings.

I remember the Editor
On Grove Street
Beating out
Sparse prose that meant something
On that selectric
For the leaflets and newspapers
That we hand cut and pasted and argued over
Using the three draft method
All night long.

I remember
That big old twelve string
Pounding out the blues.
I still have those Leadbelly, and
Robert Johnson tapes you made
For me.

I remember the basso voice
That filled my kitchen
And scared my little girl
And he cried with her
And for himself
"Don't sweat it Dave,
She's just a baby
You didn't mean no harm"
"She's afraid of me"
He grimaced, angry with himself

Thirty years ago
We fought hard,
Drank hard
Loved hard
Played hard
Too hard for our own
He flew by too fast
With war wounds that
Never really healed
I was 12 years junior
Who saw the scars
On the outside
But not
The ones on the inside.
I didn't get it
That you and Clarence
Left a war in Vietnam
For a war a home
With no chance to heal
The drink and drugs
Eased pain and caused more
I thought it was a
All part of the good fight and
Good times
Until Clarence shook his head
And asked me
"How can you just stop?"

I wish I could have been
A better friend to you both.
But life pulled me away.

DC, Drum major
For peace and freedom
Pounding out a beat
From Vietnam to Iraq

There beat a mighty heart
DC, Big brother
A diamond in the rough

Goodbye old friend
Warrior for peace
I remember so much more
And carry on
Thinking of you
With love

Sean Ahern

Read more!

Dave Cline: Rank & File Rebel, Part 3

[This poem, which looks at Dave Cline's whole life, starts with his role in the postal struggles of the '70s. It appeared at this site once before, in the comments section on the piece I wrote the day Dave died. I think it deserves broader distribution. Other posts under this heading are here, here and introduced here.]

A Tribute to Dave Cline
(by an old companero, Martin Zehr)

The union hacks in postal called him a "chronic malcontent";
And how right they were.
Never giving up the fight, never conceding defeat.
The work he did is our legacy,
The vision he held our hope.
A future without him is left missing a link,
The chains he sought to break are weaker for his work.

Stand fast vets!
Honor the combatants for justice,
The malcontents who strive for better,
March ceasely forward for humanity,
Fists raised in defiance
rifles pointed to the ground..
End the ceaseless slaughters,
stop the bloody carnages.
Dave's work is done,
much work remains.

Dewey Canyon III is the memorial
That negates all the lies,
Like the fire within Dave,
Formed from the anger of GIs
Never willing to surrender.

Chronic malcontents in their own time,
Never satisfied while others died,
Organizing for a better world,
Leaving it for us to carry it on..

The Russian poet, Tyutchev wrote:
"Blessed is he who visited this world
In moments of its fateful deeds:
The highest Gods invited him to come,
A guest, with them to sit at feast
And be a witness of their mighty spectacle."

Read more!

November 7, 2007

The Lighter Side of November 7th

Hit the computer this morning to find that John over at It's No Accident had stirred himself from a way-too-extended blogging lull to write a superb short piece in observation of the 90th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. "Jeez Louise," I thought to myself, "I should do something on this today, too."

Cut to a scene of the Road To Hell Paving Company hard at work.

Two things undermined my good intentions. One was the press of work on the Iraq Moratorium, November's third Friday Moratorium Day is now only nine days off. The other? Well, John wasn't the only one to hymn the October Revolution (it's a calendar thing, don't worry about it) today and some of the others I read were pretty deadly--rhetorical, sanctimonious, unconvincing. I feared I might do no better.

Email to the rescue. My friend David from the Bay Area just sent me a link to this hysterical video clip from the '80s movie Radio Days.

I could argue that the clip's an unconscious tribute to the pervasive influence of November 7, 1917 on everything that has happened since, but why stretch? It's about communism and, by me, either we laugh about some the unrealistic expectations and real shortcomings of the world-changing current that ripped into history on that day 90 years ago or we lose the perspective necessary to do it better next time.

If this intro has you worried that I've posted something inappropriate for such a solemn occasion, you may well be right. So read John's piece tonight and watch this tomorrow.

Read more!

November 1, 2007

"As The Iraqis Stand Up..."

Whew. It's been a month since I posted anything here. I apologize to FotM's fans. Furthermore, I promise you both that it won't happen again. While I feel a certain compulsion to ramp back up with something deep or lofty, I decided that this 23 second clip of U.S. troops training the Iraqi Army might lighten your day in a difficult period. It took me four or five viewings before I stopped laughing all the way through.

Read more!