Tag Archives: crisis

Human rights in Sudan – solving the crisis

By Mauro DePasquale, Jr.

On April 24, Anna Maria College hosted a demonstration (posed as a panel discussion) on two humanitarian efforts currently underway in Sudan: The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and the Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP). The demo began with a brief introduction by the college’s president, Dr. Jack Calareso, as well as the reading of a letter from U.S. Congressman James McGovern by his secretary Gladys Rodriguez-Parker.

The opening dialogue gave a brief and very general overview of the current conflict in Sudan, related to the recent independence of South Sudan and the consequential continuous human rights violations being committed there since.
Although this event was framed as a symposium on the crisis in Sudan, it was evident in the unfolding of the presentations that it was more of an impressive demonstration intended to recruit support of surveillance and intervention by NGOs in Africa.

Following President Calareso’s introductory remarks, Susan Swanberg, an international law instructor for the American Red Cross in Massachusetts, gave an educational history of the organization and also provided some general background of the Red Cross’ role in the formation of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) in relation to their contribution to the Geneva Conventions which legally allows for non-governmental groups to operate without interference anywhere in the globe under the banner of “humanitarian aid.” Swanberg briefly discussed how the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is thriving in South Sudan.
After the Red Cross’ presentation, The Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP) was introduced by Nathaniel Raymond, its current director, who provided some background information of the initiative.

The SSP utilizes constant satellite surveillance and other information (including every single world-wide press releases involving Sudan in real time!) to produce up-to-date reports on the security situation in the newly-independent South Sudan. The project is supposedly sponsored entirely by American actor George Clooney, and is coordinated through the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative.

Mr. Raymond introduced his colleagues who took part in discussing and demonstrating how SSP detects and documents actions in Sudan to focus world attention to the region’s need of humanitarian aid.

Throughout the discussion, remarkable satellite images were displayed and the panel took turns explaining how the images are analyzed. They revered that in 2011, the Satellite Sentinel Project detected images of freshly-dug mass grave sites in the Southern Kordofan state of South Sudan, where Sudan’s military has been targeting an ethnic minority. They explained how the SSP could use their intelligence to cite violations of International Humanitarian Law, although there were no mentions of such specific legal actions being pursued presently.

The presentation concluded with an invitation to Worcester College Consortium students to pursue an internship with The Satellite Sentinel Project who are incidentally actively looking to recruit a current Worcester college student.
I left the symposium contemplating the abundant conflicts, genocides, brutal tyrants, tribal wars and human rights calamities that have been occurring all over Africa going back since the days of European colonization yet the focus of attention has only shifted to this region recently (e.g. Hosni Mubarak, Muammar Gaddafi, Omar al-Bashir, Kony). It is evident through sudden interests that the oil, agricultural and pharmaceutical industries see massive potential in Africa. (Sudan is oil rich , the UN is privatizing supply and production of seeds in Sudan , and Red Cross vaccinated over one million cattle.)

Considering that wars and conflict are what the media make them, I guess it’s fitting to employ America’s best known and romanticized actors to be the face of surveillance efforts in Africa . Framing these actions under the banner of humanitarian aid manufactures consent and exemption from much interference and SSP Director, Nathaniel Raymond specifically said that “their surveillance does not fall under international laws of espionage simply because they are using satellite imagery located way above any claimed national airspace.”

There was no mention of Sudanese rights to privacy or any mention of problems and hostility to Western involvement from citizens there either. I found that peculiar considering that many Africans perceive their modern problems as results of Western policies past and present. Much to their chagrin since 2006, The United States Africa Command, (USAFRICOM or AFRICOM) in concert with other U.S. government agencies and international partners, conducts sustained security engagement through military-to-military programs, military-sponsored activities, and other military operations as directed to promote a stable and secure African environment in support of U.S. foreign policy.

Writer and Director Zamo Mkhwanzi is one such critic of foreign intervention into Africa who put it most eloquently:

“No to aid, no to intervention. Leave Africa alone. That’s what we really want. Stop stealing our raw materials, stop coming here to trade your guns, stop using us to provide employment for your own people who come here as aid workers. No thanks UNICEF and Amnesty International and Angelina Jolie. Stop sending food packages that put our farmers out of work. In fact leave, leave Africa, never come back here again and we will be ok. We like you, so we’ll come and visit you if you like. But we can live without you. Every time you come here you leave us worse off, so thanks – but no thanks. ”

According to The Sentinal Project’s website , Clooney’s running mate in this Sudanese mission is John Prendergast. Mr. Prendergast is not only a human rights activist as head of the NGO Enough Project, but perhaps more notably he is a former member of the National Security Council and State Department. Prendergast left government in 2001 to become Special Adviser to the President of the International Crisis Group on Africa issues. The International Crisis Group is a branch of the World Bank who advises The U.N.

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Footnotes

The Wall Street Journal, South Sudan Seeks Oil-Sector Help From China, Apr. 24, 2012
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303592404577362912216715458.html
UN News Centre, Sudan: UN agency funds farming improvement projects, Feb. 27, 2012
http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=41391&Cr=&Cr1=
ICRC Resource Centre, Sudan: ICRC continues to respond to humanitarian needs, Mar. 4, 2012
http://www.icrc.org/eng/resources/documents/update/2012/sudan-update-2012-04-03.htm
http://notonourwatchproject.org/who_we_are

IMPACT, The University of Nottinghams’s Official Student Magazine, Why Africa Doesn’t Want Us Anymore, Mar. 12, 2012
http://www.impactnottingham.com/2012/03/why-africa-doesnt-want-us-anymore/

http://satsentinel.org/our-story

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Prendergast#Career

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Crisis_Group

Worcester’s foreclosure crisis: What you need to know to save your home

By Grace Ross and Worcester County families

In 2006, Massachusetts with Worcester frequently in the lead began to see an ever-increasing number of foreclosures. While the crisis grew, many engaged in the blame game. Worcester had gotten into the breech early, but did not want to face how fast it was going to snow ball. Early reports that the problem was subprime mortgages with bad terms taken mostly by lower income, new borrowers, led some to blame the borrowers.

The first major case brought in Massachusetts Supreme Court where one of the best judicial minds in our state got to review the standard sub-prime mortgage documents (and his ruling was upheld by the rest of the Court). And he found the problems were unequivocably caused by inherently unfair practices by the big mortgage companies. Mortgage companies were not regulated like the rest of the banks, the loans they provided were not in any way comparable to traditional prime mortgages, and, as Justice Gants pointed out, were specifically structured to trap borrowers.

Those of us who have waded into the nitty gritty of what was happening to our neighbors in this mess found the truth to be the opposite of what we were told. Now the shannigans of the largest financial players in the world are splashed across the headlines but we heard it first from the grass roots.

Some of the people who went searching for the real story, real answers and continue to do so, are your neighbors who make up the Worcester Anti-Foreclosure Team.

And what were those stories? And what can we tell you to do if your story sounds like one of these? Read on …

Ann Kamarauskas

We got the house, me and my sister, when my mother passed. We took out a couple small mortgages – we wanted to take a mortgage to get stuff done around the house, because it is very old. Given our credit report, a friend, a broker said the only one we could go through was Full Spectrum Lending, part of Countrywide. Then I needed a car so we did a re-mortgage. But they said we had to take out more than I wanted because of my sister’s debt. So that was when it went into Countrywide and they put it under my sister’s name. This second time, unlike every time before where they asked for our paystubs, checking/bank account statements and all this financial paperwork like our taxes, this time they didn’t ask for anything – I thought it was weird but I didn’t know anything – I figured maybe they had all our stuff on file.

We got the mortgage and that time, the lady came over – we’d always gone to a law office before so we didn’t know what was going on. The lady kept saying she was in such a rush. My sister notices that they have her name spelled wrong all the way through. So the lady is all pissed off and rushing, they have to go through all the papers, the lady crossing off the s, my sister writing in the z.

I had not had problems paying the mortgage before but we started having problems paying this mortgage. Where my sister works, she doesn’t make $4,333 we found later they put on the mortgage and she told them she does not work in the summer. So we went back to our friend, the broker, to see if she could help us renegotiate our loan. She said “wow, Barbara makes a lot working down at the middle school.” I said, “What are you talking about?” She says, “ according to this paperwork, she makes over 50 grand per year!” “She’s lucky if she takes out 21 thousand per year,” I told her.

She ended up calling them and saying,“I know what you people do to get people mortgages.,” She was yelling at them, “I own my own mortgage company I know what I am talking about.” But nothing came of it.

After that I got laid off in 2009. And my sister couldn’t keep doing the payments. We just kept calling countrywide, no reply. Then we heard about loan modifications, we kept filling out paperwork. We ended up driving down to Dedham. They went over our paystubs, bank accounts, tax stuff. They said we would be the first on their list to do a loan modification. They would not take my paperwork only my sister’s.

They said, “you’ll hear from us 2 weeks.” But we didn’t hear and kept calling; our paperwork kept changing hands. Then they kept asking for new paperwork again and again.

Then we got a letter for October 2010 saying they were foreclosing April 8th. We called and they called their loan officer, called back and said it was postponed but we don’t know what happened.

Ann comes every first and third Weds, 5:30 pm at the Pleasant St. Network Center to WAFT meetings. We will see what we can do. She might be able to afford a modified loan if they count both her and her sisters’ income and bring the house value down to closer to today’s values. She has a friend who can re-appraise and if we can get the bank to send out the “Net Present Value” letter which is supposed to come with a loan turn down, then we can figure out why the bank sasy they cannot afford it.

ALSO, we wonder why letters from the lawyers and the court were sent on behalf of a bank that only owned the loan many months later! And then, maybe we can get something done about why Countrywide put down the wrong income for her sister in the first place!

Marty

My wife and I split up like 15 years ago. I had refinanced the house. I had been doing fine.

Then my business went under in this economy– self-employed. That was when I went into depressed and stop being able to make the payments, anything. They kept sending mortgage bills, then Harmon Law got involved, saying they were going to foreclose.

So then Chris, my neighbor who was a member of WAFT got my name off the listing of foreclosure auctions and came by. He said I should come by a WAFT meeting. That got me hooked up with Jen & Luz – realtors who are part of WAFT.

I was going through bankruptcy at that point and my lawyer said not having the mortgage on the bankruptcy would be much better in the long run. By then, Jen & Luz had found me a buyer.
The bank had put the original auction off; they had given us a date by which to sell the house by. That time was just not long enough for the sale to go through, the buyer needed more time to get financing. So they threatened to auction it again.

So last minute we went and got a bankruptcy from the court. That made the auction not legal. WAFT came and protested and that stopped the auction process. This meant we were able to sell the place and fully pay off the mortgage. It was ridiculous that they were willing to get less money through the auction instead of the full amount through my signed Purchase & Sale. It made no sense.
We got that small bankruptcy dismissed but went with the full bankruptcy which I needed.

I wonder now if that sale was the best way to go. Wells Fargo could never prove they had the note. Maybe now that all the illegal actions of the banks have come out in the paper, I wonder if I should have stayed and made them prove they own the note instead of selling the property.

Marty was really lost until we worked together but he always willing to stand up and help someone out. He worked to get a buyer to pay off the bank. When they would no longer wait even though it was just a couple of weeks and tens of thousands more pay-off for them, Marty worked to get a bankruptcy and have WAFT folks come protest to stop the auction.

We know more now. You should look up all the mortgage, assignment, complaint paperwork on the Worcester Registry of Deeds website. And now that it is public, that many of the banks swore to affidavits they never read, claim ownership of mortgages where there is no proven chain of ownership going back to the first filing, missed dated paperwork – we wonder what justice is there is in cases like his: even if we show they did not own the mortgage and were sending him letters threatening a foreclosure they had no right to, he did a private sale…

Charity

I bought the house in 2003 and went through the broker and then Fast Choice. That was sold to CitiMortgage. When things started going bad and I was still working, I kept trying to remortgage. They said I was making too much. Then when my income went down some, they said I made less so they would take the application over the phone. Then they would sit on it; by the time you call again, they send you somewhere else. Finally I became sick last April. I kept telling them about the workers comp when they kept calling for the payments.

But one group there did not know what the other group was told. Finally I went to Neighborworks – they took my papers and bills and we sent it to Citi; they said they would get back to us in a few weeks. Then it was a few months; they want all the paperwork over again. And after we faxed all of this paperwork, finally a woman from Citi called, wanted the worker’s comp & financials and said not to talk to anyone else; we faxed everything else. Then we get the paper for the auction date April 1st. I left messages.

Finally, she called in early March and said the underwriter said they cannot do anything without a return date to work. I have to wait for my employer to find light duty so they declined me.
I met WAFT on Sunday, the auction was the Friday before. Chris came by and told me something I didn’t know: “you can stay even after foreclosure.”

I got this notice pinned to my door four days after the foreclosure giving me ten days to move out or all my things would be declared abandoned and removed. Thank God, the Worcester Anti-Foreclosure Team came to my door. My heart was pounding. I had gotten boxes, terrified that at any moment the realtor would arrive to move my stuff out.

Of course, once WAFT knew about the notice pinned to Charity’s door which illegal pressured her to leave immediately, we called the Attorney General’s office. They had sued realtors, agents for the banks, who did this elsewhere in Massachusetts. Once we found out it violated Charity’s right to stay until a court evicted her, did not give her a chance to try to negotiate rent, we went and protested the Realtor (see story in last In City Times). But WAFT took action and now notices telling people they can stay till a court evicts them have been posted and …

Now I just heard from Tony, the realtor. He was very nice now, no more harassing calls. And he said he would tell the bank that I want to stay and pay rent and talk to them about the leak in the roof.
Charity has been a fierce voice since she found out about her rights and has joined WAFT. We look forward to helping her stay in her home with a fixed roof. And if she get her work figured out, she want to try to re-purchase!

Christeen

I bought this house with my own money & a regular mortgage. When I had to refinance, my same broker put me in a subprime mortgage – I had no idea. I was shocked when I suddenly got a bigger bill!
In the fall of ’08 when they foreclosed, they started immediately trying to force me out. Two days after the auction, someone was outside mowing the lawn. Then I heard someone banging on a door. I checked the front door. I went to the back door, opened it and this guy was there.

He said, “You’re lucky you were home and opened the door because I was ready to bust the knobs off your doors.” I replied, “What do you mean your going to bust my door knobs off? I at least have thirty days here.” He said “well, I am just doing what I was told to.” “How are you going to come at nine in the morning, people have lives, people are at work; why don’t you come like at five, six o’clock when people are home from work?”

I got letters, visits, phone calls. It turned out to be a local realtor who harassed me for the bank to get me out.

I got lucky and ran into the WAFT at a community event. They taught me that the lender’s people could not force me to leave, that they had to repair when there was flooding and life-threatening mold built up. They supported me to call code and force the lender to make the home safe for me, my son and grandchildren till we moved.
Meanwhile IndyMac started trying to evict me thru the court (the only way they can legally evict). But it was weird because we had a deed showing that Deutsche Bank owned the property.

The lawyer from Harmon Law said it was IndyMac and argued even when we showed her the deed. Eventually IndyMac stopped the eviction; then the same lawyers started over again as Deutsche bank.
I always thought that was weird. How could they not know who owned it when they went to evict me? How did they prove they owned the property? With WAFT’s help, I fought them. And when they finally settled for me to move out, I got two and a half times as much money as what they had ever tried to get me to take when first harassing me to move out.

I tried to negotiate renting, talk to them about the mortgage – they NEVER responded.

Now today, I have paperwork showing IndayMac did not have clear ownership of the mortgage when they foreclosed!

You know what this has put my family through? This Experience has been extremely Detrimental to my family’s health…mentally & physically: Heartache, Distress, Deep Depression, Behavioral issues with my children in school, Self-esteem, feeling like a Failure. All in all, 1000’s of families are going thru the same situation. In all actuality, it boils down to: the bank, MY bank, the one you think is on your side & there to help you, they didn’t!

They never responded & didn’t even own the loan any more! I am fighting the illegal foreclosure and I want a fair settlement since they never had the right to foreclose!

Christeen showed us the power of connecting, learning your rights, and fighting for decent treatment with the support of others. She found out she did not have to leave right after the foreclosure, that they cannot legally call, drop by and harass you to leave. And when they take you to court, the lawyers cannot lie about who owns the property. She got repairs when there were serious health threats to her baby grandchildren and got time for her son to finish out the school year before they moved.

And now she knows she was one of thousands in Massachusetts that may have had their home illegally foreclosed by banks. And she’s still fighting. It will never make up for the investment she had in her home but she won’t be a victim.

M (asked that her name not be used)

Problems started after we refinanced to do major repairs on the house (a four family: all our family and one unit rented). It was in 2004 and an adjustable rate mortgage but we figured we’d be able to refinance again into a fixed rate; that was the goal. The broker suggested we do that because at the time that was the best rate we could get.
We got the loan, did the repairs. Once we got closer to the date for the rate adjustment we reached out to banks for a new mortgage but we couldn’t get one because by then we were upside down; the value on the home had gone down!

For years now the loan is much more than the house’s value. So we tried to find help to refinance because we knew there was no way to afford this mortgage. We had income. We tried directly with Wells Fargo for a loan modification but they said their investor would not do it because we were current.

So we went to NACA 2007 (worked with them through 2011). We also went to Oakhill. Same story: bank said there was no incentive to work with us because we were current.

In July ’09, I became unemployed – our renters allowed us to still pay the loan through til May 2010. Between losing renters and my mother’s business having fewer children (because so many other people are unemployed), we couldn’t do it any more.
We attempted to work with Wells Fargo but kept getting stalled. We went to a special lenders day through NACA and signed with a Wells Fargo representative what I understood was a three month moratorium. In February, I got employed; I reached out to both NACA and Wells Fargo then with a full time income. They said I needed four pay stubs for them to even review. Inbetween that, we finally got the application in through NACA on March 15th. On March 17th we got the Harmon Law letter saying they were foreclosing.

It is important to note: we got the moratorium on October 31. Until that time Wells Fargo had been both the owner and servicer of the loan. In mid-November, they assigned the mortgage to Deutsche Bank and that is when Harmon Law started the foreclosure. We were unaware of this so through February we sent Wells Fargo money at the lower rate.

April, we were sent the auction date – based on that we filed the complaint in Superior Court because we thought it was only fair that we complete this process before the auction was allowed.
I went to court the first time. No one appeared from the bank. The second time, we showed up again, the lawyer showed up and we agreed to put off the court date to mid-July. The lawyer said he would make sure that Deutsche bank sent the loan modification forms to me. Two weeks ago, we got notice that the auction had been postponed from May 11th til end of July. And I have just submitted them, sent them back to them.

This process has been a learning experience for me. Only since we got referred to WAFT, we found out that we aren’t the only ones in the situation. We are more empowered. You went through paperwork with us and supported us with court.

You guys are like the untapped resources. You guys do an awesome job. Only wish more people knew about you.

M and her family are amazing; they filed a complaint in Superior Court before they ever even found WAFT. Like many, they had a plan when they got refinanced into a loan they knew would be unaffordable when the interest rate increased two year later. But they had not planned for prices to drop. And being pro-active about seeking a loan modification, M found out – like thousands of others who have tried – that they won’t let you get ahead of the problem, they want you delinquent in payments and in trouble with income first.

But going to court with some legal guidance and support from WAFT, they have been able to go after a loan modification. Meanwhile, we want to know how Wells Fargo signed a legal agreement and then sold the mortgage to Deutsche Bank.

In each situation, we know the information WAFT has is making a difference. More importantly, though, we often find we need each other for support and even for public action and getting in touch with resources like the Attorney General’s office.

And there is nothing more important than the doorknocking WAFT members do every week to reach our neighbors whose homes may be listed on the new auction lists. During our outreach we often knock on doors of buildings that were auctioned two or three weeks previously, and very frequently we find the buildings empty – with both tenants and former owners gone. We know that “notice to quit” forms that look like eviction orders and “cash for keys” offers presented as the last best chance for getting some help with moving are parts of how this is being done.

We’ve heard many stories about banks that have failed to provide heat and essential repairs post foreclosure, and we have only heard of a few cases where the bank has informed tenants of their right to stay as tenants of the bank.

Together, we as Worcester residents are turning situations around when we can reach people in time. And we need more help not only reaching people but to pressure the banks not to empty out our City but come to reasonable resolutions with our neighbors

One ICT reader on Joff Smith’s “half-way” (done?!) house!

By Joseph Daniels

Please review the background of Joffrey Smith, who is running for the Mass State House. You might consider checking the records from the Worcester Registry of Deeds concerning the residence of City Councilor Joff Smith on 37 Barry Road, Worcester, MA.

One major factor that caused the housing bubble was people’s ability to get sub-prime mortgages for homes they could not afford to keep and maintain. I think you’ll find that Joff Smith, through his initial mortgage at Country Wide and his re-fi, falls within these parameters. Presently, Mr. Smith is at least $50,000 “upside down” on his house. How is our self-proclaimed financial genius (as we’ve been told over and over and over… “I have an economic degree from the University of Hartford”) able to get himself in this situation?

Apparently, his two full bathrooms have been out of commission since January of 2010 (I hope he has the proper permits), because he can’t afford to fix them. He had a leak in the wet wall that has caused him to knock down the wall between the bathrooms. He has had to clean up the mold and re-do the plumbing, walls and fixtures.

How can we have him take care of our house, when he can’t take care of his own house?