Ownership Society

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Last Thursday, April 30, there was a flood of stories that the evening news and the next morning’s papers had to cover: swine flu, Souter’s retirement from the Supreme Court, and the Chrysler bankruptcy, for starters. But the story with perhaps the largest public import somehow managed to escape attention, namely the Senate’s decision to snub desperate homeowners.

The Senate voted to reject a bill sponsored by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) that would have helped millions facing foreclosure, by enabling bankruptcy judges to modify the terms of their troubled mortgages.

Election watchers will recall that candidate Obama made the issue a central part of his campaign platform:

Close Bankruptcy Loophole for Mortgage Companies: Obama and Biden will work to eliminate the provision that prevents bankruptcy courts from modifying an individual’s mortgage payments. They believe that the subprime mortgage industry, which has engaged in dangerous and sometimes unscrupulous business practices, should not be shielded by outdated federal law.

Obama, however, didn’t lobby for the bill in Congress, according to media reports. A Democratic bill endorsed by a Democratic president lost the support of 12 Democratic senators, many of whom happened to be among the top 20 recipients of campaign donations from the mortgage industry. Its hordes of lobbyists celebrated their hard fought victory in the Capitol:

As for Durbin, he could not have been more frank about why he thought his bill failed to pass:

And the banks — hard to believe in a time when we’re facing a banking crisis that many of the banks created — are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill. And they frankly own the place.

Consequently, the 3.1 million Americans who have received foreclosure notices since the beginning of 2008 cannot obtain the relief they so gravely need from bankruptcy judges. And if Duncan Black is correct that Optional ARM’s are going to be recasting soon, there could be another tsunami of foreclosures approaching to add to the staggering numbers.

You would think that such an important tale of human suffering and political flip-flopping would garner media interest. But the New York Times buried the story on page B3. The Washington Post reduced it to a business brief. And Keith Olbermann’s top story on Thursday night’s Countdown was the stunning revelation that Miss California, the contestant whose answer to a question about gay marriage cost her the Miss U.S.A. crown, had breast implants.

And as for the White House press corps, only one reporter bothered to ask about housing, but all she wanted to know was whether the administration planned to push mortgage rates lower. With rates already at record lows, however, it’s probably not the topmost issue on people’s minds.

Where else do you see journalism of this quality and value?

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