On Friday I turned 50 years old, and although I havent changed, this country sure has…

For those of you not yet 50 years old, just so you know, it’s anticlimactic… I feel the same as I did when I turned 40, or 30, for that matter.  No big deal, nothing changes at 50 that I can tell.  Oh sure, I’ve got to lose some of the weight I’ve put on, but that’s not age… that’s blogging.  Blogging will kill you if you’re not careful.

What’s changed is this country.  It’s not at all the same as it’s been throughout my lifetime, in fact it’s very different in quite a few substantive ways… do you feel it too, or is it just me?  It actually has me pretty worried about us… about our future.

A few years ago we were pretty solidly polarized… thanks mostly to cable news stations… we had become a country of red states and blue states, instead of a country with states in every shade of purple, as we’d always been in the past.  I suppose that’s what happens when you allow the line between “news” and “editorial” to blur.

Not that we weren’t politically divided when I was growing up in late 1960s and into the 1970s… we were plenty divided then too.  But we all got our news from the same places back then… Walter Cronkite, Roger Mudd, Huntley and Brinkley (Barbara Walters in 1976 was quite the shock), our daily newspapers… they all brought us the same basic news, and we only divided up over what it meant to us individually.  The “News” was boring back then, even when it was reporting something exciting or terrifying, but it didn’t matter… the “News” wasn’t a profit center back then.

Those days are long gone now.  Since the latter part of the 1990s, we’ve been divided into demographic and psychographic audience segments.  Fox News, with the help of a certain blue dress, transformed us into “liberals” and “conservatives,” on the right, or on the left… and soon that would be replaced with the easier to remember red and blue color divide.  “News” today is rarely boring, and it’s very much its own profit center.

It occurs to me that today, we don’t really get “News” on television anymore.  What we get is programming that’s carefully designed to confirm our existing views of the world.  For example, what’s on Fox News this morning in the “Latest News” category?

  1. Paul Ryan Hits Back at Critics of Budget Proposal
  2. Clinton Presses Pakistan in Surprise Visit
  3. N.J. School, ACLU Agree on Graduation Location
  4. Texas Minister Wins Fight Over Memorial Day Prayer
  5. Dems Warn Against Cutting Planned Parenthood
  6. California Assembly Votes to Limit Immigration Checks

Now let’s see if MSNBC is covering the same events as National News…

  1. A New Darfur? 80,000 Flee Sudanese Forces
  2. New Consumer Protection Agency Undermined Before it Even Opens
  3. Obama Signs Patriot Act Extension
  4. Nuclear Reactor Near Twister Cited for Safety Flaws
  5. Clinton Visits Pakistan to Repair Relations
  6. Failure on Debt Could Spell Trouble for Economy

Now, there are two things that stand out to me when I read those disparate lists of “Top Stories in the News.”

The most obvious thing is that Fox News’ list of top stories plays like a symphony for those on the right… those that identify themselves as conservatives and Republicans.  Paul Ryan hits back, Clinton presses against something yet again, the ACLU is causing trouble as always, thank God the minister won the prayer battle this time, Dems want free abortions, and the California liberals want the illegals to take over this country.

While the MSNBC listing of top stories is obviously designed to tickles the sensibilities of those that consider themselves on the left… Democrats.  Human rights matter – send money to Darfur, Republicans are evil, Warren is Harvard professor, Obama not afraid of what people think, Nuclear power is bad, Thank God for Bill Clinton, Republican controlled congress threatens to block anything the Democrats need to do.

None of that causes me to pause, I could probably write those headlines without actually looking at either of the two sites.  What stops me in my tracks is what isn’t there… in fact it’s nowhere to be found on most days… I’m talking about any news of the financial or foreclosure crises.  If I didn’t know any better, I’d start to wonder if we weren’t having one.

I’ve come to the realization of late, that writing Mandelman Matters and making myself accessible by providing my email or phone number online, I’ve created a large and very fluid focus group of sorts, where I interact with homeowners, attorneys, mortgage industry professionals, and numerous others on a daily basis, through either phone or email.  You could think of it as a front row seat to the most severe economic catastrophe in the history of the world.

So, perhaps that’s why I see what has changed about this country, and why I am so concerned about our collective future.  I’ve been around a while now… that’s the nice thing about being 50, you don’t have to risk being called a “kid” when you claim to have been around the block at least once… and I’ve never seen anything like the dynamics I see converging today.

Join me and I’ll show you what’s happening all around you every day and that represents a real change in the culture of America.  And away we go…

A. As a nation, we are today awash with scammers who target working class homeowners at risk of losing their homes.

We’ve always had con artists in this country.  But today, we have thousands of scammers going after working class homeowners at risk of foreclosure.  I’m talking about people that don’t have much to begin with, and as a result were not normally targeted by scammers, now being literally under attack.

Today, there are an army of ex-mortgage brokers, trained to hunt for working class and lower income elderly homeowners, that are increasingly willing to lie about anything in order to rob homeowners of thousands of dollars by playing on the vulnerability that results from being at risk of foreclosure.

Ever since the mortgage meltdown began, this group has been struggling to find a place to employ their skills.  Some went to work for loan modification companies while others went into debt settlement, or the selling of forensic loan or securitization audits, and the like.

But as of January 30, 2011, the FTC’s new MARS Final Rule took affect, and it made it essentially impossible for mortgage brokers to be involved in loan modifications nationwide, while other new regulations eliminated debt settlement as a place for ex-loan officers to make a living.

This is a group of trained salespeople who are knowledgeable about mortgages, and expert at gaining someone’s confidence in order to get them to write a check, all too often for something that delivers no value to the homeowner.  And it seems that as they’ve become more desperate, they’re less and less worried about getting caught, largely because they’ve learned that that crime does in fact pay.

I would think that just about everyone in this country has learned that bankers or mortgage bankers don’t go to jail most of the time.  To-date, there have been almost no criminal prosecutions as a result of the financial meltdown that has thrown this country into its depression… or deepening recession, if you’d prefer.  And I think the lessons being learned include the reality that crime does in fact, very often, pay.

We used to worship heroes, now we just want to “get away with it.”

B. Mortgage servicers mistreat homeowners in ways never before seen in this country, and yet few seem to care.

In late February of 2009, President Barack Obama, just one month after being inaugurated, announced his Making Home Affordable program that included both refinancing and loan modification components.  It was an acknowledgment by our government that we were in a deep recession that was causing millions of Americans to find themselves at risk of foreclosure, due to no fault of their own.

In fact, President Obama even said in his speech that introduced the program that it wasn’t to reward those that irresponsibly bought homes they couldn’t afford, but rather was going to help those that had done nothing wrong and were being swept up in a deepening recession.  And it was to help 4-7 million American homeowners.

It didn’t help 4-7 million homeowners, it should go without saying, its helped fewer than 600,000 homeowners to-date, and the blame for that shortfall, clearly should be placed on mortgage servicers who have failed to live up to their promises as HAMP contracted providers.

But, even more than that, the servicers continue to be downright abusive towards homeowners.  Servicers routinely lie, break promises they’ve made to homeowners, lose paperwork submitted by homeowners, foreclose improperly on homeowners, break into homes they don’t own, foreclose on active duty military service members in violation of federal laws… the list goes on and on and is at this point, very well documented.

No other business I’ve ever heard about behaves in such ways, treating its customers as if they were… I don’t know… incarcerated criminals.  Because incarcerated criminals get jerked around quite a bit by our criminal justice system, but we seem to be okay with it because after all, they are convicted felons.  But homeowners who are applying for loan modifications, as promised by the President of the United States wouldn’t seem to fall into the same category… and yet they do seem to be treated as if they are in that same category.

And our society seems not to care at all.

C. We’re divided between “irresponsible homeowner” and the “responsible homeowner”.  And they’ve got us looking in each other’s garages to see who is and who isn’t.

My parents never told me that there were two types of homeowner, a responsible one and an irresponsible one.  I was only told that buying a home was the responsible thing to do.

Today, however, in this country we are supposed to believe that are two kinds of homeowners… the responsible kind and the irresponsible kind.  How do you tell the difference?  It’s simple really… the responsible kind aren’t at risk of foreclosure.  The irresponsible kind… are.

You can tell the difference by looking in someone’s garage.  Irresponsible homeowners have jet skis and flat screens… maybe a Hummer in the driveway.  Responsible ones may have these things too, but they’re not at risk of foreclosure, or at least they’re not YET at risk of foreclosure.

Should they become at risk of foreclosure, then they will have fallen into the ranks of the irresponsible homeowner and they too will keep their situation a secret from everyone around them for fear of being branded “irresponsible,” and therefore deserving of their fate.

It’s a strange culture to be a part of, because it shows me an ugly side of human behavior…  the side that is wholly lacking compassion for one’s fellow man.  To participate, would require me to ignore everything that’s happened since our economy slid into a deep recession, and the causes of that downward slide, and focus on my neighbor as being a part of that problem, even though my neighbor may only be guilty of losing a job, or buying a home at the wrong moment in time with a loan that should never have been offered in the first place.

D. A representative democracy made up of elected representatives that no longer seem to be all that concerned about those they represent.

Our politicians, it seems to me, used to appear as if they were trying to represent the wants and needs of their constituents.  Maybe they were only pandering to our wants and needs, but at least they felt the need to pander.

Today, our elected representatives appear to be representing some other entity, maybe their political party, or some other special interest group or lobby, but certainly not those that voted them into office in the first place.  It’s as if they have come to believe that what they’re doing is over our collective head, that they know what’s best for the rest of us, and that whatever we think is important… well, isn’t.

Nowhere is this more evident than when it comes to the foreclosure crisis, or the abominable behavior of mortgage servicers, or what the Wall Street bankers have done to cause our economy to fall off a cliff.  When it comes to these topics our elected officials have little or nothing to say.  In point of fact, the last time we heard from our president about the foreclosure crisis was the third week of February 2009.

Our government pumped over $13 trillion into our nation’s banks since the fall of 2008, but no one has much of anything to say about that?  Our nation’s largest banks were caught “robo-signing” affidavits to be fraudulently presented in our courts… and not a word?  The OCC, OTS and Federal Reserve just completed an investigation of mortgage servicers and they concluded that their practices are absolutely awful for everyone involved, but nary a word about that either?  Soldiers on active duty military losing their homes to foreclosure in violation of federal law, and little more than a sound bite or two on even that egregious act?

And when someone in our government does acknowledge that there have been people foreclosed upon improperly, what has actually been allowed to transpire seems to be entirely lost on them.  “Someone has been foreclosed upon improperly,’ is another way of saying that someone has lost their home who should not have lost their home!  It’s hard to think of anything, short of someone being denied medical care, that’s more horrific than that, and yet it is treated like just another thing that sometimes happens in this country.

At the end of it all, it seems to me that this country has very significantly changed as a result of the economic meltdown that began in 2007, and took center stage in the fall of 2008.  We lost trust, compassion and confidence in our leadership… and we’ve given up, in many ways, on our democratic process being capable of change… we no longer feel part of our government, and we’re seem resigned to all of it… as if “it” has taken on a life of its own and is not just a manifestation of “us”.

Some scammer rips off homeowner for five grand and no one really cares.  Homeowner loses home to foreclosure that shouldn’t have, or because their bank lied to them, and few show any compassion for their plight.  And our politicians obviously care more about those who fund their campaigns than about the voters who elect them, but we feel like there’s nothing we can do about that either.

And in light of all of this, our mainstream media is still playing to the red or the blue?  Do most of us even care about that distinction anymore?

It’s a sad state of affairs.  I don’t remember my country being like this at any time in the past.  And I wonder if this is all part of “the new normal,” nothing more than the unavoidable outcome of what has transpired.  It’s a scary thought, don’t you think, that going forward… this is it?

Or, maybe it’s just me.

Mandelman out.

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