THE BLOG
05/13/2010 06:17 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

"_______" Gone (Absurdly) Wrong: You Fill in the Blank

Back in February, I posted a blog post, Public Education Gone (Absurdly) Wrong, that described what I considered to be a too-bizarre-to-be-true-but-it-was scenario between a frustrated parent and her son's school administration. In response, a commenter insightfully pointed out that you could replace 'public education' with just about anything happening in politics today and the new blog post would be as spot-on, absurdist, and sad as my original post. He was having problems with his mortgage company despite a flawless credit and payment record, so he suggested that a new post be created about the absurdity and unfairness of the mortgage system today.

So let's play this little word-switch game and see how the modified blog post looks. I italicized the words I swapped. Note that just about everything else in the post remains the same.

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As I described in my recent blog series, the need for significant reform of America's home mortgage system is great, yet the institutional obstacles preventing reform seem even greater. The challenges of changing a system that is so entrenched came to absurd light from a reader of my series who shared with me her frustrations in trying to hold WeCare Loans accountable for what the homeowner believed was incompetence and negligence related to her home mortgage here in Any Town U.S.A. This homeowner has provided me with a series of e-mails documenting her and other homeowners' attempts to get the Attorney General to take action against WeCare Loans.

Let me begin with a disclaimer that all of my information is from one person and that it may not represent a complete or balanced picture of what happened. Nonetheless, the flagrant ridiculousness of the situation I will describe provides, at a minimum, a glaring illustration of the massive roadblocks, both substantial and laughable, that stand in the way of meaningful mortgage reform. I have also kept all parties anonymous to protect the innocent (and, unfortunately, also protect those who may be guilty).

The issue in this case relates to a series of loan scams by WeCare Loans over the past several years. After frequent complaints about loan scams to the Better Business Bureau, and inadequate responses from WeCare Loans, the homeowner reported her concerns first to the Attorney General.

Though the homeowner got plenty of lip service and crocodile-teared concern from WeCare Loans and the BBB, the situation didn't turn absurdly comical (if it wasn't so sad) until an e-mail arrived from the Attorney General in response to a letter signed by ten homeowners asking that WeCare Loans be investigated for its actions.

Let's deconstruct the email to demonstrate the complete absence of logic, reason, or concern for homeowners that seems to be reflective of much of our mortgage system:

1) "The Attorney General does not as a practice, accept, investigate nor take action upon anonymous complaints against WeCare Loans."

The use of the word "anonymous" has a certain Clintonesque "is" quality to it. This complaint was signed, so the letter wasn't anonymous. But, quite reasonably, the homeowners didn't want their identities revealed when the complaint was discussed with WeCare Loans. So the Attorney General appeared to redefine the meaning of anonymous, thus absolving the Attorney General of responsibility for investigating the concerns.

As the Attorney General noted in several e-mails to the homeowner, it is very concerned about protecting WeCare Loans confidentiality, yet it shows little regard for the confidentiality of the homeowners.

2) "The Attorney General's goal is to have concerns and complaints handled at the lowest level possible."

And several years and much effort had been devoted to having these problems "handled at the lowest level possible" (with no success, I might add). But the Attorney General didn't even acknowledge those lower-level attempts at resolution and, in doing so, passed the buck back to the homeowners.

3) "Accordingly, WeCare Loans is given a copy of any complaint against it and in addition to the expectation that an attempt is made to address the concern, the homeowner has the right to attach a written response."

So, "WeCare Loans is given a copy of any complaint against it" except, of course, when WeCare Loans is not. What does this statement have to do with anything related to the complaint? Because it is very official sounding, it gives the appearance of relevance without actually being relevant at all. In other words, it's bureaucratic filler. Another convenient disavowal of the complaint.

4) "A complaint is a formal written statement alleging a substantial misapplication or violation of state or federal rules or regulations. A petition from several homeowners declaring dissatisfaction and requesting WeCare Loans' prosecution does not meet the parameters of a formal complaint. Again, complainants need to include the details of their concerns regarding a specific incident ..."

Granted, the signed letter lacked detail, but, if the Attorney General had taken these concerns seriously, wouldn't he have provided guidelines on how to prepare an acceptable complaint or expressed a willingness to help in preparation of the complaint so that it met its parameters for submission? And, last time I checked, ten homeowners is far less than oodles of homeowners, but far more than "several homeowners."

5) "...and be willing to meet with the homeowners in person in an attempt to resolve the concerns."

The homeowners already tried that a number of times to no avail. That's why they went up the food chain to the Attorney General. By the way, as for attempting to resolve the concerns directly with WeCare Loans, we all know how well people react when confronted with an effort to have them indicted. It should be the responsibility of the Attorney General to act as the advocate for the complainant.

6) "The concept of protection for a "whistle blower" -- which is most often an employee alleging illegal activities by his or her employer and at personal risk for reprisal by said employer -- does not apply. "

Why doesn't it apply? Whose definition is that? No explanation or rationale is given. According to Wikipedia.com, a whistleblower is defined as someone who reports "a violation of a law, rule, regulation and/or a direct threat to public interest, such as fraud, health/safety violations, and corruption." As the saying goes, if it looks like a duck and sounds like a duck, it's probably a duck. The homeowners seem to have a reasonable foundation for whistleblower status and the right to press their case. Yet the Attorney General rather brusquely dismisses their concerns over a series of self-serving procedural technicalities.

7) "As WeCare Loans' direct supervisors, we always inform a mortgage company of any concern or complaint that is brought to our attention, and we consult with the mortgage company, so that he or she may take the appropriate steps to resolve the issue."

Except, of course, when they don't. Or are they saying that they did because they "always" do? If not, what was their rationale for not doing so? If so, what were the appropriate steps that were taken to resolve the issue? This statement avoids directly addressing the complaint by regurgitating handbook jargonese.

"This practice supports the Attorney General's commitment to a culture of collaboration."

Yes, and there had been such a wonderful "culture of collaboration" between WeCare Loans and the homeowners so far in looking for ways to resolve the problem. And that heart-warming culture of working together then extended to the Attorney General.

9) "We also hope that in the process, both WeCare Loans and the homeowners grow together in partnership ..."

And can we now get a group hug and sing Kumbaya for such a touching desire by the Attorney General to have everyone "grow together in partnership." Feelings sure do matter here in Any Town USA, but, Mr. Attorney General, so do results.

10) "...in order to best meet the needs of our homeowners."

Excuse me? Did I read correctly? For the first time in this email, those whose needs should be the Attorney General's primary concern have been mentioned. The homeowners' needs? Oh yeah, that's what mortgage reform is all about, right? I think what the Attorney General originally wrote and then corrected was, "...in order to best protect our own arses, oops, I mean, the needs of the homeowners."

Sorry for being so snarky, but bureaucratic double-talk, mindless policies, and putting homeowners in the back of the priority line kind of ticks me off.

This post isn't to suggest that WeCare Loans should be summarily convicted or flogged in public; it has a right to due process (then convicted and flogged in public). The problem is with the arbitrary and unresponsive process that this homeowner went through to protect her and others' homes. And, most importantly, for the Attorney General to adhere to bureaucratic protocol and avoid responsibility with word games over the welfare of the homeowners who the Attorney General is sworn to serve and protect.

What does this have to do with mortgage reform, you ask. If our government can't create a system that protects homeowners' basic rights or one in which homeowners' concerns are not only heard, but acted on, what chance is there of actually effecting meaningful change to the monolith that is our America's mortgage system?
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This word-switch game works pretty darned well, doesn't it? What industry and aggrieved population do you want to play the game with? Feel free to join in for the fun - and absurdity - of it.