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Oh, the ease of blaming others in a crisis

When earthquake experts are sentenced for bad predictions and lenders accused of bad calls on mortgages, society needs a reminder that individuals are responsible for their actions.

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The headquarters of mortgage lender Fannie Mae is shown in Washington. The United States filed a fraud lawsuit against Bank of America accusing it of causing taxpayers more than $1 billion of losses by selling thousands of toxic mortgage loans to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Reuters

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Anyone purchasing a car these days does more than kick the tires. Buyers can easily find second opinions, from auto mechanics to Internet reviews. Such diligence is part of being responsible for one’s actions.

Yet that fundamental idea of taking personal responsibility in a risky venture can easily be thrown to the winds in times of tragedy, such as a natural disaster or a financial crisis. Blaming others then becomes the norm.

A few recent court cases illustrate the point.

One is last week’s sentencing in Italy of six seismologists and an ex-official to six years in prison on charges of manslaughter for their alleged failure to predict a 2009 earthquake that left more than 300 people dead.

The seven men were convicted of “inexact, incomplete, and contradictory” information about the risks posed by tremors in the weeks before the magnitude-6.3 quake. No one was charged for not following standards in building houses with quake-resistant materials.

That case is being compared to a string of lawsuits in the United States against banks for allegedly failing to reveal the quality of home mortgages sold to investors as securities.

The latest suit, brought by the US Justice Department, charges officials at Bank of America and its subsidiary, Countrywide, with not providing adequate information to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac about home loans sold to the mortgage giants between 2007 and 2009.

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