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Obama Sells Out Homeowners Again: Mortgage Settlement a Sad Joke February 23, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Economic Crisis, Housing/Homelessness.
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Published on Thursday, February 23, 2012 by Common Dreams

by  Ted Rall

Joe Nocera, the columnist currently challenging Tom Friedman for the title of Hackiest Militant Centrist Hack–it’s a tough job that just about everyone on The New York Times op-ed page has to do–loves the robo-signing settlement announced last week between the Obama Administration, 49 states and the five biggest mortgage banks. “Two cheers!” shouts Nocera.

Too busy to follow the news? Read Nocera. If he likes something, it’s probably stupid, evil, or both.

(Photo: CNN)

As penance for their sins–securitizing fraudulent mortgages, using forged deeds to foreclose on millions of Americans and oh, yeah, borking the entire world economy–Ally Financial, Bank of America, Citibank, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo have agreed to fork over $5 billion in cash. Under the terms of the new agreement they’re supposed to reduce the principal of loans to homeowners who are “underwater” on their mortgages–i.e. they owe more than their house is worth–by $17 billion.

Some homeowners will qualify for $3 billion in interest refinancing, something the banks have resisted since the ongoing depression began in late 2008.

What about those who got kicked out of their homes illegally? They split a pool of $1.5 billion. Sounds impressive. It’s not. Mark Zuckerberg is worth $45 billion.

“That probably nets out to less than $2,000 a person,” notes The Times. “There’s no doubt that the banks are happy with this deal. You would be, too, if your bill for lying to courts and end-running the law came to less than $2,000 per loan file.”

Readers will recall that I paid more than that for a speeding ticket. 68 in a 55. This is the latest sellout by a corrupt system that would rather line the pockets of felonious bankers than put them where they belong: prison.

Remember TARP, the initial bailout? Democrats and Republicans, George W. Bush and Barack Obama agreed to dole out $700 billion in public–plus $7.7 trillion funneled secretly through the Fed–to the big banks so they could “increase their lending in order to loosen credit markets,” in the words of Senator Olympia Snowe, a Maine Republican.

Never happened.

Three years after TARP “tight home loan credit is affecting everything from home sales to household finances,” USA Today reported. “Many borrowers are struggling to qualify for loans to buy homes…Those who can get loans need higher credit scores and bigger down payments than they would have in recent years. They face more demands to prove their incomes, verify assets, show steady employment and explain things such as new credit cards and small bank account deposits. Even then, they may not qualify for the lowest interest rates.”

Financial experts aren’t surprised. TARP was a no-strings-attached deal devoid of any requirement that banks increase lending. You can hardly blame the bankers for taking advantage. They used the cash–money that might have been used to help distressed homeowners–to grow income on their overnight “float” and issue record raises to their CEOs.

Next came Obama’s “Home Affordable Modification Program” farce. Another toothless “voluntary” program, HAMP asked banks to do the same things they’ve just agreed to under the robo-signing settlement: allow homeowners who are struggling to refinance and possibly reduce their principals to reflect the collapse of housing prices in most markets.

Voluntary = worthless.

CNN reported on January 24th: “The HAMP program, which was designed to lower troubled borrowers’ mortgage rates to no more than 31% of their monthly income, ran into problems almost immediately. Many lenders lost documents, and many borrowers didn’t qualify. Three years later, it has helped a scant 910,000 homeowners–a far cry from the promised 4 million.”

Or the 15 million who needed help.

As usual, state-controlled media is too kind. Banks didn’t “lose” documents. They threw them away.

One hopes they recycled.

I wrote about my experience with HAMP: Chase Home Mortgage repeatedly asked for, received, confirmed receiving, then requested the same documents. They elevated the runaround to an art. My favorite part was how Chase wouldn’t respond to queries for a month, then request the bank statement for that month. They did this over and over. The final result: losing half my income “did not represent income loss.”

It’s simple math: in 67 percent of cases, banks make more money through foreclosure than working to keep families in their homes.

This time is different, claims the White House. “No more lost paperwork, no more excuses, no more runaround,” HUD secretary Shaun Donovan said February 9th. The new standards will “force the banks to clean up their acts.”

Don’t bet on it. The Administration promises “a robust enforcement mechanism”–i.e. an independent monitor. Such an agency, which would supervise the handling of million of distressed homeowners, won’t be able to handle the workload according to mortgage experts. Anyway, it’s not like there isn’t already a law. Law Professor Alan White of Valparaiso University notes: “Much of this [agreement] is restating obligations loan servicers already have.”

Finally, there’s the issue of fairness. “Underwater” is a scary, headline-grabbing word. But it doesn’t tell the whole story.

Tens of millions of homeowners have seen the value of their homes plummet since the housing crash. (The average home price fell from $270,000 in 2006 to $165,000 in 2011.) Those who are underwater tended not to have had much equity in their homes in the first place, having put down low downpayments. Why single them out for special assistance? Shouldn’t people who owned their homes free and clear and those who had significant equity at the beginning of crisis get as much help as those who lost less in the first place? What about renters? Why should people who were well-off enough to afford to buy a home get a payoff ahead of poor renters?

The biggest fairness issue of all, of course, is one of simple justice. If you steal someone’s house, you should go to jail. If your crimes are company policy, that company should be nationalized or forced out of business.

Your victim should get his or her house back, plus interest and penalties.

You shouldn’t pay less than a speeding ticket for stealing a house.

© 2012 Ted Rall

 

Ted Rall

Ted Rall is the author of the new books “Silk Road to Ruin: Is Central Asia the New Middle East?,” and “The Anti-American Manifesto” . His website is tedrall.com.

 

 

Proof that Geithner’s Bank Plan Is a Massive Giveaway to the Bastards Who Started This Mess April 5, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis.
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Posted by Joshua Holland, AlterNet at 1:17 PM on April 3, 2009.

Banks ”colluding to swap assets at inflated prices using taxpayers’ dollars.”

Recall the Geithner Bank Plan in a nutshell: private investors will partner with the government to buy those “toxic” assets off of struggling “zombie banks.” The buyers would put about 7 percent of the purchase price down, and the Treasury Department would match that with another 7 or so percent. Then the FDIC would offer government-backed loans for the remainder.

 

 

If the assets were to recover their value and turn a profit down the road, the investors would split the profits with the government. But if they don’t – if their values continue to tank, and it’s entirely likely many will — then you and I and everyone else we know who pays taxes will be on the hook for the lion’s share of the losses.

 

 

In other words, we’re letting bargain-hunters pick up the “troubled assets” that are burdening a number of financial institutions for pennies on the dollar, and limiting their downside risk if it doesn’t turn out well. It’s a pretty sweet deal for those investors. And, as I wrote when Geithner first announced the plan, it’s also pretty much the definition of “moral hazard.”

 

 

That background is important in order to understand just how incredibly infuriating this report from The Financial Times is:

 

 

 

 

US banks that have received government aid, including Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan Chase, are considering buying toxic assets to be sold by rivals under the Treasury’s $1,000bn (£680bn) plan to revive the financial system.

 

 

The plans proved controversial, with critics charging that the government’s public-private partnership – which provide generous loans to investors – are intended to help banks sell, rather than acquire, troubled securities and loans.

 

 

[...]

 

 

Participating in the plan as a buyer could be complicated for Citi, which has suffered billions of dollars in writedowns on mortgage-backed assets and is about to cede a 36 per cent stake to the government.

 

 

Citi declined to comment. People close to the company said it was considering whether to take part in the plan as a seller, buyer or manager of the assets, but no decision had yet been taken.

 

 

[...]

 

 

Goldman and Morgan Stanley have large fund management units and have pledged to increase investments in distressed assets.

 

 

This week, John Mack, Morgan Stanley’s chief executive, told staff the bank was considering how to become “one of the firms that can buy these assets and package them where your clients will have access to them”.

 

 

Goldman and JPMorgan did not comment, but bankers said they were considering buying toxic assets.

 

 

 

 

Get it? We first pumped tens of billions of dollars into these institutions via the TARP, set up another program to aid them further by offering investors the opportunity to purchase the “shitpile” on their books with sweet federal subsidies, and they then turn around and now they’re essentially going to buy the assets back with taxpayer-backed loans.

 

 

FT again:

 

 

 

 

Critics say that would leave the same amount of toxic assets in the system as before, but with the government now liable for most of the losses through its provision of non-recourse loans.

 

 

Administration officials reject the criticism because banking is part of a financial system, in which the owners of bank equity — such as pension funds — are the same entities that will be investing in toxic assets anyway. Seen this way, the plan simply helps to rearrange the location of these assets in the system in a way that is more transparent and acceptable to markets.

 

 

 

 

What mumbo-jumbo — “banking is part of the financial system.” Thanks, but there’s a difference between pension funds and the financial institutions who have taken boatloads of public cash because they were deemed “too big to fail.”

 

 

But the obviousness of Big Finance’s rip-off may get in the way of its success. The Financial Times warns, “public opinion may not tolerate the idea of banks selling each other their bad assets …”

 

 

And let’s give a Republican who’s trying to capitalize on that sentiment some rare credit around here …

 

 

 

 

Spencer Bachus, the top Republican on the House financial services committee, vowed after being told of the plans by the FT to introduce legislation to stop financial institutions ”gaming the system to reap taxpayer-subsidized windfalls”.

 

 

Mr Bachus added it would mark ”a new level of absurdity” if financial institutions were ”colluding to swap assets at inflated prices using taxpayers’ dollars.”

 

 

 

 

Shocking but true: Spencer Bachus is 100 percent right.

 

 

PS: Make sure to catch this piece in today’s WaPo about Giethner’s own role in creating the financial meltdown.

Joshua Holland is an editor and senior writer at AlterNet.

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The Real AIG Scandal March 18, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis.
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future-aig-exec

The Real AIG ScandalIt’s not the bonuses. It’s that AIG’s counterparties are getting paid back in full.

American International Group Inc. Click image to expand.AIG’s Manhattan, N.Y., office

Everybody is rushing to condemn AIG’s bonuses, but this simple scandal is obscuring the real disgrace at the insurance giant: Why are AIG’s counterparties getting paid back in full, to the tune of tens of billions of taxpayer dollars?

For the answer to this question, we need to go back to the very first decision to bail out AIG, made, we are told, by then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, then-New York Fed official Timothy Geithner, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke last fall. Post-Lehman’s collapse, they feared a systemic failure could be triggered by AIG’s inability to pay the counterparties to all the sophisticated instruments AIG had sold. And who were AIG’s trading partners? No shock here: Goldman, Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, UBS, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, Deutsche Bank, Barclays, and on it goes. So now we know for sure what we already surmised: The AIG bailout has been a way to hide an enormous second round of cash to the same group that had received TARP money already.

It all appears, once again, to be the same insiders protecting themselves against sharing the pain and risk of their own bad adventure. The payments to AIG’s counterparties are justified with an appeal to the sanctity of contract. If AIG’s contracts turned out to be shaky, the theory goes, then the whole edifice of the financial system would collapse.

But wait a moment, aren’t we in the midst of reopening contracts all over the place to share the burden of this crisis? From raising taxes—income taxes to sales taxes—to properly reopening labor contracts, we are all being asked to pitch in and carry our share of the burden. Workers around the country are being asked to take pay cuts and accept shorter work weeks so that colleagues won’t be laid off. Why can’t Wall Street royalty shoulder some of the burden? Why did Goldman have to get back 100 cents on the dollar? Didn’t we already give Goldman a $25 billion capital infusion, and aren’t they sitting on more than $100 billion in cash? Haven’t we been told recently that they are beginning to come back to fiscal stability? If that is so, couldn’t they have accepted a discount, and couldn’t they have agreed to certain conditions before the AIG dollars—that is, our dollars—flowed?

The appearance that this was all an inside job is overwhelming. AIG was nothing more than a conduit for huge capital flows to the same old suspects, with no reason or explanation.

So here are several questions that should be answered, in public, under oath, to clear the air:

What was the precise conversation among Bernanke, Geithner, Paulson, and Blankfein that preceded the initial $80 billion grant?

Was it already known who the counterparties were and what the exposure was for each of the counterparties?

What did Goldman, and all the other counterparties, know about AIG’s financial condition at the time they executed the swaps or other contracts? Had they done adequate due diligence to see whether they were buying real protection? And why shouldn’t they bear a percentage of the risk of failure of their own counterparty?

What is the deeper relationship between Goldman and AIG? Didn’t they almost merge a few years ago but did not because Goldman couldn’t get its arms around the black box that is AIG? If that is true, why should Goldman get bailed out? After all, they should have known as well as anybody that a big part of AIG’s business model was not to pay on insurance it had issued.

Why weren’t the counterparties immediately and fully disclosed?

Failure to answer these questions will feed the populist rage that is metastasizing very quickly. And it will raise basic questions about the competence of those who are supposedly guiding this economic policy.

Double Dipping March 18, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis.
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Posted March 18, 2009 by Cats r Flyfishn

www.pennsylvaniaforchange.wordpress.com

The nation is outraged at the insane bonuses given to AIG executives.  Yes, this is robbing the taxpayer.  There’s another part to this story.  It seems that the AIG failure is providing a second round of taxpayer money to the banks that caused this financial crisis.  According to an article in Slate, after they already received a payoff last year and now they want more.

…we need to go back to the very first decision to bail out AIG, made, we are told, by then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, then-New York Fed official Timothy Geithner, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke last fall. Post-Lehman’s collapse, they feared a systemic failure could be triggered by AIG’s inability to pay the counterparties to all the sophisticated instruments AIG had sold. And who were AIG’s trading partners? No shock here: Goldman, Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, UBS, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, Deutsche Bank, Barclays, and on it goes. So now we know for sure what we already surmised: The AIG bailout has been a way to hide an enormous second round of cash to the same group that had received TARP money already.

The bonuses are a way to distract the public while the real theft of our treasury is taking place, again.  Ah, laizze-faire economics as brought to you by Congress and the former Republican President, George W. Bush.

Read the complete Slate article here

Never trust your money with Republicans.  They will line their pockets first, tell you that they lost your money, then ask for more and then blame you for the losses.

The Debt Trap: Colleges Profit as Banks Market Credit Cards to Students January 9, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis.
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JONATHAN D. GLATER

Published: December 31, 2008
New York Times
EAST LANSING, Mich. — When Ryan T. Muneio was tailgating with his parents at a Michigan State football game this fall, he noticed a big tent emblazoned with a Bank of America logo. Inside, bank representatives were offering free T-shirts and other merchandise to those who applied for credit cards and other banking products.

“They did a good job,” Mr. Muneio, 21 and a junior at Michigan State, said of the tactic. “It was good advertising.”

Bank of America’s relationship with the university extends well beyond marketing at sports events. The bank has an $8.4 million, seven-year contract with Michigan State giving it access to students’ names and addresses and use of the university’s logo. The more students who take the banks’ credit cards, the more money the university gets. Under certain circumstances, Michigan State even stands to receive more money if students carry a balance on these cards.

Hundreds of colleges have contracts with lenders. But at a time of rising concern about student debt — and overall consumer debt — the arrangements have sounded alarm bells, and some student groups are starting to push back.

The relationships are reminiscent of those uncovered two years ago between student loan companies and universities. In those, some lenders offered universities an incentive to steer potential borrowers their way.

Here at Michigan State, the editors of the student newspaper wrote this fall that “it doesn’t take a giant leap for someone to ask why the university should encourage responsible spending when it receives a cut of every purchase.”

At Arizona State University, students set up a table on campus last spring to warn of the danger of debt and urge students to support limits on on-campus marketing.

The contracts, whose terms vary but usually involve payments to colleges or alumni associations that agree to provide lists of students’ names, have come under harsh criticism in Washington.

“That is absolutely outrageous, the sharing of students’ information with the banks,” Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, Democrat of New York, who oversaw a June hearing on campus credit card marketing, said in a recent interview. “That should be outlawed.”

College campuses are one place that young Americans are introduced to credit and the possibility of spending beyond their means, a problem now confronting the nation as a whole. For banks, the relationships are a golden marketing opportunity. For colleges, they are a revenue source at a time of declining public funding. And for students, they help pay the bills and allow more shopping.

But debt incurred in college becomes a serious burden at graduation, especially in a recession in which jobs are scarce. A survey of more than 1,500 college students by US PIRG in Washington found that two-thirds had at least one credit card. Seniors with balances had an average debt of $2,623 on their cards.

University officials say that their agreements with card issuers comply with the law and bring in valuable revenue.

“It provides money for scholarships and other programs,” said Terry R. Livermore, manager of licensing programs at Michigan State. He said that the program was aimed primarily at alumni and the university would not include sharing student information in future credit card contracts. “The students are such a minuscule portion of this program.”

Jennifer Holsman, executive director of the alumni association at Arizona State, said the association tried to teach students about responsible uses of credit. “We work closely with Bank of America to provide educational seminars to students in terms of being able to get information about how to pay off credit cards, how not to keep balances,” she said.

Credit card issuers say that they try to educate students to use cards responsibly and that the cards they offer on campus have more restrictive terms than cards offered to alumni.

“The available credit for undergraduates is capped at $2,500,” said Betty Riess, a spokeswoman for Bank of America. “We want to take a fair and responsible approach to lending because we want to build the foundation for a longer-term banking relationship.”

Ms. Riess said the bank had agreements with about 700 colleges and alumni associations, making it one of the biggest, if not the biggest, card issuer on campuses. She said that only 2 percent of the open accounts under those agreements belonged to students, but also said it was not possible to determine what percentage of program revenue resulted from fees and charges on those student cards.

Stephanie Jacobson, a spokeswoman for JPMorgan Chase, wrote in an e-mail message that the bank had fewer than 25 contracts with colleges or alumni associations and that while some of the contracts gave it the right to ask for and use lists of student names and addresses, the bank had not done so since 2007.

That may be because football games present a marketing opportunity that requires no address information. Abigail D. Molina, a second-year law student at the University of Oregon, applied in 2007 for a Chase Visa offered at a tent outside a football game. In exchange, she received a blanket.

“I mostly wanted the blanket,” Ms. Molina said. She added that this was her second university credit card. In 1994, when she was an undergraduate at the university, she applied for a card at a booth on campus and then accumulated about $30,000 in debt, almost all of it on the card. In 2001 she filed for bankruptcy. Looking back, she said it was “shockingly easy” to get the card, even as a first-year student.

Mr. Muneio, the Michigan State student, said he did not apply for a Bank of America card because he already had two Visa cards. “The last thing I need is another account to keep track of.”

Many students are unaware of the contracts that universities have with credit card issuers and do not question the presence of marketers on campus or applications in their mailboxes, despite recent protests on a few campuses.

Sometimes, the contracts have confidentiality provisions. Universities may try to distance themselves, stating that the contracts are only between alumni associations and banks. But the universities provide alumni groups with lists of current students’ names, addresses and telephone numbers, which the groups pass on to banks.

The New York Times obtained information about and, in some cases, copies of contracts between lenders, public colleges and their alumni associations using open records requests. Because private colleges are not subject to open records laws, they are not included.

While most universities contacted for this article did not provide detailed financial information on the contracts — the University of Pittsburgh, for example, confirmed only that it had an agreement — two did share numbers.

The alumni association of the University of Michigan is guaranteed $25.5 million over the term of its 11-year agreement with Bank of America. Under the agreement, the association agreed to provide lists of names and addresses of students, alumni, faculty, staff, donors and holders of season tickets to athletic events.

Much of the money goes toward scholarships, said Jerry Sigler, vice president and chief financial officer of the alumni association. He was unsure what students were told about the program.

“Students are generally told how they can opt out of having their information publicly displayed in directories or provided in response to requests like this,” Mr. Sigler added. “But it’s not to my knowledge specific to the credit card program.”

Michigan State University gets $1.2 million a year but is guaranteed at least $8.4 million over seven years, according to its agreement. The contract calls for a $1 royalty to the university for every new card account that remains open for at least 90 days, $3 for every card whose holder pays an annual fee, and a payment of a half percent of the amount of all retail purchases using the cards.

For cards that do not have an annual fee, the bank pays $3 if the holder has a balance at the end of the 12th month after opening an account, a provision that appears to give the university an incentive to get cardholders into debt.

A few schools have adopted policies that prohibit sharing student contact information.

Ball State University’s alumni association, which has a contract with JPMorgan Chase, does not provide information on students, said Ed Shipley, executive director of the association. “Who we market to is our alumni because that’s our purpose,” he said. However, the bank is permitted to set up marketing tables at athletic events.

The University of Oregon, whose alumni association also has a marketing agreement with Chase, stopped providing student addresses as concern grew about student debt, according to Julie Brown, a university spokeswoman. The university still permits marketing booths at athletic events.

Some research suggests that students may be using credit cards less frequently, in favor of debit cards linked to their bank accounts. A survey last spring by Student Monitor, a Ridgewood, N.J., company that tracks trends on campus, found that 59 percent of undergraduate students had debit cards, up from 51 percent in 2000.

But universities have arrangements with banks that offer debit cards too, perhaps raising some of the same issues that the credit card deals do.

At New Mexico State University, for example, students are given the option of opening a bank account with Wells Fargo if they want to convert their campus identification into a debit card.

The accounts are not mandatory, said Angela Throneberry, assistant vice president for auxiliary services at the university. But, she said, “There’s some revenue sharing that happens as part of this.”

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