Thursday Reads

Good Morning!!

I hate to tell you this, but there is another Republican debate tonight at 8PM, hosted by CNN in Jacksonville, Florida. We’ll be live blogging, as always. Being the twisted individual I am, I’m still enjoying watching the Republicans commit mass suicide, so I’ll be listening and updating even if no one else shows up. But I hope some people do! Now let’s see what’s in the news today.

I missed this in the run up to the SOTU last night: Speaker tells members what not to wear

Just seconds after an emotional tribute to Arizona Democratic Rep Gabby Giffords in the House of Representatives Wednesday, House Speaker John Boehner – who got a little choked up in the moment – suddenly felt the need to remind members that there’s a dress code on the House floor.

Boehner recovered his composure after embracing Giffords, who had just handed him her resignation letter. He looked around the chamber, and announced, “the chair would remind all members to be in proper business attire when you come to the floor of the House.”

Apparently enforcing the House dress code is one of the duties of Speaker that Boehner takes very seriously.

On Monday night, Boehner ran through some of basic rules of decorum on the floor, including the one about proper dress. “Members should wear appropriate attire however brief their presence might be,” the speaker said. And to the wardrobe offenders, Boehner said, “you know who you are.”

Obama and Geithner shake hands after SOTU

I know everyone has heard the news that Tim Geithner doesn’t expect President Obama to ask him to stay on as Treasury Secretary for a second term.

“He’s not going to ask me to stay on, I’m pretty confident,” Geithner said in an interview with Bloomberg Television today. “I’m confident he’ll be president. But I’m also confident he’s going to have the privilege of having another secretary of the Treasury.”

Ralphb commented on the SOTU live blog that Geithner “looked like he’d been gut punched” when Obama spoke about making banks pay fees on “transactions to pay for mortgage relief/refinancing.” Apparently Geithner wasn’t clued in about that ahead of time.

I’m wondering if they’ve been leaving him out of some of the meetings since Confidence Men revealed that Geithner was dismissive of presidential orders. Check out the facial expressions and body language in the above photo taken after the speech (I made it big so you could see detail). To me that doesn’t look like a friendly greeting. What do you think?

According to Business Week (see above link) two possible candidates to replace Geithner are Catfood Commission co-chair Erskine Bowles and North Dakota Senator Kent Conrad–both horrible choices IMO.

Conrad, 63, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee who said a year ago he won’t seek another term, is “a serious budget hawk on the left, well-liked and respected,” Calabria said.

Bowles, 66, is the former co-leader of Obama’s commission that drafted a plan to reduce the federal government’s debt.

Ariz. Gov. Jan Brewer lecturing President Obama

President Obama had another difficult interaction on Wednesday when he met wacky Arizona Governor Jan Brewer at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport. From the Chicago Tribune:

During their brief encounter on the tarmac, intended to be a ceremonial welcome, Obama told Governor Jan Brewer that he disagreed with an account she had given of a meeting they had at the White House two years ago.

“He was a little disturbed about my book, ‘Scorpions for Breakfast,'” Brewer told reporters after the conversation. At one point during their chat, she pointed a finger at the president.

Brewer, who has differed with Obama over immigration policy in the past, handed him a letter asking him for a meeting to talk about Arizona’s economy when she greeted him. A White House official said the subject of the book came up after Brewer gave Obama the letter.

“The president said he’d be glad to meet with her again, but did note that after their last meeting, a cordial discussion in the Oval Office, the governor inaccurately described the meeting in her book. The president looks forward to continuing taking steps to help Arizona’s economy grow,” the official said.

I didn’t know she had written a book. In fact, I didn’t know she could read…. ABC News provides a little more detail on what the squabble was about.

Brewer complains in Scorpions for Breakfast that she and her staff were treated coldly by White House aides, prevented from taking pictures in the holding room outside the Oval Office and that their cell phones and cameras were “confiscated” by Secret Service.

“Too bad we weren’t illegal aliens, or we could have sued them,” she writes.

During her meeting with the president, Brewer said Obama was “condescending” and professorial, “lecturing” on his efforts to promote comprehensive immigration reform.

“It wasn’t long before I realized I was hearing the president’s stump speech,” she said. “Only I was supposed to listen without talking. Did he care to hear the view from the actual scene at the border? Did the opinions and observations of the people of Arizona mean anything to him? I didn’t think so.”

“He was patronizing,” she said. “Then it dawned on me: He’s treating me like the cop he had over for a beer after he bad-mouthed the Cambridge police, I thought. He thinks he can humor me and then get rid of me.”

After the interaction, Obama apparently walked away before Brewer finished giving him a piece of her mind (or what’s left of it), but she said she would “regroup.” I guess that means “get over it.”

In the run-up to tonight’s debate, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich have been lustily attacking each other. Romney must be doing something right, because he’s now running neck and neck with Newt (36% for Romney and 34% for Gingrich) after being behind the former Speaker by 9 points a couple of days ago. Santorum is trailing at 11% and Paul 9% CNN reports:

Gingrich…disparaged Romney’s personal wealth when asked about the former Massachusetts governor’s call for illegal immigrants to deport themselves.

“I think you have to live in a world of Swiss bank accounts and Cayman Island accounts and automatic, you know, $20 million a year income with no work to have some fantasy this far from reality,” Gingrich said at a “Meet the Candidates” forum in Miami, later adding: “For Romney to believe that somebody’s grandmother is going to be so cut off that she is going to self-deport, I mean this verges — this is an Obama-level fantasy.” [....]

Romney….said in the candidate forum, hosted by the Spanish-language network Univision, that such attacks were “unbecoming” for a presidential hopeful….”It’s very sad for a candidate to resort to that kind of epithet,” Romney said of the pulled ad. “There are differences between the candidates on these issues but we don’t attack each other with those kind of terrible terms.”

Newt Gingrich was heckled about his work for Freddie Mac at a rally in Coral Springs, Florida yesterday.

It was quite a scene as a scrum of journalists ignored the candidate and turned to Cara Jennings, who heckled Gingrich in the face of intimidation from his campaign workers, threats from nearby supporters, and the two police officers who showed up to flank her.

“Do you work for the people or Freddie Mac?” Jennings shouted at the former speaker, who was on a platform in a parking lot about 50 feet away.

“I work for the people,” Gingrich responded.

The woman kept shouting, and Gingrich implored her to give others a chance to hear him. But Jennings kept it up, and Gingrich continued engaging her.

Mitt Romney, feeling pressure over the low taxes he pays, tried to claim that his “real tax rate is closer to 45-50 percent.” Think Progress provides a transcript from Romney’s interview with Univision’s Jorge Ramos:

RAMOS: You just released your tax returns. In 2010 you only paid 13 percent of taxes while most Americans paid much more than that. Is that fair?

ROMNEY: Well, actually, I released two years of taxes and I think the average is almost 15 percent. And then also, on top of that, I gave another more 15 percent to charity. When you add it together with all of the taxes and the charity, particularly in the last year, I think it reaches almost 40 percent that I gave back to the community. One of the reasons why we have a lower tax rate on capital gains is because capital gains are also being taxed at the corporate level. So as businesses earn profits, that’s taxed at 35 percent, then as they distribute those profits as dividends, that’s taxed at 15 percent more. So, all total, the tax rate is really closer to 45 or 50 percent.

RAMOS: But is it fair what you pay, 13 percent, while most pay much more than that?

ROMNEY: Well, again, I go back to the point that the, that the funds are being taxed twice at two different levels.

Sorry Mitt, but you’re not a corporation, and besides, as Think Progress points out, most corporations don’t pay 35 percent taxes–in fact many corporations pay no taxes. Romney constantly tells out and out, bald-face lies. Is that de rigueur for the Mormon church, or does he get a dispensation because of all the money he contributes to them?

Brainwashed cult member Rick Santorum, whose campaign is going nowhere in Florida, appeared at a Baptist church in Naples, Florida. He told the audience that “the left” uses college education to “indoctrinate” young people.

“It’s no wonder President Obama wants every kid to go to college,” said the former Pennsylvania senator. “The indoctrination that occurs in American universities is one of the keys to the left holding and maintaining power in America. And it is indoctrination. If it was the other way around, the ACLU would be out there making sure that there wasn’t one penny of government dollars going to colleges and universities, right?”

He continued: “If they taught Judeo-Christian principles in those colleges and universities, they would be stripped of every dollar. If they teach radical secular ideology, they get all the government support that they can possibly give them. Because you know 62 percent of children who enter college with a faith conviction leave without it.” [....]

“I’ll bet you there are people in this room who give money to colleges and universities who are undermining the very principles of our country every single day by indoctrinating kids with left-wing ideology,” he said. “And you continue to give to these colleges and universities. Let me have a suggestion: Stop it.”

Santorum attended Penn State and went on to earn an MBA from the University of Pittsburgh and a law degree from Dickinson School of Law. But he’d rather have the proles stay uneducated so they’ll buy his crazy theocratic bullsh*t.

Santorum did have a license to practice law, but it has been suspended because he didn’t bother to pay his $70.00 per year fee to keep it active. He stopped paying in 1994 and was suspended in 2010. Maybe he decided being a lawyer was the devil’s work?

OK, that’s it for me. What are you reading and blogging about today?


Will the Banksters Finally Pay?

Federal regulators have finally decided to go after seventeen  big banks for bad mortgage lending practices.  In question are $200 billion in toxic mortgages sold to now bankrupt Fannie and Freddie.  The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) is the regulator suing BOA, JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and others. You may recall I wrote on a FED investigation last month.  This comes way too late to help many people who were put into loans they couldn’t possibly handle who were later evicted, but it may give these folks standing in future court suits to recoups some of their losses.  Financial sector-related equities and bonds lost in what was a dismal Friday market already given the unemployment figures.

The litigation represents a more intense effort by the federal government to go after the financial services industry for its supposed mortgage failures.

Indeed, the cases were brought on the basis of 64 subpoenas issued a year ago, giving the government an edge in its investigation that private investors suing the banks lack.

The Obama administration as well as regulators like the Federal Reserve have been criticized for going too easy on the banks, which benefited from a $700 billion bailout package shortly after the collapse of Lehman Brothers in the autumn 2008.

Much of that money has been repaid by the banks — but the rescue of the mortgage giants Fannie and Freddie has already cost taxpayers $153 billion, and the federal government estimates the effort could cost $363 billion through 2013.

Even though the banks already face high legal bills from actions brought by other plaintiffs, including private investors, the suits filed Friday could cost the banks far more. In the case against Bank of America, for example, the suit claims that Fannie and Freddie bought more than $57 billion worth of risky mortgage securities from the bank and two companies it also acquired, Merrill Lynch and Countrywide Financial.

In addition to suing the companies, the complaints also identified individuals at many institutions responsible for the machinery of turning subprime mortgages into securities that somehow earned a AAA grade from the rating agencies.

The filing did not cite a figure for the total losses the government wanted to recover, but in a similar case brought in July against UBS, the F.H.F.A. is trying to recover $900 million in losses on $4.5 billion in securities. A similar 20 percent claim against Bank of America could equal a $10 billion hit.

In a suit that identifies 23 securities that Bank of America sold for $6 billion, the company “caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damages to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in an amount to be determined at trial.”

The most interesting thing about these new lawsuits is that it is obvious that some of the most egregious practices like backdating  and robosigning are still being practiced even as these banks are making tons of fees from foreclosure. It’s hard to sympathize with an industry unable to correct it’s own bad practices.  This is especially true since so much tax payer money has gone to stabilize the results of these practices already.  This is from the American Banker and it’s damning.

Some of the largest mortgage servicers are still fabricating documents that should have been signed years ago and submitting them as evidence to foreclose on homeowners.

The practice continues nearly a year after the companies were caught cutting corners in the robo-signing scandal and about six months after the industry began negotiating a settlement with state attorneys general investigating loan-servicing abuses.

Several dozen documents reviewed by American Banker show that as recently as August some of the largest U.S. banks, including Bank of America Corp., Wells Fargo & Co., Ally Financial Inc., and OneWest Financial Inc., were essentially backdating paperwork necessary to support their right to foreclose.

Some of documents reviewed by American Banker included signatures by current bank employees claiming to represent lenders that no longer exist.

Many banks are missing the original papers from when they securitized the mortgages, in some cases as long ago as 2005 and 2006, according to plaintiffs’ lawyers. They and some industry members say the related mortgage assignments, showing transfers from one lender to another, should have been completed and filed with document custodians at the time of transfer.

“It’s one thing to not have the documents you’re supposed to have even though you told investors and the SEC you had them,” says Lynn E. Szymoniak, a plaintiff’s lawyer in West Palm Beach, Fla. “But they’re making up new documents.”

The banks argue that creating such documents is a routine business practice that simply “memorializes” actions that should have occurred years before. Some courts have endorsed that view, but others, such as the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, have found that this amounts to a lack of sufficient evidence and renders foreclosures invalid.

Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism has been following this issue closely and continues to have harsh words for banks and banker apologists.

It’s disturbing at this juncture that Felix Salmon more or less falls in with the bogus bank party line on “memorializing” (he finesses it by saying they need to do it “transparently”). I suggest he try talking to an attorney who is expert in securitizations and does not have opinion letter liability on this matter. The contracts that governed these deals were immutable and set forth in precise detail the steps various parties to the deal were required to perform. That included strict cutoff dates for getting the properly prepared notes and mortgages to the securitization trusts. Long-standing precedents for New York trusts (virtually all RMBS trusts are New York trust) call for delivery to the trust to be as perfect as possible. Since all securitization through at least the late 1990s did deliver all the notes and mortgages to the trusts as stipulated, there is no excuse for later changes in practice (as in if the parties wanted to simplify procedures for reasons of cost or convenience, they needed to change the governing agreements to reflect that).

Put it another way: what about the Statute of Frauds don’t you understand? And while some judges have sided with banks, the robosigning scandal and greater media coverage of mortgage abuses has led many jurists to be much less bank friendly than they were a mere year ago. The trend is moving decisively against, not for, the banks.

The American Banker article, disappointingly, fails to discuss what these continued abuses mean. As we have stressed in repeated past posts, the failure to get the notes to the securitization trusts by the cutoff date is not fixable by any legitimate means. Do you think banks and law firms would continue to fabricate documents, particularly in the wake of so much harsh media and Congressional scrutiny, if they had any other way out?

The failure to get the notes to the securitization trust correctly does NOT mean that no one has the right to foreclose. It does mean that the party that can foreclose is someone earlier in the securitization chain who was paid for the note but in effect, no one bothered to collect it from him. No one wants that party to foreclose because, first, it would prove that the securitization did not have the note and investors were misled, and second, there is no way to get the proceeds into the trust for the benefit of the investors.

The FHFA actions against the banks rush to originate loans to package and dump is based in lack of due diligence which is central to the role of any lending institution. I’ve written a lot about this having been straight out of grad school and part of the secondary mortgage process back in the 1980s when the S&L crisis exploded.  My huge S&L was desperate to grab fee income any way it could to stay afloat.  Practices this time were based on giving people bonuses just to give high numbers.  That’s always a disaster policy from a quality stand point.

Buried in the filings themselves, however, is a damning portrait of the excesses of the housing bubble, when borrowers were able to obtain home loans without basic proof of income or creditworthiness, and banks appeared only too happy to mine profits taking the risky loans and assembling them into securities that could be sold to investors.

In the complaint against Goldman Sachs, for example, the suit says that “Goldman was not content to simply let poor loans pass into its securitizations.” In addition, the giant investment bank “took the fraud further, affirmatively seeking to profit from this knowledge.”

When an outside analytics firm, Clayton, identified potential problems in the underlying mortgages Goldman was turning into securities, the suit said, “Goldman simply ignored and did not disclose the red flags revealed by Clayton’s review.” Goldman Sachs declined to comment, as did JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse and Citigroup.

Similar behavior in terms of warnings provided by Clayton transpired at Bank of America, Citigroup, Deutsche Bank, RBS and UBS, according to the complaints.

My hope is that this leads to some policy to compensate homeowners taken in by these schemes but I’m not holding my breath.  Speculators and gamblers should not be rewarded for causing homeless and lost wealth for honest people looking to live the American Dream.  My worry is that Timothy Geithner’s presence as Treasury Secretary will force policy that continues to prop up the wrong people. This entire spectacle is another example of the opposites reality we know seem to inhabit.  In this version of “It’s a wonderful life”, the cautionary tale is the ending.