Monthly Archives: January 2011

8 PM EST Watch Dylan Ratigan Town Hall Session on Jobs, Innovation

Check in here at 8 PM to watch the Dylan Ratigan “Innovation in America” panel discussion as part of its Steel On Wheels Tour tonight at 8pm EST at the University of Denver.

The panel will include Andrew Jenks, from MTV’s World of Jenks, Nicole Glaros, Managing Director of TechStars Boulder, and Matt Miller of The Washington Post and host of Left, Right & Center.

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Daniel Pennell: Mortgage Shenanigans in Virginia (The Wall Street – Washington – Richmond Axes)

By Daniel Pennell, a systems expert who has testified before the Virginia House of Representatives on MERS

This week demonstrated how financial special interests have created an obscene and incestuous relationship with the leadership in the state legislature and the Governor’s office in Virginia. This cabal managed to kill off a bill (HB-1506) proposed by Delegate Bob Marshall, a bill designed to protect the integrity of the county property records and preserve the integrity of home owner’s title to their property. Simultaneously they attempted to alter the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) with HB-1718, such that any “record” (the previous version said document) signed or unsigned by a person they claim owed a debt would be good enough for the banks to win a legal judgment against a person. In other words a spreadsheet from a bank would be good enough to take someone’s home or report someone to a credit bureau.

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The FCIC, in Lockstep with the Officialdom, Refuses to Use the “C” Word

The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission report increasingly looks like a whitewash. Even though the commission has made referrals for criminal prosecution, you’d never know that reading its end product. The references to “fraud” and “crime” are sparing, and ex mention of the SEC’s fraud investigation of Goldman, consist almost entirely of mortgage fraud, which is the FBI’s notion of “fraud for profit” or “fraud for housing”, meaning borrower fraud. The book also acknowledges the fraudulent lending by firms that were prosecuted like Ameriquest. In other words, the notion that the TBTF firms might have engaged in less than savory activity is remarkably absent from the report.

The FCIC has also been unduly close-lipped about their criminal referrals, refusing to say how many they made or giving a high-level description of the type of activities they encouraged prosecutors to investigate. By contrast, the Valukas report on the Lehman bankruptcy discussed in some detail whether it thought civil or criminal charges could be brought against Lehman CEO Richard Fuld and chief financial officers chiefs Chris O’Meara, Erin Callan and Ian I Lowitt, and accounting firm Ernst & Young. If a report prepared in a private sector action can discuss liability and name names, why is the public not entitled to at least some general disclosure on possible criminal actions coming out of a taxpayer funded effort? Or is it that the referrals were merely to burnish the image of the report, and are expected to die a speedy death?

Matt Stoller provides further support for the cynical take. Via e-mail:

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FCIC Insider: “I Can’t Believe They Suborned Brooksley Born”

The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission released its report yesterday and went into PR overdrive. Journalists and the public are still digesting the weighty document, and various tidbits, like the report that Goldman did indeed profit from the AIG rescue, are touted as news when the basic facts were already in the public domain.

What is troubling about the report is the manner in which it hews to conventional wisdom. Its ten major findings are hardly controversial, yet they are still insufficient to explain why the financial system seized up and appeared close to failure. And telling a familiar-sounding story assures that the status quo will remain unchallenged, and serves to validate the inadequate reforms now underway. After all, they are premised on the very same superficial beliefs.

I participated in a blogger conference call with FCIC commissioners Phil Angelides and Brooksley Born. I’m clearly not cut out for public life. It was disconcerting to hear them thumping their talking points.

But the stunning part were Angelides’ and Born’s answers to my questions.

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Ian Fraser: Is the House of Lords’ Crisis Inquiry Putting the FCIC to Shame?

Yves here. Although this post deals with a specific aspect of the House of Lords inquiry, note how it focuses on mechanisms that led to bank insolvency, in this case, how dubious accounting produced exaggerated profit reports, and along with it, looting (as in paying out funds to insiders to a degree that put the survival of the firm at risk).

By Ian Fraser, a financial journalist who blogs at his web site and at qfinance.

The many inquiries into the financial crisis have turned over plenty of stones but have failed to find any smoking guns. But the House of Lords economic affairs committee’s inquiry “Auditors: market concentration and their role” is making strides in identifying and maybe rooting out the accounting shenanigans that lay at the heart of the crisis.

At a recent session of the HoL inquiry, UK-based investors said that IFRS (international financial reporting standards) had encouraged imprudent, reckless and even illegal behavior by UK and Irish banks, enabling them to deceive investors, boost executive bonuses and ultimately destroy their institutions at taxpayers’ expense.

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Quelle Surprise! Goldman Profited From AIG Bailout Via Abacus Trades (You Read It Here First)

Shahien Narisipour at Huffington Post revealed that the FCIC report, due to be released officially tomorrow, shows that contrary to its pious assertions to the contrary, Goldman received funds for its own account from the AIG bailout, to the tune of $2.9 billion.

Why is this significant? Because Goldman maintained that the monies it received from the rescue were for customer trades, not for its own account.

And while this may seem to be news, it isn’t, except for putting a firm dollar value on what Goldman received for its own account. We posted on Goldman’s AIG exposures both as principal and agent on February 7, 2010, and specifically flagged that the Abacus trades that Goldman insured with AIG were principal positions, not client trades. We caught some flack for it by the time from various commentators who seemed more persuaded by Goldman’s PR that the extensive work done by Tom Adams, which we presented in a series of posts in early 2010 (see here, here and here for some examples).

From the February 2010 post:

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US Bankruptcy Trustee Takes Interest in “Ta Dah” Documents Mysteriously Appearing in Foreclosures (aka Probable Fabrications)

One of the sorry reminders of the decline of the rule of law in the United States is the frequency with which incidents of what look like document forgeries take place in foreclosure cases. The fact that a now-shuttered subsidiary of Lender Processing Services, a vendor to the servicing industry, had a price list for creating mortgage-related documents out of whole cloth attests to the long-standing demand for this sort of product.

The reason for this activity is simple. As we’ve stressed in various posts, in so-called private label securitizations (the non-Fannie/Freddie type), a great deal of evidence indicates that the originators and packagers of these deals did not bother complying with the contracts they created to govern these transactions on a widespread, perhaps pervasive basis sometime after 2003. And their shortcomings only come to light in foreclosures, and then (possibly) if the foreclosure is contested. Given how low foreclosure rates were historically, this was a risk the securitization industry seemed willing to take, and it is now reaping the fruit of this short-sighted bet.

The big problem for servicers and trustees (the parties that are responsible for the trust that holds the assets of the securitization) is that the pooling and servicing agreement which governs the securitization required that the note (the borrower’s IOU) be transferred though a specific set of parties by a specified time not all that long after the deal closed. Increasingly savvy anti-foreclosure lawyers recognize that the party attempting to foreclose may not have the legal standing to do so.

A new development is that the US Bankruptcy Trustee, which is part of the Department of Justice, has started poking around the nether world of slipshod and possible made-up documents, and is asking banks to explain what they are up to. These inquiries may be paving the ground for broader-based action.

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FCIC Insiders Say Report Gives Wall Street a Free Pass, Simply Sought to Validate Conventional Wisdom About Crisis

From the very outset, the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission was set up to fail. Its leadership, particularly its chairman, Phil Angelides, was seen as insufficiently experienced in sophisticated finance. The timetable was unrealistic for a thorough investigation of a crisis this complex, let alone one international in scope. Its budget and staffing were too small. The investigations were further hampered by the requirement that subpoenas have bi-partisan approval along with Its decision to hold hearings with high profile individuals, including top Wall Street executives, before much in the way of lower-level investigation had been completed. The usual way to get meaningful disclosure from a top executive is to confront him with hard-to-defend material or actions; interrogations under bright lights, while a fun bit of theater, generally yield little in the absence of adequate prep.

So with expectations for the FCIC low, recent reports that the panel urged various prosecutors to launch criminal probes were a hopeful sign that the commission might nevertheless come out with some important findings. But correspondence from insiders in the last few days suggests otherwise. One, for instance, wrote, “I’m still in the process of getting the stink out of my clothes.”

These ideologically-neutral sources close to the investigation depict the commissioners as having pre-conceived narratives and of fitting various tidbits unearthed during the investigation into these frameworks, with the majority focusing more on the problems caused by deregulation and the failure of the authorities to use even the powers they had, while the minority assigns blame to government meddling, particularly housing-friendly policies.

These insiders see both sides as wrong, and want to encourage investigative reporters to challenge both the majority and dissenting accounts. They contend that both versions help perpetuate the myth that Wall Street was as much a victim of the crisis as anyone else.

One of these sources sent this document in an effort to question the notion that any of the reports coming out of the FCIC were the result of a fact-based investigative process…

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American Lose Faith in Pretty Much All Big Organizations, Especially Banks and Corporations

The Financial Times reports on an international poll by the consulting firm Edelman to be presented at Davos on Wednesday on public trust in various types of institutions. The interesting finding is that Americans are becoming less confident in all types of organizations, which is contrary to the trend in most other nations, where perceptions are rising.

And perhaps most important, the poll was of people most likely to have a favorable view of the current power structure, namely, 5000 well schooled, wealthy and “well informed” participants (does “well informed” mean they read the oracles of orthodox opinion, like the Economist and the New York Times?). If the people who are likely to be beneficiaries of the status quo aren’t too happy with it, imagine what the average Joe thinks.

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Virginia Legislature Proves Who Really Rules: Pro Consumer Mortgage Bills Sent to Siberia

What is it going to take to end rule by banksters? If Virginia is any sign, voters may need to adopt a policy of “Leave No Incumbent Standing” until legislators get the message. The Virginia House effectively sidetracked several pro-consumer mortgage bills, including one that would have given borrowers more time to mount defenses in […]

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Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, Head of 50 State Investigation, Retreats From “Tough With Banks” Stance

We were early to warn readers that Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, who is heading the 50 state probe into mortgage abuses, was unlikely to take as tough a stand with banks as his early sabre-rattling suggested.

Now other close observers of the 50 state AG probe, like Marcy Wheeler of FireDogLake, have pointed out that expectations for this group were probably too high, given that some of the AGs had been opposed to the effort before, and they’d hobble the effort from the inside. But even though true, that observation still gives Miller more of an out than he deserves.

The fact is that Miller had decided, before any investigation was undertaken, that his group was not going to take any action that might allow investors to recover for losses. Why? Some of the parties in a position to recover would not be Americans. This came by e-mail before the December meeting at which Miller promised to “put people in jail” as well as obtain deep principal mods and compensation for defrauded homeowners:

The homeowners off to meet Tom Miller is a setup for a photo-op to imply buy-in.

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