Monday, October 10, 2011

Why Occupy Wall Street (or any other street)?

Below is a response I wrote to a Facebook friend about an article she wrote yesterday explaining why, despite being a very intense liberal and rabid supporter of President Obama, she feels almost completely disconnected from the Occupy Wall Street and related protests springing up across the country. And so it goes...

Interesting read, Erin. I get where you're coming from but I have to say that I think you are exhibiting the same sort of attitude towards the OWSers that I've seen you decry against folks (like me) who are avowed liberals but have become utterly fed up with Obama and his way of attending to his job.

This is indeed an entry level protest for a lot of those folks and a fair number of them couldn't explain with any clarity what it is precisely they're protesting and there are also a whole bunch (which is typical of any liberal gathering of issues) who only have their own discrete issue in mind regardless of the larger purpose for being there. Nothing unusual about that.

That said, it seems to me that the true larger purpose, if really there is one, is one so mundane that it IS exotic: enforce the goddamn law! Yesterday I linked a blog by Matt Tabbi where he explained for the umpteenth time what happened in the banking/mortgage/investment industry. I also happen to BE in the RE business as a title lawyer in South Florida so I saw this garbage happening pretty much first hand. You can blame people all you want for applying for loans they had no business getting, but you can only blame the mortgage brokers and the lenders themselves for actually GIVING these loans to people. It was out and out fraud from beginning to end with every bait and switch and strongarm scare tactic you can imagine and I don't blame customers for not knowing their nice broker or banker was selling them shit without a care. Anyone can apply for a loan. But only the genuinely qualified should be APPROVED for one. And that authority is fully with the brokers and lenders.

It's the 1% (maybe a slightly higher %age) who preyed upon the rest, who were told they deserved a place in an ownership society. A degree of foolish gullibility can be applied to the masses on this, but the great great direct, knowing, and intentional (important conditions to be met in fraud) blame can be laid at the feet of the lenders, who then did it again in all manner of ways when they sold these loans up the ladder, increasing the risk of loss countless times and which we haven't yet seen the end of by a long shot.

The repealed regulations and government exhortations may have created the incentive to get into the business the way they did, making it technically legal to OFFER a product, but the accounting standards and fraud laws were and are still on the books.

Apply the law as it is. That's all I ask. And then OWS has meaning. Obama makes a lot of noise saying that it's up to Attorney General Eric Holder at the Department Of Justice to decide what to prosecute. He chooses pot dispensaries in California instead of the criminals at the commercial and investment banks. WHY?? THAT is why my support for the administration is as thin as it is. THAT is why our economy is still in the toilet. The nation that made it big by enforcing the rule of law, doesn't do it anymore. Hence there is no confidence in the world of dealmaking even though the dollar remains strong relative to the rest of the moribund world. The money boys will keep their money here but they won't use it because they can't rely on the system and its enforcement mechanisms to keep everyone honest and the economy stable.

Enforce the goddamn law Mr. Chief Executive. That's your JOB. If he won't do it I'd love to find someone who will. But no one seems interested. That means we're done doesn't it?

I look forward to your further thoughts and appreciate your work and intensity. I wish I had more time to do this myself.



Friday, March 11, 2011

The Fix Is Nearly In And You Will Be Left Broke

Earlier today I read this piece in the AOL/Huffington Post and immediately heaved a sigh of resignation. The article summarizes a Fed review panel regarding improper foreclosures and concludes that there haven’t been any. Let me repeat that: the Fed says there have been no improper foreclosures. Anywhere. Under any circumstances. To say that this is mind-boggling to me underestimates the notion of mind-bogglement by orders of magnitude conceivable only through the measurements of cosmology.

According to the report, a foreclosure is justified simply if a borrower has failed to make their payments and has gone into default. Period. No consideration is given whatsoever about who then has the right to foreclose on the property in question despite the fact that rightful possession of property is pretty much fundamental to the existence of the country and most of the developed world.

Among the basic precepts of the founding of the United States was that anyone (well except people of African heritage and most women at first) could own their own property, their own land and use it to their own benefit. The free flow of property was a relatively new thing in the western world and it is among the major reasons that the notion of liberty entered the minds of colonists and early Americans. But with the free flow of property, came a need to keep track of who owned what in order for the entire process of property transfer to remain stable and reliable. Knowing who has a right to a piece of land, to use it, enter upon it, do work on top of or under it, build something on it, live on it, sell something on it, get a loan using it as collateral, and sell it, among many other things, is the hallmark of the United States and the entire system of American individualism. The “American Dream” is to own your own home.

The idea that it doesn’t matter who can take that home away when payments go late completely overturns the whole system. From at least 2002-2008 (and probably before if you follow the stories about MERS), the great majority of the American banking system has routinely failed to maintain records of who owns what when it comes to real estate in this country. They took the low risk, low yield, genuinely conservative notion of compound interest and superheated it into the high risk, high yield notion of securitized investments. And they did so without the permission of the people who were put at greatest risk: the American homeowner.

Without detailing it here, a great number of home loans, especially the ones that weren’t standard 30-year fixed interest rate loans, did not meet proper guidelines for offering such loans. They then got sold off to investment agencies under false pretenses and with false ratings regarding the quality of the loans. And then got split up again with more false ratings. And at nearly every point along the way, nothing ever got filed to state who it was that bought these loans and therefore had a right to collect them, or go after the collateral if they weren’t paid. What that creates in law is a problem of standing. The question is: do you have a right to say I owe you money? If so, prove it to me and I’ll pay you otherwise get lost. Without proper documentation, it’s hard to prove who owes what to whom. And there are rules and deadlines for filing some of this paperwork. For most people who own a home, it is their most important possession so it should be taken equally seriously by the entity that can collect money on or claim to take away that possession. If someone is going to be thrown out in the street, then a court better be damn sure the people doing it have a right to do so. But so far, that isn’t happening, and this Fed report suggests that the banks are working towards getting away with it (which shouldn’t be surprising).

The line that states that negotiations may be underway to settle the matter for $30 billion effectively means that the banks will get an oops (on top of all the other ones they already got), and then they are off the hook for failing to keep track of everything. For creating a Gordian Knot of the entire country's real estate market it is entirely likely that they will actually get paid multiple times for their transgressions for what will amount to a small fee (the $30b). They got reimbursed through TARP. They got paid one hundred cents on the dollar via claims run through AIG (because of TARP). And they will now get possession of the original asset and get to sell it again, often for cash, and otherwise with loans that they give and earn interest on again, or possibly even use to start the whole friggin’ process of fraud all over again!!!

If this happens, if the banking system gets a mulligan for a decade of thievery, then the United States as we have known it has truly ended. The rule of law will be a farce and there will no longer be any reason to rely on anything unless you happen to be a member of the 1% club. The 1%ers are the ones whose total wealth equals most of the rest of the 99% combined. The Roman Republic will be the Roman Empire and the Goths will be sniping at the edges most egregiously.


Monday, January 24, 2011

Sarah Palin: The Dangerous Moron, Shouldn't Reload, She Should Rebrand

Well really, she should just go away and enjoy her recently made millions and spend the rest of her days signing moose pelts for curious tourists dropping by to meet the curiosity from the inconveniently far north. But she's too egomaniacal to do that.

Sarah Palin has a following which is religious in its fervor and willfully ignorant in its understanding of the wider world and how it works. The biggest problem, of a size they cannot comprehend, is that the scale of the nation, economy, and world, and it's amazing complexity are simply beyond the scope of their reasoning. This is not to say that her followers are too dumb to manage their own lives and those of their families and immediate communities, but at a certain point, things get so abstractly beyond their personal experience that they, as they so often say about others, "don't get it." The problem of understanding scale is certainly not limited to Palin's followers, it pretty much hounds most regular people because absent experience with scale and complexity, the world can become a very abstract place very quickly.

Awareness and context are available more now than ever before because of the omnipresence of information through the internet and other explosively expanding media sources, but until porn is displaced as the number one internet activity, the use of that information will remain restricted. We are indeed in the midst of an information revolution which hasn't been seen in human history since the invention of the movable type printing press, but we're real early in the process so it will still be quite a while, a couple generations by my reckoning, before kids brought up in it from the start will be used to using it for purposes beyond acquisition of the next orgasm.

But I digress...

For once, Sarah Palin was made a patsy unfairly by mainstream and definitely by the left punditocracy for the massacre in Arizona a few weeks back and true to form she shot back at her critics with an even more incendiary blast that made her a headline again for another week. Her "blood libel" reference confirmed the religious tone of her communications to her followers. It was a foolish metaphor to use but right in line with her mode of operation. She is a publicity hound, not a leader and this incident demonstrated that reality as starkly as anything else she's done since being brought thoughtlessly onto the national scene following a John McCain hissy fit over not getting his own VP running mate choice, douchebag Joe Lieberman.

If she was a leader, she would have responded to her accusers with a message that upbraided them for their jumping to false conclusions, but recognizing that there was, nevertheless, a point about nasty, non-substance language in political campaigns and its marketing, and that she would be an example to others by refraining from it going forward. She could have rebranded herself into a genuine force of substance in American politics. She then could have been justified in calling out others from all points of the political spectrum for their bad language and actually led us into discussions over the genuine difficult issues of the day and the assorted ways they can be addressed. But she didn't. This, because Sarah Palin is STILL a dangerous moron and has too many people following her for no good reason and her continued presence in our national political scene remains a problem for whatever the future holds.

This is not a 1st Amendment issue. Of course a politician can say whatever s/he wants in furtherance of whatever it is they are trying to further. This is about being a responsible adult in the world. There are appropriate and inappropriate ways to communicate to people. Sarah Palin communicates like a petulant child or an adolescent artist interested only in shocking and getting publicity for its own sake, not for contributing anything useful to the human experience. She doesn't need to reload. She needs to rebrand or retire.