Fighting Middle Eastern Wars with Pegs and Drones

I’m reading Currency Wars right now, which may be one of the reasons I suspect that the decision to launch signature strikes in Yemen was not requested by CIA and JSOC but instead dictated by Saudi Arabia. But I’ve also recently read the WikiLeaks cables that show how nervous recent discussions of the Saudi peg of the riyal to the dollar have been.

For example, one of the most recent cables released, describing a mid-February 2010 meeting between Deputy Treasury Secretary Neal Wolin and Saudi Monetary Agency Governor Muhammad Al Jasser and Minister of Finance Ibrahim Al Assaf, records Jasser invoking Chinese calls for an alternative to the dollar.

(C) Jasser reaffirmed Saudi Arabia’s support for the riyal-dollar peg, noting that the peg is in Saudi Arabia’s “cold-blooded self interest,” though he noted it sometimes felt like “we are alone.” Referencing past calls by China and others in the G-20 for an alternative to the U.S. dollar as the world’s reserve currency, Jasser said some have asked him why he does not give up on the U.S. dollar. He turned to a response he gave to a European newspaper that asked why Saudi Arabia hadn’t switched its peg to the Euro, “When oil is denominated in Euros, we’ll research it.”

In the same meeting, Jasser reminded Wolin that Saudi Arabia had far more ability to “undermine and safeguard” the world economy than its GDP might suggest.

Jasser stated that, as an oil economy, Saudi Arabia has the ability to both undermine and safeguard the world’s economy. He noted that Saudi Arabia was able and willing to support reform efforts at the IMF and World Bank, but that the ability to harm or help the global economy is a better measure of a nation’s relative economic importance than GDP.

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Geithner’s Duplicitous Efforts to Reinforce the Oligarchy

Bloomberg’s blockbuster story–showing that the Fed was dumping $7.77 trillion into the same banks that Treasury was claiming were solvent to qualify them for TARP–shows a number of different things. It focuses on the $13 billion in profits the banks made off of massive secret loans from the Fed.

The 190 firms for which data were available would have produced income of $13 billion, assuming all of the bailout funds were invested at the margins reported, the data show.

More importantly, IMO, the Bloomberg piece also shows how Ben Bernanke, TurboTax Timmeh Geithner, and Hank Paulson used secrecy to get DC’s bureaucracy–both Congress and Executive Branch officials–to push through his preferred plan to prop up the TBTF banks.

They did this in two ways: first, by keeping details of the Fed’s massive lending secret from the people implementing TARP.

The Fed initially released lending data in aggregate form only. Information on which banks borrowed, when, how much and at what interest rate was kept from public view.

The secrecy extended even to members of President George W. Bush’s administration who managed TARP. Top aides to Paulson weren’t privy to Fed lending details during the creation of the program that provided crisis funding to more than 700 banks, say two former senior Treasury officials who requested anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak.

This meant the Fed could hide the fact that the six biggest banks were basically insolvent, and should have been wound down rather than propped up with a strings-free TARP.

The Treasury Department relied on the recommendations of the Fed to decide which banks were healthy enough to get TARP money and how much, the former officials say. Read more

The Scandal Is that Jonathan Alter Doesn’t See the Scandal

[Sorry for my unannounced absence. I’m on a road trip visiting Mr. EW’s family. Thanks to Jim White and bmaz for guarding the likker cabinet! I know they’ll keep it safe!]

I once got in trouble for mocking people who thought that blowjobs were a scandal worth legal investigation, but torture was not. Given that Jonathan Alter is the so-called liberal who, weeks after 9/11, affirmatively embraced torture, I’m not surprised he still falls in the former group. On Thursday, he wrote a Bloomberg piece sycophantically wondering how Obama managed to have such a scandal-free Administration. This, of the President whose Administration continues to invent all sorts of legal gimmicks to protect his predecessor’s torture. And this, of the guy who is looking high and low for new ways to bail out the banksters from the consequences of their crimes.

This Administration has smothered what was left of rule of law. And yet Alter can’t find a scandal?

Part of the problem stems from Alter’s terms. he equates scandal with some kind of honesty.

President Barack Obama goes into the 2012 with a weak economy that may doom his reelection. But he has one asset that hasn’t received much attention: He’s honest.

Obama certainly lies: about his commitment to the public option, his opposition to telecom immunity, and even his belief that no one is above the law. But what Obama does more is spin–spending months claiming that the deficit is the biggest threat to our country, claiming that a bank settlement is necessary to get the housing market back on track. That kind of spin requires real analysis to catch. Which, I guess, Alter isn’t up to.

And part of Alter’s problem is his adoption of Brendan Nyhan’s definition of scandal: the reference to something as a scandal by a WaPo reporter on that rag’s front page.

Nyhan says that political scientists generally see The Washington Post as a solid indicator of elite opinion — so for his study, a problem officially curdles into a scandal once the S-word is used in a reporter’s own voice in a story that runs on the front page of the Post.

Given that one of the WaPo editorial page’s most striking ideological commitments is to torture, it seems nearly impossible that torture–and the refusal to prosecute it–would ever be a scandal by Nyhan’s (and therefore Alter’s) terms. And Dana Milbank’s bankster epiphany notwithstanding, WaPo reporters are, almost by definition, isolated from the effects of the banksters’ crimes by class and distance.

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Obama Administration’s Price Tag for Bank Lying, Predation, and (Probably) Securitization Fail: $8 Billion

Back when the foreclosure fraud settlement was purportedly only going to cover robo-signing abuses, the price tag was going to be $17 billion.

Now that the Obama Administration is desperately trying to craft a settlement deal to include origination problems, the price tag has grown to $25 billion.

Under the proposed terms of the settlement — which could total $25 billion — banks would get broad legal immunity from state lawsuits in exchange for refinancing underwater loans, those mortgages where borrowers owe more than their homes are worth, the sources said.

The deal could provide some relief to the battered U.S. housing market and clear up some uncertainty about banks’ legal exposure that has been a drag on their shares.

Banks have been holding out on a multi-billion-dollar settlement because they wanted broader legal immunity than state attorneys general were prepared to offer.

Originally, the states were only considering immunity for shortcuts taken during mortgage servicing and foreclosures, including the so-called “robo-signing” of documents to evict people behind on their mortgages.

In recent days, the state attorneys general agreed to release major banks from claims that they made legal errors when first originating the loans, such as approving loans for borrowers without verifying any income, according to two people familiar with the talks.

That means for all the additional things the banks would get immunity for–at the very least, the liars loans and the predatory lending, all the things they’re getting hammered for in reps and warrants suits, though the language might well immunize securitization failures–banks would pay just an additional $8 billion.

That, in spite of the fact that FHFA filed lawsuits against the banks that might be worth $40 billion, with $11.5 billion from Bank of America alone.

So basically Obama wants to fund HAMP 2.0 by letting banks out of at least 80% of what they stand to lose in court.

FHFA Shows TurboTax Timmeh Geithner What a REAL Long Weekend Is

Because after the bomb they just dropped on the finance world, I would imagine Geithner will be busy.

Here’s the listof banks they’re suing:

  1. Ally Financial Inc. f/k/a GMAC, LLC
  2. Bank of America Corporation
  3. Barclays Bank PLC
  4. Citigroup, Inc.
  5. Countrywide Financial Corporation
  6. Credit Suisse Holdings (USA), Inc.
  7. Deutsche Bank AG
  8. First Horizon National Corporation
  9. General Electric Company
  10. Goldman Sachs & Co.
  11. HSBC North America Holdings, Inc.
  12. JPMorgan Chase & Co.
  13. Merrill Lynch & Co. / First Franklin Financial Corp.
  14. Morgan Stanley
  15. Nomura Holding America Inc.
  16. The Royal Bank of Scotland Group PLC
  17. Société Générale

FHFA explains,

These complaints were filed in federal or state court in New York or the federal court in Connecticut. The complaints seek damages and civil penalties under the Securities Act of 1933, similar in content to the complaint FHFA filed against UBS Americas, Inc. on July 27, 2011. In addition, each complaint seeks compensatory damages for negligent misrepresentation. Certain complaints also allege state securities law violations or common law fraud.

Finally, someone calls it fraud.

Update: Just scanned the BoA suit. Their suit is based on $6B of certificates, between Fannie and Freddie. The defaults and foreclosures range from 7.6 to 61.6%, perhaps averaging 30%.

To emphasize what a stinker BoA was, the complaint notes that even Countrywide thought BoA was going after high-risk loans very aggressively (note FHFA sued Countrywide in separate capacity).

BOA was one of the most aggressive competitors in the mortgage origination market. Even the top executives of Countrywide Financial Corp., the notorious mortgage lender singled out by the FCIC for having originated high-risk loans destined to bring “financial and reputational catastrophe,” FCIC Report at xxii, complained to each other at the time that BOA’s appetite for risky products was greater than that of Countywide. In a June 13, 2005 e-mail Countrywide CEO Angelo Mozilo wrote to President and COO David Sambol: “This is the third deal in the last 10 days that BoA has offered that is impossible to beat. In fact the other two were substantially worse than this one. It appears to me that BofA is making an aggressive move into mortgages once again.” [Emphasis in the complaint]

Yet in spite of the fact that they lay this out in detail, they specifically do not make any claim of fraud.

Plaintiff realleges each allegation above as if fully set forth herein, except to the extent that Plaintiff expressly excludes any allegation that could be construed as alleging fraud.

I find that rather curious–are they going easy on BoA because they’re already broke?

Though that can’t be it–they allege fraud throughout the Countrywide complaint.

Update: Here’s an interesting detail. The naming convention used for most of these complaints is FHFA v. [BankName]. But it’s different for five of them. Société Générale is a big long number (including, but not limited to, today’s date). Morgan Stanley and GE (two of the last ones uploaded) have some version of “Final Complaint.” And Countrywide and Ally have that plus a “Filing Copy” in the name.

I’m guessing that suggests additional iterations for those banks.

“A Public Service,” My Fannie

I wanted to juxtapose two stories about Fannie Mae. The first, from this WaPo story reporting that the Administration has decided to keep some kind of federal entity guaranteeing mortgages. The story itself is interesting–as are Dean Baker’s post criticizing the underlying decision.

What I found particularly interesting, though, were the comments from the usual suspects about the role they perceive Fannie and Freddie as playing.

Two top Obama advisers, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan and Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, think the government should maintain an outsize role in the housing market, administration officials said.

Donovan thinks federal support for housing fulfills a public service, while Geithner has been focused on the need for the government to have a way to keep the mortgage market operating during a financial crisis.

Other advisers, however, opposed a continued government role over the long run. Austan Goolsbee, who this month left his job as chairman of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, argued that the federal role in housing distorts the free market. By subsidizing mortgage investments, he argued, the government drives capital away from other types of investments — for example, those in companies developing environmentally friendly technology. He also warned that the government is putting enormous sums of taxpayer money on the line while conveying little actual benefit to home buyers.

In a meeting with the president, Goolsbee said that the government had finally brought Fannie and Freddie’s excesses to heel by taking over the companies and that it would be a mistake to let them loose in the market again, said a person familiar with the meeting. Goolsbee likened the companies to a villain held in a special prison who shouldn’t be freed just because he promises to help the poor, the source recounted.

Lawrence H. Summers, who was director of the National Economic Council until early this year, argued that, over the long term, it didn’t make sense to have a government-backed agency providing guarantees to the mortgage market but that Fannie and Freddie still play a crucial role.

“My position was that we needed to maximize activity in the short run to support the housing market,” Summers said in an interview. “Discussions of scaling down Fannie and Freddie were vastly premature under the circumstances of a collapsing housing market.” [my emphasis]

Compare those comments–particularly those favoring the GSEs from Donovan and TurboTaxTimmeh–with the description of the way Fannie Mae is fleecing the taxpayers and ruining communities by pushing servicers to foreclose even though homeowners are seeking a modification, an approach that violates Fannie’s own stated policy.

The documents show Fannie Mae has told banks to foreclose on some delinquent homeowners — those more than a year behind — even as the banks were trying to help borrowers save their houses, a violation of Fannie’s own policy.

Fannie Mae has publicly maintained that homeowners would not lose their houses while negotiating changes to mortgages under the federal Home Affordable Modification Program, or HAMP.

The Free Press also obtained internal records revealing that the taxpayer-supported mortgage giant has told banks that it expected them to sell off a fixed percentage of foreclosed homes. In one letter sent to banks around the country last year, a Fannie vice president made clear that Fannie expected 10%-12% of homes in foreclosure to proceed to sale.


“Fannie just wants to clean up its balance sheet and get these loans off the books while taxpayers are eating these losses,” [Valpariso University Law Professor Alan] White said, referring to the multibillion-dollar federal bailout of Fannie Mae in 2008 and the rising cost to taxpayers.

“And Treasury and the FHFA are letting them get away with it. It’s a huge waste. Wealth is being destroyed, people are losing houses needlessly, and taxpayers are losing money.”


According to White, the Valparaiso professor, foreclosing on a home typically costs Fannie Mae far more than a successful loan modification. But, he and others say, Fannie is willing to absorb higher losses because it knows taxpayers — not Fannie Mae — will eventually reimburse the loss.

In other words, even as Donovan and Timmeh appear to have won the argument on sustaining Fannie and Freddie (or something like them), what was implicitly clear (I’ve been hearing this accusation since 2009) has been proven: that the GSEs have been using their government backing to stiff taxpayers and ruin communities. (Kudos to Goolsbee who got it mostly right on this one: the taxpayer backing is providing little of value to taxpayers.)

It’s as if none of these folks overseeing Fannie know how badly it is screwing American communities. Or perhaps they don’t care?

Helicopter Ben Invented Tax Evasion Vehicles for the Real Housewives of Wall Street

Matt Taibbi is out with his take on the Fed’s bailout lending revealed last month. He focuses on how two rich housewives with no apparent business experience got almost a quarter of a billion dollars in the TALF program.

In August 2009, John Mack, at the time still the CEO of Morgan Stanley, made an interesting life decision. Despite the fact that he was earning the comparatively low salary of just $800,000, and had refused to give himself a bonus in the midst of the financial crisis, Mack decided to buy himself a gorgeous piece of property — a 107-year-old limestone carriage house on the Upper BeerEast Side of New York, complete with an indoor 12-car garage, that had just been sold by the prestigious Mellon family for $13.5 million. Either Mack had plenty of cash on hand to close the deal, or he got some help from his wife, Christy, who apparently bought the house with him.

The Macks make for an interesting couple. John, a Lebanese-American nicknamed “Mack the Knife” for his legendary passion for firing people, has one of the most recognizable faces on Wall Street, physically resembling a crumpled, half-burned baked potato with a pair of overturned furry horseshoes for eyebrows. Christy is thin, blond and rich — a sort of still-awake Sunny von Bulow with hobbies. Her major philanthropic passion is endowments for alternative medicine, and she has attained the level of master at Reiki, the Japanese practice of “palm healing.” The only other notable fact on her public résumé is that her sister was married to Charlie Rose.

It’s hard to imagine a pair of people you would less want to hand a giant welfare check to — yet that’s exactly what the Fed did. Just two months before the Macks bought their fancy carriage house in Manhattan, Christy and her pal Susan launched their investment initiative called Waterfall TALF. Neither seems to have any experience whatsoever in finance, beyond Susan’s penchant for dabbling in thoroughbred racehorses. But with an upfront investment of $15 million, they quickly received $220 million in cash from the Fed, most of which they used to purchase student loans and commercial mortgages. The loans were set up so that Christy and Susan would keep 100 percent of any gains on the deals, while the Fed and the Treasury (read: the taxpayer) would eat 90 percent of the losses. Given out as part of a bailout program ostensibly designed to help ordinary people by kick-starting consumer lending, the deals were a classic heads-I-win, tails-you-lose investment.


In the case of Waterfall TALF Opportunity, here’s what we know: The company was founded in June 2009 with $14.87 million of investment capital, money that likely came from Christy Mack and Susan Karches. The two Wall Street wives then used the $220 million they got from the Fed to buy up a bunch of securities, including a large pool of commercial mortgages managed by Credit Suisse, a company John Mack once headed. Those securities were valued at $253.6 million, though the Fed refuses to explain how it arrived at that estimate. And here’s the kicker: Of the $220 million the two wives got from the Fed, roughly $150 million had not been paid back as of last fall — meaning that you and I are still on the hook for most of whatever the Wall Street spouses bought on their government-funded shopping spree.

But the kicker is that these two Real Housewives of Wall Street incorporated their little slush fund … in the Cayman Islands.

Perhaps the most irritating facet of all of these transactions is the fact that hundreds of millions of Fed dollars were given out to hedge funds and other investors with addresses in the Cayman Islands. Many of those addresses belong to companies with American affiliations — including prominent Wall Street names like Pimco, Blackstone and . . . Christy Mack. Yes, even Waterfall TALF Opportunity is an offshore company. It’s one thing for the federal government to look the other way when Wall Street hotshots evade U.S. taxes by registering their investment companies in the Cayman Islands. But subsidizing tax evasion? Giving it a federal bailout? What the fuck?

Back when we had a chance of shaming TurboTax Timmeh Geithner into withdrawing his nomination to be Treasury Secretary, we should have suspected he and his associates had a soft spot for tax havens.

But by that point, it was already too late. Timmeh and Helicopter Ben had been shoveling money into the pockets of rich housewives so they could hide it in the Cayman Islands.

Yet we have to cut aid to poor kids, because we’re broke.

Timmeh Geithner to House of Representatives: Fuck Off And Die

A month ago, Brad Miller and a dozen other Congressmen — including House Financial Services Committee Chair Barney Frank — wrote the Financial Stability Oversight Council to ask that they look into the systemic dangers of foreclosure fraud. The letter requested that three very specific things be included in upcoming stress tests and overall consideration of the systemic threat this represents to the economy:

  1. Examine random collateral loan files to see if they include all required documents, notably the note, the mortgage, and documents recording the assignment of the mortgage
  2. “Examine the servicing of first mortgages by servicers that hold second liens … [as some people contend] there is an indefensible conflict of interest for servicers of securitized first mortgages to hold second liens on the same property”
  3. Consider using the authority of Dodd-Frank to “require that financial companies divest affiliates or other holdings involved in servicing securitized mortgages”

Timmeh Geithner just responded to that letter. His response makes it clear he actually read Miller’s letter — because he references the first item I’ve laid out above, though rather than actually respond to that request, he describes what the FSOC is actually doing instead of examining collateral loan files. His response to the second and third requests is even more insolent; he refuses to even repeat the second one, and rather than consider either one seriously, he just says FSOC will take action “if abuses are found.”

Here is Timmeh’s response to Miller’s request that the Council examine random collateral files:

With regard to your suggestion of examinations of financial institutions by FSOC member agencies, these reviews are currently ongoing as part of a foreclosure task force formed by the Administration in early September.


The main objectives of the task force are to determine the scope of the foreclosure problems, hold banks accountable for fixing these problems, protect the homeowners, and mitigate any long-term effects this misconduct could have on the housing market.

Note that even though Timmeh admits the banksters have engaged in “misconduct,” he makes no mention of holding them legally accountable. Instead, he simply repeats the Administration line that banks will “fix[] these problems.”

But rather than address Miller’s specific request — that investigators look at random collateral files — Timmeh describes how the investigators will examine other things, and then boasts of the (inadequate) number of investigators on the job.

Regulators are conducting onsite investigations to assess each servicer’s foreclosure policies and procedures, organization structure and staffing, vendor management, quality control and audit, loan documentation including custodial management, and foreclosure prevention processes. The task force is also closely reviewing related issues that include loss mitigation, origination put-backs, securitization trusts, and disclosure put-backs.

These examinations are extensive and resource intensive. For example, the Office of Thrift Supervision has approximately 80 examiners on-site at their four servicers, and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency has 100 examiners at the top eight national bank servicers.

Now granted, some of the things the FSOC is investigating might cover Miller’s request. “Loan documentation including custodial management” might get at the issues Miller specifically requested FSOC examine. But Timmeh makes absolutely no promise that these 20 examiners per non-bank servicer or 8 examiners per bank servicer (Really, Timmeh!?!?! You think 8 people can investigate Bank of America’s morass?!?!) will actually look in detail at the actual loan files, much less a randomly selected collection of loan files.

That’s enough of a non-answer.

But here’s how Timmeh summarizes Miller’s two other requests.

You also suggest that the FSOC consider the potential risk associated with the role of large financial institutions in the servicing of mortgages and to consider requiring these firms to divest of their servicing affiliates.

Note what phrase Timmeh doesn’t utter there?

“Second lien.”

That little matter of the half a trillion dollars in conflicted exposure these banks have, which goes to the heart of the reason this is systemic issue.

In fact, Timmeh doesn’t utter the phrase “second lien” anywhere in his letter. It is, apparently, the elephant in the bank vault that shall not be named, for fear Timmeh would have to acknowledge the magnitude of the problem. Timmeh apparently wants to spin the problem of second liens as nothing more than part of the size of the institutions in question, and not the very real conflict of interest that provides motivation for all the foreclosure fraud Timmeh doesn’t want to criminally prosecute.

And while Timmeh does use the word “divest,” here’s his actual response to Miller’s description of the very real and very avoidable problem of having the banksters service the loans that threaten to expose their insolvency.

As you suggest, the Dodd-Frank Act also provides the FSOC, and its member agencies, with a variety of tools to recommend heightened prudential standards and take other remedial actions when necessary for financial stability. With that in mind, the FSOC and its member agencies will remain critically focused on working with the foreclosure task force, and will use all appropriate authorities available to them if abuses are found.

So while Timmeh can manage to at least utter “divest” (unlike his apparent allergy to “second lien”), when push comes to shove, he won’t admit that FSOC has the ability to force bankster to divest of a part of their business. More importantly, he envisions using the power granted him under Dodd-Frank (and remember, Frank is one of the recipients of this letter) only “if abuses are found.”

Because it would be too much to ask for Timmeh actually take an obvious proactive move to fix one of the problems weighing down our housing market and with it our entire economy. I guess if he did, he might actually have to think about those second liens he’s refusing to acknowledge.

A Tale of Two Bailout Paybacks

As promised over the weekend before I realized I had forgotten my Toobz, I wanted to compare the behavior of two bailout recipients, the UAW and the banksters.

A number of people have pointed to this intriguing interview about the Korea Trade deal with the UAW’s President Bob King. In addition to confirming my math showing that the most the UAW could reasonably expect to get out of his deal is 75,000 additional exports–or 800 extra jobs for the UAW–King also had this to say:

It was important to endorse in order to reward the administration for its good behavior of including labor in negotiations.

While not directly an admission that UAW endorsed this NAFTA-style trade deal in thanks for the US bailout of the auto industry, it does seem to support that overall sentiment. The UAW capitulated further when it endorsed the Obama-McConnell tax deal giving 2 years of relief to the very rich, 1 year to the medium-term unemployed, and nothing to the 99ers whose Unemployment Insurance has expired (many of whom used to work for the auto companies).

Compare that to the behavior of JP Morgan Chase Vice Chairman Jimmy Lee during negotiations under the Chrysler bailout. According to Steven Rattner, Lee,

demanded to know why, if the government thought banks important enough to give them tens of billions in TARP money, it wanted to squeeze them on [the Chrysler] deal.

Mind you, JPMC wasn’t getting squeezed. Timmeh Geithner had specifically instructed Rattner not to ask for any special favors because the government had also bailed out JPMC (Timmeh apparently didn’t mention the additional support JPMC got from the Fed).

Tim had instructed me not to be taken in [by Lee’s complaints] but to maintain strict neutrality. I was not to demand anything of JPMorgan just because it had received an infusion of TARP money; nor was I to show it favor because of Bear Stearns or anything else.

And as Rattner calculates, Lee was asking for full value on their debt even while it was only worth about $.15 on the dollar.

In our phone calls, he also relentlessly reminded me that creditors deserve to be paid. “When you lend somebody $6.9 billion,” he would say, “you expect to get $6.9 billion back. And not a penny less.” I listened knowing that Jimmy’s position was patently ridiculous. Chrysler debt was trading at around 15 cents on the dollar (admittedly, infrequently), and according to Chrysler’s own analysis, the liquidation value of the company was perhaps as low as $1 billion. Clearly, Jimmy didn’t believe that the Obama administration would be willing to push back and let the banks take over Chrysler rather than cave in to their demands.

So unlike the UAW–which endorsed the kind of trade deal it has spent the last decade railing against–JP Morgan Chase responded to getting bailed out by asking for more special deals.

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Fines and “Resolving this Mess”

Yves does a thorough smackdown on the departing Michael Barr’s description of all the things the government is going to get to the bottom of the foreclosure fraud problem, noting that the foreclosure task force simply isn’t investigating the problem in enough detail to understand, much less solve, the problem.

But I wanted to look just at Barr’s language, both in his interview with Felix Salmon and in his presentation to the Financial Stability Oversight Council yesterday. Here are the five things he described as the key focus of the Foreclosure Working Group:

  1. Determining the scope of problems
  2. Holding the banks accountable for fixing these problems
  3. Making sure individuals who have been harmed are given redress and that firms pay penalties where appropriate for their actions
  4. Getting the mortgage servicing industry to do a better job for households in financial difficulty by providing alternatives to foreclosure
  5. Acting in a coordinated and comprehensive way to hold the firms accountable, bring clarity and certainty, and help households

Note, already, the choice of language here. The working group will “hold the banks accountable … for fixing these problems.” The firms will “pay penalties where appropriate for their actions.”

Barr uses the language the federal government has been consistently using since the scope of this problem became widely clear, in which the government envisions “holding banks accountable” by forcing them to operate effectively going forward, while making right the crimes of the past. Nowhere, in his presentation to the FSOC at least, does Barr envision holding the people who committed fraud accountable. In fact, there’s a lovely detail at 7:54 where Barr describes that the process is designed to assess whether affidavits and claims “are accurate.” Now, the government learned sometime since May–six months ago now–that they are not. But they have not yet prosecuted anyone for fraud. Which leads me to believe that when Barr says “assess whether affidavits are accurate,” he means, “assess whether they accurately reflect the state of the loan,” and not whether “the claims made by robo-signers are in fact true.”

And besides, how in hell could the government give those who have been harmed redress if the government is only reviewing a select subset of the loan files? Is the government going to provide everyone who believes they were screwed some legal aid to prove their claim?

Now compare what the soon-to-be-gone Barr told the FSOC in its kabuki public session with what he told Salmon.

And keeping everything coordinated is the new Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force which has been put together under the leadership of Justice’s Tom Perrelli.“Why are we investing these resources and including Tom Perelli in the discussions?” asked Barr. “We’re holding the banks accountable to fix it.” I asked him whether he thought that was even possible. “Their conduct suggests they can’t,” he said, adding that “they can be held accountable for not following the law. HUD can assess significant fines on them.”

Barr was clear about what he expected to happen in 2011. Specifically, he said, “if there are legal violations found, banks are responsible for fixing them and for addressing the problems.” And more generally, the government’s actions “will increase the chance that when foreclosures happen, they will happen according to established law.”

After listing all the investigating going on, Barr stresses they’re coordinating with DOJ’s Financial Fraud Task Force. Why are they including the FFTF (which, btw, seems to focus primarily on origination fraud)? As a way, Barr explains, “to hold the banks accountable to fix it”–echoing that same formula of holding banks accountable to fix problems, but not to be prosecuted for committing fraud. Now jump ahead to where Barr describes how they can be held accountable: “they can be held accountable for not following the law. HUD can assess significant fines on them.” Let me repeat, again, that HUD has been aware of the foreclosure problems since around May and has thus far levied no fines. More importantly, note how (at least in Salmon’s presentation) Barr jumped from having DOJ hold the banks accountable to HUD doing so? Either Barr doesn’t believe DOJ has the power or the will to hold banks accountable and he reverts to fines as the magical way the federal government will holds the banks accountable. And the outcome of all this? To “increase the chance that when foreclosures happen, they will happen according to established law.” Not, “to make sure we restore the integrity of the property system,” but to increase the overall odds but not guarantee that when a family is thrown out of its home, they were done so legally.

Barr doesn’t even envision ending foreclosure fraud! He just envisions making it much less likely, shifting the odds somewhat from the stacked odds the banksters currently enjoy.

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